Writing Letters to God Inspires Patients and Staff
By his own estimation, Ian G. isn’t much of a reader or writer. And as a lapsed Catholic, he doesn’t consider himself a spiritual or religious person. So when he was asked to write a prayer to God as part of his treatment program at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital’s New Day Center, Ian paused. He spent some time thinking and wondering about his higher power in a way he’d never thought about it before. What resulted was a brutally honest call for help.
“Dear God,” he wrote. “Please give me the strength to get through this awful disease today … God, please help me understand why I put myself and others I love through this misery of my addiction and help me care about myself and lose the anger and hate I have for myself.”
Those words are a daily reminder of how far Ian has come since taking his last drink on Sept. 19. The New Day Center offers outpatient treatment programs for adults who struggle with addiction to alcohol and/or other drugs. The center emphasizes strengthening each patient’s spiritual connection, which is critical to the patient’s long-term recovery. As a result of many losses, shame and guilt, patients often have lost hope and are spiritually bankrupt. While in treatment, patients are asked to write a letter to God – or their higher power – as a way to initiate or keep that spiritual connection.
Upon graduation, patients receive copies of their prayers printed on five laminated bookmarks. They’re encouraged to keep some and give away the rest – to their sponsors, family members, friends and other loved ones. Many place them in their copies of The Big Book – A.A.’s basic text – and Daily Reflections: A Book of Reflections by A.A. Members for A.A. Members. After completing treatment, patients continue their recovery process by participating in an aftercare program and 12-step meetings while working with their sponsor.
The idea to reproduce the prayers on bookmarks evolved as Donna Faur and Beth Tesmond, certified addictions counselors, and other members of the night staff discussed steps two and three of the 12-step program:
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
New Day Center began printing the bookmarks earlier this year. In addition to the prayer, each bookmark is imprinted with an inspirational image and the date of the patient’s graduation from the program. "Seeing their own words printed on laminated bookmarks gives patients a sense of pride in their work," said staff counselor Maria Coyne.
“This raises their work to another level – and raises their self-esteem, too,” Coyne said. “We use prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer in the program, but the prayers on these bookmarks are each patient’s individual thoughts. That’s what makes these prayers so powerful.”
On his bookmark, patient Dennis A. asks God to help him remain teachable and to give him the strength and tools he needs to remain sober. Re-reading that prayer every morning helps him begin his day in the right mindset.
“It reminds me of being in the recovery community, which is a positive thing,” Dennis said. “It helps me remember I’m not alone in this and that I have help that I can draw from.”
The prayers remind Faur why she began working with addicts and alcoholics more than 20 years ago. “When they begin to grasp the spiritual part of this program, it’s like watching a miracle happen,” she said. “It’s inspiring.”