Until her recent retirement,was a counselor for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration in Washington, D.C. During her seventeen-year experience there, she worked with people who have been addicted to drugs from five to thirty years. At the time of this interview, along with her other assignments she was conducting a voluntary nondenominational Bible-study group, one of several programs offered at this drug-abuse treatment center. We asked Mrs. Long to talk with us about lessons learned in that program. While she herself would be the first not to make extensive claims as to the success of the Bible-study group, the experiences she describes make one thing clear: The timeless answers found in the Bible can restore the dignity and meaning to lives that drug abuse has all but eaten up.
How did the Bible-study group get started?
A lot of the men I work with think of themselves as hardcore addicts, without any hope. And I decided in one of our sessions to ask them what they think about God. I went around and asked everyone, "Do you believe in God?" They'd say, "Yes!" But their actions were showing something different. Their chosen god was drugs. This was the controlling factor in their lives. I was trying to show them that even though they're saying one thing, they're doing another.
One of the clients became so enthused he would come back even after the group sessions. He finally asked, "Could we have a group where we would only discuss God and religion?" He came to me three times, and each time I told him no. The last time when he came, I said, "OK. If you find two more people who are interested in coming, I'll go to the clinic manager and see if we can get permission." He found two more clients who were interested in meeting. I went to my clinic manager and he said yes.
In the process of starting, the three of us drew up some outlines. We decided not to post any posters in the clinic asking people to come to us. We ask God for guidance. We don't force people to attend. But the group has grown from three to about twenty people. And it has been going for two years.
Why do you think there is this response to the group?
I think the response is because it's based on the concept of God as Love, that He loves each and every one. It's really based on that and the prayer that I engage in before each group. Because I find out if I do a lot of work, the group runs smoothly.
When you say you "do a lot of work," you mean you pray before meeting with the group?
Yes. I don't go in with any planned agenda. It comes out of prayer. And sometimes the group members throw in some tough questions, and I find myself really praying hard while the group is in action. I know He will show me and help me. And this is what has happened.
For example, a lot of them have done things they aren't proud of, so we examine the story of Moses. Moses kills a man in defending another person. But, some forty years later, God uses Moses to advance a nation to worship Him and lead the people out of bondage. This was something the group members could relate to because they had had instances in their lives when they thought of themselves as being out of the sphere of God's influence because of past behavior.
One fellow said that before he started attending the group—he's been there for two years and he hasn't missed a day—he had never thought of himself as being one of God's children. And then in realizing that his life was precious because God had made him, he realized someone else's life was precious too. He said he stopped thinking, "This man did such and such a thing, so let's 'off him' [kill him]."
What are some of the other subjects that you discuss?
We talk about family a lot. And we also talk about possessions, stealing; we talk about racism. We talk about almost everything. But in talking about it, we deal with it from a Biblical basis. We talk about man following God's commands.
This is what it's all about—letting them see that God is in charge. And the Bible is not something that you put away on the shelf and just bring out on Sundays or Christmas or when somebody dies or when somebody's getting married. It's a thing that you live daily. I say, if you fall, you pick yourself up and go back and try again. God is All, and the greatest thing is to put Him first and to love our neighbor as ourself. And when we do this, we're fulfilling the whole commandment as Christ Jesus said. And our lives change, and everything comes out for the better.
I like for them to bring whatever's happening in their lives to the table. For example, this fellow came in. He was very perturbed. He said he wanted to throw gasoline on his friend and light a match and destroy him. So everybody in the group helped this man to see that what he wanted to do was wrong. The next time we had the group, not only did he come but he brought the friend he had wanted to destroy.
Someone who was still struggling with addiction said, "You know, this is the first time in my life that I have been free for over a year." He had been in and out of reform schools from a very young age. He said the reason that he had been free for a whole year was his involvement in the Bible group. He was striving to put the things we've talked about into practice.
Then we had another fellow who was living on the train tracks and stealing. He was asked to read the Bible and pray to God and ask for help. He found a job, and he found a place to live. He was kind of sad because he could no longer attend the group because he had to work. But I said, "You still have your Bible in your pocket, so you can use it to solve many things."
People come to the group and ask, "Will you pray for me?" We had a fellow in the group whose son was born with brain damage. The son was in a hospital for so long it didn't seem as if he was going to live, so the father kept asking us to pray.
We have silent prayer, and then we repeat the Lord's Prayer. One reason for that is that a lot of them haven't thought of themselves as worthy to pray, or they didn't know how to pray. And so I said we'll just have silent prayer. Just think about yourself and God before we repeat the Lord's Prayer. So, anyway, the little boy is moving and walking now. And the father is happy.
The reason I think the group has worked and is still working is that it is based on God and man made in His image.
Tell us more about how you prepare for the meeting.
I study the Bible Lesson in the Christian Science Quarterly. And then the poem that Mrs. Eddy has written which begins, "Shepherd, show me how to go." Poems, p. 14. I turn to that quite often.
Do you sometimes struggle with discouragement?
We've been here for many years. I've seen progress and changes of thought. But I've seen only two people get off methadone completely and leave the clinic. I keep praying and knowing that it's like a mustard seed, if they have the faith. And you work on it. You ask God to guide you.
How do you maintain a sense of joy about what you're doing, that what you're doing makes a difference?
I guess the only thing that helps me is knowing the fundamental unreality of evil. The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes about what she calls "the end of error": "This material world is even now becoming the arena for conflicting forces. On one side there will be discord and dismay; on the other side there will be Science and peace. The breaking up of material beliefs may seem to be famine and pestilence, want and woe, sin, sickness, and death, which assume new phases until their nothingness appears. These disturbances will continue until the end of error, when all discord will be swallowed up in spiritual Truth." Science and Health, p. 96. Understanding this is one thing that keeps me going.
Recently I had a client who came back to let me know that he had been free from street drugs for about six months. It's a nice feeling when this happens. But to get them to be drug-free and to remain drug-free is hard. Because it seems that there are so many factors that contribute to the addiction in the first place. And as soon as you get rid of one, then another one occurs.
But, I think the most important factor is that they don't really think that they could operate without being under the influence of some sort of chemical—heroin, coke, alcohol, or whatever they seem to think that they need as a crutch to make them whole. And this is the point with the Bible group—to help them see that they are whole because God made them that way. He did not make them to be dependent upon chemicals.
You've given several examples of behavior changes. Is this one of the main goals of what you're doing?
Behavior has changed. But the main thing is to get them to see man's unity with God. To let them know that God is in control and not the chemicals that they believe control their life. We have to talk a lot about environment. I try to get them to see that they create their own environment. They carry it with them in their thought. Sometimes they think, "If I could move to another neighborhood, I'd be better." But it's not simply the neighborhood, because environment is created within. And when they begin to realize more of their real nature, and more of God, their lives change. This promotes a basic change away from being a chemically dependent person to one who is dependent upon God and His idea. And they grow and behaviors change, and everything changes.
Do you feel that where you work is dangerous?
I seldom feel fear. It's because of Christian Science really. Because of the oneness of God and knowing that you cannot be separated from Him at any time. That keeps me from being fearful. Sometimes, every once in a while, something will surface: I might be walking down the street by myself and hear somebody behind me. But then, trying to turn back to some of the things we learn in Christian Science—knowing our inseparability from God—keeps me from feeling fearful. That's the only way I can explain it. Because if I weren't involved in Christian Science, I would be afraid.
Sometimes in my office, interviewing someone who's been smoking too much PCP, I would probably be afraid.
What do you do when somebody who is under the influence of drugs starts tripping out in your office?
I start praying. I really do. I pray a lot.
How did you become interested in Christian Science?
I was going through a period of depression; nothing seemed to be going right. I remembered, when I was in college, our professor told us about The Christian Science Monitor. Every time I'd pick up other papers, it would look like the news was all about death and dying. So, I started to subscribe to the Monitor. And in reading the Monitor I was reading the religious articles. And there was this little advertisement under the religious article telling how you could send for Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mrs. Eddy.
So I sent for a paperback copy of Science and Health. And I started to read it. And it was so revolutionary. I said, Who is this woman? She must be a contemporary. And I looked to see when she discovered Christian Science, and I said, 1866! The ideas were so contemporary. I kept on reading, and then when I got to the part of really relying on God for healing, I said, "That's a beautiful idea, but I don't think it will work." But I kept reading the book, and I noticed that after I read it, certain things just sort of changed. I stopped smoking cigarettes. Next thing, I stopped drinking. Until finally one time when I got ill, I decided I was going to call a Christian Science practitioner, but I ended up going back to the doctor. But I kept on reading and reading and reading. The next time I got sick, I called a practitioner. And I was healed.
So I decided I was going to church. I brought my son there. He really took a liking to church and the Sunday School, and he kept on begging me to meet his Sunday School teacher, so I met her. She was about the only person I knew that I could talk to about Science. One thing led to the other, and I kept on, and it just transformed my whole life. I was really relying on God.
Pearl, why do you do what you do?
I think the basic thing is a love for people and the fact that if they would just wake up and look, they could be free. I know if they can understand more of God and His idea, man—that man is His spiritual likeness—they can free themselves from addiction. And walk whole as other people. Just be free from it. Because it's a lie. That's the only way I can see it. It's crystal-clear to me.
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