Battling addiction with love

Father Decewicz at St. Juan Diego’s parish picnic in 2018.

In 2020, overdose deaths reached an all-time high in Allegheny County, showing that the diocesan Addiction Recovery Ministry is more crucial than ever.

“Addicts are afraid. They’re always living on the edge,” said Father Michael Decewicz, founder of the ministry known as ARM, and a recovering alcoholic. “Shame is the biggest inhibiter to recovery. It says you are not worthy. You can’t believe that God can love you.”

In 2017, the county marked a record 737 fatalities from accidental overdoses, and the toll was expected to top 760 last year, according to the Office of the Medical Examiner.

“Abuse has increased during the pandemic,” said Deacon Tim Noca, ministry chair. “Isolation is really bad for those suffering from addiction.”

ARM, which began nearly three years ago with funding from Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, offers weekly meetings, spiritual enrichment and special events. The gatherings follow COVID health guidelines.

The group’s mission is “to provide support, encouragement, education, and to bring the love of God to all those struggling with addiction and recovery, and to all those loved ones who have been affected in any way by this disease.”

Board member John Tamiggi, executive director of Allegheny Valley Habitat for Humanity, saw the devastating impact of addiction in the New Kensington area. In response, he started a training program for addicts in recovery.

“They learned skills they didn’t have before, putting up drywall and working with concrete,” he said. “I witnessed firsthand their improved self-esteem and personal growth.”

ARM began a new partnership with Gateway Rehab for recovering addicts coming out of treatment, providing cash for a first month’s rent, a bus pass or to turn a phone back on.

The fund, named for the late Bill Dixon, Father Decewicz’s AA sponsor, has helped more than 50 people so far, according to Deacon Noca. “It creates a cushion,” he said.

“Stress is a big factor in relapse,” Tamiggi added. “They need support.”

ARM’s regular program schedule includes:

“People can help through prayer,” Deacon Noca said.

“Recovery isn’t a cure,” Father Decewicz added. “But it’s worth the fight.”

Father Decewicz talks about ways people can help in the battle against addiction.