Posts Tagged ‘heroin addiction’

I thought I’d provide one last update on the situation I’ve been dealing with (and blogging about) for the last couple of weeks [see “Back to the Edge of the Cliff” – 03/06/2014 & “Back to the Edge of the Cliff (Update)” – 03/12/2014].  As I last wrote about the situation, we were facing the fact that Christian (a 21 year old boy who had intentionally overdosed on heroin, and was clinically dead for several minutes) was set to be released from the hospital, and had nowhere to go for several days, as he awaited the opportunity to enter the drug rehab program he hoped to get into.  At that time I was wrestling with what role I should play, and trying to discern how far God was calling me to go to help Chris.  Though I had no doubt that the bond we’d formed while he was in the hospital was meant to help him to the next step, I couldn’t help but question the wisdom of bringing a potentially suicidal drug addict under the same roof as my wife and children.  Though I didn’t sense that Chris posed any direct threat to them, his frayed state of mind made the possibilities a little daunting.  

Despite a lot of prayers, I still wasn’t sure what to do when the hospital called last Wednesday to tell me that they’d be discharging Chris from the psychiatric wing that afternoon.  Though I’d called several places, each one presented hurdles that I couldn’t seem to overcome within the given timeframe.  By the time I arrived to pick him up, I had only one potential shelter for him to go to and that was contingent upon him passing a drug screening.  That seemed unlikely since he’d just ODed on heroin, and was being treated with narcotics while in the hospital.  Nonetheless, I believed that if it was meant to be, God would make a way for us.  The more immediate problem was that Chris didn’t have any clothes or ID, and that all of his stuff was at his mother’s house, where she continued to succumb to her own addiction.  As I pulled up to the hospital, the snow was flying and the wind chill was down into the single digits, but Chris was wearing a pair of jeans from the lost and found (several sizes too big and held together by a plastic wire tie), an old scrub shirt, and a pair of flip flops.  Though I gave him my coat, we headed directly to the store to get something to wear.  On the way I told him about the shelter, but he made it clear that if I didn’t want him with us, he could find something on his own.  At that point, I knew that his only chance to stay clean long enough to reach rehab was to take him in.  So after we got him some clothes we headed home.

For the next few days we did our best to keep him safe and calm.  Bekah (my 14 year old daughter) volunteered to sleep on the couch, so he could have a bed; while he, and AJ (my 14 year old son) took to playing on the X-Box.  Other than those few little breaks, Christian was pretty much my shadow.  Everywhere I went, he seemed to be right behind me, and we talked endlessly, about a myriad of topics.  He really seemed to be enjoying the dynamic of being one of our kids, and I must admit that I was surprised by how well things seemed to go.

Despite those positives, there was some underlying tension for me.  One was that I wound up taking the rest of the week off without any prior notice.  I wasn’t sure how well that would sit with my boss, and it was a bit of a drain on my already depleted vacation supply.  Another thing was feeling as though I needed to be accessible to him at all times.  Given the many demands on my time, it was hard to maintain any sort of real balance or routine.  While I generally won’t allow anyone to take precedence over Anita or the kids, for these days Christian was priority one.  While I knew that was probably necessary, it was somewhat unnatural and disconcerting to me.  As the days went on, he began to stay up after we all went to bed, which also made for some restless nights.

On the less subtle side of things, there were immediate challenges as well.  The first of those came from Christian’s mother, who took offense that I was the one he wanted to talk to in the hospital, and looked to when he got out.  That offense grew exponentially when she began to recognize that, to some extent, I was shielding Chris from her.  While I didn’t keep them from talking, I was painfully aware that Carleen’s continued addiction made her a threat to his sobriety, and I would not allow them to be alone together.  As the weekend progressed, her anger and frustration continued to build.  I also looked into the rehab program Chris was holding out for, and from the criteria listed on their website, it was apparent to me that he wasn’t going to qualify.  When I told him this, he insisted that he still wanted to try.  At first, I thought this was because he really wanted that program badly, but in hindsight, I realize that he was already having his doubts and that he was simply stalling for more time.  Though I didn’t immediately nix the idea of waiting until Tuesday (or walking all the way through this program’s process), I began to push Chris to come up with a Plan B and it became apparent that he really had no interest in that.  By Saturday, the Lord was really opening my eyes to the unseen reality of the situation, which was that Chris felt pretty comfortable with us, and that his desire to go through the whole rehab process was beginning to evaporate.  At that time, I still had no real alternatives to the program he was after, and I began to pray earnestly for God to light the path for us.

On Sunday morning we went to church and wouldn’t you know that our Pastor had previously scheduled one of the men from the congregation to speak in his stead that day.  And isn’t it just like the Lord that this man (& his wife) are both recently recovered heroin addicts.  Before the service even started, and before he even knew this man’s story, Chris confessed to me that he felt like he “could go either way today”.  After the man spoke, and as we waited to talk to him, he also shared that he had a strong sense that “this day could end badly or awesomely”.  When we did get to talk to this brother, he shared his story and gave us the contact information for the rehab he went through, which Chris could immediately get into.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic, as I felt as though the Lord had spoken to us loudly and had made a way for us.  Chris, on the other hand, didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm.  He suddenly became very sluggish and non-responsive in our conversations, and for the first time, he began to leave my side, in favor of hanging out with the kids.  After we ate lunch, he even called his mother and invited her to stop by the house.  When she came by, I made sure that I was there, and I could tell that neither of them felt as though they could say what was on their mind.  His mother glared at me and after an awkward silence, decided to leave.  At this point, I knew that the tide had turned and that Chris’ heart wasn’t truly committed to rehab anymore.  Though he wanted to be free of the addiction, he wasn’t necessarily willing to go through the process to get there.  I also believe that if I hadn’t rudely inserted myself into that meeting, Chris may well have gotten in the car with his mother and headed home.

For the rest of the evening I kept Chris close to me and pressed him about what he really wanted.  I knew that we running out of time and I tried hard to get him to commit to heading up to the facility that night; but that same non-committal lethargy seemed to keep washing over him.  It was after midnight before I headed to bed, and I told him that the following day (i.e. Monday) was going to be D-Day.  Anita was going to stay with him throughout the day and I mentioned that he needed do his laundry, so we could pack him up and take him to rehab after dinner.  He didn’t really say much to that and I wondered if he might leave in the night.  But instead he spent all night playing video games and was still awake when I got up for work in the morning.  He finally fell asleep before I got the kids off to school, and sleep for most of the day. 

Not surprisingly, when I got off of work, I found that his mother had blown up my cellphone, and seemed desperate to reach him.  Just as the Spirit in me was letting me know that we were running out of time, so were the spirits in her.  When I got home, he hadn’t done the laundry and was in that same sort of stupor.  When his mom finally called the house and spoke to him, she wanted to know when he was leaving, where he was going, and most importantly, whether there would be a time when he’d be at the house by himself.  Christian’s low ebb, and lack of commitment to the plan I had laid out the night before, caused him to give her vague answers, which made it seem as though nothing had been decided yet.  Ultimately, I believe that those conversations convinced her that she didn’t really need to stop by for another heavily monitored conversation and that she still had some time.  After we ate dinner, and the laundry was dry and folded, I told Christian that it was now or never.  That if he didn’t make this commitment now, that he wasn’t likely to make it.

My old pastor used to say, “You need to seize the opportunity of a lifetime within the lifetime of the opportunity”.  I’m not sure if that was his or whether he read that somewhere, but it has always stuck with me.  There at the table, I laid it all out for Chris, reminding him of all the ways God had spoken to us both in the last few days and of the spiritual battle that was raging all around him.  I told him that the enemy of his soul wanted this to seem like a really complex decision, but that it was really a very simple one.  I explained that he was at a crossroads and that there were only two paths he could take.  One was a road he was intimately familiar with; it was in fact the road he grew up on, and the one that ultimately led him to take his own life.   And while the other road was one he’d never travelled, it was the only other alternative.  I let him know that it was alright to be afraid of what he didn’t know, but that he couldn’t let that fear drive him down the road of death.  I told him that if he didn’t feel strong enough to cross over this threshold, I was willing to carry him across if he’d let me.

I wish I could say that there was some big emotional bang, but he simply stared at me blankly.  After some uncomfortable moments of silence, he finally asked, “Do I have time for a shower before we go?” and I told him that he did.  It took awhile to get him out the door and even longer to get him in the door at the rehab, but late last night he finally took that first step down this new path.  He’s going to need to take a bunch more steps if he’s ever going to be truly free, but I can’t help but be incredibly grateful for this first one.  I’m not sure his mother will ever forgive me for “taking away her son”, but the truth is that I loved her enough to protect him from her.  I know that the mother in her wants him to get well, but the addict in her didn’t want to give up her partner in crime, and at least for now, the addict seems to be in charge.  More than ever, this family needs our prayers.  There are still two young (ages 10yrs & 13yrs) daughters living with this addicted mother, and I feel certain that God is about to deal with that situation as well.  Ultimately that will be a different chapter in this story.  Today I want to thank God for His faithfulness and patience.  Apart from Him, we are all profoundly lost!

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I appreciate all of the prayers offered up on behalf of our friends Christian and Carleen, who I wrote about last week (03/06/2014) in my blog titled, “Back to the Edge of the Cliff”. As I mentioned in that article, Christian actually died and was revived several minutes later by his mother Carleen (who was formerly a Registered Nurse). While she offered no explanation for why her 21 year old son’s heart stopped suddenly, and blood came streaming from his mouth, those who know them would have to assume that these things were all the byproduct of a drug overdose, as both mother and son are addicted to heroin. The only real question would be whether it was intentional or accidental.

On a more personal note, it was somewhat surprising to hear that Christian was asking to see me, as we’d never been particularly close. Over the years of our friendship, most of my attention had been devoted to his mother and his two little sisters. Though I know that he appreciated those efforts it didn’t necessarily result in a deep bond between us. His biological father has never been a part of his life, and was already serving a 50 year sentence for attempted murder when Christian was a baby. Though I never sensed that he looked to me as any sort of father figure, I was blessed to hear that he wanted to see me, even though I had no idea what I should say. At first, the hospital prohibited visitors, but I eventually got the call that I could see him.

After much prayer, I felt that I just needed to let Christian dictate the conversation for a while, and to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me. Though the initial minutes of our time together were awkward, we finally settled into a relaxed conversation about nothing in particular. After an hour and a half of this small talk, I was wondering if this was really what God wanted, but Christian seemed to be engaged, so I just continued to roll with it. Then, after a brief interruption by one of his nurses, he suddenly turned back to me and calmly said, “You know that I was trying to end it?” While I wasn’t quite prepared for that, I tried not to give away my surprise; and without any discernible emotion, he proceeded to tell me the story of how he decided to end his life and what he did to execute that plan.

I have to admit that it was chilling to hear how little regard he had for himself, or for his family who witnessed these things. Sadly, his 13 year old sister was the one in the room when blood started issuing from his mouth and his heart stopped beating. In her young life she’s already been an eyewitness to her baby sister losing an arm to a lawn mower, and her father dying in their living room. Even worse is the fact that those events may not constitute the most horrific things she’s experienced, as she’s grown up in a house full of drug addicts. I have to admit that my heart was sick as I considered the carnage this family has known.

Within the story, there was a point where a window of opportunity seemed to crack open, as Christian admitted that he moved into the kitchen because he knew that no one would find him in the bedroom. As I asked about that, he disclosed that as the heroin quickly grabbed a hold of him, he had wondered if this wasn’t a mistake, and from there we spent the next couple of hours talking about fear, hope, suffering, eternity, God, religion, and life in general. I can’t tell you what, if anything, was accomplished in those hours, but it was as naked a conversation as I’ve ever had, and I sensed that it was exactly what both Christian, and God, wanted all along. Christian has a lot of questions, and I didn’t try to give him answers that I didn’t have. I think he appreciated that. I couldn’t help but think of the friends of Job, who cried with him for seven days, but then tried to explain what they didn’t understand. I did my best not to go there.

Looking back, I sense that he was sort of testing me. Would I even come; would I give up when things got inconvenient; would I preach at him; would I stay for more than 15 minutes; would I judge him; would I throw some tired religious platitudes at him; would I really care one way or another? When I finally had to go, he seemed to understand, but he sheepishly asked, “Can you come back tomorrow?” I guess that was his way of letting me know that it had all meant something to him too. As I went to leave I patted him on the shoulder, but despite being weak and full of IV lines / heart monitor wires, he insisted on getting up and hugging me. In that moment I could feel the utter void of love that this boy has ever experienced from a man who didn’t want something from him.

Our conversations in the days since have wavered between more small talk and the deeper issues that are going on in his life. Without us really addressing it directly, Christian decided that he wants to go to rehab at a local outreach ministry, if they’ll take him. At this point, he’s a risk even for the programs that were created to help people like him. And he’s opened up about his fears of being released from the hospital with nowhere to go, other than back to the life he’s always known. He seems to want to make a change, but he’s not sure he can do it, or exactly how to begin. From the outside it all seems pretty simple, but up close it looks nearly impossible. His mother has been the truest manifestation of love he’s known, and yet, her continued involvement in his life presents a real danger to his future. For Carleen, her kids have been her motivation to keep going, but her addiction now threatens their existence. Without the kids, will Carleen have an incentive to keep going? What if Christian needs a safe place to stay? Is it wise to bring him into my home with three teenaged kids? How will he feel if I’m not willing to do that? How far is God calling me to go with this? I’ve got all sorts of words, but talk is cheaper than ever in his world. This boy needs a miracle and only God can deliver it. Despite the encouraging events of the last few days, it’s still up in the air when it comes to tomorrow. Please lift this whole situation up in prayer, as apart from God, we can do nothing.

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In my recent (17 Jan 2014) post, “4 Days and Counting” I told the story of our precious girl, Carleen, and of her efforts to kick her heroin addiction. Sadly, it is a battle that she’s still struggling to win, and her setbacks not only affect her, but her three children. Last night, we got a frantic call from Carleen, telling us that her 21 year old son, Christian, who is also a drug addict, had flat-lined (i.e. heart stopped), and was coughing up blood. He is now in the Intensive Care Unit, with an uncertain prognosis, and he is asking to see me. I wanted to go last night, but even Carleen wasn’t able to stay past 8:00 p.m. As I prepare to see him today I find myself praying hard for the right heart and words. In the midst of those prayers I recalled something I wrote for Carleen a few years ago. At that time, she too was very close to death. These words still ring true today. Please pray for all of us as we join hands and walk down this uncertain road together.

A Prayer for the Dying

You were born in the wilderness
Under the cover of darkness
With no shelter from the weather

You were raised by wolves
Who occasionally shared their scraps
But who also fed upon you

That you survived those years is a miracle
Or maybe it was destiny
Either way, the “civilized” world has never quite felt like home

You learned to adapt
And even to excel
But a full moon still stirs you in the middle of the night

We wanted to believe the scars meant that the wounds had closed up
And that your incredible strength would somehow keep you free
But now we know that the bleeding never really stopped on the inside

You’ve pressed further than most of us could have
But the pallor of death has begun to wash over your face
As the last drops of hope seemingly seep from your pores

You keep trying to remember to breathe
But because you don’t think of yourself as valuable
It doesn’t really seem to be all that important

Though you have often felt alone, there is One who has never left you
He’s watched you from afar
And occasionally you’ve caught glimpses of Him through the trees

He always knew that this day would come
And He made sure that you’d have what was needed to face it
And, indeed, you do

Call to Him
Surrender to Him
Reach for Him

He has a plan for you
A destination for your journey
And nothing from the past has the power to steal it

He will give you strength
But He will not make the decision
He will only take what you’re willing to put in His hands

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This has been a week filled with momentous occasions. On Tuesday, our daughter Katelyn turned 21 years old (her first baby is due next month). On Wednesday our son Patrick turned 15 years old (he’ll be driving this summer), and on Thursday, both my Father-in-law, and his mother, celebrated birthdays as well (Grandma is in her nineties and still lives in her own home). To be sure, each one of those events was significant in its own right. But despite their importance, it may have been a phone call this morning (i.e. Friday) that provided the most profound moment of the week; and it came from a little heroin addict named Carleen.

Carleen isn’t just an “anybody” to us; she is a “somebody”. We first encountered her many years ago, at a church service. She was weeping at an altar, when my wife’s strong mothering instinct was stirred to help her. We’d not seen her before, but the dark circles around her eyes and the tattoos on her body gave us a clue that her journey hadn’t been easy. Turns out that Carleen had been born into a hellish situation, where she’d been ravaged by her own father (and the men he’d bring home) from the time she was a little girl. She was 13 years old and pregnant (by a man who eventually went to prison for attempted murder), when her father threw her out and branded her a “whore”. By the time we met her, she was in her twenties and raising two kids by herself.

The years since have been a roller coaster of triumph and tragedy. We were there as she reconciled with her daughter’s father, Noah and for the birth of her third child. We were there when Noah received the miraculous news that he’d get a kidney transplant; and when she graduated from nursing school. But then we also stood with her in court, as she testified to the abuse that precipitated the end of that marriage, and rushed to the hospital when her baby lost most of her arm in a lawnmower accident. We’ve watched her son get arrested repeatedly and battle drug addiction, and we got the call when Noah died in her living room during a visit with the girls. As she spiraled back into heroin addiction it has been excruciating to watch her life unravel, including the loss of the nurse’s license she worked so hard to get.

At Christmas, she felt as though God reached out to her and sent some wonderful strangers to bless her family. And she resolved, once again, to try to get clean in the New Year. In recent weeks, she’s been trying to kick the heroin cold turkey, because going to rehab could cost her custody of her kids. She didn’t make it the first time, but she called us this morning to say that she was on day 4 without a fix.

I’ll admit that it’s not easy to battle the cynical thoughts about how likely she is to beat this thing. We’ve come too far and seen too much to be naive. To make matters worse, as I prayed this morning I had a vision of me preaching her funeral. It’s hard to say whether that is a picture of the future or just God’s way of reminding me what’s at stake. But either way, it’s tough. It’s tempting to try to protect your heart in these moments, but to do that would rob Carleen of the love she needs from us right now.

4 days may not seem like much, but it’s an eternity for an addict. I’m proud of my girl and we’re going to keep fighting for her as best as we know how. Tomorrow, I hope that we’ll get another call and be celebrating day 5. Please pray for our precious Carleen.

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