Welcome to my blog struggling mom, dad, step-parent or grandparent. Today’s blog is a true story. It’s an interview with a mom whose adult son was a heroin addict. He also struggled with mental health issues. (I posted another interview on August 7th with the mom of a teen).
Her name is Katie James, CRU staff member for many years. This is a strong Christian family involved in full-time ministry. This can happen to anyone.
We hope her authenticity and words of wisdom will help you on your journey. At least you will be reminded that you are not alone!
What signs of trouble did you first notice?
We were slow on the uptake for sure. While there were certain things that predisposed our son to drugs (substance abuse and depression/anxiety disorders run in our family on both sides), we still assumed our children were immune to drugs in light of growing up in a strong Christian family. (etc. so silly…). Of course I know now that addiction can affect any family or individual.
Because our children were destined to never go off the rails (yes, that would be sarcasm) we explained away falling grades and other early signs. But looking back, the early signs of trouble were the typical ones: poor grades, cynicism, hanging out with a different crowd. He also stopped going to youth group and attending the Bible study my husband led in our home even though his old friends still went. And then there was the homemade bong I found hiding in his closet. A dead giveaway!
Please tell us your story.
Our son began doing drugs when he was around 14: Marijuana, LSD, and drinking a bit. We didn’t know this, but as he got further into drugs it became obvious. He was never particularly belligerent and even talked with us about it so we set down some rules, but he wasn’t disclosing all that he was doing. We started taking in kids who had been into drugs but were sober. We had Bible studies in our home, and my husband spent a lot of time with them. Our son did talk to them about Christ and this made us trust him all the more.
When he was 17, two guys who were living here urged him to tell us he’d begun doing heroin. He sat down with us and told us he’d been doing it for three months, and when I said he needed to go to rehab he said he didn’t want to and we could test him. So we did; at first, every day, but then less and less.
A few months later I found a text on his phone from a heroin dealer. When we confronted him he took off to Philadelphia to buy more. He didn’t come home that night and in the morning we got a call from one of his friends (who had become a Christian and was walking with God) that they couldn’t wake him up. He’d overdosed and gone into septic shock.
It was very serious and likely that he would die, however, we put the word out for people to pray and many did. We would ask the doctor what we needed to pray for, and when he told us, we’d send word out to pray for that specific thing. Everything that needed to happen for him to live happened. At one point his heart was beating only fourteen times a minute. It’s also a miracle he didn’t suffer brain damage.
Seven months later he overdosed again but was given naloxone and revived. Since then he’s been clean for five years. Both overdoses stopped him from using heroin for a longer period of time. In the end, the overdoses were God’s ‘severe mercy,’ something C.S. Lewis has written about that has been helpful for me to remember.
Oh my—the question! There are many things I wish we’d done differently.
We gave him too much freedom too fast, and allowed him to grow closer to one particular friend at his high school who was cynical and rebellious, thinking our son might lead him closer to Christ. But instead he brought our son down.
We allowed him to have his own computer and probably didn’t monitor him enough.
We tended toward too much grace and too little truth.
I try not to think too much about what we should have done differently—it can pull me down so that regret becomes my focus rather than how God has brought life from death. It can undermine my faith.
I always hesitate to give advice based on how things went for us. Every child and every circumstance is so different. ‘Tough love’ might be a necessary and wise choice for some parents, but for others it might exacerbate things. Oh, how I wish there was a playbook!
What are the greatest lessons that you have learned?
Hands down—prayer is necessary and God hears. He’s not just going to do what he’s going to do, but he hears us, and answers and provides. In the end, when we didn’t know which way things would go, the only place I could go to for peace, was when I gave him over to the Lord and said, ‘not my will but yours,’ even if it meant our son would die. So, I learned to pray without ceasing and to tell God ‘not my will, but yours.’ They almost seem contradictory, but I found that they were interwoven. One is dependent on the other.
What has been hardest for you? How have you dealt with that?
For a long time it was fear that he would use again, although not as much now. Also, that he smokes – although he’s recently quit. It makes me sad to see him with a cigarette, even though I know in the larger picture it’s not awful. I used to imagine what he could have done or been if he’d never used drugs, but that just seems silly to me now in light of how God has used everything for good.
I’ve learned that with each one of these, and so many more, the only way to deal with them, is to go to God in prayer. This doesn’t mean that they don’t bother me, but trusting God and thanking him is the only thing that has given me peace. Reminding myself of who God is and praising him has continually given me perspective.
Are there any resources you found that you want to share?
The Prayer for Prodigals website is my number one resource. (click on the link if you’d like to join this confidential, password protected site) I was able to increase prayer for our son. I even found an obscure church’s website and filled out the form and asked for prayer. I also started a prayer group at our church that meets every week. We’ve seen God – truly – do miracles. There are kids that seemed beyond hope and yet they’re doing so well.
What is a favorite Bible verse that has meant a lot to you on this painful path?
Philemon 1:15 “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever –”
What do you want to say to other hurting parents, words of wisdom you’d like to pass on?
- Find someone to pray with. My husband and I spent time (we still do) every evening praying for our son. It’s been a long journey, but we’ve seen God do abundantly more than we could have asked or imagined. And this includes my own growth.
- Understand that God is at work in you as well as your loved one. This was revelatory for me.
- Know that God gave you your son/daughter to you—specifically, them—because he knew they would need to be prayed for. He trusted that you would do this. It reveals both his love for your son or daughter as well as his trust that you would obey him. He trusted you enough to give you someone he knew would need substantial prayer.
- Don’t keep things to yourself; humbly allow others to know what’s going on. Perhaps because our son would very likely die, we were fine with everyone knowing—anyone who would pray—our whole church knew. That said, it might be most helpful for you to only bring a few people you can trust into your lives.
- Start a prayer group for people who are dealing with children involved in drugs. My Tuesday night prayer group has been indispensable – and again, over the course of four years, seen God do powerful things. I never expected some of these kids to live, and each and every one of them is sober and growing closer to their families.
- Lastly, I found my greatest peace when, like Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his son, I gave my son up to whatever might happen—even death. It was hard, but necessary for me, in light of his serious overdose. It’s not a one-time thing; even now sometimes I need to go there.
Thank you, Katie, for sharing your heart with us today. God bless your son and your family. We pray he continues on in his recovery.
About Katie James: Katherine James has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University where she received the Felipe P. De Alba Fellowship and taught undergraduate fiction. Her memoir, Notes On Orion, that chronicles her son’s overdose and her and her husband’s effort to help kids caught in the grip of heroin, will be released in summer of 2018. She also has a debut novel, Can You See Anything Now? that will be released this October.