Written by Janet Schilling

In the article below Janet Schilling honestly and bravely writes about her experience as a parent of a child struggling with addiction. Included in her story are entries from a journal she began keeping, addressed to her son. Hers is a story of heartache, of hope, and the discovery that to truly love others, you must first love yourself.

At approximately 10:15 PM you called from the ER. Heroin overdose. Paramedics called. Police at scene. They got you breathing again. “I’m fine. I just stopped breathing for a little bit”…there is no discussion or argument that can change your mind.

This overdose was one day/night out of a 15 year battle with substance use/abuse and addiction, and all the behaviors that typically accompany this disease of dis-ease−mentally, emotionally, physically. During this time, we as a family unit, and my son individually, took part in numerous sessions of counseling, 12 step meetings, 30 and 90-day treatment programs, intensive outpatient counseling, family support group meetings, psychiatrist and psychologist appointments, clinical social work sessions, probations, mandated drug screens, court appointments with fines and fees. I felt like we threw everything we could at this disease of the brain, memory and perception. I prayed constantly. All my energy and prayers, all our efforts, all our activities were focused on one individual and one outcome. The most answered prayer, again and again, was for his life.

“So often in life we look at the difficulties we face or the challenges we run into, and we worry and fret over the potential outcomes. But how often do we thank God for the good He has brought into our life, and the fruit He has provided us?”

You are scaring all of us, we are in fear you will come to grave harm. And yet, we are unable to approach you…partly because you make yourself very scarce, partly because you use our distrust of you as a reason for not talking or being here. We are scared that if we approach you about your mental and physical health then you will make even more irrational choices and either injure yourself gravely (and possibly someone else) or you will run away and disappear, again.

There was not a day that went by that I did not feel awful about not trusting my own adult child, being fearful for his life, or thinking I was sinking right along with him because I could not find the thing that would work, the diagnosis that would help, or what to say to him that would wake him up.

“Nothing is ever good enough, you don’t trust me, you never believe me, why don’t you just leave me alone, just leave me alone”…this is all I heard from you, over and over. It’s like your permission slip to hurt yourself and us. But your lies are like bullets.

I gave up and wrote him off lots of times in my head. I was mad, so mad; sad, so sad. I wrote words that he would never see, because that was the only way to dispel the overwhelming emotions I felt. I got it out, so I could go on to the next situation, which I knew would happen soon. I kept praying, kept hoping.

Find your voice. Do not hide. Don’t hide it from yourself, your family, and don’t hide from your addict loved one. When you hide, you not only refuse to acknowledge the condition, but you refuse to be open for changes that are necessary.”

I have not given up on you. You make me mad, scared, worried, and sad. You make me happy and hopeful with even small gestures of caring. I cannot give up on you. I love you, I will always love you. 

After fifteen years of his substance abuse, addiction, and our family upheaval, this is what I decided:

I no longer want to give your choices power over my mental, physical, and emotional well being. I will work on not fearing your choices, and pray that you will be watched over by the Lord and His angels. I will pray for you to have discernment in making choices that strengthen you. I constantly pray for your spirit, your body, and your mind to be transformed.

I made sure my son heard this from me. Then, I decided the focus I wanted was to strengthen my faith, and I needed a church community. I found my way to First United Methodist Church by attending the America Street worship service. I made contact with the Spiritual Direction team, and I used those times to talk about my decision and to unload. That was strength to me. Those ties led to more interactions, focus, and ‘want’ to participate. None of this was anticipated, or even planned when I first walked in the door. In 2015, my son went into a long term recovery center with a focus on discipleship. Special people worked to make this possible and to be offered. My family and my chosen community gave support and guidance through this effort.

If addiction or substance abuse is part of your world, do not give up hope and do not give up loving−but you may have to let go, and letting go is not neglect. Letting go does not mean you stop caring. It means you can’t do it for someone else.

Find your voice. Do not hide. Don’t hide it from yourself, your family, and don’t hide from your addict loved one. When you hide, you not only refuse to acknowledge the condition, but you refuse to be open for changes that are necessary.

Seek help. You need support and information, you need to hear from others, you need a safe place to unload. Don’t stop until you have what is best for you. When the pain is less, the anger quieted, when you have more OK days than horrible days, please listen carefully to others. Reach out, pass on what you know, or just say “Us, too. Tell me how you are doing.” Recovery help, even simple help, for addicts and families needs to be more open and within reach.

Consider this: Before you go all the way around the world looking for help, make an effort to let your church community be your primary support group. If you don’t have a church community, we welcome you to join ours. But no matter where you are in your journey dealing with addiction, secure a faith community in your life. You will find compassion, acceptance, respect and encouragement. And a place to unload:

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

-MATTHEW 11:28-30