If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know of our struggles with a son who is an addict. If you're in the midst of this battle or know someone who is, I want you to know there is hope for addiction. To be more specific, there is hope for your addicted loved one.
Addiction is, quite literally, killing our country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 72,000 people died of an overdose in 2017. The largest increase in overdoses came from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, with an estimated 30,000 deaths. These synthetic opioids are a game changer. Addicts are in more danger of overdose than ever because of these synthetics.
According to the study, the 2017 death rate is a two-fold increase over a decade.
It's a serious problem that requires serious solutions. That's a topic for another day and another article. This post is about finding hope for addiction. We have recently found this hope in our son's story.
Let me bring you up to date.
If you haven't done so, I encourage you to read our story about our son. It's something we've dealt with for over eleven years now. You can find the details in the stories, so I won't go into them here.
Here's the cliff's notes version. In 2007, we found out our son, Jason was using heroin. Our initial reaction, of course, was shock and disbelief. We knew he was using and dealing marijuana. That discovery came in 2000. We had no idea how far that went until the 2007 discovery.
The following year was his first arrest. He stayed clean for two years. The main reason was a mandatory random drug test that was part of his probation. Every week for two years he called a specific number. If his code came up in the call, he had four hours (I think) or so to get tested. They do it randomly because addicts know how to trick the drug test. (You wouldn't believe what they can do to cover up their addiction).
Over the next nine years, Jason was in and out of jail. He accumulated twenty-four felonies and seven or eight misdemeanors along the way. Here's why.
Addicts' brains get rewired. Their brains tell them that if they don't get their drug of choice (heroin in his case) they will die. Imagine living like that. Get the drug – live. Don't get the drug – die. The pursuit causes them to do things they would never do outside the addiction. Stealing is one of the biggest crimes. Addicts often can't keep jobs. They need money to get their drug. Options to do that are not good. Selling, stealing, forging checks, etc. are the crimes of choice.
In Jason's case, it was theft. In Virginia at that time, grand larceny felony charges came with theft of goods valued at $200.00. That amount is now $500.00. The bulk of those felony charges were grand larceny. Amazingly, he served very little time during the first few years. That finally caught up with him.
In late 2013 or early 2014 (can't remember exactly) he was sentenced to 7 1/2 years with all but 3 1/2 suspended. That meant he was going to state prison. County facilities are short-term stays. He was doing serious time.
He got out of prison on March 13, 2017. I remember that day as it's my birthday. I drove six hours to pick him up from prison. It was a combination of the worst and best day of my life. Worst because pulling into that prison, seeing the barbed wire, guards, and the atmosphere was stark. To think that's where my son spent the last thirty-three months was haunting. They sent him out in what can only be described as an oversize burlap bag. Fortunately, I brought a change of clothes for him.
Best because he was out of prison and had a chance to turn things around. He had a job and place to live lined up in our home state of Indiana. That whole thing lasted less than ninety days. He cut off contact with his mother and me. We knew he was in trouble.
It turned out we were right. We didn't hear from him again until September when he sent his mother an email. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say he admitted to using again. Oh, I forgot to mention that the email came while we were sitting on the beach in the Outer Banks with friends on our annual beach week. Yup. That's how addicts roll. Just when things are going well, they enter the picture.
He skipped his last parole meeting in Indiana, reverting the case back to Fairfax County where it originated. He had a bench warrant issued for a probation violation. That meant they were looking for him.
My sleuth wife, doing some internet research, found out he was back in Virginia. How? She went to the courts' websites, entered his name and found new charges for him in Prince William County. They were minor charges (at first look) – disregarding a traffic sign was the first. The second was the worst. Driving on a suspended license. Think about this for a moment. Prince William County is next door to Fairfax. They ran his name through the database and never found the charges from Fairfax. What?
He had a court date set for August. We knew he'd never show. If he did, he'd go straight to jail. It got continued to September. Same result. We knew he was in the area but he still never contacted us. You see my wife works in the intelligence community as a business analyst. Her security clearance requires her to tell the authorities if she knows where a felon/fugitive is. For her sake, it was best for us not to know.
She continued searching the courts' websites for new charges. And there were plenty. In total, eight new grand larceny theft charges appeared in Fairfax County. In late May or early June, Cathy and I were headed out front to enjoy a glass of wine on a beautiful early summer day. I opened the door and stepped on to the front porch, only to see two Fairfax County police officers approaching. This time, they were calmly walking toward the house. In the past, they surrounded the house to cover all possible exits in case of an escape attempt.
They knew he wasn't living here but asked what we knew, which we told them was very little. On Sunday night, Jason was back in the Fairfax County jail. They found him two days after our visit.
Hope and change
With that background, let me bring you the hope I promised. For most of the elven years of this journey through addiction, Cathy and I prayed every day for our son. Our prayers were on many levels.
First, Lord, keep him safe and protect him. Second, and more importantly, Lord please help him find You. Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step recovery programs all have a spiritual element near the top of the list. First, admit you are out of control. Second, submit to a higher power (AA), to Jesus Christ (Celebrate Recovery). As Christians, we prayed for him to accept Christ and develop a relationship with Him.
In a phone call shortly after he was back in jail, he called. The first call was not a good one. I lost it. I blew up at him. Eleven years of pain and frustration spewed out of my mouth. I shocked myself. In that tirade, Jason was different. He took it without excuse. Granted, he didn't know how to react. In the past, he would have made excuses and attached blame to everyone else. I heard none of that.
The first call after that was a cry for help. He told me he knew he was out of control; that he was tired of living this way and couldn't do it anymore. He knew he needed and wanted to pursue long-term drug treatment. That is something we had never heard in the past.
More importantly, he said, “Dad, I know you're a Godly man and live out your faith. I need you to teach me how to be a Christian. Teach me about Jesus.” I was stunned! I shared some things with him and gave him some Bible verses. He asked me if I would send him a recovery Bible and workbook. He also wanted any Christian books I'd recommend for him.
I'm telling you, I was blown away. And then I thought about the two prayers we prayed – for his salvation and for his protection. I realized at that moment that both of those prayers were answered. He is a completely different person than the one we've known during his bout with addiction.
I've spoken before about the disease of addiction and recommend this video series I recommend anyone interested in learning more about it. We will not help addicts by putting them in prison.
I've also advocated for Drug Courts in other articles. Drug courts divert addicts from the criminal court system into a court structure designed to treat the disease. Drug courts are slowly gaining acceptance and getting into the state and county justice systems. They offer long-term treatment as an alternative to prison.
Fairfax County recently instituted drug courts. A few weeks back, our son met his new probation officer. She spent the better part of a Friday afternoon with Jason. At the end of their time together, she told him she thought he'd be the perfect candidate for the new drug court treatment program. It's a fourteen-month long-term program. He will live on his own, be subject to strict work requirements, go to counseling and get regularly tested for drug use.
The probation officer saw what we see in our son – a man ready to change his life and get better. She met with the prosecutor and he agreed with the recommendation. The drug court judge signed off as well. Because he had a parole violation and new charges, two criminal court judges had to approve him for the program. It didn't go as smoothly as expected, but both Circuit Court judges approved the program.
Numerous people applied for the drug court program. Jason and two other guys got accepted. They will be the first to enter the program.
During his recent time in jail, Jason has faced numerous challenges, from other inmates trying to get him in trouble to treatment by prison personnel, and bad legal advice. Through it all, he's never once blamed anyone. He's never made excuses. He tried reasoning with another inmate messing with him. In the past, he would have acted completely differently.
Our hope comes from God. He's brought this change in our son.
Letter to the judge
The final confirmation of the change in Jason is in a letter he wrote to the Circuit Court judge. I'm printing it in its entirety below.
“Your honor, in May 2017 I committed a crime I regret. I want to apologize to the Target store and the court for my actions. After some time sober, I relapsed and fell back into old patterns. Having had some time to reflect on my actions, I am incredibly remorseful.
With that said, I am ready to move forward in a way I have never before. I am extremely serious about the opportunity Drug Court is offering me. I know this is the last chance for me, and to be there for my loved ones. Taking recovery seriously, and making it the number one priority in my life is my main objective. I have plans to move my entire life to Fairfax, to be as close as possible to the courthouse. Making Drug Court and recovery the most important things in my life, without success in those I don’t have a future.
Pastor and author Mark Batterson wrote, “Maybe the problem you never thought you could never overcome will turn into your five-hundred-pound opportunity.”
Whatever your decision today, I am humbled that I would even be considered for this opportunity.
Your honor, this is my five-hundred-pound opportunity. I am ready to take it and turn it into my greatest success.
Jason will be released from jail sometime in mid-December, meaning we may get to spend Christmas together. If so, it will be the first Christmas in close to ten years. He has a job when he gets out. He's set to interview with an Oxford House, a half-way house for recovering addicts, in Fairfax County near the courthouse. That keeps him close to the courts and his treatment regime.
The judge told him at the final sentencing, “This is your very last chance. Don't screw this up.” Based on the letter above, it's clear to me he knows this is the last chance.
What's the message in all of this?
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!
If you're a parent of an addict, protect yourself along the way. Set good boundaries. They get better when they're ready. Their bottom is lower than you or I could ever imagine. We found out about the drug use in 2000, the addiction in 2007. It took that long for him to be ready to get better.
Keep praying for your son or daughter. Keep loving them. Even when you think there is no hope (which happens a lot), know there is always hope. Let the story of our son be an example you remember when you're in the depths of despair.
With that said, we know he has a long way to go. He hasn't been able to handle life outside of drugs for a very long time. This time, however, he has the right program at the right time for him. The most important thing is, he seems ready for it.
If you know someone dealing with addiction and think this post will help them, please pass it along. If that person is you, please – NEVER GIVE UP!
May God hold you up in this difficult journey.
Now it's your turn. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
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