I’ll never forget the night years ago when my younger brother, Andy, told me he was addicted to heroin. We sat in my parked car near the beach, the darkness shrouding his face as he told me the story.
“I need to tell you something, Kay. I know you’re going to take this hard. I started using heroin a few months ago and I can’t stop.” The world stood still for a few moments as I absorbed the news that my baby brother—the one whose arrival in our family eight years after I was born gave me the sibling I had longed for, the one I carried in my arms, the one I pretended was my personal walky-talky doll when he was 2, the one who used to snuggle in my arms and call me “Sissy”—was a heroin addict.
Through my tears I shouted questions at him: “Why did you start shooting up heroin? What’s the matter with you? Are you stupid? What did you think would happen? Did you think you could play with heroin and not become a drug addict?” I was shocked and angry and confused. Mostly I was frightened. Was I going to lose him to a HepC or HIV infection? Would a violent drug dealer harm him? Would he die by an accidental overdose?
I don’t even really remember how Andy answered my barrage of questions, but the conversation did not end well. For the next five years, our family rode the roller coaster of a substance-use disorder with him. My parents suffered bleak despair as they watched a dearly loved child being wrecked by an opioid addiction. Their beautiful boy shrank to a pale skeleton who lied to their faces, stole and pawned their few prized possessions, wrecked their cars, destroyed their trust, and broke their hearts.
As a sister, I grieved the ruin heroin was creating in my brother. But as a daughter, I hated the ways it was destroying my parents. Yet their love never wavered. Not for a second. He was their son, and they would give their last dollar and their last prayer to see him whole and healthy again. The more heroin consumed him, the more they forgave and prayed.
Andy is one of the lucky ones. Somewhere in the black, merciless hole of addiction, a tiny piece of hope survived. Eventually, he drove himself to a detox center, endured the accompanying physical and mental agony of withdrawal, and slowly rebuilt his life.
As he began to rebuild his life, we had to rebuild our lives as well. There was much to forgive. Many people are hesitant to forgive because the other person doesn’t deserve it. The wounds they have caused are grievous. Yet forgiveness is not primarily for the benefit of the other person but for us. If we cannot forgive others how can we even possibly receive the forgiveness of God? The Bible says in James 2:13, “For there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. But if you have been merciful, then God’s mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you” (NLT).
Judgment never changes anyone, but forgiveness is the most transformative power in the universe. That’s why God repeatedly offers it to each of us, then commands us to ask for it, accept it, and offer it to those who have wounded us.
Others are reluctant to forgive because they misunderstand the difference between forgiveness and trust. While forgiveness at its best is immediate and unconditional, trust is built or rebuilt slowly and is completely conditional. Forgiveness is a pardon for the past, but it is not a license to continue hurting others in the present.
Today, my brother is the sweet brother of my youth—intelligent, warm and funny, a gifted musician and songwriter, a great dad, and a loving son. He will be forever grateful that our parents never gave up hoping and praying for recovery, and forgave the terrible pain he caused them. Our story has a happy ending.
Not every story of addiction and substance use disorder ends with recovery. Our family shares the grief of those who have lost loved ones or are currently riding the chaotic roller coaster of substance abuse disorder with someone they love. If you are walking through an addiction with someone, don’t give up. Keep praying, keep hoping, and keep forgiving.
If you’re struggling with a substance-use disorder, please consider attending a Celebrate Recovery® group in your area. More than 4 million men and women have found healing and hope through this Christ-centered peer-led recovery program. There is hope! Recovery is possible.
To learn more about Celebrate Recovery visit celebraterecovery.com
Find support for your mental health ministry at kaywarren.com/mentalhealth
This article originally appeared in Time magazine on February 22, 2018.
Thank you for sharing so honestly and vulnerably. My name is John Eklund and I’ve been championing the opioid crisis response for Celebrate Recovery. This kind of candid & personal conversation around the use and abuse of opioids is vital to giving faces and names to the shocking numbers of those being devastated by this epidemic. Celebrate Recovery is committed to stemming the tide of this national health emergency that is seeing 140 fatal overdoses a day. We are committed to making a difference 1 more changed life at a time. God bless you, and thanks again for sharing!
PTL for how he continues to use and bless others through you, and honor His name.
Thanks for sharing Kay. I run a government drug prevention and recovery wellness program here in Tacloban City Philippines, ( where Super Typhoon Haiyan devasted our city) i mobilize faith based as coaches. In fact i bought a set of celebrate recovery when i was in US. Hope i can learn more
Thank you so much Kay for sharing this. Our 30-year-old son struggled with heroin addiction and now is struggling with an addiction to the drug that was supposed to help him get off heroin: Subutex. He recently moved in with us for a short time while he waits to get into a detox facility. My wife and I have been participating in Celebrate Recovery for 13 years to work on our codependency. It is because of Celebrate Recovery we have had the love and support we need as we walk this heartbreaking journey. Our hope is not in the future but is solely in Jesus Christ. We don’t know the future but we do know who will be with us in the future. Knowing others are walking this journey with us provides the support we need. We deeply love our son and are cheering him on in his quest for sobriety and the life God has for him. Anger, fear, love have all coincided at the same time in our relationship. Today however, because of Celebrate Recovery, we have less anger, less fear, and more love. We are very grateful for that.