Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
A loud thud startled me awake from a deep sleep. Alarmed, my wife and I immediately sat up. Confused, I groped for the light switch as something heavy fell on my wife’s side of the bed. “What is it?” I asked, to no one in particular. As parents of eight children, my wife and I had been awakened in the middle of the night before. But this time, something was different.
I finally found the light switch, and leaped out of bed to find my teenage son’s limp body lying in my wife’s arms. “Are you sick? What’s the matter?” Blinking repeatedly, I strained to make sense of the sight. My wife, ever attuned to our children, was already cradling him, assessing his condition.
“Mom, pray for me” I heard him say in a weak voice, amidst labored gasps. “I’m dying. I can’t breathe.”
“What’s the matter?” I repeated dully, still attempting to comprehend the situation.
I froze. Something was different. It was as if a dark presence had settled over our bedroom. I suddenly felt cold.
“Call 911” my wife instructed sharply.
Within ten minutes, half a dozen burly firefighters and EMTs were in our bedroom. At 1:30 in the morning. Working to save our son.
My wife accompanied the squad to the hospital. I went to check on our other children, who miraculously had not been awakened by the commotion. Wide awake and head spinning, I collapsed back into bed. Staring at the crucifix on the wall, I pleaded with God to spare my son, while a question echoed back and forth in my mind, taunting me with my inability to respond. How did this happen?
The Crisis Unfolds
I still don’t entirely know the answer to that question, nor will I attempt to answer it here. In a sense, it’s not my story to tell. While my son survived that fateful overdose, it served as an unwelcome wake up call, and was followed by a mind-numbing succession of visits to physicians, counselors, treatment programs, and group sessions. Recoveries and relapses. Pleading and tears. Early in the process, I recall being gripped by a vivid sense that I was completely ill-equipped to handle the situation. There was a recurring, sinking feeling in my stomach that I had to learn about it now. Whether I liked it or not.
That overdose happened more than five years ago. Although the past five years have been among the most challenging of my life, I have learned a few things. It took a long time for me to be able to talk about this, but I’ve decided that it’s important to do so. Why? Two main reasons: First, I’ve discovered that just about everyone has a friend or family member in the grip of addiction these days – it’s a societal pandemic responsible for a shocking number of deaths each year along with an incalculable amount of human suffering. Second, by sharing a couple experiences, I hope to offer… well, hope.
My son is now part of a community called Comunità Cenacolo America, founded by Mother Elvira – a feisty Italian nun who reminds me in many ways of Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN. As part of our commitment to the community, parents attend regional meetings once a month to walk alongside our sons and daughters. At one of the first meetings my wife and I attended, a Deacon whose son is part of the program approached me and said, “Your son’s addiction will become a blessing to your family.” I was so shocked by his bold proclamation, he could have knocked me over with a feather. Yet… by the grace of God, it has proven to be true.
How so? Look for Part II of this post in a week or so, and I’ll share some of the lessons we’ve learned from our experience. Please join me in praying for those suffering from addiction along with their families, including the Cenacolo community here and in Europe.
Resources: For more information on Cenacolo, including for families, entering, or supporting community, click here. Also, here’s a great book written by another dad of a community member called Returning to the Light. It’s a gripping story, and well worth checking out.