Stories of Faith and Addiction

February 21, 2018

The day after I got out of treatment, I walked up the steps to Chicago’s Recovery House and into my first meeting in the outside world. My hands were shaking, my breath was coming short and fast. I was on edge.

The first person to greet me was Jimmy B. Jimmy B. had the long, braided ponytail of an 80s rockstar, the leather vest of a hooligan biker, and the hard eyes of a prize fighter—not the first person I might look to for a warm welcome.
But being fresh out of treatment, I was willing to take help where I could get it.

In my nervousness, the first words that tumbled from my mouth were not Hello, how are you, but “I feel crazy.” There was a beat of silence, during which my mind spun into infinite spirals of fear: What the hell did I just say? Is this guy is gonna tell me to just go home? But instead of a sneer, Jimmy B. offered me a smile—and a cup of coffee. “We’re all here,” he said to me, pointing a finger at his head, “because we’re not ‘all there.’”

And so I took a breath and found my seat, and I soon discovered that Jimmy was right. As I listened to the stories from my new fellows, I learned that as addicts, they’d all succumbed to the same madness as me, and in these rooms, they supported each other through that madness.

Focus on the similarities and not the differences, I told myself. So I kept coming back. Soon I learned that everyone in those rooms has an amazing story of redemption. Jimmy B. used to live under a bridge, begging for enough money to fill the needles he’d stick in his arms. Society would call him hopeless, a bum, even trash.

But I call Jimmy B. a hero. He’s generous, loyal, and loving. He lends an ear to those who need to spill their troubles, and he celebrates the victories of each of his fellows. He is so much more than the labels placed on him in the midst of his addiction, and he helped me see that I am too.

During my active addiction, I was a liar, a thief, a manipulator, and a coward. But today, I am a father. Today, I am a mentor. Today, I am a musician in recovery. Today, I am a soldier in this battle.

If it weren’t for the fellowship, I don’t know if I’d be standing here today, strong in the knowledge that I can make positive contributions to the world. The fellowship helped save my life, and continues to be a source of inspiration and guidance. To my mind, we are soldiers fighting the in the same battalion, sharing our victories, mourning those who have fallen, yet never, ever giving up. We are freedom fighters, joining forces to keep each other safe and to help those still in shackles.

For me, recovery is the precarious balance between surrendering to my disease and fighting for my recovery.

When it comes to heroin, I am powerless—I cannot use it with any moderation; I will always succumb to it. But what I can do is, every day, every minute, fight for my recovery. And I cannot fight this fight without my brothers and sisters in arms; our weapons are our experience, our strength, and our hope.

This ongoing battle is what inspired my song “A Call to Arms.” As a person in recovery, I have found it my duty to share my story in hopes that it will inspire others to raise their hands for help. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this fight, it’s that we do not, we cannot recover alone. And so I try to give to others what was so freely given to me: inspiration, strength, love, and hope.

I’ll fight this proud fight until my dying breath.

DECEMBER 20, 2017

My 22-year-old son, “Max,” has been a drug addict since he was 13. He went to rehab at 17, got out, and was using again within a month.

The past year and a half, however, has been the most difficult time. He was like a walking zombie. To feed his addiction, he started stealing from his employer and everybody in our family.

Last February, Max broke into my neighbor’s apartment for cash. He was jailed on a felony burglary charge. I bailed him out. He promised he would go to rehab and change. The night I bailed him out was the first night that he shot heroin. When somebody’s on that drug, they’re not themselves. He sank into the world of heroin —which is a nightmare and continued to steal from me, my younger son “Matt,” anywhere he could get money. Eventually, I couldn’t allow him into my home anymore because we didn’t feel safe.

And it just progressed. Max was skin and bones. He got arrested several times.

I’m friends with Mary Kathryn, whom I know as Mary Kay. One day during the summer when this was at its worst, Mary Kay said, “You need to just hand him over (to Jesus through Mary],” so that’s what I did. It took time, but I’ve handed him over so that Our Lady can take care of him. I asked Mary Kay, “How do you pray the Rosary?” I’m a Lutheran — we don’t pray the Rosary. But I prayed the Rosary for him every day for guidance and protection.

Finally, in October, Max came into my home and stole from me. Matt was home, though Max didn’t know. I made the decision that I was going to put a stop to it, so I had Max arrested. He went to jail and asked me to bail him out. I said, “I’m not going to let you out. If you’re in jail, I know you’re safe. I know you’re not using.” For a couple weeks, he was mad that he was in jail. That’s where his recovery began.

Now, throughout his life, Max had no faith whatsoever. Whenever he went to rehab before, they were always talking about “your higher power.” God was not his higher power. He’s a hiker, so he would always say, “Mother Nature’s my higher power.”

But then Max had a turnaround in jail and started attending church services and Bible study. Max started praying every day, including the Rosary. He prays for his recovery, his family, and addicts who haven’t gotten help. There’s a complete change from who he was. He just began to have faith. I didn’t push him into any of this. He came into it on his own.

Max spent two months in jail. A social worker came into his life who helped him get into a rehab center in Saranac Lake, N.Y., which has a great emphasis on spirituality and a family program.  Max went there in December.  That just deepened his faith further.  Faith and spirituality is an essential part of the whole recovery process.  Without it I don’t think he could have gone as far as he has.

I bought Fr. Donald Calloway’s book, “No Turning Back,” last summer.  When Max was in jail, I would go visit him every week.  I would tell him about Father Calloway and his journey.  Max seemed interested.  When he went into rehab in December, I sent him the book.  He read it in a day and loved it.  He started passing it around to other residents to read.   I think he felt he could relate to the story and it showed him there was hope.

He had asked me if get get him a rosary.  I got a St. Benedict Rosary and asked Mary Kay, “Can  you have this blessed?”    She said, “Yeah, guess who’s here: Fr. Calloway!”   So, Fr. Calloway blessed it, and he blessed me.  When I talked to Max a few day later–I only got to talk to him twice a week–I said, “I got you a rosary.  You’re never going to guess who blessed it!”  He was so ecstatic.

If I could speak toother parent facing the same situation, I’d say, “You need to hand your children over to someone greater than yourself, because you can’t control your children or the addiction.  You are not helping them if you try to.”

“Hold on!  It gets better.”

Please keep Judy, Max and Matt in your prayers.

NOVEMBER 19, 2017

For many of us, when we are faced with a family or loved one who is in the midst of addiction to believe that the addiction is so sinful that the individual no longer has the ability to accept the graces that God provides all of us. That somehow they have walked away from belief in the Almighty, having turned their back on the path of faith.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang life can teach us that grace, though hidden from view, is never pointless or without merit.

Mark was a prominent, successful doctor in 19th century China. While suffering with a stomach ailment, he prescribed himself opium. He quickly became an addict. As a practicing Catholic, he went to confession regularly, while attempting to break from the addiction. As Mark could not stop using opium, it was thought that he had no clear desire to change and amend his ways.

For 30 years Mark was denied the sacraments. It is not difficult to imagine him being thought of by the local community as a pariah, someone to be shunned and avoided.

But! Mark continued to attend Mass, praying that the Lord would allow him to die as a martyr. Maybe he thought his own inability to stop using drugs and the subsequent social, physical and emotional suffering would assist him in undergoing pain for Jesus, as an offering.

During the Boxer uprising of 1900, Mark was taken, along with his son, 6 grandchildren, 2 daughter-in-laws and dozens of other Christians and sent to prison. And while in prison those with him, as well as his jailers looked upon him with scorn and disgust. As his addiction was seen as a weakness of character, surely his prison guards thought he would eagerly deny everything foreign – ie, Christian and deny his Lord.

As he was being led to execution, his grandson asked where they were going. His reply: “We are going home”.

In order that his family members would not die alone, he asked that he be the last to be killed. He was beside all 9 of his loved ones as they were beheaded. Mark went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

So in the end, God granted Mark’s request – martyrdom for the faith.

St. Mark shows us that the heart, or soul of any human being is capable of drawing close to God, clinging to hope in eternal life, in spite of failure or faults. St. Mark, who may have experienced incredible dryness of spirit, or a great sense of distance from God, persevered in spite of his addiction. A supreme act of will: I will believe, even though I do not see the Hand of God in my life.

We know, in the broad sense, that others who have limitations of some sort, whether physical or emotional are to be loved and embraced not only in a practical manner of helping and assisting them, but in our hearts, loving them to the best of our ability, opening our minds to the difficulties others’ face. St. Mark and his life of endurance in faith can show us that those in addiction also are more than their substance use: a soul which may be connected to God in ways that we can only hope and pray for. And these souls may be grand examples of perseverance and strength, although we not being intimately involved or concerned, may not see or recognize the blessings that have been given the person.