Drug addiction

September 3, 2006

I’m the pastor of a small Presbyterian church in a very economically depressed area of metro Phoenix. Two members of the church who I love very much have a middle-aged son who has been a heroin addict for over twenty years. He’s a sweet man when he’s not high or drunk, though his personality is hard to make out given the years of abuse he’s done to himself.

Since I’ve been the pastor in this church, this man has been in and out of jail several times, he has had his head bashed in with a blunt object and spent time in a coma, and most recently, he has been suffering paralysis and seizures. Through it all, he has maintained his habit. I’ve visited him in the hospital, thought often that he was going to die, and prayed and prayed and prayed for him and his family. His most recent bout of seizures, according to his doctors, is probably going to end things for him. He will take the drug, have a seizure, and then he will die.

His parents are beautiful and complicated people with several other successful adult children. His mother today told me that she wished she could commit her son to keep him from killing himself. But there is no where for poor people to go. It costs thousands of dollars a week for a residential dry-out program. Jail is a lot cheaper, but hardly a good alternative. This man, who is lot like a boy, is going to die soon from drug abuse, from poverty, from racism, and from really stupid choices. His mother’s grief and fortitude break my heart, and she is an example to me of how strong and constant a parent can be.

On a personal level, I have at least two profound fears. I look at my sweet babies and know that I’m hardly a better parent than my parishioners. I fear for what may happen to them, what choices they may some day make. The second has to do with my best friend in college. For various reasons of her own, she always entertained an unhealthy fascination with heroin, though she never used the drug when I knew her. She and I kept in pretty good touch for several years after I moved away from her. Then, a few years ago, I quit hearing from her. She didn’t return my calls and letters. I worry often that she began to use heroin and is gone from me now. I hope so much that it’s something else–that she just got angry with me, or disillusioned with our friendship.

On a professional level, I have prayed every Sunday for two and a half years for this man’s deliverance from his addiction. I have prayed for him as an ill man, as a victim, as a person responsible for his own problems, and nothing has changed. In fact, he has gotten worse and worse. Perhaps the only positive is that I love his parents more and more every time I pray. But that is not enough. I get up in front of the congregation with my alb and stole on, with my prayerbooks, with the Bible, with my formation, with my arms spread, and my strange liturgical acts. I pray for the man, I want him to stop this, stop killing himself, and stop destroying his mother and father. Lately, I feel more sure than ever that I will pray for him at his funeral. I’ll tell whoever asks that I’m not a good pastor, and this is the reason: I’m not sure that the joy of the gospel is greater than the crushing grief of this addiction.

4 Responses to “Drug addiction”

  1. Matthew Says:

    brett, this post is heartbreaking. I cannot imagine how hard it is to proclaim the gospel in the face of such consuming grief.
    I think you sell short the love that grows from your prayers. This, and the one who moves in and through that love, is what makes you a great pastor.

  2. Brett Says:

    Thanks, Matt, for this encouragement. I have been trying to take hope in the notion that the tradition is stronger and wiser and better than my doubts and despair. If I can stay true to my calling as a pastor, and say the prays, and insist on the gospel, I’m hoping that this will comfort the parents.

  3. Dave Says:

    One of my best friends died from a heroin overdose ten years ago. I still wonder what, if anything, I could’ve done or said that would’ve made any difference.

  4. Brett Says:

    Dave, I’m so sorry about your friend. I hate this drug, and I hate this hopeless feeling it leaves in us.

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