In memory of Dorothy Molex (my mom), Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the countless others who battle the demons of addiction
"What are you arguing with them about?" he asked. A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and be- comes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." (Mark 9:16-18)
I never thought the Bible had anything to say about addiction. It's not something that I ever heard preached or read in the Bible. As someone who grew up in a household with an addicted parent, I wanted answers, but church didn't provide them and the Bible appeared to be silent -- until I decided to read this story through the lens of my life and personal experiences.
I'm not so sure the father didn't believe, but he did have doubts. He brought his son to the disciples because of what he heard Jesus had done for others. He dared to hope, to believe that healing was possible, but faith and hope were mixed with doubt. His son had had this problem for a long time, and nothing the father had tried in the past had helped the boy. Naturally, the father had doubts, but he wouldn't have taken his son to the disciples if he hadn't believed there was a chance they could help the boy.
When I read this story of a father trying to find a way to help his son to stop hurting himself, it reminds me of my mother's addiction. When I'm talking to young people across the country, I hear a lot of stories like mine. It's a complete role reversal of what we see in this biblical story. A lot of young people have a parent who does things to harm himself or herself. In many homes today, it's the son or daughter who is looking for someone who can help the parent.
You may have someone close to you who is possessed by a modern-day version of evil spirits. Some may be involved with liquid spirits that bring out their demons; alcoholism is a terrible beast. Other friends and family members are addicted to a wide range of legal and illegal drugs. Drug and alcohol addictions stem from the need to medicate unhealed wounds. Addicted persons, we now know, are hurting themselves by fighting a demon that can only destroy their relationships with family members, their jobs, and themselves.
In much the same way that this father's son changed from normal to possessed, so a variety of demons can turn our parents or other loved ones into people we don't recognize. Today, addiction is probably one of the most damaging demons in the lives of families and youth.
My mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol for most of my childhood. Living with an addict was an unstable and unsafe life. My mother's drug use made her disappear from the family home for weeks at a time. After I moved to live with my father in New Jersey, I would call to speak to her, but my relatives usually did not know where she was. To protect my feelings, they tended to tell me that my mother had left the house just before I called. After a while, I gave up on trying to speak to her.
I was angry with her for being a drug addict, for abandoning me, for behavior that hurt both of us. Still, I loved her. For more than eight years, my mother and I talked only two or three times a year, but that was if she happened to be home when I called or if she called me to ask for money.
In God's Graffiti, I share the story about a letter that I received from my mother. Initially, I was afraid to open it, but when I finally opened the envelope, I saw that my mother had put lots of work into the letter. It was a long letter, several pages stapled together. Here's part of it:
Hi Romal, I haven't talked to you in a long time but I hear that you have been doing well. I didn't call because I feel like you're mad at me. I have my own apartment. I'm living in Vallejo not far from mom's house. I'm not running the streets any more. I got a job working with elderly people in hospice care. I'm studying to become a nurse. I stay with my patients sometimes to keep them company, help around the house, cook lunch and dinner for them. I joined church and I'm getting baptized next week. I haven't been drinking or anything like that for a while. The church has really been helpful to me and the people are really nice. My friends there are really supportive. We spend a lot of time together and they also have a recovery program that I am in.
If you look at my mother's letter, you'll see that the church did not heal my mother. The church was supportive of her and encouraged her journey to wholeness. Church is a place where believers worship together. Many churches also provide supportive ministries for people with specific needs. But church alone cannot heal anyone.
Here is what is important to understand: What truly changed my mother was the love and presence of God. God does not live only in church. God lives in the world and in each one of us. My mother found a reason to love herself again because she knew that God loved her for who she was and for who she was becoming. God loved her in spite of her mistakes because God was more concerned with her future than with her past. God showed my mother what unconditional love looked and felt like by surrounding her with nonjudgmental people who treated her with respect and dignity and helped her learn to love herself. That's what led my mother to seek treatment in a drug rehabilitation program, to participate in counseling, and to find a job that allowed her to work with hospice patients who needed the kind of loving support that she had the heart and the experience to provide.
My mother's journey to recovery and wholeness wasn't easy. It isn't easy for anyone to overcome an addiction. But it is amazing what happens when demons leave our spirits. I gained the mother I had always wanted. When my mother died, I was angry for a long time -- not with her, but with God. I was angry because, after all of those years of watching her hurt herself with drugs and alcohol, we were finally getting the chance to build a relationship when she was free from addiction. Our relationship was amazing. I would send for her to visit her grandchildren and me; she would buy them gifts and play with them. We were finally a family.
God gave us a blessing. The blessing was restoring our relationship before she died and granting her time to get to know her grandchildren and the opportunity to know that I was okay. Most of all, the blessing was knowing that before she died, my mother had a relationship with God.
My mother broke my heart many times during the years of her addiction and recovery. I finally realized that there was nothing I could do to change her. Eventually, I had no other choice but to ask God to protect and heal my mother, whose addiction took her to dangerous places. It took years for God to answer my prayers, but God was faithful. But I never stopped praying or believing that my mother would be healed or imagining a healthy relationship with my mother once her addiction was over. My point to you is, never give up on the people you love. Believe they can get better. Pray for them, and ask God what role you may have to play to bring the person whom you care about to wholeness. Trust me, it can happen. I've seen it for myself.