Monthly Archives: December 2013

What a Year

As I am sitting here at my desk, reflecting on the past year, I am feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and gratitude.  To remember where I came from and to look where I am now is just a miracle.  Just to know the fact that I have not used any drugs or alcohol in 230 days is a miracle in itself.  But to look back on the journey that I had to take to get to this point is pretty crazy.  So much bad and good have happened in the last year that it is extremely hard to even sum it up.  I am very blessed to be able to write that there has been a lot more good than bad, though, especially since May 16th, the day I got clean.

I believe New Years is supposed to be a celebration, so I am not going to focus in this blog on the negatives of the past year.  All I am going to say in regards to before May 16th, is that it was a blur.  I don’t really remember any of it, just picking up dope from my dealer and getting high in the hood.  I think I might have overdosed at the beginning of the year and made a couple trips to detox.  I may have spent some time homeless.  I don’t remember if that stuff was this year or last year, though.  When you are a heroin addict for five years, everything that happens just combines into one huge, blurry, mega-day.

This is a celebration; a day for me to celebrate the man that I have become.  I will not focus on my past, but I will also NEVER forget it.  First of all, I think it is impossible to forget some of the stuff I have seen with my eyes and put myself through.  Secondly, to forget everything I went through is to set myself up for failure.  I have to remember where I came from.  It makes me grateful for where God has brought me today.  God does perform miracles if you let him.  I know, because he has performed one in my life.  When I surrendered and became willing to change my life, I opened the door to God’s plan.  He has a plan for all of our lives, and to put our will in his hands is to open the door to plenty of blessings.

Freedom from active addiction is a gift.  I never thought of it like that because I thought it was impossible for me to enjoy life without drugs.  I had to be high to do anything.  I had to have heroin in my system to feel normal.  On May 16th, I got sick of that death sentence and put my life in the hands of Jesus.  When I did that, I went from a heroin-addicted, homeless, stealing junkie, to who I am today: the real Aaron.  The real Aaron has a heart for other people.  The real Aaron has a passion to make a difference in this world.  I have now started this outreach to help drug addicts and to help our youth live a Godly life in a crazy generation.  I write blogs and journal every day to try to spread hope.  I am a great father to my almost-three year old daughter.  I am finally a decent brother and son.  My family members trust me today.  My family members let me live in their house today.  I work with the youth group at my Dad’s church.  I have a beautiful girlfriend who has never touched a drug or drink in her life (isn’t that crazy?) who supports my recovery and loves me for who I am.  The best part that I have been blessed with, though, is the fact that I now have a relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  After years of doubt and feeling betrayed by God, I now wake up every morning and put my trust in Him.  I have never had hope like I have now.

You know, one of the best parts of my sobriety is the fact that I can be around my family and look them in the eye.  I can see them with joy in their life now.  My parents aren’t constantly living in fear of my death.  We are moving on, proud of each other, and building our relationships each and every day.  My dad told me last week that he found something in his filing cabinet.  In my active addiction, he was certain that I was going to die any day and he started writing and saving notes about my life.  He figured that when the time came to prepare for my funeral, he was going to be in such grief that he wouldn’t be able to comprehend and share information about me, so he was just going to give them the notes he had been preparing.  I am so grateful that I am not putting them through that kind of pain any longer.  My parents are actually proud of their third son now.

Now that I wrote a little about what I have overcome and accomplished in 2013, I want to focus on the New Year that will be called 2014.  I do have a New Year’s resolution.  My resolution is to forgive myself.  One thing I have trouble with is forgiving me for the things I did to myself and put my family through; forgiving me for putting myself in crazy situations, for almost killing myself and for embarking so much pain on such a loving family.  I have started the process of forgiveness, but I know that I still have quite a ways to go.  I also know that something of that magnitude is not going to happen overnight.  I didn’t create the situation right away, and it is not going to get fixed right away, either.

Anyway, how was 2013 for you?  I sincerely hope that anybody reading this had a lot of good moments and a good year, overall.  I don’t believe it is possible to live for a year and not go through any heartache or pain.  Life is hard and we will all have hard times to deal with, but God promises to be right by our side through all of our troubles and comfort us at all times.  No matter what we do or what we may go through, the Lord never leaves us.  For seven years I ran from God and lived a life of chaos, but God never left me.  He was always right there with me, waiting for me to finally surrender and let Him guide me.  And there is no better feeling to look back on a year and say, “I trusted in God, and look at where I was, compared to where I am now!”  God is so good.  This has been the best year of my life, by far.  I will never forget where I came from, and I will never stop giving the glory to the one who got me where I am now!

Youth

Disaster struck our family when I was in about the 9th grade.  My father was fired from the church I had spent my whole life growing up in.  We were forced out of our home and were homeless for a year and a half.  It was a very rough time for our family, on top of the fact that just a year earlier my cousin died from an accidental overdose of prescription pills.  I questioned God.  I question his existence and his supposed love for us.  I asked myself countless times, “How could God let a man who has served him his whole life and who took over a church in controversy and built it into one of the largest churches in the area, get fired for a reason that has still not been explained to us this day?”  I was so angry.  I grew up in that church, lived right next to it my whole life.  It was pretty much part of my home.  I remember coming home from school the day it happened and my mom taking me back in my room and trying to find the words for what had just happened.  When I realized what she was telling me, I was just shocked and silent.  I didn’t say a word.  I just sat silent for hours until it finally hit me and then just exploded into tears.

I didn’t think it was possible for a God that supposedly loves us, to let that happen to my dad.  I was only in 9th grade.  I couldn’t grasp all of it.  We had a couple months to get out of the house that we lived in that was owned by the church.  We had nowhere to go, though.  To question God after something like that happens to your father is, in my opinion, legitimate.  It wasn’t right, but I was 14.  I would later realize that that wasn’t God who made that happen, it was people inside the church.  I would even later realize that God had something a lot better in store for us.  My dad is now at a great church in Leslie and has a very, very supportive staff and leadership team working with him.  When he first took over the church, I had my doubts about the ability to grow a church in such a small town like Leslie.  But it is growing mightily.  The saying, “When one door closes, God will open a better one,” is so true!

Okay, here is my point.  I was fourteen and I doubted God’s love and existence.  It was around that time when I would seek out new friends and try new things.  I started smoking weed and drinking liquor.  It took me down a road of self-destruction that nearly cost me my life.  This is a hard world to be a teenager in.  I have really been looking back at that time in my life, lately.  Junior High and High School are pivotal timeframes in the human life.  Our decisions in those eight years can, quite often, make or break our future.  I was just telling Alison today that I would give up my right arm to go back and start my life over in the 9th grade.  Sometimes I really believe that, but knowing what God has in store for my life now, I probably wouldn’t.  The point is, though, we can’t go back and change the past.  What we can do is prepare for the future.

I have been thinking a lot about my future.  I have really been developing a passion for youth.  I help out with the youth group at my church and I absolutely love it.  All week, I look forward to Sunday morning so I can go hang out with the youth group and do what I can to participate in the Sunday school and give my input and help when I can.  In a way, helping the youth helps me forgive myself for my past.  I feel like I am giving back.  I am really figuring out that I want to do this in my future.  I want to do something with youth.

When I was in 9th grade, I didn’t look up to anybody besides my brothers.  Outside of them, though, I didn’t have any positive role models.  The ones I did have were in my church, and then when we had to leave I just felt totally betrayed.  This church let me down so much that I wanted to distance myself from anything that had to do with church and God.  I started hanging out with people who got high and looked up to my new, older friends who sold drugs.  I thought they were living a dream lifestyle.  They had money, drugs, girls and attention.  They turned into my new role models.  My decision making and logic was so pathetic and irrational.  But, looking back, what if I had a positive role model by my side who tried to help me get them negative thoughts out of my mind and who took me out to do activities that were fun and productive?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that it probably would have, at the very least, got me thinking about my decisions.  I couldn’t go to my brothers or parents and say, “I am hanging out with drug dealers and getting high.”  I hid that part of my life.

Putting all of this together, preparing for my future and developing a new passion of helping youth, I have started coming up with new ideas.  I want to start a program with New Life Recovery that helps out youth.  I am thinking in the line of drug prevention and mentorship.  I would love to go around to churches or schools and share my story, offer hope and put positive role models in the lives of our young people.  I am in the process of figuring out how to do that in the best way.  It is going to take a lot of time and effort to get to where I want to go, but I believe I am focused and motivated enough to get there.  I truly believe it is important for every young person to have a positive role model, so why not try to start a program where we put role models in kid’s lives on a personal level?  Somebody who can take them to church, guide them through the Bible, take them out on weekends to go bowling or to the movies, help them out with homework, and just be somebody they can look up to.  I understand there are similar programs like this out there, but usually they are more dedicated to unprivileged youth.  I don’t want there to be any requirements a person has to meet to join this program, just the fact that they want to have somebody like that in their life.

Like I said, it is extremely hard to be a teenager in today’s world.  Sometimes it may be even harder to find somebody to look up to in a positive way.  Let’s not give up trying, though.  I know I won’t; I owe it to myself to do this, and it is my passion.  Obviously, this will take some time, but let me know what you think of this idea.  I would really like some feedback on this topic.  Maybe you do or don’t like it, maybe you have a better idea, anything, just please let me know your thoughts!  Have a great day and God bless!

Spiraling Out of Control

On February 23, 2008, a very happy event took place in the Emerson family.  We moved into a beautiful, four bedroom ranch house that had been constructed for us by a member of our church.  For a year and a half, we had lived in another family’s house after I had been fired from my previous pastorate.  Now, finally, we had our own place, a home of our own.  We were blessed, but our joy was mixed with sorrow, stress, grief, and emotional pain.  My 16 year old son’s life was spiraling out of control…

In a year and a half, Aaron had become a full-blown drug addict.  He began regularly smoking marijuana shortly after we moved into the home of our friends in 2006.  I know he was seeking to dull the pain he felt deep inside, not just the pain of my firing and our displacement, but other issues that plagued him, including the loss of numerous loved ones.  Aaron also suffered from emotional afflictions, and two severe concussions sustained in baseball and football.  We were told by professionals that he was self-medicating.  But this medicine was illegal, and he was caught by the police with weed in his possession, putting him into the legal system and on probation.

Nothing deterred Aaron from his drug use-not the police, judges, probation, or probation officers.  He rapidly moved on to other, stronger drugs.  I recall times he would come into the living room of our temporary dwelling at the early hour of 7:00 P.M, by 7:30, sit on the couch, and suddenly fall into a deep, almost comatose sleep.  “Why are you so sleepy, Aaron?” I would ask him.  “I’m just tired,” he would say, and fall right back into deep sleep.  My older son told us that he was certain Aaron was on something much worse than marijuana.  “I think he’s using oxycontin,” David said.  “Weed wouldn’t do that to him.  You gotta’ do something!”  Oxycontin?  No way!

Way!  We would later learn that Aaron was indeed using powerful prescription drugs obtained, somehow, from the streets.  Meanwhile, this star athlete with God-given abilities quit football at Mason High School, despite the noble attempts of the varsity coach to get him back on the team.  Later that sophomore year, Aaron was kicked off the varsity baseball team when a team-wide drug search resulted in crushed pills in a vile being found in Aaron’s duffle bag before a spring training trip to Mississippi.  The Vice-Principal was convinced it was cocaine, which Aaron denied.  A Mason policeman was called onto the scene, in front of scores of parents and students.  He also thought it was cocaine, but he sent the pills out for testing at the Michigan State Crime Lab.  Meanwhile, Aaron could not be a part of the team until test results came back.  These results, over one year later, proved a negative-the pills were actually medicine for A.D.D, which are frequently abused.  But Aaron’s baseball career was over.  Meanwhile, Mason parents had their own version of the story: Aaron was a drug dealer, a dope addict, and a loser.  In utter dejection, on the night of the incident, Aaron took a permanent marker and wrote the word “Loser” in bold print on the wall above his bed.  Oh, how that pained me.

David’s words echoed in my mind.  “You gotta’ do something!”  Truth be told, I didn’t know what to do.  I had reasoned with Aaron.  I yelled at him.  I told him drugs were of the devil.  I pleaded with him to stop.  I prayed, but no answers came.  He was angry with God, and quite honestly, so was I.  I wanted a miracle.  I longed to see my son delivered from the shackles of drugs, but no deliverance came.  As a minister, I had helped countless others overcome problems in their lives, but I couldn’t help my beloved son.  Quite honestly, I felt like an utter failure.

Here we were, in a brand new home after a year and a half of pain and homelessness, but the heartache was still present.  My son was spiraling out of control, and I couldn’t stop it.  FOUR days after moving into our new, lovely residence, Aaron was court ordered to Kairos Treatment Center in Bridgeport, Michigan, for violation of probation.  After a few days in that facility for juvenile drug offenders, Aaron fled, somehow made his way to Frankenmuth, where a well-intentioned citizen drove him all the way back to our new home in Mason.  The next day, Kairos agreed to take him back, but he would flee again, to our utter disappointment.  He was not ready for recovery.  Aaron was rapidly spiraling out of control.  This, unfortunately, was only the beginnings of Aaron’s struggles, and ours, his loving family.

The year of 2008 should have been a year of joy and celebration for the Emerson family.  Our new church was growing, and sustaining us, miraculously.  We moved into a nice, brand new home in a good community.  God was sustaining us, and our needs were being met.  But a beloved family member-a son, and brother, was spiraling out of control.  A great deal of pain would follow-for him, and us, and I will continue to share this story with you in the coming days.

Can you relate to this?  You may be in a similar situation in your life today.  Hear this: my son Aaron’s life was spiraling out of control.  But there came a day in which Aaron was truly ready for recovery and allowed God to take control!  He can do the same for you and your loved one.  There is much more to be told about Aaron’s story-and ours, his family.  God loves you, and if you will commit yourself to Him, you will discover that God has everything under control.  Trust in the Lord!

What a Christmas

Yeah, what a Christmas.  Okay, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, by far.  Let me start out by saying that I love everything about it.  The music, trees, decorations, presents, family, Santa, reindeer, snow, and most importantly, the opportunity to truly thank God for giving us his Son to save us.  I missed out on all of that for years, though.  I couldn’t stop using heroin and involving myself in illegal activities.  I was addicted and couldn’t stop on my own.  For a long time I didn’t even want to stop.  I hadn’t had enough pain to outweigh what I thought was good that that lifestyle was bringing me.  After a lot of crazy stuff happened and I was looking death in the eye, jumping out of that lifestyle and getting off drugs seemed appealing.  I was sick of spending holidays in jail.

I finally got to experience a real Christmas yesterday, though.  For the first time in seven or eight years, I was actually able to spend the day with my family without any dope in my bloodstream.  It was so great.  I have to admit, though, for a couple hours I was a little down because I had to wait until five o’clock to pick up my daughter and my girlfriend already had plans on Christmas.  But then my daughter’s mother dropped her off so I could spend some time with her and right away my day brightened up once again.  I was able to buy my daughter some presents and for the first time in my life, I was able to sit back and watch my little girl open presents with her cousins.  That feeling was amazing.  I can’t find any words to explain how it feels to sit back and watch that beautiful sight.

I was going to write this blog yesterday, but I had too much emotion to fully be able to put my feelings on paper.  I thought it would work out better to wait until the next day when I would be settled down a little.  Still, though, looking back at the wonderful day I had yesterday is exciting.  I took so much for granted in my active addiction.  I feel so blessed that I can take part in activities and holidays like these.  In some ways, I feel like I don’t deserve to be this happy.  I know that is not true at all, but my past is still not that far away, and sometimes I still have a hard time forgiving myself.  Recovery is a never-ending journey and that is one thing that I am still working on, and in fact, will probably be working on for the rest of my life.

It is very easy for people to get caught up in many different aspects of Christmas.  Sometimes it is hard to forget the true meaning of Christmas.  Christmas means
many different things to many different people, but to me and my family, Christmas has always been a celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth.  When I think of Christmas I think of two things: Jesus and spending time with the people you love the most.  It is so hard to not get caught up in the consumerism of our generation.  That was especially hard for me this year, knowing it is my first true Christmas and trying to show my loved ones what they mean to me.  But I have to admit I got caught up in another aspect.  Instead of giving all the thanks to God as the reason to why I am able to celebrate holidays with my loved ones, I sort of got self-centered.  I should have been celebrating the birth of Jesus.  Yes, it is great to be with family and have a good time, but I may have gotten too involved with the thought process of thinking only of myself and treating it like my holiday.  “This is MY first Christmas, so I should be treated extra special.”  Jesus is the reason for the season, not my sobriety.

I am so blessed to have a daily recovery program.  Addiction is a disease, and it is not just about the drugs.  Addiction affects us in three ways: physically, mentally, and spiritually.  The spiritual side of it is the fact that we get self-centered and rely on ourselves and all but take God out of our lives.  Building a recovery program into our lives, though, enables us to recognize when we start getting funny feelings.

My recovery is a gift from God.  It was the best gift I could’ve asked for.  The gift of recovery, in turn, enabled me to receive another gift, the gift of family.  I have my family back.  I couldn’t ask for a more loving, supportive family.  Who knows where I would be if I didn’t have them?  You never know what God is going to do.  He works in mysterious ways.  He put a girl in my life that supports my recovery.  She goes to 12-Step meetings with me even though she has never touched a drug in her life.  To go sit in a room full of crazy people like myself, just to support me, speaks volumes.  You know, recovery is not always rosy.  Life still happens.  But I have found that when you start to do good things for yourself and put God first, he gives back.  He will never leave you.  He can help you through the darkest of times.  He can save lives like he did mine.  I have seen God perform so many miracles just in my own life.  I can’t begin to thank him enough for what he has done in my life.  Like I said, there is no better gift.  So, sitting here at my desk on the 26th of December, looking back at the events of yesterday, I can draw one major conclusion: the Lord has showered me with plenty of priceless gifts this Christmas.  I have my life back.

Home For Christmas

As the family writer for New Life Recovery Outreach, it is my plan to share the Emerson’s story of the agony of addiction from the family perspective.  Looking back, it is hard to believe what Aaron, and his family, went through over a seven year span.  Though some of it is now a blur, I want to openly share our experience to encourage other families who are currently engaged in this heart-breaking battle.

Today my thoughts turn to Christmas and the holiday season, which is supposed to be a joyous time for families.  However, drug addiction is the scrooge who steals Christmas from thousands, even millions of families.  When your child or sibling is bound to hardcore drugs, or is incarcerated for drug offenses, it dampens your spirits and steals your joy.  Christmas is not the same because a beloved family member is missing, and you mourn for that person.

Over the course of the past seven years, there were times when Aaron was physically home for the holidays, but he was not truly with us.  He was not the same person he once was.  Marijuana use quickly led to stronger, more powerful drugs which totally wreaked havoc on his life, and ours, as well.  I believe, based on our experience that for many people marijuana leads to other drugs.  For Aaron, this meant moving on to cocaine, crack, oxycontin….and eventually-heroin.

As Christmas came around, we as a family were grieved to see Aaron in his addicted state.  He was not at home much of the time.  He spent the bulk of his time with his using friends, in quest of the drug, returning home at late hours, high.  The “high” Aaron was not the real Aaron we knew, and it hurt.  While he was out, we constantly worried that something bad or tragic would occur.  When he was among us, we were sickened.  He looked horrible.  Drugs drastically changed his countenance- he was thin, depressed, sullen, sickly looking.  We looked helplessly many times as he nodded off in the living room.  We panicked when he would vomit repeatedly in his bedroom and bathroom.  We were horrified on those occasions when we couldn’t wake him up, fearing he would die.  When family Christmas gatherings were held, there were times he would refuse to accompany us.  When he did go, it was apparent to extended family that something was terribly wrong.  Aaron was with us, but in reality, he wasn’t-not the real Aaron we knew and loved.

And then there were those holiday seasons when Aaron was in jail, separated from his loved ones in the Ingham County Jail.  Because he was sober due to his incarceration, Aaron longed to be with us for Christmas.  He could recall past memories of holiday traditions and family gatherings, and it grieved him.  His phone calls from jail on Christmas day were difficult, to say the least.  He was not, and could not, be with us for Christmas, and it was killing him, and us, as well.  Those phone calls from jail were so painful, especially on Christmas day.  I wanted to talk to my young son, and to hear his voice, but it hurt so badly.  How do you encourage him at a time like that?  What could I say to make him feel better?

Though I am a professional, a minister with 30 plus years under my belt in pastoral ministry, I must admit that I struggled with the challenge of being positive, infusing hope in my child, and simply making him feel better.  I so desperately wanted to encourage him, but the words of comfort were hard to find.  I would tell him how much we loved him, missed him, and wished he could be with us.  I would tell him to keep focused on the future, that he would always have a family and a home to return to, and that God loved him and was with him…but I never felt like my words, on Christmas day, made him feel any better.

Aaron knew what was going on in his home on Christmas while he was behind bars.  His family got up, opened presents, and then enjoyed a Christmas breakfast, followed by a homemade Christmas birthday cake for Jesus.  He knew that we would later gather with extended family on this special day.  And here he was, in jail, with lifetime criminals, and some deputies who treated him inhumanely.  Christmas in the Ingham County Jail is just another day.  There is no compassion there, even for young addicts who have lost their way.  In retrospect, I guess this is just another cruel consequence of drug addiction.  Drugs destroy lives.

Thank God, this year, Christmas in 2013 is different.  Far different!  My son, Aaron, is home this year.  He is over seven months clean in his recovery.  The real Aaron we know and love will be with us as we celebrate the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  He is not incarcerated, separated from loved ones.  He is not in bondage to drugs.  This is a miracle.  He is truly home for Christmas, and it can happen for you, too.  Don’t lose hope.  Merry Christmas to all of you!