Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Little Cowboy is Back


The first blog I wrote on our website was about an old McDonald’s cup which I have kept on my desk through the years of Aaron’s addiction and separation from his family. I was just sitting at my desk tonight, the eve of Aaron’s one year sobriety date (May 16), and beheld another memento to which has been on my desk just as long: a picture of Aaron and I from Halloween, 1999.

In the photo, Aaron is dressed up as a cowboy-complete with hat, scarf, western vest, painted on handle bar mustache, whiskers (which I had applied), and a fake black eye. He is sitting beside me on the arm chair of my recliner, with his right arm wrapper around my neck. He was 8 years old, and he was so cute! Me and that little cowboy have always been close. In the picture, we looked inseparable.

Seven years after that picture was taken, drugs entered our lives, and separation became a painful reality. My little cowboy became a drug addict, and the drugs-starting with marijuana, and progressing to cocaine, crack, painkillers, and then heroin-changed everything. Aaron was no longer the same person. As he continued his drug use, he became entangled in the legal system, and would spend literally years in confinement-in juvenile centers, the county jail, and numerous rehab centers. The majority of his teen years were spent away from his family, sad to say.

Having a young teenage son, whom you love, separated from you is a terrible heartache. I can’t tell you how many times Rhonda and I wept for that little cowboy of yesteryear. When he was gone, I would sit at my desk and look at that picture, and wish I could put the video in reverse to return to that time of innocence. I found myself asking, “How did it get to this? How could this happen?” The picture of my little cowboy and I sometimes brought me peace, but sometimes it invoked almost unbearable sorrow. I even tucked it away for a time because I couldn’t bear to look upon it.

You see, it reached a point in my life where I didn’t think this little cowboy would ever recover…never return. Lengthy periods behind bars did not deter him from returning to heroin. Probation did not faze him. Overdoses and near-death experiences didn’t seem to get his attention. He just kept returning to his addictive behavior. Prison or death seemed probable for my little cowboy and there was nothing I could do about it, except pray.

And then, in 2013, after seven long years of pain and heartache, the miracle began to happen. Aaron checked into Allegiance Recovery Center, a detox program in Jackson, Michigan, and completed the program there. He was assigned a case manager, Dr. Deborah Smith of Wellness InX, who developed a plan for his recovery and, in turn, introduced him to Phil Pavona, the Director of Families Against Narcotics in Ingham County, and he became Aaron’s Recovery Coach. Aaron finally reached the point of wanting it for himself, and to fully give himself to recovery. He began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings regularly and found a good sponsor who has been very helpful.

As Aaron progressed in his recovery, he began reaching out to try to help other addicts and their families. He developed this website with that intent. He has become an active member of Families Against Narcotics and has shared his story in public on numerous occasions in other cities, speaking before large audiences (not an easy thing to do for a quiet guy).

Most of all, I have noticed that the real Aaron Emerson has returned to us, his family. He treasures his time with loved ones again. He loves being a part of family gatherings. He has regained his passion for sports (Detroit Tigers, Lions, Wings, MSU, UM). He is a sports writer for Mason Today. He is an assistant to our youth leader at New Life Fellowship. Aaron has drawn closer to the Lord, reading his Bible and praying every day.

I thought we had lost that little cowboy, I really did. As portrayed in this precious photo, Aaron sustained many “black eyes” along the way, but to his credit, he rose up from the canvass and fought his way through 365 days of battle, drug and alcohol free. I am very proud of my son, Aaron. Recovery is a daily process, however. The addict is instructed to focus on one day at a time, as recovery is anything but easy. In this past year, Aaron has, with the help of God and caring people in his life, done the seemingly impossible. That little cowboy from 1999 has returned. Our picture remains on my desk, and I remain grateful to God. Congratulations Aaron!

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The Not-To-Do List

Every now and then, a parent will ask me what they should do in response to their child’s drug use or addiction.  Looking for step by step instructions to get their kid off drugs, they assume that I, the father of a now recovering heroin addict, have the answers they need.  Even though we went through seven years of active addiction, I have to admit that I still find this question hard to answer.  Drug addiction is so powerful and every case is different.

As I reflect upon Aaron’s addiction, I realize that we didn’t always do the best things or the right things as parents.  Sometimes we just didn’t know what to do.  Often times we did things that, in retrospect, probably prolonged Aaron’s addiction.  Confused, scared, heart-broken, angry, frustrated…we made mistakes along the way.  And so, from my experience, I have composed a “not-to-do list” with the hope that you can gain insight in your struggle with a drug addicted loved one.  This list is derived, not entirely from my misguided actions, but also from things I have observed other parents do.  So here it goes…the NOT to do list!

  1. Don’t be ashamed to use the word “addict.”  Many parents are living in denial in regards to their child’s drug use.  They know there’s a serious problem going on, but cannot bring themselves to admit that their beloved kid is an addict.  Addict is a term we refuse to use because it has a negative, degrading sound to it.  This is really a form of pride.  If someone is using drugs despite continuing negative consequences, they are an addict!  But we, in our attempt to preserve our own and/or our child’s dignity and reputation, are ashamed (or too proud) to say, “My son/daughter is a drug addict.”  In the first couple years of Aaron’s drug use, I couldn’t bring myself to call my son an addict.  I loved him, and I just didn’t want to refer to him that way.  Then, as the war worsened, I learned that shame and pride must be put aside.  Drug users live in daily denial of addiction.  If we, their parents, are also in denial, how can they ever reach recovery?
  2. Don’t blame yourself for your child’s addiction.  When a young person turns to drugs, it is very common for parents to shoulder the blame, believing that the addiction is a direct result of something they did wrong.  This results in unbearable grief and self-condemnation, and often results in the parents tolerating their kid’s addiction or not holding them responsible (wrongly thinking that it’s their fault, after all).  As you may know, I was fired from my position as Pastor at a local church in Mason after 14 ½ years, placing my family in a “homeless” situation for the next year and a half.  It was during the aftermath of my firing that Aaron plummeted into heavy drug use.  Though I knew my firing was not warranted, I couldn’t help but feel responsible for Aaron’s addiction.  “If I hadn’t been fired,” I thought, “Aaron would not have started using drugs.”  When we began attending Al-Anon meetings, one phrase kept being repeated, almost week after week: “You didn’t cause it…”  Eventually, I came to the realization that this is true.  I didn’t cause my son to become a drug addict.  Don’t blame yourself parents.  You will be better able to help your child when you are released from self-condemnation.
  3. Don’t think you can change your addicted loved one.  While some parents blame themselves for their child’s addiction, many others think that they can “make” their kid stop using.  We resort to harsh words, threats, even physical altercations in an effort to “change” our kids, and in the final analysis, we discover that we are powerless to change the addict.  I tried everything I could think of to reach Aaron, and discovered it was futile.  Drug addiction is a disease-a disease that we as parents have no power over.  The change has to come from within the heart of the addict.  They have to reach that rock-bottom point in their lives where they truly want to seek recovery.  Until they get to that point of desperation, there is little we can do to “change” them.
  4. Don’t be an enabler.  One common trait that parents of drug addicts all share is that of enabling our children in their deadly pursuit of drugs.  We are bewildered, we love our kids, and we find it hard to say no.  Just to keep peace in the family, we find it easier to give in to the drug addict’s demands, and, thus, enable them to continue in their deadly course.  While you can’t change your addict, there are some steps you can-and must-take to stop enabling your child to use drugs.

For starters, stop giving money to your drug addicted child.  So many times, Aaron would come to us for requests for cash.  Addicts will tell you that they are going to the movies, out to eat, to a recreational activity, etc.  The money will ultimately be used instead to purchase drugs.  Or, they may tell you that they owe money to a dealer for a previous drug purchase and have to “pay up,” or else.  For years, I am ashamed to admit, I fell for these lines and gave my son money, which was in turn, used to buy drugs.  In giving my son cash, I enabled him in his drug addiction.

Another form of enabling is allowing your child to drive your vehicle.  If you know, or even suspect, that your kid is using drugs, simply say no when he or she asks to take your car to get together with friends, go to the mall, the movies, etc.  For years, I gave my son access to my car, which resulted many times in a bad ending.  In giving my son use of my vehicle, I enabled him in his addiction.

Another form of enabling involves rescuing your child from rehab.  In some cases, young people are court-ordered to rehab.  In other instances, they are taken to rehab by their parents.  Quite often, the addict will flee from rehab, and, ultimately, call their parents, asking them to come and bring them home.  We found ourselves in this stressful situation many times during Aaron’s seven year battle with addiction.  Looking back, he simply was not ready or willing to seek recovery.  Sad to say, we went out and picked him up from numerous locations and brought him back home.  In doing so, we enabled our son to continue in his life of addiction.  Therefore, parents, I urge you to say no.  Do not pick your son or daughter up if they flee from rehab.  This is very hard to do, but if you cave in to their demands, you are enabling them, pure and simple.

  1. Don’t bail an addict out of jail.  Ultimately, drug use and/or addiction will result in the offender’s incarceration.  Jail, as I have written previously, is a terrible place.  Incarceration is not a remedy for drug addiction.  Yet, time behind bars can be an eye-opening experience for some people.  During the course of Aaron’s 7 year battle with addiction, we did not bail him out one time when he was incarcerated, despite his pleas for us to do so.  I do believe that his time spent in jail over the years finally was one motivation for him to turn from the drug lifestyle.  We simply refused to bail him out, though our hearts were aching for our young son.  On the contrary, we witnessed other parents of young addicts step in, repeatedly, bailing their children out of jail, not allowing them to endure the consequences of their lifestyle.  Lawyers were hired, strings were pulled, and their drug addiction continued on.  If your son or daughter is in jail due to drug offenses, don’t bail them out!  They may thank you later on.
  2. Don’t hesitate to hold your child accountable.  If your son or daughter is living in your home and you suspect or know that he or she is using drugs, it is imperative for you to hold them accountable.  You must make it clear that drug use will not be tolerated in your home.  It took us a long time to start exercising tough love-a very difficult thing to do as loving parents.  I hated doing what I’m about to suggest, but we did some things out of love in an effort to hold our son accountable.  Periodically, conduct a search of your child’s bedroom or vehicle.  If you have concerns when they come home, check their pockets, wallets, purses, or belongings.  If he/she says he’s going to the movies or such outings, ask for receipts or ticket stubs.  When your car is driven, write down the beginning mileage before they leave and the ending mileage upon their return.  You can also keep track of your child’s cell-phone calls-who they are calling, who’s calling them, and at what time.  Phone activity can tell you a lot.  This may sound like detective work, and I guess it is, but if you don’t hold your child accountable, the odds are that their drug use will continue to increase.
  3. Don’t try to weather the storm on your own.  If your son or daughter is in addiction, you need support from others who are dealing with this terrible epidemic.  Many parents, for whatever reason, are choosing to stay in the closet and are suffering alone.  Please, do not isolate yourself in this trying time.  There is support available: Families Against Narcotics, Al-Anon, and in some locations, Nar-Anon groups meet regularly with the sole purpose of providing encouragement, guidance, and hope to people trying to cope with drug addiction in the family.  Remember, millions of people in the U.S. are struggling with the same issue as you are, and fellow sufferers can relate and understand what you are going through.  You can’t change your addict, but you can get help for yourself.  So step out and get help for yourself.  You will be glad you did.
  4. Don’t give up on your addict.  At this point in your struggle, you may feel that there is no hope for your addicted child or loved one.  Nothing, to this point, has gotten their attention and he/she continues to follow the path of self-destruction.  You are ready to throw in the towel and give up on them.  We were nearing that point with Aaron.  I didn’t think he would ever change.  I was almost ready to give up on him, fearing he was destined for prison or death.  But we continued to love him throughout those 7 long years.  We remained in his corner.  And then finally, when it appeared there was little hope for recovery, miraculous things began to happen.  Aaron finally turned away from drugs and today he is almost 1 year clean!  We refused to give up on Aaron, and I urge you, don’t give up on your child or loved one.  If you, the parent or loved one of an addict give up and turn your back, who else do they have?

I, the father of a recovering addict, am a graduate from the school of hard knocks.  I have learned, from my own mistakes as well as the errors of others, what “not to do” when addiction strikes home.  It is my sincere hope that these 8 “Not-To-Do’s” will be helpful to you, and I pray your loved one will see the light and seek recovery before it is too late.  God bless you all!

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New Face of Addiction

I did an interview for a local news source about the prescription drug and heroin problem going on in my community of Mason, Michigan. In the interview I shared openly about my addiction and overcoming it to find recovery. The video just got posted to YouTube and I wanted to share it with you all. It is a great video and it also gives the opinion of the Mason Police Chief and an Ingham County worker who deals with substance abuse. I really recommend watching it so I posted it below!

I want to write about a couple of things and touch on them briefly. The first is the face of addiction. The video I was in talked quite a bit about changing the face of addiction and that is something I think is very, very critical in helping to stop or control our nation’s opiate epidemic. Too often, people think that they are invincible and that “it can’t happen to me.”
When I was first starting out abusing prescription pills I always said that I would never, ever stick a needle in my arm or do heroin. I looked at heroin and using needles as the last step on the ladder of the drug world and I vowed that in my journey of using and abusing different drugs, I would never resort to doing heroin. Well, if you are reading this blog, I think you know how that went, right?
That is part of the problem. Essentially, prescription opiates is synthetic heroin in pill form. Heroin is made from morphine, which is a prescription opiate, so really any opiate pill is all the same, just with different names and different levels of potency. Most people who start using prescription opiate pills don’t know that they are using man made heroin. The first time I used an opiate, I tried some Vicodin and I just figured I would try it once and have a good time. Little did I know that that was going to trigger an addictive reaction in my brain that would ultimately lead me to a path of destruction, including numerous lengthy stints in jail and a few near-death experiences. I had no idea that eventually that one Vicodin pill was going to lead to a 5 year long heroin habit.
It is time to change the face of addiction. As I said in the video, society has this general view that a heroin addict is some urban, homeless person living under a bride. Treatment statistics are showing that a lot of the heroin addicts now are 18-25 years of age. A lot of these people come from great, safe communities and great families. Addiction has no limits and it does NOT discriminate. It is time to change the face of addiction and get the facts out there that addiction is happening to great people from all walks of life, and it can happen to anybody.
The other thing I wanted to share in my blog is just an update on how I am doing. I haven’t been able to write many blogs lately. I have been really busy. I now am writing for the Mason Today, a community newspaper in Mason. It is a great job for me at this point in my life while I am going to school. I love writing, and I am writing about a subject that I love: sports. I am also going to college and am nearing the end of my first real semester. I am also still helping out with the youth group at my church. I get my daughter every weekend and that is going wonderful, as well. It is such a joy to watch Melody grow up and to be in her life.
I have been struggling some lately, though. My addiction is really trying to get me down. I am only 2 weeks away from my one year sobriety anniversary, but my addiction is really trying to stop me from getting there. The last few weeks I have been experiencing a ton of cravings. I have been depressed quite a bit and the cravings have been very intense. It has been a very tough time for me, but this is when a support system comes into play. It is so crucial for people in recovery to have a strong support system. I have been talking to my sponsor quite a bit and reaching out to others to get my feelings out. My family and my girlfriend have been helping me through this more than I can even begin to explain. I am so blessed to have a girlfriend that understands my addiction and who will do anything to help. God has blessed me with a great family and a wonderful girlfriend.
I am very proud to say that even though I have been struggling, have been depressed and have been experiencing a lot of cravings, I have still not used any drugs or drank any alcohol. I am staying strong and even when I really want to get high, I just don’t do it! Sometimes it is hard, but God is more powerful than any addiction. Just for today, we don’t use no matter what! God bless you all. Let me know how you like the video and give me your thoughts! Also, remember that I am always available to talk. My email is listed on my contact page, or just email us at !

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