Monthly Archives: July 2016

My Hope From Addiction

By Aaron Emerson

I have often said that if a person can overcome drug addiction or alcoholism, they can do almost anything in life, as finding recovery from the disease of addiction is one of the hardest endeavors one can embark on. Over the three years from when my up-and-down journey of recovery started, I still believe that statement today.

When I look back on how I was able to finally overcome my heroin addiction, I still tend to think it was a miracle. There was a time when I was so deep in my addiction, a time that’s now sometimes hard to look back on, that I was so hopeless and stuck that I thought my life purpose was to show other people what NOT to do. I thought I was a walking example, a person who could not stop using heroin even when faced with the darkest, most extreme consequences.

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See, I never thought I could stay sober for more than half a day. And if I was ever to somehow get sober, I was convinced life would be so depressing and miserable without drugs that it wouldn’t be worth living. But somehow, I am sober today. I am loving life and am almost halfway to a college degree in social work. I am going to be the Editor-In-Chief of Lansing Community College’s student newspaper this fall. It’s still shocking to me.

I feel called by God to share my story with others, to let them know how God pulled me out of a seemingly hopeless situation. My story of drugs and alcohol started with trying marijuana around age 14, right after my Dad got fired from his position as Senior Pastor at a growing church in Mason. Weed helped me ease the pain, but after a while it stopped doing the trick.

That’s when I started experimenting with pills. At the time, it was simple to get Vicodin or Oxycontin at my school and I quickly got heavily hooked on the Oxys. After getting locked up for a while, I got out and couldn’t even go a day without searching for pills. But everyone I had been using with had started doing a cheaper, more potent drug than Oxycontin: heroin.

I always told myself that I would NEVER touch a needle. But when I was about to snort dope for the first time, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. “Why the hell would you snort heroin? The high doesn’t even come close to the needle high and if you let me shoot you up you won’t even feel the needle prick your skin.”

That day I was immediately addicted to heroin. Yes, I truly believe I got hooked the first time I ever tried it. The euphoria, warmth, and orgasmic feeling heroin gave me that day was something no drug had ever come close to giving me. And the next day, the first thought I had when I woke up was centered around finding more and getting a connection to supply me heroin everyday. I knew I was screwed, but I couldn’t stop it.

Heroin took me down a road that turned me into a thief – someone that even stole from his own family – and a jailbird. It also came close to taking my life on numerous occasions. I served a year in jail for a crime I committed trying to feed my habit, I overdosed three times, and my parents had to kick me out of the family home because I kept taking their belongings.

I hated myself, I was an embarrassment to my family, and I felt like a stranger in my own skin. I was not even a shell of the old Aaron. But after five or six years of non-stop heroin use, I decided to check myself into rehab after my Dad dropped me off at a grimy homeless shelter in Lansing.

At the rehab, I quickly grew desperate to give sobriety a try. Going back to the streets was not an option, and one more criminal charge would’ve surely resulted in prison, as my judge was sick of seeing me. Somehow, someway, after a few days of staying sober in that rehab, I felt something different. My parents answered the phone and were proud of me for the first time in years after hearing me say I was giving recovery a try.

In rehab, I got hooked up with a case manager, who then introduced me to a recovery coach who would change my life. He helped me establish goals and put together a daily plan to stay sober. I was desperate to get out of the hell I was living in so I followed some direction for the first time in my life. I also started going to 12-Step meetings and found a sponsor.

A true miracle was taking place in my life. I was staying sober for days, weeks, and months at a time! And after a couple months, I was finally able to look myself in the mirror and like what I saw. I know God helped me through all of that. The way everything fell into place once I decided to check into rehab was nothing short of God’s plan. Everyday I wake up now, I ask God to help me stay sober, and every night I go to bed I thank him for recovery.

I’m not going to lie and act like everything has been perfect. There have been a couple relapses and I have battled quite a bit of depression. But I proved myself wrong. I am a new person today and sometimes I look back and wonder how the heck God did what he did. But I do know one thing: I am going to give away the recovery that was given to me. I have devoted my life to spreading hope to others who are in the same shoes I once was. I wouldn’t want it any other way. God is good.

Hello From The Other Side: Recovery From Addiction

Aaron Emerson

One of the hardest things for non-addicts to understand about people in active addiction is how it truly feels to be dependent on drugs. The desperation, depression, self-hatred, anxiety, physical withdrawal, and hopelessness addicts feel on a daily basis is something one has to go through theirself to know what it really feels like.

When I was in active addiction, dependent on heroin to feel normal, I remember thinking that there was no getting better. And if there was even a remote chance that I got sober someday, I thought it would mean complete and utter depression and that it would be impossible to enjoy anything in life without an opioid flowing through my system.

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But after using heroin for six or seven years, there came a point where I got so sick of going to jail and being homeless that I was willing to to give it a try. With the help of God and many caring people such as my recovery coach, I developed a plan to try to stay sober one day at a time.

At the time, I didn’t think it would work. I was up to using anywhere from 50 to 100 dollars worth of heroin a day, having to steal each and every day to gather the necessary amount of money. My family finally reached the point where they couldn’t have me around because I would steal their valuables. So my Dad dropped me off at a homeless shelter in Lansing, a very dark, grimy place.

Once on the streets, I knew there was no way out. Any money I could gather up through criminal activity would all go towards heroin. I looked at the people around me and realized there was no way out if I didn’t’ get clean, so I gave rehab a shot. Eventually it worked. I am now in recovery today.

But I can’t express enough that my voluntary entrance into treatment was not because I had hope for a better life. It was because I saw no other way. The first day of rehab, I remember thinking my life was over. There was going to be no way to ever be happy again if I didn’t have a syringe full of heroin.

Looking back on that time is hard. When I think of the upbringing I had, it’s hard to imagine how I reached the point of being a homeless street addict, but I did. But today is vastly different. I am now in college and am building a future for myself. Most importantly, however, I enjoy life.

I have fun today. I can go to the movies with my girlfriend, completely sober, and enjoy the movie. I can spend time with my family and genuinely enjoy the time spent with them, completely sober. It’s a miracle. But when I think about the thousands of addicts out there right now that have no hope of an enjoyable future, it makes me sad.

I wish I could relay a message to all of them. I wish I could show them how bad I was in my addiction, then prove to them that I’m enjoying life today and am happy about where I am. But it doesn’t work that way. All I can do is pray, share my story, and hope that each and every addict finds recovery and peace.

There will never be a day in this world where no drug addicts exist. It is simply impossible. But I can hope for a day when hope is abound, when heroin doesn’t have a grip on countless lives around the globe. I can hope for a day when 50 to 100 Americans don’t die everyday due to a drug overdose. If I can relay one message to them right now, it would be that recovery can be enjoyable. If you take that first step and commit your life to recovery and God, good things will follow. I promise. If it happened to me, I know it can happen to you.

Hall Of Shame: My Addicted Son In Jail

By Wes Emerson

As the father of a teenage drug addict, it always broke my heart to see my son appear in the courtroom, attired in jail clothes, hand-cuffs and shackles. Aaron spent a significant portion of his teen years behind bars for his drug related offenses, many of which while in the midst of a heroin addiction.

Locked up in the Ingham County Jail, there were numerous times when court appearances were required in Mason, which meant he would be taken from his post in the jail to a holding cell in the rear of the courthouse, which is connected to the jail. There, he would wait until his name was called to appear before the judge.

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Every time Aaron appeared in court, my wife and I attended in support of our afflicted son. What I witnessed each time he was brought into court both hurt and disturbed me greatly, causing me to grieve for my boy. Upon having his name called by the judge, a deputy would lead him from the holding cell into a crowded lobby filled with people. In jail clothes and bound, my son was made to pass by those who gawked and stared at him–no doubt wondering what he had done and who he was.

It saddened me deeply every time this cruel event occurred. How humiliating and embarrassing this walk must have been for a good person with a bad problem! It was truly a walk through a Hall of Shame as on-lookers no doubt judged and condemned a teen they knew nothing about.

But I knew Aaron and I loved him in spite of his seven year battle with substance abuse, and all the pain it had brought upon him, me, and his family. It seemed inhumane to drag a drug addicted youth before a crowd by a deputy–parading him through the lobby like he was a murderer or rapist.

And so one day, as I again awaited in Judge Boyd’s court for my son’s name to be called, I decided that he would not walk the Hall of Shame by himself. When Aaron’s name was called, I exited the courtroom and positioned myself near the place he would enter from. When the deputy came out with my young son, I walked beside him all the way to Judge Boyd’s courtroom. No words were spoken, but I wanted Aaron to know that his father was with him and was not ashamed of him.

Anguish overflowed my soul as I walked beside Aaron that day; how did it ever come to this? But somehow I wanted to share in his shame and bear in some small way the indignities he was enduring. I wanted him to know he was not alone. He still had the support of his loved ones. As we progressed through the lobby I heard a woman say, “Oh my God! Look at him, he’s so young!” Everyone in that lobby was looking at Aaron–in striped jail clothes, bound, and in custody…for a disease known as drug addiction!

Yes, so young as the woman exclaimed. But nevertheless Aaron was in fact bound in handcuffs and shackles, imprisoned by law enforcement…subjected to humiliation and shame. At that moment, I as a father bore his shame with him. He did not walk the Hall of Shame alone that day. Though Aaron was sent back to jail, I, as his dad, in the aftermath of his appearance felt some solace as I walked beside him through the Hall of Shame.

This gave me a little peace that day. Yet I knew in my heart that my teenage son was still in bondage–to a sinister power of Satanic origin, drug addiction. There would come a time, not too long afterwards, that Aaron, by the grace of God would experience recovery from heroin addiction and would be set free from drug abuse. Today I thank God that my son is a recovering heroin addict!

Aaron has not had any legal offenses in seven years. He is now 25 years old and is in the process of rebuilding his life. But I will never forget his many walks through the Hall of Shame and the sorrow it laid on our hearts. Thank God those days are behind us. But we will forever remain in his corner!

Obama Signs Opioid Funding Bill

Aaron Emerson

President Barack Obama signed a bill on Friday that seeks to address the nation’s growing heroin and prescription drug epidemic. The bill provides funding to give law enforcement and medical professionals more tools to fight opioid addiction, among other important measures.

Republicans in Congress put up a fight against the proposed funding, however, and after a lengthy negotiation process, funding was almost $1 billion short of the bill’s original goal. Obama was happy to provide money to fight addiction but was discouraged at the end result.

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“This legislation includes some modest steps to address the opioid epidemic,” he said in a statement. “Given the scope of this crisis, some action is better than none. However, I am deeply disappointed that Republicans failed to provide any real resources for those seeking addiction treatment to get the care that they need.”

The bill provides $181 million of federal money to give states numerous tools to use to fight a problem that is claiming dozens of lives each day. It will allow nurse practitioners to now prescribe Suboxone, as doctors are limited prescribing it to 100 patients and many doctors don’t prescribe it anyway. The bill also increases access to Naloxone, a drug commonly known as Narcan that reverses opioid overdoses, as well as help for states to utilize prescription drug monitoring more efficiently.

As for me, I am really excited that more funding will now be going through the pipeline to fight this epidemic, but I am extremely disappointed that Republicans blocked so much money that could’ve been used to save lives. In 2014, over 47,000 Americans died from drug related deaths, double the number from 2000.

I have been following this bill – officially called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – for quite some time now and was excited to see how $1.1 billion could help states fight addiction. To know that only $180 million was passed is pretty sad. Many lawmakers are hoping they can still add more spending in the future to combat addiction. We will see. For now, I am just grateful that some help is on the way.

Photo Credit: BET

Building My Recovery From The Ground Up

By Aaron Emerson

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If you are not aware of the term co-occurring disorder, it is when an individual has a substance abuse problem and a mental health diagnosis at the same time. Countless people who are addicted to drugs also have mental health issues, many of whom do not even know it.

Just addressing one or the other is hard enough, but treating both of them is essential in finding lasting recovery. That is a fact I had to learn the hard way, but I am so glad to be able to say I think I am on the right path. As a recovering heroin addict, my first day of sobriety was May 16, 2013. After a year of staying clean, I relapsed. I then stayed sober for another year, only to relapse again. There was then another relapse, and it was after my last slip up when I started doubting whether I would ever be able to stay clean for more than a year or so.

When looking back on all of that, however, I noticed that even when I was a year sober, I was still depressed a lot and experienced a lot of mood swings on a daily basis. As I had a doctor that thought I had BiPolar when I was 16, I decided to give a psychiatrist a shot when I got clean this last time. After an hour long appointment, the psychiatrist confirmed my diagnosis; I have BiPolar, after all. She put me on some medicine and I have been taking it for a few weeks now.

I have to say, these last couple weeks have been a lot different. My mood swings have been contained and my depression levels are not nearly as extreme as they were. I know simply not taking medication and not seeing a therapist is no reason to relapse, but I really feel like it contributed in a big way to me turning back to drugs even after 13 months of sobriety.

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I am also going to 12 Step meetings more than I have in a long time and am getting involved in the fellowship and camaraderie that the meetings provide. It feels so amazing. I feel like I have a new start and am hopeful about staying clean, one day at a time.

I am celebrating two months of sobriety today, but I truly am feeling that my recovery is stronger now than it was when I had over a year clean. I am vowing to always remember my several relapses and what contributed to them. When we forget the pain of addiction is when drugs start to appeal to us during tough times. When we don’t remember where we came from, it’s much easier to forget how bad our addictions really were. Today, for at least these next 24 hours, I am not going to forget.

I am not trying to make excuses for my relapses; I am writing this to share how important it is to treat our mental health and how much of a difference it can make when we get down to the root of our issues. The drugs were just a symptom of our disease. I am so thankful that God has given me another shot at recovery. I know simply taking some medicine and going to meetings is not going to prevent me from ever feeling depressed again, but I feel so much better this time around. There is hope! If you have slipped up, you can get back on the wagon. If you are still stuck in addiction, I promise life in recovery is so much more enjoyable! God is good.