Those who helped me, Short Story.
This story shows the struggle of a cocaine addict and the help he received.
I wish to thank Alfredo Torres and Mathew Torres for their great help in the writting of this story. Melvin
THOSE WHO HELPED ME
This is a sad day for me. Since early morning, my mother has been insisting that I accompany her to this place. I came because at my age, 29 years, I have given her so few good moments and so many dark days. After all, if I still can have a caring thought toward her, my situation is not hopeless. As I once heard, it's never too late, or at least it's better late than never. My problem is in my mind. I cannot get rid of these thoughts that tie me to the desire for cocaine.
“Good morning, maam. How can we help you?”
“Good morning. My name is Jane Adams, and this is my son, Paul Adams. I called last Thursday and spoke with Mr. Tom Anderson. He told me we could come today.”
“Please take seat, Mrs. Adams and Paul. Tom will be with you shortly.”
After fifteen minutes, we were asked to proceed to a small office in which a man in his mid-forties greeted us.
“We are pleased that you have considered us, Mrs. Adams, to help Paul overcome his drug addiction.”
“Paul, please give me a brief historical description of the highlights of your situation.”
“As you may have noticed, my parents are educated people. My father was a heroin addict since my early childhood, and my grandfather was an alcoholic. While my father was in jail, I lived with my maternal grandmother. After my father came out of jail, I returned to live with them. My father was pursuing his graduate studies at the university, and at home, there was an intellectual environment with drug and other vices. My mother was opposed to drug use and to conversations in which drug use was discussed. At age 11, a friend of my cousin asked me if I had smoked marijuana and offered me a joint. I smoked daily until I was 17. I also drank heavily, so at 15, I was already an alcoholic.”
“My experience was similar to yours. My father was a drug user, and when my parents separated, I lived with my grandmother. At age 12, my friends introduced me to marijuana. At that early age, peer pressure is the principal motivation. The problem starts because drugs deliver a pleasurable experience very fast. We feel more alert, powerful and less shy. The practice of our drug dependence leads us to believe lies about ourselves and about our drug use.”
“I've tried to make him understand he's harming himself.”
“Yes, Mrs. Adams, and that's probably why he is here today. We need people who are aware of our self deceptions to speak the truth, with love, to us.”
“At what age did you begin to use cocaine, Paul?”
“I was 16 and living with my parents in New York. I enjoyed cocaine a lot. Later, at 17, I started doping by injection.”
“Are you currently on probation or under a suspended sentence?”
“Yes, but I haven't broken the probation conditions.”
“Mrs. Adams, have you brought the documents and the deposit that we spoke about in our telephone conversation?”
“Yes, I have them.”
“Please go to the reception area and ask to see Daisy.”
“Paul, our program is based on the practical application of the teachings in the Bible to our lives. The first and most important teaching is that Jesus Christ is God and came to Earth to make possible our personal relationship with Him. At this time, you are not in the condition to enter into further conversation on this subject, so I'll take you to the dorm and assign you to your bed, locker and desk table. The Program Director and I will be in contact with you and will speak to you with more details in a few days.”
During the next ___ days after my mother bought me to the program, I spent most of the time in solitude while cleansing my body and struggling with the cravings for cocaine. I was required to attend several activities that were held daily, like cleaning duties and chapel meetings. On the morning of the ___ day, Tom Anderson called me to his office.
“Good morning, Paul. I've called you to have the opportunity to speak to you about our experiences and the ideas behind the treatment procedures we apply in this program. You told me you were introduced to marijuana by friends at 11 and went almost immediately to liquor.”
“Look, Tom, I suppose all of you who work in this program have had lots of experience with sick people like me. Isn't it true that by developing strength of will I can get rid of my addiction?”
“Yes, you might. As a matter of fact, if you can't we won't be able to help you. Paul, many people arrive here who are not interested in rehabilitation. First, they are enjoying the pleasures associated with their addiction. Second, they frequently come to the program as an alternative to a stay in jail, and their only objective is to satisfy the sentence in an intermediate institution rather than in jail. Third, they don't come from a life with a positive purpose, so they need to be habilitated rather than rehabilitated. They need a new trajectory, a new trail to follow. They have never had a meaningful existence.”
“I agree with that, but that is not the case with me. I have goals in life. I have been studying at the university, and I expect to finish my degree, work and establish a home.”
“Yes, that's fine, and we want to help you achieve those goals. But first, you need to become aware of where you are and what trail you need to follow.”
“Okay, according to you, where am I?”
“In this moment, you are in bondage to something that controls the way you feel and think. Addictions can be found in many activities. Our object of addiction has been cocaine, but there are many addictive substances, activities or even states of mind. For some it's drugs or gambling, while for others it's work or sports. For the gay and the lesbian it's sex, and for others it's pornography, nicotine, caffeine, shoplifting and many other things. The common bond is that these substances or activities deliver pleasure, and they deliver it fast. What induces addictions can be found in every person's mind. We all have had incontrollable desires for something we know has damaging consequences. Yet, we persist on it and eventually become incapable of denying ourselves such desires.”
“You're right, but some of our desires are legitimate; for example, sex and money.”
“They are legitimate as long as they are pursued in the manner for which God gave them, but if they become so important in themselves that we commit adultery or steal, then they are not legitimate anymore.”
“Tom, you're telling me that cocaine has been like a cancer to us. We caught it, and now we don't have the means to release ourselves from its grip.”
“Yes and no. No, because you don't look for cancer. Cancer gets into your body in spite of the fact that you don't want it and that you don't consciously do anything to infect yourself. And yes, because our physical and emotional slavery to the object of our desire is such that we consider ourselves incapable of being released from its grip, which is not true. The reality is that we love cocaine so much that we prefer slavery to it rather than freedom without it.”
“Okay, but I might have a genetic disposition to a particular type of cancer that has affected my ancestors. Or I may have unintentionally involved myself in an activity that promotes cancer due to external circumstances, such as working with asbestos or eating fish contaminated with industrial wastes.”
“That's right, but heredity or environmental conditions, even though they can attract us to a particular desire, cannot force us to participate in an activity. We make the decision of satisfying a sinful desire.”
“But, why did you call it sinful?”
“Because drug addiction is an activity that has the consequence of producing physical, emotional and spiritual harm to ourselves and the people who love us. Every activity that produces harm to others and us is sinful. By the way, what does sin means to you?”
“To me, sin is any violation of the Ten Commandments.”
“That's fine; we agree on that. As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ made two summaries of the Ten Commandments. One is to love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. The second is what has been called the Golden Rule: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Since anything that harms us, emotionally harms those who love us, it's obvious that drug use is sinful, even though personally we enjoy the pleasures derived from its use. There is a specific sin, described in the Ten Commandments as idolatry, which applies to our situation.”
“No way. Idolatry is putting something in the place that belongs to God. I might be a junkie, but I respect God.”
“Look at it this way. Isn't it true that as we progress in our addiction our desire for cocaine increases to the point where we don't have the strength of character or will to deny ourselves the cure? And that from an initial state in which we enter voluntarily, we reach a condition in which we are incapable of controlling our conduct to the extreme of being sent to jail or to a rehabilitation program? Isn't true that cocaine becomes increasingly important to the point that we violate several of the Ten Commandments: thou shall not lie, thou shall not steal, honor thy father and thy mother, thou shall not covet and principally thou shall not have other gods before Me? Hasn't slavery to cocaine progressed to the point of becoming an idol?
“But, Tom, cocaine is not a finality in itself. It's just a means to attain good feelings, a sense of power, physical pleasure, release of physical and emotional pain and many other purposes. Such benefits are difficult to resist.
“That is precisely the core of our problem. Cocaine is a secondary idol. It's still an idol because it's an object of devotion, but the primary idol is ourselves. We don't want anything to come before us. Objects of addictions are the means to an end as you have said. The problem is that idolatry is sinful, and sin corrupts us, enslaves us, and exposes us. Our addiction will corrupt us because we will justify what is obviously wrong. Also, at some point, we think that we can hide our idolatry, and later, we don't care if the world knows of our addiction. I already mentioned the way our mind and body are controlled to the level of slavery, and the consequences of sin will expose us through physical and emotional damage.
“Well, that explains why we started using drugs in our childhood when peer pressure was the motivation and not the drug itself.”
“Exactly, our purpose was not to worship marijuana; it was to use it to earn the approval of our friends. The problem is that as time went by, we identified the drug with our self devotion and thus became controlled by our desire for the pleasures and satisfactions we experienced through it.”
“But, Tom, you recognize that now, after years of slavery, jail sentences, family disruption and so on. At that time, God was the last thing on your mind, if at all.”
“Yes, although my mother, before she went to New York, and my grandmother introduced me to God before I started using marijuana. But after that, as you said, came 17 years of addiction with its consequences.”
“My case is different in that sense. I was in jail the first time that someone spoke to me personally about God. I thanked him, but I was not interested. Right now, I am not terribly interested either. I believe there's a God because you have to be very ignorant to think all creation, the earth, the living beings and mankind could appear by accident. To me, it's difficult to believe not only that the universe was created by accident, but that once created, it sustains by itself without falling into chaos.”
“That's true, and it's also difficult to believe God created the universe, and especially mankind, to exist independent of Him. It's the same as with us; we don't spend resources and time on anything with the purpose of becoming separated from it. Good parents prepare their children to become self-sufficient but not to become estranged from them. The problem is that man made the decision to do things without taking God's instructions into consideration and thus decided contrary to His will. What happens if someone under your supervision makes decisions contrary to your instructions? If it's your employee, you fire him. If it's your child, you discipline him. If it's your grown-up son, you confront him to correct his path and advice him of the consequences he'll have to face if he persists. After man disobeyed God, he became estranged from God and had to face the consequences of such separation: physical death, pride, envy, selfishness, idolatry and so on.”
“Okay, Tom, this is where you say that Jesus Christ is God the Son and that He came to earth to repair such damage because man by himself is unable to do so.”
“Fine, the person that spoke to you in jail did a good job. Yes, the Bible, which we have many good reasons to be certain is the Word of God, says so. After the original disobedience, man became naturally inclined toward idolatry, relating to objects or feelings instead of to God. So, self-satisfaction through drugs, illicit sex, gambling, personal power, fame, monetary wealth, and so on. became our god. And the worst of it is that mankind didn't have the means of getting out of the progressively deteriorating situation that leads to personal destruction in this life and eternal separation from God in hell.”
“Yes, and that's when you say that God Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, came to Earth and lived a sinless life, and through a series of God ordained circumstances, the religious leaders of His time persuaded the Roman government to crucify Him so that He received the punishment that we, as sinners, deserve.”
“Paul, the important thing to realize is that when someone harms us, a separation is produced. When Jesus Christ took our place at the cross, He became separated from God, the Father. God's acceptance of Jesus sacrifice granted us access to His friendship. Jesus' resurrection gives us the assurance that God will receive us as His sons if we accept Jesus as our substitute.”
“I have two problems with that. In this world, if you have a debt and you accept that someone else pays that debt, you then become a debtor to the person that pays the debt. If I accept that Jesus pays the debt that my idolatry to drugs produces, what is Jesus going to request from me?”
“Paul, there is Biblical writer, who, by the way, had the same name you have, who implies that we are indeed debtors to Jesus Christ and that His love for us as we are motivates us to live in obedience to His will for us. But, don't worry; he also says that once in Christ, we have a new spiritual nature, capable of obeying Him because the presence of the Holy Spirit is in us.”
“My second problem is that all non-Christian religions, and even some sectors of the Christian religion, believe that when you die if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, God allows you into heaven. Or, in other words, your bad deeds can keep you from entering heaven.”
“You're right, even non-religious people think that way. A person that views his relationship to God in those terms considers himself self-worthy and self-capable of earning God's goodness and His clemency, not knowing that it is not our bad acts that separate us from God but our idolatry. The fact is that we naturally choose to pursue satisfaction for ourselves rather than to respect Him. For them, Jesus Christ's sacrifice is unnecessary, which means that they have no way of removing the spiritual death penalty off their shoulders.”
“You sound reasonable, Tom. I'll think about it. Perhaps Christ is still not big enough in me to prefer Him over cocaine.”
After this initial conversation with Tom, I felt that I was in a good place, being taken care by people who knew their business and had a helping attitude. In several days, I was feeling physically well, and I was incorporated into all the daily activities in the program. Since it was a Christian program, there was an emphasis on the teaching of Christian principles. There was a daily meeting in which there was some kind of preaching or teaching. We also visited local churches frequently. For someone not very religiously inclined like me, some meetings were boring, but others were good. I won't deny that on two occasions I felt emotionally moved by the words of the preacher. I had to clench my fists and bite my lips to contain myself and not cry.
Within the next four months, I was progressing well through the treatment procedures. With some frequency, I had the opportunity to go out of the program on several assignments. Among the approximately thirty interns that were on the program, only two of us had a valid driver's license. Because of that, I went out of the program very frequently. Most of the time, one of the leaders came with me, but there were occasions in which I went with other interns. On some occasions, not always, when the group returned to the program, we were required to take a urine sample for testing. Tom was in charge of this procedure.
As days passed by, I became acquainted with the various activities that required automobile transportation. I also took good care of the program van. By the sixth month on the program, I was feeling very well, so I felt quite sure I would not return to cocaine.
One day at the dorm, I said to John, a fellow intern:
“Bill got a positive for cocaine after close to a year on the program. He was on a weekend pass at home. How could he do that? He knew Tom would give him the pot at his arrival. That's being very foolish.”
“Don't brag about that. You haven't fallen because you have not had a good opportunity or been close to people who will provide it. Next time we get out, I'll get you some cigarettes to see if you are a proven man. You'll slobber like a dog.”
“I'm sure I can handle that.”
“Remember, it's not the same to call upon the devil as to see him arrive.”
The truth is that my intention was not to brag about anything. I know that cravings are strong, but I felt sure of myself.
I continued my normal life in the program after this incident. At a drug rehabilitation program, as in any other place where a large number of people live together, discussions are always present in different ways or manners; so at first, I didn't pay attention to John's remarks. Three weeks after that incident, one intern accidentally fell and received a blow in his left forearm. It was in the late afternoon, so the supervisor in charge told me to take him to the hospital. It was close to 7:30 P.M. when we arrived at the emergency room entrance. Between the security guard and me, we got Bob out of the van in considerable pain. The guard told me to go park the van, and he would take Bob to the evaluation area. After parking, I went directly to the emergency room and looked for Bob. He was in pain, and it was evident that there was a bone fracture. I went to the nurse in charge. She told me he would be sent to the X-ray department, and after that, the doctors would decide the manner in which they would proceed. That meant that I would have to wait several hours until Bob's arm was plastered or until they tell me that he will require surgery and is to be hospitalized.
In the waiting room, there were twenty, not very comfortable chairs and a wall-mounted television set. When I arrived, the room was full, and there were a couple of people sitting on the floor. I stood waiting for about 30 minutes, watching TV. I was not interested in the TV, so I felt somewhat uneasy. I walked to the entrance and talked for a while with the guard, who began to smoke. We spoke about the cold weather and about Bob's situation. I was very tempted to ask the guard for a cigarette. I didn't because the van has the program's logo, so he knew where I came from. It was around 9:30 P.M., and I decided to return to the emergency room and find out what was happening with Bob. The nurse told me he was in X-rays and that she would call me. I decided to walk around for a while. I was longing for a cigarette and a beer, but I didn't have money. At the main entrance lobby, there was a good sofa and three comfortable armchairs. I sat on the sofa and spent some time reading magazines. Some time later, a well-dressed man sat in the armchair across the room from me.
“You look tired. Have you waited for long at the hospital?” the man said.
“Well, at the hospital for about two hours, but it had been a long day before the accident.”
“Oh, what is your relation to the injured person?”
“He's a friend. We are both interns at a project.”
“Have a cigarette. It's a cold evening.”
“And how did the accident occur?”
“Bob was joking with another guy. When they were running after each other, Bob came to a place where there is a long concrete step. When Bob slowed down the other caught him, and they both fell. The other guy fell on top of Bob, who suffered a fracture in the forearm.”
“Would you like a beer? You still have some waiting time at the hospital. Let's go to the mini-mart at the gas station across the street.”
We went to the gas station. I was nervous, but I thought that at the time that we got back to the program, the supervisor would be gone. The next day was Saturday and if Tom came to the program it wouldn't be before mid-morning. By that time a couple of beers would be out of my system. After a couple of beers and some talk, I said,
“And why are you at the hospital?”
“My friend has pneumonia, and he suffered an attack this morning. I had to rush him to the hospital. He was admitted and is now under sedation. His father and sister are with him.”
When I heard him say this, I thought, “This is a male homosexual, and his partner is dying of AIDS. But, he has been respectful to me, and after all, he's an addict in need, just as I am. He's an addict to sexual intimacy with men, and I'm an addict to cocaine. I have to be careful; I don't want him to take advantage of my drug need to persuade me to become a male prostitute.”
“Albert, let's go back to the hospital. I don't want the nurse to call me and not find me. It might occur to her to call the program.”
“Oh, I thought we could talk for a while and get to know each other.”
“Yes, we can, but in the emergency room waiting area. Let's go.”
“I'll check first in the room where my friend is.”
“That's fine. I'll be in the emergency room.”
In the emergency room, the nurse told me that Bob wouldn't need surgery and that his forearm was being plastered. I considered myself lucky that the nurse had not called on the paging system. So I went to the restroom, washed my mouth with soap and water, and sat to watch the TV. About twenty minutes later, Bob woke me up.
“Let's go, Paul. We're through here.”
“Hey, you're very lucky that they could repair that arm without surgery.”
“Yes, but don't think it has not been painful.”
“Surely, but in a month, your arm will be new.”
We arrived at the program around 11:15 P.M. When I went to park the van, I saw Tom's car, and a deep sense of guilt passed through my being. Well, I should have known better. I thought I'd see if God would help me so that I wouldn't get what I deserved. Maybe Tom will thank me for my service in a time of need, and then he would give me the urine sample pot. I needed to face this reality.
“Tom, you're here so late.”
“Yes, Paul. Harold called me to let me know of the accident. I had an appointment and arrived around 10:30, so I haven't been here so long. Thanks for your great help taking Bob to the hospital, taking care of the forms that they require, and also for cheering up Bob through his painful experience.”
“You can count on me whenever it's needed.”
“Thanks, Paul. Now, please, take this and give me a urine sample.”
“At this time and with this cold, I might not have any urine to give you.”
“Take your time. In a case like this, I'm required to request a urine sample. Bob gave me his already. Let's go and take yours, so we can get to sleep shortly.”
We went to the restroom. It was close to midnight, and I felt a combination of guilt and anger. I expected the test to be positive, but I did my best to be calm and not to brag about anything. I took the urine sample, and gave it to Tom. Then we went to his office. He sat at his desk and brought the test pallets from a drawer.
“What are you going to test for?”
“Alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin.”
As he began to dip each tablet into the urine, I thought about protesting, shouting or something like that, but it would have been useless. Besides, I respect and trust Tom. He has been at this side of the desk, and it's to my advantage that someone like him is at that side of the desk. Tom dipped the tablets for heroin and cocaine first, and they came out negative. Then he plunged the tablet for nicotine, which came out positive. He looked at me; I made an effort to look him in the eye. He didn't say anything and proceeded with the tablet for alcohol.
“Paul, as you can see, you have tested positive for nicotine and alcohol. It's late, and we are tired. We'll discuss this tomorrow after I speak with Vince. Before speaking with him, I must tell you that the program bylaw for this violation requires loss of time accredited plus a special work assignment.”
“What! You mean I'll go to zero time and have to start again, losing the six months I've been here.”
“I don't think I'll accept that.”
“Go to bed, and we'll talk tomorrow.”
That night I could barely sleep. On one side, I recognized my stupidity in smoking and drinking beer knowing that Tom would not allow me to stay out of the program for six hours without giving me the test pot. On the other side, I couldn't stand losing six months of my life because of this backslide. The next day, Tom called me to his office around 11:00 AM.
“Paul, tell the events that occurred last night which led to your decision to smoke and drink alcohol.”
“After I took Bob to the emergency room, I waited for a while in the waiting room. After some time, I went to the main entrance lobby where I got into a conversation with a man who offered cigarettes to me. He later invited me to the mini-mart at the gas station where he bought me several beers.”
“So, a man looked to satisfy your addiction in exchange for the possibility that in the future you might satisfy his addiction.”
“Actually, yes. But besides, it was so cold that I needed something to deal with it.”
“That's not true. You have withstood colder climates. It is the fact that you had access to your object of addiction when there was no one to oversee you. Your condition at this time is that you are struggling with abstinence, with your personal will and the supervision that we provide. When circumstances change and supervision is not present, your will is not sufficient to overcome the cravings. You have not yet accepted Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross as applied to your life, so He is not your Lord and Savior. Because of that, you don't have the help of His Holy Spirit living in you and providing a sense of respect to God that you need to overcome temptation. If your mother had been there, at the hospital, would you have smoked or drank beer? Certainly not, because you respect her. In the same manner, the Holy Spirit develops in us a sense of respect to God and awareness that we are always in His presence.”
“But there are persons who have overcome their addiction without becoming religious.”
“Yes, there are people who, with lots of help from friends and relatives, are able to achieve prolonged times of abstinence. But drug addiction is not a sickness to be cured; it's a dependence to a sinful behavior that has to be conquered in our minds.”
“Okay, what's going to be the punishment for my violation?”
“Vince and I have determined that you will lose the time accumulated until yesterday, so you will start from zero today.”
“Aren't you taking into consideration the services I've provided and the fact that I left the program to take care of an emergency, which you were not able to take care by yourselves?”
“Yes, we have taken that into consideration. That's why we are not giving you a job assignment, as we normally do.”
“I don't think I'll accept that. Losing six months of my life, plus the money my parents have spent.”
“Paul, our struggle with addiction is characterized by a succession of setbacks. When you trust Jesus, the setbacks start to occur at longer intervals until you overcome and your mind takes control of your life, not your feelings or your desires. When your mind controls your body and you make decisions based on the will of God as presented in the Bible, you overcome your addiction. If you leave the program at this early stage, you will return to the drug environment, and your friends will persuade you to get deeper into the cocaine vice.”
“I'll run that risk.”
I was very mad and thought that the discipline given to me was not fair. I spent the rest of the day and night planning what I would do. The next day, Sunday, Tom was not at the program. I packed my belongings and abandoned the program.
After leaving the program, I went home. At that time, my father was drinking heavily, so my mother had to struggle with both of us. Shortly afterwards, we relocated to Orlando. In Orlando, my father and I drank a lot. While drunk, I had several car accidents. I served a two months jail sentence for driving under the influence. Two years of disorderly living passed by, using drugs and alcohol.
A friend showed me an advertisement of a technical college in Ft. Lauderdale. I went there and started to study Hotel Management. There I met Sharon, and we started to live together. Sharon took a student loan and bought a car. Some time later, I crashed the car and was arrested. We came back to New Jersey where we got married. She demanded that I quit drinking, so we lived well for one year. I had a good job, but one day an employee I supervised offered me cocaine and I used it. I continued drinking and started using crack. I lost the job, and Sharon left me. I went to New York and was arrested for using my uncle's credit card. I served some time at Ricker Island and was deported to Orlando. I served ten months of jail in Orlando. After that, I returned to New Jersey where my father and I continued using drugs. I did several other law violations and other drug abuses which I will not tell because for the purpose of this narration, this is sufficient. I tried to return to Sharon, but she rejected the idea. She also had a new friend, and we agreed to divorce, which we did. Sharon's rejection left me very sad. The emotional pain was intense. I felt like I was going crazy. My body ached, and my mind was under intense pressure. For about a month, I didn't use drugs because I felt so distraught that my shame and lack of self-respect overcame any desire for cocaine. On these days, I began to think about the idea of sin and lack of respect for God. I thought that I couldn't get any lower and that my situation was desperate because I didn't have any physical or emotional strength to carry on.
Five years had passed since I left the program. I felt desperate, and in my anguish, I remembered Tom and the Prodigal Son Drug Rehabilitation Program. It was a difficult decision for me. I felt great shame, so it was hard to face Tom. However, remaining on my situation was worse. My mother had separated from my father, and she remained in Orlando. I called her and her compassion gave me strength. We had not talked for a long time, so I told her my desperate situation and ask her to call Tom. It took several weeks and a number of conversations with Tom and Vince, the program's director. Meanwhile, I got a job at a fast food restaurant on rotary shifts. One Thursday morning, my mother called to tell me that we had an interview with Tom next Tuesday. That afternoon, I made arrangements at my job, and Mom flew in from Orlando on Sunday afternoon.
After telling her the events in my life during the previous two years, I told her about my actual condition: how I got into drugs, lost a good job, Sharon left and divorced me, and those events led me into a depressive state.
“Mom, I've felt a deep sense of guilt toward you, Sharon, Tom and God. That's why I asked you to speak to Tom. This condition makes me feel physically weak, exhausted and full of regret. Losing a good job and losing Sharon were big losses, but I also have a deep feeling of being detached from God.”
“That's why you thought about The Prodigal Son and Tom.”
“I'm very glad that you called me. I expected that a crisis would come to your life in which you would seek help. Thank God that your crisis has not arrived through physical injury or sickness. I, of course, am concerned that after some time of abstinence you start to feel well and abandon the program.”
“I don't tell you that it won't happen, but what has Tom told you about that?”
“He said that if you really trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you would develop an attitude of gratitude and respect toward God that would allow you to struggle successfully with your addiction. He also told me that they have established a bakery products manufacture and distribution operation and that you could be able to pay part of your expenses with the money you could earn working there.”
“That's fine, and besides, I have some savings that could help you.”
“I've been on my own since your father and I separated and he went to jail. My salary as a secretary in a law firm is good, but your help will be appreciated. It's also good for you. Tuesday morning, we'll go to Camden; it's a five hour trip so we'll need to leave early.”
During the trip, I didn't speak much. I had a sense of sadness and regret. This is a consciousness of having harmed others and yourself that generates a sense of guilt that crushes you emotionally and causes you to feel physically doleful. Mom slept most of the time until we stopped to get breakfast and buy gasoline.
After we resumed the trip, she said: “ Paul, what do you expect from your meeting with Tom today?”
“First, I expect understanding. He has lived experiences similar to mine and he has seen in his job people in each and every stage of the drug addiction process with all kinds of attitudes, both good and bad. I also expect to see his point of view about God's participation in a person's life. Perhaps what I feel is depression triggered by heavy losses, but what's Gods participation and purpose in this, if any?”
“I'm glad to hear you thinking that way. It's truly encouraging that you have an attitude in which you don't depend only on what you can achieve by your own efforts. You certainly have to put up with a lot of yourself, but counting on God's help, you will overcome.”
We arrived at the program at 10:49 AM. The first things I noticed were the various improvements in the facilities. The entrance road was paved, and the parking lot was larger and also paved. Returning to this place after five years generated some sadness in me, but at the same time, it represented an avenue of hope. On one side, there was a feeling of self-pity and despair. On the other side, seeing how the program had progressed gave me a sense that these people have to be doing something good. There were two new buildings, and the administration building had been enlarged and remodeled. The basketball court and gym areas had been relocated, and the new facility was roofed. The new buildings were a two-story dormitory and a building for the bakery business. The new dormitory building made it possible for the chapel and the dining room to be enlarged.
We went to the reception area in the administration building. After a couple of minutes, Daisy came to greet us. She was very warm in her attitude toward Mom and me. She made me feel well and lessened my concern about the type of welcoming we would receive. And really, I didn't have anything to fear, in my previous stay, I had seen a couple of returnees, and I knew that they were welcomed. Besides, if it were not so, Tom would have told Mom on the phone and would not have allowed us to make the trip. But, feelings tend to overcome reason, and if it does, fears invade us. Daisy told us that Tom would be with us at 11:30 as he had agreed with Mom.
After Daisy went to her other duties, I told Mom I would walk around for a few minutes. I went to the bakery building and saw that it was a well-established operation with equipment in good condition. At the bakery, I saw John, who had been an intern in my previous stay. After he finished his treatment, he remained in the program working at the bakery. He had worked at the bakery since the beginnings of the project. Now he lived in Camden and also acted as the contact person between the customer stores in Camden, Philadelphia, and the program. I was very glad to see him, and we spoke for some time. Speaking with John, minutes passed by. When I was told I was being called from the office, I was surprised.
When I entered Tom's office, Mom had already spoken with Tom. Tom was now the Assistant Director of the program.
“I'm glad to see you again, Paul.”
“Me, too, and thanks for accepting me again after my abandon. I see that the program
has progressed a lot. Congratulations.”
“God has blessed our efforts. Paul, we have agreed to receive you in the program on
the condition that you will start the treatment all over again. After five years, you
have had a series of experiences that your mother thinks have led you to see
yourself in a different manner, and I think she could be right. One of our vans is
leaving soon for Philadelphia, and they will take your mom to where she can take a
taxi to the airport. I'll see you in twenty minutes.
Mom and I spoke for several minutes. I thanked her for her efforts and for never
abandoning me in spite of my situation. We went to the parking area and said good-by.
I returned to the reception area, and in a few minutes, Tom called me to his office.
“Paul, I have two questions I'd like you to answer. First, how do you feel? Second,
what do you need?
`Tom, I had a good job in the customer service department of a cellular telephone
company. I lost that job because of my drug addiction; subsequently, my wife left me.
When that occurred, I had the impression of having crashed into a solid wall. It's a
feeling of continuous sadness, guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness.
Even my interest for cocaine has decreased. Every bone in my body aches. I feel
without energy. The thought of what has happened is continuously on my mind, so
it's difficult to concentrate on anything. It's also difficult to sleep. What do I need?
With pills, I've worked through these symptoms. On my previous stay here, we spoke
about God's participation in our lives. I need to find out about that.”
“I agree with your description of what your feelings. I've been through that. In
relation to what you need, I understand that you do need God acting in your life. But
more than a God who does things for you, you need God to forgive you. You need a
Savior. There's a story in the Bible that shows what I mean, and because the majority
of us has been in the situation you are, the founders of this program selected it as our
name, the Prodigal Son. As you have heard, this young man wished to pursue a way of
living for the enjoyment of physical and emotional pleasures, just as we did. In order
to do that, he had to separate himself from his family and establish an independent
way of thinking and living. After enjoying for some time the pleasures he pursued,
he had to cope with the harmful consequences of his bad decisions, just as I did and
you are doing now. The important thing is that he correctly identified his situation and
what he needed, which is where we frequently fail. His obvious need was food, but his
true need was his father's forgiveness. Your obvious need is to get rid of the emotional
and physical consequences of your bad decisions. That can be temporarily achieved
with some time of seclusion. Your true need is to restore your friendship with our Holy
Father. You need to admit that your sin of idolatry is against Him and ask Him for
forgiveness through Jesus Christ, which is the means He has provided to make our
“I accept that I have offended God with my decisions and actions, and I ask my
heavenly Father's forgiveness. I accept Jesus' sacrifice at the cross as payment for the
punishment I deserve!”
“That's exactly what you need to do. The father of the prodigal son, which represents
our Heavenly Father, was waiting for his son's return and went out to meet him. He
accepted his son's repentance, forgave him completely, keeping no record of his past
sins, rejoiced in his return and restored him to his position as son. Because Jesus
Christ received the punishment that our sins deserve, God welcomes you in the same
manner shown in the prodigal son story.”
“Thanks, Father. Glory to Jesus, my savior.”
“Indeed, to Him be all glory. Now you must get rid of all thoughts and feelings of guilt
toward God. You have been forgiven. It's time to start a new part of your life. You
begin by making a public testimony of your acceptance of Jesus as your Savior and
Lord. You can do that in tomorrow morning's chapel service. God has forgiven you, so
you must assume a new position and a new attitude toward God, yourself and others.
Toward God, you are to obey and serve Him gratefully. Toward yourself, you are to
assume responsibility for your past actions and dedicate yourself to go ahead in obedience to God's word and His purpose for you. Toward others, you are to correct any harm that can be corrected. Your struggle will be difficult; but when you see God acting in your life your faith will grow and you will overcome.”
The next day, I was full of confidence and joy when, at the morning service, I publicly accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. From that day until now, I have struggled with confidence, not in myself and what I might be able to achieve, but in Jesus in me, and his participation in my life. The Holy Spirit strengthens me. On occasions, He modifies my circumstances, so I might overcome in temptations. When I fall in a temptation, instead of progressing into deeper drug use, I've been able to stop and ask God's forgiveness. I know that if I slip now, next time I won't stumble under the same circumstances. God's presence strengthens me to endure over successively longer periods of time.
I continued my rehabilitation program participation and also was baptized after I took a brief course in Christian basic principles. My baptism was a very special occasion. It was performed at a local church in Camden. Three of us joined seven from the church, and we were baptized by the church pastor. It was a beautiful moment because I saw the clear application to my life of the symbolism of being submerged in water as in a grave and subsequently raised as to a new resurrected life. Mom came from Orlando, and my father had been released and came from New York.
I could end this narration here, but there is an important consideration. Life after accepting Jesus as your personal Savior is subject to struggles and temptations. In some of them, I fell; in others, I was able to overcome. The important thing is that with Christ and the help of others, defeats are less frequent every time.
Fourteen months after my return to the rehabilitation program, I finished my treatment. When I completed a year in the program' I was allowed to work outside the institution grounds. With Tom's cooperation, I was able to obtain a job at an electronic parts manufacturing company. My first job was as an assembly line operator. After I worked at all assembly operations stations, I was transferred to a testing machine operator position. At that position, I distinguished myself for having a skill to identify the causes for parts failures. An assembled part may fail to deliver the required performance due to a reason or combination of reasons that have to be identified and corrected. It can be materials, tools, labor or a combination of them.
A reality of which all of us need to be aware is that there are temptations in themselves and there are hardships in our lives that can make us slip into temptation. The drug allure can be resisted, but a personal weakness in other area of life or an event of defeat or disillusion can make us vulnerable to an addiction relapse.
I was very happy working at the electronic plant in the testing section of the production department. I have some God-given ability to recognize what is wrong with a part or product that is not meeting the quality standards. About three months after I started in that section, a serious problem occurred. So serious, that production was reduced, and a 100% inspection was established. While working on that problem, I was able to detect an unusual behavior of one of the parts' components while being subjected to heat. The material supplier was contacted and the problem was corrected. What affected me emotionally was that in a meeting, which the plant manager called to recognize and thank the persons that worked on the solution of the problem, my contribution was not credited to me but to my supervisor and the section members in general. I felt very bad, ignored and betrayed.
On the way back to my apartment, I stopped at a bar and stayed there for several hours drinking beer and liquor. After I left the bar, I felt an urgency to use cocaine. As I drove toward a drug point and about three blocks from it, I saw three guys in a car, and somehow, I felt suspicious of them and feared for my security. As I got close to the drug point, I saw a guy who had been at The Prodigal Son recently, and his presence reminded me that if I went to buy cocaine Tom would know it. So, I passed by and went to my apartment. It was a very difficult night. A thought came to my mind; the fact that I slip in an area of my life does not force me to slip in another area. The fact that I fall to a temptation doesn't mean that I have to neglect my communion with the Holy Spirit. I prayed for about an hour and a half after which I had the idea of calling John and asking his help. It was late, and I didn't want to be inopportune. He strengthened me and prayed with me. We agreed to meet the next morning. I felt much better after speaking with John.
John arrived at my apartment shortly after nine on a Saturday morning. I had been praying for some time and doing my household duties.
“Thanks for coming, John. I really need someone I can trust to understand and share
my situation and feelings. Take a seat, and let me offer you some coffee or juice.”
“I'm glad that you consider me trustworthy and capable of being of help. I just had
breakfast before leaving home, so at this moment, I'll pass.”
I told John the events that had occurred the previous night and before.
“John, once you told me that a return to addiction seems silly when you see it in
“You're right, as a matter of fact, when I told you that, I was struggling in a
backslidden situation. When we are emotionally weak, our relationship with Christ
seems distant and our old addiction looks attractive. The hardships we suffer become
opportunities for attraction. In my case, women were the temptation that caused me to
backslid into drugs.”
“Yes, these hardship situations weaken us emotionally.”
“As you have described your experience, it's obvious to me how the Holy Spirit has
protected you. First, you controlled yourself in the factory and didn't offend anyone or
cause an embarrassing situation or worse. Second, you interpreted the presence of
some guys in the vicinity of the drug point as a threat to your security. Third, the fact
that Tom would know of your relapse made you reconsider, control yourself and call
me. Don't you see God's hand working in your benefit through those events?”
“You're right. This morning, as I prayed, that came to me.”
“And remember, Paul, the important thing is that we respect God. It's fine that we
respect Tom, as much as we are appreciative and thankful to him for how much he has
helped us. We also recognize that he has been an instrument of God in the shaping of
our character. From what you tell me, it's reasonable to expect that you will continue
to develop yourself in the quality inspection of manufacturing operations. In a not
very distant future you will have a good opportunity on the same corporation or
another company distant from here. When that occurs, Tom won't be there; but God
will always be.”
“Yes, but in a moment of temptation, the remembrance of a respected person could be
“The respect of God is not instantaneous. It grows out of the recognition of what
Christ did at Calvary and of what He is doing today for us, but it has to be procured.
Like what the Bible says about the need for wisdom, we need to ask God for it.”
“Then, John, how can I help myself when I'm in the verge of backsliding or
“First of all, the grace of God is what sustains us. The fact that we are in a backslidden
condition doesn't mean that we have to turn away from the Holy Spirit. On the
contrary, then is when we need Him the most. It's then that we need to procure Him
through prayer, Bible study and a firm determination to be obedient to God.
Second, you have to exercise self-control. That means that you have to establish limits
in your thoughts and your behavior. Limits that are to act as protection walls to your
life. Remember that Jesus said that if our eye leads us to fall in sin we should remove
our eye, meaning that we have to flee from thoughts and situations that could harm us.
Third, use common sense, which means think before you act. By the way, the fact that
you thought before acting saved you from a disaster. Fourth, procure the help of
others. I'm glad that you called me because I'm a person who has previously
endured your experience and can share your situation. Let's meet tomorrow at church.
If you can come with me today, I have several things to do, including changing the
church's van brake pads.”
“Thanks a lot, John. I'll go with you.”
Ten years have passed since that day. Thank to those who helped me. Jesus Christ, Tom, John and other friends, my mother and my new family. I am overcoming in my struggle with drug addiction. I'm living in Oregon, and I'm serving Jesus Christ gratefully.
June 19, 06