He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life…I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.” Ezekiel 37: 3-6
The Gasp of Death
The night was like any other Saturday night with the exception of having one of my daughter’s here at the house on a temporary basis. She had only been back home a few weeks. She had found herself homeless after depleting all her resources in years of drug crazed madness. Little did I know that when I went to bed that night, I would be awakened by a mother’s worst nightmare.
Her substance abuse troubles began as a young teenager. My husband and I did what most parents do, we attributed her alcohol usage as a phase, almost like a rite of passage. As parents, we did what most parents do when they discover their child is drinking; we punished her, took away privileges, and grounded her. Not really thinking she had a problem, we rationalized, “she is just a rebellious teen, a really rebellious teen!” My husband and I were pulling our hair out trying to keep a lid on the situation.
Once she turned eighteen, she moved out on her own. Her substance abuse escalated over a ten year period. From alcohol, to marijuana, cocaine, acid, xanax, meth, oxycodone, oxycontin, and then finally landing on heroin.
My husband and I went to bed that Saturday night and were awakened to a loud panicked pounding on our bedroom door. My frantic youngest son had found my daughter in the basement of our home unresponsive from a heroin overdose, the needle still in her arm. As a nurse I immediately recognized her agonal breathing pattern. This type of breathing often occurs in 40% of cardiac arrest patients. It is often called the “gasp of death.”
For 30 minutes I performed rescue breathing on my daughter. EMS had been called, but got lost on the way to the house. Time is of the essence and every single minute can be a matter of life or death. Statistically the odds were diminishing
with every minute that passed. Approximately 20% oxygen was being delivered with each rescue breath, she needed 100% oxygen delivery, but that would only happen when EMS arrived with the oxygen tank. At best, my mind told me if she lived, she would be brain dead or be severely incapacitated. EMS finally arrived and hurriedly rushed her to the nearest emergency room.
After that horrific experience I am graced to say my daughter is alive today without any neurological deficits or brain damage. She could have very well died that night. Many who overdose do not live. My son’s quick response probably saved her life. He was going to sit on the deck before going to bed that evening. However, he said “something inside me told me to go see where she was.” I thank God he followed that inner voice.
Why do I share so candidly with you a story I would rather keep to myself? First, by sharing my story I pray others would find hope in the gospel of Christ, be encouraged, supported, understood, and gain needed direction about the next step to take towards getting help.
Secondly, I was compelled to speak out when I read LifeWay’s Resource Inside Girls Ministry Blog about a young boy in a church who had died from an overdose. Addicts and their families sit in the pews of our churches every Sunday. Suffering in silence is frequently common because it is perpetuated by the shame and guilt of the addiction. Piled on top of the guilt and shame also brings overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. The very place we should be able to seek counsel is overshadowed by fear of judgement and the projection of an image that we have it all together, when in actuality we are falling apart.
God’s Word teaches that we are to encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11), comfort one another (2 Corinthians 1:4), and pray for one another (1 Timothy 2:1).
I have found when I am transparent and risk being vulnerable with life’s challenges I have encountered, God uses those opportunities for me to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, they may find comfort in knowing they are not alone on this journey, and they can be strengthened by someone interceding boldly on their behalf at the throne of grace before an almighty God (Hebrews 4:16).
Understand addiction does not happen overnight and neither does recovery. It is a process. Magic dust is not sprinkled over the problem and then it disappears. Put on your boxing gloves, because you are in for the fight of your life.
Even though I am still living this out, God has done amazing things through this experience. While fighting for the life of my child, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few things I’ve learned about the do’s and don’ts of dealing with an addict:
Deny– Denial is huge in parents and the addict! Denial is often an obstacle to getting much needed assistance and treatment. My husband and I rationalized, justified, and explained away that our daughter was just going through a “phase” all teens experience. Don’t down play the seriousness of substance abuse.
Blameshift or take on guilt– It is not uncommon to blame friends, school, or a crisis event for the addicts usage, or blame each other. Vivian Hyatt writes a great example of blame-shifting and guilt in The Gospel Coalition Blog entitled Taking Comfort in Cain:
Did Adam and Eve blame their parenting? Did they lie awake, nights, staring into the blackness, tracing every detail of Cain’s upbringing? Did we spank enough? Teach enough? Play enough? Pray enough? Is it ever enough? This one always tested the limits. He just wanted to get by, play this charade of obedience, but his heart wasn’t in it. We should have recognized it. Eve, you should have! You tested the limits yourself! Whoa, wait a minute, Adam! You flat-out disobeyed! Besides, he’s the son most like you. Out in the fields with you, learning the trade. Did you ever talk about things? Did you think he’d just figure it out on his own? Did you tell him you hid from God once? Cringed when he called your name? Did you warn him of the consequences of going his own way? Well, did you?
Be deceived– Lying by the addict is common, secrets are common, and manipulation is common. Train yourself to recognize statements of deception and manipulation. Another deception is thinking detoxing is recovery. Detox is not recovery. The addict may have gone through the physical withdrawals, however there are emotional and spiritual components to work through. Be aware of your own deceptive thinking too. For instance, just because I am a follower of Christ and have prayed for God to not let my daughter die, does not mean she will not die from the consequences of her addiction. However, don’t be deceived into thinking that there is no hope, they are too far gone, or that they have reached a point of no return. As long as God gives breath, freedom from addiction is possible.
Enable– For years my husband and I rescued our daughter, bailing her out of situation after situation, thinking we were helping and hoping each time she would come to her senses. We also enabled out of fear and guilt. What if she died on the streets? How could we let that happen? Until we stopped rescuing her and she had to face the consequences, was she able to become serious about getting help. We had to accept that the consequence may be death.
Know there is hope– God’s grace is sufficient to see you through the grief and brokenness. Even in the midst of the storm there is hope. I shared recently on my blog three things God has shown me through this ordeal. Here is an excerpt from my blog:
Grace– God’s Word says His grace is sufficient, no matter what the outcome. I pray my child would know the depth of the love of God and turn to the one true God. But what if my child never turns to God? What if my child dies? “My grace IS sufficient, My strength will be made perfect in your weakness.” I have had to learn that even if my prayers are not answered the way I want, God is still good and His grace will see me through.
Emotion– God is not defined by an emotion. Whether you or I are anxious, sad, depressed, or whatever the emotion…God still reigns supreme. The story of the cross and redemption does not change because my emotions change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Even though my emotions may change on a whim, God does not change. He is immutable.
Dependence– God is dependable. No matter how much despair you or I feel, He can still be trusted. Why? Because His Word says He is good and trustworthy. God can not go contrary to His Word. So if His word says He is good, then you and I have to take Him at His Word. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Pray Scripture– Fight on your knees for your children. Put on the full armor of God, especially the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6: 10-17). Allow God to speak to your heart through His Word. Then turn those passages into prayers. For example, I have taken Ezekiel 37, the story of the dry bones, and used it to pray for my child. “God breathe life into my child, let her live again. Give her hope that she can live again through the power of God.” I frequently use 2 Corinthians 3: 12-15, asking God to remove the veil that covers the heart of my child, so that she can see Christ. As I pray Nehemiah 2, I ask God to rebuild the walls of my family that have been broken by addiction. Beth Moore has a fabulous book on prayer called Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Strongholds. There is a chapter on praying through the stronghold of addiction.Here is a link to the book:
Know signs of drug usage-There are so many. Not anyone stands alone, usually there are several. Dilated or constricted pupils, ashen skin color, dark circles under the eyes, a gaunt look, sweating, sniffling, sneezing, unkept appearance, weight loss, poor appetite, complains frequently of stomach upset, or unable to eat whole meals, isolation, sleeping all the time, mood swings, defensive when approached, spoons missing, or finding burned spoons, q tips missing, missing aluminum foil, burns on furniture, doilies, cut straws, pens without the ink..hollow pens, tourniquets. Most chemical substance abusers carry their paraphernalia with them. Check purses, pockets, back packs, cars, behind mirrors, between mattresses, toilet tanks, look everywhere. If they are using and you are looking, you will find the evidence.
Confront– This can be difficult because emotions run rampant. When confronting use facts and evidence; do not use emotional manipulation. I can’t overstate this enough, do not be fueled by your emotions. Before confronting, have a plan in place for assistance. Know your options for help.
Get help– Please do not procrastinate on this. Know where to find help and resources. Seek out support. Confide in a trusted friend. Research options. Seek out someone who has walked in your shoes, call local churches with counseling, your pastor, know your insurance coverage. If you have no insurance, begin to call rehab facilities that offer indigent beds. Help is out there. Ed Welch’s book has an indexed list of resources that can help get you started (see below).
Know rescue breathing/CPR- Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is essential in responding to opioid overdoses. Rescue breathing is essential when responding to an opioid overdose because the victim is dying of lack of oxygen due to reduced or arrested breathing caused by the opioids. Rescue breathing, if initiated soon enough, provides oxygen which is essential to saving a life by keeping the heart pumping and preventing brain damage.
Read here about rescue breathing for opiod overdose:
Contact the American Heart Association for training
Book recommendation- I highly recommended a book regarding addiction by Ed Welch called: Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. It is written explicitly for both people who are addicts or recovering and also family members. Even if you do not agree with his stance on addiction, he gives very helpful advice, exercises, practical theology, specifically addresses the addict, and the people who help them. The best part about this book is that it points people to Jesus Christ.
Link to reviews from the book:
Ed Welch also has a written a curriculum to help addicts called: Crossroads: A Step by Step Guide Away from Addiction
A Glimpse of Hope
It has been a little over a year since my daughter overdosed. She has spent the last year in a Teen Challenge Women’s inpatient treatment program, transitioned to a half way house, and frequently attends Celebrate Recovery at a local church. Never in my life did I ever think I would find myself thanking God for such a place. Nor did I ever think I would need the assistance of such a place.
Today my daughter is drug free for the first time in over ten years. She graciously gives me permission to share this story. Please pray she will remain strong in Christ and remain free from the stronghold of addiction.
Click here to find a Teen Challenge close to you.