Thursday, April 27, 2017

Aaron Hakizimana wrote the following “hate poem.” We talked about the seeming paradox of individuals both loving and hating their addiction. On the one hand, they love the feeling the drug gives them, but they loathe everything it takes away from them. While they are chasing the high, they can feel both the love and the hate to an extreme. It controls them and strips everything away from them. It is a vicious cycle. Enjoy his powerful poem and let his words sink deep into your resolve to stay clean. 

I hate you.
I hate your alluring and seductive nature.
I hate your subtle whispers, both distracting and misleading.
Your voice, offensive to the ears, yet very tempting.
A mirage is all you are, we have given you meaning; 
where in reality you have none.
Never getting enough of you, we beg and beg for more.
Chasing your promises, convinced you will deliver.
So we idolized you.
Desperately seeking comfort in your soothing melody
Saying: “Surely it is you who satisfies my grief’’
And ‘’How could I ever abandon you.”
But oh! If only we knew.
Rather we are not certain.
But certainly, you do control us. Both enticing and manipulating us as you wish.
Hindering us from our very purpose, stripping us of our ambitions;
Flicking and swaying us left and right as you please
We have willingly become your flimsy instrument of choice.
Blindly submitting to your subtle objectives, an evil objective indeed.
Self-deprived and naive, what can one do but yield.
But not me.
No! Not anymore.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Opiate Orphan

Jemel has lived the life of an opiate orphan. Both his mother and father surrendered to the downward spiral of addiction in his formative years. His montage of memory includes endless attempts to talk to them, to make himself known, but they would rarely listen. Instead, their heads bobbed up and down as they watched the television screen. Invisibility became his superpower, but he wanted them to see him. He also remembers the embarrassment he felt when they came down the stairs naked. What parent does something like that? Remembering the days when they dragged him to the store so they could steal clothes and sell them on Jefferson Avenue still haunts him. Many memories still haunt him.  

Most his life, his parents served jail time for stealing. His father’s lies plagued Jemel. At the time of his father’s arrest, no one could tell him his dad was bad. After all, fathers are supposed to be heroes in the eyes of their children. It was something he had to learn as he became older and wiser about the lifestyle of an addict. Since finding money for the next fix is always on the mind of someone with a substance abuse, Jemel never carries cash when he is going to see his father. In fact, he rarely even answers the phone when his father calls these days. 

His mother’s addiction story carries a deep sadness for Jemel. She died when he turned 18. Although she was on the methadone program before her death, her years of drug abuse destroyed her body. Hepatitis C. was her demise. The doctors told his mom she would need a new liver, and they put her on the transplant list.  She had died before her name hit the top of the list. 

The day his mother died, she asked Jemel for a ride. He refused. “Something was different that fateful day,” Jemel says as he wipes the tears away with his sleeve. Her cough progressed into something horrific sounding.  Before long, she started talking to herself. Was she on drugs again? Jemel rushed to his grandmother’s room and told her they needed to call the hospital. Once her breathing became labored, they finally called the ambulance. When the EMTs carried her down the stairs, her frail body crushed Jemel’s heart. Her veins collapsed when they tried to run an IV, so they had to put the needle in her neck, a gruesome sight for a son to watch. Her look of madness crept into Jemel’s memory. To this day, his heart still doesn’t want to remember. 

After a short time in the ER, they wheeled his mother to the ICU. Pneumonia created the crazed monster he saw talking to herself. When the pneumonia was under control, in her last lucid moments, she wanted to see Jemel, but he refused. He didn’t want to see his mother attached to machines. He didn’t want to add to the countless memories plaguing him for years. Fear kept him locked within a protective shell he created for survival. Unfortunately, the next day she died. 

Her death hurt Jemel, and yet it didn’t. In some ways, she had died a long time ago. He eventually got over it. Now, he feels as if he has forgotten her. He has visited her grave twice, but it is without genuine emotion. All he feels when he looks at her stone is abandonment, his status of opioid orphan. Jemel admits that at times he feels a sense of responsibility. Maybe if he called the ambulance sooner, she would have lived. Even though it is hard for him to fathom why he feels this way, he feels a sense of relief. 

Jemel’s grandmother became a safe harbor for him. She raised him because of his parent’s jail time and addiction. She kept him on the straight and narrow. Drugs have never been a temptation for him. Jemel believes he is extremely independent because of his parental neglect. Addiction ruled his parent's world. It forced him to grow up fast, and now he is a man with goals and ambition. After he leaves Monroe Community College, he will attend Rochester Institute of Technology for a degree in Visual Communications. 

Sometimes, opiate orphans learn from their neglective parents the value of giving of yourself to another human being. Jemel’s goal is to be someone who truly cares for others, which is why he coaches wrestling for East Henrietta School District. Coaching changed him, and it has given him a sense of freedom after being locked under the shell of his own fears most of his life. Currently, he is training an autistic your man who is overweight. They work out together every weekend, and he encourages him to live a healthy lifestyle. The principal asked him if he would sit with him on the bus every day due to behavior issues. As a result, the young man started doing much better. Even though he never had his own, Jemel knows how to be a role model. 

Jemel has also experienced personal trials in life. He has Crohn’s disease, which has been debilitating at times. In December of 2015 into January of 2016, he spent three and a half weeks in the hospital. He went from 160 pounds to 96 pounds due to a flare-up of his disease. Now he helps kids in the hospital who are facing similar battles. He sits with those who are going through transfusions, and he also plays video games with them. 

Jemel comes from a family with the disease of addiction. His mom’s siblings were heroin addicts, and his mom’s brother owned a bar where he sold drugs. What is amazing about Jemel is his perseverance in spite of the obstacles on his journey to the man he is today. I always tell him he is the strongest man I know. He has weathered so many personal storms and is still willing to be a light shining in the darkness of our world. He has taken his orphan status and given back to others. I admire his tenacity, his integrity, and his beautiful soul.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I came to know Sharon Gingerich Stoltzfus‎ through Anthony’s Act, a Facebook group spreading addiction awareness. It has been a real eye-opener for me. Every day I read about the loss of a loved one or someone who is struggling to get clean. When I read Sharon’s story, I immediately understood her heart. We need to love our children unconditionally because we have been loved by our Heavenly Father the same way. I know when my son asked why we didn’t give up on him, we told him of our unconditional love. As I said it to him, it struck me to the core of my being as well. I am loved; therefore, I love in return.

Something else hit home when I read her piece. It is the constant worries about the what-ifs and the regrets we often feel. We wonder if we made too many mistakes while raising them or if the things we couldn’t control made them unmeaning sacrifice. 

Please read her words and share with people who are struggling with a loved one's addiction or their own. 

Dear Son,

I came to the prison today. They won't let me in of course. And there is no way over these high fortress walls. But they can't stop me from sitting outside. From watering the dandelions along the drive with my tears. For being as close to you as I'm allowed to get.

This prison may look like a castle from the outside. But how well I know that the lives of those within are far from a fairytale. I know you never thought you'd end up here. Never once believed that a succession of poor choices would lead to the situation you find yourself in.

You'll never know the agony I felt yesterday when you didn't come home, didn't return my many texts and calls. I was certain that you lay cold and stiff on a floor somewhere. I feared your addiction had played its final toll. Nearly 24 hours after you said goodbye and I finally learned that you were locked up in a cell, I wept tears of relief and gratefulness to know that you were alive and safe.

I stopped by your mother's grave on the way in today. The one who bore you with great labor pains. The one who loved you and never wanted to leave. I wasn't in your life then, when your world fell apart because of cancer when you were only nine. But I've seen your labor pains as you've struggled through the years to cope with your loss, to find joy and peace from the shards of your life. Too often you have turned to mind altering substances. And they change you into someone I don't recognize.
Your father's countenance is fallen, and his step is heavy. We struggle not to let the what-ifs consume our days. Yet the gnaw of regrets wakes us at night.

Our hearts may be heavy, heavy with the weight of your uncertain future. Your difficult journey that lies ahead. The consequences you face are not light. But our hearts are heavy with hope as well, hope that this time you will be brought to the foot of the cross. That you will in your desperation and despondency turn to your Savior, who waits with open and scarred arms. And our hearts are heavy with love for you, my son. Nothing you have done or ever could do can rip that away. We will continue to be here for you, to extend mercy and grace that mirrors our Heavenly Father to the best of our heartbroken ability.

Your life is like as spring time. This detour need not define you. You can find your dreams again and live them. We believe in you. We love you.