How a Vision Helped Her Forgive Her Opioid-Addicted Ex

His addiction led to the death of their child. The anger and grief consumed her—until she got a clear message from God

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- Posted on Feb 21, 2019

Christy Johnson

Hate is a powerful word. A scary word. That’s exactly how I felt about my ex-husband. I loathed Bob. I was disgusted by him.

Bob was an opioid addict. Though he managed to hide his addiction in the early years of our marriage, eventually life with him became intolerable and I got out.

Two years after we divorced, Bob took our two younger kids on a fishing trip—the court awarded him visitation rights every other weekend, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. He was high. He weaved his pickup truck across the center line and smashed into an oncoming car. Jake, our two-and- a-half-year-old son, was killed instantly. Bob had put Jake in the front seat wearing only a lap belt.

In a moment of distraught prayer after the accident, I felt God give me the power to forgive Bob. But the forgiveness was more for me than it was for Bob. It ended some of my torment over Jake’s death.

What it did not do was enable me to stand being around Bob. Especially after the court, for reasons I will never understand, declined to revoke his visitation rights following the accident. He was found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to community service. Bob had been a talented salesman before drugs consumed him. He sold the judge on the promise that he would turn his life around.

He kept right on using.

A couple years after the divorce, I married a wonderful man named John. John was stable and sober, a faithful churchgoer. He helped me create a good home for Brittany and Garrett, Jake’s older sister and brother.

I did my best to move on from the trauma that Bob had brought to my life. But every other weekend, I had to pack up overnight bags for Brittany and Garrett and drive them to Bob’s parents’ house, where he then lived, collecting a disability check for what I assumed was a fabricated knee injury. Bob had become an expert at coming up with stories to pry drugs from compliant doctors.

Every other weekend, I steeled myself to walk with the kids up the porch steps and knock on the door.

The worst part was they loved spending that time with their dad. Bob’s parents also had custody of his sister’s kids—a whole separate story. Garrett, who was in elementary school, and Brittany, a middle schooler, couldn’t wait to start their weekend of nonstop TV, fried foods and round-the-clock playmates. I trusted Bob’s parents to keep the kids safe. But I could barely control my rage when the front door opened and I saw Bob sprawled on the living room recliner, asleep.

“Can’t you even say hello to your own kids?” I shouted at him.

“Don’t be mean to Dad!” Garrett shouted back. He always stuck up for Bob. He was too young to understand his dad’s problems, and he was desperate for a father. He climbed onto Bob’s chair and nestled into a limp hug.

I went back to the car, shaking. With anger. Disgust.

Returning Sunday night, I would find Garrett still wearing his Friday clothes. The toothbrush I so carefully packed for him would be unused. The movie Bob promised to take them to never happened. The kids acted as if nothing were wrong.

“Daddy said he didn’t have money, but he promised to take us next time,” Garrett said brightly.

“Garrett, honey, don’t get your hopes up,” I said. “Daddy uses drugs. We’ve talked about this. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”

Not wanting the kids to feel caught off guard by their dad’s addiction, I was open with them about his drug use. I kept things at their level and did my best not to frighten them. But even that strategy backfired.

“Daddy does not do drugs!” Garrett insisted loudly.

Brittany was always quieter in these exchanges. But she too wanted to believe the best about her dad. “He said he wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “That’s why he was asleep.”

At each stage of the kids’ lives, I faced new challenges dealing with Bob. He owed tens of thousands of dollars in child support. As the kids grew older and began to realize the extent of their dad’s problems, they pulled away. He would call, begging them to talk and then slur his way through awkward, one-sided conversations.

Should I shield them from such ordeals? Equip them to deal with their father as he was? Reach out to him?

I tried all three approaches, even inviting Bob over for family holiday dinners. Sometimes those occasions went okay and he would turn up relatively sober. Other times were a disaster. Once, when Garrett drove over to pick up his dad for Thanksgiving, Bob promptly offered him a marijuana joint when they got in the car. That was the last holiday invitation.

Week after week, month after month, year after year, the toll that Bob’s addiction took on me and on the kids mounted. I knew the godly way to handle him was loving detachment. But that’s not how I felt. Every fresh outrage caused me to boil over with anger and revulsion. Why is he even still alive? I asked God angrily. Why couldn’t Bob have died in the accident instead of Jake? What was the point of his destructive existence?

One morning, 14 years after Jake’s death, I awoke to find sun streaming through the bedroom windows. Or maybe I wasn’t awake. Maybe I was dreaming. I was alone in the room. I looked down the hall. Someone was coming, running toward the bedroom at top speed.

It was Bob. Only it wasn’t Bob as I’d last seen him—overweight, dirty, dulled by years of drug abuse. It was Bob as I first knew him, back when we’d met at a gym in Oklahoma City. He was thin and fit, radiating confidence and love of life.

He came rushing into the room, jumped onto the bed and threw his arms wide open like someone celebrating a victory. Joy beamed from his face. He opened his mouth as if he were about to share a piece of astonishingly good news.

Then he vanished and a voice spoke: “Christy, that is how I see Bob. He is my child, and I don’t see him bound by addiction. I see him redeemed, restored and whole.”

I awoke for real, the voice still echoing. The house was quiet. I didn’t know what had just happened.

Gradually my feelings about that strange vision sorted themselves out. For the first time, I understood not just what Bob was doing to me but what my feelings were doing—not just to me but to everyone else in the family. The hatred and disgust were eating away at my soul, hardening my heart, poisoning whatever remained of the kids’ relationship with their dad. I’d stopped seeing Bob as a human being. As a child of God.

My behavior toward him began to change. I still didn’t trust him. But now I saw him with God’s eyes. I told him about my vision. I prayed for him and told him I was praying. I encouraged him to get right with God and seek help for his addiction. I looked for opportunities for him to spend time—safely—with our family.

I wish I could say my change of heart had an effect on Bob. After his parents died, he moved in with his brother, Tony, who was also a drug addict. They brought out the worst in each other. Tony ended up dying in a car accident while driving himself and Bob to a methadone clinic.

After that accident, Bob seemed to give up on life. He spent his last months in a nursing home, too debilitated by drugs to take care of himself. Brittany had arranged for her father’s placement in the home, but she and her brother Garrett almost never visited Bob. The wounds inflicted by his disease ran deep.

It was Brittany who told me Bob had died. It was my birthday.

Brittany arranged for a small memorial service at a community center—a gathering of Bob’s remaining family members. We ate a meal together, and Brittany asked us to share our memories of Bob.

There was an awkward silence. A few people offered stories, but most kept quiet.

When my turn came, I told everyone gathered there the story of my vision of Bob. “The vision was so powerful, I believed at first Bob would find freedom from his addiction before he died,” I said. “Now I realize the vision was of a time after his death. The good news he wanted to share was the news that God had made him whole.”

I could hardly believe I was saying such a thing about a man I once despised more than anyone else on earth.

I still don’t understand why addiction claimed Bob’s life and caused so much pain for him and our family. The power of addiction terrifies me.

But I also know that God is more powerful than addiction. God showed me that he had triumphed over Bob’s disease. Maybe not in this life but in the life to come.

And God showed me how to be in a relationship with an addict—even an addict who, like Bob, never enters recovery. I let go of my hate and any illusion that I could cure or control Bob’s disease. I loved my ex-husband like a friend, but I kept myself and my family safe and I told Bob openly his addiction was destroying him.

At long last, I am at peace about Bob.

I know Bob is at peace too, safe in God’s arms.

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