Words cannot explain the joy I would get just to look at my boy. There in his jammies, Charlie’s every look, every word was another thrill for me. We were best pals, he and I. Watching TV, eating breakfast, reading a book in bed...any time spent with him was the highlight of my day. He was a beautiful little soul, a gift from heaven.
There was just one problem. His mother and I were essentially destroying him. I was addicted to prescription drugs, and my wife, who had experienced extreme abuse as a child, and drug-addicted herself, was as emotionally fragile as a person can get.
The two of us together were flammable. We had turned our home into a looney bin of fighting and out-of-control behavior—me, frustrated and hiding my behavior, and her, the over-medicated, shattered soul unsure of every step. Our son was in danger.
Late one evening, I arrived home to find Charlie looking like a mess, sitting on the coffee table in his underwear watching the same movie for the hundredth time and eating cereal. The house looked like a bomb had hit it, as if not one constructive thing had happened there that day. My wife was sitting nearby completely incapacitated—unable to lift a finger. And it hit me; we could not live like this anymore. It wasn’t my wife’s fault—we had created this dysfunction. Charlie deserved a life. With my own issues, I knew I could not try to save both her and Charlie. In order to rescue him, I thought I had to file for divorce, kick my addiction for the last time, and place Charlie’s wellbeing first. So I did.
And it hit me; we could not live like this anymore. It wasn’t my wife’s fault—we had created this dysfunction.
Over the next years, my wife fought me tooth and nail for Charlie in the courts. It was like taking Charlie’s young heart out of a frying pan and throwing it into a blender. It’s not surprising he struggled with his own addiction and alcoholism.
Not many years after the divorce, I was working with a wonderful Christian woman; we were friends. I hinted I was interested in more than friendship, to which she responded, “We can’t date because we’re unequally yoked.” My ego took it as a challenge to show her that my Catholic upbringing put us on the same footing.
So I went to her church, the Rock, and found out I was wrong. I learned that God loved me, a sinner, just as I am. Hearing Pastor Miles and his story of drug use and redemption gripped me. Finally, the feeling of being washed of all my sins was more glorious than I could have imagined. Jesus overtook me like a tidal wave.
I gave my life to Him—the only one who could clean me from all that I had done. I began a long season of discipleship, which led me into volunteerism, and eventually, marriage to Tracey. Later, I even took a position on staff at Rock Church. I could hardly recognize my life. I had a new, transformed heart and desires, and a passion to help others know Him.
After Charlie’s high school graduation, when he had to decide where he would live, he chose to live with his mom. And why wouldn’t he? Unlike me, she offered few repercussions for his party life and asked almost nothing from him. Looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted to live with me either. She was a breeze. I was tough. At times, I was too tough.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted to live with me either. She was a breeze. I was tough. At times, I was too tough.
Not long after, with him fully committed to the dope scene and following my teenage years to a T, he overdosed on heroin, and suddenly there was a new urgency to my life. I got him to go to twelve-step meetings, but nothing helped. He seemed to be slipping further away.
Sometime later, I got a call that Charlie had overdosed again. I brought him home to stay with me and then to rehab. One month later, he had earned his 30-day sobriety chip and was walking strong. In fact, he and all the guys from the facility were going to an AA convention in San Diego. I was so happy that he was making friends, staying clean, and doing positive things. My boy was making a comeback.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was driving when I got a call from my ex-wife. She was weeping.
“Something’s happened to Charlie,” she said.
“What? What happened?” My mind raced through all the things that could be wrong. But I never guessed what came next.
“Your son was found in a car at a mall in Escondido, Mr. Franklin,” the medical examiner said on the phone. “He overdosed on heroin. I’m sorry. When we arrived, he had already passed.”
I pulled into a gas station, and like a man who had been stuffing down a cry for 50 years, I came apart. I cried so hard I thought the structure of my body would not hold up to the force. Like filmstrip passing through my mind, Charlie’s life, his beautiful smile, his inquisitive ways, his desire to get clean, and the precious things he did to show that he loved me—passed through my mind like a story in search of a happy ending. Suddenly, I was standing at the edge of myself with a stiff wind at my back. Were I to step wrong and let my balance lean toward believing that I had set up the death of my own son with my own conduct, I would be lost forever.
I came apart. I cried so hard I thought the structure of my body would not hold up to the force.
I made my way home, and I sat on the couch in my living room with the blinds drawn—and wept in tall, towering waves. Friends from the Rock came by to sit with me, my rGroup reached out, all to pray and give me words of encouragement. I felt deeply loved. I appreciated each one so much although I’m not sure any of them could tell. I was inconsolable. Then quietly, came a voice.
“Chuck, do you trust Me?” God said to my heart.
“Do you trust Me?”
“Well…yes,” I said, confused. “Look at my life; I am committed to You…”
“You don’t just get to trust Me when things look good. This is what trust is for—times like this. Do you trust Me? I will bring good from this.”
“I trust you, Lord...”
He kept His promise, and that experience changed my life forever. In the years since, I have missed Charlie more than words can express. I don’t go long without yearning for a hug from my boy. But God has given me a gift to soothe the guilt and pain: a love for and desire to help drug addicts. I meet with them to tell about the love of Jesus. They don’t always trust me at first. But I just tell them my story, and Charlie’s, and they know I know their hell. And I have seen lives changed.
The love and closeness of God have led me to this. I believe in heaven now more than I believe in my earthly existence. Heaven is my home. And I believe there is the chance that Charlie is waiting for me there. Being at home with Charlie. Just to think of it is almost more joy than I can bear.
To reach Chuck Franklin, email: [email protected]
Genesis Recovery is a Christ-centered 12-Step ministry of Rock Church. To get involved, click here.
Most Excellent Way: Overcoming Drug/Alcohol Dependency is a Men's Ministry to help overcome drug and alcohol addiction. For more info, click here.