This is part 1 of a 2-part interview with Pam Jones Lanhart, the mom of an adult son who struggled with drug abuse. She’s the director of Thrive! Family Support and author of Praying Our Loved One Home.
- Pam, please share a little of your story with us.
J is our beautiful boy, our prodigal. He is full of spirit, energy and adventure. Yet he would say that he never really fit in; especially with our church friends and the homeschool kids. His desire to just feel “normal” led him to experiment with substances at a young age. By the time he was 13 he used marijuana regularly and had gotten in trouble. He would say there wasn’t any trauma (except feeling like he didn’t measure up) and that we were good, loving parents. But he was always drawn to break the rules. We dropped our sweet son off at his first treatment center when he was only 15. The ache in my mama-heart was indescribable. I cried for days. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of double digit treatment programs, criminal justice involvement, a deep dive into harder substances (meth and IV heroin), however, he now has 18 months of successful recovery.
What do you wish you had known “before”?
People told me to let go, detach, and disconnect. While I do believe every aspect of our life involves surrendering everything to the Lord, I couldn’t let go of my 15-year-old. I wish someone would have introduced me to alternative ways to walk through this journey. I dug relentlessly to figure out how I could love my son well. This has become the basis for my ministry, the family coaching work I do. What I’ve learned is that I could be firm with my boundaries and still honor my son. I could communicate without being angry. I could help in ways that were helpful and support his recovery.
When I began to understand that I didn’t have to be tough or mean or completely detach (I don’t believe that’s natural for a mother), I could let go of outcomes and love my son radically—like Jesus loves us. I could love without an agenda and keep myself well at the same time. I also didn’t truly understand recovery or that recovery must apply to the entire family. I had been told there was nothing you could do, but I have since realized there are many things that we CAN do; things that either influence continued use or influence recovery for everyone. We talk about this a lot in our Family Recovery 101 videos at www.family-rx.org
What are the most important things you want to tell other parents on a similar journey?
Don’t ever, ever give up but it’s ok to live your life and take care of you. John 10:10 says Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness. But I was not living. I was dying—with my son. I knew the best thing I could do for our whole family was to move from death to life.
From surviving to thriving.
Was there deep pain? Yes.
We can go to God and ask for healing from our pain.
Is there still a chance my son could die? Absolutely.
Any of my family members could die. Death is one hundred percent certain for each of us. The question becomes how does God want us to live?
In the middle of this journey I determined I was going to live my life in a way that if my son DID die from this disease I would have no regrets. I would be able to look back at the last interaction with him and know in my spirit and soul that I had loved him well.
Every single trial we will face was experienced by someone in God’s word. That is where our hope comes from. Look to the stories of the Bible for encouragement and hope because God’s promises are real. They are for everyone.
Our hope lies in Him, the fountain of life, not in whether our loved one ever gets well.
What made the difference for you in your own recovery (helped bring healing and wholeness)?
It started with education. Gaining an understanding of addiction by reading everything I could get my hands on (my favorite book is Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change) and listening to every expert I could find on addiction. The second most important thing I did was take our state’s Peer Recovery Training with people in recovery. Learning that there is not just one way to recover from addiction helped me stop pushing my own agenda onto our son. Some of my best friends and mentors are people in recovery who show me HOPE every single day by their example. Finally, I adopted the 8 dimensions of wellness for my own recovery, taking a holistic look at my life in every area, making sure I am living those areas out to the best of my ability.
In what ways has this changed you?
This journey has changed me in every way imaginable. I had to look at my own life and patterns, the way I grew up and all of the behaviors I defaulted to, simply because they were in my DNA. As I examined my life, I asked the Lord to change me. I am far more compassionate and empathetic to others. I stepped out of my safe, Christian bubble and now spend a lot of time with really broken people, because in many ways I relate to them even more now. I think that’s where Jesus spent all of his time; with the most broken people. My whole career path changed as I was called to love on and minister to families who suffer from their loved one’s addictions. My life is completely different than it was ten years ago and I couldn’t be more grateful.
**Part 2 will post next Monday, September 14th. Pam has more wonderful insights to share and I can’t wait to pass them on to you!
Pam Lanhart is the director of Thrive! Family Support. Gifted in crisis management, connecting families to appropriate resources, she provides a compassionate, understanding approach to those going through some of the most extreme difficulties in their lives. Pam is a certified peer specialist, a recovery coach, a speaker and an author of Praying Our Loved One Home. She inspires thousands of people on Facebook with her daily prayers and words of encouragement: Praying Our Loved Ones Home. Pam has been married to her husband Paul, Program Director of Wild Hearts Adventures, for 39 years. She is the mother of 4 amazing children and the grandmother of 10. Tragically, on Oct. 23, 2021 Pam’s son lost his battle with addiction. They are incredibly grateful for what they learned that helped make ther last years with Jake some of the best.