By Dr. Barbara S. Boatwright
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we may die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:24-25.
It all began with a desperate phone call from Renée’s brother, John, asking for help for his 28- year-old son, who had been in and out of rehab programs since college, and was now living in a city park with no hope or reason to continue living. The family was affluent, capable of offering all the opportunities and medical care that money can buy. But after six years in and out of treatment, Bobby was in a dangerous and despairing place. Why?
Renée offered to bring Bobby to Duke University Hospital for a full medical work-up. Convinced if they could identify the source of Bobby’s back pain that had been treated in college with prescription opioid pain medications and address that successfully, his emotional and drug abuse recovery would soon follow. Wrong.
This is the opening scene of Renée Hodges’ raw and revealing memoir inside the family system of a young heroin addict. I imagine, if we are truly honest, everyone reading this article could identify someone in their own family, or a close friend’s family struggling with a serious addiction. I know I can.
What began as a naïve decision for the Hodges to take Bobby into their home for a two-week medical evaluation turned into a 16-month journey that exposed the ravaging impact of four generations of addicts in Renée’s own family. In her words: “the day Bobby came to live with me was the day I quit running from myself” (Saving Bobby, p. 326).
Renée walks us through those months via a series of journal entries, emails, and conversations with the wide company of friends, Christian community, and therapists she enlisted for support to help Bobby heal from the pain and consequences of his addictions. As the journey began, she didn’t realize how her own cry for help became one of the most powerful sources of healing for Bobby and their family. By reaching out to trusted others, she made the shame of Bobby’s addiction speakable. Shame is empowered by secrecy and silence. From Adam and Eve to all of us today, failure and shame tempt us to hid
As the non-addicted child in her family of origin, Renée had attempted a “geographic cure,” by moving across the country and having almost no interaction with her mother and brother for many years. Yet this did not relieve her feelings of “self-disgust, a debilitating cross between self-righteousness and terrible, obliterating shame and hopelessness.” She continues, “spouses, children, extended families and even close friends can own that painful feeling of humiliation and disgrace…but shame can be overcome. And only by owning the monster together, can the healing begin” (p. 140).
Renée originally wrote the book at Bobby’s request, because he did not remember all that had transpired in his time living with her and her husband, Will. Because the story consists largely of journal entries and emails, we as readers get to experience her own doubts, fears, moments of terror, and journey of faith as they occur in real time. Just released this summer, the memoir has already won two awards and has catapulted Renée on a national speaking tour.
When I spoke with Renée recently, she revealed that not one person has asked her about the role of God in her family’s healing. Part of the reason may be that the book is written for a general audience, but the discerning reader sees the hand of God moving powerfully through the pages. In fact, Renée acknowledges that she had struggled with her faith due to her own family situation growing up. Becoming better educated about addictions helped her to shed her bitterness toward the addicts in her family and forgive them and herself. She also came to release her personal anger and doubts about God as she saw him move in timely and miraculous ways during Bobby’s 16 months with her. Renée now concludes, “there is no way [Bobby’s recovery] could have happened without God.”
The first miracle Renée recognized was when she learned that Bobby had attempted to kill himself on his way to her home in North Carolina the very day her best friend’s 31-year-old son died of an accidental drug overdose. Upon her therapist’s advice, Renée courageously chose to not hide her grief and despair over this precious young man’s death. Bobby’s first activity upon arriving at her home was to attend the funeral of a young man who shared his own story yet lost his life. In the months that followed, Bobby and the young man’s mother became very close and it was through attending the funeral that Bobby was introduced to the very church and the pastor who became instrumental in his healing. Renée and Bobby both saw this “coincidence” as a wake-up call that God must have some purpose for him to discover in his life. “Yes, there must be a reason, Aunt Née,” Bobby said, “because I did everything I could to not be alive” (p 92). As the church pastor’s wife continually reminded her, “coincidences and weirdly improbable occurrences are all providential, set out by God” (p. 86).
After Bobby’s confession, Renée became acutely aware of how little Bobby cared to live. His sense of failure and shame were the demons that both fueled his addiction and prohibited his recovery. She initially “used and manipulated” God to work in her favor, and instinctively implored Bobby to trust in God to find his purpose, assuring him that God was there for him, as they were.
Feeling a bit hypocritical that she had only occasionally attended this church since her children had left home, Renée decided to begin taking Bobby there, and on the occasion of their first visit after the funeral, an associate minister was scheduled to preach. At first disappointed, Renée was flabbergasted when his topic was the Battle for the Heart! Thus began a close relationship with the lead pastor and his wife, whose grace and love served later to help bring Bobby back home after a dark period of failure when he ran away, whereabouts unknown, for four days. When Bobby returned, Renée asked what made him return? The pastor and community had flooded him with voice mails and text messages, not filled with the critical judgment he expected, but messages filled with love, urging him to not give up and come home. At that point, Bobby realized that only by coming home and facing his fears within the context of a loving and supportive community, would he have a chance to succeed and stay sober.
Through the prayers of the faith community and the divine timing of their words of encouragement, Renée began to reach for God and give over the burden of control and responsibility that she felt to “fix” Bobby. As she learned to surrender Bobby and his survival to God, she experienced authentic prayer and the peace of God that surpasses human understanding. Today, Bobby is thriving and has found his divinely appointed purpose. Their brave decision to share their story with the general public is helping people to come forward and share their secret struggles and thus take the first step in overcoming the stigma and shame families carry around addiction.
Renée Hodges, author of Saving Bobby, will be speaking at two free events next month. On Wednesday, October 24th, she will speak on Families and Addiction at the Porter Gaud School Auditorium at 7:00 pm. On Thursday, October 25th, Renée will be the speaker for Life Resources’ annual Gathering Speaker Series, hosted by St. Philip’s Church, 142 Church Street, at 6:00 pm. Doors open at 5:30 pm. Because space is limited, registration is required. For more information and to register, go to www.myliferesources.org/thegathering.
As seen in the October 2018 edition of the Carolina Compass.