“Our Son’s Battle with Drugs,” Ensign, June 2004, 28
From the earliest days of our marriage, my wife, Paula (names have been changed), and I were staunchly committed to strengthening and protecting our family. Individual and family prayer and scripture study, attendance at meetings, Sabbath day observance, family home evening—all of these we resolved to do, confident that if we did our part spiritually, our children would never stray.
The Lord blessed us, and we saw the prophetic wisdom in adhering to the Lord’s counsel. It appeared as though family life would be a relatively smooth journey for us. Our two eldest sons accepted calls to serve full-time missions, and our other children anticipated the time when they too could serve. However, several months into our second son’s mission, Paula and I noticed some disturbing changes in our third son, Marcus. One morning I received a phone call at work from Marcus’s seminary teacher. He shared with me a conversation overheard in his seminary class indicating that Marcus was using drugs regularly. Suddenly the fractured puzzle Marcus had become fell into place. Convinced that this teacher was inspired to call me, I felt prompted to leave work immediately and drive to the high school, where I had Marcus called from class. I didn’t explain why I was there. We simply went to my car and drove to a secluded spot.
At first Marcus denied everything. Then, after some simple but calm probing, he opened up and revealed the culture into which he had immersed himself over the past few months. As I fought to remain calm, my mind and emotions reeled. Marcus was a brilliant student with a keen mind and tremendous ability. He was athletic and kept himself in top form. I asked him how he could do this to himself after the meticulous care he had taken to stay healthy and strong. He admitted he hadn’t meant to go so far, then casually remarked, “But, Dad, it feels so good. You and Mom wouldn’t understand.” He shrugged and added with a strange smile, “I’m high right now.”
Heartbroken and discouraged, Paula and I talked late that first night, trying to comprehend this unexpected horror. Naturally, we asked ourselves the proverbial “why?” That was the first time in my life that I came face to face with the staggering realization that this kind of tragedy could happen in any family—even ours!
We were determined to do anything to help Marcus, but we soon realized this was going to be a long, torturous process. We contemplated rehabilitation. We thought of moving, of sending Marcus to relatives, anything to get him away from his new friends and the influences destroying him. After considering all the possibilities, we ruefully realized that no amount of effort on our part would be successful until Marcus was committed to changing. Sadly, his lack of commitment was painfully apparent.
Over the next months we witnessed the insidious, satanic control that drug abuse has over those who fall into its malevolent clutches. More horrifying even than what drugs do to the physical body was what drugs do to the mind, to the spirit, to the personal will to rise above evil and strive for good. The prophet Nephi seems to have understood this condition when he wrote of Satan’s influence, “Thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell … until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Ne. 28:21–22). Marcus lost all desire for self-improvement, and his sense of conscience was blurred past feeling.
Paula and I had always maintained home rules and assigned chores and family responsibilities. At first Marcus made a semblance of conformity, but one by one the family rules were blatantly broken. Curfews were ignored. He refused to do household chores. Coming in late, he didn’t get to bed until the early hours of the morning, and then he slept his daytime hours away.
There were many times that Paula and I sat down with Marcus and explained to him as lovingly and calmly as we could (and sometimes not so calmly) that he was an adult and had his agency, but he had to choose between the life he was leading and life in our home. He let it be known that if we wanted to “kick him out,” he would leave, but he insisted that the decision be ours, not his. It was one more example of Marcus shirking his responsibility.
One Sunday afternoon, after a considerable amount of prayer and reflection, I sat down to make a list of things that Paula and I should do in order to deal with Marcus. The first thing that came to my mind was “Love him and let him experience the positive influences of home.” That idea was so basic, so obvious, that I was inclined to discard it as not being practical. In my mind, merely loving Marcus didn’t address our dilemma. In my impatience to solve his problems quickly, I wanted to get to the other things I believed would be more effective. Reluctantly, I did write down that first idea; then I proceeded to make a list of 20 or 25 actions I felt were much more significant.
My list was loaded with wise parenting practices, things like insisting that Marcus accept responsibility for household chores, home rules, and specific consequences for his behavior. My list also included a warning to Paula and me not to facilitate Marcus’s inappropriate behavior by ignoring his violation of rules. I believed that Marcus needed to be treated just like the other members of the family. And if he refused to abide by our family rules of conduct, then we would fairly, but firmly, ask him to leave our home.
After finishing my list, I went back and evaluated each item, eliminating some so as to leave only the most helpful and effective ideas. Strangely, the elimination process progressed further than I had anticipated as the Spirit moved me. Finally there was only one remaining item, the very first one, the one I had almost discarded before writing it down: love him and let him feel the influence of home. The Spirit was undeniably clear. We couldn’t influence Marcus for good unless he was in our home.
I shared this frustrating experience with Paula. She had received the same answer that we should love Marcus with all our hearts, keep him as close to us as we could, and expose him to positive family influences.
Although we know that other people with similar challenges receive equally strong answers to prayer through doctors, counselors, and rehabilitation programs, we felt certain that the Spirit had guided my wife and me to the right answer for us at that time.
However, conditions worsened. I went to Paula several times, arguing that we needed to ask Marcus to leave home if he was not willing to change his lifestyle. Each time, Paula asked me whether I thought the Spirit had rescinded the earlier impression. I had to admit that the impression had not been repealed.
Marcus went from paycheck to paycheck, spending most of his earnings on drugs. Then one day he asked Paula to save a portion of each check for him. He knew if he kept his money, he would waste it. He also gave Paula his tithing and asked her to pay it. We saw this inclination as a ray of hope.
Then our hopes were dashed when Marcus didn’t return home one night. The following night he came in late, obviously under the influence of something. He demanded his money. We pleaded with him, but he was insistent. Over the next few days Paula gave him part of his money.
In a drug-induced tailspin, Marcus left home for several days, and we didn’t know where he was. One Sunday, while at church, I felt impressed to return home. Arriving home, I found Marcus searching the house for the remainder of his money. He wasn’t expecting me and was embarrassed and irritated when I discovered him. He demanded his money. I pointed out to him that he had made the arrangement with his mother and the implied agreement was that he would use that money for something worthwhile, not for drugs. He denied wanting it for drugs but insisted he could use the money however he chose.
Although he became angry and tried to bait me, I remained calm. Over the months I had gradually learned not to become angry as I spoke with Marcus. On this particular Sunday, I was more calm than usual, and we had a good talk.
Not wanting to be home when the rest of the family arrived, Marcus prepared to leave, indicating that he would get his money from Paula later that day. I felt impressed to remind him that often I had warned him that if he refused to change his behavior, he would have to find another place to live. As lovingly as I could, I told him that I had had a change of heart. “Marcus,” I said, “this is your home. It will always be your home. Whatever happens to you, I want you to come back here.”
Sullenly, he left the house. There was no noticeable change in his demeanor, but as he walked out the door and across our front lawn, I called after him, “Marcus, I love you.” Although my words didn’t cause a noticeable change in Marcus, I knew I had finally accepted the answer the Spirit had whispered to me months earlier.
When Paula returned from church, I explained all that had happened, hoping she would refuse to give Marcus his remaining money. She prayed and pondered. Surprising to me, the Spirit indicated to her that the money belonged to Marcus and that she should give it back to him.
Over the next three days Marcus squandered his money on drugs. That Wednesday, Paula saw Marcus stumble into the backyard and collapse for a time on our trampoline. A while later he came into the house. His first words were spoken in agony and fear: “Mom, I don’t know what I’ve done to myself. Can I come home?”
Some of the most torturous times of this ordeal crushed in upon us over the next several weeks. During this time Marcus tried desperately to break from his habits; then he would lose his resolve and crash again. It was painful and discouraging to watch him battle without conquering the adversary. Heartbroken, we wondered if we had lost him, if he had crossed the line of no return. But his siblings rallied round him with love and determination. Never had we pulled together with such united resolve. Still, Paula and I were frightened and dismayed because we recognized what an insidious force held Marcus. Our entire family fought on against what seemed insurmountable odds, but we persisted, fasted, and prayed.
Finally Marcus returned to an old job where he worked out of town for a week at a time, usually isolated from civilization. Returning at the end of that first week, Marcus announced he had gone the whole time without so much as a cigarette—the first time in almost two and a half years. Our elation was guarded, but we were immensely grateful for even a sliver of hope. The following weekend he reported the same glad news. He began taking his Book of Mormon to work. Soon he was taking extra copies of the Book of Mormon to give away, which he did regularly.
I don’t know exactly what clicked inside Marcus, but he turned his life around. It was inspiring and humbling to see an Alma the Younger–type transformation unfold in our home. Marcus wasn’t the same person anymore. More than anything he wanted to serve a mission. He determined that whatever it took, no matter how long, he was going to follow the path of complete repentance and prepare himself to serve a mission.
Two weeks after Marcus’s 21st birthday, he entered the Missionary Training Center. Paula and I still have a difficult time reflecting on the last several years. When we consider the pain and heartache as well as the subsequent joy of Marcus’s reformation, it is difficult to control our emotions. We learned a great deal from our experience. We learned that no person or family is free from the buffetings of Satan. It is absolutely vital that we heed the Lord’s counsel to pray, study the scriptures, and be together as a family. These are wonderful protections, but they don’t exempt our children or us from tragedy, trials, and temptations.
We learned that we must heed the spiritual promptings from the Holy Ghost. The Spirit whispered to a seminary teacher, who called me at work. The Spirit whispered to me to leave work to visit with Marcus. I remember so well the direct impression as I made my list: Love him and let him feel the influence of family. The Spirit prompted me to leave church, return home, and express my love to Marcus. There were many times that the Spirit whispered to Paula and me, and we learned it was absolutely imperative that we follow the promptings. I am convinced that had we ignored these soft whisperings, we would have lost Marcus.
Heavenly Father loves Marcus, as He loves each of us. Throughout this period of struggle and hurt, I was gently reminded that long before Paula and I assumed earthly custody of this young man, he had been, and was still, our Heavenly Father’s son. The Savior’s Atonement, which allowed Marcus the opportunity to return from his bleak encounter with the world, was indisputable proof of our Heavenly Father’s mercy and love.
“A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child. If you have done all of these and your child is still wayward or troublesome or worldly, it could well be that you are, nevertheless, a successful parent. Perhaps there are children who have come into the world that would challenge any set of parents under any set of circumstances. Likewise, perhaps there are others who would bless the lives of, and be a joy to, almost any father or mother.”
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95), “Parents’ Concern for Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1983, 65.