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Walking up to the Volunteers of America homeless shelter on that bright sunny day, in the downtown outskirts of Michigan’s Capital City with my Dad was a surreal experience. I was sure he was going to see the run-down building, the mean-mugging, desperate-looking older men outside the door, and decide that the decision he made to leave me there was not the right one.

Tears streamed out of his eyes and down his face. That sour, depressing, hopeless look was etched on his face as he walked me up to the place that all but spelled out “last resort.” He was out of options. He really meant it this time. The day before he said that if I used heroin one more time in his house, I was not welcome in the family home.

Even though I was 21, it was still a family home to my siblings and I. My sister and I still lived there. My two older brothers were moved out but it was still the place we all felt the safest at. But me, Aaron Emerson, the son of a successful, local pastor…..was not welcome there anymore.

I chose heroin over my family again. Sticking a needle in my arm to pump a chemical into my system that would rid me of my sickness was the only thing that mattered to me. So here I was with a father that literally lived up to the “best Dad in the world” title, getting hauled off to the home of the unwanted, societal-low-lives, and drug addict thieves.

When he finally turned to walk back to the car and head back to the warm community of Mason, leaving me there with a backpack full of clothes and old bag of needles, I saw how sad he was. He couldn’t look me in the eye. But even though he was so defeated, lonely, and angry at me, he still had the love in his heart to tell me he loved me.


I decided right then and there, when I saw his back to me and the slow, humiliating walk back to his Toyota Corolla, that I was going to do anything it took to get sober and make him proud of me again someday. I had done long stints in jail – even a full 12 months at one time – been to countless rehabs, and overdosed several times, but the pain I experienced that day was what finally hit me over the head to force some kind of change. I was responsible for this man’s brokenness.

Heroin completely ran my life up to that point. I was a shell of the person I used to be. At one time a popular, top-notch athlete, I was now someone nobody even wanted to consider having around. Everybody knew my only objective in life was to find heroin each day, destroying anything in my way to get it. But that time after my Dad dropped me off at the shelter, I knew that was going to change.

So after sleeping on a filthy, smelly, dirty floor, cramped in a day room on some uncomfortable, skinny mattress, I woke up at 6 a.m. – when the shelter kicks you out onto the streets. Feeling degraded and with the memory of my heartbroken father in my mind, I immediately came up with a plan to get better. A case manager I knew, Deb Smith, got me into a ten day detox and rehab in Jackson. At that rehab, for the first time in my life, I took sobriety seriously and did everything the counselors and staff asked of me. I chose to stay as long as I could instead of getting out after the detox was over. I got hooked up with a recovery coach named Phil when I was released.

Phil had lost a son to an overdose and didn’t put up with any bullshit. He called it how it was and told me exactly what I needed to hear. He met with me and put together a recovery plan that laid out what I was to do one day at a time. I did everything he told me to. I went to Twelve Step meetings. I let my parents control my money and phone. I deleted my Facebook and cut off all contact from anyone remotely involved in the drug world. And after ten days of following his plan and miraculously staying sober, I finally felt some dignity and pride. I decided that was what I wanted.

Let me be honest: it wasn’t easy from there. Even though I got into recovery at that point, there were relapses and troubled times. But since that day, when my Dad threw up a Hail Mary – the last thing he could do when the end was staring him in the face – I changed my life. I am now a contributing member of society and a successful college student. My family and I, including my Dad, are now in great standing and have had our relationships restored. After many years of opioid addiction, it was the look on my Dad’s face that finally got my attention and made me get my life together.

I never thought I could ever stay sober for more than a few hours, but here I am, sober and loving life. I know you can too. It doesn’t have to take a horrible, life-changing experience. Sobriety is a one-day-at-a-time journey, and if you decide you want recovery, just stay clean one day at a time, even one hour at a time. I promise; you can do it!


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