Rebuilding the Life that Heroin Tore Apart
The Story of Amber Leason
“How did you become an addict, anyway?” people often ask.
Before I met Jesus, I would have given you multiple reasons. And, of course, none of them would have involved me. In my view, somebody or something else was always the cause of my downfalls.
I blamed genetics because addiction runs in my family. I blamed ex-boyfriends because every one of my romantic relationships ended in disaster. I refused to take responsibility for any of the messes I made.
But the truth is, I had a good childhood. I grew up in a loving home with both parents. No traumatic events can explain why I responded to the world around me the way I did. The only person to blame is me. I was the source of all my problems, and even worse, I created problems for everyone around me.
There was a dark space of nothingness inside me from as far back as I can remember. I tried hard to fill that space but always came up empty-handed. The more desperate I became, the more I grasped at the world around me. And everything I touched, I broke.
I tried to fill the void in me with men. At 13, I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend. My whole world revolved around that boy, and I let go of everything else to hold on to that relationship.
He quickly became insecure and controlling and forbade me to go places and do things with anyone else. Over time, I abandoned all my friends and school activities; I even shut out my family. The end of the relationship shattered me.
Who was I now? I had isolated myself and had no identity outside of him. Because of how I had treated them, my friends wanted nothing to do with me. No one would talk to me or sit with me at lunch. In fact, they went out of their way to avoid me.
I’d call my mom from the pay phone outside the school in tears. She did her best to comfort me so I could get through the rest of the school day. But the next day, it would start all over again. The days and weeks dragged on until my broken teenage heart crumbled under the weight of loneliness.
I was determined to end my life, so I took every pill in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Then, I went into my mom’s room and stood over her, quietly weeping as I watched her sleep.
I wanted to wake her up, to tell her what I had done. But I wanted to die more than I wanted to live. Death was the only way to end my pain, I thought. So I went to bed, hoping to drift away forever.
I was so disappointed the following day when I woke up. But I got up anyway and forced myself to walk to school; I was still under the influence of all those pills.
I had never been high before, and I liked how I felt. Suddenly, I didn’t feel any pain, and I wasn’t lonely. If I could stay numb, I reasoned, I’d be okay. The trajectory of my life changed that day.
I found a new group of people who accepted me. I hung out with the kids who got high. Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school, even though I was doing hard drugs daily.
The party continued after high school until I discovered I was pregnant. I got married and stopped drinking and getting high for the sake of my child. In 2003, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I had a couple good years, but stress soon got the best of me again, and I returned to the numbness of drugs.
When I turned 21, a whole new world opened to me. I could leave my son with his father and go out clubbing every night of the week. In 2005, I got a DUI. I spent only one night in jail, but that was enough to know that being locked up was not where I wanted to be.
Soon, I divorced my son’s dad. After that, I cycled in and out of relationships, drinking heavily and fueling my addiction.
In 2014, I hurt my back at work. The pain from the injury was terrible, and I relied on opiates to function. I was relieved to have a prescription for painkillers; I wouldn’t have to buy pills off the street anymore.
I was already struggling to stay clean before the back injury, but now that I had opioids on hand, my addiction escalated quickly. A month’s prescription lasted only two weeks, so I had to rely on heroin and meth until my prescription refilled.
By 2015, I was no longer a functioning addict. I began doing things I’d sworn I’d never do, like shooting up. I lost my job, my car, an apartment, and then my son. He had grown tired of how I was living and no longer wanted to be around me. I understood why he wanted to live with my mom, but it still hurt.
Losing hope, I decided to try rehab. I started thinking about God as I went through the steps of recovery. I got up early to sit alone outside on the patio of the rehab center and talk to Him.
“Do you know who I am, God?” I’d ask. I wondered if He even saw or cared about what was going on in my life. I didn’t know about Jesus or the magnitude of God’s love for me yet, but my heart was open to the idea that God existed.
I came out of rehab determined to stay clean. I went home to my mom and son and did well for a while, but I began experiencing excruciating back pain. Turns out, shooting up had led to an infection in my vertebrae. Antibiotic therapy cleared the condition quickly, but I began using pain pills again. And that started the cycle of addiction all over.
My mom requested a drug test, and I didn’t even put up a fight. I just left and dove headfirst into another dysfunctional and abusive relationship. My new boyfriend and I immediately began running the streets. We were homeless, and our entire lives revolved around our drug habits. I hit an all-time low, and a new level of darkness entered my life.
By Christmas 2016, I was determined to pull myself together. I’d missed all the other holidays with my family that year due to my addiction; I didn’t want to miss this one. I was looking forward to spending the day with my son.
I sobered up and waited anxiously for Mom to pick me up. But when she arrived, I was devastated to see that my son was not with her. Instead, she had with her a 7-page letter they had written together.
In the letter, they asked me to choose them over drugs. “Your son is sick of sharing you, Amber! He’s so tired of you abandoning him for this life.” My mother read the letter aloud as I sobbed uncontrollably. My precious son was deeply hurt and traumatized because of my choices. It was painful to hear, but I knew it was all true.
Somehow, I got the courage and strength that day to turn my back on my boyfriend and drugs and return to my parents’ home for shelter. I am convinced I would not be here to tell this story had I made a different choice that day. I never got high again.
My troubles didn’t suddenly disappear; I’d be lying if I said they did. Instead, they multiplied as I confronted the broken relationship between my son and me.
He was rightfully angry and did not believe that I would stay clean. It would be a long road to earn his trust, but I was determined to travel it.
Knowing I needed help, I decided to start going to church. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt like I was supposed to be there. Once again, I found myself talking to God. “I need to know that You are real, God. I can’t face life alone. I don’t know what I am supposed to do to fix my relationship with my son.” God would soon answer me.
I struggled to stay away from my ex-boyfriend, who was still addicted and on the streets. He would call and beg me to return to him. Our conversations always left me feeling helpless. He promised he was not getting high, but I knew better. I also knew spending time with him would be dangerous. But I cared about him and wanted to help him.
So, as any true codependent would, I started dragging my ex to church. On Sunday, February 5, 2017, we met at a fast-food place before the service.
After breakfast, we stood up, and a syringe fell out of his pocket. An immediate flurry of feelings rose inside me, but ultimately, anger prevailed. “Get away from me and leave me alone,” I cried as I ran out of the restaurant. He followed me, and soon we were screaming at each other and physically fighting. It was a miracle that we did not end up in jail.
I can’t explain how, but I knew that my life depended on making it to the church that day, so I kept running. Today I know there was a real spiritual battle trying to prevent me from coming face to face with the love of God. Thankfully, God won. In fact, He gave me a message that day that I couldn’t miss. It was written in chalk, right there on the sidewalk: “I am rebuilding the life that heroin tore apart.”
Those words spoke straight to my heart, and I knew they were from God. When I needed Him, He had shown up (Psalm 46:1). It’s incredible to me that God would intervene in such a profound, personal way (Genesis 16:13).
Determination flooded my heart. I snapped a picture of the message with my phone and ran toward the church. But my ex followed me, and we were fighting as we came in the doors. Members of the congregation quickly sensed that I was in trouble and moved in to help. They separated us, and a kind woman comforted me as I sobbed.
I calmed down enough to join the worship service. Tears streamed down my face as the beautiful song “Good, Good Father” played. When the pastor presented an altar call, I fell to my knees and surrendered my life to God. Despite the evil forces that had tried to stop me, the Lord’s purposes prevailed, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (Psalm 57:2).
I invited Him that day into the dark, void space in my soul. He responded by filling me with His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I found in Jesus the acceptance and sense of belonging that I had searched for my whole life.
You must know that getting saved did not free me from the consequences of my addiction and selfish choices. Jesus never promises that we won’t have to deal with those, only that we won’t have to do it alone (Isaiah 43:2; John 16:33).
My life looked like a collapsed building that a wrecking ball had demolished—but God is in the remodeling and restoration business! He gives new life through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross to anyone who comes to Him. God has always been faithful to reconstruct and remodel the things that sin destroys. Knowing this strengthened my faith. Besides, I had nothing to lose by trusting Him to restore my losses.
Since then, my life has been one big construction site. Jesus has been the chief architect and foreman, overseeing every repair, big and small. When I gave Him control over every detail of my life, true and lasting transformation began.
It’s been an amazing experience to roll up my sleeves and be an active participant in God’s plan and purpose for my life. His blessings have been endless!
Within a year after getting clean, a renewed relationship with my son began to bloom. He still struggles with the trauma he experienced during my addiction, but I get the privilege of consistently showing up for him as his mom. I now get to be an example of the life-changing power of Jesus and reflect my Lord and Savior’s love into my son’s life.
He and his wife have made me a proud grandma. Even though COVID prevented it, they extended a kind invitation to me to be in the delivery room when my third grandchild was born. I praise the Lord for the miracle of forgiveness in my son’s heart toward me.
I am also married now to a wonderful Christian man who is not only the solid spiritual leader in our home, but also my best friend. He has helped me navigate through sober parenthood. The Lord has used him to be a positive male presence in my son’s life too. I am blessed as well to have a church family that embraces me and helps me stay connected and accountable.
Having the Lord’s presence and power in my life and a godly support system means everything. That dark space of nothingness is no longer inside me. Christ has filled it with His love, joy, and peace.
And He can fill you too.
We all have the same God-sized hole inside us, and only His love can fill it. Come to Him today. He makes a beautiful promise in Jeremiah 31:4 NLT: “I will rebuild you… You will again be happy and dance merrily with your tambourines.”
AMBER LEASON works in special-needs education and enjoys sharing the love of Jesus with her students. Using her life experience, she serves with Thrive, a women’s ministry that facilitates a space for women to connect with God and encourage each other in their faith.