There are probably few things more heartbreaking than seeing your child lost in the clutches of drug addiction. LaFayette resident Lisa Heyer walked that path for nine years, from the time her son Nathan was 15 years old until last year when he finally reached the point of what Heyer calls “clean and healed.”
Heyer and her husband saw their son’s life crumbling and they tried to help. “There were numerous rehabs,” she says. “I went to AA meetings, Al-Anon meetings. I did everything I could think of to be supportive. But Nathan kept slipping back into addiction.”
In 2017, Nathan entered yet another program — Teen Challenge in North Carolina. While he was there, Heyer says, she felt God was telling her to sign up for the 2018 Ironman Triathlon in Chattanooga. She had run a mini-triathlon six years earlier, but this would be a whole new game.
The Ironman consists of a 1.2-mile swim, then jumps immediately to a 56-mile bike ride, followed by a 13.1-mile run. It’s not for the faint of mind or body. Heyer set to training for the event, but what she learned was far more than personal endurance. “I started to understand the battle my son was facing,” she says. “He was having to transform into a different person. Getting well was an endurance race, not a sprint.
“You can’t go from zero to Ironman without changing your whole mindset,” says Heyer, “without accountability partners and a team of people who believe in you, constant training, fighting the temptation to quit, even wholesome food, and a long list of other things.”
The correlations between Ironman training and overcoming addiction were so strong, says Heyer, that she started to compile a book about her experience and her son’s struggle. The more she wrote, the more she understood.
Heyer titled her book, “Endurance Race of Life and Addiction: Race for Your Life.”
She presented it to her son as a gift when he graduated from the 12-month Teen Challenge program in October 2018. A second edition of the book includes a testimony by Nathan, who is now clean and healed, newly married and working a good job.
Heyer was invited in September to speak to a group of people going through the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Adult Felony Drug Court program. The program spans a minimum of 19 months for participants working to free themselves of addiction and establish themselves as part of a functional community.
Heyer shared the story her book tells. “I wanted them to know there is hope,” she says.
Among the lessons of Heyer’s book that she shared not only with program participants but some of their family members were:
♦ There is a difference between clean and healed. Clean means you’re not taking drugs, but that could be because you’re in jail or a program or otherwise prevented from doing so. Healed means you’re off drugs and on a new path, becoming a new person, and have surrounded yourself with the support you need.
♦ Remember you’re in an endurance race. You must constantly make sure you are training and taking care of yourself — physically, mentally and spiritually.
♦ Find what nourishes you — the right friends, music, reading, writing, dancing, nature. It could be running or competing.
♦ Make a list of resources so they’re ready when you need them. The list can include God, family, friends, mentors, accountability partners, training plans and a good doctor. Heyer says her list included two doctors who were also runners and understood the sport and her training needs.
♦ Stay focused on your goal and it will become a habit.
♦ Look at the beauty within you and around you and enjoy it.
♦ When it gets hard, do it anyway.
♦ If you fail, get up and start with the basics. Don’t give up.
For family members, Heyer offers this advice: The best thing you can do for your addicted loved one is disable their addiction by not tolerating or enabling it and by focusing entirely on recovery. Tolerating is simply looking the other way and acting as if nothing is wrong. Enabling is often done out of pity or even love and can include giving an addict money you know they’ll use for drugs, giving them a free place to live or lending them a car.
Above all else, says Heyer, recovery is a hard road to travel without God. “With God,” she says, “all things are possible.”
Heyer left a copy of her book with the LMJC Adult Felony Drug Court program, as well as a copy of “The Daniel Plan” by Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman, a book she refers to on a regular basis and highly recommends.