Lost and Afraid

Written By

As we drove up to the historic-looking white building outside of Philadelphia, I felt oddly detached, almost numb. Ordinarily, such a place would have sparked my curiosity about the origins of the house—what had it been used for years ago? Philadelphia is an area rich in history, something I always enjoyed exploring as a native Philly girl.  

But this was no pleasure outing. This was where we would leave my son, in hopes that he would be able to beat his heroin addiction.

Earlier that day, in May of 2010, David was released from a three-day hospital stay after overdosing on a pain medication he’d stolen. The first night (Mother’s Day, in fact), I stayed close to my son, trying to sleep on a cramped, two-seat hospital waiting room bench. I was terrified, not knowing whether my boy was going to live or die.  

The next day, once we learned David would survive, I traded the watch with my husband, returning home to find a place that could offer some hope and help to my son.

When I returned to the hospital the day David was released, I told him he had a choice—to get in the car with me and his father and go to rehab, or get on the bus outside, let me know where he ended up, and I’d send him his things, because one thing was clear—he was NOT coming home.

After much arguing, yelling and pleading (from him—I was unyielding), David got in the car, and we set off on a drive I never, ever thought I’d be taking.

We waited for what seemed like hours in the facility’s main office, just inside the front door. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience. Surely this was happening to someone else, not me. But after we checked David in and he was led away to begin treatment, I knew, after a hug for this child whom I loved more than life and hated at the same time, that it was happening, and somehow, not only would I have to get through it, but I’d have to lead my husband and daughters through as well.  

This retelling is painful. It recounts the worst time in my life. But when we left my son that day, no one told us anything—or maybe they did, but it wasn’t much. I had zero frame of reference on drug addiction. And much as I understand the need for privacy laws, handing over your sick child without access to information—in fact, being told NOT to contact him—seemed cruel. And oddly appreciated at the same time.

If I sound confused, I was. I was also alone. I had no one to talk to. I was ashamed, exhausted, terrified and horrified at what my son had become and what he’d done to my world.  

I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. Ever. And though it’s painful to revisit this, I believe the only way painful experiences rise above individual suffering is if we use them to help others. I want to help others who find themselves lost, afraid, and ashamed. Writing about my experience—our experience—is one way I can do that. I will share with you, pray for you and be there for you through this writing. Until next time. ~ Mary Fran

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. 

Visit her at