The Joy of Saying YES to the Addict I Love

By Karen Hunt and Harrison Leimert 07/16/19

Karen had to let go of her addicted son in order for them both to heal. Years later, her son is sober, healthy, and helping others. Here is their journey in their own words.

Harrison Leimert and Karen Hunt embracing
My Mom is proud of me today. Life is good…. Like ACTUALLY good. All images via author

In November 2016 I wrote an article for The Fix titled Saying NO to the Addict I Love, about how hard it is to let go of someone you love who is an addict. You try everything you can to help them, but you only succeed in becoming a bigger part of the problem. At that time, the measures I finally took to change my bad habits were so drastic that I put what little possessions I had left into a storage unit, packed a bag, and left the country. My son, Harry (others call him Harrison), and I had to go our separate ways, and I had to trust that God or the universe or whatever you want to call it would lead us both where we needed to go. 

Addicted to Intervening

I landed first in Sucre, Bolivia, one of the most out-of-the-way places I could find on the map that still had decent internet. Once there, the knowledge that I was impotent to do anything ate away at me like parasites. I couldn’t even make a phone call to my son. Guilt wracked my body. Being so far away forced me to see things more clearly. I started to realize that I, too, am an addict of sorts. I am addicted to intervening, to cleaning up messes so I can pretend they aren’t there, to giving and giving, even when it’s detrimental and makes no sense. I simply can’t stop myself. 

The withdrawals from this habit were intense. Alone in my small garret room, besides suffering from severe altitude sickness, I sat on my bed at night and compulsively rocked back and forth in mental anguish, sometimes for hours. I began to worry I had some physical ailment but I’ve since learned that this type of rocking is a product of PTSD. 

That was the beginning of three years of wandering the globe. I morphed into a digital nomad. During that time I didn’t see my son. Slowly, I learned to let go of those feelings of panic and despair and focus on what fulfilled me. I traveled to places as diverse as Costa Rica and Morocco, and most recently Luxor, Egypt, where I’ve spent the past year. 

I started to find gratification in my travels; I’m a writer and kickboxing coach, so I worked on my urban fantasy series and connected with boxing gyms where I’d teach and train. On my terrace in Luxor, I hung the first boxing bag to ever be seen in the West Bank villages and began training girls. I started My World Project, a volunteer program connecting kids in far-flung places through writing and art. 

Shortly after I arrived in Luxor last April, I learned Harry was in jail again and facing serious prison time. The familiar feelings of panic and despair washed over me. Resolutely, I took a few deep breaths, put on my gloves, and punched the bag. Martial arts and kickboxing training have saved my life and my sanity on many occasions over the years. 

Hope Is a Scary Thing

And then, a few weeks later, the news that Harry had been accepted into the Salvation Army. The upsurge of hope I felt also made me afraid. Hope is a scary thing. Yet, as the days and weeks went by, he seemed to get better and better. When I returned at Christmas, I had the joy of hugging my sober son—my artistic, intelligent son, with the clear blue eyes and the big smile. Few moments have felt as good as that embrace. My son had followed his path and done what he needed to do. I had done the same. And now, here we were.

Three years ago, I hardly would have dared to believe this day would come. Yet I have the joy of saying YES to writing this follow-up piece with him. My son is an incredible human being and my love for him knows no bounds. It is with great pleasure that I turn the story over to him.


Hello, my name is Harrison, and I’m an addict. 

From a young age I never felt like life made any sense. Everything hurt, nothing was fun, and being a good kid seemed very dull. I was a reader and a writer and probably thought too deeply and darkly about things. 

I will always remember the first time I got loaded: the world seemed to light up around me, nothing hurt, and boring became fun. When I was high or drunk, it was like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t care that my father wasn’t really around and that I felt like a black sheep in my home. I didn’t care if kids at school liked me. Nothing really mattered. Soon drugs had become the solution to all my problems. In middle school, I went to school intoxicated, ditched class, and had few friends. Most of my peers hadn’t begun experimenting with drugs and alcohol while I was trying everything under the stars. 

Choosing a Life of Crime

As middle school came to end, though, curious minds began to show interest in me and my small circle of friends. We began providing drugs (for a small fee, of course). We went from outcast loners to the most popular kids in our area. Everybody knew who had the dope. It started with small stuff like marijuana and pills, but when somebody wanted to step up their game and try the real thing, well, we had that, too. Slowly but surely I lost the little interest I had in school. I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to be a criminal. 

Drugs were my escape and they worked for a while, but a few years later they weren’t even scratching the surface anymore. I was 23, with two daughters, a strung-out girlfriend, and completely lost. All I knew how to do was hustle. L.A. County Jail was a frequent pit stop for me. Every time I got out, I’d say “I’m never coming back here” but shortly afterwards I’d be in that blue get-up, once again behind bars and writing letters to the outside world. 

My mother got the worst of it, watching my kids when I was too fucked up and getting thrown out of apartments because the neighbors knew her son was selling drugs. 

In and Out of Prison

It got so bad that my mom literally left the country and we stopped talking for a long time. I continued walking the same road, knowing I was hell-bound and not really caring. I kept getting locked up, I was used to it. But my imprisonment didn’t end when they let me out. The world felt dark, cold, and bitter. I began to resent the people around me. In a room full of people—close friends, family, didn’t matter who—I felt alone. 

I think I perfected this drugged-up, criminal lifestyle to the best of my ability. I had a cycle: I would get out, hustle some money together, get some stuff like cars, nice clothes, electronics, and even a mobile home one time, and hold onto it until the cops found me. Get locked up and lose everything. Do my time. Get out, and repeat. I was stuck on a weird hamster wheel. 

Finally I got sick of it.

The last time I got locked up, I was looking at some serious time. I guess that was around the time my mom was in Egypt. I was withdrawing from heroin again and I was in pain. I knew nobody would answer my calls, so I didn’t bother. I knew I couldn’t make bail, so I didn’t bother. I didn’t want to get out and do the same shit again. So I did something that I never did: I prayed to God and asked for an answer. I asked for him to release me from this strange cycle of anguish that I was trapped in. I asked him to show me how to live. 

Now, prior to this, my belief in God was non-existent, but the very next day I got a visit from someone who interviewed me for a rehabilitation program. In order to get in, my paperwork had to be approved by the judge. But when I finally made my way to the courtroom and faced him, it looked like I was going to be denied. 

So, before the hammer dropped, I spoke.

Give Me a Chance to Change My Life

“Your Honor, if I get sentenced time in prison, chances are when I get out, I will do the same thing I always do and you or another judge will see me again shortly. Give me a chance to change my life. Allow me to try a different way.” 

Miraculously, the judge did a complete turnaround and let me into the program. I’d made a million promises to stay sober before. But this time, the moment I stepped through the door of the Salvation Army, I surrendered. The program was strict and you had to work hard; it was exactly what I needed. Day by day, I changed deeply ingrained habits. They taught me how to live a normal life. 

While learning how to actually hustle and work my ass off legally, I learned another very important lesson: Wanting to change will not make anything different. Action is what will make things different. Henri Nouwen’s quote really hit home for me: “You cannot think your way into a new way of living, you have to live your way into a new way of thinking.”

I used to think about changing my life, as if it meant something, and even talk about it. But nothing happened. Then I started actually doing stuff, like my laundry and making my bed—simple stuff—and it changed my mentality. It’s been over a year since I stood in front of that judge and made that promise. And just last month I stood in front of him again, clean and sober, and he congratulated me.

From Criminal to Hero

Today I work in a rehab helping people with the same struggles I know so well. I used to be a criminal, and now I’ve heard people call me a hero. It took a lot before I was ready for recovery, and I don’t know what finally flipped that switch. I wish there were some magic words I could say that would make you understand, but the truth is, back in the day you could have told me anything and I wouldn’t have cared. My experience is what defined me. I used to be the best at being the worst. Now I use my powers for good. 

My Mom is proud of me today. Even though my children are on the other side of the country, I’m able to be the best version of me, one day at a time. 

Life is good…. Like ACTUALLY good.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is the author and/or illustrator of nineteen children’s books. She is the co-founder of InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, and the founder of the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas through art and writing. She is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a first degree brown belt in Eskrima, and a boxing and kickboxing trainer. For the past three years, Karen has been traveling the world having adventures while teaching kids boxing and writing her YA Urban Fantasy series, NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES. Find Karen on Twitter: and Instagram:

Harrison Leimert is an artist and a writer. He’s a recovering addict who works in drug and alcohol treatment. His greatest passion is helping people like himself. Find Harrison on Instagram: