One Phone Call Changed This Drug Addict’s Life, and Her Story May Change Yours

Updated: Jun. 28, 2022

Auburn knew she had a problem—with drugs, her marriage, her baby. So in desperation, she called a counselor's number in the middle of the night.

Jul-Aug-FEA-The-Moth-courtesy-auburn-sandstromCourtesy Auburn Sandstrom[dropcap]I’m[/dropcap] curled up in a fetal position on a filthy carpet in a cluttered apartment. I’m in horrible withdrawal from a drug that I’ve been addicted to for several years now.

In my hand I have a little piece of paper. It’s dilapidated because I’ve been folding it and unfolding it to the point that it’s almost falling apart. But you can still make out the phone number on it.

I am in a state of bald terror. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack, that’s what this felt like. My husband is out running the streets, trying to get ahold of some of the stuff that we needed.

And if I could, I would jump out of my own skin and run screaming into the streets to get what I need. But right behind me, sleeping in the bedroom, is my baby boy.

Now, I wasn’t going to get a Mother of the Year award. In fact, at the age of 29, I was failing at a lot of things.

I had started out fairly auspiciously. I was that girl who had the opera lessons, spoke fluent French, and had her college paid for. I was that person who, when my checking account ran out, would say something to my parents and $200 would magically appear.

But I came to the conclusion that the thing I needed to do with all that comfort was to destroy it. And you know, every time I’ve come to a major faulty conclusion in life, the man comes right after who will help me live it out.

I was 24 then, he was 40, and I was smitten, in love. And it was beautiful for a while, until he introduced me to one of his old friends, who introduced us to the drug I was now addicted to.

So curled up on my apartment floor, I decided to get clean. I was leading the life that was going to lead to me losing the most precious thing I’d ever had in my life, which was that baby boy. I was so desperate at that moment that I became willing to punch the numbers into the phone.

The phone number was something my mother had sent me. Now, mind you, I hadn’t been speaking to my parents or anybody else for three, four, five years.

But she’d managed to get this number to me by mail, and she said, “Look, this is a Christian counselor, and since you can’t talk to anybody else, maybe sometime you could call this person.”

I was emaciated, covered in bruises. I was anxious and desperate.

I punched in the numbers. I heard a man say, “Hello.”

And I said, “Hi, I got this number from my mother. Uh, do you think you could maybe talk to me?”

I heard him shuffling around in the bed. You could tell he was pulling some sheets around himself and sitting up. I heard a little radio in the background, and he snapped it off, and he became very present.

He said, “Yes, yes, yes. What’s going on?”

I hadn’t told anybody, including myself, the truth for a long, long time. And I told him I wasn’t feeling so good, and that I was scared, and that things had gotten pretty bad in my marriage.

Before long, I started telling him other truths, like I might have a drug problem.

And this man didn’t judge me. He just sat with me and listened and had such a kindness and a gentleness.

“Tell me more … Oh, that must hurt … Oh.”

I’d made that call at two in the morning. And he stayed up with me the whole night, just talking, just listening, just being there until the sun rose.

By then I was feeling calm. The raw panic had passed. I was feeling OK.

I was feeling like, I can splash my face with water today, and I can probably do this day.

I wouldn’t have cared if the guy was a Hare Krishna or a Buddhist—it didn’t matter to me what his faith was.

I was very grateful to him, and so I said, “Hey, you know, I really appreciate you and what you’ve done for me tonight. Aren’t you supposed to be telling me to read some Bible verses or something? Because that’d be cool. I’ll do it, you know. It’s all right.”

He laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad this was helpful to you.”

And we talked some more, and I brought it up again.

I said, “No, really. You’re very, very good at this. I mean, you’ve seriously done a big thing for me. How long have you been a Christian counselor?”

There’s a long pause. I hear him shifting. “Auburn, please don’t hang up,” he says. “I’ve been trying not to bring this up.”

“What?” I ask.

“You won’t hang up?”


“I’m so afraid to tell you this. But the number you called …” He pauses again. “You got the wrong number.”

I didn’t hang up on him, but I never would get his name or call him back.

But the next day I felt this kind of joy, like I was shining. I had gotten to see that there was this completely random love in the universe. That it could be unconditional. And that some of it was for me.

I can’t tell you that I got my life totally together that day. But it became possible to get some help and get the hell out.

All-these-wondersvia amazon.comAnd it also became possible as a teetotaling, semi-sane single parent to raise up that precious baby boy into a magnificent young scholar and athlete, who graduated from university in 2013 with honors.

This is what I know. In the deepest, blackest night of despair, if you can get just one pinhole of light … all of grace rushes in.

Auburn Sandstrom, 54, is a college writing instructor and is pursuing a PhD in urban education policy. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

This story also appears in the book All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown.

You can reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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