Rhonda Rush was reluctant the first time she publicly shared her life story of opioid addiction. She had to swallow her pride.
But since then, "I have learned that transparency renders shame powerless and the enemy ineffective," she says.
Rhonda's earliest picture of God emerged from the shame-filled, fire-and-brimstone sermons she heard at church. She suffered at home, too, growing up. Chaos in the family brewed a spirit of rebellion in her. The added pressure of Rhonda's regular, debilitating migraines didn't help.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
In Rhonda's early 20s, after several years of migraines, her doctor prescribed painkillers. Rhonda savored the relief.
She had no idea she was playing with fire.
According to 2018 data, 128 people die every day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose. These include heroin, the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and prescription pills like Rhonda's. "You just didn't hear about it," Rhonda says of America's opioid crisis, which first escalated in the late 1990s—around the time when Rhonda's addiction was taking hold.
"The more I took [the pills], the more I wanted them, the more I needed them," Rhonda says plainly. "The more I needed them, the more I wanted them. And just the cycle began way back then."
'The more I took [the pills], the more I wanted them, the more I needed them. The more I needed them, the more I wanted them.'
A FUNCTIONING OPIOID ADDICT
At 27, Rhonda got married and started a family. Life was good. Pain pills helped her feel even better, with no dire consequences. Or so she thought.
Rhonda believed the pills gave her energy to be a better wife and mother. She turned to opioids for more than just pain relief.
By her 40s, she saw a handful of doctors for prescriptions. She purchased pills online and even bought them off the street.
Looking back, she explains, "I was what you call a 'functioning addict.' … I didn't realize I was numbing everything."
WANDERING IN DARKNESS
During this time, a friend invited Rhonda to church. It was the first time Rhonda truly heard about God's grace. Grace—a gift that intrigued her. Still, Rhonda was lost in her addiction and pain.
When her husband unexpectedly passed away, just two weeks before their 20th wedding anniversary, her entire world shattered. Living alone and working mostly from home, Rhonda felt empty and afraid. She turned to painkillers to escape the grief and loss.
She'd sometimes swallow 60 pills a day.
"I wasn't living," says Rhonda. "I was just existing … holed up in my house. I kept it as dark as possible, closed the curtains. And I took pills, day in and day out. That went on for a long time."
Two and a half years after her husband's death, at age 50, Rhonda received a DUI charge—the first of many. Five years later she was charged for the last time, after driving under the influence in broad daylight. This time she landed in county jail. She was 55 years old, broken, and weighed down by layers of hurt.
"God, why me?" she cried.
'I was what you call a 'functioning addict.' … I didn't realize I was numbing everything.'
THE WAY MAKER AND MIRACLE WORKER
Rhonda needed something to pass the time behind bars, so she joined a recovery program. At first, she attended for the perks, hoping to earn time off her sentence. But through the love of faithful Christian volunteers, she finally gave Jesus her full attention.
Pastors guided Rhonda as she began to study the Bible. Christian mentors like John Spurgeon, Prison Fellowship® field director for Tennessee, helped her process past hurts. They guided her toward recovery as she recognized her need for Jesus and His Word. God was making a way for Rhonda to strip away the pain of her past.
"The layers of hurt, bitterness, betrayal, grief, denial, all the poison to my soul—it started to peel away," Rhonda explains. "Finally, something in me started changing."
"I truly believe you have to heal in all areas," she adds. "You can't heal spiritually if you don't heal emotionally, psychologically. You can't heal emotionally if you don't heal spiritually."
By the time of her release, Rhonda felt whole. She also got involved with Doors of Hope, a transitional program in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for women leaving prison or drug rehab.
Two days a week, she volunteered there and became a mentor to new program participants. Rhonda would tell them, "Don't give up hope, because God is in the miracle-working business. I was addicted to opiates my whole life, and now I'm two and a half years clean. If God can do it for me, He can do it for anybody."
'The layers of hurt, bitterness, betrayal, grief, denial, all the poison to my soul—it started to peel away.'