The day Brent Bennett was arrested for attempted robbery, he knew he had hit rock bottom. When Lisa Herner heard the news her brother had been arrested, all she could think was, “Bennetts don’t go to jail.” And when his daughter heard the news, she couldn’t believe her father’s life had gotten so out of control. As he sat in his cell at the Huron County Jail, coming down from his high, Brent reflected on the path that led him there.
“I knew I was better than that.”
Off to the races
Brent was in his 30s when he started experimenting with drugs. His marriage was struggling and his life was not where he wanted it to be. He went to a party at a cousin’s house where he was offered cocaine.“So I got into a line and I liked it, of course,” he said. “It numbed everything. It took my problems and just kind of set them aside.”
From there, it was “off to the races.” “I started spending our savings, taking money from the house that we were building, using some of that money to feed my addiction,” he said.
Brent went from cocaine to crack to opiates, which became his drug of choice. He was doing contract heating and cooling work at the time, which meant he was in and out of people’s homes. He would go through their cabinets, taking prescription medications like Vicodin and Percocet. He also took medications out of his in-laws’ cabinets.
“You do anything to get your fix,” he said. “Lie, call in sick, just to feed my addiction — my habit.”
It wasn’t long before his family noticed a change. He was losing weight and disappearing from their lives. “There’s a numbness that even when he’s standing right in front of you, there’s just no connection,” said Lisa. “He’s not the person that I knew. I wanted that back so bad.”
Lydia Bennett, now 19, was around 11 when she learned her dad was doing drugs. She remembers her parents getting into arguments, but didn’t understand what was going on. The day Brent left his family, he told Lydia and her younger brother he wasn’t coming back. “He tried to see us, and then he stopped.”
Throughout the rest of her middle and high school years, Lydia didn’t see much of her father. “It hurt. I definitely didn’t care to see him. He was spending more time with his new girlfriend and her kids than me and my brother, and that hurt.”
“I tried not to let it bother me,” she said. “It was sad and it sucked, but I kept the mentality of not caring and that’s what kept me from feeling hurt.”
Matt and Lisa Herner didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to Brent’s addiction. This was Lisa’s brother — her family — and Matt was trying to be patient and understanding, but he was tired of the lying. “It got to the point where we stopped talking about it,” said Matt. “We could only talk about Brent for so many minutes per day and then we were done.”
Brent’s addiction went on for five years before his family decided it was time to do something. “They approached me and gave me a family intervention kind of thing,” he said. Lisa, Matt and Matt’s father met with Brent in the Herners’ apartment in Norwalk.
“I was in total denial: ‘no, I’m all right, I’m good,’” said Brent. It was Matt who told Brent he had put the family through enough and it was time to get some help. Brent agreed to let Lisa and Matt pay for a 30-day treatment program in Morristown, Tennessee.
After the program ended, Brent moved back to Norwalk. “I still didn’t have things at home the way I wanted. There were still some triggers,” he said.
“I’d start experimenting again, almost like starting the same story over.” Brent would go to a friend’s house on the weekends, get high and drink. He thought he had it under control. Then he started hanging around a group of people who were doing drugs regularly, and for three more years, Brent succumbed to addiction. Opiates such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin were still his drugs of choice.
In the background
When Brent came back from Tennessee, Matt and Lisa knew he had fallen back into his old ways, but “it was kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said Matt. “We knew where he was, at the drug girl’s house” — Brent’s girlfriend at the time.
Sometimes, Matt and Lisa secretly hoped Brent would get arrested, so they would at least know he was alive and getting treatment. They also knew if they wanted Brent to get clean, they could not force him into getting help this time.
During a second family intervention, Lisa and Brent’s father had also attempted to strong-arm his son into getting help.
“First, you need to surrender and realize you have a problem,” said Lisa. She continued researching recovery treatment options. If Brent ever decided he needed help, “we were ready to go,” she said. “All he had to do was pick up the phone.”
Lisa was working at her salon when her husband knocked on the door, phone in hand. Brent had made the call for help.
But he quickly changed his mind as soon as his family stepped in. “I knew I had to act fast,” said Lisa.
Matt and Lisa convinced Brent to take a family trip with them. Secretly, they had signed Brent up for rehabilitation at the Ohio Valley Teen Challenge program in Youngstown. Teen Challenge is a faith-based approach to helping men 18 years and older work through addiction. Matt and Lisa felt once they got him out of Norwalk, away from the drugs and the people who influenced him, they could convince him to join the program. He agreed.
In the program, he joined the men’s choir and a work group, and the Herners believed he was doing well. But partway through the 12-month program, Brent was sent to work a construction job in Willard, Ohio, with a group of Teen Challenge members. The group was caught drinking in the evenings, which was grounds for dismissal from the program.
Shortly after Brent left the Teen Challenge program, his father, who was battling brain cancer, needed help around his home in Tennessee. So Brent went to live with him. “I was clean, working out; I felt healthy, I felt confident, which I was for a while.”
Then, he started taking his father’s cancer pain medications.
“I thought I was always going to be an addict.”
“When you’re an addict, it doesn’t take very long to figure out where to get (opiates).” Just by talking to someone and knowing the right words — the lingo — he could find what he wanted. So, even in a small, rural Tennessee town, access to drugs was easy. “I was in this town for like four hours and I could talk to someone and find it,” he said.
Running that race again
In 2015, Brent and Lisa’s father died, and Brent inherited a large sum of money. He decided he was going to get himself a nice place, put some of the money away for retirement and “live on the high hog for a while.”
He bought a place in the Crocker Park area in Westlake, near Cleveland. His ex-girlfriend, who Brent had dated while he was using drugs, found out about his inheritance and reached out to him. You’re not supposed to reconnect with people who used drugs with you in the past, explained Brent, but he let her move in.
“She could get (drugs) real easy and I had tons of money,” he said. “So I started running that race again.” Brent quickly blew through his inheritance, forcing him to leave Crocker Park and rent a place from a friend back in Norwalk, until he couldn’t pay his rent anymore.
“I always worked. I worked seven days a week for the longest time just to feed my addiction, but I was always broke because all the money I got would go right to feed my addiction.” He was always lying, scamming, finding any way he could to get money — not caring about anyone else. From the moment he woke up, he knew he needed to get his fix or he would be physically sick.
Isn’t it enough?
In the background, Brent’s sister was praying. “I remember thinking, ‘isn’t it enough that we are who we are, that you have an amazing family, two amazing children — is that not enough?’”
Lisa reached out to a friend who also had a family member struggling with addiction. “She told me, ‘Lisa, sometimes we have to get out of God’s way.’”
Things got so bad for Brent that he was living out of his van. “That’s how strong the pull of addiction is. It’s terrible,” he said. He started to feel hopeless, not caring if he died, feeling like he couldn’t go back to his family for help. “I can’t go back to them, I already did this a couple times. They won’t accept me,” he thought to himself.
Then he hit rock bottom.
One day after work in November of 2015, Brent got into a fight with his girlfriend. She was upset because Brent couldn’t get any opiates, and accused him of keeping them all to himself. “When you’re with another user, they think you are always hiding it,” he said, “…because you feel good and they don’t. It’s always a battle.”
Brent had eaten three or four benzos (benzodiazepines, often taken for their sedative effects) and blacked out. He doesn’t remember everything that happened that night, but he drove off in his van, hit a curb in Norwalk and got the van stuck. He remembers the police coming and towing his van, but letting him go without a citation. Still, in a fog, Brent walked to a friend’s house where he took more benzos.
After leaving his friend’s place, Brent walked into Dave’s Food Mart — a convenience store and Sunoco gas station in Norwalk — pulled out a small knife and attempted to rob the store. When the police showed up, Brent admitted to his crime and surrendered.
Growing up, the Bennett family had always had their faith. Now, sitting in his jail cell, Brent was ready to turn back to it.
While in jail, he found a book titled Journey with Jesus, and started to read it. “It emotionally took me over, it softened my heart.”
When you are doing drugs, he explained, you isolate yourself. “I was just so hard and cold. I was all about me, I didn’t care,” he said. Brent started reading the Bible, a full book a day, determined to find God and restore his faith.
“Something inside me said, ‘OK, enough’s enough,’” he said.
Different this time
When he was released in May 2016, he moved in with his mother and was lucky enough to find a job. “I started working right away because I needed money to pay all my fines, I didn’t have a license and I had child support,” he said.
Brent started to feel the pull to escape the piling bills — one hit and all his troubles would melt away. But he was stronger this time. He committed himself to getting up at 3 a.m. each morning, reading the Bible, listening to music and journaling his thoughts. “It totally changed my life,” he said.
Lydia said it was like her father “just woke up one day.” Over the past two years, Lydia and her father have been slowly putting the pieces of their relationship back together. “I definitely put it all on him,” she said. “If he wants me to be a part of his life, he has to contact me.”
“It’s different this time,” said Matt, adding Brent is hanging out with people who are clean and spending more time with the family. But Matt and Lisa are still taking things one day at a time.
“I think a lot of people might think, ‘Oh, who knows, a week from now he could be right back at it,’ but I have chosen to embrace it on a daily basis,” said Lisa. “So every day is a gift and a bonus and we’re going to enjoy it,” she added.
“At one time, I thought I was always going to be an addict,” Brent said. “I have money in the bank now, I can go out and do stuff, healthy things, I can go on vacation. So there’s a freedom you don’t realize you have when you’re in active addiction.”
“No matter the situation, there is always hope! I just want people to know that.”
Brent said counseling has played a huge role in keeping him on the right path. Once a week for a year, Brent went to see John Chime at Family Life Counseling center in Norwalk. After a counseling session, he would attend a prayer group or a support program, and he continues to attend counseling sessions once a month. Most days he takes things one day at a time, but through counseling, surrounding himself with healthy people and through his faith, he has remained sober.
“No matter the situation, there is always hope! I just want people to know that.”
(Reporter Catie Noyes welcomes feedback by phone at 330-765-9940 or by e-mail at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/catie_noyes)