The Gift of Sobriety


“I know my limit,” one young man kept saying, his bloodshot eyes and pale complexion seemingly at odds with his statement, as he held his energy drink, hands trembling. We were both in line at a store, he and his friends rehashing last night’s alcohol-soaked party.  They boasted to each other about last night’s consumption, getting through hangovers, and the drunk friend who “overdid it”.

 

Addiction doesn’t care.

 

“It reverberates through the whole family, affecting entire generations for years,” a friend recently told me. “Our kids saw that, and it affected each of them. Some were drawn to drinking like a moth to the flame; others were repulsed, and became angry and bitter about their childhood.  The devastation was so widespread, and we are still dealing with it.”

 

Give the gift of sobriety this season.

 

This gift is not a gift to someone else.  It is a gift to you, from you.  Others won’t respond to your preaching and your nagging, except to become even more entrenched in their behavior.

 

Give sobriety to yourself.  Put some distance between you and the behavior, the “stinking thinking”.  Enjoy the quiet when that clutter has been moved to a safe distance away from your corner of the world.

 

Take care of yourself.  Nurture yourself.  Spend some quality time with the real you.  Surround yourself with the things you truly enjoy.  Indulge in the simple pleasures that you hold dear and treasure. Know your limits for addictive thinking and action.

 

Find acceptance in the silence, away from the chaos and noise.  Find the genuine you; that person is an old friend. Honor the innate, fundamental goodness that is your very essence.  Love yourself, for you are worthy of that love.

 

Being sober isn’t just about one’s consumption of alcohol and other drugs.  It is about clear thinking, about avoiding the pitfalls of untruths, propaganda, and self-aggrandizement. When we adopt falsehoods and fashion our lives around deceptions and lies, we lose our direction in life, our ability to fashion a life based on reality and honesty.  Being honest with ourselves is perhaps our most challenging task, but, in the end, coming to grips with what is really true truly serves our selves and our souls.

 

At its heart, sobriety is clear thinking and the pursuit of being honest with yourself.  Recognize the agendas and intentions of others to trick you, manipulate you and tempt you to serve the ulterior and selfish motives of others. Addiction enjoys the company, but it really doesn’t care about you.

 

Be true to yourself.  Search for the truth, as brutal and loud as it may be.  Ignoring truth chips away at our souls, and keeps us from finding and loving our true selves.  Seeing one’s own truth is the path to freedom.

—-Neal Lemery 12/24/2018

Witnessing Truth


“Truth is beautiful and divine no matter how humble its origin.” –Michael Pupin.

He spoke, his voice barely audible above the noise of the visiting room at the prison. We’d played a few hands of cards and munched on some cookies. We’ve only been visiting regularly for a few weeks, chatting about school and his family, and what he wanted to do when he got paroled.

I’d seen it in his eyes, a dark inner story pent up inside, needing to be told.

Tonight, it was time for truth, raw, unvarnished, naked and real.

Sweat beaded up on his forehead, his eyes locking into me.

He laid the cards down, leaned towards me, and began to tell his story, about how he ended up here, making some bad choices, wrestling with the many demons that had stalked his childhood, sending him down his dark road.

His thirteenth year was the worst, the culmination of so much darkness.

His eyes glistened, and he wiped a tear away, as he kept telling his story, filling me in on where he’d been in his young life, and where he wanted to go.

We were doing his homework tonight, working on an assignment that was past due, a requirement for his real graduation, getting out on parole and moving on with his life. This was his duty, to get real with me and tell his story, with all its darkness and shame. In the telling, he held the keys to the door. Being open with me was his path out, his road to freedom.

“I’m scared,” he said. “I just want to be a kid, to have a childhood I never had. Out there terrifies me.”

“I doubt that I’m ready,” he said.

I nodded, telling him we all find the world scary, challenging even in the best of times. We all have our demons and our doubts, I told him.

“You’ll do fine,” I said. “You have your act together. You’re a good man. You’ve got your support team.”

“I’m here to listen to you,” I said.

He wiped his eyes again, and told me more about his life, unloading his shipload of guilt, shame, and remorse.

“I’ve written this all out, and shared it with my family,” he said. “But, I’ve never said all of this out loud before. It was too hard to say the words.”

He’d brought paper and a pencil, but after he wrote out the names and ages of his victims, he laid the pencil down.

“I’ve got to just say this,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you face to face.”

He paused, looking me, a look of expecting something horrible.

“And man to man,” I said. “I’m here for you now.”

It all came out, one slow sentence at a time. He’d look at me, half expecting me to throw a punch, curse at him and walk out on him. His eyes told me that his sins were beyond horrible, unforgiveable, nearly unspeakable.

But, I didn’t move or bat an eye. I stayed there, glued to my seat, ears open wide, my heart aching as his river of pain flowed across the table and flooded the cold cement floor of the visiting room. I was an audience of one, my mission to listen, not pass judgment, to be here as a vessel of unconditional love.

Truth was being told here, his truth, with an occasional tear falling on his hand of cards for the abandoned game, and the rest of the cookies, now forgotten in the telling of this tale.

I leaned forward, eye to eye, and heart to heart. One man to another. Two survivors, two men on our own journeys in life.

“I hear you,” I said. “I hear your truth.”

His shoulders lowered a bit, and his hand waving the half eaten cookie stopped shaking.

I waited, letting him have his space, room to find one painful word after another. They came out slowly, one story and then another, the autobiography of a strong young man.

Finally, there were no more words. I felt at ease. My brave soldier breathed deep and let it all out.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thanks for being brave. And honest. For telling your truth.”

He nodded, the cloud of shame and guilt clearing, the atmosphere in the room easing up.

“Do you want to finish our game?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “You’ve done great work here, and you’re tired. I’ll go so you can get some rest.”

“Being brave and telling the truth is hard work,” I said. “I’m honored to have heard your story tonight.”

He nodded again, a faint smile lighting up his face. We hugged, and I told him I was proud of him, proud of who he was becoming.

We’ll do this again next week, and he’ll tell me more. Not that I want or need the details. I am merely his witness. He needs to tell his story, and speak his truth to the world. He needs to be free of so much.

–Neal Lemery June 2, 2016

Healing


“Until you heal the wounds of your past, you are going to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex; but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories and make peace with them.”
—-Iyanla Vanzant

Today, I am healing from surgery, from lasers cutting eyelid skin, sutures lifting and resizing my eyelids, restoring my peripheral vision. I am healing so that I can experience the world in a richer, more complete way.

This morning, I walked down the lane, greeting the early morning sky with a new enthusiasm, with literally a new vision of the new day. I am re-experiencing the miracle of sight, and of experiencing the world.

Now, my task is to heal. I rest, I sleep, I eat healthy foods, I manage my pain, and I tend to my wounds. All of my day’s tasks is focused on my healing from my surgery. Time is on my side, as I rest and heal, and do the work that is needed to do to recover, to take care of my body, and to celebrate the precious gift of sight.

As I lay back, ice pack on my eyes, letting the cold sink into the skin, into my head, into the wounds, I let the miracle of the cold bring fresh blood to the wounds, more nutrients, more of my life force. My nature is to seek warm, to be comforted by heat, to soak up the sun and bask in the cozy comfort of my bed, reveling in the last bit of drowziness before my day begins.

Yet, it is the cold, the adversity, that brings the healing. To be tested, to be on the edge, and to have to struggle a bit, against the cold, that makes my body stronger, that brings the healing energies I need.

This process is a metaphor of my struggles as a man, to be able to see my wounds, and to take the steps I need to heal, and to be a complete, whole man.

As I grew up, and as I lived through childhood, teenage life, adolescence, and young adulthood, I was wounded. I struggled, and my questions of who I was and what I was all about were unanswered, even mocked, ridiculed. I faced violence, indifference, degradation, and falsehoods. I was led into the wilderness, and then laughed at when I became lost, uncertain as to where I should walk to find my future, my sense of place, my sense of being in this world.

Love of self, and love of others remained a mystery to me, and I was left in the cold, unsure of who I was, unsure of what my role in this world was to be. I was lost and needed to be found, and to find myself.

Those wounds did not bleed like the wounds on my eyes this week. Those wounds were not so easily treated, with sutures, and salves, and the healing powers and potions of my surgeons and nurses. Those wounds were not easily cleansed by sleep, and food, and the loving care of my family.

Yet, those wounds were the most painful, and the most dehumanizing. I was led to believe they did not exist, yet they were the most infectious, the most unnerving, the hardest to treat.

Other men embraced me, encouraging me to push my shoulders back, to open my eyes, and embrace these wounds, and to embrace the challenges of becoming a whole man, a healthy man, a man who has his place in the world, and a destiny to fulfill.

Yes, I am a good person, I am a child of God, I am healthy, and strong, and I have purpose in my life. I have a place in this planet, and I am valued. I am important, and capable of fulfilling my destiny.

I have work to do. I have missions to accomplish. I have tasks to complete, and I am called to be a citizen of the world, and to do good in my life. And, in preparing for that work, in undertaking that work, I must tend to my wounds, and I must do the healing that is needed in order to be healthy, to be strong.

Real health, and real strength comes from embracing my manhood, from seeing my wounds, and treating them. It is my task to open them, and let the pus and infection drain away, and then it is time for the healing. I have a duty to heal, and to give time to myself to be tender with myself, to clean the infection, and to medicate myself with unconditional love and understanding, with acceptance, and with a friendship with God, so that I become healed.

Others helped me. Others showed me the paths to take, and the medications to use. Others offered advice and direction, and comfort. But, most of all, they offered me unconditional love and acceptance, of who I was, and who I was becoming. They accepted me on my journey, and offered support, and kindness, and understanding. They offered patience with me, giving me time to grow, and to heal.

The real work was done deep inside of me. I needed time and confidence, I needed to find my own tools, and to learn how to use them. I needed to go deep, and to connect with God, and to find who I am really am.

I needed to be on my journey, and to take on the leadership that my soul needed to move ahead in life. I am the captain of my ship, and I needed to take the wheel, and to sail through the storms, and to plot my course to the safe harbors. Yet, I needed to be tested and to discover, for myself, that I am strong, that I am capable, that I am filled with love, and that, if I put my soul into a struggle, then I will succeed, and I will find my destiny.

Today, I heal. Today, I move on, learning, accepting, meeting the challenges of today. Today, I embrace my manhood, my humanity, my cloak of being a child of God. I am loved, and I am loving. I know my destiny.

—-Neal Lemery, 2/21/2014

Coronary Care


Being
present
with my friend,
wheeling into heart surgery
so close to dying, yet that loving
heart now
reborn,
oxygen and blood
and life flowing
strong
again,
in every beat.

Hearing his voice
stronger now,
tears joyfully on my face, his
healing already begun–
his heart attack self home
the next day
after the surgeon
is inside his heart,
opening up arteries
with new science.

Life
more precious now
richer in blood and oxygen–
Spirit soaring–
nothing taken for granted
everything previous
everything so
alive.

Neal Lemery
9/6/2012