Once, during a group session, a large man asked, “Why the hell should we listen to you?” It was a fair question and I am compelled to share my response….
I stepped forward and took a deep breath. I wanted to scream about going through the spirals of hell and shaking hands with the devil himself. I wanted to scream about how I found my own Aztlan and how it’s something inside all of us. I didn’t scream anything. Instead, I popped my neck and relaxed my shoulders. I assumed a posture that I had learned many years before in the barrio: A fighting stance, ready to throw down.
I scanned the room, aware that whatever I said could either help or hurt their respective recoveries. I breathed from deep in my belly, filled my lungs, and said, “What I need you all to understand is that I draw my words from a well of hope and compassion. Without any doubt,” I locked eyes with the large man. “I know for certain that you and I are connected and share a bond forged in the valley of the shadow of death. That bond does not change and will not change. But my friend, I found the way out of that land of the dying and I emerged into a life where every breath resonates through clear and unfiltered presence. There’s no chemical or thought or mood that interferes with the sounds I hear or the colors I see or songs I sing. You ask me why you should listen to me and I say from that place inside of me that ties me to all living things: I bleed for those stuck in death’s unforgiving shadow.
“See, that land of the dying presents many shackles and chains that keep us all away from that nature that our Creator intended. Those shackles are fool’s gold: At first, their luminescence shines and draws us in. But in time, their grip tightens and cuts off our own breath from our lungs. We come to need those things we see as alcohol or drugs or sadness or worry. Sometimes, those shackles are attached to more that one chain: We become attached to overwhelming grief and find something to take the grief away. Only it doesn’t go away; grief tightens into depression and that one hopeful drink tightens into bloodstream that needs that chemical just to flow.
“Soon, death’s shadow grows and shrinks hope’s borders to an almost invisible dot. I cry because I know that one more needle or one more hit or one more drink will close off hope to any guiding light. That moment is when death claims his mournful victory. You should listen to me,” I said. “Because I know the way out of that place and I can lead you back to life.”
Sun Tzu said that in order to guarantee victory, you must know you’re enemy as well as you know yourself. I know my enemy. I know myself.