The graduation of 67 of you brothers from the Ashcroft Rehabilitation Center (ARC) here at Kolbe Foundation’s Central Prison after having gone through 90 days of rigorous rehabilitation work to renew yourself, is good reason for celebration. The presence of your families, loved ones, friends, prison officials and all of us here is a testament to our joy at your wonderful achievement.
You fought those dark days of addiction and, as the brother shared in his excellent testimony, the road was not easy. Even when your mind and your body had become gripped by the substance or destructive mindset that you were addicted to, you used to make yourself believe that it was OK. That is how addiction works. The substance that was first used (whether alcohol, crack, cocaine, marijuana or other drugs) to give a false sense of happiness and to mask deep unresolved pains, eventually gained a deep tight grip on your entire being.
What was also painful about this process was that no matter the pain that an addict inflict on self, family, and community, he or she is so gripped by the substance or behaviour that there is strong denial and blindness about harm done to others. A false sense of self, the ego, kept saying it was alright to continue no matter the consequences to self and others.
As you are now aware, addiction to a substance or destructive behaviour (e.g. pathological deceit, hatred, greed, violence, sexual misconduct, etc.) goes far beyond what we see. Most often its roots are found in unresolved psychological wounds, emotionally traumatic experiences, neglect, parental addiction, and abuse that remains deep in our emotions from infancy or childhood.
The pain could even come from hostile and distressed anger that parents persistently lash out on their innocent children. Rather than nurture an environment of love, our society seems to have a lot of anger and hostility that is erupting into social chaos, more crime and violence. If you remain hurt you will expand that pain to others through your interaction with them. The deeper the pain the more suffering you spread to others even to the next generation. If you nurture love, you will likewise expand love to others.
More studies are revealing that addiction is an indicator of the soul crying for healing, acceptance and love. The more a person and society becomes oriented to materialistic values, the more there is social isolation, and a disconnection from self and others. It is this sense of isolation, a loss of self and purpose, along with multiple traumas of the soul that make people more likely to seek external soothing. That is why people seek various chemicals or destructive emotional highs (including from sexual misconduct and gambling) to mask their internal grief. The intense private personal grief can also lead to suicide.
Quite often people do not know whom to turn to for healing. It doesn’t help that we have a criminal “justice” system that further traumatizes those who are already most vulnerable and who are enduring their own trauma from their personal life experiences as well as from the widening chasm of socioeconomic inequities (and iniquities) that offers little hope to support a healing process. It also doesn’t help when people are judgmental, cold or destructive in their words and deeds towards others.
We seem to live in a system that breeds new generations with addictive and violent behaviour. Instead of investing in our children, in proper parenting and healing to create a more self-confident, caring and happy society we squander more money in excessive material pursuits and to further traumatize people who are trying to deal with their own agony. What does it profit anyone to gain the world and lose their soul?
Only those who deeply care about you – perhaps your mother, father, brother, sister, relative, friend or loved one – will persist and struggle in every way they could to pull you out, to prevent you from going deeper into the dark cave of your destructive habits. Very often you fought those loved ones, you hated them for caring about you and for wanting you free from your destructive behaviour. You were convinced that your destructive behaviour was right and that no one should tell you about it.
The pain, anger and hatred all rooted in your deep hurt were often lashed out at innocent ones, especially those who deeply care. Loved ones often felt helpless and hurt as they saw you fighting every logical, sensible, uplifting advice to stop. Somehow you could not see it because the company of others in the same misery of addiction also encouraged you to continue. What blocks any change is the failure of persons to recognize and admit wrong doing. People who live in denial are doomed to repeat their errors and cause further suffering to self and others. That was the old path you were on.
However, there came that day, probably when you hit rock bottom, when you finally realized and admitted that your life – overtaken by the substance and destructive behaviour- wasn’t making sense. You realized that you could not continue the same habits, that you must stop and change course. That very moment of your admission was your awakening. Your admission was the pivotal moment that opened a whole new path to the new you. That is why we are celebrating today.
You also began to realize that you could not make the changes by yourself but that you must summon all positive support from others and submit to a higher power in order to clean up your life and return yourself to sanity. For ninety days you went through a process of withdrawal from the addictive substance, of physical and spiritual cleansing, including prayer and meditation, to orient yourself to new habits of healthy living.
As the brother also admitted in his testimony, it was a sort boot camp that you struggled through but you remained committed because you knew that your life can and must be better. This sort of “desert experience” is not new. All great spiritual leaders show that a connection with a higher power also found within you is the key for people to grapple against all destructive cravings. A common lesson from their lives show that you conquer the world by first conquering yourself and those habits that can exercise a tight grip on your being.
As you all did, the daily practice of being in tune with that power each and every day is important to keep nurturing seeds of positive growth. Through whatever inspires that connection – meditation, prayer, reading sacred and inspiring books, as well as seeking the counsel of wise, caring persons – keep awakening your consciousness. The peace and love that you awaken from the source within will keep you strong.
But your healing process did not end there. Guided by the 12-steps to recovery – which I believe so many can benefit from in their daily life – you also had to dig into your core being to free yourself from all the collected habit patterns that undermined your judgment. You became focused on finding out exactly how, when and where your desires have messed you up. It was most important that let go of those things which have plagued you for years. By doing so, you set yourself free to live clean in the here and now. If you didn’t, you would keep those defects inside you and they would lead you back to your past wrongs, thereby eventually sickening you and keeping you from living your new way of life.
In the process, you also realized that you had hurt others by your behaviour and that you must make amends. You cannot expect your life to be healed without making amends to those you have hurt. As the well-known prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The measure in which you forgive, will be how you receive and accept forgiveness.
Your graduation, my dear brothers, is only the beginning of your new journey. These 90 days can be wiped out once you attempt any return to your old habits. Too many men (yes many women too) have strayed away and self-destructed with alcohol and other drugs, gambling, sexual misconduct, abusive behaviour, crime and violence. We need you men back as productive and respectable citizens in our society. Your wife, partner, children and loved ones need you to be back home, a better self. Your community needs you. Always remember to keep nurturing your connection with the higher power. Keep nurturing positive thoughts and maintain your vision and practice for a healthier, happier life.
Having successfully been through this, you have become shining examples of one who have conquered the darkest part of his soul and is steering it to new light. You can help so many others who are crying for help because you have been there. That you made the first decision to change and made it this far, confirms that you are indeed special.
This is what we are all celebrating today with your families, some already with tears in their eyes seeing the journey that you have taken and the suffering that they have endured for too long for your sake. We have them to thank deeply. They could have given up on you – a son, a brother, relative or loved one – but they saw beyond your weakness and had hope for your rebirth even through your darkest moments. That is what true love is about. And yes, this is that time in biblical terms to rejoice in celebration for, in biblical terms, “this prodigal son who was once lost is now found.”
In the end the journey was about each of you. Everything that you do will have its ripple effects. As a healer once said, “If your life works, you influence your family. If your family works, your family influences the community. If your community works, your community influences the nation.” It all begins with you. Having turned a new chapter in your life, and throughout all other experiences yet to come, I wish you and your families much love and happiness always. Keep strong brothers, keep focused, keep renewed. And most of all… LOVE.
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