Notes from the Heart: Wake Up (With No Apologies)

There was a person who told me, “Man is only as strong as his weakest link.” The reason I was offered this opinion is something for another time. However, where I am now and who I am as opposed to the person I was before is different. My eagerness to become strong is based from a different intention. Then again, I used to view strength very differently. I used to think strength was the person who walked into a gym and racked the machines or bench-pressed more than anyone else. I used to think strength was as simple as the weight a person could carry, which it is. Strength is the amount of weight a person can carry. 

When I was young, I thought the way a young man would think. I know this is a popular line but the line is true, same as my version of strength is true. When I was young, I thought as a young man. When I was angry, I thought angry thoughts. When I was desperate, I thought as desperate people think. And when I was at my worst, I thought at my worst. To me, the variables of strength have only changed because I have changed or grown, matured, or wait, no —maybe I have evolved due to my experiences. Maybe the wake-up calls were enough. Maybe the truth is as tough as I pretended to be, I learned that I was never tough at all. Just afraid.

Same as a smart person knows what they don’t know; a strong person knows where they are weakest. A scared person looks to hide these facts and a brave person seeks otherwise. In fact, a brave person does not hide from their weakness. Instead, they face this head-on. I wonder how many people are brave enough to truthfully admit who they are. I wonder how many people are brave enough to say where they are weakest, to be plain, humble or to be without the decoration of ego or an image. I wonder if anyone is brave enough to be this way.

Am I?
Are you?
Is anyone?

There was an interview with a strongman in which he explained, “Whichever muscle is my weakest, I work at this until this muscle becomes my strongest.” The strongman explained his workouts and his diet. He talked about his weaknesses and his strengths. He discussed both as physical and mental fitness because to be at his best, he needed his mind to be sharp.

Put simply, this man was explaining that if he wants to be the best, he has to understand his worst. He wanted to understand his ability as well as his inabilities. He wanted to learn about the strengths of his opponents so that he could build himself stronger and faster. He treated his muscles as if each were its own country. All deserved attention, which means he paid attention to the way he ate and drank, slept and exercised. 

To him, this was him at his best. For him to be at his best, he needed to understand all of his data, this way his abilities could reach their best potential. To him, lifting as much weight as he possibly could and showing the way his muscles sculpted was his passion. To him, this was strength.

Have we ever spoken about a woman we’ll call Betty?

Betty is a woman who had a family. She was a mom of three. She was a woman with a home, a husband, a life and a routine to fit her lifestyle. 

I will do my best to make sure this story is accurate. I will also do my best to deliver this message as evenly as possible because I want to be loyal to its purpose.

Betty and her husband split, but they stayed friendly. However, life is what life is and no family is free of adversity. And sadly, their oldest daughter found herself on the unfortunate side of a habit. Suffice to say that no parent wants to see something like this. Sadly, as much as any parent would like to control the options to save their children, life is life and as such, life does not come with that option. 

There is nothing more unnatural in this world than a parent burying their child. There are no answers to the questions that repeat themselves. Of course, intellectually this might not be so, but emotionally the broken heart of a parent who lost their child is unmendable. This is unfixable because the loss is unforgettable. There are ways to deal with this. There are ways to move forward. There are ways to improve, but there is no forgetting.

Three years went by and Betty was facing an emergency hysterectomy. As she was in recovery, the father went to the house to retrieve some of Betty’s things. Upon his arrival, he found his middle daughter unresponsive and dead from an overdose. Two children gone.

It is hard enough to lose one child to something like this. But to lose two is even more unthinkable. Betty had just come out of surgery. They had to tell her the news while she was still in recovery. This is a woman who endured and beat cancer. She just had a hysterectomy. This is someone who took an unthinkable loss, more than once. Both hurt and broken, this is a woman who remains and lives.

This is strength.

I read the news last night about the overdoses that took place in the last year. There were 93,000 overdoses in the last year. As I write to you, I have a bracelet on my desk that reads #TheFightForElexis.

I received a call about Elexis while driving home after a quick rush to a store on Thanksgiving. She was clean for almost 90 days. There are people who will never understand the strength it takes to achieve something like this. I am a member in recovery and to be clear, I don’t know how much strength it took for Elexis to reach this mark. Sadly though, the mental chemistry of addiction is something that needs to be addressed. Fentanyl is a game changer. This is not the same as the Fentanyl in the pharmacies. And yes, Big Pharma is not something I agree with. But the truth is this: we know about addiction. There will always be a supplier. We need to work on the demands. We know about the effects of drugs and alcohol, and yet, the numbers are going up.

Shouldn’t this tell us something?

I think about the people I have seen. I think about the people I will never see again. I think about their moms and their dads. I think about the strongman and how even though he is strong enough to lift an unbelievable amount of weight, no matter how much weight he could lift, no one is strong enough to break the weight of something like this.

But there is a point:

I do believe the strongman is right. Maybe we are only as strong as our weakest link. Maybe we should address our weaknesses. Maybe we should find the bravery it takes to look within and strengthen our weaknesses until this becomes our greatest strength.

Maybe we can learn to empower and encourage instead of shame and blame.
Maybe . . .

I used to hold all the fractures in my heart and blame my past and my mental history for my inability to be better or improve. I used to hold my guilt and my shame in a jar and for each of my sins, I swore I would never be free from who I was or what I have done.

I have pictures in my mind of faces from my past. I know what I did. I know who I was. I am not proud of this and, in fact, sometimes. . . it’s like I’m trying to outrun a bullet that’s looking to catch me. Sometimes, it’s like I’m waiting for fate to do its thing so Karma can claim its dues. I have memories of crimes and for each, I have done all I can to make amends. 

I was asked if I believed that I would ever be square with the house again. I was asked if I thought who I am now or what I’ve done is enough. For me, I will be settled when it’s over. I will be settled when the lights turn out for the last time and whether I pull off my trick or not, it will be enough when my last day is here and my tank is empty. I can say I’ve done my best to repay every cent, penny or pound.

Have you ever held the hand of a person who just died and was brought back to life?
I promised a woman that I would never stop.
I never used to keep my promises.
To be honest, I never cared about promises to begin with.
But this one, this one I have to keep. 

I have to keep them all from now on. 

93,000 people died from an overdose . . .
I knew some of them.
I called them my friends.

I just want to be strong, like Betty, like Elexis, like Dorain, like Joe, like Tommy, like Richie and unfortunately this list goes on. 

Will I ever be square with the house?
I don’t know.

I guess I’ll let you know when it’s over. 

Until then, I’ll be right here . . .

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