by Marc Lee Shannon
“A social division in a society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect.”
That’s the definition that Siri conjured as I make my way to my caffeine threshold this morning and begin another edition of Sober Chronicles.
I use this description often, if you follow me here, to describe the recovery support community and its members who help me get by — not just in sobriety, but in my everyday commute through the cosmos and as a citizen in the great state (of mind) in and around my hometown of Akron, Ohio.
My Tribe. What is that, really? Is it my family? My friends? What do I mean when I speak of someone as a tribe member? I took some time to ponder this and here is what I know:
These are: the humans who show up, and who you show up for, when the words “Please, help me” are spoken or needed.
My tribe consists of many amazing individuals, so I thought that it might be a useful diversion to pivot from my own personal recovery journey in this chronicle. I want to introduce you to my friend Clyde Hensley, a local singer-songwriter and truth-teller. Around 10 years ago, this man was homeless in freezing temperatures and sleeping in a tent in the woods. He is a Sober Badass who works hard in the recovery community to help others selflessly and often anonymously.
In his own words he describes his journey from the other side, the moment when it all changed, and how he found his sober support tribe:
I believe that there came a time when the pain outweighed the alcoholism, and this was my rock bottom. Mid-September 2010 was just that. I was 280 pounds. My skin was yellow and my soul empty. I had burnt every bridge, was completely homeless and I had been kicked out of The Haven of Rest for being drunk and attempting to start a fight. I slept/cat-napped at bus stops, on church steps and even behind a funeral home. At the time, my tribe was that of the occupants of “tent city” in the woods of Fountain street in Akron. Every day I “flew a sign,” as the homeless call it, or panhandled. I needed my alcohol first thing in the morning when I awoke. I would shake so bad the first part of my 24-ounce Steele Reserve would be mostly spilled on my person and the other half made me vomit.
Somehow, whatever of that can that stayed down my throat got me steadied and focused, because without the alcohol, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Panhandling one day, an elderly lady handed me some paper money that turned out to be five $20 bills. When I snuck to the parking deck to count my day’s earnings, I couldn’t believe my luck! So, I went straight to the BP station and bought a bunch of beer. On my way back to camp, I sat on the trail by the railroad and drank three cans. Next thing I knew, I woke up to someone pulling me off the tracks as a train was coming directly at us. It was a pastor from the Salvation Army out visiting the homeless camps, Jon Soza. By an amazing stroke of luck, he had discovered me passed out on the tracks. He saved my life and we would end up forming a friendship that lasts to this very day.
That day, Clyde knew he needed a new tribe. He goes on:
When I first started this journey, I exchanged my barstool prophets for a different tribe. Each of them brings something unique to the table. We keep each other in check. We know how to approach one and other and do what we call a “buddy check.” At the end of the day, our common goal is sobriety.
I want positive people who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. They don’t have to sugarcoat things for me. That would be dangerous to my sobriety. My tribe is my forever family. We keep each other in line, make awesome memories, and work through the hardest of times… together and sober.
My friend Clyde is just one of the survivors who have inspired me to talk about my journey, and to share some of the details of my life living sober in recovery. It’s not every day I meet others like him. He has become a senior elder in my tribe because he is strong, humble and often quiet about his struggle, even though he has overcome great obstacles to turn his life around. My friend has made his way from that lost and lonely dirt road of alcohol addiction to the six-lane highway. He is now completing certification that will allow him to work as an advocate for others as they make the transition into a new life in recovery. He is a living example that you can recover from this affliction and help others.
In the end, aren’t we all the same? We all need someone, sometimes, and in our hearts we know who to call when we need to be lifted and loved. I’ll bet you’re thinking about someone right now… right? Today, I ask you to think about those flowers that grow in the evergreen garden of your emotional support system. Maybe you can reach out with a call or send a note or text. Post a pic of that great time that you shared when joy was the only goal and the moments of that day still inspire a smile or a tear of gratitude. Where would we be without our tribe members? What would life look like with no human connection?
Maybe this is the meaning of a life well lived. People. It’s not the houses, the jobs, the cars, the clothes or other stuff that we struggle and focus on. It’s the relationships we foster and support that add the true meaning to our lives.