Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Know Your Enemy, Know Yourself

I now teach two classes at the jail.  One is 'Understanding Addiction' and the other is 'Expressive Writing'.  I teach them back to back and so I decided to find a way to tie them together and this came to mind.

So it is said, that if you know your enemy and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself, nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

The Chinese general responsible for writing the book, The Art of War, which I have never read, BTW, is widely known for this quote.  I don't know why this quote came to mind but it did and so I used it and am now seeing that this was perhaps, divinely inspired.

The program for re-entry my class is a part of is primarily religious based ( a protestant denomination) and so when they handed me a packet with the twelve steps containing scripture to go along with each step, I was leery.

I am a good Catholic.  But, I have learned from my twelve-step program, that it is important to have a thorough understanding of what a power greater than MYself really means and to know who I think that POWER is.  Many of us worship our own illusion of power without ever realizing it.

Apropos to that last sentence, back when I was trying to cure and control the addictions of others, I read Gabor Mate's book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts.  His insight is eye opening and radical relative to current ideas on addiction.  He introduces people with addictions and their stories.  Then he asks us to always ask the question, "not why the addiction, but why the pain."

That book helped me to look beyond the symptomatic behavior of addiction and to see the person instead.  To me, that is key.  It is an act of mercy to see every person and not just see their failings.  Father Greg Boyle, SJ often says that, we are more than the sum total of our worst mistakes or something along those lines.  (Sorry Father G if that is wrong).

I started using this book because when I ask how many in the class are addicts or alcoholics (this happens each and every semester) few raise their hands even though ninety percent in our county jail are there due to drug or alcohol charges.  I wanted them to have an accurate picture of addiction.

Addiction--or enslavement--is the ENEMY.

Now, for knowing thyself, I turned to Divine Therapy and Addiction.  This is a book by Father Thomas Keating OCSO and Tom S.  Tom S. interviews Thomas Keating about the twelve steps of AA and how centering prayer can aid each person in the task of learning who we really are.  He also takes an in depth look at happiness; what it is and where it can be found.

First of all, let me just say that each of these books is not for you if you are in the market for a fluffy beach read.  They are deep and thought provoking.  And, they are technical.  If the class weren't thrust upon me at the last minute, I might have prepared something different.  Something on a simpler level. 

You see, most classes whose curriculum is prepared with inmates in mind, targets the vocabulary at a sixth grade level.  And, many days, my students behave like middle school girls, looking out the window at any male inmate who happens to walk past our classroom.  They whisper and giggle.  Sometimes they try to shock me with sexually explicit discussions.  They become easily bored and so if you aren't really on, you have lost them.

I began my class by reading a few personal narratives from the addicts in Mate's book.  They were totally engrossed.  I picked some hard core addicts stories and some functional alcoholics and a few in between.

Then we read step one and talked about powerlessness. I didn't need to speak much about unmanageable, that part is easy to get.  But, powerlessness, takes time. 

Then we talked about step two: Came to believe that a Power, greater than ourselves..... This is where we talked about who God is to us.  How do we see him?  Do we actually trust him?  I told them that I had a really hard time trusting Him with my son, especially in the beginning....truth be told, I didn't trust him at all with my son.  They were shocked.  The church lady doesn't trust God and says so out loud--gasp!

God had their total attention for three hours.  I just sat there and followed His lead.  It was the most amazing gift to be a part of.  Their faces were like the symbol on your computer that lets you know it's searching for some request that you have made of it.  They would ask questions and you could see surprise or delight when maybe a connection was made.  If I meditate on the most amazing part of that class, it will have to be that when they started to buy in to what I shared, HOPE appeared.

For them and for me.

I realize now that I can only share my experience, my strength, my hope and my prayers for you and the Henry in your life and mine.



beachteacher said...

I am a teacher (just retired) --- and it made me smile to know you had that beautiful moment that we teachers always refer to as the lightbulb moment. However-- that moment for your students can literally lead to saving their lives. What a beautiful blessing for your students & you as well that you're teaching these classes.

Annette said...

Hattie, I want to be in your class and learn from you. What a gentle loving teacher you are....something like the God you serve I think. Bless you for seeing those girls worth.

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