"I think of all those nights I wasn't home, all the nights I sat in a hotel room, getting high, when I should have been home with my family. How can I forgive myself for that?"
We are in a classroom. I am sitting beside him. He is a student in a program that provides low income and homeless Calgarians an opportunity to obtain job certifications that will facilitate their finding employment. As part of the program, they are provided a workshop on 'Self-esteem'.
That is the class I am teaching. That is when I realize this man, this tall dark-haired man with deep penetrating eyes and a sonorous voice, is crying.
I ask the class to take a break. It's time anyway. We've been talking for an hour and a half. Lively. Engaged. Challenging conversation.
The class leaves and this man stays in his chair. His head is bowed. Penitent. Sinner. They are words he uses to describe himself.
When I sit beside him he apologizes. "I'm sorry for the way I am right now."
"Don't be," I reply. "The way you are is perfectly you."
He shakes his head. "I want to," he says, referring back to the conversation we'd just had in class. "I want to forgive myself but I can't."
"What's stopping you?" I ask.
He looks up. His head pulls back slightly as if startled. "You don't know what I've done," he says. "You don't know where I've been. How I've hurt the people I love."
"I don't need to," I reply. "What you've done is nothing compared to what you are doing right now. What you will do tomorrow and the day after and the day after because you have chosen to walk away from where you were to be here, present, sober and filled with courage today."
He has shared snippets of his story during the class. I know how far he's come. His story is the story of so many addicts. The drive for more. Constantly more. The need for the next fix. The fear it will not come. The fear it will. The self-disgust. Denial. Lies. Horrible lies that eat at your soul like the poison of the drug eating at your mind, your very essence.
He has come a long way. "I am grateful for God's love," he says. "He has carried me through the darkness."
And now he stands at the threshold of that place where to forgive is to let go of the need to hold himself in the mud and dirt and darkness of the past. The need to hold his future hostage to a past he is ashamed of, fearful of but never ever forgetful of.
And so he stands.
Fearing forgiveness means he will forget, and if he forgets, fearing he will go back.
"I never ever want to go back there," he says. "And if I forget it, I might."
"I can't tell you what might or might not happen," I tell him. "I do know that if you forgive yourself, you set yourself free to live in this moment, right now, loving yourself exactly the way you are. As a man who hurt himself and the people he loved. As a man who has the courage to love himself and the people he loves free of the things he did that hurt them."
"How do I do it?" he whispers. "How do I do it?"
"Do you believe God forgives you?" I ask.
He nods his head quickly. Up and down. "Yes," he whispers.
"Then ask Him to show you the way."
He smiles for the first time since I sat down beside him. Just a small smile. One corner of his mouth turning up. He smiles and takes a breath.
"When I go home tonight I'll say a prayer asking for forgiveness. I know God hears me. He heard me then in my darkest hour. He'll hear me now."
And in my heart, I know he's right. And I am grateful for his faith.
It's One Word Blog Carnival Tuesday hosted by Peter Pollock. Today's one word writing prompt is: HOME.
To see more posts on HOME, pull up a chair, click on over to the One Word Blog Carnival and have a visit. You'll feel mighty welcome at Peter's place.