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Young People … Our Greatest Resource

“Charles:” A Memorial Day Message

FlagAsk any veteran who has lost comrades in war and the veteran will tell you they never really get over the loss. They learn to live and function with the loss, but it’s always there.

Here’s a story that comes from my book, Windows II: A book for those with a heart for helping kids heal. The story is true.


Charles and I were, without question, as different as two people could possibly be. I was a white, rural, middle-class professional; he was an inner city black, surviving only on welfare. Charles had traveled 2500 miles to do his best to break the clutches of alcohol and cocaine.

I was his doctor, the psychologist for the treatment center. My job was to interview Charles. Fear and apprehension were etched into the premature lines across his face, yet deep into his eyes there rested a gentleness, something marvelously serene. It was an element of certain hope that layered itself just behind a mask of incredible toughness.

The mask had served him well. It hd gotten him through prison and a hitch in Vietnam. The order for a marine was clear: either kill or be killed. So Charles killed plenty–and he stood helplessly by, consumed with rage, as he watched friends die and the body bags accumulate into piles.

But in war no one stops to mourn or grieve. You just go on. Besides, opium was cheap there. Enough of it blanketed all the feelings into numbness.

In treatment, Charles learned that drug and alcohol addiction flourished and thrived on toughness and numbness. The name of the game was simple: change or die.

Charles shared that he wanted to live, so he took a risk. He made a commitment to follow directions, even when those directions caused him to walk the paths of his greatest fears and pain.

One of his directions involved a mock funeral–the burial of the Vietnam experiences as Charles had lived them. It was a time of grieving and tears as Charles wrote of those times, name by name, face by face. With the support of his counselors and the other patients, Charles dug a hole and lovingly buried what he had recorded. He then stood, took three steps back and saluted the grave and the memories.

The toughness and the numbness were gone. Charles was becoming real. At last, he had found the road that leads to recovery.

Shortly after Charles had returned home, I was flipping through his chart. His handwritten comments on a piece of yellow legal pad caught my eye. It was his response to a direction to write how his epitaph would read. (This activity is a common direction given to patients in treatment. The activity often gives clues to a patient’s deepest feelings about his future and his newfound sobriety.) What Charles shared was as unique as it was sensitive. In it, he demonstrated the ability to love others, for he was finally capable of loving himself. Charles wrote:

Here rest the weary bones of one of God’s chosen, for he was a martyr that stood amongst the righteous. His perseverance and valor shall be recorded in the annals of history. Now his spirit stands with the angels. Let the light of his memory shine forth as a beacon, a witness to all mankind.

If you were to ask Charles about his recovery from drugs and alcohol, he would tell you his sobriety is a gift that is handed to him in daily measure by a gracious and loving God. He would also tell you that sobriety is never a destination, but rather the journey.


For more information about the book that contains this story and 23 others on topics of healing, click on this website address. It will be the third book down the list.

James Sutton, Psychologist

May 28, 2007 - Posted by | Counselors, Educators, Inspirational, Self-esteem


  1. Your having Charles write the traumas is similar to an exercise I use with PTSD clients. I’m glad it worked for Charles, as you say, it is indeed about the journey.


    Comment by GM | May 30, 2007 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the comment, George. Healing is a personal thing, but what works well for one patient has a good chance of working for another also.




    Comment by docspeak | May 31, 2007 | Reply

  3. Very good story! thanks for sharing. It’s all about the journey.


    Comment by tobeme | May 31, 2007 | Reply

  4. hi, hi, hi! Beautiful site.


    Comment by Petro | July 9, 2007 | Reply

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