East Texas Man Plants New Life Following Alcoholism, Leukemia Diagnosis

Jim Lemon of the East Texas Behavioral Health Network was recently recognized as Citizen of the Year by the Deep East Texas Branch of the National Association of Social Workers for his community development work with area gardens which support sustainability and foster healthy living.  Lemon recently visited with KTRE at one of these gardens to share his story of recovery and actualization. Check out the story (and some pictures) on KTRE’s website, or watch the video below.

It was a double-whammy for one East Texas man. Jim Lemon for years battled a never-ending struggle with alcoholism. And his life took an unexpected turn when the diagnosis of Leukemia came.

“37 years ago is when I chose sobriety,” said Jim Lemon.

A decision for Jim Lemon, that came after years of a dangerous tango with alcohol.

“I grew up in a household where you celebrated with alcohol, you ended the day with alcohol, you went hunting with alcohol.  I kind of carried on the family tradition,” Lemon said. Something he took with him to college in New Orleans. The legal drinking age at the time there, only 18.

“Not so much the particular version of alcohol, but the emphasis upon excess,” Lemon said.

After grad school, Lemon began work at a trip center. The goal there to get people back on the right track in life. This at a time when Lemon was dealing with his own skeletons. “It helped me see the folly of what I was doing and recognize that although it was cool, that it was hazardous,” Lemon said.

Seemingly on the right path, until another roadblock. “I came down with a Leukemia diagnosis and I thought I was doing good, doing everything right and I was told I had six months to live,” Lemon said.A ‘life off the grid’ as Jim calls it. It was that embrace with nature that in 1999 almost killed him.

“I live in a village of hand-built log hexagons out in the forest. I thought I was doing it all right and Exxon came in with a couple of Benzene tanks,” Lemon said. Benzene, a flammable liquid usually formed from volcanoes and forest fires. It’s also known to cause Leukemia.

“My blood count was 100 times what’s normal for white cells. My blood was the thickness of honey so that when I was sitting, I could actually hear my heart going ‘whoosh, whoosh, and whoosh’,” Lemon said.

With no way to take on Exxon, Lemon instead took on Leukemia. “I started with going to my church and asking for support. I became a guinea pig for the pharmaceutical industry. I got down on my hands and knees and begged them to keep me alive. I reevaluated whether life was worth the trouble,” Lemon said.

It was that new lease on life, along with a passion for the outdoors which led him to begin work with ‘Resilient Nacogdoches’. Part of that includes bringing once abandoned gardens, like the one here at TJR Elementary, back to life. An act which earned him the ‘Public Citizen Award’ for his work with Nacogdoches-area gardens. “I believe that nature is a manifestation of God’s love and that the more we take care of nature, the more she’ll take care of us. That’s what this garden is all about,” Lemon said. An enthusiasm for helping those now struggling with sobriety also useful as he works with the East Texas Behavioral Health Network. His advice to those going through their own struggles…

“There’s not a ‘got it’ to it. It’s a dynamic process and there’s not an end point until they lay you in the ground,” Lemon said.