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Road to Recovery: ‘I dare you to believe’

Bow Clemmer is celebrating 15 years of sobriety and now shares his story to help others with their own recovery journey.

Bow Clemmer sits at a table
Bow Clemmer has been sober for 15 years and now helps others on their own recovery journey as program manager for the short-term program at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in Brainerd.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — A person can oftentimes find their purpose where their scars are.

That’s how it worked out for Bow Clemmer, who turned his life of addiction into a career of helping to heal others.

“That’s where my purpose is,” he said during an interview in August. “And I should share that.”

And share he does.

Employed at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge for the last 14 years, and sober for 15, Clemmer feels better now at 47 than he did at 25 or 30 and believes it’s his duty to share what he knows with those who could benefit.

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“We all have value; we all have worth; we all have something to contribute, and we don’t want to hang onto that,” Clemmer said. “...When I can give back, it just works.”

It works for those he’s helping and for his own sobriety, too, a journey pulling him up from the depths of alcohol and drug abuse that started in his teenage years after seeing his dad and uncle struggle with addiction.

When Clemmer came home high on marijuana as a teenager, his dad — who had eventually found religion and gotten clean — told him he must break the family chains of addiction. But Clemmer felt it was an attempt to curtail his fun as a kid and draw him toward a God he saw as oppressive.

“It seemed cheap; it seemed fake,” he said of the church.

He continued experimenting with marijuana as a teen and then took to sneaking into his grandma’s store of homemade wine.

“I didn’t really like it, but yet there was a part of me that did,” he said. “And then I started drinking a little bit, and then I think one of the first few times really getting drunk, I felt like I could be — so to speak — myself.”

The alcohol seemed to quell Clemmer’s anxiety and depression and helped him feel more free.

“I felt like I could be the life of the party,” he said.

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Then came crack and cocaine, later followed by methamphetamines.

“And the first time I tried that, I was like, ‘Wow, I feel like Superman,’” he said. “... Little did I know, meth is a drug that increases the dopamine levels to such heights that, yeah, you feel this euphoria. I felt great.”

But the more of the drug he used, the deeper it took him into a much darker place. Knowing it was bad for him wasn’t enough to quit, though.

“I couldn’t stop it. It gripped to the point where I couldn’t,” he said.

Then came a night Clemmer will never forget.

Friday, Feb. 13, 1998.

“There seemed to be something in the air where it was just one of those days I was going to push it a little too far,” he said.

After work, he finished off a bottle of alcohol and then went to the bars, looking for drugs. In and out of blacking out, Clemmer was in Emily, on his way home south of town, when the gas light in his Jeep came on. In his impaired state, he decided to drive all the way to Crosby to get gas.

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Driving down Highway 6 near Rabbit Lake, he remembers having a hard time maintaining the speed limit and worrying about getting pulled over.

“I remember drifting over, and then in my mind it was like slow motion, like, ‘what’s happening?’” he said. “And like many nights of blacking out, passing out, near death, just stupid things, I just thought in my mind, like, well, it’s gonna be OK.”

The car hit the guardrail on the side of the highway, and Clemmer’s face hit the windshield. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

“I was heading north and ended up facing south,” he said.

When he came to, he was in the back seat of his Jeep, still feeling high and drunk, but in tremendous pain, with the taste of blood and something gritty in his mouth. It was glass from his shattered windshield.

After a while, a pair of passing headlights finally stopped to help. The man’s name was Ben Davis, someone who had gone to high school with Clemmer. Something that night compelled Davis to stop and take Clemmer to the emergency room.

Clemmer recalls his dad crying at his bedside in the hospital, saying he was praying for some sort of intervention that would compel his son to seek help.

“In that moment, in that car accident, I felt like there was a line drawn in the sand of my life because the desire to use was completely gone,” he said. “I had absolutely no desire to use meth after that.”

After about a month of sobriety, Clemmer continued drinking, but his life seemed to be turning around. He got married and had kids. His dad was a positive influence during that time, as were two pastors who began mentoring him.

But when he started a new job and unplugged from the recovery community, Clemmer felt he could manage his drinking in a social setting without going too far.

That wasn’t the case.

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After a night of blacking out, Clemmer’s now-ex-wife told him something needed to change. And that’s when he turned to God.

“I remember that next morning, getting up and saying, ‘God, I’m so sick. There’s a part of me that’s so messed up and twisted and broken, and I don’t know how to fix that part,’” he said.

But he kept praying and plugged back into the network of resources that could help him.

His last drink was in 2007. The next phase of his life began the following year, when Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge opened its Brainerd location and he decided that was where he wanted to work.

After applying, he got a call for an interview from none other than Davis, the man who pulled him out of his wrecked car a decade earlier and was now working at Teen Challenge.

“He’s like, ‘I don’t know if you remember, but you called me (after the crash) and said that God used me to save your life.’ He says, ‘I thought you were crazy,’” Clemmer said.

Long story short, that chance encounter so many years ago led to a career opportunity for a newly sober Clemmer.

He started out working overnights at the clinic before moving up to his current position as program manager for the short-term program.

He got married in December to wife, Melanie, a Teen Challenge grad who later began volunteering for the organization.

And he can’t help but share his recovery story in hopes of inspiring someone else.

“You make that call, and you gotta take that first step,” he said. “I tell guys all the time, ‘I dare you to believe.’”

He wants others to believe that no one is too hopeless to turn their life around, no matter how many times they might have tried and failed.

“Take that step again,” he said, “because there is nobody too far gone not to have freedom and hope.”

Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month. As of this year, it is also recognized in Crow Wing County . It’s a time to promote and support treatment and recovery practices and to applaud the efforts of those who’ve recovered from addiction and the people who have helped them on the way.

Throughout the month, the Dispatch will feature stories of community members in recovery.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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