Jeff Sage: A Prodigal Son Come Home
Seeing Jeff Sage today, you’d never suspect he ever struggled with alcohol or drugs. One of our CORE staff members recently interviewed Jeff, a man brimming with optimism who seems to inspire confidence in everyone around him. Since coming to CORE three years ago, Jeff has become a born-again Christian, worked the 12 Steps, and commenced our recovery program. In addition to holding down a full-time career, he also acts as a CORE house manager and is an advocate for our EDGE program for younger clients. During our interview Jeff freely discussed the stark contrasts between his former life of addiction and his new life as a man of God.
Jeff enjoyed a typical American childhood growing up and played sports well into his high school years. He showed an aptitude for billiards too. There was no traumatic event that sparked his using, but he definitely had a rebel streak. While a freshman at Kickapoo High School in Springfield, a friend introduced him to marijuana. After high school, Jeff crisscrossed the country hustling pool and playing in tournaments from Chicago all the way down to Texas and Florida, and all the states in between. During his travels he discovered that he liked to party:
I liked the bar scene. A lot of gambling, a lot of playing pool, and drinking. I was like, I like this. It’s legal, and it’s fun, lot’s of fun back then. My base was pretty much pot, and then alcohol. They and other things just came and went.
He eventually returned to Springfield and discovered his aptitude for sales. Jeff hopped from selling fitness memberships, to cars, to interests in real estate. Each transfer led to him making and spending more money than he’d ever dreamed possible, but his alcohol and drug use were starting to get out of control. Even being blessed with a wife and child couldn’t reign him in. In June 2009, he went out on a bender, wrecked his 4Rrunner, and went missing for several days while in the hospital. Jeff’s relentless trek up the ladder of success came to a screeching halt. He landed in rehab completely mystified by his inability to moderate his substance use:
So I’m full of shame and guilt. Things happened. How’d I let it get to this? Sharp guy [that I was]. I almost couldn’t get in because my blood pressure was so high I was so stressed out. How did I arrive to this point?
From rehab Jeff came to CORE for his first, albeit brief, stay. His friends, family, and employer were supportive. He still had his job. All was not lost. Yet Jeff wasn’t ready to do what was needed to recover. He thought he knew more than the people who’d been there before and were trying to help him. He recalls “I was going through the motions, telling them what they wanted to hear. I’d removed drugs and alcohol for sure, but hadn’t done any steps. Didn’t believe it. I was different. I was smarter. I was successful. It didn’t apply to me.” Jeff left CORE after only four months. Things fell apart “pretty quickly” after that.
Jeff eventually lost everything that mattered, his wife, home, and career, and he became almost a complete stranger to his parents and son. A long string of lost jobs, wrecked cars, other rehabs, and another brief stay at CORE followed. His life had become unmanageable. “Sooner, worse each time, more miserable, and then on a spree,” Jeff tells us, “and the fun’s over. Now, I’m full of anger, full of resentment. I hate myself. I’m drinking and using to survive. And with all plans of quitting, getting a job, and starting over. It never panned out.”
To make matters worse, Jeff lost his dad in December 2016. “He died, and we’d been close. It messed me up really good. And I used it selfishly to self-medicate.” The next eight months are a blur in his memory, after which he found himself in a dark, bad place, both mentally and emotionally. The man who once had everything had been reduced to “a broken person, empty, and scared.” He had no plan to end his life, but he really didn’t care if he died, either. That was the bottom for him. After seven years of chaos, Jeff felt tired of hurting everybody, tired of not being able to look in the mirror, and tired of hating himself. In his own words, Jeff was “completely beat down,” adding “I was done. Really done this time. I did not want to hurt anymore.” Jeff prayed to God for help, and walked from a friend’s house to CORE’s recovery center in Springfield.
Jeff made good on his plans this time. He was baptized into Christ and dedicated his life in service to God. He stuck with CORE’s program for the entire year and completed it. Much of his year was spent in the company and under the tutelage of some men who already completed our program. In them he saw a quality of genuineness and complete lack of motive to get anything from him. “There was just something about them,” Jeff says, “it was the Holy Spirit in them. There was a light about them.” He wanted what they had and was willing to do what was necessary to get it. They helped Jeff by showing him how to do the 12 Steps, do them right, and not question every little issue. He distinctly remembers that, after doing his 4th and 5th Steps, he finally was able to sleep at night and get rest, saying “That stuff wasn’t eating my lunch anymore.” By the grace of God and the 12 Steps, Jeff had recovered.
As Jeff completed his year in the program, he was overwhelmed by what God had done for him:
“I’m getting paid spiritually. Maybe that’s weird to say, but I have a peace about me. I know God’s real. I know what he delivered me from to where I’m at now. The relationships that I have with my son, with my mom, it’s nothing short of a miracle. And I don’t have any resentments, I don’t have any jealousy, I don’t have any anger. I’m grateful for the time I have with my son, being able to be part of his life. God continues to show up and show off in my life.”
Today, Jeff is confident in his transformation and knows that his mind has been renewed. The Big Book Promises are happening, too. His mother and son, whom he describes as his biggest fans, have come back into his life. He’s grateful for the renewed friendship of his ex-wife, who hung in there with him during the years of his addiction. Jeff also has embarked on a new career. Further, having commenced our program, he wasn’t done at CORE, either. It was time to give back. Thus, for the last two years, Jeff has served as a House Manager and worked part-time for CORE’s EDGE program, both of which offer mentoring and Big Book guidance to clients. In transitioning into a leadership role at CORE, Jeff sees a golden opportunity to pay it forward:
I saw this as an opportunity to strengthen my foundation, get me out of my comfort zone, and work with these guys. Occasionally you work with somebody, and it will click. Then they’ll go out and work with somebody. It’s that ripple effect. It’s the most beautiful thing, so that now it’s just putting all this good stuff out there. The ripple effect reaches all these other people.
We at CORE foresee good things for Jeff and are pleased to have played a part in his recovery. We look forward to more years of his friendship and help. Jeff’s message to everybody in recovery: “God’s got a plan. We don’t always know what it is. You gotta have faith.”