Bracy Sams: A Purpose-Driven Life

Bracy Sams: A Purpose-Driven Life

Bracy Sams is the first person many new clients see when they arrive here to CORE.  He is our men’s intake specialist in Branson.  He also manages Hawk House, a residence for new clients.  Bracy has been with us for more than seven years.  

He originally hails from rural Arkansas, Carroll County to be exact, but you’d never know it looking at him.  Judging by his appearance, Bracy looks like he should be on the back of a Harley Davidson, or even standing watch on a 19th century sailing frigate.  He has a kind, polite disposition and a quiet strength about him.  He’s the kind of man who lets you have your say before he tells you what you need to hear.  Bracy clearly is passionate about recovery, too.  Letting weary and hurting people know there’s a “way out” is among the best parts of his job:

It’s hearing the hope in parents’ voices when I call and tell them, yes, he’s accepted.  And talking to him, who’s so broken that he’s crying, and to let him know that, hey, there’s a way out.  Just get here.  I’ll prove it to you.  It’s being part of getting people out of the dark, out of the misery.  

We met Bracy in CORE’s church sanctuary.  It’s really a giant multipurpose room, and on the day of our interview all the lights are off.  The room appears dark and cavernous except for a single overhead light illuminating our spot.  Talking about his past couldn’t have been easy, but Bracy knows the drill.  Reliving the hell of addiction is the sacrifice we make when giving testimony.  Our hope is that someone listening will connect, see that there is a path forward, and ultimately find recovery through a personal relationship with God.  

With the simplest of prompts, Bracy begins his story, taking us back to a time when Ronald Reagan was president, the space shuttle Columbia already made its first flight, and Indiana Jones had become a household name:

I was twelve.  I got to that age where my parents let me stay overnight with friends.  One friend had two older brothers who were drinking and having fun, smoking weed.  The first time was when his brother had passed out in his room.  We snuck in there and took his bottle and his weed.  We went out to a tree house and laughed and carried on.  We did that a couple of times until the third weekend.  I asked his brother for it because now I really wanted it.  He said, no, but I’ll sell you some.  That’s how it all started.

At the tender age of twelve, young Bracy Sams already was hooked.  He’d buy bags of marijuana and bring them home to his parent’s farm to find a secluded place.  By the time he was in high school Bracy was a regular user.  Even getting caught at school didn’t phase him.  “I just started being smarter, more careful,” he explains.  Once he began driving himself to school, Bracy was getting high every day, and the worst was yet to come.

In the year that he graduated from high school, Bracy tried methamphetamines for the first time.  “That was a game changer,” he remembers, “that’s all I wanted to do.”  Bracy’s ambition became having fun.  He says, “It stopped me from being responsible and growing up.  I was always running around and getting high.  Girls.  Parties.  That was my only goal in life, for several years.”  

Other things happened too.  By the age of 25, Bracy married and had children.  He went into the trucking business with his father.  Normal pursuits did not captivate him, however.  Nothing could compete with his drug life.  It was only a matter of time before things would unravel.  As much as one might try, no addict can keep his problem a secret forever.  He says:

She [i.e., his wife] certainly knew what I was doing.  It finally came to a head, and one day she left. My dad came to me and said, are you going to go apologize to her?  Leave the dope alone? Leave the women alone?  Now, I never admitted anything; I always denied it.  I said, so you’re taking her side?  When he said, yes, I was like, I’m done.

Bracy’s slide into the abyss hastened.  He abandoned his business pursuits and filed for bankruptcy.  His wife of seven years “filed for a divorce, and it was over, just like that.”  Bitterness set into Bracy’s heart.  His thinking was that, if everybody thought he was doing dope, then he’d show them doing dope  Without home, wife and children, and his share in the family business, Bracy’s ship was unmoored without a rudder.  He walked headlong into the seedy world of methamphetamines.  He both manufactured and sold: 

I almost got higher making it than using it.  It gave me power.  Of the devil for sure.  I was blind, thinking that I controlled it, and controlled other people, when it was controlling me.  It’s a deceiver, meth.  It’s not knocking you down like heroin, but it still takes everything from you.  

At various points during his drug career, Bracy did consider quitting, but he was firmly locked into the cycle of addiction.  He held only fanciful notions of just quitting and never doing drugs again:

I’d be locked up in the county jail, and I always thought, man, this is exactly what I need, to be away from it, and I’m not going to use again.  I knew without a doubt when they released me that I wasn’t getting high.  Thirty minutes is as long as I ever lasted, depending on who picked me up from jail.  . . .The obsession would kick in.  I didn’t know what it was then – the obsession.  I was looking for ease and comfort because I was so uncomfortable and hated my own skin.  I hated myself. 

He couldn’t keep it together.  Bracy had lost nearly all contact with the people he loved the most.  When he did see them, Bracy saw only disappointment in their faces or heard dismay in their voices.  He remembers one year having Christmas with his children in February, saying “that’s the quickest I could make it to them.”  The children would call and ask, “Hey dad, can you come to my game? Can you come to this school event?  Can you come to the church thing?”  Although Bracy always promised he would be there, he’d become so messed up that it didn’t happen.  “Two days later, I’d be like, I’m a piece of @#$%, I forgot.  How could I forget?”  After awhile they stopped even calling.  As for his family, Bracy hadn’t talked his siblings in over a decade.  His father asked him not to come around anymore saying, “it’s too hard for your mom to even look at you.”  Bracy had worn out everyone and everything around him.  He reached a point where he just wanted life to be over.

Bracy actually found himself in the same place as several of us who later recovered.  Like us, serendipity arrived once he was hopeless.  Bracy candidly admits that he himself took no action to find CORE or apply to the program.  He says, “I really don’t know how I even got here.  I didn’t fill out an application or call.  They called and said, hey, you’re approved to come in.”  Today he speculates that maybe it was a friend of somebody letting him crash on a sofa who did the leg work.  Whoever that person was, Bracy feels a debt of gratitude.

Sometimes new clients initially feel resistance to working the program.  It might be pride, or unwillingness to admit they are powerless.  In Bracy’s case, he was mad at God.  “I was like, why would God let me be a drug addict?  Why would he let me lose my family?  How did he let all this stuff happen?”  His attitude softened as people at CORE showed they cared.  They didn’t judge him and weren’t about to write him off.  Then Bracy heard about the cycle of addiction at our recovery classes.  It “really grabbed hold of me, and that’s when I started paying attention in class,” he remembers.  Our classes run for five weeks, at which time Bracy was ready to write his 4th Step.  “When I sat down to write it,” he says, “I said, enough’s enough, and wrote it out.”  

As he worked the steps, Bracy felt a weight lifting from him.  He was on a life changing journey.  Where once he blamed God for his addiction, he now considered his former misery as something he needed to turn toward God.  “It was like God asking me, have you figured out what to do yet?  Do you want to ask me?” he says.  Bracy began finding contentment in not running his own show but rather in doing God’s will.  A chance encounter with an addict outside the program opened Bracy’s eyes to this.  The paraphernalia and drugs were “right in front of me,” he remembers, and then “God showed up.”  Bracy explained to the man where he’d come from, where it had taken him, and how God had relieved him of his addiction.  As the two parted ways, he also let the man know, “If you ever get tired of this, you call CORE.”

Bracy was energized by the encounter.  He asked God to put people in his path who were addicts in need of help, and God obliged.  It happened everywhere – at work, at the store, and on the street.  Bracy began to meet suffering and hurting people, and he freely shared the solution.  In time, he was made a CORE house manager, and he also began working for us.  Bracy also reunited with his family.  In fact, Bracy spent a fair amount of time telling us about his children and what each were doing.  They see each other regularly now, anytime they want, and Bracy cherishes his time with them.  He’s also made amends to his parents and siblings and enjoys seeing them, too, both here and back home in Carroll County.  

Today, Bracy Sams is a man on a mission.  Whether at Hawk House, or at the recovery center, he has a daily goal, “that maybe I can help convince even one person not to continue down the same road that I did, and to help them get past whatever might stop them from getting recovery.”  As to why he works for CORE, Bracy pauses for a moment, looks at the light above us, and begins:

Let me tell you what CORE is about, we care about people.  We love on them and introduce them to God.  To get out of their miserable, self-loathing state, they have to find God.  I see them when they get here and see them after.  Once they buy into it, when they’re working the steps, they start having a relationship with God, and they’re two different people – 

At that, his answer is interrupted by an important telephone call.  It’s client related and Bracy must attend to it.  The interview is over – Bracy’s back at it, what he’s all about.  His work isn’t finished and, somehow, we suspect it won’t ever be.  Bracy Sams is living a purpose-driven life.

Egocentric Fear

Drugs and Alcohol, A Crutch for Egocentric Fear

 Some may recognize the name Diogenes of Sinope. He was a Greek, cynic philosopher who lived a long time ago – in the third century, B.C. – during the time of Alexander the Great. A surprising number of writers today are about talking about Diogenes. They draw very different conclusions about him depending on the facts they choose to present. 

On the one hand, some authors cite him as an ancient icon of rugged individualism. Diogenes is portrayed as self-reliant and independent, the kind of man America really needs in our namby-pamby, politically correct culture. One writer says, “Diogenes is everything I am not. He is quick witted, brash, shameless, mentally and physically tough and above all… he is free.”1 Another assures us that Diogenes epitomizes “living a life in which you make decisions . . . You trust yourself. You’re true to yourself.”2 A Psychology Today article claims Diogenes is the author’s hero.3 They talk about Diogenes like he’s the main character in a John Wayne movie. 

According to them, Diogenes lived a self-directed and autonomous life. He prioritized independence and uniqueness. Diogenes shrugged off all social expectations and even laughed at wealth and power. They like to relate an account about the philosopher meeting the great Alexander himself. As the story goes, Diogenes was sunning himself on a city street, and he “raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, ‘Yes,’ said Diogenes, ‘stand a little out of my sun.’” 

The foregoing sounds great in it’s own way, but every coin has two sides. It’s hard to take these authors seriously when we know all the facts. We’ve included a picture of John Waterhouse’s painting of Diogenes for reference. That’s a good historical rendition of Diogenes on canvas. 

In fact, Diogenes’ lived in a big, clay wine jar on a city street. He was homeless, begged for his food, and ate with his hands. Ancient chroniclers describe him as dirty, unkempt, and smelling like filth. Diogenes lived like a dog and called himself one. He explained that “I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals.” The Greek word for cynic, kynikos, actually derives from the word for dog. Diogenes had abandoned the most basic notions of decency. He not only urinated and spit on those who disagreed with him, but he also made a spectacle out of himself by publicly defecating and masturbating. When asked about his especially mortifying acts of masturbation, Diogenes said, “If only it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing my belly.” 

Diogenes spent his days lying about like a dog refusing to work, and nobody ever dared give him any responsibility. He also held in contempt the ideas of family, property rights, and all social and political organization. Above all, Diogenes was prideful – he considered himself better than everybody else. In his arrogance he ridiculed all those around him. He bragged that he and he alone had found happiness. 

We see this second, more complete description of Diogenes as much different, and altogether more telling. We don’t see someone whose self-reliance proved to be fulfilling. The real Diogenes looks more like the proverbial boy who, when the game isn’t going exactly his way, decides to take his ball and go home. Unable to cope with his defeats, his fear of failure led him to quit. Sadly, the game that Diogenes walked out on was his own life. 

History doesn’t give us the particulars, but it’s easy to see how this happened. We’ll grant that Diogenes had some intelligence and talent, but his ego was working on overdrive. Being a legend in his own mind, Diogenes merited fame, fortune and power. What he got was less. Before he even moved into his clay jar, Diogenes couldn’t keep up with the Jones – either socially or economically. The results of his life’s efforts must have seemed like crushing disappointments. He was terrified to admit that he was like everybody else, and he probably lived in constant anxiety that he was ordinary, wasn’t good enough, or would be found out. Diogenes’ ego told him he was better than that. Much better. Why didn’t they grant him the accolades and perks he deserved? It must have seemed like an abomination how they repaid his genius. He was living like a commoner. Couldn’t they see he was different? Didn’t they know he was special? 

The fear of never getting his reward, of never amounting to anything, must have been immense. Diogenes eventually reached a turning point in his life, a mid-life crisis where he just snapped. He boomeranged. He was better than those plebeians, he reasoned. They could have their beautiful homes, their loving wives and children, and their important jobs and social standing. He didn’t need all that – he didn’t need anything. He’d rather live like a dog than run in their rat race. He’d show them who’s best. He and he alone would be best – at having nothing! He would rub their noses in it by flaunting a deliriously happy appearance, for good measure. 

The historical record does not expressly show that Diogenes was an alcoholic. For us at CORE who are recovered alcoholics and addicts, all we have to do is imagine the scent of distilled spirits on Diogenes’ breath, and he really starts to remind us of somebody. Somebody whose existence we knew all too well. Before we recovered, we were afraid to face our own lives too, and we also quit the game. Thus, rather than being an idol for self-reliance and independence, we think that Diogenes preferably illustrates a puffed up ego overreacting to crippling fear. He would make a better poster child for the alcoholic or addict trapped in the cycle of addiction. 

The Big Book describes just such a person: 

We asked ourselves why we had them [i.e., fears]. Wasn’t it because self-reliance failed us? Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn’t fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse. 

Big Book, at 68. In our active addictions, and probably before, we subsisted in the fear of not getting what we deserve out of life. Our egos were out of control. We made our demands upon ourselves and those around us so onerous that we unwittingly trapped ourselves in an untenable situation. Thus, if we didn’t get exactly what we wanted, or if somebody failed to reciprocate our feelings exactly as we demanded, then we assumed the worst. We considered ourselves losers or thought that we were being rejected. It was an unwinnable game that brought only frustration. The ego’s fear of failure jumped up and down in protest, shouting that we didn’t do anything wrong or that they didn’t deserve us. It assured us that we were justified indulging in fear’s ultimate expression – quitting. We quit a hundred times, thousands of times, into the ease and comfort afforded by the first drink or drug. Like Diogenes, we took our ball and went home. 

We were driven, as the Big Book says, “by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity.” Id., at 62. It’s no accident that fear shows up in each and every 4th Step inventory example offered by the Big Book: 

This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it

Id., at 67. Our fear typically was the result of an overinflated ego seemingly under constant attack. We were “self-centered–ego-centric.” Id., at 61. 

If we were to live, to recover, this conceited absorption in ourselves, the insanely self-centered attitude, had to be dealt with. The main problem of the alcoholic or addict “centers in his mind, rather than his body.” Id., at 22. This is why humility is an overarching theme in the Big Book. The “leveling of our pride” is required for successful consummation of the 12 Step process. Id., at 25. Each step in some way presents an opportunity to deflate a pathologically, out-of-control and thoroughly self-centered ego.4 Moreover, even while our troubles were basically of our own making, we were powerless to help ourselves. Divine help was needed to restore us to sanity: 

God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. . . .Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help. 

Id., at 62. We went to the One who has all power – a power greater than ourselves. We found Him in the surrender and house-cleaning program of the 12 Steps. 

Now that we have recovered, one might ask, how do we respond to everyday challenges of life? Like normal people, we think. Every day we affirm in prayer our intent to undertake God’s will, without self-centeredness or pride. Our egos are no longer thin-skinned, easily wounded, and demanding of quick and utter victory in every undertaking. We live in gratitude with helpful, patient, and forgiving spirits. We pause when agitated or doubtful and ask for the right thought or action. Id., at 87. Fears do not paralyze us, however. If they arise, we ask God to remove them and direct our attention to what He would have us be. Id., at 68. 

Something wonderful happened when we began to live without fear: 

As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn. 

Id., at 63. We became people of courage. It is our privilege and honor each day to let God demonstrate through us what he can do. 




4. We will present one for each step here.  A full account would take another essay:
Step One: “Until he so humbles himself, his sobriety–if any–will be precarious.”  12&12, at 21.
Step Two: “There had been a humble willingness to have Him with me.”  Big Book, at 12.
Step Three: “This was only a beginning, though if honestly and humbly made, an effect, sometimes a very great one, was felt at once.”  Id., at 63.
Step Four: “to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity.”  Id., at 68.
Step Five: “But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.”  Id., at 73.
Step Six: “As they are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession.”  12&12, at 64.
Step Seven: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”  Big Book, at 59.
Step Eight: “It had been embarrassing enough when in confidence we had admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being.  But the prospect of actually visiting or even writing the people concerned now overwhelmed us . . .”  12&12, at 79.
Step Nine: “We should be sensible, tactful, considerate and humble . . .”  Big Book, at 83.
Step Ten: “When prideful, angry, jealous, anxious, or fearful, we acted accordingly, and that was that.”  12&12, at 94.
Step Eleven: “We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day ‘Thy will be done.'”  Big Book, at 87-88.
Step Twelve: “Tell him exactly what happened to you.”  Id., at 93.