Charlie Miller: Real Recovery Is No Fish Story!

Charlie Miller: Real Recovery Is No Fish Story!

Some think the oncorhynchus mykiss is the most fearful, finned creature known to man.  When small animals went missing along the shoreline leaving only gooey puffs of fur behind, the tri-lakes communities went into an uproar!  Chaos reigned at the townhall meeting until young CJ Miller raked his fingernails down a chalkboard to get the townsfolk’s attention.  He and his old man Charlie would find that lake monster once and for all, they exclaimed, and save summer vacation season too!  The night was black as coal when father and son set out on the foreboding waters.  The boat nearly swamped when CJ hooked it, and Charlie held tight onto CJ’s boots to keep him from going overboard.  Yet, in the end, in that age old battle between man and rainbow trout, this victory went to good guys Charlie and CJ!  Now – nobody actually knows who captured the triumphant moment on film.  Some say it was an overjoyed and grateful government official.  Others say it was Charlie’s supportive and good humored wife.  Whoever it was, the proof is right here:

A whale of a tale?  We honestly can say that Charlie did not make this story up.  We did.  But hey – we liked this picture of father and son reunited so much that we just had to add a matching back story.  Moreover, while that story may be extravagant, Charlie will tell you, and we at CORE wholeheartedly confirm: 

Real recovery is no fish story!  With God all things are possible!  In addition to recovering from a hopeless condition of mind and body, one can be reunited with family, find the true love of their life, and more!  The essential foundation is reliance upon God and the working of a few simple steps.  

To understand how Charlie arrived to CORE, we have to go back a number of years.  He was only 12 when his father passed away, and his mother ended up working long hours to provide for him and his two brothers.  In her absence the three boys went looking for fun.  By the time he got into high school, Charlie was smoking marijuana and drinking.  Then he discovered methamphetamines.  When he graduated in 2009, “it was off to the races.”   

During a five year run, Charlie “was boss of the log, had a good job, and was able to maintain it – life was still manageable.”  He had a fiancé, his son CJ, a home, his own truck, and was living the high life.  As so often happens with chronic meth use, the wheels eventually fell off.  Charlie’s sole concern became getting and using meth – up to twenty or more times a day.  That’s when things got bad: 

Bad gets when you rob and steal and do whatever you need to do in order to get that next fix.  That’s bad.  And when you can’t function normally without being high.  It’s either, one, you’re in bed or, two, you’re high.  That’s bad.”  

Charlie ended up losing everything: his fiancé, son, job, home, vehicles – everything.  He even was estranged from his own mother.

Now, it’s not that Charlie hadn’t tried to quit methamphetamines.  For years he’d been in and out of treatment centers all around the Missouri Bootheel.  “I really wanted to quit, but I didn’t know how,” he says.  In 2015 Charlie again landed in a 21-day treatment center in Stapleton, Missouri.  That’s when people from CORE showed up and did a presentation about the cycle of addiction and how to recover.  When Charlie saw that, he said to himself, “You know what?  I’m getting out of here.”  He loaded up in the CORE van and rode back with them to Branson.  “I came here with a trash bag of clothes and a carton of cigarettes – that’s it,” he says.  Happily for him, he didn’t need material possessions to recover.  His willingness to work the 12 Steps was more than sufficient. 

One of the biggest differences between CORE and inpatient treatment programs, Charlie says, is that at CORE one learns to actually live in recovery.  Treatment programs are institutionalized, highly regimented places.  Everything one does is scheduled, from the time one wakes up in the morning to finally going to bed at night.  By contrast, at CORE Charlie was able “to live my life and get recovery at the same time.”  He had to go out into the world every day and face real-life challenges.  He learned to live successfully by using the tools found in the Big Book. 

Charlie also credits having a great sponsor, Gary Osborn, our Operations Manager.  He describes Gary as “my sponsor and mentor, without a doubt the biggest influence on me getting where I am today.”  Gary had years of recovery experience and had seen it all.  Charlie remembers that, although Gary often “could tell me what would happen before it happened,” he didn’t always call Gary and admit that he was right (and then Charlie smiled and winked).

After completing our recovery program, Charlie continued with our Second Mile group.   In due time he also became a house manager.  Guys were coming to him for advice now, and he was expected to oversee them working the Steps. “I told myself, it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the next guy coming in,” he says, “so I made sure that once a week we all ate together. We would go out and hang out together.  Not only was I their house manager, I was also their friend.”  He went on to run several houses.  Charlie remembers the guys in his houses being like family, a brotherhood.  

Charlie also began to address his financial responsibility for child support, which helped get him on the same page with CJ’s mother for visitation.  Instead of being at odds, they worked together to make sure Charlie could see his son again.  They’ve since rekindled the relationship, and Charlie spends every chance he gets with CJ.  He attends his son’s sporting events and sees him on weekends and during vacations.  CJ spends his summers with Charlie too.  Among other things, they go fishing together!

Setting financial goals and sticking with them also allowed Charlie to bring his mom to Branson to live.  He’s embarked on a new career too, and bought a home and car.  The latter are important because, in August 2020, Charlie married his lovely wife Shea.  

Shea and Charlie first met while he was still a CORE client, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that he saw her again and asked her out.  They began dating exclusively but put off talk about making the relationship permanent because of Charlie’s responsibilities as a house manager.  She supported his commitment to CORE every day they were together, Charlie remembers, throughout the entire journey.  And married life?  “It’s great,” Charlie says, “I’ve got the best wife in the world.”  We at CORE have to agree with this last observation about her being the best wife, especially when husband and step-son come home parading a squishy fish around like they’ve just caught Moby Dick.  A wife who can greet them with equanimity and good humor under these circumstances is alright in our book!

Charlie gives credit to CORE for helping him to recover, saying, “CORE saved my life, it’s the number one reason who I am today.”  More than anybody, however, he credits God.  When he first got to CORE and began working the Steps, Charlie realized that he had resentments against God.  They’d been there since he was a child, when his dad died.  His need for recovery forced him to put matters into a different perspective.  “If you read the AA book and do what it says, it will lead you to God,” says Charlie, “you start to spot His blessings, the miracles.”  He felt as if a weight were lifted from his shoulders while working the Steps, after which God has continually showed his goodness.  Everyday Charlie strives to be better or learn something new.  He also tries to go out of his way each day to help somebody without expecting anything in return.  In gratitude to his Maker, Charlie wants to do this, “being able to be God’s blessing to somebody else!

Super Friends: CORE Joins the National Sober Living Association

Super Friends: CORE Joins the National Sober Living Association

Citing the advantages of strong alliances, CEO Cary McKee recently announced our new membership in the National Sober Living Association!  In the past CORE has freely associated with local agencies and organizations to promote our goals and values.  Cary sees our NSLA membership as a way to promote sobriety and recovery nationally, in contrast to recent trends of using narcotic medications to address addiction issues.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health currently implements a “Medication First” approach for all state-funded substance abuse treatment providers.  This is a type of medically assisted treatment (MAT).  Paradoxically, the medications used are addictive – they include controlled substances like Methadone and Suboxone.  The features of this approach, according to the Department-approved website, are:

1. Addicts receive replacement narcotics “as quickly as possible, prior to lengthy assessments or treatment planning sessions;”

2. Addicts are maintained on narcotics without “arbitrary tapering or time limits,” and maintenance is discontinued only if their condition “worsens”; and

3. Psychosocial services are “not required as a condition” for receiving narcotics! 

Cary told us that he recently attended a national conference where there was discussion about a proposal for requiring MAT for all “state clients,” i.e., clients under court supervision.  Such a proposal would force state clients to seek treatment from MAT-only providers, both state-funded and otherwise.  As a policy it ignores the critical differences between recovery from addiction and overdose prevention.  One cannot even be sober, let alone recover, while addicted to narcotics.

State clients are a relatively smaller but significant part of the population that CORE serves.  They deserve recovery too.  Applying a sweeping MAT policy to them raises the specter of having methadone addicts nodding off in our classes and residences.  That’s not CORE values.  We won’t encourage one addiction over another, or any addiction at all for that matter, and we cannot take clients who proverbially have swallowed the spider to catch the fly.  CORE’s clients recover physically as well as mentally and spiritually.  They go on to lead happy, fulfilling, and drug-free lives.  The 12 Step promises are beyond the reach of persons who make narcotic drugs their Higher Power.

Thus, it is this impending “push to pigeon-hole everybody into a MAT program” that prompted Cary to join forces with the NSLA.  As a national organization it can present a united front before state and federal agencies, the public, and media.  With friends and allies we can more effectively work to assure that recovery remains an alternative for all clients, and CORE is very much committed to this goal.    

NSLA’s Executive Director is Megan Frankl.  During Cary’s first conversation with her, he saw that the values of our two organizations closely align.  All NSLA members must abide by ethical standards, promote 12 Step abstinence, and have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol – including prescription narcotics. “Right out of the gate, I knew that we were a fit,” Cary told us.  Other CORE staff members who talked to Megan had a similar reaction.  As an example, during a subsequent telephone interview, Megan told us that, “The greatest honor of my life is that I have a front row seat to see miraculous recoveries.”  We share her sentiments wholeheartedly and feel an immediate sense of kinship with her, the kind that comes from our common experience of working the 12 Steps.  Megan also told us that her passion for the NSLA is both professional and personal.  “Sober living saved my life,” she said, “I lived in one years ago.  I would not be alive and happy today had it not been what I learned in that home.”  

The NSLA is fairly recent to the national stage.  Beginning as a regional association of sober living homes, in 2018 it branched out into a network that advocates nationwide for quality sober living.  In only three years, it has emerged to become a national force, with over 50 members located in 14 states across the country.  The NSLA’s bottom line, Megan said, “is saving lives, because we work with a vulnerable population.  That’s why the NSLA exists, to protect the individual searching so desperately for a safe place to learn how to recover.”  Organizations gain membership through an application process that also includes a quality assurance review, inspections, and trainings conducted by NSLA board members.  

We at CORE are excited to be a member of an organization that shares our confidence in and enthusiasm for 12 Step recovery.  Our hope is that CORE can play a key role in the NSLA and help it expand to all 50 states.  Sober living homes and recovery programs are stronger together than we are alone.  Together our message is more than simply a moral pitch for abstinence.  We can make a pragmatic case for recovery, and for complete freedom from drugs and alcohol!

The Right Stuff: Ray Francis

The Right Stuff: Ray Francis

On a chilly spring evening last year, Ray Francis again rested in his own bed, all comfy and warm.  Our brother and friend was gravely ill.  For decades he had tirelessly devoted himself to leading addicts to recovery through God.  Along the way Ray became a veritable human institution at CORE.  On that night he was visibly fading.  The initial cancer diagnosis hadn’t phased him, but that was months ago.  In the last few days he’d taken a turn for the worse.  Only moments earlier his wife Judy thanked the hospice nurses and CORE people for their help and bid them goodbye.  She walked through their quiet home to his room and peered through the doorway.  “Hi Baby, how are you doing?” she asked softly.  They’d been together for his entire sober life, over 38 years.  Ray simply smiled and relaxed back into his bed.  He was fearless as always.  She went to him and sat holding his hand until he fell asleep.  Her son Michael arrived to help keep watch.  And so it happened – Ray Francis, with his beloved wife and stepson at his side, passed in the early morning hours of April 14, 2020.

Knowing the man, his faith in God, and his legacy, we at CORE might imagine the next words Ray heard were something like: Well done, my good and faithful servant!  Come share in the joy of your Lord!

It’s hard to explain to somebody not familiar with recovery the lasting bonds that form during the life and death battle against addiction.  Ray means so much to so many.  Over a year later his presence still lives on in hearts and minds at CORE.  For we who had the privilege of knowing Ray, he’s much more than simply an old-timer with decades of recovery.  He was our brother, friend, advisor, and colleague.  His impact is felt at all levels of our organization even today.  

It was Ray who showed our CEO Cary McKee, then a twenty-something client in rehab, the way to recover from a hopeless condition of mind and body:  

I was 28-years old [before] somebody finally showed me the cycle of addiction.  Ray went through the cycle with me in that treatment center – I could tell you where I was sitting if I walked in there today.  And I saw it.  Then he walked me through the steps and showed me what I needed to do.  That was a good moment for me.  So that’s obviously the first thing I think of with Ray, who showed me the way out. He showed me who and what I truly am apart from God.  

As CORE’s intake coordinator, Ray acted as the de facto face of our program.  He was the one who clients first talked to on the phone, met with upon first arrival, and saw during their first orientation class.  Because of his office location, he also was the first staff member who clients saw upon entering our Branson recovery center.  Clients stopped by daily to say hello and chat, ask questions about the 12 Steps, and seek advice about personal matters.  “He always had time to work with an alcoholic or an addict – always,” Program Manager Kevin Hunt tells us, “it didn’t matter if his work was piled up higher than he was.  He always had time.”

Ray’s participation in 5th Steps is legendary.  It’s the step where we admit “to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  In southwest Missouri, that human being was often Ray; he helped thousands with it.  Anybody who’s been around here for awhile remembers his familiar Fifth Step in Session sign hanging on classroom doors.  People sought him out, first, because of his reputation for trustworthiness.  “They knew they’d never have to worry about hearing their 5th Step stuff out and about,” Kevin recalls, “a lot of people worked the steps with Ray.”  They found Ray even when they weren’t in our program, from places as far away as St. Louis.  Second, they asked for Ray because he’d really been there.  He lived fast and furious too before turning his will and life over to the care of God.  Nothing surprised Ray.  He was kind, understanding, and he loved you with all his heart.  

Loving you meant that Ray could be direct, too.  He had a sharp mind and knew his stuff.  Operations Manager Gary Osborne tells us, “If you wanted the answer, he was the person to go to.  If you wanted the easier, softer, gentler way, don’t go to see Ray.  Because you weren’t getting that.”  Ray was honest but never condescending.  He spoke to people where they are and never diminished them.  He was Gary’s sponsor for sixteen years.  Ray didn’t have a mean bone in his body, either.  If somebody disappointed or hurt him, he never had a bad word to say.  Above all, he worked the Steps.  “I always want to be able to conduct myself that way,” Gary says, “to hold myself to Ray’s standards.”

Ray had an ineffable ability to live in the moment so that people who approached him felt important.  Every moment with him seemed self-contained.  He was passionate about conveying the 12 Step message.  Our accountant Janet Weaver, for example, vividly remembers her conversations with Ray before she ever became a client.  It was sixteen years ago, and CORE had only three houses.  “They were all mens houses,” she recalls, “but I heard they might turn one of them into a women’s house, so I started calling them every day and talked to Ray.”  He kept their conversations focused on Janet’s recovery.  Over the course of two weeks, Ray took Janet through the first three Steps and also had her writing on her 4th Step – all while on the telephone.  Even better, Ray helped make CORE into a fully co-ed program and invited Janet to be our first female client.  Today, CORE has seven residential facilities for women.  We have women managing our houses, counseling clients, leading prayer, and teaching recovery classes, too.  

Above all, those of us who know Ray remember his devotion to God and prayer.  He created Monday Morning Prayer for our recovery centers, as an example, a fact recently brought to our attention by HR Manager Tami McKinney.  Tami remembers him as a man of God whose unshakeable faith led him to always put the needs of others before himself.  “He was ready at the drop of a hat to help, to stop and help anyone,” she says, “he was always ‘others first.’”  In discussions about spiritual matters, he had relevant scriptures to offer and would recommend specific books and articles for further study.  He was a consummate advocate for committing ourselves to a spiritual life and letting God demonstrate through us what He can do.

Like so many of us, the way in which Ray came to be involved in CORE may seem fortuitous, at first blush.  He goes way back, all the way to the beginning. Twenty-six years ago he and Judy arrived from the State of Washington to attend her son’s college graduation.  Whereupon, a young missionary preacher, Tim Schuer, came knocking at the door about starting a “cell church.”  Tim had been brought from Australia to America to do God’s work and was sponsored by four Christian families in Branson.  Judy remembers that Ray and Tim became friends immediately, and Ray very much wanted to stay and be involved in the fledgling ministry:

So Tim became a mentor to Ray in the faith.  We went to Tim’s house church for awhile.  Then Tim wanted to do more outreach, so the Lord took it to ministering to alcoholics and addicts.  That’s when Ray really caught fire.

This is Judy’s way of saying that God works in mysterious ways.  In fact, Ray and Judy were the first members of Tim’s cell church.  It’s worth wondering what would have happened, or not happened, had Tim not knocked on their door when he did.  Jan Blase, who was among the four Christian families in Branson mentioned above, who still later became CORE’s Director of Development, helped Ray write a grant proposal for our first recovery house.  CORE wasn’t the sprawling program that it is today.  Those were simpler times – the entire program fit into one office in a church basement.  Ray was blessed to see his passion and efforts grow into two CORE recovery centers, nineteen residential facilities, and two ReStores, all serving hundreds of people annually from Taney, Stone and Greene Counties, and beyond.  He also watched thousands of clients find God and recovery, some of whom eventually went on to be counted among CORE’s senior staff members. 

We think God put Ray in the right place at the right time.  He had the right stuff.  Through his words and personal example, Ray Francis stirred our hearts and minds.  Some of us owe our lives to him.  He wasn’t about public praise, however.  He didn’t love the world or the things of this world.  To him, these were superficial things.  The things Ray was about, and taught us, were deep and enduring.  By showing what a few simple steps and unswerving reliance upon God can do, he left us better knowing him. He made the world a better place.  “He dedicated his whole being, his whole life, to recovery services, to the addict and to the alcoholic,” Cary tells us.  In devoting himself to this service, he also helped to build CORE.  Judy tells us “His legacy is all of you.  He had faith that the people in CORE will pass it on to others, that they can become your legacy too.”

Humility And Recovery

Humility and Recovery

At CORE we think of humility as a noble virtue.  In one sense, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”1  It’s a principal value in many ethical systems.   Great thinkers from all ages have taught that it’s in our best interest to forget our self-interest.  Our highest example of humility, moreover, is the Lord himself, who came to this earth to do God’s will2 and to serve rather than be served.3  The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous also finds value in humility, which is often called the “foundation principle” for each of the 12 Steps. 

In contrast to those who believe that humility is worth having, there are others who think that we have too much of it.4  It’s not just the business types who think this.  Some among the self-help recovery crowd are jumping on the hubris bandwagon too.  There seems to be no limit on what these people are willing to say in order to make sales.  The pride mongers can be found among individuals who market so-called “harm reduction” methods as if they were recovery programs.  What they say is of interest to us, because CORE is a recovery program.  

As an example, one of these persons tells his readers that “the more I learn—the more I hear and the more I see—the more arrogant I become.”  His conceit supposedly keeps him sober.  He’s so proud of his abstinence that he looks down on everyone who does drink, even those who are not alcoholics.  Not only does he hope readers like this quality about him, “in fact, I hope you’re jealous,” he says.  More than that, he hopes readers will become interested in the abstinence program that he developed.  To pique their interest, he invites them to take a self-survey about alcohol.  Taking the survey entitles them to a free gift, a 40 page pdf-book about the alleged shame caused not only by alcoholism but also by sobriety.  Readers are then invited to enroll in the program, and this is where cash is exchanged.

He tells them that similar programs cost $1,000 or more, but he asks for only a $25 per month recurring donation, which “can be cancelled at any time.”  Moreover, if one donates an additional $40 to help battle the stigma associated with alcohol, he sends them a signed copy of his published book.  It sells for $9.99 on Amazon and was released two years ago.  There are ten glowing reviews on the Amazon website, all posted within six days of the book’s release.  One reviewer, who allegedly struggled “for years,” claims that this book was the “missing piece” that helped her find “permanent sobriety.”  Her review is altogether startling because it was posted the same day that the book was released.  The other reviews are similarly puzzling.

With all due respect to this person, and others who are trying to market and sell human pride, cavalierly urging people to model abstinence based on self-confidence seems like a losing proposition.  People who are still wrapped up in themselves are unlikely to enjoy meaningful recovery.  Arrogance is more often a reaction to low self-esteem.  It may also indicate dry drunk syndrome, in which the sufferer lives under continual stress because they are full of unaddressed resentments and anger.  This is a perilous approach to sobriety that we can’t recommend to anybody. 

Humility is part of every real recovery program because addiction is the result of a self-centered ego.  It is a natural and foreseeable consequence when someone with an attitude of entitlement decides to self-medicate.  As addicts we saw ourselves not on this earth to serve our fellows but rather to have our own desires served and all of our wants and needs met.  We were “like an actor who wants to run the whole show . . . forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in our own way.”5  We thought that the world owed us.  When the show didn’t come off as we expected, we became angry, indignant, and self-pitying, and we felt deserving of relief.  Confronted with hurtful, stressful, or emotional situations, we claimed the privilege of feeling better immediately through alcohol and drugs.  This chronic practice of self-medicating and rationalizing our behavior resulted in alcoholism and addiction.  The 12 Steps address this crippling self-centeredness through a program of ego deflation. 

To help lay readers better appreciate how humility relates to this process, please consider the following summary of the 12 Steps:

I couldn’t control my drugs and alcohol anymore, and my life was a mess.  God had a better plan for me, so I submitted myself to it.  I thought of my personal faults and everybody I’ve harmed, and I admitted these to God and to another person.  I was ready to have God remove these shortcomings, too, and humbly asked Him to do this.  Moreover, I became willing to fix things with the people I’d harmed.  I went to them and made amends.  Since then, I’m ever watchful for my own faults and admit it when I’m wrong.  I also maintain contact with God and pray to Him for the wisdom and power to live according to His will.  This has become my plan for life, and I’m particularly mindful of helping others in distress as I once was.

This essentially is all 12 Steps.  It’s a simple program.  Some might quibble about details, but this sufficiently summarizes them for our discussion of humility, which is really about our orientation toward ourselves, our fellows, and God.  

12 Step humility initially requires us to honestly assess our personal situations, become willing to admit faults, and to open ourselves to new possibilities.  “To thine own self be true.”6  We invariably accept certain truths about ourselves that are common to all addicts, inter alia, that we are powerless over drugs and alcohol, cannot manage our own lives, have harmed others, and suffer character defects. The object is not to make us to think badly about ourselves, but rather to conduct an honest self-appraisal and begin change.  This is indispensable if we are to “discard the old life — the one that did not work — for a new life that can and does work under any conditions whatever.”7

Owning up to others about errors and limitations is humbling too.  We can’t claim a privileged role in this world anymore.  “No man is an island.”8  We especially acknowledge those we’ve hurt, all of whom deserved better, and devote time and effort to repair the harm.  In making amends to another: we acknowledge our wrong without making excuses or blaming others, show contrition, state our awareness of the harm we caused, and always right the wrong wherever possible.  Showing that we hear and value those we’ve hurt helps rebuild broken relationships.  The exercise also instills a sensitivity to and appreciation for everyone around us.  We stop thinking so much about ourselves and begin to focus on the needs of others. 

Finally, 12 Step humility also means having a right understanding before God.  There is an order to reality and our place in the world, and trying to make up our own rules didn’t work.  Running on our own power, we failed.  “We had to have God’s help.”9  Thus, we accepted Him as our director, and as agents we committed ourselves to doing His will.  “Thy will (not mine) be done,”10 is the rule, not the exception.  God is with us when we come to Him with a humble spirit.  He shows us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love.  Living the spiritual life reveals meaning and purpose in our daily activities.  It instills strength and courage to persevere.    

In sum, humility may not seem to be an obvious quality for recovery, but we doubt that anyone can maintain sobriety without cultivating it.  One can learn humility the easy way, or the hard way.  Refusing to admit that we are powerless, to acknowledge our failures to others, or to rely on God, are the very kinds of brash self-assurance that lead to misadventure in the next drink or drug.  We’ve seen this repeated so many times that we accept it as axiomatic. 

There is also a paradoxical quality to humility, because as seekers we never discover it within ourselves.  The fact that we must forever trudge the “road of happy destiny,”11 however, does not deter us.  We are content to place our faith in God and live by spiritual principles.  With the strength of humility comes the gift of serenity.  It allows us to flourish and to navigate even the most difficult waves of life.