Chris Combs: About Time

Chris Combs: About Time

Time.  The ticking of a second hand, passing of minutes and days, and relentless progression of months, years, and decades.  Chris Combs thinks a lot about time these days.  

We sat down last week and talked with Chris, a Taney County native and father of two who recently commenced CORE’s one-year recovery program.  In his view, time is a finite, nonrenewable resource.  It’s an irreversible arrow that mustn’t be taken for granted.  For this reason, Chris has made his new mission in life sharing the message of recovery with newcomers:

There’s still more that I need to do here at CORE.  I see all these youngsters coming in and out of here, and they all have so much potential.  Maybe I can be a father figure to some of them, I don’t know, but I don’t want to see them still trying to figure it out at my age.  All the wasted time they’ll never get back, being away from family, kids – you can’t get time back.  I want to help them all.” 

His own odyssey with drugs began more than thirty years ago.  “I was probably 16 the first time I smoked pot.  My senior year I started dabbling in methamphetamine.  One thing led to another.”  In the beginning meth seemed to imbue him with endless energy.  He says, “I got things done.  I could work all night and not need sleep.  It was go go go.”  This energized state, albeit real, was short-lived.  He soon fell headlong into the nightmarish existence of addiction.  

It was killing me mentally and physically,” he relates, “being paranoid and always emotionally stressed out.  I was a real basket case.”  Notwithstanding, social isolation is what best exemplifies Chris’ life on meth.  He avoided family and friends, and people generally, while “always looking over my shoulder, or wondering who was going to tell on me, or when they were going to come through my door.  Everywhere I went, whether by myself or with someone, it was the same.”  His aversion to people profoundly affected his life – his relationships, freedom, productivity, and self-respect. 

Chris found himself trapped in recurrent solitude.  While on methamphetamines, he was paranoid and fearful of people.  Yet, he was sober and receptive to others only while institutionalized or incarcerated.  Either way, he lived isolated and alone. 

A week before coming to CORE, however, Chris had a life-changing epiphany: he was out of time.  All those years were simply gone, with only the broken hearts of loved ones and his personal regrets to show for it.  He’d been running his entire adult life, from family, friends, the law, and even complete strangers.  Something had to give:  

Staying under the radar, paranoid, the only thing I ever accomplished was hurting my family by not being there for them.  I hated myself.  So, I’d gotten pulled over by the police and caught with an ounce of meth.  At first I took off running, and I’d gotten away from them, too.  Then I just stopped.  It hit me.  I couldn’t run anymore.  That’s all I was doing.  I was tired of that and wasn’t going to do it anymore.  So I walked back and found them and put my hands in the air.

While sitting in jail Chris heard about CORE, “They told me that if I wanted to change my life for the better, to get ahold of Bracy Sams at CORE, that he’s the one who’d get me into the program.”  

Once at CORE, Chris’ initial progress happened in fits and starts because he hadn’t fully conceded to his innermost self that he’s powerless over drugs.  He comes from a traditional family where one just makes up his mind and then does it.  In other words, he was running on his own power, which in recovery never works.  So Chris “would bounce out [of CORE] and go back to the same thing.  I thought I’d be okay, but I’d be back at it the same day I left.”  

Today Chris has found real recovery, for which he relies on not himself but God:

God – I couldn’t do anything without Him.  He walks with me every day.  When I wake up in the morning, I pray before I leave the house.  When I get home I pray before I lay my head down.  Even working . . . praying there too.  If it wasn’t for God, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”

He acknowledges CORE’s help in his recovery too, saying the best thing about it is the people.  “CORE’s done a lot for me,” he says, “by making me realize that I’m important to others and there’s no limits to what I can do once I get my head right.”  Of the program he says: 

If it wasn’t for the 12 Steps I wouldn’t have made it.  People have different ways to look at it, but the way I do it is right straight out of the book.  Me working my steps, doing 10, 11, and 12 every day . . . .  You have to work them or it gets tricky.  You can’t just white knuckle it.  Fake-it-till-you-make-it does not work.  You waste CORE’s time and everybody else’s if you’re not willing to do the steps.” 

As of today Chris is accomplishing what he wants and needs to do.  Rather than turning back the clock, he’s making new memories, memories of lasting significance.  His children are back in his life, as an example.  They now enjoy regular outings together and keep in phone contact.  His mother is happier for him now than she’s ever been, too, telling him “you got it this time, and I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”  

Additionally, Chris’ court cases have been resolved and, for the first time in twenty years, he has a driver’s license.  On top of all this, Chris is putting his natural talents in landscaping to good use at a prestigious golf course.  He’s not only working toward financial security, but he’s also meeting financial obligations toward his children, too.

We are so happy for Chris and wish him well during his time with us – which we hope and pray will be long and abundant.  Happily, his immediate plans for the future are “to stay awhile at CORE and give back.  Just help these people achieve some of the blessings I have today.”  Step Twelve is carrying the message and putting program principles into practice in all of our affairs.  We can’t think of a better place for Chris to do this than CORE!

Prayer And Recovery

Prayer And Recovery

You can tell a lot about somebody by their prayers.

Prayer seems as natural as breathing for many people.  Almost everybody prays.  More than half of America prays daily.  The number goes up dramatically if we include weekly prayer.  There are even persons without a religion who pray, if the surveys and polls are to be believed.  Lifting our hearts and minds to God appears almost instinctual.  We talk to Him about our needs, complaints, and difficulties.  We solicit guidance, offer thanks, and ask pardon for wrongs, too.

While prayer is common, there is a lot of diversity in the content of our prayers.  Beyond our immediate needs, our prayers may be very different depending on who we are and our concept of God.  For example, should we pray for stuff like, say, ice cream?  What about wealth and worldly success?  Or someone who has died?  Or the complete destruction of our enemies?  People of various denominations and beliefs respond to such questions differently, either answering “yes” or “no,” or “it depends.”  The upshot, however, is that people pray according to their character and understanding of God.

This is more than an academic matter.  Prayers like the ones just mentioned are commonplace on social media.  Nevertheless, our intent here is not to unravel their merits.  We merely point out that they reveal something beyond the actual request being made.  They divulge insight about the temperament and theology of the person or persons who make such requests of God.  

Which brings us to CORE.  We teach the recovery program outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Prayer is integral to the 12 Step program, even though AA is not a religious denomination and doesn’t promote any particular church.  The Big Book broadly suggests that we pray for God’s “protection and care with complete abandon.”  Step Eleven specifically directs us to seek “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we [understand] Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”  The Big Book is replete with instructions about prayer, all of which are part and parcel of its clear-cut, precise directions for recovery.

With the foregoing in mind, we offer below an outline of what prayer necessarily includes for us at CORE who are recovered.  We’re talking everybody – starting from our CEO and down to our clients, staff, and residence managers.  This comes from the Big Book recovery program we were taught as clients and since have learned to apply in our daily lives.  Our hope is that the Reader will find such disclosure revealing, that it will shed light on who we are and our understanding of God.

For us who have recovered, prayer begins each morning when we wake up and meditate on the day ahead.  (Yes, meditation also is “a thing” at CORE.)  “Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.”  In keeping with our mission to carry the message of recovery to others, we specifically ask God what we can do for people who are still sick, and ask that He show us “the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.”  If we face indecision during meditation, “we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision.”  

We conclude the period of meditation “with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of […] problems.  We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only.”  In fact, we “are careful never to pray for our own selfish ends” and may ask for ourselves only if others will be helped.  

Although morning meditations are considered a time of orientation and planning, we may freely supplement them with a devotion from a religious denomination, and with prayers obtained from other religious sources.  

During our daily lives we are bound to carry the vision of God’s will into all our activities.  Thus, it is common practice among us to remind ourselves that God is running the show that is our lives.  We humbly pray “How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.”  In all of our dealings, love and tolerance of others is our code.  “We continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.  When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them.”   Our further practice is to “pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action.”

In the evenings we do another meditation.  We ask ourselves, “Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid?  Do we owe an apology?  Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once?  Were we kind and loving toward all?  What could we have done better?  Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time?  Or were we thinking of what we could pack into the stream of life?”  During this meditation we are careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, as this is thought to diminish our usefulness to others.  “After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.”  

The foregoing summarizes the overall structure of our daily prayer practice and its themes.  This is how we pray, both in substance and in confident anticipation of God’s response.  Our customs may strike the Reader as unfamiliar, but over time they have become a familiar, natural part of our thinking and daily routine.  

Keep in mind that this isn’t the limit of Big Book guidance about prayer.  Still other guidance relates to particular Steps which may or may not be prayed daily.  As an example, there is the Third Step prayer, where we expressly turn our will and life over to the care of God.  We specifically ask that God relieve us from the “bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.”  Still another is the Fourth Step, where there are several suggested prayers, but one of which is what we pray concerning those about whom we hold resentments.  We ask God “to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.”  And, in the Sixth and Seventh Steps we ask for willingness to let go and that God “remove from me every single [character] defect which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows.”  

Additional direction about prayer within the Big Book addresses still other specific, life problems that, again, may or may not be encountered daily.  As a whole the Big Book guides our recovery culture and, ultimately, our corporate culture.  The above encompasses the prayer strategy we pursue daily.  Our hope is that this peek into our common practice enlightens the Reader about who we are at CORE.

* * *

Above all, CORE is a Christian organization that isn’t shy about prayer.  We teach that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible.  At CORE’s recovery centers, our staff members lead prayer during individual meetings, staff meetings, classes, and groups.  The clients living in our residential facilities pray before and after house meetings.  At our weekly worship services, we give praise and pray before and after the message, and at the beginning and end of the service.  We also maintain a prayer list for individuals in need, and we hold weekly Monday Morning Prayer for clients at all our recovery centers.  Prayer is an important part of every special event, too.  In all of our activities, we try to take to heart Paul’s words, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”