Blake Wilson Comes of Age In Recovery

Blake Wilson Comes of Age In Recovery

In September, 2018, Blake Wilson found himself standing at a crossroads.  The young man in his mid-20s, some seven years into his addiction, had finally managed to alienate his caring family.  His friends were long gone.  As for his family, they’d stuck with him when others didn’t, and they had supported and encouraged him all the way.  In fact, they loved him to the point of enabling, always hoping for the best, while only receiving the very worst in return.  

When even his family had forsaken him, Blake found himself in a dark place.  He didn’t feel angry or betrayed.  This was something different.  For the first time in his young life, Blake felt completely and utterly alone.  He was drowning in solitude and self-loathing.  There was no denying it, he no longer mattered to anybody.  It was a long way from where he started in life.

Growing up in Columbia, Missouri, Blake was raised in a good Christian family and enjoyed an altogether normal upbringing.  He did pretty much everything kids ordinarily do, with a healthy smattering of church on top.  Blake excelled in sports, particularly track and field.  There were even hopes of him getting a scholarship to help pay for his college education.  He wanted to become a conservation agent or, in his wildest hopes, a professional angler.  Blake always loved the outdoors, water, and fishing.  

His life’s dreams were sidetracked when he suffered a serious knee injury while still in high school. “I spent a lot of time recovering from that,” he remembers, “in the downtime I met a different group of friends who smoked weed, and I started getting into that.” Blake ended up getting more than he bargained for, trading out a young adult’s life in exchange for weed.  

Lest anybody think that marijuana is safe and consequence free, consider the following.  Blake abandoned sports as well as his plan to attend college and pursue a career in wildlife conservation.  He also went more than $15,000 in debt attending a welding technical college that maintained a strict zero tolerance policy for drugs (also while under the influence).  Upon graduating, he declined to seek work in his technical field because there were tests that had to be passed.  While Blake knew he could pass the skills tests, he equally knew that he would fail the drug tests because he was positive for marijuana. 

Things didn’t stop with marijuana, either.  Before long, Blake discovered opiate pills and, of course, heroin.  He lived aimlessly for years this way, quitting job after job because he found someone or something to be intolerable, or losing the job because he was high.  “I couldn’t find peace and serenity in anything I was doing,” he says, “I couldn’t accept life the way it was and deal with the things in life.” 

To be fair, on two separate occasions Blake sought help from professionals.  Both involved suboxone clinics, however, with predictable results:

I’d go to the clinic every week to talk to a counselor.  So, for the first month I took the suboxone.  Then I got to the point I was taking less, feeling a little better, and would get money in my pocket.  I started selling the suboxone just to have extra money and was using heroin instead.

As mentioned above, Blake finally reached his breaking point when his family set him adrift.  He recalls, “I had finally burnt up my relationships with my friends, with my family, and my family is a really caring, loving family.  Even when they knew there was something wrong with me, and I’m lying to them, they still wanted to continue to help me. But after that, no.  It was that point when I realized I didn’t have anybody left in my life, and that made me get down on my knees.”  

Although he didn’t yet know anything about the 12 Steps, he describes for us what sounds like working Steps 1 – 3.  He asserts that he did just that:

Reflecting on it now, that’s what happened that night.  I came to the conclusion that I had a problem and I could not fix it myself.  I was willing to believe that it was totally possible that God could.  And then I asked him to do it.  

Within days Blake was at Valley Hope of Boonville. In his first day of classes there, Blake heard a CORE representative talk about the so-called cycle of addiction.  The presentation left a deep impression on him:

On my fifth day they finally let me out [of detox], and that class was the very first one I attended.  The cycle of addiction literally described my entire life to a tee.  Nothing ever hit home until I saw that.  If he hadn’t come and given that speech, I don’t know that I would have ever left Columbia.  I don’t even know if I’d be alive right now.  But that’s what brought me here to Branson, because he came and gave that speech. 

Blake arrived to CORE ready and willing to do whatever it took to recover.  He began studying the Big Book and got a sponsor.  He also started getting out of himself, volunteering and helping others. Blake identified two things in particular that he learned about which were critical for his recovery – his relationship with God, and how to be an adult:

CORE taught me that it’s about having a personal relationship between me and God.  Once I understood that, it completely revolutionized my thinking.  CORE also taught me how to be responsible, how to get up and take care of things, and how to process life in a way that allows me to live and be happy, peaceful, and serene.  I didn’t just have a drug problem, I had no idea how to live.  I had no idea how to handle the entire spectrum of life.  I’d drowned out those things with drugs. CORE completely taught me how to live life.

Blake also credits his recovery to the wise oversight of Marsha and Phil Lilley, of Lilley’s Landing on Lake Taneycomo.  “No doubt” he says, “because they have been so supportive.  They’re amazing examples of what it means to be Christians who follow God’s will.  The role models in them and the people that work there continue to drive me in the right direction.”

Blake successfully completed our one-year program.  He proudly remembers that his commencement was attended by his mom and stepdad, and also the Lilley family.  Whereupon, he began teaching CSR classes at CORE, and later he was asked to manage our Pelican House in Hollister.  He says that the best part about being a house manager “is seeing the new guys, and getting to play the same role that others played for me when I first got there, being able to discern how to talk to each person, since each person needs something just a little bit different.  The other is seeing it work.”  Blake’s clearly rubbed off on his guys, because ten of them have commenced since he took over at Pelican.  

Miracles do happen for many at CORE, and the same is true for Blake.  Currently, he’s working at Lilley’s Landing with people he respects and admires.  It’s quickly becoming the dream job he’d always hoped for.  Blake is currently studying to get his Coast Guard credentials as a charter boat captain to lead fishing expeditions.  Thus, his one-time dream of becoming a professional angler is almost within reach.  He hasn’t gotten his credentials just yet.  We don’t know how long it will take before the test day arrives.  When the guys from Pelican House show up to the Center saying things like “Arrgh!” and “Avast landlubbers!” then we’ll assume that Blake’s getting really close to taking it!   

Recovery And The Notion Of ‘Life Debt’

Recovery and the Notion of ‘Life Debt’

Almost everybody’s seen Gilligan’s Island, that sitcom about the zany, lovable bunch of castaways who depart from a tropic port for a three-hour tour but end up stranded on an uncharted, desert isle.  In one particular episode, Gilligan jumps into the lagoon to rescue a native girl, who promptly declares herself Gilligan’s servant for life.  Hilarity ensues, but the whole story is really a riff on what in modern times we call a “life debt,” i.e., a supposed obligation or debt that someone incurs when their life is saved.  

Now, as children we believed a lot of things.  We were willing to suspend our disbelief when The Professor built electronic gadgets out of bamboo and coconuts, but something about the life debt in this episode actually struck us as familiar.  We may have recognized it because the idea has been a running theme in television for more than half a century.  There probably isn’t a year since Gilligan’s Island where it can’t be found in at least one TV show.  It pops up in movies too.  As for literature, well, beginning with Homer’s Odyssey (circa 250 B.C.), the inclusion of this idea in written works dwarfs all other mediums of communication.  It’s a really common theme.

In fact, the notion of life debt is so pervasive that there are people who think that it’s simply an overused, fictional idea.  These people see it as a classic example of a “MacGuffin,” a plot device to catch the audience’s attention and drive the story along.  Even Wikipedia defines it as a “literary” phenomenon.  They think it makes for easy fiction but doesn’t have much to do with the real world.

If we’re thinking about a life debt arising from a chance meeting of two parties, then this may be correct.  The idea of a Good Samaritan trying to impose a life debt upon another seems indecorous, at best.  It certainly wouldn’t be a very popular policy.  After all, there’s been no negotiations, and no meeting of the minds about services and payment. If things were otherwise, then picking up stray banana peels might be a lucrative profession.  Even Superman says “It’s all in a day’s work.”  In like manner, we naturally expect people like our first responders to be as humble as they are heroic.  True, we want these public servants to be well-compensated and to feel our deepest thanks.  Demanding gifts from people whose lives are saved, however, is beneath the dignity of those professions. 

Despite the foregoing, there is a very real life debt that we as a society both applaud and encourage.  It arises neither through social custom nor legal obligation, but it is immensely powerful nevertheless.   This is the life debt that proceeds from the heart of someone filled with gratitude because their life has been saved.  It is felt as an irresistible impulse to pay-it-forward, so to speak, especially where the benefit might help others similarly situated.  

The more obvious examples of this are found in certain charitable organizations at work right here in the United States.  One example, discovered during our research for this article, is a prominent charity founded by a U.S. veteran.  Following a pitched battle, the veteran flatly told the person who saved his life, “I owe you a life debt.”  Upon returning home, he not only repaid his life debt to the other but also founded a charity that has gone on to save thousands of other lives since.  In addition to this example, we also noted some cancer charities and several “survivor” charities that were started because the founder’s life had been saved.  In the hearts of such persons, a flame was lit to pay-it-forward, and that flame remained undiminished by time or any obstacles.

To us at CORE, there is still another example, which we will name: Alcoholics Anonymous.  We have a written history of this from “AA Number Three” in the Big Book’s personal stories.  Number Three refers to the first person that AA founders Bill W and Dr. Bob helped get sober – Bill D, an Akron attorney and city councilman.  In his personal story, Mr. D recounts a visit from Bill W where the latter said, “the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.”  Mr. D never forgot that.  Bill W was expressing pure gratitude, and Mr. D etched the recollection into his memory as golden text.  His story concludes with a discussion of his involvement in AA’s mission and work.  He had discovered within himself the same gratitude as Bill W.

Bill W and Bill D are not isolated cases.  We believe, from our own experiences and those of others, that every individual who recovers from addiction or alcoholism by working the 12 Steps is driven to live a similar life of active thankfulness.  We are in the possession of an immensely valuable gift, and we are compelled to share it with anyone who might benefit thereby.  It is the same motivation that prompted the writing of the Big Book to begin with:

We are like passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table.  . . .The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution.  We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action.  This is the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism.

Why such gratitude?  We have talked about this elsewhere – the sense of release from a life of futility and misery, and the pervasive feeling of happiness and contentment in all things.  In every AA meeting there is a reading of the so-called Eighth Step Promises.  They include the ideas of freedom, happiness, serenity, peace, purposefulness, and selflessness, among other things.  Thus, not only have our lives literally been saved when we recover, but all of these promises come true as well.

There is another reason that is less commonly discussed, moreover.  For the recovered individual, every waking moment serves as a reminder to be thankful.  We have one among us, for example, who remembers beginning his mornings after drinking bouts long ago.  He always awoke nauseated and sick to his stomach.  It took real effort to make it to the bathroom.  That’s where his daily routine began, trying to get down enough alcohol that he could even physically function.  The bathroom was the only room for this, because accidents often happen when one is so sick.  He contrasts those memories with his morning routine today, where his morning meditations often happen in the kitchen while coffee is brewing.  Outside of the kitchen window there might be deer, turkeys, or other critters to watch.  There is a field next door, too, where mommy cows and baby calves live.  It’s just one simple experience, of course, but the contrast readily reminds our friend to begin his days grateful to God for recovery.

Indeed, for everybody who has recovered, there is an entire days worth of events that make us thankful.  Whatever occupies us – whether working, playing, helping others, waking, sleeping, talking to friends, meeting strangers, cleaning up, doing the laundry, cooking, eating, reading, dressing, or watching TV – it doesn’t matter, because we always have a point of reference that brings to mind instant gratitude.  We live mindful of the incredible blessings that God has bestowed upon us.  

Thankfulness naturally calls for action.  Our thoughts are toward helping others, especially imparting the same 12 Step program of action that saved us.  We understand that gratitude, to be vital, must be accompanied by self-sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action.  It may mean the loss of a night’s sleep, interference with our personal lives, or even interruptions to our businesses.  It may mean trips to courts, rehabs, hospitals, and jails.  Our telephones may ring at any time of the day or night.  Above all, we make a point of spending time with others, especially newcomers, helping them understand the program and how it works in our lives.  We are a blessed people, and this is a life debt that we count ourselves fortunate to bear.