Scott Bourbon: Nothing Left to Chance

Scott Bourbon: Nothing Left to Chance

This month we spoke with Scott Bourbon!  He’s currently a manager at our Bird House in Branson.  Right out of the gate, he radiated the practical wisdom that comes with five years of recovery.    

As an example, we talked about the Big Book, which teaches that addicts suffer from an illness which only a “spiritual experience” will conquer.  When it was remarked that newcomers sometimes have difficulty understanding this phrase, Scott shifted into house manager mode.  He explained how the essence of a spiritual experience can be found in simple, heartfelt gratitude:

Driving to work in the morning, when the sun is coming up, I look around and thank God for that moment.  Thank you for this day, right now.  I know what is waiting for me if I ever go back.  And people say that it’s not going to happen for you.  It happens.  I don’t know if I ever had some kind of lightening thing light me up, but I do know this, I’m content, and happy.  My life is together, I enjoy it, and I don’t need that junk in my body.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s THAT moment they’re talking about.  The spiritual experience.  I have them all the time if that’s the case, because every day I am grateful.

We can’t help but smile at his observations.  Scott is a consummate teacher.  He uses his own life experience to illustrate his points, and he’s always ready to share. 

When it comes to working the 12 Step program, Scott says “I don’t leave anything to chance.”  To him, chance means chaos, the proverbial thief that kills, steals, and destroys.  To illustrate, he rattles off seven names in succession.  We aren’t familiar with these people, but Scott knows them.  They are his friends and loved ones, companions with whom he ran for decades in his addiction.  One by one, each died in the months following his arrival at CORE.  Some overdosed, another was in a car accident, and others suffered various mishaps, but all of the calamities were occasioned by drug use.  Reflecting on this, he says, “If I hadn’t come CORE, I’d probably be dead too, or locked up for a really long time. I’d have made some kind of mistake, too.”

We can’t detail his life as an addict here, but we can paint the picture.  He regularly kept alcohol and pills at his night stand because he couldn’t get out of bed without them.  He also remembers “going into seizures if I didn’t have pain pills, or dope, or alcohol.”  On countless times, he woke up in the hospital connected to tubes and machines.  He’s been to more rehabs than can be counted on both hands and feet.  He also was a regular at the county lock up.  “It got to the point where I’d just shine that off,” he recalls, “I didn’t really care anymore.  I figured that was my life.”  

The foregoing will sound familiar to anyone who’s struggled with substance abuse.  On top of everything, Scott’s family, children, and career became casualties of his addiction, too.  They seemed long gone, and Scott had no hope of ever hearing from his children again.  

He heard about CORE for the first time when somebody mentioned it at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting:

I’d walked over to this place called the 2116 Club.  They held NA meetings that I went to off and on over the years.  I’d just left the hospital . . .  almost went to 711 to get something to drink, but instead went to that meeting.  There was a girl who’d been in CORE.  I’d never met her in my life.  But, she overheard me talking to someone and said, hey, do you want a way out?  Ever hear about CORE?  I had no idea what it was, but she gave me the phone number.  I called and showed up four days later.  God stepped into my life that day.

Scott “never looked back” after discovering what CORE is all about.  He was ready to put 38 years of addiction in the rearview mirror.  

He insists that CORE is different from other programs, saying “you can’t find a program comparable to CORE in this country” and “They do a good job of explaining the 12 Steps.  By just doing the things that they suggest to you, I guarantee this program will save your life.”  

Scott also shared with us three things he believes were important to his recovery.  He now shares these items as advice for the guys in his house about working their own programs.  

The first is to listen.  There’s a lot of recovery at CORE.  As an example, our downstairs administrative staff who’ve been through our program – just four people – have over 60 years of recovery between them.  And CORE’s a much, much bigger place than that.  Everybody within the organization wants to help.  Scott elaborates, “It finally hit home that all I had to do was listen.  All I had to do was listen, and try something.  And it absolutely has been wonderful.  Everything I expected, happened, just by listening.”  

Second, aspire to daily growth.  Whether it’s one thing or many doesn’t matter; just make progress.  Using himself as an example, again, Scott says, “You can’t do this half-hearted.  Everyday I wake up and think, I’m going to do something a little bit better today than I did yesterday.  I still have defects of character, but no doubt I’m not the same person I was four or five years ago.  And it just keeps getting better.”

Finally, stay focused on the 12 Step program above other concerns, and be patient for the recovery blessings to happen.  Upon finding sobriety, Scott initially felt pressure to leave CORE, to establish himself, and to show everybody he was doing well.  After prayer and consideration, he decided to focus on recovery, and he stayed (“Something inside me – I just thought, I have to do this and make recovery my priority.”)   

We’re happy to report that his patience and diligence were rewarded.  Scott is reunited with his sons.  Now, they see each other (grandchildren included!) when they are able, and they also talk regularly on the phone.  In fact, the night before our interview, he’d spent two hours with them on the phone.  He adds, “And every day, I text my family in the morning, just to tell them good morning, I hope you have a great day.  I always end it with, love you, because – those are really important things (voice wavering).”

All in all, we’d say Scott’s advice is well taken at the Bird House.  Several guys recently commenced, and more are due to complete our one-year program this autumn.  This makes over ten (he’s counting in his head) who will commence out of the Bird House in roughly a year.

One of Scott’s sons has suggested that he come live near them, but Scott believes that there’s still more to accomplish here in Branson.  We understand his feelings.  He has a great career here and cares about the people he works with.  His work at CORE is greatly appreciated, too.  Scott also mentioned that his weeks just don’t seem right unless he attends our Friday night church services.  Whatever he decides, we support him 100%.  We’re happy knowing that, wherever he goes, Scott will let his light shine brightly, and he’ll give God all the glory.  

Marijuana: When Recovery Goes Up in Smoke

Marijuana: When Recovery Goes Up in Smoke

Can I be in recovery and still smoke weed?” – is a question commonly asked by hopeful clients to recovery providers.  

CORE’s also a recovery provider.  In our 25 years of existence, we have encountered this question on thousands of occasions.  It has several iterations.  One of the more frivolous, being not so much a question but rather a belief shared by some returning clients, is “I thought I could smoke weed and stay clean.”  

We have enough experience with such clients to provide a definitive answer to the above question, and the answer is no.  In a perfect world we get to have our cake and eat it too, but we live in the real world.  Smoking marijuana precludes recovery for newcomers, and it inevitably produces disastrous results for those who thought they were recovered.

Recovery is distinguishable from so-called “harm reduction”, which concedes to the addict’s demand for drugs.  Unlike harm reduction that seeks to minimize the effects of drug use, recovery is much broader and refers to new life apart from drugs and alcohol.  It is a process by which we replace old ideas, emotions, and attitudes with a new set of healthy conceptions and motives.  Clients learn to find release from care, boredom, worry, and resentments – all without mind-altering drugs.  They discover freedom and hope, and happiness in complete abstinence, which is an absolute condition for actual recovery.

The obsessive compulsion to use drugs is beyond the experience of ordinary people, who often find the illness difficult to understand.  Our clients nevertheless suffer from a condition that separates them from regular folk.  They are powerless against drugs and alcohol, and a relapse lands them into the cycle of addiction again.  Swapping out one’s drug of choice for marijuana is a nonstarter for such people because it is a mood altering substance over which the client already is powerless.  Clients are hoping to swap for a safer drug experience, but it turns out to be a drug experience nonetheless.  The old cravings return, and they discover that marijuana also destroys inhibitions against using, just like their former drug did.  Thus, the methamphetamine addict returns to meth, the alcoholic to alcohol, and so on. 

Letting an addict in recovery rely on marijuana is like letting a passenger on the Titanic carry on a weighted life preserver.  These facts have been demonstrated in so many cases that they aren’t seriously questioned within the recovery community.  Yet, addicts and alcoholics continue to experiment with marijuana, and fail.  

The issue is one of not being honest with oneself.  The Big Book foresees this unfortunate tendency, remarking that an alcoholic’s drinking career will be characterized by countless vain attempts to prove he can drink like other people.  Addicts do this too.  Smoking marijuana is simply taking another stab at the same futile exercise, the result of which is always the same.  “The persistence of this illusion is astonishing,” the Big Book says, “Many pursue it to the gates of insanity or death.”

The addict and alcoholic will reinforce this illusion by looking to the activities and attitudes of ordinary people, who are not powerless, and who do not share their malady.  The phenomenon is properly understood as another manifestation of how addiction affects the perceptions and thoughts of the sufferer. 

As an example, they may refer to state laws regarding marijuana use.  The Missouri legislature legalized marijuana for medical use in 2018.  It can be obtained with a medical marijuana card, and popular websites facilitate the process by promising a card in 10 minutes or less, or your money back, guaranteed.  The whole process appears unassumingly simple, even harmless to the addict who is in denial.

By far the most convenient excuse for addicts, however, comes from public opinion itself.  If research polls show that Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for recreational or medical use, then how bad can it be?   It’s harmless fun, something that makes us giggle and get the munchies, the reasoning goes.  It can’t be like cocaine, methamphetamines, or heroin, which addict people, make them crazy, or even kill them.  

In fact, marijuana is known to produce all these results.  As an example, two years ago, the media widely reported a story about a 19 year-old math genius named Johnny Stack.  From Colorado, he grew up in a God-country-and-apple-pie loving family.  These poor people, who otherwise were model citizens, were struck by tragedy.  Johnny jumped from a sixth story ledge.  He suffered from a psychosis caused not by methamphetamines, but by marijuana.  He was a marijuana addict, in a state where weed is completely legal.  Johnny’s death was as real as if he had overdosed on heroin.  His death is not an outlier.  His mother now leads a foundation called Johnny’s Ambassadors, which is dedicated to “saving our youth from the harms of marijuana.”  

There are many in America who would do well to educate themselves about marijuana, because the relevant studies show that it warrants the same caution as alcohol.    

The marijuana sold on the streets today is far more potent than the cheap product sold decades ago.  In 1990, a dime bag bought on the streets may well have come up from South America, where workers hacked down plants and ran them through wood chippers until the pieces were small enough to be bricked up in bags.  When somebody smoking a joint claimed “this is good stuff,” it meant their bag actually contained some amount of THC.  

Today, product sold on the streets is home grown right here in America.  It’s fresh, and consists of THC laden leaves and buds.  Improvements in hybridization and cultivation have produced plants that are inherently stronger – by an order of magnitude or more.  Using alcohol as a comparison, the difference between the old and new weed is roughly the same difference as two 12 ounce bottles, one of beer, and the other of vodka. 

Marijuana also is addictive.  At CORE, a decade ago some of us were quietly surprised to see new addicts whose drug of choice was marijuana.  We aren’t anymore.  The typical symptoms of physical dependence on marijuana are similar to other hard drugs.  Withdrawal is accompanied by symptoms like irritability, restlessness, cravings, mood difficulties, insomnia, and various forms of physical discomfort.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), estimates that 10% of all marijuana users meet the criteria for addiction.  Crunching the numbers, that’s over 4 million Americans, nationwide, who are marijuana addicts.  

Based on the foregoing, marijuana use in recovery is a dangerous decision that can result in unintended, and altogether unwanted, consequences.  A client who wishes to recover must first resolve to get sober and proceed with their recovery program. 

We do not intend for the above to be mistaken for a public policy debate about medical marijuana or about the upcoming vote on Amendment 3 which seeks to make marijuana legal for recreational use.  CORE is a recovery provider, not an abolitionist organization or teetotaler club.  We cater to the still suffering addicts and alcoholics who come to us for help.  They, and all similarly situated individuals who may become our clients, are our proper concern.

Krystal Holmes, One Step At A Time

Krystal Holmes, Ones Step At A Time

This month we spoke with Krystal Holmes about addiction and recovery.  She came to CORE just over a year ago, and by working the 12 Step program Krystal has recovered.  As we first sat down together, she chattered happily about her commencement at CORE, seeing her daughter and mother, getting her high school diploma, and her hopes for the future.  When we asked about how she first became addicted, however, things got really serious, really quickly.  We’re giving the Reader fair warning here, because her descent into the abyss is poignant and tragic (so take a deep breath!)

A sexual assault isn’t easy to talk about, much less repeated assaults, but Krystal shared her story with us precisely because it is her story.  She told it calmly and directly, explaining how she as a girl of fourteen turned to alcohol and drugs.  She never appeared to excuse her addiction – ever.  She simply told us what happened, remembering a mouse of a girl who, having been discounted by the one person who might have stopped the abuse, felt too humiliated and disgraced to ask anyone else for help.

Thus, Krystal did not live what we would call a common childhood.  A typical fourteen-year-old girl is into things like gossip and makeup, BFFs and social media.  She will talk a lot on the phone, and listen to music.  The world before her appears big, inviting, and flat-out exciting.  When it comes to her future, the sky’s the limit.  Krystal never really enjoyed these experiences and hopes.

Her social and emotional development more or less had stopped by the time she turned fifteen.  By then, she lived in a cloud of numbness and detachment.  Concentrating at school was next to impossible.  While Krystal did physically walk the halls of her school, she wasn’t really there, not really.  Krystal was distracted, continually reliving what had happened while simultaneously dreading what may come.  She was afraid to go home after school.  Whatever she was doing throughout the day, always lurking underneath was the fear of what might happen to her once she had crawled into bed at night.

This is not something that a child simply powers through or ignores.  She started using almost from the beginning.  Her poisons were alcohol and marijuana, and then methamphetamines.  The escape they offered seemed irresistible.  The step-dad finally got his comeuppance when another child victim spoke up, corroborating Krystal’s pleas for help.  He ended up in prison, but that was small comfort for Krystal.  She already thought of herself as defective, like something deep within her core was broken. 

Over the next fifteen years, substance abuse pulverized her.  There aren’t any happy highlights to share.  They all relate to still more abuse, more drugs and alcohol, as well as arrests, homelessness, and children who were taken away.  “I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror,” she says, “I was degrading myself, my [secondary] motives were wrong.”  In her own words, she was “just existing, doing whatever it took to get drugs and a roof over my head, on and on and on, for years.”  

Finally, last year her boss at work advised her to come to CORE.  Fear nearly derailed her.  “I was afraid,” she recalls, “afraid of not making it [in the program], of going back out there, of being judged.”  She overcame that fear, however, entered the program, and never looked back.  At her recent commencement, Krystal bravely stood before the crowd of staff, clients, and families, but she directly addressed newcomers to the program, urging them “to put your faith over your fear, because by doing that, God will work wonders in your lives.”  We think this reflects remarkable progress for this young woman, who came to us barely more than one year ago despairing of life itself. 

She got involved in the recovery program almost immediately upon her arrival.  Her most challenging part of the program was toward the beginning, at Steps 2 and 3.  We don’t often hear about Step 3 being a challenge as it was for Krystal.  The Step refers God “as we understood him.”  Krystal, it turns out, really didn’t have an understanding of God:

I’d never had a true father figure in my life, an earthly father, so I didn’t know how to conceive or how to go about having a heavenly father.  I just didn’t have any reference to God as a father.”

Even today, her personal understanding of God “is still evolving and growing,” but she’s thankful for the women with whom she surrounded herself during her early days in the program.  Their support and input were invaluable in helping her make an initial approach to God.  Thus, by “Day 33” at CORE, she already had begun writing on her 4th Step. 

She now considers her relationship with God to be central to her recovery.  She reads her Recovery Bible (“I try to study it the best I can“), and she also prays.  The most important thing to her, however, is that she tries to live in accordance with God’s will.  She says, “I’m trying.  Am I perfect?  No — but I’m really trying!”

Having a relationship with God also promotes her confidence and self-esteem.  In the past Krystal thought that either winning the approval of others, or getting some particular thing, would make her feel loved and give her happiness.  “Life isn’t like that,” she’s discovered, “but there is comfort knowing I’m trying to do what God wants me to do.  There is peace in that, and nobody can ever take that away.” 

Happily, her recovery has allowed Krystal to start building a new life.  Many good things already are happening.  As an example, her commencement was attended by her daughter, whom she hadn’t seen in eight years.  They met Krystal’s mother before the ceremony, the first time grandmother and granddaughter had ever met.  Krystal has reached out to other loved ones, too.  She hopes and prays that she can have a positive impact in their lives and strengthen those relationships. 

In many respects, Krystal is going back to the beginning and rebuilding step by step.  She recently passed the HiSET test and received her high school diploma.  She began studying for it only last November, and passed with solid marks.  While she is content at her present job, she’s seriously considering furthering her education.  Does she already have a college major in mind?  “I’m not sure yet,” she tells us, “I’d like to learn about psychology, all about the mind.  Maybe become a clinical psychologist.”

Of CORE, Krystal says “I think God brought me to CORE, which gave me the stepping stones to Him.  It also helped me get back on my feet.  CORE also has helped me let go of what was.”  For now, she’s content to help newcomers and to make herself available to talk, provide support, and give guidance about 12 Step work.  She wouldn’t mind managing a CORE house in the future.  Before that happens, she foresees “a lot of growth” in herself and says there are still things she wants to work on.  

We at CORE are very happy for Krystal, and we see many positive things happening for her in the future.  She is welcome to stay and mature in her knowledge and understanding of God.  Her life will continue to evolve at CORE; she will undertake a more meaningful role the further she goes in recovery.  Watching the newcomers around her grow, to see them help others, and watch the circle of women grow up about her – these are among the wonderful things she’ll want to experience! 

The Blame Game

The Blame Game

On the Q & A website Quora, there appears a post by someone who intentionally destroyed the exhaust hood above her kitchen stove.  Over a period of years, she lost too many “bits of scalp” to it and finally had enough.  Her resentments against this inanimate object became so great that she sincerely wanted to harm it.  So, with a 16-pound sledge hammer, she beat it to a pulp.  A picture of the crumpled gadget is proudly included with her post.  According to her, it got what it deserved.  The thought that it might simply have been adjusted, moved, or avoided, apparently never occurred to her.  

There’s something in human nature that makes us want to cast blame.  Other examples might be someone who lashes out at a cell phone, computer, or car.  More often than not, one finds reason to blame another person or group of people.  These days the air seems filled with blame.  Modern culture has taught us well how to hold others morally responsible for our own difficulties.  While this may provide a cathartic release, the so-called “blame game” simply diverts our attention from personally making positive changes and improvements.    

While we won’t definitively say that addicts are more quick to blame others than “normal” people, the before-and-after differences in us who have recovered seem striking.  In our addictions, we were like:

the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine . . . complaining about the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the [twenty-first] century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave . . .

Big Book, at 61-62.  We blamed the people and things around us, too.  We saw our personal circumstances as reasons for using drugs and alcohol in the first place.  Once we became hooked, they became easy scapegoats to blame for our continued poor behavior.

So long as we made excuses for our addictions, we freely ignored matters affecting our careers, home lives, and personal relationships – to say nothing about our substance abuse itself.  When everybody and everything good in our lives was finally gone, and blame was about all that we had left, we used it to justify our continuing addictions.  In short, the blame game forms a significant part of every alcoholic and addict’s thinking.  

Now, through the lense of recovery, we easily see that substance abuse is always a maladaptive behavior.  There’s never a good reason for it.  Moreover, if we are to live well-adjusted, purposeful lives, our internal focus has to shift away from playing the blame game to taking personal responsibility.  It’s no accident that the following prayer is recited in thousands of 12 Step meetings, every day, throughout the world:

God, grant me the serenity –

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

So, how do the 12 Steps help us accomplish this?  Initially, every one of the Steps variously charges us with taking personal responsibility.  There are two steps, moreover, that directly confront the tendency to play the blame game.

First, there is Step 4, which involves taking a “fearless and moral inventory.”  This step actually contains several inventories that require an honest, open look at oneself.  One is the Resentment Inventory, in which we must identify all of the persons against whom we hold grudges, i.e., we blame them for something.  

This step isn’t a pity party or opportunity to air grievances.  As it happens, our resentments are prime opportunities to discover our own character defects, which is what this step is all about.  In this inventory, we go beyond our grievances and consider how our own conduct either caused or contributed to them.  We identify where we are at fault, and we flatly take responsibility for it.

The Resentment Inventory, along with the Step’s other inventories, must be performed fearlessly, because of the depth of self-examination and vulnerability they entail.  But, it’s really with resentments that we see how we’ve made selfish demands of others, or otherwise placed unrealistic expectations on them.  The exercise leads us into an understanding of how healthy relationships with others work.  It’s the antithesis of blame.  Indeed, as the Big Book instructs:

We tried to disregard the other person entirely.  Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man’s.  When we saw our faults we listed them.  We placed them before us in black and white.  We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.

Second, Step 9 gives us actual opportunity “to set these matters straight.”  It involves making direct amends to people we have harmed, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  This step is huge because the blame game is expressly excluded:

It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults.  Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth.  . . .Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue.

Big Book, at 77.  

Amends are made in person or, where circumstances require, through some other form of communication.  In all cases, they include admitting what we have done, an express acknowledgment that such conduct was wrongful, and a sincere apology – all without making excuses or blaming the other person.  It can be a formidable step, depending on the amends we make, but its benefits far exceed any imagined risks.  We can take this step because we’re developing a healthy sense of self and possess true compassion for our fellows.  In short, we’re no longer immersed in the blame game.

Every effective recovery program will speak to the person’s relationships with others, and to their reactions to life’s circumstances.  Effectively addressing the blame game is simply one of the places where the 12 Steps so obviously excel.  Unlike so many sobriety programs today, that swap one drug for another, and whose steps immerse the client in checklists and accounting ledgers for alcohol and drug use, the 12 Step program is the gold standard for recovery for good reason.  It’s the real-deal for those of us who want lasting change, where the obsession is gone, and we enjoy true freedom and live with serenity, hope and purpose.