Caren Barnes Speaks about Recovery, Christmas, and a Little Box Turtle

Caren Barnes Speaks about Recovery, Christmas, and a Little Box Turtle

Meet Caren Barnes!  Commencing CORE’s one-year recovery program just this past March, Caren manages our 6th Street House for women and also is a member of our Second Mile benevolent group.  Her testimony for us was dense with information about her addiction, recovery, and hopes for the future.  So, we’ll get straight to the point and write about parts of her testimony that maybe we shouldn’t, i.e., the top secret stuff about CORE!  We can’t sit on this (looking both ways) so here goes . . .

Ever wonder how certain things happen at CORE?  Not the regular stuff, but like, the BIG events?  CORE’s annual Christmas event, for example?  This is a truly monumental undertaking.  But who actually does this stuff?  How do they do it?  What actually happens behind the scenes?  

We had no idea how to answer these questions until Caren walked through our door.  While we exchanged the usual pleasantries, CORE’s Operations Manager Gary Osborn peeked into the office, said hello, and thanked Caren for all of her hard work.  That sure got our attention.  What work?  It turns out that she and her teams of volunteers – in the middle of summer – have been preparing for Christmas all along!

Every year, CORE sets up a gigantic holiday store where people find toys and household items to last throughout the whole year.  It’s all free, and last year’s event was so big that it took four classrooms, a central foyer, and a long hallway at the Hollister School District just to hold everything.  Everything was beautifully organized by item and category, too.  This year may be even bigger, and the person in charge of organizing this year’s event was sitting right in front of us.  As Caren explained:

The [Branson] warehouse was getting to be kind of a mess.  We’d had people every Tuesday picking up donations and putting them there.  Little did I know it all had to be separated, marked, and organized.  Gary’s like, you know all this has to be organized?  He asked if I would take on the project, and I agreed.  So the girls from 6th Street, or any other girl who wants to volunteer, have been coming over there.  It’s become a huge job.  A really huge job.

At first I’d just go over there and play my music and start in.  From there, I started having meetings over there where we’d get pizza and stuff.  And then people who needed community service started coming over.  So now it’s Mondays and Tuesdays, and I make sure everybody gets over there for whatever time they need.

We always wondered how CORE’s Christmas event happens.  Now we know.  

For her own part, Caren didn’t notice what CORE was doing last year for this holiday event.  She was still a client and “still in myself,” as she puts it.  What a difference a year in recovery makes.  What’s important to her today is that people in need will get help.  “Whatever they need, here it is,” she says, “It’s their Christmas.  They don’t have to know who I am, but it’s the best Christmas present I can give to the community.  I’m overjoyed to help, and it really warms my heart!”  

Caren certainly has a lot to be thankful for today, too, but it wasn’t always so.  She lost her husband while she was still in her teens, and then spent twenty years in her addiction.  “At one point, my kids got taken away,” she remembers, “It was a big fight.  All the money, the court dates.  I was eight years on probation and did jail time.  My whole life seems like a blur.  I can’t tell you how many times I ended up in jail.  DUI, meth, crack.  I was always caught.”  

How bad did things get for her?  She was unable to even think about what life might be even if she got clean.  She explains, “I was powerless, but at the time I didn’t really know what addiction really was.  I’d seen it most of my life.  It was the harsh reality of life, normal.”  Moreover, a mere eighteen months ago, Caren’s life had become completely unmanageable.  To top it off, she was fired from her job because of substance use.  A despondent Caren had to walk home because she had lost her driver’s license, too.

Fortunately, every cloud has a silver lining.  In this case, losing her job turned out to be the first in a chain of events that brought Caren to CORE.  While she was trudging home that day, Caren saw a recovery facility where they also held AA/NA meetings.  She’d never been to a recovery meeting before, not ever, but this time she remembers “I was upset and thought, well, I’m going to walk in on this meeting.  I need something.”  At that very meeting she met the son-in-law of her boss, the one who just fired her.  He promised to help get her into a detox, to which she consented.  “I went home, packed my bags, and went to detox.  I was there for 40 days.  And a counselor there kept talking about Branson, Missouri.  She said, I have a place I think you should go, it’s called CORE, in Branson.  She said, I don’t know why, but I just see that you would do good there.”

Caren had never been to Branson before, but she made the trip with the help of her concerned father.  The first thing she remembers was our women’s coordinator, Jen Brinkman, taking her in with open arms.  Because she arrived on a Friday, she spent the day at our recovery center and attended our Peace in the Storm worship services that evening.  “When I first went to church, I cried when Cary [McKee] was talking,” she remembers, “I knew I truly belonged here.  After church, I couldn’t wait to get home and see the house.”

She describes herself as a slow starter in the program itself.  Nevertheless, once she saw the truth about who she is apart from recovery, there was no turning back for Caren.  She says, “I did pay attention in class, and then the more attention I paid at church and in class, I came to really understand that I’m here for a reason, and that I’m powerless.  After that, I’m giving everything I can to my program from here on out.  I became a chore coordinator.  I’m volunteering.  At work I’m a totally different person.  I’m giving everything I can.” 

This past March, Caren commenced our one-year recovery program.  She vows never to forget where she came from, and she credits God for her recovery:

I feel like my turnaround is because of having God in my life.  I hear God now.  Not by sound, but by the journey I’m on and which way He wants me to go.  Living in what He wants me to do.  I meditate.  I reflect back on my days.  I do my steps and preach it, walk it, and do everything I can.  This is my one shot in life.  I can’t see living any other way ever again.”  

On April 24th of this year, Caren received a telephone call from Jen asking if she wanted to manage our 6th Street House.  “Jen said, we talked about it, and we think you’d be the best fit.  She said it’s your house; do what you can to make it a great one.  I’ve been there ever since, and I absolutely love it.”  To Caren, being a house manager is not having  people look up to her.  She explains, “I’m helping other girls.  I’m the same as them, and I’m going to treat them the way I want to be treated.  That’s what I do at 6th Street.  We’re all the same.  Everybody feels like they can open up, and we’re all really close here.” 

As a supplement to her new role, Caren is determined to put her gardening skills to use.   “I did take crop science and love gardening,” she says, “I’ve always pictured myself in a truck with a bed full of flowers and stuff that I’m doing.”  By the happiest of circumstances, she’s not only eligible to get her license back, but she also was working on it the very day we spoke.  We hope Caren gets her truck soon.

Our interview with Caren then brought yet another unexpected bonus.  She told us stories about a box turtle living in the yard at 6th Street House.  We listened intently, and we wondered – is there a children’s book in these stories, perhaps?  The off chance that Caren may become a famous author someday makes us hesitant to retell these valuable stories here.  It suffices to say that the box turtle is busy at 6th Street House and is enjoying many turtle adventures there. 

On the family front, Caren excitedly described how she maintains close contact with loved ones. “My main amends were to my children.  Raising them, they knew I wanted them to finish school.  They’d seen some of my caring nature.  I fed them every night.  But they didn’t really know me.  Now, I talk to them almost every day.  Of course, they forgave me before I even made amends.  And I’m a grandma now.  I do talk to her [i.e., her granddaughter] every day.  We Facetime.  She points at me through the phone.”  Caren also reports being in good standing with her siblings (“they’re proud of me”) and suddenly offers “My dad called me just yesterday, too, which he’s never really just called me out of the blue.” 

So, what’s in Caren’s future?  For one, she loves her job here in Branson and plans to be there for awhile.  She started the job in the first week she got here, and further reports, “It’s great to be working and being in the best health I’ve ever been, and to be at peace.  Money can’t buy what I feel right now.  I feel richer now than I’ve ever been in my entire adult life.”  Hearing this, we naturally are very pleased for Caren.  But what about CORE?  And the turtle?  

Happily for all, as a member of our Second Mile group, Caren will be here for at least another year.  She still feels new to recovery and wants to give herself time to learn what she likes and doesn’t like, and about self-care and loving herself more.  Also, she says confidently, “as a house manager, I feel like I’ve more to give.  I’m not done helping.  I still feel like I’ve got a lot to do here.”

Working Step Four: Some Preliminary Observations for the Newcomer

Working Step Four: Some Preliminary Observations for the Newcomer

Nothing quite compares to solving the drink or drug problem.  New life has been given to those of us who have recovered.  The 12 Step program puts us in possession of a design for living that really works.  We know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We wake up every morning in a position of neutrality, safe and protected.  We haven’t even sworn off drugs and alcohol.  We don’t need to.  Instead, the obsession has been removed and no longer exists for us.  An incredible sense of freedom pervades us, fills us with gratitude, and compels us to show others how we found this release.

These blessings are unimaginably wonderful, but to get there, we have to work the 12 Steps.  And that also includes the big, scary 4th Step! 

Dr. Bob summarized the 12 Step program as “trust God; clean house; help others.”  Step 4 is where we begin cleaning house.  It individualizes a treatment plan that is personally tailored to fit our specific needs.   It’s like no other therapy or approach.  A properly done 4th Step makes harm reduction methods advocated by popular internet gurus – like counting drinks, planning sober days, trigger management, and swapping one drug for another – appear incredibly naive and childish in comparison.

In this step we go way beyond remedial measures that aren’t effective and don’t work.  We get down to the “causes and conditions” of our problem.  Drinking and drugging are symptoms of a spiritual disease.  So, we have to take a long, hard, and honest look at ourselves.  Through self-examination and reflection, we discover our character defects.  It’s a “moral inventory” about right and wrong, and good and bad.  The object is to find out what’s broken inside of us so that by working the Steps we can fix it.  We’re looking for all of the obstacles that block us from living a spiritual life.  We can’t change the people, places, and things around us.  But by changing what’s inside of us, we are amazed at how awesome life becomes on the other side.  

Because this step entails a comprehensive, in-depth look at what makes us tick, chances are that we won’t finish it in a day.  However long it takes, that’s okay.  When we’re done, we’ll know.  At a minimum, we will have “ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is [and] put our finger on the weak items in our personal inventory.”  Big Book, at 72.  By making an inventory of our grosser handicaps, we make a good beginning on discovering the obstacles in our path to getting the new attitude, the new relationship with our Creator, that sustains a lifetime of recovery. 

There are three inventories in Step 4: our (1) resentments, (2) fears, and (3) sex conduct.  Someone unfamiliar with 12 Steps may not appreciate how these three topics reveal all of the character defects that are relevant to our addiction.  Nonetheless, taken together, these three topics make an ideal telescope through which to spot where we have been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened, over the course of our entire lives.  By structuring the inventories in this manner, the Big Book reflects the kind of insight that makes it so treasured, and so suited for recovery.

At first blush, we expect that newcomers are eager to begin on this inventory in light of the benefits that follow.  We realize, however, that some may feel hesitant to begin this process.

Some may fear that doing a 4th Step will make us feel bad about ourselves.  Being new to recovery, we already may feel bad enough about ourselves and would rather wrap ourselves in positive psychology.  Recovery is supposed to focus on the good things about sobriety, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t it always be uplifting?  Rather than focus on our shortcomings, our first thought is to enlarge on our character strengths and virtues.  If an inventory must be done, some of us would prefer looking at the positives, not negatives.

It so happens that there are bubble gum commenters out there who would applaud this approach.   Their idea of rehab is a colorful room surrounded by catchy, upbeat slogans.  At CORE, we are concerned with actual recovery.  An inventory of our supposed strengths is not particularly helpful here.  It’s not in the Big Book, either.    

In this step we’re defining the problem so that it can be fixed. The process may be humbling, but it’s essential to lasting recovery.  Real improvement means changing the flaws in our make-up which caused our failures.  An honest, fearless, and thorough search for these things is a logical, necessary step. It may not inflate our egos, but it gets beneath the self-deceptions and denials we used to get ourselves in such trouble to begin with.  We have to search out our character defects as if our lives depend on it – because they do.  CORE is a safe environment that surrounds us with sympathetic, caring people, making this process a lot easier.    

There also may be some who feel like we don’t have any resentments.  We’re cool with everybody, we think, and any personal differences with others are so trivial that they can be safely forgotten. 

To be frank, emotional awareness is rarely a strength for someone who is freshly detoxed and new to recovery.  Throughout our addictions, we’ve been suppressing our feelings with drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.  Some of us, for a long time.  We might pick up on other people’s emotions but, when asked what our own feelings are, we may not have an answer.  For us who have been emotionally numb for an extended time, it can be difficult to identify resentments.  Nevertheless, we have to if we are to get well.  We’ll not only name them and process them, but we’ll also be done with them for good.

This is where the recovery community at CORE can really help.  Whether a staff member, house manager, or community member who’s working the steps, there are many people at CORE who gladly will sit down with us and help us get in touch with our feelings.  Resentments are part of the human condition, and everyone who’s battled a pill or a bottle has them.  The people here will talk to us so that we can pinpoint our disagreements with somebody or something else.  With their help, we’ll begin to discover resentments lurking underneath.  

The object is not to send us into a tantrum of rage, but rather to help us explore our pasts, identify our resentments, and fully process them.  Unresolved resentments are infinitely grave for the alcoholic or addict.  They make fertile ground for the obsession to drink or drug again.  Hanging onto resentments also prevents us from undertaking the honest, objective inventory of ourselves that the Step 4 requires.

Facing this step, we cannot let our fear of the effort overwhelm us.  We may feel as if our time spent without alcohol and drugs already has changed our outlook on life.  We feel great today.  Why upset the applecart by dredging up heartbreaks from the past?  

The Big Book anticipates our feeling about this, echoing “What an order! I can’t go through with it.” Big Book, p. 60.  That’s why it begs us to be both fearless and thorough.  We can’t deny or minimize the existence or seriousness of our problem.  We didn’t agree to spend a year with CORE because we’re on vacation.  Have we ever overdosed?  Been incarcerated?  Lost a career, or a home?  Lost a spouse, children, or friends?  There’s never a better time to tackle the addiction problem than now.  The time and support we need, all of it, is here, right now.  When we look around the community at CORE, there’s a reason why we who are working the steps are not in jails, institutions, or dead.  We’ve recovered, and you can too.  So let’s get to it. 

Dallas Conaway: Putting the Shovel Down

Dallas Conaway: Putting the Shovel Down

Surveying our lives is best done when we’ve just accomplished a major goal.  We’ve proverbially climbed the highest summit and feel like we’re valued and satisfied, and sometimes unstoppable.  Standing at the top, we look around for new vistas to conquer.

Meet Dallas Conaway!  By all appearances, Dallas should be on top of a mountain and feeling pretty good right now.  Not only did he and his beautiful wife just have a new baby to add to their growing family, but Dallas recently became CORE’s intake coordinator for the men at our Branson Recovery Center.  On top of this, he also teaches our Common Solution Recovery (CSR) classes and manages one of our intake houses.  Dallas’ future looks brighter today than ever because he has worked the 12 Step program and recovered.

We at CORE are so happy for Dallas, but when we recently spoke to him for this article, he reminded us that, only two years ago, things didn’t look so rosy.  He was taking stock alright of his life, but he didn’t like what he saw.  At 27 years old, his vantage point was more of a deep pit than a brightly lit summit.  Dallas said, “Rock bottom was where I put the shovel down.”  Indeed.  And his return to health is one of the most exciting success stories in recent memory.  We are very proud of him!

Dallas got off on the wrong foot at an early age.  He grew up in the Bay Area of California surrounded by addicts and alcoholics.  “My dad was [an addict], and all of my friends’ dads were too,” he says, “these were the people I respected and admired, and that’s what they were doing.”  So, at the age of 11, Dallas himself began using.  Behavioral issues followed, and he got bounced back and forth between parents until finally landing with his aunt and uncle in Hollister, Missouri.  Dallas was in his teens by now, and his aunt and uncle gave him a normal life and provided for him well.  His uncle even taught him how to lay flooring, at which Dallas excelled to the point of becoming his own subcontractor.  

Even in his early 20s, Dallas was back at his substance use.  Worse, he was beginning to lose control.  He began drinking while still on the job, and things only got worse from there.  “And then before I knew it, I have to leave work to drink.  You know how that goes.  I’m getting less work done and doing call-backs to fix the things I did while drunk.  It became an ongoing thing and ruined my business.”

One bright spot in his life during these tumultuous years was meeting his wife, Sarah.  Dallas swears that she’s a saint who obviously didn’t fully appreciate what she was getting into with him.  Her efforts on his behalf were boundless.  Before he finally arrived to CORE in 2021, Dallas remembers that much of their relationship “was her trying to talk sense into me and trying to help me get better.”  Included in this were numerous rehabs and detoxes (Dallas remembers at least ten separate check-ins).  They even tried to detox him at home: 

We knew that something needed to change.  I went to rehab, to detox.  Over the years we tried and tried.  I even tried to do it on my own.  To stay even a few days clean I’d have her lock me in my room.  No phone, going nowhere, not even outside to smoke.  We put a lock on the door that locked from the outside that only Sarah could open.  I was afraid to leave my room.  I didnt want or need to see or talk to anybody.

By 2016 Dallas started picking up criminal charges.  He was well-known in the Tri-Lakes drug scene, and no stranger to the county jail.  He remembers Sarah being embarrassed to go out with him in public because he caused chaos wherever they went.  As for his family back in California, Dallas had long been out of touch with his parents and siblings.  He remembers that nearly his whole adult life had been one long crisis.

Still, a second bright spot happened when Sarah become pregnant with their first child, Willow.  At the time, Dallas was reconciling himself with being an addict forever, but Sarah had decidedly different plans.  She laid down the law:  Dallas could not live in their home with the baby while he was high.  He would have to get better or leave.  Dallas vividly remembers disappointment on his wife’s face.  He said “I remember the change in her eyes, like shed reached the point of losing hope of me doing anything good.”  

With this, Dallas determined to go back on the wagon.  He soon discovered, however, that he was completely powerless over his addiction:

I see people around me that do it.  So, I’m thinking, if they can, then I can too.  I have strong willpower.  I can do this.  How little did I know; I was lying to myself.  When Willow was born, I told myself, I’m done.  I’m white-knuckling it trying so hard not to use.  That lasted a couple of days.  I cried with a needle in my arm, wanting so much not to do it.  But I did anyway, two weeks after she was born.

Exiled from his home, Dallas went to live alone in a trailer outside of Branson.  Making matters worse, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.  Things certainly looked bad for Dallas at that point.  

That’s when the real disaster hit.  While Dallas was at home recovering from his injuries, a fugitive from justice showed up one night at his home.  The individual actually came through Dallas’ front door, with the police hot on his heels.  What the police saw in Dallas’ trailer put him in jail:   

I remember, while they walked me down to the pod, everybody’s calling to me saying Dallas, the man!’  They think they know me?  I felt like a lost boy, a broken coward.  I never felt so low in my life.  My wife and daughter are out there, on their own, and I was in county jail.”

Still worse, Dallas had a long back-up.  But that’s when a third bright spot happened for him.  We aren’t exactly sure what Dallas saw in his wife’s face earlier, but Sarah in fact had not given up on Dallas.  She still had hope for him.  While he was sitting in jail, she had been in contact with CORE, and we were willing to accept Dallas on a pretrial release.  Of the day of his release, he recalls two things vividly, one, the judge reading him the riot act and, two, his genuine fear that he was powerless to heed the judge’s warnings.  By now, Dallas knew himself only too well.

Dallas arrived to CORE while we were locked down for Covid.  He took full advantage of the down time, finding a sponsor and reading the AA Big Book for hours a day.  “It was more than just reading,”he says upon reflection, “I was studying what it really says and means.”  Within three weeks of his arrival, Dallas was writing on his 4th Step.  His 5th Step took over eight hours to complete, and Dallas was well on his way working through his steps and recovering. 

As his clarity and sanity returned, Dallas filled with gratitude.  He began by sharing his experience, strength, and hope with newcomers in his CORE residence and also at group meetings.  Then he began volunteering.  He says, “This place has given me so much.  If there was any way I could help, then I wanted to make sure that I was giving back, because of what CORE has given me.”  He was hired by CORE after the departures of two of our employees, first in our transportation department, and then in our intake services.  For both jobs, his hiring seemed natural because he already had been volunteering in these departments to begin with.  In this manner, Dallas became a valued member of our CORE staff.

The fact that Dallas is now a member of our staff comes with an added bonus: we get to be part of his family!  Last winter, when the entire town of Branson was shut in because of ice and snow and everything was blustery outside, Sarah and Dallas were at the hospital having their second child.  All of our staff eagerly waited at home, phones in hand, pestering Dallas with texts and collectively anticipating this CORE baby watch.  Sarah’s labor was challenging for all (mostly her, we’d guess), and an organization-wide cheer went up upon the arrival of baby Atlas!

Still other good things have happened for Dallas.  For one, he’s back in the lives of his mom and siblings.  In fact, his mother saw Willow after she was born and now Facetimes with her almost daily.  He’s also resolved his legal entanglements.  While there is accountability and more probation for him, Dallas is glad to make these amends.  Further, he and his wife are planning for him to move back home soon, permanently, which is something Dallas really looks forward to.

Does this mean CORE will lose Dallas in the near future?  No, he laughs:

God has opened up doors for me.  It’s a blessing to take the phone call that helps lead the new guy out of all that.  Its also humbling because I remember when I was that phone call.  Reaching out and helping newcomers grounds my recovery.  I’m their first point of contact to answer questions about things.  Im running an intake house and walking them through the 12 Steps during CSR classes. This is an important job for me.  I want to relate to the new people, put them at ease, and meet them where theyre at.  This is a career, and I plan on being here for the long-term.”

Step 3: “Made a Decision to Turn Our Will and Our Lives over to the Care of God as We Understood Him”

Step 3: “Made a Decision to Turn Our Will and Our Lives over to the Care of God as We Understood Him

At CORE, we take our responsibility to clients seriously.  We believe, as did AA co-founder Bill Wilson, that our chief responsibility to the newcomer is an adequate presentation of the 12 Step recovery program.  Step 3 of this program, in which we decide to make God the director of our lives, has been described as the “keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”  Big Book, p. 62.  Such freedom from drugs and alcohol is a primary aim of our program.  

To appreciate the meaning of this step, we do well to consider the personal circumstances of the men who drafted and published it.  All were alcoholics, of course.  For each, their drinking careers had brought them to a singular moment of personal crisis.  Their financial, personal, and people resources had been totally spent.  They were at the jumping-off place, facing insanity and death, with no way out.  It is crucial that we understand this, because unless we put ourselves in their shoes and feel the gravity of their dilemmas, we might miss what Step 3 is all about.   

Normies, who happily never have battled addiction, can’t be faulted for not fully appreciating this situation.  Nonetheless, let the Reader try to imagine a group of men who were at the end of the line.  No matter how hard they tried or wanted, they could not stop drinking.  Their homes, jobs, and careers were gone.  For many, their wives, families, and friends had given up hope and abandoned them.  To survive they resorted to foraging, stealing, or panhandling.  Not surprisingly, many were homeless, sleeping outside or in whatever shelter could be found.  Often they were found in hospitals, prisons, and sanitariums.  To the last man, they were hopeless drunks, and they knew it.  

We don’t want to give the impression here that their situations were the fault of the people around them.  To the contrary, many efforts (sometimes Herculean) had been made by doctors, judges, ministers, priests, friends, and loving family members.  None of these interventions helped. The many hospitals, doctors, counselors, therapies, and all of the personal strategies, so many times repeated, were of no avail to these men.  They were out of options and felt the full weight of their situations.  “Pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization” well describes their emotional state, which was despair coupled with a sense of impending doom. 

It is here we get to Step 3.  Some of these men were religious.  Some were atheists.  The vast majority, however, were somewhere in between, holding varying beliefs and ideas about God.  Regardless of their spiritual situation, alcohol had them down for the count.  In this, their darkest hour, when all was lost and hopelessness permeated their whole being, these men called out to God.  In desperation, they made their plea, no matter what their conception of God was, and no matter how much or how little their belief. 

When this plea was made, moreover, an apparent miracle occurred.  It happened for each of them, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.  But for all, they understood the event as a great turning point in their lives.  For in it they had made a decision to turn their will and life over to the care of God, however they understood Him, and unreservedly placed themselves under His protection and care.  The decision became a conscious part of their daily, waking existence.  It impelled them to follow a few, simple rules to fit themselves for service to God and others.  Whereupon, these former dregs of humanity began to walk in newness of life.  The overpowering obsession for alcohol?  It was gone, lifted, finito – completely.  And that was only the beginning of the blessings that this new life would bring.            

The few, simple rules that these men followed were translated into the AA 12 Step program of recovery.  These men had undergone a spiritual experience that produced a temperament free of any obsession for drugs and alcohol, and a life filled with serenity, hope, and purpose.

Everyone who has been blessed with this spiritual experience readily dismisses the idea that it comes from within us or from outside people, places, or things:  

When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift …

Twelve and Twelve, pp. 106 – 07.  The Big Book outright identifies this gift-giver, saying “there is One who has all power – that One is God.  May you find Him now!” Thus, God is central not only to Step 3 but also to the 12 Step program as a whole.  

We want to emphasize God’s place here because there is persistent, pernicious attitude cropping up in certain treatment circles that would prefer God to be optional.  Some of the culprits are internet gurus.  Others can be found in AA/NA meetings.  Still others are counselors giving advice in rehabs and recovery centers.  Regardless of the origin, newcomers are being counseled to freely swap God for any higher power or principle they want.  Step 3 is really about admitting we can’t get better by ourselves – these unfortunates are told – it’s about letting go of self-sufficiency and allowing others to help us get better.

Any version of Step 3 that omits God represents an extremely naive view of the addict’s experience.  We at CORE can speak first hand to this issue.  We once found ourselves in the same place as the original AAs.  Staring at our impending deaths, we had tried everything to get better.  We sought out others for help and became willing to try almost anything.  Whether doctors, hospitals, medication assisted treatments, counseling, judges, family, friends, the many personal strategies to cut down or quit, not to mention the more incredible things like music, love, philosophy, exercise, sunsets, or even eating certain foods – we’d tried them all.  Step 3 was written with full understanding that the real addict and alcoholic naturally will grasp at these things and fall flat on their faces.  Factually, neither we nor any other human being can provide a defense against the first drink or drug.  That defense must come from a Higher Power.

While it’s true that AA doesn’t require us to adopt a certain conception of God, and its membership is open to anybody who wants to stop drinking regardless of belief, these in fact represent the starting points for many who begin working the 12 Step program.  That’s not where we end up!  At Step 3 – as Bill Wilson observed in his autobiography – “They only needed to cry out in the dark for whomever or whatever might be there. No faith would be required. That would be part of the gift itself.”

The Big Book’s references to “Higher Power” and “God as we understood Him” properly refer to the personal experiences of the original AA members.  They pointedly describe alcoholics who in some cases had little or no conception of God.  As the book says, “we had to begin somewhere,” and the sufferer’s own conception of God, no matter how limited, was sufficient to make that beginning.  As such, the Big Book expresses God in terms that “anybody—anybody at all—could accept and try.” AA Comes of Age, p. 211.  Recovery is available to everyone “provided he does not close his mind to spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial” Big Book, p. 568.

Addiction and alcoholism is deadly, serious business.  At CORE, our intent is to give the newcomer a fighting chance, and far more.  By working the 12 Steps we begin to solve problems that seemed insurmountable.  We are possessed of a new sense of power and direction, and a revolutionary change takes place in our way of living and thinking.  We find a new peace and happiness that we’ve never known.  We face life successfully and lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter.  We are reborn. “Consciousness of the Presence of God”, as the Big Book says, “is today the most important fact” of our lives.