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.”