Counselor Bruce Wood: Making a Difference

Counselor Bruce Wood: Making a Difference

Meet Bruce Wood!  He’s a seasoned substance abuse counselor who has dedicated 40 years of his life to helping people find their way to recovery. His career is marked by his commitment to understanding the complexities of addiction, adapting to the evolving landscape of substance abuse, and most importantly, participating in the transformation of countless lives.

Bruce’s professional venture into counseling began in 1984.  His motivation stemmed from personal experience and his college education. Growing up in an alcoholic home, he felt a calling to help others navigate the challenges of addiction. Despite initially preparing for a medical career, Bruce says his Higher Power guided him towards counseling, where he found his true calling.  “I could see that this was what I’m supposed to do.  I was set for a medical career, just waiting for the semester to start.  When the time came, I’d already committed in my head and heart to do counseling.”

Over the course of his distinguished career, Bruce has worked with all of the big names in Springfield – the hospitals, the behavioral health centers, and also Springfield Public Schools.  He even owned his own clinic for a time.  As owner and manager, he oversaw more than a dozen counselors, but he tells us that “administration wasn’t my cup of tea.” What Bruce really wanted was to do client care, so when an opportunity in Branson opened for him in 2011, he answered the call.  For the next ten years, he conducted counseling, groups, and SATOP classes.  Then came the Covid pandemic and a decision to retire.  “I decided to retire after two years of Covid, where I did treatment out of my living room by computer.  It had become so impersonal sitting at a computer screen.  So, I thought maybe this would be a good time to bow out, to retire,” Bruce says.  

Happily, his decision was short-lived, and it was a telephone call with CORE’s CEO Cary McKee that marked the turning point.  As if reliving the moment out loud, Bruce recalls, “I called Cary just to talk.  I had six weeks into retirement.  I said to him, ‘Cary, I’m tired of fishing.  I’ve had my fill.  I’ve got to figure out something to do.’  When I mentioned some agencies who might be looking for a counselor, he said he’d been wanting to create the CARE program. I said, ‘I’d be willing to develop that if you need help.’” Within two weeks, Cary called Bruce back, seeking his expertise to plan, develop, and conduct our CARE relapse prevention and awareness program for individuals committed to maintaining sobriety.

Bruce has been at the helm of the CARE program for more than two years.  It’s designed to address the Cycle of Relapse and is a client-driven initiative. It supports individuals who have experienced lapses in the past but are determined to recover.  For the program to work, Bruce says that it’s vitally important to address the early stages of relapse, such as fleeting ideas and toying with fantasies, to prevent progression to more critical stages of relapse.  He also sees as significant the fact that participation is wholly voluntary, saying “In 40 years, this is the first time I’ve ever worked with people who genuinely and consistently want recovery.  Before, many wanted recovery services but were driven by the legal system or family expectations.  It wasn’t always coming from within.  No matter how much mom wants me to recover, or I want to do it for mom, the motivation has to come from within.  Anything else won’t work.”

From a numbers standpoint, the CARE program has been a smashing success.  Despite this accomplishment, Bruce says that the true reward of counseling lies in watching clients break free from the shackles of addiction. The more he sees a client’s shame being replaced by healing, and they find their way back to the life they’ve always wanted, the more driven he becomes to stay on task.  His satisfaction is further exemplified by encounters in public spaces where former clients approach him with shouts of triumph, proudly declaring their sobriety:

It happens, you know?  I might be in a place like Walmart and hear somebody call out ‘Bruuuuuce!’  It’s a former client, and they’re hollering all the way across the store – ‘I’m clean and sober!’  I’m like, wow, this is really happening.  Even here at CORE, there are people who show up to my door just to tell me how they’re doing.  There’s nothing more gratifying than that, helping to make a difference.  Counseling is a rewarding profession if you’re a people person and like to see others grow and help them along the way.

Bruce’s impact extends far beyond his office at CORE.  His legacy is marked by the countless lives he has touched and helped transform. As a compassionate advocate for recovery, Bruce continues to be a shining beacon of hope. In his own words, counseling is not just a profession for him.  “I’m right where I need to be,” he says.

CORE wholeheartedly agrees with his assessment and offers him the following shout-out: Thank you Bruuuuuce! We are so delighted and honored to have him as part of our team. We eagerly anticipate many more years of continued collaboration!  

Why Do We Do Step Six?

Why Do We Do Step Six?

Step Six says, “[We w]ere entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

The step is briefly worded, and the Big Book offers a single paragraph of explanation, essentially instructing us to evaluate our willingness and to pray for willingness where lacking.

To newbies and the uninitiated, the purpose of this step may appear elusive.  It clearly addresses our willingness to have God remove negative character traits, but why an addict should be concerned with this isn’t immediately apparent.  The temptation is to think our proper focus should be upon removing the attachment to drugs and alcohol.  Step Six actually helps do this, as we explain below.

In 12 Step meetings, members will use various illustrations to explain the importance of Step Six for recovery.  Two popular stories involve “dropping the rock” and the “monkey trap.”

Dropping the rock in recovery is likened to a boat journey to an island called Serenity. One passenger struggles to swim to the boat, weighed down by a rock symbolizing fears, resentments, and other character defects. Urged to ‘Drop the rock!’ by those already onboard, she releases her character defects, reaches the boat safely, and finds lasting serenity.

In the monkey trap story, usually set in a forest or jungle, a hunter places a treat in a container with a small hole. The monkey eagerly grasps the treat but becomes trapped because its fist won’t fit back through the hole. The treat symbolizes our character defects, and our instinctive refusal to let them go leads to dire consequences.  (Our CEO Cary McKee tells a similar story about someone getting their hand stuck in a vending machine!)  

These stories are fine for what they are.  They illustrate that character defects are bad and letting go of them is good.  Still, they don’t fully satisfy everyone wanting to know how Step Six concerns recovery.  There still will be somebody who thinks such stories are more relevant if the rock or treat represents a pint of whiskey, or an illicit drug (i.e., drop the bottle!) 

For this reason, we’ll explain the relevance of Step Six to recovery more fully here.  Hopefully, our explanation also will illuminate the genius behind the 12 Steps, and why the world’s leading journal for systematic medical reviews has found that the 12 Steps are more effective than any other recovery therapy in existence. 

While addiction is a complex disease involving a myriad of factors, one thing common to every addict and alcoholic is that they are selfish and self-centered.  They prioritize their own desires over those of others.  Their addiction is an insatiable hunger that cannot be satisfied.  The addict and alcoholic ends up devoting all of their waking hours to assuring their appetite is provided for.  They will neglect or become completely indifferent to the regular concerns of life – spouse, children, family, friends, career, home, health, and other matters.  In time, they will lose these relationships along with every good thing in their lives, and possibly life itself. 

Selfishness—self-centeredness,” the Big Book says, “that, we think, is the root of our troubles.”

This observation not only is insightful but it also suggests the remedy.  Insofar as the heart of the addict and alcoholic is selfish and self-centered, the 12 Steps together operate to perform a heart transplant on the sufferer.  For real, lasting recovery, we have to become others-centered.  

The Big Book is emphatic about this, saying that “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery.”  Even in a first meeting with a prospective client, the book directs us to “suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own.”  

If our personal experiences and our experience at CORE with thousands of clients teaches anything, it is this: the psyche of a caring, altruistic person is incompatible with the persona of a suffering addict or alcoholic.  They can’t co-exist.  It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – it simply can’t be done.

Accordingly, at CORE we hear clients report that their obsession for alcohol and drugs – which may have hounded them for years – suddenly “lifted” or “evaporated,” or that they woke up in the morning and realized that their obsession was “just gone”.  It can happen that fast.  Once the internal switch flips, and the mental focus goes from self-serving to serving others, the obsession is gone.  It remains expelled so long as the individual is committed to obeying the Lord’s command, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

As the Reader undoubtedly has noticed, the 12 Steps are a spiritual program of recovery.  They facilitate a deep and fundamental change in our inner self that really is akin to receiving a new heart. The transformation goes far beyond simply abstaining from illicit substances, although complete sobriety certainly results from this process.  So long as we maintain this spiritual fitness, no person, or place, or thing can tempt us into a relapse, either.

To genuinely recover, however, the mere promise to be a better person won’t cut it.  And, while our personal effort is needed to accomplish this, by itself our effort is insufficient.  As the Big Book observes,

There often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid.  Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to.  Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.”

The idea of God changing human hearts and attitudes is an ancient one, confirmed by thousands of years of human experience.  We won’t belabor it here except to observe that God never fails.  There may be atheists out there who are uncomfortable with this idea.  They are the same people who scratch their heads wondering why the 12 Steps are so much more effective in treating addiction than any other evidence-based therapy.

Now we’re ready to talk about Step Six, although the Reader should note that, by the time we get to this important step, we’ve already begun seeking God’s help with matters raised in prior steps.  Importantly, we’ve also gone on a fact finding mission in prior steps.  We’ve done a deep soul-searching inventory to become well-acquainted with all of the specific ways in which we are selfish and self-centered.  That is, we already will have identified our “defects of character.”

The Big Book variously calls such defects “flaws in our make-up,” “shortcomings,” and “wrongs,” but they are one in the same. Character defects are the manifestations of our self-centeredness.  Self-centered people, moreover, practically wear character defects on their sleeves.  They encompass personality flaws like being resentful, fearful, dishonest, prideful, self-deluded, self-pitying, impatient, intolerant, and other obvious faults.  

Practically speaking, even as our self-centeredness fuels the inner obsession for illicit substances, many of its outer manifestations leads to our failures in life and makes our lives unmanageable.  To illustrate, we’ll make this simple.  We must admit that we’d have a hard time putting up with a spouse, family member, friend, co-worker, employer, or employee who embodies such defects, right?  As it turns out, so do they! 

Furthermore, by the time we get to Step Six, we should be well beyond self-deluded notions like, “I was a happy drunk and everybody loved me.”   In fact, “an alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature,” and our previous step work should have grounded us sufficiently to see how our character defects create only misery for ourselves and others.   At Step Six, we’re also beyond getting bogged down by guilt and shame.  We’re sensitized to our shortcomings and are free to stop doing them.  This is good news – we don’t have to live like this anymore.  God will change our hearts accordingly, if we are humble and willing.

Step Six is really a stop-and-think point, a moment of self-evaluation.  The Big Book asks, “Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable?”  If there is a character defect we’re unwilling to let go, “we ask God to help us be willing.”  Such instances happen under various circumstances.  One common sticking point is clinging to resentments.  We feel righteous indignation and declare we can forgive many things but never, not ever this or that person for what they have done. 

Character defects that we refuse to quit usually are the same culprits that keep us sick and make our lives unmanageable.  For the addict or alcoholic, they can be fatal.  Fortunately, a struggling client at CORE is surrounded by a large recovery community who can and will spot character defects from a mile away.  This is especially beneficial.  The client always finds sympathetic, patient, and interested peers standing by, ready to help. 

Over time the moment of self-evaluation described in Step Six becomes habit, part of our new way of thinking while living in the 12 Steps.  Personally spotting character defects means greater insights about ourselves.  We become accustomed to meeting the individual challenges posed by this step, seeing them as opportunities for personal growth.

Importantly, removing defects of character is only part of the recovery equation.  Looking ahead to next month, we’ll talk about replacing our character defects with virtues and making ourselves more fit to help others!

Kristi Kenkel’s God-Given Purpose

Kristi Kenkel’s God-Given Purpose

Meet Kristi Kenkel!  Having arrived to CORE in September, 2021, Kristi is working the 12 Steps and has recovered.  She actively contributes to our program as a 4D Recovery instructor, 2nd Mile member, mentor for newcomers, and avid volunteer.

In fact, Kristi volunteers for so many things at CORE, we never know where we’ll run across her path.  She was quite the sight some months ago at CORE’s golf tournament.  We saw her standing on the back of a fast-moving golf cart, pointing out sponsor signs to be collected.  She kind of reminded us of a sailing ship captain atop of the quarter deck, shouting out orders to sailors below.  

Happily, just the other day, we caught up with her at CORE’s Recovery Center in Branson, where she was getting ready to teach class. Standing behind a podium, she wasn’t going anywhere.  So, we snapped her photo and, after class ended, we dragged her in for a chat about life, addiction, and recovery.

Kristi isn’t shy with her opinions, confidently declaring “God has given me purpose; this place has become like my home.  If all I do is help newcomers understand the 12 Steps and recognize that God is the answer, that’s enough for me.” 

Her insightful words reflect the wisdom of someone who has faithfully embarked on a genuine recovery journey.  They contrast starkly with the 20-something person who arrived here two years ago, who’d never been to a rehab in her life and had no idea what the 12 Steps even were.

Kristi’s spiral into addiction lasted six years, disrupting her promising college career in biochemistry and life sciences.  Adept in math and science, she was a straight-A student who’d made the dean’s list multiple times.  However, the allure of the party and club scenes proved to be her downfall.    

At first, it was just alcohol.  “I didn’t see a problem in what I was doing because I’d always made good choices; I didn’t see any consequences from it,” she says.  Then a friend introduced her to opiates which, she recalls, “gave me the feeling I was looking for.  I’d never felt confident or comfortable in my own skin.  They made me feel at ease, confident and comfortable with myself.”

Kristi not only abandoned her studies, but she also lost jobs, wrecked cars, and strained ties with her mother and family.  After switching from opiates to methamphetamines, she lived a perilous existence, couch-surfing and resorting to desperate measures, “whether to beg, borrow, or steal”.  Meth, she says, “started taking my self-esteem away.  I never thought that I could become that person, who would be on drugs like that.”      

She identifies an abusive relationship she suffered as the lowest time of her life.  Kristi saw no hope of ever getting out and despaired of her future, but then fortune smiled upon her in a most unforeseen way.  “I got caught on a possession charge for methamphetamines.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, even if I didn’t see it at the time,” she says.  

While sitting in jail, Kristi encountered a fellow inmate who spoke highly of CORE. “She said that it was the best time of her life, that it worked and she was doing good, but she’d fallen off the program and relapsed.”  Kristi grasped onto her words like a life preserver.  She doesn’t remember the person’s name today, only that her claim turned out to be prophetically true: the 12 Step program works if you work it.

When Kristi decided to seek help, the court made an order sending her to CORE.  Her family, notably her mother, with whom she had little contact, arrived to her support.  “I stayed the night at my mom’s house for the first time in six years.  My mom and little brother drove me here,” she recalls.  

Upon arrival, Kristi quickly learned about the cycle of addiction and how it applied to her.  She’d always denied, minimized, confused, or rationalized her attachment to drugs, but what she learned at CORE “made perfect sense,” she says, adding “I’d always asked why I’m different.  People said I had a problem, but I never understood why.  When the cycle was right in front of me, I knew.  I am different, and I saw why.”

In addition, Kristi came to believe that God had been looking out for her all along. There had been opportunities for her to leave her abuser, in fact, but she never acted upon them.  It took what Kristi saw as the most unlikely of circumstances – the criminal charge, jail, the enigmatic (yet inspiring) claims of her cell mate – to carry her to a place of complete safety, where people understood her circumstances and honestly wanted to help.  “He was looking out for me.  He did that.  He’d answered my prayer.”  Kristi then accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior; shortly thereafter, she was baptized.

She also had the fortune to land a job with an employer who understood her connection to CORE.  In fact, her manager had been a client here, too, and took genuine interest in Kristi’s progress.  Kristi remembers “She kept asking where I was on the steps, about my fourth step, and fifth.”  Impatient with her efforts, the manager issued an ultimatum.  “She said, well, you’re not coming back to work until you do them.  I actually ended up doing my 5th Step with her.” 

Kristi says upon completing these important steps her spiritual experience was “immediate.”  “I felt different inside, like a weight had been lifted from me.  I felt free.  In the hallways, instead of looking down, I could look straight ahead and smile.”  Kristi then began to tackle her character defects and started making her amends. A perceptible, personality change accompanied her progress.  Her obsession was lifted, and Kristi developed a heart for service.  “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she says, “it’s boring if I’m not helping others because, it was like, then what am I even here for?”

Her relationship with family, especially her mother, definitely has been restored.  A veritable caravan of family members showed up for Kristi’s graduation ceremony from CORE’s one-year program.  “My mom, stepdad, older and younger brothers, stepbrothers, my other stepbrother’s wife, uncle, stepmom and her husband,” she notes out loud.  Kristi absolutely beams while telling us “I talk to my mom every day now.  She doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering where I am, whether I’m still here, or if I’m still breathing.  It’s great to have family back in my life, a family that trusts me to be at home!” 

Kristi talked at length about her recovery, the exciting projects she’s been part of, and her hopes for new adventures in the future (like mission trips with the 2nd Milers).  Still, the best part of recovery for Kristi is simply living serenely, in the present:

I used to take the little things for granted, without being present in the moment, like conversations with people, and never enjoying simple things like cooking, going out with friends, or watching movies together.  I live in the present now and remember, and I don’t take anything for granted.  I never thought I’d be happy, or have a personality or peace of mind, sober.  I never thought I’d have anything.  Now, being here, the 12 Steps, God, recovery – with all of this – I can have it all!”

We at CORE are overjoyed by Kristi’s commitment to God and her remarkable recovery journey.  Our hope is for her continued growth in both her sobriety and her relationship with God.  May all the dreams she envisions for her newfound life materialize toward a future filled with fulfillment, joy, and purpose.  We’ll continue to stand by her side, unwavering in our support for her beautiful journey that lies ahead.

The Christmas Blessing Store Turns Four!

The Christmas Blessing Store Turns Four!

In December, amid the glittering lights and festive cheer of the holiday season, a beacon of hope and encouragement was set up at the Hollister School District.  For the fourth consecutive year, CORE and the school district collaborated to establish the Christmas Blessing Store, allowing people to shop for household goods and toys without limits and at no charge.  This annual initiative not only emphasized the spirit of Christmas giving but also served as a powerful reminder of the impact achievable through community action.

The Christmas Blessing Store extended initial blessings to 124 families with 284 children, spanning grades PK through K-12.  One out of every five children in the Hollister School District received items from the store!  And that’s just the beginning of its impact.

This project is one of several humanitarian initiatives that CORE engages in throughout the year.  CEO Cary McKee articulated the philosophy, stating, “Recovery teaches that we can’t keep what we don’t give.” His insight underscores the importance of active service in overcoming addiction.  Helping others provides an avenue to get out of “self” – the root of all addictions.

The Christmas Blessing Store originated in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic when social distancing ordinances made a public initiative unfeasible.  Cary sought a partnership with Hollister public schools, relying on the school district’s ability to identify individuals who would benefit from donated goods.

To appreciate the magnitude of this event, consider the time and factors involved. The project’s genesis lies in the generosity of area retailers, whose donations reflect a commitment to corporate social responsibility.  By acting as the “Secret Santas,” these retailers inspired the participants to direct the donations toward quality of life needs within the community.

CORE volunteers contributed thousands of hours to the project, with operations manager Gary Osborn explaining, “Our work for this project began a year ago, as soon as the last event concluded. Every Tuesday, we’d make donation pickups from area retailers, continuously for 52 weeks.”

With donations pouring in, CORE’s Branson warehouse rapidly filled, necessitating yet another volunteer workforce to organize, sort, group, and ensure individual products were of merchantable quality.  House manager Caren Barnes coordinated these activities for the warehouse, which required additional volunteers throughout CORE.  “Over the course of 8 months, I went through the whole program.  It was different people every week, not just my house,” she said.    

In November, CORE transported a year’s worth of labor and merchandise to the school district, prompting immediate action by the district’s staff and volunteers. Sandy Brown, overseeing the district’s efforts, explained, “The first CORE trucks came in on November 19th, and most of the day-to-day work was done by the counselors, working with CORE people who did a phenomenal job organizing. We had help from different classes, too, including gifted classes assisting with toys and bicycles, along with students in our community-based learning program.”

While the Christmas Blessing Store emerges as a win-win project for all of the participants, everyone who contributed to this initiative emphasized the children as a key motivating factor. Sandy affirmed, “Everything that Hollister does is for the kids and helping ensure that every child is successful.” Cary added, “It’s about serving the community and school district, but most importantly, the children. It’s about creating a lasting Christmas memory, where the promises of joy and surprise loom large.”

Our pictures were taken while this event was in progress – after a substantial number of individuals already had shopped at the store.  Cary observed that further expansion is in order.  “We’re still receiving items even now.  We’ll look to expand our reach in the coming year and beyond, by reaching other school districts in the eastern Taney County,” he said.  Merchandise not distributed at this event went to other nonprofits that could put these items into the right hands.  

Cary expressed his sincerest thanks to the school district, area retailers, volunteers, and staff who contributed to make this year’s Christmas Blessing Store such a success.