CORE House Managers Express Thanks This Holiday Season!

CORE House Managers Express Thanks This Holiday Season!

Thanksgiving Day is almost here!  It’s all about togetherness, gratitude, coziness, shelter, comfort, and happiness — the perfect time to give thanks for blessings and to spend time with family and friends.

The energy, warmth, and excitement kindled by grateful people is infectious! So, to help put everybody in the holiday spirit, we asked some of our CORE house managers what they are most thankful for.  Here are their awesome responses:

First and foremost, I’m thankful to God for never giving up on me.  And then the love and support of my family, who never gave up, either.  I’m thankful for the CORE program, too, and for Kevin Hunt, who answered my phone call and got me in.  He probably saved my life.”
– Jeremy Hampton (Seahawk House)

I’m so grateful to God for restoring my relationship with my family.  There is no word to describe how grateful I am for that.  I don’t have a word for that.  And I am completely grateful to CORE and the community and friendships found here.  My life has purpose and meaning today; it goes beyond just daily living.  There is no aspect of my life that I’m ungrateful for.  None.” 
– Tamara Spencer (6th Street House)

God thought I was worth a second chance.  The Steps allowed me to have my family back.  I’m thankful to be a good son, husband, and father now.  I’m thankful that the worst problems I have today are so minor.  I’m thankful for CORE, these 12 Steps, and for Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.” 
– Dallas Conaway (Raven House)

My restored relationship with God, my family, and my newfound relationships with so many friends at CORE.  My CORE family – there’s just so much to be thankful for.” 
– Jen Brinkman (Quail House)

Relationships.  My family, my kids.  The lifelong relationships I’ve made here.  God repaired my broken relationships with my family and children.  My mom and dad are older, but when they are ready to leave this world, they’ll know I’m okay.” 
– Bracy Sams (Hawkeye House) 

The fact that I became willing to follow instructions.  I view this as a gift from God, because I heard them a million times before I actually followed them.  Just this morning an older man showed up out on the front porch.  His wife had kicked him out, put all his stuff out, but, oh yeah, he knows all about AA, goes to AA twice a week, yada yada.  Bless his heart.  He never followed the instructions.  The reality is, this man is walking around with nothing because he wasn’t willing to follow instructions.  So my willingness was a gift from God, I think, because I was that person once, walking around saying help me, but being unwilling to accept real help.” 
– Kim Stewart (Swan House)

I’m thankful that God is understanding and forgiving.  And merciful.  I’m genuinely thankful for my friends, for like minded people.  And I’m thankful to be at a place where miracles happen.  I see miracles, from start to finish, and see the differences.  Every day I ask people how they’re doing, and they say, you know, same old same old.  The next day, it’s still same old.  After awhile, I see that the same olds aren’t the same anymore.  They’re totally new people, and that’s the miracle.” 
– Neil Finley (Duck House)

I’m grateful for CORE and the foundation of eight years, and I’m thankful for all of the relationships that I’ve made this entire time.  Not just with CORE and the people in it, but over eight years of sobriety, I’ve met a lot of good people.”
– Christos Papanikas (Condor House)

I’m thankful for this program because it helped me find a relationship with God I never had before.  I’m thankful for my family, and for all of the people I have around me that help me better my life.  And thankful to God.  I have to be.  I wouldn’t be here today without Him.” 
– Mitchell Brooks (Sparrow House)

I’m thankful for finding my Higher Power.  When you’re saved, it’s something that you should know inside.  People here say, don’t leave before the miracle happens.  The first seven months I was here, I was like, when is this miracle thing going to happen?  And then one day I woke up and thought, I am the miracle.  I’m human again.  I live an adult life, and I look forward to going to work and the Center, and to seeing all the people there.  CORE gave me the structure for that to happen.  The other thing I’m thankful for are the relationships with my family.  My sisters call me out of the blue just to say hey.  My parents talk to me.  It’s a wonderful thing when that happens.”
– Chasity Downey (Outdoor House)

I’m thankful to be at the intake house and have the opportunity to help the newcomer.  I’m most thankful for having a close walk with Christ.  When I wake up in the morning and do my devotion, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do for that day.  Walking with Christ gives me direction and confidence.” 
– Nick Zahm (Blue Jay House)

I am grateful to be part of a program where I can give back what I have learned to others. CORE provided me a faith based option, and I have reconnected with Christ as my Higher Power.  I’m also grateful for all the people who come through the program.  I drive transportation, too, which gives me individual time with clients to see their growth and help guide them through the Steps and the program.” 
– Joe Redl (Cardinal House)

My son.  I’m so thankful that he has a sober mother today for our time together.  I’m thankful for all the women I’m able to lead.  And for God and the program, and for everything that He’s done for me.” 
– Alecia Short (Vaughn House)

I’m thankful for recovery, five years on, and for CORE.  And for my relationship with God.  There also is my family, especially, my grandsons.  I got my relationship back with my sister, too, who is such a strong woman.  I’m thankful for the men in my house, the Bird House, it’s a great fraternity.  And for the people at work.  They know everything about my past, and I have no secrets in my life.  I have so many good things to be thankful for.  I also want to mention the stepfather my sons had in their life when I wasn’t there.  I’m so thankful that he was in their life.  They turned out to be really good men, and that needs to be said.” 
– Scott Bourbon (Bird House)

Without God in my life and the program, there would be nothing else to be thankful for.  So, first and foremost, I’m thankful to God that I have a God conscience.  I’m thankful for the CORE program, for giving me the opportunities that I have had over the last 18 months.  And for the clients of this program, who help me work the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.” 
– Adam Guss (Eagle House)

I am thankful for open eyes – the yes’s and the no’s – for the prayers answered even when the answer is no.  I have grown from all of it.  And thankful for the space CORE gave me to grow in recovery.  I’m so thankful for my kids, 100%, for everything about them, over and over and over. ” 
– Savella Elmore (BP/Quail House)

Two things I’m most thankful for are: one, that I can talk with my mom and she’s not worried about me.  She sleeps at night without worrying about what I’m up to.  Two, the people in my life.  They call me, not to check and see if I’m alive, but because they really want to talk to me.  Or they might need something.  They can rely on me, and that’s something I could never have imagined before.  These are the things that, when I think about the people, I get emotional and stuff.” 
– Dylan Butler (Falcon House)

I’m thankful for CORE, for my sobriety, and for my relationship with God.  I’m really just thankful for everything!” 
– Alexandria Powell (CC/Swan House)

Having my family back, my kids back.  And thankful for this program and what it’s done for me.  I don’t know where I’d be without it. It helped me get back on my feet and find a better relationship with God.” 
– Tyler Hanson (Condor House)

I’m thankful for all of the blessings that God has given me.  For my family, and my CORE family.  And I’m very grateful that I have the opportunity to help others.” 
– Jennifer Mayo (Dove House)

That’s a long list, so I’m thankful to know what gratitude means, for me to be thankful today.  I didn’t understand that in my addiction.  Every day I remember where I came from and where I’m at now, and I try to pass along how to get there to the people who are still learning.  In the mornings, I thank God for all the things that I can think of, and start my day with a grateful mindset.  There’s so much, too, but I’m just grateful to be here, living out a dream that I never thought would be possible.” 
– Blake Wilson (Pelican House)

A Typical Month at CORE

A Typical Month at CORE

Some think that CORE is only about classes, can you believe it?  Now, it is true, in any given week, we offer multiple recovery classes and groups, as well as classes and meetings dedicated to spirituality, HiSET, and our EDGE and CARE programs.  But, CORE is a big place with lots going on depending on the month and season of the year.  We are way more than just classes!

So, in keeping with holiday sharing, here we will highlight our program’s activities during a typical month at CORE.  We’ll use this past month as an example.

Keep in mind that “CORE months” run roughly from one commencement ceremony to the next.  Commencements are when clients graduate the one-year recovery program.  So, we’ll start our tour with the commencements of September, and we will end with our commencements in October.

Our September 18th commencement was the last of our summer commencements, which we always hold out on Bull Creek, between Springfield and Branson.  The summer commencements begin in May of each year and give everybody a chance to mingle, swim, and frolic in the sun.  We always do a big outdoor barbeque, and September was no different.  After everybody had their fill of hotdogs and burgers, the commencements started.   In all, eleven (11) clients commenced in September.  Each graduate came forward in succession and had family members and people from CORE speak on their behalf.  All the speakers’ comments were heartfelt, especially when they were family.  However, several of the CORE speakers trended toward the lighter side (a light-hearted roast, actually!)  Upon completion of the commencements, the crowd’s attention turned to the river for the baptisms.  Sixteen (16) people were baptized, turning their will and lives over to the care of our Lord Jesus.  September’s commencement was attended by hundreds of clients, staff, and family members.

On October 1st, CORE participated in the Zombie Run at the Branson RecPlex!  CrossFit Branson organized this event.  The Reader may wonder, what is a Zombie Run, exactly?  It’s what happens when you combine a 5K race with the undead, basically.  Runners watch out!  Scary zombies are on the loose!  If caught, the runner has to do extra exercises in order to escape and continue racing.  In addition to the race, there also was great food and a raffle to win really cool prizes.  CORE is thankful to all of the runners and participants who made the event so fun and successful.  We were well represented, and our people had a blast!  See the pics of our scary zombies?  We’re especially grateful to Sabrina King at CrossFit Branson for all of her hard work.  We cannot express our gratitude enough! 

Our softball team played its last game on October 6th.  It had seen weekly action since August, when the season began for the Branson Church Softball League.  Competition this season turned out to be stiffer than ever.  After losing to a really tough opponent early in the season, our team buckled down and got busy.  We went on an 11 – 0 run to finish and win the championship tournament. The championship game happened at the Branson RecPlex, and many CORE staff and clients showed up to cheer our team on to victory.  We are so proud of their accomplishment!  Our players walked off the field with heads held high, because they are league champions for the third season in a row.  Here is a pic of our team on championship night.  Our players are, Front Row: Josh Brown, Gavin Marler, Bracy Sams, Karen Barnes, Adam Guss, Adam Weaver, Josh Weaver, and Charlie Miller; Back Row: Nick Bates, Chris Brunner, Nick Brooks, Charles Kay, Justin Hampton, Paul Otis, Shaun Burke, Jeremy Hampton, Jeana Knous, and Gary Osborn.

On October 8th, CORE participated in the Hollister Grape and Fall Festival.  Our people arrived in the wee hours of Saturday morning, mainly to organize and help vendors set up for the day.  Thankfully, parking was not an issue, because one of our CORE ReStores is right there in downtown Hollister.  By 6:00 a.m., all kinds of food trucks and local businesses, and craft vendors and nonprofits, arrived to Downing Street, which burst to life with activity.  The local FFA had a petting zoo, too, drawing praise from several among our group (baby goats are cute). After setting up, our people enjoyed the festival’s activities.  More than one returned home that day with a giant bag of kettle corn!  CORE wishes to thank everybody who helped make this event so successful! 

The following week, on October 13th, we had our Annual Shrimp & Crawfish boil.  This is a highlight event on our calendar where the donors of CORE get together for the most awesome shrimp boil this side of the Mississippi.  Guests enjoyed giant pots of yummy shrimp, crawfish, sausage, potatoes, corn, ghost peppers, and other good stuff!  

CORE is especially thankful to those who sponsored the event: Mary Haas, Combs Hospitality, Second Baptist Church, First Community Bank, Ed’s Heating and Cooling, and many of our CORE houses!  A big shout out also goes to HR Director Tami McKinney for organizing the event.  Kudos to Bracy Sams, who formulated the perfect shrimp and crawfish recipe. Thank you also to Christos Papanikas, who oversaw preparation of an amazing stuffed tenderloin for allergy-challenged attendees.  Also, our Second Milers stepped up to help serve food and drinks.  Everybody chipped in to make this event successful, really, which was just about having fun!  

October 27th also was a busy day at CORE.  All of our staff and house managers descended upon our Branson recovery center for ethics training, which took up nearly the entire day and met all requirements for those of us who needed hours required by the Missouri Credentialing Board.  The training happened in the main classroom.  As the picture shows, the room was full!  In the middle of the training we broke for lunch and had awesome pizza.  Our own Bruce Wood provided the training.  He’s not only a certified reciprocal alcohol and drug counselor but he also has so many designations after his name that they are too many to list.  He did a great job of talking about professional ethics and how they apply at CORE.

On October 20th and 27th, we completed the CORE month by holding commencement ceremonies for our Springfield and Branson programs, respectively.  Eight (8) clients in all commenced.  Again, family members spoke and expressed their thanks to God for the miracle who is their loved one in recovery.  The minor children of two clients also spoke and personally thanked CORE, which made everybody cry.   These were happy events, although everybody in attendance understood that these graduations mark a new beginning for their loved ones in recovery.  

So, these are just some of CORE’s activities over the past month.  If we added individual house activities, we would run out of space to write!

Tamara Spencer, Walking in Newness of Life

Tamara Spencer, Walking in Newness of Life

This month we talked to CORE’s own Tamara Spencer!  She’s been with us for a mere 18 months, but her recovery resume already is impressive – house manager, Second Mile membership, Common Solution Recovery (CSR) instructor, recovery meeting chairperson, children’s ministry, and a CORE employee, too.  Whew!  It sounds like a lot.  It is, actually, but she handles her recovery activities with such newness, awe, and appreciation that her enthusiasm melts even the hardest of hearts.

One little known fact about Tamara is that she gets excited about helping to make the City of Branson look beautiful:

I’m in Second Mile, a program offered here at CORE which, after you commence, you can become part of.  We do lots of stuff . . . .  We also have a stretch of road out there by Walmart [i.e., Highway 65] that we keep clean every month.  It’s a big job, but it’s part of giving back to our community.  Making sure everything looks nice.  That stretch is so important – it’s got to look nice for people who come to Branson every year. 

Tamara has been transformed.  She’s not the same person who arrived to us in March 2021, whose entire life before then had been anything but normal.  

I grew up in addiction,” she says, “the people I looked up to, everybody around me, was using drugs and alcohol.  My mom said, if there’s anything you want to try, just bring it home where you can be safe.  We’ll do it together.”  She also spent her childhood in the shadow of abusive male figures.  To escape, Tamara emancipated herself at the age of 15.

Thereafter, she lived the life of a weekend warrior, while remaining close to her mother.  Tamara had her share of abusive relationships, and she had children, too.   “Through all these ups and downs, in these bad relationships and all, my mom and I were all each other really had,” she remembers.  Then, her mother died:

The real addiction started when mom passed away.  I was 26.  There was no more here and there, weekend warrior using.  It was every day, nonstop, all the time.

What followed was a decades-long odyssey of drugs and alcohol.  Tamara hit more so-called rock bottoms than she can count.  She also went through numerous treatments and rehabs, all to no avail.  Finally, in early 2021, her life reached an impasse.  Tamara’s daughter and family returned home from a weekend outing to find her, intoxicated and passed out, in their home.  Her daughter gave her the classic “I can’t do this with you any more” talk, and strongly suggested that her mom go to CORE.

Tamara agreed even though at that time she wasn’t entirely sold on the idea.  She’d never really been sober, or thought about remaining sober, during her entire adult life.  On top of that, “I was fearful; I didn’t know what to expect,” she says, “I just did it – that’s what I was told to do.  I did it because that’s what my daughter wanted.”  

God’s greatest miracles happen when we least expect them.  In fact, CORE’s clients come to us from a myriad of circumstances.  They come from all walks of life, and all socioeconomic strata.  Notwithstanding, every client who recovers can pinpoint a pivotal moment at CORE that changes their lives forever.  The particulars will differ, but each has sudden insight or discovery that opens their hearts to listening, learning, and applying the lessons of the Big Book.  For Tamara, this happened on her third day here, and involved something she overheard from one of her new house mates:

So, I’m laying in my bed and hear some of the girls doing a Big Book study in the kitchen.  They were on the 3rd Step, and I heard someone talking about conceding that your life is unmanageable and declaring this prayer, making a declaration to God, that you’re going to turn your will and your life over to Him.  It was an “aha moment” for me.  I got up out of bed and I asked if I could join them.

Just think what would have happened had I not heard that.  It just clicked.  So when I said my 3rd Step Prayer, it was a contract, a contract between God and me, for me to sit down, read the Big Book, and see what the 12 Steps have to offer.  It was a huge step, because nothing in my entire life had ever worked.  In that moment, my life took a turn. 

Once her heart was in the right place, Tamara began studying her Big Book in earnest, and she would “carry it around wherever I went.  Any chance I got, I’m in those first 164 pages.”  Within a couple weeks, she started writing on Step Four to discover her character defects.  By the time she completed Step Five, Tamara told us, her experience already had shown her why the 12 Steps were important to recovery.  “Things just started waking up for me,” she said, and “I’ve been in the solution ever since.”  

Tamara credits her recovery to two things:

Coming here to CORE, and reading the Big Book.  Flat out, that’s what led to my spiritual awakening.  In that order, too.  Could I have one without the other?  I don’t think so.  I needed that combination to have this miracle in my life.  And the AA Big Book opened up the conception of God for me.  The book laid it out in a way that I could accept – or that was acceptable to me, and that I was worthy of.

Today, she sees herself as “a happy balance of Christianity – maybe a little more spiritual than religious.”  Tamara also spends time in daily prayer and meditation to improve her conscious contact with God.  “I took the 11th Step literally, and I ran with it, doing it every day since my 5th Step.” 

Tamara describes her recovery experience as amazing but, for her, good things were yet to come.  For one, she commenced CORE’s one-year recovery program.

She also became a CSR instructor.  Tamara went through our CSR presenter’s training, where clients learn to formally teach the 12 Steps in a classroom setting.   “My first time [teaching] was super scary, my ears were red as apples,” she remembers, “but it’s God’s will that I share.  I have a story to tell, and it might help save a life.  We have a duty, as recovered addicts and alcoholics, to help the newcomer.

Tamara manages our 6th Street House, too.  The responsibility is completely rewarding, she says.  If she makes a mistake, she gives an apology where due.  Nevertheless, she sees herself as decisive, telling us “I don’t hesitate in anything that I do.”  She continually emphasizes to her women the positives of being at CORE:

Some see being sent here as a punishment.  This is an opportunity.  CORE provides you with the structure.  They take out all the guesswork.  You make this one small payment a week, and you don’t have to worry about electric, water, cable – any of those living things that used to baffle us.  You get a job, and you go to classes.  When you have that aha moment, you can’t place a price on what you gain here.  I’m in awe of it.  This is God giving you a shot.  It’s a really big opportunity, to change your entire existence into someone you didn’t even think you could be. 

Tamara positively beamed while telling us about her two women from 6th Street House who commenced just this past month.

Finally, she’s been working for CORE for almost a year.  “I love my job,” she says, “I’m grateful and take pride in what I do.”  When asked if she sees herself with CORE in five years, Tamara replied, “Absolutely!  I’m happy here, and content.  Any time I can help somebody, I’m here.  All they have to do is ask.  I’m all for being here.”

We at CORE are so very happy for Tamara!  Our hope and prayer are that she will continue to build a solid spiritual foundation and share her experience, strength and hope with the newcomer.  We’re with her in the fellowship of the spirit, as we walk the road of happy destiny together.

Children Putt for Prizes at the Recovery Jamboree

Children Putt for Prizes at the Recovery Jamboree

On September 10th, the golf world was stunned by the perfect putting performances of over fifty children in Branson, Missouri!  This amazing occurrence happened at CORE’s Golf Challenge, which was part of Recovery Jamboree 2022.

The Recovery Jamboree is sponsored annually by the Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers (MoCRSP).  The recovery community and their families come together to celebrate and have fun.  This year, the festival took place on the grounds of Sanctuary of Hope, on Bee Creek Road.  The participating agencies offered fun activities, food, and resources.  CORE played its part with the Golf Challenge for youngsters, and the results exceeded all of our expectations.  

Child after child sank putts to win awesome prizes.  From the looks of determination in their eyes, it was clear these children would not be denied.  Everybody who played – more than fifty children — successfully putted a colorful and squishy golf ball right into the hole!  

Several designated CORE representatives were in attendance: Jen Brinkman, Dallas Conaway, and Bracy Sams.  While the kids played golf, these representatives talked to the adults about recovery issues.  “It was great to see all the local providers together,” remarked Jen.  She added, “I’m glad the kids had so much fun!”

CORE sends a big “thank you!” to MoCRSP for inviting us to participate in this event.

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.  

Blake Wilson Comes of Age In Recovery

Blake Wilson Comes of Age In Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovery And The Notion Of ‘Life Debt’

Recovery and the Notion of ‘Life Debt’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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