Adam Guss: Phoenix Rising!

Adam Guss: Phoenix Rising!

Meet Adam Guss!  Guss – as he’s known around CORE – directs CORE’s transportation department in Branson.  He also manages one of our men’s homes.  On top of all that, Guss also is a star player on CORE’s softball team that plays in the Branson Church League. 

As we sat down with Guss and began hearing his testimony, not only were we mesmerized by his story, but we also felt the strangest sensation seize us.  In our mind’s eye, we practically could see Guss rising from the ashes.  His story plainly is about transformation and rebirth!  Given a second chance at life, he has arisen renewed and radiant.  Today, Guss soars beyond his past difficulties toward newfound heights of growth and possibilities.  

We became overwhelmed by a light bulb moment — Guss is a phoenix rising!  Or, so we hypothesized.  The only way we could make sure is by putting feathers and bird’s feet on Guss to see how he looks.  Does he look like a phoenix?  What do you think?

If Guss is or even is like a phoenix, it’s only because he has had a spiritual experience.  We must remember, however, that such experiences while very powerful often begin with great suffering.  So that’s where we’ll begin his story.  

Twenty years ago, Guss was barely out of high school when he became an addict.  Like most addicts, Guss was not exactly a party animal.  Rather, he was involved in a car accident that injured his shoulder and required surgery.  The surgery wasn’t entirely successful, so his doctors put him on pain medication until another one could be performed.  “Percs and Norco 10s,” Guss told us, that’s all it took:

I’d had two shoulder surgeries.  The first one didn’t go well, and they had to wait to go back in there.  Until then, all they could do was keep me as comfortable as possible.  That’s where my addiction to opiates took off.  By the time of the second surgery, I was finding OxyContin on the streets from other people.”

Guss kept buying Oxys until they became too expensive, so he started buying heroin.  Then he discovered methamphetamines.  Meth, Guss tells us, was a game-changer:

The first time I did meth, I felt something I’d never experienced before.  It made me feel like I could do anything I wanted.  From my mind set to my confidence, it made me feel like I could kick superman’s butt.  That’s the way I felt.

Once Guss began using meth, his life became like the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride propelled by an ever downward slope.  We spent some time talking about these details, but space considerations constrain us to compress his story into some short, pertinent observations.  For this, we’ll pick items that will be familiar to somebody who has struggled with addiction.

First, while we commonly see families at CORE who are reunited once a loved one recovers, this did not happen for Guss.  By the time he arrived to us in April of 2021, his wife already had had enough.  Marriage is for better or for worse, for richer or poorer.  The couple had seen both during their time together, but she mostly had lived with his addiction.  This had gone on for over a decade, during which time the couple’s financial [in]security rode the waves of Guss’ illness.  He candidly told us, “My wife was done.  She said she wasn’t at the time, but I could tell by the look in her eyes, by her body language.  I broke her heart too many times.”  Guss doesn’t fault his wife for going her separate way.  He still speaks highly of her and her efforts to build a new life for herself, and he wishes her nothing but the best.

Second, in order to continue his drug habit for so long, Guss tried to live a double life.  He turned his career into a cover for his drug habit.  He would either work late hours or take out of town gigs to hide his meth use.  He recalls, “I would be out of town and away from everybody, leaving on Monday and staying all week long.  So I’d be doing meth all week and then coming home.  I wouldn’t do it on weekends, or I’d just do it in moderation.  I’m living a secret life.  My whole life had been a secret.  I had a wife and a mistress – meth.”

Third, like so many addicts, Guss initially had no understanding why he couldn’t just use like everybody else.  He said, “I didn’t know anything about addiction back then.  I didn’t know how to change, because I didn’t even know I had a problem.  Everybody else did it.  Why wasn’t it okay with me?”  In time, however, Guss tried with all his might to quit.  Many, many times.  He went to detoxes, rehabs, and recovery programs.  He even came to CORE for a stay – a point which we very much want to mention here.  It drives home an important warning: none of these places by themselves, including CORE, can keep an addict sober indefinitely.  They are but human resources and, as the Big Book says, probably no human power can relieve an addiction.   Only God can.  And He will, if He is sought.

When Guss finally returned to CORE in April 2021, he was a broken man who had reached rock bottom.  As Guss offered during our interview, he didn’t even care at that point whether he lived or died.  

Our Program Manager Kevin Hunt then decided to send Guss to our Springfield program.  While he’s not aware why Kevin made that decision, Guss says that in retrospect it was “single-handedly the best thing that happened in my two years of recovery”:

I went to Bluejay, the intake house, with Nick Zahm.  He’s so strong in The Faith, and I was able to work with him one-on-one.  It gave me a chance to grow and to get out of myself.  I worked with the new guys who are doing their steps.  It’s actual recovery stuff, and I’m sharing my experience, strength, and hope with them.  So, I’m in Springfield, re-finding myself and becoming less codependent on anyone else.  I’m relying on God by now.  I know that I can do this. 

Guss thoroughly worked his recovery program and his inner phoenix began to emerge.  Guss sought God, and he recovered. Even as we spoke with him, Guss looked totally comfortable and confident with the man he’s become.  There was no swagger in his voice or manner, only a heartfelt appreciation for God’s grace and mercy shown to him:

I owe everything in my life today to God.  Without Him I’m nothing.  You know, maybe there’s a reason I’m still here.  It took years to finally get back to CORE, do the program.  As I look back on my life, I was full of myself.  But maybe God was like, Guss, you’re on your way.  It will take years, and it will be hard, but you’ll get here.  You’ll find Me.  He let me trudge through all of that, put myself through utter hell, because until I went through all that, I was never really going to get it, anyway. 

Guss also mentioned what CORE means to him personally.  He suffered a tragic loss last year when his mother died.  At that time, Guss already had been reconciled with his family, both parents and siblings.  He spent over a week at a hospital in Kansas City to keep watch over her, and further points out, “I’ve got really great friends at CORE who helped get me through it when Mom died last October.  We were on the phone every day, and I was 10 days with her at the KU Med Center before she passed.”  Guss also said “CORE has given me a safe environment in which to grow and the spiritual tools to truly find Christianity in a way I could never have done on my own.  It’s given me the opportunity to grow into the person I am today.”

When we asked Guss about his future with CORE, he just shrugged and smiled.  Right now, he says, “I’m enjoying my recovery.”  Additionally, he’s back in Branson and also has become a member of our staff (asked by Kevin Hunt himself!).  Guss is heading up our transportation department, which always has been a challenging place to serve.  Is being the director of this department doubly stressful?  Guss assures us that he’s happy and content to be there as part of the CORE team.  “So that’s where I’m at right now,” he said, “just learning this new role as a department head.  I want to get that down before I pursue anything else.”

Our last topic of discussion was CORE’s softball team, which already has begun play in the Branson Church League.  We peppered him with questions.  How many games will you win?  What about your odds of winning a championship?  How many home runs will you personally hit?  Guss seemingly leaned over to respond but then shook his head.  “You can’t put that in the newsletter!” he laughed.   

The 5th Step: Facing Our Wrongs?  Or Feeling Sorry for Ourselves?

The 5th Step: Facing Our Wrongs? Or Feeling Sorry for Ourselves?

Grandparents like to give advice, probably because they want us to make good choices.  They have lived longer than us and want to spare us the pain of making mistakes.  Any grandparent worth their salt has said, at one time or another, “there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about things.”  This is good advice.  Here at CORE, while not all of our staff are grandparents, we’re pretty much all Old-Timers.  We’ve been in recovery for a long time – long enough to give this same advice about the 5th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The step itself seems straightforward enough.  It reads:

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

As far as directions go, this one unambiguously calls for a confession of wrongdoing.  Notwithstanding, there are some in the recovery world who seem intent on publishing misinformation about it.  They can be found online, in the field, and in print.  They paint this step as an opportunity for a gripe session, or a time to get things off our chests, or even a chance to have a good cry.  

According to these gurus, we addicts and alcoholics have been holding onto our pent-up emotions for our whole lives, and we need relief.  It’s all that negativity weighing us down that prevents us from achieving our true potentials.  We need catharsis, a powerful emotional release.  So, using the 5th Step to vent about our complaints in life is just what the doctor ordered.  We’ve got to turn those frowns upside down, and we have to be fearless and thorough in the process.  But be forewarned: while we may be moved to tears, we’ll leave completely satisfied and be free to move forward.

It’s not just the recovery crowd saying these things.  We found an addiction recovery center that confidently tells its readers, “The purpose of Step 5 of the 12-Step Program is to unload all your past burdens, let them go, and start moving on from them.”  

Not to be outdone in this pity party, there’s a publication for sale that goes even further.  The author tells readers to turn their 4th and 5th Steps into something positive.  All of their talk about sadness, losses, and painful, even shameful events, should end with a so-called Reconciliation Rite.  To do this, you make a cup with your hands and think of a word that symbolizes your 5th Step.  Imagine this word resting in your cupped hands while slowly pouring it onto the floor like water.  Whereupon, the person who heard your 5th Step should say, “That which has kept you divided within yourself is gone.  You are whole.”  And you say, “That which has kept me divided within myself is gone.  I am whole.”  The ritual is completed once “you feel your feelings and meditate” for a few minutes.

All of the foregoing is very curious.  The cry-fests produced by this advice aren’t difficult to imagine, either.  We envision two people sitting privately, with one of them successively voicing his resentments against all of the people, institutions, and principles that failed him, all while cycling through the emotions found in the classic stages of grief.  For his own part, the listener intermittently interjects encouragement like “Face your pain and draw strength from it!” The whole drama ends once he instructs the sufferer to release his pain forever, or something to that effect.  They might do the Reconciliation Rite together, too, perhaps.

Sadly, it appears that newcomers are being encouraged to play the victim while doing their 5th Step.  Self-pity, however, plays no part in actual recovery.  

To the contrary, in working the 12 Steps we’re on a road to take personal responsibility for ourselves in both word and deed.  This step begins with “Admitted,” which implies we divulge matters against our otherwise selfish interests.  We’re making a confession, in fact, because the matters we discuss come straight out of our 4th Step moral inventories.  They concern “our wrongs,” not those of others.  

In fact, Step 5 is part of a progression to which we’ve already devoted considerable time and energy.  In Step 3 we asked God to be relieved of the bondage of self.  So, in Step 4 we naturally looked for our own mistakes in dealings with others – where we had been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, or frightened.  In Step 5 its time to acknowledge the exact nature of our wrongs – and out loud.  We are taking full ownership of our own mistakes, shortcomings, and misdeeds.  We can’t change until this happens.  

Our taking personal responsibility also excludes all of the ways we might deflect responsibility.  Whether making excuses, blaming others, minimizing our actions, self-justification, changing the subject, or playing the victim, such items are not proper assertions of a 5th Step, except insofar as they are to be found among our personal faults. 

So, why the popular trend to downplay and even ignore the need to take personal responsibility?  Because it seems hard, and there are newcomers who will procrastinate this step, refuse to tell certain matters while doing it, or even fail to undertake the 5th Step at all.  The Big Book recognizes the fear and hesitation about this step, saying “We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves.”  The market for recovery sees this, too, and is trying to give consumers an easier, softer way.     

Now, it is true that the prospect of telling somebody intimate details about our lives initially may seem like an embarrassing, even terrifying, undertaking.  We are making ourselves vulnerable, i.e., somebody will know our dark secrets.  Yet sharing our lives with another human being is indispensable if we are to live free.  The Big Book observes that “In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient.”  We at CORE agree.  Any undertaking of this step must be fearless and thorough.

For one, confession to another person gives us a perspective and appreciation of our life history that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  Simply put, it makes our own wrongs more real to us.  Left to our own devices, we’re susceptible to selective attention and inherent biases.  We’re free to minimize, distort, or ignore matters that disturb us.  Stating them out loud announces that, one, this happened and, two, that I did it.  There’s no turning back from that.  We’re taking full ownership.  We’ll understand our need for change, and decide to make it happen, too.  Not coincidentally, our guilt and shame also recede upon making this commitment.

Additionally, telling our dark past to another person pierces a veil of secrecy which had separated us from everyone else, for our entire lives.  As the 12&12 observes, “There was always that mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor understand.”  We felt it even before finding a community of recovery like CORE.  While being in a recovery community helped our isolation, it still didn’t fix it.  These people understood us, which was tremendously exciting, but until we sat down with somebody and talked with complete candor about our lives, a barrier still remained.  This step turns out to be the answer to our separateness.  It is “the beginning of true kinship with man and God” according to the 12&12.  This also is our experience at CORE.

Importantly, there also is the practical matter of maintaining sobriety itself.  The Big Book observes, and rightly so:

Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives.  Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods.  Almost invariably, they got drunk.  …they never completed their housecleaning.  They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock.    

This observation is now more than eighty years old, which means that today there is now more than eighty years of experience by legions of newcomers to prove it.  The 5th Step is confessional.  Trying to fulfill it by airing our grievances in life is one of the “easier methods” that the Big Book warns about.  We strongly caution the newcomer from pursuing such an approach.  

Finally, doing this step properly grants a very rare gift, of humility.  Our CEO Cary McKee recently reminded us of his own 5th Step, saying that he emerged fully understanding “who and what he truly was apart from God.”  He was humbled, understood his need for change, and realized that he needed God’s help to do this.  His heart was in the right place to work the next step, being entirely ready to have God remove all of his defects of character.

Cary recovered, and you can too.  If you still need to do your 5th Step, join him and the rest of us who have recovered.  Be fearless and thorough.  Ask God’s protection and care with complete abandon.  Find a trusted person at CORE, your sponsor or another member of our community.  This step is a powerful tool for personal growth.  It’s indispensable for living sober and being helpful to others while you build a new life for yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working Step Four: Some Preliminary Observations for the Newcomer

Working Step Four: Some Preliminary Observations for the Newcomer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dallas Conaway: Putting the Shovel Down

Dallas Conaway: Putting the Shovel Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CORE’s 2023 Golf Tournament Is a Success!

CORE’s 2023 Golf Tournament Is a Success!

The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.  The human drama of athletic competition.  Such was CORE’s 2023 Golf Tournament on May 18th.  Ninety-six golfers took to the course at Thousand Hills Golf Resort to compete for cash and awesome prizes, and all for a good cause!

The tournament was more than just fame and riches for winners.  For one, it was tons of fun!  This event is evolving into a sports extravaganza without equals.  Our competing golfers came in all shapes and sizes, ages and genders, and skill levels and handicaps.  During the tournament, the golfers competed, enjoyed great food, caught up with old friends, and got to met new people.  Everybody had a blast!

Participants also had the chance to get outdoors on a sunny day and enjoy nature.  Branson already is known for its natural beauty, but Thousand Hills truly seems like an oasis even within Branson.  Just riding around the course is entertainment in itself.  There are streams, lakes, wooded paths, and critters!  We couldn’t get the fuzzy woodchuck to stand still for a photo – pity – but we certainly can describe it in one word – adorbs

Another great thing about this tournament was that it was for our favorite charity – CORE!  Our CEO Cary McKee also had the opportunity to tour the course.  His attention was focused on the golfers, and he was heartened by what he heard.  “The number of people there who came to support us, who I hadn’t met before, surprised me,” Cary told us, “I was blown away, really.  They were commending us and telling us that they’re happy to support our cause.  They shared heart-felt encouragement.”    

An event this monumentally awesome doesn’t just happen by itself.  There are lots of people who make it a success, and they deserve thank-yous and shout-outs.  First, there are our sponsors and golfers.  They made this event happen, knowing that it helps fund our recovery program which, in turn, directly benefits our communities.  They’re the best! 

There are others who we want to mention, too: 

Ozarks Dynacom, our event presenter.  The Ozarks Dynacom umbrella consists of 5 Radio Stations, Smart & Simple Communication, Smart & Simple Digital Group, MoArk Sports and The Branson Podcast Network.  Their people created and broadcast our radio ad campaign that got the word out over the airwaves and helped make this tournament the best ever.  They made sure that everybody in the Ozarks heard about it.

Image Works, Inc., our multi-media provider.  While there are three divisions to this company, whenever the public saw CORE’s beautifully printed forms, handouts, mailings, and banners, that’s all Image Works!  They did the designs and prints for everything.  They also created our website and E-Blasts for the tournament.  From the beginning, they kept us on schedule to meet the various undertakings and deadlines necessary to make this tournament happen.

Thousand Hills Golf Resort, the tournament venue.  Golf pro Kyler Patterson organized the event, which ran perfectly.  He selected all of the prize holes and made sure all the distances were correct.  His people also got all of the golfers headed in the right directions to begin play.  The clubhouse was all set up to accommodate our people for registration and administration.  We easily see why Thousand Hills Golf Resort wins so many awards as Branson’s leading golf destination.  

Gather & Graze, our event caterer.  Located on historic Downing Street in Hollister, Gather & Graze provided box lunches to all the golfers and staff.  We don’t have enough superlatives of praise for this self-described “charcuterie bar.”  It’s way better than any food served at a Super Bowl party.  Think of Julius Caesar inviting Cleopatra over for dinner – the most delectable, fresh meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts, vegetables, olives, breads, and crackers.  It’s that good! 

Bass Pro Shops, the dream boat.  Bass Pro brought over an awesome boat as inspiration for our golfers.  It was the Hole-in-One prize for one of the holes.  Everybody got a good look during registration.  While nobody won the boat this year, one golfer came within 4 feet of a hole-in-one – so close! 

CORE’s Second Milers, hole and contest judges.  Our Second Milers helped so much, setting up signage, taking registrations, and serving as judges for prize holes.  

All tournament proceeds will go toward providing CORE recovery services.  We serve about 240 residential clients at any given time, all of whom have come to us seeking the permanent solution to chronic alcohol and drug use.  The auction helps cover the expenses of providing client necessities – the recovery and spirituality classes, recovery groups, counseling, housing, utilities, house supplies, and transportation services. 

We at CORE are grateful, humbled, and honored, by the contributions and efforts of all those involved with this tournament.  It was so successful that we ran out of spaces for all of the teams who wanted to play.  For this reason, we’re considering an all-day tournament for 2024, and a decision about this will be made soon.  We hope to see you next year!  

CORE’s 2023 Live and Silent Auctions Are a Huge Success!

Auction Is Win-Win for Guests and CORE!

On May 18th, CORE held our annual charity auction, which proved to be a high-energy evening full of excitement, fun, and suspense.  It was sort of like a Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction, but way better.  Our auction took place among friends and supporters, and we had great food, too!

It was our most successful auction ever.  CEO Cary McKee, when asked to comment, told us that he was overcome with gratitude by the outpouring of support for CORE’s mission:

The place was packed, sold out.  Our friends and supporters came by the hundreds with a genuine spirit of charity.  They understood what this was about.  We even tried to make the night manageable by live-auctioning fewer items, but the fundraising was higher than ever.  I’m incredibly grateful and touched by the outpouring of support for our mission.  Our supporters made this a complete success.  I want that known.  

The event kicked off with dinner, which consisted of roast chicken and pork with potato salad, coleslaw, pit beans, corn on the cob, and all sorts of yummy desserts.  Everything was so delicious!  Thus, as the auction began, the attendees had satisfied and happy tummies.  

Some really unique items were auctioned first, items like a carving set crafted by Forged In Fire champion Davy Wilson, which sold for $2,400.  But that was just for starters.  All sorts of items fetched great bids.  There were vacation packages, electronics, firearms, jewelry, artwork, and sports memorabilia, as well as gift certificates for valuables like automotive work, home repair, lawn-care, personal services, and personal care.

As Cary indicated, the bids did appear to reflect our supporters’ interest in CORE’s mission.  In fact, most of the items went for far more than their listed values.  Just one example – some pecan pies got snuck into the auction, got caught in a bidding competition, and sold for $700!  

In all, about 60 items were auctioned live.  The silent auction ran concurrently with the main event.

This year’s auction was made possible by contributions from so many persons.  First and foremost, an event this large begins with the generosity of our Sponsors and Donors.  CORE was blessed to have hundreds this year.  We proudly displayed large banners at the auction identifying and expressing our thanks to each of these persons.  We also sent out CORE E-Blasts to recognize and thank them for their generous support!

Still other persons did heavy lifting for the event itself.  We want to mention them here:

Ozarks Dynacom, our event presenter.  The Ozarks Dynacom umbrella consists of 5 Radio Stations, Smart & Simple Communication, Smart & Simple Digital Group, MoArk Sports and The Branson Podcast Network.  Their people created and broadcast our radio ad campaign that got the word out over the airwaves and helped make this auction the best yet.  They made sure that everybody in the Ozarks heard about it.

Image Works, Inc., our multi-media provider.  While there are three divisions to this company, whenever the public saw CORE’s beautifully printed forms, handouts, mailings, and banners, that’s all Image Works!  They did the designs and prints for everything.  They also created our website and E-Blasts for the auction.  From the beginning, they kept CORE’s staff right on schedule to meet the various undertakings and deadlines necessary to make this event happen.

Duane and Kay Gerken, auctioneers.  Seeing a top auctioneer at work is a thing of beauty.  Time is money, and Duane and Kay built rapport with our honored guests and kept things moving with crisp and clear auctioneering.  

Jeff Gerken and Brian Cronin, auction ringmen.  They were awesome.  Jeff and Brian took the event to the next level by calling out bids, talking to the crowd, and generating excitement and competition among the bidders. 

Alexous Hern, auction clerk.  Alexous is an account manager for a prestigious insurance firm but, on the night of the event, she volunteered her time as our auction clerk.  Her organizational skills were invaluable in recording and keeping track of all the transactions.

In addition to the above people, several persons directly connected to CORE also need to be mentioned:

Tami McKinney, our auction czar.  All the way back in January, while everybody was returning from their festive Christmas vacations, Tami already was secreted away in her special ops bunker – deep in planning.  She was masterminding this event at every conceivable level, from the molecular all the way up to the galactic.  No stone was left unturned.  Thus, in the weeks leading up to the event, “What does Tami say?” became the familiar response to every internal inquiry within CORE about the auction.  Whereupon, on auction night everything went off perfectly, without so much as a hitch, just as Tami had planned!

Christos Papanikas and Adam Yorty, our extraordinary chefs.  Christos and his team arrived to CORE the day before the auction and began prep work.  They returned early the next day, auction day, and worked steadily until the last person was served that evening.  Everything was superb.  Adam, for his part, worked out of his restaurant to prepare the scrumptious pit beans served at the event.  They were so good that they didn’t last long.  

Blake “Golden Throat” Wilson, auction emcee.  He was sort of like Ed Sullivan, only better.  We wouldn’t be surprised if he got some audio book deals out of this.

Jeremy “Sticks” Hampton, sights and sound.  Jeremy’s also a member of CORE’s Peace in the Storm worship band, and he teaches classes at CORE.  On auction night, he lent his technical wizardry to provide the magnificent audio and visuals for the event. 

Janet Weaver and Kim Stewart, auction treasurers.  They got their hustle on and cheddar up for the auction.  While that’s not entirely dissimilar from their day jobs, their presence at the auction made a most welcome impression.

CORE Second Milers, everything.  They were at our auditorium from sun up to sun down.  What didn’t they do?  These are good people to know.

All auction proceeds will go toward providing CORE recovery services.  We serve about 240 residential clients at any given time, all of whom have come to us seeking the permanent solution to chronic alcohol and drug use.  The auction helps cover the expenses of providing client necessities – the recovery and spirituality classes, recovery groups, counseling, housing, utilities, house supplies, and transportation services. 

We at CORE are grateful, humbled, and honored, by all of the contributions and efforts of everybody who made CORE’s 2023 Live and Silent Auctions a resounding success! 

Jason Brown, His Recovery and Life After CORE

Jason Brown, His Recovery and Life After CORE

Meet Jason Brown!  We talked to Jason this month because he can speak from personal experience about life after CORE.   He first came to us 7 years ago.  Today, he lives at his home in Hollister, works for EnerSys/Northstar in Springfield, and enjoys an active social life among friends.  He has fully restored the bonds with his family, too. 

Jason has a lighthearted personality and is well liked by everyone.  If the Reader were to press us for specifics, our first thought is to compare him with Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  He’s obviously brilliant, and sometimes distracted by his own thoughts.  In fact, upon Jason’s arrival at CORE, someone called him Squirrel, and the nickname stuck! 

Beneath his friendly and pleasant exterior, however, Jason remains earnest about recovery.  Addiction is harmful, always.  In some cases, it’s fatal.  When it comes to addiction, Jason knows first hand about loss.

His story really begins during the 90’s.  He grew up in a good middle class family.  His father built show cars, and Jason learned the trade first hand.  He was a straight-A student until, at the age of fifteen, he discovered alcohol and marijuana.  While his grades suffered only a little for this, he was assaulted one day during a drug deal.  His injuries were serious enough that he dropped out of school.  

Jason went on to take the GED exam.  His test scores caught the attention of a local college.  He was recruited and earned his associate’s degree in applied science for electronics and computer technology.  From there, he found his way into the world of high tech.  To his credit, Jason was on the team that developed touch technology for Apple’s first iPhone.  

Throughout this time, Jason was still drinking.  He tells us, “I drank every day, from 15 to 37.”  In retrospect, he considers himself to have been a functional alcoholic. Jason’s life really began to unravel when he began using methamphetamines, however.  He went on a spree lasting 6 years and lost everything – his career, home, and retirement account. 

He came to live in an old camper at his father’s shop.  His family wanted to help.  With this intent, his father retired and turned over the car business to him. By this time, however, Jason was powerless.  Instead of making a go at the family business, Jason was staying up 4 to 5 days a week, high on meth. He clearly had a problem.  It was his sister who appeared one day to confront him.  She staged a formal intervention, urging him to seek help:

I was burning bridges right and left. So my sister comes to the shop, and it looks like a yard sale.  I had stuff tweaked out everywhere.  She’s crying, and she brings this packet, and she tells me about CORE.   She says, Jason, what are you doing with your life?  I think you need help.

Unfortunately, Jason wasn’t ready to listen yet.  Things got so bad that his dad had to evict him from the property.  The one-time tech phenom was now homeless.   

To compound matters, soon after Jason was jailed on an unpaid, speeding ticket.  Maybe for the first time in his life, Jason felt completely and utterly alone.  “It was Christmas,” he recalls, “I was in jail.  My family didn’t call.  Noone put money on my books.  Nothing.  They were done with me.”  Upon his release, Jason remained homeless.  He walked the streets and spent time in fast food places to stay warm.  Jason vividly recalls how cold the streets become at winter.

Misery finally brought him to ask for help.  His family, it turns out, had not forgotten him.  They immediately sprang into action.  His sister, who was intent on him going to CORE, made the appropriate calls.  His parents not only sent him to Branson, they also paid for his first month in the program and living expenses.

Looking back on his first days at CORE, two things come to Jason’s mind.  First, while he had ample personal experience with addiction, he knew next to nothing about recovery.  Second, he remembers that everybody thought he was crazy.  Our staff addressed both of these issues.

Tweakers can present special challenges, to be sure, but we just wanted him to make progress in his program.  Our staff gave Jason rather pointed guidance, not only with respect to working the 12 Steps, but also in regard to earning a living.  He was receptive to both.  He told us:

I thought I was going to come down here, go to rehab, and get cured.  How little did I know.  Seeing the cycle of addiction, I saw myself.  CORE kicked off my journey.  I wasn’t in recovery until I came here.  I didn’t have a relationship with God, and CORE led me to that.  And now, from what I learned working the 12 Steps, I can deal with everyday problems.  I’ve learned how to process them and deal with them.” 

For many clients, it’s not possible to pinpoint the exact moment of recovery.  In Jason’s case, it’s enough to note that, while working the 12 Step program, he began to live again.   His obsession for drugs and alcohol lifted.  He became interested in helping newcomers.  By the time of his commencement ceremony, many friends and loved ones arrived to speak on his behalf and celebrate his recovery.  

Career-wise, Jason sought out a new career and found it in Springfield, with Northstar Battery (working with robots!)  Jason also was accepted in our Second Mile group, and he became a manager at our Condor House on the outskirts of Hollister.  Jason reminisced about the men he sponsored while at Condor.  His greatest satisfaction, he says, was watching them go on to sponsor others.  

Now for the hard part of the story.  In addition to everything above, Jason also fell in love.  While we must be brief here, he spoke to us at length about this, because of its importance to his testimony.   In short, the couple fell in love when both were early in recovery.  Jason recovered.  She did not.  He lived through the heartbreak of loving somebody who was active in her addiction.  She could not, or would not, see his way of life.  Tragically, her addiction took everything, including her life.  

Jason spoke openly about the depth of his loss, saying “Every day, I would wake up with a giant ball of anxiety inside.  That’s grief.  I’d lost friends before.  When I was getting high, one of my good friends died.  This one, I felt.  It messed me up.”  He grieved for more than a year.  While such devastation might send some back to the bottle, Jason recommitted himself to the 12 Step program. 

Within weeks of his beloved’s passing, Jason began teaching recovery classes, and he’s been presenting ever since.  Moreover, he became a student of the Bible.  “I had to, for Jesus and God to heal me,” he says.  His Bible studies, which began in desperation, have now become part of his daily routine.  He awakes at 4:00 a.m., every morning, just so he can spend time in the Bible and in prayer.

In time, Jason became ready to strike out on his own.  While he moved out of CORE, he bought a house in Hollister to keep close to his recovery community.  “I always said to my guys and wanted to set the example, that I needed this in my life.  That’s why I bought a house here and not Springfield.”  He has a shop next to his house that he puts to good use.  Jason has been working on cars and building some really unique, steampunky looking furniture.  His latest project is a fish tank.  It’s so large that it could be mistaken for a baptistry!

He still works at Northstar, now in a supervisory role, and he loves his job.

On the personal front, Jason has reunited with his family.  It began with communication early in his recovery.  His family was cautious at first.  His sister attended his commencement and publicly read a message by his parents, who were traveling out of state.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  Now, they see each other and talk all the time.  His dad even parked a boat in Jason’s yard, which is a stone’s throw from the lake.  The boat guarantees they see each other all the time.

In addition to family, he spends time with friends, too.  But – is he still single?  “Yes,” he says, “and I’m good with it.”  Throughout his youth, Jason thought life was about getting married and having kids.  Today, his priorities have changed, his highest priority being “to know God and to carry out His will.”  He still dates, but he’s patiently waiting on God to put the right person in his life, at the right time.

Jason actively devotes time to helping others, too.  He has taught classes both within and without CORE.  He’s also taken a spot as board member for a local charity whose mission is to help addicts and alcoholics get into recovery programs. 

In addition to the above, he attends several church services each week, and he still keeps close to CORE.  “I still show up every week.  This is my home church, where I belong.  It’s still home,” he tells us.  We at CORE are so very proud of Jason.  We’re happy for his newfound life in recovery.  He always will be welcome here!  


We really covered a lot of ground in Jason’s interview!  We thank him for patiently devoting several hours to us in preparation for this article.  Alas, it seems the only thing we didn’t cover in any detail is his latest car project.  Argh – but, no matter!  For this part, we’ll just make it up.  We only need form a mental picture of this really cool, futuristic metallic looking car.  And we imagine Jason, contemplating its performance, cooly remarking “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious $*&#!”

The 12 Steps: the Gold Standard for Recovery

The 12 Steps: the Gold Standard for Recovery

People inquiring into substance abuse treatment are commonly advised to seek an “evidence-based” recovery program.  Evidence-based means that it’s established by the latest scientific research.  What works and what doesn’t is studied and published in reputable scientific journals.   As a recovery provider, CORE’s interest is in providing the most reliable, evidence-based treatment available.  That’s what we’re about.

The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) is the leading journal for systematic reviews in health care.  CDSR is internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care.  Significantly, it recently weighed in on what works best in addiction treatment.

Its review, titled “Alcoholics Anonymous and Other 12-Step Programs for Alcohol Use Disorder,” shows that the 12 Steps are still the gold standard for recovery. 

The lead researcher is a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.  The findings are unambiguous and conclusive: 12 Step programs not only help people get sober, but they also have much higher rates of continuous sobriety compared with other therapies (like cognitive behavioral therapy).  The numbers are impressive, showing the 12 Steps are up to 60% more effective than all other evidence-based therapies. 

Here at CORE, we see this study as confirming our decades of experience as a recovery provider. It also raises an important question, to wit, why is this so?

After all, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were published in 1939.  Since that time, billions of dollars have been spent to advance the understanding and treatment of addiction.  New pharmaceuticals have been developed, along with many different psychotherapies.  Why then, after all this time, money, and scientific advancements, do the 12 Steps remain unparalleled in effectiveness for the treatment of addiction?  What do they offer above and beyond other, more modern therapies?  

To answer this question, we have to look at the key insights of AA founder and Big Book author Bill Wilson.  Like so many interested persons of his day, Wilson well knew that the addict’s problem had both biological and psychological components.  Notwithstanding, he saw that addiction is best understood and treated as a spiritual malady.  While his approach was highly unorthodox in scientific circles, time after time Wilson’s fledgling AA groups got results even where the medical profession failed.  Their successes continually showed that, once the spiritual illness is overcome, the sufferer straightens out mentally and physically, and recovers.

This spiritual malady, moreover, is the addict’s own egocentric nature.  “Selfishness – self-centeredness!” the book observes, “That, we think, is the root of our troubles.”

In practical terms, the addict self-sabotages nearly every aspect of life by exerting self-centered expectations and demands upon everybody and everything around them.  They feel hurt and anger, or are overcome with self-pity and indignation, when things don’t go to their exacting standards.  They become restless, irritable, and discontent unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort that comes from drinking, or drugging, as the case may be.  Even though the addict may recognize their drinking and drugging is harmful, a period of abstinence only highlights their malaise.  Without fail, they will drink or drug again in order to experience that ease and comfort.  They are helpless to do otherwise.  

Modern researchers often speak of addiction as affecting free will, of stripping the addict of their capacity for decision-making.  In the context of the 12 Step program, we say the addict is powerless over alcohol and drugs.  Regardless of nomenclature, the addict is caught in a vicious cycle from which there is no apparent escape.  

Now for the 12 Step solution.  The addict’s troubles are very much of their own making.  They arise out of self, and the various manifestations of self in the addict’s daily experience.  Commonly prescribed treatments for addiction, by contrast, address matters such as the addict’s conduct, changing their drinking or drugging habits, or they teach methods to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, respond to environmental triggers, reform social networks, and the like.  Such methods may well be appropriate for certain classes of problem drinkers and drug users, but for the addict and alcoholic, no.  

For this latter group, the problem user “is an extreme example of self-will run riot,” as the Big Book observes.  The addict at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink or drug.  “Except in a few, rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense.  His defense must come from a Higher Power.”

The primary objective of the 12 Steps is to rid the addict of selfishness.  Both the problem and solution are spiritual:

“Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness.  We must, or it kills us!  God makes that possible.  And 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.” 

Does this really work?  We can say, wholeheartedly, yes!  The science backs it up.  The program must be followed fearlessly and thoroughly but, as a rule, it absolutely works.  In our experience at CORE, recovery happens for everybody who works the 12 Steps.  The obsession to drink or to drug is lifted right out of the user, who returns to wholeness and health.  For the one who recovers, moreover, the 12 Steps become a practical plan for living.  

The Big Book offers two different lists, found on pages 52 and 83-84, which aptly contrast the experiences of the addict living in self (“the bedevilments”) with the blessings for those of us who recover (“the promises”).  We set them forth below for consideration:  

The bedevilments of self The promises of recovery
We were having trouble with personal relationships.We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away.
We couldn’t control our emotional natures.We will comprehend the word serenity and we know peace.
We were a prey to misery and depression.Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
We couldn’t make a living.Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We had a feeling of uselessness.That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We were full of fear.We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We were unhappy.We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

The foregoing describes two very different, real experiences.  The first is the addict who pursues a self-centered existence.  The second is the addict who walks the path of a God-centered life.  Interested readers will readily see themselves in one, or the other.

We know that some may feel hesitant about a recovery program based on spiritual principles.  Some of us felt that way, too, upon first coming to the program.  We hadn’t anticipated this.  Could it really be that straightforward, we asked.  We reacted like others who initially balked, but there was no denying the  results for those who practiced the Steps:

When we saw others solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of God.  Our ideas did not work.  But the God idea did.”     

The program works.  If the Reader is seeking the highest quality, evidence-based treatment for substance abuse, we invite you to contact us at CORE.  For more than a quarter century, thousands of our clients have gone on to lead happy, purposeful, and completely substance-free lives.  The AA promises of recovery can be fulfilled in you, too.  They will always materialize if you work for them.  We’ll show you how to do it.    

Additionally, we at CORE will continue to support progress in the sciences, medicine, and counseling therapies, as they pertain to the terrible problem of addiction.  Used properly, they can be extremely beneficial in assisting a return to health.  For an effective recovery program, we continue to approve the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous – the gold standard of recovery.