Charlie Miller: Real Recovery Is No Fish Story!

Charlie Miller: Real Recovery Is No Fish Story!

Some think the oncorhynchus mykiss is the most fearful, finned creature known to man.  When small animals went missing along the shoreline leaving only gooey puffs of fur behind, the tri-lakes communities went into an uproar!  Chaos reigned at the townhall meeting until young CJ Miller raked his fingernails down a chalkboard to get the townsfolk’s attention.  He and his old man Charlie would find that lake monster once and for all, they exclaimed, and save summer vacation season too!  The night was black as coal when father and son set out on the foreboding waters.  The boat nearly swamped when CJ hooked it, and Charlie held tight onto CJ’s boots to keep him from going overboard.  Yet, in the end, in that age old battle between man and rainbow trout, this victory went to good guys Charlie and CJ!  Now – nobody actually knows who captured the triumphant moment on film.  Some say it was an overjoyed and grateful government official.  Others say it was Charlie’s supportive and good humored wife.  Whoever it was, the proof is right here:

A whale of a tale?  We honestly can say that Charlie did not make this story up.  We did.  But hey – we liked this picture of father and son reunited so much that we just had to add a matching back story.  Moreover, while that story may be extravagant, Charlie will tell you, and we at CORE wholeheartedly confirm: 

Real recovery is no fish story!  With God all things are possible!  In addition to recovering from a hopeless condition of mind and body, one can be reunited with family, find the true love of their life, and more!  The essential foundation is reliance upon God and the working of a few simple steps.  

To understand how Charlie arrived to CORE, we have to go back a number of years.  He was only 12 when his father passed away, and his mother ended up working long hours to provide for him and his two brothers.  In her absence the three boys went looking for fun.  By the time he got into high school, Charlie was smoking marijuana and drinking.  Then he discovered methamphetamines.  When he graduated in 2009, “it was off to the races.”   

During a five year run, Charlie “was boss of the log, had a good job, and was able to maintain it – life was still manageable.”  He had a fiancé, his son CJ, a home, his own truck, and was living the high life.  As so often happens with chronic meth use, the wheels eventually fell off.  Charlie’s sole concern became getting and using meth – up to twenty or more times a day.  That’s when things got bad: 

Bad gets when you rob and steal and do whatever you need to do in order to get that next fix.  That’s bad.  And when you can’t function normally without being high.  It’s either, one, you’re in bed or, two, you’re high.  That’s bad.”  

Charlie ended up losing everything: his fiancé, son, job, home, vehicles – everything.  He even was estranged from his own mother.

Now, it’s not that Charlie hadn’t tried to quit methamphetamines.  For years he’d been in and out of treatment centers all around the Missouri Bootheel.  “I really wanted to quit, but I didn’t know how,” he says.  In 2015 Charlie again landed in a 21-day treatment center in Stapleton, Missouri.  That’s when people from CORE showed up and did a presentation about the cycle of addiction and how to recover.  When Charlie saw that, he said to himself, “You know what?  I’m getting out of here.”  He loaded up in the CORE van and rode back with them to Branson.  “I came here with a trash bag of clothes and a carton of cigarettes – that’s it,” he says.  Happily for him, he didn’t need material possessions to recover.  His willingness to work the 12 Steps was more than sufficient. 

One of the biggest differences between CORE and inpatient treatment programs, Charlie says, is that at CORE one learns to actually live in recovery.  Treatment programs are institutionalized, highly regimented places.  Everything one does is scheduled, from the time one wakes up in the morning to finally going to bed at night.  By contrast, at CORE Charlie was able “to live my life and get recovery at the same time.”  He had to go out into the world every day and face real-life challenges.  He learned to live successfully by using the tools found in the Big Book. 

Charlie also credits having a great sponsor, Gary Osborn, our Operations Manager.  He describes Gary as “my sponsor and mentor, without a doubt the biggest influence on me getting where I am today.”  Gary had years of recovery experience and had seen it all.  Charlie remembers that, although Gary often “could tell me what would happen before it happened,” he didn’t always call Gary and admit that he was right (and then Charlie smiled and winked).

After completing our recovery program, Charlie continued with our Second Mile group.   In due time he also became a house manager.  Guys were coming to him for advice now, and he was expected to oversee them working the Steps. “I told myself, it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the next guy coming in,” he says, “so I made sure that once a week we all ate together. We would go out and hang out together.  Not only was I their house manager, I was also their friend.”  He went on to run several houses.  Charlie remembers the guys in his houses being like family, a brotherhood.  

Charlie also began to address his financial responsibility for child support, which helped get him on the same page with CJ’s mother for visitation.  Instead of being at odds, they worked together to make sure Charlie could see his son again.  They’ve since rekindled the relationship, and Charlie spends every chance he gets with CJ.  He attends his son’s sporting events and sees him on weekends and during vacations.  CJ spends his summers with Charlie too.  Among other things, they go fishing together!

Setting financial goals and sticking with them also allowed Charlie to bring his mom to Branson to live.  He’s embarked on a new career too, and bought a home and car.  The latter are important because, in August 2020, Charlie married his lovely wife Shea.  

Shea and Charlie first met while he was still a CORE client, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that he saw her again and asked her out.  They began dating exclusively but put off talk about making the relationship permanent because of Charlie’s responsibilities as a house manager.  She supported his commitment to CORE every day they were together, Charlie remembers, throughout the entire journey.  And married life?  “It’s great,” Charlie says, “I’ve got the best wife in the world.”  We at CORE have to agree with this last observation about her being the best wife, especially when husband and step-son come home parading a squishy fish around like they’ve just caught Moby Dick.  A wife who can greet them with equanimity and good humor under these circumstances is alright in our book!

Charlie gives credit to CORE for helping him to recover, saying, “CORE saved my life, it’s the number one reason who I am today.”  More than anybody, however, he credits God.  When he first got to CORE and began working the Steps, Charlie realized that he had resentments against God.  They’d been there since he was a child, when his dad died.  His need for recovery forced him to put matters into a different perspective.  “If you read the AA book and do what it says, it will lead you to God,” says Charlie, “you start to spot His blessings, the miracles.”  He felt as if a weight were lifted from his shoulders while working the Steps, after which God has continually showed his goodness.  Everyday Charlie strives to be better or learn something new.  He also tries to go out of his way each day to help somebody without expecting anything in return.  In gratitude to his Maker, Charlie wants to do this, “being able to be God’s blessing to somebody else!

Super Friends: CORE Joins the National Sober Living Association

Super Friends: CORE Joins the National Sober Living Association

Citing the advantages of strong alliances, CEO Cary McKee recently announced our new membership in the National Sober Living Association!  In the past CORE has freely associated with local agencies and organizations to promote our goals and values.  Cary sees our NSLA membership as a way to promote sobriety and recovery nationally, in contrast to recent trends of using narcotic medications to address addiction issues.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health currently implements a “Medication First” approach for all state-funded substance abuse treatment providers.  This is a type of medically assisted treatment (MAT).  Paradoxically, the medications used are addictive – they include controlled substances like Methadone and Suboxone.  The features of this approach, according to the Department-approved website, are:

1. Addicts receive replacement narcotics “as quickly as possible, prior to lengthy assessments or treatment planning sessions;”

2. Addicts are maintained on narcotics without “arbitrary tapering or time limits,” and maintenance is discontinued only if their condition “worsens”; and

3. Psychosocial services are “not required as a condition” for receiving narcotics! 

Cary told us that he recently attended a national conference where there was discussion about a proposal for requiring MAT for all “state clients,” i.e., clients under court supervision.  Such a proposal would force state clients to seek treatment from MAT-only providers, both state-funded and otherwise.  As a policy it ignores the critical differences between recovery from addiction and overdose prevention.  One cannot even be sober, let alone recover, while addicted to narcotics.

State clients are a relatively smaller but significant part of the population that CORE serves.  They deserve recovery too.  Applying a sweeping MAT policy to them raises the specter of having methadone addicts nodding off in our classes and residences.  That’s not CORE values.  We won’t encourage one addiction over another, or any addiction at all for that matter, and we cannot take clients who proverbially have swallowed the spider to catch the fly.  CORE’s clients recover physically as well as mentally and spiritually.  They go on to lead happy, fulfilling, and drug-free lives.  The 12 Step promises are beyond the reach of persons who make narcotic drugs their Higher Power.

Thus, it is this impending “push to pigeon-hole everybody into a MAT program” that prompted Cary to join forces with the NSLA.  As a national organization it can present a united front before state and federal agencies, the public, and media.  With friends and allies we can more effectively work to assure that recovery remains an alternative for all clients, and CORE is very much committed to this goal.    

NSLA’s Executive Director is Megan Frankl.  During Cary’s first conversation with her, he saw that the values of our two organizations closely align.  All NSLA members must abide by ethical standards, promote 12 Step abstinence, and have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol – including prescription narcotics. “Right out of the gate, I knew that we were a fit,” Cary told us.  Other CORE staff members who talked to Megan had a similar reaction.  As an example, during a subsequent telephone interview, Megan told us that, “The greatest honor of my life is that I have a front row seat to see miraculous recoveries.”  We share her sentiments wholeheartedly and feel an immediate sense of kinship with her, the kind that comes from our common experience of working the 12 Steps.  Megan also told us that her passion for the NSLA is both professional and personal.  “Sober living saved my life,” she said, “I lived in one years ago.  I would not be alive and happy today had it not been what I learned in that home.”  

The NSLA is fairly recent to the national stage.  Beginning as a regional association of sober living homes, in 2018 it branched out into a network that advocates nationwide for quality sober living.  In only three years, it has emerged to become a national force, with over 50 members located in 14 states across the country.  The NSLA’s bottom line, Megan said, “is saving lives, because we work with a vulnerable population.  That’s why the NSLA exists, to protect the individual searching so desperately for a safe place to learn how to recover.”  Organizations gain membership through an application process that also includes a quality assurance review, inspections, and trainings conducted by NSLA board members.  

We at CORE are excited to be a member of an organization that shares our confidence in and enthusiasm for 12 Step recovery.  Our hope is that CORE can play a key role in the NSLA and help it expand to all 50 states.  Sober living homes and recovery programs are stronger together than we are alone.  Together our message is more than simply a moral pitch for abstinence.  We can make a pragmatic case for recovery, and for complete freedom from drugs and alcohol!

The Right Stuff: Ray Francis

The Right Stuff: Ray Francis

On a chilly spring evening last year, Ray Francis again rested in his own bed, all comfy and warm.  Our brother and friend was gravely ill.  For decades he had tirelessly devoted himself to leading addicts to recovery through God.  Along the way Ray became a veritable human institution at CORE.  On that night he was visibly fading.  The initial cancer diagnosis hadn’t phased him, but that was months ago.  In the last few days he’d taken a turn for the worse.  Only moments earlier his wife Judy thanked the hospice nurses and CORE people for their help and bid them goodbye.  She walked through their quiet home to his room and peered through the doorway.  “Hi Baby, how are you doing?” she asked softly.  They’d been together for his entire sober life, over 38 years.  Ray simply smiled and relaxed back into his bed.  He was fearless as always.  She went to him and sat holding his hand until he fell asleep.  Her son Michael arrived to help keep watch.  And so it happened – Ray Francis, with his beloved wife and stepson at his side, passed in the early morning hours of April 14, 2020.

Knowing the man, his faith in God, and his legacy, we at CORE might imagine the next words Ray heard were something like: Well done, my good and faithful servant!  Come share in the joy of your Lord!

It’s hard to explain to somebody not familiar with recovery the lasting bonds that form during the life and death battle against addiction.  Ray means so much to so many.  Over a year later his presence still lives on in hearts and minds at CORE.  For we who had the privilege of knowing Ray, he’s much more than simply an old-timer with decades of recovery.  He was our brother, friend, advisor, and colleague.  His impact is felt at all levels of our organization even today.  

It was Ray who showed our CEO Cary McKee, then a twenty-something client in rehab, the way to recover from a hopeless condition of mind and body:  

I was 28-years old [before] somebody finally showed me the cycle of addiction.  Ray went through the cycle with me in that treatment center – I could tell you where I was sitting if I walked in there today.  And I saw it.  Then he walked me through the steps and showed me what I needed to do.  That was a good moment for me.  So that’s obviously the first thing I think of with Ray, who showed me the way out. He showed me who and what I truly am apart from God.  

As CORE’s intake coordinator, Ray acted as the de facto face of our program.  He was the one who clients first talked to on the phone, met with upon first arrival, and saw during their first orientation class.  Because of his office location, he also was the first staff member who clients saw upon entering our Branson recovery center.  Clients stopped by daily to say hello and chat, ask questions about the 12 Steps, and seek advice about personal matters.  “He always had time to work with an alcoholic or an addict – always,” Program Manager Kevin Hunt tells us, “it didn’t matter if his work was piled up higher than he was.  He always had time.”

Ray’s participation in 5th Steps is legendary.  It’s the step where we admit “to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  In southwest Missouri, that human being was often Ray; he helped thousands with it.  Anybody who’s been around here for awhile remembers his familiar Fifth Step in Session sign hanging on classroom doors.  People sought him out, first, because of his reputation for trustworthiness.  “They knew they’d never have to worry about hearing their 5th Step stuff out and about,” Kevin recalls, “a lot of people worked the steps with Ray.”  They found Ray even when they weren’t in our program, from places as far away as St. Louis.  Second, they asked for Ray because he’d really been there.  He lived fast and furious too before turning his will and life over to the care of God.  Nothing surprised Ray.  He was kind, understanding, and he loved you with all his heart.  

Loving you meant that Ray could be direct, too.  He had a sharp mind and knew his stuff.  Operations Manager Gary Osborne tells us, “If you wanted the answer, he was the person to go to.  If you wanted the easier, softer, gentler way, don’t go to see Ray.  Because you weren’t getting that.”  Ray was honest but never condescending.  He spoke to people where they are and never diminished them.  He was Gary’s sponsor for sixteen years.  Ray didn’t have a mean bone in his body, either.  If somebody disappointed or hurt him, he never had a bad word to say.  Above all, he worked the Steps.  “I always want to be able to conduct myself that way,” Gary says, “to hold myself to Ray’s standards.”

Ray had an ineffable ability to live in the moment so that people who approached him felt important.  Every moment with him seemed self-contained.  He was passionate about conveying the 12 Step message.  Our accountant Janet Weaver, for example, vividly remembers her conversations with Ray before she ever became a client.  It was sixteen years ago, and CORE had only three houses.  “They were all mens houses,” she recalls, “but I heard they might turn one of them into a women’s house, so I started calling them every day and talked to Ray.”  He kept their conversations focused on Janet’s recovery.  Over the course of two weeks, Ray took Janet through the first three Steps and also had her writing on her 4th Step – all while on the telephone.  Even better, Ray helped make CORE into a fully co-ed program and invited Janet to be our first female client.  Today, CORE has seven residential facilities for women.  We have women managing our houses, counseling clients, leading prayer, and teaching recovery classes, too.  

Above all, those of us who know Ray remember his devotion to God and prayer.  He created Monday Morning Prayer for our recovery centers, as an example, a fact recently brought to our attention by HR Manager Tami McKinney.  Tami remembers him as a man of God whose unshakeable faith led him to always put the needs of others before himself.  “He was ready at the drop of a hat to help, to stop and help anyone,” she says, “he was always ‘others first.’”  In discussions about spiritual matters, he had relevant scriptures to offer and would recommend specific books and articles for further study.  He was a consummate advocate for committing ourselves to a spiritual life and letting God demonstrate through us what He can do.

Like so many of us, the way in which Ray came to be involved in CORE may seem fortuitous, at first blush.  He goes way back, all the way to the beginning. Twenty-six years ago he and Judy arrived from the State of Washington to attend her son’s college graduation.  Whereupon, a young missionary preacher, Tim Schuer, came knocking at the door about starting a “cell church.”  Tim had been brought from Australia to America to do God’s work and was sponsored by four Christian families in Branson.  Judy remembers that Ray and Tim became friends immediately, and Ray very much wanted to stay and be involved in the fledgling ministry:

So Tim became a mentor to Ray in the faith.  We went to Tim’s house church for awhile.  Then Tim wanted to do more outreach, so the Lord took it to ministering to alcoholics and addicts.  That’s when Ray really caught fire.

This is Judy’s way of saying that God works in mysterious ways.  In fact, Ray and Judy were the first members of Tim’s cell church.  It’s worth wondering what would have happened, or not happened, had Tim not knocked on their door when he did.  Jan Blase, who was among the four Christian families in Branson mentioned above, who still later became CORE’s Director of Development, helped Ray write a grant proposal for our first recovery house.  CORE wasn’t the sprawling program that it is today.  Those were simpler times – the entire program fit into one office in a church basement.  Ray was blessed to see his passion and efforts grow into two CORE recovery centers, nineteen residential facilities, and two ReStores, all serving hundreds of people annually from Taney, Stone and Greene Counties, and beyond.  He also watched thousands of clients find God and recovery, some of whom eventually went on to be counted among CORE’s senior staff members. 

We think God put Ray in the right place at the right time.  He had the right stuff.  Through his words and personal example, Ray Francis stirred our hearts and minds.  Some of us owe our lives to him.  He wasn’t about public praise, however.  He didn’t love the world or the things of this world.  To him, these were superficial things.  The things Ray was about, and taught us, were deep and enduring.  By showing what a few simple steps and unswerving reliance upon God can do, he left us better knowing him. He made the world a better place.  “He dedicated his whole being, his whole life, to recovery services, to the addict and to the alcoholic,” Cary tells us.  In devoting himself to this service, he also helped to build CORE.  Judy tells us “His legacy is all of you.  He had faith that the people in CORE will pass it on to others, that they can become your legacy too.”

Humility And Recovery

Humility and Recovery

At CORE we think of humility as a noble virtue.  In one sense, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”1  It’s a principal value in many ethical systems.   Great thinkers from all ages have taught that it’s in our best interest to forget our self-interest.  Our highest example of humility, moreover, is the Lord himself, who came to this earth to do God’s will2 and to serve rather than be served.3  The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous also finds value in humility, which is often called the “foundation principle” for each of the 12 Steps. 

In contrast to those who believe that humility is worth having, there are others who think that we have too much of it.4  It’s not just the business types who think this.  Some among the self-help recovery crowd are jumping on the hubris bandwagon too.  There seems to be no limit on what these people are willing to say in order to make sales.  The pride mongers can be found among individuals who market so-called “harm reduction” methods as if they were recovery programs.  What they say is of interest to us, because CORE is a recovery program.  

As an example, one of these persons tells his readers that “the more I learn—the more I hear and the more I see—the more arrogant I become.”  His conceit supposedly keeps him sober.  He’s so proud of his abstinence that he looks down on everyone who does drink, even those who are not alcoholics.  Not only does he hope readers like this quality about him, “in fact, I hope you’re jealous,” he says.  More than that, he hopes readers will become interested in the abstinence program that he developed.  To pique their interest, he invites them to take a self-survey about alcohol.  Taking the survey entitles them to a free gift, a 40 page pdf-book about the alleged shame caused not only by alcoholism but also by sobriety.  Readers are then invited to enroll in the program, and this is where cash is exchanged.

He tells them that similar programs cost $1,000 or more, but he asks for only a $25 per month recurring donation, which “can be cancelled at any time.”  Moreover, if one donates an additional $40 to help battle the stigma associated with alcohol, he sends them a signed copy of his published book.  It sells for $9.99 on Amazon and was released two years ago.  There are ten glowing reviews on the Amazon website, all posted within six days of the book’s release.  One reviewer, who allegedly struggled “for years,” claims that this book was the “missing piece” that helped her find “permanent sobriety.”  Her review is altogether startling because it was posted the same day that the book was released.  The other reviews are similarly puzzling.

With all due respect to this person, and others who are trying to market and sell human pride, cavalierly urging people to model abstinence based on self-confidence seems like a losing proposition.  People who are still wrapped up in themselves are unlikely to enjoy meaningful recovery.  Arrogance is more often a reaction to low self-esteem.  It may also indicate dry drunk syndrome, in which the sufferer lives under continual stress because they are full of unaddressed resentments and anger.  This is a perilous approach to sobriety that we can’t recommend to anybody. 

Humility is part of every real recovery program because addiction is the result of a self-centered ego.  It is a natural and foreseeable consequence when someone with an attitude of entitlement decides to self-medicate.  As addicts we saw ourselves not on this earth to serve our fellows but rather to have our own desires served and all of our wants and needs met.  We were “like an actor who wants to run the whole show . . . forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in our own way.”5  We thought that the world owed us.  When the show didn’t come off as we expected, we became angry, indignant, and self-pitying, and we felt deserving of relief.  Confronted with hurtful, stressful, or emotional situations, we claimed the privilege of feeling better immediately through alcohol and drugs.  This chronic practice of self-medicating and rationalizing our behavior resulted in alcoholism and addiction.  The 12 Steps address this crippling self-centeredness through a program of ego deflation. 

To help lay readers better appreciate how humility relates to this process, please consider the following summary of the 12 Steps:

I couldn’t control my drugs and alcohol anymore, and my life was a mess.  God had a better plan for me, so I submitted myself to it.  I thought of my personal faults and everybody I’ve harmed, and I admitted these to God and to another person.  I was ready to have God remove these shortcomings, too, and humbly asked Him to do this.  Moreover, I became willing to fix things with the people I’d harmed.  I went to them and made amends.  Since then, I’m ever watchful for my own faults and admit it when I’m wrong.  I also maintain contact with God and pray to Him for the wisdom and power to live according to His will.  This has become my plan for life, and I’m particularly mindful of helping others in distress as I once was.

This essentially is all 12 Steps.  It’s a simple program.  Some might quibble about details, but this sufficiently summarizes them for our discussion of humility, which is really about our orientation toward ourselves, our fellows, and God.  

12 Step humility initially requires us to honestly assess our personal situations, become willing to admit faults, and to open ourselves to new possibilities.  “To thine own self be true.”6  We invariably accept certain truths about ourselves that are common to all addicts, inter alia, that we are powerless over drugs and alcohol, cannot manage our own lives, have harmed others, and suffer character defects. The object is not to make us to think badly about ourselves, but rather to conduct an honest self-appraisal and begin change.  This is indispensable if we are to “discard the old life — the one that did not work — for a new life that can and does work under any conditions whatever.”7

Owning up to others about errors and limitations is humbling too.  We can’t claim a privileged role in this world anymore.  “No man is an island.”8  We especially acknowledge those we’ve hurt, all of whom deserved better, and devote time and effort to repair the harm.  In making amends to another: we acknowledge our wrong without making excuses or blaming others, show contrition, state our awareness of the harm we caused, and always right the wrong wherever possible.  Showing that we hear and value those we’ve hurt helps rebuild broken relationships.  The exercise also instills a sensitivity to and appreciation for everyone around us.  We stop thinking so much about ourselves and begin to focus on the needs of others. 

Finally, 12 Step humility also means having a right understanding before God.  There is an order to reality and our place in the world, and trying to make up our own rules didn’t work.  Running on our own power, we failed.  “We had to have God’s help.”9  Thus, we accepted Him as our director, and as agents we committed ourselves to doing His will.  “Thy will (not mine) be done,”10 is the rule, not the exception.  God is with us when we come to Him with a humble spirit.  He shows us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love.  Living the spiritual life reveals meaning and purpose in our daily activities.  It instills strength and courage to persevere.    

In sum, humility may not seem to be an obvious quality for recovery, but we doubt that anyone can maintain sobriety without cultivating it.  One can learn humility the easy way, or the hard way.  Refusing to admit that we are powerless, to acknowledge our failures to others, or to rely on God, are the very kinds of brash self-assurance that lead to misadventure in the next drink or drug.  We’ve seen this repeated so many times that we accept it as axiomatic. 

There is also a paradoxical quality to humility, because as seekers we never discover it within ourselves.  The fact that we must forever trudge the “road of happy destiny,”11 however, does not deter us.  We are content to place our faith in God and live by spiritual principles.  With the strength of humility comes the gift of serenity.  It allows us to flourish and to navigate even the most difficult waves of life.

A Conversation With Mykaella Ross!

A Conversation with Mykaella Ross!

As the saying goes, “Don’t talk the talk unless you can walk the walk!”  For this newsletter we wanted to find somebody local who walks the path of sobriety with passion.  We couldn’t just climb Top of the Rock and scan the horizon, so we asked around CORE – where all the recovered people are!  Thankfully, we were in luck.  Everybody told us the same thing: find Mykaella Ross!  We caught up with her at CORE’s recovery center in Branson and talked about addiction and recovery.

Mykaella is a very different person from the young woman who came to us three years ago.  She is a person of faith who lets her hopes, not hurts, guide her life’s path.  She currently serves as manager of our JJ House and mentors younger clients in CORE’s EDGE program.  The ladies of our program also tell us that she inspires them to grow and learn, and several of them have become house managers too.  Mykaella also knows how to get things done.  She’s an achiever who studies every aspect of a problem brought to her and tackles it with enthusiasm. That’s the way she approaches everything.  We’re grateful that Mykaella has stayed with CORE since commencing our program, and we look forward to having her here for as long as we can.       

It’s hard to believe it, but three years ago Mykaella counted herself among the most downhearted people on earth.  She was enslaved to methamphetamines and crashing in a homeless shelter for women.  She was unemployed, had lost everything, and was completely alienated from her family.  What went wrong for Mykaella?  How had things come to that?  

We have to back up a few years and see Mykaella as a teenager.  Popular and surrounded by boys, she was a precocious 4.0 student who also played high school sports.  Although she was only fifteen years old, Mykaella had adult-sized, intractable problems that she was afraid to share with anybody else.  For one, there was a rape.  Then came an unexpected pregnancy which was medically terminated.  It was all too big for her to handle, and she learned to escape by using alcohol to blot out her trauma, as well as her fears and resentments.  Marijuana and prescription pain pills came along soon enough.  The wheels really fell off when she discovered meth, and her drug-fueled odyssey ran on for nine long years.

She became a textbook addict who not only was powerless against drugs but whose life also was unmanageable.  Mykaella described for us in fair detail the self-centered excesses and insanity of her addiction.  She was living in a dog-eat-dog world where the law was never far behind (she spent her sixteenth, eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays locked up).  Countless times she made solemn promises to get clean and sober, “but they didn’t last.”  Something always came up that was too painful to deal with.  Her typical day consisted of the following:

Smoking reefer, doing meth, selling it, any way possible. I was smoking meth throughout the day. If I go to work, I’m going to bring it to work and smoke it in the bathroom or put it in my coffee and drink it. I always thought of myself as this undercover tweaker. Like, I could put my face on, clothes, and go to work, but I’d be spun out of my mind.

If we could encapsulate her addiction experience into one short story, it has to be her last couple of days living in mayhem.  Mykaella was staying at a trap house near Joplin and had given away all her meth because of yet another firm resolution she made.  Such resolutions happened a lot but, being powerless, she felt the obsession return soon enough.  In desperation Mykaella smoked the only thing she could find, meth taken from a bloody syringe.  “I remember taking the hit and just crying,” she recalls, “I didn’t want to do it, but I did.”  She then fled to a woman’s homeless shelter in Joplin.  Antics ensued:  

Even there, I still had to get one more. So I drive up to Carthage to meet up with some random dude and I smoke a doobie. Prior to this, I’d been up for nine days. On my way back I fall asleep at the wheel. I totaled my car, and it was a miracle that I didn’t kill myself or anyone else that day. 

But I called [the car dealership] and told them the power steering went out. They said, call your insurance.  Mind you, I’m that girl who just gets the insurance card and doesn’t continue to pay it. So they bring out the tow truck and I call the Joplin police department and say, I just want you to know, the power steering just went out on this car on main street. You don’t have to worry about it. I hitchhike back to this homeless shelter. It was just insane.

At the homeless shelter Mykaella became hysterical and also started seeing and hearing things, “I’m distraught, scaring the women in the shelter. They were like, please don’t get mad, but you need more help than this place can give you.”  She broke down crying because she knew they were right.  From the homeless shelter Mykaella went straight to rehab.  

Now, she’d been to rehab before, but this time something was different.  Mykaella and her group were visited by three women from CORE:

They came there and gave their testimony. I remember them being so relatable. I never could understand why I always started, you know, why I couldn’t stop starting. They talked about the obsession and the allergy. They really broke down the cycle of addiction.  I’m like, that’s me; that’s my life! After they finished giving their testimony, I remember crying and asking how I could get into their program.”

Mykaella made it to CORE, too.  On the day of our interview, she expressed thanks for the generosity of those who made her trip here possible. Though she was not a member, two Joplin churches helped pay for her enrollment: Calvary Baptist and St. Mary’s Catholic.  Mykaella’s mother and a friend also provided support.

God works miracles at CORE, and once here Mykaella did her part by putting in the study and work.  She started taking her Big Book everywhere she went, including the Center and her job.  She studied it during breaks and while she was waiting for transportation.  She also began working on her Fourth Step, which took several weeks to complete:

That‘s where I started, writing all my resentments, then my fears. I thought those were hard. But then I had to write about my conduct and how I harmed people.  That was the real hard part.  It took several weeks, actually, while I worked on it. But I said, if this is what’s going to work, then I’m going to put my all into it. If I can dedicate my life to dope for ten years, I can do that for my recovery now. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I can do that.

Mykaella spent three days sharing the content of this paperwork with her Fifth Step partner. 

Then the miracle happened.  From being this hard person who callously used others to feed her addiction, Mykaella learned how to love herself and, in time, others around her.  She recovered.  Mykaella has completely put in the rearview mirror a lifestyle that was so damaged that normies can scarcely imagine it.  She also learned how to communicate with others and wasted no time in carrying the message of hope to newcomers, i.e., there is a way out!  Shortly before her commencement, Kevin Hunt and Sam Krause asked her to stay on at CORE and help run a house.  Thus, during the last two years, Mykaella has taken turns managing our Vaughan, Quail, and JJ houses.  

Happily, relationships with family have been renewed too.  Her mom came and spoke at her commencement.  Further, by making “living amends” to other family members, Mykaella has been restored to them as well.  She cites her younger siblings as an example, saying “It’s cool today because my little brother and sister call me.  They call just to see how I’m doing or to talk about something.  That didn’t happen before.”

On top of all of this, Mykaella has an awesome new career at Capital Vacations working alongside of Erica Hunt, wife of our own Kevin Hunt! 

In addition to the positives of sobriety, Mykaella has faced genuine challenges too.  Only last April, her dad tragically passed away.  In the past, such misfortune would have led to another binge.  This time, however, Mykaella turned to God:

When he died, I felt all the guilt, the things that I did, they all came up again. I thought I’d been processing as things came along but, when something this traumatic happens, you have to step back and be cautious about what you’re going through, to feel those emotions. I don’t run from my emotions today. You know, it hurts so bad. I’d always run from that. But after my dad died, I actually walked through that fear of feeling the pain. It was all God, and I’m grateful for that.”

Speaking of CORE’s significance to her personally, Mykaella is adamant, saying “Recovered, I’m living. Using, I’m dying.  Today, I’m living!”  She still remembers when she first arrived here all those years ago.  She had no idea what to expect, only that “I knew I needed to be here.”  She didn’t like herself very much, either, but she was certain that “God can make you to be whoever He wants you to be.” As a result, Mykaella unreservedly turned her will and life over to His care.  Today she sees herself as a completely different person who has been renewed in mind and spirit.  She smiles, “I can look back and say, thank you God, for transforming me!”

Fear Of Recovery

Fear Of Seeking Help In Recovery

Every so often a client commits to attending a drug and alcohol recovery program but, when the big day comes, never shows.  It goes something like this:  

It’s recovery day and everybody has anxiously awaited this for a long, long time.  The client’s stoked.  The family’s stoked.  Even the dog is stoked.  Life had become unbearable for all.  It’s time to take the next step, really, to stop talking and just do it.  Time to nip it in the bud.  Now that the day has arrived, moreover, surely everyone will commemorate this occasion when their beloved grabbed the bull by the horns and went to rehab.  Thus, at daybreak the client and family load up the car and head out.  At 9:00 a.m., the rehab technicians receive a telephone call from the client: they’re only miles away!  No hurry, the techs tell him; they’re waiting with bells on!  Yet, what should be no more than an hour long wait unexpectedly drags on into late afternoon.  

At noon, and about three and six o’clock, the techs receive additional calls reporting immaterial events.  It’s stuff like, they stopped to get toothpaste and a bathrobe, traffic was backed up because of a road incident, or something similar.  Each time the client or a family member reports that they’re back on the road and will be there in no time – not to worry! As the sun sets, however, they still are nowhere to be found.  The client no longer answers his phone, and the overnight tech finally marks him down in the log as a “no-show.”  He never arrives, and it turns out that the client, who only that morning appeared so eager to start his new life in sobriety, had begun negotiating with the family during the trip.  He pleaded with them, promised to try harder, and begged them to take him home.

For the reader who isn’t steeped in addiction recovery, this about face and failure to appear might seem altogether puzzling.  We might think that, from the client’s perspective, getting into rehab would be the most obvious and natural thing to do.  After all, being imprisoned in the cycle of addiction is utter misery; it wouldn’t be wished upon anyone.  By analogy, if we were stuck someplace like an elevator or a deserted island, we’d be only too happy to escape.  It only makes sense that an addict would jump at the chance to break free of his bondage too.  Why go through all the trouble, then, only to bail out at the last second?  

By far the most common reason why a client fails to show up at a recovery program is that he has become paralyzed with fear.  To appreciate how and why this happens, we have to go back to the basics.  

Experts who study fear tell us that it is a natural and primitive, but powerful, response to danger.  Its purpose is to mobilize us for a predictable “fight or flight.”  We can readily conceptualize this by thinking about prehistoric or stone age movies.  Name any flick about cavemen and we’re bound to see fur-clad people either running from exploding volcanoes or fighting off scary creatures.  These films are short on anthropological and historical value, admittedly, but they clearly bring into focus our most basic understanding of fear and how it operates.  Once we see danger, our fear naturally provokes some type of protective response.    

We’re mostly spared from volcanos and wild animals today, but the basic survival mechanism that kept our ancestors safe is still in full operation.  Everybody has fears.  Sometimes the threats are open and obvious, like tornadoes, road hazards, or physical attacks, all of which call for immediate, decisive responses.  Most dangers, however, are more complicated.  They are situational and involve so many kinds of pains, losses, failures, and uncertainties, that nobody has ever really worked out a satisfactory classification system for all of them.  Listing all of the people, places, and things that trigger fears would be an impossibly monumental task.  Furthermore, our best responses to such dangers are rarely straight-forward.  More often they are provisional and rely on contingent and unknown events.  

Significantly, to the addict and alcoholic, the prospect of recovery is only superficially like escaping a desert island or stuck elevator.  There are still plenty of fears even when we are on our way to a life-saving recovery program.  Perhaps a better analogy for the experience is something like leaving a bad relationship, or quitting a dreary job.  The immediate objective is clear in these situations – leaving – but life afterward is uncertain.  The fear of ending up alone, or being unable to pay bills, becomes very real in such cases.  Making a new life involves so many unanswered questions that it can overwhelm a person, who thereby avoids rather than overcomes the reasons for their fears.  

Attending a recovery program clearly is a pressing, urgent concern, but the client who decides to go broadly faces two fears: fear of change and fear of failure.  It’s no secret that addicts dread change.  Our drug and alcohol careers were largely spent micro-managing everyone and everything around us to assure the status quo.  We sought to preserve the ease and comfort afforded by our next drink or drug.  While intoxicated we went to our safe place – we “tuned out.”  In the process we became increasingly isolated from the world around us and everybody in it.  Our natural inclination turned into an aversion to leaving our safe place.  We feared everything that threatened our little sphere of ease and comfort.  The existence was hardly idyllic.  It wasn’t even tolerable, but it was all that we had, and knew.

Recovery, by contrast, means change, and lots of it.  While these changes are uniformly positive, as new clients we could scarcely foresee, let alone control, the particulars of the sober life we were about to enter.  We knew enough to understand that it meant abandoning our safe place to come live in a new community with new people, and to adopt an entirely new plan for living.  In short, we were stepping into unfamiliar territory.  Even though we at CORE have lived, successfully, through this process, we also understand how a new client, unprepared and confronted with the prospect of so many changes, might become overwhelmed and flee from the challenge.  

The alcoholic and addict also fear failure in recovery.  It’s not that we were strangers to failure.  The world never lived up to our expectations to begin with, and once we had retreated to our safe place of substance abuse, our lives became a monument to quitting.  You can’t win if you don’t play, so problems piled up so quickly that our expectation of failure more or less became the norm.  Our fears arose out of the fact that we were powerless over our addictions.  We’d made countless attempts to quit and our efforts came to nothing.  For most of us, coming to CORE was our last resort.  Simply making the decision to go does not, by itself, inspire confidence. 

Inwardly, many of us wondered how we would even be able to quit.  The sober life seemed like a pipe dream.  We asked ourselves how it was even possible, and we doubted that anyone really achieved happiness and comfort without illicit substances.  In short, we genuinely feared that our decision to come to a recovery program might turn out to be a crushing disappointment.  Failure would provide irrefutable proof to ourselves of our ultimate fear, that our situation was hopeless.  This is a risk of failure so great that some may avoid even trying in the first place.

In light of a client’s fears coming to a recovery program, one might reasonably ask how often these unfortunate situations actually occur.  The industry does not keep such statistics.  However, our staff at CORE who worked in rehab facilities report that this was a weekly occurrence at their former places of employment.  We readily can see how this might happen if a client isn’t adequately prepared for their stay.  Fortunately, CORE is blessed with talented intake specialists who are aware of and actively address this issue.  Every client coming to CORE receives a thorough orientation that inspires confidence in their decision to enroll in our program.  

Before the client ever steps through our doors, our specialists have taken their history of substance abuse, reviewed our program with them, and discussed the client’s expectations and concerns about leaving home and starting a new life in sobriety.  Nothing is dismissed or minimized, whether it pertains to loss, loneliness, boredom, finding a good job – or anything.  Anxieties are addressed with sympathy and understanding by providing the client with thoughtful, candid answers.  For those who may be shy about volunteering, our specialists relate their own personal experiences in order to introduce the topic.  The point is, no matter how brave we want to appear, it’s perfectly natural to have fears in unfamiliar situations.  Recovery necessarily involves new experiences and challenges, and the client will not be alone.  We have been in their place, too.  We take their concerns seriously and will be here to help.  

Our specialists also educate the client about our recovery program, how it works, and what results they can and should expect.  For a new client, the thought of living sober may seem impossible, even terrifying, because they are totally reliant on their addiction for emotional support.  With this in mind, we introduce the 12 Steps for what they are and always have been – the recovery program upon which the client can safely rely when all other treatments and measures fail.  The client is encouraged to meet and become acquainted with our staff, each of whom have worked the 12 Steps and enjoy years of complete sobriety.  Nothing about the client’s program is left to guesswork or chance.  We’ll be right there with them, and they will receive thoughtful and caring guidance on every step of the way.  CORE presents the client with a unique opportunity to be reborn to a life filled with purpose and self-worth, economic security, and emotionally secure relationships with others.  Working the 12 Steps accomplishes all of these things and more.  We’re excited to be part of this program, and we think the client will too.

For readers who may have friends or loved ones contemplating a recovery program, please remember that everyone needs a listening ear.  Ask them to tell you about their hopes for recovery and what they want to accomplish by attending a residential program.  Talk about any concerns they may have and exactly what makes them afraid.  If answers aren’t readily available, encourage them to call the recovery provider for additional information or another opinion.  Your efforts will be a positive safeguard that your loved one does the right thing when the moment for residential treatment arrives.

CORE Shows Support for the Hollister Police Department

CORE Shows Support for the Hollister Police Department

At CORE, showing pride in our local communities is more than just a great idea.  Reclaiming citizenship is an important part of recovery.  We embrace and celebrate that we are a necessary part of a larger whole.  When we are able to make a real difference in changing lives for the better, it’s time to take an active role.  This includes seeing to it that our public servants – the people who take care of us – are loved, supported, and valued.

The importance of our local police departments cannot be overstated.  Our men and women in blue put their lives on the line to ensure our safety.  They run toward the bad guys so that we don’t have to.  Friendly words and a box of donuts hardly begins to express our genuine appreciation for everything they do.  So, when the chance comes along to properly thank our local law enforcement, we act.  On May 5th, our clients and staff saw the golden opportunity.  It was moving day at the Hollister Police Department!

The new police department building is on Hollister Pointe Drive across from Arrowhead Building.  It’s the difference between Mayberry and NCIS.  The design features have modern law enforcement and training operations in mind.  Hollister Police Chief Preston Schmidt particularly appreciates that the facility has proper security features.  He told us that all phases of department operations can be more safely and efficiently run out of this new location.  Officer Garrett Colson summed up these feelings succinctly, telling us, “It’s awesome, amazing.”

Hollister’s former building had been re-purposed in 2002.  It housed a trading post and computer supply store.  It had thin walls, poor insulation, and almost no ballistic protection.  Space management also was difficult because of the shape of the building.  Modernization was a key factor in the decision to build a new facility.  Chief Schmidt said that he is committed to providing the highest level of professionalism and service to the citizens of Hollister.  The police department also needed more room to keep up with growth.  It already has a dedicated staff of 19 full time employees, and as many as 10 reserves serving various roles.  If the department is to be prepared for the future, now was the time for a new base of operations.  

While moving any office comes with its own set of challenges, when the police department is involved, planning is paramount.  The department had pre-marked every item being moved with a room number so that a supervisor could oversee the offload and make sure all items found their proper rooms.  Chief Schmidt told us that everything was in place to ensure that complete continuity of operations was maintained at all times.  The new building already had staff and a dispatcher in place as the move commenced.  All critical functions were already running when, at exactly 10:00 a.m., the telephone company flipped a switch and the phone lines immediately transferred.

CORE staff and clients did their part by helping the move to the police department’s new location.  CORE’s logistical expert Gary Osborn coordinated our efforts.  Osborn regularly oversees our Re-Store’s massive projects involving truckloads of merchandise.  As we surveyed the amount of furniture involved in the police department’s move, we thought it rather large too, but Osborn wasn’t intimidated at all.  He shrugged it off, saying “no worries.”  Osborn also said that CORE was more than happy to help with this, adding “the relationships are well worth it.”  Our people also helped with junk removal, and then cleaned, dusted, swept, and mopped up the entire building.  For everything these public servants mean to our community, lending our helping hands was the least we could do to show our support.  

The Hollister Police Department is committed to providing our community the highest level of professionalism and service.  The new building is something the entire community can be proud of for a very long time.  We at CORE want to thank our law enforcement officers for everything they do!

The Atheist, the Alcoholic, and the Unknown God

The Atheist, the Alcoholic, and the Unknown God

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 17, the Lord tells the Disciples that they can move mountains if their faith is as small as a mustard seed.  How many of us have read that passage and pondered what such faith might look like?  A mustard seed is only one or two millimeters in diameter.  It’s tiny.  What could God possibly do with faith that small?  Consider the following: 

The Atheist

Antony Flew (1923 – 2010) is widely thought to be the preeminent atheist of the 20th century.  More than seven decades ago he set the agenda for modern atheism with Theology and Falsification, a paper he presented in a debate with the famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. 

Flew’s philosophical works have left an indelible mark on modern thought and discourse.  The so-called New Atheists, for example, incorporated his work into their flame-throwing agendas.  They revel in excoriating and ridiculing people for simply believing in God.  Flew’s ‘presumption of atheism’ is a frequent topic of their podcasts.  We see its influence every time someone butts onto a social media thread and claims that everyone who believes in God is crazy but refuses to rationally defend their remarks.  It was Flew who planted the philosophical seeds in which today’s social climate of intolerance and ignorance makes these hit-and-run episodes all too common.  

Curiously, Flew himself never joined in the antics of his New Atheist associates.  We see the reason why only in hindsight.  In publications the professor still exhibited a detached, academic interest in “following the evidence wherever it may lead.”  Yet privately – unknown to the world at large – Flew was a consummate seeker who was relentless in his search for hard evidence of God’s existence.  On the debate circuit he even made friendships with Christian scholars.  Out of the spotlight they collaborated by exchanging correspondence and telephone calls about scientific developments and their theistic implications.  The world was understandably shocked when, in May of 2004, Professor Flew arrived to a debate and announced that he now believed in God.

It happened at New York University.  Of that “debate” Flew later said “What might have been an intense exchange of opposing views ended up as a joint exploration of the developments in modern science that seemed to point to a higher Intelligence.”  In the video of the event, the announcer suggested that of all the great discoveries of modern science, the greatest was God.  The New Atheists were red-faced, scandalized (imagine if Billy Graham had shown up to a revival and announced that he had become an atheist).  Not surprisingly, Flew was never invited to appear on behalf of the atheists again. 

Flew went on to publish There Is No A God.  Beginning with the plainest of premises – that “nothing comes from nothing” – Flew appraised three discrete phenomena: the existence of the laws of nature, of life, and of the universe itself.  It isn’t simply that our present science is ill-equipped to naturally explain these, Flew said; rather, science can never explain these apart from an immensely intelligent, all-powerful Creator.  The relevant sciences have reached the point where we safely can say that God is behind it all.  Flew also quoted scientific giants like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Erwin Schrödinger, and many others who expressed a belief in God.  

As one might imagine, upon hearing about this, the New Atheists became completely unglued.  The old man’s gone mad, they cried.  They charged him with senility, and some bizarrely claimed that unscrupulous, Christian opportunists had hijacked his brain.  Yet Flew dismissed these naysayers in writings and television interviews until his death in 2010.  

Today, Antony Flew’s personal story continues to inspire Christians who value the natural sciences.  The man who once set the agenda for modern atheism had calmly weighed the evidence and now believed in God.  His book has become a recommended primer for anybody wanting to understand how humanity’s greatest scientific discoveries actually complement and defend, not contradict, a faith in God.  It still holds places on Amazon’s bestseller lists for both religious studies and atheism.

The Alcoholic

William Griffith Wilson (1895 – 1971) was born in the hamlet of Danby, Vermont, at the Wilson Hotel.  Fittingly, it happened in a room behind the hotel bar.  From his mother he inherited brains, and from his father, brawn, along with a family history of alcoholism.  In fact, Wilson had been warned from an early age about the family experience with alcohol.  His father, who left when Wilson was a boy, drank heavily, and his grandfather had been an alcoholic.  Wilson grew up frightened of liquor and backed away from it during his youth and throughout college.  That changed during his military service when Wilson accepted a drink at a society gathering. It was like magic; the shy and self-conscious young man became the life of the party.

During a period of sixteen years, alcohol became the defining fact of Wilson’s life.  His marriage and lucrative career as a stock analyst naturally disintegrated into shambles.  A dismayed Wilson was completely baffled by his inability to stop drinking.  He’d had countless chances, and more than enough motivation and personal desire – all to no avail.  He then received a visit from an old drinking buddy who claimed that the “Great Physician” had saved him of his own alcoholic obsession.  It had been lifted right out of him, his friend said; he was completely freed.

Wilson went to the friend’s Christian fellowship and met others who declared the same thing.  Although impressed by their recoveries, Wilson chafed at the idea that it had anything to do with God.  He’d never studied the Bible or been a churchgoer, and he asked himself whether they recovered through reality or by an illusion.  Now, Wilson didn’t question that there was a power greater than himself.  He even thought there may be a spirit of the universe that supported the vast laws and forces at work in the cosmos.  A personal god, however, seemed improbable, even unreal, to him.  With the ministers and religions of the world, he sharply parted company.  He thought himself, in his own words, “incapable of such an absurd illusion, even though it might save [his] life for a little while.”

During Wilson’s last hospitalization his doctor pronounced him hopeless.  His course was set: decaying health, madness, and death.  Later that night, sitting alone in his hospital room, Wilson felt his obstinacy toward God crushed out of him.  He even said to himself, “I’ll do anything, anything at all.  If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.”  Wilson then humbly offered himself to God and had a remarkable spiritual experience.  The effect was instant and electric; he became conscious of “the God of the preachers.”

An excited Wilson told everybody at the hospital about his experience.  His obsession to drink was gone.  It was a miracle, but how, and why?  The Christian fellowship provided him a book by the psychologist William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.  Wilson readily saw himself within the pages: his calamity, admission of complete defeat, and appeal to God.  As he contemplated his own experience, however, Wilson came to appreciate the critical importance of his Christian friend.  Without this friend’s guidance, the thought of seeking God would never have occurred to him.  As a fellow alcoholic, he had identified himself with Wilson as no other person could.  He had pointed the way out of the cave of darkness and into the sunshine of the spirit.  

It was a powerful epiphany.  Wilson began to envision a “chain reaction,” an ever growing fellowship of alcoholics whose mission would be to point other sufferers toward God.  Such a fellowship ultimately might reach every alcoholic in the world, Wilson thought, and he immediately began working toward that goal.  He eventually met an alcoholic and physician whose name was Robert Holbrook Smith.  

Bill W and Dr. Bob, as the duo came to be known, collaborated together and began helping other alcoholics find God.  They also put together a book, Alcoholics Anonymous, that distills the recovery program into twelve steps.  The rest is history.  

Today, there are AA groups in 180 countries with an estimated membership of more than five million people.  Bill W’s wife became a founding member of Alanon, and dozens of groups have adopted the 12 Steps to address a wide variety of compulsive behaviors. Since these groups don’t keep statistics, it’s impossible to say how many people have been led to God by the 12 Steps, but the number must be considerable.  At CORE, in our little corner of the world, our staff does not have enough fingers and toes to count them all.

The Unknown God

The New Testament contains a record of Christianity’s spread into Asia Minor and Europe.  In the Book of Acts, chapter 17, we find an account of Paul in the idol-filled city of Athens making his famous address to the Areopagus, the Athenian council.  Paul stands up before the assembly and says, in pertinent part:

People of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  . . .From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

From Paul’s remarks we have a fair idea where the Athenians are in their beliefs.  Rather than condemning them as idol-worshiping savages, however, Paul acknowledges that they are a religious people.  Athens, after all, is the cultural center of the Roman Empire.  When he says, “you are ignorant of the very thing you worship,” his remark is neither meant nor taken as disparagement.  Moreover, the fact that he proclaims The Unknown God is an attention grabber, both for them and for us today.  

Paul’s discourse does not begin with, nor is it carried by, references to scripture.  We do not see the typical survey of Israel’s history, for example, and there are no quotations from the Pentateuch or The Prophets.  He doesn’t even mention the word ‘Messiah,’ and for an obvious reason.  He’s not in a Jewish synagogue.  For authority Paul quotes two pagan authors, the Cretan philosopher Epimenides and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus.  Paul is speaking to these people where they are.

They appear to hear Paul loud and clear, too.  We know this because Luke faithfully records where an objection is made, and there are none on these matters.  Paul is expounding a natural theology that already is part of the public consciousness.  Philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and others had been developing it for centuries.  Upon this Paul argues toward his ultimate conclusion: that God the creator has revealed Himself in the man Jesus.  

In this city full of pagan idols, it happens that there are seekers in the audience who want to reach out and find God.  Sympathetic Athenians convert that same day.  They form the foundation for what eventually became an important center of early Christianity.  Moreover, we easily imagine Paul making a similar address to crowds throughout his travels in pagan Europe.  He became, in his own words, “all things to all people” and spoke to them as one “without the law.”  Small churches sprang up everywhere Paul went.  The impact upon the world made by these original seekers of The Unknown God is all around us, even today. 

Willingness is Key

God can accomplish great things with even a little faith.  As a recovery provider, we at CORE consider the above examples (and many others like them) for more than their emotional appeal.  Step Two says that we “[c]ame to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  Step Three says that we made a decision “to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”  CORE receives clients who hold a myriad of different beliefs.  Our staff counsels individuals who wonder if they really believe in God, for example.  They ask if they are religious enough to work the steps, or they want to know what minimum amount of belief is needed.  Thus, our interest in this is beyond theoretical.  Belief is “a thing” around here, a practical matter of immediate and grave importance, because recovery can be a matter of life and death. 

Our experience, echoed by the Big Book, is that “God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him.”  Id., at 46.  Therefore, willingness is key.  It’s great if we already have faith, but even by expressing a willingness to believe, we commence to get results.  We see this quality in the atheist, the alcoholic, and Athenians above.  All were seekers, and their willingness to believe lit a flame that has gone on to inspire millions and accomplish immeasurable good.  God does remarkable things with a ready attitude.  Pertinently, this also includes someone suffering from a seemingly hopeless obsession for drugs and alcohol.  In the 12 Step context, a simple attitude of willingness to believe can become the “cornerstone” upon which “a wonderfully effective spiritual structure” is built.  Id., at 47.

We see this all the time.  CORE’s ministry is not dissimilar from a college ministry, where members not only have different backgrounds and beliefs but also are highly mobile and continually come and go.  Our church attendance is about three hundred people.  In an ordinary year we might have fifty baptisms, and even more commence our recovery program.  Ours is an active ministry, and for everyone who finds new life we rejoice and give all glory to God.  

So, exactly how much faith is needed to work the 12 Steps?  This matter is not readily quantified, but a client can only be defeated by a persistent attitude of intolerance and belligerent denial.  We like to think of the story about Jonah and his shipmates tossed to and fro upon the frothy sea.  The shipmates must throw Jonah overboard, he exclaims, so that God will quiet the storm.  They don’t even know Jonah’s God and resist his plan.  As their efforts to row ashore fail, however, in desperation they call out to God and put Jonah into the water.  The raging sea grows calm, and Jonah’s shipmates believe.  They then dedicate themselves to the Lord.  

The story is a fitting allegory for some who need the experience of their addictions in order to reach the place of willingness to seek out and find Him.  Nevertheless, once we make the decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, He turns out to be closer to us than we ever imagined.  He quiets the raging storm within us, and we believe.  We are filled with gratitude, and we become determined to pass along a message of hope to other addicts and alcoholics: that God will do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

A Talk with Tami McKinney

A Talk with Tami McKinney

Tami McKinney is an extraordinary person with a blessed heart.  She brightens our program wherever she’s found – which seemingly is everywhere.  

Her proper job title is Human Resources Manager, for which she plans, coordinates, and directs many of our administrative functions.  In practice Tami does a lot more.  You may find her leading clients in morning prayer, for example, or participating in an executive committee meeting, or even keeping minutes at a Board of Directors meeting.  In fact, people seeking answers to questions regularly end up in her office.  Tami is wealth of information.  Thus, if there is truly a human institution within our sprawling organization, she may well be that person.  

She’s hardly the same person who first came through our doors more than sixteen years ago.  In fact, during the autumn of 2004, Tami sat in a plain, cheerless prison cell.  The young mother of three was doing time – an intensive “one-twenty.”  There alone, in her darkest and sickest of hours, Tami was haunted by guilt and shame.  The drugs had long worn off, leaving her with only memories of a life that seemingly had all gone wrong.  She never imagined that for herself, even in her worst nightmares.

Tami grew up in an ordinary, single parent home.  Her mother and father divorced when she was four years old.  “My mom was a single mom raising three kids by herself.  She did the best she could, but I was pretty wild.”  She was eleven the first time she drank.  Amused by Tami’s childish enthusiasm, a babysitter offered her whiskey, and Tami got drunk.  She vividly remembers throwing up all over the floor.  “But it was fun,” she adds, “and I got a lot of attention.” She tried marijuana under similar circumstances.  From these initial experiences her use progressed.  By the time she got to high school, Tami was drinking and smoking pot with her friends at every opportunity.  

During her testimony, we observed that Tami arranged events around the three significant men in her life.  There was her first husband, with whom she had three children.  He was an alcoholic who died in his addiction.  Then there was a longtime boyfriend and drug supplier.  Finally, there is Jim McKinney.  Tami and Jim ran together before both getting clean.  Three years after recovering, they married.  Jim became a valued employee at our Learning Center for Children, and he later acted as our program manager in Springfield before retiring from CORE.  

As to drugs of choice, she named three main substances: alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamines.  These substances came and went during the relationships identified above, and her experiences with each sound familiar.  The focal point of her drug career was methamphetamines. 

Tami not only liked how she felt under the influence of meth, but it also seemed like the way to get things done.  She described it as “Me up running around the house, cleaning, getting everything done that I want to do, and getting all ready to go out or to a friend’s house.  But I’ve got to do more and more all day long.  Every hour was good, at least.”  Whenever things got out of hand, Tami tried to moderate her use.  She would plan to limit herself to weekends and stopping by Sunday evening so she could get rest and go to work in the morning.  That plan was short-lived, every time.  “I’d feel really tired, so I’d have to do more.  Before you know it, it was every day.  At some point I’d stay up every night.  I was a mess the next day.”

Like so many addicts and alcoholics, the great fear of Tami’s life became running out of meth.  Actually running out, however, “was absolutely horrendous,” she says, “I’d want to kill someone, or myself.  I’d just as soon be dead.  I couldn’t live without it.  I remember times when I couldn’t even get out of bed.  Severe depression – I felt like I was going to die until I got more.  It was horrible.”  Nothing else was more important to her than “finding meth, doing meth, and doing whatever I had to do to get meth. Nothing else mattered.”

During her testimony Tami recalled her many, sporadic personal efforts to keep it together, all of which failed.  Her decades of use were plagued by one crushing disappointment after the next.  There were the losses of promising jobs, continually moving from house to house and from one town to the next, taking advantage of people trying to be helpful, and her heartbreak with her children.  In fact, she remembers her fitness as a mother weighing more heavily on her than anything else.  When family, in-laws, and friends weren’t called, the children simply weren’t properly attended.  Tami reflects “I only talked a good game, like, my kids were so much more important.  But, no.  And that’s not anybody I ever wanted to be, and I hated myself for it.  I hated myself for doing that to them.  I was only teaching them to get high.” 

Eventually the law caught up with Tami and Jim, too, who by then had become the man in her life.  Jim decided it was time to get clean.  Tami had other ideas.  After getting out of jail, she went back to the dope house.  She also ignored her probation officer.  Her attempts at getting clean came to nothing. 

She specifically recounts having a court date on September 8, 2004, while having never reported to her probation officer.  “I don’t even know why even I went,” she said, “I’d already run for 10 months – why was I even going to court that day?  They were going to send me to prison.  And that’s exactly what happened.”

All of which brings us back to the autumn of 2004, with young Tami sitting in her prison cell thinking thoughts that were too catastrophic to bear.  The wasted years, the lost jobs, abandoning her loved ones.  There was no way to put a bright face on it.  She cried.  There in prison, the full weight of her guilt came to bear, and she asked herself, “What kind of mother does this?”  Tami also was afraid of what would happen when it came time for her to leave.  She knew that she couldn’t rely on herself.  She reached out to knowledgeable people, who first referred her to rehab and, second, to CORE.  At CORE Tami blossomed into the woman God intended her to be.

Once here she surrounded herself with encouraging women in the program who kept her going to meetings, volunteering for worthy causes and, most importantly, working the 12 Steps.  Tami did get hung up on the fourth step – to the point of still processing for over a month after writing it.  A friend coaxed her forward with warnings of disaster if she didn’t get that step done.  She knew that, of course, but she was still hesitant to share what happened with her children to anybody.  To her relief Tami’s fifth step partner did not judge her.  To the contrary, the most common reactions were “I did that” and “Did that too.”

Tami was transforming, the fact of which became apparent to those around her before she saw it herself.  “But they would say, there’s something different about you,” she remembers.  The obsession was gone.  She was relying on God now, and her self-worth was returning.  “I let guilt and shame and fear go.  If I hadn’t had that outlet by working the steps, I would have been back out there.  It was too painful to keep feeling that way.  The steps are an amazing thing.” 

Tami also began making amends and reconciled with her parents, children, and loved ones.  She was particularly grateful to visit her father, who she hadn’t seen in seven years.  He’d been a ‘week-in the-summer’ and Christmas kind of dad when Tami was young, but she always loved him and was overjoyed to rekindle their relationship.  He got sick shortly thereafter, sadly.  “It happened so fast,” she says, “but he got to see me sober before he died.”  Her relationship with her mom returned too, and today they are best friends who maintain daily contact.  In 2008, Tami and Jim got married; they have shared more than thirteen happy years together.

More recently, Tami’s oldest son had two children, who are Tami’s pride and joy.  “God gave me a second chance with them,” and she thanks Him for it.  Tami’s actively involved in their lives.  We know them, too, and they are great kids.   

Additionally, with more time comes more responsibility.  Tami was initially asked to work with incoming clients.  After commencing she became a CORE staff member.  One long-time responsibility that she still looks forward to is leading morning prayer.  She likes “to hear the new people pray for the first time.  They’ll sit there silent.  All of a sudden they’re like, I’ll pray.  They pray and it’s music to the ears.  It’s the most beautiful thing to hear.”  

Tami tells us that she can’t imagine a better job in the world than CORE (we completely agree).  In her own words:

We get to see miracles all the time around here.  The commencements are my favorite part of the job.  I cry at every one.  It’s so amazing to see parents speak about their child and how grateful they are. Or their kids getting up there and thanking CORE for giving them their parent back.  It’s a miracle, and it’s amazing.  There’s nothing like it in the world.  I don’t even know how to describe it, but I love seeing them.

In addition to commencements, Tami also shared memories of other best days at CORE.  Her answer caught us off guard because there isn’t a particular day or a special event.  Rather, they are every day, she tells us, “when we’re together, enjoying life and each other’s company in sobriety.  Sometimes I look around and see staff, and I think about where we used to be, where I used to be, not having any fun unless I was high.  But here we are now having the best time, and we’re like family.  Everybody I work with, they are family.  It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Tami looks back on the last sixteen years with genuine gratitude, stating “God is amazing.  He had a purpose for me, my whole life, but if not for CORE, I may never have known.  Today I know what it is.”

Why CORE?

Why CORE?

For more than 25 years, CORE has been the leader for recovery services in southwest Missouri.  Thousands of our program participants have gone on to lead normal, happy, and substance free lives.  Curious minds may ask “Why CORE?”  The answer lies in our commitments to safety, recovery, and service.

Safety

CORE gives local residents a safe place to recover from addiction and alcoholism.  We are not a halfway house, homeless shelter, or subsidized housing.  CORE is a recovery program whose focus on safety is reflected throughout our entire structure.

Unlike government funded programs, CORE is completely drug and alcohol free.  We maintain a zero-tolerance policy, and drug testing is mandatory.  Every month our random testing reaches about half of our population, and a reasonable suspicion prompts directed testing.  We simply do not allow psychoactive drugs or alcohol, period.  Excluded medications include even commonly prescribed drugs like opioid analgesics (Percocet, Oxycontin, etc.), depressants (benzodiazepines), stimulants (Ritalin, etc.), and opioid replacements (methadone, Suboxone, etc.).  Our policy is based on decades of experience.  It necessarily excludes those persons who are bound to medications for psychiatric disorders, and those who opt for medication assisted-treatment for substance abuse.  Nevertheless, in our view there is no substitute for recovery.  Recovery is the only alternative offered by CORE.

Supervision is key to safety, too.  Whether at our recovery centers, residential facilities, or using our transportation departments, clients are supervised by CORE staff, house managers, and transportation personnel.  We even see to the safe departure of clients leaving the program.  If extended travel is required, we put them on the bus and pay for it ourselves.

Without CORE in our communities, we would have hundreds of vulnerable residents without help, or hope, left to their own devices.  Our program provides supervised contact with the community.  We offer clients transportation for employment and shopping, for which our transportation departments run up to twenty hours per day.  We also enforce morning and evening curfews.  Clients are restricted from nights out on the town, too.  Rather, we permit two days a month to visit family when a client is secure enough in their sobriety to do so.

In further commitment to safety, CORE does not accept those who have a criminal history of violence or sex offenses.  Every client – before ever walking through our doors – already has submitted to a thorough background check.

Recovery

CORE’s proven recovery record is based on abstinence.  We are not a methadone or Suboxone clinic.  We do not peddle harm reduction methods as a recovery program.  Substance abuse is a pressing, enduring issue in America.  Client come to us looking for real answers.  We admit only those who want sobriety.  That’s what CORE offers.  Quality is ensured by our 12 Step curriculum – long recognized as the go-to for recovery even if all medical treatments and other measures have failed.  

Moreover, CORE recognizes that simply pausing on alcohol and drugs does not make one cured.  Addiction is a complex issue.  During their first year clients become a new person apart from drugs and alcohol.  They adopt new beliefs, convictions, directions and goals.  It takes time to incorporate qualities that define authentic and decent human beings.  It does not happen overnight, in a matter of weeks, or even months.  

CORE provides the quality environment in which these changes can happen.  Clients in our residential facilities are supported by compassionate people and positive fellowship.  In our residences clients feel like they can fit in, share common experiences, and be authentic without having to explain themselves.  CORE has staff, housing managers, and senior program members who live on-site and oversee implementation of every client’s recovery program.  

Our recovery centers are important, too.  At these centers clients attend recovery classes, group meetings, spirituality classes, and church services – all of which offer important tools for recovery.  Clients learn about the causes and conditions of their addictions.  They are educated about its effects on themselves and their friends, families, careers, and communities.  They receive personal guidance through each step of recovery.  Staff members also are on-call 24/7 to respond to individual crises as they arise.

Service

A remarkable, marvelous change occurs when one works the 12 Step program.  The obsession for drugs and alcohol is gone.  Equally important, the client develops a positive sense of identity and self-worth, becomes productive, and begins to form healthy connections with others.  Clients commencing our program go on to live normal and quiet lives.  Community members may be surprised to discover that they work with our former clients, or are their neighbors, attend the same churches, and do volunteer functions together.

Recovery is a blessing.  The recipient lives with hope and purpose, and feels the deepest gratitude.  Our clients develop a compassion for others that is expressed by genuine desire to be of service.  In fact, CORE literally has created programs that allow clients to volunteer for worthy causes.  As an example, we have the Second Mile group, a benevolent organization committed to charitable works within our communities.  During the pandemic our people also began a free pickup and delivery service for people wary of going out in public.  And only last Christmas season, CORE and Hollister Schools completed a massive undertaking in the creation of a holiday store stocked with everything one might find at a big box retailer.  Local residents “shopped” at our holiday store, for whatever they needed, for free.  We have even adopted a highway (which is kept spotless!)

Beyond the foregoing, clients completing our program feel a natural obligation to share the gift of recovery.  With the various different problems faced by our communities, it is altogether easy to overlook or even ignore the suffering addict and alcoholic.  Hence, CORE.  We have not forgotten them.  Further, we are honored to perform recovery services for the benefit of our communities.

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CORE does not rely on government funding.  We have seen what that leads to: compromise and the continual line-drawing of what even defines recovery.  CORE is not about statistics, and we do not see methadone and Suboxone patients as favorable statistics anyway.  Rather, such people need real help.  Helping people recover and go on to help others is our business.  With virtually all federal government dollars going to programs supporting medicated treatment, the need for CORE in our communities becomes all the greater.  Our program works for anyone who wants to stop using. We do not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.