Jen Brinkmann, A New Life

Jen Brinkmann, A New Life

Meet Jen Brinkmann – Women’s Intake Coordinator for our Branson Center!  On the day we caught up with Jen, classes are scheduled and the Center’s corridors are bustling with human activity.  Women pop in and out of her office asking questions while her phone is ringing.  Despite her title, her work obviously goes beyond simply welcoming new clients.  

Once class begins, however, things noticeably quiet down, and we talk with Jen about her addiction, recovery, and life at CORE.  Things get serious, too, really quickly!  While Jen describes herself as a plain-spoken woman of few words, her simple words paint a vivid picture of the scene more than two years ago where she hit rock bottom.  

Imagine a nondescript place somewhere in rural Missouri, a patch of dirt and grass that’s completely empty except for a lone woman kneeling in the soil.  She has blonde hair, and she is sniffling, then whimpering, choking back the tears, and crying so hard that she cannot fully wipe away the tears streaming from her cheeks.  Her life has been one of great heartache and personal loss.  She’d come to expect as much, but this moment was different.  She wasn’t asking for much – only to be clean and sober for the arrival of her first grandchild.  She already was resigned to life’s disappointments, but this simple thing . . . she couldn’t even get this right.

Jen is describing for us the beginning of a spiritual experience.  Unlike pretenders at AA meetings who only love talking about bright lights and ecstatic episodes, Jen candidly recounts for us an event that she says is both too painful to remember but should never, ever be forgotten. The last trace of obstinacy finally had been crushed out of her.  Jen still keeps a written record of it somewhere in her 4th Step paperwork, which she thoughtfully has saved, and it’s worth reviewing how she got to that moment.

Although her parents’ divorce during her teens left her feeling abandoned, by the age of 20 Jen was in a secure relationship with a man she loved, and they had her first child, Ryan.  She appeared to have a promising future when tragedy hit.  “Ryan was three years old,” she says, “when we lost his dad to a car accident.  I found out I was pregnant with our second a few weeks after the funeral.  So it was just us three.”  Jen set out raising the children by herself, working a full-time job, and taking classes to become an EMT.  The tragic twist of fate that stole away her partner and best friend placed great stress on her, however.  She was parenting all alone, and she did not handle it well.

She only worked as an EMT for a year before quitting.  “It was because of the car accident.  I got anxiety really bad because I thought I might find somebody that I knew.”  As the grind, stress, and loneliness took their toll, Jen began to self-medicate with opioid pills.  “I got pretty bad on those, having to have about ten a day or I was sick,” she remembers.  From pills she went to methamphetamines.  She tried to hold it together but couldn’t.  

I start neglecting my kids.  My two jobs turned into one job, then none, and we lost our place.”  Then came an encounter with law enforcement and an arrest, after which her father arrived to take her children.  After that, “I just went hard,” she says.  She lived couch to couch and trap house to trap house, but mostly out of her car with a boyfriend who was physically abusive.  The meth took its toll on her physically, too, “I didn’t look anorexic, just dead, like a walking zombie.  It’s not a great way to live.”  This went on for years, until something happened that was personally important to her, something that made her want to quit drugs for good.   

When her son turned twenty, he brought glad tidings: a grandbaby on the way!  More than anything in the world, Jen wanted to be a good grandmother to the child.  She promised that she would get it together, and she meant it.  “When she was born, I was five days clean.  I told Ryan, I’ll be a better grandma for Lucy,” Jen remembers.  Yet, despite her promise, “that only lasted for about eight months until the obsession took over and I ended up getting high again.”  

She was left bewildered, confused, and hurt by her inability to quit – all of which brings us full circle back to the day when Jen Brinkmann melted down completely:

I really didn’t care whether I lived or died.  I remember crying out to God, hitting my knees on the ground, because I had come apart – a sense of hopelessness, despair, and not caring anymore because I was so beat down.” 

We often see the best of humanity shine forth in such moments, but no one would come to her aid on that day.  Even if somebody had come, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, and she knew it.  She didn’t really expect God to hear her, either.  As it turns out, however, her redemption already was in the works.  

How did I end up at CORE?” she asks rhetorically, “That girl,” as she slides a piece of paper across her desk before us.  At once we recognize it as CORE literature.  We also know whose picture appears on it, our own Nicole Nelson.  We reported Nicole’s story months ago.  She’s the twenty-something member of CORE who flits about saving people where she finds them.  This revelation catches us unawares but, as it turns out, the two used to run together.  At that time Nicole was already at CORE and doing well, and the two were in contact with each other.  Jen remembers that “she kept telling me, you should just come; just do it.”  Happily, Jen did decide to come to Branson, a decision that well may have saved her life.

At CORE, Jen wasted no time in working her steps.  Within two months she had experienced the miraculous change that only the Steps can bring.  Jen gives all the glory to God:

At CORE I learned about the 12 Steps.  God and the 12 Steps are why I’m recovered.  That’s what was missing before, when I tried to do it on my own and it didn’t work.  I was powerless.  I didn’t have a relationship with God before.  Now, I’m strongly connected.  I can really see how He works in my life and in the lives of others.”

Once Jen recovered, all sorts of good things began happening, too!  Most importantly, she has become the daughter, mother, and grandmother, whom she always wanted to be, and the person whom her family always wanted and deserved.  They are thrilled that she is doing so well.  Jen also moved her way up in responsibility at CORE.  From chore coordinator, she became an assistant house manager, and then house manager.  At her employment she likewise worked hard to become a supervisor, and then received an unexpected phone call.  CORE’s Program Manager Kevin Hunt called her about taking a job as our women’s intake coordinator.  “That blew my mind,” she says, “Who?  Me?” 

Jen gladly accepted and hasn’t looked back.  Although she does all of our women’s intakes, all of the girls look to her for guidance, so her job also involves a lot of problem solving, too.  “Like anytime a house manager has a matter with a girl not working her steps, or a discipline issue,” she says, “they come to me and ask, what should I do?  So I have to lean into God for answers and give wise counsel.”  Above all, Jen’s cardinal rule is to do no harm, “to be able to help, not hurt, and for them to feel loved.”  She seems to be doing just that, because everybody we’ve asked agrees that Jen has a good and sincere heart.   

Reflecting on her time here at CORE, Jen says “My journey to CORE led me back to God” and “it had a lot to do with my recovery.  I wouldn’t be here without it.  I wouldn’t have my relationships with my family.  I’d still be out there lost.”

We are so pleased and happy for Jen and her family!  We foresee a long, successful association between her and CORE in the future.  As addicts and alcoholics we can be so obstinate and stubborn.  As Jen’s experience shows, once we turn our will and life over to the care of God, real miracles happen!

The Best Thing About CORE

The Best Thing About CORE

We asked CORE House Managers, “What’s the best thing about CORE?” 

Why seek their views?  Simple: they have ample experience in our program, having volunteered to stay well beyond their initial year at CORE to give back and help others! 

Please keep in mind that they were free to answer in any way they wanted.  It could be stuff like our classes, making new friends, our residential amenities – virtually anything! Their captivating insights are set forth below:  

At CORE I arrived to a point where I could turn my will and life over to the care of God, instead of running the show myself.  There’s also accountability here and other options that will help with recovery.” 
– Neil “Duck Daddy” Finley (Duck House)

God uses CORE to bring people together in one house, one class, and one building, who normally wouldn’t mix.  We all mesh because we have a common understanding.  We want a different life.  We want to live.” 
– Mykaella Ross (JJ House)

 “There’s structure here upon which to create a solid foundation from scratch.  It’s a start and a base, and a place to gain some kind of grounding.  It’s a center for faith, too, something to hold on to while you’re growing into recovery and giving it a shot.  I’ve seen many miracles here.”
– Joe Redl (Cardinal House)

My journey to CORE was the path back to God.  That’s the best and most important thing, finding my way back to God.”
– Jen Brinkmann (Quail House) 

If you follow the clear-cut, precise directions of the Big Book, at CORE you build a relationship with God that allows you to recover.  It’s here where we learn how to step out of self and give back even though we spent all our lives just taking.  We learn what it’s like having that blessing at the end of the day, knowing we helped somebody without wanting anything in return.” 
– James Favor (Seahawk House) 

There are so many things, but one is the change of lifestyle.  CORE provides a safe, drug-free, and drama-free environment in which to make the changes we wanted by moving here.  It’s the right setting to build a new life in.” 
– Mikayla Brillos (Outdoor House)

Learning patience.  Initially I was going to leave after my year was up, but I received counsel from Kevin Hunt and began learning patience, about receiving the things hoped for when we wait.  By being grounded, working on myself, and practicing patience, things started happening.  I didn’t jump the gun just because I was feeling better, and good things came to me.  Patience probably kept me from getting ‘hit in the face’ because I wasn’t really prepared, too.” 
– Scott Bourbon (Bird House)

CORE is where I was introduced to God as my Higher Power.  It is a completely judgment-free zone where I could turn my life around with the 12 Steps.” 
– Alicia Short (Vaughn House)

Finding purpose in life, and truly knowing what it feels like to have peace and contentment.  Even before I started using drugs, I was never truly happy.  I was always trying to find the next thing to make me happy.  I didn’t understand what it meant to have a relationship with God.  I know what that is now.  I know what it means to have peace and what it means to know God.”
– Blake Wilson (Pelican House)

I was so emotionally detached when I first got here.  CORE gave me a human connection where I could allow myself to love others and let them love me.  That’s how I learned to love myself, which I had to do before I could go on to learn anything else.  It was the first thing that started the ‘psychic change’ and led to all my spiritual growth.”  – Brittany Breunig (6th Street House)

It’s the mutual trust and friendship here, the camaraderie.  Everyone here shares the same problem.  We’re going through the same thing and trying to do the same thing, which is recover.  So our community is the best thing, in my opinion – the ‘C’ in CORE.” 
– Dylan Butler (Falcon House)

The fellowship has become ‘family.’  If I really needed something, there might be 200 people here who would come to my assistance at the drop of a hat, without even thinking about it or asking what they’ll get in return.  That’s family.” 
– Kim Stewart (Swan House)

Everyone who’s a house manager or works here has already been through the program.  When I first got here, I knew that they had all been where I was.  By following their example and suggestions I was able to build a relationship with God and Jesus Christ.” 
– Mitchell Brooks (Sparrow House) 

Finding a relationship with God.  CORE is where I found it, through the 12 Steps.”
– Bracy Sams (Hawkeye House)

I love the fellowship here, welcoming the newcomer, socializing with the women, and helping them.  Spirituality plays a big role in our program here, too.  It’s really the foundation of our recovery program, and leading by example helps build that.”
– Tamara Spencer (Quail House) 

It’s a safe place to come find recovery, but even more, CORE gives you the opportunity to pass on what is given to you.  At so many places you come, you get, and you go.  Not here.  You’re not a product of CORE; you become part of CORE.  Now you are in a position to help others, to teach, and to carry a message of hope.” 
– Marty Neal (Raven House) 

CORE redirected my life.  If you knew me before CORE, I’d been a drug addict forever, was fresh out of jail, and just lost.  No communication with my family; things were just a mess.  From the second I entered CORE, I knew that it’s what I wanted.  I completely turned my life around.  So of course my family is now a big supporter.  They’re ‘Team CORE’ too.” 
– Sherrie Bowman (Dove House) 

The camaraderie that comes with it.  Everybody in leadership has come through this program already.  They struggled with addiction too.  This is not someplace with counselors who never lived it.  You come into CORE surrounded by staff who were once there too, and they have recovered.” 
– Jeremy Hampton (Condor House)

CORE is like a toolbox when you’re going to work.  They give you so many tools that when you leave the program, you can still use them every day to stay clean and healthy.  It’s a simple program, and if you just do it the way they suggest, it becomes so much easier.” 
– Kelly Creson (Eagle House)

CORE/Hollister School District’s Holiday Store Spreads Christmas Cheer!

CORE/Hollister School District’s Holiday Store Spreads Christmas Cheer!

Hundreds of Taney County children almost didn’t have Christmas this past year.  Thanks to the generosity of donors and clients, and some quick thinking by leadership, the unthinkable was averted, and Christmas was saved!

CORE’s clients have numerous community projects they work on throughout the year.  One of the new favorites is the CORE/Hollister School District Holiday Store, where underprivileged families can obtain household goods and toys completely free of charge.  The original Holiday Store was first conceived during the 2020 pandemic and turned out to be a stunning success.  Seeking to repeat the original achievement, throughout the year our clients diligently collected, sorted, conducted quality assurance on, and stored thousands of items generously donated by Tri-Lakes retailers.  This year, however, there was an unexpected glitch that put Christmas cheer at risk.

As Christmas approached, our CEO Cary McKee met with Hollister School District staff at our warehouse location housing all of the Christmas items.  As they surveyed the year’s collection, Cary noticed something that troubled him.  Where were all the toys?

At that time I noticed that we were limited on toys,” Cary told us, “we had quite a bit of items for adults, but how do we supplement the toys that are needed?  Because that’s what this is about, putting smiles on children’s faces and giving hope to those in need.”  The thought of children not having presents to open on Christmas morning was unbearable to Cary.  He knew that something had to be done, and fast.

Time was running short, too, because the Holiday Store was barely over a month away.  So, Cary did three things.  First, he appealed directly to CORE staff and clients who wished to buy and donate toys for the event.  Second, he created a Giving Tuesday campaign to appeal to donors wanting to give the children a happy holiday.  Third, CORE committed itself to donating funds as well.  And the result?  Based on what we learned from Cary, we’d say Super Awesome!

First, as Cary said, “Although this was a last minute toy drive, when we asked who would be willing to contribute a 10 or 20 dollar gift for the cause, there was an outpouring of support.  There were so many gifts being brought in – games, toys, bicycles – you name it.  They really did a great job buying middle school age-appropriate gifts, especially, the things that we may not have thought of as a staff.

Second, “Giving Tuesday not only met its goal but also exceeded it.  CORE did spend money out of its general funds to acquire items for the children, but the generosity of Giving Tuesday donors helped to greatly enlarge expenditures for the children.”

Third, the monies available to obtain toys were so great that our purchases began making a noticeable dent in the stocks of certain Tri-Lakes retailers.  For this reason, CORE’s procurement staff thoughtfully began staggering purchases between stores so that nobody would run out of a particular item.  The results were startling, and touching.  Within a week, the conference room at CORE’s Branson Recovery Center was jam packed with toys!  

Now it was time to set up the Holiday Store.  Last year’s store had taken nearly a month.  This year’s store took barely a week to set up because our client volunteers already had done much of the preparatory work throughout the year.  So, when the time came to move items over to the school district, our trucks were able to move items already organized and checked for quality.   In addition, the latest store benefitted from the people at CORE and the school district already knowing each other.  As Hollister Middle School counselor Sandy Brown told us, “Whatever we needed, we all worked together.  We dropped what we were doing and helped each other.  I think that’s pretty cool.  I just think CORE’s awesome.”

We very much want to thank Superintendent Dr. Brian Wilson and all of the school district’s counselors who made the Holiday Store possible.  Not only did they create space in which to set up an entire store, but they also undertook the absolutely monumental task of discovering families in need and identifying individual needs within each family.  They were present from start to finish and made sure that everyone was blessed.  We specifically want to mention here each member of the counseling staff: Sandy Brown, Middle School; Tonya Nash and Jessica Frost, High School; Ben Gibson, Elementary School; and Shannon Donathan, Early Childhood Center.  They all worked so hard!

The event ran during the week of December 13th and was a resounding success. There were lots of smiles and tears from thankful parents.  There were some unexpected and pleasant surprises, too.  Sandy told us that several families who shopped in the Holiday Store from the previous year returned this year saying, “you helped us before, and now we want to pay it forward.  So they adopted kids this year.”

Cary expressed his thanks to Dr. Wilson, school district staff, and CORE’s clients and staff, all of whom made the Holiday Store another incredible event and blessing for the community.  Moreover, to make sure that the children next year won’t do without, Cary’s already entered into a donorship agreement involving a major internet retailer.  He told us with a twinkle in his eye, “Next year we’ll be able to work on receiving goods from that partnership too.”

Five Unfortunate Sayings We Hear in AA Meetings

Five Unfortunate Sayings We Hear in AA Meetings

Some good-ole American sayings are:  “Honesty Is the Best Policy!” “Practice Makes Perfect!” and “No Pain, No Gain!”

Our culture is practically swimming in a sea of sayings — those short, pithy adages that help us remember important things.  Taken together they help define and identify us as a people.  Thus, “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” probably sounds familiar to us.  By contrast, the saying “Pour Your Water from the Highest Rooftop” just as likely leaves us scratching our heads (and no wonder, it’s not American).  In fact, every nation has its own sayings and mottos that distinctively make sense to its people.  But for us, our sayings are the embroidery of our social fabric, and taken together they make us uniquely American.  

For our discussion here, there are two things we initially wish to point out.  First, all sayings have a cultural context.  That is, there are different ones for nearly every organized group and human activity.  There’s thousands of these, but they may be roughly arranged according to culture, ethics, value systems, human nature, and still other miscellaneous activities.  Amazon offers enough collections of these to last a reader for a lifetime, if that’s their thing.  

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, to hear that Alcoholics Anonymous has its own sayings.  In fact, when the AA Big Book was first published more than eighty years ago, the fledgling sobriety group already had three mottos that it thought important enough to print, to wit: “First Things First;” “Live and Let Live;” and “Easy Does It.”  In the intervening decades, scores of sayings have been offered in publications and AA meetings and subsequently repeated at AA events every day.  There’s no official list, but a simple internet search yields many hundreds.  Some are helpful, while others – not so much.  

Second, all sayings presuppose a particular social context.  Their proper application depends on events occurring at a certain time and place.  When this does not happen, problems arise.  Thus, while “Just Do It” may spur one to work harder and achieve results, we would never say this to someone wondering what happens if they stick a fork in the toaster.  All sayings, no matter how wise or sublime they sound, are dependent on context.  At best, a misunderstanding makes their application irrelevant.  At worst, depending on the complexity of the activity and the ignorance of the actor, they may have potential to cause harm.

We at CORE collectively have attended thousands of AA meetings.  We have had the pleasure of hearing sage and witty sayings.  We’ve also heard some unfortunate ones that misstate the 12 Step program and even have the potential to do harm.  We don’t have room here to talk about them all but, for the Reader’s benefit, we will identify five (5), as discussed below.

1.  “AA Is a Selfish Program”

This unfortunate saying turns 12 Step recovery upside down.  It is a telltale sign that the speaker has never read the Big Book, even once.  In fact, the Big Book identifies selfishness as the “root of our troubles” and emphatically states that “we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!”  Beginning with Step One, every step in some way addresses our selfish, self-centered natures.  Moreover, turning our wills over to the care of God and living selflessly for others are expressly written into the Steps.  

There are so many statements in the Big Book about this that they are not easily condensed, but a few more examples are in order.  “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”  Helping others is further identified as the “foundation stone” of our recoveries. “A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be.” 

We aren’t sure why this foolish saying has been perpetuated, but it might be a misunderstanding by newcomers who are advised to put their recoveries first.  Philosophically, it’s a Hobbesian way of thinking that assumes humans always act with self-serving motives.  By the same token, is a cancer patient who takes time away from family to seek treatment also being selfish?  What about the fireman who, without due regard for his family who depends on him, runs into a burning building?  We think that only the most cynical minds find fault in such cases.  The same is true here, particularly when recovery depends on living a selfless, Good Samaritan existence.  There’s simply no room in the 12 Steps for selfishness.

2.  “Meeting Makers Make It”

We hear this one a lot, too, even though it’s simply untrue in the majority of cases.  In fact, most meeting makers don’t make it – they don’t recover.  There is a persistent misunderstanding that AA meetings can make somebody sober.  We hear newcomers exclaim “I’m making all my meetings!”  The popular press and television also perpetuate this error by depicting AA as being about meetings.

Now, AA meetings have many good purposes, inter alia, making recovery-minded friends, finding a sponsor, and identifying people in need of our help.  For such reasons we heartily recommend them.  Nevertheless, such meetings will not make anybody sober, let alone grant them recovery, any more than an opera enthusiasts group will turn a member into a soloist, or a gardening club make a member into a gardener.  Something else – and more – is needed.

Meeting makers who don’t make it haven’t worked the 12 Steps.  That’s the only program for recovery outlined in the Big Book.  They “balked” at some or all of the Steps, for reasons entirely personal to them, which was a recipe for failure.  The Big Book, while sympathetic to their dilemma, offers no other alternative, saying “We [also] thought that we could find an easier, softer way.  But we could not.  With all the earnestness at our command, we beg you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. …Half measures availed us nothing.”  As a consequence, for many meeting makers, the miracle of recovery never happens.  They never take the steps that allow it. 

3.  “Relapse Is Part of Recovery”

We hear this one by those who, because they aren’t working a program, end up white-knuckling their sobriety until predictably drinking or using drugs again.  They feel ashamed by their failure and try to rationalize it by casting relapse as a natural part of the recovery process.  They want to be seen like a baby first learning to walk who is expected to fall.  In fact, the idea that recovery and relapse go hand in hand is patently untrue.  We can’t even charitably consider it as mere backsliding or getting worse.  Relapse is the opposite of recovery.  It’s the illness, full-blown and unabated.  

The most insidious part of this adage is that the speaker deep down still believes they have the power to change their drinking or drugging.  This is why they feel shame, the classic symptom of one who never even made it past Step One by honestly admitting that they are “powerless” over alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol and drugs are the kryptonite, Achilles heel, and fatal weakness, of every abnormal drinker and drug user.  The fact of being powerless is well within our personal experience.  All of our efforts to moderate or quit failed, spectacularly.  Our addictions had grown beyond our control.  We might go days or weeks without actually using, but the result was always the same.  We are not like normal people and never will be.  

Thus, any relapse must be treated as a more serious matter than a baby who face plants on the carpet.  Relapse isn’t simply failed recovery, it’s no recovery at all.  It is a giant, red flag statement that they are powerless.  Their belief that they, or some other human power, can relieve them of addiction is one of the “old ideas” that they must completely let go.  Their recovery efforts invariably will amount to nil unless they let go of such ideas absolutely.  Moreover, once their Step One is complete, they must proceed with the remaining steps.

4.  “Don’t Drink, and Go to Meetings”

This saying reminds us of the proverbial lawyer who tells clients that bankruptcy is unnecessary if they pay their bills.  One may as well advise a homeless person to buy a house.  In fact, we already assume that every AA member actually wants to stop drinking or drugging.  We’re also happy to see them at meetings (and hope their attendance continues, for the reasons mentioned above).  We’re just not certain how any newcomer can ever be expected to follow this advice.  The Big Book suggests that if anyone unable to control his drinking can do the right-about-face and handle his liquor, then “our hats are off to him.”  We too are happy for him.  He’s not an alcoholic and doesn’t need AA. 

Telling the newcomer “Don’t Drink” also sounds eerily like “Just Say No!”  Alcoholics and addicts are incapable of doing this by themselves.  The 12 Steps are not written for those who can stop but for those who can’t quit no matter how much they wish or how hard they try.  It is only by working the program that we have a “spiritual experience” and personality change sufficient to bring about recovery.  With this personality change our sanity is restored.  Then, and only then, can we “just say no.”  

5.  “GOD means Group Of Drunks”

This useless adage has been floating around AA halls for a while.  Proponents say that the Higher Power for many AA newcomers is probably the group anyway.  Though these poor souls were once miserable, they happily have discovered others like themselves and are no longer alone.  They find solace in numbers, and the strength of the group supposedly propels them along the road of sobriety. 

We can’t take Group of Drunks people seriously.  Who really believes that a bunch of addicts comprises the “Spirit of the Universe” to whom the Big Book refers?  And, who would dare turn their will and life over to the care of an AA group?  Or seek to improve conscious contact with the group by praying to it?  Or have their lives run by a committee?  We don’t see, even in principle, how one might actually work the Steps if the AA group is their Higher Power.  Nor will an AA group ever keep them sober. 

The Big Book itself flatly says that God is what the book “is about.”  “Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.  That means . . . that we are going to talk about God.”  And indeed, one of its most pertinent ideas is that “probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism,” but that “God could and would if He were sought.”  

The foregoing seems clear enough to us, but the Group of Drunks people apparently want to cast themselves into the role of playing God.  Of this, the Big Book makes short work, saying “We had to quit playing God.  It didn’t work.”  All AA members will do well to remember this.

In Search Of Recovery: Wes Ellzey

In Search Of Recovery: Wes Ellzey

Meet Wes Ellzey – our first client to graduate CORE’s new CARE program!  

Last August CORE started our Clients Are Remaining Engaged program for those who relapse.  They are placed in-house with a credentialed drug and alcohol counselor who is well-versed in the need for 12 Step spirituality in recovery.  Our own Bruce Wood, who is a licensed CRADC, heads the program.  Wes attended his commencement formalities just last month and is now continuing as a client in our regular recovery program.  

Wes is a friendly, outgoing young man who first came to CORE in February 2020.  He’s also a veteran, having joined the U.S. Army in 2009, at the age of 17.  Following an honorable discharge he returned home to Louisiana and started partying.  That’s when he was first introduced to methamphetamines.  Wes calls meth “a trashy, dirtcheap drug that lasts so long you don’t even need much to get high.”  It wasn’t long before he was hooked, and since then he’s had nothing but trouble.  

He has quite the knack for describing addiction and, in particular, the mind of a meth addict.  His personal experience was to stay awake for three day binges.  The first day was fun, but by the second day he would be “tripping,” and the third day was “hell”:

I was so paranoid, freaking [everybody] out, hearing voices, auditory hallucinations.  I would hear people talking who didn’t even know me.  They might may as well have been talking about running errands, but I vividly heard them saying my name and that they’re out to get me.  Or I would “hear” their thoughts.  I got so sketched out.  Meth’s a crazy drug, one I don’t ever want to do again.  

Things got to the point where Wes couldn’t distinguish between what was real and what wasn’t.  By March 2016, not only did his own family avoid him, “but even the people I was doing drugs with wouldn’t hang out with me.”  In his paranoia Wes felt compelled to find solitude.  He often found places he had explored as a child and hid there.  Eventually, his existence became so intolerable that Wes decided to do something about it – take his own life.  He wasn’t messing around, either.

He says, “I didn’t think I was ever going to get out.  I didn’t see a way out.  I was too far gone.  And if this was how it would always be, I’d rather die.”  So, Wes found a .45 handgun at his cousin’s house, pointed it at himself, and fired.  

Wes woke up in the ICU surrounded by family and connected to tubes.  At the last second his cousin had walked in on him and was able to slap the gun away just enough to direct the blast from his temple.  Half his jaw was disintegrated, however, and he was breathing through a tracheotomy.  Recovery would take a year and necessitate a titanium jaw implant and brain surgery.  

Upon recovering Wes went home to live with his younger brother.  Amazingly, even after all he’d been through, his obsession for drugs remained: “I started doing meth again as soon as I was able.”  By 2018 his family couldn’t stand anymore and sent him packing.  For the next two years, Wes bounced in and out of rehabs and recovery programs searching for an answer – any answer.  Finally, a drug counselor in Mississippi recommended him to CORE.  That was February 2020.

At CORE, for the first time Wes saw the Cycle of Addiction.  “I’d never seen it before I got here,” he says, “but it’s spot on.  Somebody didn’t just make that up.”  He began working the 12 Step program upon his arrival but since then has suffered two relapses.  The reason for these will sound familiar to anybody who understands recovery:

I quit working the program and doing what I was supposed to do.  I still prayed, but that didn’t mean I was relying on Him, you know?  I started doing what I want to do, being selfish, looking out for myself and not for anybody else.  The obsession just crept in.  The scary thing is that when it popped up I couldn’t fight it.  When I’m running the show, it just happens.

Wes was so ashamed after his second relapse that he hesitated to even return, but Matt Goehrig, our Operations Assistant, reached out to him directly.  “I thought, I can’t do this again.  I’ve already let them down twice,” Wes relates, but “Matt said just come back.  I’ll call Kevin [Hunt] and we’ll figure it out.  When you’re ready to face this, we’ll face it together.”  Moreover, upon his return Wes began the CARE program.

He balked at first.  He thought it would just be a few extra drug classes, but it turned out to be a real commitment in time and energy.  “So I was upset at first,” Wes says, “but Bruce was like, you can do this thing to help you, or you can just go back to doing what you were.  So I stopped fighting, built a relationship with Bruce, and got to where I could trust him.  After that, the program turned out to be pretty cool.”

As Wes got further into the CARE program, he found himself becoming more open and honest. “I told Bruce things I never told anybody,” he says.  He also made a trip out to the Seahawk House to do a lengthy Fifth Step with house manager Jeff Sage, during which he made full disclosure.  After that, Wes began to “lean into the program and take suggestions.”  One important suggestion was that Wes become more active in his devotionals.  “When you get into that habit,” he discovered, “it’s a really good habit to have.”  

Wes speaks highly of Bruce and of CARE.  He tells us that Bruce is “awesome, I know why you all picked him.  He’s good, and you can’t BS him.”  And of CARE, he says “oh yeah, if you relapse and can come back, it should be mandatory.  It costs a little more, but it’s your life.  Looking at the pros and the cons, the pro is your life.”  We at CORE completely agree!

We also foresee a bright future for Wes if he sticks to working his 12 Step program.  He’ll be plenty busy in the near future.  His graduation from our regular recovery program is still eight months away.  He also recently enrolled as a new student at OTC.  He begins school in January and has registered for the LPN program, which Wes sees as a necessary stepping stone toward becoming either a paramedic or RN.  He’s also a key-holder and floor manager at his place of employment.  So, yes, Wes will be very busy!  Rest assured, CORE is here to encourage and help him wherever we can.

What Is A Spiritual Experience?

What Is A Spiritual Experience?

It was a frigid and foggy Christmas Eve in Victorian London – a fitting time and place for the transpiring of marvelous, supernatural events.  There, in the heart of the city, in a gloomy suite of rooms, lived a miserly financier named Ebenezer Scrooge.  The place where he hung his hat was as melancholy as the old man himself.  His heart was cynical and cold, for Ebenezer lived without love.  As he prepared to retire for the evening, Ebenezer could scarcely imagine the ghostly visitors who were about to appear, for the purpose of removing the sickness from his soul.  Yet, even as he crawled into bed and pulled the covers over his head, Ebenezer’s reclamation as a human being indeed was at hand.

To his great surprise and wonder, Ebenezer’s sleep is disturbed by none other than three apparitions: the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  They reveal to him visions of experiences and events that are deeply personal to him and to others.  In one he painfully relives his long-forgotten hope from youth to find love, family, and friendship.  He had since abandoned these noble aspirations to pursue his career.  In another he sees several persons, all of whom he knows, who in fact acted on their hopes.  Though they are moderate in wealth, they are charmingly rich in happiness and love.  In an especially heartfelt moment, he also witnesses the unfailing optimism of a terminally ill child, Tiny Tim, who cheerfully gives thanks, saying “God bless us, everyone!”  Finally, Ebenezer sees his own death.  The worldly wealth he leaves behind incites others toward the same selfish greed that fouled his soul.

Ebenezer staggers under the emotional burden of these visions and feels deeply moved.  “Spirit,” he begs, “show me no more.”  Whereupon, the scales fall from his eyes, and his heart and mind are opened.  “I am not the man I was,” he begins to sob, “the man I would have been but for these visitations.”  He thus vows to live an altered life.  Happily, Ebenezer turns out to be better than his word.  He dances, cries, and laughs out loud upon awaking to find that it’s Christmas Day.  He begins making amends immediately.  Ebenezer eventually becomes like a second father to young Tiny Tim who, thankfully, does not die.  Ultimately, he becomes as good a friend, and as good a man, as the City of London ever knew!

And so concludes our little presentation of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic, A Christmas Carol.  It’s been retold in print and on-screen more times than anyone can imagine.  Nevertheless, we are especially happy to recount it here for two reasons:

First – Merry Christmas!  We at CORE wish the Reader all happiness, warmth, and love this Christmas Season.  And a Happy New Year too!  As we enjoy the trimmings and traditions of the holidays, let us treasure in our hearts the real reason for the season, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  In Him is life, and this life is the light of all humanity.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it!

Second, pertaining to the recovery topic at hand, every recovered addict worth their salt hearing Dickens’ tale will nod with understanding and approval.  We readily see that the main character has had a profound and life-altering spiritual experience which, minus the ghosts, is altogether similar to our own.  It is the foreseeable experience of everyone who turns their will and life over to the care of God and works the 12 Steps.  In fact, we fully suspect that Dickens drew from oft-told accounts of religious conversion as the inspiration for his work.

The Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous identifies spiritual experience as the essential prerequisite for recovery:

If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.

It defines spiritual experience as “the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism” and explains this as tapping into an “unsuspected inner resource” – a reference to our Higher Power, God.  

Newbies in recovery initially scratch their heads at these Big Book statements.  They simply mean that the precise hows and whys of the marvelous transformation within us are beyond human understanding, but we readily attribute them to God.  Nothing in a science or philosophy textbook could possibly explain the personal experience of God doing for us what we are powerless to do for ourselves.  It implicates sobriety, yes, but also much more.  As the Big Book says:

[W]e have had deep and effective spiritual experiences_which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.

Therefore, every spiritual experience necessarily includes the complete removal of the obsession to use.  We had lived powerless over drugs and alcohol, having backed ourselves into a corner that we couldn’t fight, cheat, lie, steal or buy our way out of.  We were trapped.  The familiar resources – family, friends, doctors, and ministers – were of no avail at all.  But there was still one source of strength, and He never fails.  God grants us a power not ordinarily our own.  When we humbly offer ourselves to Him to do with us as He would, a miracle happens – we find that we neither want nor need to drink or drug.  What once seemed impossible is now common, daily experience.  We can face the world without persistent cravings.  They’re gone and no longer seem important.  We have entered an altogether new dimension – freedom under God. 

It’s more than simply living sober, too.  Abiding in God’s will enables us to find everything that we futilely searched for in a bottle or a pill.  Everything relevant to a better life is made possible by His help.  Thus, in addition to overcoming addiction, we also find ourselves living in a new and wonderful world.  We begin a process of becoming the best version of ourselves, being less and less interested in ourselves and more and more interested in seeing what we can contribute to life.  Broken and damaged relationships begin to mend.  We further enjoy peace of mind, and we lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter.  From within we feel as if we are reborn, the quintessence of spiritual experience. 

In closing, keeping with the holiday spirit we freely borrow from Dickens’ text and affirm that, having had a spiritual experience, we are blessed beyond measure to live upon the “Total Abstinence Principle”, ever afterwards.  And may it always be said of every recovered soul, and especially us at CORE, that we know how to keep Christmas well, if anyone alive possesses the knowledge. May that be truly said of everybody, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 

“God Bless Us, Every One!”

#GivingTuesday Is Almost Here!

#GivingTuesday Is Almost Here

November 30, 2021

Your Gift Will Help Families and Children In Need During The Christmas Season!

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.  It follows the widely celebrated Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and is a reminder to give back this holiday season.

Last year, your generosity helped CORE raise over $4,000 for the purchase of software that allows us to take our Annual Auction online.  With your help we are able to hold our major Spring Fundraiser Event and promote auctions at other times of the year.

This year we again are asking for your help to raise $4,000.  CORE has partnered with Hollister School District to provide toys and life necessities to needy families and children this Christmas season.

The toys and necessities are donations by Amazon.com that will arrive to CORE’s warehouse via tractor trailer.  CORE and Hollister School District staff will spend hundreds of hours sorting and organizing these items to make them available to people who need them.  While these items are generously donated, it is up to CORE to cover trucking and administrative costs, which may run up to $5,000 or more for a single truckload!

We’ll Even Match The First $1,000, So Your Donation Can Have Double The Impact!

Here’s How You Can Help Us:

Please consider how you can help us reach our goal this year.  Your contribution will make an impact on local families and children in need, whether you choose to donate or simply help spread the word.  Every little bit counts.

Thank you for your support!

Adam Yorty: Mission Accomplished

Adam Yorty: Mission Impossible Accomplished!

This month CORE is losing a valued member of our recovery team, Adam Yorty.  For nearly five years Adam has been an integral part of our organization while teaching CSR classes and serving as a house manager.  Adam also volunteers time to our Second Mile program.  Unfortunately, Adam has been called to return home to Florida because of family obligations.  He has a parent suffering from an auto-immune condition who has taken a turn for the worse.  We’re sad that he has to leave but wish him and his family well and pray for a return to good health!        

Readers may recognize “Chef Yorty” from his recent appearance on the cover of Discover Home & Style’s summer issue.  In only four short years Adam — unintimidated by celebrity-chef restaurants in and around Table Rock – has made the Pour House in Hollister more popular than them all.  He’s no stranger to celebrity status either.  One of his eateries was once inducted into the prestigious Fine Dining Hall of Fame while he was at the helm.  He’s rubbed plenty of shoulders with greats in the fashion industry too, having worked with Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld, and others.

For all of his successes, Adam had a weakness that dogged him for 35 years.  Every achievement in life and career was ultimately countered by John Barleycorn.  For decades he lived in a cycle of saying goodbye to alcohol, clawing his way back up the ladder of success, and then crashing and burning in the most spectacular binges imaginable.  There were lots of rehabs and detoxes along the way. Over and over, all of his achievements were wiped out by monumental drinking excesses.  Eventually he lost his wife and child, and parents, too. 

Five years ago, however, something happened.  He was talking on the telephone with his daughter, Emeline, who was coming of age and old enough to understand what’s what.  She realized he’d been drinking again, and she began to cry.  The incident left a deep and lasting impression on Adam.  Upon weighing his options, Adam decided that CORE “was the best bet.”  Although he had failed many times before, he didn’t want to drink again.  He was a man on a mission again, but this time without any ulterior motives. As he told us:

I did not set out this time to get a wife back, to get a daughter back, or to get anything back.  It was not my plan.  My plan was to do what is asked from the Big Book and see what would happen.  Although still a skeptic I said, I’m going to do this. I was being humble.

Adam began thoroughly working the Steps.  His 5th Step was done with our own Ray Francis and lasted eight hours.  The obsession lifted completely, at which point things indeed started to happen for Adam.  As examples, he began teaching CSR classes and running a CORE house.  A fortuitous turn of events also landed him in charge of the newly opened Pour House, which Adam made short work of turning into one of the most prominent restaurants in the tri-lakes area.   

Adam gives CORE due credit for his recovery, saying: 

CORE has been very important.  It gave me all the tools I needed and gave me hope.  CORE does not give up on people.  There’s care, compassion, and love here.  The Steps and my relationship with God are so important, but I don’t think I ever would have truly accepted them without CORE’s guidance.  It was the bridge that helped me understand.  

Most importantly, Adam got his daughter back in his life, along with his parents and brother and his family.  He’s friends again with his ex, too.  Having the people he cares about back in his life is what’s most important to Adam.  In fact, as our conversation flits from topic to topic, Adam brightens considerably while talking about Emeline, who now is a 22 year-old opera phenom wowing audiences as far away as New York.  Adam sees her every chance he gets, and they stay in frequent contact while she’s away at school.  We were curious exactly where in her bloodlines such talent originated.  We’ve seen some of her performances on YouTube and she’s amazing.  Adam just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.  There’s no singers in his or her mother’s family, but he’s plainly proud of her and excited about her future.  

We will miss Adam and wish him the very best in his endeavors.  He will carry the message of recovery wherever he goes.  We’ve had the privilege of having him with us for almost five years.  Now it is time for him to trudge the road of happy destiny with others.  May God bless him and keep him safe.

“I’m At CORE! Now What?”

“I’m At CORE! Now What?”

New clients are warmly welcomed at CORE.  This is a special place!  But like all new places, it takes time finding one’s bearings.  To help ease the transition, we gathered the inside scoop from CORE leaders who’ve successfully completed our one-year program.  We asked them questions that a newcomer might wonder upon arrival, to wit: “What’s the first thing I need to know?” and “What’s the most important thing to remember?” The responses, set forth below, cover things that every newcomer will want to know in order to get involved and succeed:

“At first things may seem big and imposing, as if you’ve been dropped off at a small campus.  So you’ll have this or that class to be at, or you’ve got a van to catch at this particular time.  The feeling lasts for about two weeks until you settle in. Things will calm down after that, so give yourself that time to get into your groove.  Also, stick with the winners.  You’re here for a reason.  Surround yourself with those people who are solid in their recovery, who are doing the deal and happy to do it, and you’ll succeed.”

– Cary McKee, Chief Executive Officer

“First and foremost, be at class, pay attention, and get with someone to work the Steps.  That’s where recovery happens.  If you won’t work the Steps, there’s no point of even being here.”

– Kevin Hunt, Program Manager

“This is a hand-up program, not a hand-out.  It requires work on your part.  It requires book work.  It requires you wanting a different outcome in your life.  That’s not done by somebody giving you something, but by you taking it and doing it.”

– Gary Osborn, Operations Manager

“Get with someone who is doing the deal — working the steps — and find out how you can work them too, because this program will change your life.”

– Tami McKinney, Human Resources

“Be honest, open-minded, and willing. Honest to everyone including yourself, and mostly yourself. Open-minded to receive instruction from the Big Book and the people who live it.  And willingness to do anything in the world to change your life.”

– Janet Weaver, Financial Manager

“Remember the day before yesterday, all of the reasons why you came here in the first place — always.”

– Bracy Sams, Site Manager, Springfield

“Work your Steps. We’ll hound you all the time about it, but freedom is on the other side of that. Practice living in the solution while you’re still in a safe environment.”

– Kim Stewart, Women’s Coordinator

“Stay humble and remember where you’ve come from.  Don’t lose sight of why you’re here.”

– Brandi Blom, ReStore Manager

“In running your own life, you didn’t do the best job. Turn the reigns over to someone who knows better: God.”

– Neil Finley, Transportation Manager

“Work the 12 Steps. Whatever else happens, work the Steps.”

– Marty Neal, Men’s Admissions Coordinator

“Keep God No. 1.  And lean on your wise counsel — your house manager, the girls who are working the program — and follow them.  Let them lead, guide, and direct you through the program.”

– Jen Brinkmann, Women’s Admissions Coordinator

“Your showing up and making it through these doors is an answered prayer. Stay humble, be grateful, give each day your best, and let God do the rest.”

– Matt Goehrig, Operations Assistant

“Remember why you’re here, your purpose for coming through the door.  Don’t ever forget it.”  

— Adam Guss, Transportation Manager

“Find God and do your steps. Without God, the steps are just steps. Go by the rules, too, and don’t cut corners, because it’s only a year.”

– Kelly Creson, Maintenance Manager

Nicole Nelson: The Messenger

Nicole Nelson: The Messenger

This month we talked to our own Nicole Nelson!  She commenced our program last May.  Recently she also was invited to become a member of our Second Mile benevolent group.   Having worked her steps, Nicole has discovered a new freedom and new happiness.  She further knows serenity and has found peace, but it was not always this way for her.  

She was abandoned by her parents as a newborn and grew up with an unshakeable sense of having been thrown away like garbage.  She asked herself the same questions such children normally do: why they didn’t love her, what she did wrong, and what was wrong with her.  Nicole grew up feeling disconnected, and she suffered a deep sense of being empty and alone.  Thus, at the age of only 23, she had already checked all of the boxes one might expect of a child who grows up parentless: living in poverty, with four children out of wedlock, and deep into alcohol and drugs.  

Tragedy begets tragedy.  In an aimless search for the missing piece from her soul, Nicole fell headlong into a very bad crowd.  Tragically, one of her children died when her drug dealer went on a rampage.  He and his crew invaded many houses, including Nicole’s, looking for missing drugs but found nothing.  A struggle with one of her captors ensued while she tried to escape with her children.  In the scuffle her one year-old, Cayden, fell to the floor and suffered fatal injuries.  The police arrived to find Nicole out of her mind with grief, having nearly beaten her assailant to death.

Her surviving children were removed to safe homes by protective services.  “The DFS said that I was an unfit parent, that I would never have my kids again.  I just gave up, thinking there’s no point, and started using.  I fell off on heroin really bad.”  She told us about several hospitalizations too:

They said that I went crazy after what happened with the kids.  I was stuck in torment for an entire year.  I couldn’t hold a job down, function, and was completely overwhelmed with grief.  When I would get clean for a couple of days, it all came back and I would go crazy again.  I didn’t want to feel anything.”

Finally, an old friend told Nicole about CORE.  She came to our Springfield program and, after an initial false start, returned and started working the 12 Steps.  She also began volunteering her time back to the program.  During our interview Nicole expressed her gratitude to CORE for sticking with her and helping save her life:

CORE gave me a home when I didn’t have a home.  They allowed me to work on myself and have mistakes, and they still accepted me.  I’m blessed.  It’s why I give back.  Everybody else gave up on me, but CORE never did.  Even when I messed up the first time they didn’t turn their backs on me.  They continued to help.  They saved my life and showed me the way out.

While working her steps Nicole processed some bitter resentments, against her assailant (who’s serving time in prison), herself, and God.  Two months ago, however, Nicole became ready to publicly show her commitment to God and was baptized!  Her morning routine now includes reading from her Bible and getting on her knees next to her bed to pray.  Likewise, at the end of each day, Nicole gives thanks to God.  “I really don’t ask him for anything,” she said, “like before, I would say please do this, or help me, but now my prayers are ‘thank you.’  I can’t be more grateful for Him showing me life out of the darkness that I was in.

Nicole has also discovered that she can be a powerful witness for God.  The Big Book says that our experience can benefit others “no matter how far down the scale we have fallen.”  She recently realized just that when she gave her testimony at Joplin’s Lafayette House.  Nicole later learned that one of the ladies in attendance had contacted CORE and specifically mentioned her testimony.  “I’ve done something so bad.  I didn’t appreciate how it might help others,” she said.  Energized by the experience, Nicole has committed to helping teach our CSR recovery classes.  She’s nervous but is preparing and feels up to the challenge.  

CORE is very happy and proud for Nicole and her progress with the program.  We wish her the very best in rekindling loving bonds with her children again.  We have every confidence that she will inspire and help clients with their recoveries.  Above all, we look forward to her being with us as long as she can in the future!