What is a Winner’s List and How Does It Work?

Posted on September 1, 2022 View all news

The Every Brain Matters community understands how difficult and painful it is when you have a child or loved one with destructive behaviors such as using marijuana or any drug. We also know that each family navigates recovery and healing in different ways, applying valuable tools from many types of effective support systems. The information given here is taken from one of these reliable systems.

We are grateful that the Cornerstone Team Counseling community addresses these tough recovery questions and is allowing us to share their insight with you. Since it is beneficial to hear different perspectives, the following answers are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents.

To learn more, please visit The Every Brain Matters Support Section or click under the meeting tab to find more information on our support meetings for parents and families.

Note: The following are quotes from real people and some may use language and/or terms that may not be accepted by some readers. A glossary of terms is listed at the bottom of the page.

Staff: A winner’s list is cool!! There is a Winner’s list that ALL teens should create within the first days of entering the program and have their counselor, sponsor, and parents sign off on it.

Then there is a Winner’s List with Reasons that is an assignment on the Second Step which started in the group therapy years ago. The teens will write down a personalized and detailed reason of why someone is a winner for them.

Example: Sandy is a winner for me because of the patience and unconditional love she showed me early in my recovery. The honesty and love she articulates in her sharing. How she answers my phone calls and greets me with a hug when I see her at satellite. I can tell she not only talks a program of recovery, but walks it.

The teen writes this for every winner in their life (including adults). Then they ask each person on the list to talk in a winner 1on1, which begins with 5 minutes of eye contact, following that share what they wrote about the person, take an emotional risk with them, and usually ask the person to pray with to concluded the 1on1. The purpose of this assignment is to establish a very strong, honest, and open support system for themselves. And it is a HUGE self-esteem builder.

Alumni Teen: Kids get kids on drugs. Kids get kids off drugs. That’s what I was told when I got in. Everybody should make a winner’s list when they first get in. Any new sponsee that I get, the first assignment I give them is to make a winner’s list. It’s a list of people that you should hang out with. People that are honest, loving and real. 

I had to make a list when I first got in. My mom had a copy of the list and my counselors and friends knew who were on my list. I knew the people that were on that list were the people I should be having 1on1’s with at coffee and the people I was allowed to stay the night with and spend most of my time with.

When I was new, I needed a friend who was going to hold me accountable. I’m kind of a procrastinator and pretty skilled at doing the bare minimum but I never had someone, besides teachers or my mom, that would call me out on that because my friends didn’t really care. 

I remember when I first got into Cornerstone; I would stay the night out at a lot of different girls’ houses that were winners for me. Right before I would go to bed they would ask me, hey did you read the God Memo yet? And I would get back out of bed and go read the God Memo. At the time I hated it. I wasn’t used to my friends doing that for me, but looking back that’s exactly what I needed; someone who cared enough to not let me be mediocre, and it was that kind of stuff that changed my life. 

The reason why I tell my sponsees to make a winners list is because I know how it has affected my life. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

Alumni Parent: Our current parent step study format also includes the actual Winners list and Winners 1on1s that work the same way. But we all have a mental list of the other parents (and kids) who we feel model recovery for us, who radiate love to us and support us, and who were so very patient and helpful to us in early recovery. Imagine if we actually followed our kids lead on this and initiated winners 1on1’s with them. THAT would be cool!! What are we waiting for???

Alumni Teen: Winner’s lists are very cool! Right from the get go it forces me to look honestly at the people in my life and really see what principles are common in all the people that radiate the type of energy that I am so attracted to. That in itself was very eye-opening for me in early sobriety.

To look back on the list when I was done writing and be like “wow… here’s a big list of a ton of my peers in my everyday life that practice honesty, vulnerability, patience, unconditional love, lead by example, pray, etc.” I remember being hit with gratitude and also a feeling of safety and comfort with getting sober because I knew it was not going to be so easy, but knowing all these people had my back was an awesome feeling.

The Winner 1on1 assignment was extremely uncomfortable for me, and that’s why I grew so much. The level of vulnerability in those 1on1’s is divine and it sets up a real friendship with a solid foundation of truth and love, nothing more valuable to me in any friendship. Sharing things about myself that I thought I wouldn’t ever tell anyone brought more and more freedom to my life, and sitting down with someone and telling them what they meant to me made my heart a little softer each time. Each 1on1 put more in perspective that real relationships hold a lot more depth and weight in my new life than anything materialistic ever could.

See the parent story below for more experience, strength, and hope.

My Story 

I grew up in a loving family, though not outwardly shown, with one younger brother and a mom and dad that have been described as “Edith and Archie  Bunker,” if you’re familiar with that series! The difference being that my  father was retired military and a so-called “functional alcoholic.” So this was my knowledge of what parenting looked like. 

After becoming a mother of two girls, almost three years apart, I knew I did not want to parent like I was brought up. However, as my girls grew older, I  found myself falling into that pattern, I was more of a controlling disciplinarian than an enabler, yet I was inconsistent, I believe due to guilt.  My husband and I tried hard to learn good parenting skills, taking parenting courses, reading books, etc., but I guess they were not totally effective. 

My youngest daughter, who has been in Cornerstone, was always a so-called  “high-spirited” child. There was never a dull moment. My older daughter was very sensitive and fairly self-disciplined. However, she developed depression in her early teens which increasingly got worse. During this period, our family was in dysfunctional chaos. So much time and energy was spent trying to help our older daughter, I was left with anger, pain, denial, and depression too. My life was already unmanageable. 

We tried to make special time for our younger daughter so she wouldn’t feel left out. We wanted her to have a more normal teenage life; however, I  believe this also lead to denial of what direction she was heading. She was so scared that she would also develop depression that she ran in the opposite direction. This led to her wanting to be out all the time, decreased grades, disrespect, and general rebellion. 

Subsequently, I tried to exert more control over her, and the more I tried,  the worse it got. There were constant loud arguments and groundings, but the consequences were not always followed through, thinking we were being too hard on her. 

I think we knew she was drinking at parties, but really had no proof and of course she always denied everything. She was very good at concealing outside activities and pulling up grades to passing at the very end of a  semester. I had a flaming character defect of denial, among many others. 

The night we found her in a Houston emergency room in a coma and on a  respirator from alcohol poisoning was an extreme wake-up call. She was,  thank God, able to come out of it without any permanent damage. Her response afterward was “It happens” and she wanted to get her phone back. We knew we had to get immediate help. Within a week, we were in  Cornerstone. Our initial meeting with two counselors was straight to the point… we had no time to waste. I had hit rock bottom and was ready to do whatever it took. 

My first Thursday night parent meeting was a blur. I just remember that I  completely broke down; feeling like a failure, full of pain and desperation. I  knew then I was totally helpless and my life was unmanageable.  Immediately after the meeting, a mom came up to me with a hug and said she could be my sponsor. It was the start of my recovery. 

I jumped in and attended every meeting, crying at most of them for the first six months! I have my sponsor on speed dial and a list of winners that I  heavily relied upon as backups. It was during that time that the love and support got me through each day. 

Soon after starting Cornerstone, I went to my first retreat and there I truly began to realize the importance of working a program. I had already felt signs of slipping back into denial and wanted to control. I had to work the steps. I said the Serenity Prayer multiple times daily. I read the books, went to meetings and seminars, served on Committee, hosted kids, had functions,  and attended and helped lead step studies. I wanted the change I saw in others. I wanted to give back what I was receiving. 

I went to every Climbers meeting I could, even though, early on, some were very challenging. It’s not easy to expose myself, face and acknowledge my fears and defects, and “Trust the process” – but I did. I could start anew.

Our daughter was in and out of host families for almost a year after we  became consistent in enforcing our “shots and consequences.” I had learned how to hold my daughter accountable as I leaned on the support of the program. Upon the advice of the counselor, we made the decision to place our daughter into an Oxford House (halfway house). There was a lot of fear, but I put her in God’s hands and knew she would be safe.  Something I could never have imagined prior to Cornerstone. 

During this time, I continued to host[other Cornerstone kids], which had a tremendous effect on my growth. The connection with the kids was truly fulfilling, and they helped me to further understand the poison of addiction and how it is a real family disease. They helped open my eyes and my heart. 

Upon our daughter’s return from the Oxford House, our relationship took a  turn. We were able to communicate appropriately, have honesty and trust,  and begin building a new relationship. It has been a little over a year now and even though there are still some challenging times, as you would expect, we have worked through them and grown from them. I have learned what true love looks like and the importance of honesty and gratitude. 

Recovery for me is a gift that never stops giving if you stay in its presence. It has not only changed me, but it has also changed the relationships within our family.  I no longer walk on eggshells, want to run away, or lay in anger and self-pity. 

I was once asked in a meeting what was one of the worst days and one of the best days in my life with respect to my daughter. When my turn came I knew my answer: “One of the worst days in my life was finding my  daughter in a coma and on a respirator, and one of the best days in my life  was finding my daughter in a coma and on a respirator.” It was the first step on the road to recovery, the road to Cornerstone. 

For me, recovery is something I know I will continue to do if I want to keep my new sense of self-esteem, knowledge of serenity, and a true relationship with my Higher Power. Working the steps and knowing how to let go and let God has allowed me “to know a new freedom and a new happiness,” just as The Promises stated. I am now awakening into a new chapter of my life  … I am blessed!

Glossary of terms:

Addict: An old term used to describe a person with a substance use disorder that is not currently socially accepted anymore.

Al-Anon: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Awakening: A term used after Completion of the 12 steps and the requirements of the Cornerstone community. Like a graduation but it’s viewed as a “spiritual awakening”

Climbers: an interactive educational group for family members to bring issues, questions or concerns, and receive direct feedback from a counselor and other family members. As well as learn tools of recovery to help you and your family. The Every Brain Matters community offers a Climbers meeting every Wednesday.

Destructive Behaviors: Self-destructive behavior is when you do something that’s sure to cause self-harm, whether it’s emotional or physical. Some self-destructive behavior is more obvious, such as: attempting suicide. binge eating. compulsive activities like gambling, using harmful drugs, gaming, or shopping.

IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy): treatment programs used to address addictions, depression, eating disorders, or other dependencies that do not require detoxification or round-the-clock supervision.

Mar-Anon Family Groups: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Parent-Driven Recovery: Tools that Work is a must-read for parents of substance-abusing teens. You’ll learn how to maneuver through the chaos to create a harmonious family life. Even if your teen is not ready or willing to change, there is help and hope.

Recovery: A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. A healing process.

Shots: A term used in the recovery community is called Couerstone Team Counseling. It’s a customized list of rules and consequences each family makes for their homes. To learn more, attend the Every Brain Matters Climbers meeting on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm Central time. A list of our meetings is at this link.

SO: Stands for Significant Others, a term sometimes used when graduating from an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) after making amends to our “significant others”, or people we have harmed.

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