The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

By Teresa Cobleigh

IMDb describes Sergio Leone’s 1966 spaghetti western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” this way: “A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.” As we move into a new year and reflect on the past one, what comes to mind is this film.


First, the good: human compassion is alive and well. Over 6,800 donors supported Herren Project in 2022, raising $1.9 million for recovery and prevention programs. With this outpouring of support and compassion, there is indeed great hope and expectation for the new year. On behalf of the entire Herren community, we are grateful to all of you who have given your time, talent, and treasure to this cause, and in Clint Eastwood style, a tip of the ole cowboy hat to our loved ones who have passed on but continue to inspire us for “the good fight.”

Also, the good news is the indicator of our effectiveness: 87% of Herren Project clients reached the critical 90-day milestone of sobriety, compared to the industry average of 34%. Our focus on recovery support with housing and recovery coaching in the first months of sobriety is truly making a difference.


And now the bad – the starring villain, our nemesis, addiction – requires ongoing vigilance. We are in a new phase of the epidemic, characterized by more powerful drugs on the streets, poly-substance misuse, great risk to those who relapse in early recovery, more human loss, and lost potential. Estimates of addiction’s cost to society measure it in dollars, but that $84 billion in the US alone speaks nothing of the anguish known to many of us. More than 10% of Americans are afflicted, over 107,000 were lost in just one year, and all of us have skin in the game. In real life, as in the movies, we have met our formidable foe. Let the dramatic tension serve to challenge our good character to new heights.

In any good fight, strength comes with unity and cohesion; divided, we fall. Any animosity or disdain from the stigma of addiction that breaks families or separates communities serves against our interests. We might argue over addiction being a choice or a brain disease or challenge assumptions about abstinence, boundaries, and the appropriateness of old tactics in the new age of fentanyl. Pundits and politicians may focus on supply issues, blaming border control and foreign policy. Still, we might temper the tone and tenor of our political and social discourse, knowing that what divides us plays into the hands of our nemesis. There is an opportunity if we can all rise above our differences; together, we are stronger.

Hand joining together in the fight

Perhaps our ugly enemy is the nefarious aspect of human nature that tends to judge one another as “less than” and not look upon another as an extension of our collective selves. Who is the villain when we turn our backs on the roots that give rise to addiction and criminal behavior — the desperation born of adversity — and ignore our own complicity in propagating discrimination? Dare we personify our anti-hero by gender and nationality, draw a little curly mustache over his lip and name him Desperado? With our American pride and arrogance, shall we forget the struggles of our brethren living in failed states met with poverty, despair, and violence?

If we are to meet our challenge, we might start by cultivating compassion toward our fellow human beings. Border walls made of bricks do little when the bonds of human society are weak. All it takes is one lonely heart with access to the internet, and our postal carrier can deliver deadly substances in a package at the door. Our lost and lonely, marginalized, and outcasts succumb to the villainous seduction of drugs as a means to escape desperate conditions. When we embrace our fellow humans, accepting all of our parts as worthy, we might begin to build fortresses of resilience stronger than bricks and stones.

Addiction is a dirty business, as dirty as digging for gold in a long-forgotten cemetery of broken dreams.  And the ugly truth just might be reflected in our collective mirror.


But every one of us can be a hometown hero. Chris Herren took a step to “pay it forward,” seeing in another human being her worthiness. And the 6,800 donors following his footsteps are a testament to our everyday heroism.

With each person Herren Project helps in early recovery, we plant a seed of hope. Donations fuel a continuous loop, building the combine engine to reap the golden fields of our collective dreams. Those we help then plant seeds of their own, and so on. Compassion makes for fertile ground.

planting seeds of hope

And indeed, there is hope. A strong peer recovery movement is already emerging. Herren Project is hiring peer recovery coaches for six months and becoming a part of a growing workforce development initiative. Where once was hopelessness and despair, now there is new meaning, life purpose, and dignity in serving others.

Accepting the ugly parts within ourselves, as uneasy as that alliance may be, gives way to seeing our humanity in others, a first step in cultivating compassion for our fellow humans.  A chain reaction then gives rise to a new pathway of healing, empowerment, and service— and it is a beautiful thing.
And so it is with timeless stories, where Beauty meets the Beast, embraces the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Desperado comes to dig for gold in the Field of Dreams. Life is Beautiful. Why should our story be any different?

Want to be part of the chain reaction? Want to join in helping others create a beautiful story? Herren Project is funded through private donations. Make a donation today to support, inspire, and empower people nationwide touched by addiction.