Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Biggest Loser

"Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care." Buddha

When addicts flush the drugs and alcohol out of their bodies their health usually improves.

They begin to have more energy. Their thinking clears up after a while. They're no longer putting toxic substances in their body and their body responds accordingly.

But this doesn't apply to all addicts and alcoholics. Unfortunately, many of our clients find a substitute for the drugs they left behind. That substitute usually is food, sodas, or some form of tobacco.

While most of our addict clients were smokers when they came in most of them end up continuing the habit even after a year of sobriety. Food intake is another thing. While many of us didn't eat much while we were using, most of us make up for the meals we missed in short order. It's not unusual to see a client gain 25, 50 or even 100 pounds after being around a short while.

I bring this up today because we have several staff members who are competing in a "biggest loser" contest; the winner will be the one who loses the largest percentage of their body weight rather than a certain number of pounds. First prize is $250, second prize is $150 and third prize is $100. There are already some clear leaders in the contest. A few had a plan from the beginning and have followed through with it.

But there are those who are seesawing back and forth with what they eat and how much weight they're losing. Among those who are seesawing, the word "self-discipline" often comes up.

And, of course, that's always the issue when we're trying to change from bad habits to good habits. Do we have the self-control and self-discipline to follow through with our commitments and our goals?

I guess we'll see who's able to do that at the weigh-in at the end of December.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Using our Time

Student: "how long should I meditate?"

Teacher: "you should meditate for 20 minutes. But if you can't find time to meditate for 20 minutes, then you should meditate for an hour."


At first, I didn't quite understand this exchange between student and teacher. But then, after pondering for a moment, I understood it perfectly.

For me, the message the teacher gave the student means that if your life is so busy and complicated that you can't find 20 minutes, then perhaps you should take an hour and meditate. Maybe that will help you figure out your priorities.

All too frequently I have conversations with people who say they don't have "enough time" to get everything done they want to do.

They talk about wanting to start an exercise program – but somehow they can't find the time. Or they want to take a class, but there's no room in their day.

The idea that we don't have enough time to get everything done is, in my opinion, a fallacy.

After all, how many times a day do we check in on Facebook? We have time to check in online with our friends to see what they're having at a local restaurant. What they're doing at a fancy hotel. Or what they're doing on vacation.

Or we have hours to waste surfing the Internet watching videos of funny animals or to watch human beings making videos of each other doing outrageous things. We have hours to loaf in front of the television each day. We have time to send endless and meaningless text messages to our friends. So how is it that we can't find time to do something that would be really beneficial and important for us?

The answer, of course, is that we can. We just have to find out what's important in our lives. Then cut the digital umbilical cord for a while so we can use our time wisely.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Common Cold

I don't suffer very well. For the past 10 days, since the 29th of November, I've had a cold. And the bad thing is I got it on the first day of my vacation on the 29th and I still have it some three days after my return. I'm the first to admit that I'm a real wimp when it comes to things like colds and the flu.

And of course, the reason for this is that I very rarely become ill. Last time I can recall having a cold is maybe over three years ago. And I think things like this bother me more than they might someone else because I spend a lot of time eating right and trying to stay healthy. Getting sick to me is almost like a personal failure.

And this is something that I'm almost ashamed to write down. Because there are so many people in the world who really suffer from chronic ailments and diseases from which they'll never recover. But the addict and alcoholic in me say that I must always feel good or else the planet is off-kilter, completely out of balance.

It seems almost unfair that there's no cure for the common cold. The thing the doctors tell you is to drink a lot of liquids and get plenty of rest. And maybe 8 to 10 days later you will start feeling better. It's a true feeling of powerlessness.

Somewhere in the midst of this cold, I have thoughts of acceptance and gratitude. The acceptance is about recognizing that time will take care the way I'm feeling. And the gratitude part comes from recognizing that at 78 I'm blessed to be as functional as I am, to be able to show up at the office every day, to be able to drive fast cars and to enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I mean, other a vacation once in a while, what else can one ask for?

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Living in a Dump

Today my daughter and I spent several hours of our vacation at a city dump in the hills above the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was a lesson in gratitude for those of us who live our privileged lives in a clean and safe environment.

A pastor my daughter met at a church service yesterday invited us to visit the facility he manages that provides housing, food, education, and daycare to the children of recyclers that work at the dump. The 70 family facility has five floors. But only one of them is occupied as of today's visit. The others are to be filled as the families are screened before moving in.

The facility, about half a block outside the dump, is modern and new. Yet, many of the families resist moving from the cardboard shacks they've called home for generations to the new facility because they don't want to give up their "freedom." After all, at the dump, they don't have to pay for the electricity and water they steal. Nor do they have to follow any rules – they do pretty much as they choose – including using drugs or alcohol.

While the dump would seem to be hell on earth to outsiders, for many of the families that live there it is the only home they've ever known. Many of them resist the idea of changing to something new and modern, even though their children will have opportunities for an education and better health care.

During our visit, we helped the staff serve lunch to preschoolers and kindergarteners who are cared for at the facility during the day while their parents recycle trash. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Anniversary?

A year ago today I was here in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary with my soon-to-be ex-wife. It was sort of a tradition for us to take a vacation on our anniversary, which also coincided with her birthday.

Today, exactly one year later, I'm here on a one-week vacation with my oldest daughter, enjoying a much-needed vacation after several months of costly dealings with attorneys and lawsuits related to my impending divorce.

And I say "much-needed" because since last February 28 life has had its challenges. The evening of February 28 is when my soon-to-be ex-wife grabbed a large butcher knife and went after my daughter for reasons that aren't clear to me or my daughter. The whole event was over in less than 30 seconds and ended with my wife in jail on domestic violence charges and my daughter and I both traumatized. It was a miracle from God that no one was killed that evening.

I got a restraining order against her the next morning and filed for divorce within days.

For several months after my wife's release from jail, we tried to work out ways of reconciling. We tried a legal separation, and in pursuit of that I shortsightedly purchased a newly rehabilitated house in my area for her to live in – a house that she selected. I filled it with new furniture and appliances and had custom blinds installed. I paid all the expenses and provided her with an allowance. I paid off her credit cards. But somehow it didn't work out.

Things really started declining when I asked her to sign a disclaimer for a company refinancing loan that I have been working on for about six weeks. For some reason, she had the idea that one of the largest banks in Arizona, a bank that had about $13 billion in assets, was out to defraud her. And she refused to sign the document - essentially stopping the loan from proceeding.

That kind of did it for me. And I was quite angry for a short while. Later, I realize that I probably shouldn't be angry at her. After all, the same thinking processes that allowed her to go after my daughter were probably also involved in her deciding to not help me with the loan.

The weekend after the loan fiasco she abandoned the house, stripping it of its furnishings. After that, we dated sporadically, but things never really got back on track. Then July 16 – when we were supposed to see each other – she sent a text saying she could no longer "do this." I agreed, and blocked her from my phone and haven't spoken to her since.

It was a good decision on my part. While I occasionally look back in regret, more and more I come to realize that I have peace and serenity in my life that I haven't enjoyed in a long time. We're supposed to go to trial February 28 to finalize the divorce. But I'm prepared, if necessary, for this thing to drag on for another year or two. Whatever happens, it's going to happen when it's supposed to.

Arizona law is very clear about the division of assets acquired during a marriage: 50-50. It makes little difference to me whether it happens next year or the year after.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Gratitude Moment

While flying to Puerto Vallarta a few days ago I got into a conversation with a 40ish woman who was seated next to me, sipping a vodka on the rocks.

It seemed like she had the ideal life. She worked as a captain for the fire department in San Diego, and in seven years she would be able to retire at 50 with 90% of her salary for the rest of her life. She said she loved what she did.

But then as we got further into the conversation it turned out that her job was very stressful. She talked of working a lot of overtime, especially during the California fire season when she had to work day after day in Napa Valley when fires devastated that area. She said that even though she works three days a week and is off for four days, she deals with emotionally taxing events on an almost daily basis when on duty.

She said that right before she came on vacation she performed CPR on a victim for an hour, but was unable to bring him back. She said the vision of his cold blue face is still burned into her memory. She went on to talk of other events: failing to resuscitate a child that had drowned, consoling a family that had lost all their belongings in a fire, helping extract accident victims from a car, and so on. It seemed like she dealt with a spectrum of human tragedy on a regular basis.

When I asked how she dealt with her stress, she told me she goes on vacations where she does nothing but relax for a week at a time. And she also works out and makes an effort to meditate and do yoga. But it seemed like what she was doing to deal with all the pressures upon her wasn't sufficient. Some of the things she dealt with were so traumatic it's difficult to get them out of her memory.

When the flight was over I had a sense of gratitude that I work in the recovery field. While it has its share of stress, it doesn't compare to what this woman deals with.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Off to Puerto

Every year, for the past 22 years, I've been vacationing in one of my favorite places in the world:  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. And I'm leaving again tomorrow for a one-week stay.

Normally I go there about four times a year. But this year, because of other commitments, I was only able to make it down there in January.

So why do I prefer it to places like Hawaii, CancĂșn, or Cabo San Lucas? For one thing, it's less expensive, plus it's only 2 1/2 hours away by air.  The weather's great this time of year. The people there are always pleasant and down to earth. And if one gets bored sitting on the patio looking at the marina there are a multitude of things to do. Boat trips. Horseback riding. Swimming. Sightseeing. Great restaurants. There are accommodations and food for every budget. All in all, I've had nothing but great experiences there.

I've had people ask me if I'm afraid to travel in Mexico. But the reality is, I see much more crime and drugs right here in Maricopa County. And there are places here that I don't go because I have no business there. Just like there are places in Mexico that I don't go because I no longer live in the drug world.  In fact, the people I've talked to about American perceptions of crime in Mexico say that unless one is a drug trafficker, or somehow involved in crime, there's nothing to really fear. So I'm as comfortable there as I am here.

For me, one of the blessings of recovery is that I'm able to do things like this. I have a wonderful team of people around me who work so well together that I sometimes wonder why I even bother to go to the office. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

Click here to email John