Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 30th year of recovery.

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Benefits of Sobriety

At one time, deep in the muck of my addiction I doubted that I'd live to be 40.

And, now, this coming Sunday, God willing, I'll have been on the planet 81 years.  It was something I never expected to happen.  And I owe it all to the fact that I decided at age 51 that I was either going to get sober, die, or go back to prison.

I chose sobriety.

And it was one of the best decisions of my life. Today I enjoy all the promises of the 12-step programs.  I have many friends. A nice home I've owned for 21 years. I'm on mostly good terms with family members and am blessed that their lives took a different path than mine.  No drugs today, not in prison, working and being examples for their own children.

The only message I have for you is that staying sober has it rewards - but they don't come overnight. 

All I have is gratitude for what life has brought me, freedom from the tyranny of heroin and alcohol. 

Give yourself time and you'll enjoy the same blessings.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Let's Worry

I used to have a client who visited my office at least once a week to tell me about his worries.

He was concerned that his family wouldn't accept him upon his return from treatment.  He worried that he might not be able to find a job once he graduated. He wasn't sure that his wife would accept him upon his return home. And so on.

It was always something, usually something small that was driving him to distraction.  And foolishly, I would listen to his concerns until he got them all out and then give him some suggestions of what he could do to solve his problems of the day.

Then I decided to try an experiment.  The next time he came to my office I asked him if he really wanted a solution to his problems.  He said he did so I gave him an assignment.  I told him that he would have a rule about worrying.

It was that he had couldn't worry until a certain hour of the day - which he would choose. The rule was that he couldn't worry at any other time of day until the hour that he had picked. Once that hour came he would go to his room or some other quiet place and begin to worry.  And that was all that he could do.  He couldn't make phone calls.  He couldn't watch television.  All he could do is worry, to immerse himself in his problems.

And surprisingly it worked.  Once he began to worry on a certain schedule he came to realize that he did had some control over his thinking, that it didn't have to control him every minute of the day.  And soon he came to realize that most of what he was worried about were small things that were of little significance or larger things that he had little or no power over.

If you face his issue, it might also work for you.  It's free to try.



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Neglecting our Children

Today is my oldest daughter's birthday and I wish her a happy one.  She's in her fifties now, born in 1966 when I was finishing up a prison term for possessing heroin.

Needless to say, she didn't have the best upbringing as both her mother and I were addicts whose only concerns were our own self-gratification.  She went without a lot of things that other kids took for granted. But the biggest thing she went without was the security of parents who nurtured her and spent time with her.  She never spent much time with her father because of he life he chose.

In half a year I'll have 30 years sober.  And during that time I've done what I can to be a good father.  And I think I've succeeded in many ways.  I've taken her on vacations.  I've helped her with some of her business ventures and have helped her financially on many occasions.

But no amount of money can make up for being an absentee parent, a parent who was never involved in his daughter's early upbringing and education.  Money and material things can't replace lost time.

I write this to encourage the addicts among you to  think of the damage you're doing your children because - like me - you're only thinking of your next drink or fix. Use your children as motivation for change and you'll be rewarded when they're grown and have gratitude for the time you spent with them. 

Today I regret the time I missed with my children - but maybe you'll able to do a better job.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Confusing Times

Being an octogenarian, I've been through many things in my lifetime. So many, in fact, that I didn't think there was too much that could surprise me. But this pandemic – the so-called corona virus – is something that most of us have never experienced. And hopefully we'll never experience it again. But the magnitude of it – plus people's reactions – contains many surprises.

One of the bigger surprises is the total confusion of the politicians and medical people. I often read my news on the Internet because there's such a variety to choose from. But regardless of what site I pick I find conflicting opinions about the causes and the potential cures of the pandemic. Where are the grownups in our life today?

One medical expert is absolutely certain that this thing will end early next year. The next so-called expert says it'll never completely go away. Yet another will say that the vaccine is right around the corner, although we still haven't found a vaccine for the last pandemic.

And the politicians are a joke. Even though I've been a conservative most of my life and back what the president is doing, even some in his own administration disagree with his approach. But what people don't stop and realize is that no one man has the power to create or cure something of the magnitude of this disease that's spreading around the world. Based upon party lines, politicians are slinging rhetoric back and forth about who is at fault and what the solutions are. But not much of it is based in reality; in fact their opinions are about as valid as yours and mine – maybe.

So what do we do when faced with such a huge problem – one that seems to defy explanation? I don't know what others should do, I only know what I do.

And what I do is not associate with a lot of people. But on the other hand I don't wear a mask but do keep my distance from others. I don't do a lot of socializing except with a few close family members and friends who as far as I know don't have any diseases.

My job requires that I work with a large relatively unhealthy population of drug addicts and alcoholics. Yet the interesting thing is that not one of them has come down with the corona virus; we did have a few suspects but the doctors told them they had nothing more than a cold or the flu. It's almost mysterious to me why, out of nearly 700 people who have lived high-risk lifestyles, not one of them has contracted this virus; neither the young nor the old.

I guess in a situation like this all I can do is be peaceful and calm and know that the universe doesn't make a lot of mistakes about what happens. Maybe the purpose of all of this is to really find a vaccine for devastating diseases, although during the process many innocent people will die. Perhaps a few will be sacrificed to save the many. But the reality is that no one knows.

So once again, I believe we should fall back upon acceptance if we want to have any kind of peace in our life at all. If we trust in a higher power of any kind then we have to trust that all of this is gonna work out okay.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Acceptance

"I've been through many terrible things in my life, and some of them really happened." Mark Twain

This saying, by Mark Twain, is one of my favorites. I like it because it sums up the human dilemma: our chattering brains constantly lead us down the path of anxiety and sometimes outright fear. What's going to happen tomorrow? Why do  things like this happen to me? Am I going to get fired? Am I going to get a raise? Does this corona virus mean the world is going to suddenly end?

Variations of thoughts like this flit about in our mind constantly. But the things we worry about that might happen are not something positive. It's generally something negative.

When I was much younger I used to let this constant chattering in my brain lead me all over the place. And for many years that led me to drugs and alcohol. When I did drugs and alcohol at least I was in some kind of control my feelings. I knew that I was going to get blasted and numb – in a state where whatever happened seemed very unimportant because I wasn't really feeling anything at all except numbness.

Today, to help preserve my own mental health and the mental health of those around me I teach that the only thing we can count on in life is that things will be different tomorrow. After all, we all wake up in a new day. While it might not be radically different from the day before, there are usually some minor differences. And then there are the major differences, like natural disasters and pandemics like this corona virus.

The point here is, that if we can accept the idea that things are always changing and will always be somewhat different – if not radically so – then we won't go off the tracks when something new shows up. Instead, we tell ourselves that, I accept whatever changes the universe brings to my life whether they be something terrible or perhaps a wonderful blessing. Because, even good things can get us upset.

It's imperative that change comes to all of our lives because that's how the human race developed to the point that it did. But none of us were promised that everything was always going to be a bed of roses. There are a lot of spoiled people right now who are throwing protests and wanting things to be like they were before the pandemic started. They want everything to go back to the so-called "normal."

But that is never going to happen because there have already been too many changes in daily life and in the world at large. Whatever happens – we must accept it for what it is – or else live a life of misery and unhappiness.

As it says in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, "acceptance is the key to all of my problems today."

Click here to email John

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Flowing with Life

Lately the world seems upside down.

Depending on the news channel you watch or the radio station you listen to or what newspaper you read you'll get conflicting reports about the corona virus. One so-called authority tells us we need to do this. Another so-called authority will tell us that we must do that. Some people require that we wear masks in their business. Others are totally against them. What's a person to believe?

I notice now that restrictions are being slowly lifted there's been absolutely no decline or decrease in new cases of the corona virus in Arizona; nor has the death rate decreased – in fact it has increased each day. How do we – the ordinary citizen – interpret what our leaders are doing with the restrictions that they're putting in effect?

By asking this question I in no way suggest that I have a better answer. Because I don't. The job our leaders are doing is a complex one; even the medical authorities cannot agree what's the best course. Political factions on both sides are equally baffled by this disease and have no ready answer. However, that doesn't keep them from suggesting an answer. And hope they might win votes if they somehow happen to get lucky and be right.

But as a person in recovery for 29 years I do have a few ideas of how we can get through this thing relatively sane. And one thing we must do, is to learn to flow with life. Because this is not the end of the world. The world will rebound, but it probably will never go back to being as it was. It may actually evolve into something better such as new medical discoveries and some breakthrough ideas about how to deal with pandemics and diseases. We really don't know.

When I say we must flow with life, I mean we must take this new challenge in stride. We must make the best of our circumstances and follow whatever medical authorities suggest we do that also fits in with our personal beliefs or standards. The reality is that none of us have faced anything like this in our lifetimes – and we must do everything we can to remain calm, to stay healthy, and hope and pray that science finds a solution to this deadly disease.

And for those of us in recovery, who at one time picked up a drug or drink over the slightest setback, we must use the principles of recovery that we have learned in the past few years and meet this challenge as we have met other challenges that could threaten our recovery. After all, we must realize that there is nothing unnatural about this pandemic – they have been occurring since the beginning of time and they will continue to happen as long as life exists on our planet.

We can use most any excuse to get drunk and make things worse. Or we can learn to flow with life and practice the principles we have learned to this point to get through this current and terrible disease.

Click here to email John

Monday, May 11, 2020

Meeting the Challenge

We find out what people are made out of when times are tough. Right now something like 20 million Americans are unemployed. There's a lot of chaos in government.  We hear a lot of anxiety in the press. Yet, other than a few isolated incidents it seems like everyone is hanging in there, at least in our program.

The interesting thing about TLC is that we are probably doing as good as we ever have, both population – wise and financially. And it seems like when we face challenges like this our clients rise up and do better than when times are are good and life is relatively normal. Whatever normal is.

Another example of this was during the last recession when Obama was president. There were several people in our staff who didn't take a salary for 3 to 4 years. They cut back on their expenses and lived off of savings or other income. A similar situation occurred during the attack on 9/11 when the economy went into a tailspin for a while. Some of our staff members took a 10% pay cut until things became flush again.

Maybe because of the nature of this pandemic we have lost a couple of key people who had been with us for at least 10 years. One of them just kind of disappeared with a very brief notice; the other relapsed and fell back into his old behavior after achieving about three years of sobriety. I'm not sure what went on with those two, but it may have just been the magnitude of this pandemic that made them realize how unpredictable life can be. For them, it might've been fear of the future, him him just been the slight push it took to send them back to their drug of choice – who knows?

All I know that in my 81 years I've never seen a situation that parallels this one. But it fits exactly with my motto: "The only thing we can count on in life is that things will be different tomorrow."

And how we handle that tomorrow tells a whole lot about who we are and what we're made of.

Click here to email John