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.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

More about Gratitude

 I was talking to a youngster the other day, a fellow maybe 22 years old, and he was telling me how unhappy he was about the new restrictions placed on our lives because of the pandemic.

Because he's so young he has sort of a sense of entitlement. He kind of has the attitude that the rules surrounding this pandemic that limit contacts between citizens don't apply to him. Usually I'll see him walking around without a mask and I have to remind him that the mask is to protect his life and the lives of others. But because he's so young he feels that he's invulnerable to pandemics, he kinda has the idea that he'll live forever – as do many people his age.

And when he expresses himself that way, I usually suggest that he is selfish and self-centered. Because while he may be strong and young and invulnerable that doesn't mean that he can't carry the virus to someone who's in my generation.

Because he's so young his whole world is centered on himself. But I suggested he look at the world in a different way. I tell him that he should have a sense of gratitude for his life right now, even though he perceives it as being extremely difficult because of this pandemic. And when I mention gratitude, he looks at me like I'm sort of off balance or just too old to understand him. But then I go on.

I point out that there are people in the world who would give their left arm to have the kind of life he enjoys. I point out that he is fortunate enough to live in the United States, even with all the turmoil created by the pandemic, the riots, and the fires that are ripping across the Western states. I suggest to him that he look at the fact that he has employment. An automobile. A home to live in. Abundant good health. Fresh food to eat. And I point out more, but you get the idea.

I suggested he read about people in other parts of the world that don't even have running water. Or enough to eat. Or maybe they're in the middle of a civil war. Perhaps they never had the opportunity to go to school because their country is so poor that they can't afford to educate the population.

Even though he's not an alcoholic or drug addict I tell him about the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs. And one word that is constantly floating around the rooms is gratitude, with maybe acceptance being a close second. And I'm not sure that he understands how those words apply to him because he's neither an addict nor an alcoholic.

But gratitude is a universal term. That it can apply to anyone who wants to have a good and happy life. Because when we're grateful, were not going to get in trouble, nor will we become depressed. Instead will use our gratitude to change our outlook on life. And that will carry us when times are tough.

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

All Lives Matter

It's getting pretty boring lately to see all of the publicity about BLM. And of course anyone who is not living in a gopher hole knows that those initials stand for Black Lives Matter. But I'm a person who is not politically correct. And I believe that whether we like it or not, all lives matter: black, white, brown, red – all of them.

One of the things that kind of pisses me off is that most of the people that we see at the riots and protests are not black. They are 90% white and mostly young liberals who are looking for a cause, a reason to rebel. And mostly uninformed about the so-called violence of the police against minorities in this country.

Statistics actually show that it you get stopped by the police and you are white you're much more likely to be killed by the cops than a black person would be. These facts are borne out by a study done by a black professor at Harvard University who was going to prove that black people are more likely to be killed by the police than people of any other race. He reportedly was surprised when the data showed something different. Just the opposite: white people are much more likely to be gunned down by police than black people or other minorities. 

On the flip side, the study also showed that black people and minorities suffer more at the hands of police than do white people. For example, the police are much more likely to handcuff a minority person than they would a white person. The police also frisk black people and other minorities much more often than they do white people. And they also were more likely to slam them up against a wall and rough them up in other ways.

I believe that when one undertakes a cause they should understand some of the foundations of the cause they are supporting. Probably many would be shocked to find out that during slavery several hundred black people owned plantations and slaves. One black slave owner, William Ellison, is described in Wikipedia at some length in an article which describes his ownership of some 63 slaves. This is the kind of research that people don't like to look at. If one really wants to dig into the slavery issue they'll learn a lot about how exaggerated it is. For example, most people don't know that the majority of slaves were first brought to Brazil, then were taken to the Caribbean and still later to Florida. Only a small number of  slaves, less than 10%,  brought from Africa were brought directly to the United States and sold to slave traders in this country.

Now these previous paragraphs are not to diminish the horror of slavery or to exculpate those who engaged in it. The only purpose for bringing up these facts in the above paragraphs is so that those who are so sure that we're a racist society might study a little bit of history of the subject they're talking about. They might also ask themselves if we're such a racist society why did 78 million white people vote for Barack Obama in 2014? That doesn't sound like institutional racism to me, it just sounds like they voted for who they felt was the most qualified candidate.

In closing, my opinion is that those that think we're a racist society have a political agenda where they think they might get something for nothing. Communism and socialism has never worked anywhere in the world and I don't believe that it'll work here. But BLM and Antifa are masters at manipulating our political system and the liberals among us to achieve their ends. And if they succeed at that everyone will suffer – including the minorities they claim to represent and protect.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Strange Times

One of my earliest childhood memories is the end of World War II. At the time I was living in Newport Beach, California and when the announcement came over the radio everyone in our neighborhood went pouring into the streets dancing and singing with joy.

At around five years old I didn't understand the gravity of war. But I remember odd things that did stem from our country being at war. Because we lived near the coast the population was required to put blackout curtains over their windows. And if they went out at night for any reason they had to leave the lights off on their cars or else cover them with burlap bags just in case a Japanese submarine was off the coast. That's how close the war came to us back in the 1940s. And it was only much later that I understood why people were so happy when the war ended in 1945.

Since that time I've been through many strange years. There have been other wars, like Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other military actions. I lived through the social unrest of the sixties and seventies.

But as I was talking to a friend the other day who is a few years younger than I am, we both agreed that this is one of the strangest years in our memories. Neither of us had ever experienced anything the magnitude of this pandemic that is sweeping across the country. Neither of us has seen the political situation so volatile. Nor have we seen lengthy riots such as the ones in Seattle and Portland that have been going on for months. We haven't seen the world in such a state of unrest as we have since the first of this year.  Neither of us have seen the country this divided politically.

Both my friend and I have been through battles with alcohol and drugs, battles that lasted for years. We both ended up going to prison in different states. We both had a lot of money at different times, but mostly we were just down and out drug addicts that were doing our best to take care of our habits.

But as we reminisced, we both agreed that we have never lived in such an uncertain time. A time when we're dealing with things that aren't in our control. And the reality is that there's nothing we can do about our current situation except move into acceptance - a word that is one of the strongest that we hear in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Not only is it the strongest, but is also one of the most useful from a standpoint of practicality. As long as we can accept what's going on around us as part of the normal changes that we encounter in life, we won't be tempted to go off the rails and revert to our former lives when we were in the middle of our addictions.

Instead we can stand strong and accept whatever the universe presents us.  And if we can do that we'll get past the challenges we've been presented during this strangest of times.

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Friday, September 11, 2020

A lesson from 911

Nineteen years ago the twin towers were demolished by terrorists carrying out jihad so they could find paradise and honor Allah.

While none of us know if they reached their goals, we do know their acts of terror changed this country forever. They triggered a war in the Mideast as we searched for Bin Laden and his murderous Al Qaeda followers.

When terrorism struck our mainland we realized the vulnerability of our security systems. and everything tightened up at the airports, seaports, and other potential targets. Even though it’s more of a hassle to travel today, most of us agree that the increased security is comforting.

But for me there is another take away from that awful event.  And that is that we need to live our lives to the fullest each day.  Because probably none of the victims in the twin towers, the Pentagon, or the passengers on the planes knew it would be their last day.  Some had dates for that evening, some had children at day care, others had family or friends awaiting their arrival at airports.  They were going on with their lives when the unspeakable happened.

We need to treat each moment as precious because we only have this slice of time we exist in.  And for those of us in recovery this is especially meaningful because we wasted countless hours in a self-induced stupor wasting time - the one thing we can't replace.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Covid 19

I'm still amazed - and pleased - that during all of these months of the pandemic, and with 600 to 700 clients, we've had less than a dozen contract the virus.  All of them were quarantined on our properties - mostly in the same apartments - for the period the doctors prescribed.  And none ended up in the hospital.

I attribute this low infection number to the fact that we followed government guidelines as to distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and sanitizing surfaces.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, most of us addicts don't live the healthiest life-styles when we're in the midst of our addictions.  Many of us smoke, have poor eating habits, sometimes are homeless, have no medical care other than periodic trips to the emergency room.  In other words we engage in high-risk life-styles that compromise our immune systems.

Through my eyes, the positive side of this is that if an addict has the discipline to follow the rigid Covid-19 protocol, just maybe they can apply the same principles when they graduate our program and return to society.

Who knows?

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Old Memories

On Friday, September 5, 1958, I was sentenced to six months to 10 years in California State Prison for possession of heroin. And I was reminded of this because today is September 5, 2020. And that was so long ago it seems like almost a bad dream today. And on September 8, 1958, I was delivered in leg irons to a prison reception center at Chino, California.

At the reception center I spent about six weeks undergoing psychological and physical tests to see where I would fit best in California's extensive prison system. I was subjected to the Minnesota multi-phasic personality inventory and also a few other tests that I don't recall the names of. Finally, it was determined that I was a "young, trainable adult." And that meant that I would be sent to a vocational institution for education and training before I returned to society. But because they didn't have any open beds at that 2400 hundred bed institution I would be housed at San Quentin prison near San Francisco. I would remain at that prison until there was an opening at the vocational facility, which was located near Tracy, California. So at 19 years old, an age when I knew everything, I found myself unceremoniously dumped in front of the huge gates at the front of San Quentin

All of this comes up today because for some reason I was asking myself what happened on September 5 and September 8 eight a number of years ago? And it took me a while to dredge up the fact that that's when I got sentenced and delivered to prison for the first time. But at the time, those are two dates I thought I would never forget because it was sort of traumatic to go to prison for the first time – and for such a minor offense as possession of a small amount of heroin.

Looking back at my life some 60+ years later I would have never dreamed that I have the life that I enjoy today. While it took me some 30 more years to get off of drugs and alcohol and out of the criminal justice system it somehow seems like it was all worth it. Of course a person can get a lot of education and build a business without having to be incarcerated or addicted to anything. But I was a person who always had a hardhead and like to do things my way. It was only until drugs and alcohol beat me down and put me on the streets that I finally surrendered.

I knew that if I didn't get sober and start living like other so-called normal people that I would end up either dead, in an institution, or back in prison. I chose the path of sobriety and recovery. And have never looked back. I had no expectations about what my life was gonna look like after I got clean and sober but things have turned out much better than I imagined.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Biting the Hand

TLC doesn't often have clients or volunteers stealing from us. Although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions.

I remember one time when I called the manager of our Las Vegas facility. It was on a Saturday morning and he hadn't reported any collections from the night before. So I called to ask him about it.

"Well," he said, "the reason I didn't call any collections in is because I have the collection bag sitting beside me in the bar where I'm having a beer. Plus I used some of the money to buy some crack and I'm about ready to go back and buy some more."

"Wait right there" I told him. "We're on our way." And after I hung up the phone I called my chief operating officer and told him we needed to make a quick flight to Las Vegas.. It was two more days before we found him. He didn't have any money left. But he did have our company pickup, which we took possession of.

Another time, a client stole one of our company vans and drove to California to visit Universal Studios. I think he also stole some of our money to to cover his expenses on the trip.

And the reason I bring this up is because we discovered, during an audit this week, that one of our volunteers had been stealing from us for about three years. Now not a lot of money was taken. But that isn't the point.

The point is that we run a recovery program. And one of the precepts of a recovery program is people learn to be honest and not steal or do other things that would cause them to want to relapse. When we first confronted this person about stealing from our business it was vigorously denied.  The person claimed that it must've been a "memory lapse," or that they "forgot" to make an entry or pay for the personal items that were on the receipt.

In each of these cases we dealt with the clients with a great deal of compassion. In a couple of the cases we discharged them.  Then let them back into the program later. In fact, today one of them has a position of great responsibility and handles a lot of money at times. He's turned out to be one of our most reliable volunteers. And we do this because we know that it takes addicts a while to get honest and to work a good program. And it might save their lives

Click here to email John