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, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving

For those of us who are in recovery, Thanksgiving day doesn't just happen once a year. We celebrate Thanksgiving each day of our recovery.

When I arise in the morning I awaken to a world of peace and tranquility. While at one time when I got out of bed my first thought was where was I going to get my next drink or drug? Where could I find something to steal to satisfy my drug habit? Which convenience store could I steal a bottle of wine from, so as to get enough courage to go steal something bigger? My life was always a dark place where my only mission was to satisfy my cravings for alcohol and drugs.

But today my mode of living is mostly one of gratitude. Yes, once in a while I'm in a bad place and start to get off track. However, I immediately catch myself and get back in focus. All I have to do is to remember where I came from and what I went through trying to be out of my mind 24 hours a day. And that snaps me back to the reality of the present moment.

Today I was able to spend a beautiful Thanksgiving in the company of family and friends. Some of them were my blood family, others were my recovery family. And I reflected that until I got clean and sober I had none of these people around me. They're good people who care about me and what happens to me. People I can count on.

In the recovery world, we spent a lot of time talking about gratitude. And that's because gratitude puts an invisible shield around us that protects us from the temptations of drugs and alcohol.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 20, 2017

Forgiving Manson

Deborah Tate, the sister of Manson family victim Sharon Tate, told People magazine yesterday that she said a prayer for Manson's soul when she heard that he'd died in a Bakersfield hospital. She'd previously said that she would pray for Manson and his followers upon their deaths.

Deborah told NBC4 that while she forgives the Manson Family, what they did will remain with her forever. And even though she's forgiven them, she's played an active role in objecting to the release of any of them in front of the California parole board. But forgiveness is one thing, and protecting the public from further harm is another. Which is why she objects to the parole of any of them because she thinks they're still dangerous.

“I’ve forgiven them, but that doesn't mean I’ve forgotten what they did,” she said. “I'll never forget.”

This woman is a good example of forgiveness and of praying for those who harm us. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, she's practicing one of the concepts taught in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous on page 552. And that is learning how praying for two weeks for someone we resent can help us get over that resentment.

In commenting on her forgiveness, I have to admit that even after being sober for over 26 years, I'm not sure I'm as big as she is in that regard. Though I would like to be.

The idea of spending much of our lives being angry at someone or hating someone – no matter what they did – is harmful to our health and sanity. That's why forgiveness makes sense.

It's not about them, it's about us - and our freedom.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Radical Changes

Sobriety can bring radical changes to our life.

I'm thinking about this today because yesterday a TLC employee, who's been sober for a few years, told me about her teenage daughter and how well she's doing. There was a look of pride on the mother's face. And a hint of tears in her eyes.

She told me her daughter was soon going to enter training to become a medical assistant.

While this might not seem like a big deal to many of us, only a few years ago the daughter was living with another family member because her mother and father were addicted to heroin. When they came to Arizona from back East they left the daughter with a relative and came to TLC to get clean and sober. They left her behind because they knew she was in a safe place and would be well cared for.

After they were here awhile, the daughter came for a visit. Later on, she returned to stay for good. She enrolled in high school and got a job in the fast food industry. She bought her own car and has been doing well. This is something that might have never happened, had her parents not decided to move to Arizona and change their lives.

Since coming to TLC this family's life has gotten continually better. The father - who also works for TLC - has resolved most of his legal issues. They live in a nice two bedroom apartment. And soon will be moving into a private home.

The blessings this family is experiencing is something anyone can accomplish. But to do what they've done we must work hard and stick to the program – even when things get tough.

That's what happened to this TLC family, and they did it one day at a time by putting in the hard gritty work.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Biggest Loser

"Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most" Abraham Lincoln

We have a contest going on right now between six or eight treatment staff members who are trying to lose weight. The contest name is plagiarized from the TV program, "The Biggest Loser." It seems like none of the contestants are using the same method to lose weight. One is working with a nutritionist. Another has bought a program off of TV. Others are working out their own diet plan.

First prize is $250 to the person who loses the largest percentage of their body weight. Second prize is $150. And third prize is $100. The contest ends December 31.

I'm not exactly sure who or what inspired the contest. All I know is that it wasn't me. And I'm not in the contest because if I weighed any less I'd be a stick figure.

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about why TLC staff members and clients gain weight. But I think that as people get sober they sometimes find a new addiction: eating. After all, food is definitely another form of self-gratification and if we eat mindlessly it's easy to fall into bad habits.

But I find it encouraging when I see staff members – or clients – begin to impose discipline upon themselves. Many are already starting to look amazingly better, and some have so much energy that they're even starting to work out. Some go to the gym. A few walk or do other forms of exercise. The changes in their appearance and energy levels are truly gratifying. It's good to see them care enough about themselves to take serious steps to improve their health.

The saying in the first line of this blog says it all. We must choose between what we want now and what we want most.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Let them Go

"Accept the fact that you will grow apart from people you’ve had significant relationships with. Understand when someone no longer positively affects your life. Let them go. Don’t hinder your growth." Unknown

I had a lengthy conversation today with a woman who's had longtime issues with her mother. She and her mother have been at each other for years because they just don't get along. The daughter thinks her mother doesn't give her enough of herself. The daughter blames her mother for pretty much anything that's negative in her personal life. Among these negatives is her lack of success in business, her failed marriage, and the poor relationship she's had with her father over the years.

The last time I talked to this woman I asked her "why do you even talk to your mother if it's so painful?" I went on to explain that there's not much point in trying to have a relationship with her mother if she always ends up frustrated and angry. Life's too short to walk around with negativity festering inside of us. At the end of our talk, she said that she was going to cease communicating with her mother because it's never worked out.

When I talked to her today she thanked me and said she hadn't spoken to her mother in about a month. And that she felt much better. However, she did spend a lot of time discussing her mother's character defects. As if trying to reassure herself that she'd made the right decision by no longer talking to her.

Actually, the reason I suggested that she no longer talk to her mother was so she could examine her own part in their poor communication. I know she loves her mother and that someday she'll figure out that she has a major role in their poor relationship. And that maybe she'll reach out to her in a more mature manner to try to heal their differences.

And the other part of the situation is that maybe these two will never get along. After all, how many of us would have chosen the relatives that we ended up with? In most families, it seems like there are always people who don't get along and probably never will. My rule is that if I can't get along with someone after I've been trying to improve our communication, then I'm willing to give them up.

And it's really that simple. I wasn't put here to suffer at the hands of anyone.  And especially those with whom I'm supposed to have a close relationship.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Being in the Moment

We often deal with clients who are unhappy with themselves. And they are often so unhappy that they end up in our treatment clinic or our sober living program because drugs and or alcohol have taken over their lives.

Many of them spend a lot of time ruminating over what happened. And, indeed, some of them have had experiences that are difficult to live with. Often they've been abused, neglected, or assaulted. Or, on the other end of the spectrum – completely enabled and allowed to do whatever they wanted because their parents wanted to be "friends" with them in place of teaching them good values.

Whatever the case, my approach is to suggest that they attempt to live in the moment. To be in this moment, because that's all we really have, is this small slice of time. Our excavations into our past wreckage usually yield us nothing but more suffering, more self-condemnation. And all of our anxious looking into the future, wondering what will be, is also pointless.

So does that mean that we never look back? Of course not. We can look back to celebrate the things we succeeded at. We can enjoy the memories of pleasant times with our families and friends. We can look back at the positive. But what's the purpose of examining the negative things over which we had no power?

Quite likely most of us have dark corners in our past. Things we're ashamed of. Or perhaps distant memories of abuses we suffered when we were too young to defend ourselves. We can reflect upon these memories all we want, but unless we're doing so in the company of a good therapist, it serves little purpose to do so.

Instead, we should assess our lives as they are in the present moment. Take an inventory of our assets and liabilities, with the idea of building our future upon what we have in the present moment. If we can do that we won't waste time on useless reflection.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Happiness?

At a twelve-step meeting today the topic was "how I maintain my happiness in sobriety."

As different people shared on the topic, it became apparent that most of them realize that sobriety has its ups and downs. That it's unrealistic to think that we're always going to be happy. That just because we're in recovery things aren't going to always flow along smoothly.

If we enter a life of recovery with the idea that we're going to live happily ever after, we'll surely be disappointed. But if we step onto the path of recovery without any expectations of heaven on earth, we have a better chance of staying sober.

What a successful recovery program does is toughen us up so we can face the realities of life. The realities of life are that there are bills to pay, that our loved ones get sick, that we probably won't win the lottery, and that sometimes staying sober day by day can be a bitch.

And yes, there are moments when we can be deliriously happy because we have escaped the misery and insecurity of depending upon substances for our happiness. If we view life as a roller coaster of ups and downs, of setbacks and successes, then we're not surprised when good or bad things occur in our lives.

When we first got rid of the poisons that we thought would bring us happiness we had a new sense of freedom. A sense of freedom that was so powerful that the drugs we left behind paled by comparison. But eventually we become used to this new feeling and we have to learn to deal with the challenges that come up in life. And sometimes those challenges aren't so much fun, yet those events are what gives our life a rich texture and meaning.

So maybe we need to redefine our happiness. Instead of it always being a feel-good thing, maybe it's the realization that we can successfully navigate whatever life puts in front of us – and do it without putting form substances into our bodies.

Click here to email John