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, July 10, 2020


I found myself in a supermarket line, and doing my part by staying six feet away from the closest person. But I couldn't help but eavesdrop on a conversation between a couple who was standing close together, probably married, in the line ahead of me.

"I'll really be happy when things get back to normal," the man said to the woman. And while I believe his sentiments were genuine, I felt like telling him that there probably would never be anything like the "normal" that he was referring to – a world in which there was no such thing as the coronavirus.

Because the reality is that this so-called pandemic is probably going to change the world forever. At least in terms of how we deal with hygiene, travel, entertainment, education, sports, and everything else you can name. And while there have been other deadly pandemics in the world, reality is probably that none of us have ever dealt with anything like this. Our world has been turned upside down. We can no longer safely go to social events where people are close, like nightclubs and bars, AA meetings, sporting events, and so on.

And I think many people are reaching the end of their patience. I've read in the news that people have assaulted one another because one would be wearing a mask and the other wouldn't. And while I was one of those who said they would never wear a mask, I now find myself with a whole case of them in my bedroom and make sure that I wear one whenever I'm out in public or around others. While I still don't feel like wearing it, reality is that how I feel about it doesn't make a lot of difference. Science is science. And from what I understand from science is that the coronavirus is transmitted when it becomes airborne, as it is when someone coughs close to another person.

So I often go on and on about how the only thing we can expect in life is change. And the change may be positive, and this virus will disappear. Or the change may be negative. And the virus will become worse. Whatever occurs, we are going to stay more emotionally healthy if we accept the idea that all we can expect in life is that things will be different day-by-day. Maybe not radically. But still, things will be different and life will change for all of us.

And the only real way to maintain happiness is to expect change and then we won't be spiraling into depression when things are all of a sudden different.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Being our Best

I was following the news the other day and I heard a disturbing story. It seems that in various areas of California Asians were being blamed for the coronavirus. Some were assaulted. Others were yelled at, spit on, and told they should go back to where they came from. Most of those initiating the attacks were minorities themselves, people who had come from other countries. The report finished with the information that the FBI is looking into these assaults as civil rights violations.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised to hear these stories, even though I know it's human nature to blame others for our difficulties.

My experience in Arizona is entirely different. It seems like there's more a sense of community, the idea that we're all in the same boat and that we should do what we can to help one another. When I'm out in public or in a store I noticed that people are more courteous and polite. The same seems to extend to the way people drive, which at one point was aggressively.

I would like to think that this common enemy we're facing will bring the best out of us. I know several people who have been quarantining and can't go out and shop on their own. Yet, they have friends and others looking out for them, making sure they are okay. Some of them have been quarantining for three and four weeks because they have health issues and don't want to be exposed.

I think that when people play the blame game and put responsibility for this virus on other people – while they may be right – it doesn't do them any good on a personal level.. It does us much better in terms of healing and keeping our stress down to hope that everyone comes through this as best they can. To be angry, to hate, and to attack others does nothing but raise our stress level and makes us more vulnerable to whatever might be out there that could endanger us.

Kindness to others is good therapy.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Ambition Matters

Some friends asked me to see fireworks this Fourth of July. But I declined. And that's because I grew up during my teen years about 5 miles from Disneyland when it was first constructed.  Every night I got to see a lot of fireworks.  Now, admittedly, I was far enough away to not hear all the noise they made. But you must admit that seeing fireworks for three or four years can somewhat numb you to the effects of pyrotechnics.

But this year – while not thinking about fireworks – I've spent time thinking about the state of our country and how we seem to be descending into political and health chaos to a degree I've never seen. For the past nearly 4 years I've watched the liberal press attack a president who has done nothing but fulfill his promises and bring prosperity to our citizenry. But for some reason, obviously liberal ones, the press spends about 75 to 80% of their time demonizing the current occupant of the White House. I believe that he could give each citizen $1 million cash and the liberal left would still hate him. This in spite of the fact that he has brought more prosperity to this country than we have seen in 50 some years. Other than not yet completing the wall, he has pretty much fulfilled his campaign promises.

I love the country I was born and raised in. And I do what I can today to be a good citizen and help improve it. And if I didn't like this country I wouldn't be here. I would be living either in Canada or Mexico – where citizens seem to have love and passion about their country. I invite those who are  unhappy here to find someplace else to live.

Because I believe that anyone who wants to succeed in this country can – unless they have a mental or physical disability that prevents them from succeeding. I know that prejudice exists in our country but I also have seen many many people overcome the barriers of color and become wildly successful because they had determination and drive. I know, that no matter what color you are, you can succeed if you have drive and determination. All you have to do is drag yourself out of bed and get off your lazy ass and go to work.

I know this because the first 50 years of my life I was a drug addict who lived in and out of jails and prisons for some 16 years, was homeless for a time, and still succeeded to where today I have whatever I want pretty much when I want it. And if you don't believe me, I'll be happy to take your phone call or make an appointment and explain how I did it.

But if pursuing a dream is too much work for you, then you're welcome to continue living in your misery.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


The Covid 19 pandemic seems to have raised controversies for which there are no perfect answers.

Just last night the governor of Arizona closed down certain types of businesses.  Among them were bars, gymnasiums and certain other gathering places where people are bunched together in large groups – like the Salt River.  In fact I heard that he withdrew the liquor licenses of seven drinking establishments in Scottsdale because customers weren't wearing masks or adhering to the social distancing requirement.

Now everyone has their own opinion and I'm no different.  But a lot of the people who party in bars and group floats down the salt River are mostly under 40 years old and probably even less.  And one of the things I've heard among my grandchildren (one of whom has the coronavirus) is that the coronavirus is something that won't affect them.  And that's probably because the Centers for Disease Control statistics show that most victims of Covid 19 are people over 65.  So, perhaps, younger people think the odds that they'll succumb to the virus is next to zero.  But for three days during the last week over 30 people a day in our state were contracting the coronavirus, though I admittedly don't know what age group they were in.

In my opinion the reason that the United States has the highest incidence of Covid 19 in the world is that we are spoiled. I believe that many of us have the idea that the rules apply to others, not us.  When I speak to my grandchildren about health issues like eating right or exercising they seem to think that rules for healthy living don't apply to them.  Oh, they may agree with me.  But for me agreeing is one thing, and practicing healthy and safe living is another.

A lot of people don't wear masks, practice safe sex, or wear seatbelts, because they think that bad things won't happen to them – just other people.  But that isn't the way the world works.  None of us thought six months ago that the world would be enveloped in a plague that the brightest minds in science haven't been able to resolve.

I believe that many of our young people have a sense of entitlement because they were raised by people who didn't teach them responsibility for anything – including their health.  It seems like a large number of parents today want to be friends and buddies with their children.  They don't realize that their primary job is to teach their children how to navigate a world that is sometimes very dangerous – as it is right now.  I was very tough on the one daughter that I raised pretty much by myself.  And she is one of the most self-sufficient and independent people I know.  She served in the military – including Afghanistan – for three years, graduated from the Texas Culinary Academy, then obtained her bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix.  And she did it all on her own and I believe it was because I didn't baby her as a child because I wasn't trying to be her friend – I was doing my best to be a responsible father.  And I'm proud of the way she turned out.

I'm kind of going off in the weeds with this blog.  But the bottom line is that those with a sense of entitlement, that don't think the rules apply to them, are among those who may contract the virus because they won't practice social distancing distancing or or wear masks.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Other than having to wear a mask when I'm in a public place the coronavirus hasn't affected me personally – other than maybe being a little inconvenient once in a while.  That is, until yesterday.

Every year for the past 20 some years my family and I leased some nice condominiums in Imperial beach, California.  The place is gorgeous, with beautiful ocean views from every condo, and direct access to the beach.  Across the street is Aroma Thai, which has served the same wonderful quality Asian food since we've been going there.  And up and down the street side of the condo there are more restaurants, ranging from fine dining to fast food.  All in all, most of our vacations there have been like being in paradise.

At the time I made the reservations, almost a year ago, no one had heard anything about pandemics or anything else that would keep us from going.  It had turned into a tradition that I love.

But this year things changed.  Because the virus has been raging through my home state of Arizona and into Southern California a lot of family members became hesitant about going on a vacation that wouldn't be too much different from from being at home.  Guests are allowed to go to the beach, but not into the water.  Nor are they able to sit or lie on the beach.  Their only access to the beaches is to exercise or walk.  The swimming poll and barbecue area of the condominiums is off-limits, as is the Jacuzzi.

Like here, everyone is required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.  After much thought of about the potential of losing the prepaid rent on seven condominiums, I decided to cancel the trip.  And most of the family was relieved about the decision.

A few of them were angry at me about canceling the trip.  But because I already have a granddaughter who has the coronavirus and a few other family members that have been exposed to her, I though the safest thing to do is cancel the trip.

At some point I'm sure that this thing will subside, either this year or next.

Other than the dangers of contracting the coronavirus 500 miles from home I think the biggest disappointment was the fact that we couldn't go into the ocean or lie on the beach, which is at least half of the reason that we go there.  But looking at things on the positive side, there will be other years and other vacations and this disappointment will just be a distant memory.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Learning Step-by Step

In my 81 years on the planet I've never experienced a year like this one.

A worldwide pandemic that so far has killed thousands.  Political infighting that rivals anything I've ever seen in many elections.  Violence in the streets that politicians don't have the courage to deal with. People suffering because they've been out of work, unable to travel, and even unable to socialize with close friends and family without danger of contracting a life-threatening disease.

Yet for some reason I believe that we're all going to come through this – though it may take another year or so – as better people.  As people who faced tough challenges and came out on the other side as stronger and more grateful people.

But it wasn't always that way for me.  At one time, before I got sober almost 30 years ago, this would've been the perfect excuse for me to find enough alcohol and drugs to get out of my mind.  And there's only one thing that I attribute my current state of mind to: and that's because I was able to get sober in 1991.  Once that happened, I was able to face all kinds of challenges, challenges that at one time would have sent me back to the liquor store or the dope house.

One of the things we learn in the 12-step programs is that life is not always a bed of roses.  We know that when times are tough we have a fellowship that we can turn to that will guide us in the right direction.  If we're working the right kind of program we have a sponsor to whom we can relate our anxieties and fears.  We learn that life is kind of like the stock market – sometimes things are up and sometimes they're down. 

And we learn that the important thing is how we react to the ups and downs.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Happy Seven Years, Julie

I was reminded yesterday about how TLC is a vehicle for change for those who want to get sober.

It was when I received a message from a woman named Julie who was thanking me for the opportunity she had during her time at TLC' s Robson house – and her seven years of sobriety. She has stayed in touch over the years and comments periodically about things she reads here and keeps me updated on her recovery.

I always write back to congratulate her because hearing how people are succeeding is one of the best rewards for the work we do at TLC.

The reality is that those who come to TLC, and succeed, must give themselves credit for putting in the hard work that it sometimes takes to remain sober.

It's true that a lot of people wouldn't stay sober if it weren't for the fact that we have 850 beds available for those who are serious about changing their lives. I think one of the reasons that we have a good success rate is that a lot of people are able to get into recovery at TLC without having money. The only reason that many people don't get sober in our society is because it requires insurance or some kind of funds just to get in the door.

But the peer counseling and therapeutic services that we offer are basically the ones that any other treatment program offers. The only difference with us is that 95% of those we take in have zero resources. No insurance. No job. No money. In fact some of them don't have anything but the clothes on their back. And about 40% of them come to us from the court system or the prisons that refer them to us as the place they should go.

While many of the new people who come to us are only looking for a place to to lay their heads and get a few meals, others are on a serious quest to stop the pain of their addictions. And those are the ones who, like this woman, put in the hard work and effort to change their lives.

And those are the ones who reap the rewards.

Click here to email John