Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th 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.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Often addicts come to my office, to tell me of their unhappiness, wearing pain and discontent on their face. And after hearing them for a while to make sure I understand, I usually offer the same solution.

And the answer is that unhappiness is a choice they make. That their unhappiness stems from their thinking.

Perhaps they’re not pleased with their circumstances and want them to change. Or they’re sorting through the baggage of their past  - things they can do nothing about.

The unhappy among us are rarely savoring this wonderful moment our creator has given us. Instead, the thinking is somewhere else.  We’re peering into the future or the past. Thinking that if this or that were different life would be so perfect.

But the only perfection in life comes when we accept the inevitability of change.  We embrace the present, whether it's bitter or sweet and savor the good and the bad - which is the essence of life.

If we can do that then we’ll be happy and free.

Friday, June 15, 2018

On Vacay

"The harder you work the luckier you get" Gary Player

One of the blessings of being in recovery for over 27 years is that I get to take frequent vacations. And, of course, the reason for that is that I work - sometimes six days a week - and often deal with people who are emotionally difficult, which requires that I decompress as frequently as possible.

So tomorrow I meet family and friends in Imperial Beach in Southern California, right between San Diego and Tijuana. And this year there'll be 24 of us in all because my business partner and some of his children and grandchildren are joining us. It's a tradition that's been going on since 1995 when my now 18-year-old grandchildren were still toddlers and we only required one unit for all of us. This year, we have seven units, which makes for quite a crowd when we all get together to eat.

The only reason I enjoy the lifestyle I do today is because I got sober over 27 years ago. Often, clients and coworkers will tell me how lucky I am. And they're right. I am lucky. But there's also more to it than luck.

My luck comes from two things: my sobriety and the fact that I get up and go to work nearly every day of the month. I do take Sundays off, but it's rare that our brains are really ever off duty when we're in the recovery business. So it's kind of like we're working all the time.

Vacations remind me that the most important thing is the people around us, those we love. And when we get a chance to vacation together we refresh our relationships and catch up on what everyone's been doing since the last time we saw them.

I'm looking forward to the next week, with gratitude.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Back to Jail

When someone called last week to tell me that my grandson was back in jail, my response was "Great, that's exactly where he belongs."

That may sound hardhearted, but those of us in the family who care about him agree it's the best place he can be.

And that's because over the past several years he's ended up in the emergency room on several occasions because of heroin overdoses. And we periodically hear stories from the part of the East Valley where he runs around about different things he's involved with, a few of them involving weapons. We recently heard about him kicking in a door and holding a pistol to someone's head. Someone else tells us about a burglary. A robbery. A car theft. We also hear about him being placed on probation. About having warrants for failure to appear and wearing an ankle bracelet. The stories go on and on about him being broke, sleeping in his car, being homeless, being kicked out of family members' houses. It's a constant litany of near disasters involving him and his drug addictions.

Now I don't know how many of the stories are true and how many are false. But I do know this: when a lot of stories are circulating about anyone I know – while all of them might not be true – odds are that some of them are true. After all, none of us is so important that people are always making up negative stories about us.

But for me, the idea that he's in jail is a relief. Not that people don't get drugs in jail once in a while, but the odds are much better that he won't die of an overdose.

In my own case and in the case of many of those I know, a lot of bad things had to happen to us before we decided to change. And among those things that happened were time in jail. Loss of jobs. Homelessness. Rejection by our families. Visits to the emergency room. Health problems and so on.

My hope is that my grandson will spend a term in either jail or prison, enough time to make him realize that he needs to get help for his addiction. That might be his only chance at life.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


"Leave footprints of kindness wherever you go."

I've never gotten in trouble for being kind to others. But I've often had to clean up my mess when I was rude or impolite.

I believe that kindness is a way to travel through life. A way that pays dividends on many different levels. When we're kind to others, it seems like the universe opens up and rewards us.  We feel better about ourselves and have less stress.

I remember that I once had an aunt who wasn't very well liked. She lived in northern California, in a small home that she and her husband had built. And she remained there after he died of cancer, living by herself even though she was legally blind. She had other relatives living in town, including nieces and a sister. But because of their attitude toward her, none visited or offered to take her shopping or help her in any way. She was pretty much on her own.

However, after my mother passed away I developed a relationship with my aunt because she and my mother had a close relationship. I guess at first I connected with her because it was some sort of link to my late mother. When I would call or visit her we would spend a lot of time talking about their childhood together and experiences they had shared as adults. Eventually, when she got sick she came to live with me in Arizona and remained with me until she passed on.

Before she passed away she told me that because of my kindness she wasn't leaving anything to anyone except me. I didn't pay much attention to her because as far as I knew she didn't have much of anything other than the small house in California, which didn't appear to be worth much. But I was surprised at how much she did leave me. And I later reflected that sometimes a little kindness sometimes brings surprising results.

If we walk through life with the idea of being kind to everyone it can open a lot of doors for us, just as being unkind can make people not want to be around us.

I've been kind to some people and had them take advantage of my kindness. I've loaned them money. Or given them business opportunities. Only to have them burn me.

But for some reason, I don't let this kind of stuff bothered me because as a general rule the world will bless us when were kind to others – just as it will punish us when we are evil to others. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Being a Victim

"Abandon the idea that you will forever be the victim of the things that have happened to you. Choose to be a victor."  Seth Adam Smith

Many addicts I know view themselves as victims. And as long as they look at themselves that way they'll never have a chance to get sober or have a normal life. And this is because everything in their world revolves around "what happened" to them.  And how to find enough drugs to kill the pain.

Perhaps they were abused as a child, maybe raped, beaten, or emotionally abused.

And this is not to excuse or minimize what happened to them. This is written with the idea of helping them take a different look at themselves. To help them realize that they will be stuck on an eternal treadmill of angst, self-pity, substance abuse, gambling or sex addiction. Anything they can do to dull the pain of the self-constructed victim cage that they find themselves so comfortable in.

The reality is that we live in a world where terrible things often happen to people when they're young. And what happened to them is even more inexcusable because they were so young and defenseless. But in today's world there are many resources for people who want to grow beyond their childhood trauma. The thing is they need the courage to reach out and grasp the resources available.

My experience has been that many people use the bad things that happened to them as an excuse to wallow in their addiction and self-pity because it's the most comfortable place they know. Most people would rather live with a known misery than take a chance on an unknown joy.

And I know this because I was one of those people. I came from an abusive childhood where most everyone was drunk and angry – at least those who had any power over me. And I used that for many years as an excuse to destroy my life with drugs and alcohol. After years in jails and institutions I decided there had to be a better way and at 51 I decided to change my life.

I reached out and found the resources to get sober and the counseling that would help restore my sanity. My story illustrates that it's never too late to rewrite your life story – you just have to have the courage to do it.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Punishing Ourselves

"You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger." Buddha

Several times during this past year I've been dealing with people who are consumed by anger. I had to get a restraining order against one of them because he showed up at our offices late one afternoon about a year ago with a few of his ex-con buddies, threatening to kill me and my business partner.

Fortunately, we'd both left a few hours earlier. And the next day we got a restraining order to prohibit him from coming near our properties or employees. We also had an enhanced security system installed. And a few weeks later, he was returned to prison for violating his parole. However, he was released again a few weeks ago and sure enough, he showed back up at our offices wanting to speak to me. And once more, I was not at the office – this time because I was ill and forced to spend the day at home. Which was fortunate for me.

This man's been angry at me for over 20 years because he thought I'd taken advantage of one of his relatives in a business transaction. However, the relative and I settled our differences 20 years ago when I bought her half of the business we jointly owned. She and I are on good terms today and have phone conversations every so often. But somehow, his seething resentment and anger – coupled with his borderline schizophrenia – have stayed with him all this time, disrupting his serenity and peace of mind.

And I have another person with that same degree of anger in my life. And she, like this man, is borderline mentally ill. She and I were involved in a long-term contract that went bad and have been in court several times over the issue. She's so consumed by anger and rage that she's spent thousands of dollars trying to punish me and obtain what she considers to be "justice." I've made several generous offers to her – going far beyond what Arizona law requires – but to no avail. Even my attorneys have told me that I'm going beyond what is required and that the matter will have to be settled by a judge. And of course, the judge will follow the guidelines of the Arizona Revised Statutes – which will definitely resolve the matter in a way that'll be fair to both parties.

I feel compassion for these people. Because they're wasting their precious time on this planet being angry. They both feel and act like victims. They both express a sense of entitlement that's totally unjustified. Part of their challenges, in my opinion, is that their mental problems have made them delusional to the point that they don't have the ability to act in their own best interests.

And if they do have the ability, then this is another example of people being punished, not for their anger, but by their anger.

Click here to email John

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Being 79

There was a point in my life, back when I was addicted to heroin and alcohol in my early 30s that I never expected to reach age 40. I was living the life of a predator, always searching for drugs and alcohol. My only goal was to feel good on some kind of chemical and stay half out of my mind. Gloom and doom were my best friends. And probably the only thing that saved me was I kept ending up in prison, jail or a mental hospital.

Yet, despite that history, I woke up this morning and realized that today was my 79th birthday. And my next realization was that the only reason that I was able to turn 79 today is that I got sober when I was 51 years old, back in 1991.

And I bring all this out for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is that I'm sharing my gratitude for being able to stay on the planet this long in spite of living as an alcoholic and addict for so many years. And the other reason is to encourage others who might think that they're too old or too sick to get into recovery. Because we're never too far along in life to change course. All we need is willingness.

What happened to me, when I was 51, was I realized that I had a choice: either I remained in misery with my addiction or I could decide to make something of my life. And of course, you all know the decision I made, one of the best I've made in my life.

It's amazing what happens in the universe when we decide to get our lives on the right track. While I was happy and full of joy during my first year of recovery, it seemed that doors immediately began opening for me. Opportunities abounded. I was able to start rebuilding my life within the first year. And while I faced many challenges I've experienced a lot of success in my over 27 years of recovery. To be honest, much more than I ever dreamed of having.

Have I had downtimes? And challenges? Of course. In fact, I'm going through some of them right now. But today I know that the challenges we face are just part of life on planet earth and that if we stay the course of recovery we can deal with anything.

Click here to email John