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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blame Game

"When you blame others, you give up your power to change"  Dr. Robert Anthony

A common characteristic of addicts and alcoholics – and even some so-called normal people – is to blame others. And when we blame others, we render ourselves powerless.

So many times I've heard alcoholics or addicts say "If my mom and dad didn't use I wouldn't have started using." And while it may be true that the parents introduced the child to addiction it doesn't do a lot for that person's recovery today. When we make someone the scapegoat for our behavior it is pretty easy to continue that behavior.

And this kind of blaming goes beyond just blaming parents. Some of us blame the system, claiming that is rigged against us. Or because we're minorities, we blame a racist society for our addiction and our lack of success. Others blame their lack of financial success on their poor education.

But this blame game only goes so far. All of us know someone who was raised in the direst circumstances by the most horrible people. Yet they overcame their upbringing and became successful in spite of all the obstacles.

Some members of my own extended family were raised in dire circumstances. One of them elected to do something with her life got an education, becoming a successful business person. A couple of others are pretty much losers and addicts who blame their parents for their present ugly circumstances and are stuck in a cycle of blaming others for their lack of success.

For many years I blamed my failures on my upbringing. My father was a raging and brutal alcoholic, a nightmare to be around. So it was easy for me to blame him for my drinking and drug use. And for my subsequent years of prison and mental institutions. Ultimately though, I realize that I would never change unless I took responsibility for my own behavior.

And that was the beginning of my road to recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Another Attaboy

I received this email from a graduate yesterday, a message that I thought was worth sharing. The sender's name is left out to protect his anonymity.

"Good morning Mr. Schwary,

I just left TLC's Dana House and returned home to Colorado.

I want to THANK you. Your program saved my life. Ever thought about trying the program out in Colorado??? There is a HUMONGOUS need for it here in my hometown.

Thanks to you, I now have the tools to start my life completely over. I am reconnecting with my family. Old friends and old behaviors do not even factor into my life. THANK YOU!!"

These are the messages that we like to receive because it shows that our mission of helping substance abusers rebuild their lives does work.

And the reality is that our program works for anyone who puts in the effort.

This man followed TLC guidelines just as they were written. He didn't use alcohol or drugs. He went to meetings. He got a sponsor. He worked and paid his service fees. He participated in program activities.

And if he keeps applying what he learned while with us he'll continue to live a life free of the tyranny of addiction.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


“Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

In the saying above, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh summarizes one of the major fallacies of our times.

And that is the idea that if things were somehow different our lives would be so much better.

If I had a better job I would be happy. Or if my wife were treating me differently I would be happier. Maybe a nicer car would bring me joy. Or a bigger house.

The reality is that externals very seldom bring us happiness. Yes, maybe we can find a moment of joy if we can change the way we feel. An example of that would be how we feel when we drink alcohol or take a large jolt of our favorite drug. Yes, for a while we feel wonderful, maybe even ecstatic or joyful. And then eventually we come down to earth and many times work very hard to get back to that same state of consciousness. Some of us stay on this treadmill for years: getting high and coming back down, trying to catch one more moment of what we consider to be happiness. And many of us do this for years, at the cost of everything we own and treasure, including our freedom.

We all know someone who is into acquiring new things. Whether it be cars or motorcycles. The latest fashions or jewelry. Yet most of them find, that within a few weeks, the newness has worn off. And the search is on for the next great wonderful thing that will fill that hole. Seeking happiness outside of ourselves is an endless task that seldom or never brings us what we're looking for.

Because what we're really seeking is peace and contentment within.

And we only find that when we have gratitude for just being alive in this great and wonderful universe.

Click here to email John

Monday, April 9, 2018

Being Alone

In a group yesterday I heard someone in recovery say that they were "a loner." They didn't like to depend on others. Their goal was to be by themselves.

But are we ever truly alone? Are we ever in a situation where we don't depend upon others? I don't think so.

After all, we depend upon others for our very existence. Do we hunt for our food today? Are we farmers who grow our own crops? What about our clothing? Do we make it ourselves? I don't think so.

Nearly everything comes to us through the efforts of others. Someone grows our food. Another person delivers it to a supermarket. Someone else builds our cars. The whole world around us is created by a widespread network of others who support our very existence. So the idea of us being self-sufficient stops pretty much at the edge of the sidewalk or somewhere near the city limits.

On an even more important level, our recovery from alcohol and drugs has everything to do with those around us who are also in recovery. I mean, if we could have gotten sober by ourselves, many of us would've done it. Instead, we were led into recovery by those who got clean and sober ahead of us. They supported us when we were ready to relapse. They took us to meetings. They helped us through our steps. They took the time to listen when we wondered if it was all worthwhile. There's nothing like the wisdom of those who have gone ahead of us to help us stay clean and sober.

So I don't believe that the idea of us being a loner – especially those of us in recovery – reflects our best thinking. To live a full life we need to embrace the rest of the human race, not because we necessarily like them, but because we need them.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 6, 2018

Making a Difference

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― Dalai Lama

Regardless of how we act, we all can make a difference in the world. If we act negatively, then we have a negative effect on those around us. And if we act positively, we help make the world a better place.

We have over 100 people at TLC who perform various jobs. And in my mind, the jobs they do are very important. And that's because what they do ultimately helps other addicts and alcoholics get clean and sober.

But many times, when they're feeling down, they forget that what they're doing to help others in recovery makes a big difference in the world.

Some of our people manage houses. Some of them find jobs for the clients. Some answer telephones. Others serve as security guards. Others collect service fees and put the money in the bank. Others collect enough food to serve 2500+ meals a day, while still others cook and serve the same food. Some repair roofs, laundry machines, leaky pipes. You name it, if it breaks or needs maintenance, someone on our staff is able to fix it.

At its best, TLC runs like a well-oiled machine, all parts functioning smoothly. At other times, when the planets are not in alignment, it doesn't function very well at all and everything kinda grinds to a halt for a few hours until we get everything back on track.

But sometimes our clients don't look at what they do as being very important. And I have to point out to them that when we help someone rebuild their lives that's extremely important.

When a father or mother graduates from our program and returns home to lead a sober life with their family that makes a big difference. All of a sudden mom and dad are present for their children. They're no longer going to jail, selling drugs, stealing, and doing all the other terrible things that addicts do to maintain their addiction. Instead, the children have a parent who drops them off at school, a parent who attends their ballgames and school events, a parent who takes them on vacation.

And a parent who behaves this way stands a chance of raising sober children who will never step foot in a jail or a halfway house. and that's the kind of difference we can make in the world.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Staying Sober

One day when a client was painting a bedroom wall on a hot summer morning, he asked: "What does this have to do with recovery?"

When I asked what he meant, he said, "Me painting this wall. I'm not sure what this has to do with me staying clean and sober."

"Well, are you drinking or using drugs?" I asked him.

"No," he replied.

"Well then," I told him, "that's the point."

I think that sometimes our clients believe that sobriety is all about going to meetings and maybe being in counseling.

And while that's a crucial part of staying sober, there's more to it than that. Sometimes being in recovery is hard work. All of a sudden we're like the rest of the world: getting up in the morning after going to bed sober. Doing a job that we don't necessarily like. Treating other people with respect. Paying our child support and other bills, like rent and groceries. We begin to understand that the real heroes in the world of those who work hard, support their families, pay their bills, and don't cover up their problems with drugs or alcohol.

Another reward for doing the boring work that at times comes with recovery – especially for those who work at TLC – is that we're performing a service to the recovering addict who's coming in behind us. Whether we're a TLC employee, or whether we're simply doing community service, giving to others helps pave the way for those who have never experienced recovery.

TLC was built by one addict helping another. And while much of the time we're not face-to-face with the addicts we're helping, when we're preparing a place for them to live and get sober, we're doing the ultimate in service work.

Most of those who succeed at TLC are those who don't question why they're asked to do certain things. Instead, they have blind faith and just do what they're asked because the information is coming from someone who's been sober much longer than they have.

A life of recovery many times lacks the excitement and drama of the drug world. But there's a deep satisfaction that comes when we rejoin the human race and start giving back to the world.

Click here to email John

Saturday, March 31, 2018


In the nine years I've been writing this blog I've struck up long-distance friendships with many readers. These friendships normally start when I write about a topic that parallels something that's going on in their lives. When that happens they write to tell me about it.

They thank me for my perspective and input. After that, I hear from them every once in a while. In almost all the cases it's about a loved one who's addicted to something and going to jail, or living on the streets. And when the communication first starts they're quite stressed and frustrated. As time goes on, though, those who continue writing seem to change perspective.

Most come to realize that they're the ones suffering, while their addicted loved one is somewhere in an alcohol or drug induced haze doing whatever the hell they want. The addict doesn't give a crap about anyone but themselves, especially when it gets in the way of their addiction. While they may have some remnants of love for their family, we all know that their drug of choice is number one on the list of the things they love. Family members rank somewhere down around nine or 10 on the list.

My readers who are doing the best are those who have been able to accept that they have no power over the addict. They realize and understand that until the addict gets enough pain and suffering there'll be no change. Most of them withdraw their support – all of it – no matter how hard it is. They've come to understand that when they help an addict with money, rent, cigarettes, transportation or any other type of support that it's the same as buying them their drug of choice.

And this is a painful thing for the parents of an addict. To think that their child might be sleeping outdoors. Or hungry, without clean clothes or having a place to shower. This is really tough on the enablers among them. But I always suggest that they don't help because all they're doing is supporting an addiction. And while they understand it on an intellectual level it's tough to accept on a visceral level.

The only help we should give an addicted family member is a ride to the hospital or detoxification unit. And they won't ask for that ride until things become too painful for them.

Click here to email John