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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Finding Gratitude

I was reminded the other day about how gratitude can make our internal landscape much more beautiful.

It occurred after a meeting where one of the participants droned on about the challenges he was facing. And the challenges were pretty minor, in my opinion. The person was complaining about his employer not paying him enough money. About the job itself. About his girlfriend, and the fact that his car was broken. And there were other issues that he also had mixed into this stew of complaints. When he quit talking, a sigh of relief passed through the room.

Later, after the meeting, a few of us – reacting to this young man's complaints – were talking about gratitude. That it's easy to be grateful for what we have when we look around at the world today.

A horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas that rained death on people having fun on a summer evening. A raging fire that blackened one of the more beautiful areas of northern California, leaving death and destruction behind. A huge truck bomb in Somalia that ripped a city apart, leaving an unknown death toll. Hurricanes and floods slamming the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction.

When we go beyond our own petty complaints and challenges and look at the world around us we can find many reasons to be grateful. There are people living in the midst of suffering due to no fault of their own. And the uplifting thing is that survivors of those tragedies are always expressing gratitude that they survived. That they still have their lives.

If we have the sensitivity and compassion to look at what our friends and neighbors suffer through, we can start viewing the world through a different pair of glasses.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Escaping the Past

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” ~Pastor Rick Warren

It's easy to understand why many of our clients became addicts or alcoholics.

Over the past 27 years, I've heard chilling stories of every kind of imaginable abuse. Many of them were raised by parents who were drug addicts themselves. Because of their parent's addiction, they often were left without food and the other necessities of life. Often they were beaten or sexually and emotionally abused. And the biggest thing they didn't get was any kind of love or nurturing. Some of them bear scars that might prevent them from ever getting over their addictions.

Yet there are some who have decided to become bigger than their past. Somehow they reach down inside of themselves and find the courage to change. They might be so angry at their upbringing that they're determined to show the world and their families that there's a better way to live.

Those are the clients who come to us because they've had enough pain and want to change. These are the kind of clients we can work with and help to achieve success.

It's easy to pick out those who are ready to change. They're the ones who attend 12-step meetings every day. They find sponsors right away. They keep their living area clean. They find jobs and begin to pay their service fees. They don't hang out with the losers; they gravitate toward the winners.

No longer willing to live in the past; they have forged new lives for themselves.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Improving Self-Esteem

Our addicted clients often judge themselves very harshly. And why wouldn't they?

Most of those who come to us have lost everything. They lost their jobs. They lost their husband or wife. In some cases, the custody of their children. Some have lost their freedom for a period of time and came to us on parole or probation. Others have used drugs for so long that it has impacted their health or completely ruined it.

And because they have done so poorly with their life they almost always have low or zero self-esteem. In other words, they feel terrible about what they've done with their lives. And it's understandable. If someone else had done to them what they've done to themselves they'd want to harm or kill them.

So how do we help them regain their self-esteem? How do we help them dig out of the emotional hole they find themselves in?

One thing I do is ask them to move into the moment and to quit dwelling on their messed up past. I tell them to quit mucking around into what happened before or how they got themselves here.

Once they're in the here and now, in the moment, I ask them to focus on what they're doing today. Did they go to work? Did they use any drugs or alcohol? Did they go to their meetings? Did they treat others well? Did they exercise? Did they show themselves love and self-care by eating the right foods and getting plenty of rest? Because doing positive things to enhance our life, even little ones like I mentioned here can do a lot to change our view of ourselves.

Taking basic steps, even small ones will help us improve our view of ourselves. And when we feel better about ourselves life seems much more worthwhile.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Living with Anger

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."  Buddha

It seemed like I spent a lot of time last week dealing with angry people. Most were clients. But some were longtime acquaintances.

And at times it's hard to discuss anger with those who carry it around in the forefront of their minds. They sometimes are so adamant about being right, and the other person being wrong, that they're deaf to any kind of input.

But still, I feel obligated to try. And I feel obligated because I was raised in a family of angry people. And was taught during my early years that being angry was an okay way to live.  Only when I was older did I learn that forgiving and moving on was the path to peace and serenity. And a much more pleasant way to live.

One client I talked to was angry about how his parents treated him. His focus wasn't on his recovery program, but on how he perceived that they had done him wrong. When I pointed out that he was probably really upset because they weren't letting him have his way, it seemed to fuel his anger. So much so, that he cut our conversation short with an excuse that he had an appointment elsewhere.

I talked to another person about the value of just letting things go. It didn't make any difference whether she was right or wrong, anger was taking a toll. It consumed her thinking. It interfered with her sleep. She was chain-smoking. Her blood pressure went up. And her friends didn't want much to do with her because all she talked about was how she'd been done wrong. People find it boring after a while, having to listen to the same old story of being a victim.

While our anger may sometimes be justified, that's no reason to let it destroy us. Only when we can live in peace and calm can we enjoy the present moment - where we taste the true flavor of life.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Stealing our Clients

In the 26 years since I founded TLC, I've spent little time thinking about the competition. In fact, I have very little to say about others or how they run their programs.

But yesterday, I received quite a surprise when I started checking out our Google map information. Just to make sure it was accurate. And as I looked over the maps, I discovered that I didn't recognize some of the phone numbers that were displayed. So I called a couple of the numbers.

And guess what? The person who answered the phone had nothing to do with TLC or any of its houses. The person who picked up the phone answered "Better Addiction Care, how may I help you?"

Then she started asking me about my addiction problem. Could she help me find a treatment program somewhere? Did I have insurance? And what company was providing my coverage? What part of the United States would I like to go to for treatment? The probing questions kept coming until I asked if I could speak to her supervisor. And that's when she got off the phone.

After checking a number on a different map, another staff member and I began investigating Better Addiction Care. We found that it's a client brokerage and referral service out of Florida. Once we learned the name of its CEO, Shane SantaCroce, we gave him a call and asked how our phone numbers had been changed to direct calls to his business. And, of course, he gave us a lot of mumbo-jumbo about how he didn't know how that had happened. He said that a company in Israel and another in Hawaii had been changing the numbers on other program's maps to have phone calls directed his company. After several minutes of mumbo-jumbo about how his company wasn't responsible, he got off of the phone and said he'd look into it further. I provided a link here to a video on YouTube where he's featured talking about ethics and what he's doing to prevent these kinds of things from happening.

While I was looking up his company's name and trying to track him down I ran across a lot of interesting information about unethical treatment programs in Florida. Here's a link to an NBC broadcast about their investigation into the issue.

After I got this incident behind me I reflected upon how sad it is to find such a level of corruption in the recovery business. In the long run, I know that it's going to benefit our program because we've never engaged in unethical practices. Once these kinds of programs are shut down, and there are literally hundreds of them, I know that people will be looking for an ethical program where they can receive professional services.

And when they do, our doors will be open to them.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time to Leave

An employee who's doing well in the program, and who has a few years of sobriety, gives notice that he's leaving to go back home.

When I ask why he wants to leave, he doesn't sound very convincing. He has a place to live, he says. He has friends in the program. Plus, he misses the beauty of his home state.

But he doesn't have much else to say when I start talking to him about his history of recovery. He's never been able to put more than a few months of sobriety together. All the people he knows back home are drinkers, the people he hung out with before he came to us. And now that he has a couple of years sobriety he thinks the place he needs to be is back where it all started.

I tell him I don't agree with his decision because I don't think he's thought through it very well. This is the first time he's had two years of sobriety and all of a sudden he wants to make a change.

He reminds me of another client we had about 10 years ago. One day in a group session he announced that it was time for him to leave. When I asked him why, he said: "well, I've just been here long enough."

I was kind of surprised at his answer. So I asked how much money he'd saved. Did he have a car? Did he have insurance on the car? Did he have a support group where he was going? But it turns out his only rationale for leaving was that he had "been here long enough."

My experience has been that those who are ready to leave make a very gentle and smooth transition back into the community. They have a job. They have a support group. A car and insurance. An apartment or house. Plus a couple of months of savings put away in case they run into difficulty.

A lot of times those who suddenly leave, who have no concrete plan, are destined to repeat the history that brought them to us in the first place.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Resisting Change

"One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain." Rick Godwin

For many years I resisted change. And, as in the saying above, I focused on what I thought I was giving up.

I thought that if I quit using drugs and alcohol and partying all the time I wouldn't have any friends. Even though at the time I didn't have any friends anyway. They'd long ago left me, and I was too drunk and high to notice.

I thought that if I got sober life would be boring. I'd have nothing to do with my time. I had the idea that life would be dismal without my best friends, alcohol and heroin.

And it was only when I finally got sober almost 27 years ago that I realized I was living a fallacy all those years. Had I even dreamed of what a rich life recovery could offer me I would've been sober a long time ago.

And I am by no means unique in my thinking. Many of the young addicts in our program also think that when they're getting sober and into recovery, they might be losing something. Even though many of them are 50 years younger than I am, they sound just like I did when I was their age.

But I've come to realize that life is made up of experiences, the building blocks of wisdom. We sometimes have to go through bad times and punishing experiences before we find a reason to change.

I often hear people at meetings speak about how they got into the rooms. And none of them talk about how wonderful life was right before they got sober. Their stories are all pretty much the same. They lost a partner. Or a job. Or went to jail. They lived on the streets, homeless. They never get into the rooms because things were wonderful.

Those are the ones who are able to change because they figure out that anything would be better than the way they were living.  They know they're  not giving up anything.

Click here to email John