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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

R.I.P. Rebecca

It is with great sadness that we note the passing, of Rebecca S., a long time member of the TLC family. She died at Desert Banner hospital in Mesa at 10:15 AM, February 19, after a long struggle with COPD. At her side, holding her hand as she passed, was a close friend and current TLC manager who had supported her during her battle with the disease that ultimately took her life.

Rebecca got sober in August of 2012 and came to TLC in September of 2012. About six months later she began managing the Robson house. She held the position until late 2014 until the disease progressed to the point where she could no longer deal with the stresses and demands of full-time management. After that, she worked for a while on the telephones at the corporate office, until she was no longer able.  After that, she was bedridden much of the time.

However, that didn't prevent her from being a sponsor and mentor to many of the women she'd befriended during her time at the Robson house.

She once told me that one of her biggest regrets was that she was no longer healthy enough to manage the house, a job she really loved. She was totally immersed in her work with the women there and often referred to them as "my girls."

While we're happy that she's no longer suffering, we will miss her. May she rest in peace.

Click here to email John

Friday, February 16, 2018

Back to Court?

Within the next few weeks, Phoenix is likely going to make a decision about licensing for "structured group homes."

Among the licensing requirements are that managers cannot have been arrested in the last five years, that the residents of the group homes be drug tested on a regular basis, that they are required to go to 12 step meetings, and that they adhere to community standards of behavior.

The only problem with all of this, and the Arizona Republic brought it up in a news article a few months ago, is that much of what the city is proposing violates Federal Fair Housing regulations. And the short definition of the regulations is that you cannot treat a group of addicts living together differently than you can treat any other family in the community. And the basis for this is, primarily, that addicts and alcoholics are protected as a handicapped group. And the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act protects handicapped people from discrimination of any kind.

TLC faced a similar situation in 1997. That's when the City of Mesa, Arizona attempted to run our program out of the city's downtown area by passing some restrictive laws. Among these laws were a requirement that halfway houses could not be in the "downtown overlay," must have a public hearing to obtain a license, and must not be located within 1500 feet of any other halfway house. TLC filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 1997, which was ultimately resolved in 2003.

The outcome was that the city had to change two of the laws, and also pay us a third of the legal fees we paid for the lawsuit. The five years that we spent on the lawsuit were financially and emotionally draining. But we believed that we were right and the court agreed with us.

I believe that if the Phoenix City Council passes the version of the law that I read online it's quite likely that they will be facing federal lawsuits from several different parties.

It will be a waste of everyone's money if this thing ends up in federal court. But it's necessary when the community looks upon its alcoholic and addict citizens as being different to the point that they can make laws especially for them.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Surrogate Family

As I was leaving the bank today an older man walked up and put out his hand and introduced himself as a TLC client. While he looked familiar, I didn't recall his name. But that's not unusual because we have some 850 clients spread across the state of Arizona and it's difficult to know more than a small percentage of them unless I interact with them on a regular basis.

He told me he'd been at TLC almost 10 years, coming to us after he was released from prison. He was now living in one of our three-quarter houses and said that he'd never been happier. He said he'd left briefly for a short period, then came back because he felt that our program was the safest place for him to be.

When we first started the program none of us envisioned that we'd have clients who stayed with us for years. Our plan was to help people get their lives back together so they could move back into the community. But what we discovered is that while the younger clients do tend to leave after they get things together after 90 days or six months, some of the middle-aged and older clients stick around – sometimes for years. And what we discovered is that many of them have no families, or have lost track of or alienated the families that they did have. They feel safe with us, make friendships with the other clients and we become, in essence, a surrogate family for them.

One of the good things we discovered about having clients who have been with us 10 and 15 years is that they can be an example to the other clients. Other clients see how the program works for them and it gives them more confidence in their own ability to stay sober for the long-term.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Don't have the Time

"It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?" Henry David Thoreau

Clients – and sometimes friends – sometimes talk to me about not having enough time to do good things for themselves. Things like exercise. Or meditation. Or eating healthy food because it might take a while to prepare.

However, I believe that "not having enough time" is simply an excuse we use to avoid change.  Or not wanting to admit that we're lazy.

When I have these conversations I usually start out with the obvious. How much time do you spend playing video games? Or surfing the internet looking at funny cat videos? On Facebook, chatting with friends? Or simply vegging out in front of the television?  Or taking smoke breaks?

For example, I have a family member who admits watching four hours of television after he gets home from work. But somehow, he can't find time to get to the gym - even though he says he'd love to work out if he had the time. And I know more than one person in our company who will play video games well into the night, then show up for work saying they are tired because they didn't get enough sleep.

We have choices about what to do with our time. Most of our choices are based on our priorities. If our priorities are to escape the present moment and distract ourselves, we have myriad ways of doing that. Our televisions, our cell phones, our computers, all give us an opportunity to escape into fantasyland and avoid the present. And we somehow delude ourselves that these things are more important than making healthy choices about the way we spend our time.

The one thing that we cannot replace is time. We either spend it wisely. Or else we fritter it away on useless distractions.

Am I on my soapbox condemning the use of technology to distract ourselves? No. I sometimes divert myself the same way: surfing the net, watching television, or talking with friends on the phone. But I don't do these things to the point where I don't have time to take care of my priorities doing the things I want to do to improve my life.

I guess the bottom line is that it's about balance.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Not giving Up

"We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it." Excerpt from page 31, Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I thought of this line in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous the other day after talking to a client who had failed many times at getting clean and sober. He'd been in over a dozen treatment programs in the last several years. Yet, for some reason, he hadn't succeeded.  He said he was totally depressed about his history of failure and felt like giving up. He felt as if he couldn't succeed at anything.

To me, this advice from the Big Book was way ahead of its time. Yet it was brilliant. Because if one follows this advice – as many of us have – we eventually learn what works.  I've never read any statistics about those who went to the nearest barroom and took a drink and found out that they really weren't alcoholics. I'd assume there are a few. But the ones I'm familiar with have tried every conceivable way to use drugs and alcohol.  They told me that each time they tried to be a social drinker they never succeeded. Their lives went into a tailspin and they ended up losing everything.

Failing over and over to get clean and sober doesn't mean we can't do it. We just need to never give up.

We can look outside of the world of recovery to see some excellent examples of those who tried and tried and finally succeeded.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. 
  • Albert Einstein was thought to be mentally handicapped as a child.
  • Abraham Lincoln went to war as a captain and returned as a private.
  • Walt Disney's newspaper editor told him that he 'had no good ideas and "lacked imagination."
  • Elvis Presley was fired from the Grand Old Opry and told he should go back to driving a truck.
  • Steven King's first book was rejected by 30 publishers.
All of these seemingly ordinary people succeeded because they never gave up. And the lesson for me in these examples is that I can succeed in staying sober if I never give up – and I haven't given up in the past 27 years.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Pain = Change

The "turning point" was the topic at a twelve-step meeting I attended the other day.

And as the topic circulated through those attending the meeting they all said they'd decided to get sober for different reasons. One person had lost a parent and child within a short period of time. Another had ended up in jail. Another was served divorce papers. Yet another was in a serious automobile accident that almost cost him his life. Another was about to lose his job.

Myself, I look at the turning point as the catalyst that helps us to change. But instead of calling it the turning point, I just call it pain. Because really that's what it all boils down to: pain.

Addicts and alcoholics in the grips of their disease rarely make changes when things are going well, when they have enough alcohol or drugs to keep them out of their minds. Change always comes when we're put in jail, in the hospital, evicted from our homes, or perhaps served divorce papers. No one is merrily skipping along in life and all of a sudden gets the idea that they should attend a twelve-step meeting.

All of those attending their first meeting are refugees from some kind of a demoralizing or impossible situation in their life. They either got into the doors of the meeting on their own. Or perhaps they had a push from the court system or a family member.  Or maybe their life had completely crashed around them and they were homeless and broke.

In my case, I'd gone through the pain of withdrawal many times. And I suffered such serious consequences as going to hospitals and prisons, losing jobs, getting divorced, and becoming alienated from my family. All of these things would seem to be motivation enough for a person to want to get sober. But I apparently had a high tolerance for pain because it took me until I was in my early 50s to decide to change.

I believe that pain is a great motivator that helps many of us get clean and sober.

Click here to email John

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bad Reviews

Someone asked the other day if I wasn't bothered by the bad reviews we often get on Google. For those who don't know, reviews can be posted about a business whenever someone does a search for a location. And this review can be negative, or positive, depending on the motivation of the person placing the post.

Every so often I go back and look through the reviews TLC receives. And once in a while I post an answer. But usually I don't bother because most of those who are motivated to post a negative review left TLC because they couldn't comply with program rules. And most of the time, if I look in our database for the name of the person posting the review, I find out that they were discharged because they didn't pay service fees of $125 a week. Or else they were under the influence of drugs. Or maybe they threatened physical violence. Bad reviews never come from anyone who graduated from our program and are living sober lives today.

And for some odd reason, they never mention that they were discharged for not paying service fees. Instead, they talk about our program being "all about making money." They're not smart enough to realize, apparently, that there are very few places in Arizona where you can live, eat three meals a day, and be in a sober environment for such a small amount of money – about $18 a day. The other thing they don't consider is that we're one of the few programs in Arizona that accepts anyone as a client, whether they have the money or not. The only exception is that we don't take sex offenders or arsonists.

Actually, these bad reviews don't surprise me because of where our clients come from. About 40% of them come to us through the justice system, either the courts, prison or county jails. The rest of those who come to us are broke, jobless, and homeless. Many have never worked. Or else they've never had the training or education to find a decent job. Or they lacked the social skills and emotional quotient to know how to get along with others. So when they fail to succeed at TLC they are understandably angry and want to lash out.

But because our mission is to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives we actually take people back who have left on bad terms. Even those who have left bad reviews about the program. 

We're not about resentments, we're about saving lives.

Click here to email John