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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Enemy

"We have met the enemy and he is us" Pogo, 1970

The above saying is taken from a poster of cartoon character Pogo, published by cartoonist Walt Kelly in 1970. I like it because in a few words it tells the story of us drug addicts.

Before we enter the realm of sobriety we learned that we're our own worst enemy. But for many addicts, that's a big problem.  Even though we created our own messes, we have a hard time accepting responsibility.

This came up the other day because I heard of a client who had been in more than 30 treatment programs. Yet, for some reason, he couldn't stay sober more than a few weeks after each one.  He was baffled.

A counselor asked him what the problem was. But the client didn't have any idea.

Finally, the counselor suggested that the programs worked just fine. It was just that the client wasn't ready to be responsible for himself.

A common factor with unsuccessful addicts is they look outside themselves for the answers to their problems. It was their family. They were abused as a child. It was the way they were brought up. It was their wife. Or husband. It's always something - imaginary or real - that won't allow them to live sober.  Always something or someone outside themselves.

Until we look at ourselves as the masters of our destiny we're sure to fail. No one changes our bad habits but us. If we overeat and get fat who's fault is that? If we smoke and develop a chronic lung disease, who can we blame but ourselves?  If we put a needle in our arm, who did it?

If we destroy our relationships because we're fearful and angry and self-centered we must blame the person in the mirror. No matter how hard we reach for an excuse, no one "does" anything to us. When we're alone in our heads at night we know on a deep level where the responsibility lies.

We truly have met the enemy.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 14, 2017

Intervention?

Two relatives came in from California this weekend to participate in an intervention on a heroin addict family member.

I declined to participate because they weren't having the intervention done with a professional interventionist. From what I heard, it turned out just as I expected. It was more or less a shouting match between family members. And the young man who was the subject of the intervention declined to enter treatment. He said he could "do it on his own."

Another reason I didn't want to participate is that some of those who were at the intervention have been enabling this young man for years. They provide him a place to live when he doesn't have a place of his own. They loan him money. They give him give him rides and other help.

You may ask what's wrong with that? If they didn't take care of him he would be homeless. And he might go hungry.

But the reality is that if you're housing or feeding or doing anything else for an addict what you're really doing is buying his or her drugs. Because the money he's saved by sponging off of you is money that he's able to use at the dope house.

It's sad to have to put out one of your loved ones, to allow them to be homeless and hungry. But that's how addicts and alcoholics learn to change their behavior. When loved ones no longer put up with their nonsense they might get the idea that they have a problem.

Like the other family members, I don't want to see this young man die of his disease. Yet in the last year, he's been taken to the hospital more than once suffering from a drug overdose. Probably the only thing that saved him was there was someone around to take him to the hospital when he fell out.

Last year over 700 people died in Arizona from opiate overdoses. And it's only by the grace of God that he wasn't one of them.

Hopefully, he will get into recovery before it's too late.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Miracles

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."  - Albert Einstein

I like this saying by because it reminds me of the two lives of an alcoholic or addict.

In the first life, everything was negative. We struggled to open our eyes many mornings, regretting that we were even alive. We were full of pain and demoralization because we had to go out and get more booze or drugs so we could face the world for another day.

The skies were gloomy. Everyone was our enemy, especially at the end. We were afraid to talk to people because we couldn't remember the last lie we told them. Or else we'd ripped them off and had no means to pay them back.

When we were really deep into our addictions we were lonely and isolated. Most of our waking hours were spent figuring out how to get enough money to blot out our pain. There were no miracles.

Our second life, when we're living in recovery, is nothing short of a miracle. We' re happy to wake up in the morning and put our feet on the floor. We turn our phone on and see messages from our friends, checking to see if we're okay. We get invited to go places and do things. We're not constantly looking in our rearview mirror to see if the police are behind us. We don't fear the knock on the door, wondering if it's our parole officer or a drug dealer that we owe money to. We're living the promises of the program, enjoying a new freedom and a new happiness.

I could go on and on about the miracles of recovery. But for those of us who are enjoying recovery, there's no need to explain. Everything in life is a miracle for those of us who have escaped the daily hell of our addictions.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Justice for a Child

A client who's worked in our office for several years called the other afternoon, his voice full of excitement. He'd just left a court hearing where he'd won a major legal victory.

The case involved his ten-year old step-daughter, who'd been molested by her biological father when she was quite young. Our client, who'd assumed the role of surrogate father after marrying the child's mother, had been on a mission to get the father's parental rights severed. After years of effort, he'd achieve that goal. But it wasn't an easy battle.

When he first learned the father had assaulted the child he went to the police in Apache Junction, where the incident occurred. However, when he talked to the detectives they acted like they weren't interested in following up. They either thought the child was too young or that there wasn't enough evidence. However, our client didn't take no for an answer. He talked to whoever he had to until charges were brought against the father, who's now facing a long term in prison for molesting his daughter and other molestation cases.

Our client's next goal is to be able to legally adopt the child. And based on his perseverance in the molestation case he'll probably achieve his goal. Before he does that though, he has to get his own civil rights restored, something I know he'll accomplish.

But the story's bigger than just the case of his stepdaughter. What this story really illustrates is what can happen when people get clean and sober. For years this man used drugs and was in and out of jails and prisons. He was not on a good path.

Even after he came to TLC it took several tries for him to succeed. And one time he left our program suddenly, taking one of our vans with him when he left for California. Eventually, he came back, made amends, and has worked in our corporate office for several years.

Recovery has not only changed his life. It also changed the life of a young girl who was traumatized at an early age.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Enabling

A mother seeking help for her daughter found my blog on the Internet. She said that her daughter is a drug addict, but that she's been supplying her with food and a cell phone. After reading my blog she realized that she was doing it all wrong.

I wrote back and told her we had treatment options available, but that she was doing the right thing by cutting off support for her daughter.

While this may sound callous and cruel, the reality is that as long as we're helping addicts in any way while they're still using we're prolonging their addiction. The only help we should give is a ride to detox or treatment.

And I speak from personal experience. When I was using 27 years ago family members and friends were helping me. It was only when they gave up on me that I decided to change. At first, I hated them and thought they were cruel. I was still angry at them when I went into a detoxification unit. But within a year of being sober, I realized that the best thing that ever happened to me was when they cut off support. They saved my life.

I have a close relative who's overdosed on heroin a few times in the last couple of years. Yet his siblings continue to provide food and shelter and transportation. I know they think they're showing him love – but the reality is that they could be loving him to death.

Parents can't be blamed for doing the best they can. When a parent realizes the child is an addict they're afraid. They don't know what to do. They think if they continue to love and support them financially that they'll realize the error of their ways and change. But that's not the way the world of addiction works.

Once the disease takes a grip on an addict, the addict is going to do pretty much whatever they have to so they can feel okay. And that includes taking advantage of family and friends.

Parents must realize they 're powerless over their children, particularly when they begin using opiates and other addictive drugs. And it's not that the children don't love the parents. It's just that they love that heroin rush so much more.

It's a tough decision to cut off our family. But it's a decision that might save their lives.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Expectations

"What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be." Unknown

Today we had to transfer a manager to another position because other employees were tired of working with him. In fact, two of them were so unhappy that they threatened to leave without giving notice. Fortunately, we were able to convince one of them to stick around for another week until we could find replacements

It was quite uncomfortable for me to have to move this employee to a different position, one where he didn't have to deal with others very often. And I was uncomfortable because he's been a dedicated employee for five years. And he has a high degree of ability and technical skill that makes him valuable to us. Plus, he's not lazy. It's just that he had a problem with those who didn't live up to his expectations.

One of the things I've learned after over 26 years in this business is not to have too many expectations of others. In fact, I expect those who work for us to screw up on a regular basis. And I'm never disappointed. Someone is always being brought to my office because of their relationships with others in the company. And very often the ones who are creating the problems are those in a supervisory or managerial position.

One of the things that make TLC different from other organizations is that 99% of our staff is in recovery. In fact, all of them went through the TLC program and worked their way up through the ranks. Along the way they not only learned how to work in a business environment, they also had a chance to work on their recovery with fellow addicts and alcoholics.

In fact, unlike most corporations, when we have a personnel problem we usually sit down and have a group with the person until we can sort out what's going on. I remember that over 10 years ago, when we had a non-addict working with our organization in the accounting department, he was amazed that we would shut down our office for 30 to 60 minutes to deal with an employee issue. But since our mission is to help addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives we rarely fire people unless they continue to do stupid things.

Our job is to help people get through tough times without having to revert to their old behavior.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Emotions

"Emotions are temporary states of mind. Don't let them permanently destroy you." Unknown

Many of us addicts take actions based on our emotions. Sometimes these actions can radically change our lives, many times permanently.

At TLC we deal with many clients who make decisions based on emotions. They may become angry because all of a sudden they have to become responsible and pay their service fees. And many of them never had a job in their lives so their idea of giving us part of their paycheck is totally alien to them. Instead of wanting to pay, they become angry and decide to leave.

Clients often are emotionally upset because of their present circumstances. Here they are in their mid-20s or 30s, and still living in a halfway house trying to get their lives together. The important people in their lives have cut them loose because they can no longer deal with their addictions. No one can really blame them for being in an emotional state. But it's when they act on these emotions that they get in trouble.

Many go to the dope house. Or else leave, violate parole, and go back to prison. An impermanent emotional state has derailed their lives. Had they waited five minutes, the emotional fires may have subsided and they'd have made a different decision.

One solution to these emotional states can be found in mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness teaches us to observe our thoughts in a certain way. When we are meditating we find thoughts popping up, seemingly from nowhere. When we see these thoughts what do we do? All we do is observe them without judgment and let them pass, like leaves on a stream. They may pop up again. And we do same things with them: observe them without judgment and let them pass.

If we start practicing mindfulness for 10 or 15 minutes a day we'll find that our emotions become much more manageable. Because we take what we learn from our regular practice of meditation with us throughout the day. When we see crazy thoughts popping up in our head we become adept at simply observing them and recognizing them for what they are: just more stuff bubbling up from our subconscious, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

Our emotions are impermanent.  But decisions based upon them can have lasting consequences.

Click here to email John