Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 30th 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.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Missing Meetings

I used to go to meetings on a weekly basis.  But since this pandemic swept the country I've only gone to one.  Even though I've been sober over 29 years I still went on a regular basis.  

But this pandemic has put some fear in me.  Even though the one meeting I attended had only six people and they had over six feet between them and were wearing masks, I still was uncomfortable.

For some reason I have little faith in our government's mandates about social distancing and wearing masks.  But since that's all they have to offer to protect us I follow their mandates.  But lurking in the back of my mind is the thought that their instructions haven't slowed this thing down.

So my life today is lived in my home or my office.  I once in a while go to the market or visit a friend - but I try to contact others as little as possible.

Because I'm an octogenarian I'm in what's considered a vulnerable class and I don't want to push my luck.  We all have to make choices about how to live and mine is to survive as long as I can.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Pandemic Anger

Not often do I find myself in the grips of anger.  But since this Covid pandemic has overtaken our country I sometimes go there.

It's not the kind of anger that make want to confront people and go off on them. It's more the anger brought on by disbelief.  The kind that makes me shake my head and wonder how people can be so self-centered and stupid.

For example, I know this woman who has a large family, one of them who's quarantined with the Covid.  She pays him a visit, then volunteers to babysit her grandson the next day. Because she has many health problems of own she doesn't expect to live for very long and has no concern for others or their well-being - apparently even her grandson.  She won't wear a mask because she believes that everything is God's will.

And I know others who think the pandemic is a political conspiracy and that there's nothing to it.

My bad attitude today comes from when I heard that long time acquaintance of mine was on a ventilator in a local hospital and that his prospects of coming home are not good.  Those who don't wear a mask or practice social distancing may feel different when they lose a loved one to Covid.

I think it's a simple thing to make a few minor adjustments in our lives if we can protect those around who want to live and enjoy life.

We all have the right to take our own lives because of our beliefs. But we have no right to put others in danger because of our self-centerness.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 3, 2020

No Excuses

Even though we've been in Arizona since 1992 - around 28 years  - we still find that many people have never heard of TLC.

At first that surprised me, but now it makes sense.  Until you, a family member, or friend develops an out of control drug or alcohol habit, addiction recovery programs aren't on your priority list. 

Only after you develop a need do you start looking and maybe stumble across our program.  And it's likely that our name will pop up.  And that's because today we're fairly well-known in the recovery community because we have over 800 beds.  And we accept anyone who asks for help - even if they have no money or insurance to pay for treatment.  Once the referring program learns that an applicant has no resources to pay for expensive treatment services, they refer them to us because we accept anyone seeking recovery regardless of their financial status.
And because we welcome anyone wanting to change their lives our beds stay full most of the time.  The first thing we do is help clients find employment and develop a support system that will encourage them during the rough times that sometimes pop up in early recovery.

If they have personality issues or lack work skills we find tasks that they can volunteer for in our program.  Volunteers built TLC and their efforts as cooks, drivers, maintenance workers, etc., help the program stay afloat.

If they have job skills but can't secure a job we find placement for them with outside companies through our labor group.  In these positions they earn minimum wage and are able to pay their way through our program and the peer services they receive.  It's a win-win for everyone, including the taxpayers, because we get zero government funding.

TLC is the perfect model of addicts helping other addicts change their lives.

Friday, July 31, 2020

A dying man's Gratitude

Gratitude is the sweet spot in recovery. 

And mine was renewed earlier this week when I got a call from a voice I didn't recognize.  He insisted that I knew him and that he'd worked for me during the early months of 2012 when were starting our State licensed treat program.  But for the life of me I couldn't place the name he gave me.

Finally I asked him if he had a nickname - and bingo!  Just like that I knew who he was.  His nickname is "Johnny" - a name he used because he was from Haiti and his Haitian name, while close to Johnny was spelled much differently - so that's how he got the nickname-it was easier to pronounce.  But back to gratitude.

He called to tell me he was in hospice and had - at most - a year to live.  He'd developed pancreatic cancer and the doctors caught it too late.

He went on to tell me that his stay with us at TLC had changed his life.  He'd been clean since he left in 2012.  He worked in a treatment program for five years.  He found a woman and had developed a long-term relationship. He was totally positive and grateful for his life even though he had less than a year to live.  He sounded accepting and peaceful.

And I left the call with real gratitude for the life I have now.  Thank you, Johnny, for the call.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Facing the Unknown

I think in this era of Covid 19 that those of us in the twelve-step programs are learning the true meaning of powerlessness.

Powerlessness is one of the key concepts of the twelve-step programs. Over and over we hear sad tales of our alcoholic and addict friends one more time going out and trying to successfully use drugs. And those who have gone out and failed come back to meetings and drag themselves to the podium to share with the rest of us tales of woe. Stories of where they have lost everything they've accumulated during their sobriety in a very short order. And those stories are good for us to hear. It's almost like going to school, taking a long course in how deadly and powerful are common enemy is.

Sometimes we hear stories from those who have lasted three months, six months, nine months, and sometimes even a year or two. But the outcome is inevitably that we are greeted by failure and once more we tell stories that always have the same same outcome: failure and woe and a fall from grace.

And this leads me to circle around to the first sentence of this blog where I mention Covid 19. Because when it first struck I didn't take it very seriously. I was one of those naysayers who thought we would get rid of the virus right away. I didn't want to wear a mask everywhere I went. I didn't want to socially distance. Sometimes I sided with those who thought it was a government plot. I don't think I started taking things as seriously as I do now until I saw the death tolls put out by the CDC every day. No matter from where or how the virus got here when people start dying – sometimes in the hundreds – I had to start believing that this thing was serious and act accordingly.

A part of my job is that I bear some responsibility for providing an environment for recovering alcoholics and addicts so they're as safe as they can be from this pandemic. We are constantly cleaning and sanitizing everything. We require social distancing and enforce it as much as we possibly can. We require everyone to wear a mask.

And the interesting thing is that even though we deal with a bunch of addicts and alcoholics most of them have been surprisingly cooperative. When this thing first struck I had visions of clients packing their bags and leaving by the dozens, driven by the fear of an unknown enemy and an unknown future. After all, isn't that what we used to do when we faced the unknown fear that drove us to drugs or alcohol?

But that hasn't happened in our program here at TLC. And I'm so proud of our managers and staff members who have exhibited such patience in dealing with this unknown that we're facing.

Saturday, July 25, 2020


I've found myself being angry and disappointed in the last few weeks. And it's not because of the politics. It's not because of the rioters and anarchists who are tearing down Seattle and Portland, using the death of a black man as an excuse to create chaos.

No, my anger is much closer to home.

No, my anger pops up when I see people not even doing the basics to prevent the spread of this virus. I see people I'm fairly close to walk around without masks and who don't have a care about social distancing. At first, I was one of those people who was very skeptical about the effectiveness of masks. And even though I still have questions about whether they work or not, I come from the streets and the drug world and have zero medical background. Therefore, when the bulk of the medical community is wearing masks and is advising us to wear masks, then that's what I do. 

I don't want to wear a mask. But nobody has come up with any other suggestions that would possibly slow this thing down. Masks and social distancing is the best they've come up with so far.

Yet, people I know well and care about somehow don't seem to get it. I have a couple of friends who have frail, elderly relatives and friends – I'm over 80 myself – yet I have never seen a mask on their face. And because I know that deep inside they're loving and caring people I can't figure out what's going on with them. I even know one person who has a family member who is bedridden. 

Yet have never seen a mask on his face.  Is it because the mask is too uncomfortable and inconvenient?
Is it because this person is spaced out? Is it because he doesn't care? Or does he think the idea of masks is a bunch of propaganda? I'll never know why he doesn't follow the majority and I'm sure that if I asked him he would come up with some kind of excuse that he felt was logical.

All I know is if I say I care but I don't practice the basics that might protect my fellow man – then I'm lying to myself and everyone else.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Man vs. Machine

One thing we realize after we are sober for a while is that we don't have to react to everything that goes wrong by picking up a drink or drug. But just because we got sober doesn't mean that we won't have a reaction when things go wrong. Even if we meditate 30 minutes a day, we don't turn into peaceful monks who love everybody, people who can't get frustrated or angry, and who are always at peace with what goes on in the world.

What we do learn when we're sober for a while is that we don't have to react when things don't always go our way. And I bring this up because that's something that I've learned this last month on a deeper level.

It all started when my computer crashed about six weeks ago and I purchased a new one from Best Buy, which I later found out was a serious mistake. The new computer, which cost about $1500 for a desktop, a Hewlett-Packard model, a brand which has always served me well. My laptop is a Hewlett-Packard. My printer is a Hewlett-Packard. And over the years I've had a series of them because they're  basic and functional.  The only reason I ever replace them is because a newer and faster model will come out – one with more features and more storage. So I pass my old one to a member of my family and they usually get a year or more use out of it.

Anyway, this model that I bought has been a nightmare. At this time of year of my paperwork doesn't require a lot of my time. But this year I'm having difficulty getting things done because I keep hiring someone look at it and figure out why it keeps crashing. Best Buy has a repair group called the Geek Squad that supposedly has brilliant youngsters who fix things really quick. So I went down to the store and made an appointment to get my computer to work, but found that they couldn't get to it for at least a week. And my workflow is such that I need to get things done right now. Not later.

They did tell me that I could go on their website and and it would guide me through the problems I was facing.  And I could probably get my problems resolved much faster that way. Well, that didn't work very well either. Because after spending $1500 for a machine I figured that they would be happy to fix it for me with the idea that they would get more business from me in the future. But they were so blasé and indifferent that I made a commitment right then that I would find another retailer who wasn't doing as well as they were who would be motivated to help me solve my problems.

So, I've been working around the problems with the computer but am about to the end of my relationship with it. I've hired a few freelancers to work with it and they keep it running for a while. But even after 30 years of being sober I sometimes get visions of taking the computer to the top of the stairs and drop kicking it over the rail. I know that's immature and that it won't solve my problem. But, it would provide a certain amount of gratification.

But anger is something that I got over with pretty much during the first years of my sobriety and I want to stay that way – living without anger. And frustration? Well I guess that's just part of being a human being - whether I like it or not.

Click here to email John