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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

We approach the New Year with optimism. I'm not sure what that's based on. Maybe it's just because we have a new calendar, a new slate to write on.

The past 30 months have been the most challenging since Transitional Living Communities opened its doors. We’ve faced one financial hurdle after another. Because of the employment situation our clients have a tough time finding work. Even though we’ve set up employment centers, many are still having difficulty.

But we’ve somehow managed to pay most of our bills in a timely manner. We’ve had to hold off paying property taxes until right down to the wire.

We've tightened our belt in many areas. We sold half our vehicles to cut expenses on maintenance, insurance, and fuel costs. And, unfortunately, we've had to lay off some key personnel. We spent a lot of time shopping for inexpensive insurance. Many of our landlords agreed to cut lease and mortgage payments until times get better.

A constant source of amusement is when clients say "TLC is all about the money." Many of them have never faced responsibility or paid a fee for anything. So the $110 a week that they pay to be in our program is a challenge. Somehow they think because we’re a nonprofit they can live with us for free. They believe we get money from the government and therefore they shouldn't have to pay. The idea we get funding is a myth. Our money comes either from our business operations or service fees paid by our clients. And reality is that there are very few places one can live, unless it's home with mommy and daddy, for less than $110 a week.

What are we going to do different in 2011? Not much. We’re going to continue helping addicts and alcoholics. And hopefully we'll find creatve new ways to help them..

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One day this week I returned to my office to find an interesting message on my desk. It was from a woman in Northern Nevada who wanted to talk to me about starting a branch of TLC in her area. When I returned her call, I began to realize that her real motivation in starting a branch of TLC was to help a drug addict son who is living with her.

As the conversation progressed she told me about her son's drug problem and the emotional issues that required him to be on medication. She and her husband had sent the son to a well-known clinic in California, an expense of almost $30,000.

One of her prime motivations for a TLC facility in her area was that her son had a young daughter and she thought it was important for him to have a relationship with her. He wouldn't have been able to have that relationship if he were in a program far from home. Also, she thought it would be better if he weren't staying with her while he was in a precarious state of sobriety.

After I heard her story I explained some of the realities of the halfway house and recovery business. Programs like ours don't do very well in smaller cities like the one she lived in. To make a program work there has to be employment opportunities, public transportation, and reasonable access to public services such as medical facilities. Smaller communities don't offer a great support system for even a 10 bed halfway house.

I also discussed with her the zoning and halfway house regulations in Nevada. They are relatively restrictive compared to other states and there is a lot of red tape one must go through before being able to open the doors.

Our conversation ended with her saying that she was determined to look further into the idea of having a recovery home in her area. I encouraged her to consider all aspects of the project before she jumped in completely.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In less than a month I’ll have been drug and alcohol free for 20 years, over a quarter of my life. When I arrived in sobriety January 14, 1991 it was because I was trying to escape the pain in my life. Addiction had cost me my job, my apartment, my friends and my self-respect.

One more time I’d lost everything to my addictions. I’d had a great job as the vice-president of a nationwide cable company, I had an expense account, a nice apartment, a sports car and could do pretty much what I wanted.

But one more time I started drinking, just a little. Within a few weeks that wasn’t enough and I was seeking heroin. Before long my full time occupation was no longer the cable company, it was the job of supplying my drug habit. With a matter of months I was homeless and stealing to survive. I was totally demoralized and in the grips of depression.

In retrospect that final relapse was the best thing that could have happened. At 51 years of age I finally came to grips with the idea that I was an alcoholic and powerless over any substance I put into my body.

I went into a detoxification facility in Mesa, Arizona, determined to change my life. After 11 days I was referred to a halfway house where I lived for the next year.

Had anyone asked me to draw a picture of the changes that would occur in my life it wouldn’t have been a very large one. Probably it would have had something to do with having a job, a car, and a place to live. It seems, though, that God had other plans.

Now, nearly 20 years later I have a great life that includes a relationship with lovely woman, the same job for almost 19 years, two colleges degrees and three counseling certifications. I also have a relative amount of prosperity and fairly good health at nearly 72 years of age.

What more can a man of my background ask?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The speaker at yesterday's meeting was the perfect example of how the 12-step programs work. He said that when he showed up many years ago he couldn't read or write. Yet within a matter of years he had gone into business and became quite successful.

His story illustrates what happens many times when people finally get sober. By getting the drugs and alcohol out of their lives they can finally live up to their potential. The barriers have fallen and they finally become the person God intended them to be.

As the man's story evolved he became very successful until the economy took a bad turn. Then he lost everything nearly as dramatically as he had achieved it. So, what did he do? Did he drink? Did he go back to his old ways when he lived on the streets and panhandled and hustled each day to sustain his habit?

No. He used the principles he'd learned in the program and applied them to the financial challenges that confronted him. Today he has no job and no money. Yet he's doing the same thing that helped him become successful. He is staying sober and using the principles of the program.

The topic he chose after he shared was “faith.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

One lesson I've relearned this Christmas season is the impact our disease has on those around us. I have a relative who got sober several years ago, but really never got into the 12 step programs. He's been away from his wife and sober members of his family during the Christmas season. No one is sure of his whereabouts.

However, for seven or eight years he was successful in his business and personal life, at least to a degree. he had a job making nearly $100,000 a year. He bought a home and got married. He went to church. But, he really never got into the basics of 12-step recovery. He didn't get a sponsor, he didn't go to meetings. He voiced that he'd completed the 1st step, but if he had, that was the extent of it.

Eventually, though, it all caught up with him because he hadn't done any work on himself. He still had the same residual anger at the way he was raised. He still was full of resentments. Everyone else was the problem or the cause of his problems. He lived totally by his feelings; reason and logic had little place in his limited repertoire of coping skills.

And the result is he's been away from home a few days, reportedly using pain pills and hanging out with family members who are long-time addicts. In some ways it is sad, but in others it might be good.

In my experience relapse can be a good thing if one is able to return and realize that alcohol or drugs doesn't work for them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Last week I spoke at our Glendale facility’s monthly awards meeting. When I finished speaking the house manager asked if anyone wanted to share about their recovery. As various people spoke it came out that one of the residents had lost a son that day to a heroin overdose. Those sharing expressed their condolences and told him they were there for him.

This man's tragic loss reminded me we face a deadly disease. I don't know the details of the son's death, but I doubt he awoke that morning thinking heroin would take his life.

When I shared my story at the meeting my theme was that any of them can change if they are properly motivated. I also told them I wasn't there to convince them it was a good idea to get clean or sober. I believe life teaches us drinking and driving doesn't work for some of us. As it says in the book on page 31, if we have any doubts about whether we're an alcoholic we should go across the street to the bar and try some controlled drinking. Then we might learn if we truly are powerless over our disease.

I told them if I could get sober any of them could. I cited my experiences through years of drinking and drugging. I told them of my 15 years of incarceration, of my year in a mental hospital. I told them of my hepatitis C, and of the many losses and successes I experienced in sobriety. In conclusion, my point was that none of us are too old or too sick or face too many challenges to change our lives if drugs or alcohol are the things holding us back.

We just have to pick up the book and do the work.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, everyone!

This is my 156th posting. When I started this the idea was to write something about recovery every day, while at the same time forcing myself to write 200-500 words a day. So far, I've accomplished both these goals. I've taught myself something about commitment, that I can write every morning even when I have no inspiration. I've also learned that writing a blog is different than writing a news article, a short story, or fiction. This is a different genre for me because when I grew up, back in the 50s and 60s, blogs were something that didn't exist nor were they even dreamed about – as far as I know.

Writing a blog has been interesting. It's strange to write for an audience that you aren't sure exists. Sometimes the statistics on my blog show 20 people visited. Other days, maybe only five or six go to my blog. And I'm not sure how many of them get there by accident.

One thing I've learned by reading other blogs is there's every type of expression imaginable in the blogosphere. There's the instructive, the folksy, the family diary and the utterly profane. This realization has given me the freedom to write whatever I want. At first I felt exposed emotionally because sometimes I'm sharing innermost thoughts with a wide audience. However, odds are, with so many blogs competing for readers that my offerings will not get that much attention anyway.

There are a few positive results from this blog. It lends a human side to TLC. Many times parents will say they've been thinking about sending their children to our program. Reading my blog has helped them make the decision. Hopefully, the decision was a positive one that resulted in their child getting sober.

Another positive result is that former residents have been able to find us and report on their years of sobriety. This month I was contacted by a man who graduated from our program 18 years ago. Today he's a successful stock broker and was gracious enough to come back and tell his story at our monthly awards meeting. Another man, who now lives in Florida, is a successful engineer. He's been sober for many years and demonstrated his success by making $1000 donation to our program during his visit.

So I believe I'll keep writing this blog and maybe one day I'll figure out where I'm going with all this. And again, Merry Christmas to everyone out there! I hope you have as many blessings in your life as I have in mine..

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yesterday tested my patience. First I went to have the oil changed in my car. Even though I didn't have an appointment, the attendant told me it would be less than an hour and I would be on my way. An hour and a half later he came into the waiting room and tried to sell me $350 more worth of services. By this time I was nearly an hour late to be in my office and was pretty impatient.

To add to the mix one of my employees called and said the man who supervised the employment center had gotten angry and left, presumably to get drunk. So now I had two issues piling up on me. I was already late to start a project at the office, plus I had to find a replacement for the man who had left. By the time I left the dealership I was reaching a high level of frustration.

On my way to the office I called a couple of friends. One of them didn't answer, the other one didn't seem to understand my frustration. However, within a mile after I left the dealership God intervened again.

As I sat at an intersection with frustration gnawing at my gut, before me appeared the answer. Shuffling through the crosswalk on a cane, a beat up backpack on one shoulder, was a man in his 60s who appeared to be in poor health. He had long gray hair and it looked like he hadn't had a bath in a few weeks. My frustration immediately lifted and I knew what I had to do.

When I had an opportunity to turn my car around I drove back and found him. He was sitting at a bus stop and I drove up and handed him all the bills I had in my wallet. He thanked me for my gift and I drove away, gratitude washing over me.

While I hadn't felt like drinking or putting a needle in my arm I still was about as upset as I get these days. And God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, handed me the solution that he always does when I get in this state: he showed me what the world can really look like when our lives are a mess.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On page 62 in the literature that says "selfishness and self-centeredness we believe is the root of our problem."

But what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that if we stop being selfish we will stay sober? Does this mean that if someone starts being selfish when we're young someone could have pointed out and we wouldn't have become alcoholics?

Of course like many things in the book, these kinds of statements are subject to interpretation. If you ask 10 people at a meeting what something means, each will get on a podium to explain. There are as many opinions in 12-step meetings as there are people in the meeting.

And I myself have an opinion. My opinion is that the first thing we think about, as addicts and alcoholics is ourselves. We think about how we feel. We think about our pain. Our ego comes into play. We're always taking our emotional temperature. It's always about me, me, and me. And then when things don't work our way, and we don't get what we want, we have to figure out somehow a way to feel better. The way we feel better is to cover up our pain and misery with some kind of substance, either alcohol or drugs.

And when we think about the wisdom of those who wrote the literature notice what it says in the 12 step. "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we continued to carry the message..." If a person does what it suggests in step 12 the result is the total opposite of being selfish and self-centered. Carrying the message to others takes time. Helping others into recovery means we give of ourselves. There is nothing selfish or self-centered about carrying the message, unless we consider that we are the ones who ultimately benefit when we carry out this mandate.

The idea that anyone has the perfect interpretation of what it says in the Book, is ludicrous. However, the idea that we are trying to understand the book may mean that we are being positively selfish and self-centered and a benefit to the world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The news is bad, very bad. The stock market is down. Our team is losing. Foreclosures are on the rise.

I subscribe to the daily newspaper and watch cable news every day. But I've learned to not take "bad" news to heart. I've come to realize that bad news sells. In spite of what we hear about people not liking negative news, that isn't borne out by facts. Over the years major newspapers have done experiments. They will publish two versions of the day's news. One version will feature only good news. The other will contain bad news. Guess which one sells the best? Of course it's the bad news.

A coworker who also reads the newspaper came to the office yesterday depressed about the news.

"I don't even know why I read that stuff," he said. "It's nothing but negativity."

I agreed with him. My solution is to recognize the news is simply someone's interpretation.

Something in the human psyche likes drama. And good news doesn't offer the same dramatic overtones as bad. Newspapers, in an era when newspapers are struggling, use every means possible to improve the bottom line.

As someone in recovery, I try to be aware of how I react, not only to the news, but to all of the events that happened in my life. Because of my magnifying mind I can interpret things many different ways. I always try to be aware of how I feel when things impact me negatively.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yesterday Darrell, a former client who was with us some 12 years ago, stopped at our corporate office. He still had the same infectious smile and air of gratitude he left with so many years ago. He now lives in Florida and was in town for the holidays visiting in-laws.

There's nothing so validating to our mission as when we see living proof that our program works. Since Darrell got sober he's earned an engineering degree, built a successful business, and has gotten married. And, he's still working to enhance his life, planning to attend graduate school to become a substance abuse counselor.

It is tempting to say that were the ones who got Darrell sober. The reality is, however, that we provided the structure and Darrell took advantage of it. That's what the TLC program is all about. Anyone can do what Darrell has done with the proper motivation. All they need to do is be willing to go to any lengths to change their life. That's what Darrell did and it worked for him very well.

We spent nearly an hour chatting and filling in the gaps. It was a wonderful respite to talk about earlier days in the program. He's living proof that staying sober means a better life.

Before Darrell left he pulled out his checkbook and said that he would like to make a donation to the program. He wrote a check for $1000, an amount that will help some other client along the road to recovery.

Thank you for your visit, Darrell, and Godspeed along the road to happy destiny...

Monday, December 20, 2010

At last night's group the topic was awareness. The assignment was to finish the sentence "if I bring more awareness to my life..."

Group members liked the topic because it forced them to think about the benefits of more awareness in their lives. However, one member finished the sentence with a number of qualifiers. He used "might," "maybe," perhaps," "I should." One of the group members pointed out that he seemed pretty tentative about what more awareness would bring into his life. The conversation evolved to a question about how tentative the man was about his sobriety.

In a group this kind of tack can sometimes reveal a lot about a client, and much of the time the revelation can be negative. However, in this case, the client revealed his commitment to sobriety. He said each day, before he goes out on job search, he stops at a nearby church and asks God to give him strength to stay sober that day. When he said this the tone of the group immediately changed.

In my 12+ years of running the aftercare group I had never heard anyone say they'd stop by a church prior to seeking work to pray about their sobriety. The entire group shifted from questioning the man's sobriety to supporting him.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This is when friends and family start asking about Christmas gifts.

“What do you want for Christmas?”

And I'm at a loss. I have everything material I might want. I have a home, a car, clothing. There's nothing I need. If I need it I can purchase it. I tell them don't give me gadgets or anything that might clutter the house.

What I enjoy though is the question, that anyone cares. The idea that someone loves me enough to consider my wants is perfect.

Because my life revolves around recovery and sobriety I long ago received all of the gifts a human could want: a reprieve to live a full life. Health. A loving woman. A great business that allows me to serve others. The list is long and incomplete.

My Christmas gift is the excitement of my grandchildren and the joy of being able to do a little something for others in my life.

A few years my grandson bought me some nice thick towels. I still use them. When he asked what I wanted, I told him to get me some more of them. I made it easy for him and I'll be getting something functional. And I believe it helps him to give, to help him stay in the cycle of giving.

Another blessed Christmas and 20 years of sobriety on January 14, 2011. To me that's the real gift of Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This week a man who had been released from prison after five years was talking about TLC's reputation on the big yard. Other cons told him he shouldn't go to TLC unless he was serious about changing. According to him, TLC is reputed to be a hard place for those not serious about staying clean and sober.

This conversation occurred during an employment training meeting and I was pleased to hear what the man had to say. I take pride in the fact that TLC is considered to be serious about recovery.

It says in the literature, "half measures availed us nothing." I believe that same principle applies to us when we are seeking a halfway house or recovery program. After all, what's the point of living where people are getting high? Why even bother going to a program unless you're serious about changing? I understand, of course, that many addicts are told by their parole officer to go to a program. Some of them try to have it both ways. But it never works, because eventually we drug test everyone and their dishonesty is discovered.

During the past few days we had an interesting experience with a halfway house that is not as strict as ours. While I am never one to beat up the competition because I believe everyone helps someone stay sober once in a while, this program's approach to recovery mystified me. Their website says if the doctor gives them a prescription for opiates it's okay to use them. That's totally counter to what we do. We don't allow people to use opiates for more than a few days because our experience is that doctors will write a prescription for pain if patients ask them for one. We refer those with prescriptions to some other programs or suggest that they ask their doctor to wean them off the drugs. About half of the people we make this suggestion to leave because their addiction is more important than their recovery.

One of the things we've learned about people who leave our program for other, less strict programs, is that eventually their addictions will overtake them and they'll find out that the easier program might not be for them.

In that case we generally let them return and try to help them get back on the road to recovery.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yesterday I was thinking of my mother, who passed away 16 years ago on Christmas Eve. She is one of the people to whom I owe a debt for my sobriety. Nearly 28 years ago she had no idea what I was going through with my life. She knew I was a mess because I was in and out of trouble on a regular basis.

In July of 1982, I had just been released from jail for another drug-related offense. My mother, once more in despair, asked me what I needed to do to change my life.

"I need to get out of town," I responded, using what little logic I had at the time.

"Where do you want to go?"

"I'm thinking about Las Vegas," I told her.

"Not a good idea."

"Maybe Phoenix then," I said.

Anyway, we finally agreed that I should go to Phoenix. My mother gave me $300 to finance the trip and took me to the bus depot. It was one of the best things that ever happened to m because in Phoenix I finally ran into myself and realized that it didn't matter where I live. It really mattered what I was doing about my addictions.

After I was in Phoenix for a while I found myself in a detoxification unit, courtesy of the city. Even though I wasn't ready to change it was the beginning of an odyssey that ended up with me getting sober a few years later. If it hadn't been for my mother's interventions I might have died in Orange County, California of my disease.

November 1, 1994 my mother went to the hospital for a minor surgical procedure. She didn't leave the hospital alive. The minor surgical procedure developed complications that resulted into her passing away suddenly on Christmas Eve. It was a devastating time for me, because I lost one of my best friends. She had supported me through prison, addiction, treatment and through many of the ups and downs of my young life. While she didn't understand what was going on with me, she had an unquestioning love that helped me change my life.

I think of her often, especially during the Christmas season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Opportunities for 12 step work are everywhere. This week I was talking to a merchant who is having problems with his drinking.

Somehow he'd learned I was in recovery and seemed eager to discuss his drinking problem. I'm not sure he was eager to change his drinking. But he was at least willing to put the issue on the table, to admit he'd failed at many efforts to achieve sobriety the past 10 years.

We exchanged e-mail information and he said he'd be in touch during the following days. That, of course, remains to be seen.

Because this occurred while I was on vacation in Hawaii, it illustrates for me the opportunity that God regularly puts into our lives to help those suffering from our disease. Just because we're on vacation, He's not. Maybe we're the only chance this person will have to meet someone in recovery.

When that happens we need to be there for them, to carry the message. Maybe I did my part with this man.

This obligation is always with us as we do the 12 step. Someone was there for us when we needed help. We must keep this in mind as we travel the road to happy destiny.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Even though I'll have twenty years in recovery next month I'm still learning how to live. Because of what I've learned in the rooms I try to always behave in a way that doesn't require me to make amends to those around me. But the other day I found myself unaware of my behavior and before I knew it I had offended someone close to me and had to apologize.

While none of us will ever walk on water, when I have these lapses in behavior it's easy to beat myself up and wonder if I'll ever get it right. Then, as my sponsor tells me, I have to remember who I am and where I came from to get to where I am in life.

For someone with my history of more than 35 years of drinking and drugging and jails and mental institutions it is amazing that I'm even on the planet.

It's not okay when I communicate poorly. And it always happens when I'm unaware of where I'm at emotionally. Can I always be aware? I can try to. But to expect that I'll do life perfectly is unrealistic.

I'm grateful that today I don't have to drink or use drugs to change things. I can simply make amends or apologize.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Someone close recently told me she wanted to move from Arizona to another state, maybe Hawaii or California.

When I asked why she said she wanted to “start over, to meet some new people.” While she's an adult and can do as she chooses I told her what someone told me before I came to Arizona many years ago. I told her about it because at the time it was a stinging remark that later turned out to be true.

What this person told me before I left on the trip was “when you get off the bus in Phoenix you're going to meet yourself at the bus station.” I remember thinking the statement was very cruel and an attack on my character, my whole being.

But the gist of what she told me was true. Wherever I go I take myself along. All of my character defects, as well as assets, go with me. In the case of the trip I took to Phoenix I had left California to escape pending legal issues, plus an addiction to alcohol and drugs that magically sneaked aboard the bus with me.

The point of all this is we can't escape from ourselves simply by making a geographical change. That kind of change is not enough to uproot the personality traits that sometimes take our lives in directions we don't want to go.

I told my loved one moving is okay, but don't expect it to change the internal things we carry with us wherever we go.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Last Friday I received a gratifying message from a former client. His message read, in part:

“Out of pure curiosity I researched TLC. To be honest I have not thought about TLC since I completed my 90 day program when I released from prison a decade ago....man how time flies.

I remember walking into the Mac House and speaking to Frank (I don't know how I remember his name) and having him inform me that I had to stay on site for 72 hours....after spending the last five years locked up that was something that I truly did not want to do and I argued with him about that and he said that I could leave.

I had been sober during my entire incarceration and went through programs in ADC so I was very standoffish about starting from scratch again.

It has been an amazing 10 years since I left. I have traveled around America conducting seminars on personal development for the last 8 years when I started my own company. I got married 4 years ago and have a wonderful 2 year old little girl and two great step-kids. I bought a home in Southern California where we all live (when I am not traveling...I am writing this from Alabama).

What you do is an inspiration. While there are undeniably failures (my friend Kris Olson, a former TLC resident who had to be kicked out while I was there passed away from his disease last year) there are successes...I am proud to say I am one of those.

15 years sober, no arrests since 1996, small business owner, father, husband, and friend...”

Messages like this are so rewarding. Every so often one comes in, usually from a client who was here years ago and whose life is totally different.

Our mission statement says “We help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.” This man's story shows that sometimes our mission succeeds.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yesterday it came home to me once more that we learn valuable lessons in the rooms of recovery. This epiphany occurred while watching a news reports about the cancer death of a woman who was married for many years to a famous, wealthy politician. He'd divorced the woman a few years earlier after she'd discovered his infidelities.

During the news report, the commentators were berating the female commentator from another network who'd expressed sympathy toward the husband for his loss. They felt the man's indiscretions were so bad he should never be forgiven, that he should be forever held in contempt. Their vitriol and anger toward the man was palpable.

Without evaluating the man's actions during his marriage I thought about what we learn in the rooms about forgiveness and resentments. While we don't condone the bad behavior or others – whether real or perceived – we learn to forgive for our own good. We learn that it is especially important to us in recovery to not carry burdens we don't need to carry.

When discussing this newscast with another person in recovery we talked about how many real injustices there are in the world without finding ourselves angry at the transgressions of those we don't even know.

And the interesting thing that came to the fore during other reports of the woman's passing were stories about her own forgiveness of the man before her passing. Yet, these commentators chose to focus on the negative.

Today, I thank God for the lessons of recovery...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Still on vacation in Maui yesterday and while on the way to dinner last night, received another lesson about going with the flow. In this part of the island, near Lahaina, traveling anywhere is sometimes slow, and then slower. But drivers here are mostly polite and not many of them drive like on the mainland.

However, an exception occurred and someone nearly ran over me trying to get past. I conceded the right-away and continued toward our destination, forgetting about the in-a-hurry driver. When we neared Lahaina I stopped at a light and there, to the left and slightly behind us, was the car that had zipped past us.

Once more, the universe had given me a mini-lesson about enjoying the journey. In my life it seems like each time I'm racing to meet a deadline or in a hurry, an obstacle pops up to add frustration to my life. The lesson is to take my time and savor the journey.

Today I'll enjoy each mile, each step, and remember that the world is just as it is supposed to be. God didn't make mistakes when he built his clock.

Friday, December 10, 2010

In Maui this morning at a condominium in Lahaina. This is a vacation we planned over a month ago and have been looking forward to ever since. The part of the vacation that we didn't plan was that I would have my yearly cold, one that started last Friday while we were on our way to Las Vegas for a two day celebration of my sweetheart's birthday.

Because I don't get sick very often I haven't learned to suffer graciously. The best I can do is to keep my mouth shut and stay away from others so I don't contaminate them with a foul attitude or malevolent germs..

Once in a while I'm able to rise to a point of gratitude where I realize that people with my drug and alcohol history rarely live for the seventy plus years the Lord has given me. In addition I'm blessed with a loving woman, good friends, a great business and and relatively good health. What more can I ask for?

During this week I'm going to absorb the natural beauty of the island and do my best to recuperate and re-energize my mind. As always, gratitude is the key.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I hate it when addicts repeatedly relapse.

A while back an older man who had been in our program several times over the past eight years came up positive on a drug test. And of course he was discharged and probably headed back to the dope house.

This bothers me because I knew the man on a personal level. Over the past five or six years he worked for us as a volunteer manager and made many contributions to the program.

I've seen this happen so many times over the past 20 years that I wonder why I react when something like this happens again. After all, it says in the literature that if we're not spiritually fit that history is bound to repeat itself.

Perhaps it disturbs me because it reminds me of the vulnerability of us addicts and alcoholics. If we don't do what it suggests in the program we may be in the same situation as this man. When I see things like this I realize I need to pay careful attention to my program.

Am I working the steps? Am I talking to my sponsor? Am I sponsoring others? Am I doing a daily 10th Step? These are measures that will give me a chance to stay sober.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In the literature it says “Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.”

When I first read this as a newcomer I couldn't relate to it. Who me? Shortcomings? How could anyone work this into a sentence related to me? My huge ego allowed for no shortcomings. I sincerely believed there wasn't much wrong with me. The world didn't understand me was all, a misunderstanding that had lasted over 50 years.

It took many days of sobriety and hours in the rooms before this began to change. The passing of time made me realize, that once I became an adult, I was responsible for the so-called problems in life.

I could no longer blame all of those trips to prison on my upbringing. My stays in jails and detoxification units could no longer be blamed on the abuse I had suffered in my childhood. Even though it was easy for me to convince counselors that I had no responsibility due to the trauma I have suffered in my childhood, I knew deep in my heart that I had made the ultimate decision to behave in ways that got me in trouble.

The idea that I am responsible for my own behavior was very freeing. Suddenly I knew that I could make choices about my behavior that would have a positive result. Just as I could be responsible for the good things in my life, I made better decisions because I knew I would ultimately be responsible for the outcome.

Do shortcomings ever leave us? I'm not sure. But I believe we become better human beings on the road to recovery. I think we develop a radar, an awareness that keeps us from letting our shortcomings rule our lives.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The 12-step literature says “love and tolerance of others is our code.” What does this mean? Does this mean we become spiritual giants? Or saints? Do we become doormats for those around us?

To me this is a high-sounding ideal, something to strive for in our recovery. Even after nearly 20 years of sobriety my old nature of being intolerant and unloving toward others can come to the fore in certain circumstances.

At times I'll be in a meeting listening to a newcomer or chronic relapser without a lot of love or tolerance emanating from my heart. I try to overcome this by taking a look at my attitude and remembering where I was twenty years ago and replaying some of the things I said at early meetings.

One of my pet peeves today is when a certain mortgage company calls me at my office to tell me the company mortgage check didn't arrive on time. Even though it's not late enough to generate a late fee it's difficult for me to be tolerant when I get these calls. Usually the caller is patronizing and rude and often my response matches or exceeds theirs. I consider it a successful call when I can hang up and not be angry or stressed.

For me, “love and tolerance is our code” means that as long as I'm in recovery I'll work to stay on a path that allows me to practice these principles, even though I might stray once in a while.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Last week an upset mother called to complain that her son had been unfairly discharged from our facility in Apache Junction. She was angry because she thought the 21 year was misunderstood by our staff. Once she calmed down I asked her to tell me the story.

It seems her son was discharged because he had a service fee balance of more than a $1000 dollars and the manager didn't think he was serious about finding a job. He had been living with us for more than eight weeks without paying. The mother said she herself had taken him on job search on more than one occasion. She said he was “really trying hard” to find work.

I listened to her for awhile then offered another option. I told her we could move her son to our Mesa facility and let him back in the program if she came up with half his balance. She said she would call me.

While I still haven't heard from her, this situation illustrates what happens at times when parents become over-involved with their child's recovery. Often the parents don't realize that they are sometimes too close to the situation to be objective. I believe that's what happened in this case.

I try to recommend that parents let their children learn to walk on their own, to learn what it means to be responsible and live in recovery at 21 years of age.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A long lost child showed up in a friend's life recently, a child he'd last seen when the baby was about a year old. The friend, who's been in recovery for many years, had been told by the mother that it would be better if he disappeared from their lives. At the time my friend was in the midst of his addictions and had been recently completed a jail sentence. He agreed with the mother and never saw her or the child again.

But last week the child, now a 40 year old man, came back into his life. He had been looking for his father and had accidentally discovered him through someone who uses Facebook. They reunited and my friend discovered that his son was a decorated military veteran who is about to return to the Mideast, where he's served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

While I'm not sure about how the reunion went, this story illustrates some of the impact our disease has on those around us. We travel through life in the grips of our disease, an addiction that rules every aspect of our lives. Over and over again our addiction destroys relationships, businesses, careers and health.

The literature says we'll “not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” My friend is an accepting person and works a strong program. However, I believe it'll take a while for him to assimilate the idea that he's met a son – and a new granddaughter – that he never knew.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The first Thursday of each month we have an awards meeting at TLC. At that meeting an outside speaker comes in to talk about sobriety. The speaker last night was one of the better ones we've had, a former client who was in the program in 1992. He'd recently celebrated 18 years of sobriety.

The speaker came from what many would consider a privileged background. His father was a doctor, he was raised in Scottsdale, Arizona. He graduated from college with an engineering degree. Prior to coming to TLC he had a great job with the Central Arizona Project, a beautiful home, and drove a BMW.

Although he didn't start drinking until he was 21, alcohol soon took over. He tried a geographical cure that didn't work. He went to treatment, then to a halfway house where he managed to stay sober for a while. But ultimately he started drinking again and began a downward spiral that would end with him living for a couple of nights behind a Circle K dumpster. The crowd was riveted with his stories because the man before them appeared the epitome of success. He wore nice business clothing, had nice shoes, and appeared to be healthy and happy. But the stories he told about his early days at TLC helping repair sewer lines and living in a very austere conditions resonated with the audience.

The 50 to 60 men in the crowd applauded at several points during the man's story. His sincere gratitude for his sobriety and his sharing of his early experiences in sobriety resonated with the crowd.

Our staff is always grateful when we can find a speaker who is also a graduate of our program. And it's especially refreshing when the speaker has 18 years of sobriety. We are grateful that he took time out of his busy life to come share with us.

Friday, December 3, 2010

At as I returned to my office yesterday after a trip to the bank I walked past our conference room where three men were at the table talking intently. Spread out on the conference table between them were drawings, plans, and photographs. The three of them were discussing a construction project involving the rehabilitation of some 50 apartment units. The project was projected to cost many thousands of dollars.

Now this is not an unusual scenario in the business world. Business planning goes on every day in our country. The unusual thing about this discussion was not the subject, but the parties involved. Two of the men involved in the project were recovering substance abusers. One of them had been sober some 18 years. The other had been clean for around four years. These two men have been in our recovery program since they began to get sober.

The amazing thing is that since they have been sober they have become strong contributors to our world. One of the men is our program director, an innovative thinker and strong leader. The other man is a crew foreman who has been with us for over four years. He is a willing employee who always brings the project in on time. And he does all of this with a crew of recovering addicts and alcoholics.

But if one were to look at these men's history they would never have much hope that they would accomplish anything. The program director had been a drug user for over 27 years. He had spent time in prison because of drug and alcohol use. The other man, who is much younger, has a similar story of drug abuse and incarceration.

And today they are working together on a project that will make a profit for TLC, a contribution that will help others like them get clean and sober.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

When it came the client's turn to share, he started telling the group about where he was in his life today.

"I look around me," he said, "and I realize that I'm not really where I want to be at this point of my life." He went on to lament how others have much more than he did. They had great jobs. They had careers. They had families. He was pretty down on himself about where he was in his life compared to others of his age, education, and background.

"There's more than one way to look at your situation," interjected another group member. "If you were thinking positively, you could just as easily find your situation to be a lot better than those who don't have as much of you do."

Others in the group pointed out the same thing. They made the point that the man just should change his perspective. He could look to others and say, "everyone has a lot more than I do." Or, he could say, "why I'm fortunate that I'm not in that wheelchair. Or, that I'm not homeless. Or that I live in the United States of America where opportunity abounds."

The group morphed into a session about gratitude and looking at the many blessings we have in our lives. Although it's not unique to alcoholics and addicts, those of us in recovery sometimes focus on what we don't have. When I hear someone in a group or meeting who talks about how grateful they are for what's going on in their lives I recognize that this is a person who's been around for a while. This person has spent some time in recovery and realizes what's important in life.

There's probably not a person on the planet who can't play the comparison game, in either a positive or negative way. I once knew a man who was homeless who thought life was really great because he had a special spot in a desert wash that he could call his own. He felt that his life was a lot better than those who lived in an alley or on a sidewalk. I also went to school with a spoiled rich kid who'd received the gift of a new car but was upset because on of his rich kid friends had been given a car that was a little pricier.

It's all a matter of perspective.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I was at a recovery meeting yesterday where stress was one of the topics. Nearly all of the those who made comments spoke of stress as if it were something real. They talked of stress as though it lived outside of themselves, as though it had an independent existence.

"Life has me stressed out," one said. Another claimed that his boss was the source of his stress. And so it went around the circle, each of them attributing it to external sources.

One person, however, had a better explanation of stress. He said that stress is only our reaction situations outside of ourselves. And he emphasized the word "reaction."

He said that we sometimes, without thinking, assign real importance to what goes on outside of us. This is dangerous, he explained, because when we do this then we give our power to forces beyond our control.

For example, if we blame the boss for a poor performance report then we are avoiding the responsibility for our own behavior. If we blame our mate for our uptight anger then we are not looking at the responsibility we have to communicate well.

And the list goes on and on.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The economy is finally starting to shift once more. In the past 40 days our population has soared by more than 100 clients. We have been busy for the last two weeks, scrambling to find beds and to open up some areas of our housing units that were previously closed. It has been a long dry spell for us and it feels good to be heading back to our former population levels.
 
A reality of this business is that no matter whether you have 10 people or 1000 people, the mortgages and the maintenance continue. Someone asked me to what we attribute our sudden population increase. I wish I knew. We've been doing a lot of advertising and telephone outreach across the country. We have also changed some policies to help clients feel more at home. One of these changes is to allow incoming clients to use cell phones from the day they arrive. Previously we had restricted phone use for newcomers. But, after someone pointed out they needed a cell phone to help them find employment we changed the policy and it seems to have a good effect. One of the realities of being in the recovery field is that there are so many variables that come into play.
 
The big factor for us is always population, which is rarely stable. Right after 9/11 when the economy went into a tailspin, our population went down radically. It took us a year or more to recover financially. Eventually we did and things went very well for us until the beginning of 2008. Since then it has been a real struggle to pay bills and keep things functioning.
 
So it is with a sense of relief that we start December and the Christmas season. We are setting up seven Christmas tree lots, our labor group is busy, and we are scrambling to provide services to the newcomers. However, no one is complaining. This is what we have been praying for and now it's finally coming to us.
 
I try to always look at the blessings that come from adversity. And we've had a number of them since the first of 2008. We've cut our staff by approximately 35 people. We sold 22 vehicles. We cut expenses in virtually every area. Its created for us the idea that we can always cut expenses if we just make an effort.
 
Our cost-cutting has shown up in several areas. We've been able to cut 13% from our utilities by installing weatherstripping and more efficient thermostats. We cut printing and copying costs in the corporate office by $500 a month by installing a digital faxing program that allows us to send and receive faxes without using paper or toner.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"How do I find a good halfway house?" a newcomer asked me after the 12 step meeting the other day.

Of course my immediate response was to tell him that TLC has the best recovery program. But I didn't. Instead I gave him some ideas about what to look for before he chose one. I told him that there were several good places he could live while working on his sobriety. Some things I told him to look for were the quality and structure of the program he selected.

The first thing I suggested he look at was the management. How long had the operators been in recovery? This latter is an important question. Many times people will get sober for 90 days, then decide to open a halfway house. They do the math and decide this is a good way to make easy money. I told the man to be sure the management had been sober for at least a year and, hopefully, more like five years.

What was the focus of their program? Or did they even have a program? How long had they been offering services? For a halfway house or recovery program to help its clients there should be structure and rules. If a program only offers a bed and directions to 12 step meetings then that's not much of a program. While that structure might work for someone who's been in recovery for a year or two, it definitely will not work for a newcomer who's not highly motivated.

Several other things to pay attention to when selecting a program are:

-Does it offer meals?
-Is counseling available?
-Does the program have a license from the city or state?
-Is there employment assistance?
-Is public transportation available?

When interviewing the manager of a halfway house make sure you ask about other programs. It's the manager bad mouths other programs or tells you they're a bunch of crack houses, then you're probably talking to someone who is not very professional. When people ask us about other programs we have several to recommend. Addicts and alcoholics get sober in all kinds of places, many without a program at all. However, it serves no purpose to bash other programs. People get sober in all kinds of places. And even the worst help some people get sober. Often, it depends upon the motivation of the addict or alcoholic.

But the idea that we will improve our program, or elevate it in some way, by bashing the competition has never worked for us.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The literature says the spiritual life is not a theory. What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that the spiritual life is something tangible?

Often at 12 step meetings, we hear people discussing their spiritual experiences. When I was a newcomer, I used to question some of these stories. I heard such things as people having spiritual awakenings after an eagle landed on the hood of their car. Others described getting messages from God. While I didn't laugh at these stories, I found many of them incredible. But today I have a different view.

When people talk about their spiritual experiences now I realize their these accounts are very personal and subjective. How do I know what others experience? In fact, I can maybe learn something from the stories they share. After all whatever helps them stay clean and sober is, in my opinion, worth taking a look at.

My spiritual experiences take many forms. However, they always involve other people and are nothing abstract. My spiritual experiences occur usually when I hear someone talk about how being sober has changed their lives. I often hear people recount how they have achieved things they never thought they'd achieve had they not gotten sober. Sometimes these experiences happen for me when I'm in public.

A while back I was in a neighborhood market shopping when I noticed someone looking at me. Finally, the person came up to me and said are you........? I told him in my name and he said he'd been in our program some 13 years before. He had with him two of his daughters and said he had two others at home. He's a successful businessman, living the promises. To me it is a spiritual experience when someone gives me the gift of a story like that. I treasure those stories of success and believe that I wouldn't have been involved with this person if it wasn't for God in my life.

I once heard someone say that what is not material is spiritual. While I'm not sure if his statement was right or wrong I like the concept. If I believe everything that's not material is spiritual then I have an opportunity to live a spiritual life.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yesterday I realized how rich my life has become. I'm writing this the day after Thanksgiving, in a reflective mood. During the morning I received several messages from managers and employees, thanking me for what I'd done for them. Aside from those calls, I also received text messages from others expressing gratitude. During the day I was reflecting how life has changed over 20 years.

When I went into a detoxification unit January 14, 1992, I had one phone number. And, in retrospect, that person didn't want to hear from me. I believe that family and friends still loved me then. But my life had been a train wreck for so many years they were more comfortable in expressing their concern from a distance. Today there are more than 100 numbers in my cell phone and I have many people I can call on for help.

Later in the day I went to a Thanksgiving dinner. There were many family members and friends at the gathering. The event was cordial and convivial, a refreshing contrast to how life once was.

Another reflection of the change in my life is that I'm privileged to be able to help people in recovery. We have almost 650 people in our program and were able to provide Thanksgiving dinner for them. Many lost their friends and family due to their addictions, so holidays can be rough. Our staff was fortunate in being able to obtain 75 turkeys, enough to provide meals for our clients.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Yesterday a man who has been in our program several times without success called and asked for help. Each time we've discharged him it's because he's been using drugs, usually on the property. On one of these occasions he was actually working for us as a manager. Another manager noticed that his eyes looked funny and he was asked to give a urine sample. He declined, and of course was discharged him for refusing a drug test.

Over the past 10 years he's been back in our program four times. For a period of time he'll do well and then he'll be asked to give a drug test, which he usually fails. After he leaves he goes on a long run of using until he is near death. When he calls, we usually take him back.

But where we draw the line? For some reason the man always has the humility to ask for help. When he calls he's usually broke, sick, and demoralized. Our inclination is to not help him. But then we have to look at our mission which is to "help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives." So in pursuit of this mission, we generally take the man back into the program.

And these days we're more inclined to help people in this situation than to not help them. Over 10 years ago we turned a man down who had a similar history. We learned a few days later he died in the streets of Phoenix while drinking. Though he made the choice to drink and drug we always wonder if maybe we'd let him in one more time it might have helped him change.

There is a term that seems to apply to this situation. It is called "harm reduction." Maybe all we can do for a man in his situation is to help him stay sober for a period of time, that period of time being while he was with us and sober.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today is Thanksgiving and I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my sobriety. If I hadn't gotten sober January 14, 1991 I wouldn't be alive today. When I finally entered sobriety I was addicted to heroin, alcohol, and anything else I could get my hands on. I had lost my job, my apartment, and I was essentially homeless. I was totally demoralized. I knew that I was facing prison, a mental institution, or death.

From the day I got sober my life is taken them interesting course. Since I admitted I was an alcoholic all of the promises have come true for me. My blessings include:

-I have a loving relationship with a beautiful woman.

-I have loving relationships with my children and grandchildren.

-I have good friends.

-I work in the recovery field, a job I have had for nearly 20 years.

-I founded a nonprofit recovery program after I had a year sober, which created a job that allows me to help others.

-I have a relative amount of prosperity in my life.

Today, on Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for all that life has so generously provided for me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The other day a woman was telling me about her health problems. She was overweight and she had heart problems that had been with her since childhood. While we were having this discussion she was lighting a cigarette.

She must have seen a look on my face because she told me "I know, I need to quit these things."

I learned a long time ago to not engage in health discussions. What others do or don't do with their lives is not my business. If people come to me and want to discuss sobriety or addiction I'm happy to do that. But beyond that I have learned that it is frustrating to expect people to change. I didn't always have this attitude. When I quit smoking some 27 years ago I was almost evangelistic in my fervor to help others quit. Today I don't engage with others about smoking. If they ask me how I quit I tell them. As long as they don't smoke around me I'm okay with them pursuing their addiction. Oh yes, I would prefer that nobody smoked but I realize that there are lot more productive battles to fight.

It's the same way for me when people talk about losing weight. For some reason, probably because I don't have a weight problem, people like to engage in conversations about losing weight. A few of them have been memorable. Last year three of my family members were talking about losing weight while we were on vacation. They were having this discussion while slicing a cheesecake. Another close relative likes to talk to me about losing weight, and it is usually over a large plate of pork chops or steak. When we get into serious discussions about health and weight loss he reverts to telling me about how intensely he worked out 25 years ago. When I attempt to steer the conversation to what he can do today about his weight he changes the subject.

Many times those of us in recovery switch addictions. We become addicted to food. Or become addicted to sex. Or maybe we start smoking more. Our obsessive behavior may play out on a different stage.

For me the discussion is always about the quality of life. I didn't get clean and sober just to start another negative addiction.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The TLC program is peer driven. That means that we're just addicts helping other addicts. This type of program has disadvantages and advantages.

One of the disadvantages is that we must monitor our managers very closely to make sure they treat clients with respect. There is a high burnout rate among our managers, probably as high as among professional counselors and therapists. At times we find our managers taking their frustrations out on the clients.

This venting of frustration takes the form of being short with the clients, being impatient with the clients, or perhaps just being rude. When this happens the manager receives an invitation to visit my office. During this visit I explain that our clients are our most important resource. I also point out that they never treat me with anything other than respect, no matter how frustrated they may be. I further explain that they will be known for the management skills used with the newcomer and the most problematic resident in the house - not by how they treat me or their supervisor. I always evaluate our managers by how well they treat the residents.

One suggestion I give them is to make sure they get plenty of rest. Most of our managers take a two hour break in the afternoon when the clients are either working or looking for jobs. I also ask them to schedule time off on weekends, taking at least one day to get completely away from the program. Many of them protest, saying they don't have anyone to take their place while they're gone. I explain to them that that is always about their ego. Before they got there someone was doing their job. And after they leave someone else will be doing their job. None of us are irreplaceable, in spite of what our ego tells us.

There are also many advantages to a peer driven program. We are able to help more clients because were not spending money on counselors or therapists or psychologists. All of our resources go to help our clients rebuild their lives. While many in the community take comfort in the idea that a psychologist or therapist is dealing with their loved ones, no one can really demonstrate that professional treatment or counseling is superior to peer driven counseling when it comes to results. And the results we look at is how many people live in long-term sobriety after leaving a program – whether it's peer driven or of a professional nature.

Another advantage of a peer driven program has that a lot more addicts can afford to get help. The amazing thing is that someone can be in our program for a year for less than $5500. The other day I was talking to a client who had gone through an expensive treatment program. The 30 days of treatment cost his insurance company and family some $30,000. He said that the program was like a resort or spa yet he didn't feel like he was getting any better information about sobriety that he was getting in our peer driven program.

I guess time will tell.

Monday, November 22, 2010

At this time of year it becomes apparent how teamwork and organization can create success. The day after Thanksgiving we begin selling Christmas trees. We sell them through Christmas Eve.

There are a lot of logistics involved in selling trees. Our management team starts the process in mid July. Why so early? Because, that's when the growers in Oregon start planning to harvest and ship their product. So that's the time of year we start placing orders. But it's not as simple as just placing orders. Before we know how many trees we need we must figure out how many locations we can find to sell or trees.

So before we can even place an order our sales team is scouting out malls and supermarket parking lots where the owners will allow us to sell trees. And even if they agree we can sell them there's more work to do. In some cities we have to get permits. At others we have to find a water source to keep the trees fresh. We also need proof of insurance for the property owners. In each location we put up chain-link fence to prevent theft. We also have to find volunteers among our clients and employees to staff the lots during the chilly days and cold evenings.

Why do we sell Christmas trees? This is one way we are able to give Christmas bonuses to our employees. In the past two years the economic slump has been so severe that we've had to use the profits from the Christmas tree sales to pay bills. This year we're hoping that the slight economic uptick will allow us to give bonuses to our employees.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The display at a local superstore was filled with a popular soft drink packaged in a container shaped like a Christmas tree bulb. The sides of the container had large signs that read "Buy Yourself Some Happiness." The message didn't hit me until later as I walk through the store to continue my shopping. Then I started thinking that this was an attractive message to anyone, but especially to someone in recovery.

For wasn't that one of our problems? We always thought we could buy happiness in a bottle. Or in something to smoke. Or in a needle. It was only until our excesses and abuses started having a powerful and negative impact upon our life that we decided to change. But even after 20 years of sobriety the seductiveness of the message resonates with me. One of the strong elements of our consumer society is that happiness is something we can purchase.

If only I have the right clothing, the right job, the right girlfriend, the right home, then I'll be happy. Of course those of us with addictions take this a step further and find that for a while we can be not just happy, but also overjoyed. It just takes the right chemical mix in our body and we will have bliss.

Overcoming the constant bombardment of messages from the television, newspapers, and other media, is an ongoing battle. While our consumer economy has given us a high standard of living, it has also warped our values about what is meaningful in our lives. Those who play the lottery are seduced by the idea money will bring joy and happiness. For the winners, the joy and happiness only last a while. One can only eat so many cloying, sweet desserts before the excess is overwhelming.

This is what happens to many lottery winners. They buy cars, they buy expensive clothing, they buy palatial homes. Then reality sets in. And the reality is that there isn't enough stuff to buy happiness. Some learn, if they're lucky, that true happiness doesn't come from things. True happiness comes from experiences that create great memories.

Having been in recovery for nearly 20 years, I've changed my idea of happiness. Yes, I'm still on a track of achieving financial security. But I find that the best experiences I've had involving money come when I've created good memories by going on a vacation with my family. The inanimate objects that money can buy do bring a fleeting pleasure. But true happiness, in my opinion, is found in human interaction with those I care about.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An employee at one of our outlying facilities has serious health issues. A few years ago he had triple bypass surgery. A recent medical report showed a hole in his heart. In a few weeks he's scheduled to have an examination to see if there's anything that can be done about the hole. This came to my attention recently when his supervisor came to me with a request.

He asked that we give the man several weeks off work and have someone substitute in his place. This change would require us to give him free rent for several weeks. And, we would have to compensate the fellow who would be replacing him. But having known this fellow for several years I had a question for his supervisor.

"Is the man still smoking? " I asked his supervisor.

"I think so," said his supervisor.

"Then we're probably not going to help him unless he quits smoking," I told him.

While this might seem to be an extreme response it has been our policy for some time. Several years ago we had a few employees with serious health problems. When they would ask for time off we came to realize that their health problems might be exacerbated by their smoking. Finally, we developed a policy where we wouldn't give people a lot of time off for health reasons if they were still smoking.

While some might find this to be a harsh reaction, it has helped a few people stop smoking. In fact one them, who'd had a heart attack while with us, has now been smoke free for more than four years.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Many times we get younger clients into our program who have no experience in life. We took one in the other day who was in his late 20s. He'd never had a job, he hadn't graduated from high school, and he had zero work experience. How had he managed to live for more than 20 years and achieve absolutely nothing? It was simple. He had been locked up for over half of his life in juvenile or adult institutions. His attitude and addictive behavior were so bad that most of the time he was locked up he couldn't avail himself of educational programs because he served much of his time in isolation.

We've had some good experience with clients who come to us in his situation. At some point clients come to realize that if they're going to survive in free society they're going to have to develop some skills. We've had several clients in this situation. When they first come in we try to help them find a basic job, something that they can complete and feel good about. We either assign them to work in our temporary labor company or else we employ them around the program doing an entry-level job. We have many of these. Clients without skills can start out cleaning up the facility, working in maintenance, or answering telephones.

As an example we have a man who has been with us for nearly 15 years, who came to us as a teenager. He left a few times during that 15 years, only to relapse and return. He finally graduated from one of our more difficult and demanding programs and today has a position of responsibility with TLC. His story is heart-wrenching because it shows what happens when addicts and alcoholics raise children. His mother died of alcoholism when he was 12 years old. The last time he saw his father he was panhandling in a local park. In fact, the client gave him a few dollars before he told him goodbye.

It is gratifying to help someone rebuild their life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

During a daily debriefing meeting last night at our Mesa employment center the floor was opened for complaints or questions. The manager who moderated the meeting said if there were any complaints about the program this was the time to bring them. Usually, at this point, there were the usual complaints about the food, or about a manager's communication skills, or other issues that arise when people live in groups. But the moderator last night said something that he usually doesn't say.

"You guys can also give us a compliment or an attaboy," he said, in an attempt at humor.

He was mildly surprised when one man started talking about what he had gotten out of the TLC program. He said that he had been released from prison to TLC and that he was grateful for having someplace to go. He said that there was nothing he had encountered at the TLC program that was as bad as what he dealt with while he was in prison. He now had freedom to live a sober life, not exposed to the drugs and other issues that come up with living inside prison walls.

Another man talked about how his attitude had changed since he had come into the program. He talked about how he'd given the management team a hard time when he first arrived. He had wanted to do everything his own way but finally realized that at TLC there are certain guidelines he had to follow. He talked about how much his house manager had helped him and how grateful he was for the help he had received.

Before the meeting ended several others shared positive comments about their experiences in the program. When the meeting adjourned there was an air of enthusiasm among the clients. Most of them were up for the challenges of finding a job the next day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When the facilitator asked for a topic at last night's aftercare group a member selected "frustration." He was asked to lead off and he did.

He started describing problems he was having with an 18-year-old daughter who'd been living with his ex-wife in another state. It seems the girl had left her mother's home and moved in with a boyfriend. On top of that, the group member believed she was smoking marijuana and drinking. There were other issues involved, including his suspicion the girl was possibly being abused by the boyfriend. All of this had come to him through phone calls. When he finished, the group chimed in.

“Have you thought about acceptance?” one man asked. “Anyway, there's not much you can do about this from 2000 miles away.”

“Your daughter's an adult,” said another. “You have no power over where she goes or what she does.”

Several others contributed their thoughts as the group went on. One of the best ideas, I thought, was when one member suggested he give his daughter no advice unless she asked. He suggested that he simply listen to her and let her know that he loved her.

When the others had their turn to share the consensus seemed to be that being frustrated had a lot to do with wanting the unobtainable. And the solution always came to acceptance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gratitude was the topic of our monthly staff meeting. The 20 people in the circle talked of the gratitude they had for different aspects of their life. Some were grateful for having been able to stay sober for more than a few months. Two of the group members had regained custody of their children. Others had gratitude for being able to help others with their sobriety. As we went around the circle it became clear that all of them had a different viewpoint about gratitude. The one thing they did have in common, however, is that they all agreed that gratitude would help them stay sober.

"It's hard to get drunk or get high," said one man, "when one has gratitude."

I, for one, have a lot of gratitude for the way our organization runs. We have one of the most disparate staffs of any company I know. We have people of all ages, from all ethnic groups, and educational backgrounds. Some have arrest records and many have been in prison or jail. Some have physical disabilities and others are on psychiatric medication. The one common thread is they're all trying to recover from substance abuse, either alcohol or drugs.

The glue that holds this organization together is the strong desire to change, both ourselves and others. We make decisions with the idea of helping as many people as possible stay sober and rebuild their lives. And while we don't always make the right decision, it's usually the right decision when those who are making it stay sober themselves.

More than three quarters of our staff members are volunteers. They don't get salaries for the work they do. They don't get medical insurance. They don't get paid vacations and many of them volunteer six days a week. But the one thing they do get is something upon which they cannot place a monetary value: they get their lives back. Most of them have been on years long missions of destroying themselves. When they finally realize that they are still alive and in misery they decide, mostly out of desperation, to take a chance on recovery.

While it may seem to be a Hobson's choice, it's a choice that many of them make. In making this choice they've developed gratitude for their new lives.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's very rewarding when I run into a former client who's been sober for a long time. That happened yesterday when I went with our employment supervisor to talk to an advertising company owner about a contract for our clients to work with his company.

During our conversation with the owner, who has been in the advertising business for about 20 years, it came out that he employed a former client.

"One of my supervisors was in your program 13 years ago," he told us. "He makes over $150,000 a year now," he said.

I was pleasantly surprised and asked the man's name. However, just then the former client walked around the corner and I immediately recognized him. The man came up and gave me a hug and we chatted for a few moments. When the employment supervisor and I left the man's office we had an agreement to provide employees to his company.

These encounters don't often happen quite that dramatically. But when we do have serendipitous events like this it is an additional pay off and reminds me how we make a difference in our community. At times my staff and I get caught up in the day-to-day minutia of running a business and don't get to see the results of our efforts. When we encounter a former client, who's had a long period of success, it brings home to us that what we do makes a difference in the world.

There have been times past several years when some members of my staff and I haven't been paid because of economic conditions. We have postponed taking a salary because it was necessary to keep the company functioning. However, when I see the results of our work in the lives of those who've been sober for many years it makes everything we do worthwhile.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The first client to share in our aftercare group was full of emotion. It seemed he had a problem with his dentures and was in pain. His voice was shaky and the pain was visible on his face. He had a simple request: he needed to go to the dentist to get his lower plate repaired because it was broken. Once I dealt with the issue and told him that we would get him to the dentist the following day he relaxed and we went on with the group.

We selected as a topic the subject of asking for what we want in life. We selected this because it came out that this client had been hesitant to ask for help with his dental issue. When I asked him why, he said he didn't know. When I suggested it had something to do with self-esteem he reluctantly agreed that he felt like he didn't have anything coming.

As the discussion went around the circle it came out that many of them were hesitant to believe their needs were important. Many had been raised in abusive homes, had been in prison, or had abused alcohol and drugs for a long time. Because of this history many felt bad about themselves and what they hadn't contributed in life. Their behavior had resulted in severe consequences for many of them. As a result their self-worth had suffered.

"How are people going to know what you need" I asked, "if you don't let them know?"

As we went around the circle it came out that many felt they had misused friends and family members. Their disease caused them to take from those around them and hurt them the process. This abuse on their part sometimes resulted in a feeling of worthlessness and loss of self-esteem.

I suggested they work with their sponsor on issues like this. Many times when we are able to do an inventory and make amends we start to rebuild self-worth. Once we make amends we start to build a foundation of self-worth that will continue to grow as we do positive things.

When members of the group suggested other ways to build self-worth they came up with several ideas. Among them were going back to school, starting an exercise program, quitting smoking, and developing better communication with their family members.

They all agreed that regularly doing positive things over a long period of time would help restore self-esteem and allow them to feel more positive.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A client in aftercare had been fired three times in the past seven months. When he was asked why he'd lost three jobs in such a short time he began to rationalize. He said he'd only been fired from two jobs. He said at the last job they had just asked him "to not come back the next day." When someone suggested that was the same thing as getting fired he finally agreed.

He went on to say that he seemed to be unable to stifle his feelings when upset. When he became angry or frustrated, he was often unable to be quiet. And, it resulted in him losing jobs.

As the group went on some members were not very charitable in their suggestions. One suggested that he "grow up." Another said he should stop being "a big baby." Almost all of the suggestions had to do with the client's immaturity and unwillingness to delay gratification.

The group facilitator shared how he dealt with frustration. He said he had a punching bag on his back patio. When he became frustrated he said he often went to the back patio and beat the bag. Once he did, most of his anger worked itself out. He found it to be a therapeutic outlet. One client suggested the man take a bicycle ride as a way to relieve his anger. A few others agreed that physical activity often helped them reduce the stress and anger that might come from not getting what we want when we want it.

The client said he'd come back the following week with some examples of how he'd dealt with his frustration in a positive way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Probably one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of my job is when I talk to parents who are concerned about their children. Sometimes their children come from far away to enter our program. The parents are often concerned about their safety. They wonder if they'll get the help they need. If only the children could hear the pain and emotion in their parents voices, it might be a strong motivating factor in helping them to get sober.

Usually the message comes via e-mail, so I respond with a brief message and my phone number. I encourage them to call if they have further concerns. Sometimes they write and sometimes they call. I do what I can to help them feel better.

It 's easy for me to relate to these parents. I have children and grandchildren who are having problems. At one time I thought - because I'm in the recovery field - my children would find me to be a good example to help them stay clean and sober. It hasn't worked that way. One is addicted to pills. Another has a problem with alcohol. Still another smokes a lot of marijuana.

So when I talk to those who are concerned about children or other family members I have a deep well of experience to draw from. I use this to try to comfort them and give them some perspective. Virtually all the calls I get are from those with little experience with alcoholism or drug addiction. I seldom get emotional calls from parents who are also in recovery themselves or who are members of Al-Anon. So one of the things I generally tell parents who have little experience with addictions is that they should investigate Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is an organization that helps those who have an addict or alcoholic in their life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It seems like one of the biggest issues among our employees is communication. Because much of our recovery program is managed by our recovering addict clients communication can sometimes stop everything. This occurred again yesterday when there were some problems in the accounting department. It seems as though two people were trying to do the same job and because they hadn't communicated part of the work didn't get completed. A flareup occurred and one woman said she wasn't coming back to work.

To resolve the problem the department supervisor called for a group. This is an effective tool that we use in many levels of our program. When a situation becomes emotional or complicated we can usually resolve it quickly by having a group. In group the participants often come up with good ideas and in the process they are able to dissipate the emotion that is sometimes generated when people have communication problems.

While most of our employees come from within our program at one point we had an outside accountant who was not in recovery. He was a so-called “normal” person. One day when we had communication problems in the office he was surprised when we stopped everything and called for a group. He said that he had never worked in a situation where this was a way to solve problems. It wasn't that he was against it. But it was new to him. And once the group was over we were able to get back to work and everything ran smoothly for a while.

He was impressed with the results. He thought maybe businesses everywhere should use this technique when they encounter communication problems.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I was surprised the other day when a man asked me a question after the 12 step meeting.

"Are you still my sponsor?" He asked. I was surprised because, while I had sponsored him at one time, he hadn't called me in probably a year.

"I haven't heard from you in quite a while," I responded. "Do you still want me to sponsor you?" When he said yes I told him to call me the following morning.

One of the first things that we hear in the rooms from those who've returned after a relapse is they quit calling their sponsor. I hear it so often it seems to be have become almost a cliche. And the next thing we hear is they quit going to meetings and stayed away from their sober friends.

The idea of getting a sponsor is not something newcomers always understand. And I was one of them. I thought a sponsor was there to help me get through the literature. And that didn't appeal to me because I had a lot of experience in reading, writing, and editing. I'd worked as a reporter and editor. Later I found out there was more to it than simply reading the book.

A sponsor helps us apply the lessons in the book to real-life situations. And the longer the sponsor has been sober the more experience he can draw on to help the sponsee navigate life without drugs or alcohol.

Today I have the same sponsor I've had for 13 years. He is a one-time business associate who is a friend and mentor. When I call him with a question or a situation he usually responds by telling me I probably know what to do. And he is right. But still, it is nice to use his experience to make sure I'm going in the right direction. I always have the comfort of getting advice from a man who comes from similar circumstances, who has children and grandchildren (as I do), and who is totally committed to staying sober.

Sponsors are guides and friends who keep us from having to learn things the hard way. Of course we have to be willing to listen...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I saw the beauty of the 12 step programs in action at last Sunday's meeting. The man who gave the lead had been sober over 35 years. He had an excellent message of how recovery works for him.

Once he finished and picked a topic, which was “honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness,” others in the room began to share. A newcomer said he could relate with the man. Even though the speaker was some 50 years older than him, the newcomer said that he was an inspiration. He said that at one time he couldn't have listened to someone from the speaker's background or age group. He said he was a longtime gang member whose lifestyle had finally led him to pushing a shopping cart on the streets of Phoenix.

The man sharing was covered with tattoos and had obviously spent a lot of time on the streets and in prison. He spoke with emotion of his loyalty to the gang that was once the focus of his life. It was only when life became bad enough that he started to listen in the rooms to those who had feelings similar to him. He came to realize that the language of recovery is universal, regardless of one's background.

And for me that is the beauty of the 12 step programs. Regardless of where we come from, our educational level, our ethnic background, or our religion, substances eventually beat us down to the point where God could work with us. Instead of looking at the differences in the rooms of recovery we started to see similarities. And the similarities among us, the feelings we share, are what eventually lead us into the light and out of the devastation of our disease.

Monday, November 8, 2010

We teach our managers the importance of treating clients with respect. This subject came up again the other day when a manager was talking about his surprise when he learned of a former client's arrest history. It seems that the man had spent about 30 years in prison for various offenses. And his prison record showed that while incarcerated he been in trouble for fighting and other bad behavior.

"Now that I know this guy's history," said our employee, "I'm going to start treating him better."

The supervisor who heard this comment had a talk with me later in my office.

"I'm glad that.... told me that," he said. "It reminds me that we need to emphasize respect for all of our clients."

One thing we must do in a non-professional, peer counseling situation is to carefully monitor how our managers treat clients. While it might seem to be common sense that we treat everyone with respect one of the things we've learned in our organization is that for many of our addict/managers this is their first time having responsibility. Many of them don't understand what it is to have even a little power. And some of them, when they get it, think that power means that they are superior to others. They often express this first taste of power by being rude or controlling with clients.

Whenever we encounter this behavior we immediately start paying attention to the manager. On the first occasion we counsel him or her about their behavior. If the manager is unwilling to change we assign them to a job where they're not supervising others.

Our philosophy has always been that we treat all of our clients well. Our mission is to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives. We do all we can to help them feel good about themselves. We try to exemplify the benefits of recovery by being good examples.

If we're going to help the newcomer then we need to be living examples of what it means to live in recovery.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In the headlines recently was the story of a gun battle south of Nogales, Mexico. The story recounted that innocent people were shot in a battle between rival drug and smuggling. Another story in another publication told of a Jamaican drug lord who had been brought to New York after 73 people died trying to protect him from extradition. In our world today these are not unusual stories. Over and over we read about the casualties of so-called "drug wars".

These kinds of stories always bring a cry from politicians for more enforcement. Another political group will cry out for tougher laws on drug smugglers and drug dealers. Somehow this approach has never worked. Since I was a boy in the 1950s these kinds of stories have appeared over and over.

Yet drugs are readily available in any city in our country. That's why we should legalize drugs as soon as possible.

Good, law-abiding citizen blanch at the idea of legalizing drugs. They say that legalization will encourage more people to use drugs. But that's a myth. In countries that have partial or full legalization there are fewer drug users than there are here in the United States. What many people don't seem to realize, is that our country has de facto legalization as it is. There never seems to be a shortage of drugs in our neighborhoods or cities. One just has to ask a few questions and he can find drugs in any town.

So if drugs are readily available, anyway, what would it hurt if we legalize them? If we made good clean drugs readily available one important thing would happen immediately. The murderous criminal drug cartels that thrive South of our border would have to find new markets for their poison. There would be no point in buying their adulterated product when safe clean drugs were available here in our country.

Another immediate benefit would be a reduction in the cost of law enforcement. Vast sums are spent policing drug traffic. Besides saving money on enforcement, our country would save money on the cost of prosecuting and warehousing drug offenders. Now many people don't see that as a good thing because all of a sudden many people would be out of work. But there is an upside to all of this. The money that had previously been spent on enforcement could be directed toward treatment.

Because I manage one of the larger recovery programs in the United States, many people might find my view hypocritical. But I don't view the problem as the easy availability of drugs. I view the problem has been the fact some people suffer from deadly addictions. One way or the other, addicts and alcoholics find a way to feed their disease. Availability is not the key factor.

It is time that to overhaul our counterproductive drug laws. In 50 years the situation has not gotten better. How can we not recognize that enforcement isn't working? Our so-called drug problem has remained static all that time.

By treating addiction as a crime - rather than a disease - we've created a criminal subculture. Many of its inhabitants live a dubious existence in the lower tier of our society.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The client in our employment center debriefing group was very negative about his chances of finding employment. He had sleeves tattooed on his arms and a few small ones on his face.

"No one wants to hire me because of my tattoos," he said dejectedly.

The manager pointed out that his inability to find work likely had more to do with his attitude than with his tattoos. He gave several examples of clients at our various facilities who had many more tattoos, but who had found employment. He went on to describe one client who was at our Roosevelt facility last year who had a tattoo of a knife slash across his throat. It was a very graphic depiction of a wound that had red blood seeping from it. The manager of the center believed this man would have difficulty finding employment anywhere outside of a carnival sideshow or a tattoo parlor. Yet his enthusiasm was so infectious he landed job the first day he started looking.

The manager went around the circle of 15 clients and asked each to share their job search experiences that day. Some mentioned sore feet, others talked with little enthusiasm about the applications they'd put in. Some were downright dejected. And a few said they had obtained initial interviews that might lead to employment within a few days. There was a mixed response, but most of it seemed to be about attitude.

And the interesting thing is that two days later the client who was so negative about his tattoos found employment. Maybe the manager's talk did some good.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's easy to work the 12 step programs when times are good. When we have a great job, a good relationship, and life is wonderful our program goes smoothly. But I believe that when times are tough we learn how much we have really absorbed of the 12 steps.

This was brought to my attention recently when two friends of mine, one who sponsored the other, had a crisis in their relationship. The one who acted as a sponsor was also the sponsee's supervisor. Because of a recent turn-down in his company's fortunes, the supervisor had to terminate the sponsee. At first it appeared as though they were going to be able to continue the sponsor/sponsee relationship. But for several days after the termination the sponsee didn't call the sponsor. And when he did finally call, it was to terminate their relationship. The sponsor hasn't heard from him since.

Relationships are so sensitive for us substance abusers. We get our feelings hurt easily. When a real crisis arises in our relationships we often don't know how to deal with it. Relationships can be difficult for anyone, especially those of us in recovery. But it can be especially difficult when our lives are intertwined in other ways. An employer-employee relationship, where one sponsors the other, can be traumatic if the relationship changes. If one of is terminated, or if one of them gets drunk, then it complicates the other aspects of their relationship.

Of course life is impermanent at best. The economy changes, business changes, relationships change. Hopefully we stay sober through the changes.