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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I often counsel those in our recovery program to not limit their thinking. I try to encourage them to look at all of the possibilities that exist in recovery. This conversation usually arises after someone tells me that all they want to do now is just stay sober. I tell them that staying sober is great. But I also point out that living in sobriety offers myriad possibilities, that new opportunities will open up for them. They will be able to live up to their full potential.

If someone had asked me when I had a year sober what my life would look like in five, 10, or 20 years, I would have drawn a small picture of what the future might hold. My goal at the time was to continue working a full time job, operate a 50 man halfway house as an avocation, and enjoy my sobriety. But God had other plans.

I quit my job within six months because the 50 man halfway house I had visualized turned into a 300 bed recovery program. Within five years there were more than 1000 clients and our operations spanned three states. At one time we were operating more than 10 businesses that provided employment for the clients and income for TLC.

The point is not to talk about our success today, but to encourage those in recovery to be the best they can be. Many of our clients have the idea that they might want to go back to school. They might want to establish a relationship with their estranged families. Or they perhaps want to revive a long abandoned career.

Whatever it is I encourage them to build on their foundation of sobriety and take steps toward their goals. After they have a year or so sober I suggest that they pick up the telephone if they want to reunite with their families. If they want to go to school, get a catalog, and start looking for grant money. Whenever their vision, I encourage them to take small steps to bring it to reality.

And the real thing they should do is to expand their thinking. Our Higher Power has plans for us. Our job is to live out those plans.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Every two weeks I drive from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada on business. I enjoy the five to six hour drive because it gives me time to myself. For the past several years of this drive I've been witness to one of the most amazing construction projects I've ever seen -- the bridge being built over the Hoover dam on the Colorado River.

Highway 93, linking Arizona and Nevada, crosses this beautiful arch of concrete that is poised gracefully over the Colorado River far below. The amazing part of the structure was how they built the archway. Construction crews worked from each side of the river, slowly adding to the arch for what seemed like years. As the arches slowly grew outward from the banks it looked almost like they were about to fall into the river. The only thing that kept them in the air were thick cables suspended from high towers anchored into the banks on each side of the river. But even the heavy cables didn't seem strong enough to support the massive weight of the concrete and steel arches. But somehow they did. Then one day I took the trip to Las Vegas and, sure enough, the arches had joined high above the river. It no longer seemed as if they were in danger of falling.

I mention this project because I have watched it from its inception and view it as a monument to human inspiration. It is a testimony to what people can do when they work together. While I know little about construction of this magnitude I do know that thousands of people have been involved with the project since its inception. While we passersby only see the people who are actually on site, I know that there are many many more in the background supporting the project. Planners, draftsman, environmentalists, supervisors, financial people, and a myriad of others have done a lot of hard work to bring the project along.

It is humbling to me because I know how difficult it can be to work with diverse people toward a common goal. In our small nonprofit we might have 60 employees, mostly volunteers. Yet even with a small number of people, accomplishing anything is sometimes incredibly difficult. That's why I am in awe of this complex project and the cooperation it took to bring it to fruition.

As a recovering person I can view such accomplishments as this bridge as an example of the power of the human spirit – the same spirit that helps us as we learn to live sober.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Being kind to others takes practice.

While in a large department store I witnessed a small act of kindness that changed my day. A man and woman in line ahead of me had two shopping carts full of items. The cashier had difficulty scanning a couple of the items, angering the woman customer. During the rest of the transaction the customer loudly berated the clerk and made comments about the store, the service and the quality of the help. The clerk, obviously flustered by the woman's behavior, nonetheless kept scanning items and placing them in the bags for the customer. The store had probably trained her for such contingencies as dealing with angry customers and she remained cordial and amiable throughout the woman's tirade.

After the couple left the checkout station the next customer in line moved up. She, of course, had been a witness to the previous customer's treatment of the cashier.

"You really handled that well," she told the clerk. "If that would have been me I wouldn't have been able to control my anger."

The response from the clerk was instantaneous. A smile of appreciation crossed her face. The customer's kindness helped erase the previous customer's rude comments.

Witnessing this incident reminded me that our words can mean so much to others. We can spread negativity or we can spread happiness. Just a few kind words can do it.

As recovering people when we walk through life we can practice treating others well. When the behavior of others creates stress in our lives we need to examine our reaction. When I have a bad reaction to others it's always about me. I'm either tired or frustrated or unfocused when I react badly to others. If I examine my reactions I can learn a lot about myself and not much at all about others.

When I am kind to others, I'm being kind to myself.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our recovery program has over 600 clients at the moment. One of the major challenges facing them is finding work. About a year ago, in response to this challenge, our staff created job centers at our larger facilities. There are four centers in all.

Each day at 4:30 in the afternoon, Sunday through Thursday, all of the job seekers get together. I often attend these meetings to evaluate how they are functioning and to give encouragement to our clients. During the meeting the clients sit in a circle and talk about how their job search went that day and discuss their plans for the following day. It is striking to me how different attitudes affect their success in obtaining a job.

Not surprisingly, those with enthusiasm are often successful in obtaining work right away. Those who are gloomy and downcast sometimes spend weeks on their job search. When it is their turn to speak during the meetings they have every reason in the world why their job search is not working.

"No one is hiring," they will say.

"I'm too old," a man over 50 might say.

"I went to the store, but they're only taking applications online."

"I have felony convictions."

The list of excuses and reasons goes on and on. They might not have bus fare. Or their bicycle might have a flat tire. They don't have identification. Or they don't have a driver's license.

My response is usually always the same: I ask them if they ever let anything stop them when they were seeking drugs or alcohol? This question usually gets a laugh. I go on to explain that when they needed a drink bad enough they would shoplift alcohol or they would panhandle money to get it. If they went to one dope house and the dealer was out, they would go to the next one and the next one until they found what they wanted. And many of them pursued this course of behavior until they ended up either in the hospital or in jail.

I point out to them that the same determination they exhibited when they were busy destroying their lives can be turned into positive energy when they are trying to rebuild their lives. If they use just 10% of the energy and time to seek employment as they did to get high then they will be wildly successful.

I often cite the example of a client I met in the early days of our job centers. This man had just been released from prison on parole the day before. He was covered with tattoos. Worst of all, he had a large tattoo depicting a knife slash across his throat, with blood running from it. This tattoo would have been difficult for him to cover up. However, when he reported on his day I was amazed.

This man was a ball of fire! He said that he had gone to three or four businesses to put in an application without positive results. He said that he stopped in an auto parts store that was not hiring and talked to the manager. It seems the manager was so impressed with his enthusiasm that he hired him on the spot! I sometimes use this man as an example to encourage clients to be enthusiastic in their job searches.

Sometimes a client will point to unemployment statistics as a reason why he can't find a job. My response is always the same: if 10% of the people are unemployed, then that means that 90% of the people are employed.

"Which group do you want to be in?" I challenge them. And of course the answer is always the same. They want to be with the 90%.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A few days ago I met my sponsor for lunch. He's a man who's been sober some 17 years longer than I have. I'm grateful that he's willing to take the time away from his family to have lunch with me.

When I first came into the program in 1991 I didn't really understand why I needed a sponsor. After all I could read the book myself. I had years of experience as a newspaper editor. I had worked in business administration. I knew how to write and read. The book was pretty clear. But one day I heard something in a meeting that clarified it for me.

"If you're trying to sponsor yourself," someone said, "then you're trying to fix something that's broken with something that's broken." Immediately it was clear.

When I first came into the program my values were twisted. I was dishonest with everyone, even myself. It was all about me, me, me. I could understand things on intellectual level. But applying the concepts of the program in the real world takes experience.

For example, I was very immature in my relationships. Many times my solution, if I didn't get my way, was to get angry and walk. But my sponsor had other ideas. He made suggestions such as apologizing to the other person. What a concept! He said that I needed to clean up my side of the street. He told me that I would feel better if I apologized and just moved on. He said that I didn't need to worry about the other person apologizing. I just needed to apologize. What happened to the other person was between them and God and was none of my business. At first that idea irritated me because I thought I was in charge of everything and there was nothing that wasn't my business. But, one more time, he was right. I felt much better when I apologized and took responsibility. I felt a new freedom.

When newcomers ask me about helping them find a sponsor I tell them to look for someone they can respect, someone who has a few years in the program. In my opinion the most important thing to look for in a sponsor is the quality of their sobriety. Does the person have humility? Does he or she have serenity and peace of mind? Does this person, by their behavior, carry the message?

Would I model myself after this person?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Last night I spent an hour on the phone with a man in his mid-80s, a parent who had been victimized by our disease. His son, a man in his late 50s, was an addict who couldn't get sober.

The addict had convinced his elderly father that the problem wasn't his drug abuse, it was other things. For one thing, the people in the program the son was trying to get into had been rude to him. Also they wouldn't let him pursue the career of his choice, driving a taxi cab. And the other thing he told his father was that he really didn't have a problem with drugs. His real problem was that he was a sex addict. And the women he had sex with offered him drugs and that's why he went back into his addiction. The stories he told his father went on and on.

The sad thing is that the father believed the son. Each time I tried to explain that his son was an addict and that the responsibility for change was on him, the father recited another story of how he had tried to help his son. The father, who lives in New Jersey, had last year financed the son's move from Chicago to Las Vegas where he was scheduled to enter a recovery program. Instead, the son somehow ended up living in a Las Vegas motel with a girlfriend, a situation that lasted for some six months. And the father paid for the motel all that time, convinced that the son was drug-free.

The father went on to tell me that the son finally entered the drug program in Las Vegas. He did very well for 120 days, then met another woman and relapsed again. Again the father blamed the woman and didn't assign the responsibility to his son -- which is exactly where it belonged.

The sad part of all of this is that often our family and friends do not understand the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction. And because they don't understand they are often victimized by the very people they care about. In this case the fifty something son had been draining his father's bank account to pursue his own addiction.

The conversation ended with my recommendation that the father do nothing else for his son until he was sure the son was well into recovery. I explained to him that the son's only problem in life was his addiction. And until he dealt with his addiction probably nothing else in life would go well for him.

Before ending the conversation I told the father to definitely not send his son more money. He said that wouldn't be a problem because the son had already depleted all of his savings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's easy to stay sober when life is good and things are wonderful. But it's when times are tough that the program provides support. I was reminded of this the other day when the mother of an old friend called. Her son had been sober for some time then relapsed when he faced some adversity. She was happy to tell me that he had finally gone back into treatment and had been sober for nearly a month.

On the outside it seemed that this man had everything going for him in sobriety. He went to three or four meetings a week. He sponsored others. He even taught a relapse prevention class at a local treatment program as a volunteer. He also had a great job, a nice place to live and a decent vehicle.

Then one day the company he'd been working for several years told him they were cutting his position in an effort to save money during a downturn. Within four hours he was drinking. Within days he had lost his apartment, his vehicle, and was living on the streets.

His friends and family were shocked at his rapid descent back into the grips of alcoholism. Periodic reports came in from those who had seen him at different liquor stores in town, drunk and disheveled. It was another testimonial for all of us of the power of our disease.

But what happened? How had he been sober one day, then drunk the next? Here was a man who was steeped in the literature of the 12 step programs. Why had something as small as losing his job precipitated his return to drinking? There are no easy answers.

But it says in the literature that if we are not spiritually fit there may come a moment when we'll drink again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"One day at a time," is a phrase often heard in 12 step meetings. To me, the concept means that I can stay sober and deal with the issues in my life today. I applied this concept yesterday, a Monday, several times. It seemed like everything happened all at once and in a jumble. Nothing happened on my schedule.

First, my sweetheart was out of town and undergoing a minor surgical procedure. Even though it was a minor procedure and had been planned for a couple of weeks it was still surgery and her welfare was on my mind.

Next, Jose the dog had been throwing up for two days and I had to have him at the veterinarian's office at 8:30 AM. At about the same time I was supposed to have Jose at the veterinarian's office, I was also supposed to be mailing some time sensitive documents. Since the post office opens before the veterinarian's office I planned to do that first. However, when I got to the post office, there were about 50 people in line. No problem. I would simply mail the documents at the local mailbox store in my neighborhood. But when I got there the sign on the door said it didn't open until 9 AM. Later in the day I was supposed to pick Jose up from the veterinarian's office at 4:30 PM. But that conflicted with a aftercare group I facilitate at 5:30 PM. Anyway, to shorten the story, my day was a confusing mess. There's a lot more I could add, but the point is that nothing happened the way I wanted it to or on my schedule.

Before I got clean and sober nearly 20 years ago yesterday's events would have pushed me over the edge . I would have gotten angry, drunk, or high -- probably all three. All of those minor dramas would have more than I could handle. But because I've been sober for a few 24 hours I'm able to break my life into short periods of time, little increments that I can deal with moment to moment. I'm able to take the concept one day at a time and, if necessary, reduce it to one minute at a time.

I pay attention to the small dramas in my life because they are the most deadly. Little challenges can destroy my serenity real fast. I often tell those in my aftercare group that I never got drunk over the big things. It was always the small stuff. The war in Iraq didn't bother me at all. Major disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes were nothing. But if I broke my shoe lace, or my car didn't start, that would be the end of it. I'd be off and running one more time.

Today I try to live in the moment and realize that life is as it's supposed to be. In God's world everything happens right on time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I was at a Big Book study this weekend when I heard another lesson in gratitude.

A woman I know, who has been sober for some 16 years, was talking about her back surgery. She recently had undergone her fourth surgery, this time on her neck. When it was her turn to share she described an experience she had while at the drugstore picking up a prescription for pain medications.

She said there were two other people in the waiting area with her at the pharmacy. One of them was a young man who appeared to be in good health, but who had a large swelling in the area of his liver. Because she is in the medical field she recognized this a sign of cirrhosis, a progressive and deadly disease. She said the other was a very heavy woman who whose face wore an expression of sadness and depression.

At that moment the realization came over her that there are many people in the world with problems much more serious than hers. At that point she began to enumerate her blessings. She had good health insurance. She had a good marriage. She had a secure job to return to when she recovered. Even though she was on her fourth surgery she had received excellent medical care and was expected to fully recover. And she would soon be able to stop taking pain medication.

She went on to tell us that her brief encounter with the two people at the pharmacy had reminded her to be grateful. She expressed the truth that we can always find someone who's in a worse situation than we are.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Clients daily come to TLC asking for help. Most of them are homeless. Ninety-eight percent of them have no money. Many of them own nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Some are on parole or probation, sent there by their supervising officer. After they sign paperwork agreeing to comply with our guidelines we accept them into our program.

Many are grateful for our help because it's difficult to find a place that will accept recovering addicts or alcoholics who have no money. Some of them, though, after getting some rest and a few meals, are not sure they want the kind of help we give them. They came to us desperate for help. But once they began to feel better their perspective changes.

Now the things we ask of our clients, with a few exceptions, are not really difficult for the average normal person. We ask them to get a job and pay us a $110 weekly service fee to live with us (an amount that includes housing, meals, counseling, job assistance and other services). We require them to obey the law and to stay clean and sober. We ask them to submit to random drug testing, either a urinalysis or breath test. For the first 90 days we require them to go to one 12 step meeting a day. During the first 90 days they attend relapse prevention class and a Big Book study.

But this regimen is often difficult for those who aren't ready to get clean and sober. They start objecting to the rules. They might begin complaining about the food. Or the management. Or the air conditioning. They begin to look at external things because they're not ready to change their lives. In their initial desperation they agreed to go to any lengths to change. But when they realize that “any lengths” might require some work and a psychic change on their part they begin to balk.

The idea of confronting the responsibility that comes with living sober is difficult for many addicts and alcoholics. But the real issue is almost never external conditions. The real issue is the thinking of the addict or alcoholic.

Are we going to change what we do? Not likely. We've had over 200,000 addicts and alcoholics come through our doors since 1992. Most of them didn't stay clean or sober. But we don't worry about the ones who didn't make it the first time. They might have heard something that will help the next time through.

The reward for us is the ones who took advantage of the opportunity we offered them and are living clean and sober today.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The call came early in the morning, around 5 AM. And like most calls at that time of day the news wasn't good. A 20-year-old client of our program had been found dead of a probable drug overdose. It was devastating to hear that a man of his age had succumbed to his addiction.

The literature promises that if we fail to deal with our addictions three things await us: jails, institutions, or death. In this young man's case it was, sadly, the latter.

It is it is frustrating when those we try to help succumb to our disease. We know we are powerless over others. We know that life teaches us what works and what doesn't. For those of us in the recovery field it is sometimes hard to accept that our power over others stops when we deliver the message. Once we deliver the message, the outcome is up to the recipient.

Those of us in recovery want to share the blessings with those who are still battling our disease. We try to help them understand that there is a good life in sobriety. We want to let them know they can get their families back. They can regain their self-respect. They don't have to live with the anxiety of seeking drugs and risking their lives or freedom. It can be so clear to those of us who have been sober for a while.

For many years others tried to help me get sober. And I know those close to me felt the same kind of frustration that I feel when our clients don't get the message.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Often times, many of those of us in recovery end up going to work in the recovery field once we have a period of sobriety. That was the case for me because it helped me keep in touch with my own sobriety. But also it was a rewarding job because helping others somehow seemed to put new meaning into my life.

But a few weeks ago I met a man who changed careers in the middle of his life who was not an alcoholic. A few years ago this man had a great career with a large health care organization. He was in charge of communications within the organization and had a well-paid responsible job. But something was missing for him.

"My life had no meaning," he said. He didn't know exactly what he wanted to do but he wanted to do something more fulfilling. He had an emptiness inside that he needed to fill. He prayed and meditated and finally came up with a solution. He decided to start a ministry to feed the homeless.

But he decided to do something different than what a soup kitchen typically does. Instead of making the hungry and homeless listen to a sermon before he fed them he decided to feed them first and preach to them later. He said that the results he got were gratifying because about 60% of the people stayed to listen to the message.

And it didn't bother him that some just came for the food and walked away without listening to his message. Someone pointed out to him once that giving food to the homeless and hungry is in itself a message.

From a humble beginning a few years ago where his ministry fed only a dozen people, he now feeds upwards of 200 at a time. He says that while there are challenges in his new career choice, he has never been happier.

For those of us in recovery this man's career change might contain a valuable lesson. For me the lesson is that our lives must have meaning. Just because we quit drinking or drugging that doesn't mean that all of a sudden our lives are worthwhile. We must replace drinking and drugging with something that satisfies our souls. For me the choice was going to work in the recovery field. For others it might be going back to school. Or starting a business. Or becoming a volunteer.

Whatever it is we do it must be something better than what we were doing before. Drugs and alcohol took everything from many of us. Some of us report that alcohol and drugs put meaning into our lives for a while. But then we lost family, friends, and in some cases, even our freedom in our quest for fulfillment.

I believe we must regularly evaluate what we are doing with our lives. We don't want to get to the end of our journey and wonder if we wasted our time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I was recently facilitating an aftercare group where a client in early recovery was discussing the guilt he felt about his past. Because of his drinking and drugging he hadn't been in his children's lives as they were growing up. He said that his self-esteem was shot. He seemed to have difficulty accomplishing anything.

One of the group members pointed out that it was unproductive to feel guilty about something that he couldn't do anything about today. Another suggested that he get involved in doing something positive, something to make him feel good about himself.

The client went on to mention that he had entered a GED program to get his high school diploma. He had been studying and felt that he was ready to take the examination. But again his lack of self-esteem popped up. He dejectedly said that he wasn't sure when he was going to be able to take the test because he didn't have the money for the examination. And he didn't know how he would get to the test site since he didn't have transportation.

Finally someone in the group said, "when you're ready to take the exam let me know and I'll see if I can help you out with some money." Another person in the group offered to help him get to the test site. The obstacles were removed and it same like the man would able to take the examination. In a final show of his lack of self-esteem the man said, "I'm not sure I'll pass."

This exchange demonstrated for me how low self-esteem can keep us from accomplishing - or attempting - anything worthwhile. When many of us arrived in recovery we didn't have much to feel good about. And we were angry at the person who had destroyed our lives: ourselves.

What's the solution? My idea for rebuilding self-esteem is to first try to accomplish small things. Start a modest exercise program where we walk for 20 minutes a day. Or make a commitment to read a book a week. We could get involved in a home group. We might volunteer for a community project. If we can complete these small commitments we'll feel better about ourselves.

Successfully completing projects that make the world a better place or make us better people is one of the building blocks of restoring our self-esteem.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When I came into sobriety I brought with me the sense of perfectionism that had plagued me all my life. Nothing was good enough. I had unrealistic expectations of myself. This perfectionism hindered me in several ways. There were some things I was afraid to try because I thought I might fail. For example, when I first got sober some 20 years ago my level of education was a GED I obtained while incarcerated in my teens. Because of my perfectionism I didn't want to take a chance on further education because I feared failing. I didn't get my Bachelor's degree until I was over 65 years old. Was I a 4.0 student? No. I graduated with a 3.4 grade average and that was good enough for me. But if I hadn't decided, during my early years of sobriety, that I would never be perfect I wouldn't have even tried to get my Bachelor's degree.

I often tell those I mentor that in recovery we only have do one thing perfectly. And of course the thing we have to do perfectly is the first half of the first step. Once I recognized that I was powerless over alcohol and other chemicals my whole life changed.

I was able to keep a job. I was able to pay rent and utilities. I didn't have to keep looking over my shoulder and wonder if I was going to be arrested for an old warrant. I was no longer on probation or parole. Simply because I did the first part of that first step perfectly life changed dramatically. The rest of the steps are a work in progress, as is my life.

A few months ago I experienced an example of my perfectionist attitude at work. I was sitting in the waiting room waiting to take a state counseling examination. In the waiting room with me were candidates from various fields of recovery. A woman sitting beside me worked at a methadone clinic. She was discussing a client and mentioned how well he was doing in his recovery.

I immediately, in a polite manner, began to remonstrate with her about her use of the term recovery. In my perfect world when someone is in recovery they use no chemicals. However, at her clinic, they consider someone in recovery when all they are using is methadone. She began to explain to me a concept called "harm reduction." She said that some of her clients had been on methadone for more than 20 years. During that time they had not used illegal drugs or alcohol and had not committed any criminal offenses. She explained that for some clients that was about as good as their lives could be. As long as they had their methadone they could function as productive members of the community.

While I still apply my definition of recovery in my own life I realized that recovery means different things to people in other disciplines.

Today I realize if I maintain the view that I don't have to do everything perfectly I will be willing to take more risks. I will be able to try new business ideas. I will attempt to learn things that I haven't tried to learn before. For example, I recently took an ICRC examination and passed with 75%. It was nowhere near perfect but, guess what? I passed..

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In the literature we read the phrase "cunning, baffling, and powerful." That was demonstrated for me one more time this week when a client I've worked with for three or four years seemed on the verge of relapse.

When I first met him he had just been released from prison and was working on one of our construction crews. I was impressed with him because he was a single parent working hard to raise a daughter by himself. Because I had raised a daughter as a single parent in early sobriety I felt a special affinity for this man.

As time went on he started having a few medical problems. One required painful surgery, and a recovery period during which he had to use painkillers. Because of issues we've had with clients who use painkillers, we restrict their use to a very short period following a medical procedure. It's not that we think we know more than the doctors. It's just that when clients have painkillers it creates challenges. Other clients might want to steal the drugs. And the managers that monitor the drugs are sometimes tempted to use them themselves. 19 years of history has taught us that chronic use of prescribed opiates by our clients has never worked.

When I explained to him that he couldn't continue to work for us and use painkillers every day he seemed puzzled. He believed that because he had graduated from our primary program that we shouldn't have anything to say about his use of prescription drugs. He said that he was in pain and needed them. I didn't disagree that he was in pain or that he needed the drugs. I simply explained to him that we have never have had good results when employees or clients use opiates on an ongoing basis.

I gave him a choice. I told him that he could ask his physician about substituting a non-narcotic painkiller for the opiates he was using. If the physician was unable to find him something non-narcotic then he would have to leave our employment. To me the decision would have been easy. But I could tell by his hesitation that his choice would probably be to give up his job and his apartment rather than the painkiller.

The power of our addictions is amazing..

Monday, August 16, 2010

Addicts and alcoholics frequently disappoint those in their lives. I was reminded of this yesterday when I received a sad call from an acquaintance who was trying to help her son.

The son, an ex-felon and a drug addict, had been arrested one more time. The mother, frantic, said that her son had been “framed” for a serious crime. She needed a good lawyer who would “get him off.” Not only did she need a good lawyer, she needed one who would take the case with no upfront money. As gently as possible I explained that attorneys don't work that way. I also pointed out that if her son couldn't afford an attorney, one would be appointed for him at no charge. She didn't seem happy that she wouldn't have a dream team lawyer to help out her “innocent” son.

This story brings home one more time the devastation our addictions bring to those close to us.

This woman's son, who is an ex-felon on parole, has a history of arrests for drug related crimes. In spite of this, he was still able to convince his mother of his innocence. Many times we addicts are able to persuade those around us that we are victims. We are able to convince our family and friends that the world has it in for us. And our families, wanting to believe that they raised us right, often go along with us for years and help us with our alibis and excuses.

Part of the recovery process is making amends to people we have harmed. If this twenty-something gets sober he may someday be able to clean up the wreckage of his past and make things right with his mother.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

To help bolster my recovery I try to look for the positive in the world. As much as possible I stay away from from the negative. Sometimes it is difficult with all of the bad news coming from the TV screen, over the radio waves, and on the front pages of newspapers.

This week, though, I found a wonderful story, one that made my day. It was the account of three military veterans, who between them had only one leg. With this one leg and five prostheses they climbed the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro. Some 3000 feet from their goal the older climber's prosthetic knee failed, yet he struggled on. This 19,340 foot mountain would challenge any able-bodied climber, yet this tough trio summoned the grit to reach their goal.

The three amputees - one 27, one 39, and the elder 62 - are veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They undertook their venture to raise money for Disabled Sports USA.

Stories like this feed my spirit. Daily I work with substance abusers who are mostly in new recovery. Many are depressed and feel sorry for themselves. Just cleaning their room and getting ready to go to work is a challenge for some. They return from a job-search beaten-down and completely negative. Relatively small challenges sometimes lead them to return to drug and alcohol use.

Most of the addicts I deal with in our program are physically healthy. The big challenge they face is themselves and combating the addictions that have derailed their lives.

I borrow stories like the one about these three soldiers to inspire them to do better. Sometimes stories like these help them – and me- keep things in perspective.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Keith, a former client whose message reminded me of the deadly disease we face.

It is always wonderful to hear from former clients, especially those with long periods of sobriety. Keith wrote that he is “happily married and living the good life” here in Mesa. Keith's personal recovery validates what we do here at TLC – and his message illustrates the danger we face when we stray from path of recovery. I responded to his email and asked if I could quote some of his message in this blog. He graciously agreed, asking only that I not include his last name.

He wrote “...15 years clean now I also have watched many friends turn back to their old ways and once a month or two I anonymously stop by the main office to drop off donations and look over all the names of my buddies I met over the 2 entire years I lived at TLC. Sadly all of these friends will be missed but reading their names one by one I recognized over 20 names now on the plaques of past roommates, co-workers, acquaintances and great friends and unfortunately even 2 sponsors brings me back to reality how easy it is to forget how powerful and cunning our addictions are.”

While I never forget this powerful disease that has taken so many of my own friends and family members, e-mails like the one from Keith keep it fresh for me. It reminds me of the many clients over the past 19+ years who have not been able to grasp the principles of this program and apply them in their lives.

In closing Keith wrote:'Unfortunately we need to add another name to the wall of plaques, one of my best friends in recovery that I met in 1995 at TLC. “..................” tried many times, over and over to get his life straight, probably a resident at TLC 4 times or more but sadly passed away January 8th, 2010....”

Keith, your message kept me sober today. Thank you for that

Friday, August 13, 2010

The other day I was talking with a young man I sponsor about power and powerlessness. He was relatively new in the program and he was having difficulty with what he called "the ignorance" of others. I asked him to elaborate and he told me that other people around him irritated him a lot. That was my cue to have a discussion with him about what he did and did not have power over.

He told me that he knew he was totally powerless. My response was that he knew on an intellectual level that he was powerless. But I told him that practicing powerlessness is totally another thing. He didn't quite understand what I meant. So I explained to him that knowing something is one thing, but that putting what we know into practice is another.

I told him that when I first came into the program I understood all of the steps on an intellectual level. But book knowledge is one thing and using what we know in our daily lives is another. By the time our discussion ended he had a better idea what I was talking about.

We learn about staying sober as we do the steps. And then life, our daily life, gives us an opportunity to put those steps into practice. While I didn't want to discourage him, I explained that even at nearly 20 years sober, practicing the steps and the principles of the program is daily work.

We don't spend 15 or 20 years drinking and drugging, then take a magic 12-step pill, and have our life change overnight. For many of us it takes a lifetime of constant practice and vigilance to learn to live sober. In my case I spent nearly forty years drinking and drugging. How can I reasonably expect that one to five years of sobriety will erase all of that?

When my sponsee and I parted he had in his hand an assignment to write a page about powerlessness and the role it played in his life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Twice a month I go from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada on business. When casual acquaintances hear of my trip they make comments like "have fun" or "you're so lucky!" When I tell them that I don't drink and don't gamble and am not a party guy, they really don't know how to react. I sum it up by telling them that I'm pretty boring.

But today, boring is just fine with me. During my 42 years of drinking and drugging I had more than enough so-called excitement. My alcoholism and drug addiction, got me into enough trouble to last three or four lifetimes. Because I'm an addict, I don't know anything about restraint. I could leave the house planning to go buy a bottle for later, and maybe not return home for three or four days. On one occasion, I went to a bank to pick up several thousand dollars from a safety deposit box and didn't return home for about 10 days. By the time I returned home I was broke, I had wrecked both my cars, and was sick from withdrawals.

On other occasions, I've been driving down the street with a new car, a pocket full of money and be stopped by police officers with guns. And it would be two or three years before I would return to freedom because of the legal issues associated with my arrest. I've been sitting in my living room watching television when all of a sudden my door would be would come crashing in, followed by a group of narcotics agents with a warrant for my arrest. Exciting? Yes. Dramatic? Yes. Boring? No. But today, I choose to live a boring, law-abiding, life.

I often comment in 12 step meetings that my life took an interesting turn once I admitted I was an alcoholic and drug addict. Since the day I made that admission in a detoxification unit I have not been arrested. And the only time I've been to jail was when I went there to talk to someone about getting sober, or to bring someone into the recovery program where I work.

After having lived for more so many years with alcohol and drug-induced drama in my life, it is refreshing to live without that kind of anxiety and so-called excitement. Today I live a “boring” life by choice.

Each day, my routine is pretty much the same. Three mornings a week I am at the gym for an hour lifting weights. The other three mornings I'm either on the streets on my bicycle, or doing aerobics at the gym. Then it's off to the office for five or six hours.

Someone once asked me "do you have to go to work today?"

"No," I responded, "I get to go to work today."

And that is the way I'm living my life and sobriety. Because I've had a reprieve from disaster, I get to do things today that I never imagined. I am enjoying the promises given to us in the 12 steps. I have my family back. I get to take vacations with them, and I have the financial wherewithal to once in a while assist them when they have problems. I have a job that allows me to help others in recovery.

I love my "boring" life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The man sitting across from me was angry and frustrated. He came to my office to complain about a counselor he had employed to interview him for a possible return of his driver's license, which had been suspended after a DUI conviction and other driving offenses. He believed he had been treated unfairly by the man. He said that the counselor had taken his money, then would not recommend that his drivers license be reinstated. He thought the counselor should advocate that his license be returned simply because he had paid him a fee.

"The guy's a crook," he said angrily. "He asked me four or five questions, then said he couldn't recommend that my license be reinstated. He could've told me that before he took my money."

I listened patiently as he went on to tell me how his life had been "ruined" after he lost his license seven years earlier. He said that his lack of a license had cost him jobs, had ruined a relationship he'd been in and caused many inconveniences in his life. He further explained that his drug history was compiled because the "cops had it in for" him. He was very angry and felt that he had been victimized by the system. Finally, after letting him vent for a while, I asked him a question.

"Did you have a part in any of this?"

He looked at me curiously, not seeming to understand my question. I knew that he had come to my office expecting me to support him in his case against the man who had interviewed him. I believe he thought I would resolve his "problem" with the counselor.

However, I explained to him that the counselor's first responsibility is to protect the community when assessing a driver's potential for relapse. The counselor was not going to recommend that he get his driver's license reinstated unless he believed the client had established a period of sobriety.

His anger subsided a little, so I went on to point out that his life wasn't "ruined" simply because he didn't have a driver's license. I asked him to take a larger view of his life and look around him at others who have much less than he has. I also asked him to take a serious look at his part in the events that had brought him to this point in his life. He finally, somewhat reluctantly, accepted that he was an active participant in his problems.

This interview reminded me that many of us come into sobriety with the idea that we are victims. We have no sense of responsibility for our actions. We think everyone is out to get us. We got into financial trouble, or trouble with the law because of our addictions yet we blame the world.

Part of growing in sobriety is realizing that we are the authors of our own misery. Until we accept responsibility for our actions we will be unable to grow in sobriety.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

While stopped in a parking lot the other day I saw the driver in the car ahead of me go into a fit of anger. His anger seemed to be inspired by the driver ahead of him, who was backing out of a parking space and blocking his way. He was waving his fists and screaming in frustration, obviously upset by the delay.

Once we all moved on, I reflected on the man's frustration. I wondered what was going on in his life that such a minor incident caused him to display that amount of anger? Surely it couldn't have been the brief delay. Underlying that must have been a seething pool of frustration to cause such an eruption over something so minor.

I was reminded of earlier years when I had a similar amount of frustration. Before I got sober such frustration was understandable because my life was insane. But in the early years of my sobriety I was also in a hurry and experienced a lot of frustration when things didn't go my way.

But I learned things in those early days that slowed me down. I once came to a meeting expressing anger over traffic delays I had experienced trying to arrive on time. My sponsor, who had the ability to hurt my feelings with a few simple pointed words, said something that I've never forgotten.

"I learned a long time ago," he said, when it was his turn to share, "that I can only drive one car at a time."

Now I had two things to be angry about. The first was all that traffic on the way to the meeting. And the second was my sponsor's remark, one that I knew was meant for me. However, it was an effective lesson, one I keep with me to this day.

Today I avoid most frustration by doing a 10th step as I move through my day. That way garbage doesn't build up in my life.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Often times at meetings the chairperson or the speaker will select gratitude as a topic. In fact it is selected so often that sometimes a mock groan will go up in the group. Yes, it is selected so often that it has almost become a platitude. Yet, what is gratitude?

To me, gratitude is being totally aware of the many blessings that I have in my life. And what are those blessings? Many of us see blessings as the material things we have in our lives. We have a good job. We have a new car. We have a wonderful husband or wife. We have a nice circle of friends. These are all things for which we should have gratitude.

But I believe, and have read, that we should have gratitude for everything that occurs in our life.

Does this mean that I should be grateful for the bad things that happen to me? Does this mean that I should be grateful for the misfortune that comes my way? It is a tough concept to swallow, but I believe that the answer is yes. And why should this be, we might ask?

It is often the challenges that life imposes that make us better people. Or creates better situation for us. 20 years ago I was homeless, broke and addicted. Now no one would look at those circumstances and say they should have gratitude for the situation. Yet it was from those very circumstances of my life began to change. When I finally reached the depths of my addiction I was forced to make a choice. I could either continue as I was or end up back in prison. Or I could admit that I was an alcoholic and go into a detoxification unit. I chose the latter and my life began to change.

After 11 days I left the detoxification unit and went to a halfway house. I have gratitude for that halfway house because they accepted me without money. They fed me, provided peer counseling, and gave me hope for the future. The first six months I was there I worked a series of entry-level jobs. I did day labor. I worked as a telemarketer. I washed windows for pocket money. I rode a bicycle, took buses and bummed rides from other residents of the halfway house. But today, nearly 20 years later, I still remember the sense of gratitude about the small improvements in my life during those first months of sobriety.

I have gratitude because from those humble beginnings 20 years ago I have become the success that I am today. Today I still don't automatically have gratitude for challenges that might confront me. But if I look at some of the seemingly impossible situations that have ended well, then I can approach life with gratitude.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Yesterday one of my grandchildren used the term "I have to play" when he was referring to a basketball game his team was playing later in the day. Without being too hard on him I pointed out that he didn't "have to" play, that he "got to play."

We had a brief discussion afterward because he didn't understand the concept. I explained to him that at times many of us approach life as though our responsibilities and privileges are something that we "have to do." Because I believe in living in gratitude I try to point out to those around me, particularly those in recovery, that the things we "get to do" every day are privileges.

My grandson had a better understanding of what I was trying to tell him when I explained to him that some kids don't get a chance to play sports. Either their parents can't afford for them to play, or else they don't have the athletic ability to play. Some of them might even have handicaps that keep them from participating.

I often have the same discussion with people in recovery. Some of them find jobs, begin to get their health back, then forget what life was like before sobriety. Suddenly, instead of feeling good about life they start viewing every day responsibilities as a burden - as something they "have to do."

There are many ways for us to keep a fresh perspective about the blessings we have in our lives. If we resent that we "have to go to work" we might look around us at the many people who don't have jobs. If we have health problems, we can look around us and see others with much worse health issues.

To me life is relative. If I am living in recovery then I'm aware of my blessings. If challenges come into my life I think about the friends and family members who succumbed to their addictions and are no longer with us to face challenges.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Self-will and ego are very dangerous for us alcoholics and addicts . I was reminded of that again this week when a sponsee suddenly left the program. He was in a physical relationship with a woman who seemed to dominate his life. When he left he had no money, no job, and no place to live. Yet, he didn't let this reality deter him from making a bad decision.

Because I view the world mostly through my clouded lens of sobriety I pay attention when those around me stumble. What happened? Why did they all of a sudden give up what seemed to be a good situation? It often seems to be self-will and ego that propels them to make a bad decision. They are suddenly wandering in a minefield of their own making, where devastation is waiting at the next step. I pay attention to this because I want to stay sober. Those who stumble remind me of the importance of doing what I've been doing to stay drug and alcohol free for so many years.

In reflection, I recall that this sponsee seemed to spend a lot of time patching up his bruised ego. He had a perception that people were always out to get him. He thrived on drama. He didn't express his anger in a positive way.

I tried to share with this young man that it wasn't until I finally surrendered my self-will that life got better. When I entered a detoxification program 20 years ago I was totally demoralized. I had no money, no job, no friends, and no idea how I was going to make it in life. My ego and self-esteem were shattered. I had been beaten into a state of ruin where God could work with me. I was fertile soil for the seeds of recovery. Life had demonstrated that my way of dealing with the world no longer worked. Drugs and alcohol had cost me everything.

I finally surrendered my ego and self will. I was was listening to others. I needed no further evidence that my life did not work. My bad decisions had beaten me down to a point where I discovered a small amount of humility. That was enough to let me listen to others and to find out what worked for them. And I was trying to share this experience with my sponsee so he wouldn't have to go back out and learn it first hand. But, it didn't work. One thing that did work though is that I stayed sober.

I just pray that he makes it back so he can enjoy the beauty and freedom that sober living brings us.

Friday, August 6, 2010

It is tough to be the parent of an addicted child. We often blame ourselves for their addictions . We sort through the decisions of our past, wondering where we went wrong. Was I too permissive? Should I have picked better schools? Did my own drinking set a bad example? And on and on we go trying to figure out what we could have or should have done differently.

In my position here at TLC I have many conversations with anguished parents. They are concerned about their children and often deal with them through a haze of residual guilt. They sometimes believe that if they had just been better parents their kid wouldn't have turned out to be an alcoholic or a meth addict. And my answer to them about what they might have done wrong is usually the same: it makes no difference today.

In spite of their reluctance to back off, I encourage them to let their child be in recovery. I tell the parent to not do anything special for them. Don't pay their rent. Don't send them money. Do not listen to their stories about how badly they are being treated in a halfway house or a treatment program. I tell them to view everything the child does in early recovery with suspicion. Everything they say is suspect. If he says the food is terrible, don't believe him. If he says it's wonderful, don't believe that either. Listen quietly, so they know that you still care about them - and love them.

Once your children realize that you've decided to no longer be part of the problem they may step out on their own and accept responsibility for their addictions. If they can't play on your guilt about being a bad parent then they've lost a powerful tool that they've been using to manipulate you.

For years, whether consciously or unconsciously, I had family members believing I was the victim of an oppressive justice system. But my dear departed mother, God rest her soul, put a stop to that many years ago with one simple question. One day she asked me, after one more bout of incarceration, why I was always getting in trouble.

"The police just have it in for me," I told her in all seriousness.

"Why don't they have it in for me?" She responded.

Her question was the beginning of what I thought was a series of personal setbacks for me. Over the next several months my family and friends stopped listening to my nonsense about why I was always getting in trouble over alcohol and drugs. They weren't listening to my stories anymore. They weren't handing me money. They weren't letting me sleep on their couch. They didn't want me around. They kept suggesting that I get help.

At the time I thought they were mean-spirited, uncaring, rude, and that they had no understanding of the fact that I was just a party guy. But today I thank them for saving my life because I eventually started down the path to recovery. Without their tough concern I wouldn't have survived for long.

The bottom line is that we love our children. We just don't want to love them to death.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Often I encourage those in early recovery to be helpful to others.

"But what do I have to offer?" they might ask. I explain that, even though they might feel that way, they have a great deal to offer other newcomers. I recite to them example from my own early recovery. When I entered a detoxification unit in Mesa, Arizona, January 13, 1991 they offered meetings where speakers would come in and share with the clients. One evening a speaker came in who had 10 years of sobriety. He was well-dressed and well groomed, wearing a white shirt and tie. As I recall, he had a great story of recovery. He was obviously successful and sobriety was working for him. The only problem was that I couldn't relate to him because he had been sober so long.

But I remember another speaker who came in during my stay at the detoxification unit. This speaker was wearing a tattered cowboy hat and worn cowboy boots, along with work clothes. He wasn't particularly articulate. He didn't have a memorable story. And while he only had six months of sobriety, that's the one thing that stood out for me. I realized that if this man could stay sober six months, so could I.

When I suggest to newcomers the importance of being helpful to other newcomers, they wonder what they might have to offer. After all, most of them are in early recovery and don't have many resources. Some might not have a job. Others might be having trouble paying rent.

I tell them the material things are not important. The most important thing they have to offer is themselves. Many new clients are depressed , feel lost, and often afraid of the new situation they are in. When someone gives them encouragement it makes all the difference in the world. When they hear that others have felt like they feel and have gone through the same situation it helps them to stick it out.

While we may offer a cigarette, or a cup of coffee, the real thing we give them is our time and our presence. When we reach out with compassion and love we are offering others the gift of sobriety. We are passing on what others gave us when we showed up at the doors of recovery.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

One of the tougher ideas that I wrestled with when I first got into recovery was that of making amends. Oh, it wasn't that I was against repairing the damage that I had done in the world. And I had nothing against paying back people to whom I owed money. In fact, before my parents passed away I was able to repay every dollar that I had borrowed from them. And I repaid a former employer for a truck I'd stolen from his company.

When I went through my steps with my sponsor, there was one area of my life where I really wasn't able to make amends directly. This question came up when I asked him how did I make amends to all the merchants from whom I had shoplifted. Many times when I was sick and I really needed a drink I would go into a convenience store and steal alcohol. I couldn't remember who they were or what I'd taken I'd done it so many times. While this might seem petty to some it was a part of my life that I wanted to clean up. My sponsor, who was a wise man, gave me a good answer.

"There is no way," he told me, "that you're going to make amends to all those merchants that you have harmed."

He explained to me that I could make amends for things like this in another way. After these many years since I went through my steps with him, I don't remember his exact words. But this is the essence of what he told me: he said that I could make amends in areas like this by living my life as a better human being. Because at the time I was working for a nonprofit corporation he told me that by being of service to the world and the community I would be able to mitigate some of the damage that I had done to others.

Many people I work with in recovery believe that they really haven't done any harm to others.

"I didn't steal from my family. I didn't steal from my boss. I really didn't harm anybody but myself," they might tell me.

One of the things I share with them, that I had pointed out to me by my sponsor, is that just because we didn't steal doesn't mean that we haven't harmed others. For example, we harmed our families when we were drinking and drugging by the simple fact that we weren't there for them. When I was under the influence of drugs and alcohol I wasn't there for anybody, even myself. In my case my erratic behavior kept me away from home for long periods of time. How could I possibly say that I didn't harm anyone when I wasn't there emotionally for my children? How many of my daughter's birthday parties did I miss? Was I there for my son's baseball games? Did I give my boss a full day's work when I was drinking alcohol and driving around in a company vehicle? Did we harm society in general by committing offenses that kept us locked up for long periods of time while being supported at taxpayer expense?

While these examples above may seem extreme to some, the idea that those of us who are addicts and alcoholics have done no harm is ludicrous. I believe that if we have the perspective that we have harmed no one but ourselves in our disease, then we still have a lot of reevaluating to do.

Today I try to follow the admonition of Dean, the sponsor who gave me good advice so many years ago, God rest his soul. His advice, to reiterate, was that I could make amends for the abstract and hard to define harms I'd committed, by becoming a better human being. The reality is, that during my drinking and drugging forays, I really couldn't remember all of the people I had stolen from or had harmed in other ways.

But, hopefully, I can make up for some of the messes that I left behind by being a compassionate and generous human being today. By spending the time and energy to help others in recovery I can make a small difference in the world.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The mother's voice on the phone was full of anguish and she was talking so fast that I could hardly get a word in edgewise.

She was looking for a recovery program that would accept her heroin addict son. It seems that he was having a problem getting accepted anywhere because he had been convicted of a sex offense some 10 years earlier. She had called me because she knew we had 800 beds for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Her son, she said, was living on a sidewalk because he had been evicted from the last program he was in when they discovered he was a sex offender.

She went on to explain that his offense was minimal. It involved his having consensual sex with a 16-year-old girl when he was 18. When I told her our program didn't accept those convicted of sex offenses she directed me to a website that detailed his case. A visit to the site confirmed what she had told me. However, for some reason the son was still required to register as a sex offender and that disqualified him from acceptance into our program.

She asked me if I knew of anywhere else he could go. I directed her to a nearby hotel that accepts some levels of sex offenders.

"Are there drugs there?" She asked, apprehension in her voice.

"There are drugs everywhere," I told her. "There are even drugs in prison."

After spending nearly an hour with her on the phone she thanked me for referring her to a place that would accept her son. And that was the last time I talked to her.

Later I was told that the mother, having not heard heard from her son for a few days, went to the hotel and entered his room with the key had given her. Inside she discovered him sitting slumped over on the bed, dead from a probable drug overdose.

These are the kind of tragedies that are always devastating. This story demonstrates the horrible impact that drug use has on our loved ones.

Many times when I'm counseling those in our program they tell me that they didn't harm anyone but themselves when they were using. But then they didn't hear the pain in this mother's voice when she was looking for a place for her addict son. She was crying out in the hope of finding a better life for him.

Sadly, she was unable to find it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

When I take a broad view of the world, I don't believe that anything comes into our lives by chance. But when I'm caught up in the day-to-day events of life I sometimes forget that.

I have a sponsee who regularly tests my patience. Everything is about him. Everything is a big deal. He's on parole and he often tries to deal with life in free society with the coping skills he learned in prison. Of course, this doesn't work too well in the free world where respect is earned by behavior, not by how many tattoos one has or how willing one is to hurt someone over an imagined slight. The test of my patience is helping him to realize that different rules apply in the free world, that there are different rules for living in freedom. Sometimes this is a daunting task.

Then I realize that God puts people in our path for a reason. Maybe one of the reasons is that when I was his age I was much like him, minus the tattoos. Because of my drug addiction I was incarcerated for many years in California. I know that I tested the patience of those around me. I never got things quite right. I didn't understand why things didn't go my way. I thought that people who didn't understand my drug abuse and alcoholism simply didn't know how to party. The court once sent me to a therapeutic community. I was repeatedly sentenced to jail and prison. Nothing seemed to work.

And now I have this young man in my life who is much like I was during those years. And reflecting, I believe that the reason he is here now is because I can offer him my insights on sobriety.

Each day I have to ask God to give me the patience to deal with what is put before me. In dealing with people like this sponsee I must realize that I have no power. My job as a sponsor is to give him the information that I have about staying sober and to let him know that I'm there for him if he wants to change. I can have no expectations about the outcome if I don't want to be disappointed.

When I walk away from this sponsee and go on about my day I feel better. I guess I leave with the feeling that at least I made my best effort to share my experience with him. Whether he uses it is not up to me. It's between him and God.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

For over 12 years I have facilitated, as a volunteer, an aftercare group in the program where I work. This has been rewarding. I've gotten much more out of this group than the participants. And sometimes I hear insights that amaze me.

A client might say something like, "I've never been happier in my life." When I first heard this I didn't pay a lot of attention. But upon later reflection, it struck me as profound. After all, don't many of us struggle all our lives to achieve happiness?

We see media reports all the time of people who embody success. They have great careers. They are rich. They might have wonderful educations or be paragons of beauty or athletic prowess. Yet, all the time we hear about people with these many blessings who check into rehab programs. Or, they might be found dead of a drug overdose.

Usually the client who tells me that he's never been happier is living in a restricted part of our program with only the basics. When I ask him to elaborate upon his happiness he tells me of the inner peace he has achieved. He might mention the fact that for the first time in his life he has no fear of being jailed because of his addiction. Or he'll talk about the inner joy he experiences just because he is sober or drug-free.

My own belief, which I don't try to impose upon others, is that God put us on earth to be happy. In my opinion, all human beings want the same thing: to achieve happiness. For many years, I believed that I could only find happiness by immersing myself in drugs or alcohol. My pursuit of this so-called happiness caused my family and friends, and me, much pain. It was only after I finally got clean and sober that I found happiness.

This happiness took many forms. I found joy in just the simple things. My health began to come back. Family and friends began to treat me once again with respect. I was able to hold a job and hang onto money. The sense of demoralization and impending doom that was always with me when I was high disappeared.

So, when a client tells me that he's never been happier I can relate on a very personal level. And for both of us, this happiness is inextricably tied to living clean and sober.