Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yesterday one of our managers received a great lesson in attitude. A few days previously his doctor had given him a prescription for a blood draw. When he showed up at the local clinic he found that there was a forty minute wait. Because he was busy he decided to do it the next day.

Someone had told him about a blood draw clinic that was a few miles further away, one that had a shorter wait. He made plans to use that clinic. But when he showed up he was in for a surprise. When he entered the clinic parking lot it was full of cars. And when he entered the building he found that the line was longer than the one at the place he visited the previous day.

He commented aloud about the length of the line to no one in particular.

"Oh, the line is short today" the lady in front of him said after she heard his remark. "Usually it's much longer than this, we'll be there in no time."
Immediately the manager realized that the whole thing was a matter of attitude.

"Thank you for that," he told the lady. "You just helped me restart my day." Then he said to himself, "thank you, God, for the lesson."

Many times those of us in recovery go at full speed. We want everything our way, and we want it right now!

Sometimes we need to just slow down and enjoy the moment. And if we believe in God, then everything is just as it should be right now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

He'd been in our program for over a year, his longest period of sobriety. But yesterday he relapsed.

I first met this man when he started attending our aftercare groups. He had an interesting story of living in parks and river bottoms for several years. Like most people who live on the streets, he is a survivor. He has an air of toughness about him that comes from living homeless day to day in the Arizona heat.

When he relapsed he had been in our aftercare group for nearly nine months. In fact, he was to graduate in about three weeks. Last night he didn't show up for group, telling a roommate he wouldn't be there because he was sick. Because he hadn't been sick before I didn't think much of it. I did send a message through one of the group members that the next time he was sick he should ask me to excuse him.

It didn't surprise me that this client relapsed. In fact, it seemed a miracle he stayed sober as long as he did. When he shared in group it seemed like he was always taking his emotional temperature. He spent a lot of time second guessing himself. He had a lot of "whys" about his behavior. He wondered “why” he did things. He said that many times strange thoughts would pop up in his head and he would wonder “why” he was thinking what he was thinking. I told him he was engaging in a lot of mental masturbation.

I tried to explain to him that it wasn't important "why" he did things. "Why" only provided fodder for a lot of indecision. I tried to explain that if it served some purpose to know why he did things the 12-step programs would probably focus on why we do things, instead of on living one day at a time.

I believe that there are myriad reasons why we do things. But learning to function in the present moment is what's important. How I do things right now is what will keep me sober. I sometimes felt like this man was driving himself to relapse wondering why things happened in his life.

And this morning he 's probably living in a park, or somewhere along the river bank.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The former client on the other end of the line was fuming. He had been discharged from our program that morning. The discharge was unfair. His roommates were being mean to him. The manager didn't understand where he was coming from. He rattled off a litany of abuses he had suffered at the hands of our staff and other clients.

"Did you have a part in any of this?" I finally asked him. The phone went silent for a moment.

Then he began explaining the details to me, as if he were presenting facts to a jury. He went on and on with minutia about the problems in our program. People didn't understand him. He had done a lot of volunteer work for which he'd receive no recognition. There were things he wanted to change about the program. He knew he could improve it.

I listened to what he had to say for several minutes. When I finally interjected I pointed out that there wasn't a lot he could do about how others behave. The only thing he could really change or control was himself. I explained that when I have problems with people I look first at myself.

I have no power or control over how anyone else communicates. Good communication flows from me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

For two years I've been writing to a former client who relapsed and returned to prison. My correspondence with him reminds me that 12 step work can sometimes be unrewarding.

Every month or so I would write him. On a few occasions I sent him 12-step literature and a little money. Sometimes I sent him books he requested. I did this because when he first communicated with me after his return to prison he told me that he wanted to stay sober. He said he never wanted to return to prison again, that he was tired of being locked up. He was using me as a sponsor.

Because a major premise of 12 step programs is that we carry the message to others I started corresponding with him. Because I am very busy with TLC I didn't correspond with him more than once a month. But still, I was pleased that I was able to do that.

Then I got a message that he had gotten in trouble over drugs he'd purchased on credit. Because he was unable to repay the debt he was afraid of being killed. To protect himself he arranged to have himself caught with a knife that he had hidden in his cell. This infraction caused him to be moved to a high-security unit and to lose all the good time he'd accrued. But at least he was no longer in danger of being killed because the gang he owed the money to couldn't get to him.

I felt disappointed and used because this man misled me by saying he wanted to stay sober. And the reality is that maybe he does want to stay sober.

Perhaps in the environment he's in he succumbed to a moment of weakness. Who knows? One thing is certain though. I'm still going to reach out to others who say they want to get clean and sober. That's what we do in the program: we carry the message.

And even though this man is sitting in a special security unit in Florence, Arizona, I'm still sober today.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I'm always motivated to go to the gym. Since I've been in recovery, some 20 years ago, I've been working out. I just feel better when I put in 45 minutes a day doing something. I don't care whether it's working out with weights, riding my bicycle or using an elliptical. Motivation is not a problem for me.

But if motivation ever were a problem I see examples at the gym all the time of people I can use as role models.

I remember a fellow I met 15 years ago when I was a member of the YMCA. This man, who was relatively young, suffered from multiple sclerosis. He would show up at the gymnasium on a walker. Once he started working out he would set the walker at the side of the gym next to the wall. Because he couldn't walk unaided, he would use one machine, get off of it, then crawl to the next machine. He would repeat that routine until he had worked out for forty-five minutes to an hour. Witnessing his struggles to work out, I never had even a moment where I lost motivation.

At the gym where I currently work out there's a fellow in a wheelchair who shows up several mornings a week at 4 AM. Even though he has only one leg he struggles in and out of his chair onto a bench or machine, and works up a sweat. He is quite strong, stronger than many of us who work out at the same time. He doesn't complain and always has a smile on his face. There's never a moment, when he's around, when I think that my workout is a struggle.

After being in recovery for nearly 20 years I have developed ways of thinking that help me maintain my sobriety. One is to always be grateful.. And when I see people who have physical challenges exercising and trying to maintain what they have left I find it inspiring. After all, who can complain when there are people in wheelchairs, or who are suffering from terminal diseases, still out there fighting to maintain themselves?

I'm so grateful for the blessings God has given me...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sometimes I find heroes in the most ordinary of places. I was talking the other day to a man who works at a retail establishment where I go early in the morning two or three times a week. Until last week, I had only spoken to him a few times, mostly just saying hello and goodbye.

But the other day I got into a conversation with him, and asked him how he liked working the night shift. During the conversation I found out he had custody of his five children. They ranged from 10 to 19 years old. He was raising them as a single parent and was working two jobs to support them. A couple of the older children were helping him out with the two youngest.

He went on to explain that their mother was a drug user who was unable to take care of the kids. He said that even though it was tough, he loved his children and wanted to raise them right and not under the influence of an addicted mother.

His experience resonated with me. I had also obtained custody of a daughter who was living in a perilous situation. I raised her as a single parent from the time she was seven until she went into the Army at age 18. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Oh yes, it was tough at times dealing with the hormone induced emotional changes of a teenage daughter. But I came through on the other side a much better human being. And I have a lot more respect for single mothers who are struggling to raise children by themselves.

While I thought I did pretty good raising one child I can't imagine what a daunting task it would to raise five children by myself.

One of the blessings of living sober is that we are able to face the challenges of day-to-day life. Like I said at the beginning, this man is one of my heroes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The young woman's voice broke, and her eyes filled with tears, as she spoke of her mother, a drug addict who died last year in her sleep. Her heroin addict father had recently been released from prison after serving six years and lived with her and her children. Her story reminded of the damage that our addictions do to others.

She talked of living with drug addict family members all of her life until she was able to move into her own apartment. She said she thought drug use was normal when she was growing up. Throughout her childhood she was accustomed to seeing family members use drugs. She witnessed firsthand all of the behavior that goes with an addict. Fortunately, she made a decision at an early age to do something different with her life. She was proud of being placed on her college honor roll. She had a good job and was able to support her two children.

Many times our clients say they never hurt anyone else when they use drugs. The only person they hurt was themselves. But the reality is when we live in a society and engage in any kind of antisocial activities we harm not only those close to us, but society as a whole. Because we don't live in a vacuum, our behavior always affects those around us, even if the effect is only minimal.

This woman's two children, by the grace of God, will never have to see their mother use drugs in front of them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The young lady in one of our aftercare groups was angry and frustrated. She had a list of things about which she was terribly unhappy:

– She was from another state and hadn't seen her child in some time.

– She didn't like all the commitments she had as part of her responsibilities in the house.

– She thought we had handled a donation to our program in an inappropriate manner.

There were about six other things on her list, too many to enumerate here. And she concluded her list with the comment that "I've been sober for four and a half months. I believe I've earned the right to do less."

When I hear statements like this I realize the speaker has a problem with gratitude. I told her that she probably didn't want to get what she had earned or deserved. She seemed puzzled. I went on to explain that we addicts and alcoholics have done much damage in the world. We have harmed our families by not being there for them. We have harmed our communities by not working and not being participants. We perhaps have harmed our children by not being there.

Many in our program might dispute this. They will say that they haven't assaulted anyone. They haven't stolen from anyone. Maybe they haven't been in jail or lost a job. But they don't realize that there's more to it than that. In our addictions we have neglected those around us. We haven't been fully present for them. We missed family celebrations. We weren't present when they really needed us.

We were in love with or drugs and alcohol. That was our priority.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A new drug known as "Spice" or "K-2" has come to TLC. It is legal, a synthetic cannabinoid that gives users a high similar to marijuana. It is sold in head shops and other stores as an incense blend.

One of our Las Vegas managers first brought the substance to our attention. He had caught a client smoking it on the property. Even though the drug is legal, the client was discharged for being under the influence.

So what's the big deal? And why did we discharge the client? After all, it's a legal substance.

So is alcohol. However, we don't allow clients to use it. We have a zero tolerance for drug use in our program whether legal or illegal. The exception is doctor's prescriptions. And even those are allowed for only limited periods. It interests me that people want to enroll in a recovery program yet still get high. Is this a matter of half measures? Or do clients really think they're not getting high if something is legal?

In any event, our staff searched several rooms at our Roosevelt facility in Phoenix. We discharged five clients for providing or using the substance. Hopefully the message will get around to the other clients and they won't fall prey to this new drug.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I believe gratitude is a major factor in our sobriety. I was reminded of this yesterday while talking with a client who works in our car wash business.

He has been with us for about 18 months and is doing well in the program. However, as part of cleaning up the wreckage of his past he went to court for some minor offenses that earned him a jail sentence. Because he lives in a recovery program the judge was lenient. He let him serve his 30 day sentence on work furlough. Here in Maricopa County, Arizona many of those on work furlough sentences spend their nights in a part of the jail system known as Tent City. There is no air-conditioning in the tents: only swamp coolers. On summer nights the temperature sometimes sinks to 80 or 85°.

Aside from spending his nights in a sweltering tent, this client spends his days working in 100 plus degree temperatures in our hand car wash. Yet he doesn't complain.

When I asked how he was doing he replied, "I'm so grateful."

He listed all the things he was grateful for: a job, a place to live, and his sobriety.

He kept going. Before he got sober over a year ago he was homeless and living in a wash in the desert. He stole or panhandled every day so he would have alcohol and food.

“Looking at where I came from,” he concluded, “my life is great today.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

The man in our aftercare group hung his head when it was his turn to share. He was only able to drag out a couple of sentences. The topic was self-esteem, and he was supposed to finish the sentence "I'm a great guy because..."

My experience is that our clients get tongue-tied when the subject is self-esteem.

As we went around the circle different clients had different ways of discussing their self-esteem. A few of them immediately turned the topic into how many terrible things they had done in their lives. While they were willing to share, they didn't seem to have too much good to say about themselves.

Their topics ranged from "I stole from everyone," to "I was a poor parent." It was easy for them to veer from the assigned topic of finding something positive about themselves.

To help them zero in on some things that they might feel good about as addicts in new recovery I suggested they begin with little things.

I believe that for any of us our self concept is crucial to our success, whether we're addicts or not. Strong self-esteem gives us the strength and resilience to face the challenges of life.

Had they helped anyone today? Had they been kind to someone when they really felt like being nasty to them? Had they welcomed a newcomer to the program? It is the little things that make up our behavior. We can't always do something dramatic for other people. But if we are of the mindset to be kind and compassionate then when an opportunity arises we can do something that will make us feel better about ourselves.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I received a phone call the other day from an alcoholic who had once been in the recovery program where I work. He was drunk and angry, and was calling to complain about the staff member who had discharged him a few weeks before. He said that he had returned to the program and requested re-admission but that my staff member had denied him entry. He wondered what I was going to do about it.

What the caller didn't know was that the staff member in question had been keeping me abreast of his contacts with this man. And he told me that he had denied the man entry because he was sloppy drunk and belligerent each time he showed up. Our policy is not to accept anyone unless they're sober for three days. This man not only showed up drunk, he had also called my staff member several times while he was drinking. The purpose of the calls was always the same: to berate my staff member for how he had treated him while he was in the program.

This man reminds me of myself before I got sober. Twenty years ago when I was at the end of my drinking and drugging I was still in denial about my problem. I was angry at those who wanted me to get sober. I hated those who wanted to help me. My enemies were the people who wouldn't loan me money or let me stay at their house. I was even angry at my mother because she wouldn't let me sleep on her porch or in her garage.

Yet the way they treated me was the best thing that could have happened.

I had a lot of a lot in common with this angry former client. This man had received a serious permanent injuries when he was hit by a semi while walking drunk on the freeway. He had also suffered other damage due to drinking. In my case, I had once fallen out of a tree while drinking and broke my wrist. I rolled my car on the freeway one time while drinking and taking drugs and passed out at 65 miles an hour. I could go on and on with war stories. But until enough bad things happened I couldn't get off the roller coaster of self-destruction.

The point is that when enough bad things happen to us we might become willing to change. I know that I didn't begin to change until I ran out of options. No one wanted to hear from me, not my family, not my friends. When I finally got sober I was broke and homeless. I was facing a new round of criminal charges because of my drinking and drugging. Only when things got bad enough that did I decide to change.

What did I tell the drunk who called? I told him he would have a better chance of being accepted into our program if he came back sober.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Motivation is a powerful force in changing our lives. Many years ago I knew an addict named George who was serving an eight-year prison term for burglary at California's San Quentin prison. George was a disciplinary problem and was constantly being written up for various infractions. He had a fourth grade education.

But one day something happened to George. At that time there was a brown power group in the prison. They gave their followers the mantra that education would give them power. This idea kindled a fire in George. He enrolled in school and began making use of his time.

George finished elementary school in a year. He then enrolled in high school and graduated within a year and a half. At that time the prison paid for college correspondence courses for prisoners. George took advantage of these and started earning credits. He eventually earned parole.

The last time I heard of George he had earned his doctoral degree and was the keynote speaker at an international conference in San Francisco.

I use George's story sometimes in our peer groups to illustrate the power of motivation. I like this story because it illustrates how change can begin with just a spark of inspiration.

I explain that it's important for us to read recovery literature. It's also important to go to 12 step meetings and hear the stories of others. When we hear stories of how others succeed we might find the inspiration to change our lives.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I've always had a strong belief that we perform a wonderful service for whatever community we're in. Our program offers housing, food, employment services, and peer counseling for recovering addicts and alcoholics – 95% of them homeless. A further benefit to the community is that we don't receive tax dollars for the service we perform. Our revenue comes from fees we charge our clients and several small businesses we operate.

Among these are convenience stores, a hotel, Christmas tree lots, and a car wash. These businesses not only provide a modicum of revenue, they also serve as training programs for our clients.

Although it has happened before, I'm still dismayed when we receive legal challenges from the government. Most of the time we've won these battles. But even on the occasions where we won the legal battle, we've lost in several other ways. We wasted valuable time dealing with attorneys and the paperwork that comes with lawsuits. And the expenses associated with legal issues drain our resources.

Aside from the tangible issues it takes a while for me to adjust emotionally and psychologically when people try to run us out of a neighborhood. Don't they understand what a good service we perform? Don't they know that we save the government money? Aren't we helping solve the problem of homelessness? After this seesaw battle in my head calms down, I realize that my expectations are too high.

It is unreasonable for me to expect the average person to understand substance-abuse. Non-alcoholics say things like "stop drinking!" Or, "just quit using!" Today I realize that they're not haters. They are just uninformed. They are about as informed about alcoholism as I am about cancer or diabetes. I'm uneducated about the causes and cures of these diseases.

So how can I expect people in a community to understand the need for halfway houses, or sober living facilities?

Today's topic came up apropos to legal action taken against our organization by the state of Nevada. A while back they asked us to seek licensing for the hundred plus beds we have in Las Vegas. Since we've been operating there for 15 years with a license as an apartment complex we had an immediate reaction to their request. We called our attorney.

We actually have no problem seeking licensing. We have licenses in several cities in Arizona. But the licenses we're required to get in Arizona are reasonable, and seem to serve legitimate government interests. We believe the license they're asking us to get in Nevada is very invasive and Draconian.

The state is asking us to do such things as employ managers who have no criminal record. They want us to keep files on each client as if we were a treatment program. They want sprinkler systems in the buildings. The list of requirements go on and on. And while their implementation might provide the ultimate in safety for people who can't take care of themselves they have little relevance to our clients.

Our clients are recovering addicts and alcoholics. All of them are ambulatory. They are like any other citizens who live together for a common interest. Families live together because they're related. Our clients live together because they have a different type of relationship: they are recovering substance abusers. They band together for mutual support.

At this writing we are filing a complaint with HUD, which is a precursor to further litigation. Will we win or lose? The reality is that we will all lose.

The State of Nevada will be wasting taxpayer money. And our organization will be wasting resources we could use to help our clients maintain their sobriety.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The phone call from the director of our woman's program was inspiring. She was excited because one of her clients had found a job.

It is not uncommon for our clients to find work. In fact it is required that they seek and maintain employment. But this client, who was very negative about her chances, had finally found a job.

I first met this woman in an aftercare group. Among her comments, when it was her turn to share was, “I'm unemployable." And I agreed with her.

"I wouldn't hire you either," I told her, "If you showed up at my business with that attitude."

My attitude surprised her. But I told her the same thing I would tell any other client. If I don't believe I can do something, I'm right. And if I think I can do something I have a better chance of succeeding.

She went on to explain that she hadn't worked in many years. Her previous employment had been in an administrative job. She was presentable and well-groomed, She spoke well. In my opinion her issue was lack of confidence and poor self-esteem.

I suggested she write down her goal and tape it her mirror. That way, each time she looked into the mirror, she would see her goal before her. Eventually, the message would sink into her subconscious.

It is sometimes difficult to connect suggestions with results. I didn't ask if she taped a message to her mirror. But in this case it seems that her new attitude helped her get a job.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Someone asked me a while back how I could continue to trust people when they betray that trust.

They're referring to the fact that sometimes those working for us will relapse and take our vehicles or money -- often both -- on their way out. Since 1992 this has probably occurred at least once a year. On a few occasions we've had a couple of employees do this more than once. We've taken them back, trusted them again, and they did the same thing. While this may seem to be naive or stupid on our part, we just look at it as part of the business -- and maybe as part of that person's recovery process.

And sometimes trusting people pays off. For example, one of the most trusted people in our office who handles our money and is responsible for a couple areas of our business several years ago stole a van from us and drove it to California. He eventually returned, made amends, and became an employee. He's now been sober a few years and is the father of a new baby. Sometimes trusting people works.

My philosophy is that I trust people to be people. No matter where we look in the world there are people in positions of trust to do the wrong thing. People, whether they're in recovery or not, sometimes succumb to temptation. Do we banish them from our lives? Do we treat them as pariahs? Or, if they are repentant, do we give them another opportunity?

Of course, we do hold them accountable. If people steal from us we turn them over to authorities and send them to jail. Once out of jail, though, many of them ask for our help.

And in most cases, if they seem sincere, we open our doors to them again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The 12th step of our program suggests we “carry this message” to others. Many times our clients, after being with us a while, decide that they have "done enough."

One of the strongest principles of our program is reaching out, helping others to achieve sobriety. When people say they have "done enough" we look at this as a red flag. All of a sudden this client is not doing the things that helped him or her get sober.

When we confront them there are all kinds of excuses. They can't make a difference. They have a job. They found a sweetheart. They are just so busy. They don't have enough time sober. And they pull back from helping newcomers. But there are no good excuses for not carrying the message.

In our area there is a series of radio advertisements that encourage people to become foster parents. The advertisement is goofy, but effective. The foster parent says and does many stupid things while trying to be a good foster parent. However, he is not doing very well with it. The message is that a person doesn't need a lot of experience to be a foster parent. They just have to be willing to help a kid who needs a parent.

It's the same when we reach out to others in recovery. We don't have to be perfect. We don't have to spend hours. We have to be willing. If we have a period of sobriety then we have something to share.

For the past 19 years I've been willing to carry the message. After all those years I'm no authority on the literature. My message often falls short. But the simple fact that I'm willing to reach out helps the other person.

And, remember, newcomers look to someone with even a year of sobriety as an expert when it comes to staying sober.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A core concept in the program is "living one day at a time." But how does that square with goals for the future? Do we just drift through life without any plans, happily living sober one day at a time?

When I first got sober this concept troubled me somewhat. I learned as a child that I needed to plan for the future. And until alcohol and drugs interfered and derailed my life, that's what I did. So when I got sober, this is one of the things I had to work my way through.

For me, these many years later, one day at a time means that I make my plans but that I still live in the moment. This may sound like being at cross purposes. But in reality it is not. In my mind, I'm able to separate these two seemingly conflicting concepts.

I apply "one day at a time" to the areas of my life that involve strong emotions like fear, resentment, anger or insecurity. For example, if I get worried about the future it's nice to realize that I don't have to do anything today. If I'm living one day at a time those powerful emotions don't have to drive me crazy and back to a drink or a drug.

For me, the kinds of things that I need to make plans about beyond today are such things as investments, education, or decisions about where I choose to live in retirement if I decide to do that.

The concept of “one day at a time” gives me a powerful tool for staying sober when I'm in the grip of powerful emotions.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The attack of 9/11 is unforgettable. When the towers came crashing down our world changed. Because I live under the flight path few miles from the Phoenix airport, and many planes take off and land directly over my house, I remember the eerie quiet of the sky for several days afterward. The impact of that tragic day touched us all in some way.

As time went on I would periodically use the event as an example during our peer counseling groups, usually in the context of making the most of our lives today. I tell those in my groups that the victims awoke that morning and went about their life as they would on any other. Many had dinner dates for that evening. Others prepared a crock pot of food. Others left their pet at the groomers, to be picked up later that day. Some had plans to get their children from daycare.

I point out that some of us addicts and alcoholics live our lives as if we're going to be here forever. We waste days and nights, hours and years pursuing drugs and alcohol trying to relive the unattainable first rush. It never happens.

Many times those I counsel act as if their drinking and drugging career will keep them from ever attaining anything. I respond that the important thing is what they do today, that they can do nothing about the past.

If anything, 9/11 illustrates the unpredictability and uncertainty of life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The e-mail surprised me. It was from a former client that many of us didn't expect to see again. When he left us in mid-2007, he had relapsed and some of us didn't think he would survive.

It is not unusual for clients to leave because they have relapsed – and many of them return to try again. But this man's situation was unique. He had lost his kidneys a few years before entering our program. He had previously received a transplant which didn't work. He received dialysis a few times a week during his time at TLC. He struggled with his health and fought the doctor's instructions that he shouldn't drink sodas. To many of us, the idea that someone without kidneys would start using again demonstrated for us the power of our disease.

His e-mail said he had been sober for three years, was in town on vacation, and would like to drop by the office. It was a good visit and he told how his life is going. He lives in another state with his fiancee and will soon graduate from nursing school. He goes to dialysis a few times a week and is on a transplant waiting list for a new kidney.

I asked how he had finally changed and was able to remain sober for over three years. He explained that he started accepting his situation and that made all the difference. He said that once he got into acceptance his life began to change. He accepts the hours-long drudgery of being hooked to a machine. Sometimes he reads, sometimes he studies, sometimes he naps. His life has been working and he is enjoying his sobriety.

It says on page 417 in the literature that “acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”

It seems like this former client has successfully incorporated the concept into his life.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Recovery literature gives us the phrase "we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness." This is a wonderful promise, one that I realized had come into my life a few years after I got sober. At first this freedom and happiness seemed unreal. This new state of being was something that I was not used to and sometimes I didn't know how to deal with it.

The reason I didn't know how to deal it was because I hadn't had any experience with it since early childhood. During my drinking and drugging years I didn't know anything about freedom and happiness. I knew a lot about self-induced misery and a lot about having no freedom. While I believe the authors of the promises weren't necessarily talking about being out of jail, for many years I didn't have any kind of freedom. I didn't have the psychological kind and I was often incarcerated for drug-related offenses. And I didn't have any kind of real happiness either.

Today I know how to deal with freedom and happiness. In sobriety I have learned how to use my freedom wisely and use it to live my life to the fullest. I have the freedom to choose what kind of work I do. Early in my sobriety I chose to work in a field where I am able to help others in recovery on a daily basis.

And this is happiness in itself.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

At the gym the other day one of the regulars and I were discussing politics. His perception was that the country was not liberal enough. My perception was the country was trending to be too liberal. The point of this is not to discuss politics but to talk about how perception sometimes affect our lives.

As recovering people our perceptions can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. Our disease may tell us that things are different from the way they really are. We may believe that we should be further ahead in life than we are. We may work alongside someone who is much younger than we are who's making more money than we do. We may perceive this as being unfair. After all, don't we have more experience than this person? Don't we have more education?

However, we might not consider that we have spent years drinking and drugging while the person beside us has been steadily – and soberly - employed. While we were frivolously hanging out in bars or drug houses our co-worker was trudging to work every day. The person beside has as earned their position with the company along with their salary. But our disease may tell us something different.

If I walk outside and the sky is overcast, I can choose to be depressed. Or, I can see in the overcast sky the rhythms of nature. I can find beauty in changing weather patterns.

I can drive to work and run into a construction zone and become angry. I can say things like "it seems like they are always working on the roads." This kind of observation can start my day off badly. It would have been just as easy for me to say something like "isn't it wonderful that our tax dollars are being spent on improving the highway?"

So how do we change our perceptions? I believe that we make the decision to look at the world in a positive way. And I think that one of the ways we become positive is to base our life upon a positive foundation of rock solid gratitude.
We might ask what we have to be grateful for? We can answer that question by looking around us. If we live in the United States we can be grateful for the security we have. We live in a country that is full of riches. Opportunities abound everywhere. Even in these so-called tough times, 90% of the people have jobs. We can drive down the street and see people who don't have homes who are pushing shopping carts.

While it may be their choice to live that way, at least we're not living that way.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Someone asked me recently about TLC's success rate. In other words how many of our clients stayed sober once they left the program? And how many failed while they were still in the program? I said that I didn't know, that we couldn't afford to track those kind of statistics.

The person then asked me if I became discouraged when people relapsed after all the effort we put into helping them. I repeated for him a story someone once told me. It was about a man who was walking along a beach covered with thousands of starfish that had washed ashore during a storm.

During his walk every so often the man would reach down and pick up one of the starfish and throw it back into the water. He repeated this for a half-mile or so of his walk. Finally, a man who was observing what he was doing stopped him.

"What are you doing?" The man asked.

"Saving starfish," the man responded.

"Yeah, but there are thousands of starfish on this beach," the questioner told him. "You're not going to make much difference."

"It'll make a difference to the one I threw back in the water," the man replied.

The point of this maybe apocryphal tale is obvious. If we can help even one person, then our efforts are not in vain. Early on I used to get depressed because it seemed like so many people were relapsing. But today I realize that the important thing is that we make the effort.

The results are up to God.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A longtime acquaintance of mine, who is in recovery, manages a low-rent hotel where many of the residents are practicing alcoholics and addicts. The police frequently visit to deal with drunken residents. Or they'll serve a warrant on someone for drug-related offenses. Once or twice a year a resident dies from drug or alcohol related causes.

"Doesn't this interfere with your sobriety?" I once asked the manager.

"Not really," he responded. "It actually helps me stay sober when I see all the problems these residents have over drinking and drugging."

He went on to explain to me that it's more than just the drug overdoses or arrests that have an effect on him. He explained that he sees all of the other problems that alcoholics and addicts have in their lives. Many of them have financial issues. Others have health problems that are related to drug and alcohol use. It seems like they are regularly having relationship or family issues.

"Working here actually helps me with my own sobriety," he told me. He went on to explain that nearly everything he has read in the literature plays out at his place of work.

This man's story illustrates that if we're working a good recovery program it doesn't matter where we work or who's around us. If we are well grounded and are working the steps, then we have the tools to stay sober.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The blessings of recovery can be found in many things. Of course there are the obvious blessings such as enjoying good health, or having our families back, or no longer being entangled in legal problems. But I also find blessings in little things.

For example, for fifteen years I've driven the same route to my office. About half way there, at a fairly busy intersection, there's a three acre plot that hasn't succumbed to the encroachments of the city. It is surrounded by housing projects, apartment buildings, and small businesses.

For some reason the owner of the property has never sold out to developers who might prize such a key location. Instead he operates a small farm on the site, where each year he grows at least two crops of corn. On my short commute I can watch the year-round progress of the crops. Part of the year the field is covered with stubble. At other times a tractor will be passing back and forth as the land is being readied for the next crop. Sometimes a worker with a shovel will be at the irrigation ditch at the edge of the field making sure water is released into each furrow. Then for several weeks there will be a dark green field of six feet tall cornstalks. Later signs will appear reading, "Ear Corn For Sale."

For some reason I find this cycle of preparation, growth, and harvest refreshing. Not only is the field of thing of beauty but for that moment I can slow down and enjoy the farm a mile from the city center. I can admire the patience that goes into producing and harvesting the corn crop.

At one time I used to wonder about the farmer's motives. Was he holding the land until he could get a higher price? Was there some tax benefit for using the property as a farm? Today I realize that none of that is important.

What's important is for me to enjoy this small farm in the middle of the city.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I was pulling my car into a parking place in front of a Walgreen's store last Thursday evening in Las Vegas, when I saw a man approaching my car out of the corner of my eye. His gait was unsteady, his clothes were sweat stained and dirty. When I opened my door and stepped out he approached me with his hand extended.

"I'm hungry," he said. "Can you help me get something to eat?"

Since I normally give something to those who approach me for help I reached in my pocket and took out my wallet. Even though I was certain he needed the money for drugs, I found a five dollar bill and handed it to him. Anyway what he did with the money was not between me and him -- it was between him and God. He shook my hand in gratitude.

"Thank you, Brother," he said. "I just can't seem to get up out of here."

He went on to tell me that he had been beaten up the night before. His assailants had knocked out four teeth. He smiled at me to prove it. Sure enough, there was a lone tooth in the middle and the two on both sides were missing.

Since I am in the recovery field and our program has a facility in Las Vegas I suggested that I take him there for help.

"Oh, I was there before," he said.

"And what happened?"

He went on to tell me that he had been unable to find a job when he was in our program previously. He also talked about having had a conflict with one of our staff members. There were several other reasons why he had failed, all excuses I'd heard before from those who weren't quite ready to get sober.

Before I left him in the parking lot I told him that our door was open when he was ready. As I drove away I had a sense of gratitude for my own recovery.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I was in a group session a while back when the topic of planning came up. It became a topic because one of the members of the group announced he was leaving our program.

"So what's your plan?" I asked him. "And why are you leaving?"

"Well," he said, "I've just been here long enough."

"That's not a plan," I told him.

I went on to explain to him that certain things needed to be in place before he left, otherwise he wouldn't have much chance of success.

"Well, what I'm thinking about" he said, "is going to live with a friend of mine who's also in recovery."

"How much money do you have saved?" I asked him.

"A few hundred," he said.

"Do you have a car and insurance?" I asked him.

"No."

"And how long have you been sober? And how long has your friend been sober?" I asked him. He was starting to get uncomfortable and squirmed in his seat.

"Both of us have been sober about six months," he responded.

The dialogue went on like this for a while. And it came out that this man had no savings, no car, and no insurance. Furthermore he had no idea of what he would do if his roommate relapsed and left him to pay the rent by himself. The good thing though, is that once all of this information was out in the open, he realized that he was making a dumb decision. He decided to stay until he had money saved and a better exit plan.

While in the midst of our addictions many of us drifted for years from one situation to another. Our planning was nil. We just kind of did whatever felt good at the moment. If it seemed like a good idea we did it. For many of us there was little or no planning in what we did next. Our whole life revolved around drugs or alcohol and obtaining enough to keep us high or drunk.

One of the major challenges for us here at TLC is helping those in recovery make the transition to life back in the real world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

While watching Fox news recently I saw a story that touched my heart. It was a story about a police officer who had been paralyzed for 25 years from a gunshot wound he had suffered while on duty in New York City. Appearing on the show with him was his wife and 26 year old son. The host of the show explained that after the officer was shot by his assailant, a young African-American man, he was able to forgive him. He even went on to become his mentor.

The commentator told us that the son was joining the New York Police department. In fact the son had already completed the police academy and was accepted as an officer. The commentator asked the father, a medal of honor winner, what he thought about his son's choice of career. The father explained, while breathing heavily with the help of a oxygen machine, that he respected his son's decision. He said that he lived without fear, and trusted God to protect his son.

Because many of us in recovery have such difficulty dealing with anger and resentments people like this paralyzed police officer amaze me. In my mind, he is a living saint.

I believe it is the essence of spirituality when we forgive. It doesn't make any difference whether the wrong is real or perceived. In the case of the police officer it was a real wrong. But for me, and many alcoholics and addicts that I know, our wrongs don't have to be real. I can imagine that someone has wronged me. Even though it is imaginary I can still carry a resentment against them.

I once heard someone say something profound about resentments in an AA meeting. He said that having a resentment against someone is like taking a deadly poison and waiting for the other person to die. And it is true. We sometimes carry this seed of anger, this seething resentment that eats at our guts.

This is a deadly state for those of us in recovery.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A client in one of our aftercare groups was frustrated because he had “a lot of feelings” that he didn't understand. He said that he sometimes just got angry for no reason. And when that happened he would lash out verbally at those around him. He said that he spent a lot of time trying to figure out why he felt such frustration. His body language and the look on his face bore out what he said.

Group members had some suggestions about how he could deal with his feelings. One of them told him that when he felt like lashing out at someone in anger, maybe he could turn that into an opportunity to express kindness. The frustrated client responded that he couldn't control how he felt.

When I took exception to that he looked at me in a questioning manner.

"When you are angry," I asked him, "do you lash out at everyone equally?"

"I don't understand what you're asking me," he said.

"Let me give you an example," I told him. Then I went onto explain that he probably wasn't expressing the same anger at his boss as he did to someone that he didn't like. In other words, he could modulate his levels of anger. He agreed with me, reluctantly.

I suggested that if he were able to regulate the amount of anger he showed people, then perhaps he could also be nice to people -- if he chose.

While he didn't make a commitment to be nicer, at least he heard what the rest of us had to say.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I was reading a story today in New Yorker magazine about how terrible conditions are in North Korea. Even the upper class has a difficult time getting enough rice to eat. They look at their neighbors to the north, China, as the land of plenty. Mexico, our neighbors to the immediate South come to our country because of the deplorable conditions in their country. Something interesting, though is that their neighbors to the South, Guatemala, look to Mexico as a land of opportunity. Mexico has problems with illegal immigrants from Guatemala similar to what the United States experiences with immigrants from Mexico.

This interests me because the news media today is beating the drums about how bad things are in our country. Unemployment stays at near 10%. We have two wars going on. We have an ecological disaster in the Gulf, and we're trying to fix our health care system. The bad news permeates our lives. Yet, in spite of how terrible things are here, people from other countries are risking their lives to get here. So are things really bad? Or is our perspective bad? I believe it is the latter.

It is true that our economy is worse than it's been in many years. And it is a fact that many people are out of work. We can take the perspective of dwelling on these negatives. We can be depressed because we're losing our house or can't pay our mortgage. We might be driving a five year old car. Or maybe we can't afford to replenish our wardrobe. We can focus on these things or we can take a more global view.

For me the global view is that I am simply grateful to be alive. While I have the capability of looking at all the negatives in our world, I choose to look at the positives. Because I want to feel good I look at the positives. Even though the media makes a living spreading muck, I choose to not accept it. And as a person who has escaped from the gloom and depression of addiction I don't have to today.

Instead, I choose to believe that I live in the greatest country in the world. Twenty years ago I was homeless, broke, and in the middle of my addictions. Today I have a great job, a degree of prosperity and am enjoying the promises that we hear of in the recovery rooms.

While it might seem simplistic to view the world this way, I believe that it is healthy to take charge of our lives. We can choose to look at the negative and use that as an excuse to not perform as well as we could. Or we can look at our land and our economy through the eyes of those who risk their lives to get here.

Arizona's Sonoran Desert is dotted with the unmarked graves of those who weren't fortunate enough to participate in what many of us complain about today.