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.

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.