Recovery Connections

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

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

Friday, December 31, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can a man of my background ask?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

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

“What do you want for Christmas?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

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

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

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

"Where do you want to go?"

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

"Not a good idea."

"Maybe Phoenix then," I said.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I hate it when addicts repeatedly relapse.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's all a matter of perspective.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

And the list goes on and on.