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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Confidentiality can be an issue in our program. People call our corporate office to find friends, spouses, or family members.

Our instructions to employees are to never reveal information about a client. When a caller asks whether someone is in our program we tell them we can’t confirm if they're there. If they want to leave a message for the person that‘s fine. If they are at TLC we'll give them the message.

The exception is if a law enforcement officer, probation or parole officer, call. Then our instructions are to take the person's number and return the call.

While TLC is a peer counseling program, not a professional treatment program, we still adhere to Federal confidentiality guidelines. The purpose of confidentiality is to protect clients. We protect those who don't want others to know they’re in recovery or that they have an addiction or substance abuse problem. Even though those of us who've been in recovery for a long time might not care who knows of our past, not everyone shares our view.

A few days ago we had to terminate a relatively new employee because she took information outside the office. The information involved married clients who lived in our program in different cities. When one client was discharged our employee informed the spouse. When the client heard of his wife’s departure he didn't come home either. As far as we know they’re now using together because the first client was discharged because of a dirty drug test.

Our mission at TLC is to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives. That mission also includes keeping them out of harm's way. What this employee did, by informing the spouse about the other's departure, was to put the sober one in danger of relapsing - and perhaps dying.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"I've wanted to meet you for a long time," the businessman told me. "Your organization has an excellent reputation in the community. You've helped change a lot of lives."

He went on giving compliments for so long that it became almost uncomfortable. For some reason it's easier to hear criticism of - rather than good things about - our organization. Yet, I know the positive things he said were well-deserved. He's worked for years with people in recovery and has himself been sober for over 25 years. His experience in the recovery community has brought him into contact with many of our clients. In fact, some them are rehabilitating properties this man manages.

It is refreshing when those in the community appreciate what we do, especially against the backdrop of our history. Over the years a lot of energy has gone to defending our work in the community. Often government entities - and those who don't have problems with addiction - spend time attacking us. They somehow think we’re the problem, as opposed to being part of the solution. At the moment we're involved in negotiations with state government in Nevada because their laws require more oversight of recovering people than do the laws of Arizona.

In 1998 we were involved in a Federal lawsuit against the city of Mesa, Arizona that lasted five years. It began after the City Council passed laws banning TLC from operating in the downtown overlay, along with other laws that would have closed us down. The case wound through Federal courts for some five years. In 2003 it was settled, and the city paid a third of our legal fees and changed three laws. However, it was a Pyrrhic victory, one that cost a lot of money and psychic energy. In these kind of situations it never feels like we win.

So when we encounter business people in the community who appreciate what we do to help alcoholics and addicts change their lives we're grateful.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A famous sitcom star is in the news again. This time because he went too far. During a radio interview he denounced his producers, 12 step programs, and rambled on about other topics. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he encountered more problems and created more titillating news. And yesterday the producers announced they were suspending production.

His journey, which has been displayed in the media several times in the last few years, has led him to where addiction and alcoholism eventually leads us all. It doesn't make much difference how famous we are, how much money we have, or how much we think we're above the rules. Eventually, if a person is a real addict or alcoholic, the disease leads to either death, jail, or on the path to recovery.

The difference between me and this man is that he has talent, wealth, and is a household name. If I'd had this man's money I would've gotten into the same kind of trouble or more because I'm so greedy. As soon as I'd possessed the amount of drugs this man reportedly had I likely would've overdosed. Or else I would have been arrested with the drugs and incarcerated. In doesn't make a lot of difference how much money we have or how famous we are. Eventually drugs and alcohol will destroy us – or else lead us to recovery.

In my case I tried over and over again to drink and use like social users. But because I'm a serious alcoholic and drug addict it never worked. It took one more bout of me losing everything again, at the age of 51, to lead me to the rooms of recovery. And I've had a blessed and rich life ever since.

I only hope this man realizes he has a problem with drugs and alcohol. No amount of arrogance or money will overcome that fact. As it says in the literature, science may one day be able to allow an addict or alcoholic to indulge like other people. But it hasn't done so yet.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Yesterday I visited one of our job sites and had the privilege of seeing recovery in action. The TLC maintenance crew was rehabilitating eight units TLC owns on Ninth Avenue in Phoenix. The 75-year-old units were in the last stages of their life when TLC acquired them. Because we couldn't afford to pay for an empty lot, and had the material and manpower, we decided to remodel the units.

All of the sheet rock, cabinets, and flooring were replaced. When I made my visit yesterday the crew was finishing up the last two units. The job is expected to be wrapped up within 30 days.

This crew didn't know I was coming so it was refreshing to drive up and see them all busily at work. The project didn't appear to be different from any other building project in the city. The only difference was the people doing the work. Of the nine man crew, probably half of them had been in prison more than once. The rest had been either homeless or jobless for many years. The crew supervisor spent four years in prison on his last term, and has been with TLC nearly three years.

When I arrived at the site he asked me if I'd like to see what they were doing. Of course I did. He took me from apartment to apartment showing me the details. He was proud - and had a right to be. The work is of a quality that would surpass anyone's expectations -particularly for a project of that vintage.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is witnessing changes in people's lives. When I see former thieves and addicts - men no one expected to change - producing productive work, I can't help but be proud. Even though the motivation comes from them, at one point I helped create the structure in which they work. In fact, when people give me a lot of credit for what TLC does I always mention the fact that we only provide the structure. The clients provide the work and motivation to change.

So when I see what these men are doing with their lives, creating projects that will help others stay sober, I'm very grateful for what God has put before me today.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A man called our corporate office a while back, looking for his wife. He said he'd "lost track of her" and desperately wanted to find her. Our instructions to our staff are to never reveal whether a client is in our program. We neither confirm, nor deny, their presence. We always tell the caller federal confidentiality laws require us to protect the identity of our clients.

Without making assumptions, my belief is that alcoholics and addicts never lose their loved ones anyway. Their loved ones lose them. After a while, in spite of the intensity of their love for the person, alcohol and drugs get in the way.

Our loved ones eventually get away from us because they learn they can do nothing to help us. In many cases, when people start separating themselves, we begin to realize we have a serious problem. For years many of our clients have gone on and on using drugs and alcohol and abusing the people in their lives by asking them for help and money. It can be bail money to get out of jail. Or it can be money for drugs. Or it can be the loan of an automobile. Or money for utilities. There's always some dramatic reason why an alcoholic or addict needs help. But it's usually centered around the fact that the addict needs one more rock, or the alcoholic needs another drink to stave off the shakes.

While it might seem counterintuitive, usually this is when our clients realize other people might not be the problem. Many of our clients blame the world, their parents, the justice system, or any combination of the above for their problems. No one understands them. No one realizes the pain they are in. The world doesn't know how to party like they do. But once they're without the support system they've enjoyed since young, they start looking at themselves. When they are alone and abandoned, only then do many of them realize that their problems probably come from within.

It happened to me over 20 years ago. Once I recognized I was responsible for my problems life began to change. And all the people who had pushed me from their lives eventually came back.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In aftercare last night a client talked about how his anger almost got out of control. He said he was so mad that he wanted to physically attack the man with whom he was angry. He was surprised he had nearly reverted to behavior he had engaged in while he was drinking. And what made the problem even worse was that the man was his supervisor at work.

Since the topic of the group was "anger," the discussion segued into why the man had experienced such a sudden, and near violent, eruption of emotion. The consensus was that the client had been storing up small irritations and negative feelings about his supervisor. The outburst came after the supervisor remonstrated with the man about his behavior. And while the client agreed his behavior was out of line, he was surprised at the volatility of his response.

It was a great topic because it demonstrated how, when we don't deal with issues as they occur, our feelings can accumulate until the smallest issue might cause us to explode. Several group members brought out good examples of how they deal issues as they occur, rather than allowing them to build up. One or two of the group members demonstrated conversational gambits they would use when something bothers them.

"I hope I didn't do something to irritate you," one man used as an example phrase that helps him defuse a situation.

Another used the phrase, "I need to talk to you about something before this gets out of hand." And then he said he would tell the other person exactly how he felt in an inoffensive manner. He said, for him, in his work environment, this approach clears the air when issues arise. He said another benefit of this approach is the person with whom he is working realizes that whatever's going on, it can be discussed. The first man opened the door by letting his coworker know it's okay to talk - rather than warehouse feelings.

The group leader, who'd been sober for many years, said there never comes a point when we don't need good communication skills. He said - even after 20 years of sobriety - practicing positive and open communication is ongoing. It's the way we learn to walk through life that helps us deal with emotional garbage before it accumulates.

He suggested that we use the 10th step is a tool.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Because there is so much in the media about cruelty, violence, and negativity I'm always moved when I see acts of kindness.

I saw kindness yesterday when I left a restaurant behind two elderly people who needed help leaving. The woman supported herself on a walker, while the man was assisted by two young men on either side who were guiding him carefully through the restaurant and down the walkway.

As I walked behind them I could hear the man expressing embarrassment about having to be helped. One of the men helping him downplayed his comments, telling him there was “nothing to be embarrassed about.”

While I'm uncertain of the relationship between the parties, whether those helping were family, friends, or strangers, their behavior showed a love and concern that stayed with me.

Because kindness and good acts don't sell nearly as many newspapers or advertising spots as bad news it is refreshing to see the kindness I witnessed last night.

As someone in recovery who has seen much of the seamier side of life the beauty of kindness and love feeds my soul.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"I don't have a choice about being here," the new client said, sounding depressed. He was unhappy about being in the program because he had just gotten out of prison after several years. He thought his parole officer should have let him go home to his family.

However, the parole officer wanted him to live in a structured environment for a while. He thought a period of decompression would allow the client to gradually adjust to freedom.

"Why do you say you don't have a choice?" I asked him.

"If I don't stay here my PO will return me to prison," he responded.

"Then you do have a choice," I responded. "You can either stay here or let your parole officer return you to prison."

"But that's no choice," the client said.

"It is a choice," I responded. "It's just a choice that you don't like."

The client reluctantly agreed with me. The point is that we always have choices. And in many cases we've seen clients elect to return to prison or jail rather than live in the structured environment of our recovery program. We are strict, and serious about what we expect. Clients are required to work. Clients give us drug tests on demand. They are required to keep living areas clean and perform chores. However, the things required of them are no different from what the average citizen does every day.

Sometimes change comes when we realize we have choices. We can make good ones or bad ones. But we don't need to wallow in the self-pity that comes when we don't believe we have a choice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

At one time when I'd hear those in recovery say "I'm so happy to be an alcoholic," I wanted to throw up. I couldn't understand how anyone would be happy to be an alcoholic. Today I understand what they meant and happily embrace that statement.

I joined the "happy to be an alcoholic" crowd because I've seen both sides of alcoholism. I drank for over 40 years. I was down and out and experienced prison, sickness, and the losses that come from being an out-of-control alcoholic. My father died of alcoholism at age 60. So did my brother. I don't know if my father was ever exposed to the 12 step programs because I didn't talk to him the last 15 years of his life. My brother went to meetings; however he said he "wasn't like the rest of those guys" in the rooms. I think his lack of identification was a factor in his death.

But I believe that death is the least of our concerns. One of the most important things I've gotten from the 12 step programs is learning to live. The literature provides us a blueprint, a concept of how to deal with nearly every situation. A key component of the blueprint is acceptance. Only when I accept what's going on in my life can I deal with it in a rational way. And beyond the first 164 pages of the Book, there are moving stories with examples of how alcoholics got sober and went on to live productive lives.

Accepting that I‘m powerless over alcohol and other substances saved me. For many years I thought I could control alcohol and drugs. This obsession put me in jail for 15 years, and in a mental hospital for an additional year. My life is an example of the obsessive determination of the addict to prove he ‘s in control. Once I fully conceded that I couldn’t successfully drink or drug life changed completely.

Oh, it didn't change in a flash of lightning. But progressively, day by day, life got better for me. At the time I didn't recognize it on the conscious level I do now. But as I trudged through each sober day life slowly improved. I got better jobs. I got better transportation. My health improved. I seemed to make saner decisions. While the material, visible improvements were obvious, it was the spiritual, emotional and psychological improvements that weren't so obvious. It was only later on that I realize that I was happier, more emotionally secure, and just felt better about my life overall.

This latter realization is the wonderful blessing of recovery. Material things come and go. But as long as I work the program happiness resides within me. I have picked up tools in the program to help me feel better about life. I learned not to compare myself to others in a negative way. If I compare myself to others at all it is from the aspect of gratitude. If I have a pain in my leg, I can look to others who have lost their legs in the war, and say I'm really blessed to have a leg, a limb that feels pain.

Today when I hear someone at a meeting say "I'm so happy to be an alcoholic," I know exactly what they mean. I'm one of the happy ones.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Once again I see our disease at work.

Recently, someone close to me relapsed after six years of recovery that included a lot of half measures. While this person did the first step, that was about it. And the interesting thing is - when it came time to share at a meeting - he knew everything about recovery. He would eloquently tell others how to stay sober. He had a spiritual solution to every recovery issue.

However, his personal and business life didn't show the fruits of recovery. It seemed he was always having problems in his relationship. He was having trouble with his business and customers. He never seemed happy, regardless of the situation. And while I can't tell someone else how to stay sober, my experience tells me that when someone is working a program things started getting better. Whenever I would talk to this person he had drama in his life. His wife was a bitch. She was always ragging on him. His employer was a cheapskate. There was always something in his life that didn't work. It usually was something external – it seemed to have nothing to do with him.

My experience, as I grow in recovery is that life gets better as time passes. Sure I have my down days and down times. Things don't always go my way. But like a rising stock market chart with its jagged ups and downs life gets better over a period of time - if I'm working a program.

However, I also know life teaches us lessons. This person is no exception. Eventually life will show him what works

Friday, February 18, 2011

Recently one of our long-time managers decided to leave and seek other employment. This man had been with this for over 10 years. He came in as a client and worked his way up to becoming the number three manager in our organization. He was a willing person who never said no when asked to do something. He worked in our facilities in southern New Mexico. He was a manager in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He worked in every district in Arizona. But, because our revenue had decreased over the past two years due to a decline in our population, we had to eliminate his position.

We did offer him his previous job as a house manager. But because he was now in a relationship, and had increased financial obligations, he couldn't accept. He decided to move on and seek employment where he could earn a salary that would continue to support his lifestyle.

Change is difficult. This man's departure will mean changes in our organization. He had good working relationships with all of our managers. And he knew the job inside and out. It will be difficult to replace him or pass his responsibilities to others in our organization.

His departure illustrates one of the realities of our lives: that one of the only things we can really count in life is change.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

“I don’t know what to do with him. He’s passed out in my living room,” the woman told me on the phone.

She'd called me about a former client with whom she’d developed a relationship after he left our program. However, after a few months with her he’d started drinking once more and was making her life miserable.

“Tell him to leave,” I told her.

“I did. I told him to leave a few days ago. But he’s still here.”

I could sense the despair in her voice, feel her pain. She felt guilty about asking him to leave, but had tried nearly everything to get him to stop drinking. Nothing had worked.

I told her of my own descent into alcoholism, how I hadn’t changed until people quit helping me. At first I was angry. I thought they didn’t care. I rationalized that they didn’t know how to party like I did.

However, it was only when I had no where to turn to that I asked God for help. Only then did my life begin to change.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Addicts in early recovery sometimes have a tough time finding employment. Often they have no skills or job training. They've spent much of their life pursuing drugs, committing petty crimes, or wasting time in jail. When these applicants show up looking for work the employer looks at their history and finds out they've been arrested or served time in jail. In many cases, particularly today, employers would prefer to hire someone with no record. And who can blame them?

In an ideal world employers would look at applicants differently. If a man were clean and sober and trying to change his life the employer would hire him based on his skills. But when an employer has two applicants, one with a record, and one without, who’s he going to hire? He'll likely hire the one who presents less risk to his business and income.

This came up yesterday when I was talking to an addict who'd spent 16 years in prison for murder. Two of those years were spent on death row, until the United States banned capital punishment. While murder is a heinous crime, in this man's case his involvement was peripheral. He was 18 at the time and someone had asked him for a ride to a friend's house. While he waited in the car, the fellow he'd chauffeured murdered someone inside. Because he was the driver, under Arizona's laws, he was convicted as if he'd pulled the trigger himself.

However, while in prison he determined to change his life. He didn't participate in gang activity while locked up. He didn't engage in drug dealing or other criminal activities. He went to school, working menial jobs, and kept his nose clean. When released from prison he went to school and became a counselor. After a few years he gained an advanced degree and became a social worker. However, he still suffers repercussions from his past when he seeks employment. But in the 20 years he's been free he's never given up. He persists in seeking a top professional job that will match his credentials. And I believe his perseverance will help him succeed.

I tell those in our employment centers to use their tenacity and survival skills. Maybe they don't have specific training, but they have the toughness that allowed them to pursue drugs and survive incarceration. I tell them if they spend 10% of the time pursuing employment as they did pursuing drugs, then they'll be wildly successful. When they become discouraged when turned down for a job I ask how discouraged they became when they couldn't find drugs.

"When the dope man told you he didn't have anything," I asked, "you didn't just say well I guess I'll go home today, there's no dope. No, what you did was go to the next house and the next house until you found what you wanted." I go on to explain that they need to use that same persistence and tenacity while trying to rebuild their lives.

Sometimes perseverance equals success.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Selflessness was the topic at yesterday's management meeting, which is held the second Sunday of the month. As the manager's shared, it seemed each had somewhat of a different definition. But a recurring theme was that selflessness doesn't really exist in our program – or for that matter, even in the world.

While most of us help others without expectations, there's always an underlying payback. When we help others we feel good about our actions. When we help others there's the recognition that we have done something good. Even if no one else knows we did something kind or generous, the recipient knows.

An interesting aspect of the topic was that many of those we help at TLC ultimately fail. They leave because they're not ready to get sober. They liked the idea of change, but somehow doing the footwork wasn't what they had in mind. They usually leave owing us a lot of money.

However, someone pointed out that we don't let ungrateful people change our behavior. We must continue to give - and give again - without being overly concerned about those who aren’t ready to change. In fact, someone pointed out that we developed our Hard Six program for those who've failed with us multiple times.

What we offer others is between us and God. What others do with what we give them is between them and God. It's an old axiom – and it's true.

Monday, February 14, 2011

At a 12-step meeting yesterday a winter visitor talked about how God provides everything he needs in his life. As an example, he was talking about having financial concerns because he needed to remodel his home in the Midwest. As a winter visitor, he also has a home here in the Valley. It seems that during a recent hailstorm his home here was damaged. He hadn't noticed it until he was sitting on his patio on a recent warm day talking with guests, when one of them looked up and noticed the pits from the hail. The guest suggested he contact his insurance company.

He was somewhat reluctant to do so, and had no great expectations about receiving compensation for the damage. However, in a few weeks a check arrived. When he opened it he first thought it was for less than $1000. Then he realized there was another zero at the end of the numbers. He excitedly showed the check to his wife. They were both exultant because it was large enough to complete the needed repairs to their home in the Midwest.

He says this is a frequent occurrence in his life. He's been sober for nearly three decades and there’s never been a time when God didn’t provide an answer to his needs. He says it never fails, no matter what it is, large or small.

He says his bigger challenge is realizing that God is always present and gives answers whenever we are in trouble.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Making commitments is difficult, especially for addicts and alcoholics. I've been dealing with a client for several months who spends a lot of time living in the past. She's talented and bright and could probably achieve whatever she wants. However, she's stuck in a dead-end job because she's afraid to risk doing something new. She makes vague statements about "going to school." She knows she needs to change, but is unable to take the first step.

"I know I need to do something," she says. "It's just difficult to get started."

"You know that most people who've held the home run record have also held the strikeout record?" I asked her.

She was familiar with the statistic. But she went on to say that it's her inability to get started, to make a real commitment. For much of her life she’d lived off of a trust fund as the beneficiary of an inheritance. She didn't manage her own money, leaving that responsibility to someone else. As a result, she had little left, except for obligations to the IRS. She feels stuck and unable to make the next move.

I suggested she make a solid commitment to do something - anything - without being concerned about the outcome. My experience has is that if we start making motions, some movement toward a desired goal, the universe will hear us and our life will change.

A good example comes from some of those I know who've tried to quit smoking this past year. One fellow used the 12 step program. By making a solid commitment to quit he now has a year smoke-free. He said once he made the commitment, and applied the principles of the 12 step program - quitting was easy.

There are also a couple of others in my office who say they want to quit. They've been making tepid attempts for over a year. However, after a few days, they succumb to the desire for a couple of puffs. “Just one” they’ll say in an exhibition of weak commitment. And they’re soon smoking as much as before.

Their commitment was no match for their desire for a cigarette.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Yesterday in aftercare the topic was "listening", how if we listen creatively we will learn more about the speaker. At first the group was cool to the subject. Then, after one member volunteered to begin, the participants warmed up.

The consensus was that most of us spend more time thinking about what we're going to say than we do listening to the speaker.

An interesting twist came when someone suggested we can get what we want if we listen to the other person. Sometimes we're so wrapped up in our own wants, needs, and feelings we don't hear. One group member said we can also get what we want if we ask creative questions. The questions we ask helps the speaker realize a couple of things. First, the speaker knows we care what he's saying. Secondly, he will feel we respect him. We’re not simply listening while anxiously waiting to blat out our opinion. The right questions help us clarify what the speaker is saying.

Creative questions help us find what the speaker wants, regardless if it's only a moment of our attention.

A good example of failure to listen came out. One of the managers, also a group member, thought he heard one thing about a man who had been laid off the job. What he heard was the man had refused to work. However, after he told the man he couldn't be in our program if he refused to work he found out what he had heard wasn't what happened. What happened was the employer told the labor group dispatcher he didn't want to use the man any more because he'd found someone more experienced. Nothing was said about the man refusing to work.

A lot of controversy could have been avoided if this manager had just listened carefully.

Friday, February 11, 2011

In a group last night we were trying to sort out a disagreement between two clients. One of the clients was a supervisor who'd been in our program for some time. During a previous stint he’d also served as a manager for four years. The other client had been with us for less than six months. They'd gotten into a disagreement on a work assignment and nearly came to blows. Fortunately, it didn't turn into a physical confrontation, which would have required them to be discharged from the program.

When the group started those involved tried to present their case as if they were speaking to a jury. There was a lot of back-and-forth between "he said, he said." After ten minutes, with each participant presenting his case, the group leader stepped in.

"It probably doesn't make a lot of difference who said what,” he said. “The more important thing is the attitude that started all of this."

He deftly took the conversation back to why we’re in the program: we want to change. If we’re here to stay sober, he said, we act better and treat each other better. Oh yes, he went on; we have disagreements and dislikes. But if our objective is to stay sober then we’ll usually do the right thing. He said we must look at those around us as being like us because they share our goal of sobriety. If each of us looks at the other as a person who is sharing the same goals it helps us overcome our differences.

He finished by saying it‘s the little things that cause a relapse.

"Probably none of us got drunk over the war in Iraq or the government raising taxes," he said. "If you guys are like me, you got drunk over a broken shoelace or because it started raining and you're planning to work that day."

We get rid of issues by dealing with them immediately. That way they don’t fester and become larger.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A client who came to TLC from clear across the United States turned up dirty on a drug test last week. He claimed the drugs were in his system prior to his arrival. And it’s possible he was right. The drug he turned up positive for was marijuana, which stays in the system for as long as 30 days. Because the test was given on the cusp of the 30 day limit, he was given the benefit of the doubt. He wasn't discharged, but our managers will test him often.

While I'm not sure this client was telling the truth, it mystifies me why someone will come to a program to get sober and continue to use. I know our disease wants us to get high. But my belief is that if I make a commitment to get sober than I need to take advantage of the tools I'm offered. When I finally made the commitment to get sober I did everything I could to do so. I went to meetings, found a sponsor, a job and followed the guidelines of the halfway house I was living in at the time.

I believe we shouldn't try to get sober until we’re done. When I came to the program I had no doubt about being an addict and alcoholic. History had shown me over and over I couldn’t successfully drink or drug. I was totally demoralized, homeless, broke, and ready to listen to anyone with a solution. The solution I found was to go to a detoxification facility. While there I was shown a plan to stay sober. Part of that plan was to go to 12 step meetings and follow the suggestions of those in the meetings. And, I never had to turn back because I followed the suggestions.

I hope this person who failed a drug test was telling the truth. After all, our mission is to help addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives. We’re willing to help as long as our clients are willing to try. However, when they use drugs we have to refer them to a detoxification unit or another program. We don't have a problem with people using drugs or alcohol. We’re not evangelists or missionaries.

But if people want to get clean and sober then that's what TLC is about.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The speaker at yesterday's morning meeting made a wonderful point. He said amends need to apply to everyone in our lives, even our families. He spoke of having a child who kept him awake for much of the night. He said staying awake so long had made him irritable. And eventually his irritation spilled over onto his child. He said he was going to make it up to his son after the meeting.

One of the wonderful things I found in the 12 step programs is it helps me learn principles I can apply in every area of my life, not just my "recovery" life. The 10th step deals with this more than any other. In this step we continue to take personal inventory and when we're wrong, promptly admit it. It is a wonderful blessing to have guidance on how to immediately get rid of issues. It is much easier to apologize to someone immediately than to stew on an issue for days. When I don't take care of it immediately, my ego gets involved and it's much more difficult to apologize.

In the 12 steps we can find guidance for nearly every area of our lives. And the beauty of the program is that while everything's in the book, we get to hear examples of how others apply the principles. We learn this when we go to meetings and listen as they share their experience, strength and hope. The speakers and the old-timers in the meetings are living examples of what happens when we use the program. And yesterday I came out of the meeting with one more example of how to apply 12-step principles in my life.

I thank the speaker for taking the time to come across town to spend an hour with us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sometimes I fail to recognize how God's fingerprints are all over our lives and decisions. And sometimes I criticize myself because I don't seem to have enough faith. Perhaps because I'm a normal human being I don't have confidence that the universe has my best interests at heart. I put that idea in today's blog because something happened yesterday to reaffirm that a loving God has a plan for all of our lives.

This came to mind because we've been having problems with our office computer system. A couple of our staff members also are leaving for jobs in the private sector. These issues raise my anxiety level because our computer system is critical to our operation. And trained staff members help everything runs smoothly.

However, the day before yesterday we started seeking a replacement who also had computer skills. And lo and behold, a man shows up who's been in the computer industry since its inception. He has computer skills on several levels and, if he stays motivated, many issues with our old system will be resolved.

Over TLC's 20 year history we've experienced constant change. Often we lose staff members to our disease, or they move on to better opportunities. And while I understand this, like most addicts, I hate change. Yet, on every occasion the right person shows up at the right time. And while I'd like to take credit for it, I know that God in his infinite wisdom provides what we need exactly when we need it.

Today I pray to have the faith to recognize God's presence in all my activities. I'm sure that in the hustle bustle, though, I'll forget he's there. And when I forget this I know the anxiety about our day-to-day operations will descend upon me and remain until he steps in again to resolve our problems.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could live each day with this confidence?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Relationships can be volatile for those of us in recovery. This came up yesterday when a TLC client was rejected by woman in whom he was interested. I didn't realize how infatuated he was until he told me she wouldn't date him. He was upset.

I warn our clients that relationships can endanger our sobriety. I share my experience. After I was sober three years I married a longtime friend and ruined a good friendship. I didn't let the divorce some nine years later tip me over. I didn't want to drink or use drugs. But I dealt with anger and resentment and spent time with my sponsor sorting out my feelings.

I tell those in my groups that we take risks when we marry. If we think about it, 50% of "normies" who marry eventually divorce. Based on these numbers, how can people in recovery – who seem to have so many issues – expect to do better?

It seems prudent that those of us in recovery contemplating relationships should be as logical and rational as possible. Sometimes we are so blinded by emotion and infatuation we throw good sense out the window. And I'm not sure this is characteristic of just young people in new recovery. I myself have been swept up in the emotion of a new relationship – and here I am a senior citizen with over 20 years sober. The chemistry of love can sweep us away in a tsunami of emotion that is almost overwhelming.

I haven't heard from this client today and hope he's all right. He has the intellectual and book knowledge about what to do. However, because he’s relatively volatile and emotional, he may act on his feelings. If that happens he may become angry and pick up a bottle unless he gets with his sponsor and deals with this issue.

There's a good reason sponsors and others who've been sober for a while recommend we wait at least a year before we make major changes in our lives.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I received a text message yesterday from a friend who'd lost a close relative. He was upset of course, but was reaching out to others in recovery for support. The relative, a cousin, was only 34 years old. His death from natural causes was unexpected and the family was immersed in grief.

Members of the Fellowship reached out to support him. He has several people with whom he communicates regularly, the topic usually being about recovery and living a day at a time. I did my part, telling him to call if he needed to talk.

This incident illustrates what happens over and over in the 12 step programs. Because the Fellowship is a network, a large extended family, members support each other whenever help is needed. It doesn't make any difference what kind of challenges a member of the Fellowship faces. Someone will step up and hold out a hand.

When I lost my aunt in May of 2006, within fifteen minutes there were several people in my living room. I was surrounded by loving friends who were in recovery who understood my vulnerability. It wasn't anything they said that is memorable. It was just that they were there to provide a safety net, emotional support in a time of pain and loss.

This is what we do in the 12 step programs.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I went to a meeting this morning and left feeling very good. The person who gave the lead had been sober for some 36 years. He'd been active in recovery all that time. His presence at the podium cast an aura of spirituality over the room. Many of the men present were born long after he had first gotten sober. Some were in their late teens and early 20s.

But the concepts he shared had nothing to do with their youth or his length of sobriety. The concepts he shared at the podium were those forged by the founders of the program back in the 1930s. He talked about the idea that we are people who can't drink like others. When we take that first drink bad things start to happen. In the 20 minutes allotted him, he led the audience through his drinking history up to the way his life is at present.

What he said was important because it showed us the program works. Sometimes the disease of alcoholism tells us nothing works. But when we can see real living human examples around us who have many years of sobriety then we know it works.

I thank the speaker for taking the time to let us know how it works.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The mother's voice was filled with sadness. She didn't know what to do about her son. He'd been drinking for a period of time and she wanted to help. However, she wasn't sure what she should do to help him. She didn't have money for treatment and neither did he. When she found our program on the Internet she couldn't believe he could get in with no money and live with us for $110 a week. So she called to verify what she had read.

We talked for several minutes and I assured her that everything she'd read on our website was true. Her son could come in without money. Yes, we would help him find work. And yes, there were jobs available in Arizona if one were diligent about a job search. She was relieved to find resources available for her son. But finally I had to ask her a question:

"If you don't mind me asking, ma'am," I said, "How old is your son?"

"He's 50," she replied. I was surprised. He'd called me earlier and for some reason I didn't think of him as being 50. He sounded healthy and energetic. His thinking processes were clear and he made sense.

This exchange illustrates what many parents face, especially those with no experience with substance abuse or alcoholism. The disease is baffling. Parents love their children and want the best for them. Sometimes their idea of help includes providing money for alcohol or drugs. The children will convince them that they’ll go through withdrawals or pain if they don't have drugs or alcohol. So the parents show love the only way they know how. And we addicts know how to play on the emotions of others and do so freely. And it's not even evil on our part. Our disease compels us to do whatever we can to maintain our addictions.

I spent time on the phone with this mother, reassuring her the son could get help and get sober. I suggested that she use "tough love" with him. She could tell him that she would help him with the caveat that this would be the last time. She should tell him she loves him, but that she's not going to watch him kill himself. She will support his recovery efforts, but won't help him continue drinking or using drugs. While my recommendation seemed harsh to her, she said others told her the same thing.

Hopefully this man will get sober one of these days, perhaps even in our program, and enter a new life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

We recently did an intake on a man who attempted suicide a few years ago while in our program. He survived the attempt and we heard he was placed in a psychiatric unit at the hospital after his injuries were treated. Then we lost track of him. For all we knew, the man was still in the hospital.

One of those who did the intake said when he returned he not only had the scars from the suicide attempt, but he also had lost one eye. The injury apparently had occurred during a street brawl while he was drinking or drugging.

When we heard of his return it reminded all of us one more time of the things that can befall us until we finally get clean and sober. True,life happens to us all. We have accidents, we might be assaulted, we fall ill, lose jobs, or get divorced. But these things seem to happen to those of us who are drinking or drugging more often than it happens to those living a so-called "normal" life. Hummm...

If this man stays in our program he's going to have to start dealing with the real issues in his life. While none of us at TLC are psychiatrists or psychologists, one thing we have observed is that those who work 12 step programs don't often try to take their own lives.

Working the 12 steps seems to help those who have tried to run away from the issues in their life. In the rooms we hear stories of those who wanted to take their own lives. And we hear from those who made the attempt and failed. Many say they came back to the program with the realization that they couldn't do anything right, even kill themselves. But from there many have rebuilt their lives and found support in the Fellowship of the 12 step programs.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One of the major issues we deal with as addicts and alcoholics, I believe, is self-esteem. When we were in the midst of our disease using drugs and drinking, being irresponsible, we trashed our self-esteem.

Self-esteem is one of the issues we often deal with in our aftercare group. A lot of those in the group have developed a kind of false pride that makes them defensive. They often have an inflated ego, but little or no self-esteem. They have done little in life to feel good about. They often feel they are under attack.

I explain that we start building self esteem by the little things we do in our daily lives. For that reason we begin by asking new arrivals, once they're free of the shakes and the nervousness of their first week of sobriety, to start making their bed, washing their clothes, and paying attention to their grooming. I believe these small actions are the building blocks of developing self-esteem. As the days move on we start encouraging people to seek employment, to show up on time for their jobs at TLC, and to start being responsible. Often, for addicts and alcoholics who have lived in the midst of their disease for years it is quite accomplishment to simply follow the same routine each day.

As Nathaniel Branden describes so eloquently in the "Psychology of Self-esteem" human beings must realize they have a right to happiness. For us addicts and alcoholics happiness is sometimes a dim light at the end of a very long tunnel. We've been unhappy for so long we might be afraid to live in happiness because it would be so painful to have it disappear. Many times when I ask addicts to remember when they were the happiest they talk about when they were children. Very few can recall when they recently were happy.

A sign of growing self-esteem is when those in our program start reaching out to help others. At first, many of them don't believe they have anything to give. But I point out to them if they’ve been in our program for 2 to 3 weeks or longer they have something to give to the new man or woman who walks through the door. It may not be anything material. But it could be something as wonderful as a hello, and encouragement that they'll be able to stay clean and sober they just don't run away. Many of them say helping others makes them feel worthwhile.

Self esteem starts with little things.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The speaker who qualified at Sunday's meeting said one of the most important things the newcomer could do is to find similarities between him and the others at the meeting. He said when he first got sober he paid attention to how he was different from others in the rooms. He said it’s important to realize we’re at meetings because we have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Everyone, he said, has differences in their backgrounds, education, or ethnicity. But none of those things is as relevant as the fact of the disease brought us to the room.

I was like the speaker. When I first started trying to get sober some 25 years ago I recall going to a meeting where many of those attending were unemployed. At the time it was nearly impossible for me to quit drinking. I was drinking every day. I drank when I got out of bed. I drank when I awoke in the middle of the night. No matter how much effort I made, I couldn't stop. Yet I had the ego or the false pride to look at myself as different from the others in the meeting. And the only reason I did that was because I had a job and they didn’t.

This kind of discrimination, separating myself from others for whatever reason,will keep me sick. My brother, who died of this disease, would say "I'm not like these other guys. I had a job. I had a car." The reality is that my brother was as bad or worse as anyone I've met in Alcoholics Anonymous. And immediately before he got sober, he was homeless and had nowhere to go. He was so entrenched in his disease that six months after he left the halfway house he died of complications of alcoholism. Would he have died anyway? I don't know. But I do know he would have had a better chance to survive whatever was going on with him had he been sober. He looked at the differences between himself and the others at the meeting.

One of the insidious aspects of our disease is it is lying in wait to kill us. And part of the process of it wanting to kill us is it tells us "you're not so bad. You're not like those other guys. You can handle your booze." We must override and fight this with every ounce of our ability. We must look to the banker, to the labor, to the illiterate, to the illegal alien who doesn't speak our language, as members of the group who are there for the same reasons. They are our saviors because they might tell a story or share an experience that will make us realize the severity of our disease.

I thank them for being there. One of the "different" members of that group might have saved my life today.