Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A client became the focus of a group session recently over a cell phone he’d found on a job site. Instead of turning the phone in or looking for the owner, he viewed the phone as “kind of a gift from God,” an unexpected divine blessing.

Of course group members immediately began pointing out that what he interpreted as a “gift from God,” was simple petty theft on his part. Attempting to defend himself, he said he became honest about the phone after he was confronted by the program manager. That's when he admitted he shouldn’t have kept the phone.

As the group moved along someone pointed out that honesty once one is caught is not honesty. Honesty would have been to turn the phone in immediately.

And the real issue is much larger than a stolen cell phone. When an addict starts behaving dishonestly, where does it go from there? Sooner or later when we start lying to ourselves we might ultimately arrive at the big lie: am I going to be able to use this meth? Can I shoot this heroin? Can I drink this 40? Can I smoke a few joints without it affecting my life?

Our disease creeps on us incrementally. First I'll do something small, then something larger. Pretty soon all bets are off. Sooner or later, if I start being dishonest I’ll one day tell myself the big lie: that I can somehow successfully use drugs or alcohol again.

So, for that reason, we make a big deal of transgressions here at TLC. We are dogmatic about imposing consequences when clients steal, lie, or act out. For the whole thing is about when am I going to use again? And our behavior patterns are one of the best indicators.

So what happened to our client who stole the cell phone? He ended up getting moved back 30 days in his program. And he says that this small setback makes him realize how important it is to be honest.