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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Birthday?

Today I celebrate 72 years on the planet, a miracle considering how I lived until I got sober over 20 years ago. I was telling someone the other day how I never expected to live to 40, let alone long enough to collect social security.

From my early teens - until I got sober at 51 - life was an emotional roller coaster. Starting with an abusive upbringing by an angry alcoholic father, I escaped into drugs and alcohol in my early teens. I never was a social drinker or druggie. My goal was to pass out, to become oblivious to my perceived pain. I eventually became my father – minus the violence. More than half my teen years were spent in juvenile jails. At age 18 I was chained on a bus and on my way to serve a ten year term in the California prison system for possessing of heroin. By the time I got sober at 51 I’d spent 15 years behind bars for drug offenses - and another year in a mental hospital trying to figure out how to quit using.

Today, because I got sober in 1991, I live a magical and blessed life. I have a beautiful woman who takes good care of me. I have loving children and grandchildren. I live well and share vacations with my family. I’ve had the same job for twenty+ years, helping other addicts and alcoholics get sober.

Do I have regrets about my history? Not too many. At one time I had regrets because others said I’d wasted my life and some part of me wanted to believe them. But then I looked at the education I acquired while incarcerated. I had time to read a book nearly every day. I learned Spanish well enough to work as an interpreter. I learned to write well enough to report for a major newspaper chain. I developed enough confidence working in prison administration to enter the corporate world as a mid-level manager.

One regret is how I disappointed my parents, my children, and those who loved me. They didn’t understand my behavior because they didn’t understand addiction any better than I did. One blessing I did have was that my mother was able to see me sober and successful before she died. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

Where do I go at 72? Hopefully in the same direction I’ve been going. I want to continue to help people get sober and rebuild their lives. Is it about them, or is it more about me? I’m not sure, but I know I feel good helping addicts and alcoholics. It’s healthy for me to be of service, to see men and women change their lives and become what God intended for them to be.

Hopefully, helping others is the kind of selfishness the world understands.