Recovery Connections

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

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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

R.I.P.

A 42 year old former TLC client, who had trouble living in sobriety, was shot to death in Apache Junction this week. The police reported his death, and that of his 22 year old companion, as the result of a “drug deal gone bad.” He’d been out of prison for around a month after finishing a three year term.

He’d spent several years at TLC and remained sober while in the program. But one day he got into an ego battle with a manager and left in anger. Not long afterward he was back in prison after he fled police when they tried to pull his car over.

We corresponded the first two years he was locked up. He was repentant for being back inside and indicated he wanted to work the 12-step program. I saw that he received recovery literature and encouraged him to study it. I also sent him money. But I quit helping him around a year ago when I heard he was in debt to the Mafia for drugs he’d purchased on credit. Shortly after that I heard he went to a protection unit. I felt disappointed, betrayed and gullible. He wrote about a month before his release, professing to not understand why I’d quit corresponding. I didn’t answer.

His death serves to remind us all of what might happen if we don’t get sober and change our lives. Over and over we receive these stark reports that remind us of the potential consequences of remaining in our disease.

Rest in Peace, Ed.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Gratifying Job

A client was understandably fearful because she was returning to court last week, expecting to have her parental rights terminated. However, when she returned her face was the picture of joy. After listening to both sides the judge postponed the case for several months, indicating the woman had a chance to retain custody of her child.

This scenario plays out often at TLC. Mothers and fathers come in, totally demoralized, because they've had their parental rights severed - or are about to have them severed. Then, when they show up to court clean and sober, positive and upbeat, the system takes notice.

While my parental rights were never severed, my two oldest children suffered because of my addiction. I was always away or always in trouble because of my disease. I spent years incarcerated or on the run until I got sober. Today they bear the residual effects of my disease. They were mostly raised by their mother, who had her own issues. One is an overachiever who's never been in trouble and is highly successful – but I can see the pain flicker across her face when she talks of her childhood. The other is still suffering from a lifelong addiction that I believe is directly related to his childhood.

This is perhaps one of the most gratifying aspects of managing TLC. One of our most important responsibilities is to care for our children. But when our disease takes precedence, our children often suffer - unless we put them with other relatives. Even then they suffer because their home life is disrupted. And they live with anxiety of the decline of an addict or alcoholic parent. They develop an uncertainty that will stay with them for years - if not forever.

So It's gratifying when we help parents get their lives back on track and resume their roles as parents.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Another Example

A client who's had a rough time getting sober ended up at a Phoenix hospital the other day after getting hit by a car while drunk. No one was surprised at the news.

One one occasion he was brought to the program after a couple of our clients found him passed out on the sidewalk in over 100° heat. When they picked him up his skin adhered to the concrete. Had he remained there much longer he probably would have died. And the last time he showed up at the program he had bruises all over his body, yet stayed only a few days before he went out to continue where he'd left off.

The idea this man continues to drink in spite of all of the damage he's done to himself illustrates the power of alcohol over our lives. This man is fairly well-educated and has had several good jobs in and out of TLC. He's personable and communicates well. Yet, the fact that he continues to think that he can successfully drink like other people proves one more time that what it says in the book is true. Our disease is "cunning, baffling, and powerful." Who knows when, in an unguarded moment, an overwhelming desire to drink will come upon us?

The solution for those of us who stayed sober for a long time is to adhere to what's suggested in the program. We get a sponsor. We go to meetings. We find a higher power. That way, when an urge to drink or use drugs comes upon us, we have something to fall back on.

All of us pray this man survives, but the last prognosis was not too encouraging.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just do It

A client in aftercare had several things he wanted to do. He wanted a job. He wanted to go back to a former career. He wanted to start working out. He wanted to find someone to sponsor.

"I'm going to try..." He said, hesitation in his voice

"I'm planning to start..." He continued.

"I'm thinking about doing..." He went on.

This client is not unusual his inability to get things done, or to even get started. As group went on I pointed out to him that he needs to change his language. If we insert qualifiers like "going to," "planning on," "thinking about," we're never going to get anything done.

I suggested instead that he make more positive statement if he has something he wants to do. I suggested he try "I'll apply for 10 jobs tomorrow," or "I'm signing up for a class today," or "I’ll find someone to sponsor today."

If we make wishy-washy statements about what we're going to do we'll never get anything done. I'm not sure whether it's fear, lack of confidence, or plain laziness that keeps us from doing the things we want or need to do. And the reality is that if we try something and fail at our attempt what's the worst that can happen? We'll be right back where we were before we made the attempt. Right? And other than having a bruised and battered ego we’ll be ready to make another attempt.

When Thomas Edison was questioned by reporters about how it felt to have failed some 2000 times to invent the light bulb he had a wonderful response.

"Why I didn't fail," he replied. "I just discovered 2000 ways that the light bulb wouldn't work."

Maybe if we apply the same kind of attitude to our own lives we'll get a lot more done.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tough Love Hurts

A father from Florida left a comment on this blog about a daughter who’s been addicted for six years. He'd read a post about tough love and agrees he shouldn't enable his child.

He mentioned another couple he knew who'd been trying to help their son get sober and had enabled him until he died of a drug overdose.

One of the more frequent comments I get is from parents who have trouble grasping the concept of "tough love." So it is refreshing when a parent writes to agree.

As an addict who struggled for nearly 40 years with drugs and alcohol I like to share with parents that I didn't begin to change until everyone cut me off from everything. I could no longer borrow money from friends or family. No one would let me use their car or sleep on their couch. When I got arrested they let me sit in jail. They were tired of my whining.

At the time I was really pissed off at everyone. I thought they were mean. They didn't love me. I felt so sorry for myself that I kept getting wasted to cover the pain. Finally, though, I figured out it must have something to do with me - that I was the problem. Only then did I begin to change.

I applaud this father for being willing to be tough with his daughter. He might save her life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fear Not a Factor

The highly visible public decline, and death, of rock star Amy Winehouse is a tragic and graphic storyboard of the of the devastating effects of cocaine and alcohol. While her death might discourage some from overindulging, the reality of substance abuse is that fear doesn't keep addicts from using. Most addicts I know feel they are immortal. While bad health and death might happen to other people, many believe the rules "don't apply to me."

The factor that seems to change most of our clients is personal experience. Ongoing pain, the daily grind to obtain drugs or alcohol, trouble with the law, loss of jobs, continuing problems with family, friends and society seem to be factors that more often come into play .

"I got tired of being sick and tired," is a phrase often heard at 12 step meetings. Most addicts and alcoholics I know said they finally got tired of being miserable and demoralized. Most had tried for years to successfully use like friends who weren't addicts. But somehow they could never get it right. They kept spinning out of control over and over again. They would come to the end of a drug and alcohol run, totally demoralized and puzzled at the condition they were in. After going through this cycle several times then they were willing to change.

The sad death of this talented human being who had everything might illustrate the dangers of drugs to some young people and scare them straight. But the ongoing effort of addicts to recreate the bliss and ecstasy of that first hit or blast blinds them to the possibility of coming to a similar end.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Text Meditation

Around six months ago a former aftercare client began sending me a text message meditation each day - usually about 4:00 a.m. The messages are usually simple one line affirmations like, “reading the book keeps me sober each day,” or “have a great day in sobriety.” Just simple comments about recovery, sometimes with misspellings or missing words.

At first I didn’t pay a lot of attention as about that time of day I’m heading for the gym or writing this blog. At times I found them inconvenient. But eventually I started to expect them because they’d become part of the daily fabric. If the message is late or if it doesn’t arrive I start to wonder if the client is okay.

Once, for example, he lost his phone and didn’t send messages for several days. However, he called to tell me what had happened. At that point I realized I’d come to expect his daily impromptu messages – nothing profound, just small reminders about the central fact of my life: that I’m in recovery.

This is a technique I’d recommend to those who might have trouble starting a daily meditation routine. Find someone who’ll take 30 seconds to share a one or two sentence daily meditation.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Enemy

“We have met the enemy and it is us…” Pogo.

The client sat across from me at the desk, a bundle of raw emotion. He had a tangled ball of issues. He was going through divorce. He couldn't find a job. He was losing his home. He was suffering from a hernia. He felt like smoking crack.

I asked what he could do about these things right now.

"What do you mean?" he asked me.

"How are you going to deal with all these things right now?" I asked him.

"I don't understand," he responded.

"You can only deal with one of these issues at a time," I told him.

This client was like many who show up: very emotional, very upset, and ready to go drink or do drugs. He had taken everything negative that's going on in his life and bundled them up into one package of emotion. He had made his issues so complex by mixing them together that he was understandably upset.

I asked him to list everything that's going on in his life. Then I asked him to select the ones that he could deal with at the moment. Obviously this man couldn't deal with his divorce at the moment, nor could he deal with losing his home or with his medical issues. But he could deal with his feelings of wanting to smoke crack and his inability to find a job.

I told him he could deal with his desire to smoke crack by talking to his sponsor and perhaps going to a meeting. As to finding a job, he needed to look every day until he found work. His full-time job should be to find a job. Once I broke these issues down into smaller pieces he could deal with he felt better. He started to realize he was mixing everything together and putting all his problems on an equal footing. I explained to him that when him we have something going on in our lives it might take weeks, months or even years to resolve them all. I told him that, for example, my divorce took nearly three years before it was resolved.

We addicts seem to build situations in our mind that could lead us to use again. Do we do this because we subconsciously know that we can remove the pain with a quick fix or drink? It says in the book that our disease is "cunning, baffling, and powerful."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Collateral Benefits

When I started TLC nearly 20 years ago it was for self-centered reasons. I wanted to work with alcoholics and addicts so I could stay close to my recovery. I figured running my own halfway house would keep me in touch with recovery on a daily basis. I didn't have enough foresight to see the collateral benefits.

But I saw them again yesterday while talking to a client who's been with us nearly four years. We were in my office talking about a construction project and the conversation segued into how grateful he was. He mentioned several things he was grateful for: having his children and grandchildren in his life. Being out of prison. Having a job where he's able to help other addicts and alcoholics. For his health. For his home in our sober living apartments. He was so grateful for his life today he said he should pay us - instead of us paying him - for the work he does at TLC.

This kind of overwhelming gratitude and loyalty is one of the blessings of what we do here. I recognize the privilege it is to help others make positive changes. And the effect is not just on the client, it also affects their families and friends. Like casting a pebble in a pond, the ripple effect spreads to future generations.

An interesting part of his gratitude is the powerful effect it had on me. His gratitude makes me think of the blessings I have in my own life. This morning I'm still reflecting on what he said.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Go for Custody

I don't believe there are bad reasons to get clean and sober. One thing that helped me remain strong during my early sobriety was gaining custody of my youngest daughter. And in the toughest moments of my recovery, even though I wasn't thinking of relapsing, there was the ever-present responsibility of raising that child to help me stay clean.

This came up for me recently when one of our clients parted ways with the mother of his infant daughter. This man has been a loving father since the child was born. And because the mother is unstable and has engaged in recent and documented unsavory activity he has a good chance of obtaining custody. I strongly encouraged him to pursue his goal. Even though he doesn't have a lot of family to help him, I told him there are resources available.

I told him of my high level of frustration and anxiety as my daughter entered her teenage years. We dealt with issues of dating and curfews, grades, of how she should dress. We talked of substance abuse. But because I'm in recovery field she kind of got an education about the consequences of using. She never experimented that I was aware of. Life was hectic at times but somehow we got through. At 18 she joined the Army, serving in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern theaters. After leaving the military she went to college and is within a few hours of obtaining her bachelor's degree.

I shared this experience with our client. Even though he’d already determined he was going to obtain custody of his daughter I think my story helped him realize it could be done.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Power of Our Disease

Last night, as I was leaving our Phoenix facility, I encountered a client who'd returned after being away for over six months. He said he'd almost died this last time out. His alcohol level was over 6.0 and he had to be airlifted from Kingman to Phoenix for treatment. He called us from the hospital when he awoke because he had nothing to wear. The medical staff had cut off his clothing to treat him.

This man is a living example of the power of our disease. He’s a talented, well-spoken individual who spent years in the corporate world before alcohol finally whipped him. During his previous stays with us he was a willing and responsible employee. But somewhere in the back of his mind he thought he could successfully drink and left one day to prove it. That decision nearly killed him.

As we talked he seemed beat down and professed a desire to really do the program. As I drove home I had a sense of gratitude for my sobriety. I said a prayer for him as i drove home, a prayer that he would finally realize he was powerless.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Number 365

A year ago I first published this blog. 365 postings, around 150,000 words.

A couple of weeks ago I asked should I continue to write it. The response was gratifying and convinced me that someone is getting something from what I do. And my response was that if even one or two people read something that helps, then it's worth the effort.

Another reason I started writing this was to force myself to write each day. And I've been able to do that. It hasn't mattered whether I'm on vacation, sick, or just not feeling very creative, I've always been able to publish something. Good exercise for the brain.

I've had gratifying experiences along the way. Once, an 80-year-old mother called to talk about her son. When she first called I thought that she might be about 60 years old and wondered why she was calling instead of the son. So I was really amazed when she said she was 80 and her son was in his mid-50s. However, we started a communication that lasted for over five months and resulted in the son coming from the East Coast to Arizona. He's still with us today and has several months of sobriety – doing quite well in fact.

There have also been a few heartbreaking experiences. One mother, very devoted to her son, managed to get him into our program. However, he didn't last very long and left to continue drinking. While I never spoke to her on the phone her correspondence with me was heart wrenching because she wanted so much for him to get sober. Her love for him was so strong.

A consistent comment that I get from readers is they decided to send their loved ones to our program after reading my blog. They said after looking through the website and going to the blog they realize there were real human beings involved with our program. And that's what convinced them to send their family member to us.

That does it for me - and that's why I'm going to keep posting a daily blog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Surrendering

Surrender was the topic of the 12 step meeting today and several people discussed the concept.

One man, who’d been to prison six times because of his drug offenses, professed he's still having trouble with the idea of surrendering anything. He hated the idea of anyone telling him what to do. He thought if he could get his ego out of the way he might have a chance.

Another man talked of the profound changes in his life in the 20 years since he admitted he was powerless over nearly everything. He finally gave up the idea he could somehow use like normal people. He’d tried very possible way to use, all of those mentioned in the book. But none worked; he always ended up losing everything - sometimes even his freedom. Once he realized it was impossible to master his addiction everything changed for him and God was able to work in his life.
`
Today he has his family back, a thriving business, and is enjoying his sobriety.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Time Management

A friend of mine was saying how crazy busy he was, how he didn't have time to workout or go to meetings.

"How much time do you spend watching television and playing video games?" I asked. He gave me a funny look and didn't answer. He knew I'd busted his game, eliminated his excuses for not doing what he claims he wants to do.

We all share the same 60 minutes an hour, the same 24 hours a day. What we do with that time is our choice. And I'm not one to say we should go to this many meetings, start a workout program, or take a night class. I don't care what people do with their time. My point is if we have a goal we must make a commitment, then make an appointment with ourselves to do it. Lamenting about lack of time doesn't solve the problem. Those who claim they don't have enough time need to sort through their lives and see where they have a chunk of time where they do nothing useful. While watching television, playing video games, or hanging out with friends may be how you want to spend your time - that's the first place we should look if we say we don't have time to accomplish out goals.

The way I've gotten things done since I got sober is by a routine. The first hour of my day – starting at 4:30 AM – is allotted to some type of exercise program, six days a week. After that I write for up to an hour. After that it's breakfast, then to the office. In the afternoon I take a break for an hour to an hour and half. A couple of evenings a week I run aftercare groups. So when do I have time to do anything spontaneous? There's a lot of time to do other things, read, go to movies, go to dinner, watch TV, play games on my iPhone. The point is, that I have a solid core of things I do on a regular basis whenever I feel like doing them or not.

We just need to figure out what's important and follow through.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where I Want To Be

I was home from vacation for a day and someone asked the usual question.

“Do you wish you were still at the beach in San Diego?”

“Not really,” I replied. “I’m where I want to be right now.”

And a beautiful thing about life today is I’m exactly where I want to be at any given moment. Because if I’m not - why not? Today, because I’m sober, I find myself in exactly the space and circumstances I want.

Twenty plus years ago I was never in a great space. I was either on a mission to obtain more alcohol or drugs, in jail, or trying to escape some mess I was in. Even though I put myself in those situations I couldn’t stay sober long enough to get out - until I finally went to a detox.

Does that mean I didn’t enjoy the two weeks in California? Of course not. I had a glorious time hanging out with my sweetheart, my children and grandchildren. But I also enjoy my business life and work I do with addicts and alcoholics. And too much time relaxing is like overindulgence in anything: it can be cloying.

While writing this I was trying to remember a recent situation I didn’t want to be in. And I recalled a legal deposition I was required to witness as a corporate representative. I spent four hours trying to stay awake during boring cross examinations. And even though I didn’t want to be there I benefited by realizing that I was grateful for the life I have – that I don’t have a job so sedentary that I can’t get up and move around when I want.

A blessing of being sober is to be in places we want to be, to make the choices to be there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tough Love

I have occasion to give families advice about their children who are using. And I always tell them pretty much the same thing: kick them out of the house. Tell them you won't help until they get into recovery. Don't do anything to help them continue their addiction. And because I have addicts in my family, including some who have died of our disease, I'm able to explain that I practice the same thing in my life.

I have a family member who's angry with me because I'm treating him differently now than when he was sober. He's asked other members of the family why I have a "grudge" against him. He seems mystified as to why I don't socialize with him, or invite him on family outings. But the reality is I don't hang out with addicts or alcoholics who are using. I apply the same standards in my personal life that I do in other areas of my life.

Nearly all of my business and social contacts are people in recovery. With the exception of a few business contacts, everyone else I'm in touch with are people in recovery. When those in my social circle relapse they are no longer welcome in my home. And because I'm in the recovery business, of course, people who are using stay away.

The only help I give to people who are using is to direct them to a detoxification facility, a treatment center, or 12-step meetings. I don't know any other way to help them.

To those outside the world of addiction and recovery this might seem a heartless, hardhearted stance to take with a loved one. But this is the only thing that worked with me. When my family and friends told me they were through and wouldn't help me anymore, that's when I started to change. They weren't buying my stories anymore about being a victim of the system or the police having it in for me. I was always whining about how if people had my problems they'd do drugs and drink too. Eventually people got tired of hearing these sad tales and told me they wouldn't do anything for me anymore. Oh I thought they were cruel and mean. But they saved my life.

I often ask parents, "do you want to love your child to death?" Because more than once I've seen parents cater to children who were using and one day find them dead of an overdose. And this has happened several times with people I've told the same things I'm saying in this blog. I recently encountered a couple I gave this advice to as they were removing their son (against our advice) from our program because he said we were treating him badly. When I asked how their son was doing, they told me that he had died of an overdose of cocaine within a few weeks of leaving TLC. I'll never forget the look in their eyes...

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Lament

A young friend, in recovery for a few years, called with a lament.

"It seems like I'm doing everything right, but things just aren't going my way," she said.

She talked of financial challenges, relationship issues, of feeling the pressures of being the mother of two small children.

My experience is that at times people get sober and face challenges they didn't expect. Life seems to get worse. They might lose their job. They may change their circle of friends because they're no longer drinking or drugging. They could face challenges at work because they're now a different person – no longer using drugs or alcohol - something their co-workers might still be doing.

And I shared with her my experience of expecting life to be much easier once I was sober. Even though I was sober life kept moving on. The big difference was I no longer had to hide from reality. I could deal with life on life's terms and handle the issues front of me without hiding in a spoon of heroin. Or in the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels.

I told her the best thing about our conversation was that she called me clean and sober. It was a testimony that her life was working in spite of her challenges.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Art of Living

"...my art is living" Michel Montaigne, 15th century French writer.

I read this saying today and it brought to mind what we learn in the 12 step programs. As we gain time and experience living sober we begin to realize that it's no longer about resisting the urge to drink or drug. Because when we're working a program and following the steps we're learning to live in harmony with the world.

We come to realize that one reason we put substances in our body is we couldn't face the world without a dose of chemical courage to shield us from the pain of living. But as we walk the road of happy destiny life takes on a different tone.

We come to understand pain and disappointment is an inevitable part of the process. We begin to realize that when we ruled the world we ended up losing family, friends, businesses, health and sometimes our freedom. As we mature we accept life's ups and downs with equanimity and we learn to savor life's challenges. We flow with the universe.

Let me make the art of living my goal today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blessings

It’s easy to find occasions for gratitude. Yesterday, while on vacation, we walked into Mexico for a short visit. Coming back, we spent an hour in a half mile line of people waiting to cross into the United States.

As we waited, several handicapped people passed by with cups, soliciting donations. Some had twisted limbs, two appeared to be blind. A woman with deformed legs was pushing a crippled teenager in a homemade cart. They were successful in collecting donations along the way. A few women with small children were crouched along the walls, half hidden under grimy blankets, their children thrusting empty cups at passersby. Even though I see panhandlers at home, somehow these in Mexico seemed more desperate and deserving of help. I finally ran out of small bills and change. Later, on the train back to Imperial Beach, I reflected that even the poor in our country seem better off than the poor in Tijuana.

Though the fabric of my recovery is interwoven with gratitude, seeing the stark reality of sickness and poverty is a powerful reminder of how blessed my life is today. I’m grateful for blessings God has given me. He is doing for me what I could not do for myself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fruits of Sobriety

Today I'm at Imperial Beach, physically far away from the day to day issues of running a recovery program. The sand is ten feet from the front patio. And a hundred feet beyond that is the Pacific surf tumbling onto the beach.  A few dolphins are jumping beyond the breakers.

Children and grandchildren are asleep in other parts of the condominium. It is a time of relaxation and rejuvenation. During the week we'll take the kids to a theme park, visit local restaurants, and enjoy the beach.

But mentally, TLC is never far away. The responsibility of helping 600 plus addicts get their lives on track is ever present - as it should be.  However, one of the plusses of being around as long as we have is that we have a great team of people who fill in when vacations roll around. And the miracle of technology is that I can visit my office computers at will -though I do that as little as possible.

The over-riding realization that surfaces often these days is that none of this would have been possible had I not gotten sober in 1991. So many of my family members and contemporaries were unable to get sober and aren't around today to share these experiences. Those who know me understand my gratitude.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Success Rates?

Sometimes we're asked about our success rate, how many clients stay sober and for how long. I don't have the answer.

There's a program in our area that claims a 67 percent success rate for those who stay a year. I'm not one to bash success claims by other programs. But my question is "how do you know if someone remains sober after they leave your program?"

Do you follow them around and give them drug tests? Do you monitor them over the phone? Do you make surprise visits to their homes? I don't know. I believe success claims are subjective - and a lot about corporate ego.

Do I believe some programs are more successful than others? Sure. In fact, some might be even more successful than they claim. But unless we spend a lot of time and money following former clients we won't have much more than an opinion or wishful thinking about our success rate.

Does that mean we shouldn't keep helping people into sobriety because we don’t know if we’re helping? No, I think we continue helping those who want to change - even if only a small percentage stays clean. Sometimes all we do is plant the seed. It often takes a while for it to sprout onto full blown sobriety.

I believe our mandate is to do the work – to carry the message. The rest is up to God.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bored with Sobriety?

A younger client who’s been sober a while commented that at times life seemed “very boring.” When people tell me they’re bored I share with them what my grandmother told me when I said something like that to her. She said I was bored because I was boring.

Then I was in my late teens and I know I took offense at her statement. Probably because my ego said I wasn’t very boring at all. I was a pretty interesting and exciting guy, at least so I thought. But she was right. I was boring during my late teens. I was already damaged goods and had been in and out of juvenile institutions for drug and alcohol related offenses.

Today life isn’t boring. I have so many things going on there’s never an uninteresting moment. There are writing projects, workouts, groups to run, social activities, and vacations to plan – self-generated activities that keep life stimulating. I no longer view life as something that’ll happen down the road. This isn’t a dress rehearsal; life's right now. And we need to relish each moment no matter what our age.

So I told our young client to fill the space he used fill with drugs and alcohol with service work, education and self-improvement projects that’ll enhance his life so he’ll become more interesting – perhaps even to himself.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Awash in Gratitude

This week, while in California on vacation, we visited a former brother-in- law with whom I used to drink and do drugs in the sixties and seventies. He’s been in a nursing home for six years after a stroke left him living in a wheelchair.

It was a bittersweet visit, seeing him incapacitated, a fragile remnant of the tough man he used to be. He was surprised when we appeared in his room and woke him up.

“It’s not my birthday,” he said, when he saw us. “What’s the occasion?”

I explained we hadn’t been in California for a year and wanted to see how he was doing. He said he was lonely, even though he lives with a 150 other residents of the nursing home.

We reminisced for an hour or so, talking of the days before I got sober over twenty years ago. He asked me to leave him money to buy marijuana and vodka. And before I left we gave him some.

Some may wonder why I’d give him money, knowing he would use it to get high. After all, is this hypocrisy from someone who manages a drug program? I don’t think so. After all, I’m not a missionary who’s campaigning for sobriety. If others want to get high that’s none of my business. My role in life is to help those who want to get clean and sober change their lives. I’m not out to convince others that living sober is great idea. Life teaches us what works.

After we gave him a hug and left I was awash in gratitude for my life today. I am grateful to God for blessing me with health, family, a circle of sober friends, and the prosperity I enjoy today.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Love Him to Death

“I want a full refund,” said a client’s mother, who was removing her son from TLC because of how he was being treated. She had dropped him off the previous day after driving him from Washington to Arizona to enter our program.

It seems the son had called the mother and lied about being charged for meals, something we don’t do. He also was unhappy because he was housed with clients who were on probation. And he told her he “didn’t like” his room.

We agreed to refund the mother the service fees she wanted refunded. But when we checked his account we found he’d paid nothing when he was accepted into the program. In fact, he owed us money for the day he’d spent with us.

We often see parents like this mother who won’t let their children be responsible for their own recovery. Parents think they’re helping their children by running interference, cushioning them from the consequences of their addictions. Until we feel pain from our bad choices we aren’t going to change. Sometimes parents love their children to death.

When the mother picked up the son we referred them to other programs that might suit him better. And they left without paying his bill.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

No Good Excuse

Even though I’m powerless over other addicts and alcoholics, it's still disappointing when a close family member is back in the grips of addiction. This weekend, while on vacation in California, I talked to a close family member about his use of drugs and alcohol. I probably wouldn't have had this conversation with him except he's been in jail more than once because of his addiction. And on occasions, he has lost everything because he couldn't quit using.

I anticipated it was futile to talk to him, but I still carried the message. But during my conversation with him, each time I’d suggest what he might do about his drinking or drugging, he’d change the subject. He’d immediately begin talking about somebody he’s pissed off at, such as his wife or a business associate. I know his purpose in pursuing this reasoning was he might think I’d accept his drinking and drugging.

But the problem with using this tactic with me is I've been there. When in the grips of my disease, I had many really sad reasons why I used. I was an abused child. The police were always after me. My girlfriend didn't understand me. My boss was a jerk. These terrible events would help you would understand why I drank and used heroin. And, of course, there were some who commiserated with me and felt sorry for me. They could see the kind of pain I was in and why I used.

There are no good reasons to use, just excuses.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blog On

In yesterday's blog I wrote that I had been publishing this blog for 350 days now. I wondered if I should continue beyond my years commitment. And in this morning's e-mail I received my answer.

A woman named Gina wrote a very nice comment about her sister-in-law, who has been at TLC for more than 80 days. She said reading this blog each day has allowed her to have some kind of connection to what her sister's going through. For me, if one person benefits by what I post each day then that works for me.

My experience during this past year is that most of the people who are touched by what I say are family members. Also, once in a while what I say might resonate with one of our current clients. However, addicts themselves who are still out there using don't pay a lot of attention. And I would be an optimistic fool if I believe that addicts are scouring the Internet looking for help. I know that when I was out there the only thing I was looking for was more money or more drugs, usually both. In any event, my whole goal was to stay out of my mind and I mostly succeeded.

So because my mission is to help addicts and alcoholics change their lives, I'm going to keep writing this blog each day indefinitely. And while I would like to be like some of these mainline bloggers and have 200,000 readers, it's a wonderful blessing to be able to influence one or two people in their sobriety – or influence the people who love them and who are supporting them.

Thank you, Gina.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Continue?

I've been publishing this blog for almost a year now, nearly 350 days. My commitment was to write something each day for a year, a goal that's in sight in another two weeks. But the question I'm asking now is what next?

At this juncture I'm not sure. Writing each day is a good exercise, it forces me to come up with something each day, even when I'm feeling uncreative.

But I guess the question is "what's the point?" The theme has always been to focus on recovery or to view the topic from a recovery perspective. And I've been able to do that even though at times the connection might be a little abstract. In any event I must decide if I’m to continue writing each day or if I should revert to a once or twice a week format. I’m open to any ideas from those who read this.

I guess one of the perspectives I have is has this blog helped one person get sober? Or has it helped bolster one person’s sobriety? If it has, then the year of writing has been worth it. If I’ve been able to change one person’s point of view then it’s been worth it.

I’m open to ideas.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Gratitude for Freedom

On this 4th of July I’m grateful to live in a country where we enjoy freedoms that sometimes aren’t enjoyed in other lands. This came home for me while I was riding a cab to the airport. The driver, from Somalia - a cultured man who spoke five languages – told of the warfare and violence that brought him to the United States five years ago.

He related how several family members were killed by random artillery fire or else while fighting rebels. He expressed gratitude to be living in a county where he didn’t have that kind of daily struggle to survive.

Since this conversation I realize how blessed all of us are to live in a land of freedom. For those of us in recovery we are also free of the habits that limited our freedom and our health.

Today I’ll remember to be grateful for the freedom to make choices.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vacation Time

July 3, 2011
Yesterday I started a two week vacation in California, a cool respite from the blistering summer heat of Arizona in July. Two weeks is a while to be away from the office but I have wonderful staff members who mostly run TLC anyway – even when I’m there. Plus, most of my time is spent on financial, legal and insurance issues rather than day-to-day operations. And technology being what it is I remotely access my office computer no matter where I’m at – even out of the country.

A couple of people told me how lucky I am to be able to afford time away and they’re right. But it has to do with more than luck. Because I’m sober for twenty years I'm able to enjoy time at the beach visiting children and grandchildren. I feel lucky, yes, but I’ve worked hard to be where I’m at right now.

From another perspective, I feel “lucky” that God put the right circumstances and people in my life to help me into recovery. Many of my peers didn’t live through their addictions. Or else they committed such serious crimes pursuing drugs they may never walk in freedom again. When I view my life like this I know that heaven smiled upon me more than once.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Centerpiece

When it was her turn to share in group the client was enthusiastic about her success in her sales job. She went on for several minutes about the sales she’d made and the bonus she expected to receive for her performance. Finally the facilitator intervened.

“How’s your recovery going?” he asked.

“It’s going good,” she replied.

“What step are you on?” the facilitator asked.

“I’m working on Step 4.”

His questioning went on in this vein for a few minutes as he led her back to the reason she’s in our program.

Our experience over the past 20 years is that people in recovery are often talented and hardworking and can achieve financial and business success. But sometimes our clients get sober and begin working and feeling healthy, then forget why they came to us in the first place. This is a dangerous diversion if it obscures our recovery.

The mantra I continually use is that those of us in recovery have only one problem: our disease. If we simply work on our recovery the rest of our life seems to work out. And it doesn’t always work out the way we might envision.

In my case, for example, I just wanted the pain to stop. And once it stopped my life slowly began to change almost without effort or planning on my part. Before I knew it I was back at work and in the process of starting my own business helping others get sober.

I never forget that everything good in my life flows from my sobriety, just like all the messes in my life came from my drinking and drugging. My recovery is the center of my life. If I take care of it God takes care of everything else.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Naked Truth

A former client called from Banner Hospital in Phoenix and asked us to bring him clothing. It seems he awoke in the emergency room, naked and not knowing how he’d arrived there. His last recollection was of being in Kingman, Arizona.

This was interesting because the day before he’d called and asked for a job, saying he’d been sober for nine months and was looking for work. Of course I didn’t believe his story of sobriety. At one time we’d worked in the same office and I knew what he sounded like when he was sober.

This fellow is like many talented alcoholics who’ve been with us. He’s bright, presentable and an excellent salesman. Yet he can’t accept the fact that he’s powerless over alcohol. And our prediction for him is that he will likely be found dead somewhere from alcohol poisoning.

One of our staff took him a change of clothes and gave him a ride to our program where he’ll be considered for re-admission.

All of us who know him are grateful because he helped us stay sober for another day by his demonstration of where our disease can take us.