Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 30th 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, 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...