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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two Years Sober


A client sent a text message today to thank me for accepting him into the program two years ago.

While I always appreciate an attaboy from successful clients, the truth is that this client took advantage of TLC and our program from the day he entered the door. Not in a negative way - but in the most positive way possible.

He went to all his meetings, worked hard at whatever he was assigned to, found a sponsor, and went to work. Today he has his own apartment and enjoys a circle of friends. He’s an example of how we like to see our mission affect clients.

And the reality is that what this client is living is open to every addict who crosses our threshold. They simply have to be tired of the pain they’ve lived with for so long.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Looking for Work...

An aftercare client shared about how depressed he is about not finding a job, even though he’s been looking every day.

            “Each day I come home totally down on myself,” he said, slumping forward in his chair. “I’m not sure what to do next.”

Another client in the group pointed out that perhaps he needed to change his approach. 

            “Go look in the mirror. Would you hire someone who doesn’t project confidence?  You need to stand straight. Hold your head up. Look the man in the eye. I wouldn’t hire someone with your body language either. I wouldn’t care how much experience you had.”

The client agreed that he needed to change his approach, to have a better image when he seeks a job.

This is an issue we often experience with those who are newly sober. Many of our clients haven’t worked for years, have been locked up, or are dealing with self-esteem issues that undermines their confidence.

Helping them into the job market is one of our big challenges.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Terminally Unique

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” - Margaret Mead

Because I thought I was unique I didn’t get sober until I was 51 years old. The rules that apply to everyone else didn’t apply to me. I had this attitude for years – until it almost killed me.

And after working with addicts and alcoholics for over twenty years in a recovery setting I think this is a primary issue we addicts all face before we finally get clean and sober.

While we’re different human beings in most ways, when it comes to our ability to use drugs or alcohol we’re all alike. When we put addictive substances into our bodies bad things happen. We lose family, health, finances and freedom. And we keep losing these things until we either die or get sober.

A great disappointment in my life is that my only brother never got the essence of the 12-step programs. After a meeting he once told me “I’m not like those guys.” Instead of relating to the others at the meetings, he focused upon the differences. Six months after he quit going to meetings he died of complications from drinking.

I thank God I'm done with my terminal uniqueness.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Inspiration is Everywhere

While I was in Cabo San Lucas on vacation last week a magnificent yacht dropped anchor in the marina and was an immediate topic of discussion.
 
It was 322 feet long with a small helicopter perched on a pad on one end of the deck. There was speculation about it being owned by a Saudi prince, a hedge fund operator, or perhaps a member of royalty. Whoever owned it, I immediately thought it an extreme example of conspicuous consumption. But after I read the owner's personal story online I had a different attitude.
 
Turns out the owner is a self-made billionaire who made his fortune in construction, mining and other businesses. He only has a high school diploma, came from a broken home, and had polio as a child.  This background offered him every excuse to fail.
 
Yet Dennis Washington overcame his early challenges. With borrowed money and hard work he built a mining and construction empire that vaulted him to into the ranks of the world's wealthiest people.
 
So, what's his story doing on a recovery blog? It's here because his story is an example of the ability we have to rise above our circumstances and change our lives - if only we're motivated.

We don’t need the kind of drive it takes to build the financial empire Mr. Washington built. All we need is just a little motivation, enough to allow us get into a simple program of recovery.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Good to be Home

Today we're home in Arizona after a week of relaxation in Los Cabos, Mexico.

And I returned with gratitude because we couldn't take these trips without the support of key people on TLC's staff.   It's a blessing to have people who step up while we're away.

Some say we're "lucky" to have the staff we have, but it goes beyond "luck". The staff we have today- some of them with us for ten to twenty years - has learned through trial and error. 

Also, for this kind of business one doesn't hire people off the streets or out of a university.  They must not only be in recovery, they must also care about helping others to get into recovery.

Their priority has to be about more than a job - it's about supporting our mission of helping recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives. 

Their dedication makes a difference to everyone.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Carrying the Message - Not the Mess

A long-term client who survived on the streets for years and who’s been at TLC more than three times is about to relapse again.

Although he’s made sporadic progress for the past 18 months he recently decided he only wants to do what he wants when he wants. He’s turned down jobs on a few occasions. And he hasn’t complied with other requirements. His supervisor wants to discharge him now. But he knows that if the client leaves his first stop will be at the liquor store.

So what do we do? On one hand, we don’t let clients hold us hostage with the prospect of a relapse. On the other hand, maybe a few more days in the program may help change his thinking. The decision was made to give him a week to decide what he’ll do next. But most of the staff believes he’ll probably go back out.

Those who deal with this client have invested a lot of time and effort to help him change. So it’s understandable that they’re disappointed that he’s ready to go on another drinking binge – especially when it appeared he as making progress over the past several months.

But our job is to carry the message. It’s up to the clients to decide what to do with the information. We wish him well.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sought through Prayer & Meditation


 In the 12 step literature we're admonished to improve our spiritual condition through prayer and meditation.
 
But for some newcomers this can be daunting. Especially for those who weren't raised in a spiritual tradition.  For many, God is a mysterious or punishing figure that we know little about. And we might not want to risk irritating him any more than we already have by not offering appropriate communication.
 
Yet, we simplify the process if we go back to when we made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him. After all, this step frees us to choose a God of our understanding. And in this context we really can't go wrong.
 
So maybe we offer a simple prayer asking God to show us how to pray. Or we might meditate upon the mercy of a Higher Power who has spared us from ourselves.
 
 I believe it’s not how we pray or meditate but the idea that we're making the effort.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Serenity Shattered, Restored..


What do we do when others shatter our serenity?

It happened while I was checking in for my appointment at our local Asian foot massage parlor-something I anticipate each week.
 
Ar $30.00 an hour it's an inexpensive way to unwind and relax. The staff is pleasant, the decor is soothing. The air is filled with incense and a calming sound track of flutes, bubbling brooks and chirping birds. Walking in the door one enters a world of peace.  I recommend it to anyone- in recovery or not.
 
However, this last visit, while checking in for our session - a young woman rushed in the door, pushed her way in front of us to the counter and loudly demanded an appointment. It was as if she didn't notice that the receptionist was busy checking us in.  Maybe it was the peaceful setting, but her rudeness changed the atmosphere immediately.
 
And it didn't stop there. In the small area where customers remove their shoes prior to entering the massage area, she attempted to push her way past us to put her shoes in one of the cubicles. Finally my companion asked the woman if we were in her way, did she want us to move?
 
It was only after ten minutes into my massage that I was able to drift back into my previous mood.  I try to see lessons when others behave badly and I was able to do so here.
 
For one thing, this young woman needed a massage and so was at the right place. And as for me, I learned that the unexpected can still undermine my serenity.
 
 By the time I walked out I was back on track - serenity restored.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We're Powerless Over Others


A relative called yesterday to tell me about ongoing problems she’s having with her mother.
           
 “She wants me to fail,” she told me with stress and anger in her voice. “She hates me!” She went on like this for a while. Her mother’s abusive. Her mother’s jealous. Finally I stopped her.
           
 “Do you really believe your mother hates you? I asked.
           
 “That’s the way she acts. I never do anything right. Now that I’m becoming successful she’s jealous. I’m not going to talk to her!”

I told her it sounded like she and her mother loved one another very much. Otherwise they wouldn’t be having this angry dialogue – one that's been going on for years. I gave her ideas of how she could resolve their issues. However, she rejected them all.

Finally, out of frustration, I gave up and told her that if she couldn’t change her mother or herself then she would have to accept the poor communication. She didn’t like that idea either.

Finally, I shared with her that one thing I learned in the 12-step programs is that I’m powerless over everyone and everything. Once I accepted that I was powerless, life became smoother.

When none of my suggestions seemed to work for her,  I gently told her to continue enjoying her misery. After all, I never gave up anything until it became too painful to hold on to any longer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Alcoholics are Different


While on a flight to Mexico yesterday I once again saw the difference between me and so-called “normal” drinkers.

Surrounding me were passengers ordering drinks and having fun. One lady said “this is my sixth Bloody Mary since I got up this morning.” Yet she appeared pretty normal. 

Had I drank what she had I likely would be fighting with someone, looking for drugs, stealing something or otherwise making a fool of myself. Another difference between me and her is that after the first drink I would have been drinking straight from the bottle. My goal was always to get smashed as fast as I could.

I was reminded of a time I flew to Mexico thirty plus years ago, long before I got sober. In that era passengers were still allowed to smoke. I got so smashed on alcohol and pills that I passed out with a lit cigarette.  When I woke up the stewardess was spraying water on the cigarette that was burning a hole in my pants.  I simply couldn’t drink like others.

Yet here these folks were, having a sociable time and swapping stories about the best bars in Cabo, where the longest happy hours were and where to get the best prices on liquor to take home.

Unlike these folks, drinking for me was always the doorway into bad behavior and often serious trouble that sometimes ended with me in handcuffs.

It was good to see the partiers on my flight enjoying themselves. And it was also good for me to recognize the difference between me and them.

As long as I pay attention to that difference my life will continue to be as it is today.