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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Beauty of Commitment

“If you doubt you can accomplish something, then you can't accomplish it. You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” - Rosalyn Carter

Being a TLC manager takes commitment. Most of those we serve are in early recovery, if they're in recovery at all. Many are angry, and ungrateful. When they come to us they have unresolved issues. Even though they might not be angry at us – we often become the focus of their frustration.

When some addicts get sober and clean they take up residence on the pink cloud. If they've been at TLC a while they think it might be a good idea to become a manager - maybe help addicts as a life mission. They often volunteer at TLC, training to become a manager. And many succeed.

However, some who make the commitment are unable to follow through. Even though they initially thought it a good idea - that changes when reality sets in. The long hours, the low pay, ungrateful clients all wear them down and they crumble.

Those who keep their commitments reap great rewards. They get their lives back. They feel good about themselves to the core of their being. They become the person they dreamed of being.  

What they give to our clients is returned to them many times over.

Friday, March 30, 2012

About Self-Discipline


Last night a group of new clients at the Macdonald Street house were upset about the rules. They didn't like the rule about wearing  a shirt when outside of their rooms. They didn't understand why they had to search for work all day if they didn't have a job. The list went on and on.

One house manager pointed out that there are always rules. The rules we ask people to follow are no different from the real world. Everyone works to support themselves unless they have an independent income. We follow laws when we drive a vehicle. We must pay taxes. There are myriad laws to guide us in the real world.

Before the meeting ended someone said the real issue among the complainers was attitude. Everyone in that meeting was there because of bad decisions they had made in the past. The reason people come to halfway houses and recovery programs is because they don't know how to live. They require structure and guidance to help them change, to show them the path. Some of the complainers didn't like the idea of being responsible.

Drugs, alcohol, and bad behavior brought them to TLC. We help them until they develop the self- discipline to guide their own lives.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Family Suffering


This is an excerpt from a long email from an addict’s family member.  It illustrates the pain and suffering we put our families through until we finally change our lives.  (Email was edited for anonymity and brevity.)

“I cannot describe how grateful I am to you and your staff for everything they do! The reason for my email is to get some peace of mind for my family.

 My family spent $2,000 to send my brother there.  He is a 10+ year heroin addict.  Since his arrival he has been constantly calling everyone in the family from his cell phone and crying and begging to come home.

 He claims there’s rampant drug use in the facility where he is, 20 Macdonald St, and that there are drug dealers just waiting for people to come outside to try to sell to them.  Yesterday he called and said he needed $40.00 for a drug test before he could get into the detox so we sent the money via Western Union. Then he told us that the detox made him sit in a plastic chair for 24 hours so he left and went back to the Macdonald location. Then he decided he was going to go back to detox so he needed another $40.00 for another drug test before he could get back into the detox facility. Then he called late last night and said that he left the property all together and bought drugs from someone and didn't have the money to pay him and was being held against his will at a Pet Smart Store so we needed to send him $60.00.  

This behavior is destroying what little is left of my family.  I just need a confirmation from you that what he is saying is not true (even though I know it is all lies) so that my mother and grandmother can have some peace of mind that he is where he needs to be and that he is being taken care of. 

He has been in and out of detox and rehab and prison for years and nothing seems to work.  All of the people that he associates with here are addicts - also including the mother of his daughter.

 I truly believe in my heart that this is the best place for him to be.”

I assured the man’s family that everything he said was untrue-that he was manipulating them so he could get more drug money.  

But this email made me grateful that I no longer have to live in a world of lies and deception because of my disease.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Be Direct


A manager was upset because a client lied about him.  He was afraid he might lose his job because he thought his boss might believe the lies.  He wondered how to deal with the situation because he felt he was being unfairly targeted. 

                "Why don't you ask the client why he said those things to your boss?" I suggested.

He reflected for a moment and then said he didn't know why he wasn't dealing with the situation more directly. After all, he'd said nothing about the client. The client had a history of mild paranoia. It wasn't the first time he thought people were talking about him.

Often we addicts and alcoholics spend head space on issues that could be dealt with directly. It would've been simpler for the manager to ask the client why he’d said that. Instead, he wasted time wondering how to deal with the situation. Until he talked to the client he really didn't have a good picture of the situation. Yet he had spent the whole day thinking about it.

Sometimes our fears keep us from asking the simple questions that might make our lives simpler.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Congratulations...


"Congratulations on 20 years! I personally thank you for helping me to change my life. Because of God, you, ______ and ______ , today I am living a life that I can be proud of.

Today I am sober, and today I can look in the mirror and love myself.

Today I can give back that which is been so generously given to me.

Today I am very grateful for you! Thank you John for all you have done for the thousands of lives you saved over the last 20 years... Mine included!"

Yesterday was filled with messages of gratitude.  So many people at the 20 year celebration thanked me for the changes in their lives. It was a wonderful day, a spiritual feast.

I pointed out that they did the work. All we do at TLC is provide a framework for people who want to change. Doing something different takes self-discipline. There are a few simple rules we have to follow. And if we follow them we’re guaranteed success.

The first is to remove the drugs and alcohol from our lives. The second is to become responsible and give back to others. This is a simple formula that has worked for me and so many others.

And if you’re interested in recovery it’ll work for you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

86,400 Seconds

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say "thank you?"  ~William A. Ward

Gratitude is a common topic at 12-step meetings - sometimes to the point that it’s almost cliché. Yet, for those of us in recovery it's a state of mind that keeps us grounded each day.

A sponsor once told me that it’s nearly impossible to have gratitude and relapse. And I believe that. He told me to draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list the things I’m grateful for on the left and the things I’m ungrateful for on the right. That way I get a picture of what my life looks like. In my case, there’s nothing on the “ungrateful” side of the page.

Some may say I have a simplistic view of life if I’m grateful for everything.

But I've learned to look at life this way. I've been taught that challenges are ways for me to grow. When bad things happen I must look around at others. Everyone faces challenges. Our challenges are small compared to what some others face.

For example when I start whining about minor health issues, I can think about all of the kids who are down at Children's Hospital with real medical issues. It makes me realize I’m very fortunate to have gotten this far in life - especially considering my drug and alcohol history.

So today I’m going use one of those 86,400 seconds to say “thank you.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

20 Year Celebration...

There's a picnic today at Red Mountain Park in Mesa to celebrate TLC's 20th anniversary. There will be food, games, award presentations and speakers.  Although TLC incorporated January 9, 1992, the anniversary is celebrated March 15, the day the first client knocked on the door. But the celebration was put off until today because of last weekend’s bad weather.

While some give me credit for the founding and success of TLC, the reality is that hundreds of recovering people helped bring the organization to where it is today. Many factors came into play.

The idea to start TLC came during the year I was in halfway house in Mesa, Arizona recovering from a heroin and alcohol addiction. My thinking was to start TLC as a sort of avocation, while working an outside job to support myself. I thought it would be a good way to stay in touch with my recovery while helping others.  However,  a flood of addicts and alcoholics kept showing up. Finally the pressure became so great I quit my outside job to work full time for TLC.

The early years were spent simply responding to the constant influx of addicts. In the first two years TLC went from five beds to 300 beds. It was an ongoing job to find property and space for everyone. By the end of the 1990s we had nearly 1100 beds and had expanded to Nevada and New Mexico.

While it's important for people to have a leader to look to for guidance and direction the reality is that TLC would not be where it is today without the hundreds of addicts who volunteered their time and energy.

God willing we’ll continue helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives for twenty more years…

Saturday, March 24, 2012

No Surprise

A long-time manager disappeared the other day from his job and apartment.  However, there was no mystery.  Also, no one was surprised that he left without taking his clothing and personal belongings. Nor were they shocked that he took a few hundred dollars of TLC funds.

This story illustrates what happens when we don't do what we’re supposed to do in the program. While we don't know all of the details, we heard he was dating a woman who might have been using drugs. 

This came to light around a week ago when the man found what he thought were drugs in her apartment. But instead of turning them in to staff and reporting the incident, he kept it a secret. He told someone he "wanted to confront her."

Since our policy is to bring drug finds to the attention of staff, he already had crossed a line into questionable behavior. This breach of protocol, plus issues he'd been having with the house he managed, probably precipitated his abrupt departure.

We’re going to miss him because we invested time and energy to help him change. And while he’d made many improvements over the years, this illustrates what could happen to all of us. If we don't follow the guidelines and we fail to do the next right thing we can take the first step down that path to self-destruction.

We wish him well.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Half Measures....

"Half measures availed us nothing..."

These words from the 12-step literature mean exactly what they say. We must make a full, head-on, effort in order to change our lives. If we don't, we risk our sobriety and don't realize the full benefits of living sober.

Many clients at TLC – even some with more than a few years of sobriety – don't get to enjoy living sober because they develop health issues. Some end up having to limit their activities because they don't do things to improve their health.

For example, many smoke, eat junk food, don't exercise, and lead sedentary lives. This kind of lifestyle does nothing to enhance their lives. Some seem to have the attitude that they stopped the pain of their addictions and that's all they need to do.

I recall a woman with several years of sobriety who had health problems because she chain-smoked. She said "Well I'm going to die of something. I might as well die with some flavor on my lips." While this fatalistic attitude might have been her way of denying the seriousness of her bad habits she'll probably never enjoy the full benefits of living sober.

The other aspect of leading an unhealthy life is that it's selfish and self-centered. When our Creator allowed us to get sober we became obligated to give something back to the world. We need to be able to repay the many blessings given to us. We need to be there for our families and friends and healthy enough to care for them.

We can’t help others if we don't first take care of ourselves.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Out-of-Whack Priorities

A client with heart problems shared in group that he hasn’t been showing up for medical appointments. When he told his doctor he was worried about losing his job if he missed work the doctor asked if he wanted to die. He said no, that he wanted to stay healthy. But those in the group looked skeptical.

                "Have you ever owned a car?" The group leader asked.

                "Yes I have," the client responded. "More than one."

                "What was the most expensive one worth?" 

                "Maybe twenty-five or thirty thousand," the client responded.

                "Did you change your oil, get it tuned up, wash and wax it?"

                "Of course," the client said. "I took good care of that car."

                "So is your life for more than 30,000?"

                "Of course," replied the client. "I can't put a price on my life."

The dialogue went this way for a few moments. But the point is that this man spent money, time and energy to take care of a $30,000 car. However, he doesn’t take the time and energy necessary to care for his health  – something he said was priceless to him. 

And what really made his story hard to believe is that he has no-cost state insurance and doesn’t get penalized for the time he spends on medical appointments.

We often encounter clients who won’t prioritize their health. Once sober, they continue smoking, being sedentary, and eating junk food.

Is it lack of self-esteem?  Is it fear of bad news? Whatever keeps us from living life to the fullest runs counter to freedom and joy we’re promised in the 12-step programs.