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, June 30, 2012

False Beliefs


A young client said he’d been unfairly arrested for assault while defending himself. When I asked him to describe the incident he told me the person he'd hit had called him a punk.

            "He hit you and then called you a punk?" I asked him.

            "No," replied the client. "He called me a punk and then I hit him."

            “Then that’s not self-defense,” I told him. “That’s why you were charged with assault.”

The client attempted to rationalize that he was justified in hitting the man because he was standing up for himself. His father had taught him as boy that verbal assaults were as bad as physical assaults – and deserved a vigorous defense.

I explained to the client that he’d likely have similar problems in the future unless he changed this belief.  He left my office trying to absorb this information.

This man is no different than many of us who are operating on damaging information programmed into our sub-conscious as children. 

For example, many of us were taught to “clean our plate” when eating - regardless of what our stomachs told us. And as a consequence we gain weight because today we blindly obey subconscious programming.

Examples of good programming include: 
 
"Honor thy parents"

"Education is important"
"Love they neighbor"
 Examples of bad programming might include:

           
"We’re better than those _____________ people"
 
           "You’ll never amount to anything"

            "You’re not as smart as your brother"

Until we start questioning the negative programming we’ve lived with for years we might not have much of a chance at success – and our self-esteem will remain poor.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Reminiscing


30 years ago this summer I arrived in Phoenix from Orange County, California with some vague drunken idea of trying to change my life. 

However, getting sober at that time didn't work for me. But I'm reminded of it because the temperature was 112+ close to what it might be today. When I stepped from the bus I realized I‘d gone from one version of hell to another, just in a different state. Of course the hell I’d left in Orange County had nothing to do with the weather. It had everything to do with my behavior and what a mess my life become because of drugs and alcohol.

When I got off the bus my ex-wife's words were stuck in my ears: "Just remember, "  she’d told me in a hurtful fashion, "When you get to Phoenix you'll meet yourself at the depot."

Later I realized she was right, but at the time I was thinking about what a cruel bitch she was. After all, I was setting out on a new venture, a venture that would change the course of my life.  But it took me another 8+ years to get in sobriety.  At the time though I just thought she was being hurtful.

After several more drug and alcohol sprees I accepted that I couldn't successfully put foreign substances in my body. I was - and am - different from other people who use drugs and alcohol socially.

And since I entered a detox January 14, 1991 life is immeasurably better.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sober & Unhealthy


Many of our clients and managers put down drugs and alcohol but continue with other risky habits like smoking and over-eating.

Some have heart disease, emphysema, COPD, and even cancer – yet they continue smoking, don’t exercise, and are overweight. If employees quit smoking we’ll pay for their patches if they stay tobacco free for a certain period.  But other than encouraging them this way, there’s not much we can do.

If they’re working for us and get sick because of smoking-related illness we no longer give them paid time-off if they continue using tobacco. And if their unhealthy lifestyle interferes with their work we usually end up replacing them.

While TLC has the mission of helping recovering addicts rebuild their lives, our help in rebuilding focuses on issues with drugs and alcohol.

Our most successful managers are those who exercise regularly, who’ve quit smoking, and who get regular checkups. 

The tough question is how do get others to emulate them?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wreckage


A friend who's been sober for over two years told me of his experiences when trying to buy a car.

When the salesman at the dealership told him his credit wasn't good enough to qualify him for the $28,000 car he wanted he didn't think it was a problem. He said a friend would cosign for him. However the finance manager told the prospective co-signer that even if he put $27,000 down on the $28,000 car they wouldn't finance the remaining $1,000.

While we had a good laugh about this, the reality is that many of us come into recovery with a lot of wreckage. My friend told me he had over $100,000 in medical bills alone from going in and out of recovery programs that he couldn't afford. He figures it will take him another four or five years to get his credit to a point where he can buy anything.

His experiences aren't much different than mine. When I first got sober I had gone through a foreclosure and owed a lot of money. I remember going into the loan department of a bank to finance a house.

I remember my shock when the banker told me "We wouldn't finance this house even if J Paul Getty cosigned for you."

In retrospect, his statement was funny. But this is another illustration of the messes we create when we're in the middle of our addictions.

So my friend must figure out another way to get a car until he clears up the wreckage of his past. The main thing is he still sober today and hasn't let this setback get him drunk.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

38 Years Sober!


The speaker at last Sunday's meeting was celebrating 38 years of sobriety. He's also been my sponsor for over 15 years.

He tells a moving story about how he got into the program and his experiences over the past 38 years. An interesting anecdote he shared was about going to the doctor for a physical when he had 17 years sober.

 When he returned for the results the doctor asked, "Do you drink?"

            "I used to," he replied.  "But I haven't had a drink for over 17 years."

            "Well you must've drunk an awful lot," the doctor told him. "Because your liver still shows the effects."

He used this story as an example of how he probably wouldn't have been alive today if it hadn't been for the 12 step program.

He talked of his many blessings since getting sober. He was able to complete his career in the recovery field. He's been married 60 years. He has grandchildren – and a great-grandchild.  He spends a lot of time in the rooms working with others.

He’s been a positive influence on my life for many years, acting as a sounding board when things get tough. I’m grateful he’s in my life.

Congratulations on 38 years my friend!

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Real Hero


Yesterday I was privileged to have dinner with an American hero.

The dinner was a celebration honoring both his birthday and his graduation from the college where he obtained his bachelor's degree.

This veteran was wounded more than once in Iraq. On one occasion his Humvee hit an explosive device.  On another he was shot in the back four times. These injuries forced him to give up his active military career and resume life as a civilian. He doesn't talk about his injuries, his lengthy rehabilitation, or the challenges he faces with pain.

His courage resonates with me is because we alcoholics and addicts find lots of reasons why we can’t succeed. We were abused as children. We didn’t get an education. We've been in jail. We didn’t have the same opportunities as others. The excuses go on and on. 

If our clients could hear his story some of the challenges they face in staying sober, or finding work might not seem as significant. While I know emotional pain can be challenging it’s important to have positive examples in our lives.

A tool I use when challenged is to find others who have real issues. And they can be found in many corners of our lives. Every day the news presents us with those who've suffered setbacks or tragedy. Or we can see them on the streets during our daily commute.

We don't have to look far to find those who face daunting challenges, much larger than what we're experiencing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Forgiving Ourselves


A few days ago at a social gathering I ran into a former employee who'd stolen a considerable amount of money from me and my business partner several years ago.

I told him it was good to see him and we made small talk for a while. Eventually the conversation turned to when he'd stolen the money. Even though he’d repaid us with interest, he still felt bad. And it was visible on his face.

I asked him to go back to the day we discovered our loss and to remember what I'd told him: that I forgave him for what he did. And I did this even before he made arrangements to pay us back. In spite of my forgiveness and the fact that he paid us back he still carries guilt about what he'd done.

I suggested the best thing he could do for himself and his family would be to forgive himself, to stop beating himself up about it. When we parted I kind of had the feeling that he wouldn't be able to do that and would carry the guilt for a long time.

As a person in recovery it's healthy for me – once I've made amends – to forgive myself. In my mind forgiving ourselves is as important as forgiving others.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Compassion Rules...


A few of my recovery friends don't follow the news. They don't read newspapers, nor watch it on television. They say it's depressing and they'd rather have a more positive outlook upon the world.

I partly agree with them. However, bad news sells; that’s why there's an abundance of it. But in spite of that once in a while bad news also brings out the positive side of human nature.

An outstanding example occurred this week when a 68-year-old school bus monitor was harassed by middle school students. During a painful-to-watch ten minute video they taunted her with words like "fat," "stupid," "ugly." They told this grandmother of eight that if they were her children they would kill themselves. (This statement was especially hurtful because the woman's son committed suicide some 10 years earlier.)

It was an appalling story of mindless brutality. But the next day, when the woman appeared on network news for an interview, she was generous toward her tormentors. She didn't want them arrested. But viewers could feel the pain and anguish on her face.

At the end, the interviewer  asked if she knew that a fund had been set up for her on the Internet and that so far $160,000 had been donated.. She appeared overwhelmed and had tears in her eyes.

            "I can pay off my credit cards and my car," she said. What no one knew then was that the fund would grow.  Early today it had nearly $500,000 in it.

So one of the reasons I watch the news – other than wanting to keep up with the world – is that once in a while I find evidence of the positive side of human nature. Even though this woman was tortured by mindless children, people across this country showed their hearts.

While no one knows why children sometimes do things like this the public response shows there are kind and goodhearted people in our world.

Thankfully, compassion still rules.