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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Love in Sobriety


            “I really love her,” the client told me, tears in his eyes, his voice trembling.

            “You don’t know anything about love,” I replied. “You don’t even care for yourself. How can you love someone else?”

While my reply might seem harsh, this client relapses every time he gets a few months sober. And usually it’s because he’s gotten in touch with this woman he says he “loves” and wants to “help.” When  they get together – it’s only a short time before he begins making drunken phone calls to the office pleading for help.

And while I understand the woman isn’t responsible for his alcoholism, she definitely has been a catalyst for his last few relapses.

The idea that I can love someone – while I’m busy pouring deadly chemicals into my brain and body – is the epitome of self-delusion.

Those of us who are capable of love, honor what God has given us.  We cherish our health, our sobriety, our serenity.
 
One day we realize that we are overflowing with so much joy and goodwill that we must give it away.  We fall in love with life and then we are capable of loving another human being.

Love is not about destroying and taking. Love is about giving of ourselves. And we learn that as we grow in sobriety.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Accidental Discharge


Two residents who ended up in neck braces after a TLC van bumped another vehicle were discharged from the program within hours of the "accident."

It might seem inhumane to put purportedly injured men on the streets and under normal circumstances it might be.

But in this case the so-called “accident” was so insignificant the other driver declined to even file a police report because he suffered neither injuries to himself - or damage to his car.

However, when the residents returned to the program they called paramedics, saying they’d suffered whiplash.

Thus the neck braces. And the subsequent discharges.

Our policy about these incidents is simple: if clients are injured or sick we get them immediate medical care. And we have a long list of insurance claims supporting this.

And our policy when clients are dishonest?  When they try to scam our insurance carrier? They’re discharged from the program.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

More Blessings...


I was enjoying the monsoon sky last evening while floating by myself in the pool and reflecting on the blessings of sobriety.

My thought was to enjoy a ten minute dip to cool off.  Instead I found myself doing lazy backstroke laps for nearly an hour while I appreciated what I have today and where it comes from.

And of course the life I enjoy today is a direct result of a decision made over twenty years ago: to change.

And what happened is that I quit wasting my life energy trying to escape from a reality that has turned out to be an amazing series of blessings.

Today I have a fine wife, a circle of friends, and more material things than I need to be comfortable. 

And every day I have an opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of others because of the recovery program we started over twenty years ago.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Are You Serious?


We can usually tell if someone’s serious about recovery by the kind of questions they ask when they call about our program.

For example, the other day a man called to ask about getting in. When we told him we had beds available he started asking about the accommodations. How’s the food?  Do I get a private room? Where are the different facilities?  How soon he could have an overnight pass?  When he could get visits?  Could he bring his computer and cell phone?

So what's the problem with these questions?  There is none. The problem’s with the questions he didn’t ask.

He asked nothing about our recovery services. He didn't ask about 12-step meetings. He didn't ask about on-site counseling. He didn't ask about 12-step meetings in the area. He didn't talk about getting a sponsor. He didn't talk about how long he'd been sober. 

When the questions are all about creature comforts and not much about recovery we don’t have a lot of optimism about a person’s chances of success.

Recovering from a life threatening disease is a serious challenge.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Pure Forgiveness

This morning, while listening to the radio, I was surprised to learn that an Aurora shooting victim had forgiven his assailant.

 Pierce O'Farrill, a 28-year-old who was shot three times, said he forgives James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora massacre.
"I want to see him sometime," O'Farrill said. "The first thing I want to say to him is 'I forgive you,' and the next is, 'Can I pray for you?'"

             "I forgive him with all my heart," O'Farrill told reporters.  "When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him-he's just a lost soul right now."
O'Farrill is a staffer at the Denver Rescue Mission , a Christian charity that helps "people at their physical and spiritual points of need, with the goal of returning them to society as productive, self-sufficient citizens."

As someone who comes from a family of resentful people the concept of forgiveness was not in our vocabulary. If someone did us wrong we stayed pissed off at them forever. Not only was it something to talk about – it was something to drink and do drugs over.
I don't know how many times family conversation started out with "Do you know what that #&!% did?" And then we would commence to rehash our resentment.

When I got into recovery I began to deal with resentments.  Once I forgave, a burden was lifted. No longer did I nurture the real or imaginary wrongs that grew in my brain like mushrooms in a dark warehouse.  I was free at last.
To pray for a homicidal maniac is the purest form of forgiveness. We may never get there - but it's a good goal.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Challenges

What do we do when it seems like everything is crashing around us? Clients are relapsing. New managers are showing their inexperience. People are going to jobsites without the proper equipment, such as helmets and safety glasses. Everyone has the idea that someone else is responsible - other than them. Staff members are getting sick. Others are having emotional meltdowns.

Today it seems like the planets aligned the wrong way. It was a day when I thought the best solution might be to book a flight to a beach in Mexico and let someone else sort these situations out. But of course, those are the fantasies I sometimes use to counter stress.
What I really do is practice what I preach. When things go awry, I tell myself that everything in God's world is exactly as it's supposed to be at this moment. Do I arrive at this point of acceptance immediately? Of course not. It takes some beating my head on the situation before I realize that there might be an opportunity in all of these challenges.

I changed my thinking when I glanced at the front page of a newspaper. There was a picture of a group of civilians in the Syrian capital. They were running in terror, trying to get away from the explosions and bullets behind them. At that moment I realize that there is nothing in my life that compared with what these people were going through.
I became grateful for the challenges I face today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Prayer Power


I was talking with a newcomer who was having trouble with the whole Higher Power thing.

            “As a kid I was passed around to a lot of different relatives and none of them were religious or church people,” he said. “I don’t have a clue about where to begin. I don’t even know how to pray.”

I shared with him what I was taught: keep it simple.

Early on I heard in the rooms that we might try talking to God as if he were a friend. We don’t need formal language. We don’t need a litany. We don’t need a suit or tie.

We can say a silent prayer while riding the bus.  Walking to work. While working. Or doing our chores. The point is not structure, I was told - praying is about intent.

Today I keep it simple.  "Thank you” when I awake in the morning and another “thank you” before I sleep at night.

Rushing to an accident this weekend my prayer was unplanned: “God let them all be okay.”  And they all survived.

I was told God already knows my heart and what I need – but that it’s important for me to have the humility to ask.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Student


Yesterday evening I had a wonderful experience when a client at one of our Phoenix properties invited me to his room to show me his grades. I could see the pride on his face as he spread out his classroom materials while waiting for his computer to boot up.

Then he excitedly navigated to his school website and pulled up the page that showed his classes and grades.

            "See," he told me. "Just like I told you, almost straight A's."

I was as proud of him and his successes as I would have been had one of my children showed me the same thing. It’s so validating when we see success from someone with this man's history

He had years of smoking crack, prison stays, and homelessness. He reports that all he really knew was a life of using and being unproductive. He believed he was going to die a drug addict. Yet he decided to give it one final try and entered the TLC program.

He says he doesn't know how it's going to repay TLC for the opportunity he's been given. I told him he repays TLC by continuing to be the example he is and by helping others get into sobriety and change their lives. 

That's the kind of repayment that will make a difference in the world.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Positive View


What do we overly sensitive addicts do when confronted with examples of the fragility of life? Of the evil that sometimes seems to dominate our world?

In the past few days there's been much negative news, such as the slaughter of innocents in Aurora, Colorado. And news organizations, as is their wont, must present us with minute details about the participants and the perpetrator. After all, that's what sells newspapers and keeps people glued to their televisions. It ‘s indeed tragic when things like this happen in our society. After all, we’re part of the human community and what affects one somehow affects us all in some way.

I try to counterbalance this onslaught of negative news by also recognizing the positive in our world.

A good example is the story of the bus monitor who was verbally assaulted on video by mindlessly cruel middle-school students. The great news today is that a fund established for her by a Canadian man has now ballooned to over $700,000.  It’s refreshing to realize there are thousands of loving, compassionate people willing to send money to help an abuse victim.

Another wonderful example in the news this morning was a story about a South African sprinter who’s competing in the Olympics on prosthetic limbs. I found it amusing to read that other competitors are claiming the man with the prosthetics has an unfair advantage in the competition. Don't we live in a wonderful world when technology transforms the disadvantaged into unfair competitors?

I may be rambling here, but the point is we can focus our vision where we want. And while I believe it’s important to recognize evil in the world, I also believe it's important to not allow it to inundate us to the point we believe the dark side is the ordinary.

To overcome negativity we must be careful where we focus our attention.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Hand of God


 Yesterday my daughter and two grandkids were in a serious accident when their car flipped at 65 miles per hour. Yet, as I write this, I'm awash in gratitude to God for sparing their lives..

I'm grateful the three of them were wearing seat belts and that all survived with bumps and minor abrasions. I have major gratitude to the dozen or so passersby on the freeway who stopped and cut them from their seat belts. I'm thankful to the man who handed my daughter his cell phone because she couldn't find hers. Because of him I was able to get an immediate location of the accident and learn that everyone was, at least at that moment, still alive.

I'm also grateful for the technology that was put into her Honda. The car reportedly rolled three times and yet the roof didn't collapse, and the airbags and seat belts worked exactly as they were supposed to.

I'm thankful to the responders who provided emergency first aid, then rushed them to the Maricopa County Medical Center.

I'm thankful to all of those in TLC who sent messages of love and care to their injured family members.

Later, when we knew everyone was going to be okay, someone began asking about insurance and replacement of the car and who was at fault and so forth. That conversation died quickly because everyone present knew that the only important thing was the miracle of survival that happened yesterday afternoon.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sicker than Others?


A client who’s relapsed several times was allowed to return TLC recently with the promise that things will be different this time.

When he’s returned in the past he’s started out demoralized and beaten into a semblance of humility. Then as time passes and his body and mind begin to heal his ego starts to over inflate.  Within a few months he thinks he has the answers. And the next thing we know, he’s back on the streets drunk.

So, why do we take him back if we know what to expect? It’s a fair question, but the reality is that when addicts and alcoholics ask for help we try to reach out. And one never knows when someone will change.

The 12-step literature says “some are sicker than others,” and this man’s behavior indicates he may fit it that category.  Our mission at TLC is to help those we can until they quit trying.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Addict Children


An acquaintance called about a son who's doing drugs. The son, who’s in his mid-30s, has lost his wife, his job, and his home. At this point the father is totally frustrated. On a few occasions he helped his son out with chunks of money, hoping to stop his downward spiral. However, all he accomplished was to prolong the process.

What the father didn't realize – like many parents of addicts and alcoholics – is that money won’t help an addict change. The addict needs to lose everything to the point where he suffers enough pain to want to change. Often this realization comes later rather than sooner.

I advised this parent that the best thing he could do would be to back off from his son and let him hit bottom. Once his son has enough pain and misery he might change.

What sometimes complicates things for parents is that addict children often blame parents for their addictions.   Addicts have an amazing ability to play on a parent's guilt.

As an addict who's the parent of an addict I have firsthand experience. And I apply the advice I give in this blog to my own situation. Once my son relapsed and started using again I gave him zero assistance.  And that won’t change until I see a long period of sobriety and stability.