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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Appearances can Deceive


Housing 600+ recovering addicts and alcoholics provides a never ending stream of anecdotes. 

For example, we discovered this week that a client who'd been living in one of our men's houses for a while was actually a woman. And naturally those who were managing that facility took a lot of lighthearted verbal abuse because they allowed her to be there.

However in their defense, the woman was described as having so much hair on her back that it was sticking out of her collar. She reportedly had a five o'clock shadow and a mustache. Though some thought her mannerisms effeminate, none suspected her true gender. And as far as we know is this is the first incident of this type in over 20 years. But, of course, this one slipped by, so we could have had others. We'll never know.

A risk of accepting anyone who asks for help whether they have money or not is that we attract all kinds of people. The only requirement for entry to our program is a desire to stay clean sober. Plus the applicant can have no history of sex offenses or arson convictions.

In spite of the fact that we sometimes attract what some consider off-center people there’s an upside: we’re able to help many into recovery or treatment who can’t get help elsewhere.  

So for us, getting a strange character in our program once in a while is an acceptable risk.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Help Wanted


One of our biggest challenges at TLC is to find managers. When we find one we take care of him - or her. They are a treasure. We make sure they get time off once in a while. We try to give them a sense of job security.

But because we don't offer our managers a lot financially, it's difficult to recruit new ones. Those we do have stay with us because sobriety is their priority . Many have been with us a long time because when they lived on their own it was difficult for them to stay clean and sober. Their goal is to stay alive and enjoy life.

So a while back when we found a bright fellow who was full of enthusiasm and wanted to be a manager we started training him. He was a fast learner. He had a lot of energy and showed up to work on time. He seemed honest and had a good manner of dealing with the clients. It seemed a perfect fit.

But then this week someone noticed he was driving a new car, which he parked in front of the office each day. When questioned, he said it was his mother’s – that she was letting him use it because he was in recovery. It seemed a reasonable story, which later proved to be untrue.

As it turns out, he stole not only the car, but also the owner's purse and credit cards – which he used to fill the car with fuel.  

And now he’s in jail.  And we have a job opening.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Example of Compassion


I find compassion in unexpected places.

While at the office of a long-time business associate today I saw a side of him that I didn't know. Several years ago he'd gone through a painful divorce after being married to the same woman for over three decades. The divorce, like many, was acrimonious.   There was back-and-forth legal bickering about division of property and who got what.  And once in a while – when he’d refer to the challenges of the divorce settlement – I’d sense his pain and frustration.

So I was surprised when he said he’s been spending time out-of-state with his ex-wife. In fact, he's conducting most of his business via e-mail or on the telephone.  And when I asked when we’d meet again he explained what was going on between him and his ex.

He said she's developed life threatening health conditions and has no one to care for her. Their children are unwilling to help and she has no friends who can to come to her aid. So he’s disrupted his life to care for her.

I am inspired to see him go beyond the issues that arose in his divorce to help her with her health challenges.

I hope I can do as well when it comes to showing compassion to others.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Gratitude


Reasons for gratitude show up all the time. This morning I opened my e-mail and read a message from my daughter who had served in the Army from 2003 through 2006. The message was about her former drill instructor who was killed earlier this month in Afghanistan during combat operations.

And while I never met the man, I have a photo of him on my computer which was taken during her graduation from basic training in Columbia, South Carolina.

Her message reminded me of when she was deployed to Afghanistan for nearly a year in 2004. Even though we were able to have telephone conversations that were as clear as if she were next door, I was emotionally numb much of the time because of the danger she was in at her base on the Pakistan border. It wasn't until she returned to her base in Hawaii that I was back in a comfort zone.

While it's one thing to read about our soldiers making sacrifices in other countries, it's another when it's our family.  Though she still suffers from residual effects of her service, at least she returned and is living a good life today.

And for that I am so grateful.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Shoulding on Ourselves


During a recent group a client kept using the term "should." As in people "should" do this. Or people "shouldn't" do that.

He had ideas about how others should behave. They shouldn't tell him what to do. They should be kinder. The list went on and on.

He didn’t understand that he was living in a fantasy world.  Should was powerful for him.

Reality is that people do what they do and should won’t change that. Those who view our world on the basis of how things should be live in a world of wishful thinking. And we're unable to deal to deal with reality because we have a warped vision, a skewed perception, when we deal with things the way we think they should be.

If people are being impolite, rude, nice, generous, or however – that's the way they should be because that's how they are.

Wishful thinking is the stuff of fantasy. And when we use terms like should, or ought to, were always going to be dissatisfied because things just are as they are.

Wishes won’t change them.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Time for Gratitude


Life provides us with opportunities for gratitude.

Today, for example, while at the fitness center, I inquired about a member I hadn't seen for a while. I was shocked to hear that he had developed a life-threatening illness and he was undergoing treatment.

It was a shock because this is a man in his 20s with the fitness level of an Olympic athlete. He runs marathons. He swims. And he has a construction business that has him working hard all day.

After I left the fitness center and went about my day I reflected on the randomness of life. Here's a man who has lived a healthy life yet he's come down with a serious disease. And then there are those of us who spent years living unhealthy lives, destroying ourselves with alcohol and drugs. Yet some of us formerly self-destructive people – myself included – are blessed with health at an advanced age. It's hard to figure.

I have compassion for this very likable young man. And seeing his challenges I have a heightened sense of gratitude for the life and health I enjoy today. 

And I can pray for this man's recovery.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More Karma


It's sometimes sad when I see karma play out in someone's life. I recently learned of a professional acquaintance who lost his credentials over unprofessional and unethical behavior.

The loss of his licenses came as no surprise. He’d been under investigation by the state for a few years over questionable conduct.  He had a history of treating people badly, both peers and those he considered beneath him. He had a habit of berating others in public and alienating his employees. It was uncomfortable to be around him for long because of his anger.

And one time he got so out of control he was arrested for assault. On this occasion he was censured by the licensing board for his behavior. However, he didn’t change because of  his knack for rationalizing his behavior and blaming others.

Because this person had insulted and abused me on occasion I thought I’d feel good when he finally had his comeuppance. But that isn't the way I felt when I heard about him losing his ability to make a living, and probably his home and business. I felt sadness.

I guess I feel this way because I know he has the ability to achieve whatever he wants. But he's let his psychological issues and lack of self-esteem undermine his success.

I believe we live in a world of bounty, that God wants us to be happy.  And I'm not one who’s willing to sabotage that because of personal idiosyncrasies.

Although this person has finally suffered the consequences of his behavior, it may be the lesson he needs to look at himself. Or he can sink further into bitterness and anger. I believe that nothing happens on God's earth by mistake or accident. When we pay a price for our bad behavior I believe God’s teaching us another lesson.

Even though I was hurt by this person I find no satisfaction in his downfall – even though I thought I would.

Actually, it's my hope that one day he put his life back together and live up to his potential.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Another Day at TLC


An angry client came to the office this evening and reported that another client, purportedly gay, had sat down beside him on his bed and felt his crotch.

Even though we doubted the client's story about being groped, we always treat reports like this with the utmost seriousness. We know we have liability in these kind of situations if we don't investigate.

However, when we pursued this man's allegation we began to have doubts. When we asked him to report the incident to the police, he said he had a brother who was a lieutenant on the Sheriff's Department.- who was stationed in Afghanistan. We told him to call the police anyway and when he did he spoke something that sounded like Russian into the telephone. When our manager asked for the number of the person he had called, he said the matter was "taken care of." And he refused to give our manager the number.

At that point our manager realized the client had mental challenges. He then asked if he was on any medications, which the man denied. At that point the client was told to find another recovery program because we didn't think we could help him based on his allegations and lack of cooperation.

We could probably publish a fairly thick book about the humorous and interesting clients that come through our doors. And this client’s story would probably be included.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sicker than Others


In the 12-step literature we read the phrase, "some are sicker than others..."

And it's not a phrase that I pay a lot of attention to. But it came to mind last week after I encountered a man who'd been in and out of our program several times. At the time I saw him, he was going over paperwork with his sponsor. It looked like they were doing some serious step work so I just nodded and moved on. It did my heart good to see him studying the steps, seemingly working hard on his recovery.
                                   
Then the next morning one of the managers reported this client had left again. Prior to his leaving they heard him on the phone talking to an alcoholic girlfriend, someone he'd been prohibited from communicating with as a condition of being in our program. Shortly after this conversation the client left his room, went to the parking lot and got into a car. That's the last anyone saw of him.

It truly saddens me to see this man leave under these terms. He's come to us half a dozen times, on death's door, pleading for help. The last few times we've let him come back it's been because we felt that if we didn't let him in he'd be dead within days. The last time he relapsed he'd lost something like 40 pounds in a matter of months and was totally confused. He was willing to do whatever necessary to get sober. And for a while he followed our guidelines and did what he was told.

When I see a man like this, who at one time held a high-level management position for one of the largest corporations in the United States, unable to stop drinking, I realize the power of our disease. 

In any event, seeing his struggle helped me stay sober this week.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Creative Amends


"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible..." from the 12-literature.

When people in recovery make amends I believe they're serious about staying clean and sober. The idea the recovering person is willing to right their wrongs sends the world a message..

I heard a story this week of an addict who went to great lengths to make amends. And it was quite creative.

He found that when he'd go into a store from which he'd shoplifted it was a challenge for them to accept the money he offered. It seems that most chain store accounting systems are not set up to accept amends from recovering addicts or alcoholics. When he'd explain what he was trying to do they'd send him to upper management. But even then, he had difficulty giving them his money. Finally though he hit upon a solution.

Whenever he had the money to make another amends, he'd go into the store and buy something that cost about the same amount as he was trying to repay. Then, once he'd made the purchase and had the receipt, he'd return the merchandise to the shelf from where he'd gotten it. He figured that that way he wouldn't have to go through bureaucratic red tape.

And while he might've messed up the store's inventory, at least he was able to complete his amends. And as far as I know he never got into trouble for putting merchandise back on the shelf.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hurting Others


Opened an e-mail this morning from a man who's inquiring about his wife, who he said was in our program. Apparently she was very unhappy about everything. I included some excerpts from his e-mail with the names left out to preserve anonymity:

"I was doing some reading on your blog and find them encouraging.  My wife is a client there and I really worry she isn't applying a lot of effort towards recovery.  Hope to God I am wrong.  As a recovering person myself, I realize I ain't running the show, but still I fall into worry and beating myself up. Sound familiar?  I realized her bitterness years ago, and so did she.  I would like some news from time to time on how she is progressing?   I call her but don't ask many questions.  I don't want to give her a reason to fly into a rage because most of her resentments seem to be directed towards me. Not surprising huh.  She has been there a month and all she does is complain and I just listen, don't know what else to do but pray for her.  She is always saying I am going to get out of here,  but I know she wouldn't last a week right now before crack and alcohol would be on her, she looked like walking death when she got there.  God had to be working in both our lives to get her to agree to go.  I know He has done a miracle for me.  If you could, drop me a line when you can and update me?   Her sons and I really care.  I have to remember everything is the way it is supposed to be right at this moment and nothing happens by mistake in God,s world.  Please don't inform her I wrote you as she will scream I am trying to control her.  I am only care most about her well being."

After a few hours I replied. I explained that because of confidentiality requirements I couldn't acknowledge whether or not she was even in our program.

But I wanted to print his e-mail in its entirety because it illustrates more than any words I have how much our disease affects those around us.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Honoring our Family


A new client, whose grandfather had died earlier in the week, said she felt like going back out and smoking crack.

"And if your grandfather were here, what would he think?" I asked her.

"He wouldn't want me to do that," she said with tears in her eyes. "It's just that I miss him so much."

"If he were here he'd probably want you to continue to rebuild your life, wouldn't he?" I asked. She nodded in agreement.

It's not uncommon for clients to relapse when they're grieving the loss of family members. And their pain and sense of loss is totally understandable, because we've all lost family members.

But killing our pain by picking up drugs or alcohol is not the solution. Oh yes, it might temporarily ease the pain. And then we have to start the cycle of recovery over again unless we want to continue down the path of destruction. I told her relapse wasn't worth the temporary respite from what she was feeling.

A pleasant memory for me is that my parents were able to see me finally get into recovery during the last several years of their lives. While I didn't feel the urge to use when they died, I know they would have expected me to continue a life of sobriety.

And I've been able to do that.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Getting to vs. Having To


Received a call today from a young woman whose probation officer told her to enter a treatment program as a condition of remaining free.

She’s broke.  She lost her insurance when CPS took her children and placed them with her family.  She’s on psychiatric medications.  And she’s looking for a program that will provide free services.

When I told her we didn’t offer anything free, except for entry to our halfway house program, she sounded depressed.

            “I have to do something or I’ll be back in jail,” she said.  And she went on to tell me about all of the things she “had” to do, that she was “required” to do. She sounded almost like a victim because of the requirements placed upon her so she could remain free and regain custody of her children.

As the dialogue went on I suggested she might start using terms like “I get to” or “I’m allowed to,” because that perspective might help her feel better about her situation.

If we look at the things we’re “required” to do as things we “choose” to do we regain power. And we have power in our lives.

As I explained to this caller she doesn’t have to do anything her probation officer says. She can simply go back to jail and finish her probation time inside. She can leave her kids with her family. And I’ve seen clients do that because they don’t like to feel like being forced to do anything.

When she protested that she didn’t want to return to jail I told her that she’d then made a choice.

We always have choices. Sometimes they just don’t seem very palatable.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grateful for it All


During these hot summer days we speak often about the 115 degree heat, the humidity, the endless sticky days.

I tell out of state clients about this being the worst part of the year. They give me odd looks when I say 100 degrees is decent weather here - that we'll be there before we know it. I tell them they’ll get used to it. I’m not sure they believe me - even though I sound serious and really mean it.

But during this season I muster gratitude and remember there’s a rhyme and reason to everything in God’s world. I don’t  like the heat; I simply accept that it's His business. Another area of life where I have no power.

So even during this season I try to live in gratitude. For example, today the monsoon sky was a dull gray cloud cover that lowered the temperature enough to make things bearable. I was thankful for that.

Sometimes late in the evening when it's this oppressive I float on my back in the pool, looking at the stars, and reflect that I almost missed all of this because of my addictions.

Friday, August 17, 2012

God at Work?


Before I got sober I thought miracles were big things. Like God moving mountains. Or parting the Red Sea. But these days I see his hand in small things..

For example, last week I was returning from the store with a 55" television I'd purchased. I was able to fit it into the back of my Prius with the help of the store clerk, but it was a little too big for me to unload comfortably by myself. However, on the way home I had the random notion that if my next door neighbor's teenage son was available he could help move it into my living room.

Now I'm not sure where this thought came from. Because in the 10 years I've lived there I've only waved to the boy and never had more than a five minute conversation with him.

So I was surprised when - I started to unload the TV - the neighbor boy appeared and asked me if he could help. Of course I accepted and we were able to get the television into my living room without a lot of difficulty.  While this might seem a trivial coincidence I somehow believe it's more than that.

Another example occurred this week when a man in his early 20s flew from another state to become a TLC client. During the application process a family member mentioned that the young man left the last program he was at partly because there were no clients his age – no one he could relate to.
 
After he arrived at TLC, the client in the next room overheard the newcomer mention his hometown. As it turned out both are not only the same ages - but also from adjacent neighborhoods in the same northern California city.

Coincidence?  God? You decide.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Visualizing for Change


A client who's been with us for a few months said the other day that his goal was to stay out of prison.

            "Is that it?" I asked. "That shouldn't be too hard to accomplish," I told him. "There are people all over the world who aren’t in prison."

I understood his point, though, because I’d also been to prison.  But I was trying to get him to look beyond just remaining free. Rather than visualize the kind of life we don't want, we need to visualize the kind we want to have.

I told him he should create mental pictures of the new life he wants to enjoy. If he decides he wants a good job, then visualize the job, the kind of work he's doing, the amount of pay he's receiving.  If his goal is a new home, then he needs to picture how many rooms it has, the neighborhood it’s in, and how much he’s paying for it.

If he wants a relationship, then he needs to start thinking about what kind. Does he want to get married? Does he want to find someone to date and be friends with?

If his mind is focused upon what he doesn't want, that might be what the universe gives him. But if this focuses upon positive things that enhance his life - and he keeps that kind of steady picture - then the universe will eventually provide.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Power of Forgiveness


 A woman who was freed this week after serving 49 years in prison for murdering a child said her life changed when the victim’s mother forgave her for the crime.

"She made me feel that I wasn't a monster," she said. "I felt if she could forgive me for taking her child's life, I could forgive myself. ... It was my responsibility to try to become a better person than I was."

During the early years of her life sentence the woman was constantly in trouble and escaped several times.  But once she was forgiven nearly 30 years ago she made efforts to transform her life.

The story of how forgiveness was the catalyst for her change is an example to those of us in recovery. 
Because resentments and anger are often the triggers that send us back to drugs and alcohol forgiveness of others  – and even ourselves- can help set us free of our addictions.

While our stories are not as dramatic as this one, who knows what the power of forgiveness can do in our own lives?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fighting Back


Clients in group this evening gave examples of how they felt their disease tried to grab them, to pull them back into using again.

One said he was at the end of a hot frustrating day  this week when - on top of everything else - he discovered the house van had no gas just as he was about to drive other clients to a meeting. Instead of spending his own money for gas, he became angry and went to his room.

Later, he felt bad that he’d slipped into a state of ingratitude. And he realized he was in a state of mind where it might have been easy to pick up again, to go back to using.  But he didn’t and he felt good about that.

Another client opened an email from his addict daughter who was angry at him for not being able to help her. It was so full of a rage that he decided not read it because he didn’t want to disturb his serenity.

Eventually he did read it, though, and was able to laugh at some of the things she wrote.  He said that though some of what she wrote was true, he also knew she was trying to manipulate him into helping her. And while one part of him wanted to help, he knew if he moved into her environment he’d shooting dope in no time.

Self awareness, coupled with the tools of the 12-step programs, helped these two clients side-step their disease.  And by the grace of God, they’re sober today.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Health Challenge


While talking to an assistant manager this evening I inquired as to his health.

            "I'm in pretty good shape," he told me. "Everything except for my blood pressure. And my doctor's mad at me because it's through the roof. She wants me to quit smoking and lose weight."

            "You smoke?" I asked.

            "Yeah, but not much. A pack of cigarettes lasts me three or four days."

The conversation went on this way for a few minutes as I encouraged him to quit.  I also gave him ideas about how he could lose weight by changing his diet and doing just a little exercise.

Even though he didn't solicit my suggestions, I felt an obligation to help. After all, he'd been sober for some time. And I believe that part of successful recovery is enjoying good health. Finally, though, I shut my mouth because I didn't detect a lot of enthusiasm from him regarding my suggestions.

Because I lost many family members to emphysema, and because I had so much difficulty quitting smoking myself 28 years ago, I have strong feelings about smoking. However, I also believe it's futile to encourage anyone to quit unless they're motivated. In fact, I believe that discussing someone's smoking habits might encourage them to smoke even more because it raises stress levels.

My belief is that until one suffers enough they won't change bad habits. I didn't quit many of my bad habits until I stopped enjoying them - and realized they were harming me physically.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Changing Values


A former client I hadn’t seen in many years stopped by for a visit and was surprised at the size of my office.

            “I thought you’d have a bigger office,” he said, as I invited him to sit. “This is kind of small and plain.”

I explained that at one time I had a larger office and nicer furniture. But I found it didn’t make a lot of difference how big or fancy my office was, I still got the same amount of work done and it didn’t affect business one way or the other. And people didn’t seem to like me more - or any less - based on the size of my office.

As we continued chatting I told him that in my twenty+ years of sobriety my values about “things” had changed.  Today I want whatever I own to be functional, whether it is an office, home, car or clothing.

I came to realize a few years ago that after basic needs are met the rest is usually a matter of ego. My Toyota Prius gets me around as good as a Rolls Royce – though not with the same panache or style.  My Old Navy chinos work just as good as something from Nordstrom’s or another pricey store.  And from a few feet away nobody knows how expensive my watch is.

And the other part is I don’t care.  I have little interest in those who are impressed by what others own. I came to realize if people are impressed by what I have - they’ll be equally as superficial when I have nothing.

Living sober has helped me to simplify my life.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Miracles Happen


A man who’d been with TLC for a few years received a certificate this week commending him for service to the program.

His success is an illustration of how TLC – coupled with 12-step meeting attendance - can sometimes work miracles.

At one point this man was on many different medications and seemingly so unstable that many believed it was only a matter of time before he’d revert to his old behavior and return to prison.

Instead, he sat through hours of counseling and did volunteer work, gradually becoming a competent and sober contributor to the community.

Even though we’re a non-medical peer-counseling program we provide an environment where those on medications can adapt to living sober when they're properly motivated. 

As this client persevered and worked the program he eventually graduated to a management position, a job he held until he graduated this week.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Resentment Gone

A former client whose brother was savagely murdered in the 1980s talked to me about his feelings when he witnessed the killer’s execution earlier this week.

He said that for years he was consumed with hatred toward the man, but eventually the anger subsided.  And when he saw him being executed all he could feel for him was pity.

            “No one should die alone like he did,” he said. “It was sad.”

When the media interviewed him and other family members afterward his siblings were upset with him for what he said.

One thing we learn in recovery is that resentments and anger don’t serve us at all. This man made a decision to not let the poison of resentment destroy his life. While he feels on a deep level the inexplicable loss of his younger brother he knows he’ll never be at peace if he lets hatred and anger consume him.

He’d rather spend his time enjoying his wife and children than draining his emotions by expending energy on a killer who had a total disregard for human life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Clearing Wreckage


A client in group talked of recontacting relatives he'd lost contact with during years of using and doing time.

As part of clearing up the wreckage of his past he'd written to apologize for his behavior, to try to set things right. To his surprise, after several months a brother replied. Now the client is thinking that maybe they'll communicate on a regular basis, perhaps re-establish some kind of relationship.

Loss of family and friends seems to be an ongoing theme among long-term addicts. And sometimes we have unrealistic expectations of our family members.  Especially when their memory of us is when we were irresponsbile and out of our minds because of our addictions.

Over the past 21 years of working with substance abusers I've observed that family members are often tentative about renewing relationships. And the longer one has been using, the longer it takes for them to find our new recovery believable.

I point out to those who are in a hurry to reestablish relationships that people get tired of having their hearts broken over and over.

It takes more than a year or two of recovery before they accept that we've really changed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Visitor from the Past


A client showed up at my office unannounced today, a man who was one of the first 20 people at TLC in early 1992.

After he left he started using again because he failed to apply the lessons he learned while at TLC.  He served a couple of terms in state prison before he had enough pain and decided to apply the lessons he learned while in our program.

Today he's married to woman who's never had problem with drugs or alcohol. Between them they have a blended family of ten children, are church members, and productive members of the small Northern Arizona community where they live.

We often are asked what our success rate is and my answer is always the same: I don't know. However, my intuitive feeling is that while some leave our program and start to use again, many learn something that eventually helps them change.

As did this client from the early days.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tough Loving


I was on the phone yesterday with concerned parents who’d flown their son to Arizona from another state so he could get clean at TLC.  However, he only lasted a few days, saying the program had “too many rules.”  Now the boy’s in jail in Phoenix, something about a felony charge for shoplifting and other offenses.

The one thing I know about the parents is that they love their son. Their pain was palpable as they told me about his next court appearance and discussed their options. Should they bail him out? Take him clothes for his court appearance? Hire an attorney? Could he go back to TLC?  What to do?  Gut wrenching questions with no clear answers or outcomes.

Of course my recommendation is to be tough. Leave him in jail. Let him feel consequences. Quit bailing him out of trouble. Let him learn that behavior has consequences. Let him try to sleep on hard jail beds for awhile. Eat crappy jail food. Show him what his future looks like.

I got sober over 20 years ago because everyone gave up. No more handouts. No more crashing on their couch. I lived on the streets. Went to jail. Slept in abandoned buildings. Shoplifted for drug money.  Stole liquor to kill the pain of withdrawal. Went into supermarkets and ate while pretending to shop - then left without buying anything. A painful, ugly existence.

But one day the pain stopped. Why? Because I figured out I was responsible – because people quit enabling me. I was angry when they quit helping. Today I’m grateful to them for helping me change.

They saved my life...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Addicts helping Addicts


A man detoxifying from alcohol called from the hospital to inquire about our facilities and services.  He mentioned he was also calling another facility that had been recommended to him by hospital staff. He said if he didn't call back he probably had decided on the other facility. When I didn't hear from him I figured he went to the other place.

However, he called a few days later and said the sober living program the hospital referred him to wasn’t for him. He said there were four beds to a room and no manager on site.  There were no meeting requirements or any onsite counseling.

Since I never beat up the competition I said nothing about his experience at the other facility. And I welcomed him to check out our program. Before he hung up, though, he said he had something to tell me about the referral he'd received from the hospital. He said the staff  told him shouldn't go to TLC because it was a "rip-off." And he gave the names of the staff members who had told him that.

While I never waste time correcting people who know little about our programs it still piques my interest as to how people arrive at the conclusion that TLC is a "rip-off." After all, how do you rip someone off in a program that charges $110 a week?

It might be a rip-off if we didn't provide the services we offer. At TLC one gets three so-so meals a day. A job service is available. Peer counseling is a strong part of the program, as is Big Book study and relapse prevention. I'm not sure how you rip someone off when a motel runs at about $45 a day – no meals or anything extra.

We don’t represent ourselves as anything other than what we are. We’re a program for those without money, without insurance, who have no place to go. And we do this without money from government programs or other sources.

What we really are is addicts helping addicts.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Love our Managers


Finding good managers is a challenge. Working with addicts and alcoholics is difficult under the best of circumstances.

The pay is low. Clients can be difficult. The hours are long. A manager deals with issues ranging from bus fare to someone needing to go to the hospital. He can go for hours without having anyone come to the office. Then, all of a sudden, he'll have five people outside his door with varying needs.

Yet, we're always able to somehow find people willing to do the job. The most successful managers place recovery first. 

And we have several people in their fifties and sixties who've worked for us for years. Some have an independent income and have lived on their own.  But they find it easier to stay sober while living and working in a protected environment like the one offered by TLC. In time, we've become a family for many of these managers.

And like a family, we take extra care of those who make commitments to join us and help run the program. When a manager gets sick, or has financial needs, we're always there as a corporation - and individually. On occasion we've had managers take other managers into their home when they're ill, helping nurse them to health.

And of course when clients see how we care for one another they recognize TLC as an attractive place to live and work.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Liar Liar


"When is an alcoholic lying? When their lips are moving.” Unknown

I recently did an assessment on a woman who was trying to get her driving privileges restored. She’d been convicted of driving under the influence twice.  Her last conviction landed her in prison for two years. Plus she couldn’t reapply for her license until three years after her release.

At the assessment she gave me a paper from the motor vehicle department saying she was clear to reapply.  But I had an intuitive feeling she wasn’t telling the whole story.  However, in lieu of additional information I only could rely on what she told me at the assessment.

After a series of tests and questions I recommended she attend 20 hours of substance abuse education and several 12-step meetings prior to my recommending that her driving privileges be restored.  One of the factors that weighed into my decision is that she claimed to have not drunk or used drugs for some five years.

So I was a bit surprised to receive a call a few weeks after the assessment from a motor vehicle employee who asked if I knew this woman had turned up dirty on an alcohol screening earlier this year while trying to get her license reinstated. I said she hadn’t told me of the previous screening, nor that she’d failed a breathalyzer test. 

Based on this new information I withdrew my recommendation for reinstatement. My intuition was correct after all.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Trust God?


Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”  Dr. Bob, 1937

Today I had a frantic call from a recovering friend who received a notice this week from the IRS saying he owed them back taxes from several years ago.

            “They want something like twenty five thousand dollars,” he told me.

            “So, what are you going to do about it?” I asked.  “That’s a lot of money to come up with all at once.”

But after he slowed down a bit he said he wasn’t sure he owed anything. Then he thought he might owe something. Then he figured he must have assumed some liabilities from a business deal he was in a few years ago.  The only thing certain was that he wasn’t sure about anything - other than he’d gotten a letter saying they wanted money.

Before we ended the conversation I suggested he first figure out if he really had an issue, or if it was even his problem at all. Once he determined that maybe I could help him figure out the rest because I'd been dealing with similar issues over the past 20 years in business.

And the last thing I suggested is that he probably needed to call his sponsor.  One thing I’ve learned in the rooms is that things are exactly as they’re supposed to be at this moment. There are always issues that can fire up our addict brains; it's how we respond that counts.

Trusting God brings things into perspective.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Losing It All


Today, while visiting one of the houses I was greeted by a client who’d recently returned to TLC.

            “Haven’t seen you in a while,” I told him.  “How have you been?”

            “Well, it’s good to be back,” he replied.

Then he proceeded to tell me that when he’d left some six months earlier he had a decent job, an apartment and a car.

Things were going so well he stopped going to meetings or talking to his sponsor. Soon he was downing a few beers and hanging out at a bar. Before long he’d lost his job, his apartment, and was living on the streets. After a few months he returned to TLC to see if he could get it right.

He seemed a little surprised when I congratulated him on losing everything. But I told him I wasn’t being sarcastic – that when we lose everything we begin to recognize the problem.

 When I finally got sober January 14, 1991 I had half a change of clothes and seventy three cents. There wasn’t much doubt my life was a mess. Nor was there any question about who was responsible.

But that’s where change began.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Some Consequences


A client who’s been with us for more than a month pulled one of our managers aside this week and confessed that he’d smoked meth during his first week in the program.  He said he’d had a guilty conscience ever since.

Because using drugs is an automatic discharge the manager called his supervisor wondering what to do. After all, the client had come forward and had been a good resident all along.  But on the other hand he violated a cardinal rule.

So what to do?

After some conversation the client was allowed to stay because it wouldn’t have been right to discharge him for having the courage to come forward. However, he did receive consequences.

He has to start his program over, even though he’d nearly completed some of the initial requirements such as Big Book Study and Relapse Prevention.