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, October 31, 2012

Graduation


This week we celebrated the graduation of one of our earliest outpatient clients – a man no one expected to last more than a few weeks. His success is an example of what can happen with even the most resistant client if they stick around.

At first he didn't participate much in group sessions. He would say things like “I have to be here, but I don’t have to like it.” Then he would slump in his chair with his arms folded. And only respond when asked a question.

He did something similar in individual sessions. Sometimes he would go through half the session with his arms folded on the desk in front of him and resting his head as if he weren't paying attention.

However, his attitude didn't deter us. And eventually he started opening up. He picked up tools to help him deal with his frustration and anger. He started talking about how he'd defused confrontations with others. He stopped making big deals out of everything.

During the past few months he became more accepting of others. He started realizing that most of his problems were of his own making. And that he had the power to change.

There were a few moist eyes when he spoke at his graduation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More Success

A client who's attending college talked of the stressful weekend he spent after taking a test on the previous Friday. 

After sweating through  the 2 1/2 hour exam he said he agonized both Saturday and Sunday over what the results might be. He was sure he’d flunked, that he might be dropped from the course.

But to his surprise and gratification he found learned he’d earned a B on the test – that he hadn't come near failing.

Because of his history as a long-term drug user who spent years in prison he sometimes faces challenges with self-esteem. On one hand he knows he's bright.  But on the other, his addictions have prevented him from realizing his potential.

As regards his self-esteem he’s like many of us in recovery. When we first get sober we enter a new culture, a new territory of unfamiliar values and mores. Almost like immigrants from another country we try to assimilate into this new culture, sometimes without the tools we need. Many of us addicts were middle-aged when we got sober. So not only are we trying to figure out a new way of life, we are also competing with many others our age who spent their whole lives working hard and trying to get ahead.

And then there’s that small insistent voice somewhere inside us that says “I don’t deserve this success after what I've done to myself.”

Our job at TLC is to help clients to ignore this voice and recognize they can enjoy success if they’re willing to pursue it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Relapse is Waiting.


The specter of relapse, in its many guises, hides in unexpected places waiting for all of us. And if we're prepared, if we're spiritually fit, we’re able to fend off the temptation.

But this weekend, a former manager with over 90 days sober forgot the tools he learned and got drunk. Also a few others, some with considerable education in how to stay clean and sober, followed suit.

Once again, this illustrates the pitfalls that face us if we don't apply what we know. Those of us who've been sober 15 or 20 years face the same temptations as anyone else. The only difference is that we’re able to apply the tools we've learned in the 12-step programs and other educational settings.

When times are tough, or emotions are running high, our first choice is not relapse. We make the choice to stay sober no matter what. We may go to a meeting. We may call our sponsor. We may talk to a friend. But one thing we don't do is pick up a drink or drug. Because then we not only have the same problems that inspired us to pick up the drugs – now we also face the prospect of getting sober again.

A memory that helps keep my sobriety in perspective is to recall how demoralized and beaten down I was when I first stumbled into a detox January 13 of 1991.

I had seventy-three cents in my pocket. I’d lost my car. I'd lost my corporate job. I was homeless. Plus I was facing criminal charges for minor offenses committed while drinking and drugging. It’s as clear to me today as it was nearly 22 years ago.

Whatever happens in my life – I don't want to start over.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lying to Ourselves


An addict told himself a lie yesterday. He told himself that because his drug of choice wasn't alcohol – that he was just a heroin addict – he would be able to drink. So he did.

And now he's in a detoxification unit with a hangover, trying to figure out what happened. Even though he didn't use heroin his first time out, I’m sure that would've been his next step.

A lot of people in new recovery believe they only have a problem with their drug of choice. But our experience at TLC is that if one is a real addict they're not able to drink or use anything. Experience has taught us that no matter what we use, whether it be marijuana, cocaine, meth, or alcohol, if we indulge in it we’ll eventually find our way back to our drug of choice.

Because heroin was my drug of choice I would plan – while still in jail – to only use other types of drugs. "I'll just drink." "I'll just smoke pot and take a few pills." I'll only use on my days off - but stay away from heroin."

But it never worked. Within days I found myself knocking on the dope house door – looking for heroin. That was always the beginning of the end, the path back to jail.

In the 12-step literature there's a line that says "half measures availed us nothing." While that might seem arbitrary and dogmatic, this is the only thing that works for a true addict.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Being Used

While we help anyone who shows up with a desire to stay sober, we cast a wary eye at those who receive a monthly Social Security check.  That's because a large percentage of clients who show up with Social Security disability have a pattern.

Those are the ones who show up the last half of the month, who are sick, broke, and homeless, asking for help.

And the rap is always the same, "When I get my check on the first I'll pay what I owe and a month in advance." But our experience has been – more than half the time - that they take the check and disappear. Then we’re left holding the bag for a couple weeks of room and board.

If they do that once, then want to come back, we always require them to make a large deposit before we let them in again.

We do have clients on Social Security who’ve been with us for years and it can be a good arrangement for everyone. They have a safe and sober environment - and we're helping an addict with limited resources to live sober.

But those are the ones who were ready.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Look in the Mirror


A client with a long history of alcoholism and drug abuse, who was sent to treatment by his employer, surprised no one this week when he announced he was leaving.

Although no one asked for an explanation, he explained at length that he had to take care of his children, that he didn't like congregate living, his girlfriend needed his help, and so forth.

None of us was surprised because while in the program this man never focused on the real issue: himself. He had complaints about the quality of the food at TLC. His bed was uncomfortable. His roommates were too noisy. He was worried about his children. He was concerned about his girlfriend.

But he never – as was suggested more than once – looked in the mirror at the source of his problems.

Probably the one of the biggest lessons we learn in successful recovery is that we're responsible. No one else put drugs in our arms. Or poured alcohol down our throats. No one forced us to drive drunk. No one suggested we show up at the job under the influence.

What this man fails to realize – and he may realize it one day – is that if he works on his recovery everything else will work out. We have many clients who focus on finding a job and getting back to where they used to be before their disease took them down. 

And they seem to have a sense of disbelief when we suggest they work on their core issue, their sobriety. Then everything will work out as it should. It often takes a lot of failure for people to realize this key element of changing their life.

And when clients tell me of all the peripheral things they need to get their lives together, I tell them to let us know how that works out

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Courageous Mothers


While I care about all our TLC clients, there's a particular group I have great respect for. And that group is the mothers who've put their children in good homes - sometimes for years - while they work on their own recovery.

While most readers will say this is the positive and responsible thing to do, it's an emotionally wrenching decision that many parents don't have the courage to make. Many women receive criticism from family members or others who think it's reprehensible to give up children for any reason.

But to me it’s a sign of character for a parent to place the child in a positive environment. People who make this kind of self-evaluation not only show love for their children, but respect for themselves. And later on, the child will likely understand and be grateful for the parent’s decision to improve both of their lives.

One mother I speak of placed her son in a long term situation several years ago. They visit on holidays and weekends, call regularly, and have an excellent relationship. When mother and child discuss the arrangement both agree it's the best situation at the moment.

Another mother has a good long-distance relationship with a child who's residing with family members in another state. They seem to have a relationship that works for both of them - because it's in the best interest of the child and the recovering parent.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Addict's Dilemma


A man referred to our program from a hospital came in with a long story.

He said he'd been in many programs. And in each one of them "something happened." He said he’d suffered severe injuries to his shoulder a few years ago, requiring him to take serious pain medication every four hours - a regimen he’d been on for years. He was also on Social Security disability, and had no money until the first of the month. Because of his disability he was unable to work - even part-time.

On the plus side, he says some right things. He wants to change his life. He wants to go to 12 step meetings. He was tired of the amount of alcohol he'd been drinking prior to entering the hospital.

However, a client like this presents a serious dilemma. When anyone is taking opiate-based pain medications every four hours our policy is to invite them to find another program to accommodate their needs.  And our rationale for this?

There are a few. For one thing, we are unable to properly monitor people's medications. Because we’re not a medical facility, we don't pass out drugs. For another, opiate prescriptions on the property are a trigger for other clients.  And even our front line managers are susceptible to this kind of temptation.

And when people are living under the influence of addictive drugs we have no idea – even if they are in serious pain – whether we're doing anything but prolonging their addictions.

While it might seem judgmental, we always have to come down side of being conservative when it comes to drugs – even legal drugs – at our facilities.

We’re not sure how things will work out with this client but unless he can change medication we'll find him another facility.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reasons for Gratitude


 I have reasons for gratitude.

Last week I was driving home from an aftercare session and feeling really up because one of the clients reported told of some successes in his life. And he attributed it to his time in the program and counseling he'd received at TLC. What better experience?

When I got home my lovely wife and the two Chihuahuas РJos̩ and Lucy Рgreeted me at the door with lots of affection. Then a cup of tea, a snack, a relaxing evening topped off by fifteen minutes in the Jacuzzi before bedtime. Another dose of gratitude for loving wife and pets.

I'm blessed to work where I’m surrounded by people who care.. I'm treated with respect. My staff asks each day what they can do for me. And while there's usually nothing they can do that I can't do for myself, it feels good when they offer their help.  How perfect.

My day is filled with work and accomplishment. But I try to never forget to keep balance when I get out of whack. I use my gym membership each day. I sometimes share meals with those who have an interest in wholesome eating.

I attribute this quality in my life to getting sober and walking in gratitude..

Can you find something to be grateful for today?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Help Happens

A client who was extremely resistant when he came into our program six months ago has changed. 

When he first came in he slumped in counseling sessions with his head down, present but not participating. He constantly complained because he had to show up after work. The only reason he was there, he said, was to retain his job. His wife was upset because he had to attend. His complaints seemed endless.

But last week, while discussing his impending successful graduation, he said something that showed he'd changed. He said "help happens."

Something different had gone on with this man. Even though he didn't participate willingly during the first few months, he stopped complaining after a while. He started listening to stories others told in group. In one-on-one sessions he would acknowledge the counselor and began opening up. On some level the idea that he had issues and that there were solutions started to resonate with him.

I've learned in my years of counseling that change is not an overnight event. Like water dripping on a stone, ideas heard in counseling wear down resistance after a time if the client keeps showing up,

And this client did.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Priorities


An alcoholic who's been with our program for several months announced last week that he's moving back home.

            "My family's having trouble and I need to help them," he said.

While I didn't try to talk him out of moving - because caring for the family's a noble thing - I believe he's moving prematurely.

He came to the program because he'd failed a urine test and didn't want to lose his job. And his employment was the most important thing to him. In group he talked a lot about his job. He seldom talked about his alcoholism. He regularly said how important it was for him to get back in good with his employer.

My experience, though, has been, that when an addict focuses on the main problem in life – recovery – everything else falls in place. And I say this based on a lot of personal experience.

On many occasions over the years I had great jobs, owned different small businesses, only to give it all up because responsibility interfered with my drinking and drugging.

On one occasion in the seventies I went to the hospital with a broken arm after falling from a tree while under the influence of heroin and alcohol. When my physician told me I should either quit using or sell my tree business, I sold the business. I had my priorities.

After many more years of poor decision making I changed my priority from jobs and money to learning how to live sober. After I made that decision I quit losing jobs and businesses. I've prospered ever since.

I may be wrong. I hope this client has it all together. But my sense of his situation is that his priorities are mixed up.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Legalize Drugs? Yeah.


Today’s news reported new legislation being put together to stop the sale of bath salts and other so-called designer drugs.

While it might seem strange that someone in the recovery would advocate drug legalization, that’s exactly where I’m at on the issue.

And I I take this position for a few reasons.

Number one, our so-called “war on drugs” has been going on for more than half a century. As a result, our prisons are full of sick addicts who committed crimes in pursuit of their addictions. Our government spends mountains of money to warehouse drug offenders. And more money to hunt them down and prosecute them.

These billions of dollars could be better directed to educating and treating addicts. Those employed in enforcement and punishment could retrain in the education and treatment areas – even though saving addicts from themselves might not have the same drama as carrying a Glock and making drug buys.

Some will counter my position by saying that legalization would encourage youngsters to start using or experimenting with drugs. However, the reality is they’re already doing this in middle school.

 Statistics from samhsa.gov report: “In the United States in 2008, almost one third of adolescents aged 12 to 17 drank alcohol in the past year, around one fifth used an illicit drug, and almost one sixth smoked cigarettes.”

The idea that laws prevent drug use is laughable. Anyone reading this blog is only a few miles away from a drug retailer who’ll provide whatever if you have the money.

It’s time for our society to stop this futile war and take an intelligent approach to addiction.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Recovery Story

Last night I shared my recovery story with men at our Glendale facility. The same one I always tell.

It recounts how I spent 42 years drinking and 38 years using drugs before I started to change.

For those who think they are too old to get sober, I tell them I didn't start on the recovery path until I was 51 years old.

I explain to those who fear lack of education will keep them from success that I only had a GED when I went to detox - today I have an advanced degree.

And for those who have health issues I tell them I've had hepatitis C for over 22 years.

I went on to explain that any excuse works if one wants to drink or drug. It’s too hot today. It’s too cold today. Someone looked at me sideways. My back hurts. Any of these will work if we want to get wasted. But if we want to get clean and sober, nothing deters us.

Once we remove drugs and alcohol from our system we can achieve whatever we want.

If was a good meeting and I was grateful to be able to share.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mother's Gratitude

A mother who'd flown in from out-of-state to visit her son sat at my desk with tears in her eyes.

            "Thank you for saving my son," she told me.

While I was moved by her gratitude, all we did was provide a framework for her son to get his life back on track. He took advantage of the opportunity – and did the important work.

One thing people sometimes have difficulty understanding – particularly those not familiar with recovery – is we don’t work miracles. While we have a wonderful recovery structure we can’t do anything with a client who's resistant, who doesn't want help.

There's nothing so wonderful as when a client comes in full of fire and wants to change. And that happens often enough to make this project worthwhile. And while I feel good when a client succeeds, I know our role is limited by the motivation they bring.

In this man's case he was pretty burned out. He was living on a park bench before he came here. His family was done, though they did provide him this last opportunity to change. Rather than trying to make another run in the drug world, he made the most of it.

Does this mean he'll be sober and clean the rest of his life?  It does if he continues to do the things he's doing today.

We wish him and his mother the best.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Building Esteem

I became frustrated while dealing with an alcoholic client who's always apologizing.

            "I want you to make a commitment," I told him.

            "A commitment?"

            "Yes," I told him. "I want you to stop continually apologizing. And go look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself you're okay."

While I know my admonition isn't going to do much for his basic self-esteem, at least he might start taking a look at why he prefaces most comments with an apology. Even though he's aware that he's always saying he's sorry before he speaks, it would help he went beyond that to recognize why he’s doing it..

This client is not much different from others who deal with low self-esteem. Many started using drugs or alcohol because it let them feel - at least temporarily - good about themselves. Drugs and alcohol allowed them to fit in. Something commonly heard at 12 step meetings is the wonder of that first drink or drug. How the addict, for the first time, meshed with the world.

Then came crushing reality. All of a sudden they were a slave to the genie that set them free. They lost their loved ones, who didn't know how to deal with them. They were fired from jobs.. Their health declined. Some went to prison. Or to a psychiatric hospital. They might have started stealing. Maybe they traded their car for crack. The horrible reality of what they had done to themselves was all of a sudden apparent.

Why wouldn't they feel terrible about themselves, about who they’d become? How can we feel good about such a display of poor judgment?  None can be proud of losing everything they value. That's why when we show up our self-esteem is in the toilet.

And how do we rebuild it?  We tell ourselves that while we have lost everything, we’re making the effort to stay sober, to change our lives. We tell ourselves that even though we're at the bottom, we're not running away. We build esteem by recognizing the positive things we’re doing.

Growing our self-esteem is a day-to-day, step-by-step process. It may seem simplistic. But that's where it starts. 

It worked for me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Today a client – who hasn't had a year sober since age ten - is celebrating his one year anniversary of living drug and alcohol free.

He tells of coming into TLC and being told that if he completed a year he wouldn't believe what his life would look like at the end.

Today he’s a manager at TLC, he’s a college student, and he’s evidence that anyone can get sober if they make a decision.

His history is one of walking prison yards for drug-related crimes, of inhabiting crack houses and the mean streets of the drug world in pursuit of his addictions.

Even though he’s been sober a year his path hasn't been easy. He had difficulty with paying for school, but persevered with the help of kindly college administrators.

He has the challenge of doing homework while juggling his responsibilities as a TLC manager.

However, he’s never run away and he’s an example of  what happens when a client perseveres in their recovery.

Happy birthday and many more...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gratitude Check

Today I awaken with gratitude for my sober life.  And I'm 100% convinced that it's difficult to relapse if one has gratitude. 

Often - when I talk to newcomers at the halfway house - they wonder why they should be grateful. Most are broke. They have no job. Some have health issues. Many have lost contact with their family. Others are divorced or separated.

And they give me the crazy look when I say, in response to their circumstances, “Great, this is good point to start rebuilding your life."

Because the reality is that when we've lost everything then we know where our addictions have brought us. 

When we move beyond our self-indulgent, self-centered outlook we can look around us and see many who have it really bad.

Helpless children are suffering from serious diseases. The handicapped are driving down the street in motorized wheelchairs. Homeless are panhandling at the entry of freeways. There are myriad folks in the world who have it very bad – and often they are suffering from mental or physical challenges over which they have no control.

At least those of us dealing with substance abuse have a way out of our issues if we only decide to change.

And for that I’m grateful…

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Up to God


I often write about the rewards of the recovery field. There's no rush, no high, like seeing a former client who's doing well.

And that happened for me again this past week while at a public event where I encountered a TLC graduate. He was sober, well-dressed, healthy looking, and accompanied by an attractive woman. They were smiling and seemed to be having a good time.

Since I didn't know his companion I wasn't going to say anything - even act like I recognized him - unless he approached me first. And he eventually did. He greeted me with enthusiasm and introduced me to his companion.

            "This is one of the people who helped save my life," he said as he introduced us. I thanked him for his kindness and we made small talk for a while.

While this might not seem a big deal, had you known this man several years ago you would realize that he is a living miracle. He was homeless for many years, touring skid rows around the country. When he first came to TLC he barely communicated. He'd sit in counseling sessions not saying anything, nor participating. He had few job skills and even fewer social skills.

But after a few cycles through the program he eventually stuck around for a few years. Slowly he came out of his shell and began to believe he could do better. While most clients don’t achieve success like this man, enough of them succeed to make our mission worthwhile.

It’s heartbreaking to spend time working with someone only to have them relapse and return to their former life.

But our job is to do the work; we leave the results up to God. And in this case he did a good job.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Downward Spiral


Recently we’ve been receiving reports about a Hard Six client who left our Roosevelt property because he didn't want to comply with rules.

Someone brought in copies of mug shots of him - taken when he was booked into Maricopa County Jail for drug related charges.

Another client saw him sleeping on a bus bench on Van Buren Street in Phoenix. He reportedly had been beaten and one side of his face was grotesquely swollen.

While it’s sad to witness his downward spiral, it provides living evidence to the rest of us in recovery that life never gets better when we relapse.

No one’s returned to tell us how good their life became after they started using again.  None show back up with a job, a car, or money. Sometimes they have only the clothes on their backs.

Our wish for this former client is that he'll finally connect the dots and realize his issues in life are related to his substance abuse.

Hopefully he’ll survive to make another run at recovery.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Focusing on Recovery

A Hard Six client was having a difficult day.

He was fretting over a medical situation he had and how he was going to pay for treatment. He was really concerned about his new job assignment – he thought maybe he’d maybe taken someone else's job. His mind was racing a thousand miles a second. Everything was tangled up in a jumbled emotional ball. So much so that his supervisor brought him to me to help calm him down.

And I was able to do that by explaining that the most important thing is that he remain sober. He finally admitted that his best thinking has led him to relapse repeatedly.

I further pointed out that his supervisor and I both focus on the most important thing in life: our sobriety. Because we do that, everything else has worked out for us over the past several years.

This client's not unusual. Many of them start focusing on everything but recovery – right before they relapse. And this client was doing the same thing.

Most of the people I know who're enjoying a successful recovery do pretty much the same thing each day. When they get out of bed in the morning their focus is meditation, their recovery, and gratitude for their sobriety. They realize that without recovery nothing else works.

And conversely, they realize it's pretty much all over if they pick up again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dope House?


I sometimes hear bad things about TLC.

            "It's a dope house," we frequently hear.

            "Everyone's drunk there," is another.

            "My manager sold me drugs," is sometimes heard.

            "The place is filthy and infested with cockroaches," is a favorite.

In the 20 years plus we've been in business I've heard a lot of bad rap about TLC. But it's interesting that none of it ever comes from our successful clients. Nor does it come from families who are happy their loved ones are finally clean and sober.

It always comes from clients who are unable to stay sober. And to me, their negative remarks are understandable. After all, who wants to admit they can't stay sober?

Who's going to tell their mom  "I went to this halfway house that let me in for no money but I couldn't stay sober because I didn't follow their suggestions." 

At one time the Department of Corrections quit letting parolees come to TLC. They told us those parole violators who went before the board claimed our program is full of drugs and they just couldn't stay sober.

DOC finally started sending us clients again when we asked why they expected a violator to tell the truth about why they started drinking or drugging again..

We also pointed out that our society is awash in drugs – even the prisons and jails. While we spend some $20,000 a year on drug screens it still doesn't deter some addicts - those who not serious about recovery – from trying to get by our system.

I usually challenge those who believe these addicts to pay  us a visit. Or, better yet, check in anonymously and see what’s going on.

We have beds available.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Karma


I understand karma to mean that what comes around goes around.

And because I can be a resentful alcoholic, I sometimes think karma doesn’t happen fast enough. That people don’t get their just desserts in a timely fashion – like right when they screw up.

So this week, when the karmic locomotive finally crushed someone I thought was long overdue for justice, my reaction was a psychic letdown.

Instead of being elated that this person had finally received what many thought she had coming, I instead had a sense of sadness.

Because of her actions she lost her professional credentials, essentially costing her a business she’d built over several years.

Her trouble started after she’d achieved some success and began treating others as inferiors, often berating and talking down to them.  And everyone was a target – from waiters to business associates. She was even convicted a few years ago for assaulting a fellow manager.

I guess sadness comes because I hate to see someone waste precious time. This woman had earned two degrees, and possessed the qualities to be a success at whatever she chose - had she chosen a different path.

But for some reason she could never deal with the personal issues and anger that eventually swept her from her pedestal of arrogance.

I hope she can build from here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Carrying the Message?


All kinds show up at 12 step meetings – just like in the rest of the world.

Some say stupid things. But most of those are newcomers who don't know how to behave when they first get into the rooms. They still don’t realize they haven't much to offer about staying sober.

Then there are those who've been around for years.  And for some reason they still haven't learned how to behave either. Again, just like the real world.

For example, yesterday a fellow showed up who's been sober – according to him – for a couple of decades plus.  He projects a larger-than-life persona. He’s bombastic and self-aggrandizing. And whenever he comes into the rooms he's the center of attention because he's so loud.  Some interpret his loudness as anger.

Indeed, at the meeting yesterday, after this person shared, a newcomer asked if he was "angry," because he was speaking so loudly. And the fellow said "no," that he was just "passionate."

Whatever the case, I believe that those of us who've been sober for a while must be an example for newcomers. We might conduct ourselves so that others want what we have to offer.  Mr. Legend may be well-intentioned and believe he is carrying the message. However, he does it in a manner that draws negative attention.

Had I met him when I first got sober I would've thought maybe these 12 step meetings are not for me. However, I was fortunate. I was able to meet business people and others who carried themselves with a quiet self-confidence – and who showed gratitude for what they had gotten in the rooms. They never tried to draw unnecessary attention to themselves and they carried the message in an articulate and intelligent manner – in a way that made me want what they had to offer.

While I may sound judgmental, I don't believe I should use 12 step meetings as the palette to work out my frustration or to enhance my ego.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Losing Credibility


When a manager disappeared the other day, after forging some checks and stealing money from TLC, someone asked if I was angry. Well, I wasn't happy. But after so many years I realize it's the nature of business and that people can be dishonest.

I've been asked before why I trust addicts and alcoholics to handle our money. But reality is that employees sometimes steal. And I believe that we lose a lot less than Wal-Mart and other big chains. I've heard they lose as much as 3 to 4% to theft – much of it by employees.

To me, the bigger loss is credibility. Because this person was a manager, newcomers looked at her as a role model of sorts. And when the newcomer sees a manager steal, they sometimes wonder if recovery really works.

But my response is always the same: if a manager or another person in recovery is not working a program most anything can happen. Over the years we've seen employees stop going to meetings and talking to their sponsors. And the next thing you know they're high or drunk. And sometimes, on top of that, they steal from us.

We don't get excited about things like this. We do what any businessperson does – we call the police and file a report. We always prosecute those who steal from us. And more than one former employee has gone to jail or prison.

Also, because our mission is to help substance abusers change their lives, we've taken them back into the program. In fact, we have a man who stole from us a few years ago working for us today in a very responsible position where he handles money. He's been sober for a few years and is doing quite well.

Sometimes addicts must go through relapse and other challenges before they change.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Set them Free...


“If you love something set it free. And if it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it…”   Author unknown

An alcoholic was upset with his girlfriend who had cut him loose over who knows what.  The quote above - a humorous twist on an old saying - reminds me of his response. It seems like he really cared about her and the idea that she had cut him loose is something he found unacceptable.

Apparently he began – according to her – sending endless e-mails and leaving innumerable voice messages. And all to no avail. After the barrage of communications she wanted even less to do with him.

I've seen this situation more than once in the 21+  years I've been sober. An addict or alcoholic is sober for a while, and then falls in love with the woman of his dreams. But maybe it doesn't work out after a while. And rather than move on, those of us with a fragile alcoholic/addict ego are crushed. Instead of looking at the situation objectively we take it personally, thinking something is wrong with us. And we often spend a lot of time in fruitless attempts to figure out what we did wrong and to get back with our former lover.

When those I sponsor get into this situation I explain to them that - even for sober people - relationships are volatile. Why else do we have a divorce rate of over 50% in our country? Living with another person and being consistently kind and generous and understanding is not easy. But for a self-centered, self-absorbed alcoholic or addict it can often be near impossible.

That's probably why we hear in the rooms that we shouldn't get into a new relationship for at least a year after we are sober.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Present


“Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present….”  Unknown

To fully appreciate our recovery we must live in the moment. Many of us, once we get into recovery, try to play catch-up. We owe for back child support. We’ve overdrawn our credit cards, if we still have a credit card. We owe the IRS.  We have no driver’s license because we owe thousands for unpaid traffic violations.

Because of this pile of wreckage we drag into recovery we sometimes are under pressure.

The reality is we may never catch up. While it's important to make amends for past transgressions, it's also important to enjoy the moments of our recovery.
After all, what was our addiction about?  Our addiction was a way to escape the moment. We didn't like who - or where - we were. We thought smoking crack or slamming down some alcohol would make us feel better. But it was always a fleeting and unsatisfying solution.

So how to live in the moment? We enjoy our day. As we walk out the door in the morning we take a deep breath of fresh air as we thank God for another 24 hours. As we get into our morning workout routine we’re thankful for our health.  Instead of inhaling our food we savor each bite – acknowledging God for providing.

We enjoy our commute  – being thankful for the great roads we use to get there. We appreciate the power beneath our feet – power our ancestors could have only dreamed about.

As we work we marvel at the technology that makes our lives easier. We acknowledge and lift up those we work with, thanking them for helping us with our daily projects.

We are totally immersed in the moments of our lives.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Keeping On


A newer client came to my office and said he felt like relapsing. He was depressed because a manager he looked up to had relapsed - and took company money with him when he left.  The client wasn't sure recovery worked if someone he had put on a pedestal had relapsed.

I explained that I'd gone through the same thing in early recovery. I was living in a local halfway house when one of my roommates didn't return one night. He'd been there for several months longer than I and was one of my role models because he'd been sober so long. We'd spent hours talking recovery.

And like this client, my whole foundation was rocked. When a man I really admired relapsed how could someone with my inexperience possibly stay sober? So I took it to my sponsor and he set me straight.

He used an analogy that likened recovery to being in a war. He said when we're fighting the enemy, and one of our fellow soldiers is wounded, we try to help. But if we can't help, then we move on and try to save ourselves. We move onward.

I shared this analogy with our client because it helped me.  Our client agreed he couldn't help the manager who'd left. He could only help himself by following 12-step recovery principles.

As long as we work - they work

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Giving is the Gift


 “A little fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses.” Chinese proverb

We learn in the 12-step program about carrying the message. And the gift, of course, is that when we’re carrying the message we’re reinforcing our own recovery while helping another human being.

At one time my alcoholism didn’t allow me to accept help. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to be obligated. Maybe I didn’t want anyone to get that close to me. Maybe I was too arrogant and independent to accept help. 

Today, though, I accept help from anyone who offers it. I don’t want to deprive them of the rewards they get when they do something for someone else.

When we give from our heart – without underlying motivation – it is truly an act of love no matter how small the gift.

Sometimes our clients say they have nothing to give. But that’s not so. We can offer a newcomer directions to a meeting. We can share a job lead. We can welcome them to the program and let them know there’s hope.

These small gifts not only help them, they also enrich our lives.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Living in the Past

An angry client spent about twenty minutes telling about how he'd been done wrong by his ex-wife. He said she hadn't lived up to their divorce agreement. She violated the child custody agreement.  She’d taken their house, and on-and-on.  This bitter divorce left him unable to trust people.

Because his anger seemed intense, I asked how long ago this had happened.  He said the divorce occurred 22 years earlier. And when I asked why he was still hanging onto the anger he began to explain the situation to me again, as if I hadn't understood the first time.

I tried to convince him that I knew he'd been done wrong. And that he had justifiable reason to feel terrible about how he'd been treated. 

But then what? Why was he hanging onto it 20 years later?  Does it serve him well to let anger fester in his heart? He seemed baffled - like maybe he hadn't communicated the magnitude of what had happened to him. He was that entrenched in the anger that had become such a part of his life.

Many addicts and alcoholics can’t let go of the past.  There’s no doubt that many of us were damaged and done wrong by family and others as we grew up. But what’s the point of worshiping each day at a shrine built of angry memories?

We waste precious moments of our lives when we pay homage to the past by dwelling on our anger.  

Let's live in this moment and enjoy the miracle of being alive.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Health is a Gift


After running into a young acquaintance at the fitness center this morning I was reminded to be grateful for my life today.

This man, not yet 30 years old, was diagnosed with leukemia earlier in the summer. And this morning was his first day back at the gym. He was maybe 20 pounds lighter, but the expression on his face said he was really happy to be back.

He described his initial shock when he was told he had leukemia. All of a sudden life was upside down. He could no longer run his business. He would need to undergo chemotherapy while a search was started for a bone marrow donor.

He and his wife went from being a typical young working couple trying to get ahead in life - to living in a hospital room while he underwent endless tests, probes, and chemo. He said that suddenly what was important in life came into focus.

 The important things became his family and friends.

Today I thank God for health. And I pray my young friend has a fast recovery.