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, November 30, 2012

Powerful Addiction


A recovering alcoholic I've known for many years – a heavy smoker – went to the hospital last week and underwent 12 hours of surgery to replace heart valves. 

He'd originally gone to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing due to the onset of emphysema and COPD.  While dealing with the emphysema, doctors discovered the issues with his heart.

I remember many years ago talking to this man, now in his mid-50s, about the devastating effects of smoking. His reply was that he given up drinking and drugs but he wasn't going to give up the one thing that still gave him pleasure: smoking.

Smoking is something that I still have an obsession about. My mother, my brother, three aunts, two uncles, and several cousins died prematurely from emphysema and COPD – all smoking-related. One cousin died at 43 years old, suffocating from emphysema. And I know that if I hadn't quit over 28 years ago I myself would've succumbed prematurely.

The American Lung Association reports:

"Three decades ago, public outrage killed an automobile model (Ford's Pinto) whose design defects allegedly caused 59 deaths. Yet every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined.

Approximately 440,000 people die from their own smoking each year, and about 50,000 die from second-hand smoke annually.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 22,073 people died of alcohol, 12,113 died of AIDS, 43,664 died of car accidents, 38,396 died of drug use — legal and illegal — 18,573 died of murder and 33,300 died of suicide.

That brings us to a total of 168,119 deaths, far less than the 440,000 that die from smoking annually."

Facts like these don't carry much weight with a nicotine addict. In my case quitting nicotine was far more difficult than quitting heroin – something I'd done more than two dozen times in 40 years. Yet quitting cigarettes saved my life and added quality to my years.

In the recovery community smoking addiction is inverse to that of the general population. 80% of recovering people smoke: approximately 20% of the general population smokes.

I encourage my brothers and sisters in recovery to take the final step to an addiction free life by quitting tobacco.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reflection


"We're like the cat that looks at the world through mouse colored glasses - all it sees is mice."  -Author Unknown

A client complained of how tired she was of living at the main woman's compound because of all the "drama."

She said the women there were continually gossiping, arguing, and putting each other down. She said she wanted to be moved to a smaller house so she wouldn't have to put up with that behavior - she was sick of it.

She was kind of taken aback when I suggested she might look at the situation in a different manner.  I told her she could probably eliminate a lot of the drama if she eliminated it from her own mind.

I explained that when there's drama in my life, that's what I see in others. If I'm peaceful  then I  find that people are peaceful.  If I'm loving then I find loving people.   Normally, whoever I am internally seems to be what the world is all about.

Our world reflects back what we are inside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perfect World?


Yesterday was one of those crazy days.

Maybe it started because at aftercare Monday evening I was talking about how we live in a perfect world. I repeated my belief that everything in God's world is exactly is supposed to be at the moment. Did something emanate from that statement? Maybe a test of how much I really believe what I said?

The day started normally enough, with a visit to the gym. But somewhere between there and my house I misplaced my wallet with all of my credit cards, drivers license and some cash. I'm sure it's probably somewhere in a cranny around the house. But I had to start the day without money or credit card or driver's license.

And from there the day became really strange. A meeting with an insurance provider didn't have the desired results. Then a nail in a tire.  After that a client was having difficulty adjusting to the program and had to be taken to a psychiatric hospital. Another client who was reportedly sleep walking and keeping other clients awake half the night had to be moved. Managers at one of the properties were suspected of stealing – or at the very least allowing security to become so lax that clients were able to steal money and property.

Sandwiched between the above were normal business things that take up most of a typical day. The result was a 14 hour non-stop day.

Do I still think we live in a perfect world?  Yes…

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Genuine Commitment


A new client was sharing at a meeting about he found his way to TLC from the East Coast.

                “I went to the TLC website and liked what I saw,” he said.  “Next thing I knew I’d sold my house and was on the Greyhound headed to Arizona.”

Some three days after boarding the bus he awakened from a slumber and looked out the window at nothing but desert.  Looking over the barren landscape he asked himself what the flip he'd been thinking by getting rid of everything and going to a state he knew nothing about.

However, a powerful motivation was to get away from family and friends – most of them addicts, alcoholics and criminals.  So he stayed on the bus and continued to his goal because he knew he could never get sober back home.

This man’s story is an example of the kind of wholehearted commitment it takes to get onto the path of  recovery. There’s little doubt that if he stays the course he’ll enjoy a clean and sober future.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Giving Back

A professional therapist with nearly two decades of experience was discussing a young client on her caseload who was “driving her crazy.”

The client had relapsed several times over a three month period.  She kept blowing up the therapist’s phone with normal addict drama.  She’d been assaulted.  For a time she lived in an alley. She couldn't get into detox. The hospital wouldn't take her. And on and on...

In addition, her family was calling nearly daily from the East Coast – either to get updates or to relate conversations they’d had with her in the middle of the night.

When I asked why she didn't assign the client to another counselor or take other measures she said she couldn't do that.

She explained that 25 years ago, when she was in her own addiction, she had many of the same issues as this young woman.  She’d been jailed and in and out of recovery more than once. She’d caused a lot of heartbreak.

But even though her parents, grandparents and counselors were frustrated and talked of giving up on her – they never did.

Because of the support she got from those around her she’s sober today.  And she wants  to try to help this young client get to the same place.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Killing Himself


A former client who’s been with TLC several times called from the hospital room where he and his alcoholic girlfriend were being treated for alcohol poisoning.

                “You guys are right,” he said to the manager who took the call. “My relationship with this woman’s going to kill me.” And he’s probably right.

In my opinion this man has one issue in his life: his alcoholism.  When he first came to us several years ago it was from a corporate job with a nation-wide company. He was relatively healthy looking.  His brain seemed intact.  And he had a decent personality.

Then he met an attractive woman 20 years his junior at a 12-step meeting. And it was on. Before long he left and they were drinking buddies.

Each  time he’d return and start working a decent recovery program she’d call and blow in his ear. That’s all it took. Even though he was prohibited from communicating with her the last few times he was in the program he’d find some way to be in touch. And not long after they’d be drunk together.

One of the last things he said before he left is that he was worried about her and wanted to go help her. I’m afraid the kind of help he’s giving her could kill them both.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Life's Lessons


While leaving my office yesterday I encountered a man shuffling toward me, his arm dangling at his side. He struggled to put words together as he introduced himself.

As he explained his condition he told me the day he left TLC three years earlier he’d injected a large dose of methamphetamines and had a stroke that paralyzed his right side.

He went on to describe the challenges he had in learning to speak and walk on his own again.  While he still hasn’t fully recovered, he says he wants to stay away from drugs and rebuild his life.

After we parted I reflected on the many TLC clients over the years who’ve had experiences like this man – or worse.

And he reminded me of how blessed am to be sober these many years. Once I got into the 12-step programs and started enjoying some of the early benefits of recovery I never looked back -  for which I'm grateful.

Talking to this man yesterday reaffirms that getting sober-and staying sober- was one of the best things I ever did.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Changing Perspective


A new client was lamenting yesterday about how his ex-wife and her attorney had taken “everything” from him – including his business, his home and his car.  He was angry and wanted his stuff back.

But he kind of changed his perspective after I pointed out that most clients in our program have had “stuff.” 

Some have had great jobs. We’ve been married to great partners. We’ve owned homes.  Maybe we went to college. Perhaps we had a small business.  And though we might not like to admit it, we threw it away for drugs and alcohol.  And for us real addicts, it happened over and over again.

For many new men in our program, the initial issue always seems to be jobs and money. But our message is that once we get clean and sober we find we have everything we need.

And after a period of sobriety many discover that it doesn’t take nearly as much to live when we’re not wasting money on drugs and alcohol.  Soon we have a bank account, clothing, maybe even a car.

Before we know it we have our “stuff” back and more. Then we come to realize that the most important thing in our life is the recovery from which our blessings flow.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Thanksgiving is about gratitude. And gratitude is the road most of us in recovery travel on a daily basis.

Gratitude is a regular topic at 12-step meetings. And it’s the first thing to go before we relapse. Because having gratitude is incompatible with relapse – we lose it to pave the way to pick up again.

As I go through this day I reflect on the many things for which I’m grateful.
  • I’m happily married to a lovely woman. 
  • My children are healthy and stay in touch.
  • I have close friends to help – and who help me. 
  • At 73 I’m blessed with health that allows me to work in multiple business operations. 
  • Our employees and volunteers are gifts from God – without them none of what we do at TLC would be possible.
My gratitude is to all those who help create this dream life that I enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Back


Today I saw another example of what makes TLC work.

A new client, who was referred to us today from a local hospital, was obviously confused and anxious about coming into a new facility that he knew nothing about.  His discomfort was apparent to all of us and we did our best to welcome him.

Then a few hours later, when I returned to my office to complete a project, I noticed a client sitting with him in front of the housing units, orienting the newcomer to our facility.

The interesting part of this is that the man helping the newcomer had only been with TLC for a month himself. Yet, already he was starting to give back, to carry the message to others.

A core function of recovery is carrying the message to newcomers, which is what this client was spontaneously doing on his own.

TLC has functioned this way for over 20 years – addicts helping other addicts. And it was pleasing to see the growth in a client who's only been with us for a month.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

R.I.P.

A 47 year old former TLC client was killed instantly last week when she walked in front of a commercial truck on Highway 60 in Superior, Arizona.

A police investigator said she was “impaired by marijuana and pain medication.”  Other witnesses said she was “intoxicated.”

I remember her from a few aftercare sessions she attended. She was a pleasant and grateful woman who sought help after learning she couldn't stay clean and sober on her own. She participated in groups and was supportive of program activities.

But after she left she apparently stopped using the tools we gave her.  We give clients the guarantee that if they follow the guidelines we give them they'll stay clean and sober. But they have to do the work.

Our wishes and prayers are with the loved ones she left behind.

 Rest in peace Elaine.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Miracles Happen


The speaker at Sunday morning’s 12-step meeting is a living example of the miracles that happen when an addict or alcoholic decides to change.

His epiphany came when he awoke early one morning in a cheap Van Buren Street motel to find a noose dangling from the rafters.  As he cleared his head he recalled placing the rope there the night before.  He'd planned to kill himself because he was sick of where his addictions had taken him.

Instead of placing the rope around his neck he broke down in tears as he realized how far down he’d gone. He asked God for help and within a few hours found himself in a halfway house where he spent more than a year getting his life back on track.

Today he’s a respected manager at a company he’d worked for years ago, a job he'd left after threatening to kick his supervisor’s butt.

One of his close friends today is his former wife, who at one time had a restraining order against him. He also has a good relationship with his children and sees them on a regular basis.

His powerful message resonated with everyone at the meeting.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Loving Parents


Sometimes in this blog I gently beat up on doting parents who enable their children by providing support that isn’t helping them get clean and sober.

 While I’m not changing my attitude about enabler parents I must acknowledge that – even though they may be misguided – they almost always come from a place of caring and love.

And sometimes when I talk to these parents or write about what they’re all going through I emphasize the tough love part and perhaps don’t acknowledge how much they care.

Over the past 20 years I’ve talked to parents who have literally spent their retirement money trying to save their children from themselves – almost always without success.

The message I give them is that the sooner they quit supporting the addiction, the quicker their loved one will seek help.

But usually- misguided love gets in the way and sobriety doesn’t happen until a few more years down a bumpy road.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Secondary Victims


At TLC we regularly encounter primary victims of drugs – clients who’ve been streaming through our doors for 21 years. And while I see the impact on our clients and their families I seldom think of the effect drug use has others in the world.

But today, while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I talked with a housekeeper who’s a secondary victim of drugs – a woman who was forced to leave her hometown of Acapulco with her family because the drug battles there have left the town – in her words – “quebrado.” (broken)

She said that while there have been periods of tranquility in the resort city, the publicity about several gang shootouts over the past few years have scared tourists away. And it has been the death knell for a city that has subsisted for years on tourism. Subsequently, jobs for families like hers have disappeared.

Fortunately, she and her family were able to migrate to this peaceful area of Mexico and find new jobs in the tourist industry.

While there’s not much practical value in this kind of information, it brings an added perspective to the scope of what we’ve been dealing with the past 21 years.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurting Others


The grandmother was on the phone, bewildered and in pain. Once more her granddaughter had relapsed- after a few months of being clean.  But this time, instead of doing it in her hometown on the East Coast, she was 2000 miles across the country in Arizona.

Completely out of reach of the family. And because she picked up again, she’s out of reach of anyone’s help until her disease forces her to seek help again.

For over 20 years we've dealt with this scenario: loved ones calling, trying to make sense of a cruel disease that grants no mercy to those who don’t fight it with every tool at their disposal. And even then, once sober and clean, it lurks in the shadows waiting for a moment of weakness so it can strike again.

Sometimes they think we’re cruel or unfeeling because we suggest they don’t send money or support while their loved one is using.  But we say this because few of us changed until drinking and drugging took us to our knees.
Once we suffered enough we understood on a gut level that living sober was less painful than being broke, sick, in jail, homeless and on and on…

I pray that this grandmother one day has a clean and sober granddaughter in her life so her love for this child won’t be wasted.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We are Blessed


I had a gratitude check today here in Puerto Vallarta while driving back to the hotel when I had to pause for a man who was struggling to cross the street.

He was probably in his fifties and was traveling on a homemade cart that kind of resembled an oversized skate board. Most of the lower half of his body was missing. He was sweating as he pushed himself slowly along with two short sticks that he pushed into the ground to propel the cart forward.

It touches my heart when I see someone with his challenges struggling to do things most of us take for granted – like the simple act of crossing the street.

While I can’t recall being ungrateful for anything in years, seeing this man emphasized the many blessings I have in my life.

Though life is not a comparison game, I believe we can all look at our lives and find others who don't have near the blessings we have.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Family Values


While on vacation in Mexico I was talking to a man who'd returned to live in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago. Several years earlier he'd gone to the United States to work and finish high school. After high school he’d found a job that allowed him to send money home to his family.

But he said he'd returned after his large extended family decided the most important thing was not that the children live in the United States and send money. The important thing was to be connected, regardless of how little or how much money they had. So the family returned.

This man's story interested me because of a study I read last week that showed Mexico as one of the happiest countries in the world – actually number six. And where was the United States? It was somewhere around 23 or 24.  Hmmm....

As a person in recovery, who works as a substance abuse counselor, I have an interest in values and what brings happiness.  And when I read something about a culture that’s rated as one of the happiest on earth I become curious. Maybe there’s something here that I can impart to a client to help him or her look at their lives differently.

This happy man I met found that his wealth was his relationship with his family. What are your values?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serendipity in Paradise


After being sober for over twenty years I normally live in a state of serenity – at least 90% of the time.

However, my serenity was threatened last Saturday when we arrived at the Mexican resort we normally stay at, only to find that the condo we’d reserved was unavailable.

I was disappointed at this unexpected turn of events because we’d booked this vacation a month earlier. However, I kind of took a deep breath, and then asked the receptionist if we should find another hotel.

But he said no, that the reason the rooms were unavailable in the ocean view wing we’d reserved was because they were being refurbished. He said in the meantime he could put us another section of the resort that had been recently refurbished. But it didn’t have an ocean view. Instead, the second story condo overlooked the marina at the rear of the property.

We didn’t have great expectations about the new location, but decided to not let anything interfere with us getting a much needed break. And he promised to move us to the unit we’d reserved when an opening became available.

When we got to the unit we were amazed. It was much bigger than the one we’d reserved. And it had a stunning second floor view of the marina, with yachts, sailboats, and fishing vessels passing on a regular basis.

A forty foot deck went around the front of the unit, and there was a postcard view from the floor to ceiling windows.  It even had a washer and dryer, something the other units never offered.

So, of course, we told them to forget the about the unit we’d reserved. We’re just fine where we’re at.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sad Call


A sad aspect of our job is when we talk to parents and relatives who are looking for their loved ones – clients who have once been in our program but left to go back to pursue their addictions. Their pain and anxiety is obvious, even when they try to mask it with false bravado.

It happened again today with a mother looking for a client who left our program. Did we know where her daughter had gone?  When had we last seen her? Did we have a phone number for her? Did we know her friends?  She seemed reluctant to hang up, maybe because we were the last contact she had for her daughter.

While we knew nothing of her daughter's whereabouts, we assured her we'd let her know if we heard anything.

This call once again reminded me of the cruel insensitivity with which we treat our loved ones once we relapse back into our disease.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Luck = Hard Work

As I was leaving my office for vacation, a client told me how "lucky" I am to be able to get away for a week. And, of course, I agreed with him.

But then I paused to explain to him that my being able to go on vacation is also the culmination of over 21 years of sobriety and hard work – not just because I'm "lucky."

Some think that others’ good fortune is the result of something outside themselves, such as luck. My experience is that the harder I work – the more I persevere - the luckier I get.

Once I got clean and sober I found that my so-called luck improved. People noticed what I was doing with my life. As people learned that I was able to keep my word they offered me more business opportunities.

People who wouldn't look at me when I was using began loaning money and extending credit. After a period of sobriety others believed I’d succeed.

And it wasn’t necessarily an altruistic thing on their part. They wanted to align themselves with a winner, someone who could help them make money. And that happened for them. But it happened only because I've been able to maintain sobriety for 21 years.

I believe 90% of success is because we show up each day. Maybe we aren’t always on the top of our game. But we persevere no matter what.

And the result is what our client views as "luck."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Calling for Help...


It's in their voices. The ones who call to get help for a loved one. They're usually hesitant, sometimes their voices are small, almost like they're not sure they're doing right thing.

Even though some try to mask who they're talking about, within moments I know it’s about a loved one. Maybe a son.  A daughter. Could be a husband or wife.

And I try to help them because I sense their pain, their lack of understanding of addiction or alcoholism. I can usually tell that the realization has finally set upon them that they're not dealing with anything logical - or within their ability to deal with alone. They know there’s a monster in their midst, the addiction and alcoholism that has created chaos in the lives of their loved ones – and themselves.

Many have spent money on expensive recovery programs. Some have tried tough love. Many have tried everything, including supporting drug habits to keep their loved ones from going through withdrawals.

As gently as possible I suggest that the one who should be calling me is the one who needs help. But with most it's too early for them to be confrontational. And the confrontation usually is not with the addict anyway. It's usually with the callers themselves. It's tough to accept the idea that forcing someone to be responsible is a form of love.

And then there's always a tiny fear, deep in their heart, that the addict will no longer love them if they take a stronger position.  Yet that stronger position might save a life.


Friday, November 9, 2012

War Stories


A friend who's been sober for years called to tell me how bad he felt because he'd engaged in swapping war stories with a new acquaintance.

After they talked for a few minutes it turned out they'd known many of the same people back in the day. They'd been in the same prisons, though at different times. They were familiar with the same drug areas, the same players. For twenty minutes or so it was about the people they knew from those days and some of the adventures they'd engaged in.

Several hours later the friend called to say how bad he felt. He's been in recovery a long time and doesn't feel these kinds of conversations are productive. Or that they enhance his recovery. Yet every once in a while, almost unwittingly, he lapses into these kind of discussions. And he never leaves them feeling good about himself.

It's easy to relate. In recovery we live our lives a day at a time. We no longer reflect on the dubious accomplishments of our past. Nor do we spend a lot of time fantasizing about the future. We stay firmly grounded in the present, because that's what we have to deal with.

In my own case, I try not to get into discussions about the past in any way that might glorify those days. I quit doing that when I discovered that after this kind of conversations I felt like I needed a shower. I think I quit having these conversations when I realized I really did a lot of stupid things before I got sober, things I wasn't proud of..

Today I want to spend my time on the positive and uplifting.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

How'd that Work Out?


For the past few weeks a client had been saying he wanted to get high. And - although several of us suggested that wouldn't be the best idea - he finally went out anyway.

At the time we realized he was reaching out, that he was trying to get us to provide a good reason to not to pick up. However, he finally made the move and smoked meth with a former resident who'd left a month earlier.

For a few days after he left we'd get text messages saying he wanted to go to a detox.  And when we would offer to give him a ride he’d promise to call back. We finally did connect with him and help him get into a hospital.

This client's situation is not at all unusual. Often times newcomers want to get high. And many do just that. And some of them don't return so we never hear what happened to them. And there are others who realize that they did something that wasn't in their best interests. So they stay touch with the managers and other friends in the program - perhaps hoping that they will be able to return.

But the addicts who do return never give glowing reports of their using experiences. It’s always a story of how bad they felt about relapsing.  About guilt.  About letting others down.  About feeling demoralized. About having to start over.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Self Defense?


A client knocked off his bicycle when a homeless man shoved a shopping cart into him said he was so angry that when he picked himself up from the roadway he punched the man. Later he felt terrible about the confrontation.

When he talked about this in group a few clients felt he’d done the right thing by punching the man.  After all, wasn't he defending himself?

However, the facilitator pointed out that the law doesn't consider it self-defense to hit someone if it’s possible to run away.

As the group continued the discussion revolved around the effect of such incidents on our recovery. After all, the recovery literature says “we ceased fighting anyone or anything…”  Something that might be in the book to suggest we avoid the drama that swirled about us when we were drinking and drugging.

Yet another client spoke of the potential danger in any violent confrontation.  Too often in such situations one of the parties uses a weapon, something that might have disastrous consequences.

Part of having serenity is to enjoy peace in all areas of our lives. Avoiding unnecessary conflict is one way to have that peace.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Responsibility?


When a client who'd relapsed was discharged from TLC his mother called to complain.

She said he wouldn't have relapsed had we not placed someone in his room who’d recently come off drugs. She said the new resident was a bad influence on her son and that's why he got high. She made no mention of the fact that he might have a modicum of responsibility for his own drug and alcohol use.

Of course I immediately recognized that the mother was likely one of the reasons the young man had the view of life that he did. On one hand, he acted as if he had it all together, on the other he wouldn't accept  responsibility for himself. And apparently that included his recovery.

At one point, once he was further along in the program, he requested permission to seek a part time-job during the mornings. After consulting with his counselor and other team members it was determined that this would be a good idea, a way for him to start assuming responsibility.

However, as soon as he was given permission he had a lot of reasons why he couldn't find a job. He didn't have bus fare. He didn't have a bicycle. His feet hurt when you walked for a long. And a short time later he relapsed again.

While I recognize that it's tough for parents to place responsibility on their children, he will never confront his addiction until he's on his own with no one to rescue him each time he relapses.

In my own case, I didn't change until people stopped helping me. Once everyone cut me loose because of my addictions I began to recognize that I was the source of my problems. A short time later, I began the process of getting into recovery.

It was painful to have to admit I was responsible – but once I realized that my whole life changed. I hope the same thing can happens for this young man.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Doing what Works

A man who recently relapsed after attaining six months' sobriety spoke at a 12-step meeting this week.

He said when he would hear someone talk about relapsing after 10 or more years sober he would follow them outside after the meeting to ask how that happened . Invariably the answer was that they'd stopped talking to their sponsor. And stopped going to meetings. In other words, they quit doing the things that kept them sober for so long.

And, he said, the same thing happen to him. He quit going to meetings, lost touch with his sponsor, and within a matter of weeks chugged down a pint of whiskey. He doesn't remember much of what happened after he opened the bottle. He knows he had some kind of accident, because when he came to he had blood on his head and was in the emergency room.

He talked as if the experience had humbled him, made him more amenable to working the program as it was laid out to him.

And he plans to continue going to meetings and talking to his sponsor.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Focus on Recovery


A new client - recently released from the hospital after being in a month long coma from a drug overdose - was talking about his issues.

He wanted to get back to work. His wardrobe was lost. He was trying get in touch with his family. He needed dental work. He was concerned about depression medication. However, nowhere on his list was there a mention of living clean and sober.

Like many clients, this man was more concerned about dealing with the results of his addiction than with the addiction itself. I explained that if he focuses on the one major problem he has – his disease – the things he's concerned about will no longer be issues.

When I got clean and sober almost 22 years ago my burning desire was to live sober. I did menial day labor jobs. I rode a bicycle or took the bus. I shopped at second-hand stores. And I went to lots of 12-step meetings.  I had a laser focus on sobriety that remains with me today.

And good things happened:

  • I re-united with my family.
  • I started a non-profit and several related businesses - even though I had no money.
  • I acquired several piece of real estate - with little money and no credit.
  • Within 12 years I went from a GED to a Master’s Degree.
  • At 17 years sober I fell in love with the woman of my dreams, a beautiful psychologist who today is my wife.
  • And, earlier this year, using my wife’s inspiration, we started an outpatient clinic under TLC’s corporate umbrella.

But all of these blessings came only after I was firmly grounded in recovery.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Safe Recovery Environment


New business operations often bring new challenges. And this is something we're experiencing with TLC's new outpatient treatment clinic.

For example, we often get referrals from hospitals for clients on psychiatric medications. And we readily accept them as long as they’re stable and also have a substance abuse diagnosis.

But sometimes these clients don't work out because they have more psychiatric issues than we're able to deal with. And in these instances we refer them to another facility for further treatment, or back to the referral source.

Most of the time when these clients arrive they appear normal and behave well. But in the last month we’ve had two clients with a psychiatric diagnosis who've come in and been disruptive.

In the case of a recent referral, the woman was hallucinating and thought the staff was “out to get her.” When we confirmed that she was taking her medication but was still out of control, we discharged her to a more appropriate setting.

When clients pose a threat to the serenity or recovery of others we deal with it right away. If the client can’t – or won’t - modify the offensive behavior our only choice is to refer them elsewhere.

Part of what we offer is a safe and secure environment for all of our clients so they can make progress in their recovery.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Nice Surprise


I had a pleasant surprise one evening this week while delivering a client - who was having an emotional meltdown - to a psychiatric facility.

After turning the client over to an attendant, I was on the way out the door when a woman called my name. When I turned around, there was a former client who'd worked in our office about a year ago.

            "I have a year sober now," she said proudly, shaking my hand. "And I have this great job helping other people."

She had a smile on her face, and radiated joy, as she shared her success with me. It was one of those moments, at the end of a long day, that was so rewarding.

She's another example of what we do it TLC. This woman came to us after serving a prison term for drug offenses. She had three children for whom she was responsible. She was still on parole. She'd never been able to successfully put together a period of sobriety. And while she gave us credit for helping her, the reality is that she took advantage of the structure we offer and made the changes herself.

The best payoff is when we see someone in action, someone living a sober life.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Changes


When I mentioned to a client that we'd be holding groups in another section of the building she had a visible reaction.

When I asked what was going on, she replied "it's just that I hate changes."

Her response, I think, is a pretty normal reaction among us humans – whether we're addicts or not.

When I get into a comfort zone and the world intervenes for whatever reason, I hate to change. And it always happens at an inconvenient time. Yet the recovery process encompasses continual change for it to be successful.

I read or heard somewhere that the only thing I can count on in life is change. That things will be different in the next hour. Or different tomorrow. Different next year. I was also told that if I grasp this concept and incorporate into my being that I won't be surprised when change occurs..

Because I like order and discipline, I've had to change my thinking about interruptions and the small emergencies that occur when working with recovering addicts.

Rarely a day goes by that someone doesn't have a medical appointment, needs a ride to the pharmacy, or has a sudden issue that must be dealt with immediately. To have equanimity and serenity I go to the office with an expectation that there'll be interruptions.

Change just occurs.