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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

What's your Mission?

A woman speaking at a meeting today said she was at loose ends many years earlier when she was drinking and doing drugs.

It was only after she was sober a while that she developed a purpose in life – a mission.

She makes a wonderful point – one I don't often hear at meetings.

When we were drinking and using our mission was to be out of our minds all the time – at least that was the mission I pursued when I was conscious.

She said when she got sober her mission became just that:  to remain sober and carry the message to other alcoholics and addicts.

Her pursuit of that mission has kept her sober for the many years she’s been in the program.

Her message makes a point that can be applied in anyone’s life – not only alcoholics in recovery.

The point is that all of us, like our speaker, need a purpose in life.

Whether our mission is sobriety, going to school, raising a family, learning a trade or breaking a world record,  the mission is what keeps our heart beating.  It makes us want to put our feet on the floor in the morning.

My mission is to stay sober and help others do the same. And each day when I head to the office – though it may be a dull day of shuffling papers – I know that it helps me carry out my mission.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Resolutions

The other day someone asked if I were going to make any New Year’s Resolutions. I said no.

It’s not like I have anything against change or improvement. But for me change doesn't occur overnight nor depend upon a certain date. Like New Year’s.

Change isn't a simple process. Like deciding I’ll do it, and it happens. No, for me change is a gradual process. An example is when I quit smoking 28 years ago.

Once I made the commitment I began making slow changes in my smoking habits. I went from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes. After that I progressed to cigarettes with less tar. Then I tapered to less than ten cigarettes a day. And when the time came to quit – July 25, 1984 at 9:00 am, I was ready. I’d armed myself with Nicorette gum and took the plunge. I've never smoked anything since.

I admire those who change overnight – but I don’t have their fortitude. That’s not my nature.

Each change comes slowly. With exercise, I started light - with few repetitions - and not a lot of weight. Twenty-two years later I’m still at the gym six days a week and enjoy a decent level of fitness. I kept at it because I didn't hurt myself. Nor did I have unreasonable expectations about what my badly-abused middle-aged body could do when I started working out again in 1991.

Same with diet. I gave up meat 22 years, but slowly. First beef and pork. A few years later chicken, then fish. Today I eat virtually no animal products. But I couldn't have done it over night.

To incorporate changes in our lives my recommendation is take baby steps.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Recovery Support

I spoke briefly at a meeting last Sunday about the importance of building a network of friends and supporters in our lives.

This came to mind again this evening while on a three day vacation in Las Vegas with my family. This is something I wouldn't be able to do without all the wonderful people who work for TLC. They keep things operating while I’m out of town or busy with the new Outpatient Clinic.

For those of us in recovery a network of friends is important for many reasons.

Most important is when I've had trouble with my recovery someone has helped me over the bumpy spots. I went to them with issues that might threaten my recovery. They told me how they dealt with them.

Another example is when I've experienced emotional trauma. Over the past twenty years recovery friends have embraced me in a circle of love while I've grieved the loss of loved ones. When I went through a divorce they helped me control my anger and frustration.

A network of friends is a Godsend when we’re in - and also as we go through our daily lives.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Likely Story

A client whose drug tests have been turning up dirty said he couldn't understand why. He claimed he hadn't used marijuana since he started treatment.

          “Maybe,” he suggested to the therapist, “you could talk to my wife.”

           “And why would I talk to your wife,” the therapist asked. “She’s not our client”.

            “Yeah, but she’s still smoking. So maybe I’m dirty from second hand smoke.”

He kept trying various explanations for the rising THC levels in his weekly tests, but the therapist would hear none of them.

This client’s replies are typical of addicts in denial. However, he seems to be an inexperienced user who doesn't realize that counselors have been hearing excuses like his for years. So he’s likely to keep stumbling along until he loses his job or his freedom for drug violations.

As a counselor, who’s also in recovery, I’m not judging this client harshly. And that’s because I did the same thing for years before I finally figured out that the best plan for my life would be to get sober.

But it’s still interesting to hear the excuses we use to explain our behavior - before we finally get honest.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Anger Subsides

Anger’s an emotion I’ve never dealt with very well. In years past I’d let it get out of control and usually ended up looking like an ass – or at the very least feeling stupid.

So today, while driving to a three day family vacation in Las Vegas I realized I’d changed a lot since entering sobriety in 1991. This occurred to me while on Grand Avenue, heading through Sun City toward Wickenburg.

Traffic was snail slow and I was resigned to flow along with it, knowing we’d get there in God’s time. Then, all of a sudden, a truck nearly hit the front of our car as it pushed into the small slot in front of us. I was startled and tapped the horn to let the driver know I was there; at which point he signaled his contempt by flipping me off. And for good measure he slammed his brakes, causing me to do the same to avoid him.

My initial reaction was an adrenalin powered surge of anger. But then I took a deep breath and made a conscious decision not to carry things further. That was a much different reaction than I would have had in early recovery.

I’m not sure when I gave up on anger; it was likely a slow process of change. I think that at some point I didn’t find it all productive. And it seemed to be a lot of work to get back to serenity and peace of mind.

One reason I entered sobriety so many years ago was to have peace and joy in my life. I have that today and I don’t let my reaction to other people take it away.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recovery Challenges

A former client who left a few weeks ago reports having trouble adjusting to his new life outside the structure of TLC.  Though he hasn't relapsed he says he’s having a lot of "indecision and insecurity."

While I'm not sure this client left too soon - because he completed his 90-day commitment - sometimes three months isn't enough for many of us.

Often we come into recovery after years of trashing our lives with drugs and alcohol. It took us a long time to get to the state we’re in by the time we finally become desperate enough to seek help.

Yet when we’re in the sterile structure of a halfway house - with its restrictions and sometimes uncomfortable living conditions – nothing seems as attractive as being back home in our own place.

However,  the problem is that recovery is rarely about externals like living conditions, jobs, or being back with friends.

Recovery is about learning to live life on life’s terms wherever we are. It’s about learning to fill that hole in our spirit with positive things we learned in recovery. It’s about learning to say no when we’re at wits end and feel like picking up a bottle or going to the dope house.

I can easily relate. When I first went to a halfway house 22 years ago the idea was to get a job, a car, a girlfriend, an apartment and get back into the fast lane of life.

I wanted to leave that halfway house because there was no privacy. Living conditions weren’t the greatest. I didn’t have the kind of freedom I thought I needed.

But I ended up staying a year because I realized I wasn't totally prepared to live on my own.  It was the best investment of time I ever made.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memory

Christmas of 1959 a fully decorated 12 foot Christmas tree sat on a platform attached to the inside wall of the South Block at San Quentin Prison.

As the prisoners filed by on their way to the evening meal, several sprayed lighter fluid on it until it was thoroughly soaked. Then one threw a lit matchbook on it.

A quick blaze and plume of smoke shot 30 or 40 feet into the air. Then alarms went off and the cheering prisoners were herded back to their cells. Most of us missed supper that night. That was a memorable Christmas day at California State Prison.

Each Christmas I was locked up way back in last century, the warden would get on the loudspeaker to proclaim that officials would tolerate no floods, fires, or demonstrations. Of course his announcement was the signal to light mattresses and toilet paper on fire, and plug toilets and flood the cell block.

From this backdrop, even though I’ve been free for years, it took a while for Christmas to take on meaning for me. That’s because I’d been steeped in the toxic environment of prison where societal norms were looked upon with scorn and disdain by those who lived outside the boundaries.

Today, though, Christmas means having gratitude - and bringing joy to my loved ones and those less fortunate.

And I owe it all to getting sober 22 years ago and rejoining the human race.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Nostalgia

I remember the call from the hospital on December 24, 1994, as if it were yesterday. The nurse said, in a kind voice, that my mother had died "15 minutes" earlier – at 4:15 pm.

I was shocked and devastated. After 54 days of treatment she was supposed to be discharged the following day – in time for Christmas. Instead I was planning a funeral.

Even though it's been 18 years since her death it's always made Christmas a little different for me.   Not necessarily sad. Perhaps nostalgic is the better word. But this day’s a reminder of her untimely death at a time we were expecting her home.

At her passing, I'd been sober for over three years and the idea of relapsing didn't cross my mind.

My mother was my friend, and a strong supporter. In fact, she wanted me to get clean and sober a long time before I decided to do so. It was a blessing that she was able to see me firmly grounded in recovery.

She wrote me while I was in prison. She was there during my teenage struggles. In the 1940s she fought a six year court battle to regain custody after my father kidnapped me and my three year old brother and took us out of state.

I know she never understood how someone with my potential wasted precious years as a criminal and drug addict.

But the last three years of her life she was delighted because I had finally entered sobriety. I still miss her.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Divine Guidance

Yesterday I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in a while. We greeted each other warmly, and then sat down to catch up.

She wondered how TLC endured through the economic downturn of the past four years. And I told her I wasn't sure.

But I did explain that from our early days some 20 years ago it seems like we've had divine guidance.

We started without money – or credit – yet within 18 months we were housing around 120 people. And somehow paying the bills. And we kept expanding until we were in three states and managing 1100 beds – within about five years.

And the interesting part is that none of us had experience at managing large operations. But with hard work we were able to keep things together.
More than once we've been on the verge of bankruptcy. And then a financial windfall would come through.

And, almost without fail, when we had an idea, the means to carry it out would present itself.

An example: a year ago we were kicking around the idea of starting an outpatient treatment clinic. Within a few months a tenant moved from an 1800 square foot office we’d leased - and we moved in. Someone with insurance and billing experience showed up. Someone else with a treatment background came aboard. We met counselors who were looking for work. Here eight months later the project is in the black.

The simplest way I can put it is that we've always been provided for...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Reflections

Last evening, while Christmas shopping, I was reflecting on the difference between my life 22 years ago and my life today.

22 years ago I was in the middle of my heroin addiction and alcoholism. I was homeless. I was living in a stolen car. I was shoplifting every day to obtain money for alcohol and drugs. I had a DUI and other pending criminal charges. I had hepatitis C.  I was a three time loser.   I was totally demoralized about my life, living under a black cloud of depression.

At some point, though, I had a moment of clarity.  I realized it was either prison or death – or sobriety.

Fear of the first two options forced me to get sober. I entered a detox and admitted I was alcoholic - something I'd never done.  I was willing to do whatever it took to change.

I never had a problem admitting I was a heroin addict. The evidence was there: I’d spent some 15 years locked up and another year in a mental hospital - all because of my heroin addiction.

But I didn't want to admit I was an alcoholic because I'd have to stop everything. Alcohol was my doorway to other drugs. In addition, I had a raging alcoholic father who died of alcoholism; I never wanted to be anything like him.

But then a merciful God gave me the strength to admit I was alcoholic. And, you know, from that point on I've never looked back.

My life totally changed. Even though I had no credit or cash, I purchased three houses the first year I was sober. I went from having a GED, to getting a degree in counseling psychology - then became a state certified drug and alcohol counselor. I developed one of the larger programs in the Southwest for recovering addicts and alcoholics.

I was able to invest in real estate. Today have a comfortable home. And best of all, a year ago I married a beautiful psychologist who is the center of my life.

I'm grateful for my blessings today - and to the many kind and loving people who've helped me get here.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Baby Alert!


Happy news during the holidays!  Two TLC graduates – still affiliated with and working with TLC - are expecting a child in about eight months. And all of us are delighted about this new life they’re bringing into the world.

Readers from TLC know this couple.  However, in keeping with my blog policy of protecting anonymity of those in recovery, their identities aren't revealed here.

The blessing God has bestowed upon them is a fulfillment of the 12-step promises: “…a new happiness.”  What more powerful affirmation of the benefits of sobriety than to be entrusted with a new life – nurturing another human being?

Other TLC graduates and employees have been blessed with children in the past several years. And, without exception, they've remained sober and evolved into wonderful, loving parents.

Probably this couple will follow in the footsteps of these other TLC parents and blow up everyone’s smart phones with endless pictures of the baby’s every move.

How seemingly normal we become when we rejoin the human race.  Congratulations!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sexting?

A friend in new recovery called today, in disbelief about her teen son, whom she’d caught "sexting."

I’m sure most of you know what “sexting” is. But if you don’t, here’s the Urban Dictionary definition:

” the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; initially casual, transitioning into highly suggestive and even sexually explicit.

While this seems to be what occurred in my friend’s life, I thought she was overly upset. After all, we're talking about a pubescent, hormonal teenager doing what teenagers do – which is often about having sex.

The only difference here - from what youngsters have traditionally done - is the use of new technology.

Because we live on a planet dominated by Mother Nature, I tried to explain that this behavior – while modern and up-to-date – is what youngsters have done for centuries. But I'm not sure she heard me.

I know it's a shock to a parent when they realize their baby has a sexual nature. A nature that will quite likely continue to express itself throughout their lives.

Even though I was raised in the Stone Age, I was blessed with a mother who had frank discussions with me about sexual behavior. I believe she gave me a healthier outlook about sex.

However, when I first recognized my own children were sexual beings, it took a minute for me to accept that they were acting like healthy young people dealing with a sudden burst of hormones.

My job was to give them direction, which I did my best to do.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sentiment of Gratitude

Received a Christmas card today from a client who included a brief note. The note expressed gratitude for the gift card she'd received from TLC - a small amount to help her give a gift to her child..

Beyond the thank you, she said something even more important.

She wrote, and I quote in part,

"Thank you for allowing me the chance to be a part of the TLC program. TLC has given me something I have not had in a very long time. That is hope. Hope for a new life, for a chance to have a relationship with my daughter – and most of all, myself.

“TLC and sobriety will always be a part of my life. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Messages like this are a tribute to what we do at TLC. This woman’s expression of gratitude for what she has received from us gives her a foundation for success.

Grateful people have no reason to pick up a drink or a drug.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Life goes On

The speaker at last Sunday's 12-step meeting said something to the effect that "life goes on."

In her near 15 years of sobriety she's experienced loss of family, sickness, marriage, and other setbacks. Yet none of this has driven her to pick up another drink.

And her central point – that life goes on – is a truism for all of us in recovery. Some in new recovery have the naive idea that life becomes a bed of roses when they get sober.

But that's not the case. We'll all encounter challenges, as this woman did. But when we’re sober - instead of becoming so devastated we pick up alcohol or drugs – we have the tools to deal with issues.

Newcomers sometimes react to challenges by drinking or drugging because they haven’t figured out how to put the tools in action.

Those who us who succeed use the steps when facing life's challenges. We may be jobless. We may have rough times with our children – or our jobs. We know life brings myriad challenges. We expect some adversity, but don’t let it get us down.

We practice the principles of the program in all our affairs – especially with emotional things. And if we're lucky we get to the other side still sober.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Validation

It was a 4 x 5 postcard, addressed to TLC’s corporate office.

Since it looked like junk mail, I started to toss it.  But then I noticed the name of a former client in the return address. The card was a graduation announcement from a mid-western college, saying the client would receive his bachelor’s degree this month.

The former client had been at TLC off and on for some ten years. When he first came he kept relapsing. He wasn't stupid. It just took a long time for principles of the 12-step programs to penetrate his thick skull.

Finally, after much struggle, he got it. He became a TLC manager. He started working with others. He finally graduated.

Every so often we get this validation of our mission, which is “to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.”

Sometimes it comes in a graduation announcement. Other times a client starts a business and stops by to leave a business card. We see some in public with their family, seemingly happy and healthy. We get wedding invitations. Or birth announcements.

It’s rewarding when clients succeed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Predicting Recovery

My 22 years of working with substance abusers has led me to form opinions about who will enjoy long-term recovery.

One is that the more self-centered an addict is, the less likely they will stay clean and sober.

Those whose number one concern is how they feel, how mean everyone is, how they've been mistreated, who are constantly whining about what they need, don’t have a good chance.

As part of their self-centeredness, they expect the world to conform to them. They are like babies. Many seem to have not matured beyond early childhood.

This is in contrast to those who enjoy long term sobriety. They spend time supporting others. They sponsor. They volunteer. They give of their time and resources. They've learned that giving helps one stay sober. And they have deep gratitude.

A client whose conversation is about how others need to change, about what’s going on with the managers, with their roommates, their parole officer, their spouse, their living conditions and blah, blah, blah, may soon be at the bar or the dope house.

Clients who speak of gratitude, of the internal changes they need to make, of the blessings they enjoy in recovery are following in the footsteps of those who have 5, 10 or 15 years of recovery.

It’s so predictable it’s almost a cliché.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another Attaboy

Yesterday I received this attaboy from a former client, which I’ll share with you.

“I’ve followed your blog for two years and felt a need to thank you. After three years at TLC in Sunnyslope, I left just over a year ago. The lessons I learned during my stay have changed my whole outlook on life. I’m happy and most of all healthy. I look forward to each new day beginning with taking a moment to read your blog and connect with TLC. You often talk about “TOOLS” and I feel the insight found in your blog is one of the best tools available. So I just wanted to say Thank Your. Please keep it up. Bob O.”

Comments like this are a reason to write this blog each day. If anything said here helps others gain insight, then it’s worth the effort.

Another reason to write is that once in a while I receive comments from parents who say they decided to send a loved one to us after reading this blog. They like the idea that I tell it like it is. I don’t sugar coat what happens at TLC.

Sure, I brag about our successes. But I balance those success stories with the sad accounts of those who don’t make it. Of those who fall on their ass after one more misguided attempt to get high.

Perhaps the parents get an idea of the gravity of addiction, of the challenges we addicts face in the life and death battle we wage with our demons.

Also, for those of us in recovery, stories of those who fell might help us avoid the same path – a path they started on the moment they thought they might get high “just once.”

Thank you, Bob, for the message. Your comments help me – and others. And helping is what it’s about.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Road to Relapse

A twenty-something client who relapsed said she had a good time for the first few hours. But from then on it was hell.

In some thirty days of using she was robbed, beaten and sexually assaulted. For a few nights she stayed in an alley or behind a convenience store.

She also became alienated from family and friends. They’re weary of helping because they recognize that she’s on a dark path of destruction. They can only watch her downward slide.

Because she was spoiled all her life she has a difficult time accepting that no one’s going to show up to help her one more time. Her history has been to use until she gets into serious trouble – then let her family pick up the pieces.

It's frustrating dealing with this person because one minute she acts as if she’s willing to do whatever it takes to recover. The next minute she has problems with everything. She doesn’t want a roommate, She doesn’t like the food. The program’s too far from the bus line. And on and on.

One issue in trying to help her is that- in spite of a few years of using drugs – she somehow maintains a cherubic demeanor of youthful innocence that can beguile others into giving her what she wants. And she plays it to the max.

The last time we met I pointed out that one day there’ll be no one around to pick her up – that consequences become more serious each time we relapse.

I’m not sure she heard me. But then my job is to carry the message. The rest is up to God.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Believing the Lie

A recovering heroin addict sat in group this week, speaking eloquently about how his life had changed from a year ago.

He’d recovered from a life threatening medical condition. He’d attended months of out-patient treatment. He'd landed a good job, working in his former trade.  He had a sponsor.  He was re-connecting with old friends from high school.  He'd saved enough money to start buying gadgets for his room. He'd never been happier.

But as the topic passed around the circle, a group member noticed the client scratching his nose.  And that his eyelids were drooping.

So he was tested right after group and discharged from the program because the test was dirty.

Later, one of his close friends asked how he could trust anyone after his roommate had deceived him about using – especially after talking so positively about recovery.

I wasn’t sure how to answer him on the trust issue.  But those of us in long term recovery see people relapse over and over again because they start believing the lie that one or two fixes or drinks won't hurt. Or that they'll get high once and then stop.

The literature uses the term “cunning, baffling and powerful,” and this man’s relapse in another example of how our disease can waylay us if we’re not constantly vigilant.

After a year of intense recovery, this man had the tools.  For some reason he didn't use them.

We wish him well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Motivation

Motivation was Monday’s aftercare topic. And, of course, different clients had different things that motivated them.

One client got sober because he awoke one morning sleeping under a bush in a mud puddle. He was freezing cold and knew at that moment that he needed to change his life.

Another client was motivated by the happy people he met at 12 step meetings. At first he thought they were part of a cult. But after attending for a while he realized their happiness was real, and based on genuine values.

Another addict was sick of going in and out of jail. His life consisted of short periods of getting high, followed by long periods of incarceration. He’d leave jail, start smoking pot, then within the week would have a crack pipe in his mouth. He knew the cycle of self-destruction was killing him.

Others had various motivators, including losing relationships, being homeless, and suffering the black demoralization of addiction.

Pain and suffering seemed to motivate them all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reponsbility

A characteristic of some in recovery is that they try to make their problem our problem.

For example, one client is supposed to complete 26 domestic violence classes. However, he always has an issue.

He can't afford the classes. He doesn't have a job. He doesn't have a ride. He can’t find a babysitter. Can he be excused?

Another client, at one of our outlying locations, has similar issues. She can’t afford the $15 weekly fee for DUI classes. She doesn't have transportation and on and on. Can we give her a break?

And while they might have real issues in their lives, don’t we all? The idea that we’re going to be the solution to their problems is misguided.

While we're not heartless, we have guidelines we must follow while running a treatment clinic. Clients must show up to participate at a certain time for so many weeks, to get a certificate of completion.

Our responsibility – when clients don't show up – is to report that they were noncompliant. Almost without exception, we have no other options.

The primary responsibility for those of us in recovery is to learn to be responsible. That means showing up on time. That means paying our bills. Finding resources to help us comply with probation and parole rules is a responsibility we must meet - unless we want dire consequences.

I deal with clients like these from a history of personal experience. There were times when I behaved just like them. And my life never got better until I did my part.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Disengaging from Insanity

While at a social event last night I inadvertently encountered one of the two people on the planet I’m unable to communicate with.  It's really kind of sad.   Because I've known this person for over thirty-years.  And at one time we were great friends.

One reason I feel bad about it might have to do with my ego.  I’m in recovery.  I don’t remain angry at anyone for more than a moment. I pride myself on getting along.  I care about others.  I think one of our greatest responsibilities is to communicate effectively.

But for some reason, this person with whom I was once great friends has over the years developed a personality disorder that doesn't allow getting along with anyone. Family, friends, business associates, all eventually are victims of unexplained, gratuitous, abuse.

And no matter how many times I've tried to maintain this communication, eventually there’s an eruption over virtually nothing. It’s happened probably a dozen times or more. Oh yes, I’ll later receive a profuse apology. And for a while things go smoothly. But then, one day - for virtually no reason - I’ll get a phone call. And I’ll be berated and excoriated until I hang up.

So maybe five years ago I decided to disengage. Because if I don’t - and keep getting abused - it’s my fault. It’s kind of like walking through a neighborhood where’s there’s a vicious dog that sometimes chases and bites those who pass by. A smart person stays out of that neighborhood.

Also, along the same vein, the Big Book describes insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I've decided that I won’t engage in that kind of insanity.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Clean Environment

Sometimes the seemingly smallest thing can interrupt a daily routine.

For example, an employee coming into the office Friday morning noticed a puddle of vomit beneath the outside staircase.

Now at most companies something like that might go unnoticed. It might just be seen as a disgusting mess. Not in our case. Right away we checked to see if everyone was sober. That’s the mindset in a recovery program.

For us, a fresh splatter of vomit could mean a client was drinking – or perhaps had gotten high.

So, instead of starting the day by cleaning out my inbox, I became involved doing a mass breathalyzer test of the whole corporate office. And of everyone who works in the building. Upstairs and downstairs. That included me.

In spite of administering about 18 plus tests we found no one under the influence. And that's great. At least we know everyone was clean.

Someone probably really was sick. However, we’ll likely never know because no one came forward. And maybe it was simply someone passing by who decided to be sick on our property.

This may seem like overkill over such a small incident. But when one lives in the world of recovery – where sobriety is a life and death situation – we take whatever measures possible to insure a clean environment.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Positive Feedback

A client and his wife were in our clinic this evening and while speaking of their experience in counseling, she said "this has been life-changing for us."

Her remarks were refreshing. Often we work with people and don't get such positive feedback. Clients come for counseling, then leave. We believe they make progress, that somehow we’ve given them techniques to help them. But her testimonial confirms that we're doing something worthwhile.

And I could tell by their body language that she wasn't saying something for my benefit. She and her husband were looking at each other with love. They were holding hands and standing close to one another. This was a strong contrast to when they first came to us . When we first met them their posture and distance from one another shouted "we're not getting along."

Once in a while it feels good to have our work validated.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Medical Marijuana? Hmm...

A court-ordered client who was attending group - while under the influence of marijuana – said he had a "legal right" to do so.

Then, he proudly displayed a "medical marijuana" card he'd obtained from a doctor here in Arizona who’d given it to him for “chronic pain.”

The problem with this – regardless of whether he had a medical marijuana card – is we don't allow clients to use opiates or mind altering drugs of any kind. Even with a legal prescription. After all, there are many legal substances that are not compatible with recovery – alcohol being among them.

Further to this thought, we have a policy of not allowing clients to use, other than on a short-term basis, opiate-based pain killers. On occasion, when clients are injured, we allow them to use prescribed drugs. But clients taking opiates for chronic pain – even though they have a legitimate injury - are referred elsewhere. Some programs allow clients to use drugs of most any kind, as long as they pay to be there.

Also, we’ve had clients who smoke spice, or use bath salts. They try this because they know the tests for these drugs are expensive - that many programs don't have them. .But, guess what? We spend the money for these tests. And we sometimes find clients who are under the influence of these substances.

As I’ve often written, we have no issue with those who want to get high; just not at TLC.

As a philosophical aside, I have trouble understanding those who want to get high - but also be in a recovery program. What's the point? If one wants to get high, go for it. Many of us at TLC did it for years until it didn’t work.

We simply want to run a clean program that gives those who want sobriety to have the best opportunity to do so.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Getting" to do Things

"I have to go to work," said a friend in recovery.

“No, you get to go to work,” I corrected him.

After all, those of us who've been through the turmoil and devastation of addiction are fortunate to be on the planet today.  Let alone, being blessed with jobs and other opportunities.

I hear this statement often.  In fact, sometimes I use it myself.  However, when I find myself saying I “have to “do anything, I quickly change my perspective.

Those of us in recovery should realize that we "get" to do things.  And if we take this perspective, that we are blessed to still be here, then our day looks better.

Don't look at those who have more.  Look to those who are less fortunate. 

There are those who – through no fault of their own – have handicaps.  Have been in accidents.  Were born with disabilities or deformities.

Against this backdrop we find much to be grateful for.  We can either envy those who have more.  Or we can look at those who face challenges.

It's a matter of perspective. And perhaps a prescription for a better day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

10th Step

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” 

The 10th step is a gift from the 12 step programs and a wonderful stress reducer.

If we apply it, it’s a miracle tool we can use in our lives each day. We deal with issues right now. The 10th step uses the word “promptly,” and to me that means here and now. Before a situation grows into something bigger.

The Founders must have known that little things get us drunk or high - so they gave us the 10th Step to help us alleviate problems that once tipped us over.

It’s not uncommon in our busy world to have small disagreements with others. On the job. At school. At home. In traffic. The 10th step admonishes us to keep problems small and resolve them as they arise.

My experience has been that it's a lot easier to do this along the way, rather than wait until things escalate into something larger. Before the ego gets involved.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trusting God


Trust God.

This was the first part of a prescription given by a doctor back in the 30s as a guide to those who might want to get sober. (The other two parts were “clean house” and “help others.”)

But what does it mean to those of us in recovery, this "trust God" thing?

For this recovering alcoholic, it's pretty simple. To me it means that no matter what's going on in the world I must trust that it's God's will.  In step three of the 12 step programs we made a decision to "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." That’s where I began "trusting God.”

I usually got in difficulty when I’d confuse my will with God's will. My will got me in trouble many times. My will caused me to use drugs to the point where I ended up incapacitated and incarcerated. My will resulted in broken relationships and lost friendships. There's a trail of devastation leading back to my youth, carved out by self-will.

I must remember that when I'm in fear or confused about what's going on I must simply be patient. Eventually, God's will is revealed. Even though I may be baffled about what's going on and have no idea about God's plan I must wait.

In my 21 plus years of sobriety I’ve been blessed so many times with the right people and the right situations that I not only trust God – I depend upon him.

Sometimes I get impatient with His timing. Then later I realize that – once again – my impatience would have made a mess of everything.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday and happy anniversary to my lovely wife, Dr. Schwary!

She's a beautiful 50 years old today. And we were married a year ago today in Las Vegas.  I think she planned having these events on the same day so I could combine gifts. No problem.  I welcome the opportunity to do something nice for her whenever I can. And it's because she does so much to enhance my life.

I talk often about the blessings of recovery in this blog. In fact that's what this blog is really about. And in my life there are so many blessings it’s difficult sometimes to know where to start.

If someone told me 20+ years ago that I’d be living the life I'm living today I wouldn't have believed them.

At the top of my list is my marriage and the joy that brings into my life. I have the presence of a woman who's easy to be with, who’s not quick to anger, who taught me forgiveness by her forgiving attitude – and who cries at movies. She’s a lover, not a fighter.  Except when she has to be - and that’s usually when she’s battling the bureaucracy to get help for a sick addict.

I’m grateful she’s in my life.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Act of Kindness


This week a photo of a police officer giving a pair of shoes to a homeless man in New York City made worldwide news. It was a moving photo, one that resulted in the officer being lauded for his kind behavior.  It was very kind of him to spend his own money on this homeless man. Indeed, his behavior is an example to us all.

But later, after reflecting on this incident and all the publicity it generated, I wondered why this particular act of kindness generated such publicity?  Maybe it was because the giver was a police officer and the recipient was homeless – in a city that supposedly has a reputation for being callous. I'm not sure.

During my 22+ years of recovery I've encountered many generous people who've gone out of their way to help others. Some of this help has been given anonymously. Other times it's been in the public eye. In fact, acts of kindness are so common in this part of the world that they generate little or no attention. We look upon it as near normal.

A while back a man told me of some associates who are remodeling the home of a woman who's about to die of terminal cancer. They've dug into their pockets to build ramps, widen bathroom doors, and do other things to make her last days easier. These folks bring minimal attention to themselves. As I said acts of kindness happen here all the time.

For me the benefit of the publicity about this police officer giving this man shoes is that it brings attention to acts of kindness. 

And it illustrates one of the most important commandments in the Bible: love thy neighbor. We can do more of this - not only during holidays - but year around.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Winning life's Lottery


In the midst of the lottery fever a few days ago I was asked if I planned to buy tickets, try to get that $500+ million that was up for grabs.

Of course, regular readers know my answer. But for those who aren’t, the answer was negative. And for a few reasons. First of all, the below statistics show the odds of various events that might occur in our lives:

The actual odds of winning the Powerball $550 million jackpot was 1 in 176 million.

Here are some other extremely unlikely things that could have happened to you before you won the Powerball jackpot this week.



  • Dying from a bee sting: 1 in 6.1 million.
  • Dying from being struck by lightning: 1 in 3 million.
  • An amateur golfer making a hole in one on a par-3 hole: 1 in 12,500.
  • A golfer hitting a hole in one on consecutive par-3 holes: 1 in about 156 million.
  • Hitting a deer with a vehicle in Hawaii, the state where State Farm says deer/verhicle collisions 1 in 6,267.
  • Being struck by lightning over an 80-year lifetime: 1 in 10,000.
  • Drowning and other beach-related fatalities: 1 in 2 million.
  • Being attacked by a shark: 1 in 11.5 million.

But the larger and more important reason is that money is not – and has never been- an issue in my life. The issues in my life have always been learning how to live life on life’s terms. How to deal with my addictions.

At various points in my seventy plus years I’ve had money. But I never respected it. The money I had nearly killed me more than once. I never used it to help others. It was wasted in complete ego-driven self –centered dissipation.

I won the lottery the day I truly admitted I was an alcoholic. From that moment on my life has been a twenty two year series of blessings.