Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

525, 600

525,600. That's how many minutes are in a year.

8,765.81. That's the number of hours in a year.

And of course we all know how many days are in a year.

So what's the point? The point is that as we enter 2014 in a few hours that's how much time we're allotted for the coming year.

And the question for all of us, including me, is what will we do with this time? This gift from God?

Will we spend it playing video games? Will we be like the average American and watch four hours of TV a day? Will we waste these precious units of time in resentments, in fears, in anger?

Can we look back on the last 364 days and say we used our time to the best of our ability? Or did we fritter away this irreplaceable gift in stagnation?

This coming year can be a time of success for those of us who manage our time wisely. We can take that class we wanted to take. Begin a fitness program. We can change our lazy mindset, the one that keeps us from eating right and taking care of our health.

Does this mean that we're always working and getting little joy out of life? No. There's a time for fun. There's a time for relaxation. There's plenty of time to pursue pleasure and enjoyment.

But if you're asking yourself if you are any better off than you were this time last year you might think of spending some of those many minutes on something more productive.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reflecting on the Past

Sometimes discussions of the past reminds me how deeply mired I was in my addiction.

While at a family reunion during the Christmas holiday one of my older children – both of whom were raised by raised by their mother – asked how I felt when she was born, when I first saw her.

I could've made up a scenario that I'm sure would've made her feel good. But being in recovery doesn’t allow me to do that. So I told her the truth: that the only thing I remember was a general feeling of happiness that I had a new daughter. But beyond that I don't recall anything. I don't remember the hospital she was born in. I don't know the city she was born in. And I don't remember the time of day.

During those years my priorities were to put as much heroin and alcohol as I could in my body, to the exclusion of all else. Nothing took priority over that. Not jobs. Not relationships. Not my family. Not even my freedom. I was a totally self-centered alcoholic/heroin addict.

Today my relationship with my children is relatively good, at least from my point of view. We have a couple of family reunions a year. One in Las Vegas between Christmas and New Year's, the other at the beach in San Diego. And we communicate regularly, at least weekly.

I've done what I can to make amends to my two older children – the ones who suffered from my addiction. But there are no amends that can sufficiently make up for missed birthday and Christmas celebrations and other things that parents should do.

Even though the pain of the injury may be forgiven or forgotten, sometimes a small scar remains as a reminder.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Keeping On

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

So how does this quote by Michael Jordan apply to those of us in recovery?

I think it gives encouragement to those of us who have fallen prey to serial relapses.

Often clients come to TLC discouraged because it seems like nothing has worked. In spite of their best intentions, they've failed “over and over” again. In fact, so often that they’re prone to the depression that might lead them back to their drug of choice.

I ask these clients to focus on the positive: the fact that they're sitting in my office is a testimony that they're still willing to work on recovery after repeated failures. And sometimes what I say seems to help.

We can often take the same perseverance that led us to repeatedly try to successfully drink or drug and turn it into something positive. Anyone who can go through misery for countless years in pursuit of their addiction can take that same drive and turn it into success.

For those who don't remember, I want to remind them that living with an addiction to the exclusion of everything else is hard work. In fact, it seemed like I worked day and night to supply my drug habit – it was a full-time job.

Eventually I turned my failures into success - something you who have repeatedly failed can also do.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gay Friendly

Since opening January 9, 1992 TLC has welcomed members of the gay and transgender community. But something we've done differently this year is to offer separate housing near our Roosevelt facility for gay male clients. The house has approximately a dozen beds. And they were filled within a few weeks.

Management doesn’t assign clients to this house. Clients who want to live there make a request. And it is normally granted if space is available.

The same rules apply there as at any other house. No sex on the property. No violence or threats of violence. Break no laws. No chronic bad attitudes. Submit to drug testing. The same rules that apply to any other part of the program.

So why did we open a special house for gay clients? For one reason, we wanted to respond to their needs. We had heard scuttlebutt from time to time that TLC was not "gay friendly." And while that isn't true – and never has been – we wanted to change that perception if it did exist.

We were aware that some clients might be critical of these clients' sexual orientation. And for that reason we wanted to offer a safe and welcoming environment.

TLC does not discriminate against any group, regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. In fact, the only people we don't accept are arsonists and those arrested or convicted of sex crimes.

Our belief is that anyone has a right to recover in a safe, positive environment and we’re making every effort to offer that.

In fact, this coming year - because of the demand - we are looking for additional housing for gay clients.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Challenges

Now that 2013 is winding down it’s a good time to take inventory. Are we grateful for what we've been through over the past year? For both our blessings and the challenges we've faced.

The challenges? I understand why I would be grateful for my blessings. But why would I be grateful for challenges? After all, haven't I faced enough in my life?

But if we're honest we admit that we learned a lot more from the challenges than we did from the blessings we received.

An example is that for the past four years, up to the beginning of 2013, TLC faced dramatic challenges while trying to pay the bills, to meet our financial obligations. For 40 months in a row we lost $9000 a month. So how did we keep the doors open? During those trying times my staff and I were forced to be creative.

We asked key employees to take a 10% pay cut. Some of us went without a paycheck. We also asked our landlords to reduce rent if they wanted us to continue as tenants – and many did.

We learned to cut energy costs by using efficient thermostats and lighting. We made managers more accountable about how they spent their house budgets. We cut our fleet from 42 to less than 30 vehicles.

I could go on with these examples, but you get the point. Challenges make us stronger and help us grow.

And these challenges don't have to be financial. In fact most of them aren't. The challenge for us in recovery is the temptation to pick up a drink, a pipe, or a needle when things get rough. We may have lost a loved one, a job, our home, or a relationship. The challenge is to stay sober when were going through these emotional ups and down.

But if we persist through these trying emotional times we become stronger and put together years of recovery.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Congratulations!

It was a pleasant Christmas Eve surprise when a long time TLC Manager told me he planned to propose to his fiancee at supper that evening.

I asked him to send a text to let me know her response. But when I didn't hear anything by 7:30 I called. What did she say?

He explained that he’d been sidetracked by a maintenance problem. He’d just returned home and he was going to take care of it right away. And sure enough, he called a few minutes later and said he’d popped the question. And he didn’t have to tell me her response because I could hear her in the background saying “yes, yes, yes.”

One of the blessings of being involved with this project for over 22 years is that I’m allowed to witness stories like this.

Both he and his fiancee have contributed for several years to TLC's ongoing success. And in the meantime their lives have come together.

They were blessed with a beautiful son this year. They have a home. And each is enjoying a successful recovery.  This couple is another example of what our program is all about.

Seeing their happiness is truly a gift. All of us at TLC wish them well in this newest chapter of their lives.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Different Christmas

For the first time I'm spending Christmas without my lovely wife, Dr. Dawn. No, nothing has happened to her or between us.

She went to another state to support a best friend whose mother died a few days ago.

She and her friend spent many college years together. And during that time she and the mother became close.

However, I’m lonely without her. And I realize for the first time that I have a relationship with not just a wife but someone who is a constant companion, a good friend, a business partner, and confidant.

It’s not like we live in lockstep. However, I do very little without taking her into consideration. It’s a partnership I value and treasure.

On page 83 in the recovery literature, we find the phrase “…a new happiness…” And that describes exactly where I’m at in this period of my recovery. We enjoy each other. We have business success. We travel a few times a year.

I recall that when I had seven years in recovery – and was enjoying success - my sponsor said something prophetic. He said “you think that this is as good as it gets. But it gets better as time goes on.”

He was right.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

19 Years Ago

Christmas Eve is a day that brings mixed emotions. On one hand, there's celebration and happiness among those of us who look forward to this time of year.

But for me it’s kind of melancholy because 19 years ago today my mother died suddenly – the day before she was to be released from the hospital.

I got the call about 4:15 in the afternoon, as I was preparing to leave to visit her. The nurse, in a kindly but matter-of-fact voice, said "your mother died 15 minutes ago."

It was a shock. Because my brother and I had made plans to take her home the next morning. And instead we would be making funeral arrangements.

She'd been in the hospital for 54 days, after visiting for what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure. But complications set in, and the medical staff kept setting back her release date.

When she died I’d been in recovery for over three years, something my mother was very grateful for. In that time I was able to repay money she’d loaned me, and make other amends. I was able to move her here from California. She was finally able to see me rejoin society as a productive and sober human being.

And I know this was rewarding for her because she'd stuck by me from the time I was a teenager. She saw me go through 35 years of addiction, prison, mental hospitals, divorces, and other calamities. And during many of those years I had the attitude that I wasn't hurting anyone else, just myself.

It was only after I was in recovery for a while and started working with other addicts and alcoholics and their parents and families that I realized just how much damage I did to my loved ones.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Health Update

I was in the emergency room the other day for a non-life-threatening condition I've had for over 50 years,. But as always, when a 74-year-old goes to the hospital, those who care start getting nervous. And I appreciate that because at one time nobody cared much what happened to me because I wasn't doing anything positive.

The condition I have is called atrial flutter. And once or twice a year it flares up and causes my heart rate to increase to over 140 beats a minute for a while- a state which causes anxiety and discomfort. It's not painful, but it allows my alcoholic imagination to run wild about my impending doom.

When I'd tell prison doctors about it, back in my 20s, they'd label me hypochondriac. That nothing was wrong with me. And for years I believed them. I thought I was a hypochondriac having a panic attack.

But it so happened, in a moment of serendipity, that when I arrived for a medical checkup last June I was in atrial flutter. After the nurse took my EKG I was sent to emergency. There they did tests, including a video of the inside of my heart, and told me what I had. They also gave me medication, something that works most of the time.

However, after this last event, in order to avoid the inconvenience of going to the emergency once or twice a year to have my heart rate slowed, my cardiologist scheduled me for a procedure that will eliminate the problem. It happens on an outpatient basis, is painless, takes less than an hour, and involves burning the electrical nodes on the inside of my heart through a catheter they insert into a vein near my groin.

Why am I sharing this? Because many who read this blog have been a part of TLC for a long time. Many of them depend upon us for housing and employment. I believe I have a responsibility to not raise their anxiety by having them wonder about my health.

So in pursuit of transparency, I still enjoy the same six day a week fitness routine I’ve had for 23 years. I do 15 to 20 chin-ups in a set. I work out on the elliptical or treadmill 45 minutes at a time. I do reps with 60 pound dumbbells. I ride my bicycle 20 miles without stopping. And when I left the hospital I asked the doctor should I stick to this routine. They said yes - keep doing what you're doing.

So for those who are concerned, I think you're stuck with me for a while. But I appreciate the love.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Genuine Heroes

Often we hear of police raiding meth labs and finding children living in toxic conditions. And while the parents are charged with child abuse, we never hear much about the children. They are the human fallout, the innocent victims of the drug world.

This week I met genuine heroes, a man and his wife who have adopted a dozen children, some of them the children found in these labs.

And because many of the children he and his wife have adopted were rescued from these situations they suffer from PTSD and other issues due to living with addicts and drug dealers.

This man described some of the challenges they face in raising children with these kinds of issues. But he says he and his wife receive so many blessings from this large family that it makes it all worthwhile.

It was an inspiration to speak with this couple, and know that some of these victims end up with loving and dedicated parents.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winning the Lottery

Last week it seemed everyone was excited about a Power Ball jackpot that was projected to reach nearly $1 billion. Even though odds of winning were a gazillion to one, people were opening their wallets anyway.

But I didn't get excited because I won the lottery January 13, 1991, when I got clean and sober

From that moment I’ve been blessed with more riches than I can enumerate. I enjoy financial independence. I no longer look over my shoulder to see if police are behind me. I don’t lie to my employer. I no longer steal to feed a drug habit. I am free. And happy.

One aspect of this excitement I found interesting is that people – who’d never buy a ticket when the lotto was only 10 or 15 million - will buy one when it’s in the hundreds of millions. As if multiple millions would do a lot more for them than one or two.

Because after one takes care of basics how much can we really spend? Food, shelter, housing, transportation doesn't take that much.

While money eliminates some basic problems, after that it becomes a different set of challenges. All of a sudden, one has to think about taxes.  Who are our real friends? 

To me, real riches come from living a full life, having friends and the opportunity to be of service to others.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

A few months ago a client who left and relapsed awakened in an empty lot with paramedics around him. They’d just saved his life after he overdosed on heroin.

Even though he’d only been using for three days, he realized the gravity of what he was doing and returned to TLC. He was grateful to have escaped his close brush with death. He began working once more to rebuild his life, to get back on track.

And for half a year he did just that. He went to meetings, got a sponsor, and began working on his recovery. He also found a steady job. It seemed he was doing the right things.

Then last week he suddenly went out again, this time smoking crack. He didn’t overdose this time, instead returning to the program to start over before he did. So what happened?

In the recovery literature we find the phrase “cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power. That One is God. May you find Him now!"

And in this man’s case he seems to be doing everything right then once again finds himself using – a demonstration of how cunning, baffling and powerful our disease can be.

Hopefully, before this man relapses again, he'll find the One who has all power.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Shortcut?

Clients are sometimes lazy when it comes to making changes.

This came up the other day while working with a client who says he has no self-esteem.

Because I'm a certified hypnotherapist he wanted me to hypnotize him to improve this aspect of his life.

It seemed that he believed I could go into his subconscious and plant some suggestions for a quick fix.  And that he would have to do nothing. But that's not the way it works. 

Prior to our session I explained that there were things he could do to bolster self-esteem. And that hypnotherapy is merely a tool that could aid him in his efforts.

We went ahead and had a session. And I didn't see him for a few weeks. However, when I saw him he was still moping around, head down, and not feeling very well about himself.

When I asked how he was doing, he said he was about the same. That he had seen little improvement.

When I asked if he tried any of the suggestions about things he could do to boost his self-esteem, he said no.

That's when I realized it was going to take a lot of motivation for him to change.  But I’m not sure he’s willing to do the hard work.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

G.E.D. to PhD

In 12 step meetings it's common to witness miracles.

For example, this weekend a doctor told of how she survived a vicious childhood sexual assault that nearly killed her when she was nine years old. And how she went on to become an educated professional with five degrees.

She said she went "from a GED to a PhD."

But before that happened, she took a lengthy excursion into addiction and alcoholism, a journey that started in her early teens when she was unable to shake the trauma of her childhood ordeal. Her disease took her from heavy drinking, to crack houses, to prison.

Her early days of recovery involved entry level jobs and long hours in college trying to regain the time she lost to her disease. But she studied diligently, obtaining better and better employment until she completed her education.

It’s not uncommon in the rooms of recovery to hear stories like this from those who once believed their lives were hopeless.

Then a watershed event brings them into the sunlight of recovery. And in her case it was a loving and praying Grandmother who encouraged her to change her life.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mug Shot of the Day

Received a text yesterday with a mug shot attached. Staring intently into the camera was a face I knew well.

It was that of a former TLC manager who had worked for us for a number of years, managing one of our larger facilities. While with us he was one our best. He was kind and generous. He usually went above and beyond, working long hours. He helped many clients get through the early days of recovery.

Eventually he left to pursue another career. However, he was always back at the house. He sponsored several clients. Took them to meetings. He was always available.

So what happened? How did he get on Sheriff Joe’s website? A candidate for mug shot of the day?

I don’t know for certain. There’s a story out there that he received a large sum of money which took him away from his recovery. We heard another story that he was in a treatment program and had no shoes. Then yesterday comes the mug shot, with a line saying he’s in jail for possession of drugs.

Here’s a man who emulated recovery. Who carried the message. Who had a half-dozen sponsees. Yet he’s in jail facing drug charges?

It’s always easy to say he did or didn’t do certain things. And we can never be certain what opened that door for him.

One thing for sure: his friends and those he helped are praying for his safe return.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gratitude Email

Here's a heartfelt gratitude email I received this weekend.  It's worth sharing:

"I just wanted to let you know that I am so grateful to you, your wife and TLC!

You have played an intricate part in my sobriety and the life that I am living today. I don't recognize the man that you and others have molded me into. Sober first for five plus years (miracle), worked for the same company for 5 years (longest ever), a devoted father and soon to be loving husband! This is not the same person that walked into TLC on April 25, 2008.

Today I have hope, faith and courage to face anything that comes my way, instead of running and hiding my feelings with a needle. There is no dollar amount you can put on the debt that I owe you and TLC! I can say today that, "I have become a man".

I am so blessed not only to have met you but to share my life with you and become part of the family. TLC is my home and there is a reason i will always continue to call it my home. I am so excited for TLC's future and I am proud to be a part of it!

Thank you once again for believing in me, when I did not believe in myself! You are a great example and I am honored to have you in my life. Thank you for being there and teaching me how to grow up and be responsible! Thank you for everything!!!"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Graduation

It was an inspiring sight last Thursday to see more than 100 clients, plus guests, in the courtyard at Roosevelt attending a graduation.

Some 25 certificates of achievement were passed out to those who have 90 or more days in the program. There were a few certificates for men with six months, and nine months.

And one man graduated from the Hard Six program during the ceremony, having completed eighteen months.


Several of the graduates spoke for a moment, after receiving their certificates.

One man talked of not having any clothing when he arrived, other than what he was wearing. He said one of his fellow clients literally gave him the shirt off his back. He said this was the longest he's been clean and sober - and he plans to stay.

Another spoke of learning to follow God's will, rather than his own will.

Others mentioned job success, reuniting with their families, and of learning how to live in the real world after years of addiction.

And the interesting aspect of the graduation is that addicts are helping each other get sober.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Finding Himself

An addict who's worked for TLC for a while talked about the shock he experienced when he found he'd be earning less than $100 a week.

Before he came to us he'd earned a great salary as a corporate executive.  However, that salary didn't do him a lot of good because all of it went for drugs and alcohol.

After being of service for several months he began to realize he was receiving something that his one-time large salary had never brought him:  recovery and peace of mind.

He's become one of those who's finding himself through helping others.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Day at Time

A great gift of the 12-step programs is the concept of living one day at a time. How so?

My take on it is that it helps us addicts focus on the here and now. Rather than living in the future. Or in the past.

Here and now is a place where things are manageable. I can get up today to go to work, even if I'm not sure I could do it the rest of my life. The pain in my back might be severe today.  But is it going to stay with me from now on? Today I may be broke, or not have a job. But will this always be the case?

If I stay in the present, I face life in manageable chunks. If I speculate about a problematic future, I might become overwhelmed to the point of picking up a drink or drug.

If I'm managing an archaeological expedition through the wreckage of my years of drinking and drugging and being irresponsible and abusing I might get lost and never get back to today. Living in today, I don't need to open the door and enter that tunnel to my dark past. Instead, I stay in today, where where the light of the moment shines upon my activities and keeps me focused on what's real.

The idea of living in today did not originate with the framers of the 12-step programs. Eastern religions for centuries have taught the value of focusing upon this minute, this moment, this second that God has given us.

Regardless of where it came from, the concept of living a day at a time teaches us that life is manageable - something each of us in recovery can use to our benefit.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Acceptance

In a group where the topic was acceptance, a client didn't quite seem to grasp the concept.

As he was talking about someone with whom he'd have a problem over the years, he said he did accept them.

"I accept the fact that the guy's a dishonest moron," he said. And of course, the group laughed. But pointed out to him that that's not exactly the idea of acceptance.

This man’s story is that someone he once trusted had ripped him off for a large sum of money that was rightly his. And he'd been seething about it ever since. He was upset because the man – who he once trusted – "should" have behaved more honestly.

The group had a lot of input for him. But the crux of it was that many people never behave how they "should." They behave how they behave. The quicker we can accept what they've done then we can decide a course of action. Sitting around stewing about the other person's bad behavior is not acceptance. It's resentment..

In the recovery literature one finds the words "acceptance is the answer to all my problems today."

And the passage goes on to say that we'll never find serenity until we accept whatever it is we're facing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Genetics?

We never allow anyone to abuse our staff – verbally or otherwise.

So a few days back when a mother screamed at our house manager because she hadn't been alerted when her son arrived, one of our volunteers called her.

For some reason the mother had the idea that we should call when her child arrived. Even though the "child" was in her late twenties. A “child” who wasn't scheduled to come to the program.

"What kind of place are you running down there, anyway?" she demanded.

When our volunteer explained in strong terms that we don't allow anyone to abuse our staff, she angrily hung up. But before she did, she said she would no longer call us about anything. That's fine with us if she’s going to be abusive.

While this behavior doesn't occur often, sometimes we learn a lot about the client simply by listening to parents. In the case of this client, who has many psychological issues, we recognized the problem might be genetic.

Even though, it's still a test of our patience and tolerance when parents behave this way. We get over it by remembering that our mission is to help clients get clean and sober.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Positive Things

TLC is an example of how addicts do positive things once they get clean and sober.

I thought about this yesterday while in a staff meeting where corporate officers were determining Christmas bonuses for some 75 employees.

I recalled during the meeting that 21 years ago we didn't have 75 total residents, and only three or four employees. Today we have 75+ employees and nearly 700 clients. And it was a few years before we could afford to pay anyone – let alone give bonuses.

Over time, with diligent effort, TLC has grown exponentially to serve mostly homeless addicts who want to rebuild their lives and stay sober.

And that growth is only due to the fact that those in recovery are willing to spend their time and energy to help other addicts change. Most of those who work with us could find a better paying job. But they know it's easier to stay close to their recovery when they’re helping others.

Sometimes outsiders want to give credit to those of us who started the program, those who were here from the early days 22 years ago.

But the reality is that without the hard work of our staff we’d never get anything done.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Higher Power?

I find it interesting when an addict has trouble believing in a power greater than themselves.

But because most of those I hear this from are new to recovery I realize that spiritual development sometimes flowers only after years of recovery.

It would be a sad world indeed if I were the highest power that I knew.

Because during the years when I was my own higher power I always ended up in trouble. It was prisons, homelessness, divorce, bankruptcy, or some other sad situation that my good direction got me into. Not a very good track record for a Higher Power.

I'm not sure what God looks like because no one I know has ever seen his face. But if you want to witness a bit of his handiwork go outside tonight, look up at the sky, and pick any star.

Scientists say that the light from the star we're seeing tonight came from an exploding supernova some 500 years ago. That was in the middle ages when soldiers were still riding horses and wearing armor.  We live in a universe so immense that it takes 500 years for the light of an exploding star to reach us?

Phenomena like that shows me that there's a power greater than myself, whatever form it takes.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Grown Ass Man

A client is upset because he was placed on restriction for associating with a former client who reverted to using meth.

"I'm a grown ass man," he said. "I don't need anyone telling me what to do all the time."

But he's wrong. One of the reasons clients come to us is because their lives are spiraling out of control. Been in prison. Living on the streets. Maybe divorced. Lost their job. There are many reasons why people come through the doors of TLC's state-wide locations.

The reality is that people come to TLC and pay us to tell them what to do. And they do that for many of the reasons in the paragraph above: their lives are a demoralized mess.

And the things we tell them to do are not much different than what so-called "normal" people do in the real world. We expect them to pay their bills. We ask them to clean their living areas. We expect them to have a job. Pay their child support. Have car insurance. Don't steal or use drugs.

But in addition, we have an overlay of requirements for them because they are addicts or alcoholics. Get a sponsor. Go to 12 step meetings. Help newcomers stick around and learn what recovery is about.

We take their request for help seriously. In fact, we have a fiduciary responsibility to carry out the mission of TLC which is: "we help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives."

But what happens after a while, once people get a few meals in their stomachs, a job, and start feeling better, all of a sudden they become independent. They lose their gratitude and forget where they came from. They start complaining when they get in trouble for not signing out. Or not showing up for service fee check. Or not attending meetings. Or else associating with former clients who have reverted to using drugs.

There are myriad ways clients get in trouble at TLC. But each involves behavior that might lead them back to using drugs or alcohol. And our responsibility – our primary responsibility – is to help our clients rebuild their lives.

And we work hard to help them do that, whether they're "grown ass men," or not.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Just One

One of our managers walked into our corporate office after hours one evening last week and noticed the odor of alcohol in the air. And the client who was supposed to be at work wrapping up some last-minute details was missing. So our manager placed a call to his cell phone. No answer.

After that he called the man's roommate and asked him to let him know when the man returned home. And sure enough, he showed up after 10 pm, just as the manager was settling down for a night's sleep. He got up and went to the man's house anyway. And when he gave him an alcohol test it proved he'd been drinking.

The man protested that he had only one shot. But one shot is all it takes to get fired and discharged from TLC. The man was given the option of going to another house to start over. And he accepted. But he left the next morning, quite likely to continue drinking.

It was sad to see this man leave under such circumstances because he’d recently celebrated one year of sobriety. And for him this was quite an accomplishment because he'd been drinking for years, had more than one DUI, and had suffered continual disruptions in his life because of his alcoholism.

I one time heard him share from the podium about waking up in the middle of winter lying on his back in a stream outside of Salt Lake City, wondering how he’d gotten there. His last memory before that moment was that he was having a good time somewhere getting drunk.

During his time with TLC he did an excellent job. He was always pleasant, friendly, and respectful to everyone. We’ll miss his help because it's difficult to find responsible employees who want to work for us while they also work on their recovery.

The only positive thing is that his relapse reminds us that we must remain vigilant so we don’t follow in his footsteps.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Creating a Monster

A client comes to a counseling session heavily burdened. He's behind on child support. He doesn't have a job so he can't pay fees his probation officer’s expecting. A court appearance is pending.

He has more than this on his mind, but you get the point. His issues are wrapped up in a big confusing ball, so tightly interwoven that he can't figure out what's going on.

He can't sleep. He's anxious to the point where he's thinking about picking up a bottle or a pipe. He's overwhelmed.

What he's facing is not unusual among addicts in our program. Sometimes clients have a flawed thinking habit where they let a bunch of little issues become one big issue. They create a monster that threatens to consume them.

When I encounter clients like this I have them tell me all the problems they're facing. In fact I usually have them make a list. Then I have them go down the list to see which are immediate and which can be dealt with later. Or if even they need to be dealt with at all.

And it's almost magical how this process defuses anxiety. Once they list their so-called issues, where they can be scrutinized one by one, they seem to realize what they've been doing to themselves.

Because every issue we face is not equal. There are some problems we must deal with now. There are some that can be postponed. And there are some that aren't problems at all, except in our head.

When a client uses this process he discovers something - not only about his problems - but also about his thinking. He starts to recognize how he sometimes lumps small issues together until they turn into a monster. The monster that might take him back to the dope house.

He also learns he's not helpless in the face of his disease and its efforts to take him down.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Prison Values

Sometimes clients who’ve been in prison bring those values to TLC.

This happened a few weeks ago when a client was pouting for a bit because another client had “snitched” to management about a rule he’d broken.

“If he’d done that in prison, I’d of kicked his ass,” he said. “No one tells on me.” But because we discharge clients for violence or direct threats of violence it went no further.

TLC has rules – as does society in general – that run counter to the so-called prison code or the code of the streets.

One rule is that if a client knows another client is doing wrong, like stealing or using drugs, he must report it to management. If he doesn’t, he’s deemed to be as guilty as the perpetrator. And is subject to discharge or other consequences.

While some might feel this to be unfair, it helps us keep the program clean.

A tenet of recovery is that we change the old behaviors that were associated with using. We discover that stealing and dealing drugs are no longer a career choice. We don’t go through our roommates’ belongings while they sleep. We don’t even use their shampoo or toothpaste, because it’s not ours. And we don’t expect them to protect us when we're using or breaking the rules.

At TLC we don’t try to convince clients that it’s a good idea to get clean and sober. We assume they have that idea or they wouldn't come to our door.

And, oddly enough, we don’t care if they want to get high or drunk or do things their way. They just need to do it elsewhere. Our mission is to help those who are serious about change to get on the path to recovery.

And sometimes change requires clients to give up prison values - or street values - and rejoin the human race.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

His Father's Back

A young hard six client shared in group about changes in his life.

For the first time he has a good relationship with his father.

He described spending Thanksgiving weekend with him – and the rest of the family - barbecuing, playing games, and enjoying life.

He expressed gratitude, because a good relationship with his father is what he'd prayed for. But he thought it would never happen.

He has a strong desire to do something for his family, to give back, instead of taking from them as he did while he was using. He spoke of spending time during the weekend, working in their yard, doing what he could in an effort to make amends. He wished he could do more. Something grander.

Someone in the group pointed out that he had given the greatest gift of all: he gave the best thing he could give at the time – which was the effort he made in their yard.

We're blessed when we hear of progress like this. Change is what the program is all about. And when clients take advantage of the opportunity, we've done our job.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Happy Anniversary

When I first met my wife, Dr. Dawn, it was love at first sight. When she walked into my office on that morning in 2004 I fell under her spell. I was enchanted by this svelte, bright, lovely creature who came for a job interview.

She accepted the counseling position offered and worked part time with TLC for a few years. Because she was married we only had a distant and platonic friendship. Eventually she went on to other opportunities and we pretty much lost contact.

A few years after, late in 2008, I encountered her downtown and she told me she was about to complete her divorce. We began dating the next day. And soon were living together.

Two years ago today on her birthday, December 3, 2011, we were married.

We enjoy travel, we enjoy laughing together, we like spending time together. We pay attention to each others needs. She does the little things that let me know she thinks of me.

Today I find myself with a woman who lets me be myself. When we have differences, rather than reacting in anger, we start talking about it right away.

We've never had a disagreement that’s lasted more than a few hours. We settle issues quickly and move on. And I’m grateful to her for teaching me how to do that.

One of the blessings of my recovery is that I’ve found someone with whom I can share the promises.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Behavior is Everything

Client behavior tells us when they’re serious about recovery.

We had an example of this a few days ago with a client who's been problematic. He'd been discharged a few days earlier for non-compliance. Then he was allowed to return after he said he was ready to change. But he did something entirely different once back in the program.

The first 24 hours he was okay. He was on time for meditation. He was willing. He attended his appointments. He seemed serious.

Then in the evening he asked to go to the mall. He was given permission. As long as he went with a senior resident for support.

Then a few hours later it was discovered that he'd left by himself. When questioned about going without support he lied. He said the senior resident had gotten sick at the last minute and told him to go by himself.

But the senior resident said there was nothing wrong with him. That the client left without him. One more time the client had lied.

When the manager discovered his duplicity he told the client to pack and leave. Not only was he was doing nothing for himself, his behavior was also demoralizing the clients who were trying to do the right thing.

We wish him well on his journey.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Keep Growing

When counseling clients I think they believe – because I have certificates on my wall – that I can help. They hope I have answers they can use. And I may, depending on the circumstances.

But the best answer I give them is that there’s never a place in life when we arrive at a plateau where we’re totally healthy human beings needing no further work.

And when I say that they sometimes seem puzzled.

While I don't pretend to know what they're thinking, they seem to wonder why someone in his mid-70s doesn't have it together.

But I don't believe life works like that. I believe life’s a journey. Not a destination. I think we can always do things to improve ourselves. And part of living successfully - in my mind -  is to continually improve.

For example, I'm still learning to remain calm in the face of anger and frustration. I'm still learning to react in a way that's healthy.

I work to improve my fitness and I’m always looking for different workout routines to help me.

Even though I'm fluent in Spanish - and can read and write it - I'm still learning more.

I write this blog each day in an effort to keep my brain functional - and to learn to communicate more effectively.

I took a 60 hour course in hypnosis this year to improve my counseling skills.

I read the newspaper every day to keep up with current events. I read at least two books a month.

The point is, God blessed us with a wonderful, creative mind and the opportunity to grow. We should do that to the best of our ability.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Still Learning

Heartfelt messages of gratitude and thanks kept lighting up my cell phone on Thanksgiving day.

Maybe 20 of them. Some were from long-ago clients telling me of their successes so many years later. Others were from family, staff members, and current clients. They were loving messages. And they reminded  me of the many relationships I've forged since entering recovery.

But it wasn't always this way.

For many years holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas were kind of awkward. And for a time I couldn't figure it out. But then I realized that during my formative years I was either in the midst of my addiction or else I was incarcerated.

In those situations, even though I created them, I didn't find much to celebrate. I only experienced anything resembling happiness when I had enough drugs and alcohol. And that was always a fleeting experience.

So today, I'm grateful to have people in my life to celebrate with. To be surrounded by a network of people who care. They're teaching me what the holidays are all about.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Tangled Web

What a tangled Web we Weave When First We Practice to Deceive.” Sir Walter Scott

A client concocts a scheme because he wants to visit his girlfriend over the holidays.  However, it backfires on him.

As part of the plan he pulls the manager aside and confesses that he smoked methamphetamines earlier in the evening. His hope was that he’d be kicked out of the program for three days – a hiatus he’d be able to spend with his girlfriend.

However, things don’t work out quite the way he’d planned. Instead of being discharged, he was transferred to a detox unit at our Roosevelt property in Phoenix. And while there, he was put to work performing menial chores like sweeping and picking up trash for seven hours a day.

After a few hours, he decides that this wasn’t a part of his plan, so he makes another confession: he’d lied about smoking meth so he’d be able to leave the program for a few days to spend time with his girlfriend. Sure enough, a drug test confirmed that he was indeed clean.

And his motive, of course, for owning up to his lie was an attempt to return to the relative comfort of the treatment housing in Mesa.

However, management didn’t go along with this plan either. The old drug addicts who run the program decided that he must complete his three day penalty at the Phoenix property.

When he found out his latest manipulation attempt didn’t work, he must have become frustrated because he left the program.

Maybe he'll be back?

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day? Or Turkey Day?

If there were to be a major holiday for alcoholics and addicts it would have to be Thanksgiving Day. Because that's when we give thanks for most everything. And gratitude is the recurring theme for most of us in successful recovery.

And even though I have no ongoing resentments I sometimes get irritated this time of year over how the media characterizes this holiday. About half of the time "Thanksgiving Day" is expressed as "Turkey Day." And while my memory may not serve me well, this has become a trend in the recent past.

So what's the big deal about Turkey Day versus Thanksgiving Day? In my mind, demeaning this day with a focus solely on what we eat pays no homage to the purpose of the holiday.

For the historically challenged, it started in 1621 when the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony celebrated a feast of thanks with their Native American neighbors. Because they were grateful for a bountiful harvest. And through the years the holiday has been a time to reflect on our blessings.

My fear, though, is that if we trivialize this sacred day by making it all about what we eat then we've taken the spirit from of it. It has become just another excuse to overeat a lot of rich food, rather than a day of gratitude for what God has provided.

Let us be grateful and also express it with Thanksgivng.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Relapse?

Why do we relapse?

The topic came up because a man who’d been sober for multiple years received an inheritance. And within a few weeks he’d relapsed and lost everything.

His relapse was all the more visible because he was active in the recovery community and sponsored several people. Surely this was a man who could sense when he was in danger?

While some in the group thought that the money he’d received was a trigger, others didn't believe that to be the case.  Several agreed that they always found a way to get high, whether they had money or not.

The consensus was that the man had failed to do the very things he was teaching. He wasn't calling his sponsor. He likely wasn't attending meetings.. Someone pointed out that he had probably 50 people he could've called. Yet something kept him from doing that.

Staying sober isn't an exact science. But if we listen to those around us who have lived sober for many years we can get a good idea of what works for them.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another World

This past weekend I took a trolley ride from downtown San Diego to Tijuana, a trip that made me grateful for the life I live.

Afterward, I reminded myself that in some ways I lead a sheltered life, even though I'm in the recovery business and work with a challenged population.

Although the trolley snaked through some expensive Southern California real estate, most of the riders appeared to be economically challenged.

Many wore mismatched thrift store wardrobes. Others struggled with obvious substance abuse or mental health issues - either talking super-fast, or rambling about nothing to no one in particular.

A mentally challenged man became verbally abusive to my wife and me until she finally lost patience with him. A few select words from her and he made a quick retreat to the far end of the train.

Once we crossed the border and entered downtown Tijuana the differences between the world I live in the one I was visiting stood out even more.

Squatted amidst the trash along the sidewalks were native women, covered in paper-thin dirty blankets, holding empty cups, begging for coins with their eyes. An unidentifiable odor swirled in the air, maybe a blend of cooking food, sweat, urine, and exhaust fumes – hard to tell.

Vendors were hawking cheap gewgaws out of stalls. Others were trying to persuade tourists to have their pictures taken atop ragged donkeys painted to look like miniature zebras.

Scenes like this remind me that much of the world – especially the third world – spends a lot of time scrounging and hustling to feed and house themselves.

The visit was a dose of reality that added to my gratitude for what God has provided.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections

While spending last weekend in San Diego we were awakened by a drunken party in the room next door.

Everything was loud. And very funny. Even though it didn't seem that humorous to me. And it went on til about midnight with banging of doors, screaming and drama.

After a while we reached our limit and called security. While their visit seemed to quell their exuberance somewhat, they still spent most of the night carrying on – albeit at a lower tempo.

In the morning I began to reflect on my own drinking. And somehow I prettied it up by telling myself that I was never as bad as the neighbors who interrupted our serenity the night before. For a few moments I was sure I never bothered anyone.

But, of course, that’s a self-serving distortion of my history. My drinking, what I recall of it (because there are many years I don’t remember much at all), got me into all kinds of difficulty. And I’m sure a lot of it wasn’t very quiet.

In fact, my drinking was so bad at one point, that other criminals and addicts didn’t want to associate with me because I was so reckless and out of control.

I need always remember the dark places my disease took me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Outpatient Update

TLC Outpatient Treatment Clinic is receiving more and more referrals from hospitals and treatment facilities. And we are grateful for this early success only 21 months after opening this latest addition to TLC’s services.

A little over a year ago we only had a handful of clients. In fact, we had more staff members than we did clients in the early days.

Today we have between 35 and 40 clients and 18 support staff and counselors to provide services to them. That’s a ratio of about one staff member for every two clients.

We believe a contributing factor in our success is that we offer a holistic program. We give

-weekly one-on-one sessions
- daily group sessions
-art therapy
-yoga
-massage
-fitness center
-facials
-gardening
-weekend field trips and entertainment
-employment assistance
-long term housing.

Our counselors who have worked at high volume treatment programs love the idea that they can continue to have the same clients on their caseloads for months at a time.

And probably one of the greatest testimonials to our program is that many clients are reluctant to leave when it’s time for them to graduate.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pray Carefully

I had to sort back through the past couple of days and ask myself what I had been praying for. Was it for serenity? Tolerance? Understanding? Wisdom?

Because the day seem to be an emotional roller coaster. A kaleidoscope of addicts involved in interpersonal conflicts. A male employee coming under scrutiny because of his behavior toward a female employee. A lot of misperceptions and drama from all sides. Roommates catfighting like a couple of middle school brats.

I had to ask myself what I'd been praying for. Because when I pray for patience God doesn't just bestow it upon me. Instead, what usually happens is that I find in my path a lot of things to be impatient about. Computers that don't work right. People not showing up on time. Employees bitching about each other. Irritating things that require the patience of Job to sort out. That's what I usually get when I pray for patience.

Same thing when I pray for tolerance. All of a sudden it seems like a raft of intolerable people show up at my office. Or they start blowing up my phone.

I guess the point of all this is be careful what you pray for. Because it doesn't seem like God says, "okay here it is."

Instead he sends us to school, gives us lessons that teach us how to achieve what we want. A prayer for tolerance seems to equal intolerable people. A prayer for serenity or peace of mind usually brings a crew with a jack hammer outside my office or home.

To keep my life simple my prayer tonight is going to be a simple “thank you.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Not Angry

"I learned a long time ago that I could only drive one car at a time." Dean Wolfe

Last night while driving to dinner with my wife we encountered an angry driver in a big pickup. He drove up behind us very fast, slammed on his brakes, and blew his horn. As I looked in the mirror to see what the commotion was I realized that he was signaling me with his middle finger. Then he immediately swung around us to the right, slowed down, and red-faced, began shouting something out of his rolled-down window. I'm not sure what it was, but I don't think it was very nice, based on the look on his face. And as he continued along the road I noticed that he was still waving his arms and hollering something.

And as he drove off I was grateful because I realized that at one time that was me. Everyone and everything, in traffic particularly, irritated me. Wherever I drove I always had something to say about the other stupid drivers who were cluttering the road and keeping me from getting where I was going.

But I quit doing this after I arrived at a 12-step meeting one day, bitching about another stupid driver who slowed me down on my way there. My wise sponsor at the time, Dean Wolfe - now many years departed - said nothing to me directly. But when it was his turn to share he uttered the line at the top of this blog. And it's something I've never forgotten: "I learned a long time ago I could only drive one car at a time."

And the best evidence that I'm making progress in my recovery is that I actually felt compassion for the other driver. While I'm not sure what I did to piss him off - or whose fault it was - the real thing is was it important enough to rage about? Or risk getting into an altercation? To get his blood pressure up? To become angry? To maybe ruin the rest of his day?  I didn't think so.

Peace in my life today means not fighting with anyone about anything – whether I’m right or wrong.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

An Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And because many in my generation reminisce about where they were as that tragic event occurred I thought back to where I was when he fell.

And at that moment, I was working off a 10 year term for heroin possession in California State Prison at Chino. I’d just left my job in the prison administration building and was walking across the yard to the dining hall when an old convict rushed up to me excitedly and said "Did you hear the news? They finally got that f....ing Kennedy! Now if we can get rid of Teddy and Bobby, everything'll be okay."

I remember being almost as shocked at the way I heard the news as I was about the president's death. Because this guy hated everything and everybody, the way he expressed himself about this event shouldn't have surprised me. But in light of what had just occurred, the way I heard of the assassination is embedded my memory.

Even though I was probably as angry as this guy , my anger didn't include higher authorities like the president. I think I placed him in some unreachable sphere, maybe in the same neighborhood as God and the archangels. My anger was more pragmatic and directed at the police, prison guards, and the parole authorities – evil people whom I mistakenly thought were responsible for my circumstances.

Because John F. Kennedy was the first "media" president he was fawned over and idealized by the press from the beginning. And being the first Catholic president he’d breached tradition in a way that forever changed politics. In a way that gave hope to other minorities that faced challenges.

Fifty years later we still share a sense of loss for a man who was struck down at a young age. A man who was thus never able to live out his potential.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our Perceptions

Our perception of happiness was the topic of last Monday’s group.

One group member had never practiced controlling or changing his perceptions. Sometimes he awakes in the morning and however he feels that moment sets the course for his day. If he feels bad, then the day is usually rough. If he feels good, his day might be good. The idea that he could change how he felt by changing his perceptions hadn’t occurred to him.

Another addict talked about how he’d awakened that morning and was in a bad mood. Then he started thinking of the devastation that had occurred in the Philippines and the Midwest due to the forces of nature. Immediately he felt gratitude for his circumstances and his day turned out well. His whole demeanor changed.

It seems like the addicts I work with pay a lot of attention to their feelings. They place their feelings on a pedestal. They honor them with a quick reaction. Many move constantly back and forth, based on their feelings at the moment. Sometimes this gets them into trouble. Maybe even leading to a relapse.

The point of the group was to teach that we can change our happiness level by changing our perceptions.

If we look at our circumstances we can usually find a reason for gratitude, and thus happiness.

It’s only when it’s all about self-centeredness and our needs, above all else, that we get into trouble.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Finding Happiness

My take on life is that we all want to be happy. That's a safe assumption.

And it's probably safe to say that our ideas of happiness are different. At least to some degree. For example, I find satisfaction in being able to help others in recovery, in helping them have a better life.

For some of us, happiness is being in a relationship. Another might find happiness in satisfying work. Yet another might find it in pursuing education. Or traveling. Or operating a successful business.

Some mistakenly think they might be happier if they had more wealth, health, or beauty. This is according to Ed Diener, who is quoted in Ricard Mathieu's book "Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill."  Diener says "It appears that the way people perceive the world is much more important than are objective circumstances."

This book gives examples of populations, such as in impoverished areas of India, that score high on the scale of happiness and life satisfaction, yet live in circumstances that we Westerners would find appalling.

So what's my point? The point is that for us who are used to finding happiness in a crack pipe, a line of meth, a bottle of Jack Daniels, or a shot of heroin, there are simpler and  less dangerous roads to the Holy Grail of happiness.

We can educate ourselves about what happiness really means to us. And if we take the time to do the work we can learn how to change our perceptions on what's important.

It simply takes practice.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Carrying the Message

"You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.“ Mother Theresa

A longtime manager became overly upset at a client who'd disappointed him. Over the years he'd invested a lot of emotional energy in helping the client. But it seemed to him that the client was as ungrateful as the day he arrived.

In fact, the manager was so upset that he questioned how long he could keep doing this kind of work.

One counsel I give our managers is that our job is to simply carry the message. The results and the outcome are up to God.

Sometimes our ego whispers to us that we can change people. But I learned a long time we don't have a shred of power when it comes to changing others. We simply carry the message. What they do with our gift is up to them.

One thing I keep in mind is that we addicts and alcoholics have left a trail of disappointed people behind us. Parents. Wives. Children. Employers. Many of them thought they could change us if they only gave us enough advice or money or love. And they were baffled and confused when their efforts failed.

While I appreciate it when a client uses my suggestions, I don’t become upset when they don’t. After all, they might have a better idea of what’ll work for them.

Or they might not be ready to take a chance on an unknown joy, preferring to remain with the familiar misery they know.

Because I want to stay healthy I’m not attached to the outcome.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Miracle Happened

A client who’d been with us nearly a year graduated this week.

And within a few days he'll have his GED and start college. He's moving back home with his family and beginning a new life.

He has a rosy future. But it wasn't always this way.

When he first arrived last year he was a pissed off twenty something who had no clue about how to live or how to stay clean.

When he first arrived he didn't like anything or anybody. He didn't want to be here. He was looking for cigarettes and someone to complain too. And that was about it.

In fact, we were surprised when he was still around three days later.

But along the way something clicked. We started hearing less and less about his bad behavior in staff meetings – always a sign that a client is doing something different..

He began showing up for counseling sessions on time. He joined the fitness center. He started supporting other clients who were facing issues.

Eventually he seemed to get it. He became an example of perseverance for others because he didn’t run away when things got tough.

We wish him – and his loving family - all the best as he begins his new life.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

His Son is Back

"When I sent my son to TLC he was broken,” said the man on the phone. “When I flew him back home he was whole again.”

Today his son’s clean and sober. He’s attending school. Lives at a halfway house so he can be among recovering people. Goes to AA twice a week. And has a job.

The father’s voice was full of emotion because his son was addicted to heroin and headed down a dark path of destruction.

And, of course, we're gratified when we get these kinds of messages from parents. It validates our program and what we do.

This man’s son did well while he was with us. He attended groups and pretty much followed the guidelines. He did what was expected of him during his stay.

But it’s hard to predict what a client will do after they leave the program. While they may be compliant while they’re with us the real test is what occurs once they’re out in the real world.

In this man’s case it looks like he took what he learned here back home with him.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Recovering Together?

A young woman calls from out of state to ask we have a program where she and her boyfriend can "recover together."

When I tell her we don't, she seems upset. And when I explain to her why I don't think that'll work she tells me again what she wants, as if I didn't hear her the first time.

"We love each other so much. We got into this together and now we want to fight it together."

And when I repeated what I’d already told her she ended the call.

So why is it a bad idea to recover with our sweetheart? Or our spouse?

Our experience has been that the focus remains on the other person, rather than the dynamics of the disease.

When couples are in group together they tend to protect one another rather than expose their vulnerabilities.

We believe that if love is real it will survive a temporary separation while one works on their recovery.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Luxury Problems?

A talk show host this week was talking about ungrateful people on his radio show.

He brought the subject up because many consumers are outraged because major outlets are planning to open Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day, rather than on the traditional Black Friday. It somehow offended their sensibilities.

Dismayed at the controversy, he pointed out how trivial and petty their concerns were. Particularly in light of the devastation that has swept across the Philippines. And the tragic war that is engulfing Syria. He said people should be grateful for having so-called “luxury problems” – as opposed to the life and death issues facing many in the Third World.

And I couldn't agree more. In the rooms of recovery – because of the personal devastation many of us survived - we talk of gratitude for simply being sober and alive. The topic is never about when we should or shouldn't be able to shop.

And because many newcomers are starting over with nothing, it’s rare to hear them talk of anything other than the real challenges of staying sober. Like regaining their health, restoring trust with their friends and families, and trying to put food on the table.

We're simply grateful for having escaped with our lives.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Work of Recovery

Once we remove the alcohol and drugs from our lives the real work of recovery begins.

And as we start the process of living clean and sober we discover who we really are. And even though it may not be too relevant, we realize why we started using in the first place.

Many of those not in recovery – especially parents – see that we're free of drugs and alcohol and think everything's great. After all, wasn't that the goal? Get rid of the drugs and alcohol?

But for most of us the drugs and alcohol are merely symptoms of a deeper malaise, a spiritual and emotional sickness that we try to ease with chemicals. Once the chemicals are gone then we’re forced to confront these issues as part of successful recovery. And if we don't run away - and face these challenges as they arise - we’ll enjoy a successful recovery.

Among the issues we deal with is low self-esteem. Poor self-esteem is a reason many of us use drugs or alcohol. We drank and drugged so we could feel as good as we think everyone else feels.

How do we build self-esteem?  In recovery we start building self-esteem by paying attention to small accomplishments. Things like keeping our room clean. Showing up for groups on time. Not engaging in negative talk. Working out. Being supportive of others . Being kind to our family. All of these small things are building blocks for improving self-esteem for those of us who start out on the bottom.

Ideas for improving self-esteem can be found at Psychologist Nathaniel Brandon’s website.   

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Improving our Health

I believe – as much as possible - that we should care for our health. Exercise, meditation, stress reduction, eating little or no processed food, are among the ingredients of healthy living.

This came up last weekend while talking to a member of the program who suffers from various ailments. To help combat physical and emotional challenges he's on a regimen of over 20 medications.

As we talked, it also came out that he did no exercise - plus smokes cigarettes.

And while I'm not qualified to talk about his medical protocol, it takes little more than common sense to realize there are non-medical things we can do to improve our health.

And among those are developing good living habits.. Clearly the simplest – albeit maybe the most challenging – is to toss the cigarettes. In addition, an exercise routine provides wonderful collateral benefits like stress reduction, more energy, and improved sleep.

While I in no way intend to be judgmental or offensive, it's my obligation to help him improve his life. Just like we do at TLC when we help addicts with other recovery issues.

For those who want to quit smoking go to http://www.nicorette.com or try http://zenhabits.net/10-tips-for-quitting-smoking/.  These are only a few of the many resources available on the internet.

For information about eating better you might check out the hundreds of videos at nutritionfacts.org.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Special Veteran

Today is a special day in this country.  A day when we honor the veterans who put themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us.

And it’s extra special to me. Because one of those veterans is my youngest daughter, Veronica, who served a tour in Afghanistan after she joined the Army in 2003, at 18 years old.

When she said she was joining I thought it wouldn't happen, that it was a passing teenage idea. And when she was accepted, I went into a state of denial, telling myself that she wouldn't end up in a war zone. But within six months she was at Bagram Airfield, North of Kabul. And a short time after that she was serving at a frontier outpost on the border of Pakistan, which was under regular rocket fire.

Although she wasn't wounded physically, she returned from the conflict with severe enough trauma to receive 100% disability for life.

Today she’s married, has completed four years of college, is buying a home, and spends time volunteering with Veteran’s organizations.

I thank God she returned alive. And I thank her for the sacrifice she made – one that impacted her life forever.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Looking at Ourselves

A client who became so angry that he stormed out of group after cussing out the therapist was confronted about his behavior.

But instead of seeing his part, he described how the therapist had insulted him and treated him like he was “stupid.” At no time did he say anything about his role in the incident. The counselor had singled him out the first time he saw him and started picking on him.

When I explained how improbable that sounded he got quiet. Finally, I asked if he knew about the 10th Step. Because he'd been in multiple treatment programs I was surprised when he told me he didn't know what it was. And, of course, that said a lot.

When I explained that the 10th step is about cleaning up our side of the street and looking at our behavior he acted as if he didn't understand. And indeed, he kept talking about the therapist as being the only issue. In fact, I'm not too sure that he didn't expect me to fire the counselor over the incident.

He made several attempts to tell me what the counselor had said. And each time I gently steered him back to looking at himself, which it appeared that no one else had done before. Because when it came to talking about himself he could find nothing wrong with his behavior. It was all about the outside world and everyone screwing with him.

Before the conversation ended I made an appointment to have a one-on-one session with him, hopefully to help him change his perspective.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tangled Emotions

An addicted family member who’s taken advantage of my generosity on more than one occasion tells another family member how sorry he is. That he wants to apologize one more time but is afraid of my reaction.

And when I hear of it I have tangled emotions. As someone in recovery, I believe in forgiveness, of letting go, of washing what he’s done from my memory.

And mostly I have, because I never think of the money he’s taken. In fact, I don’t care about it because it won’t change my life one way or another.

But the serious damage he’s done is to our relationship, something that’ll be difficult to restore.

What’s been destroyed is respect and trust, those important building blocks of any relationship.

No matter how sincere the apology there’ll be that caveat in the recesses of my mind, wondering what’s next?. Whatever he says, how can I believe him?

My heart wants to believe that everyone’s sincere. Common sense says otherwise.

And when I share this with my sponsor he says listen to my common sense.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Same old Story"

"Same old story, just different faces," said a long time client as he explained why he quit going to meetings.

Someone who heard this was unkind enough to suggest that the same phrase might apply to the drug addicts or alcoholics who ended up in the cemetery from an overdose.

And their story is probably that they quit going to meetings and doing the things that have kept millions of other alcoholics and addicts sober: going to meetings and working a program.

What the client said is true. The plot we hear, the story-line we hear, at a 12-step meeting is usually the same. What it was like, what happened, and what it's like today. That's it.

And that's the core story of us addicts. Our lives were a mess. Someone – or something – intervened. We now enjoy the success that comes with living in recovery.

Even though I've been sober going on 23 years, I still attend at least two meetings a week. Sometimes it's with the same people. And they tell the same stories. And sometimes I might not want to be there on a particular day. Or I might not want to hear a certain person's story because I know it’s boring stuff.

But I listen anyway because of something very important to me: saving my life. Like any life-saving intervention, the medicine or the procedure might be painful. But what's important? A little pain? Or saving me from what was once a miserable existence? Or perhaps certain death?

While this might seem melodramatic it's based on the reality that over the years at TLC we've buried hundreds of addicts and alcoholics who just didn't get it.

But what might have saved 95% of them would have been the willingness to sit through maybe a boring or repetitious meeting listening to the same old story.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sick and Tired

In group this week a client lamented that he was "sick and tired of living in a halfway house." He went on to say that he'd been doing this for a long time. Too long.

And the group moderator told him that might be a good thing. Being tired sometimes is catalyst for change.

Why? Because being tired is a form of pain. And most of us don't change until we get enough pain. Living in the drug subculture with all its attendant miseries is no longer tolerable. So we go to a place like TLC because they accept anyone who’s willing, whether they have money or not

Most of those who come to TLC don't do so because they're looking for great accommodations. They come because they are in misery and have nowhere to go. They're mostly homeless. Without insurance. No job. No one wants them around in their present state.

So they came to us, addicts who were exactly like them when we drug ourselves in the door.

They sometimes leave early, but not because they have a great plan. But because they’re tired of living in a halfway house. However, this is not a good reason.

A good reason is because we're ready to move on to a better life. We have money for two or three months rent on an apartment. We have an automobile. We have car insurance.. We have a job. And we also have the most important ingredient of all: a home group and a sponsor.

Leaving because we’re tired of living in a halfway house is not a plan.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Skewed Priorities?

An out-of-state client who's been with us more than once returns again for another try.

The last time he left, over a year ago, he went on a meth run and lived on the streets for a time. Periodically we'd see mug shots of him when he was booked into the Maricopa County Jail for some type of drug crime. In the photos he appeared beat down and not too happy. Understandably so.

But after he's back with us over 10 days he all of a sudden has to return home. Something about attending services for a friend who died of a drug overdose. And also to take care of "family business."

And of course, being the skeptic, I realize this man still doesn't have his priorities straight. Because I know his history and have worked fairly closely with him I don't believe he's done using.

In my 23 years of experience in dealing with addicts and alcoholics I've learned that we must focus on one thing: recovery. Because for a real addict or alcoholic nothing else matters until they deal with their most pressing issue.

When addicts start talking about the need to get to work. Or the need to take care of their family. Or they have to get back to school, I know it's only a smokescreen so they can get away from us and start back with their drug of choice.

Because if they need those things to stay sober then why did they end up with us first place?

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Changed Life

Had a rush of gratitude today today when I opened up my email and received a message from a manager who was at TLC around the year 2000.

He said he's been sober all those years. And he attributed his recovery to the principles he learned while at TLC.

Perhaps the biggest reward of working at TLC is when I receive messages like this. Although it's nice to get paid and enjoy the other benefits of the job, the idea that what you're doing has a lasting impact on someone else's life is very fulfilling.

And it definitely compensates for all the times when we don't succeed in trying to help those who are not quite yet ready to do the hard work of recovery.

Like throwing a rock in a pond, our efforts have a ripple effect in the lives of recovering addicts and alcoholics.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Psychic Change?

I observe a client who's been here twice before and notice he’s doing something different this time.

He's volunteering around the living units cleaning up the common area. He's helping newcomers become oriented to the program.  He found a sponsor.

He no longer breaks into tears in counseling sessions. He’s quit whining about his circumstances at every opportunity. He participates in groups and attends outside meetings. He talks about the internal changes going on with him, instead of portraying himself as one of life’s victims.

What happened to this guy?

It says in the recovery literature that “selfishness and self-centeredness we think is the root of our problems.” And all of a sudden this man is reaching outside himself and doing for others.

While change around TLC is often very subtle, we sometimes are blessed to see clients undergo the dramatic psychic change this man seems to be undergoing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Managing with Gratitude

I must remember that gratitude is a most important indicator of who will succeed as a manager at TLC – or who will thrive in their recovery.

I was reminded of this today while talking to two of our women managers. One of their dominant characteristics is that they walk in gratitude each day. Not necessarily gratitude to me or to TLC, but gratitude for their lives. Gratitude for their recovery. They exude happiness and joy. And they're wonderfully successful at their jobs and in their relationships with clients. They always leave those around them in a good mood - including me.

Today, when I try to fill a management job, the first thing I want to pay attention to? Level of gratitude. I don't care if they're a rocket scientist. I don't care if they have a college education. Gratitude is what I'm looking for.

While it's nice if applicants have an education and brilliance, they're not much help if they don't also have gratitude as a foundation.

Over the past year we've lost three key managers, all either educated, experienced - or both. But each also sometimes exhibited a quality which I see as the opposite of gratitude: arrogance. Each had an out-sized ego and only paid lip service to gratitude when they knew it was expected. And they eventually fired themselves by failing drug tests.

So why were they hired? It's my fault because I was under pressure to fill the position. But I violated my own belief about looking at gratitude.

I did them - and TLC - a disservice.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Meditation?

Newcomers to the 12-step programs sometimes have questions about this thing called "meditation."

So now that I'm sober, I have to dress like a monk and sit cross-legged for a couple hours a day? Or do I read daily meditations from a small book? Do I read the bible? Do I need a mantra? Do I need a spiritual guide?

Sometimes these questions can baffle us. But here are resources for those interested in learning more.

Something we did 15 years ago at TLC – at a time when we could afford it – was to send a dozen key staff members to a course in Transcendental Meditation. Even though it was kind of expensive, it benefited our organization. And some of us continue meditating to this day – myself included.

Here's the link for those interested in the TM school of meditation. At this site you find scholarly studies that discuss the positive results obtained from this form of meditation.

But because money’s an issue for most in early recovery, there are innumerable free resources on the Internet.

One of my favorite sites is Leo Babuta’s blog, Zen Habits.

Read his October 30 posting entitled, "12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools." Here he describes simple and free methods to engage in mindfulness, a simple form of meditation available to us all at no cost.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hurting Our Loved Ones

If addicts had a chance to hear the pain their families go through it might be easier for them to get into recovery.

I start out this way today because I began my morning fielding calls from anxious parents whose children had recently left our program for parts unknown.

One of the children, a young woman, was discharged from our program a few weeks ago because she was non-compliant and found in possession of drug paraphernalia. Apparently she had also been discharged from the program she entered after leaving us. And now the father was reaching out anywhere he could to locate her. I agreed to help and put the word out that her father was looking for her. We also said we’d accept her into our halfway house program.

The other, a young man from a Northern state, only stayed 24 hours before becoming angry and departing. His mother was concerned because she hadn't heard from him for a day. She feared that something bad had happened and was preparing to file a missing persons report. We said we'd call, should we hear anything of her son.

If either of these irresponsible addicts could hear the pain and suffering in their parents' voices they might have taken their recovery more seriously.

Hopefully they’ll return and have chance to do that.

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Not a Plan

We get the news that a client who's been with us for over ten years is planning to leave.

And, under normal circumstances we'd think it was a good thing. After all, "transitional" is part of our name. We help those in recovery get their lives together and return to the mainstream.

But in this man's case maybe not such a great idea for many reasons.

First of all he's leaving because he got a large settlement from Social Security - many thousands of dollars. And when he left on previous occasions he inevitably floated in alcohol until he was forced to return.

Second, his transition plan is to move somewhere to a hotel or motel - with no family or recovery support.

Third, he's in such precarious health that he might not survive a bout with alcohol for more than a few days

The list goes on.

And when the risks of his plan were brought to his attention he agreed it wasn't a good move. But he decided to do it anyway.

Our manager told him he was going to miss him. And he was sad because knew he probably wouldn't see the client again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Keeping On

Now 1200 days in a row. No breaks. No sick days. No vacations.

Three point two eight years of writing this daily blog,

And sometimes I wonder - what's the point?

Then last week a reminder of why I write each day.

As I walked into the treatment clinic I met a new client who said she came to TLC because of things she'd read in the blog. She thought we might understand her issues.

Probably more than anything else the idea that someone finds inspiration here is enough.

Over the years I’ve heard from family members - usually parents - who follow this blog because their child’s in our program. They say it’s a way to stay in touch.

It's rewarding to present a message that helps someone step into recovery, to help an addict find redemption.

Heading for 1300.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Daily Reprieve?

So a manager relapses. A man who's been with us for nearly a year and a half.

We’ve seen this happen periodically over the past 22 years.  It’s nothing new. But we still wonder.
Here's a man, living at the epicenter of a treatment program. Surrounded by recovery, 24 hours a day.

He literally lives, breathes, sleeps, is immersed in a recovery atmosphere. Then he somehow separates himself enough to slip a needle in his arm.

When confronted, he tries getting over on the drug test. Tries to deceive the screener. Then eventually, when confronted with his deception, he says someone offered him heroin. Offered. Didn't hold a gun to his head. Didn't force him. Just “offered.” Next thing, he has a needle in his arm.

Was it that easy, that simple? Maybe. And then he's packing his stuff and perhaps returning to the drug world. Who knows?

So what happened? How did he let his guard down? How did the enemy slip in to ambush him?

We’ll never know for sure. Because we’re not in his head.

Some said they were afraid for him because he’d quit going to meetings. Started isolating. Becoming distant and uninvolved.

His relapse illustrates the danger of thinking our enemy sleeps. Of thinking we have it all altogether. Of letting our ego run rampant and neglecting our recovery.

The 12-step literature sums it up succinctly: “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."

Thank God for the reprieve.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Attaboy

We received an email from an out-of-state interventionist who said a client they sent “had nothing but great things to say” about our treatment clinic. He also wrote that even though he’d only been with us two days, “first impressions can make or break an addict’s chances.” Nice feedback.

In my response I explained that our clinic offers many of the same services as the higher end clinics - but at less than half the cost.

And I went down the list: weekly one-on-one sessions, groups, art therapy, smoking cessation, yoga, massage, outside meetings, gardening, fitness center, recreation room, two full-time chefs, and regular weekend field trips and activities.

But perhaps even more to the liking of the clients is that more than half of our eighteen plus staff members live on the premises and are accessible 24/7.

When a client has questions - or is experiencing any kind of issues - a staff member responds within moments. With the exception of counseling sessions, everyone’s door is open pretty much all day if clients need to talk.