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.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Change Happens

Last week a client came in who seemed impossible.

He was demanding.  He was self-centered.  Everyone was wrong.  He hated his family and his family hated him.   He didn't need recovery. He didn't get along with his roommates. And they didn't care much for his attitude.  His prognosis wasn't good and none of us expected him to last more than a few days.

This week, though, there seems to be hope.  That he may be around a while is now a distinct possibility.

When clients arrive they’re often angry about not being able to use drugs or alcohol. They don’t like the housing, or the food, or the schedule. The list goes on and on.

But after a while, if they don’t run away, the influence from other clients wears off on them. They see their peers going to meetings, listening in groups and talking about the joys of being clean and sober.  If they’re at all receptive this kind of input can start them toward positive change.

So this week an impossible client seems to have hope.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Old Scripts

A client seemed puzzled yesterday– after she'd spent several minutes describing how badly her husband treated her – when I asked her this question.

        “Why do you let him do that?”

She took so long to respond that I realized that it was an aspect of their relationship she’d never thought about. She likely had been telling this story for so long that her victimization at his hands was part of her persona, of who she was. When she was stripped of the script that defined her life, she didn’t know what to say.

Inevitably, as I discussed this relationship with her, she would revert to how bad he was and how she had suffered at his hands. Not physical abuse, but emotional and psychological abuse.

The best she could do, when I asked why she was still in the relationship, was to talk about how he was when they’d first many years earlier as a rationalization of why she was still there. My expectation is that unless she’s willing to change she likely will not have this kind of discussion with me because it might penetrate her identity as a victim.

Many of our more troubled clients present us with some kind of life script that defines them.

        “I’m an abused wife.”

        “ I’m an ex-convict.”

        “I have hepatitus.”

        “ I was raised in the ghetto.”

        “I was sexually abused as a child.”

        ” I have no education.”

Most of these are presented as an explanation of why they’re an addict, a justification if you will. And if they’re unwilling to take some baby steps toward recovery, this story will keep them sick.

After all, terrible and damaging things happen to people. And there are always sympathetic counselors, family members, or other addicts who’ll feel sorry for us, be understanding.

But if we can’t tear up the script we might remain sick.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Personal Inventory

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” - the 10th Step

Practicing this 10th Step is a wonderful stress reducer – but what does it mean?

For me it’s simple: anytime I offend anyone, whether in thought or deed, I quickly apologize and move on through my day. If I successfully practice this step I’m not building resentments or carrying anger that might turn into something worse.

There’s nothing so powerful and disarming as when we do someone wrong and then apologize. My experience has always been – without exception – that the recipient of my apology is at first maybe a little surprised - but then grateful at my gesture. The response is always a smile and then quick forgiveness. And often there’s even a bonding and improved relationship because my apology is a statement that I’m more concerned about getting along than being right.

And how do I offend someone with my thoughts? This may be lofty, but if I think well of someone rather than think of them negatively then maybe my attitude will have a positive influence on our communication. If I change my thoughts and look upon someone positively it will show in my communication.

If I use the 12-Step program to guide my behavior I normally have a good day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Unlearning

One of our challenges at TLC is helping recovering clients live in the real world, to leave behind the prison or street cultures from which they came.

The reality is that much of our population spent years living outside the mainstream – either on the streets or confined in the justice system.

And they come to us from these environments with only the skills that helped them survive in that world, where much of what they learned was necessary and effective.

A challenge for many of these clients is the rule that they must tell management if another client is using – or doing anything illegal or underhanded. People who tell on others in the world they came from are ostracized at the least and sometimes suffer a more severe penalty.

But the few who step across the divide and move into our culture of recovery often succeed. The toughness that allowed them to survive long enough to arrive at our door is the same toughness that will allow them to meet the challenges of living sober in the larger community.

Our job is to help them understand that – and to help them bridge that gap.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Job Security

A problematic client keeps apologizing for his whining behavior.

"I know I make you mad,” he's said on more than one occasion.

He’s wrong about making me mad because I rarely go there. And while he can be frustrating, his behavior makes my job more interesting. In fact, I look at bad behavior as job security. After all, if clients were well-adjusted and knew how to stay sober they wouldn't need us

When I tell him his behavior is pretty much what I expect from a new client, he seems puzzled and leaves my office with his head down.

But tomorrow he’ll be back with another strange idea about what he needs to make his life better or to help him stay clean. And, of course, I’ll tell him it’s another bad idea and we’ll have a few more rounds.

The positive thing about clients like him is that they still show up. If they keep showing up and coming back for more then I believe that change will happen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

First Steps

While counseling a young addict yesterday, one who'd been a pain to everyone his life, I saw at sign of change. And the sign might have gone unnoticed to most people.

But it jumped out for me because it was the first time in the several months he’d been a client that I’d heard him express – even in the smallest way – an interest in anyone but himself.

It was when he said he needed to stop accepting financial help from his family, that they’d done enough for him. And I agreed.

It was a big turnaround because his entire conversation consisted of me, me, me. And, I want, I want, I want. Or, I need, I need, I need. There was nothing about another person unless it was about what they could do for him. So it was refreshing.

How he’d reached the point where he started considering others is not important. It could have been step work. It could have been guilt. Or any number of things.

The important thing is that he’s beginning to see the harm he's doing. If he continues along this track he’ll first start thinking about the money. Then he might think about other ways he’s hurt them with his addiction and self-centeredness.

This is when he’ll start growing,  perhaps get on the road to recovery.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another Attaboy...

Received the following from a former client, the sort of message that makes me happy to show up at the office each day. (Names are omitted to protect confidentiality.)

“My name is E……. D…….., and I was a resident of Mac House from June to September of 07. Before I entered your program I was struggling daily with the use and abuse of alcohol and cocaine. I came to your facility from New Jersey, and I want to let you know that the experience was something I could not thank you enough for. Although I did slip once or twice when I got back home,

“I am clean and sober today and one of the reasons for this is what I got out of TLC. I have the certificates from your program hung on my bedroom wall and it reminds me everyday of the 90 days I spent there. Thank you for letting me walk into your facility when my scorecard read zero. I hope that if I am ever in the Mesa area, I can come in and share my experience, strength, and hope, and give back a little of what you had given to me. So in closing, thank you again, and if (former manager) is still around, tell him I said hello.”


Messages like this mean a lot to me - and our staff. 

 It’s a blessing to hear that - 2000 miles away - an addict is having a better life because he spent 90 days with us over five years ago … It makes this so worthwhile...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Priorities out of Whack

A young addict sat at the other side of my desk telling me of his challenges.

     “I need to get to work.”

    “ I owe a lot of money.”

     “I have to register for school."

      "I want to start a career.”

His list was longer than this, but you get the idea.

When I asked if he’d had jobs and money before, he agreed that he had. And he also had worked in more than one field where he’d experienced success.

     “Did these things you need keep you sober?” I asked.

He seemed irritated at the question. So I pointed out that he’d said nothing about his addiction.  Or being serious about treatment.

He had no money. He had a fractured relationship with his family. Someone else was caring for his child. Yet his whole conversation was about trying to get everything back in his life – even though these things had never kept him clean.

By the time he left my office he was trying to absorb the idea that he might have to re-align his priorities if he wanted to change his life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Distorted Thinking?

Some clients find it irritating that TLC requires them to pay a $110.00 a week service fee. It’s probably one of the more consistent complaints we hear.

       “It’s all about the money,” is a common lament.

       “These f-ing guys are getting rich,” is another.

       ”I thought this was a non-profit” is yet another.

And these complaints stem from several things. For one, those making these comments understand little about the costs to feed, house and otherwise provide for 650 clients

And likely they've never paid rent, utilities or bought their own food.  Or been responsible for themselves or others.

So they do a few calculations like this: $110 X 650 = $71500.00 a week! And times 4.3 weeks equals over $300,000 a month.

And while their math may be good they've already made the false assumption that everyone pays. Wrong. Instead of collecting $110 a week, TLC collects maybe less than $75 a week from each client. So now we have a total of left of a little over $200,000, still a nice amount.

But then we have to deduct utility bills that come to around $750,000 a year, mortgage payments of about the same amount, property taxes and on and on. You get the idea.

By the time we're done we're lucky when we break even.  And all of this is done without funding from anyone but those who use our services.

The issue with those who go down this road is distorted thinking,  complicated by their addictions. Most are having trouble staying sober and clean so they lash out at those who are helping them.

After all, where on the planet - outside of jail - can one find housing and meals for $110.00 a week?  And on top of that there's chance to have a better life.   Hmmm….

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Personal Responsibllity

In an anonymous response to yesterday’s blog, a former resident wrote, in part

 “…(prior to my arrival) I was told that TLC was a safe and sober place to be and I was relieved. Today’s blog reflects to me an element of risk for even a short time. But then when I look back that element was probably there then too. I just didn’t search it out.”

The blog he referred to - published yesterday - is about a former client who came 2000 miles to get into recovery but kept doing the same thing - which was drug seeking and getting high.  He was ultimately discharged.

However, the writer’s comment makes a good point: if we want to get high we’re going to do so, regardless of the circumstances.

At TLC we have no magic formula. The only difference between our program and many others is that we are founded and operated by recovering addicts. This can be troubling to those who come here with the idea we'll act as surrogate parents. When they discover we’re not going to play that game they get angry and go elsewhere – usually bad-mouthing us all the way.

At TLC we expect everyone to work. We require random drug screens. Everyone attends meetings. It’s about nothing but recovery and personal responsibility. 

We're not concerned about anyone's past.  Our job is to help them live sober today - something we can never do without their active participation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Not Ready

A young man whose parents sent him from the East Coast to TLC last week to get clean and sober is not doing so well.

His first day in Mesa, he hooked up with another addict and scored some heroin. Because he came so far, and he expressed contrition, he was allowed to continue in the program. But he was put on probabtion.

Yet his pattern continued. Even though our doctor prescribed medication to ease his withdrawal, he was caught in possession of benzodiazepines the following day. And later he was found in another client's room, reportedly looking for something to steal to trade for drugs.

At that point he was referred to another facility, loudly protesting how we'd violated his rights by taking away his contraband drugs..

At TLC we sometimes give latitude to those withdrawing from drugs. But there comes a point when addicts must participate in their own recovery. None of us is going to work harder than the addict who wants recovery.  We'll help, but we can't it do for them.

A lot of us have had people in our lives who really hoped for us to recover. Mothers. Fathers. Wives. Husbands. Parole officers, counselors. Many people wanted us to get clean and sober. And most of them were interested in our recovery long before we were.

In my case, I ended up in prison long before I thought of recovery. People were tired of my nonsense. They were tired of trying to motivate me to change. At the time I thought they were mean and evil. That they didn't know how to party.

Today I empathize with those who didn't want me in their lives while I was using drugs and alcohol. And this young man whose parents spent money to get him here reminds me of the damage I did to others.

Hopefully he'll someday get clean and sober and make amends.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Four Years Ago...

Early on January 21 four years ago we received the devastating news that Bill W, a long-time TLC employee had passed away.

Bill was at TLC from 1992 until his passing in 2009. When he arrived he was like many new clients. He had few job skills, and no money. But he had a burning desire to change.

He began volunteering around the program, working mostly in the office, learning about computer systems. Before long he was helping with minor accounting chores. As time passed he became more knowledgeable than his teachers. He took over the accounting department.  Bill did that job for many years, creating many procedures that remain in place today.

Bill's story is like that of many of our clients. When he came to the program he had little. At the time of his passing he had a new Mustang. He was buying his own home. But more important than the material improvements in his life, he’d developed a circle of close friends. Even more significantly, he’d reunited with his family and enjoyed spending time with them.

Not long ago a longtime staff member, who'd known Bill since he arrived, walked into the accounting office and said, "I sure miss my friend Bill."

We all share that sentiment. God Speed, Bill.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What's the Difference?

Two former TLC clients came to visit yesterday.

One was homeless, wearing a raggedy, smelly topcoat. His hands were shaking. He looked like a scarecrow that had escaped from someone’s garden. He’d lost some fifty pounds since he walked out of the program several months early to rejoin the female drinking buddy he loved so much.

He pleaded with us – as he does each time – to let him return. But since he’d been here some six times, we couldn’t help him. His pattern was to stay until he regained some weight. Then he’d rejoin her in another death struggle with alcohol.

The last time they were both in the hospital within 30 days. We referred him to a homeless shelter because allowing him to keep coming in and out demoralizes other clients.

The second visitor was a client who’d graduated after six months in treatment. He was well-dressed, had a glowing smile. He was working at a new company, going to meetings and reunited with his family. He was the picture of health - a magazine cover for the benefits of recovery and sober living.

So how do two bright, well-spoken, intelligent men get such different results from the same program? There are no easy answers.

But a good guess might be that one surrendered and realized he was powerless. The other quite likely hasn't had enough pain yet.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Reaching Out

I received the following anonymous comment to the blog earlier this week:

"Thanks for ur blog it is sometimes the only thread to recovery I have and am shamed to admit I have such a weak program right now. .."

For some reason I feel compelled to respond.

After all, with the many resources available in the recovery community, are there acceptable excuses to not have a stronger link to recovery? And I say this not to be critical because here’s a fellow addict crying for support.

After all, this comment says the writer needs more program. Reading this blog may be helpful, but so would anything positive.  A solid 12-step program will help this reader.

This person obviously lives in an urban area since her/she accesses the internet. Probably less than a mile or two from wherever he/she lives are multiple meetings. There are phone numbers. There are people who want to help others stay sober.

The positive thing this reader shows is awareness of where he/she is at right now.  That's a start.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lying to Who?

“How do you tell when an addict is lying? When his lips are moving.” - source unknown

The other day I handed an addict my cell phone so he could speak to his father about financing a stay at our program.

The man was trying to convince dad to spend the money for his treatment, even though he had enough money of his own to pay his way. The conversation carried on for over 15 minutes and the man lied to his father throughout.

For example, when he came in he told me he was using heroin. But he told his father he wasn't using street drugs. He said he’d been taking prescription meds for back pain from an injury he received while in the army. And his use of the pain pills had gotten him addicted. He needed to detoxify and get into treatment.

Finally, when it appeared the father wasn't about to give up several thousand dollars, the son angrily hung up the phone and left our office. Presumably to buy more heroin with the several hundred dollars he had in his pocket.

Perhaps one day he’ll get into recovery. Or maybe he’ll go to prison for a crimes committed while trying to get drug money. He might overdose. Someone might hurt him for the money has in his pocket now. There aren't a lot of pretty options when we’re actively using.

We’ll leave the light on for him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Message from God?

It may be a cliche, yet we often hear how God works through others.

A long-time TLC manager recounted this experience during the past holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Christmas he’d been working non-stop, supervising TLC activities during our non-profit’s busiest season - something he'd done for years. And, in the last hours of Christmas Eve, he still hadn't bought Christmas presents.

So while in line at the bank to withdraw shopping money, bone-tired, he told himself he’d find a different career – anything else. He was done helping others.

Then a large, well-dressed man in line ahead of him turned around, stuck his hand out, and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I want to thank you. You changed my life.”

He didn't remember the man, but listened as he told how the program had changed his life. How he now was married, had children, and his own business.

Our manager appreciated the attaboy, then continued reflecting about his impending career change. But he changed his mind before he left the bank because three more former clients just “happened” to show up to thank him for his help.

When he got the parking lot he looked up and said “Alright, alright, I got the message.” And the next day he was back at work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No Logic

A manager shared that while he was in an alcohol induced coma - over nine years ago -, the doctor told the friend who took him to the hospital to contact the family because he wasn't going to wake up.

But he survived and spent the next two months in a rehabilitation facility. Before he left, doctors told him if he drank again he wouldn't survive.

After two years of abstinence his liver and other organs were pretty much repaired, his health fairly good. Yet he found himself once more at a bar, ordering a drink.

At that point he had an awakening. He surrendered and entered one of TLC’s halfway houses, where he found structure and a safe environment. After being with the program a while, he became a house manager, then a district manager, a position he’s held every since.

Those not familiar with addiction might ask why this healthy man, a military veteran with a good retirement income would risk it all for alcohol and drugs? There’s no easy answer.

But his story illustrates the power and insanity of addiction, which transcends logic and common-sense.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Unique?

Those of us sober are unique. Not unique in an egotistic or "special" way.

Unique in that we prayed for a better life. Then God heard our pain and put us on the path.

Change is difficult.  So difficult that fewer than ten percent of addicts and alcoholics succeed. To do it we convince the one in the mirror to do different. And it's an ongoing - often tough - process. We must be unwavering and unrelenting to adhere to our goal of sobriety.

For me, change is ongoing. When I stop growing - stop trying to become what God intends – I fall into this funk of quasi – guilt. After a few days of no progress, no change, I come back because that’s where I belong.

Only in retrospect is change dramatic – at least for me. I look behind me a year, five years, ten years – and progress seems astounding. But the changes occurred at a glacial pace, incrementally day-by-day, week by week, month by month.

We who overcome our history of failure, of relapse, of wreckage and remain sober are indeed unique. We survived the pitfalls that claimed those who are not convinced that sobriety and clean bring us the ultimate joy.

May be continue...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Denial Lives

Denial, a prominent characteristic of addiction, takes many forms.

For example, a young man’s family called to get him into TLC’s Outpatient Treatment Clinic. 

When he called for his appointment he seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of getting off opiates. He was grateful for his family's help and wanted to change.

But he didn't show for the appointment. So we re-scheduled for the next day. He kept that one, though he was a half hour late. 

During his first interview he said he lived with a girlfriend who was using. When we suggested he move into our sober living so he’d be in a clean environment while detoxing he declined. He said her using wouldn't interfere with his desire to get clean. Of course we knew he was deluding himself if he thought he could get clean while living with an active user.

His behavior during the first few days indicated that – regardless of what he said – he wasn't serious about detox or therapy. That maybe he was going through the motions to placate his family. He then missed an appointment with the clinic doctor. He also didn't make it to follow-up interviews or respond to phone calls..

When we spoke to his parents, who were paying for his services - they said they were having “second thoughts” after talking to their son. He'd told them we were “strange,” that he wasn't sure we were "legitimate."

At that juncture we ended communication with them because they obviously were buying into their son’s excuses – which were really a smokescreen because he didn't want to get sober.

Eventually our disease will drag us down far enough to overcome our denial - no matter what form it takes.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Going for 23

Almost twenty-two-years ago – the 14th of January, 1991, I admitted I was alcoholic. It was the watershed moment of my life.

There’s nothing I've done that's made such a difference. For years I went back and forth with my alcoholism. I didn't want to be an alcoholic. It was okay to be a heroin addict. Heroin addicts were cool in the fifties. But the idea of being an alcoholic - like my father and brother who both died from drinking - had no appeal. I knew I was a heroin addict, but wouldn't admit my alcoholism.

Eventually though, life intervened. I was drinking and drugging so much I had to face myself. I was homeless and headed back to prison. I was stealing each day to survive. I was living in a stolen car. When I drug myself into detox January 13, 1991 I was willing to do whatever it took - even admit being alcoholic.

I enthusiastically attended 12-step meetings. I went from detox to a halfway house. I found a job. I joined the YMCA. I began paying back child support.

Within a year I was on my feet – more or less. I laid the groundwork for TLC and started my own chain of halfway houses. I had a new career and a new life.

I think the real value I bring to the recovery world is a message to those who think they’re too old, or uneducated, or unhealthy, to get into recovery.

When I entered sobriety I was 51 years old. I had a GED. No money or credit. I had hepatitis C. I was a five time loser; three as an adult, twice as a juvenile. However, none of that stopped me. I made a determination that I wanted to change my life. 
 
Today I have a lovely wife, a circle of friends, successful businesses, and relatively good health – all because I’ve been sober 22 years. 

I think I'll go for 23...

Friday, January 11, 2013

We Never Know

I took a call yesterday from one of our facilities about a man who failed a breathalyzer test.

While I normally don’t get reports when a client fails a test, I did in this case because I’d helped get him into the program. Because he was discharged a year earlier for fighting it took my intervention for him to return. So – because of my personal involvement - the house manager gave me a courtesy call .

Although I was disappointed, I was not surprised he’d started drinking again. He’s an alcoholic who came to us after spending more than 30 years in prison. The reality of living in a cage that long had warped this client’s personality to the point that he had a difficult time facing the stress of the real world.

But I took him back because he approached me at a meeting a few months ago – smelling of alcohol - and had the humility to ask for help. He was homeless. He was broke. He said he was tired and wanted another chance. So I helped him back into TLC.

He did well for a minute. He worked. He paid his service fees. He didn’t fight or argue with anyone. He seemed serious about changing his life and getting sober. Then his disease kicked in and he picked up a bottle.

More than one person cautioned had me about taking this man back and maybe they were right.  But on the other hand, he might have heard something this time around that will help him get sober.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Different Perspective

Sometimes I’m fooled by appearances.

This happened while I was doing an assessment for a client at our outpatient clinic, a man who seemed to have the perfect life. He’s happily married. He has a good paying job. He showed up with a nice vehicle. And he was well-dressed and polite.

In view of this facade of success, it somehow seemed incongruous that he was in danger of losing his long-time employment for failing a drug test. In addition, he’d never been arrested nor had a DUI. What motivated him to use drugs?

When he came to the follow-up appointment a week later, he brought his son, a boy around seven. The lad was bright and charming, in spite of a handicap that made it difficult for him to walk. However he was able to hobble along without the aid of crutches or help from his father. In fact, he was seemingly oblivious to his physical challenges, behaving like any other playful seven-year old.

After meeting the boy, I somehow have a different perspective on this man. I’m not sure it’s relevant to anything because I get paid to evaluate, not have opinions. And certainly what I think or feel about a client doesn’t change the evaluation.

I don’t believe this man’s challenges are a reason to get high and jeopardize his livelihood. But after meeting the son, I feel like I understand him a little better.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More Success...

Sometimes the simplest way to tell others about the miracles of recovery is to use examples. 

And I heard one today when a long-time client returned from vacation - where he’d spent time with an elderly relative he hadn't seen since he got sober nearly five years ago.

The last time he saw this relative he was still using and his life was – well you know what his life was like without me telling you another war story.

But when he went to visit this time he was a different person. He’s the father of a one year old. He and the child’s mother will marry this summer. He lives in a four bedroom home in the suburbs. He’s been with the same company since he’s been sober and has assumed added responsibility. He has a sponsor and is working a solid 12-step program.

Not only was the relative pleased that he’d brought his family halfway across the country for a Christmas visit – she was also amazed at the changes sobriety has brought to his life. On top of that, another relative was so impressed with his recovery that she followed him to Arizona on her own to enter TLC’s recovery program.

The real miracle in this man’s case is that he’s sober after his upbringing. His mother died of her addiction before he entered his teens. He last saw his father in a Phoenix park, where he gave his dad some money to buy meth.

It’s a huge leap from where this client came from to where he is today. However, this same success is available to any of us.

We simply need to ask for help.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dragging along the Past

Because of his past, an aftercare client has difficulty accepting his family’s love.   In fact, he choked up as he talked about it.

He was locked up for drug and alcohol issues. He treated his family poorly half a lifetime ago, something he hasn’t forgotten. The guilt he carries today colors his opinion of himself and interferes with relationships. He feels so badly about himself that he doesn't know how anyone could want anything to do with him.

Like many of our clients, he deals with the world based on his past. His conversation includes phrases about how he “should be” or what a “man should do.”

And while we can’t change the past, neither can we judge ourselves by it. We may recall the past as a way to avoid mistakes. However, there’s no benefit in lugging a burden of guilt and shame along with us. Instead - if it’s still an issue make amends - then move on.

I asked this client if he’s still doing the things now that he did back then. The answer was “no.” Today he’s working. He’s attending meetings. He quit smoking. He has a more positive attitude. He helps others.

Bad feelings from the past can destroy our happiness today - if we let them....

Monday, January 7, 2013

Drunk-a-Log...

I've heard that some twelve-step groups back east don't allow newcomers to share until they have a year sober. I used to think the rule was kind of harsh. But after this morning’s meeting, I realize there are good reasons it's in place.

The topic today was "willingness.” And a man with about 24 hours sobriety started speaking, speaking, and speaking some more. He took everyone in the room on a very uninteresting ten minute drunk and drug-a-log that had little to do with anything on this planet. And it definitely had nothing to do with recovery – unless one used his story as an example of what not to do. In deference to the topic, he every so often would toss in the word “willing.”

Finally, when it appeared he was unable to find the end of his story, the chairperson told him to wind it up. There were other people who wanted to speak.

And reluctantly, after some hesitation, he gave up the floor.

Because the meeting I attended is made up of mostly newcomers, it would be hard to keep them from sharing for a year. If we did, the meeting would only last ten or fifteen minutes.

So probably the solution is for the chairperson to announce a three to four minute limit on sharing.

Having said all this, I believe newcomers should share. Though not about recovery, of which they know little.

But in their allotted two or three minutes they could let the rest of the group know that drinking still doesn't work for us alcoholics.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

900 Days

A business associate who’d read my blog asked if I wrote it every day. I said yes, that I've been doing so for 900 days. 

He wondered what the point was, so I explained that I do it for no other reason other than that I’d made a commitment to write 1000 blogs in a row.

It started as a way to force myself to write every day. After all, I exercise each day. And that's kind of the way I look at this.  It's a mental workout.  And it adds to my ability to stay focused and keep a commitment – any commitment.

So I show up at the computer each day and look through my notes for a topic that might help someone with their recovery or their life view.

Some days I show up dry, without a speck of inspiration, yet I produce something almost against my will. But isn’t that what our lives are all about? At times we don’t want to get out of bed. Some days we don’t want to show up for work. We don’t want to go to a meeting. Or go to the gym. There are days when everything seems a major effort. Yet we do what we have to do for our own reasons and hope for the best.

And the interesting thing is that sometimes - when I produce a blog when I’m unmotivated - I’ll get a response from a reader, saying how much they got out of it. Go figure.

But that’s why I do this: because someone might get something out of it – even if it’s only me learning to write.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Deadly Addiction


Perhaps one of the saddest stories I've heard the first few days of this New Year is about someone who recently underwent extensive surgery to repair damage from a 40 year smoking habit.

The story is that doctors had to saw his chest open to replace arteries and do other repairs. After a few weeks in the hospital - and a longer stay in a rehabilitation facility where he learned to walk again - he returned home.  He had over a month smoke-free.

Before his discharge doctors cautioned him against smoking again - and because he’d been smoke-free for nearly a month -everyone was optimistic that he wouldn't.  Especially in light of his recent life-threatening surgery.

However, when I inquired as his welfare from a close relative, she said that he’d tried “a couple.”   And when I heard that I knew it wouldn't be long before he’d be smoking as he did before.

As a former smoker who’s lost seven family members to smoking related emphysema and COPD I know how devastating smoking addiction is - and how difficult it is to quit.  As someone who's kicked heroin a dozen times, I can attest that quitting cigarettes is equally difficult and painful.

I underwent the pain of quitting nicotine 28 years ago, the best decision I ever made.  And I only pray that this person can summon the strength to quit this deadly addiction before  he slowly suffocates from emphysema or COPD.

Friday, January 4, 2013

12-step Principles

"And we ceased fighting anything or anyone…" from 12-Step literature.

This is a principle we learn in sobriety. And it’s one we should try to live by - in good times and bad.

I bring this up today because a TLC manager was fired for fighting with a client. Now normally we discharge anyone from the program for fighting. But because these two didn't fight on the property, they were given a break. Although the former manager will likely receive more consequences.

At TLC we've always held managers as more responsible than clients. That's because managers have more sobriety and experience. And they should know better than to get into confrontations - especially with the newly sober. Or with anyone else for that matter.

One reason we get sober, I believe, is because we tired of the insanity in our lives. Yet what is fighting and arguing with other people? In my mind it's another form of insanity, of us getting our egos involved in things that really don't matter.

Many times those in confrontations say they were “defending” themselves because they were “disrespected,” as if that's an acceptable excuse to throw a punch. However, the law generally defines self-defense as when a person fights to protect themselves in a situation from which they can’t escape. If one can run from  an assault - but doesn't - it's not self-defense to use physical force

Our job at TLC is to help recovering addicts rebuild their lives. We only do that when we teach others how to live in peace and serenity.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Positive Move?

Today I ran into a TLC client who reports he’s moving because he can save $200 a month at a new location. When he came to us a few months ago his life was a mess. For the first few days he was so anxious that he almost left a few times.

But after attending counseling for a while he settled into a positive routine. He went to meetings. He started going to the gym as part of his treatment. He had a good sponsor and attended a lot of meetings. He built a wardrobe and bought a bicycle. All in all, his life seemed good.

But, as it says in the literature, our disease is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” It can sneak up on us in strange ways. And one of those ways is that it tells us we need a better situation - that things aren’t okay right now. It tells us life would be better if we had more money, or more stuff, a better apartment, or car, and so forth.

But once we make these seemingly positive moves we might learn again that we alcoholics and addicts have only one problem: our disease. And nothing will control it other than focusing – not on stuff – but on the principles of living sober. If material comforts can possibly interrupt what is working we might want to take a look at it.

In the case of this client – who's in very early recovery - I may be totally wrong.  This move could be exactly what he needs to enhance his sobriety. But one thing I am sure of:  his primary issue is not money or lack of stuff.

Even today, when I’m within days of being sober 22 years, I don’t make any decision that has a chance of negatively impacting my recovery. No matter how positive it seems.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Techie

When I was born in last century - before World War II - our state of technology was primitive by today's standards..

In fact. when I came home from the hospital our cutting-edge technology was a small scratchy radio that was the focal point of the living room. We didn't even have a telephone until after World War II And when we did get a telephone, It was a party line. Which means that half a dozen of the neighbors shared the same line. However, it was the latest innovation and a big deal to us.

Seven or eight years later came television and then wave after wave of technology that continues to this moment.

And my point? Well, I’m rambling on because I’m pleased to finally release the latest version of the TLC website – after struggling to update it for a few months. And I guess I’m pleased about this because I’m not a techie – but a throwback to a pre-technology era who's been able to produce a new site.

And while I’m never totally satisfied with a product, this site is functional and easy for me to access and update. I can take care of it in minutes and for that I’m grateful.

Even though my alcoholic-addict ego says I can do anything, my goal is not to be a web designer. My goal is to help people get sober and change lives.

And the internet is just another tool to help. And I'm grateful my brain still works well enough to permit me to do projects like this.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Gratitude

While in my office yesterday, contemplating a blog for New Year’s Day, I was musing about gratitude.  Then, almost fortuitously, a long time client showed up to chat.

And probably as much as any anyone I've dealt with over 21 years, this man's progress represents what TLC is about.

When I met him several years ago he’d been in and out of the primary program several times. Finally he made it to the Hard Six program, but also left there before graduating. Eventually, though, he returned and this time didn't run off.

During this last stint he struggled to confront the demons that led him to drink and live homeless for so many years. While I long ago quit picking winners and losers, I honestly wouldn't have been surprised had he left again.  At times it was painful to witness his struggles.

But he drew on the same toughness that helped him survive the brutal streets of Phoenix for so many years and continued to seek solutions.

Today he’s still around. He has a driver’s license. He has a lady in his life. He has a job. He’s still learning how to be a part of the human race.

When I see his success – which I define simply as living sober – I’m grateful to be a part of it.