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, February 28, 2013

Mug Shots

A $1.00 tabloid newspaper published here in Maricopa County features mug shots of people booked in to the County jail each week.

Some clients pick the paper up because they usually find  someone there who’s been in our program at one time or other. When they’re through with it they sometimes drop it on my desk

Today I saw three familiar faces staring out at me. One had been in our Hard Six program a number of times. And it didn't surprise me he was in jail because he's never focused on who was responsible for his addiction. He was in for shoplifting, plus two failure to appear charges. He may be there for a while.

Another man in his early twenties had come to TLC from California. I saw him in weekly counseling sessions. He was a guy who thought he didn't have a problem, not really. He believed if he just "had a job" that everything would be okay. He thought his problem was money. A client who’d seen him a few weeks earlier had offered to get him back in the program. His said he didn't need that kind of structure – all he needed was a place to crash for the night. And – even though he was homeless – he wandered off down the street to find a spot.

Also featured was a man I'd counseled for some nine months. He was bright, pleasant, and talented, but left after he was discovered using heroin. His mug shot has been in the paper a few times.

The interesting thing about these three is that I’d told them if they didn't change they'd end up sick, dead, or back in jail. It's not rocket science to predict what happens when addicts pick up drugs or alcohol again. Fortunately these three are just back in jail.

Being right might feel good sometimes. But it's small comfort in situations like this where addicts are ruining their lives because it's so hard to make a few simple changes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Challenges

Most of us know the benefits of giving up our addictions. But challenges sometimes appear as we start down this road.

A friend may invite us to share a bowl of dope. A lady may ask us over for a drink. Pain may drive us out the door for another fix. Our nerve endings cry out for a smoke after we enjoy a meal. The pitfalls are myriad and real, overcoming the most serious desire to change.

I was reminded of this today when I heard of a longtime friend whose smoking habit has put him in the hospital twice in the past three months. The first time he was there for a few weeks after doctors replaced a heart valve. He was told he would die if he smoked again.

However, he moved back to a home where others smoked. And before long he started again. Soon he was back in surgery again for more repairs. Will he survive?

When we’re in the early stages of recovery it’s easy to say “one won’t matter.” “Or I’ll just do it today, and quit tomorrow.”

But that’s never proved to be true for those of us suffering from addiction. The tried and true cliché, “One is too many and a thousand are not enough” applies to us addicts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Self-Esteem Redux

Most addicts bring poor self-esteem into recovery. Nothing causes some of our staff – or clients - more discomfort than a compliment. Very uncomfortable.

One man in group last night remembered his family telling him he was “just like” his alcoholic father. And, indeed, that’s who he became. The message was drummed into him so frequently he knows it was an unconscious influence.

Another man, whose parents were professors, told him he “could do better” so often that he believes to this day he doesn't measure up. That what he does is never quite good enough.

Add to these early influences what an addict does to himself – trashed family relationships, no money, broken health, arrests and so on – he understandably feels worthless.

Yet I’ve seen some in recovery improve self-esteem by doing simple things. They go to meetings. They stay clean and sober. Make their beds. Shave every day. Show up to the job and work hard. Build a wardrobe. Help newcomers. Begin exercising.

The wreckage of our self-destructive addictions may never disappear.  But eventually positive, healthy living will allow self-esteem to flower and spread among the ruins.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Starting Somewhere

As newcomers shared at a meeting this morning there was a lot of talk about what they needed to get their lives together. 

  • Jobs. 
  • Their families. 
  • Off parole. 
  • Money. 
  • Regain health.

This isn’t the complete list – but it’s close.

But only a couple of those in the room – those with more than five years sober – hit the nail on the head. After being sober a while they realized all they needed to focus on was sobriety. They reported reunions with families, new careers, and success in their lives.

But the more important thing that happened - with their eyes on sobriety - is they realized that whatever life presented they’d be able to get through it. And their years in recovery are the evidence.

When adversity showed up they relied on the steps, their sponsors, and their support groups. They didn’t run to the dope house or the bar. A simple way to deal with life’s challenges.

As someone who’s been sober many years I agree wholeheartedly. From the day I admitted being an alcoholic and started living – sometimes half-assed – by 12-step principles my life became measurably better.

And though I begin this blog quasi-critical of their lack of focus on what’s important, we all started somewhere – didn’t we?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Treatment Update

In fewer than 30 days TLC Outpatient Clinic is a year old.

This anniversary is important because we started this venture with no capital, an 1800 square foot office, and a staff of addicts and alcoholics who had faith in our mission of helping recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.

The first five months were scary. Four staff members worked for nothing. We had one insurance client, a few self-pay clients, and several TLC halfway house residents who were given treatment scholarships. We bled money.

Within eight months, though, we saw daylight and were able to add more services, more beds, and more staff.

Our volunteer consultant, a retired Psychologist, obtained every license available for outpatient services. She’s an ongoing blessing, a key factor in the program's growth. She’s meticulous in administering the records. She's never applied for a license or modification that wasn't granted on the first visit. A tough and good teacher.

Now that the program has over thirty clients we are considering becoming a residential treatment program. We’ll know within 30 days.

A major benefit of the success of the Outpatient Treatment Clinic is the message it gives the 640 addicts who live at TLC right now.

When they hear how addicts have worked together for over 20 years to help others they might become inspired to do something with their own lives.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Going to Work"

A counselor called yesterday to say a client was leaving the program - before he completed his 90 day commitment.

“Before he leaves, though, he wants to talk to you,” the counselor told me.

Once on the phone, the client said he didn't want me “to be mad” at him for leaving. Then he gave me a few feeble rationales about his early departure. He’d be living with a sober cousin who’d found him a job - on the East side of town, 40 miles from his old neighborhood. He owed money for probation and other bills. He added that he’d be going to meetings and would continue to work on his recovery so he could stay sober.

I assured him I try not to “get mad” about much these days. Especially addicts who do predictable things like leaving before completing a commitment.

However, I was ungracious enough to point out that he’d relapsed twice during the six weeks he’d been with us – the last time less than a week ago. He had no response to that so I wished him well.

After 22 years of working with addicts, experience tells me he’s leaving to get high. In fact, I’m sure he’s been to the dope house by now.

While most of us must work, an addict’s priority must be recovery. While  “go to work” has a nice ring to it – and is something non-addicts might agree with – it is also one of the most common excuses addicts use when they head down the road to relapse.

If he decides to return we'll be here for him.

Friday, February 22, 2013

He made a Decision

“I just called to tell you my wife and I got back yesterday from a 15 day cruise to Hawaii,” said the man at the other end of the phone. “I never dreamed I‘d even have a wife or be taking a trip like this.”

The man is a true miracle, a former TLC client and employee who never succeeded in our program.

Even though he worked for us, he ended up being fired for stealing. While he worked for us several years ago I called to see how he was doing. “Fine,” he responded. “I’m sitting at the bar drinking up the money I collected for you last night.”

Once we found him he lost his manager’s job and was banned from returning. In fact, we didn’t take his phone calls for nearly four years.

He submerged himself in the drug world for a time, then finally got sober. He began working for a religious recovery program that he’s now managing. Eventually he made amends to TLC and has helped with donations and jobs for our clients. We have a great working relationship.

Even though we periodically have to give up on someone, this man is an example of how addicts can do something different once they decide to change.

When he came to us he had all the ingredients for success except one: he couldn’t stay sober. But once he decided to change he became a success in every sense of the word.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Son's Resume

This message arrived this morning from a mother who’s trying to help her addict son. Her words, more powerful than anything I can put together, describe what parents of addicts live through.

"I was writing to see if my son would meet the criteria for admission. We cannot let him live with us due to his pathological lying, unable to maintain employment, stealing from us, marijuana, opiates, has done meth, drinks but don’t think it is a problem. He will tell you his doc is marijuana. He is homeless and living in __________,

He is from job to job, has nowhere to live. Will live with whomever until he wears out his welcome, or will not follow through with what he says he will do (share in rent, groceries, etc.) We are at a loss. We love him and cannot stand knowing he is walking the streets as a homeless person.

I don’t know if there is a dual diagnosis thing here, but he has no regard for others, unable to show sympathy toward others. Has a son who he will never be able to have a relationship. We don’t know how to help him. If you can please give me some feedback. He can no longer live with us. We have tried ________ treatment facilities without help.

He has the same resume of most of our clients. I let her know TLC’s doors are open whenever her son is ready.  If he's willing - we're willing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Learning Responsibility...

Today a young client was in my office listing his needs. I listened patiently, but finally intervened to suggest that most of the things he needed he could do for himself.

So, after we talked for a moment, he agreed to find his own doctor to refill his prescriptions. And to take the bus to go clothes shopping. After all, other than four hours of group activities each day, he had a lot more free time than any of us.

Like many clients this man assumed that because we’re helping with his recovery that we would help with all of his needs. He not only wanted help – he wanted it now and was irritated at the staff member who wouldn't provide it.

And some of our staff, trying to be nice, falls into this trap of doing things for clients that they can do for themselves. When I hear about it, though, I stop them because our job is help clients become responsible for not only their recovery, but for the other areas of their lives also.

Once we grasp that we’re responsible for ourselves then we’re free to become what God intended us to be.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rewarding

Disappointments – and rewards – are part of the landscape in the recovery business. And tonight it was a reward.

It came as I left our Roosevelt property after completing aftercare class. A man who’s had trouble staying sober over the past few years showed up looking healthy, a smile on his face.

For the first time he’s working the steps, being serious about his recovery. It was gratifying because this is a man who’s never given himself a break.

After going to prison as a teen he spent decades on the mean yards of Arizona prisons, living in an ugly limbo created by his youthful crimes.

And one day he walked out the gates to a culture of freedom he was unprepared for. The values were the opposite of what prison instilled in him.

He couldn't beat people if they disagreed with him. He couldn't take what he wanted. People said things like “excuse me.” It was a sudden immersion into a world he’d long forgotten.

He struggled to find work to support his simple needs: housing, food, the basics. And he found that alcohol and other drugs helped relieve the pressure.

Before long - instead of working or seeking work - he spent so much time drinking and drugging that he became homeless.

Today though he has a new home with us and is working on living in freedom - and recovery. It was good to see him making progress.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buying them Off

Anxious parents regularly bring their late teen and 20-something “children” to us, wanting us to help them with their addiction - and their behavior issues.

And some of these children are angry about their parents and how they were raised.

“I hate my f---ing parents,” a tearful young man told me last week. “They gave me everything. They just wanted me to stay out of their way”

He described being raised in an affluent California suburb, sent to a good school, given a nice SUV, and a fat allowance that took care of his party and drug habit. It wasn't until his folks realized their pot-smoking little boy had morphed into a heroin monster who was pawning everything they owned that they belatedly intervened.

Two other mid-twenty clients have no clue about life. For years they've played on their father’s guilt about their upbringing. They don’t know how to make a bed, do laundry, cook, work, or do anything on schedule because he did it for them. Dad put up with their behavior and drug use until he had a melt-down of his own.

While I’m no parenting guru I know that doing everything for anyone doesn't build character. Two of my three children grew up without succumbing to drug or alcohol abuse. They learned about responsibility because they weren't handed everything. They worked and earned privileges.

The interesting thing about the “children” who get dumped on us: the parents still try to do things for them – even though they know that’s the worst thing they can do.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lifestyle? Or saving Lives?

I sometimes get responses on the blog that question TLC living conditions.

Is the housing suitable? Why do we feed so much pasta? Too many clients living in a room. The buildings are old, and so forth.

But some inquiries are legitimate questions. And others are playing a kid’s game of “gotcha.”

In reality I agree 100% with those who think our properties should be nicer and newer – with fewer clients per square foot. I also agree with those who think we should feed better meals. These are legitimate objectives.

But the real question is how to pay for these things? TLC receives zero dollars from government or grant resources. Our organization is completely funded from service fees paid by clients, plus revenue from a few small businesses we operate.

Those who use a calculator multiply the $110 a week we charge each of our 600 clients and come up with what they think is a meaningful figure about income. What they don’t calculate is that we collect only 68% of that amount.

They also know nothing about business overhead: $75,000 a month for mortgages. $55,000-$65,000 for monthly utilities. The list goes on. Food. Property taxes. Insurance. Gasoline and maintenance for 40 vehicles. Phone charges.They know how to figure income, but not expenses.

Those who question our meals and living conditions are invited to spend time in our front office. There they can hear pleas for help from homeless addicts who are grateful we’ll accept them without money.

They’re about saving their lives, staying out of jail and the dope house – not the niceties of gracious living.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Acceptance

I learn from the variety of addicts – mostly young - who make it through our doors.

Some are grateful. Others angry about nothing they can explain. Momma’s boys are pissed off because family didn't teach them about challenges.

Others are hollow, seeking a speck of self-esteem when they've never done anything they felt good about.

Some are tough trailer park survivor types who finally ran into a drug habit that kicked their butts.

One faces daunting physical and psychological issues that are sometimes overwhelming.

And I admire them because they show up – something I couldn't do at their age. They haven’t run away. Their presence is a statement about a desire to change – to stop hurting.

This week a twenty-something man showed up at my office with a suitcase. When I suggested he leave it in his room he said it was medication and medical equipment for an illness he’s suffered since childhood.

The only part of his life I can relate to is his desire for recovery. His courage brought tears to my eyes because at his age I couldn't even deal with emotional pain. I doubt I would have survived his physical challenges.

I've learned that many of these young addicts believe they can change before their disease takes them places they don't want to go.  I have so much respect and admiration for those who are willing to the hard work to change their lives.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Trustworthy

A reader made the below comment a few days ago:

“Obviously you have surrounded yourself with YES people. Because anyone who speaks disparaging or negative words must be on drugs. Even puking on the sidewalk outside your office got everybody in the office tested."

"You know what they say about someone who doesn't trust people...can't be trusted.”


While this reader’s comments may be well-intended they exhibit naiveté about how to to deal with addicts. Or to run a successful recovery business.

We do surround ourselves with so-called “yes” people. People who say “no” or fight us every step of the way are not in tune with our mission of helping substance abusers; they have no place in our structure. It’s hard enough to run a treatment clinic and house 700 addicts - even when everyone’s on the same page.

That doesn’t mean we’re closed-minded to helpful input. That’s why some of our best programs were created by employees with great ideas.

And a puddle of vomit outside an office could mean that someone has relapsed. So, naturally we test everyone so we can keep a clean recovery environment. We trust – but verify. After all, we might save a life.

The cliché about “someone who doesn’t trust people” doesn’t work in the real world or at TLC.

I know no one who trusts everyone equally. At TLC we trust those with five years of sobriety much more than we do those with five days. That’s just common-sense. Most of the world I live in trusts people who prove to be trustworthy – not just anyone who shows up with a smile.

And – in conclusion - we show our trust of people on a regular basis.

-For example, our current bookkeeper, who makes daily deposits and manages our accounting department once stole a van from us and took it to California. Somehow he has convinced us to trust him again. However, we still drug test him.

-All our key managers are ex-felons and recovering addicts. We have every stripe of criminal at TLC – with the exception of sex-offenders.

So please, comment about trust after you do your research – not before.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Walking Out

We try to show clients love and attention in support of their recovery. And much of that love and attention takes the form of pointing out behavior that’s not conducive to recovery. Like lying, stealing, missing groups or counseling sessions, anger, drama – the list goes on and on.

And one of the ways we show love and attention is when we deal with issues in group. These groups aren’t a forum where clients are allowed to dump on one another. It’s a safe place where they point out each other’s behavior.  There they can support their sobriety and create cohesion in the community.

Traditionally this is one of the most effective tools we have. However, it also comes with guidelines – one of which is that clients can’t leave the group without permission. And if they do, they can be discharged from the program for disrespecting the process.

I was reminded of this yesterday when the group was focusing on a man who couldn’t handle the attention to his behavior.  He became so irritated he walked out. He was told he couldn't leave, but left anyway. He made an unacceptable excuse about having to meet with his sponsor and stayed out all night.

Then he called this morning, wanting to come back. But that’s not how TLC works. We accept clients into the program because they say they want help staying sober.

But, if like this former client, they want to do things their way, we’re okay with that - they have the right to leave. But when they’re with us they must work on their recovery according to our guidelines.

 Or do what this client did and walk out.  We wish him well...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Self-Promoting? Yes

A friend asked the other day why I allow readers to comment on this blog. And he asked me that because some comments are abusive - or mostly drivel.

I told him that once in a while I might get a different perspective on what we do at TLC, or how the program is perceived if I allow comments.

For example, a few days ago I received a posting to the effect that I was “self-promoting” about TLC, that I seemed to think TLC is a “Godsend.” And, though the writer was attempting a feeble attack on me or the program, what he/she anonymously said is true.

I’m proud to promote TLC because I believe we help some – not all – change their lives for the better. There are many sober alcoholics and addicts who’ll attest to how we've helped them.

And, the other part is that I realize that some who follow this blog are angry former clients. And they’re usually pissed because they were discharged because of their behavior – either using drugs or failing to pay the $110 a week it costs to live at TLC. However, a not-so-obvious upside is that at least they’re still thinking about recovery – even if it's posting an angry response to a blog.

And perhaps they’ll realize they could have done something different and make an effort to come back for another run at recovery.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Break Time

Working with recovering substance abusers can be rewarding.   But, it can also drain a person to listen to the ongoing drama that addicts generate.

The newly recovering often don’t understand that recovery requires work. Many want the counselor to do everything for them. Some from privileged backgrounds have an odd sense of entitlement that makes their recovery difficult.  They’re not half as grateful as the unfortunate who come from the streets or from a stretch in jail.

They mostly question everything. The doctor’s not giving them the right medication. They can’t sleep. They don’t like their roommates. The food sucks. They seem to look for any reason why recovery isn't working for them. Then try to get mommy or daddy to take them back home.

For that reason my wife and I always take a week or more of vacation every 90 days so we can recharge. Next month we’ll be spending time in Mexico. Then in July we’ll be in Imperial Beach, California for a week with the children and grandchildren. In the fall we’ll be back in our favorite spot in Mexico at least once more. 

A necessary respite – and one of the rewards of 22 plus years of sobriety.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Close to Home

The call that came late Friday night to a long-time TLC employee was devastating. His eldest son – who worked as a parking valet at a Scottsdale mall – was in a Scottsdale hospital after being run over by a drunk driver who is being sought by police.

The son, a war hero who was blown up and shot four times in Afghanistan, will survive. However the assault left him with partial amnesia. Plus, there’s the possibility of further damage to the already extensive injuries that left him hospitalized for several months after he returned from the war.

It’s never surprising when bad things happen to our clients who can’t – or are unwilling to - change their lives. Injury, sickness, death and jail are part of the addict’s territory.

But it’s a gut-wrenching shock when it hits close to home – to the heroes, the innocent, the ones we love.

We have him in our prayers.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Mother's Response...

A mother, responding to last Monday’s blog, “Subtle Denial” writes, in part:

(names and places are deleted to protect anonymity.)

“…my 22 year old is an alcoholic and drug addict. He has been using drugs since his mid-teen years, and things have worsened over time.

This disease has torn our family apart, and ____ has been kicked out of our home, his brother's home, girlfriend's home, and finally his grandmother's home. 30 days ago, we were all finally able to get on the same page and when left with no one to enable him, _____ entered treatment in California. 

He has done well with participating with the program according to his counselor, and he sounds good when we speak to him, but we have been here before. Once he returned to the same area, he fell back into the same habits and things quickly went downhill again. 

The program he’s in has no plan for post discharge at this point, and insurance will not pay for any further treatment there. He is due for discharge on the 16th. I began to research on line and found your organization. 

The whole TLC philosophy sounds like just what he needs. At this moment, he is sober, but he has no idea what to do with himself. He has to learn in a safe environment how to begin his adult "sober" life outside of rehab in baby steps with gradually more freedom that he earns by doing the work himself. He will not be able to manipulate peers who have been in his shoes. 

I read through your blog, I especially like the “Subtle Denial” blog - he is right there now, he just needs to be home, just needs to be near family and his girlfriend, etc. As you said, he had all that before, and where did it get him-still using!” 

This response from a mother perfectly illustrates the challenges we addicts can face when trying to get sober.

When in new recovery we think we know what we need - but too often it's our disease calling, trying to seduce us once more.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

First things First

Addiction is the disease that lurks within, telling us – often in subtle ways - that it’s okay to kill ourselves.

But, being cunning, it doesn’t say this directly. Instead it tantalizes us with the idea that now that we’re clean and sober we need to catch up – to hurry up and get our lives in order. To take care of our families. To repay the people we’ve burned. Make up for lost time.

And because mainstream society sees these as positive steps they support our efforts to take care of obligations. So newcomers to recovery, not realizing they face death or worse, sometimes focus on a everything but their addictions because their priorities are out of order.

They want to revert to a time when their lives were okay. They had a job, a home and a relationship. Everything was wonderful because their addiction was under control. But it’s an idea that’ll never work.

As it says in 12-step literature, “we are like men who have lost their legs, they never grown new ones.”

For us the externals are never the issue. We addicts have only one problem: our disease. If we recognize and face that daunting reality, then we have a chance to rejoin society, get back into the human race. Once we apply the concepts of recovery to our disease then we have a chance.

When we realize that our salvation lies in finding recovery then we’ll quit sacrificing our loved ones, our possessions, our health and freedom for drugs and alcohol.

Friday, February 8, 2013

An Epiphany

The other day I came to an eye-opening realization while talking to a mother who’d dropped off her son at our Macdonald Street location.

While expressing concern for her son’s welfare, she remarked, “Well, I hope this house is cleaner than the TLC in Casa Grande. There are a lot of drugs in that one.”

At first I didn’t think I’d heard her correctly. So I asked her to repeat herself, which she did.

When I replied that we had no houses in Casa Grande, she apologized, saying that she’d mixed our program up with another one – that sometimes she uses “TLC” to describe any halfway house.

But the epiphany that came over me is that we’ve been in the major metropolitan areas of Arizona for so long that the acronym “TLC” has become a generic word for halfway houses for many people.

While on one hand this is a testimony to our hard work helping addicts, on the other our reputation sometimes suffers when people mistakenly think that some poorly-run operations belong to us.

All of our 36 plus houses and apartment complexes are operated the same. We regularly perform random drug and breathalyzer tests and searches. We have a structure that includes 12-step meetings, anger management classes, Big Book studies, community service and work requirements.

All of our facilities and kitchens meet the licensing requirements of the communities or jurisdictions in which they operate. We also operate TLC Outpatient Treatment Clinic, which offers every counseling service permitted under that license – a copy of which is posted on our website.

We welcome anyone who's curious about our operations to drop by for a visit.  We'll happily show them around and answer any questions.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Doing too Much

We deal with many angry young clients who blame their parents for doing too much.

     “My parents did everything for me.”

     “They never taught me to be responsible.”

     “They bought me off with money and cars.”

And the level of anger from some of these clients is astonishing. If the parents had any idea of what their largesse would do to the relationship I’m sure they would have saved the money.

These offspring often end up with us when the parents tire of the stream of money flowing from their bank accounts to drug dealers. And then the anger from the kids follows.

However, as clients become successful in their sobriety, they also begin to learn what they should have learned at home from their parents.

We sometimes have to start at ground zero. And that means we have to teach them personal care like making their own bed, cleaning their living areas and bathrooms, and budgeting their money. Many of them don’t know how to apply for a job, turn on utilities, or apply for a license – many of the fundamentals of daily living.

As parents our job is teach our children take care of themselves. If we buy them off we sometimes doom them to a questionable future - one that includes addictions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Saving the World

When I asked a newcomer addict what he planned to do with his life he responded with a grandiose plan.

“I want to change the environment,” he said. “Stop global warming.”

Since he was still withdrawing from heroin and had been with us only about five days I wasn’t terribly surprised by his statement. When we’re coming off a drug run we’re usually not thinking clearly.

My response was something like, “Well, maybe you could start by cleaning up your living area. Empty your trash, make your bed, and throw away the empty soda cups.” I pointed out that he was thinking of solving a world-wide problem, while in reality he was having troubling with the 32 square feet around his bed.

Of course that didn’t set well but he acknowledged that he might be a little too ambitious considering that hadn’t been to college and had never had a job. After all, shooting heroin and hustling to pay for it can be a full-time occupation that leaves little time for self-betterment.

This man’s ideas of changing the world seem to be a form of denial - a way of escaping the reality that he’s living in a recovery program because his life’s totally unmanageable.

Flights of fancy may be the only way he can feel some power over his life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Not Reponsible

When I arrived at my office this morning there was already someone waiting for help – a former halfway house client who owed us nearly $700 from previous stays over the past 12 years.

He said he was homeless, broke, hungry, and out of work. He also had a court order to attend a year of classes for substance abuse – which he said he couldn’t afford.

Could we help by not charging him for classes? When I told him we couldn’t do that, that we had to pay our counselors for their services, he tried to make me feel guilty.

“So TLC’s all about money?” he said. “I thought you guys were about helping people.”

I told him that we were about helping people – helping them until they were able to help themselves. I told him he seemed smart enough and healthy enough to find a job and support himself – a comment that seemed to make him uncomfortable.

He made a few more attempts to change my mind. He was going to go to jail if he didn’t do the classes. He was from a small town in Northern Arizona and was unused to living in the city. His backpack was stolen.

Finally I offered him a bed in our long-term Hard Six program, which he could enter without money. But he declined, saying he wasn’t that desperate. When he left he said he was going to the homeless shelter in Phoenix.

This man is an example of those we can’t help until they realize they’re responsible for the predicament they’re in.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Subtle Denial


A subtle form of denial among newcomers is a focus on what they “need.” 

They’ll be okay if they get a job. Clothes. A little money in their pocket. Maybe a chance to go out to dinner. Or take in a movie. A visit with their girlfriend. The “needs” go on and on.

And, to anyone listening, these so-called needs seem reasonable and understandable. Who could argue with someone enjoying what any ordinary citizen has? That’s good stuff. Right?

But – in over twenty years of working with addicts – I’ve found that a focus on the external and superficial is a predictor of failure.

Of course we must support ourselves with a job if we don’t have an income. And certainly a relationship with our family is important and necessary.

But most of us addicts had these things we think we need. But did they keep us sober and clean? You know the answer without me being boringly redundant.

The only thing we need to remain sober and change our lives is to focus on recovery. Jobs, money, family – in the short term these are irrelevant if recovery isn’t the priority.

Most of us have had these things, only to see them destroyed by our disease.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

We get Calls

Part of this business is receiving bizarre phone calls, many outside business hours.

For example, yesterday I answered the phone around 6:00 a.m.  And a woman I don’t know greeted me with “I’m going to sue you.”

I wasn't alarmed because someone threatens to sue about once a month. But I was curious enough to ask why.

“Because you told my boyfriend I was getting high,” she replied. She slurred her words, indicating she was still buzzed on something.

I spent a while calmly assuring her that her boyfriend – a TLC employee - didn't need my insight to figure out if she was high. He could discover that with a phone call. Then she told me about the restraining order she was getting to keep him from calling. When I suggested a simpler solution might be to change her number - or simply not answer - she hung up.

A few minutes later my wife asked me to listen to a voice message that had come in at 3:00 a.m. from a man who was incredibly drunk.

We listened for a moment to his ranting. Among his comments were that he could tell by her first name that she was fat.  He also shared that he couldn't have sex because he had genital herpes and thus couldn't find a girlfriend. He added that he’d figured out by my wife’s voice message that she had Tourette syndrome. He also said he’d turned down a friend’s suggestion that he wear high heels - because he was already too tall.

Years ago these communications used to irritate me. But today I realize that part of helping others into recovery is to sometimes listen to their ramblings and hope that maybe they’ll maybe call one day when they’re not so out of it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Powerlessness

Yesterday’s news about another dead alcoholic cast a pall over the day, as can happen when someone we know succumbs to this disease.

His death reverberated through our community because we not only lost a friend, but also because it’s a stark reminder of the fate we’ll all share if we follow his path. It’s a sad reaffirmation that what we hear in the rooms and read in the 12-step literature will happen - if we don’t get serious about recovery.

Today I reflected upon how powerless we are when it comes to helping others. In the case of this man many reached out over and over. And just when it seemed he was getting it, when he appeared to be working the program, he’d disappear into the maelstrom of another relapse.

A week or two later we’d be getting garbled phone calls in the middle of the night as he begged once more for help. We’d eventually relent, thinking he might be serious this time.

But after a while his focus would shift from being grateful to worrying about the alcoholic girlfriend who “needed his help.” And before long he'd be back with her – and a bottle – once again.

Hopefully his passing will remind us of the powerful disease we face.

Friday, February 1, 2013

RIP Richard

In my blog January 19 I wrote about two former clients, one successful, the other still struggling with alcohol.

Then yesterday Phoenix police contacted us to locate next-of-kin for a former client, Richard S, who finally lost his struggle.

Though police gave no details, the consensus among those of us who’d worked with him this past four years, is that alcohol finally killed him. It was a sad – yet predictable - end for a man who seemed to have everything going for him when he showed up

Before alcohol took over, he reportedly enjoyed a career as a manager for a nationwide retailer and was in a long time marriage. He was a bright and articulate man who could have done whatever he wanted with his life. And when I first met him outside my office several years ago I encouraged him in his recovery because I believed he had the potential for success.

However, he relapsed a half dozen times over the next few years. And each time he returned he carried more and more damage from intense drinking. One time he was found naked and unconscious in Kingman and had to be airlifted to Phoenix. He said he had no idea of what had happened. The last time I saw him he bore faint resemblance to the man I’d met four years earlier.

When I last spoke to him on the 19th he asked for help. But I turned him down because he hadn’t succeeded in half a dozen previous stays. When I heard of his death today I felt some remorse. I wondered if one more chance might have made a difference.

The only thing I know for sure is alcoholism is a powerful disease.