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.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Boring Life...

A non-addict business associate said my life seemed “so boring” when I told him how I live today.

In over 22 years I haven’t drank or used drugs. I exercise six mornings a week. I haven’t eaten meat in 22 years and follow a mostly vegan diet. I meditate. I work nearly every day – and I go to meetings.

I agreed with him that - by his standards – my life is boring. But by my standards life is absolutely wonderful for so many reasons.

Because I:
  • Married to the love of my life. 
  • Don’t disappoint others by my behavior 
  • Am able to maintain health. 
  • Work with other recovering addicts and have for over 22 years. 
  • No longer spend on criminal lawyers or bondsmen. 
  • Never worry about police kicking in the door - which happened countless times. 
  • Don’t spend time counting the days and hours before I’m released from jail, prison, or the state hospital. 
  • Don’t wonder what I’ll steal or sell to obtain my next fix or drink. 
This list could go on and on. But the point is that today I enjoy many of the blessings of life that others take for granted.  Pleasures and benefits I threw away because of my disease.

The kind of boring life I like.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Uncommon Drunk

I received an email that reads, in part:


“I have a relative who is so sick...entitlement, lack of responsibility, anger, all present.

He is educated, a great guy when sober. Failed miserably at anything connected to life...his education is a problem, makes him think he has more import than he does, and the real world isn't impressed with great resumes anymore, let alone ones who have been a drunken problem for a decade.

You'll see when you meet him, he's an uncommon drunk. Hard to let go of. Very intelligent. Very charming. A totally different person than when drunk. I just want to see him have one more real chance at sobriety…”


This email was much longer, but you get the idea.  This man has the ingredients for success, but it sounds like he’s maybe too smart to get sober.

When she used the term “uncommon drunk” she provided a clue. Those different from the rest of us in the rooms have a tough time getting the message,

Cemeteries are populated with intelligent, educated alcoholics - bright folks who couldn't summon the common sense to follow some simple steps.

In any event, we’ll accept him into TLC. He might surprise everyone.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Present - it's a Gift


Many of us addicts waste precious hours and minutes in the past.

We rummage around in a dark warehouse of moldy memories, prodding them, poking them, trying to rearrange them so maybe they look better when we return for one of our frequent visits.

We're hoarders who haven’t cleared out the junk. Soon the pile is high and disorganized and we can’t see what’s there. We know it’s a mess. Often it’s a mess we can’t sort it out. We hardly know where to begin cleaning out this warehouse.

All memories aren’t bad. Some could be highlights of our lives. About times when things were great. When we had a good job. Or happily married. When we were succeeding in school.   Maybe about the military. Some good stuff.

But while our warehouse may also contain good memories it’s not worthwhile to live with them either. If we want a serene existence, a productive and fulfilling life, we're in the moment – the gift the universe gave us when our heart made its first tentative beat.

It seems that 95% of what I hear in counseling is stuff about the past. When I attempt to drag them to the moment they’re not comfortable. Because living in the moment strips us of our excuses. Living in the past is a rationale for our bad behavior. Being there, I can dredge up excuses about how I came to a treatment program. How I wrecked my life. Why I'm no good.

Freedom is living the moment – but it comes with responsibility for our behavior. If I stay present I can only blame myself for the outcomes.

And I might also stay sober.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Focus on Recovery

A former client who left our program after 30 days because it was difficult for him to comply with our guidelines used to call on a regular basis to give updates on his recovery.

"I finally got 30 days," he said during his last call. "And now I'm doing service work for my home group."

He was upbeat and proud of his success, and invited us to be there when he picked up his chip. Though we declined, we congratulated him. We know our program’s not for everyone. And we were glad this client was doing well.

Then the calls stopped and we heard he was using again – something that surprised none of us.

From the moment this former client arrived at our program he knew what he needed.

  • He had to get back to work. 
  • It was very important that he have a weekend visit with his only child, whom he hadn’t seen for some six months prior to his arrival. 
  • He needed to get into school immediately so he could make up for lost time. 

In other words, focus was on everything but the issue that brought him to us: his raging addiction.

My years of experience have taught me that we addicts have one issue: our disease. If we deal with that and make recovery the centerpiece of our existence everything else somehow works out.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Comfortable Mess

A man in aftercare group was discussing a serious issue. At least serious to him.

However, the issue he was talking about occurred during a relationship with an ex over 20 years ago. As he spoke of her he was agitated and filled with pain. If an observer didn't know better it would seem this incident had occurred very recently, perhaps even the day before

These kinds of unresolved conflicts sometimes rule our lives for years.  Yet there are reasons addicts and alcoholics choose to remain emotionally unhealthy. For one, there is safety in living with a known misery. To dangle before an addict the prospect of an unknown joy is to ask him or her to venture into unexplored territory – a frightening place to be.  So, sometimes our mess is comfortable.

As the group proceeded the client dragged out some self-esteem issues that are keeping him exactly where he's at today. He used terms like "I don't deserve" anything different.  The foundation of his life today is based on a miserable past.

While this client has made progress over the past year it will likely be some time before he recognizes that who he used to be is not who he is today.

Even though we all did awful things during the course of our addiction we're never going to have serenity and peace until we can come to terms with them.

That's why we work the steps as diligently as we can - in order to have freedom.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Picking a Sponsor

The speaker at a 12 step meeting was explaining how to pick a sponsor.

"You wouldn't go to the gym and pick the skinniest guy there for advice on bodybuilding. Instead, you'd go to the person who appeared the most fit. That's who can help you get in shape"

Then he extended the analogy to other areas: like finding a mechanic, a plumber, a bookkeeper, or anyone else who has expertise to get the job done. Too often, in an effort to make recovery comfortable, we pick a sponsor who's too much like us. Someone who won't lean on us too hard. Someone who won't make us read the book. Or work our way through the steps.

Because a requirement of the TLC halfway house program is to have a sponsor, most clients find one. But not all follow through and work with the person they choose. If the manager asks if he has a sponsor, they can readily provide a name and phone number. But for many it stops there. They've complied with the rules of the program – but sometimes not the spirit.

At TLC we look at recovery as a life-and-death struggle. Once we get sober everything on the surface might look great. The misery has receded.  But lurking in the background is the potential for us to return to exactly the state of demoralization we were in prior to coming to TLC.

And for many, when the pain leaves the urgency to change subsides. Only when a client has had serious issues over drinking or drugging do they stay steady on the path of recovery.

A good, no-nonsense sponsor helps keep us there.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Disguises in Relapse

Relapse sneaks up on us in many diabolical disguises.

For one man who died recently it was in the guise of an attractive young woman who needed a drinking buddy.

For a recent client, it was in the form of anger and resentment at one of the managers with whom he was angry.

For another, relapse was disguised as a situation where he thought he was treated unfairly. So unfairly, that he had to leave and get high to assuage his tender feelings. For some, relapse whispers in their ears that they're feeling so good that they must've been mistaken – that they're really not an alcoholic and addict. They can handle it now.

There's both good and bad in relapse. A hangover or a period of remorse is good if the relapse teaches us it still doesn't work. The 12-step literature clearly says so. But the bad thing is that most of the obsessive addicts and alcoholics who end up at TLC don't have another relapse left in them.  They often don't return and no one hears of them.

TLC's history is littered with sad mementos, memories of those who thought they could successfully drink and drug again. Some were murdered in drug deals gone bad. Others, not so dramatically, were found decomposing in an empty lot - surrounded by empty liquor bottles.

The less fortunate live on in a futile attempt to prove they can do drugs and drink like the 80% of social users.

We hope they find their way back.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jobless & Homeless

An assistant manager left because a promotion was given to someone else.

Before the manager left I received a call. He asked if there were positions available in the outpatient treatment clinic. Or, perhaps another position in the corporate office? I said I wasn't sure. That I would look into it and call back.

However, before I could do anything, I heard he'd left the program later that day and was drunk.

While I’m, never shocked when an addict or alcoholic relapses, I was a little surprised about this person because he had been doing well for over a year. When he came to TLC from another state, he was so broke that a pack of cigarettes was a major investment. 

After a few months of working in the corporate office - and doing a great job - a mid management position came open and this client applied.

He did well up until a week ago – until someone else was promoted to manage the facility. In retrospect, I believe he thought the position should've gone to him because he'd been in the program longer than the new manager.

However, that's not the way it works at TLC. We pick managers based on who'll give the most to the clients. Who makes the wisest decisions. Who puts the interests of the clients above their own. And while I wasn't personally involved in the decision to hire a new manager, I trust the staff to base their decision on these principles.

The other aspect of is that none of these jobs at TLC are much of a career path when it comes to working in the real world. What we do it TLC is highly specialized. While our managers often go to work in a treatment program or a detox facility, generally speaking they move onto another kind of career once they successfully complete our program and move on with their lives.

The more important purpose of jobs at TLC is that the person doing the work often builds a solid core of recovery for themselves. We've had many managers who've gone on to stay sober and stay clean – and that's what it's about.

We wish him well.  And the door’s still open.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gratitude for Small Things

Clients sometimes ask "what do I have to be grateful for?"

I believe the answer is in our perspective. Depending upon my view, I can find a lot to be ungrateful for. Or I can find a lot of things to be grateful for.

While reflecting upon what I was going to write this morning I thought of gratitude. And I thought of gratitude because I appreciate things others might find trivial or inconsequential.

For example, this morning after I returned from the gym at 5 am I was greeted by our two Chihuahuas РJos̩ and Lucy.

Of course, the only reason they were awake so early is because they were hungry. And, as is my habit, while I was preparing their food, I asked José "are you hungry?"

And, as he does about half the time, he replied in an almost human voice "uh huh." He also replies in the same voice with the same "uh huh" when I ask him if he wants to go for a ride or if he wants a treat. Might sound stupid or silly but I'm grateful to have these animals in our lives. Maybe it's because they're loving and mostly happy and only whine when they really need something. Nothing like us addicts.

Something else I'm grateful for - and I can't really put my finger on it - is the two beautiful ducks - a male and female - that show up in our swimming pool this time of year. I'm not even sure they're the same two ducks because ducks all have pretty much the same wardrobe. In any event, twice a year two ducks show up and hang out - sometimes all day. After I feed them they rest on the side the pool in the shade or laze around in the water. Even though they're messy and kind of aloof - only friendly when they want food - I'm always pleased when they come to visit.

Sometimes I reflect on where they go when they're not here. Do they go to Canada? Or maybe Flagstaff? And what kind of navigation system allows them to show up back here at this particular house in suburbia?

Somehow this connection to nature is a way of affirming that there is a power greater than ourselves that orchestrates this complex world in which we live.

Having gratitude for the small things enriches my life.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Life's Lessons

The significant other of a former client is angry at our outpatient clinic because her relationship is in jeopardy over his inability to get sober.

While it’s unfortunate that their relationship is faltering because of his disease, it has nothing to do with the counseling he’s received from us. It’s all about his willingness to change - which at this juncture seems pretty anemic. However, she’s looking at anything that will shift the responsibility off him.

Her attitude is understandable because we humans often rationalize our poor decisions by blaming others.

In this situation the couple recently met on an internet dating site and within months was living together. A short time later they made joint business and real estate investments. It was only after she’d made emotional and financial investments with him that she discovered his substance abuse issues.

And when she discovered his issues were serious enough to put him in a treatment program, she had a meltdown and started lashing out at anyone and everyone - other than her sweetheart.

Life sometimes teaches us lessons...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Breathing Problems

Talked with a client yesterday who’d been released from the hospital earlier in the day after another bout with pneumonia. His breathing was hard labor, a struggle to suck in more oxygen

He’s less than fifty years old, and suffering from the effects of smoking cigarettes. The doctor told him he has emphysema and other lung damage. That it would be a while before his breathing improved.

Seeing this man reminded me of how passionately I abhor smoking – having quit nearly 29 years ago. It’s not a holier than thou thing with me. It’s that smoking killed seven in my family – including my mother.

And most of them didn’t die right away; they lingered, dragging oxygen tanks behind them wherever they went.

An uncle, a once robust silver miner - who died at 60 – in his last years couldn’t walk from his front door to the mailbox without pausing to catch his breath.

One of my aunts, a beautiful woman, lived with oxygen tubes in her nose the last 10 years of her life. Health issues defined her final years.

In the past two years at least six TLC staff members have quit smoking and are recouping their health, though some are still suffering residual problems from the habit.

At TLC we encourage smoking cessation and are planning more in the way of education to help our clients enjoy maximum health.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New Perspective

A recovering alcoholic told me he called his sponsor because he needed help with issues he was facing.

When his sponsor answered, he blew up the phone: he was about to lose his job. His wife was pissed off at him. One of his kids was getting expelled from school for smoking marijuana on school grounds. And so forth.

"Sounds like you have a lot going on," his sponsor told him. "Why don't you go with me on some errands I have to run. Afterward we can work on your stuff."

The sponsor took him to visit a friend, a young woman who's suffering from a deadly cancer. In fact , her prognosis is not good.  That day she'd been told by her doctor that the last round of chemo she'd underwent hadn't worked as expected. They were going to subject her to chemotherapy for another three months. But In spite of this bad news the woman was upbeat and making plans for the future.

When they left the woman's house and were driving home they both were quiet and contemplative. When the sponsor stopped at his house to let him out he asked "Now what was that you called me about. You had some kind at issue he wanted to discuss?"

"It was really nothing," the man replied. “Nothing at all.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First Anniversary

December of 2011 a few of us got together during a Christmas celebration and discussed starting an outpatient treatment program – a conversation that resulted in an action plan.

Consequently, March 15 of 2012 we opened the doors, state license on the wall. Things progressed slowly. It was months before we had half a dozen clients. Even though it was slow we believed in the potential.

By last Friday - our one-year anniversary - we had over 30 clients. More than half live at TLC in our halfway house facilities.

Because we’re growing rapidly we last week hired five more people, two nurses on a part-time basis and three support staff to take care of the day-to-day logistics of meeting client needs.

In the past month we added weekend field trips, a weekend massage therapist, and a therapy gardening program to help round out our regular extracurricular calendar.

Our success in the first year has inspired us to think about where we’re going in the next few years.  We have several ideas for going to the next level – including seeking a license for inpatient treatment.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Success Rate?

A while back someone asked about our success rate. I said I didn't know.

I guess I could've said something like 50%. Or 75%. Or 90% for those who spend X amount of months in the program. But the reality is that I don't know. I believe, though, that it’s as good as the next program’s success rate.

Our computer database shows right at 350,000 people in TLC over the past 21+ years. But the idea of tracking what they’re all doing now would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. I know other programs advertise a certain success rate. And I don't agree or disagree with their claims.

They may have spent a lot of money at one point to find out where people were at exactly that moment. Or they may have some kind of follow-up program where people check in once in a while.

I'm not sure how they it, but I know tracking people is costly. And I'd rather spend our limited and precious resources on paying bills and helping the addicts who are standing in front of us.

So anything I tell you would be anecdotal. And I do have stories of those who succeeded.

We have many graduates who showed up with only the clothes on their back,

A few years later they'll have a good life. Maybe reunited with the family, off parole, and a job as a supervisor for a construction company. Perhaps own a small maintenance company. Or else back to school and get a degree.

We have many graduates who stay in touch and report success. And that’s enough for me.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Idealism vs. Reality

About once or twice a year I get a call from someone who wants to start a halfway house or recovery program.

And this week a lady called with the same question. "Could you help me start a halfway house?" she asked, "I really have it in my heart to help people."

When I asked if she would call up McDonald's and asked them how to make a hamburger she seemed puzzled. She went on and on about didn’t I care about people? Didn't I want to help people?

By the time the phone call was over she was pretty abusive. She was easily discouraged, which is what I wanted to accomplish. To be in the recovery field one has to have gritty determination and be willing to deal with a lot of setbacks in order to succeed. If my answers deterred her then she needed to be in another field.

Usually these questions come from people who are well-intentioned. They want to help addicts in recovery. But the conversation doesn't go on for very long after I start asking them about their business experience. In fact they usually get off the line pretty quick when I start explaining to them that they've got to figure out how they're going to pay the bills.

In the 20 years I've been in this business I've seen probably a dozen halfway houses and recovery programs start up, then close down within a short time. Most don't last more than two or three years.

Because the reality is that to carry out any kind of mission, whether it be a church or recovery program, one has to figure out how they're going to make money. How they're going to get funded. How they're going to pay the bills.

When my son-in-law was going to Rhema College in Oklahoma they taught him that a church was 80% business and 20% mission. In order to carry the message, one must keep the lights on, pay the bills, insure the church bus, cover the mortgage, etc.

There are plenty of people to help in the world, but one must balance idealism with reality.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pet Therapy?

Last week a client from out-of-state came to a session very depressed. When he sat down I asked what was going on because he was near tears. I feared something had happened with his family.

“I miss my dog and cat,” he said hesitantly, after a few minutes.

Hopefully, I didn’t react.  But nontheless I was a bit surprised. After all, this client normally projected an aura of emotional detachment, like he was pretty much unaffected by anything.

Then later in the week I left my office and encountered another client shedding tears on the sidewalk. When I asked what was going on, he told me he missed his dog. Since he lived in Arizona I suggested that maybe he could arrange a visit.

While I’ve been working with addicts for over twenty years - and have a friend who runs a program that takes animals into hospitals - I never a thought about animals in the context of therapy with addicts and alcoholics.

However, the way our history goes once something becomes a topic of interest around here it isn’t long before we somehow try to incorporate pet therapy into the program.

The real question with whatever we initiate is always: will it enhance recovery?

In this case I think we know the answer.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Sobriety's Gifts

A blessing of sobriety is a good relationship with my family.

And I was reminded of that today while at lunch with my youngest daughter.

I obtained custody when I was two years clean, when she was around eight. She remained with me until she went in the military at 18.

She said that because I had strict guidelines for her she’s a better person. She thanked me for not being permissive and lenient with her as she was growing up.

She was referring to the fact that, while I provided her the basics, she had to work for the extras. She also had strict curfews and dress codes. She thinks attending 12-step meetings with me over those years also gave her good principles to live by. She believes the stories she heard at the meetings might have kept her from becoming an addict.

After she was honorably discharged from the military after three years - that included a tour in Afghanistan – she completed an Associate’s degree at Texas Culinary Academy. And then obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from University of Phoenix. She’s now happily married, into physical fitness,
and studies art in her spare time.

I’m so pleased my daughter's grown up to be the woman she is. Again, a blessing of sobriety.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Progress?

As a counselor, as a catalyst for change, I stay emotionally healthier if I don’t invest a lot of emotion in the outcome. Yet, it's gratifying when I see clients whose lives change for the better.

And today I witnessed positive change with a couple I’ve worked with for a while. When we first started they had issues that seemed nearly insurmountable. In fact, the last time I had them in my office one was shouting, the other crying. The future seemed dim for them and I wasn’t sure they’d be back.

However they returned two weeks later for their scheduled appointment. And one told me that after the previous session they hadn’t spoken for hours, that there was a chill in the air for days afterward.

But something the husband heard during the previous session about responsibility had resonated. With the realization that he must be responsible for his role in the near breakup of their marriage their communication was improving.

Do they still have a lot of work to do? Of course. But it was nice to see them leave the office smiling and holding hands – something that hadn’t occurred after previous sessions.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Doing Research

A former halfway house client I barely recognized was waiting on a bench outside when I left this evening. As soon as he saw me walk out the door he stood up with a wide smile, his hand outstretched. You’d have thought we were long lost relatives.

But the real connection between us at that moment was he knew I had money. And he needed $10.00. When I handed it over, I suggested he should take off before the liquor store closed. But he set me straight.

“I don’t drink,” he said. “I just smoke crack and do a little meth”

Well, pardon me all to hell I thought. But I just smiled and segued into a conversation about an addict I’d talked to at that exact spot the last week of January.

When I saw that man I told him his disease would kill him if he didn’t get help. And while I was simply nudging him toward recovery with my prediction it –sadly – turned out to be true. The man was found dead in Phoenix two weeks later.

I hope this man’s life turns out better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

No Comment

For a while I'm not allowing comments on this blog. It's not about thoughtful criticism.  I welcome that.

But for some reason I've been getting many postings that appear to be questions about the blog's design, or the theme.  But they turn out to be advertisements or spam.

For example, I've had postings from people selling ecstasy and other drugs. Or else they try to direct me to a gambling or porn website. 

The problem with these, and sometimes I get several a day, is that I have to take the time to delete them. There's no way I want readers to be directed to those resources. They can find them on their own.

Other time-wasting comments are from people who seem high or drunk or angry – or all of the above. And they never put their name on the comment. Instead they just want to engage in anonymous angry vomiting that oftentimes is unintelligible. Many, I suspect, are former angry former clients who haven't yet found recovery.

I've always welcomed comments from those who disagree - or hopefully agree . And for them I've posted my e-mail address on the blog.  I welcome them to send an e-mail or comment any time they want.

I will get back to you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Eight Years!

An addict who’s been with TLC off and on since the mid-nineties celebrated eight years of sobriety Saturday, March 9.

His story inspires those who were raised by addicts and alcoholics and who never had a chance while growing up.

This man left home, barely in his teens, peddling his bicycle away from his mother’s funeral after her untimely death from her addiction.

He burned through his teen years, drinking and shooting meth on the streets of Phoenix - until he landed on TLC’s doorstep. The program didn't work for a while. He was in and out repeatedly. But after his last intake he looked in the mirror and recognized his problem.

He’s been at TLC since, first as client, now as a supervisor in TLC’s business operations. He’s responsible for the labor group and several other operations. A man who once wasn't trustworthy is now trusted with everything – in particular the responsibility of helping newcomers find the path to recovery.

Today he has the important blessings of a new baby with the woman he’s about to marry, serenity, a network of loving friends, a home in suburbia, employment – some of the blessings we're offered in the Promises.

Happy anniversary!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Restless?

A young addict is reportedly outraged about the amount being paid to TLC by his insurance company for his treatment.

This, in spite of the fact that he received seven months of intensive counseling and groups. He had the benefits of visiting a gym seven days a week. His doctor visits and prescriptions were paid - as was housing, transportation, and meals. And, he’s living sober and in the good graces of his family once more.

In other words, he got what he came for: a start on a new life. Yet he has this objection about what the insurance was paying for the program that was giving him a start.

This seems another example of the uniqueness of our disease. I've never heard anyone who had serious surgery complain about how much the insurance company paid the hospital. In fact, many seem to take a perverse pride in how much their surgery cost.

Yet addicts – until they enter serious recovery - fight the process with forms of denial masked as rational complaints. The food's bad. The properties are old. The staff is almost 100% addicts. I have to look for a job. The program's too costly.

While some of these might seem valid, the reality is that concern about what a program earns has little to do with recovery. But a lot to do with what's going on with the addict.  

Twenty two years of experience has taught us that when one is hungry for change there are no obstacles as long as the basics are met.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Home Again

Today, in the air for two hours twenty minutes then to our home in Mesa after a wonderful nine days in Puerto Vallarta.

And I return immersed in gratitude for my blessings. And those blessings flow from seeds of sobriety planted in my life over 22 years ago.

Ongoing pain forced me to seek refuge in recovery in a Mesa, Arizona detox January 13, 1991. When I stopped pumping heroin into my arm and chugging whatever booze I could steal, the pain receded.

And I’ve stayed sober because I don’t want the pain to return – and because I’m living the promises.

I’d tried all kinds of ways to successfully drink and drug, as it describes in the recovery literature. Somehow it never worked because I couldn't master the social drinking/drugging thing. If I was conscious I hadn't had enough.

In detox I encountered the steps. I admitted I was powerless over everything – which was easy because I had lifetime of proof. I followed suggestions and six months later realized I no longer hurt. That was an epiphany.

All I wanted was to escape the painful, pointless existence I had when I entered recovery. But the universe is pouring out so much more.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Attaboy

Someone suggested I was "taking a day off" when I published letters from readers.  And they're sort of right.  On the other hand it's important that family members who are looking us over see what clients have to say.  Anyway, here's another attaboy.

Dear Mr. Schwary and TLC,

I recently celebrated 6 months of sobriety at TLC.

Coincidentally it was my 48th birthday as well. Needless to say it was the best birthday I've had in 4 years and I remember all of it as well. Last year I was medically detoxing for more than a week in a Salt Lake City hospital all the time actively seizing from alcohol withdrawal. The year before that I was locked up in the Salt Lake County jail on my birthday. The previous year I had just become homeless.

TLC has given me my life back and shown me how to live sober. I've had periods of sobriety in the past but most of that was forced, as in being locked up. My life of addiction has spanned 35 years. I should have died several times during that time. God brought me to TLC last March and I had a rocky start but they gave me back my self esteem, hope and a future. I work for them in the Corporate Office and have gained valuable computer skills after being unemployed since 2008.

I can't so much.begin to thank everyone that has touched my life and shown me how to live life sober and enjoy it.

Thanks, Anonymous

Congratulations to "Anonymous" on six months.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On the Bus

An alcoholic’s sister stayed in touch daily for most of a week to make sure her alcoholic brother got to TLC to receive the help he needed.

First she inquired about the facility and what it would take to get him in. Then she wanted to know about how he would get there from the bus station. And she wondered how much money to give him as she was concerned he would drink it up and get lost along the way.

It was an ongoing communication, an example of families of alcoholics and addicts supporting their loved ones in the hope they can change their lives.

And while I know neither of them personally, I suspect this man wasn’t completely aware of the web of love and concern that was guiding him to recovery. For many of us it takes years in the rooms before we begin to grasp and understand how our disease permeated the lives of those around us.

And this man? Well he finally made it to TLC. Although he missed his destination in Mesa by about 100 miles and ended up in Tucson. Fortunately we have a facility there which he was able to find - once he realized the error.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Entitlement?

The other day a client was overheard telling his mother on the phone that she shouldn't be purchasing a certain luxury item, that the money she was about to spend was part of his “inheritance.”

When I questioned him I realized he believed that the money his mother and father had accumulated was his - money that he was going to inherit some day.

Therefore he wanted them to be frugal and not waste it on luxury items. And, also, to make sure they sent him enough money to meet his expenses in the meantime.

When I suggested this attitude was rude and extremely disrespectful to his parents he looked at me as if I had just landed from another planet.

This isn't the first time I've encountered a scenario where addicts actually believe that what their parents have belongs to the addict.

So, one may ask, what business does a therapist have getting involved in these family affairs? And my answer is that a client’s attitude has everything to do with recovery.

If we approach the world with a sense of entitlement – as many clients’ do – we’re not going to be responsible for taking care of ourselves.

And recovery is all about personal responsibility in every way. We are responsible for paying our own way. For our emotional and physical health. For our relationships.

In 22 years’ of working in recovery I can’t recall anyone with a strong sense of entitlement who stayed sober.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Remembering a Birthday

"I'm not like these other guys," my brother said on more than one occasion while he was a client at our Las Vegas facility the last half of 2000.

But his life story said he was as bad as the other addicts and alcoholics in our program. Maybe worse.

Drinking and drugs cost him a free and clear home. His health. Jobs. When he showed up at TLC he had nothing. Yet he had a hard time identifying with other alcoholics in the rooms.

After six months, a new Pell grant check in his pocket, he told the manager “Fuck you and fuck TLC.” He then left and returned to drinking. He died some six months later at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, May 21, 2001. He died at 60, as did my alcoholic father.

So I guess this blog comes up for me because today’s his birthday. He would've been 72. And had he found recovery he would have had as good a life as I’m having. He had a lot going on before alcohol took over some 20 years earlier. He was a talented singer and musician. He built houses. He was a loving father. But alcohol and drugs eventually trashed his marriages, his self-confidence, and his health.

I seldom regret the past. Yet I wish my brother could have been an example of how one lives with a deadly disease instead of being among the victims.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Clumsy American

Here I was, enjoying the first day of vacation swimming lazy laps in the Olympic sized pool in the middle of the afternoon. Calm and peaceful. No one around. 80 degrees. It was great, lying on my back looking into a clear blue sky, palm trees providing some shade as I enjoyed the first day of vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Recovery world stress left 1450 hundred miles North in Arizona. What could go wrong in such a postcard setting?

But something did. When my wife summoned me from the pool to go hunt down a burrito we crossed the walkway to the hotel steps. That's where I stubbed my left big toe, re-opening a wound I’d inflicted at home a week earlier. It probably hadn't been healed for more than a day or two. Damn!

By the time we stopped at the fourth floor, there were blood puddles spreading over the tile floor of the elevator. Then a trail for the 30 feet from the elevator to our apartment. A mess.

But the interesting part of this small mishap is that while my wife and I were cleaning the wound we received three phone calls within 15 minutes.

One from the front desk, wanting to know if I was okay. Another from the concierge wanting to know if we needed an electric cart to take us to the nearby clinic. The last came from the clinic, with directions of how to get there. Then - while we were at the clinic - a hotel staff member came by to fill out an incident report. And today another call from management to follow-up: “How are you feeling today Senor?”

This experience re-confirms what I know about people here. They’re friendly - and caring. They exhibit concern for those who need help – as they did for a clumsy American who kicked the front step of their hotel and bled all over the place..

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Anger Punishes

"You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger"  Buddha

Anger's an acceptable emotion for some in early recovery. It sends a clear message that pushes others away. At the same time it raises blood pressure, creates stress and turmoil, and halts effective communication. Carried to an extreme it may result in violence.

In the early days so many TLC clients were angry we started an anger management class for newcomers. Clients don't move to the next level until they complete the class.

The Buddha was correct when he said we're punished not for our anger, but by our anger. I've never seen a good outcome when one becomes angry. Even though it's a common weapon in the arsenal of those who've been locked up or who've lived in the streets.

A more effective tool in dealing with others is kindness and compassion. Yes, once in a while someone might think I'm a chump or a pushover because I'm nice. But who cares? Never once have I gotten in trouble by being kind or compassionate.

My experience is that kindness and compassion in place of anger results in good karma.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Recycling

I recognized the voice on the phone yesterday asking for help - though I couldn't put a name to it.

He was confused and talking in circles. Turns out it was a former client who’s in jeopardy of losing his job once more over drinking. On top of that, the friend whose couch he’s been camping on is losing patience with what he thought was an overnight guest.

So, after some discussion we arranged an intake for him and he came back to the program.

This man’s story is a typical example of an alcoholic-addict who believes that all he needs is “to get back to work.” He says his problem is money and that if he can earn some he’ll be okay. Now part of what he says is true; he does need “to get back to work.” But he neglected to add the word “sober” to the end of the sentence.

At TLC we’re aligned with those who want to work. Someone has to pay the bills. The only problem with most of those who hold that as their first concern is they’re not looking at the real issue: recovery.

My lengthy experience with recovery tells me that once we’re lost in the no-man’s land of addiction our 24/7 job is to feed the monster. Until it either devours us - or we escape to join those who are living the lessons Bill W. left behind.

We hope our former client will allow us to help him this time.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lucky?

When my staff heard I was flying to Mexico with my wife to spend eight nights in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico one commented that we’re “lucky.” And, to an extent I agree.

But because I sometimes like to split semantic hairs, I prefer “blessed.” And I never forget the source of the blessings: a generous God who's allowed me to live clean and sober for 22+ years.

For much of my life – between drug runs and stints in jail – I’ve been able to build businesses and accumulate stuff. Getting material things together hasn't been a challenge. Not because I’m smart, but because I’m driven by early memories of an alcoholic home life where every kid in our farming community seemed better off – both materially and emotionally.

The challenge, though, had been to keep anything once my heroin addiction and alcoholism kicked in. It’s one thing to gather stuff. It’s another to keep it through the high cost of heroin, lawyer’s fees, divorces, and jail terms.

Today, though, I have the guidance of the 12-steps. Many sober friends. A sober wife. And the benefits of working in the recovery field for over twenty years.  All these things add up to living a balanced life, something of which I only once dreamed.

So, call it “lucky, if that’s what it looks like. But I like “blessings,” because it reminds that the good in my life flows from the Creator who granted me another chance at recovery - and not as the result of a cosmic roll of the dice.