Recovery Connections

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

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Not the Greatest Idea

A client who intends to leave the program before he graduates met with some of our staff today. It seems he's returning to a more stressful situation then he had when he came in.

Before, he was living with a relative who has his own issues. Now he’s going back to the same place – but in addition has a sick family member he’ll be helping care for.

After some discussion, it appeared he was determined to leave. So we wished him well and offered our help with his transition.

Even though he's been sober for nearly 90 days we advised him against returning to a situation more stressful than the one he lived before his arrival. In most cases we recommend a slow return to the community and normal life.

Caring for a sick relative. Starting a new job. Moving. All of these are high on the list of stressors that can create an overload even in so-called "normal" people.

Of course, all we do is give advice. We're not a locked facility. People may leave anytime they choose.

We reminded him, however, that recovery can be challenging in the best of circumstances. And in his case the circumstances are not the best.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Skewed Priorities

Today a newcomer approached me after a 12-step meeting and told me he’d just come into the program the day before. And that all he owned was the clothes on his back.

We chatted for a while, but most of his conversation was about work. He needed to get back to his job. All he needed was a desk. A telephone. A fax machine. He was well-regarded in his industry and connected with a lot of people who were willing to work with him because of his experience.

I listened to this for a while but finally interrupted him with a question.

“You’ve never had a problem finding work or making money, have you,” I asked him.

He agreed. He’s always been able to work and make a living.

“So work and money aren’t an issue?”

Again he agreed.

“So you know what your real issue is, right?”

He knew his problem was staying sober – something he’d never been able to do for long.

I write a lot on this theme. Nearly every male substance abuser I know focuses on work or a job.

And I point out each time that if we stay sober and clean jobs and money show up. It’s so redundant it’s a cliché.

And the one thing that usually shuts down these conversations is when I point out that attending a 12-step meeting is evidence that the job thing didn't work. 

Otherwise they wouldn't be at a 12-step meeting trying to figure out what went wrong.

Of course we need to work to survive.  But while recovery is work - work is not recovery.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Slow Down

Today the long arm of the law finally caught up with me.

It happened after I made a left turn onto an east-west street. I accelerated as I left the corner and - sure enough – there camouflaged in the shadows was a motorcycle officer pointing a radar gun right at me.

I knew I was had. And, sure enough, he raced up behind me, lights flashing. When I started to pull over, he instructed me to find an area to pull off of the street - so I did.

When he approached the window I passed him my driver's license and registration. And while he was back at his motorcycle talking on a microphone with someone somewhere about the papers in his hand I had a vague hope that maybe he would grant mercy because I hadn't had a ticket in over 12 years. However, when he returned and asked me to sign a small computer screen I accepted that I was done.

The surprising thing is the way I accepted the whole thing. Many years ago I would've been lamenting about the government. The police. The injustice of it all. How the world had it in for me.

But today I look at the whole situation differently.. Actually, I believe getting a ticket is a good thing. I know that sounds stupid but every once in a while I have to check myself while on the road. Particularly, when I'm driving my six speed, 400+ horsepower, Z06 Corvette. In that car it's easy to be over the speed limit within seconds. And today it was 48 in a 35 mile zone.

I think part of the change is I've been sober over 22 years. Therefore more accepting.

It’s a message from the universe that I need to slow down and observe traffic laws. Just like any other law-abiding citizen.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Great News

There are many entries in this blog reporting bad news. Addicts overdose. Sometimes they steal money. They go to jail. All kinds of negative stuff.

And of course I put them here because I hope that someone finds lessons that will help them remain sober. But I also put in the good news because that will also help us stay sober. And today I received an email report from a former client who's doing surprisingly well.

And I say surprising, because when this man came to us he was pretty much what I would characterize as a hopeless alcoholic. He’d never been able to stay sober for more than a few months. He lost everything over and over. When he came to us, like many, he was homeless and had virtually nothing.

But, unlike many who come in, he stuck around. He did exactly what was suggested to him. He got a sponsor right away. He went to all of his required meetings from relapse prevention to Big Book study. He paid his service fees by working for TLC for nearly a year. He became a Blue Shirt and was proud of his membership in that group.

Then one day he scared all of us by saying he'd found a girlfriend, a woman he met on the Internet. And this scared us, because many times our clients get into relationships. And often that's the beginning of the and.

But once again this client surprised us. He took it slow. He consulted with his sponsor about the relationship. He took periodic passes to spend time with his new sweetheart. But he proceeded slowly and cautiously.

And when he left he did it the right way. He gave notice. He had a job to go to. He had money saved for an apartment. He didn't just leave because all of a sudden he was tired of living in a halfway house. He had a plan.

And today in his email he told me about his success. He and the woman are still together and planning to be married. They both are working. They attend church. He goes to meetings and has a sponsor.

And these are the kind of stories I like to relate in this blog because for us it's all about helping people rebuild their lives.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Special?

"I'm different from the rest of these guys," said the client in group. "I'm a lot more sensitive. That's why I hang out with the girls. They understand me."

And, of course the whole group lit up and jumped all over him. After all one of the things that gets us headed down the path to trouble is when we start thinking that we're unique. The rules that apply to other people don't apply to us because we're so special.

A error seen over and over and over in 12-step groups is when a member starts feeling he's special or different from the others. Once we start feeling that the rules don't apply to us, that we're different from the others, then we might start applying that same thinking to the idea of whether we can successfully drink or do drugs.

That's happened over and over again at TLC. When clients first come in they're willing to do almost anything. But after they start feeling better, get a few meals in their bellies, and get a job, they all of a sudden think that the rules might have been written for someone else.

So far this year we buried a number of people who thought the rules were written for someone else.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Happened?

After completing more than seven years of recovery, and having worked as a TLC manager for many years, he picked up a drink.

And, of course, there were reverberations of shock because this man ran recovery groups. A man with a Masters degree in counseling. A man who sponsored others and was looked up to with regard throughout the program.

Yet when he was confronted after failing a breathalyzer test, he said "how could that be?"

And the manager who tested him picked up a nearby glass, half full of whiskey, and said something like "maybe this has something to do with it."

We offered him the opportunity to begin the Hard Six program again. But he declined. Presumably he's going to continue drinking and then eventually get back to his drug of choice: heroin.

So what happens when we seem to be sailing along in our recovery and suddenly relapse? In retrospect it's always easy to look at certain factors and say this is the reason he relapsed. In this man's case, his mother had passed away a few months earlier. And he recently started a new position with TLC. He had moved. These are changes that create a certain amount of stress.

But don't the 12-step programs somewhat inoculate us the face of stress and challenges? In most cases I would say yes. But for many of us, as it says so often in the literature, if we're not spiritually fit than we may use again.

While it's easy to do a postmortem on an addict or alcoholic who's relapsed it's not as simple as two and two equals four. But one thing is certain: no one forced this man to drink or use..

At some point he made a conscious decision to drink again. We pray that he makes it back.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Carrying the Message

The older gentleman at a 12-step meeting had been released from prison a week earlier. He’d completed an 11 year term and had no idea where to turn next. While he hasn’t drunk or used drugs since his release, he realized that it was a dangerous option for him. He understandably sounded depressed.

But as the meeting went on many shared their own stories of having spent years behind bars. Some had been in for ten and fifteen years. But they’d stayed in the rooms and worked the 12-step program. As a result, they were able to remain free.

One man who’d done a lot of time told of having gone to detox with only seventy-three cents in his pocket. He’d lost everything: home, job, car, clothes.

After detox he lived in a halfway house for a year. He rode a bicycle to go to work. Before long he bought a car, an old beater. He shopped at secondhand stores, slowly building up a wardrobe.

He worked a series of day labor and entry level jobs and saved money. Eventually he started a small maintenance business, one that thrived.  Then he was able to buy his own home. And a better automobile.

The man who'd just been released from prison listened intently to this man. And after the meeting he approached this man whose story was so much like his own. And they talked for half an hour or so.

That's the way it works in the rooms: one alcoholic or addict helping another..

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pissed off Bhuddist?

Maybe our Buddhist teacher wasn't exactly "pissed off." But, I will say she was somewhat perturbed about the behavior of one of our addicts who didn't show up with when he was supposed to with some equipment she needed for a class.

One thing that makes running a halfway house or treatment program challenging it that addicts and alcoholics can be inconsistent and undependable – to say the least.

And because of that they often try the patience of nearly anyone, even the spiritually fit.

TLC has around 72 employees, including those who work for the outpatient treatment clinic. And all of them, with the exception of three or four, are in recovery and have come up through the TLC program. The exceptions, of course, are those in positions that require medical or other professional degrees that we seldom find in our population.

After having worked with recovering addicts and alcoholics were 22+ years nothing really surprises me. We have people we pay a living wage and we still can't get everything done we need. But part of the success of our program is that we are able to point out their shortcomings and teach them to become better workers and more responsible human beings.

After all, the majority of addicts come to us with little or no training. Most have never held a responsible job. Some of them don't have a high school diploma or computer skills, and often little or no desire to learn anything new.

So our challenge is to teach that to have a well-rounded recovery they have to learn to keep commitments so they can get what they want from life.

Monday, April 22, 2013

RIP

A text message from an employee this evening told of the death of his former girlfriend from a heroin overdose – a woman with whom he'd been for five years.

While I never met her personally because she lived in another state, I spoke with her several months ago. At that time she called with an angry message about our employee. She was very upset and made a lot of unfounded accusations against him. I was finally able to calm her down and have a fairly coherent discussion with her, though she sounded like she was under the influence of something.

Later she sent an apology about the conversation and that's the last I heard from her.

It's always a stark reminder to those of us in recovery when someone suddenly dies from an overdose. We are promised over and over in the 12-step literature that something like this could happen to any of us if we fail at recovery.

But the other side of the equation is that fear doesn't help us get clean and sober. In my experience, what helps us get clean and sober is the promise of a better life. A life of freedom from arrests. A life where we're able to be an example to our children. Where we can be of service to the community and help right the wrongs we committed while we were out in the world drinking and drugging and creating chaos.  A life free from demoralization.

This 35 year old mother of two sadly will never experience the joy and freedom many of us have found in recovery.

All of us at TLC offer our condolences to our employee and to her family and friends.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More Gratitude

There are many opportunities for gratitude.

This morning, while at the gym for my four a.m. workout, I met a middle-aged man who had a brace on his leg. He seemed like a nice enough fellow and we started chatting.

By the time we were done he became a hero in my eyes. He's the father of four children ranging from 7 to 18 years old. One has severe disabilities, and has been fed through a tube most of her life. The man's wife faces difficulties of her own and is applying for disability. He sometimes works 12 hour days to keep things together.

But this man wore a cheerful demeanor and said he met his challenges "one day at a time." It was interesting that he used this aphorism, even though he isn't part of the recovery community.

While I know many people face daunting challenges, I automatically juxtaposed this man's situation with that of addicts and alcoholics in recovery.

Many deal with demons that make their lives seem almost unbearable without drugs or alcohol. And though we can't minimize the challenges we addicts and alcoholics face, when we meet people who bear a heavy load every day - we get an idea of what real challenges look like.

After hearing this man's story, I recognized that there are many in the world who are strong enough to face their burdens with equanimity and grace.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Insanity at Work

A new Hard Six client this week proved once again the insanity of addiction.

This man, who'd been with us a short time, stole $300 from his supervisor's wallet, which had been placed on the seat of the pickup in which they were both riding. The client apparently took the money while the supervisor was distracted with another issue. And the theft was only discovered after the man had run away and the supervisor went to purchase construction material he needed and found an empty wallet.

This desperate act by a man who'd not been sober long, shows the strong pull of addiction. Even on a good day, depending on the drug of choice, $300 is not going to last more than a few hours for a serious addict.

And once the money's gone, then what? This man has no home, nothing to fall back on. Plus, he’ll be facing criminal charges. Yet he was so intent on getting high that nothing else mattered.

His actions had a positive effect on the rest of us.  It made us grateful to be clean and sober today.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Personal Inventory

"Continued to take personal inventory and when we wrong promptly admitted it."  from the Big Book.

The 10th step is a wonderful tool to help us remain in serenity. Our forefathers in the 12-step program realized we needed a simple device, a tool to help us through our day without accumulating a lot of garbage.

So they created the 10th step. But how do we apply this in our everyday life? It's easy.

It's as simple as this: did we cut someone off in the parking lot? Instead of engaging in a lot of finger waving or shouting, we instead smile and ask for forgiveness if the situation allows.

Instead of listening to what someone was telling us, were we instead planning our answer? So we apologize and admit that we were spacing out and ask them to repeat what they said.

Once in a while we get into a heated discussion on the phone. Instead of abruptly hanging up and fuming for the next 20 minutes, here's a simple tool a friend of mine uses: he simply says "I'm too upset to continue this conversation right now. Let me call you later." This is a wonderful way to show respect to the person with whom were talking. Plus, it allows us to calm down, marshal our thoughts, before we call back. His approach keeps things in perspective and shows respect for the other person.

The nice thing about being ready to instantly apologize and atone for a wrong, is that we can proceed through our day in peace. Not accumulating mental garbage. We take care of the mess before it became a heaping pile of smelly refuse, fermenting in our addict brains.

And another nice thing about going through our day and taking care of our transgressions is that others respect us.

Rather than diminishing ourselves by admitting we're wrong, we're instead elevated in the eyes of others because we're big enough to admit when we were wrong.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Give back Love

"And I can't wait to see his life crashing down around him," said an angry client, whose boyfriend had cheated on her multiple times with other women.

The client and her boyfriend had been coming to counseling for some time, trying to sort out their relationship. Finally, he stopped coming. But she continued to attend. She wanted to see if she could makes sense of their issues, to figure out how to make it work.

However, she probably has an insurmountable hill to climb. The man she loves is a self-admitted philanderer. He dates any woman who catches his eye. He lies about his whereabouts. He lies about being late from work. He regularly makes excuses to take part in activities that don't involve her. And he isn't ashamed to admit his indiscretions.

But because my job is not to be judgmental, but to help people achieve goals, I didn't point out to her that having a relationship with this guy was poor judgment on her part. That if she continued she was going to also live with tears, disappointment, and jealousy.

However, when she said couldn’t wait to see bad things happen to him, I saw an opportunity to help. What I told her was that it was probably better to wish him well in the future. To hope that he had success in all his endeavors and relationships.

And while she seemed to have difficulty wrapping her brain around such an esoteric idea - when she really wanted him to suffer - she halfway listened.

So I reminded her that when we carry around bad wishes for others it hurts us more than it does them. Often times they don’t know the depth of our anger. And sometimes, if they did, it might please them to know they have that much power over us.

Kindness and compassion help us live in peace and harmony.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

RIP

Just heard tonight about the untimely passing of a former TLC client from a drug overdose. While I never met him, he came to my attention after he started a small chain of halfway houses in the same city as our corporate office.

Over the years I heard he was spreading smack about TLC. And once someone gave me one of his brochures disparaging our program.

But we never let that bother us for more than a minute. Some clients leave and start halfway houses. Some do well and help people. Others fold up after the operators discover it’s hard work taking care of addicts and alcoholics. So they end up doing something else.

And those who waste time being angry at TLC aren’t paying a lot of attention to their own business. Something I learned long ago - while working as a salesman - was to never badmouth the competition. Instead, be gracious and realize that we live in a bountiful world that offers enough for everyone to thrive.

In spite of his antipathy toward us, I’m sad about this man's passing. And even though he had no love for us - and let the world know it - I’m sorry he left the world with a needle in his arm

It's always sad when one has the information but fails to use it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Expectations?

In a group session a client who lost money from his nightstand said he was disappointed.

"I expect the people around me to be honest and leave my stuff alone," he said. "And instead they steal from me."

The feedback from the group was that he was unrealistic. After all, he's living in one of the biggest halfway houses in the Southwest. He's among recovering addicts. Some are ex-felons. Many have been homeless. Some are sober only a few days. Yet he's surprised and disappointed when he loses things?

The group thought he was setting himself up for disappointment by putting too high of expectations on his fellow addicts. Plus tempting them by leaving money around.

Of course in an ideal world no one would steal. We'd live by the Golden Rule. We could just leave things lying around and no one would appropriate them. But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where some are honest and some are otherwise.

While we may lose things at TLC, reality is we don't lose near the percentage as many businesses. For example, I've read that Wal-Mart and other big chains have a loss rate of 2 to 3% just from employee theft.

That’s not our history. Every couple of years a manager disappears with a deposit. Or a client will lose something from his room. Or someone will leave with our tools.  It's mostly small stuff.

And because most of our clients are trying to change our loss rate is likely less than that of the average business.  After all, stealing is not compatible with sobriety.

Monday, April 15, 2013

1000 and counting...

1000 days! 1000 blogs. I kept my commitment! Which is important. Now forward for the next however many postings.

And that segues to today when – during our monthly business meeting – a manager expressed gratitude for the hard work I've put into TLC. Work which helped him change his life.

So I shared my secret. And the secret is nothing arcane. The secret is to show up each day. When you feel like it. When you don't feel like it. No matter what, keep showing up.

An example of this is the way I’ve written this blog. Some days the last thing I felt like doing is writing. But I did it anyway because I wanted to keep my commitment to myself

There were times when the computer was unavailable or broken late at night.  At times I had to post a blog from my telephone. Or from my iPad.

A few times I was in Mexico and the internet was kind of iffy. But I figured it out.

The secret is to show up every day. It's not the school you attended. It's not the education you have. It's not who you know. It's about showing up and trudging ahead. Often boring and unrewarding. But that’s how we get there.

It's like the aphorism of the tortoise and the hare. The hare’s good at the hundred yard dash. But the tortoise just keeps on going, keeping on. And he comes in first because he doesn’t stop. He keeps on….

I don't do my best work each day. What’s published here's never perfect. Yes, once in a while I like what I see on the screen. But the real thing is that I keep showing up every day. And hopefully getting better in the process.

I was considering just doing the blog once in a while once I met my goal of 1000. But then a couple of times mothers or fathers wrote to say that something they read here helped them make a decision to get their child into recovery. One message like that makes the whole thing worthwhile

If just one person's able to change, then it's all worth it. And worth continuing to do.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful...

A few days ago a house manager - who’d been clean over a year - returned to the dark side.

He claimed he didn’t know why it happened. While away from the house the prior Sunday a panhandler approached him. And the next thing he knew he was asking the man if could score heroin.

After he and the panhandler injected the heroin, the manager fell out from an overdose. Only CPR from the panhandler – and a call to 911 - saved his life. When the manager came to, paramedics were treating him.

After that it was on. During the week he took a couple shots of whiskey each night before bed. At the end of the week - after receiving a monthly bonus – he purchased some crack. .

And that was the end. Instead of being where he was supposed to be - in the office collecting weekly service fees last Friday night - he was in his room smoking a rock.

When the supervisor who caught him offered to let him start the program over at the Mesa location he declined. He wanted to continue getting high.

So what happened? What demons blind us to the knowledge we have about the consequences of picking up again? After all, here was a man who’d been clean for over a year. A man who spent his waking time helping others into recovery. And doing a fair job of it.

The 12-step literature addresses the value of being spiritually fit in order to avoid relapse. But we’re not sure what happened with this man..

If he's fortunate enough to return we’ll ask him.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Am I Worth It?

Following surgery nine years ago I received a bill for about $36,000, which my insurance paid. Over the years I’ve spent thousands on dental work. And I’ve had surgery because of accidents. I’ve always felt it’s a good investment to spend money on my physical well-being.

I guess that's why, in my naiveté, I'm sometimes surprised when addicts object to the costs of recovery or treatment. For many, it's almost a knee-jerk reaction. Even though it's not normally coming out of their pocket and is usually covered by someone else's insurance.

We'll hear comments like "those SOBs are making money hand over fist." Or "I thought TLC was a nonprofit." The comments go on and on.

While not sure about the psychology or thinking behind this attitude I know if they were bleeding to death and someone saved their life cost would be the last question.

Yet when addicts piss their life away on drugs and alcohol and highly trained professionals help them change they often question the value of the help. Even though the intervention and counseling could save their lives.

Sometimes I hear this from clients with a sense of entitlement. Some seem to believe the world owes them a recovery program. The world should be grateful they're getting sober. And someone else should pay for and be responsible for it.

After all, they're giving up their best friend. Isn't that enough? I’m still scratching my head.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Women's Outpatient Update

A few months ago we only had two or three live-in clients in the women's outpatient treatment program.  But we were having a bit of conflict between them and the women in the halfway house part of the program.  So to resolve the conflict we paid for them to live in other halfway houses while they continued treatment with us.

One conflict was that our women in treatment don't have to seek employment or work every day. Their job is to attend treatment and follow that schedule. So the women who work, and who adhere to the rules of the halfway house were somewhat envious.

Another conflict arose because clients in the outpatient program would return to the halfway house and mention receiving a therapeutic  massage. Also, they were able to engage in yoga instruction and art classes. And they went on weekend jaunts to the movies, the zoo, or the bowling alley. Plus they had a fitness club membership.

To reduce these conflicts, we rented a house a few blocks from the treatment center big enough to house ten women. We figured that would hold us for a few months. But, we were wrong. Those ten beds were filled the first week.

So we had to find more housing. And we were lucky enough to lease the house next door to provide beds for the next 10 women.

It’s a great challenge to face. What next?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Form of Denial?

Sometimes the most difficult thing for addicts is focus on sobriety.

When things get tough they start looking at everything but why they're in the program. The food’s not that great. I wake up too early. This program charges too much. The list goes on and on because it's a way for addicts to avoid facing themselves.

Those concerned about living conditions, food, or the cost of treatment, never had those thoughts when they were out there smoking crack, getting drunk, or shooting heroin. They were okay sleeping on someone else's dirty couch. Or in the back of an abandoned car. Or eating whatever they could scrounge, either by panhandling or stealing. They might live in a cockroach-ridden apartment, eating Ramen Noodles. At that point the only priority was being out of their minds and satisfying their addictions.

And because sobriety and recovery is a scary thing all of a sudden they focus on externals. We've had people who used to sleep on park benches who’ll complain about a Serta mattress not being exactly the right thing for them sleep on. And we’ve had those who subsisted on stolen Circle K hotdogs who all of a sudden think they're eating too much pasta or chicken.

Before I knew what I now know about recovery I didn't understand this. But today I recognize this as soon as a subtle – or maybe not-so-subtle – form of denial.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Medical Marijuana?

The voice on the phone dripped with angry self-righteousness.

"My boss fired me for using medical marijuana," he told me. "It’s illegal for him to do that."

The man went on like this for a few moments until I intervened.

I explained that the FDA recently ruled that there’s no medical use for marijuana. The Department of Transportation doesn't allow those in safety sensitive jobs to be under the influence of marijuana.

But the man on the other end of the phone had a difficult time comprehending. He was stuck with the idea that he was right. And that his former employer was wrong.

After I told him I’d be unable to evaluate and release him to return to his driving job while he was using marijuana he became angry and hung up.

This man's case illustrates a rising phenomenon in the recovery world. Some employees believe that because they have a prescription for so-called “medical marijuana” that they can drive and perform other safety sensitive jobs while under the influence. But that isn't the way it works.

After all, alcohol is legal. So are other prescription medications. But that still doesn't mean we can legally use them while operating a motor vehicle. Or performing other safety-sensitive jobs, such as repairing or maintaining aircraft or trains or work in any of the thousands of safety sensitive jobs.

Those of us who evaluate employees for return to duty have a mandate to protect the public.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Keeping On...

Sometime next week I’ll reach my goal of posting one thousand blogs in a row.

I remember when I started this while on vacation in San Diego, July 25, 2010. I was sitting by the bay, thinking about a way to force myself to write each day – to communicate more effectively on paper. Or on screen. Whatever.

I also had other reasons for doing this.

  • I wanted to help others stay sober. 
  • I wanted to promote TLC.

I’ve accomplished these things. But now comes the dilemma: do I post every day? Do I write three days a week? Do I stop?

And of course I’m so obsessive that once I start something that halfway works I just keep going. That's why I've been working out for 20+ years. That's why I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years.

When things work don't mess with them.

And probably one of the biggest motivating factors for continuing is the parents and family members who write me.

Sometimes the blog helps them make a decision about what to do with a family member. A woman summed it up best a while back when she wrote “I realize that you get it."

I do get it. Because I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic my life has been trashed over and over. But for some reason God smiled upon me. Today my life is blessed.. I have a happy marriage. I have a wonderful business. I have great friends and family. I know recovery can work.

I have a responsibility to share those blessings with those seeking help. And that's probably the reason I'll continue to do this.

Someone might find something here that’ll help make their world a better place.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Out of Ourselves

Sometimes we give clients projects to help them get out of themselves. This usually works well with those who are depressed. Or those who have a difficult time relating to others.

For example, we assigned a client last week to put together a weekend barbecue. He had to figure out all the details: how many steaks. How many paper plates, knives and forks. The condiments. How much charcoal. Then he had to find a ride to the store to shop.

When I saw him late Sunday he was full of enthusiasm. Here's a man who's been pretty much shut down with depression all of a sudden relating with others. And I believe he's gotten a sense of accomplishment from doing this.

For the past several weeks we've assigned different clients to plan weekend activities. So far, we've had trips to the zoo. Trips to the bowling alley. Miniature golf.  Roller derby. All have come off successfully. And clients are developing a sense of community.

Mindful gardening is another project that kicked off this weekend. Late Sunday evening we drove by the garden as they were quitting for the day. For three and a half hours the six or so members of that class prepared the soil and planted under the supervision of the instructor.

All of these projects are ancillary to our outpatient treatment program. But they are important because they help clients communicate better. They learn they can have fun in recovery and accomplish small goals at the same time.

More on this subject later.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Questionable Excuse

A TLC Hard Six client who was late for work had a unique explanation: he said he had taken a laxative the night before and while walking to the office had lost control and accidentally soiled his pants. Thus, he had to return home and shower before coming to the office.

And, of course, when he arrived his supervisor requested a urinalysis and breath test. When the breath test came up positive, the client admitted he drank the prior evening and that's why he'd had the "accident."

So the next thing was to figure out what to do: should we discharge him? Should we give him another chance and put him back into the program? After a team evaluation, it was decided to return him to the Hard Six program to start over.

Because this man had been in the program for nearly a year and was experiencing his first 30 days off restriction, it was not surprising that he’d relapsed. Men often do well under strict supervision. But once they have a bit of freedom, where they can make choices on their own without much scrutiny, that's when the test begins.

Because we do not shoot our wounded – as his supervisor said – we decided to give him another opportunity.

Someone also suggested he create a better excuse the next time he arrives late.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Focusing on Gratitude.

“Two convicts stood looking through the bars. One looked down and saw the mud. The other looked up and saw the stars.” Unknown author.

If we look we’ll find areas in our life for gratitude. Those who find nothing for which to be grateful are - in my opinion - not enjoying a happy existence.

So where do I find this gratitude? No job. No money. Wife left. Nerves shot. Boss is pissed. On and on. We have a litany of things to be ungrateful for because that’s where our focus is.

However a change of perspective will provide an abundance of opportunities for gratitude.

For example, we have clients that live with varying levels of gratitude and ingratitude. The ones who are the most ungrateful are the ones who had the most prior to coming to us. They've been to the “best” treatment programs, some costing thousands of dollars a day.

Their parents send them money and stuff to make their lives more comfortable while they’re in recovery. And they understandably have trouble figuring out that they have responsibility for their recovery. And when things go wrong, they blame their benefactors – not themselves.

The most grateful are those who've had challenges and struggles in their addictions and recovery. Many are simply grateful the pain has subsided. They find hope in the one-on-one sessions, groups and meetings. They find gratitude in another day clean and sober. They think of the friends at home who still struggling with their disease. They look at themselves as blessed.

They find ways to not slip into negativity by looking around at those who have less – a way to re-frame what life presents us so we can stay with gratitude.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Over-Medicated?

As I was leaving the parking light yesterday I encountered a client I hadn't talked to in some time. I’d met him when he first came in, but he was assigned to someone else's caseload. So we had little interaction..

But I was immediately struck by his improved appearance after only six weeks. His color had improved. Posture was better. He seemed more confident – and had a smile on his face.

When I asked what had happened, what had changed, he told me he’d quit the medication he’d been on when he came in. Upon arrival he had a travel kit full of various meds. One for arthritis. Another for asthma. Another for migraine headaches. One for depression. The list went on and on.

I asked if he’d withdrawn from the medication under a doctor's supervision, He said he had. And as a result he hasn't felt better in years. No pain. Depression is almost nonexistent. And he has no desire to use, he said, smiling as he told me.

I never make recommendations to clients about doing anything other than following the doctor’s recommendations. However, I do believe many addicts and alcoholics are over-medicated. By far.

Another man in our program takes about 20 different medications a day – one for each of several ailments. And for some reason, he never feels well and has a difficult time participating program activities.  Duh...

My belief is that clients should be on medications their doctors recommend.  And then only the minimal dosage.

The question to ask our doctor is: do I really need this medicine?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Same Path?

Today, while purchasing a cup of coffee at the TLC Inconvenience Store, I ran into a former TLC resident who owed me $10 I'd loaned to him a few weeks ago. And when I gave it to him he said he’d pay me back a few days later.

Of course I didn't expect to see the ten anytime soon as I knew he needed money for a bottle of vodka. And I was happy to accommodate him.

I was taught by my first sponsor, Dean W. to give panhandlers money. He said it was okay if they used it for alcohol because they might hit the bottom faster. So today I follow his advice.

Anyway, it was sad to see this fellow to whom I'd loaned the ten. And actually I smelled him before I saw him walk up beside me.

He stunk of urine, sweat, and alcohol. His clothes were dirty grease rags, as if he'd been sleeping in them since I last saw him a few weeks ago. His hair was a filthy tangle, His eyes glassy and unfocused, But he still remembered he owed me the money

"I'm going to get that money back to you," he told me, all serious. And I said okay. Then I told him that the offer was still open for him to come into the halfway house. He said that he was just about ready to get sober, that he was "tired." And he left the store and walked unsteadily toward the street.

While I'm wrong as often as I'm right, my gut feeling is that this man doesn't have long to live if he doesn't change his lifestyle. And it was sad to see him because earlier this year I had a similar conversation with another fellow who kept drinking.

And he was found dead a few weeks later, somewhere in Phoenix. We only learned that he’d died after the police came to ask us if we knew of any next of kin.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who am I?

I asked a man in group the other night to tell me who he was. But that he couldn't use his name or his occupation as part of the description.

He was speechless. Couldn't find any words. He couldn't reach inside himself and find a form of identity other than his job or his name.

"I'm not sure what you’re asking," he finally replied.

His response points out a dilemma for many of us men. The source of our identity is the job we have. The way we earn our money.

When two men meet probably the first five minutes involves what they do. Carpenter. Plumber. Airline pilot. Student. Teacher.

Finally this man asked me, "Well, who I am I if I'm not what I do?"

"I'm not sure," I answered. "You tell me."

The conversation went this way for a while. And he remained confused and perplexed. The idea that he would be anything at all if he were stripped of his job identity wasn’t something he could wrap his brain around.

Finally, though, the conversation moved into another direction.

We’re spiritual beings. We’re parents. Lovers. We’re husbands and wives. We’re an expression of God's creative ability. We’re members of the human family with a responsibility to lift up those around us.

When we look at ourselves this way we open a wide range of possibilities of what we can do, who we can become – and we can also be productive workers.

The point is that if all I am is my job - or what I do to make money - when my job goes away what am I?

Am I nothing?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Out of Focus

Clients are in trouble when they start trying to manage their own life while in early recovery.

When they come to us they desperately need someone to tell them what to do, someone to point them in the right direction until they can learn to walk on their own. A guide, if you will.

Neither their brain nor their body is functioning right because of their drug and alcohol use. Yet as soon as they run into a few obstacles they start making unwise and self-destructive decisions.

Examples of this are when they say they need a job. Or to go to school. Or go home and everything will be okay. They want to visit their kids – kids they hadn’t visited much at all during their addiction. On and on…

But our years of experience have taught us that when a client has eyes on something other than recovery there’s a potential problem. When a client is in this mode, thinking a job or relationship or car will enhance their recovery they’re not looking at why they're in a recovery program.

It makes sense that people want to revert to things that, at one time, worked for them. The only problem with that is that if those things worked for them they wouldn’t be with us.

They could stay sober on their own.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Seven Years!

A young woman who celebrated seven years of sobriety at a 12-step meeting this morning shared her story from the podium.

She talked about life before she came into recovery: living in cheap hotels and motels. Losing jobs. Being broke. Dropping her child off at her mother's and not returning to pick him up. This was her story before she got into recovery.

Today, though, she's living her dream life. She and her fiance have a small child and are marrying in the fall. They live in a nice four-bedroom home. They’re both employed, working for the same company. All blessings she attributes to her recovery.

One who shared, a man there seven years earlier when she walked into the rooms, said she had several strikes against her. Had he been a betting man he would have bet against her succeeding in recovery. One challenge was that she was young. The other was that she was pretty. And he went on to explain how young attractive women often have a difficult time getting sober because there's always someone willing to "rescue her." But in her case, she overcame the odds.

And today she was glowing with joy and happiness as she celebrated her anniversary with her fiance, child, and sponsor in attendance.