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.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Oh my God! 74 years old today!

And I ask myself how I feel about getting old? Then I tell myself, "getting old? Hell, you're already old."

Where I'm at is that I'm simply grateful to be alive today. After 38 years of injecting heroin into my body and 42 years of pouring alcohol down my throat I'm happy to have survived.  I'm grateful for:

  • 22+ years sober and living the Promises.
  • A wife who provides loving attention and meets all of my needs..
  • A wonderful job, the same one I've had since January 9, 1992. 
  • The group of loving friends and employees who help me achieve my dreams.
  • Being healthy enough to put in six days a week and run a few businesses.

So, what will my day look like? First, off to the gym at 4 AM for an hour. Then connect with my office remotely and finish up some paperwork. Somewhere along the way there will be a surprise party. And I know my wife has a couple more gifts for me. She's already bought a nice recliner and several items of furniture for my new office. If history is any indication I'll receive congratulations and text messages throughout the day. There's a package on the way from my children in California.

All nice stuff that reminds me of the blessed life I have today. And it started when I admitted I was an alcoholic and addict January 14, 1991. It’s a great life living sober.

I recommend it for anyone having an issue with alcohol or drugs.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spoiled

While I'm no expert on parenting (just ask my kids) I believe that most of the young addicts we see in our clinic get there because their parents spoiled them from the time they were very young.

For example, we've had clients whose parents gave them their own condominium. Their own SUV. And a fat allowance. They just wanted to keep the kids out of their lives and to keep them from complaining. Then all of a sudden they realized that they had raised a monster, a drug addict who was stealing everything they could get their hands on.

At that point they call someone like us for help because they don't know what to do.

In a few other instances we've had parents bring us adult children who almost went into shock when they realized that we weren't going to cater to their demands. When they found out their tactics of emotional blackmail and childish anger didn't work they’d threaten to leave. Then they would find that the parents didn't want them back until they had a period of sobriety -plus cut them off financially if they didn't comply.

At that point many of them would reluctantly enter into counseling or therapy, counting the days until they woke up from their nightmare.

While many of these grown-up brats with a sense of entitlement don't succeed, some do. The ones who do get it somehow overcome their bad upbringing and realize they’re responsible for themselves.

While no one has ever asked me for advice on raising children I will offer this: let your children know you love them. But don’t let them think they’re special or unique because they’re not. They’re simply inexperienced human beings who need to be taught how to survive in a competitive world.
 
When we fail to do that they may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of reality – and end up hating us in the process.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drawing a Line

Our policy for 21 years has been to accept any addict or alcoholic who asks for help, whether they have money or not– with a few exceptions.

The exceptions are that we don’t accept sex offenders or arsonists. We don’t accept sex offenders because we don’t know how to help them. And we don’t accept arsonists for the obvious reason that they might burn down our property. In fact in the early days an angry addict tried to torch the Mac House but didn't succeed because he discovered that concrete doesn't burn very well.

But once in a while we add others to that list – those who might pose a danger. In these cases we flag them in the computer in case they try to return to the program.

So we added another to the list last week when we terminated a manager who was stealing client’s prescription drugs along with program funds. After he was fired he loudly threatened – on the phone and in voice mails - to retaliate against those who terminated him.

Up to the point he was fired this fellow seemed fairly bright and mild mannered. But years of being incarcerated and living in the underworld taught me to never underestimate anyone’s capacity to do evil.

And when it comes to protecting those I love – and me – I’ll err on the side of safety and security every time.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Irresponsible?

Sometimes I have mixed feelings about an old friend I'm trying to help, about should I keep helping him.

This comes up for me today because I've been sending money each month to an addict and alcoholic I've known for over 50 years, a former brother-in-law. And I help him because he can't help himself and lives in a nursing home as a result of a stroke he suffered some seven years ago. He has no income other than a meager Social Security check, most of which goes to to the nursing home for his care. I think he ends up with about $30 in his pocket.

So a couple times a month I send him 50 bucks to do with whatever he chooses. And I'm certain he doesn't use the money for toiletries or snacks. I know he uses it to buy vodka, which he takes back to his room to get blasted. Or maybe once in a while he'll buy marijuana or a few pills.

My stance is that it's none of my business what he does with money. Because he's never once in the 52 years I've known him expressed the slightest desire to get sober or do anything else to change his life. He's pretty happy the way he is. And I'm okay with that.

But the other day my daughter – his niece – called to say he was in the hospital because he'd fallen and suffered a concussion. He was in ICU for a few days then returned to the nursing home. The report was that he'd gotten dizzy and fallen on his head. Nothing was said about him being drunk.

Even so, I'll probably talk to my sponsor about providing him with money that I'm sure he uses for drugs and alcohol. I go back and forth in my head with rationalizations like he's going to get drunk or high somehow with somebody's help.

Does it make a lot of difference where he gets the money? Probably not.  But I'm still thinking about it...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Feeling like Royalty

A manager - on vacation in California - sent a text message that said he knows what royalty feels like. Because everywhere he goes in the beach side resort where he's staying the staff addresses him as "mister."

Probably more than anything else this text message outlines what we do here at TLC when we accomplish our mission, which is "We help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives."

This man has made profound changes since he came to us many years ago. His resume included prison time and a career as a meth user. He had no one who cared about him. On one occasion he took one of our company vehicles on a long joyride with no intention of giving it back. Eventually though his addiction brought him back to us with a new attitude.

This time he was serious. He dug into himself and started working a program. He had a lot of energy that he applied toward positive things. Eventually he worked his way into a responsible job in the corporate office where – of all things – he's now working in the accounting department.

Today he has a lovely family including two young children who've never seen him use drugs or alcohol. He has a decent apartment, and is currently looking for a home closer to our corporate office.

It's always rewarding to those of us on the Board of Directors and those of us who participated in the development of this project over the past 21 years to see how some people have changed. Many thousands more have not enjoyed the benefits that this man has only because they are not ready.

But we don't concern ourselves about those who don't make it. We just do our best to keep the doors open for those who do want to return.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Dog's Life...

In reflection, I think our two Chihuahuas, Jose and Lucy, are much smarter than the rest of us. Because they live lifestyles many of us addicts don't enjoy – even in the drug induced fantasies from days past.

After all, neither one works. They don't have credit cards. They sleep 14 or 15 hours a day. We serve them the best dog food, prescribed by the veterinarian, twice a day in nice little porcelain dishes. They live in a 2000 square-foot house, but pay no mortgage or rent. Or utilities. They have a large play area. Swimming pool. Fluffy pillows. Big screen TV.

José, the fattest of the two, has been hooked on pain drugs for a few years because he has a pancreas condition. So every night I get to watch him nod out in front of the TV around 9 o'clock. He's not thinking about quitting.

Every few weeks they visit the doggy day spa for a bath and nail trim, coming home smelling like lavender.

They teach me valuable lessons though. One Is how to be transparent. For example, my dog Jose, who I have owned since 2005, decided after my wife moved in that he liked her much better than me. And the other dog, Lucy agrees with him. They don't even pretend.

Now I understand why they would rather hang out with my beautiful wife rather than me. Still, the addict part of me developed a small resentment about how they so easily cut me loose. However, this is not something I've brought to my sponsor.

The other thing they teach is how to do a 10th step. Sometimes these two will be playing and one will bite the other too hard. Or else they'll be scuffling over a morsel of food or a treat and find themselves growling and snarling. But before long – much faster than I could after someone bit me hard – they've made amends and are playing again as if nothing ever happened.

They live a happy life without much effort. Something I’m still trying to figure out.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Making Mistakes

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; forgive them anyway.” Mother Teresa

Over the years at TLC we've tried to help clients in recovery by training them as managers. By doing this we allow them to work in a safe environment where they give back.

In probably 90% of the instances this procedure has worked well. Those we help generally reward us by being loyal employees. Some have developed the confidence to go out and pursue a career. Or else go to school. Maybe start their own business. And some simply stay with TLC; a few have been here for more than a decade. And those who have been here that long have been rewarded by being able to have homes and secure jobs – and most important: to remain sober and clean.

But once in a while I make mistakes. And that happened a year ago when I tried to help a client I thought had potential.  He was bright and educated, with an advanced degree. Plus, I believed he had a fire for change. So I tried to mentor him.

For a while things went well. Because he lacked skills in dealing with clients I tried to teach him. I encouraged him to care for his health and lose weight. In some areas he did well. And in others it seemed that it was going to take a lot of work for him to change.

In any event, he finally worked his way into an area where he had trust and responsibility. And that's when I learned I’d made a serious mistake. Within a short time I found he not only was getting high, but was also stealing. And lying. And having inappropriate relationships with clients. The list goes on.

Today we’re repairing the damage, trying to get things back to normal.  Which we will.

And did I learn anything from this? Probably not a lot. Just a reaffirmation that sometimes people aren’t ready.

But I remain an eternal optimist who has faith in people's ability to change.  So I’m already looking for someone to fill his spot.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Find the Joy

We deal with some clients who define themselves by certain experiences and never grow from there. They’re frozen in a frame of reference, a template they apply to their lives today. They've let their experiences mold the rest of their lives.

For example, a veteran lives life based on his military duty. While service is honorable and meritorious, it’s sad to see a person use that as a reference point for the remainder of life. Particularly when his service was about preserving the freedom to be whatever he chose in life.

A client who divorced her husband because he was abusing their children defines her world years later based on what he did. She no longer trusts men. She distances herself from others. She lives in a cocoon of fear and mistrust.

When she speaks of her life, her conversation immediately veers to that experience as the touchstone for who she is now. And while what happened brought wrenching changes to her life, the idea that she became another victim of his behavior is another tragedy.

How do we help clients escape this half-life? This depressing, unrewarding existence?

Because some seem unaware of what they've done to themselves one way is to suggest they redefine themselves based on their lives today. Even if that life today sucks, at least in the present moment the can begin to do something to better it.

Life is not about history. It’s about being actualized and living in the present moment: where we can find the joy of living.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Broken Heart

A recovering addict who’s depressed over relationship issues is immobilized by the pain of the breakup.

At one time she and her fiancee were happy. They spent time together at home, went camping, attended sporting events, enjoyed the same movies, and visited friends. She thought he was the most wonderful man alive.

Then she found out he was having an affair with a woman at work. And everything went downhill from there.

Her friends ask her why she’s so depressed over someone who treats her so cruelly. And, on an intellectual level she doesn’t know. She just knows how she feels. They tell her to date someone else. But she says that each time she’s about to follow their advice he’ll call and make nice. Then she starts thinking there might be hope for reconciliation.

And, of course, she goes back into depression when things don’t work out.

This woman really has two options: she can either accept that the man she loves is a philanderer who won’t change - or else make a decision that she has an innate human right to be happy.

As painful as it might be to lose the love of our life we won’t be happy until we give up the attachment.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Maintaining Sanity

A challenge at TLC is keeping excess emotion out of business decisions. Addicts sometimes are overly sensitive about territory. Their work areas. Who has the authority to tell them something? Everything's personal. Sometimes they let clients irritate them and they become upset.

Probably 75% of my job is ironing out issues with staff members who have difficulty communicating their needs. Sometimes managers – whose self-esteem has been in the trash for a long time – talk down to other employees. Or the clients. For many, it's the first time in their lives they've had a job supervising. At times they may use their position as a palette to work out personal issues.

The way I normally deal with this is to remind them of our mission which is: to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives. I explain that our sick population needs kindness and compassion, not an expression of impatience from those trying to help them.  I also explain that when doing for others they are reinforcing their own sobriety and mental health.

We must look at those who come to us in the light of being compassionate and helpful. We need to remain above the fray when clients-or other employees-have a meltdown. 

 That way we do the best for them and for our program.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Insanity Returned

This week two managers relapsed within a few days. And a ripple of anxiety rolled across TLC – especially among the newcomers.

They were understandably upset that someone who taught recovery one day began taking pills or drinking the following day.

The obvious question for them is “does this recovery thing work?”

Or, “Oh my God. I so looked up to her. And now she’s sloppy drunk and fighting in a bar.”

“Or this guy was so smart and gave us so much good information. And now he’s using.”

But recovery programs don’t function off of personalities. They function by principles. And if one doesn’t pay attention to recovery precepts then anything can happen.

In the case of these managers they likely weren’t talking to their sponsors or dealing with the stressors in their lives. They ignored the resources available to them.

For several days before their relapses signals were coming in from other staff members and clients about their behavior.

The woman, for instance, was extremely short and emotional with the clients. She’d mentioned that the job was - all of a sudden - “driving her crazy.” Earlier in the week she’d asked someone to help her prepare a resume.

In light of that information plans were made to replace her. However, before we could make the change we were getting phone calls about her drinking.

In the case of the other manager, we heard he was behaving “differently” and not his usual self. When we heard it from one person, we didn't pay much attention. But when it came from several we asked him for a drug test. Before it could be completed, though, he admitted being under the influence. And at that point he was terminated.

Both these former managers were offered the opportunity to detox and return to the halfway house. But they declined. When they get done using we can still help them if they choose to try recovery once more.

They just have to get enough pain.

Monday, May 20, 2013

More Helping Others

The topic at our monthly manager's meeting this past Sunday was "helping others."

As the meeting opened the moderator explained how he came up with the topic. He said that as he was driving a van load of clients out of the back parking lot on a 90° degree day last week headed for Phoenix he noticed an elderly woman sitting on a parking stop at the side of the lot.

At first he didn't think much about it. But then after about a half a block he realized something wasn't right and drove back. It turned out the elderly woman – in her 90s – had parked her car a few blocks away at a restaurant and was unable to find it when she came out. And in her confusion while looking for it she ended up in our back lot, dehydrated and lost.

In any event, our guys helped her reconnect with her family and it turned out she was okay. And all of them felt better for being able to help someone out of a perilous situation.

As the topic went around the room, a lot of people talked about the benefits of helping. The consensus among was that giving was one of more rewarding things they do. And at the same time they are able to get out of themselves - a good thing for addicts.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Making $. Or helping Others?


In 21 years we've had many former clients who tried to emulate what we do at TLC by starting programs of their own – many of them because they are angry about the way they were treated at TLC or about how we do things.

Some have even stolen our paperwork and brochures on their way out. The only difference between their literature and ours is that they inserted their name at the top. But today I can't think of a program started by a former client that's still operating.

And it's not that we're so smart. It's simply that we're dedicated enough to do the hard work it takes to deal with angry addicts and alcoholics day in and day out – without much expectation of getting paid well for our efforts.

One motivation for people to start a program is they think it's a great way to make money.  They do the math and think they're going to get rich. But after a few months they discover that clients sometimes pay nothing and rarely the full amount. Then they realize they have to pay mortgages, phones, transportation, insurance, food and on and on. And that’s when their motivation fizzles.
They never figure out that the real reason to do something as difficult as running a recovery program is to have a mission in life.  That helping others into recovery is its own payoff.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I didn't Listen

Sometimes I get so busy that I don't listen to what people say – at least not very carefully. Or maybe that's my excuse. I'm not sure. I'm not a guy who likes to deal with a lot of minutia or detail. Instead I like to look at the bigger picture and let others work out the things that I find boring. That’s the way my lazy brain works.

However, sometimes I get in trouble. For example, about 10 years ago we found an accountant in our population who’d just been released from prison. Since we were looking for an accountant we thought he might be a pretty good deal. After all, he wasn't in prison for fraud – he'd been sent there for his second DUI. And he was willing to work for the paltry wages we were able to pay him.

However, at one point early in his employment he made a statement that I kind of let go by. What he said was "I've never worked for a company that didn't go bankrupt." For some reason I didn't connect the dots and maybe suspect that his incompetence might have had something to do with their bankruptcies. And sure enough, while we didn't go bankrupt, we might have if we hadn't terminated him when we did.

Which brings me to a recent situation where I didn't really pay enough attention to what a new employee told me.

What this person said was that he liked to give the clients a full hour of counseling to make sure they got treated "fairly." Implicit in that statement – which I let drive right by me – was that our company was not treating clients fairly by giving them less than a full hour. However, it's typical in the counseling business to not give a full hour so counselors can make progress notes before meeting the next client.

While some companies may do it differently, the reality is that our company pays people well to work the schedule we provide. Which we think is quite fair because we give clients twice to three times the counseling sessions other providers offer – even very expensive programs.

The bottom line is when you accept a paycheck you must do things how the employer says – or move on. Which is what this person did on his own when he realized the company wasn’t going to do things the way he thought they should be done.

And me? Will I do a better job of listening to these clues to behavior? Probably not. I’m too optimistic that people will do the right thing.  But sometimes they don't.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Angry Alcoholic


Yesterday morning started off with a lesson in patience – tempered with some humor.

It started with an early morning email from a man on Social Security who lived in Massachusetts, asking if we had facilities in his state. So I gave my usual response: no we don't have facilities in your state but we have many people from other states who come to Arizona. He’s welcome to join them.

But instead of saying no thanks, he wrote back, saying that I must be "stupid" to think he might want to relocate to Arizona.

Well, that early in the morning his answer inspired me to write something to the effect that our Board of Directors would like nothing better than to go to Massachusetts and build a facility just for his self-centered ass.

The conversation went downhill from there. He called me a whole bag of mofos. He said Arizona was nothing but a bunch of Mormon rednecks. And that I was lucky I wasn't in Massachusetts because we'd be shut down. That I was running a cult that was living off the sweat of alcoholics.

Also that he was reporting us to the IRS so they could pull our funding. Which didn't scare me at all because we get no funding from any anyone anyway.

Finally though, I had to get about the business of the day so I told him that no matter how angry he was he was welcome at TLC.
After all one of our specialties is turning angry alcoholics and addicts into sober productive members of the community. And who knows? This guy might just become one of them.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Love/Hate

Got an email yesterday from a former manager who was with us three or four years ago.

She wasn't slamming TLC. But she had some questions about whether I was still in touch with front line managers. Maybe as if I didn't know exactly what was going on? Or maybe I wasn't aware when managers were rude or inconsiderate with clients. Perhaps someone told her one of our managers treated him poorly. I’m not sure what inspired her to write.

Now after having some 300 thousand+ residents over 20 years I know some people could be treated badly. Sometimes managers are incompetent. Sometimes they're great. Sometimes they're rude. But mostly they're human and respond to the stresses of dealing with ungrateful addicts as anyone else might. Our policy is to treat everyone well. But there’s sometimes a gap between policy and execution.

I came to accept and realize a long time ago that TLC has – because of its structure – a bad reputation. We're one of the few organizations in the nonprofit world that takes homeless addicts in for no money and houses them, and helps them get back into recovery. And we accept anyone who wants help - with the exception of sex offenders and arsonists. Our only requirement is they have a desire to get clean and sober.

But what happens more than half of the time is that after people are with us for a week or so they realize we're serious. And once they find we're serious, and not a place to simply crash, they get upset and leave. After all, responsibility’s a bitch.

And the parting is sometimes unpleasant. When clients refuse to work, or they don't want to pay the $110 a week service fee, we ask them to go elsewhere. And for many this is so confusing that they react with anger.

For some reason, they believe we should allow them to live with us for free. They shouldn't have to work. We need to treat them a certain way. Some believe they should be allowed to get high. And some become so angry that we have to call the police to remove from the premises.

When people leave under these circumstances they seldom have anything good to say about TLC. They’ll characterize TLC as a dope house. Or they’ll say it's all about the money – not taking into consideration that it costs much more than a hundred and ten dollars for a week at a cheap motel. We get slandered all over the place.

But when they find themselves strung out, broke and homeless again where do they turn? To TLC. Because they know that when they get serious we’ll help them rebuild their lives.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First Hard Six Grad 18 Years Sober

The first graduate of the Hard Six program spoke at the Roosevelt house last night  – celebrating 18 years of sobriety.

This man's success story is miraculous. When he came to TLC he had hair to his waist. He'd been homeless off and on over the years. His previous address was a local cornfield. He was a sucked up angry meth addict. No one wanted to be around him. And he didn't want anyone around.

But he hung in there. After being at TLC a while, he became a house manager, a job he did for several years.

Before closing, he described his life now.  Wife and child. New truck. Responsible job.  And when he left work today they said they'd see him in the morning.  Used to be that people would tell him to not return.  He doesn't miss any meals.

The real bottom line message to the 20+ members of the program: if a man with his resume could stay sober so could they.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

RIP

I write a lot about our successes in this blog. And, as an educational process, I also write of addicts who don't make it. And over the weekend, we had one who didn't make it. He was found dead in his bed of a heroin overdose early Sunday morning. He was 38 years old.

And, and is usual with addicts, it wasn't as simple as a resident buying dope and shooting it by himself in the secrecy of his room.

The way this story evolved is that the man who died was away from the house, drinking at a local bar. Apparently he realized he was late for curfew and called a staff member to say he'd be late. When he also mentioned that he was at a bar drinking, the staff member went to help him get home safely.

Instead, when the staff member got to the bar he also started drinking. After that things get murky. Apparently the two got into a fight with others at the bar. And that part seems true because there was a blood trail leading up the stairs to their room the following morning.

And at some point during this venture – although no one knows exactly when – the two obtained heroin. In the morning, one man woke up. The other didn't survive. At this point it's anyone's conjecture how he died. It could have been from a drug overdose. It could have been from alcohol and drugs mixed together. Or it could have been the result of injuries from the fight they were in.

At this point the cause of death is unimportant. What’s significant is that another addict succumbed to our disease - simply because he didn't follow the guidelines.

We're all promised the same thing if we don't put our recovery first.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Getting back to Work

This morning a former resident, a man who’d spent several years at TLC, had his picture posted on the Maricopa County Sheriff's website. He was booked for extreme DUI – one of several he's received over the years. The best bet among those who know about such things is that he's probably going to prison this time.

This is a man who spent two tours in our Hard Six program. Each time he had a pressing need to get back to work. Work was the issue for him. He needed to make money. He had financial obligations. And on and on…

He’s an outstanding example of someone who’s never identified the real issue: his alcoholism. Each time he's gone down the same path.

His pattern has been to work very hard at his job. No one ever has questions about his ability. He contributes to every project he's involved in. But eventually, he finds a rationale that involves leaving the security of the program before he’s ready. And the next thing you hear, he's drunk.

One thing he won't have to worry about when he gets to prison is finding work. The warden always needs help in the maintenance department.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Accepting Blessings...

In 22+ years of working with addicts and I think I’ve pretty much heard it all. Then I get surprised.

It kind of evolved from this: TLC has been doing very well for the past several months. And when TLC does well the staff does well. When times are good we pass out raises and bonuses. So this past week employees received double pay - plus a performance bonus.

And while some might think this extravagant, during the years when the economy was in a downturn many of those same employees took a pay cut. No bonuses. No raises. They tightened their belts to help TLC survive. And, above all, we recognize loyalty.

Which brings me to the point. Sometimes addicts and alcoholics have a tough time accepting positive recognition – even when they deserve it. This came to my attention after I received a call from a manager whose employees were wondering what was going on.

Why’d we get this bonus? Was this some kind of severance pay maybe? Is our part of the program being closed down? All kinds of scenarios were going through their heads.

And the reason for their conjecture is that their part of the program has suffered some setbacks financially due to government regulations that prohibit them from helping alcoholics the way the rest of TLC does.

However, those of us in the corporate office are well aware of their situation. And even though they’re not prospering they’re doing their best under challenging circumstances.

But the bigger issue is that they let their low self-esteem and insecurity – likely part of their disease – keep them from accepting blessings in the spirit they were given.

We addicts benefit when we learn to accept the good the world gives as one of the rewards of living sober.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Life's Lessons

Life teaches the addicts and alcoholics in our program hard lessons real fast.

A man who walked away from one of our Phoenix properties a few days ago to return to the streets immediately ran into problems. According to him, he had his butt kicked a couple of times the first day.

And, after he showed up with ugly stitches on his head and face - trying to get readmitted to the program - no one disagreed with him about being assaulted. We all had a graphic lesson of what can happen to us when we relapse.

It's an example of the aphorism about a picture being worth a 1000 words.

I often have conversations with so-called "normal" people, those without drug or alcohol problems. And when I share tales of what happens to some of our people when they relapse they seem incredulous. But those of us who are addicts and alcoholics know such stories to be par for the course.

All of us know on a deep level the potential train wreck that awaits us if we forget the lessons of recovery.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Who's Responsible?

Group sessions allow clients to confront each other's behavior in a healthy manner.

But often - when we we're trying to sort out a client's behavior - they tend to focus on the other person instead of themselves.

And yesterday it happened again: two clients who'd been in cat fights for several days were put in group together to sort out the issue. But instead of talking about their part, they each focused on what the other person did. And it's usually a recipe for failure when we focus on the other person. We have no control over them. But, if lucky, we might have some control over our own behavior

An interesting thing always happens when a group moderator asked a client to focus upon themselves rather than the other person. All of a sudden the verbiage lessens. When we talk about our own behavior suddenly we choose our words more carefully. And when we look at ourselves we often become tongue-tied. Because what we say might point the finger at the person responsible – ourselves.

But for the past 20 years this technique has worked in our program. When two people are having ongoing communication issues we immediately have them go to the source of the problem – the reflection in the mirror.

And sometimes they get it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Drug Seeking

Sometimes it's difficult to tell when a client's in pain. Is he in pain because he says he's in pain? Or is the client simply seeking drugs? Wanting to get high?

Today we encountered a situation where a client who hadn't been on pain medications for some six weeks reportedly went to the emergency and obtained a prescription for pain pills.

When we told him he couldn't fill the prescription until he had an evaluation from a pain doctor, he rebelled. And he refused to turn the prescription over to staff. So, because he was non-compliant - and we knew he was going to fill the prescription on his own first chance he got - we discharged him.

While some might think this is a harsh consequence for not wanting to turn over a prescription, we also have a long history on this man. One time he was found to have filled two prescriptions when he was supposed to only have one. Another time he was found to have alcohol in his car.

Because of serious injuries this man had suffered we had more patience with him than we would with a client in good health. But after so long of seeing this man having an abnormal reaction when he was issued his prescriptions, we determined that he was probably self medicating, obtaining drugs from other sources.

And nothing is more difficult for other clients than to see someone who's apparently under the influence while they're in the program, supposedly working on recovery.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Taking it Slow...

Because many addicts have issues with self-esteem relationships in early recovery can be problematic.

I was talking today with a man who's been sober fewer than five years. And in that time he's been in a couple of relationships, one of them pretty hard on him emotionally. And the one that was hard on him emotionally started when he was in the early days of recovery when he met a gorgeous woman who was still drinking.

In spite of that red flag, he pursued her.  And she misused him for some time before he finally escaped. His  sobriety was intact, though his serenity was shattered.

And while he didn't relapse, he was stressed out emotionally for some time. He had a fixation on her that wasn't healthy for either of them. Finally, after several discussions with his mentors he quit trying to get back with her.

And now he's in a relationship that seems healthier. He's taking his time and not rushing. She's also in recovery and has a few years more than he does of living sober.

He talks very realistically about the relationship. He hasn't purchased cemetery plots. He's not shopping for long-term healthcare insurance. He hasn't put a down payment on a wedding ring.

Instead he spending more time thinking about their common values. He's paying attention to how she relates to the others in her life, how she treats them, because he believes that's a window into who she really is.

With this new approach he may have better luck at developing a long-term relationship.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

RIP

This weekend we lost another client, a resident of our Las Vegas house. The man, who had been with TLC quite some time, was a smoker who succumbed to lung cancer. He was 54 years old.

Those of you who read this blog know well that I adamantly oppose smoking. Having quit in 1984, it saddens me to see those around me puffing away as if the statistics don't apply to them at all - but to someone else.

I lost about seven family members – including aunts and uncles, cousins, and my only brother – to emphysema caused by smoking. It was painful to witness their suffering during the last years they spent gasping for breath and sucking air from an oxygen tank.

I use the following excerpt from a previous blog because it outlines very well the impact of smoking.

The American Lung Association reports:

"Three decades ago, public outrage killed an automobile model (Ford's Pinto) whose design defects allegedly caused 59 deaths. Yet every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined.

Approximately 440,000 people die from their own smoking each year, and about 50,000 die from second-hand smoke annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 22,073 people died of alcohol, 12,113 died of AIDS, 43,664 died of car accidents, 38,396 died of drug use — legal and illegal — 18,573 died of murder and 33,300 died of suicide.

That brings us to a total of 168,119 deaths, far less than the 440,000 that die from smoking annually."


While untimely deaths of any kind are sad, those related to lifestyle – like smoking – are especially tragic.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Left too Soon

I often beat the drums about clients who focus on jobs instead of recovery. The letter below is another example of a client who left too soon. And even though he says he didn't relapse, his message indicates he was getting something important from TLC.

“I hope all is well with you. I wanted to write you to see if I could possibly come back. Last time I was supposed to do a Hard Six but got scared and left before I started.

"I am sorry for this, but being an IT person, living without a computer is hard. Computers have become my lifeline and refuge. I can talk to my friends when I am down and so on. But if you guys are willing I am willing to do a Hard 6 or even Hard 12 program. I am not asking this because I fell off the wagon. In fact I have not had a drink in years and I never did drugs. I am asking this because I am tired of a meaningless life.

"I have come to realize that while I was at TLC I was able to help people and they in turn helped me. I was afraid that if I stayed I would not be successful in life. But what I did while at TLC I have come to see as success. I will always need the program for the rest of my life. And I am very thankful to you and everyone at TLC who work hard to help others."


His statement about viewing the work he did at TLC as a form of success in itself indicates this former client may be ready for change.

There are many who've been at TLC for years; one for more than 20. Many of these men view TLC as a large family, one that supports their efforts at recovery. A family they can count on when things are tough.

Of course we'll accept this man back. And if he sticks around for a while we'll know he's ready for something different.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

No vote for Joe

There are opportunities for gratitude, wherever we go in the world. We don’t even have to look.

And today, here in Rocky Point, Sonora, Mexico, I found another as I was walking in the front door of a Mercado. Standing there was a distressed middle-aged couple who offered to wash my car for whatever I was willing to give. At their feet was a plastic bucket of dirty water and a pile of wet rags.

Before I even agreed to help them – which I was inclined to do – they told me why they were standing in front of the market.

"We're from Phoenix," the man told me. "We got arrested by Joe Arpaio's deputies and were deported with nothing, only the clothes our backs."

Of course, I'm giving you the sanitized English translation. Because the version they gave was laced with several profanities including a generous sprinkling of the Spanish version of "mofo.”

Anyway, I told them to go ahead and wash my car while I finished my shopping. And, sure enough, when I came out with my groceries they were industriously finishing the job. And, because of their circumstances, I paid them somewhat more than I would’ve for a regular car wash in the U.S.

The woman was so grateful she cried and kissed my hand. The husband wasn't quite as expressive. However, he shook my hand and thanked me.

While I rarely lack gratitude I was again reminded of our many blessings as I returned to our rented condo overlooking the beach.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Be the Solution

Clients have been complaining about a long-time mid-level staff member.

They say that often he doesn’t listen when they have concerns. According to them, when he does listen, he brushes them off or dismisses them as if they’re unimportant. Sometimes he hangs up when they call, or walks away while they’re talking to him.

When it came to my attention I suggested they invite him to a group session where then could confront him directly with their concerns. And so they did.

Group confrontations have been used for a long time at TLC as a forum for clients to vent concerns. We set it up so it’s non-threatening, yet as a means for direct confrontation. The only rule is that participants cannot resort to violence or threats of violence.

Some staff members might feel they’re above question. But any of us – from top to bottom – can be grouped any time there’s an issue that can’t be resolved on a one-on-one basis.

This tool acts as a leveling process that helps staff members realize that we’re here to offer recovery to our clients, to help them change their lives.

We always need to part of the solution, not create stress among the clients..

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Deep Breath

No matter how much one enjoys working with others there’s a time to breathe deeply for a few days and let others carry the load.

And that, for the most part is what my wife and I are doing until Monday. When growing a business like TLC Outpatient Treatment Clinic the days are a blur of phone calls, text messages, interruptions, groups, client sessions, scheduling, families pleading for help, housing and insurance issues. Unceasing.

Then we awake the next morning and repeat the cycle.

From one client 11 months ago, we’ve grown to over 30 – with more on the way. And if the formula continues to work as it has this expansion won’t slow down until we’re twice our present size.

But in the midst of this success the principals have to pause once in a while to avoid burn-out.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stolen Soul

An older woman, who lives in a hotel across from our corporate office, asked to speak to me about one of our managers.

As I listened, she told me in a serious tone that the manager had stolen something from her. When I asked what it was, she said, "every time he walks by, he steals my soul."

I listened for a while then went on my way, recognizing that this was another of her delusions.

For several years this woman has faced various challenges. Sometimes she'd be very irrational. At others, she’d be delusional. At one point - maybe when her medication was exactly right, she presented herself like a normal healthy woman. For those few weeks she'd be well-dressed, clean, well groomed and fairly articulate.

Working day in and day out for 22 years with alcoholics and addicts, I find plenty of opportunities for gratitude.  But when I encounter this woman I’m reminded that in the larger community there are many who face much worse challenges than those of us in recovery.

As I went about my day I was grateful for my own good health and the many blessings God has bestowed upon me and my loved ones..

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Stressed?

Sometimes our clients speak of stress as if it were an entity separate from themselves, a living breathing demon of sorts that might ambush them at any time. And our job, as counselors, is to disabuse them of the idea that stress emanates from anywhere but within themselves.

Common terms we hear around the program are "he stresses me out." Or "my job stresses me out." The variations go on and on.

It's a powerful revelation when we first realize we're the authors of our own stress. So-called stress is my reaction to what goes on around me, or perhaps in my magnifying mind.

It's difficult to explain to a newly recovering addict how his thinking is what keeps him stressed. But once he grasps this realization, life goes much smoother. It's gratifying to see an addict in recovery finally take responsibility for their stress..

We shake off the shackles of stress as we accept life on life's terms. When we encounter difficulty we accept that in God's world everything's exactly as it's supposed to be. 

We no longer have to fathom the beautiful - and sometimes frightening - mysteries of life. We simply accept that what's going on right now is part of God's plan.