Recovery Connections

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

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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Another Young Life

My youngest daughter sent a sad email this week, telling of the death of the younger brother of a close friend from grammar school days.

She said the 21-year-old was discovered dead the night before from a combination of alcohol and drugs.

All she could do was give her friend flowers and condolences. And the next day she said how happy she was that I gotten clean and sober 22 years ago.

And, of course, I share the same sentiments. Had I not walked into the light 22 years ago I wouldn't have lasted long – definitely not 22 years..

I was always a user who knew nothing of restraint. And before I finally had a spiritual awakening I was on the fast track to either prison or death. There was no point to moderation.

It’s one thing to read about an overdose in the news. But when it happens to a someone who’s once or twice removed, it brings home the reality of our deadly disease.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

In the Blink of an Eye...

It happened in a blink yesterday afternoon.

One minute, my close friend and I were standing at the edge of a small pool of water. In the next second, before I could react, my friend accidentally slipped into the pool and sank below the surface.

I made a heroic and quick attempt at rescue, but to no avail. My friend didn't respond. The two second immersion in the toilet had killed my iPhone five. A sad, sudden, digital death.

My immediate reaction was, "Oh my God! I have so many things to do, I don't know how I'm going to survive without my phone."

Not only do I use it for calls, I also use it to take notes, I use it to read, search the Internet, play games, take pictures, and so much more. How would I survive the rest of the day? After I swirled all of these questions around in my brain I got into quick acceptance. For the moment, I was powerless.

My next clients were already scheduled. The one bit of business I had to take care of I could do by email. I could probably make it through the rest of the day.

After a while though I got a different sense of reality. All of a sudden, I had a strange peace in my life. I was no longer tethered to the larger outside world. If anyone wanted to get in touch they’d have to call my office, or get in touch with my wife or one of my business associates. Otherwise, I was pretty much incommunicado.

Even though it's unrealistic to be in the 21st century and not to be digitally connected, peace descended upon me. No sudden insistent rings that I had to pay attention to. No obsessive urge to scan email. No having to keep track of my constant companion. It was great. In spite of that nagging feeling that I was missing something very important.

All of this will be resolved by the time you read this. My wife quickly went into action and ordered a new phone-Which will be delivered sometime this morning by FedEx.

I’ll be connected again.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Frightening Moment...

Since I’ve been sober I’ve rarely been overcome by raw, gut-wrenching, fear.

But I was on Tuesday after I received a frantic call from one of my daughters. She said that while talking with my wife the call suddenly dropped after my wife said a man was trying to get into the passenger side of her car.

The incident happened after my wife pulled into the lot of a fast food restaurant to talk with my daughter without the distraction of driving.

While she talked, a young thug came to the passenger side and pulled the door handle. When he realized it was locked, he started shouting and beating on the glass with his fist,

Fortunately he was interrupted by the manager of the fast food restaurant who happened to step outside to empty trash. The manager quickly started toward the car, at the same time dialing 911. At that point the thug ran off, but was apprehended a few moments later by police.

And several minutes after that I was able to speak with my wife and learn she was safe and the police were present.

Even though she wasn’t physically injured I was concerned because my wife had been nearly murdered by a stranger when she was nine – trauma that left physical and emotional scars that she carries to this day. This incident had to bring flashbacks.

When I saw her 15 minutes later she was still shaky. But by evening she’d determined that this incident was not going to take up a lot of her head space.  That this thug wasn’t going to control her life.

What did I learn from this?  For one thing, how much I love my wife.  Also, how vulnerable I can be when my loved ones are threatened.  And, how blessed we are that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Thank God.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On a Mission

While at the fitness center yesterday morning a businessman and I were discussing the importance of having a mission in life.

It began after I mentioned that my wife and I were going to start spending more time at the beach next year.

"So," he said, "you're going to retire?"

"Not really," I replied. "I go crazy when I'm not doing nothing. I'll probably keep doing what I'm doing now the rest of my life. Just take longer breaks."

He went on to tell me of his involvement with his business, his church, and the Boy Scouts. He said these were the things that kept his heart beating.

From a recovery perspective I think a mission in life is paramount. It doesn't matter too much what it is, as long as it's positive.

It can be attending 12-step meetings on a regular basis. Sponsoring a couple of people. Maybe fitness. Getting an education, trying to learn something new - whether in or out of school. Maybe riding your bicycle 50 miles. Perhaps becoming a better parent by becoming more involved with our children.

There doesn't have to be a template for a mission. For a mission to succeed it should come from the heart. It must be something we dream about, something that occupies our daydreams.

When we're pursuing our mission we're lost in the flow of life, kind of living like children who always seem to be totally engrossed in the moment, enjoying what they do.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Keeping the Peace

Communication is one of the biggest problems with managing an organization as large as TLC.

With some 75 employees and volunteers, it's easy to experience frequent communication breakdowns.

We have some employees – typical of addicts and alcoholics – who have fragile egos.

When another employee steps into their territory, or area of responsibility, they very often react with anger or frustration.

So one of my major responsibilities is to keep balance between these competing interests.

We all look at the world through our own glasses, which are tinted by our egos, our self-interests, and our desire to look as good as we can – myself included...

At the end of the day I’m happy when everyone has their issues addressed. Their egos patched up.  And they feel like that they’re still in charge of their part of the company.


My ultimate responsibility is to make sure we have our eyes on our mission: to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.

When it comes to helping others, our self-centered ego-driven behavior is secondary. 


The real thing is about giving people an opportunity to change – and maybe save – their lives.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Publicity Agents

"You a friend of Bill W?" the new pool guy asked me.

When I confirmed I was a long-time friend of Bill W, and that I also worked at TLC, he got a look on his face – the look of those who’d heard bad things about the program.

But after he explained that he had a few sponsees who’d been ejected from TLC for non-compliance, I understood. The unsuccessful seldom have much good to say.

And he agreed he’s never heard bad things about our program from successful graduates.

Many addicts come to TLC seeking help because they can get in without money. But after a few meals and some rest they realize that the help we offer will require them to make some serious changes in their life.

And at that point they get pissed off and leave, usually owing money we’ll probably never collect.

I have a staff member who once suggested we change the name of our program, call it something else so that we wouldn't be affected by all of the negative publicity from those who haven't succeeded.

But my attitude is that the negative publicity is a form of positive advertising. Those who don't succeed, who badmouth us, really let the world know that we don't cater to those who aren't willing to follow suggestions.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Listening to My Own Music

Last week a long-time business associate stopped by the office to chat. During his visit he related how he ran into a businessman who was giving me a lot of credit for his recovery.

"He saved my life about five years ago," he told my friend.

There was more to the story, but apparently the man told how he’d come to TLC homeless and broke. He stayed almost a year, then went on to rebuild his life. Today he has his family back, a nice home, and is earning a six figure income. My business associate was impressed.

"Doesn't that make you feel good?" He asked me, noting my lack of reaction.

"It does," I replied. "But it's not good for me to spend a lot of time listening to my own music."

I explained to him that we provide a structure for people who want to get clean and sober. Whether they do that or not is between them and God. The way I provide the structure is between me and God.

It’s unhealthy to spend much time thinking about the good things people say about me and TLC. If I did that, then I'd also have to pay attention to the bad things people say. Positive outcomes and negative outcomes say a lot more about our client than it does about me or the program.

The one who deserves the credit for success is the man himself. Just like all of those who succeed at TLC, he put in the hard work to make it happen. And the same goes for those who don't make it: they're the authors of their own failure because of their lack of effort in improving their lives.

Yes, I love compliments. But for me to have a healthy outlook I can't pay a lot of attention to the good or the bad things people say.

Any credit at all it goes to the loving God who saved my life.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Guiding Light...

Tomorrow, the 24th, is my sponsor's 39th sobriety birthday.

And I make note each year in this blog because it's important for those of us in recovery to understand the significance of having a guide, a mentor, a friend who has experience in the program.

I've never gone to him with a question where he scratched his head, and said "I have no idea of what you should do about that."

Instead he listens to my concerns, then gently makes suggestions about how I can resolve my issues. Much of the time when I go to him I believe I have the answer. But I still like to bounce it off of him because I want to know I'm on the right track. Often, he simply smiles, and says "you already know what to do."

He's been there for me at many crucial times during my recovery. He was there for me 13 years ago when I started my divorce. He propped me up till it was completed three years later. It was helpful to repeat out loud of the things I was thinking during this trying time. He kept me from doing irrational things that wouldn't have been in anyone’s best interests.

He was at the hospital in 2004 when I went through stomach surgery. During financial ups and downs at TLC.  Dealings with my grown children. And later he gave good advice when I was preparing to remarry – something I’d promised I’d never ever do.

So this morning I get to hear his gentle, funny wisdom when he speaks at my home group. And even though I've heard his story 20 times, I always leave the room inspired.

He exemplifies the better way of life that we find in recovery.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Testing, Testing...

Yesterday I went to my doctor for my annual physical and he sent me to the hospital for further examination and tests. 

And while I didn't want to go, because I believe that I'm very healthy, I followed his directions. After all, I pay him an annual fee to take care of my physical well-being. And if I don't listen to him I have no one to blame but myself if something goes wrong.

So I'm writing this from my hospital room, expecting to be released later this morning.

The real reason I write of this is to tell of the outpouring of concern and love from everyone. First, my lovely wife was upset because I was in the hospital. Then family, friends, and business associates were sending texts and making phone calls. Finally my wife intervened and asked a family member to screen information so I could be relaxed while here.

One of the blessings of the past 20 years of recovery is that I've been able to surround myself with a large network of people who love me. God has blessed me with a loving wife and family. Many friends and business associates. I can't ask for anything more.

In 22+ years of recovery all of the promises have come true for me.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Feelings

Clients love to get caught up in drama. For example, the other day a client said she wanted to discuss an issue concerning her medication. But before I knew it, here I was 20 minutes later listening to her tell about how she saw her mother spank her sister when she was six years old – and that was part of her issues today.

Finally, when my brain was about to explode, I asked what that had to do with her original question. And she looked at me like I just didn't get it. And she was right – I didn't.

A common issue for clients in recovery is they believe that everything they’re feeling is very important. They’re so totally focused on what they’re going through that they must share it with the world.

And when I explain that what they’re feeling probably doesn't require my immediate attention they act almost as if I insulted them. 
One reality for many addicts is that they pay homage to their feelings and base their behavior on how they feel at the moment.  And sometimes that feeling of the moment leads them to the bar or the dope house.
Feelings are wonderful gifts from God   But he also gave us other tools with which to guide our lives.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Purpose in Life?

In the past few weeks we’ve had clients return to TLC after being away for five years and longer. While some relapsed and wanted to take another run at sobriety, others hadn’t returned to using.

Instead they came back because this was the place they’d experienced happiness and where their lives had a purpose

Their reason for returning illustrates an important core issue in the lives of most of us: we all need a purpose in our lives. And the purpose – our mission – doesn't have to be something grandiose or magnificent.

The mission can be something as small as wanting to feel a part of something, something that makes us feel fully alive. And when one spends six months or longer at TLC, he - or she - becomes involved in the rhythm of the recovery world. They become absorbed in the magic of personal transformation once the drugs and alcohol are removed from the body and the spirit.

It's sometimes miraculous to look around and realize that a power greater than ourselves is guiding us. We see it in the faces and hear it in the voices of our brothers and sisters in recovery. And when we leave to go on with our lives we sometimes don't find this camaraderie we enjoyed while at TLC. So sometimes people return to fill that hole in their lives.

While we don't recommend clients stay at TLC much longer than a year, we have many who’ve lived with us for 10 or 12 years. And we allow them to do that because this is where they’re living a life of recovery – one that's meaningful to them. And many stay because they’ve lost their families and loved ones during years of drinking and drugging. They stay because, in essence, we’ve become a surrogate family.

And that's okay. The idea that they're staying sober and enjoying life is what TLC's mission is all about.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Visit from God

Clients often leave TLC owing money for unpaid service fees. And once in a while one will return to pay what they owe. Not often, but once in a while.

And today was one of those rare occasions when a client returned to pay off his back balance. To make amends for leaving without paying what he owed. And this client left TLC over 12 years ago..

When I asked what made him want to repay us, he explained. He'd been to prison a few times since 2001 and ended up losing his professional license. Then he had a spiritual awakening - a visit from God - the last time he was in jail. That profound experience inspired him to change.

He said one of the first things he decided to do was make amends to everyone he'd harmed. No matter how far back he had to go. He claimed to have a half-inch thick list of people that he needed to repay before things would be right again..

Some of our staff were amazed that he'd returned after so long. But the old-timers – those with wisdom about recovery – recognize that he's made a decision that will help him stay sober from now on.

We wish him well on his path to a new life.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Raising Adult Children?

I receive emails from parents who are subsidizing spoiled 20 year-old addict children. They wonder how they can help them behave better. And my answer - though always polite - is that the less you do for a twenty-something the quicker the "child" will learn responsibility.  Out of necessity.

I believe that when a human passes 18 they should take care of themselves. And they definitely should be doing so by age 21.

We have a large contingent of twenty-somethings in our outpatient treatment program who sometimes behave like 12-year-olds. They have a sense of entitlement. They say things like "my parents owe me." They have been manipulating them for so long they believe they have a right to anything their parents have – that it's theirs by divine right. On more than one occasion we've heard clients on the phone using the F bomb with their mother or father – particularly when they don't get what they want right now.

This kind of behavior shocks me because I was raised in an era where we respected our elders. My mother never heard me use the F word in the 74 years she was alive. And I modeled this behavior I learned from her and passed it onto my youngest daughter – whom I raised as a single parent.

Each year I gave her – hold your breath – $200 a year for school clothes. If she wanted anything beyond that she had to earn it. And she did. I gave her jobs around my home and office. She worked in theaters. She learned to save money. And she spent it on the clothing she wanted. She learned to shop in discount stores like Buffalo exchange and Marshalls. And she dressed well.

I remember when I once questioned her about spending $80 on a pair of tennis shoes when she was 15 years old. She respectfully replied "I earned the money so I buy what I want."

Though taken aback, I realized that her sense of independence and responsibility was exactly what I wanted her to develop. She joined the Army on September 11, 2003 at 18 and served in Afghanistan and other theaters of operation for three years. She’s earned her bachelor’s degree and is happily married.

I once heard a behavioral therapist say we should never do anything for anyone over 12 years old that they can do for themselves.Why? Because it takes away their power and sense of responsibility. If we want to give our children gifts, that's one thing.  But to keep them dependent creates issues for them later in life.

My daughter thanks me today for the discipline I imposed as she was growing up.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day?

Father's Day can bring mixed feelings for many of us in recovery. Some of us had good relationships with our fathers and children. Others not so good.

I was one who had a terrible relationship with my biological father, a raging alcoholic. And because he was so brutal, I felt nothing when he fell dead at 60 years old from alcoholism. I hadn't spoken to him during the last 15 years of his life.

The stepfather who replaced him faced a real challenge. Because my brother and I had awful experiences with our real father it took years  for us to trust. And it was only after we were adults that we learned to honor the man who had volunteered to help raise us.

And while I was never physically abusive to my children I was a poor father to my two oldest. Because I was in a love affair with alcohol and drugs that started in my early teens I had no business being a father. In their early years I was always somewhere else – usually pursuing drugs or spending time as a guest of the State of California. I missed most of their first 15 years. Once in a while I would pop in and be Santa Claus, then disappear again.

And because my two older children were raised in a drug environment by their alcoholic/addict mother - and several stepfathers – it took a few years into my recovery before we arrived at the fairly decent relationship we have today. On some level though, they still carry emotional scar tissue because I wasn't there for them during critical years.

I've never seen a situation where mixing alcohol and drugs with parenting brings a good result.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Iphone

Something else to be grateful for.

I was searching through my phone contacts today, getting ready to call someone, when I realized I had over 200 phone numbers.

Some are friends. Many are family. Others are business associates and acquaintances.

So what's a big deal about 200 phone+ numbers? I know many of you with cell phones have at least that many; maybe more.

But I'm comparing my list to what I has over 22 years ago, when I got sober.  I had one number – and that person didn't want to hear from me. And I didn't have a phone. Either a cell phone or a house phone.

How life changes when one gets sober.

Today I have the numbers of many people who wouldn't have given me the time of day 20 years ago. In my contact list are doctors, bankers, clients, real estate brokers, investors, counselors, therapists – people who would have stayed far away from me in my previous life.

I guess more than anything else, these phone numbers represent how much my life has changed in two decades, how I've re-entered the world and become part of the mainstream.

And, once again, it all started with my recovery.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

God's Mistakes?

A client sharing in group says he's having difficulty with his roommates. They leave their clothing around. They don't clean up behind themselves after they eat. They say stupid stuff. Their music is too loud. And on and on.

"They're a bunch of morons," he said, exasperation in his voice.

"Aren't you the guy who has a lot of faith in God?" Asked the group leader.

"Of course I do," he replied.

"Well then, if you have a strong belief in God, you also believe that God created us, correct?"

"True," the man replied.

"Then you have to believe that he also created all the so-called morons among us."

The man fell silent, realizing that he'd been caught in a trap of his own making.

But it's true. If we have a strong belief in a creator who made us all then we have to believe that everything is his handiwork. The fools. The geniuses. The beautiful. The ugly. All of us, are examples of divine handiwork.

Sometimes when we see people who are irritating, difficult, or hard to deal with – even when they're sober – one might wonder what's God telling us?

And while it's presumptuous to speculate on what God is thinking might there not be a purpose in the challenging people around us? Is it just possible that he put them close to teach us lessons? Maybe to help us grow?

Hmmm....

Friday, June 14, 2013

Our Secret

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Mathew 7 12

Someone asked the secret of our success. How did we go from having five beds 22 years ago to having more than 750 today? Plus an outpatient treatment program? And the secret is simple, one that I apply it in my daily personal and business life.

And the secret – which I shoplifted from someone somewhere many years ago – is this: give people what they want and they'll give you what you want. So how does that apply to the recovery business?

Well, what people want, when they first come to TLC, is to get clean and sober. Or so they say. So we offer that place, that opportunity. And if they stick around and do as they're told they find work, get into recovery, and pay service fees.

And when they do their part TLC gets what it needs: which is an opportunity to carry out its mission to help addicts rebuild their lives and the financing to help them. It's a wonderful cycle.

The same cycle works with our client/employees. Some show up with no job skills. No resume. No education. They want us to help them improve their employability. And we do. We teach skills through on-the-job training. And what TLC gets out of it is affordable help for a few years until the client/employee moves on to a better opportunity. We give them what they want and they give us what we want – and in the process we all hopefully stay sober and clean.

And the only time this give-and-take doesn't work is when clients show up, get some rest and a few meals in their stomachs, then decide they've gotten what they want. And they don't want to give us what we want. So they end up leaving because even though we've given them something, they don't give back. And when they break the cycle the relationship is pretty much fractured.

Try this formula. Figure out what the world wants from you, then give it. You'd be surprised what you might get back. 

 I'm still in awe of what I've gotten back.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Back to the "Hell Hole"

A client who was angry about receiving consequences for his behavior raged at me on the telephone.

"You're not transferring me to that place. That's a hell hole!" He said. "Last time I was there they worked me like a slave! I’d rather live on the streets!"

 He went on and on like this for a while.. Then he hung up in frustration and anger.  But ultimately he decided to not live on the streets.

This dust-up was about an outpatient client who was being transferred to our Phoenix Hard Six program because he wouldn't modify his behavior. Even after countless suggestions about his poor communication he refused to change. So, in frustration, we decided to transfer him in a last-ditch effort - before we discharged him for noncompliance.

And, in the case of this client, we'd sent him there several months ago. And for six weeks after his return he behaved very well.  But apparently his memory of his last week-long stay there had faded..

While many clients talk negatively about the Hard Six program, it's one of the more effective tools we have in helping hard-core addicts and alcoholics change. It’s the last stop for chronic relapsers and those with serious behavior issues.

Clients in that part of the program work seven days a week. But usually they work six - if they behave well. They're not allowed to have more than five dollars on them. They can’t say no. They must meet the requirements of the regular program - plus attend extra groups and adhere to stricter guidelines..

While most clients don't make it with this tough regimen, many do change. Some Hard Six graduates have been sober nearly 18 years. And many work in TLC management today.

So while this recalcitrant client is complaining about what a “hell hole” it is, it's also the kind of place where he can change his life as long as he doesn't run away.

We just want him to have the same great life many of us addicts enjoy today. He just has to follow our lead.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For the Birds

Today I had a chance to reflect upon our wonderful world.

It started when I was feeding birds this morning by the swimming pool. At about daylight I scatter bread or cereal around the edge of the pool. And soon there are as many as 100 birds of varying colors – sometimes even ducks.

The braver ones stand and eat, though looking around nervously. Others come down for a few crumbs then flit to a nearby tree or wall to eat in safety. But this morning I noticed something I hadn't seen until a few days ago. And when I first saw it I thought my vision was getting worse.

Then I realized I really did see a dark-colored bird picking up bread and carrying it to another bird of about the same size and color, placing the morsel in its wide-open beak. Then I noticed there were three birds being fed by this one bird. Each time it brought bread it would feed it a different one. Before I figured out that these were probably young birds still learning how to forage, I had the romantic idea that perhaps bringing food was a courting ritual.

Now I knew birds feed their young in the nest. But I didn't know they do it after they can fly. And at that point I appreciated how our perfect universe provides for all creatures, even lowly birds.

While it doesn't make sense to anthropomorphize these creatures, it's fun to compare. Even though they are likely programmed by instinct, I know of no addicts in the bird kingdom. No depression medication or psychotropic drugs. No sponsors. No resentments.

They get into disagreements, make up and move on with their lives. It’d be nice if we all could do that.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sober Attitude

Some of our managers do kind and loving things that go almost unnoticed.

For example, a while back one of our managers came in and quietly paid rent for a client who is serious about recovery, but was having difficulty finding employment. And while she didn't want anyone to know what she'd done, it came out anyway. When asked, she explained that it was a small thing. Because she had done much wrong while in her disease, this was a way to give back to the world.

And, in my mind the most important thing about this woman's actions and explanation is that this attitude keeps us sober.

If I travel – like this woman does – with a spirit of gratitude for my sobriety and a willingness to make amends to the world then I have a guarantee that I'll never pick up another drink or drug.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Acting on Feelings

A client in trouble for helping an addict friend who's actively using said she did what she felt she had to in order to "feel good about herself."

Which led the staff members in the room who were disciplining her to explain that while she might have acted from compassion and love – those same feelings put her in serious danger of relapse or worse.

Acting on feelings is often the dilemma for us addicts. We get angry or frustrated or hurt. So what do we do? We mask the pain with alcohol or drugs. We do exactly what we feel like doing at the moment – and that's what gets us in trouble.

I recall an alcoholic many years ago who had several month's sober. While he was at the laundromat he decided to leave his clothing there for a few minutes and run an errand. However, when he returned, he found they'd been stolen. Loss of his clothing filled him with anger and rage. So he said the short form of the serenity prayer and downed a six-pack of beer. He acted on his feelings.

Many years ago when I learned that a girlfriend had cheated on me while I was in jail. I was so angry I immediately slammed some heroin into my arm – even though I had a year clean. I turned the temporary pain into a much bigger problem that led me back to jail within another year.  All because I reacted with anger.

Knowing this, how do those of us in recovery sidestep strong reactions? Those with a few years clean know that feelings are what started us using. None of us ever made a decision to get high based on logic. So if we're in trouble we call our sponsor or a friend or go to a meeting. These things will act as a buffer when we feel like drinking or drugging.

So are all feelings bad for an alcoholic or addict?  No. Mostly it's those related to frustration, anger, depression, or disappointment.

There are wonderful feelings we addicts can indulge in freely. Some of those are gratitude. Appreciation. Acceptance.  Love.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Risking it All

Half-dozen clients were circled up in group this morning, puzzled about why they were being confronted about their behavior.

It all started when one of their housemates, a woman who’d been sober over six months, decided to leave and use drugs.

And it turned out that those in the circle were communicating with her – a violation of program rules. Once someone relapses - or leaves on bad terms – clients aren’t permitted to communicate with them for several reasons. And those in the circle were admittedly in violation of program rules, with varying degrees of culpability.

One had taken her money. Another had been calling her frequently. Others had been sending her text messages, urging her to return to the program. And another arranged a ride for her to detox.

But none of them seemed to understand how our staff could be so unfeeling and cruel as to deprive her of their support. At least until it was explained to them.

We pointed out that those in recovery - even those with long-term recovery - have no business hanging out with drug users. It's one thing for those with more than a year’s recovery to do a 12 step call. But it's another to hang out or give moral support to an active user. When we do this we risk relapse.

But there's even more danger. For one thing, they could've walked into a drug deal and been robbed or worse. Or they might of been caught in a police raid. This is the stuff of bad dreams.

So what happened to our wayward clients? They’re restricted to the property for a week. They lost cell phone privileges. Some lost their levels. They have to attend more meetings.

Some were pissed when the group was over, but it doesn’t matter how they felt. Our job is to help them rebuild their lives until they can successfully function on their own

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Staying with the Familiar

“Most people think the will to survive is the strongest instinct, but it isn’t. The strongest instinct is to keep things familiar…” Virgnia Satir, Family Therapist.

A conundrum in therapy is motivating people to change. Seems that more than anything else, clients resist change. Even though they might agree that it's a good idea, it’s another thing to put it into action.

It's not uncommon for a client - who's been saying and doing the right things for months Рto suddenly pick up drugs once more and tumble into another tailspin of relapse and remorse. At times, it seems almost a clich̩.

And that happened to us again this week. A young client, who was doing well and planning a trip home, suddenly disappeared in the middle of the night. Later she called from the hotel where she was getting high. She regretted her rash decision and wanted to come back.

So what happened? Did she fear leaving the safe cocoon of the program to return home? So much that she suddenly reverted the familiarity of the drug world? It’s anyone’s guess.

Resistance to change is not something endemic only among addicts or alcoholics. People everywhere have trouble changing. They can’t lose weight. Or quit smoking. They want a more rewarding job. But they can't summon the courage to leave the familiar mess they’re in – even when it might ruin their health or shorten their lives.

There's an old saying that people would rather live with a known misery than take a chance on an unknown joy.

Sometimes we’re simply comfortable with whatever mess we’re in. We know there’s a land of milk and honey over there somewhere and we’re afraid we might find it. So we stagnate and settle for mediocrity.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Got a Quarter?

Today as I was going into a convenience store a panhandler asked for a quarter for a phone call. I searched my pockets for change, but then finding that I didn't have any, I went inside and asked the clerk if he would change a dollar.

"You're not giving it to that bum outside?" he asked me, his voice filled with irritation. "He asked me for a quarter and I made him leave."

I started to ask the clerk why he cared, and then realized I probably didn't need to do that. I wasn't sure he'd understand. But he gave me my change anyway.  And I went outside and gave the man the quarter for his phone call.

Even though I wasn't angry about the clerk's response, on some level it disturbed me. After all, a quarter is a small thing and sometimes small things make a difference.

This isn't my first time having this experience.  I've handed money to a panhandler and bystanders actually warn me – as if I didn't understand they might use the money for drugs or alcohol.

To me it doesn't make a difference whether they're drug addicts, mentally challenged, or just people down on their luck. In my mind, if a person's life is so bad they have to ask strangers for help then I'll try to help them if it's within my means.

My gift is between me and God. What they do with it do with it is between them and God.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Overwhelmed

A client arrived at my office today paralyzed with fear. He had legal cases. Money and job issues. He feared becoming homeless. His list was long, his face tense with anxiety. It was easy to believe him when he said he was having an emotional meltdown.

After he related what was going on, we began looking for solutions. And the first step was to unravel the tangle of issues he’d brought to our impromptu meeting. Like many clients he’d lumped everything together, making it difficult to unravel what was going on.

However, as he talked, we began making a list. And came up with about five things. Some, like the legal issues, he could do little about because they weren't going away. But as we separated the things he considered “problems” we were able to come up with answers for each.

Once he saw the potential solution for each of his fears, he calmed down.

Like many, especially us addicts, his habit of mixing one issue with another overwhelmed him.  Something he could have avoided had he taken them one at a time.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sad Mother

Below are excerpts from a poignant letter from a mother whose daughter’s now at TLC. (names and ages are deleted to protect anonymity.)

"I suppose as I email a stranger about my feelings I am feeling a bit alone in all of this. I do have family and loved ones but somehow I can't seem to imagine that any of them can understand the 24 hours a day of fear, sadness, confusion and guilt I have carried with me for so many years. My daughter just entered TLC a few weeks ago

I decided to not take her calls this past weekend because I had enough! Mentally I could not handle another phone call of me having to say "no" or hear her say things to me that were either not true or not nice. So when her calls came in I let them go to voice mail. The years of drug abuse have taken a toll on my young daughter and it's often challenging for me to see her because she simply isn't the daughter I know. She currently suffers from paranoia, hallucinations. Mood swings etc. … every night I cry myself to sleep and pray my daughter will one day be whole again or see her value in this life.

I’m not sure why I just told you all of this. I read your blog since my daughter has been there and read your story. I don't want to lose hope because at this time it’s all I have. I know there are success stories. How will my daughter get better?? What do I do as her Mother? How do others get through this?"


Addicts sometimes say things in group like “I never hurt anyone else, only myself.” Or “I never stole from my family.”   But those statements are lies because we rip out the hearts of those who loves us, those who want to see us do well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Planting Seeds

When we started our outpatient treatment program some 16 months ago we added several components to the core counseling program.

Among these: yoga, art instruction, massage therapy, and mindful gardening. But because these were adjuncts to our counseling services I didn't think of them in terms of measurable outcomes.

And then, bingo, I get an email report from our mindfulness instructor, Dorena Rode, with an attached outcomes report. And the results, along with some of the client quotes, are interesting:

One client said, "I thought it was going to be instructive about plants. Instead it was spiritual and very helpful perspective of life and inner self."

All participants noted that the program changed them.

"...being more aware of thoughts, feelings and physical body and how I let it all affect me."

"I am more open minded... I wasn't really open-minded before."

"I now think more about my thoughts and feelings."

"It is hard working in the garden, but mindfulness is an experience."


Clients recommend the program to others.

"It is a good program and will help you grow and change."

"Give it a try, it is educational and fun"


"Dorena was an awesome instructor. I would recommend that anyone with the disease of addiction/alcoholism should experience the joy of MGP"

It's encouraging to read the above comments about the MGP component of our program. We invest time and effort providing services that help our clients make positive changes. And this program has proved to be a positive influence on the participants.

(A full copy of Dorena’s report should be on our website thjis week.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cool Attitude

Some of our clients from cooler states are grousing about the hot weather. And they look at me crazy when I suggest they change perspective.

Like what do they do when it's snowy and cold where they’re from? And of course the answer is always the same: they stay inside. Which is what we do here in the great Sonoran desert when it's too warm. Just reverse the thinking.

But some of our clients have difficulty wrapping their brain around that concept. Even though their longest trip outdoors may be to smoke a cigarette or go to a meeting. The heat is something they find oppressive and irritating - perhaps something else to be restless about.

I try to frame it to them as a time to count our blessings.

For example, look at the homeless. The sweet, perfect months between winter and summer have passed, months where they could comfortably exist outdoors. Now they have to figure how to stay comfortable in a society that doesn't like to share cool air with those who can't pay for it. Where to get water? How to avoid heat prostration? Where to sleep?

We can look at our circumstances based solely upon how we feel - which isn't always productive. Or we can keep things in perspective and make it through what we perceive as an intolerably hot day.

Our choice.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Products of Recovery

While relaxing at a birthday party yesterday I realized the majority of the guests were in recovery – most of them TLC management and their families. The sobriety ranged from a few years to over 22 years. There were even babies in the room, being raised by sober parents. And there was one TLC graduate who's expecting later this summer.

What came to mind is that they are examples of what TLC does for addicts who want change. To anyone unacquainted with these people they would seem like ordinary middle-class members of the community. All have jobs. They have homes. They pay taxes. Raising kids, just like other ordinary citizens. Talking about recipes or movies or fitness.

It probably meant more to me than it would to a casual observer because I know this group well.

Most of the men had been incarcerated. A few had lived on the streets. Some had sold drugs. They had virtually nothing when they arrived. No money or jobs. Some had only the clothes on their backs. No car. Or cell phone. Alienated from family. Then they got clean and sober. And things changed.

It’s great to talk about recovery. It’s even better to see it in action.



A Guiding Light..

Tomorrow, the 24th, is my sponsor's 39th sobriety birthday.

And I make note of this each year in this blog because it's important for those of us in recovery to understand the significance of having a guide, a mentor, a friend who has experience in the program.

I've never gone to him with a question where he scratched his head, and said "I have no idea of what you should do about that."

Instead he listens to my concerns, then gently makes suggestions about how I can resolve my issues. Much of the time when I go to him I believe I know the answer. But I bounce it off of him because I want to know I'm on the right track. Often, he simply smiles, and says "you know what to do."

He's been there for me at many crucial times during my recovery. He was there 13 years ago when I started my divorce. He propped me up till it was completed three years later. It was helpful to repeat out loud some of the things I was thinking during this trying time. He kept me from doing irrational things that wouldn't have been in anyone’s best interests.

He was at the hospital in 2004 when I had stomach surgery. During financial ups and downs at TLC, Dealings with my grown children. And later he gave me good advice when I was preparing to remarry – something I’d promised I’d never ever do.

So this morning I get to hear him share his gentle, funny wisdom when he speaks at my home group. And even though I've heard his story 20 times, I always leave the room inspired in a better life.

He helps all of us believe that there's a better way of life that we find in recovery.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Another Pill?

Nurse Carol and I were lamenting recently about how many of our treatment clients are on some kind of medication. One or two take more than a dozen different meds daily. And while we both agree this is a terrible situation, we don't have a solution.

Many clients come from other states with prescriptions from their doctors. Some say they're bipolar. Others say they're depressed. Some ADHD. Many are taking medications they were prescribed years ago because someone said they needed them for whatever reason.

Others have high blood pressure, diabetes, and other ailments that do require treatment and medication.  And these clients surely do have real problems

When we make the bizarre suggestion that a better diet, exercise, or quitting smoking might resolve some of these issues they look at us strangely.  While they may agree they should try these things, none follow through. Maybe it’s because they then would have to admit that they have responsibility for their health.

.And probably the bigger dilemma is how do addicts  recover and also use drugs – especially when some are serious painkillers? And of course, to me, it seems they're on the road to inevitable relapse. Or perhaps "relapse" is a misnomer, because they really have never stopped using if they're on painkillers. They are progressing - in my opinion - toward another train wreck in their lives.

The nurse and I periodically gripe about a medical system that has a pill for every ill and has little interest in natural solutions because those aren't very profitable. There's no money in preventing sickness and keeping people healthy. However, there's a lot of money in sick care, surgery, prescriptions, and running tests on people.

While we encourage clients to reduce the amount of medications they use, only their doctors can get them off of them. And we see little movement in that direction.