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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

God at Work

“God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  From 12-step literature.

When I was out in the world pursuing my addictions I thought I ruled the world, that I was God.

Maybe I didn’t say it that way because I was terrified that God might nuke me with a quick bolt of lightning. But I sure acted that way.

Everything I did was about me, me, me.  How I felt at any given moment.  My drugs.  My money.   My satisfaction.  My pleasure.   Oh yes, I had a veneer of kindness and sharing – but only when it served my goal of living in my chemically induced oblivion.

When I was finally cornered like a rat and scurried into recovery, things changed.   As I made my first stumbling steps into recovery life underwent slow, almost imperceptible, changes

No longer did I awake in fear.  I stopped prowling the streets as a predator looking for something to trade or sell for drugs.  My health slowly returned.

While at times I was tempted to take credit for the changes in my life, I was forced to acknowledge the truth: that for the first time since childhood I was living according God’s will, not mine.

God was – and is – doing for me what I could not do for myself.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ceased Fighting

In the 12-step literature we find the phrase “we ceased fighting anyone or anything…”

This is a wonderful declaration.  But how do we put it into practice? And what’s the point, anyway?

Because, damn, once in while we’re so frustrated we feel like saying whatever’s on our mind. Sometimes it seems like a great idea to put a foot in someone’s ass.

The way we put this into practice - and believe me it becomes easier with time - is to make a commitment to not fight with anyone about anything – as this simple phrase says.   That means when others disagree or are rude, we respond with calm.  We try to find out how we can help clarify the situation before it turns into something larger.

After all, when people are rude or short with us, chances are they’re going through something difficult of which we might not be aware.

The point of not fighting might not be obvious to everyone.  But many of my justifications for trashing my life with alcohol and heroin had to do with me fighting with someone or something- either imaginary or real.  Things so important that today I can barely recall them.

The Founding Fathers, in the their infinite wisdom about the nature of alcoholics, likely put this mandate in the book because they knew how anger and fighting can easily trigger another binge.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ending the Drama

A client who's been in two groups about her behavior during the past 48 hours - and who was counseled twice by administrators during the same period - was discharged last night for noncompliance.

While discharging someone is never an easy decision, it becomes easier when the program starts whirling about them, their drama, and their lack of interest in working on recovery.  That's what happened with this client.

In a recent counseling session with her, she accused the others in the program of being "against her." She accused others of stealing from her - including the house manager.  She says people were making remarks behind her back.  It was a continual diatribe about the things others had done to her. But nothing at all about herself.

Our rule has generally been to work with a client as long as we can.  That is, until their behavior starts detracting from the program and dragging others into useless drama.  And that's what happened with this client.

In our experience when clients go sideways and we can't get them on track within a week to 10 days it's useless to waste energy.  It's debilitating to staff and it hurts the morale of the housing unit in which the person lives.

And last night she crossed the line when she signed out to meet her sponsor. Instead she was seen leaving the house with a man she’d just met at a 12-step meeting – a gross violations of house rules about dating during the first 90 days of the program.

We hope she one day figures what recovery is about.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy Times

“Some of the happiest times in my adult life were spent at TLC and thus I am ready to make a long term commitment to the program.”   Excerpt from a former client’s email, explaining why he wants to return to the program.

It took a while to understand statements like this one above, where clients describe their days at TLC as the "happiest times" of their lives.

It didn’t make sense.   After all, in my mind a halfway house or three quarter house merely serves as a springboard back to the community.   A way to get our stuff together so we can return to society.   I wondered why our clients didn't aspire to what I assumed would be a  better life outside the program?

After this happened a few times, though, I looked at what was really going on with those who find happiness at TLC.

One thing I heard from them all is that they felt safe, that they enjoyed a sense of community.  They felt part of a large extended family where their needs are met and they’re supported in their recovery. They also had a sense of mission by helping integrate newcomers into our recovery environment.

Recently we’ve had clients return to TLC, even though they hadn’t relapsed.  All of them said pretty much the same thing: that they felt safe and supported while living with us, that life had meaning and purpose.

They returned to recapture that feeling of belonging and to enjoy happiness.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Feeding the Dinosaurs

To enhance my recovery, I have an early routine.  The first thing I do is 15 minutes of Transcendental Meditation.  Next, an hour workout, either at LA fitness or in my home gym.  And after that it's around daylight and the animals are awake. So I feed them.

First it's the Chihuahuas, who get overly excited about what appears to be a pretty boring diet prescribed by their veterinarian - expensive entrees of high protein canned food and some sort of special diet pellets. And I don't ask my wife why they can't be like other dogs and eat out of the supermarket. I just pay for it.

After that, I feed the birds that congregate around the swimming pool. They happily consume old bread that's about to be discarded from the halfway houses.  I'm not quite sure why this fascinates me, but for some reason feeding the birds – and the ducks that visit the pool in the wintertime – is a way to be in touch with the natural world – kind of a spiritual thing. And the other day it became even more interesting when I read that birds are really descendants of dinosaurs.  In essence, they are modern dinosaurs.  http://scitechdaily.com/evidence-shows-that-birds-are-essentially-living-dinosaurs

Maybe I enjoy watching them because it reminds me – in the rush of our fast-moving computerized world – that in the final analysis we're all God’s creatures, part of the rhythm of life.

When I see creatures around my pool whose ancestors predate Adam and Eve by millions of years I’m grateful to be part of this great mystery called life.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

When to Give Up?

I often tell clients that we're not going to work harder than they are on their recovery.  But, in reality, we often work much harder than some of them in an effort to help them change.

This sometimes happens in the case of older clients, who are much more entrenched in their addictions and lifestyles.

I'm thinking of one in particular, a man who enjoyed a successful career in the military.  Then he went on to work for years with a utility company.  When he came to us he was covered by insurance and had three sources of income between retirement and Social Security. And on top of that he had a healthy stock portfolio. Money wasn't his issue.

His issue was alcoholic drinking.  Plus he had so many medical and psychological issues that he was taking over 20 medications when he came to us.  In addition, he was and is a heavy smoker.  So what to do with a guy like this?

We've attempted to get him involved with 12-step programs and to have him work with a sponsor. We haven't had much luck with this.

Of course we always have the option of discharging him.  The problem is that he says he wants our help.  Yet he seems incapable of following our suggestions.  He has no interest in quitting smoking.  He has no interest in getting fit so he can fight off his health issues.  He's understandably depressed and frustrated with his condition.  But not frustrated enough to make even small changes.

He's been under the care of so many doctors over the years, and has been prescribed such a variety of medications, that he seems to believe that if he just finds the right combination he’ll be okay. Without sounding negative, I doubt this will happen.

So when do we stop working with this guy?  It's hard to know.  Maybe tomorrow we'll say something to him that’ll catapult him into recovery.

Hopefully we won’t run out of patience before that happens.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Higher Power

Living with the blessings of recovery, we learn to trust God.  But when we first come to the program this might be a daunting task.

For so long my Higher Power was drugs and alcohol.  Then all of a sudden I’m asked to switch - to trust God to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself? Hmmm…

This wasn't easy because for so many years I ran my own life - albeit quite poorly.   So even though I’d done such a poor job, turning things over to God was strangely uncomfortable .

Often I would take my will back and try to run my life again.  And how did I know I was doing this? I’d realize it when my life started to get messed up, to go sideways.

Today, no matter what challenges I face, I look at them as being God's will.  I sometimes pray "God, I don't know what all this means. Please help me understand.”

I’ve learned that when we’re facing the most daunting challenge, that within this challenge may lie unexpected rewards.

Challenges often turn out to be blessings, blessings that allow us to trust our Higher Power even more.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sponsor Talk

During a staff meeting the other day, one of the counselors mentioned that a client's sponsor had been giving him advice about his treatment.

I immediately interjected with a comment about the role of a sponsor.  My advice is that a sponsor/sponsee relationship should be confined to issues related directly to recovery as outlined in the 12 steps.

I hear of sponsors giving advice advice about finances, health issues, marital issues and on and on.  I was taught, and my understanding is, that a sponsor should be an advisor-friend who helps a sponsee to navigate the 12 steps.

While it may sometimes be difficult to focus strictly on the steps and recovery, not doing so can lead to bad outcomes.

A number of years ago a sponsor in Chandler gave advice to a sponsee about his depression medication.  He told the sponsee that all he needed was the 12 steps, that the depression medication was merely a crutch. The sponsee followed his advice and quit the medication.  However, a while later he committed suicide. This is an extreme example of what can happen when sponsors get into areas beyond recovery.

When dealing with my own sponsees I let them know that whatever advice I give is only my opinion.   I also share with them how I stay clean and sober.

The idea that because I’ve been sober longer than someone else gives me expertise in other areas is a fallacy. All I have to share is how I dealt with my own issues over the past twenty-two years.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gifts of Recovery

A social gathering last night at a suburban Mesa home featured interesting guests.  Four had been homeless at one time or another- some for long periods.  Several had served prison time.  Most of the others had been arrested.  And each of them had been addicted to either drugs or alcohol.

Years back this disparate group couldn’t have been around one another for long without committing a crime to obtain drugs or else fighting with each another. Some of their histories in the drug world are lengthy and scandalous.

Yet today their picture is entirely different.  For example, two had purchased new automobiles within the last 24 hours, which they proudly drove to the event.  All have responsible jobs, either with TLC or as stay-at-home mothers. Three of the couples have young children; one a newborn.

And the way these folks arrived at their status today is they all got into recovery. A couple of them have over 20 years. The most recent arrival to recovery has a little more than four years.

One thing all of the men have in common is they started their recovery at TLC. When it was discovered they were serious about changing their lives they were given management responsibilities.

After working at TLC for a while they found helping others into recovery to be a rewarding mission. So they now have the best of both worlds: helping others get sober while staying sober themselves.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Premature Graduation?

Our staff often makes recommendations to parents about when their children should leave the program. However, because they miss having their son or daughter at home, they sometimes don't pay a lot of attention to us.

Their offspring sounds good on the phone.  When they visit for a weekend they’re impressed with the child's appearance and attitude. Perhaps they’re reminded of what the child was like when they were growing up - before drugs and alcohol.  So, all of a sudden, they begin lobbying for their return home.

Recently we had this situation occur with a client whose family believed he’d progressed enough to successfully graduate.   Within a few months though, one of the parents called, requesting that we allow him to return for further treatment.  And, after reviewing his file, we agreed.

Our experience with recovery is that it doesn’t happen overnight.   It takes time to change years of living with addiction, to heal the damage.  A few extra weeks or months is a small investment if one can change the course of their life.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Our Mission

TLC’s mission is to help recovering alcoholics and addicts rebuild their lives.

And one of the ways we do this is to provide clients with jobs. Some work with us for a few years and build a solid foundation of recovery before returning to the community. In fact, 10% of our 650 clients work for us in some capacity.

They are house managers, cooks, drivers, night security, office support, bookkeepers, store managers, construction and maintenance workers, and so on.  Many would have had difficulty working outside the program because they came to us with few skills and little education.

Still others have physical issues that don't allow them to function in a more competitive work environment.   Or else they lack good social skills, another problem in a work environment.

Some leave the security of the program prematurely and start looking for a job.  And the next thing we hear is that they’re high.  Or drunk.  They have so little impulse control that at the first sign of adversity they’ll relapse.

Others have spent so much time in jail or prison – some as many as 30 years – that they have difficulty functioning in the real world.  Sometimes these clients stay with us for years before they feel comfortable enough to venture into society.

And most of the people I refer to above have no outside resources.  Families have given up on them. They have no money.  No insurance.  Nothing to make a new start in life..

But when these folks succeed it's very satisfying. At the end of the day we feel as if we we've accomplished our mission..

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Growth

Yesterday, while attending our outpatient clinic staff meeting, I reflected upon how much difference a year makes.

This time last year we had half a dozen clients and about as many staff members.  At today's meeting there were 19 staff members - one for every two clients.

Among our staff members are a doctor who's been practicing for 40 years, and two therapists with approximately 60 years' experience between them.

Our staff members who've worked for larger behavioral health organizations appreciate that we're able to spend more time with clients.  One example is that each client has a weekly individual session with a counselor.  And therapy groups are normally half the size of groups that take place in larger behavioral health organizations.

TLC outpatient clinic has developed a sense of community because about 30 of the clients live in nearby properties owned by the clinic. This proximity gives clients easy access to therapists and counselors. When a client is having a meltdown, he or she can talk with a counselor within an hour, depending on scheduling.   Plus, behavioral health technicians live on property, available to clients 24 hours.

We also offer massage, art, yoga, gardening, Chi Gung, fitness club, and weekend recreation designed to keep clients engaged in the recovery process.  There is also a large recreation room with two ping-pong tables, a pool table, and a sauna.

Our goal is to provide the best possible recovery environment - a goal we work toward each day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Making our Beds

Some clients, especially newer ones, have a hard time understanding why they should keep their rooms and living areas clean.  And their beds made.

After all, what does this have to do with recovery?   I go to meetings.   I go to work.  I pay my service fees.   So why do you get excited when my room is funky?  We hear these questions in one form or another fairly often.

But beyond the fact that it's a rule, taking care of our living areas and personal space is a reflection upon who we are.  An unmade bed says "I don't care."  A sink full of dishes might say “I’m a procrastinator."  Or “I'm a slob.”

My experience is - that if we don't care about the little things in our lives - appearances, cleanliness, and personal hygiene - then what other things don’t we care about?

While this may seem a stretch, neglecting little things might be a precursor to not having self-discipline when it comes to important things.   Like picking up a drink, a joint, or a bag of dope.

Taking personal responsibility for the little things is a foundation for developing responsibility in other areas.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Errors

Last week sloppy grammatical and typographical errors started appearing in my blogs. Completely stupid stuff. And even though my mandate to myself is to be aware, sometimes it takes a few days to figure out what's going on when mistakes keep repeating themselves.

What happened last week is that I didn't practice what I preach. I allowed stress to build up and spill over into my writing. And it was only when a faithful reader, my lovely wife, brought them to my attention that I realized they were there.

So my apologies to those who might have seen the same errors. My goal is to present relevant information and opinions as clearly as possible. And sometimes grammatical or typographical errors might undermine that goal.

For those of you who haven't been longtime readers I started writing this blog in June of 2010, not missing a day since. Around 1155 days in a row. No matter what's going on, I've been able to keep my commitment to publish each day. Sometimes it’s difficult, like when I’m on vacation in Mexico – or when I was in the hospital for tests.

So what's the point of doing this? Originally it was to force myself to write 250 to 500 words a day while at the same time dispensing my perspective on recovery for those who go to our website.

However, the goal changed a bit when I started getting emails from parents of children at TLC. They found the daily blog to be a way for them to stay somewhat connected with what their children were going through. And in time it has become an additional reason to continue this project.

So, more than 250,000 words later, I’m still at it And I’m working on improving the product because I love my readers and appreciate their feedback.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Monday, September 16, 2013

Changing

Here's an email from a graduate who returned to the East Coast last week after completing her commitment .

"I just wanted to let you know once again how grateful I am to have been a resident of TLC.

"I have learned so much while being here. I thought because I had been in a behavioral management treatment facility before that I had knew a lot about recovery but as I soon found out. I knew nothing about how to stay clean and how to do a daily inventory of myself.

"The managers at Robson house are wonderful. My stay there was an experience that I will never forget. I'm proud that I decided to stay after my 90 days and finally complete something in my life. I'm also grateful that this place has loving open arms and tough love. I'm grateful that you have told me that I'm welcome to come back if I needed to even before I relapse. This program is great!


Thank you for your time and patience with me." 


This is a wonderful endorsement of what happens at TLC. This email is meaningful because the graduate who wrote it had sent a letter a few weeks earlier talking about how she hated the place when she arrived.

She even sent her family pictures of the tool shed at the rear of the property, describing it as her living quarters. Her loved ones told her to stick it out, that everything would be okay – the same reply they gave each time she told of the terrible treatment she was undergoing at TLC.

Clients often do well at TLC once they overcome the initial shock of living in reality.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Having Gratitude...

Earlier this week I was reminded to live in gratitude when I saw an old acquaintance whom I hadn't seen in some six years.   He works in a recovery related field in another state and has nearly 30 years’ sobriety.

He's been a friend to TLC and refers many clients to our program.

And for the past 18 years, this man has been battling a rare infectious disease which has consumed cartilage in his face and nose.  He's undergone multiple reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage, with little success.

However, he's dealt with his physical issues with courage.  He fights every step of the way. He attends pain management groups.   He exercises and does what he can to combat the disease.  Plus, he still works part-time with his corporation.  He remains upbeat.

However, after seeing him, I realized the disease is beginning to overwhelm him.  He's been sober nearly 30 years and prides himself on his recovery.   But the pain is so intense he has to use serious pain medication to function – something I know bothers him because of his many years of recovery.

I admire him for continuing to battle.  And I ask myself if I’d have the courage this man has if I were facing the challenges of living with his debilitating pain.

After visiting with him I’m reminded to be grateful each day for what God has given me.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Backsliding

A client who stayed out overnight without permission was counseled about being on the track to relapse.  He claimed he had spent the night with a woman and that's why he didn't return home until 8 o'clock in the morning.   He didn't think it was a big deal.

But his manager, who was also in the counseling session, said there was more to it than staying out overnight. It seems he's also been slacking on his chores around the property.  Even though our client is in aftercare he still has responsibilities to the house, an obligation to help keep the place clean and orderly.  And he hasn't been doing these chores at all.  Plus, his attitude sucks.

So a normal person might ask what business is it of ours if he spends the night with a woman?  After all, isn't sex a normal biological urge?  True.  It is.  However, the woman he reportedly was with is an alcoholic and self-described "sex addict."  Not the best companion for someone in recovery.

But this all goes to a larger issue.  When we addicts stop keeping our commitments to ourselves or others then we're in danger of backsliding toward using drugs or alcohol.  First we break little commitments.  Then we break bigger ones.  And one day we'll be smoking marijuana.  Or shooting heroin.  Maybe drunk on our butt. I've rarely seen anyone with a few months of recovery just walk out and say "hey, I'm going to go get high."   Relapse starts incrementally.

And it usually starts with us breaking our commitments to ourselves and to others.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sobriety Guarantee!

Our program offers a 100% sobriety guarantee. Yes that's right. This is not a misprint. Your eyes are not deceiving you. A 100% sobriety guarantee!

Now, you may ask yourself, how can anyone make such a brash statement? After all, professionals have been trying for years to get us addicts and alcoholics clean and sober. And all of a sudden you guys come along with your little halfway house recovery program and make a statement like this. What up? And why isn't the world beating a path to your door?

Well, I guess this is sort of tongue-in-cheek. And there is one caveat. And that is that this guarantee is 100% - but only if the client does exactly as we say.

Because the information we dispense and the program that we run works for anyone who seriously wants to get clean and sober. But it always comes down to the willingness of the client.

After all, no one ever held any of us down and put a needle in our arm. No one forces alcohol down our throat. No one puts pills in our coffee. No one forced a crack pipe between our teeth.  We are always co-conspirators in our addiction, authors of our own misery.

But what happens for many clients – those who don't succeed – is that after a few meals and a few nights rest they start looking at externals: I don't like the food. TLC is trying to get rich off us addicts. They expect me to get a job.. They don't treat me with respect (After all I'm a full-grown adult). They want me to bring my uncashed check to the office to make sure they get their money. The list of reasons why TLC doesn’t work for them goes on and on.

At this point their addiction once more is waking up. They need a fix. Or they need a drink. In other words, they're not done yet.

However if they do what we suggest: go to meetings, get a job, pay their child support, get a sponsor, and become responsible, they will succeed in recovery. 100% of the time,

It takes a while for many of us to cross over that bridge from our addiction to the land of sweet recovery.

However, if our clients do what we suggest they'll get there. Guaranteed.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why we do This

Last night I got home from the office late, dead tired, and wondering why I’m still doing this job.

All day it was a series of issues with clients and staff. Clients were accusing one another of stealing. Another was misusing medication. One was accusing another of being inappropriate. In other words, typical recovery business. Only this time it all happened in one day rather than being spread over several days or a week.

Then I checked my email and read the following message. It reminded me of why we do what we do.

"Hello, I'm 24 years old and I'm in need of some serious help. I cannot get rid of my heroin addiction.  I was already good enough at self-destruction, before the heroin. Now it's just ten times worse including depression and suicidal thoughts. Within the first 6 months of my addiction, which began about 3 years ago, I lost my car, girlfriend, apartment, and friends. Now, it's to the point where I'm sleeping at parks and panhandling to get my fix. I need to quit, and I cannot do it without help. Here’s my biggest issue. I do not have health insurance. Please, for the love of God, please look past this. I cannot find a decent detox center and/or rehab center that will take me simply because I don’t have a lot of money anymore to afford health insurance. I don’t have kids, I’m not military, or married, so I don’t have insurance. But I assure you, I'm very worth taking the time to help. Is there anything you can do to help me? Thank you for reading this and I look forward to hearing back from you.

I answered and told him we’d try to help.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

DUI

A former client went to jail this evening after he showed up on our property driving drunk. It was unfortunate that that it happened because before he was arrested we offered to take him to detox. And to let him leave his car in the parking lot until they released him..

Instead he opted to stay in his car with the motor running and talk about how terrible he felt about having relapsed one more time. Now, he's not only going to have a hangover in the morning, he's also facing charges of DUI.

This man has been in our program off and on for nearly a year. Yet within a few weeks after he leaves he immediately starts drinking again. So none of us were surprised when he showed up drunk, asking for help. Only problem was that he didn't want the help we were willing to give – which was to take him to detox.

His life over the past 12 months has been a pattern of progressively more frequent relapses. And when he returns he’s very humble and willing. But within a matter of months he wants to get back with his girlfriend and return to work – having not completed our program.

He’s not unique among those of us in recovery. We have to be beat up a number of times, at least some of us do. Until we figure out that the only thing we really need is to remain sober. The rest of it starts falling into place.

Maybe this man - at least unconsciously - realized that if he came to see us he would finally have to face the consequences of his drinking.  And now he is.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anniversary

Yesterday I was reflecting upon a strange anniversary: 55 years ago, September 8, 1958, I was sentenced to 10 years in California state prison for possession of heroin. Actually it was a traceable amount of heroin residue left in the bottom of a burnt teaspoon.

At the time I was whining and bellyaching about such a severe sentence for a small amount of drugs. In the 1950s there was a strong prejudice against heroin users, who were viewed as dangerous monsters. At the time, treatment options didn't exist the way they do today. In fact, I never heard the term treatment until the 1970s. Today, instead of a long prison term, I would've probably spent a short amount of time in a County jail or been diverted to a treatment program.

Be that as it may, I served four years of that 10 year sentence. Then I repeated the same process over and over, spending several more years in and out of jail all because of my addiction. Some 16 years in all.

The reason this comes up for me today because I was making my daily mental gratitude list. And I realized that had I looked into the future back in those days I would never have planned on even being alive in 2013. In those days I thought my lifespan might be about 40 years, because that seemed to be the life expectancy of heroin addicts. If they didn't overdose or go crazy they ended up spending their lives in prison for property crimes committed to raise funds for their addictions.

So today, when I think about things to be grateful for, one of them is that I survived my addiction by getting clean nearly 23 years ago. Today I have many blessings in my life: I have a loving wife. My children and grandchildren are in my life. I have a business that allows me to work with recovering alcoholics and addicts. I have financial stability.

But most of all I have the blessings of serenity and peace.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Helping Others

At our monthly management meeting yesterday the group leader picked the topic "helping others."

And as the topic passed around the circle each manager shared his or her experience. And for all of them, it was about the many rewards of being of service to others. While each of them has a low-paid position that often requires them to work punishing hours, most say they've never felt better about what they're doing.

For the first time, self-centered addicts receive the blessings that come with seeing others change.

For me there's nothing so pleasurable at seeing someone who's initially very resistant all of a sudden blossom into recovery.

It happened again for me about six weeks ago. A young man came into the treatment program full of anger about having to be away from his fiance for months while he received treatment. It was kind of touch and go for a few weeks about whether or not he would be allowed to stay in the program.

But we continued working with him and reached out with encouragement. Within  weeks, he was a different human being. His whole demeanor changed and he started absorbing everything he could.

And each time I see him around the campus we see the rewards of our efforts.  Nothing better.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Success Happens

This week we received gratifying news about a client who bought himself a vehicle and moved into a nice home in suburbia.

So what’s the big deal about a man buying a vehicle and moving into a rented house? After all, people do that kind of stuff every day.

But, if you knew this man and where he came from, you’d agree that it’s a big deal. Because less than ten years ago he lived in a cave and other makeshift shelters on the river bottom. He was homeless for about six years. Sometimes it was the river bottom. Other times it was public parks. Anyplace he could hang out and drink.

He tried TLC a few times before he finally stuck around and graduated. The first few times he was so caught up in his anger and other issues that he’d simply announce that he was leaving – then take off.

What made a difference this last time is that he went above and beyond to change his life. He not only absorbed what he could from the TLC program, he also sought additional outside counseling.

He worked hard at confronting the demons that he'd tried for years to drown with alcohol. And eventually we started to see him open up. He quit pushing people away.

This the kind of success we wish for all our clients. And once in a while success happens.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Stress Management

"I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." Mark Twain.

This saying by Mark Twain came to mind today when I was working with a client who said she was "suffering from anxiety."

I told her that anxiety was like rehearsing for a play that hasn't been produced yet. Here she is wasting her precious time creating and re-creating scenarios that may never occur. She's writing a script. She's rehearsing lines. She's placing the characters on the stage. But all she's really doing is creating stress for herself because living with anxiety is not living in the real world.   In the moment.

There are ways to escape anxiety. A doctor will give us pills, which is a solution many of us addicts probably prefer. But, as addicts, this is a direction we don't want to go.

A simple way to reduce anxiety is to learn a meditation technique, such as transcendental meditation. There are over 600 studies about this particular type of meditation that shows its many benefits, including stress reduction. Go to www.tm.org for more information. While this option is expensive there are other meditation techniques which are free and likely work as well as TM -even though they haven't been as extensively studied.

Exercise is another option. Studies show that regular exercise is about as effective as medication in reducing stress and anxiety. Visit the site http://www.mindtools.com/stress/Defenses/Exercise.htm for more information on the relationship between exercise and stress reduction. This is one of multiple resources available on the internet..

A favorite and simple technique I use when things become challenging is to pause and take a deep breath to get in the moment. Then I accept that the world is exactly the way God intended it to be at this moment.

Try it. It's free.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jobless & Homeless

This week a staff member came to the office and suggested we give our cook a drug test - that he smelled like alcohol.

And sure enough, when he was confronted with the prospect of giving us a urine sample he admitted he'd been drinking.  That he couldn't pass a test. Then he was told to pack his belongings and leave the program. Which he did.

His relapse shows what happens when clients focus on work to the exclusion of everything else. When this man came to us he had a long resume as a professional chef, having worked in leading hotels around the Valley. Along with it he had a lengthy resume as an alcoholic who’d lost jobs because of drinking.

Much of his conversation in therapy was about his urgent need to resume his career, to get back on track and earn money. But he never knew how to respond to those who’d ask why he'd gotten drunk in the first place if all he needed was a job. Somehow he never seemed to connect the dots.

When he was confronted about his poor attendance at 12-step meetings and his lack of focus on recovery he’d shrug his shoulders and smile.

To us it was inevitable that he’d relapse because he wasn’t looking at his real issue.  So we weren't shocked when it happened.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Priorities?

A client with a serious addiction problem is focusing on her wife - who's in a different part of our program - rather than on her recovery. In fact, she got so upset this evening that she walked out of group after a heated discussion that involved her partner.

For some reason, she doesn't understand that it's not a good idea to be in a relationship with a former using partner – especially during the first 90 days of recovery. Plus, it’s against TLC rules for romantic partners to pursue their relationship while they’re in the early stages of the program.

We ask them to be patient and think of how much better it'll be once they're both sober. But most of this kind of reasoning went right over our client's head. That's because she's so caught up in the moment, in her passion for the other person, that her responsibilities to her recovery are secondary.

On more than one occasion she's attempted to communicate with the partner, a violation of our rules.

But because of her emotional immaturity she worships at the altar of her feelings, believing that how she feels about her sweetheart is more important than anything else.

One thing we teach at the treatment center is that we must first be able to have love and esteem for ourselves before we have something to give the other person.

But sometimes the only time clients can feel good is if they’re involved in some kind of a relationship, regardless if it interferes with their recovery.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Beginnings...

“No one can go back and change a bad beginning. But anyone can start now and create a successful ending.” Unknown

Some of our clients come in with stories that are stranger than fiction. For example, the other day I heard a client tell of how his mother introduced him to marijuana so he wouldn't be in the street smoking it with his friends. Somehow she thought she'd be keeping him out of trouble. And years later she was surprised that he became a raging alcoholic and drug addict.

Other clients suffered severe abuse at the hands of their parents and strangers. And some were so traumatized that they tried to cover up their pain with alcohol and drugs.

And, of course, there are some things so painful that there aren't enough drugs or alcohol to cover them up. And at that point victims often go into a spiral of mental illness, institutions or jails. Or perhaps they end their lives.

However, those who confront their issues often find a solution in treatment and the 12-step programs. And when this happens it's a refreshing validation of the work we do.

Our beginnings can be an excuse to wallow in misery. Or we can find them to be a motivation for positive change…

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Love Story

Yesterday afternoon two long-time TLC staff members made a lifetime commitment when they were married in a ceremony in Chandler attended by some 100 guests.

The groom, who has been with TLC some 15 years, met the bride in a 12-step meeting about seven years ago. It was one of those cliche things about love at first sight. From the time he met her he was never the same. He went from being a man about town, to acting like a goofy teenager. It was wonderful to see the changes he went through.

Even though he'd been sober a long time, he developed into a more responsible and caring human being after she was in his life. Eventually, they started living together and have a child between them. Each also has a child from a previous relationship.

This is such a fairy tale story because the groom came from a background of addiction, jail, homelessness. I'm not sure if the bride was ever homeless, but she speaks of her own battles with alcoholism and drug abuse.

It’s always wonderful to see a couple come from a challenging history to a beautiful life.

All of us at TLC wish them a wonderful next chapter in their love story.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Movin' on Up

This week, a man who was in prison for drug offenses, who once was fired for stealing from his employer, is moving with his family into a three bedroom, two bath suburban home in a great neighborhood.

And the interesting thing is that the employer he ripped off is providing the home for him as part of his compensation package.

His story is an example of how life changes for addicts once they enter a new life of recovery. This man, even though he fell a long way, was able to go back to work for his former employer, make amends, and rebuild trust.

He has gone from virtually nothing to the blessings of a jjob, home and family because he stepped onto the path of sobriety.

And though the growth process has occurred over nearly five years, it goes to show that life turns around for us if we get serious about change and move forward with patience.

Comments? schwary@msn.com.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tough Love

Today’s blog includes an email from a mother who’s a regular reader of this blog. I include parts of it here because it powerfully illustrates what parents go through with addict children. Perhaps this will help other parents as they struggle to make decisions about how to help without enabling.

“I have commented to you before. I read your blog nearly every day. I'm the parent of a drug addict. Nearly 3-1/2 years ago, we "intervened" and she agreed to treatment. On day 28, she was kicked out for relapsing. It has been a cycle of ups and downs since then. Almost 2 years ago, we took the tough love approach and drew our line in the sand.

"We can no longer be a part of your life if you choose to use".

We cut off her cell phone and any financial assistance we had been giving. We didn't expect this to be an ultimatum, we were serious about this. My heart couldn't take the constant turmoil any more. I became clean of my addiction to helping her.

“She has continued her lifestyle and has not had any meaningful contact with us since. We are raising her son.

“I'm honestly surprised she's still alive. She's been in jail numerous times for shoplifting and trespassing. She was a witness to a murder in a drug/gun deal gone bad.

“We have had a chance to relocate out of state. I have sent her a couple of messages via Facebook letting her know we love her and miss having her be part of our life. I've offered her help with treatment if she's interested. I've recommended your program numerous times.

“I'm saying all of this to say that while it is absolutely the best approach to back off and let them be in control of their own downward spiral. That decision comes with the risk that they may never choose to be clean. Sad as that may be. In your years of experience, am I speaking an accurate truth?”


I think she spoke truth.

This email once more reminds those of us who are addicts of the damage we left in our wake in our quest for self-gratification.

Comments?  schwary@msn.com