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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Not a Plan

We get the news that a client who's been with us for over ten years is planning to leave.

And, under normal circumstances we'd think it was a good thing. After all, "transitional" is part of our name. We help those in recovery get their lives together and return to the mainstream.

But in this man's case maybe not such a great idea for many reasons.

First of all he's leaving because he got a large settlement from Social Security - many thousands of dollars. And when he left on previous occasions he inevitably floated in alcohol until he was forced to return.

Second, his transition plan is to move somewhere to a hotel or motel - with no family or recovery support.

Third, he's in such precarious health that he might not survive a bout with alcohol for more than a few days

The list goes on.

And when the risks of his plan were brought to his attention he agreed it wasn't a good move. But he decided to do it anyway.

Our manager told him he was going to miss him. And he was sad because knew he probably wouldn't see the client again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Keeping On

Now 1200 days in a row. No breaks. No sick days. No vacations.

Three point two eight years of writing this daily blog,

And sometimes I wonder - what's the point?

Then last week a reminder of why I write each day.

As I walked into the treatment clinic I met a new client who said she came to TLC because of things she'd read in the blog. She thought we might understand her issues.

Probably more than anything else the idea that someone finds inspiration here is enough.

Over the years I’ve heard from family members - usually parents - who follow this blog because their child’s in our program. They say it’s a way to stay in touch.

It's rewarding to present a message that helps someone step into recovery, to help an addict find redemption.

Heading for 1300.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Daily Reprieve?

So a manager relapses. A man who's been with us for nearly a year and a half.

We’ve seen this happen periodically over the past 22 years.  It’s nothing new. But we still wonder.
Here's a man, living at the epicenter of a treatment program. Surrounded by recovery, 24 hours a day.

He literally lives, breathes, sleeps, is immersed in a recovery atmosphere. Then he somehow separates himself enough to slip a needle in his arm.

When confronted, he tries getting over on the drug test. Tries to deceive the screener. Then eventually, when confronted with his deception, he says someone offered him heroin. Offered. Didn't hold a gun to his head. Didn't force him. Just “offered.” Next thing, he has a needle in his arm.

Was it that easy, that simple? Maybe. And then he's packing his stuff and perhaps returning to the drug world. Who knows?

So what happened? How did he let his guard down? How did the enemy slip in to ambush him?

We’ll never know for sure. Because we’re not in his head.

Some said they were afraid for him because he’d quit going to meetings. Started isolating. Becoming distant and uninvolved.

His relapse illustrates the danger of thinking our enemy sleeps. Of thinking we have it all altogether. Of letting our ego run rampant and neglecting our recovery.

The 12-step literature sums it up succinctly: “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."

Thank God for the reprieve.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Attaboy

We received an email from an out-of-state interventionist who said a client they sent “had nothing but great things to say” about our treatment clinic. He also wrote that even though he’d only been with us two days, “first impressions can make or break an addict’s chances.” Nice feedback.

In my response I explained that our clinic offers many of the same services as the higher end clinics - but at less than half the cost.

And I went down the list: weekly one-on-one sessions, groups, art therapy, smoking cessation, yoga, massage, outside meetings, gardening, fitness center, recreation room, two full-time chefs, and regular weekend field trips and activities.

But perhaps even more to the liking of the clients is that more than half of our eighteen plus staff members live on the premises and are accessible 24/7.

When a client has questions - or is experiencing any kind of issues - a staff member responds within moments. With the exception of counseling sessions, everyone’s door is open pretty much all day if clients need to talk.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Negotiations

Sometimes parents think that negotiating with an addict is a great idea. The problem is that it rarely works for anyone. Except the addict.

I recently encountered a couple who told me of their plans for getting their drug addict daughter to quit using and move out of their attic into her own apartment.

And even though I've been clean almost 23 years I got a chill up my spine when I heard their story. I wondered why people like this never showed up in my life when I was using? It was an addict’s idea of heaven.

The scenario kind of went like this:  They would

  • Pay the first six months' lease on her apartment.
  • Stock the refrigerator every week until she found a job.
  • Give her an older automobile they owned and would insure it for six months.
  • Pay her tuition if she’d enroll in night school.

They believed this plan would motivate her to quit using and change her life. They were surprised when she declined their offer. She was quite comfortable where she was.

Among other things, I advised them to return home and tell the daughter to pack her stuff and hit the road.

But I know they didn't follow through because I never heard from them again.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Testimonial

Below is a moving letter from a TLC outpatient client to her insurance company, written in an effort to gain additional coverage.

“I have been struggling with my addiction for 6 years now. TLC is the one facility that I have actually succeeded in. I left here two months ago to go try things out back home and they didn't work out.

I came back here to get my life back together and continue on. TLC shows me how to live my life without using heroin. That's one thing I have a hard time with the most. I don't know how to live my life sober. Here we learn the way to do so and get to practice them by taking it slow, dealing with life on life's terms without the use of drugs. We get to chose to stay clean and do what we need to do in order to not use.

I wasn't ready to leave the first time around. I need to be here. TLC provides groups and counseling and also provides sober activities. They help you go to school and work. Anyone can come here and start from scratch and learn to have structured freedom. Learn to live. Find who they are, what they want to do, and how to do it. I am so grateful to have a place like this to go to because not many addicts or alcoholics are fortunate enough to have a safety net.

It would mean so much to my family and I if my stay could be approved at least a little. I want to live a healthy life and go to college and eventually have a family. Addiction is a disease and without the love, support, and guidance I get here, I'm scared that it will be something that defeats me (as it has time and time again) for the rest of my life. I've lost so many people and things to this disease. I want to live. I cannot live as a prisoner of heroin any longer. Please give me the opportunity to have another chance at getting this right, possibly even my last chance."


Thank you, ___________.

Not much else to say.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Spiritual Awakening

Earlier this week a client who’d been at TLC a few times asked to have a word with me.

I hadn't seen him in some time. And he looked entirely different. He held his head high. He had a look of conviction in his eyes, and seemed much more positive.

"I think I finally got it," he told me, and he pointed to the book he was carrying under his arm. It was a book from the 12-step program.

He went on to tell me that he’d had a spiritual awakening after all this time. He said he was now thoroughly convinced he was an alcoholic and that his life was unmanageable.

Because of my previous experiences with this man it was refreshing to see that he had finally decided he had a problem with alcohol.

During his previous stays in the program his issue was always about getting back to work and rejoining his family. He would leave, then predictably relapse. It was difficult to witness the misery he was going through, the inner turmoil.

I wished him well and went on my way, thinking that he was one of the fortunate ones who come back after continual relapses.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fixing Ourselves?

In group a client spoke of spending a lot of time in his head, trying to fix himself. Sometimes he feels good. Sometimes bad. He’s never quite in the place he wants to be, peaceful, serene, and in acceptance.

A group leader asked why he thought he needed fixing. That he might be okay at this moment. The client didn’t have a definitive answer.

His dilemma is one many of us addicts face. We sometimes seek that middle place where we’re always happy. Where everything is perfect. We removed the drugs and alcohol. What now?

A while back I heard a wonderful message that describes one ingredient of happiness as being in total acceptance of where we’re at the moment. We’re down? Accept it. We’re happy for no reason? Accept that also.

The other ingredient of happiness was described as not wanting a lot of things we don’t already have. If I’m fixated on getting a new car, job, romance, peace of mind - whatever I don’t have - then I’m might find myself restless and out of sorts.

This view correlates with that of many eastern religions. Lack of attachment keeps us from being stressed, from being dissatisfied.

Does that mean we forgo ambition? That we seek nothing in life and simply vegetate in a self-created nirvana?

No.  I believe this view really promotes the idea that our over attachment to whatever, be it a state of mind or a material possession, can be a breeding place for the angst in which we sometimes exist.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Black & White Thinking?

I've learned during my years at TLC that black and white thinking can create communication problems in our dealings with the addicts in our program.

For example, I've seen managers catch someone stealing. And from then on that person is a "thief." Or they'll get caught loafing on the job. And from that point on they're "lazy." Or else they'll relapse and they'll become hopeless, someone we can't help. When really, they were simply doing the things addicts do until they get a foothold in recovery.

Usually when a label is put on someone it's hard for the one who affixed the label to change their mind. After all, admitting I'm wrong is hard on the ego.

I believe we engage in black and white thinking because it's easy. It's a way to categorize things so they're understandable to us. After all there are so many shades of difference between good and bad, right and wrong, terrible and wonderful, that it's hard work to figure it all out while we're in the middle of a busy day dealing with 650 addicts and alcoholics. The easy way to deal with the situation is to say it's either this or it's that and move on. But that's not fair to us or the client.

For example, when we encounter a client who's not as on fire as we are about recovery we may immediately say he's about to relapse. But maybe all he's really doing is trying to do is absorb the new concepts he’s being presented. After all, for much of his life he might have dealt with people who were untrustworthy or who misled him. Just because he doesn't totally accept everything we say as gospel, doesn't mean he's on the brink of relapse. I've seen managers – using black and white thinking – who'll say this man is on his way to drink or drug.

Follow the two links below for an explanation of black and white thinking. And why it could be dangerous to us.

Cognitive Distortion?/ or Avoiding Distorted Thinking

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sunday's Speaker

The speaker at Sunday's meeting told of living homeless for some six years. His address was either the river bottom or one of the local parks. He didn't trust people. He drifted in and out of local halfway houses, making halfhearted attempts to get sober.

And one of the programs he went to was TLC. It took him several attempts before he finally succeeded in the Hard Six program. Not only did he participate in the Hard Six program, he also sought outside counseling and worked hard to expel the demons that kept him returning to the streets.

And when he spoke he talked of some of the "firsts" in his life. For example, it was the first time he's had a job for one year. Car insurance. Friends, including a sober girlfriend.Three years of sobriety. Living in a home in the suburbs. A credit card. He spoke of these accomplishments with awe and humility because these were new experiences.

And for those of us in the room who were part of his recovery experience, it was a moment of gratitude.

And for the newcomers this was a powerful testimonial that anyone can make it in recovery if they have the motivation.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Power of 12-Steps

It's not uncommon for clients to arrive at TLC with serious emotional and psychiatric problems for which they take medications

And we accept them as long as they take their medications and make an effort to work on recovery.

But some, at times, seem so troubled that we despair of ever being much help to them.

There are exceptions. Yesterday I received a message about a woman who came to TLC around six years ago. She had serious mental issues that were controlled with various types of psychiatric medications.

Yesterday we received a message that she recently celebrated five years of sobriety.

While this might not be the norm it indicates anyone’s life can change if they get involved with the twelve-step programs and simultaneously remove drugs and alcohol from their lives.

I’ve sat in groups with clients who seem so troubled I wonder if they can ever do much with their lives. Yet, some stick around and are able to re-enter the mainstream.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Right to be Stupid

A while back we spoke with adult protective services about a former client, an older gentleman, who was giving large sums of money to a woman who was an obvious drug user. When she'd visit him she'd sometimes talk so fast we couldn't understand what she was saying.

And each time she visited it was always due to an “emergency” requiring large sums of money – in the thousands - funds she needed to resolve some kind of crisis. Either business or personal.

Because we have a responsibility to protect our clients – particular older ones with health issues – we tried to file a report with adult protective services.

However, when we talked to one of the workers at the agency and described the situation we were told they wouldn't intervene because adults who have all their faculties have a right to be stupid. They can give their money to whoever they want whenever they want. Even if it's to a drug addict who's obviously using him for her own purposes.

In a last-ditch effort to help we got his family involved. But they were no more successful than we were in convincing him this woman was a negative influence who was taking advantage of his considerable financial resources.

Perhaps the realization will come to him when he’s lonely and broke, wondering what happened to his “girlfriend.”

Saturday, October 19, 2013

About the $

A client who’s angry and fearful about having to leave the program and return to the real world expressed concern about TLC's finances.

"I know how much the insurance company paid for my stay here," he said angrily. "You guys are paid way too much money."

As I listened to his diatribe I found it interesting that a guy who came to us homeless had gained such financial acumen in less than a year of sobriety. But I guess there are miracles in recovery.

Over the past 23 years it's been quite common for clients who know little or nothing about business and finance decide that TLC is "all about the money." And it happens on every level of our program, from the halfway houses clear up to the treatment program.

A client will start having difficulties with recovery or external issues and it somehow evolves into an attack on TLC. While it never works in any practical manner, it may serve as a way for them to vent.

The conversation seldom goes far when I ask what their life is worth. Because the time and money that clients spend at TLC is an investment in their future. An investment in their living a clean and sober life. An investment in them even having a future.

Sometimes I ask how much they paid for their last house? Or their last car? Or their last vacation? Yet none of these are nearly as important as the most precious gift that God could give: a life. Yet clients – sober for the first time in their lives – suddenly question the worth of what they’ve learned simply because they fear the future.

Sometimes it becomes irritating enough to write a short blog about. And then we return to focusing our attention on clients who still have gratitude.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pain is the Catalyst

Very few addicts or alcoholics - in my experience - wake up one day and out of the blue say “Gee, I think it’s time for me to change my life, to get clean and sober.”

The majority of us share stories of pain, of divorce, of losing jobs, of being arrested, or being evicted. It’s always something bad. The catalyst for change was always suffering and pain.

When clients come to TLC lamenting the loss of a car, a girlfriend, a home, or whatever, my response is usually “How wonderful, now you have a place to start working on your recovery.”

Because when we’re cruising through life, drinking and drugging without consequences, without a care in the world what’s our motivation to quit? To change?

But when the wheels start coming off and life gets tough then we might start looking at ourselves and discover that we’re the authors of our own misery.

When we discover that we might become grateful for our pain.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Need to Use

I often say that we addicts have only one problem in life: and that's our disease.

This came to me yesterday when I was talking to a twenty something addict who returned to the program a few months ago after being in a coma for over a week due to a heroin overdose. And the day he came back he was quite serious about his recovery. In fact that's all he talked about.

But after being in the program for a few months he failed a drug test for opiates. After being put out of for a week as a consequence. he was allowed to start over.

Now one might think that because he’d relapsed again that his focus might be on getting a firm foundation in recovery.

But yesterday all he talked about was an entry-level job he’d found that offered minimum wage. He had a myriad of reasons why he needed to go to work. Pay bills. Get a car. Fines to pay. He owed his parents. His rationale list went on and on.

While I may sound cynical, my 23 years of experience working with addicts tells me that when addicts focus on everything but their primary problem they're ready to continue using. And unfortunately, that's my prognosis for this young man.

I believe one reason why addicts bring up the need to go to work is they know work is respected in our society. After all, who could criticize anyone for wanting to work? Unless we're trust fund babies we all pretty much have to show up to the job each day. And so it's an argument that few disagree with. Even when addicts bring it up as a reason for leaving the program.

In this man's case, he doesn't need to work because insurance would cover his stay at TLC. But the consensus around here is that he probably needs to go back to the hood and shoot dope.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is it Genetic?

Sometimes we deal with clients who have a habit of rationalizing and blaming others. And then after we talk to the family we realize that much of the client's problem might be genetic. Or at the very least, learned from their family.

Yesterday I was dealing with the family of a client who was discharged for lack of motivation. In addition, he was found found in possession of drug paraphernalia and empty drug packaging – a violation of our cardinal rules. The paraphernalia possession was the last straw with this client. For several weeks he'd been doing little but laying around - instead of seeking employment. And whenever he had a chance he would socialize with female clients – which is not against the rules – but becomes an issue when it's excessive.

Before being discharged from the treatment program he was offered a chance to move to the regular halfway house, a program that's helped hundreds of thousands of people over the past 22 years. Which he declined. Instead he elected to leave and go to another halfway house.

But today his whole family started blowing up the phone wondering how we could be so mean as to "discharge him" because he'd been "doing so well." It would take a few hundred pages to cover my conversation with them. But not very far into it I realized that one of this client's problems was that he learned much of his behavior from his family. They had all kinds of reasons why the client was right, and everyone else was wrong. There was never any mention of responsibility on the part of the client. There was no chance at all that he had done anything wrong, the poor thing. He was just a misunderstood victim.

One thing I know about addicts and alcoholics is this: we'll never get sober until we start accepting responsibility for our own behavior. When we start looking at everything and everyone else around us as being a problem we'll never take a look at ourselves.
Even if that's what our parents taught us.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tempting Fate?

The last time he relapsed he nearly died, ending up in the hospital in a coma. And that happened after he’d spent several months in an intensive treatment program from which he’d graduated with great hopes for his recovery.

And yesterday, after months of participation at TLC’s program – from which he was preparing to graduate – he tests positive for opiates.  At first he blamed the positive test on bodybuilding supplements.  Then later he admitted that he’d injected heroin “one time.”

He wasn’t discharged for his behavior, but was moved to a more intensive part of the halfway house program for a week as a consequence.

So what happened?  Is this the right program for him?  Is he one of those described in the 12-step literature as being “constitutionally incapable” of change?  Was he spiritually unfit?  We don’t know.

What we do know is that he didn’t return to his neighborhood and continue to use.  After he tested positive he indicated he wanted to keep working on his recovery.  So he's being allowed to continue in treatment - but on a higher level of intensity.

After all, our mission statement says “We help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.”

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Dirty Manager

In policing our halfway houses we sometimes surprise everyone and show up with a box of drug tests and do a random screening.

And in a group of 15 or 20 clients it’s not unusual to find one who’s dirty for something.  At which point the client is discharged with a chance to return in three days.

We did the same thing yesterday morning.   But it wasn’t a random screening of clients.  This time it was a random screening of forty some managers who were gathered for the regular monthly management meeting at the corporate office on Macdonald Street.

And guess what?  Out of the forty, one tested positive for meth.  And another – a former manager who was visiting – became angry and disappeared before he could drop a sample. So the assumption is that he was positive for something.

It’s disappointing when a manager shows up dirty. But we know they’re as susceptible to relapse as any other addict if they’re not spiritually and emotionally fit.

Our mandate is to provide a clean environment for recovery.  And we do everything necessary to ensure that happens.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Recovery Relationships

When both partners in a relationship are in new recovery it can interfere with the process of getting sober.

We periodically get calls from couples who want to come into TLC and live together while they get sober.  And we always turn them down because it's hard enough for one person to get sober.  And our experience has been when two people try to get sober together - it's twice as hard.

Why?  For one thing people who are using together seem to have a lot more issues. They not only have the issues of their using, but also relationship issues involving their addiction.  Further, they often pay more attention to each other than they do to their personal sobriety.

We've allowed couples into the program at the same time.  But they live far apart and aren't allowed to communicate for 30 days, unless the communication takes place under supervision.  Even with that restriction, it can be risky because if one decides to leave, usually the other follows.

"But you don't understand, we love one another," is something we often hear from these couples when they want to change the communication rule. 

Our cookie-cutter response is always pretty much the same: "That may be true, but your love didn't keep you two from using and becoming addicted together."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to raise an Addict

In my observation there are several ways to raise a drug addict or alcoholic.
  1. Make sure you tell your child - all the time - that they're "special" and "unique."
  2. Allow them to disrespect you, and tell you to go f- - - yourself whenever they’re upset.
  3. Support them until they're well into their 20s, giving them everything.
These three characteristics seem most common among young addicts who come from homes where the parents weren't addicts. They were simply well-meaning folks who thought they were doing the right thing for the kids at the time.

Though it might be obvious, why are these three things issues?  

For one thing, when we tell children they’re "special" or "unique" we’re making a clumsy effort to tell them we love them.  But when we communicate our love this way, they might start believing they're special.  And when people think they’re special they often believe rules don’t apply to them.  And that includes rules about using drugs and alcohol.

When they get into the real world and discover that others just view them as a run of the mill neighborhood brat then they start having social issues.  Kids are better off when we tell them we love them – that they’re special and unique to us – but that the real world expects them to carry their own weight.

Point two is important because teaching children to respect others is fundamental to their success.  But if they haven't been taught to respect those who are raising them, then who will they respect?  Quite likely, no one. And this doesn't bode well in a world where emotional quotient ranks high.

Number three: If we raise a lazy slug who loafs all day playing video games and smoking pot why would we expect them to suddenly get a job and find their own place?  After all, they're only doing what we taught them all their lives.

Of course the beginning of the end comes when our clients learn they can’t freeload off of mommy and daddy anymore.  That's when things come to a head.

Then we have the opportunity to help them into recovery and view life in a realistic manner.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

No Worries

Back in the early nineties, when TLC was still young, I recall going to Oregon on vacation and making frequent stops at phone booths.  I wanted to make sure everything was still functioning.   Finally, one of the managers told me to stop calling and enjoy the vacation.   And I did.  Though not without residual anxiety.

These days it’s different.  When we left for Mexico last week I had no concerns about how TLC would function.  Today we have a superb staff of men and women who are focused on performing well.  They are well-versed in how to cope with the challenges presented by 650 recovering addicts.

And they do a great job.  When we returned it was like we’d never been gone.  I’m not sure anyone noticed we’d left.

Were there issues?  Sure. We had a server meltdown a couple of days after our departure that jeopardized some 400,000 client records.  But our computer guys mobilized and things were pretty much back together when we returned.   Had someone not told me about the issue I’d of been unaware of it

And there were the routine daily issues of feeding, housing, and counseling 650 addicts.  But our 80 person staff is like a well-oiled machine – and for that I’m grateful.

In fact we're making plans for our next vacation.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Recovery Support

Today I see the magic of recovery in action.  A long-time associate faces mind-boggling personal issues that might have sent anyone to the dope house.

However, a network of recovery friends and supporters appears, offering support and expressions of love.   It's a reflexive reaction when those we care for face tough challenges.

Someone in the program is hospitalized and a stream of visitors shows up.  A car breaks and it gets fixed.   A job is lost and quickly replaced.  Money appears for school clothes.

Our sisters and brothers in recovery are an extended family - bonded by an insidious disease that looks for signs of weakness so it can destroy us.

The group encircles us with love, providing strength and security in our darkest moments - a haven when life seems overwhelming.

And when we're safely on the other side we're grateful for the fellowship that carries us through.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back Home

A nice break.  Seven nights on the Mexican Riviera.  Enjoying the sunrise from the patio overlooking the marina.  No reporting to the office.  Not doing much for anyone but my wife and me.

Leisurely workouts at the resort gym at 7:00 am, instead of the usual 4:00 am when we're at home.

Eating downtown at 100% Natural, a favorite restaurant that's remained unchanged for the 18 years I've come here.

Once in a while accompanying my wife to a massage, something she enjoys nearly every day we're here.

Reading. Relaxing. Writing.

Then back to the airport today and the plane home.

Regrets? Not really. Sometimes I fantasize about doing this full time. But a big part of feeling good for me is the role I play in helping others.

For much of my life it was about being a self-centered hedonist - about chemically induced euphoria. A state that I was unable to maintain for long without getting into some kind of trouble that would cost me my freedom.

Today feeling good comes from building and operating an organization that helps others better their lives. And in the process my life- and the lives of my loved ones - improves.

So it's good to be back to home and work.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Showing Love

In the years before I got into recovery I had a different idea about relationships.  They were mostly about me, me, me.   But my wife provides me with a good example of how a relationship should go.

For example, today she returned to our vacation condo with a bag full of my favorite herbal tea (“Buenas Noches”) – a brand I can't find in the United States.  She purchased about 20 boxes, everything on the shelf.

And her gesture made me think about the many ways she lets me know she cares.

At home she keeps the refrigerator stocked with juice and food that I like. When she goes clothes shopping, she knows the brands I like.   And she has a list of all my sizes.

There are many ways she shows she cares about me and loves me.  And in turn I’m learning to show her I care about her and her needs.

For example, she has a phobia about insects.  So when any kind of video or movie shows insects in a scene I immediately tell her to look the other way. And I no longer watch army ants on the Discovery Channel when she's around.  And when insects invade our house, I’m the one who takes care of business.

When I read bad news in the morning paper I don't share it with her because it starts her day negatively.

I make sure she has plenty of massage coupons so she can keep her stress level down.

My list could go on and on.  But the point is that when we love someone it's more than mouthing the words. It means showing in many small ways that they are important to us.  And that their well-being and welfare often occupies our thoughts.

Now I got to figure out how to get all those teabags in my luggage.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

More Gratitude?

Gratitude has been a frequent topic over the past 1170 plus days I’ve been writing this blog.   It’s also a buzzword around TLC.  Maybe to the point of becoming cliche.   It's looked upon as a panacea – a powerful tool in our recovery arsenal.

We tout it in 12-step meetings as the cornerstone of recovery.   After all, we hear, it’s hard to relapse when we have gratitude for what we have today.

In support of these beliefs I have more evidence that our happiness hinges upon how grateful we are. Click here to view a compelling video about gratitude and happiness that was sent to me this weekend.

Further to this, my experience is that those who’ve been sober for multiple years regularly express gratitude. For what?  Actually for nearly everything.  Another day sober.   For our freedom.   Our jobs.  Our friends and loved ones.  The list is long – and sometimes includes the most mundane aspects of our lives.

Gratitude is the one secret I share with newcomers when they wonder how to live sober.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Old Behavior

A long time client stayed out past curfew last night - and returned with blood on him from fighting.  A drug test showed he'd been using methamphetamines and alcohol.

As a consequence, he was to be sent to the Roosevelt house for a week to live and work in the Hard Six program.  He also was assigned to more recovery activities, a schedule he was on when he first arrived at our program.

However, he decided he didn't want to accept the consequences. That he'd rather pack his belongings and return to his home in another state. So he left.

This man's situation is an example of what happens when we take our eyes off recovery. He’d been successful in the program for several months and had started working an outside job as part of his phase out process.

His behavior is not unique among clients we've had over the past 20 years. They do well when they're under close supervision.

Then they start the phase out process, where they have more freedom, more responsibility.  At that point some relapse.

We wish him well. And hope he doesn’t go further into his addiction when he returns home.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Slowing Down...

In the Spanish language a watch doesn't "run," it "walks." Andar is the verb.

And this cultural difference of perception reflects the pace of life here in Puerto Vallarta.

When a native tells you when they'll arrive, they may sometimes use the term "I'll be there in a Mexican minute."

This term can be roughly be interpreted as "I'll be there when you see me, so just relax."   Eight o'clock might mean 8:15 – or 9:00 o’clock.

At first this view of time can be exasperating to us Americans who are used to being on the go. To getting things done.

But within a day, the pace of life, the lack of pressure, kind of overcomes one. It's pretty easy to be won over by the easy tempo, especially when on vacation.

At a sandwich shop the first day we arrived I kept looking at my phone wondering what was taking so long for my order? Why weren't more people working in the kitchen? Don't you know i'm hungry right now?

But within a day I got into sync. I hope I can import this healthy “living in the moment” life view back home to our busy recovery world.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Note from Puerto Vallarta

It was time for vacation.

And last week it became apparent that I was ready.  All week long I was answering requests.  People wanting help.  A constant stream.

In themselves necessary requests.  People need things.   Large things, small things.  Sometimes just a word of encouragement.   And our job is to respond.

And on top of that, the day to day routine of running a large corporation like TLC.  Insurance.  Real estate. Taxes.  Meetings with accountants.  Meetings with insurance agents.

Then in the middle of all of this my wife went for "minor" sinus surgery.   Which turned out to be not so minor after all.  When she went to the clinic she was supposed to be able to drive herself home.   Then I got a call that she needed transportation.  And when we got home I was mopping up blood with wash rags – something that sort of freaked me out because I felt so helpless.

And while I wasn't close to a meltdown, I found myself saying that I was tired of giving. That I needed to be refreshed.  I was doing everything I was supposed to.  Meditation.  Exercise.  Eating right.  But I could feel myself approaching my limits.

Yes, this vacation was right on time.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pending Relapse?

I tell a client that he's in relapse mode.  But he doesn't understand what I mean.   He seems to think he's okay as long as he's not using drugs.

Then I outline for him the list of behaviors he's been exhibiting lately:

Missing meetings.  Staying up past midnight.  Leaving his living area like a pigsty – including piling dirty dishes under his bed.  Bad attitude.  The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Much different than when he arrived.   For his first few months he was compliant.  Always on time for appointments.  Never rationalizing.  Grateful.

But now he's back to doing what he wants when he wants - as if he doesn't care.

My conversation with him kind of fell on deaf ears.  He halfheartedly nodded in agreement, but I could tell his heart wasn't in it.

Hopefully, he won’t pick up.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Insanity of our Disease

A friend in recovery told of going to the hospital with his sponsor to visit a sick meth addict.

When they arrived at the man’s room he was highly incensed, blaming their visit on the sister who’d sent them to see him. The man was told by his doctor that the next time he smoked methamphetamines it would likely kill him because his lungs were in such bad condition.  And, of course, the sister loved him enough to try to help him.

When the two visitors realized they weren’t welcome they told him to call should he ever need their help. Then they left.

A week after leaving the hospital the man once again smoked meth.  And he died – just as the doctor predicted.

This is another sad tale that illustrates the power of our addictions. And it makes us realize that if we hadn’t found the blessings of recovery we surely would have shared this man’s fate..

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Krokodil?

A horrifying drug currently used in Russia may have come to Arizona.  (Follow link for more information.)   Krokodil Coming?
The drug reportedly eats away the flesh from inside out and forms a green scale on the body, hence the name “krokodil.”  Some of the photos on the internet are only for those with strong stomachs, pictures of limbs with the flesh eaten to the bone.
When I first read of this drug last week – 10 times stronger than heroin – and saw the devastating damage it does to users - I had a fleeting thought of “how could anyone put this substance in their body?” 
And the answer of course is that we addicts have a history of using most anything in the quest to get high.  Over the course of my life new illegal drugs have come on the market with regularity. And there's never a shortage of volunteers willing to try it.
Few, if any, were produced by laboratory standards. The only standard seemed to be “is it addictive enough and powerful enough to sell?
Hopefully the extensive publicity about this drug will warn most potential users away. But the lessons of the past are that if it’ll create a high someone will use it – regardless of the consequences.