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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Still Learning

Heartfelt messages of gratitude and thanks kept lighting up my cell phone on Thanksgiving day.

Maybe 20 of them. Some were from long-ago clients telling me of their successes so many years later. Others were from family, staff members, and current clients. They were loving messages. And they reminded  me of the many relationships I've forged since entering recovery.

But it wasn't always this way.

For many years holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas were kind of awkward. And for a time I couldn't figure it out. But then I realized that during my formative years I was either in the midst of my addiction or else I was incarcerated.

In those situations, even though I created them, I didn't find much to celebrate. I only experienced anything resembling happiness when I had enough drugs and alcohol. And that was always a fleeting experience.

So today, I'm grateful to have people in my life to celebrate with. To be surrounded by a network of people who care. They're teaching me what the holidays are all about.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Tangled Web

What a tangled Web we Weave When First We Practice to Deceive.” Sir Walter Scott

A client concocts a scheme because he wants to visit his girlfriend over the holidays.  However, it backfires on him.

As part of the plan he pulls the manager aside and confesses that he smoked methamphetamines earlier in the evening. His hope was that he’d be kicked out of the program for three days – a hiatus he’d be able to spend with his girlfriend.

However, things don’t work out quite the way he’d planned. Instead of being discharged, he was transferred to a detox unit at our Roosevelt property in Phoenix. And while there, he was put to work performing menial chores like sweeping and picking up trash for seven hours a day.

After a few hours, he decides that this wasn’t a part of his plan, so he makes another confession: he’d lied about smoking meth so he’d be able to leave the program for a few days to spend time with his girlfriend. Sure enough, a drug test confirmed that he was indeed clean.

And his motive, of course, for owning up to his lie was an attempt to return to the relative comfort of the treatment housing in Mesa.

However, management didn’t go along with this plan either. The old drug addicts who run the program decided that he must complete his three day penalty at the Phoenix property.

When he found out his latest manipulation attempt didn’t work, he must have become frustrated because he left the program.

Maybe he'll be back?

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day? Or Turkey Day?

If there were to be a major holiday for alcoholics and addicts it would have to be Thanksgiving Day. Because that's when we give thanks for most everything. And gratitude is the recurring theme for most of us in successful recovery.

And even though I have no ongoing resentments I sometimes get irritated this time of year over how the media characterizes this holiday. About half of the time "Thanksgiving Day" is expressed as "Turkey Day." And while my memory may not serve me well, this has become a trend in the recent past.

So what's the big deal about Turkey Day versus Thanksgiving Day? In my mind, demeaning this day with a focus solely on what we eat pays no homage to the purpose of the holiday.

For the historically challenged, it started in 1621 when the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony celebrated a feast of thanks with their Native American neighbors. Because they were grateful for a bountiful harvest. And through the years the holiday has been a time to reflect on our blessings.

My fear, though, is that if we trivialize this sacred day by making it all about what we eat then we've taken the spirit from of it. It has become just another excuse to overeat a lot of rich food, rather than a day of gratitude for what God has provided.

Let us be grateful and also express it with Thanksgivng.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Relapse?

Why do we relapse?

The topic came up because a man who’d been sober for multiple years received an inheritance. And within a few weeks he’d relapsed and lost everything.

His relapse was all the more visible because he was active in the recovery community and sponsored several people. Surely this was a man who could sense when he was in danger?

While some in the group thought that the money he’d received was a trigger, others didn't believe that to be the case.  Several agreed that they always found a way to get high, whether they had money or not.

The consensus was that the man had failed to do the very things he was teaching. He wasn't calling his sponsor. He likely wasn't attending meetings.. Someone pointed out that he had probably 50 people he could've called. Yet something kept him from doing that.

Staying sober isn't an exact science. But if we listen to those around us who have lived sober for many years we can get a good idea of what works for them.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another World

This past weekend I took a trolley ride from downtown San Diego to Tijuana, a trip that made me grateful for the life I live.

Afterward, I reminded myself that in some ways I lead a sheltered life, even though I'm in the recovery business and work with a challenged population.

Although the trolley snaked through some expensive Southern California real estate, most of the riders appeared to be economically challenged.

Many wore mismatched thrift store wardrobes. Others struggled with obvious substance abuse or mental health issues - either talking super-fast, or rambling about nothing to no one in particular.

A mentally challenged man became verbally abusive to my wife and me until she finally lost patience with him. A few select words from her and he made a quick retreat to the far end of the train.

Once we crossed the border and entered downtown Tijuana the differences between the world I live in the one I was visiting stood out even more.

Squatted amidst the trash along the sidewalks were native women, covered in paper-thin dirty blankets, holding empty cups, begging for coins with their eyes. An unidentifiable odor swirled in the air, maybe a blend of cooking food, sweat, urine, and exhaust fumes – hard to tell.

Vendors were hawking cheap gewgaws out of stalls. Others were trying to persuade tourists to have their pictures taken atop ragged donkeys painted to look like miniature zebras.

Scenes like this remind me that much of the world – especially the third world – spends a lot of time scrounging and hustling to feed and house themselves.

The visit was a dose of reality that added to my gratitude for what God has provided.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections

While spending last weekend in San Diego we were awakened by a drunken party in the room next door.

Everything was loud. And very funny. Even though it didn't seem that humorous to me. And it went on til about midnight with banging of doors, screaming and drama.

After a while we reached our limit and called security. While their visit seemed to quell their exuberance somewhat, they still spent most of the night carrying on – albeit at a lower tempo.

In the morning I began to reflect on my own drinking. And somehow I prettied it up by telling myself that I was never as bad as the neighbors who interrupted our serenity the night before. For a few moments I was sure I never bothered anyone.

But, of course, that’s a self-serving distortion of my history. My drinking, what I recall of it (because there are many years I don’t remember much at all), got me into all kinds of difficulty. And I’m sure a lot of it wasn’t very quiet.

In fact, my drinking was so bad at one point, that other criminals and addicts didn’t want to associate with me because I was so reckless and out of control.

I need always remember the dark places my disease took me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Outpatient Update

TLC Outpatient Treatment Clinic is receiving more and more referrals from hospitals and treatment facilities. And we are grateful for this early success only 21 months after opening this latest addition to TLC’s services.

A little over a year ago we only had a handful of clients. In fact, we had more staff members than we did clients in the early days.

Today we have between 35 and 40 clients and 18 support staff and counselors to provide services to them. That’s a ratio of about one staff member for every two clients.

We believe a contributing factor in our success is that we offer a holistic program. We give

-weekly one-on-one sessions
- daily group sessions
-art therapy
-yoga
-massage
-fitness center
-facials
-gardening
-weekend field trips and entertainment
-employment assistance
-long term housing.

Our counselors who have worked at high volume treatment programs love the idea that they can continue to have the same clients on their caseloads for months at a time.

And probably one of the greatest testimonials to our program is that many clients are reluctant to leave when it’s time for them to graduate.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pray Carefully

I had to sort back through the past couple of days and ask myself what I had been praying for. Was it for serenity? Tolerance? Understanding? Wisdom?

Because the day seem to be an emotional roller coaster. A kaleidoscope of addicts involved in interpersonal conflicts. A male employee coming under scrutiny because of his behavior toward a female employee. A lot of misperceptions and drama from all sides. Roommates catfighting like a couple of middle school brats.

I had to ask myself what I'd been praying for. Because when I pray for patience God doesn't just bestow it upon me. Instead, what usually happens is that I find in my path a lot of things to be impatient about. Computers that don't work right. People not showing up on time. Employees bitching about each other. Irritating things that require the patience of Job to sort out. That's what I usually get when I pray for patience.

Same thing when I pray for tolerance. All of a sudden it seems like a raft of intolerable people show up at my office. Or they start blowing up my phone.

I guess the point of all this is be careful what you pray for. Because it doesn't seem like God says, "okay here it is."

Instead he sends us to school, gives us lessons that teach us how to achieve what we want. A prayer for tolerance seems to equal intolerable people. A prayer for serenity or peace of mind usually brings a crew with a jack hammer outside my office or home.

To keep my life simple my prayer tonight is going to be a simple “thank you.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Not Angry

"I learned a long time ago that I could only drive one car at a time." Dean Wolfe

Last night while driving to dinner with my wife we encountered an angry driver in a big pickup. He drove up behind us very fast, slammed on his brakes, and blew his horn. As I looked in the mirror to see what the commotion was I realized that he was signaling me with his middle finger. Then he immediately swung around us to the right, slowed down, and red-faced, began shouting something out of his rolled-down window. I'm not sure what it was, but I don't think it was very nice, based on the look on his face. And as he continued along the road I noticed that he was still waving his arms and hollering something.

And as he drove off I was grateful because I realized that at one time that was me. Everyone and everything, in traffic particularly, irritated me. Wherever I drove I always had something to say about the other stupid drivers who were cluttering the road and keeping me from getting where I was going.

But I quit doing this after I arrived at a 12-step meeting one day, bitching about another stupid driver who slowed me down on my way there. My wise sponsor at the time, Dean Wolfe - now many years departed - said nothing to me directly. But when it was his turn to share he uttered the line at the top of this blog. And it's something I've never forgotten: "I learned a long time ago I could only drive one car at a time."

And the best evidence that I'm making progress in my recovery is that I actually felt compassion for the other driver. While I'm not sure what I did to piss him off - or whose fault it was - the real thing is was it important enough to rage about? Or risk getting into an altercation? To get his blood pressure up? To become angry? To maybe ruin the rest of his day?  I didn't think so.

Peace in my life today means not fighting with anyone about anything – whether I’m right or wrong.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

An Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And because many in my generation reminisce about where they were as that tragic event occurred I thought back to where I was when he fell.

And at that moment, I was working off a 10 year term for heroin possession in California State Prison at Chino. I’d just left my job in the prison administration building and was walking across the yard to the dining hall when an old convict rushed up to me excitedly and said "Did you hear the news? They finally got that f....ing Kennedy! Now if we can get rid of Teddy and Bobby, everything'll be okay."

I remember being almost as shocked at the way I heard the news as I was about the president's death. Because this guy hated everything and everybody, the way he expressed himself about this event shouldn't have surprised me. But in light of what had just occurred, the way I heard of the assassination is embedded my memory.

Even though I was probably as angry as this guy , my anger didn't include higher authorities like the president. I think I placed him in some unreachable sphere, maybe in the same neighborhood as God and the archangels. My anger was more pragmatic and directed at the police, prison guards, and the parole authorities – evil people whom I mistakenly thought were responsible for my circumstances.

Because John F. Kennedy was the first "media" president he was fawned over and idealized by the press from the beginning. And being the first Catholic president he’d breached tradition in a way that forever changed politics. In a way that gave hope to other minorities that faced challenges.

Fifty years later we still share a sense of loss for a man who was struck down at a young age. A man who was thus never able to live out his potential.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our Perceptions

Our perception of happiness was the topic of last Monday’s group.

One group member had never practiced controlling or changing his perceptions. Sometimes he awakes in the morning and however he feels that moment sets the course for his day. If he feels bad, then the day is usually rough. If he feels good, his day might be good. The idea that he could change how he felt by changing his perceptions hadn’t occurred to him.

Another addict talked about how he’d awakened that morning and was in a bad mood. Then he started thinking of the devastation that had occurred in the Philippines and the Midwest due to the forces of nature. Immediately he felt gratitude for his circumstances and his day turned out well. His whole demeanor changed.

It seems like the addicts I work with pay a lot of attention to their feelings. They place their feelings on a pedestal. They honor them with a quick reaction. Many move constantly back and forth, based on their feelings at the moment. Sometimes this gets them into trouble. Maybe even leading to a relapse.

The point of the group was to teach that we can change our happiness level by changing our perceptions.

If we look at our circumstances we can usually find a reason for gratitude, and thus happiness.

It’s only when it’s all about self-centeredness and our needs, above all else, that we get into trouble.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Finding Happiness

My take on life is that we all want to be happy. That's a safe assumption.

And it's probably safe to say that our ideas of happiness are different. At least to some degree. For example, I find satisfaction in being able to help others in recovery, in helping them have a better life.

For some of us, happiness is being in a relationship. Another might find happiness in satisfying work. Yet another might find it in pursuing education. Or traveling. Or operating a successful business.

Some mistakenly think they might be happier if they had more wealth, health, or beauty. This is according to Ed Diener, who is quoted in Ricard Mathieu's book "Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill."  Diener says "It appears that the way people perceive the world is much more important than are objective circumstances."

This book gives examples of populations, such as in impoverished areas of India, that score high on the scale of happiness and life satisfaction, yet live in circumstances that we Westerners would find appalling.

So what's my point? The point is that for us who are used to finding happiness in a crack pipe, a line of meth, a bottle of Jack Daniels, or a shot of heroin, there are simpler and  less dangerous roads to the Holy Grail of happiness.

We can educate ourselves about what happiness really means to us. And if we take the time to do the work we can learn how to change our perceptions on what's important.

It simply takes practice.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Carrying the Message

"You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.“ Mother Theresa

A longtime manager became overly upset at a client who'd disappointed him. Over the years he'd invested a lot of emotional energy in helping the client. But it seemed to him that the client was as ungrateful as the day he arrived.

In fact, the manager was so upset that he questioned how long he could keep doing this kind of work.

One counsel I give our managers is that our job is to simply carry the message. The results and the outcome are up to God.

Sometimes our ego whispers to us that we can change people. But I learned a long time we don't have a shred of power when it comes to changing others. We simply carry the message. What they do with our gift is up to them.

One thing I keep in mind is that we addicts and alcoholics have left a trail of disappointed people behind us. Parents. Wives. Children. Employers. Many of them thought they could change us if they only gave us enough advice or money or love. And they were baffled and confused when their efforts failed.

While I appreciate it when a client uses my suggestions, I don’t become upset when they don’t. After all, they might have a better idea of what’ll work for them.

Or they might not be ready to take a chance on an unknown joy, preferring to remain with the familiar misery they know.

Because I want to stay healthy I’m not attached to the outcome.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Miracle Happened

A client who’d been with us nearly a year graduated this week.

And within a few days he'll have his GED and start college. He's moving back home with his family and beginning a new life.

He has a rosy future. But it wasn't always this way.

When he first arrived last year he was a pissed off twenty something who had no clue about how to live or how to stay clean.

When he first arrived he didn't like anything or anybody. He didn't want to be here. He was looking for cigarettes and someone to complain too. And that was about it.

In fact, we were surprised when he was still around three days later.

But along the way something clicked. We started hearing less and less about his bad behavior in staff meetings – always a sign that a client is doing something different..

He began showing up for counseling sessions on time. He joined the fitness center. He started supporting other clients who were facing issues.

Eventually he seemed to get it. He became an example of perseverance for others because he didn’t run away when things got tough.

We wish him – and his loving family - all the best as he begins his new life.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

His Son is Back

"When I sent my son to TLC he was broken,” said the man on the phone. “When I flew him back home he was whole again.”

Today his son’s clean and sober. He’s attending school. Lives at a halfway house so he can be among recovering people. Goes to AA twice a week. And has a job.

The father’s voice was full of emotion because his son was addicted to heroin and headed down a dark path of destruction.

And, of course, we're gratified when we get these kinds of messages from parents. It validates our program and what we do.

This man’s son did well while he was with us. He attended groups and pretty much followed the guidelines. He did what was expected of him during his stay.

But it’s hard to predict what a client will do after they leave the program. While they may be compliant while they’re with us the real test is what occurs once they’re out in the real world.

In this man’s case it looks like he took what he learned here back home with him.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Recovering Together?

A young woman calls from out of state to ask we have a program where she and her boyfriend can "recover together."

When I tell her we don't, she seems upset. And when I explain to her why I don't think that'll work she tells me again what she wants, as if I didn't hear her the first time.

"We love each other so much. We got into this together and now we want to fight it together."

And when I repeated what I’d already told her she ended the call.

So why is it a bad idea to recover with our sweetheart? Or our spouse?

Our experience has been that the focus remains on the other person, rather than the dynamics of the disease.

When couples are in group together they tend to protect one another rather than expose their vulnerabilities.

We believe that if love is real it will survive a temporary separation while one works on their recovery.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Luxury Problems?

A talk show host this week was talking about ungrateful people on his radio show.

He brought the subject up because many consumers are outraged because major outlets are planning to open Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day, rather than on the traditional Black Friday. It somehow offended their sensibilities.

Dismayed at the controversy, he pointed out how trivial and petty their concerns were. Particularly in light of the devastation that has swept across the Philippines. And the tragic war that is engulfing Syria. He said people should be grateful for having so-called “luxury problems” – as opposed to the life and death issues facing many in the Third World.

And I couldn't agree more. In the rooms of recovery – because of the personal devastation many of us survived - we talk of gratitude for simply being sober and alive. The topic is never about when we should or shouldn't be able to shop.

And because many newcomers are starting over with nothing, it’s rare to hear them talk of anything other than the real challenges of staying sober. Like regaining their health, restoring trust with their friends and families, and trying to put food on the table.

We're simply grateful for having escaped with our lives.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Work of Recovery

Once we remove the alcohol and drugs from our lives the real work of recovery begins.

And as we start the process of living clean and sober we discover who we really are. And even though it may not be too relevant, we realize why we started using in the first place.

Many of those not in recovery – especially parents – see that we're free of drugs and alcohol and think everything's great. After all, wasn't that the goal? Get rid of the drugs and alcohol?

But for most of us the drugs and alcohol are merely symptoms of a deeper malaise, a spiritual and emotional sickness that we try to ease with chemicals. Once the chemicals are gone then we’re forced to confront these issues as part of successful recovery. And if we don't run away - and face these challenges as they arise - we’ll enjoy a successful recovery.

Among the issues we deal with is low self-esteem. Poor self-esteem is a reason many of us use drugs or alcohol. We drank and drugged so we could feel as good as we think everyone else feels.

How do we build self-esteem?  In recovery we start building self-esteem by paying attention to small accomplishments. Things like keeping our room clean. Showing up for groups on time. Not engaging in negative talk. Working out. Being supportive of others . Being kind to our family. All of these small things are building blocks for improving self-esteem for those of us who start out on the bottom.

Ideas for improving self-esteem can be found at Psychologist Nathaniel Brandon’s website.   

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Improving our Health

I believe – as much as possible - that we should care for our health. Exercise, meditation, stress reduction, eating little or no processed food, are among the ingredients of healthy living.

This came up last weekend while talking to a member of the program who suffers from various ailments. To help combat physical and emotional challenges he's on a regimen of over 20 medications.

As we talked, it also came out that he did no exercise - plus smokes cigarettes.

And while I'm not qualified to talk about his medical protocol, it takes little more than common sense to realize there are non-medical things we can do to improve our health.

And among those are developing good living habits.. Clearly the simplest – albeit maybe the most challenging – is to toss the cigarettes. In addition, an exercise routine provides wonderful collateral benefits like stress reduction, more energy, and improved sleep.

While I in no way intend to be judgmental or offensive, it's my obligation to help him improve his life. Just like we do at TLC when we help addicts with other recovery issues.

For those who want to quit smoking go to http://www.nicorette.com or try http://zenhabits.net/10-tips-for-quitting-smoking/.  These are only a few of the many resources available on the internet.

For information about eating better you might check out the hundreds of videos at nutritionfacts.org.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Special Veteran

Today is a special day in this country.  A day when we honor the veterans who put themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us.

And it’s extra special to me. Because one of those veterans is my youngest daughter, Veronica, who served a tour in Afghanistan after she joined the Army in 2003, at 18 years old.

When she said she was joining I thought it wouldn't happen, that it was a passing teenage idea. And when she was accepted, I went into a state of denial, telling myself that she wouldn't end up in a war zone. But within six months she was at Bagram Airfield, North of Kabul. And a short time after that she was serving at a frontier outpost on the border of Pakistan, which was under regular rocket fire.

Although she wasn't wounded physically, she returned from the conflict with severe enough trauma to receive 100% disability for life.

Today she’s married, has completed four years of college, is buying a home, and spends time volunteering with Veteran’s organizations.

I thank God she returned alive. And I thank her for the sacrifice she made – one that impacted her life forever.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Looking at Ourselves

A client who became so angry that he stormed out of group after cussing out the therapist was confronted about his behavior.

But instead of seeing his part, he described how the therapist had insulted him and treated him like he was “stupid.” At no time did he say anything about his role in the incident. The counselor had singled him out the first time he saw him and started picking on him.

When I explained how improbable that sounded he got quiet. Finally, I asked if he knew about the 10th Step. Because he'd been in multiple treatment programs I was surprised when he told me he didn't know what it was. And, of course, that said a lot.

When I explained that the 10th step is about cleaning up our side of the street and looking at our behavior he acted as if he didn't understand. And indeed, he kept talking about the therapist as being the only issue. In fact, I'm not too sure that he didn't expect me to fire the counselor over the incident.

He made several attempts to tell me what the counselor had said. And each time I gently steered him back to looking at himself, which it appeared that no one else had done before. Because when it came to talking about himself he could find nothing wrong with his behavior. It was all about the outside world and everyone screwing with him.

Before the conversation ended I made an appointment to have a one-on-one session with him, hopefully to help him change his perspective.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tangled Emotions

An addicted family member who’s taken advantage of my generosity on more than one occasion tells another family member how sorry he is. That he wants to apologize one more time but is afraid of my reaction.

And when I hear of it I have tangled emotions. As someone in recovery, I believe in forgiveness, of letting go, of washing what he’s done from my memory.

And mostly I have, because I never think of the money he’s taken. In fact, I don’t care about it because it won’t change my life one way or another.

But the serious damage he’s done is to our relationship, something that’ll be difficult to restore.

What’s been destroyed is respect and trust, those important building blocks of any relationship.

No matter how sincere the apology there’ll be that caveat in the recesses of my mind, wondering what’s next?. Whatever he says, how can I believe him?

My heart wants to believe that everyone’s sincere. Common sense says otherwise.

And when I share this with my sponsor he says listen to my common sense.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Same old Story"

"Same old story, just different faces," said a long time client as he explained why he quit going to meetings.

Someone who heard this was unkind enough to suggest that the same phrase might apply to the drug addicts or alcoholics who ended up in the cemetery from an overdose.

And their story is probably that they quit going to meetings and doing the things that have kept millions of other alcoholics and addicts sober: going to meetings and working a program.

What the client said is true. The plot we hear, the story-line we hear, at a 12-step meeting is usually the same. What it was like, what happened, and what it's like today. That's it.

And that's the core story of us addicts. Our lives were a mess. Someone – or something – intervened. We now enjoy the success that comes with living in recovery.

Even though I've been sober going on 23 years, I still attend at least two meetings a week. Sometimes it's with the same people. And they tell the same stories. And sometimes I might not want to be there on a particular day. Or I might not want to hear a certain person's story because I know it’s boring stuff.

But I listen anyway because of something very important to me: saving my life. Like any life-saving intervention, the medicine or the procedure might be painful. But what's important? A little pain? Or saving me from what was once a miserable existence? Or perhaps certain death?

While this might seem melodramatic it's based on the reality that over the years at TLC we've buried hundreds of addicts and alcoholics who just didn't get it.

But what might have saved 95% of them would have been the willingness to sit through maybe a boring or repetitious meeting listening to the same old story.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sick and Tired

In group this week a client lamented that he was "sick and tired of living in a halfway house." He went on to say that he'd been doing this for a long time. Too long.

And the group moderator told him that might be a good thing. Being tired sometimes is catalyst for change.

Why? Because being tired is a form of pain. And most of us don't change until we get enough pain. Living in the drug subculture with all its attendant miseries is no longer tolerable. So we go to a place like TLC because they accept anyone who’s willing, whether they have money or not

Most of those who come to TLC don't do so because they're looking for great accommodations. They come because they are in misery and have nowhere to go. They're mostly homeless. Without insurance. No job. No one wants them around in their present state.

So they came to us, addicts who were exactly like them when we drug ourselves in the door.

They sometimes leave early, but not because they have a great plan. But because they’re tired of living in a halfway house. However, this is not a good reason.

A good reason is because we're ready to move on to a better life. We have money for two or three months rent on an apartment. We have an automobile. We have car insurance.. We have a job. And we also have the most important ingredient of all: a home group and a sponsor.

Leaving because we’re tired of living in a halfway house is not a plan.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Skewed Priorities?

An out-of-state client who's been with us more than once returns again for another try.

The last time he left, over a year ago, he went on a meth run and lived on the streets for a time. Periodically we'd see mug shots of him when he was booked into the Maricopa County Jail for some type of drug crime. In the photos he appeared beat down and not too happy. Understandably so.

But after he's back with us over 10 days he all of a sudden has to return home. Something about attending services for a friend who died of a drug overdose. And also to take care of "family business."

And of course, being the skeptic, I realize this man still doesn't have his priorities straight. Because I know his history and have worked fairly closely with him I don't believe he's done using.

In my 23 years of experience in dealing with addicts and alcoholics I've learned that we must focus on one thing: recovery. Because for a real addict or alcoholic nothing else matters until they deal with their most pressing issue.

When addicts start talking about the need to get to work. Or the need to take care of their family. Or they have to get back to school, I know it's only a smokescreen so they can get away from us and start back with their drug of choice.

Because if they need those things to stay sober then why did they end up with us first place?

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Changed Life

Had a rush of gratitude today today when I opened up my email and received a message from a manager who was at TLC around the year 2000.

He said he's been sober all those years. And he attributed his recovery to the principles he learned while at TLC.

Perhaps the biggest reward of working at TLC is when I receive messages like this. Although it's nice to get paid and enjoy the other benefits of the job, the idea that what you're doing has a lasting impact on someone else's life is very fulfilling.

And it definitely compensates for all the times when we don't succeed in trying to help those who are not quite yet ready to do the hard work of recovery.

Like throwing a rock in a pond, our efforts have a ripple effect in the lives of recovering addicts and alcoholics.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Psychic Change?

I observe a client who's been here twice before and notice he’s doing something different this time.

He's volunteering around the living units cleaning up the common area. He's helping newcomers become oriented to the program.  He found a sponsor.

He no longer breaks into tears in counseling sessions. He’s quit whining about his circumstances at every opportunity. He participates in groups and attends outside meetings. He talks about the internal changes going on with him, instead of portraying himself as one of life’s victims.

What happened to this guy?

It says in the recovery literature that “selfishness and self-centeredness we think is the root of our problems.” And all of a sudden this man is reaching outside himself and doing for others.

While change around TLC is often very subtle, we sometimes are blessed to see clients undergo the dramatic psychic change this man seems to be undergoing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Managing with Gratitude

I must remember that gratitude is a most important indicator of who will succeed as a manager at TLC – or who will thrive in their recovery.

I was reminded of this today while talking to two of our women managers. One of their dominant characteristics is that they walk in gratitude each day. Not necessarily gratitude to me or to TLC, but gratitude for their lives. Gratitude for their recovery. They exude happiness and joy. And they're wonderfully successful at their jobs and in their relationships with clients. They always leave those around them in a good mood - including me.

Today, when I try to fill a management job, the first thing I want to pay attention to? Level of gratitude. I don't care if they're a rocket scientist. I don't care if they have a college education. Gratitude is what I'm looking for.

While it's nice if applicants have an education and brilliance, they're not much help if they don't also have gratitude as a foundation.

Over the past year we've lost three key managers, all either educated, experienced - or both. But each also sometimes exhibited a quality which I see as the opposite of gratitude: arrogance. Each had an out-sized ego and only paid lip service to gratitude when they knew it was expected. And they eventually fired themselves by failing drug tests.

So why were they hired? It's my fault because I was under pressure to fill the position. But I violated my own belief about looking at gratitude.

I did them - and TLC - a disservice.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Meditation?

Newcomers to the 12-step programs sometimes have questions about this thing called "meditation."

So now that I'm sober, I have to dress like a monk and sit cross-legged for a couple hours a day? Or do I read daily meditations from a small book? Do I read the bible? Do I need a mantra? Do I need a spiritual guide?

Sometimes these questions can baffle us. But here are resources for those interested in learning more.

Something we did 15 years ago at TLC – at a time when we could afford it – was to send a dozen key staff members to a course in Transcendental Meditation. Even though it was kind of expensive, it benefited our organization. And some of us continue meditating to this day – myself included.

Here's the link for those interested in the TM school of meditation. At this site you find scholarly studies that discuss the positive results obtained from this form of meditation.

But because money’s an issue for most in early recovery, there are innumerable free resources on the Internet.

One of my favorite sites is Leo Babuta’s blog, Zen Habits.

Read his October 30 posting entitled, "12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools." Here he describes simple and free methods to engage in mindfulness, a simple form of meditation available to us all at no cost.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hurting Our Loved Ones

If addicts had a chance to hear the pain their families go through it might be easier for them to get into recovery.

I start out this way today because I began my morning fielding calls from anxious parents whose children had recently left our program for parts unknown.

One of the children, a young woman, was discharged from our program a few weeks ago because she was non-compliant and found in possession of drug paraphernalia. Apparently she had also been discharged from the program she entered after leaving us. And now the father was reaching out anywhere he could to locate her. I agreed to help and put the word out that her father was looking for her. We also said we’d accept her into our halfway house program.

The other, a young man from a Northern state, only stayed 24 hours before becoming angry and departing. His mother was concerned because she hadn't heard from him for a day. She feared that something bad had happened and was preparing to file a missing persons report. We said we'd call, should we hear anything of her son.

If either of these irresponsible addicts could hear the pain and suffering in their parents' voices they might have taken their recovery more seriously.

Hopefully they’ll return and have chance to do that.

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