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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

525, 600

525,600. That's how many minutes are in a year.

8,765.81. That's the number of hours in a year.

And of course we all know how many days are in a year.

So what's the point? The point is that as we enter 2014 in a few hours that's how much time we're allotted for the coming year.

And the question for all of us, including me, is what will we do with this time? This gift from God?

Will we spend it playing video games? Will we be like the average American and watch four hours of TV a day? Will we waste these precious units of time in resentments, in fears, in anger?

Can we look back on the last 364 days and say we used our time to the best of our ability? Or did we fritter away this irreplaceable gift in stagnation?

This coming year can be a time of success for those of us who manage our time wisely. We can take that class we wanted to take. Begin a fitness program. We can change our lazy mindset, the one that keeps us from eating right and taking care of our health.

Does this mean that we're always working and getting little joy out of life? No. There's a time for fun. There's a time for relaxation. There's plenty of time to pursue pleasure and enjoyment.

But if you're asking yourself if you are any better off than you were this time last year you might think of spending some of those many minutes on something more productive.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reflecting on the Past

Sometimes discussions of the past reminds me how deeply mired I was in my addiction.

While at a family reunion during the Christmas holiday one of my older children – both of whom were raised by raised by their mother – asked how I felt when she was born, when I first saw her.

I could've made up a scenario that I'm sure would've made her feel good. But being in recovery doesn’t allow me to do that. So I told her the truth: that the only thing I remember was a general feeling of happiness that I had a new daughter. But beyond that I don't recall anything. I don't remember the hospital she was born in. I don't know the city she was born in. And I don't remember the time of day.

During those years my priorities were to put as much heroin and alcohol as I could in my body, to the exclusion of all else. Nothing took priority over that. Not jobs. Not relationships. Not my family. Not even my freedom. I was a totally self-centered alcoholic/heroin addict.

Today my relationship with my children is relatively good, at least from my point of view. We have a couple of family reunions a year. One in Las Vegas between Christmas and New Year's, the other at the beach in San Diego. And we communicate regularly, at least weekly.

I've done what I can to make amends to my two older children – the ones who suffered from my addiction. But there are no amends that can sufficiently make up for missed birthday and Christmas celebrations and other things that parents should do.

Even though the pain of the injury may be forgiven or forgotten, sometimes a small scar remains as a reminder.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Keeping On

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

So how does this quote by Michael Jordan apply to those of us in recovery?

I think it gives encouragement to those of us who have fallen prey to serial relapses.

Often clients come to TLC discouraged because it seems like nothing has worked. In spite of their best intentions, they've failed “over and over” again. In fact, so often that they’re prone to the depression that might lead them back to their drug of choice.

I ask these clients to focus on the positive: the fact that they're sitting in my office is a testimony that they're still willing to work on recovery after repeated failures. And sometimes what I say seems to help.

We can often take the same perseverance that led us to repeatedly try to successfully drink or drug and turn it into something positive. Anyone who can go through misery for countless years in pursuit of their addiction can take that same drive and turn it into success.

For those who don't remember, I want to remind them that living with an addiction to the exclusion of everything else is hard work. In fact, it seemed like I worked day and night to supply my drug habit – it was a full-time job.

Eventually I turned my failures into success - something you who have repeatedly failed can also do.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gay Friendly

Since opening January 9, 1992 TLC has welcomed members of the gay and transgender community. But something we've done differently this year is to offer separate housing near our Roosevelt facility for gay male clients. The house has approximately a dozen beds. And they were filled within a few weeks.

Management doesn’t assign clients to this house. Clients who want to live there make a request. And it is normally granted if space is available.

The same rules apply there as at any other house. No sex on the property. No violence or threats of violence. Break no laws. No chronic bad attitudes. Submit to drug testing. The same rules that apply to any other part of the program.

So why did we open a special house for gay clients? For one reason, we wanted to respond to their needs. We had heard scuttlebutt from time to time that TLC was not "gay friendly." And while that isn't true – and never has been – we wanted to change that perception if it did exist.

We were aware that some clients might be critical of these clients' sexual orientation. And for that reason we wanted to offer a safe and welcoming environment.

TLC does not discriminate against any group, regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. In fact, the only people we don't accept are arsonists and those arrested or convicted of sex crimes.

Our belief is that anyone has a right to recover in a safe, positive environment and we’re making every effort to offer that.

In fact, this coming year - because of the demand - we are looking for additional housing for gay clients.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Challenges

Now that 2013 is winding down it’s a good time to take inventory. Are we grateful for what we've been through over the past year? For both our blessings and the challenges we've faced.

The challenges? I understand why I would be grateful for my blessings. But why would I be grateful for challenges? After all, haven't I faced enough in my life?

But if we're honest we admit that we learned a lot more from the challenges than we did from the blessings we received.

An example is that for the past four years, up to the beginning of 2013, TLC faced dramatic challenges while trying to pay the bills, to meet our financial obligations. For 40 months in a row we lost $9000 a month. So how did we keep the doors open? During those trying times my staff and I were forced to be creative.

We asked key employees to take a 10% pay cut. Some of us went without a paycheck. We also asked our landlords to reduce rent if they wanted us to continue as tenants – and many did.

We learned to cut energy costs by using efficient thermostats and lighting. We made managers more accountable about how they spent their house budgets. We cut our fleet from 42 to less than 30 vehicles.

I could go on with these examples, but you get the point. Challenges make us stronger and help us grow.

And these challenges don't have to be financial. In fact most of them aren't. The challenge for us in recovery is the temptation to pick up a drink, a pipe, or a needle when things get rough. We may have lost a loved one, a job, our home, or a relationship. The challenge is to stay sober when were going through these emotional ups and down.

But if we persist through these trying emotional times we become stronger and put together years of recovery.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Congratulations!

It was a pleasant Christmas Eve surprise when a long time TLC Manager told me he planned to propose to his fiancee at supper that evening.

I asked him to send a text to let me know her response. But when I didn't hear anything by 7:30 I called. What did she say?

He explained that he’d been sidetracked by a maintenance problem. He’d just returned home and he was going to take care of it right away. And sure enough, he called a few minutes later and said he’d popped the question. And he didn’t have to tell me her response because I could hear her in the background saying “yes, yes, yes.”

One of the blessings of being involved with this project for over 22 years is that I’m allowed to witness stories like this.

Both he and his fiancee have contributed for several years to TLC's ongoing success. And in the meantime their lives have come together.

They were blessed with a beautiful son this year. They have a home. And each is enjoying a successful recovery.  This couple is another example of what our program is all about.

Seeing their happiness is truly a gift. All of us at TLC wish them well in this newest chapter of their lives.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Different Christmas

For the first time I'm spending Christmas without my lovely wife, Dr. Dawn. No, nothing has happened to her or between us.

She went to another state to support a best friend whose mother died a few days ago.

She and her friend spent many college years together. And during that time she and the mother became close.

However, I’m lonely without her. And I realize for the first time that I have a relationship with not just a wife but someone who is a constant companion, a good friend, a business partner, and confidant.

It’s not like we live in lockstep. However, I do very little without taking her into consideration. It’s a partnership I value and treasure.

On page 83 in the recovery literature, we find the phrase “…a new happiness…” And that describes exactly where I’m at in this period of my recovery. We enjoy each other. We have business success. We travel a few times a year.

I recall that when I had seven years in recovery – and was enjoying success - my sponsor said something prophetic. He said “you think that this is as good as it gets. But it gets better as time goes on.”

He was right.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

19 Years Ago

Christmas Eve is a day that brings mixed emotions. On one hand, there's celebration and happiness among those of us who look forward to this time of year.

But for me it’s kind of melancholy because 19 years ago today my mother died suddenly – the day before she was to be released from the hospital.

I got the call about 4:15 in the afternoon, as I was preparing to leave to visit her. The nurse, in a kindly but matter-of-fact voice, said "your mother died 15 minutes ago."

It was a shock. Because my brother and I had made plans to take her home the next morning. And instead we would be making funeral arrangements.

She'd been in the hospital for 54 days, after visiting for what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure. But complications set in, and the medical staff kept setting back her release date.

When she died I’d been in recovery for over three years, something my mother was very grateful for. In that time I was able to repay money she’d loaned me, and make other amends. I was able to move her here from California. She was finally able to see me rejoin society as a productive and sober human being.

And I know this was rewarding for her because she'd stuck by me from the time I was a teenager. She saw me go through 35 years of addiction, prison, mental hospitals, divorces, and other calamities. And during many of those years I had the attitude that I wasn't hurting anyone else, just myself.

It was only after I was in recovery for a while and started working with other addicts and alcoholics and their parents and families that I realized just how much damage I did to my loved ones.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Health Update

I was in the emergency room the other day for a non-life-threatening condition I've had for over 50 years,. But as always, when a 74-year-old goes to the hospital, those who care start getting nervous. And I appreciate that because at one time nobody cared much what happened to me because I wasn't doing anything positive.

The condition I have is called atrial flutter. And once or twice a year it flares up and causes my heart rate to increase to over 140 beats a minute for a while- a state which causes anxiety and discomfort. It's not painful, but it allows my alcoholic imagination to run wild about my impending doom.

When I'd tell prison doctors about it, back in my 20s, they'd label me hypochondriac. That nothing was wrong with me. And for years I believed them. I thought I was a hypochondriac having a panic attack.

But it so happened, in a moment of serendipity, that when I arrived for a medical checkup last June I was in atrial flutter. After the nurse took my EKG I was sent to emergency. There they did tests, including a video of the inside of my heart, and told me what I had. They also gave me medication, something that works most of the time.

However, after this last event, in order to avoid the inconvenience of going to the emergency once or twice a year to have my heart rate slowed, my cardiologist scheduled me for a procedure that will eliminate the problem. It happens on an outpatient basis, is painless, takes less than an hour, and involves burning the electrical nodes on the inside of my heart through a catheter they insert into a vein near my groin.

Why am I sharing this? Because many who read this blog have been a part of TLC for a long time. Many of them depend upon us for housing and employment. I believe I have a responsibility to not raise their anxiety by having them wonder about my health.

So in pursuit of transparency, I still enjoy the same six day a week fitness routine I’ve had for 23 years. I do 15 to 20 chin-ups in a set. I work out on the elliptical or treadmill 45 minutes at a time. I do reps with 60 pound dumbbells. I ride my bicycle 20 miles without stopping. And when I left the hospital I asked the doctor should I stick to this routine. They said yes - keep doing what you're doing.

So for those who are concerned, I think you're stuck with me for a while. But I appreciate the love.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Genuine Heroes

Often we hear of police raiding meth labs and finding children living in toxic conditions. And while the parents are charged with child abuse, we never hear much about the children. They are the human fallout, the innocent victims of the drug world.

This week I met genuine heroes, a man and his wife who have adopted a dozen children, some of them the children found in these labs.

And because many of the children he and his wife have adopted were rescued from these situations they suffer from PTSD and other issues due to living with addicts and drug dealers.

This man described some of the challenges they face in raising children with these kinds of issues. But he says he and his wife receive so many blessings from this large family that it makes it all worthwhile.

It was an inspiration to speak with this couple, and know that some of these victims end up with loving and dedicated parents.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winning the Lottery

Last week it seemed everyone was excited about a Power Ball jackpot that was projected to reach nearly $1 billion. Even though odds of winning were a gazillion to one, people were opening their wallets anyway.

But I didn't get excited because I won the lottery January 13, 1991, when I got clean and sober

From that moment I’ve been blessed with more riches than I can enumerate. I enjoy financial independence. I no longer look over my shoulder to see if police are behind me. I don’t lie to my employer. I no longer steal to feed a drug habit. I am free. And happy.

One aspect of this excitement I found interesting is that people – who’d never buy a ticket when the lotto was only 10 or 15 million - will buy one when it’s in the hundreds of millions. As if multiple millions would do a lot more for them than one or two.

Because after one takes care of basics how much can we really spend? Food, shelter, housing, transportation doesn't take that much.

While money eliminates some basic problems, after that it becomes a different set of challenges. All of a sudden, one has to think about taxes.  Who are our real friends? 

To me, real riches come from living a full life, having friends and the opportunity to be of service to others.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

A few months ago a client who left and relapsed awakened in an empty lot with paramedics around him. They’d just saved his life after he overdosed on heroin.

Even though he’d only been using for three days, he realized the gravity of what he was doing and returned to TLC. He was grateful to have escaped his close brush with death. He began working once more to rebuild his life, to get back on track.

And for half a year he did just that. He went to meetings, got a sponsor, and began working on his recovery. He also found a steady job. It seemed he was doing the right things.

Then last week he suddenly went out again, this time smoking crack. He didn’t overdose this time, instead returning to the program to start over before he did. So what happened?

In the recovery literature we find the phrase “cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power. That One is God. May you find Him now!"

And in this man’s case he seems to be doing everything right then once again finds himself using – a demonstration of how cunning, baffling and powerful our disease can be.

Hopefully, before this man relapses again, he'll find the One who has all power.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Shortcut?

Clients are sometimes lazy when it comes to making changes.

This came up the other day while working with a client who says he has no self-esteem.

Because I'm a certified hypnotherapist he wanted me to hypnotize him to improve this aspect of his life.

It seemed that he believed I could go into his subconscious and plant some suggestions for a quick fix.  And that he would have to do nothing. But that's not the way it works. 

Prior to our session I explained that there were things he could do to bolster self-esteem. And that hypnotherapy is merely a tool that could aid him in his efforts.

We went ahead and had a session. And I didn't see him for a few weeks. However, when I saw him he was still moping around, head down, and not feeling very well about himself.

When I asked how he was doing, he said he was about the same. That he had seen little improvement.

When I asked if he tried any of the suggestions about things he could do to boost his self-esteem, he said no.

That's when I realized it was going to take a lot of motivation for him to change.  But I’m not sure he’s willing to do the hard work.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

G.E.D. to PhD

In 12 step meetings it's common to witness miracles.

For example, this weekend a doctor told of how she survived a vicious childhood sexual assault that nearly killed her when she was nine years old. And how she went on to become an educated professional with five degrees.

She said she went "from a GED to a PhD."

But before that happened, she took a lengthy excursion into addiction and alcoholism, a journey that started in her early teens when she was unable to shake the trauma of her childhood ordeal. Her disease took her from heavy drinking, to crack houses, to prison.

Her early days of recovery involved entry level jobs and long hours in college trying to regain the time she lost to her disease. But she studied diligently, obtaining better and better employment until she completed her education.

It’s not uncommon in the rooms of recovery to hear stories like this from those who once believed their lives were hopeless.

Then a watershed event brings them into the sunlight of recovery. And in her case it was a loving and praying Grandmother who encouraged her to change her life.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mug Shot of the Day

Received a text yesterday with a mug shot attached. Staring intently into the camera was a face I knew well.

It was that of a former TLC manager who had worked for us for a number of years, managing one of our larger facilities. While with us he was one our best. He was kind and generous. He usually went above and beyond, working long hours. He helped many clients get through the early days of recovery.

Eventually he left to pursue another career. However, he was always back at the house. He sponsored several clients. Took them to meetings. He was always available.

So what happened? How did he get on Sheriff Joe’s website? A candidate for mug shot of the day?

I don’t know for certain. There’s a story out there that he received a large sum of money which took him away from his recovery. We heard another story that he was in a treatment program and had no shoes. Then yesterday comes the mug shot, with a line saying he’s in jail for possession of drugs.

Here’s a man who emulated recovery. Who carried the message. Who had a half-dozen sponsees. Yet he’s in jail facing drug charges?

It’s always easy to say he did or didn’t do certain things. And we can never be certain what opened that door for him.

One thing for sure: his friends and those he helped are praying for his safe return.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gratitude Email

Here's a heartfelt gratitude email I received this weekend.  It's worth sharing:

"I just wanted to let you know that I am so grateful to you, your wife and TLC!

You have played an intricate part in my sobriety and the life that I am living today. I don't recognize the man that you and others have molded me into. Sober first for five plus years (miracle), worked for the same company for 5 years (longest ever), a devoted father and soon to be loving husband! This is not the same person that walked into TLC on April 25, 2008.

Today I have hope, faith and courage to face anything that comes my way, instead of running and hiding my feelings with a needle. There is no dollar amount you can put on the debt that I owe you and TLC! I can say today that, "I have become a man".

I am so blessed not only to have met you but to share my life with you and become part of the family. TLC is my home and there is a reason i will always continue to call it my home. I am so excited for TLC's future and I am proud to be a part of it!

Thank you once again for believing in me, when I did not believe in myself! You are a great example and I am honored to have you in my life. Thank you for being there and teaching me how to grow up and be responsible! Thank you for everything!!!"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Graduation

It was an inspiring sight last Thursday to see more than 100 clients, plus guests, in the courtyard at Roosevelt attending a graduation.

Some 25 certificates of achievement were passed out to those who have 90 or more days in the program. There were a few certificates for men with six months, and nine months.

And one man graduated from the Hard Six program during the ceremony, having completed eighteen months.


Several of the graduates spoke for a moment, after receiving their certificates.

One man talked of not having any clothing when he arrived, other than what he was wearing. He said one of his fellow clients literally gave him the shirt off his back. He said this was the longest he's been clean and sober - and he plans to stay.

Another spoke of learning to follow God's will, rather than his own will.

Others mentioned job success, reuniting with their families, and of learning how to live in the real world after years of addiction.

And the interesting aspect of the graduation is that addicts are helping each other get sober.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Finding Himself

An addict who's worked for TLC for a while talked about the shock he experienced when he found he'd be earning less than $100 a week.

Before he came to us he'd earned a great salary as a corporate executive.  However, that salary didn't do him a lot of good because all of it went for drugs and alcohol.

After being of service for several months he began to realize he was receiving something that his one-time large salary had never brought him:  recovery and peace of mind.

He's become one of those who's finding himself through helping others.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Day at Time

A great gift of the 12-step programs is the concept of living one day at a time. How so?

My take on it is that it helps us addicts focus on the here and now. Rather than living in the future. Or in the past.

Here and now is a place where things are manageable. I can get up today to go to work, even if I'm not sure I could do it the rest of my life. The pain in my back might be severe today.  But is it going to stay with me from now on? Today I may be broke, or not have a job. But will this always be the case?

If I stay in the present, I face life in manageable chunks. If I speculate about a problematic future, I might become overwhelmed to the point of picking up a drink or drug.

If I'm managing an archaeological expedition through the wreckage of my years of drinking and drugging and being irresponsible and abusing I might get lost and never get back to today. Living in today, I don't need to open the door and enter that tunnel to my dark past. Instead, I stay in today, where where the light of the moment shines upon my activities and keeps me focused on what's real.

The idea of living in today did not originate with the framers of the 12-step programs. Eastern religions for centuries have taught the value of focusing upon this minute, this moment, this second that God has given us.

Regardless of where it came from, the concept of living a day at a time teaches us that life is manageable - something each of us in recovery can use to our benefit.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Acceptance

In a group where the topic was acceptance, a client didn't quite seem to grasp the concept.

As he was talking about someone with whom he'd have a problem over the years, he said he did accept them.

"I accept the fact that the guy's a dishonest moron," he said. And of course, the group laughed. But pointed out to him that that's not exactly the idea of acceptance.

This man’s story is that someone he once trusted had ripped him off for a large sum of money that was rightly his. And he'd been seething about it ever since. He was upset because the man – who he once trusted – "should" have behaved more honestly.

The group had a lot of input for him. But the crux of it was that many people never behave how they "should." They behave how they behave. The quicker we can accept what they've done then we can decide a course of action. Sitting around stewing about the other person's bad behavior is not acceptance. It's resentment..

In the recovery literature one finds the words "acceptance is the answer to all my problems today."

And the passage goes on to say that we'll never find serenity until we accept whatever it is we're facing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Genetics?

We never allow anyone to abuse our staff – verbally or otherwise.

So a few days back when a mother screamed at our house manager because she hadn't been alerted when her son arrived, one of our volunteers called her.

For some reason the mother had the idea that we should call when her child arrived. Even though the "child" was in her late twenties. A “child” who wasn't scheduled to come to the program.

"What kind of place are you running down there, anyway?" she demanded.

When our volunteer explained in strong terms that we don't allow anyone to abuse our staff, she angrily hung up. But before she did, she said she would no longer call us about anything. That's fine with us if she’s going to be abusive.

While this behavior doesn't occur often, sometimes we learn a lot about the client simply by listening to parents. In the case of this client, who has many psychological issues, we recognized the problem might be genetic.

Even though, it's still a test of our patience and tolerance when parents behave this way. We get over it by remembering that our mission is to help clients get clean and sober.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Positive Things

TLC is an example of how addicts do positive things once they get clean and sober.

I thought about this yesterday while in a staff meeting where corporate officers were determining Christmas bonuses for some 75 employees.

I recalled during the meeting that 21 years ago we didn't have 75 total residents, and only three or four employees. Today we have 75+ employees and nearly 700 clients. And it was a few years before we could afford to pay anyone – let alone give bonuses.

Over time, with diligent effort, TLC has grown exponentially to serve mostly homeless addicts who want to rebuild their lives and stay sober.

And that growth is only due to the fact that those in recovery are willing to spend their time and energy to help other addicts change. Most of those who work with us could find a better paying job. But they know it's easier to stay close to their recovery when they’re helping others.

Sometimes outsiders want to give credit to those of us who started the program, those who were here from the early days 22 years ago.

But the reality is that without the hard work of our staff we’d never get anything done.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Higher Power?

I find it interesting when an addict has trouble believing in a power greater than themselves.

But because most of those I hear this from are new to recovery I realize that spiritual development sometimes flowers only after years of recovery.

It would be a sad world indeed if I were the highest power that I knew.

Because during the years when I was my own higher power I always ended up in trouble. It was prisons, homelessness, divorce, bankruptcy, or some other sad situation that my good direction got me into. Not a very good track record for a Higher Power.

I'm not sure what God looks like because no one I know has ever seen his face. But if you want to witness a bit of his handiwork go outside tonight, look up at the sky, and pick any star.

Scientists say that the light from the star we're seeing tonight came from an exploding supernova some 500 years ago. That was in the middle ages when soldiers were still riding horses and wearing armor.  We live in a universe so immense that it takes 500 years for the light of an exploding star to reach us?

Phenomena like that shows me that there's a power greater than myself, whatever form it takes.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Grown Ass Man

A client is upset because he was placed on restriction for associating with a former client who reverted to using meth.

"I'm a grown ass man," he said. "I don't need anyone telling me what to do all the time."

But he's wrong. One of the reasons clients come to us is because their lives are spiraling out of control. Been in prison. Living on the streets. Maybe divorced. Lost their job. There are many reasons why people come through the doors of TLC's state-wide locations.

The reality is that people come to TLC and pay us to tell them what to do. And they do that for many of the reasons in the paragraph above: their lives are a demoralized mess.

And the things we tell them to do are not much different than what so-called "normal" people do in the real world. We expect them to pay their bills. We ask them to clean their living areas. We expect them to have a job. Pay their child support. Have car insurance. Don't steal or use drugs.

But in addition, we have an overlay of requirements for them because they are addicts or alcoholics. Get a sponsor. Go to 12 step meetings. Help newcomers stick around and learn what recovery is about.

We take their request for help seriously. In fact, we have a fiduciary responsibility to carry out the mission of TLC which is: "we help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives."

But what happens after a while, once people get a few meals in their stomachs, a job, and start feeling better, all of a sudden they become independent. They lose their gratitude and forget where they came from. They start complaining when they get in trouble for not signing out. Or not showing up for service fee check. Or not attending meetings. Or else associating with former clients who have reverted to using drugs.

There are myriad ways clients get in trouble at TLC. But each involves behavior that might lead them back to using drugs or alcohol. And our responsibility – our primary responsibility – is to help our clients rebuild their lives.

And we work hard to help them do that, whether they're "grown ass men," or not.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Just One

One of our managers walked into our corporate office after hours one evening last week and noticed the odor of alcohol in the air. And the client who was supposed to be at work wrapping up some last-minute details was missing. So our manager placed a call to his cell phone. No answer.

After that he called the man's roommate and asked him to let him know when the man returned home. And sure enough, he showed up after 10 pm, just as the manager was settling down for a night's sleep. He got up and went to the man's house anyway. And when he gave him an alcohol test it proved he'd been drinking.

The man protested that he had only one shot. But one shot is all it takes to get fired and discharged from TLC. The man was given the option of going to another house to start over. And he accepted. But he left the next morning, quite likely to continue drinking.

It was sad to see this man leave under such circumstances because he’d recently celebrated one year of sobriety. And for him this was quite an accomplishment because he'd been drinking for years, had more than one DUI, and had suffered continual disruptions in his life because of his alcoholism.

I one time heard him share from the podium about waking up in the middle of winter lying on his back in a stream outside of Salt Lake City, wondering how he’d gotten there. His last memory before that moment was that he was having a good time somewhere getting drunk.

During his time with TLC he did an excellent job. He was always pleasant, friendly, and respectful to everyone. We’ll miss his help because it's difficult to find responsible employees who want to work for us while they also work on their recovery.

The only positive thing is that his relapse reminds us that we must remain vigilant so we don’t follow in his footsteps.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Creating a Monster

A client comes to a counseling session heavily burdened. He's behind on child support. He doesn't have a job so he can't pay fees his probation officer’s expecting. A court appearance is pending.

He has more than this on his mind, but you get the point. His issues are wrapped up in a big confusing ball, so tightly interwoven that he can't figure out what's going on.

He can't sleep. He's anxious to the point where he's thinking about picking up a bottle or a pipe. He's overwhelmed.

What he's facing is not unusual among addicts in our program. Sometimes clients have a flawed thinking habit where they let a bunch of little issues become one big issue. They create a monster that threatens to consume them.

When I encounter clients like this I have them tell me all the problems they're facing. In fact I usually have them make a list. Then I have them go down the list to see which are immediate and which can be dealt with later. Or if even they need to be dealt with at all.

And it's almost magical how this process defuses anxiety. Once they list their so-called issues, where they can be scrutinized one by one, they seem to realize what they've been doing to themselves.

Because every issue we face is not equal. There are some problems we must deal with now. There are some that can be postponed. And there are some that aren't problems at all, except in our head.

When a client uses this process he discovers something - not only about his problems - but also about his thinking. He starts to recognize how he sometimes lumps small issues together until they turn into a monster. The monster that might take him back to the dope house.

He also learns he's not helpless in the face of his disease and its efforts to take him down.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Prison Values

Sometimes clients who’ve been in prison bring those values to TLC.

This happened a few weeks ago when a client was pouting for a bit because another client had “snitched” to management about a rule he’d broken.

“If he’d done that in prison, I’d of kicked his ass,” he said. “No one tells on me.” But because we discharge clients for violence or direct threats of violence it went no further.

TLC has rules – as does society in general – that run counter to the so-called prison code or the code of the streets.

One rule is that if a client knows another client is doing wrong, like stealing or using drugs, he must report it to management. If he doesn’t, he’s deemed to be as guilty as the perpetrator. And is subject to discharge or other consequences.

While some might feel this to be unfair, it helps us keep the program clean.

A tenet of recovery is that we change the old behaviors that were associated with using. We discover that stealing and dealing drugs are no longer a career choice. We don’t go through our roommates’ belongings while they sleep. We don’t even use their shampoo or toothpaste, because it’s not ours. And we don’t expect them to protect us when we're using or breaking the rules.

At TLC we don’t try to convince clients that it’s a good idea to get clean and sober. We assume they have that idea or they wouldn't come to our door.

And, oddly enough, we don’t care if they want to get high or drunk or do things their way. They just need to do it elsewhere. Our mission is to help those who are serious about change to get on the path to recovery.

And sometimes change requires clients to give up prison values - or street values - and rejoin the human race.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

His Father's Back

A young hard six client shared in group about changes in his life.

For the first time he has a good relationship with his father.

He described spending Thanksgiving weekend with him – and the rest of the family - barbecuing, playing games, and enjoying life.

He expressed gratitude, because a good relationship with his father is what he'd prayed for. But he thought it would never happen.

He has a strong desire to do something for his family, to give back, instead of taking from them as he did while he was using. He spoke of spending time during the weekend, working in their yard, doing what he could in an effort to make amends. He wished he could do more. Something grander.

Someone in the group pointed out that he had given the greatest gift of all: he gave the best thing he could give at the time – which was the effort he made in their yard.

We're blessed when we hear of progress like this. Change is what the program is all about. And when clients take advantage of the opportunity, we've done our job.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Happy Anniversary

When I first met my wife, Dr. Dawn, it was love at first sight. When she walked into my office on that morning in 2004 I fell under her spell. I was enchanted by this svelte, bright, lovely creature who came for a job interview.

She accepted the counseling position offered and worked part time with TLC for a few years. Because she was married we only had a distant and platonic friendship. Eventually she went on to other opportunities and we pretty much lost contact.

A few years after, late in 2008, I encountered her downtown and she told me she was about to complete her divorce. We began dating the next day. And soon were living together.

Two years ago today on her birthday, December 3, 2011, we were married.

We enjoy travel, we enjoy laughing together, we like spending time together. We pay attention to each others needs. She does the little things that let me know she thinks of me.

Today I find myself with a woman who lets me be myself. When we have differences, rather than reacting in anger, we start talking about it right away.

We've never had a disagreement that’s lasted more than a few hours. We settle issues quickly and move on. And I’m grateful to her for teaching me how to do that.

One of the blessings of my recovery is that I’ve found someone with whom I can share the promises.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Behavior is Everything

Client behavior tells us when they’re serious about recovery.

We had an example of this a few days ago with a client who's been problematic. He'd been discharged a few days earlier for non-compliance. Then he was allowed to return after he said he was ready to change. But he did something entirely different once back in the program.

The first 24 hours he was okay. He was on time for meditation. He was willing. He attended his appointments. He seemed serious.

Then in the evening he asked to go to the mall. He was given permission. As long as he went with a senior resident for support.

Then a few hours later it was discovered that he'd left by himself. When questioned about going without support he lied. He said the senior resident had gotten sick at the last minute and told him to go by himself.

But the senior resident said there was nothing wrong with him. That the client left without him. One more time the client had lied.

When the manager discovered his duplicity he told the client to pack and leave. Not only was he was doing nothing for himself, his behavior was also demoralizing the clients who were trying to do the right thing.

We wish him well on his journey.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Keep Growing

When counseling clients I think they believe – because I have certificates on my wall – that I can help. They hope I have answers they can use. And I may, depending on the circumstances.

But the best answer I give them is that there’s never a place in life when we arrive at a plateau where we’re totally healthy human beings needing no further work.

And when I say that they sometimes seem puzzled.

While I don't pretend to know what they're thinking, they seem to wonder why someone in his mid-70s doesn't have it together.

But I don't believe life works like that. I believe life’s a journey. Not a destination. I think we can always do things to improve ourselves. And part of living successfully - in my mind -  is to continually improve.

For example, I'm still learning to remain calm in the face of anger and frustration. I'm still learning to react in a way that's healthy.

I work to improve my fitness and I’m always looking for different workout routines to help me.

Even though I'm fluent in Spanish - and can read and write it - I'm still learning more.

I write this blog each day in an effort to keep my brain functional - and to learn to communicate more effectively.

I took a 60 hour course in hypnosis this year to improve my counseling skills.

I read the newspaper every day to keep up with current events. I read at least two books a month.

The point is, God blessed us with a wonderful, creative mind and the opportunity to grow. We should do that to the best of our ability.