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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No Resolutions

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions.

Not sure why. Maybe I don't like to think about finding the right time to change. I'd rather just do it.

I've given up a few bad habits in my life. For example I quit smoking over 30 years ago. but it wasn't January 1. It was July 25, 1984 at 9:00 a.m. at 110 N Broad Street, Globe, Arizona. I remember all this because it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And the right time was when I was ready.

I quit alcohol and drugs January 13, 1991 in Mesa, Arizona. It was at the old EVAC detox on Bellview Street. But I was too wasted to pay attention to the details. I only wanted the pain to stop, which it did. It was the time to do it. I'd have died had I waited until New Year's.

My point is, if you want to change something - do it now. Don't wait for New Year's, or your birthday or some other point in time.

But how do we do that? It's not that simple.

Sure it is. If you want to start an exercise program stop reading this and go take a walk. Or hit the floor and do some push-ups or crunches. Start moving. Don't hurt yourself. But keep it up every day until you see results.

Same with losing weight and eating better. Take a large trash bag right now and go to your kitchen. Throw all the crap out of your cupboards and refrigerator. Yes, the ice cream. The cake and pie. Chips. All that junk. And, forget about eating food that's handed out of a drive-thru window. Don't wait for a made-up date - do it now.

Change usually follows a period of pain. If you're tired of your pain do something about it before it changes you forever.

And have a blessed and prosperous Ano Nuevo.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Using our Time

"Where did the time go?"

"Where did this year go?"

I hear questions like this as December comes to a close.

Maybe we didn't get as much done as we wanted.

Perhaps we didn't take enough vacations. Or play enough.

Or we didn't make as much money as we thought we would.

Whatever. But it brings to mind that our time is precious. It disappears like the mist in the morning. Once gone, we don't get it back.

The minutes and hours God has given us are precious coins. And we can spend those coins however we want.

Maybe in front of the TV, wasting them on bubblegum for the mind. Or we can fritter them away playing video games.

We can spend these gifts however we choose. We can use these minutes to enhance our life. Or we can waste them on foolish pastimes. Our choice.

Does that mean we must always work? That we become some kind of grind? That we have no fun?

No. It means we should invest our time wisely. For time is the irreplaceable asset that we shouldn't squander foolishly.

It's true that sometimes the best investment is not working. Sometimes the best investment is in rejuvenation and relaxation. In using our time to put balance in our lives.

The point is to be aware of how we spend our time.

Then we won't wonder where it has gone at this time of year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Act of Kindness

While we're waiting for a table with a group outside a nice Las Vegas restaurant a panhandler approaches with his hand out.

He's middle-aged and scruffy looking. Like he hasn't had a bath in a while and maybe sleeps in his clothes. He's shivering in a thin jacket in the 40 degree cold.

A woman in the group searches her purse, but can't find any change. A nearby man is rough with the panhandler, who says he needs food. The panhandler shuffles off slowly, head down.

Then the woman looking for change calls the man back. She hands him a twenty - the smallest thing she has. He's amazed and offers blessings - then hurries off.

It's a spiritual moment, to witness this act of kindness.

Some object to helping panhandlers. They think they might buy drugs or alcohol.

But my first sponsor taught me to give. He said it was none of my business what they did with it. He said if they were buying alcohol or drugs that maybe they'd get finished sooner and get into recovery.

He also said what we give is between us and God. What others do with our gift is between them and God.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Constructing the Present

"Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming."  Alice Walker 

When in early recovery and treatment many of us aren't present. Instead, we're shaking with fear about a future that only exists in our heads. One that may never come to exist.

Many of our clients talk about their "anxiety."

Maybe they wonder if they'll stay clean. Or if they'll mend a broken relationship. If they'll find work. It's a fantasy future built on a foundation of shaky ideas.

But when, as the quote above suggests, we come into the present we have something to work with. Something tangible.

And dreams of the future look nothing like anxiety.

These dreams have positive color, substance, and form. They contain ideas with substance. We feel our success. We taste it, smell it, touch it. We savor everything about the realization of what we once only imagined.

When dreams have that much life to them they soon become reality.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Blessings of Family

A blessing of recovery is that I've been reunited with my family since the early nineties.

Between Christmas and New Years we meet in Las Vegas for three days. We exchange gifts, eat, shop and play. It'a an emotional time for everyone - especially me.

At dinner this evening I realized that only my two older children had known me when I was using. The other ten were either too young or else joined the family later.

I often share my personal story with our clients. Because many of them think they'll never get back with their families. They've done so much damage they despair of ever repairing the relationships.

Yet, it can happen. But it takes patience and perseverance. Just because we put down the alcohol and drugs no one's going to get excited right away. Most families have seen short periods of sobriety. To them it may be an old story.

After a few years pass, though, they may start to believe we've changed. We're working. We're not hitting on them for money. We're no longer wrecking cars. We send Christmas gifts. We're starting to act somewhat normal.

They welcome us back and that's when we realize the blessings of recovery.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Magical Words

If I had one wish for the New Year, it would be to have magical words for parents of addicts.

Too many times I've sat in my office at a loss of what to say to a parent who's lost a child to addiction. Way too many.

I recall the mother whose oldest son overdosed months before. She'd brought her remaining son to us to see if we could help.

The sorrow in her eyes gave me an idea of her burden. I could tell she'd experienced crushing pain that most of us hope we never encounter.

But every addict's parents, whether they've lost a child or not, suffer greatly. They spend nights wondering if a phone call is from the police or a hospital.

When something's missing around the house they don't want to suspect their child. But deep down they know the truth. The weight loss, the changed attitude, the evasive answers all become part of a familiar pattern.

The only thing I have for them is not magic – just reality. If your child doesn't get clean you may lose him or her to our disease.

And while you're motivated – the motivation has to come from the child.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Touching the Heart

A nice Christmas gift.

It was perched in the mailbox outside my office door. A plain express envelope from the U.S. Post Office.

At first, I thought it was just another advertisement. Maybe something about refinancing my house. But inside was a Christmas card with unfamiliar handwriting.

Turns out it was from a former client, a young man who lives on the Eastern seaboard. He'd spent a little over a year with us.

During his time here he was quiet, pleasant, and low key. He had an easy smile and everyone liked him. Yet, because of challenges he was facing some of us wondered how long he would be able to stay clean.

In the card he wrote “I don’t know if I could have made it this far and be this happy without the help of you and your program.”

He's been clean and sober since he left TLC. He talked of the joy of spending Christmas with his family. And being a son they could be proud of.

Like I said, a nice Christmas gift.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Drugs aren't the Problem

A parent wonders how her child is going to make it in our program. It's not that she has concerns about the quality of the program.

She's worried more about the community we're in. She's heard there are drugs in the area. She asks if there's a way to keep them away from her child.

And my answer to her is no. That there's no way to keep drugs away from anyone. We live in a society where drugs are prevalent. In most metropolitan areas one can find drugs quite easily. And the same is true here in Mesa, a city of about half a million.

For an addict the issue is never the availability of drugs. The issue instead is the desire to stay in recovery, to save their life.

As someone who's been in recovery for nearly 24 years I still have opportunities to use drugs or alcohol. My choice is to not ruin my life, so I don't use anything. If I work a program, go to meetings, and have a sponsor, my odds of staying clean are high.

I learned a long time ago that it's not about drugs or alcohol. It's all about what's going on with me.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Missing the Message

As I arranged the chairs for aftercare group last night, I thought of those who wouldn't be in the circle.

Several made predictions about the future.

One said "If I drink again it's going to kill me." And he was right.

Another said, "One thing for sure, I don't want to die with a needle in my arm." But he did anyway.

Their fears came true. And many others in the circle over the years shared their fates.

A couple didn't die of alcohol or drugs directly, just activities related to drugs or alcohol.

One died from gunshot wounds in a drug deal gone wrong. And another is serving a long term for murder - a sort of living death.

All these guys spent hours in groups and aftercare. Yet somehow the message didn't filter in. Or if it did, it didn't work for them.

These were all good guys, some were fun to be around. None was lacking in basic intelligence. Yet somehow they couldn't summon the will to change their lives and use the tools we gave them.

I hope those in our current group do better.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas in Recovery

For many of us Christmas brings memories of better times. Times when we were still able to party with impunity.

This is especially true for those who are new to recovery and haven't had a chance to experience a Christmas or New Year's in sobriety.

Many of us have relatives with whom we'd like to spend Christmas. But perhaps we've burned our bridges. No longer do they want us around because they don't trust us.

Even though we've been sober a while and know that we're trustworthy, their memories of us may not be good ones.

It might take a few cycles of holidays before people realize we're serious about our recovery and are here to stay.

Fortunately there are hundreds of marathon meetings during Christmas and New Year's.

All we have to do is show up. The people at the meeting will let us know what to do.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Perils of Smoking

It was one of the saddest events of my life when my mother passed away 20 years ago on Christmas Eve 1994.

She was a good friend who stuck with me through many years of my addiction. She lived long enough to see me celebrate four years of recovery.

I learned much from her about hard work and the values that serve me well today.

Her death came early. Because - though she was healthy in most ways - she smoked until she was 66. Her doctor told me lung damage cut her life short by years.

This came up for me because one of our managers is in the hospital with smoking related lung damage. And many of us are sad because we've all become friends with her over the years.

We are praying for her recovery and return to work. But things aren't positive at this writing.

I don't beat the drums for many causes outside of recovery. But encouraging and helping our clients to quit smoking is one of my passions.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Meeting Ourselves

I remember a comment someone made over 30 years as I boarded a bus to Phoenix.

They said, "Just remember, you're going to meet yourself at the depot when you get there."

I recall wondering what the hell that meant. And how could anyone say something that hurtful to me?

But, it turned out to be the truth. Wherever we go we take ourselves along. All our behaviors, attitudes, addictions, we bring them along.

Years later I say that same thing to clients who believe things will be different if they simply move to a different environment. And they generally respond with anger, just as I did.

A different location, or job, or mate won't fix what's wrong with us on the inside. Nothing external will repair internal damage.

We must do the sometimes gut-wrenching work it takes to fix responsibility on ourselves. We learn to recognize that the person in the mirror did the damage. The one who made the poor choices. The one who took the easier path.

Once we do this we're okay wherever we're at, wherever we go. Because the person we take along is doing well.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 19, 2014

Giving to Others

"You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want."   Zig Ziglar

This saying from Zig Ziglar has proved to be true in my life over and over. And I believe it's a principle that will work in your life.

For me, it started working from my early days in recovery. I wanted only one thing during those early years and that was to stay clean and sober.

So I began working with others in recovery, creating an environment where they could rebuild their lives. And guess what? By doing this I've been able to stay sober going on 24 years.

Giving others what they want - a new start in life - has also given me a fulfilling job and more blessings than I ever imagined.

So, if you dream of a great career, help your employer build his business. He will reward you.

If you want love in your life, find someone who wants love. They'll reward you by giving it back.

Give others what they want and they'll reward you beyond your wildest dreams.

Try it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Terrible Place

TLC is a good place to be if the goal is recovery.  And it's a terrible place to be if it's not.

This came up for me this week when I got feedback about former clients who had left.

One had left a TLC halfway house because he couldn't use painkillers. But he was able to find a house where prescription drugs weren't a problem.

Soon though he wanted to return. It seems everyone at his new place was using something, either alcohol or drugs. Management was absent. Police showed up once in a while. People threatened him.

Another report came from a program where several former clients had gone after relapsing at TLC.

At that program pretty much anything goes. As long as they don't create problems and pay their rent residents do what they want. Drink. Use drugs. Whatever.

Over the past 24 years I've seen this scenario over and over. Someone starts a halfway house thinking it's an easy way to earn a living.

Then reality sets in: do I want to help addicts get clean? Or do I just want to turn a quick buck?

Those who choose the quick profit option don't last. Because before long word gets around. And the only people who go there are those wanting to drink or drug. And they're a pretty unreliable bunch when it comes to paying their bills. Soon the place folds.

Eventually, those who are serious come back to TLC because they know if they follow our guidelines they'll stay clean.

It's just kind of sad to see them take these detours.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Positive Experience

I'm grateful today because my new grandson, Wyatt, is leaving Banner Thunderbird hospital where he was born three weeks ago.

Because he was premature, he spent his first three weeks in the neonatal unit.

I'm grateful for several reasons. First of all because both he and my daughter are well.

And beyond that I'm grateful for technology that allows premature babies to survive. Maybe 50 years ago he wouldn't have had a chance.

When I first visited there was a dazzling array of electronic monitors tracking his moment to moment progress.  Wires and tubes were everywhere.

The nurses caring for him had been there for years and were kind and loving.

In an era where much of the news about our medical system is negative, this was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

With a joyful ending.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Learning to Forgive

I was listening to a meditation tape on forgiveness this morning and it took me back to my childhood.

My seven aunts and uncles were always pissed about something.  And it was never about anything big.

A few of them had money and the rest of them didn't. So that was always fuel for disagreements among them.

One of them would buy a new car and the others would chat among themselves about how they thought they were better than everyone else.

Phone calls often started out with "do you know what that SOB did to me?" Then the caller would go on to describe in great detail over the next 20 minutes exactly what had happened.

Two of my aunts, both in their late seventies, hadn't spoken for over ten years. Yet they lived within five miles of each other.

When I spoke to the older of the two about perhaps forgiving her younger sister she told me "no way." She wasn't going to let her "get away" with what she'd done. Even though I'm not sure she remembered what it was.

It took me many years in recovery to get over this early upbringing.

For years, if things didn't go my way, my first reaction was to go to anger or resentment. And I would hang on to it.  After all, that's how I was raised.

It was only after I was in recovery for a few years that I learned that it is much easier to forgive than to pack around a bunch of resentments.

Click here to email John



Monday, December 15, 2014

Never Enough

"If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough." Oprah Winfrey

A way to not concentrate on what we don't have is to focus with gratitude upon what we have in this moment.

Even if we live in a halfway house there are things to be grateful for.

I have my health. I'm not in jail. My family is speaking to me again. I have a job and a place to live. Food is available. I have a sponsor. I'm rebuilding my life.

You can make your own gratitude list.

When we look around we find a world full of wonderful material things. And the problem with these is that once we get them the novelty wears off. Then it's on to the next thing. An endless cycle.

And, as Oprah says, it's never enough.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Power of Kindness

Twenty four years ago this month my life was a shambles. I had an addiction to heroin and alcohol. I shoplifted every day to support my addictions. I was living in a stolen car.

The only positive in my life was that it was Christmas season. The holiday was a great time to steal because I could get lost in the crowds in the malls.

Depression and gloom though were constant companions. I didn't know where to turn.

Desperation finally drove me to seek help. I knew I was on a fast track to prison, a mental hospital, or the cemetery.

But the problem was that I had nothing. No insurance. No money. Nothing. Not even a change of clothes.

Someone - another addict I think - steered me to a detox in Mesa, Arizona, a place I could get into without money. They didn't ask a lot of questions. They only asked if I wanted to detox and then opened the door

After being there a week, I didn't know where I was going next. No one wanted to hear from me or help me. But the people at the detox gave me the number to a local halfway house that would take me without money.

When I called them they told me to come in. All they wanted to know was if I wanted to change my life. I told them I did.

That simple act of kindness, someone helping me with no promise of anything in return, changed my life.

After I was there a while I went to work for them as a volunteer manager. During my year there I decided to open a program of my own.

The result was TLC, the program I founded and still work for - 24 years later.

TLC today has over 700 beds and has helped thousands of men and women into recovery.

The kindness of those who helped me 24 years ago is still having an impact today.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nice Email

A former client sent a touching email in response to my blog this week about Las Vegas. I share some of it here. I left her name out to protect her anonymity. She wrote:

"John, as I was reading your blog a song came on the TV. Its called "Stand For What You Believe."

I believe its a sign of what is in store. Your program is incredible and amazing. Having been a resident of TLC for 10 months at the Robson house I believe in the program because without it I wouldn't be here today.

I will pray that everything works out for you and TLC in Vegas. That is one place where you are truly needed.

God Bless you and all the dedicated people who work for you and with you. Recovery is not an easy process, but you have made it worthwhile. Totally."


I treasure messages like hers because at the end of the day that's what our mission is about - helping addicts rebuild their lives.

Click her to email John

Friday, December 12, 2014

Doing Nothing

Once in a while I talk to parents who spent their life savings putting their child in treatment programs. Some have sent them to treatment more than once.

While I feel the love that drives them to mortgage their future, I tell them it's a waste of money to keep helping.

While my advice may seem blunt, sometimes parents need a jolt of reality.

If we keep giving and giving to an addict child who continues to use, then we're foolish. I don't give this advice out of inexperience. I have addicts in my family who get nothing from me when they're using except maybe directions to a detox center.

Most of the addicts and alcoholics I know finally got sober when things got bad enough. They were in physical or emotional pain. They'd gone to jail. Divorced. Ended up in the hospital or on the streets.

When they realized people were done rescuing them they began to change.

Sometimes doing nothing is the best help we can give an addict - particularly one who's not ready.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Las Vegas Update

Around 17 years ago we opened TLC in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We started small, then expanded until we had over 200 beds near the old downtown.

It was perfect for a program like ours because the area was full of addicts and alcoholics. There were few resources for them to get clean. And none could afford help.

And for a long time the government didn't mess with us. Like at our other locations, we accepted anyone who asked for help, whether they had money or not.

Then along came wise legislators and new regulations. We danced around with the legal people from the State of Nevada for a while. Then we modified how we operate so we could stay there.

Today in Nevada we house men in recovery but under new state rules we can't tell them anything. We can't tell them to go to meetings. We can't have groups at the house. We can tell them nothing about recovery.

We can enforce a drug and crime free environment - but that's it. Kind of like sober apartments.

Operating a halfway house in Nevada is like running a medical facility. Nurses must be available. Record keeping standards are those of medical facility. The State assesses a bed tax of around $100 per bed every six months. That would have cost us $20,000 a year.

The regulations are so daunting that anyone operating as we used to is out of business. And as a result, a lot of drug and alcohol users can no longer get treatment or other help because they can't afford it. Only a handful of halfway houses are left.

And I write about this today because the owner of one of the apartment buildings we leased for years finally was lucky enough to sell it. So we're closing down those 16 units and moving the remaining residents to the one property we have left, located on 9th street.

We would close down the operation completely because it's barely broke even for several years. But there are 25 residents who still want stay sober.

As long as they want help we're going to do our best to stay and help them.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teaching Skills

Beyond helping addicts and alcoholics with the basics of recovery, we also teach life skills.

It's amazing how many of those in new recovery don't know how to take care of themselves.

We have grown ups that have never had a bank account. Some whose only job has been drug dealing or crime. Others don't know how to do laundry or even basic housekeeping. They know nothing of budgeting or saving. We have some who can barely read or write.

When they start with these deficiencies it becomes even more challenging to help. Yet, many of these clients do succeed if they don't run away.

I recall a young client a few years back who brought his first pay check to our office to pay his service fees.

After we cashed his check and gave him change he started to leave, then stopped.

He turned and exclaimed, "You know that's the first time in my life I've paid to live anywhere."

If clients stay with us long enough they learn to be responsible and go on to live productive lives.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Compassion for Ourselves

"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete."  Jack Kornfield

Last night in aftercare we were listening to a mindfulness lecture on compassion

And one of the exercises involved being kind to ourselves.

The lecturer said to find areas of our bodies where we had stress or pain. And when we did we were to send those areas feelings of warmth, love and softness as a way of showing ourselves compassion.

Afterward, as we discussed the exercise, most in the group found it uncomfortable.

And the reason is that many of us addicts live with what we did to ourselves and others while using.

We ran amok for years abusing ourselves and those around us. We lost everything. Our freedom. Our families. Our health. It's little wonder we look at ourselves negatively.

And to free ourselves of self-loathing takes effort. We must start doing constructive things like going to meetings. Finding a job. Making amends. Exercising and eating right.  Taking care of ourselves.

Exercises in self-compassion - like the one we did last night - can be a step toward healing.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 8, 2014

Being There

What do you do, how do you react, when a friend shares bad news about their health?

Back in the day, back before recovery, I used to give some cliché response. I'd say something like "Oh, you're going to be okay. Or, "Those doctors don't know what they're talking about. You're as healthy as a horse."

But today, because my friend is also in recovery, he'd know that what I'm telling him is bullshit. He'd know I was giving him platitudes. Though he might forgive me because serious health issues are uncomfortable to talk about, I can't treat him that way.

So instead I listen to him as he discusses his frustrations with the doctors. He tells of the pain he experienced during diagnostic procedures. He's pissed because at this point they can't give him clear-cut answers to his questions. Then next week it's on to more procedures and maybe no definitive answers again. Perhaps that's why they call it exploratory.

He goes on for a while. Then he winds down. He's shared with me everything he wants to say.

We hug and as he leaves I realize I didn't have any wisdom for him. But sometimes just being there is all anyone needs.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Living Well

When I got into recovery I didn’t take a vow of poverty. And I didn’t start helping other addicts get clean and sober because I wanted to emulate Mother Theresa.  Plain and simple I got into recovery to save my own ass.

When I first started TLC I was working a corporate job as vice-president of business development for a large cable company. And my original plan was to start a 50 bed halfway house as an avocation, sort of a side-line. I figured that working with other addicts would help re-enforce my commitment to stay sober.

And I was right. Next month, God willing, I’ll have been clean and sober for 24 years.  And the halfway house has morphed into 750 beds and multiple businesses.

But the reason for all the above chatter is that a few days ago - because my body was starting to reject my Prius -  I leased an expensive automobile, a 2014 Tesla S.

Afterward, I accidentally overheard a few comments from two residents who had seen my new ride. And the tone of their conversation was that it was over the top. Kind of like how could someone in my position afford to do that?

But the reality is that anyone who works the same job and invests wisely for 24 years should be able to afford what they want. No matter what kind of work they do.

I’m someone who enjoys nice wheels, a decent home, great vacations, and an okay wardrobe. And to get these things I’ve made multiple real estate and other business investments.

I don’t believe God put us here to suffer. To the contrary. I believe we were put here to prosper and enjoy life.

And my idea of enjoying life at 75 years is putting in 45-55 hours a week, hanging out with my hot wife, being on a beach, and driving nice wheels.

But I especially find fulfillment in being available to the addicts and alcoholics who stream through my office and burn up my Iphone 12 to 15 hours a day.

It all kind of balances out.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Keeping On...

1600.

That's the number that came up last evening as I posted yesterday's blog.  1600 posts without missing a single day.

And, as I do every so often, I asked myself why the hell I do this.  I mean it's sometimes a hassle to post a blog when I have no inspiration.  When I'm on the road.  Or on vacation.  Or when I don't feel well.

The answer I get back is pretty much always the same.  A mother will write and tell me she sent her child to TLC because of something she read here.  That she feels a human connection because I'm exposing my soft side online.

What a reward!  If somehow a few words can help someone get to recovery then it's all worth it.  When I get a message like that I almost feel guilty for thinking of quitting.

So, whether it's about obsession or about trying to help another addict - look for another posting tomorrow.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 5, 2014

Achievement

This blog contains its share of negative drama because we addicts are at times troubled.

But last night it was about the positive when one of our managers received an honor at Rio Salado Community College.

At a 6:00 pm event he was inducted into the Rio Salado chapter of the National Leadership Society. He was one of some 15 inductees.

This manager is working toward his Associates Degree in chemical dependency. And when he completes three more courses he'll finish that phase of his education.

His success is an example for all of us in recovery. He goes to school online, plus manages the men's housing section of our outpatient treatment program. He's usually at it six days a week.

It's encouraging to those of us who've been at TLC for a long time to see his achievement.

We congratulate him on his success and know that he has a great future in the recovery field.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day of Gratitude

Yesterday was a day of gratitude.

Because December 3rd is my wife's birthday. Plus it was the third anniversary of our marriage.

Her birthday is always reason for celebration. Our anniversary is another. Because our anniversary reminds me of the fortunate turn life took when we met.

When she walked into my office in 2004 to apply for a job she charmed me with her beauty and intelligence. And we hired her to work on a part-time basis as a counselor.

Because she was in a marriage she kept her distance from me. And I respected that.

What impressed me most as I got to know her was the way she treated her elderly grandmother. Every day she spent time on the phone with her. She never missed.

I find it attractive when someone treats their elders and others with love and compassion. It says a lot about who they are on the inside.

Eventually she moved on from working with us and we only talked every few months, if that. A few years later we ran into each other at a restaurant. And that's when I found out she'd filed for divorce a year earlier.

We've been together ever since. For that I'm grateful...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gratitude Gone

A client talks about a friend who relapsed after five years in recovery.

And while the man wasn't his sponsor, he was a mentor who encouraged him to stay in recovery. He even helped him out with small amounts of money when he first came to the program.

I can tell he's disappointed and heartbroken because the friend started using again. It's almost as if he can't believe it.

It's difficult when those we look up to, those who encouraged us to get into recovery, lose their own sobriety.

And while we may feel for them I believe it's deeper than that. When someone we consider a strong person - a role model - falls it makes us feel vulnerable.

After all, if someone this far along relapses, what are my chances? This person had all this knowledge, yet look at him.

The bottom line, though, is no one ever poured liquor down our throats. Or forced us to smoke crack. Or shoot heroin.

We're always a party to our own relapse. We stop listening to what we tell others. We don't use our support group. Our gratitude is gone.

I encourage our client to keep working the program and he'll be alright.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

R.I.P Mike D.

Late yesterday afternoon I received a short email from the wife of a former client.

Her husband, Mike, had taken his life the day before. She'd let us know if there was to be a public service.

Those us at TLC are sad about his passing because he was a part of us over the years. He was a blue shirt who at times managed some of our big houses. He later returned as a resident. He was last with us a few months ago.

But beyond that he was the same as us. He was in recovery and fought the same battles we all do with our disease. He had his emotional ups and downs. Only this time he didn't make it back up.

His passing reminds me of our vulnerabilities, of the disease that lives within those of us in recovery.

When clients pass on I sometimes soul search about what we could have done differently. But it's a meaningless exercise to do this because we have little power over others.

We offer our program and encourage clients to do their best to take advantage it. Unfortunately, not all of them are able to.

God speed, Mike.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 1, 2014

Aware of our Thoughts

A young TLC resident without much life experience has difficulty with others in his house.

He thinks no one likes him. He has the idea they're talking behind his back. He feels like everyone's against him

But when the group leader asks for specifics he has no answers.

How do you know no one likes you? Or that they're talking behind your back. Or that they're against you?

He reluctantly admits that it's just the way he feels. That it's all in his head.

The group leader points that unless we're psychic we don't know what others are thinking about anything.

Our out-of-control thoughts at times lead us to think the world is all about us. That we're the focal point of the universe. But that's not reality.

Reality is that most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to care much about we're doing.

Engaging in mindfulness practice helps us to be aware of our thoughts. As they arise we acknowledge them without judgment and let them pass.

If we do this for a while we come to realize that thoughts don't always represent truth. When we get to this point we find that our tolerance level for so-called issues in our life increases.

Our stress levels go down and our relationships with others improve.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Being Cynical?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm cynical. Or if I just don't have the spirit of Christmas?

This comes up because I saw coverage of Black Friday. There was a story of a woman who had pitched her tent outside a Best Buy store. She was there a week early to be sure she was first in line. Huh?

There were stories from Eastern states about those who spent the night in mall parking lots in their cars. They didn't want to freeze while they waited for the doors to open.  Really?

I tried to imagine if there was anything in a shopping mall so wonderful that I'd wait outside a store for even 15 minutes. I couldn't think of a thing.

Although I've never been a shopper I understand wanting stuff. Many years ago I thought the next new car or gadget would be it. But the novelty quickly wore off and it was on to the next thing. But nothing brought long-term fulfillment.

So maybe recovery has changed my thinking. Because for the past 23 years it's been more about learning to live in peace and tranquility. About having gratitude and helping others.

I believe in having the necessities, the basics and even a few luxuries. 

But I see no intrinsic value in joining the consumer rat race to chase the next wonderful thing. Especially if I have to wait in line...

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Enemy

I once in a while get sad reminders of how we're our own worst enemies. How we let anger and arrogance destroy our lives.

A person I was once friends with years ago had everything. A good marriage. Active in recovery. An advanced degree. A professional license. A beautiful home. A child in college. All the things that some aspire to, that many in this country dream of achieving.

Yet something shifted. Things changed for her. Issues from her past, maybe residual anger, maybe abuse, took control. And her life began to unravel.

She began mistreating family members and co-workers with verbal abuse, criticism, and emotional outbursts. She couldn't pay people enough to work for her. She alienated everyone in her life.

She finally lost her her marriage, her home, and her professional licensing

And when I learned of this recently a sense of sadness came over me because life is hard enough without us working against ourselves.

When I heard of her circumstances I felt only compassion because I know she has the potential to be someone different.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 28, 2014

Trees on Sale

Each year TLC sells Christmas trees across the Valley - starting today.

Our first shipment of around 1000 trees is on sale now. And we continue operations until Christmas Eve.

There are logistics involved. To make sure we have a supply for the day after Thanksgiving we place our order with the Oregon tree farms in July.

Part of the preparation is to make arrangements for security fencing, cash registers, a water supply, city permits, and 30 days of insurance coverage for the property management companies that operate the shopping centers where we set up.

A half dozen TLC managers oversee the project from beginning to end. That includes supervising volunteers, scheduling shifts, arranging transportation, re-stocking the lots from the supply location and making sure the money gets to the bank.

And where do the profits go? To Christmas bonuses for our 120 managers and staff members.

So, if you're reading this and need a Christmas tree call us at 480-833-0143 and we'll direct you to the nearest lot. We have several across the Valley.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Being Thankful

Last night I left the hospital with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

My wife and I had just visited the neonatal ICU where we met for the first time my six-hour old grandson, Wyatt. Even though he was born prematurely, he was already breathing on his own.

His mother, my youngest daughter, is doing well after a problematic pregnancy that kept her in the hospital for nine weeks.

As I welcome this newest member of our family I know I wouldn't have witnessed this birth had I not gotten sober nearly 24 years ago. In fact, had I not gotten sober I wouldn't be here today period.

I think that all of us who have been removed from the despair of our addiction can look around our lives and find much to be grateful for.

You may have additions to your family. You may have found a great job. Perhaps your health is returning. Maybe you're getting into a level of acceptance that's making your life much more enjoyable.

What ever it is, on this day of Thanksgiving appreciate the many blessings you have in your life.

As for me, I'm especially grateful to have a healthy daughter and a new grandson.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good News

It was good news today when I talked to a parent whose son was with us a few years back.

While he was with us he was always in some kind of trouble. He relapsed more than once. He didn't like that he had to find a job. Sometimes he was late for curfew. He didn't get along with the others in his room. The food wasn't to his liking it. It was always something.

Finally he relapsed for a third time and we sent him on his way. Some thought his next address might be over in Florence, at the state prison.

And so it was a pleasant surprise to hear that he was doing well. He's been clean for 18 months. He now lives in another state in his own apartment. He has a great job and he doesn't ask her for money - something he did on a regular basis while with us.

She gives a lot of credit to us for what he learned here. And that's nice to hear.

But everyone who comes through gets the same information. In this man's case he decided to put it in action.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Talking to a Drunk...

A manager's phone rings around 2:00 am. When he answers there's heavy breathing on the line.

He suspects he knows who it is: a client who relapsed a few months ago and has been unable to find his way back.

The man calls again the next morning and starts chatting about the weather and other minutia as if he and the manager are old buddies. As if everything is normal. The manager tells him to call when he's ready to get sober and hangs up.

There is only one reason those of us in recovery talk with those who are drunk or using. And that's because we might be able to help save their lives.

There's a reason people contact us after they relapse. Part of it might be an attempt to put a normal face on their drinking or drugging. Maybe make things seem okay.

But I believe it's something deeper. They know that what they're doing is not going to end well if they continue. There's a nagging message inside that says that maybe we'll talk them back into recovery. The part of them that knows we'll tell them the truth.

Then there's the other part of them that doesn't want to hear it - the part that wants to keep the party going.

We can only hope this client gets enough pain and demoralization to get back to the program.

When and if he does we'll be here to help.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adding to our Recovery

The 12-step programs tell us to cease fighting - and that means anyone or anything.

I'm reminded of this today when a man at a meeting tells of his encounter with a rude driver in a parking lot.

He became angry when the driver beat him to a parking spot.

While he immediately found another space, he had thoughts of kicking the guy's ass.

But on later reflection he realized his anger served no purpose. It just left him upset.

As we grow in recovery we learn new ways of thinking. We learn to relate to others without anger. Without upsetting ourselves because people don't do what we want them to do.

When we first come into the rooms - and I was one of those people - we think everything’s about us. It's me me me and my my my. It's all about us and we know everything will be okay if the world would just do what I need them to do.

But after we stick around a while we realize we're just another speck on the planet. That there are 8 billion or so other people who are as important as we are.

As we move on in recovery we become kinder and more understanding of others. Instead of pushing them aside or getting angry, we show compassion.

As we give them compassion we add to the spiritual dimension to our recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thankful

As Thanksgiving week is upon us we find many reasons to be grateful. And just what are we thankful for?

There are, of course, the obvious things: our loved ones, our health, our jobs.

But those of us in recovery know that these blessings are only a part of the picture.

Those of us who have worked our way out of our self-induced hell are thankful on a deeper level.

Because now we no longer live in dread. We no longer have a black cloud of doom hanging over us.

We don't have to lie to our families about what we did with money. We don't have to explain the strange people with whom we associate. We don't disappear for long periods of time.

Now our friends and families welcome us into their homes. They no longer have to make excuses for us.

We're rejoining the human race and for that we're thankful.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 22, 2014

It's about Attitude

“Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw the mud, the other saw stars.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

This short quote exemplifies how our attitude shapes what we see.

Some clients come to us from jail or the streets and are happy to have a home where they can work on recovery. They are grateful for our modest housing and simple meals.

Others come to us, maybe kicked off mommy's couch, and are pissed off about everything. They hate the food. They don't want to work. No one's going to tell them what to do.

And, of course, you can guess who has the best chance of succeeding.

In early recovery I was grateful to those who took me into their halfway house.  I had nothing.  No money.  No job.  No car.  Just the clothes on my back.

The idea that other addicts in recovery would reach out and help me, changed my life.  My first year in recovery I worked an outside job and worked for them as a volunteer manager.

My attitude was - and still is - one of gratitude that I have a chance at a full life.

And that attitude has brought me many blessings.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dishonesty

A few days ago a TLC van bringing clients home from work was in an accident. It was so serious that it totaled our van.

Our driver went to the hospital with broken legs and other injuries. The three TLC clients walked away. There were no injuries reported by those in the other vehicle.

However, later that evening the three who said they weren't hurt went to the emergency room. Even though they'd said at the scene that they weren't injured.

This is a common scenario after an accident involving our clients. Even if they're not injured they'll later go to the emergency and return with a neck brace or pain medication. Something.

And the goal is always the same: to lay the foundation for a big settlement for their "injuries."  And maybe to get high.

We once had a fifteen passenger van rear ended at a stop light in the mid-nineties by a car going about three miles an hour. It didn't even dent the bumper. But the six or seven clients inside all rolled out claiming neck and back "injuries."

Our policy when clients do this is always the same: if you're going to sue TLC you must live elsewhere while you're doing it. So generally they end up living elsewhere.

And for us it's not about the money because we spend around $75,000 a year for vehicle insurance. Plus another $100,000 plus for general liability coverage. And that's whether we have a claim or not.

The bigger thing for us is that this kind of behavior displays a fundamental dishonesty that runs counter to recovery.

In the 12-step programs we learn about honesty. If a client lies about injuries or tries to scam us or our insurance company then we have a problem.

Each year we have a few claims from those injured on the job. Broken fingers, cuts, and other kinds of mishaps that occur on construction sites. And we're okay paying medical bills for real injuries. But we draw the line when injury claims are as questionable at the ones of a few days ago.

And in 23 years no one has received a dime for a fake insurance claim.  But they have ended up living elsewhere.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Embracing Anxiety

As a certified hypnotist I often get requests from clients suffering from anxiety.

They want to leave my office anxiety free, without fear of the future or the unknown.

But before we go into a session I explain that anxiety is as natural as breathing. Anxiety was a survival tool that allowed us to evolve into who we are today.

If our ancestors had no fear of what might lurk outside the cave entrance they might have been lunch for a hungry animal. So anxiety often kept us from real danger, from starving, or becoming victim of an ambush by another tribe. True danger was a constant in our history.

But in our modern world we often perceive more danger than truly exists. We're inundated with negative news because that's what sells advertising. Ebola. Terrorism. The economy. The job market. Or we build fear by ourselves in our magnifying minds

But for many of us hyper-sensitive addicts this input - whether from outside or self-generated - can create more anxiety and fear. It builds on itself until we're paralyzed.

To help clients I use ideas from mindfulness meditation - which teaches us to accept all our thoughts. To welcome them as normal. To view them as friends, then let them pass on.

And it doesn't make any difference whether the thoughts are anger or fear or joy or judgement. Whatever they are we accept them and let them pass like the clouds in the sky. Like bubbles on a flowing stream.

While they're in hypnosis I suggest they embrace their anxiety as natural.

And after a few sessions clients report more peace and serenity because they're no longer consumed with fear. Anxiety has assumed its natural place in their lives.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We think Differently

A friend who entered a Phoenix detox 23 years ago describes his talk with the intake counselor.

"He asked how much I thought the average person drank on Friday nights," he told me.

"A case of beer and maybe a fifth of whiskey," he told the counselor.

"Wrong," the counselor replied. "It's an ounce or less."

My friend told the counselor he didn't understand why anyone would drink only an ounce.

And the counselor told him he didn't understand because he was alcoholic.

It's difficult for those of us who are alcoholics or addicts to see others use anything in moderation.

I recall my dear departed grandmother drinking a glass of white wine at Christmas. But she didn't drink the whole glass.

"That's enough," she said, as she sat the glass down. "I'm starting to feel it."

And I sat there, wanting to cheer her on. To tell her to keep going. Even though I was a teenager, I knew the only reason to drink alcohol was to get smashed. Because I never drank for any reason other than to be out of my mind.

With almost 24 years sober I now understand the difference between an alcoholic and a normal drinker.

But at one time I thought that people who didn't drink like I did didn't know how to have a good time, that they didn't know how to party.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sober Housing

TLC offers sober housing to those who complete our program but want to stick around.

Most of it is close to our central locations. In Mesa, for example, we have 27 apartment units and several houses.

We also have sober housing in Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas. There's always a waiting list. As soon as one client leaves another is ready to move in.

This housing is popular because many clients have felony convictions. And in Arizona it's tough to rent anything livable if one has a record.

Some sober housing clients have been with us for ten years. Even though they can afford to move, they enjoy the safety of being accountable and sober.

Most of our sober living clients are single men. However, we also have families that are trying to get their lives back together.

Our arrangement with sober living clients is that they must submit to drug testing on demand. Also, none has a lease agreement; instead they pay a weekly service fee. That arrangement allows us to discharge them without notice if they relapse or fail to pay.

It's a system that's worked for over 22 years.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 17, 2014

Synthetic Drugs

A halfway house client seems high so he's asked for a urine sample. And, to everyone's surprise he comes up clean.

However, because he continues acting high he's discharged from the program. A modified e-cigarette in his possession contains an unknown substance.

This happens more often these days. We'll test clients but they are clean. Even though they appear drunk or high.

Much of this is due to new generations of spice and other synthetics. There are no tests for some of the newer ones.

When we discharge clients for using these chemicals they protest. The say they're legal. Or that we can't prove they're using.

But we don't care if a drug is legal. Alcohol is legal. So are prescription drugs.

Sometimes family members question our policies. Non-addicts wonder what the harm is in using something legal. But it's not about legal or illegal. It's about changing our addictive behavior and getting clean so we can have a good life.

If clients are smoking anything other than regular tobacco they're out. And, of course, alcohol or opiates puts them out also.

We have no issues with those who want to drink or use drugs.

They just can't do it at TLC.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Accepting Responsibility

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone...” the Big Book.

I like this quote from the 12-steps because it's straight up. It's so black and white there's no doubt what it means. Ceased fighting. Anything. Anyone.

I dangled this phrase in front of two addicts yesterday who had been fighting one another since they met. Not a physical fight. But talking smack and creating turmoil in their apartment unit.

While in group each wants to indict the other by citing what the other had done. And each time that happens I guide them gently back to focusing on themselves.

It's typical for our residents to place the blame on the other party. But I always ask them to identify their part in the issue. Because that’s the only part they might be able to control.

When I focus on my part in communication breakdowns things become clear. Not what the other person did or said. But what was my role?

When I find my role and accept responsibility, the fighting’s over. I can make amends and live in peace once more.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dealing with Pain

A reader writes tells me she feels “like a hypocrite" because she goes to recovery meetings while on pain medication for her back.

She feels trapped between pain and addiction. She can't stand the pain. Yet she's afraid she'll slip into dependence.

And her issue is real for all us addicts.

When I had stomach surgery 10 years ago I shared her concerns. When I awoke after surgery I felt so good I thought I'd gone to heaven. I was in joy and bliss and wrapped in a blanket of ecstasy. Every cell in my body was shouting "yes."

I asked what they'd given me and the nurse said dilaudid - which is a heroin addict's dream.

I said not to give me any more of it because I'm a opiate addict. But the doctor said I needed it because I wouldn't heal as well if I were in pain.

However, they lowered the dose quickly, then switched me to less addictive painkillers. So I safely made it through without relapsing. And with ten days I was taking only Ibuprofen.

In this reader's situation I’d follow medical advice. But, I would also explore natural remedies that might help. Some of these include yoga, meditation and visualization.

Also, she could discuss this issue with her sponsor or other members of her recovery group. They have likely confronted this same issue and may have ideas for her. And that's what the groups are for.

Something my sponsor told me about taking pain medication has stuck with me. He said that if I was asking myself and others whether I should take it then I probably wasn't abusing it.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 14, 2014

Success Story

The man who came to my office today looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place him at first.

And that was because he was wearing a suit and tie, looking every bit like a banker or lawyer.

Turns out that he's a TLC graduate from a few years ago.

He now has his own limousine service and stopped to say hello and tell of his success.

He recently bought a new Escalade, which he parked in front of our office. He also recently moved into a new condo in a gated community in East Mesa.

It was nice to see his success, because when this man came to TLC he had nothing. He was like the majority of those who come to us. But he worked hard, went to meetings, and eventually got into management.

These are the visits we like. When we see former clients use the tools they picked up while in our program it validates what we do.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Reminder

Yesterday a manager came to my office carrying a small black box under his arm. It contains the ashes of a former employee who died a month ago of a drug overdose.

As he places it on the corner of my desk I'm again reminded of our deadly disease.

Often in TLC groups I'll point our that we're in a life and death battle with our addictions. Each of us.

Yet sometimes I'll sense that the words fall on deaf ears. That maybe clients think I'm being overly dramatic to make a point.

Though our business might look like any other to passersby, inside our walls we work to save lives.

We provide a stream of information, education, meetings, and groups.  But sometimes the clients aren't ready.  Or else don't quite get it.

And when that happens we might get notice of another addict who didn't make it.

Or maybe someone delivers their ashes.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Living with Peace

"Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace." Joan Borysenko

It's important for us to choose whether we'll have stress - or peace - each day.

In my case, I choose peace. And here's how I get there.

I don't use an alarm clock to awaken. Usually around 4:00 am I'm pretty much rested so I awake. If I'm not ready to get up I may drift off for another half hour or so. But usually at 4:00 I'm awake.

Next is 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation. After that I'm in my home gym for an hour. The routine always includes a half hour to an hour of yoga. Four days a week I mix in a half hour of weights or elliptical or swimming.

Then it's a mostly raw vegan breakfast.

This morning routine gets my day started in a low stress mode.

At my office I do one thing at a time. I don't believe in multi-tasking. We can only focus on one thing at time; it's either this or it's that.  I don't hurry.

If paperwork is interrupted by a client or staff member, I re-focus my attention because people are more important than paperwork. I usually must take a few deep breaths to help me switch modes and change my thinking.

Sometimes my mind wanders back to the paperwork. But I tell myself it'll wait and then focus on the person in front of me.

Doing one thing at a time keeps me in peace.

I never argue with anyone about anything because I don't like the stress. Instead of arguing, I ask for clarification. Most differences get resolved that way. And I stay in peace.

There are other things I do to be peaceful.

But they all involve taking care of myself.  Part of that is to not hurry.  To stay in the moment. Not eating junk.  Not drinking sodas or caffeine.

My suggestion - if you're interested in having peace - is to structure your own daily routine to minimize your stress.

Experiment until you get it right. Then don't let the expectations of others change it.

It's a practice that'll bring you many benefits.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Honoring our Veterans

Today we honor those who served in our military.

This means a lot to my wife and me because many family members are veterans.

My wife's family has 13 veterans. The oldest is her 94 year old grandfather.

My family includes an uncle who was in the major naval battles of the South Pacific. One of those was Guadalcanal.

Then there's my 29 year old daughter, who receives 100% disability after her service in Afghanistan.

At TLC we have many veterans, both men and women. Some work for us as managers.

Today we’re grateful for all those who put their lives and health at risk in the service of our country.

Regardless of our political beliefs or feelings about war nothing diminishes the sacrifice of our heroes.

We thank them today.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Same Boat

"We may have all come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now."  Martin Luther King Jr.

The saying above, of course, is from the civil rights era. But it easily applies to those of us in recovery.

In the 12-step programs we meet people from all walks of life.

I've met ex-convicts. Doctors. Homeless people. City councilmen. Real estate executives. Panhandlers. Rocket scientists. The rich. The poor. The educated. And the mentally challenged. Together in one room.

And the great leveler for the diverse people among us is that we're powerless. We're in the rooms together because we share the common challenge of trying to stay clean and sober.

And the brilliance of the Founders is evident in how we are able to assist one another to move from desperation to the safe haven of recovery.

We recognize that we're all in the same boat - and on the same journey.

Click here to email John






Sunday, November 9, 2014

A New Story

"At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end."  Christine Mason Miller.

A client who failed a drug test at work is quite anxious while at my office for an evaluation.

Among his concerns is that he won't be able to continue his career. He doesn't believe he'll be able to afford the time he’ll be off the job before he's cleared to return.

"I might as well forget my career," he laments. "I'll just have to start over doing something else."

I suggest that he shouldn't project into the future. After all, he hasn't even started the process and he's already seeing his life in ruins.

As the saying above points out we have the power to decide how our story will end.

We can write out a sad tale of failure, visualizing ourselves on the scrap pile of life. Or we can be the hero of a success story where we get everything we need - and more.

If we've written a narrative in our heads that says we can't stay sober, we can change it. We can write a new tale that that features us in long term recovery. And enjoying the benefits and freedom of a sober existence.

If your life's not going well, create a new story. And let it have a happy ending.

After all, aren't you the author of your life?

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Perspective

"Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses."  Proverb

Life is a matter of perspective. We can look at our challenges. Or, we can pay attention to our blessings.

If we're having a bad day we can turn it into a good day using simple techniques.

Stop comparing ourselves to others. This is a futile practice because someone always has more - or less - than we do. They're either richer or poorer, smarter or dumber, stronger or weaker. We're rarely exactly on par with anyone.

Develop a sense of gratitude. There's a multitude of reasons for gratitude. I have my marriage. My health. My job. Friends. My children. A home. Loving family members who care about me. Look around your life and make your own list. You might surprise yourself at how long it is.

Do something for someone else. Mail a check to a charity. Hand money to a homeless person and don't worry if he'll spend it on alcohol or drugs. Volunteer at a hospice or soup kitchen. Give someone a ride. The simple act of giving makes us feel better.

These are techniques that have worked for me over the years.  Be creative and figure out your own ways to change your perspective. 

 Your life will be richer for it.

Click here to email John





Friday, November 7, 2014

Wants vs. Needs

"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck." Dalai Lama

Many of us addicts confuse wants and needs.

Transportation is a need. A new car is want.

Clothing is a need. A new wardrobe is a want.

Nourishment is a need. A meal at a fancy restaurant is a want.

And the list goes on and on.

For us addicts getting what we want - especially right away - can ruin our lives.

For example, many in our program want to earn a lot of money right now. They "need" it for this or that. Then the next thing we know they get a fat paycheck and spend it at the dope house.

We had a sad experience recently with one of our halfway house clients who did a great job while working with us for over a year. But somewhere along the way he got sidetracked by the idea of wanting more.

He left in an outburst of anger. He found a job that offered a better income - along with a place to live. He got what he wanted.

But within six weeks he was dead of a drug overdose.

At TLC we meet the basic needs of those halfway house clients who stay with us. But we counsel them to not confuse "needs" and "wants."

If they continue to work a program they will always see a natural improvement in their lives.

When we're spiritually ready, the Universe provides us with with a cornucopia of blessings - including many of the things we want.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Letting Go

"Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward."  C.S. Lewis

After working for years with addicts in recovery I've found that our biggest challenge is letting go of pain.

For 17 years I've conducted a group where many men are still dealing with their past.

They may be reliving a bad childhood. Or still angry at an ex who tossed them out or betrayed them. Maybe they want to re-connect with the kids they abandoned years earlier. It could be most any kind of painful experience.

And my suggestion is always the same: learn to live in the here and now.

No matter how painful our past, revisiting it won't make it better. Instead we compound it by wasting our time going over and over the same thing.

Is that the legacy we want leave behind? That we spent our lives stewing about something bad that happened to us?

God has given us this beautiful slice of time that we live in at this moment. Why waste this gift on things we can do nothing about?

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Accepting Everyone

For the past 22 years TLC has accepted everyone who shows up at our door. All applicants need is a desire to stay clean and sober and change their lives

We've had addicts show up in wheelchairs, or on crutches or with other physical challenges. We accept them as long as they're willing to comply with our guidelines.

We also accept those with emotional challenges, including those who are bi-polar or schizo-effective.

The only addicts or alcoholics we don't accept are those with arrests for sex offenses or arson. And this, of course, is for obvious reasons.

Accepting such a diverse group requires much patience and tolerance on the part of our managers. And with rare exception none of them are trained professionals.

This came up for me while I was at a 12-step meeting last week where one of our residents was sharing. After a few minutes I could see that he was quite troubled emotionally.

As I listened to him I had a moment of gratitude for the manager of the house in which he was living. I know that residents like this man require special attention. They require a lot of time and patience on the manager's part.

Fortunately we are blessed with that kind of staff.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Transitions

A long-time manager was talking about Thanksgiving because each year he hosts dinner for 15 to 20 guests. And most of them are TLC staff.

It's a tradition he's followed for nearly 20 years. He says that every few years the guest list changes. And that's because those who first show up don't have families. Or much of a social life.

But after they're around a while they get married. Soon, they're hosting their own celebrations in their own homes with their own guest lists.

This anecdote embodies on a small scale what TLC is about.

Most of our clients come to us with nothing. Maybe a few clothes in a trash bag. An arrest record. No license or identification. Some with nothing all. Flat broke. Drugs and alcohol took it all.

But if they stick around and work our program things start to happen for them. They get a sponsor. Find a job. Start building relationships and a network of friends.

Transitional is part of our name and these are the kinds of changes we love to see in our client's lives.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 3, 2014

Anger

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."  Buddha

I came across this saying a few days ago while reading about anger.

And anger was on my mind because an upset parent who didn't get their way dropped the "F-bomb“ on me about five times. Then she finished me off with a "mo-fo."

Needless to say, the depth of her anger took me by surprise. It's rare that my communication with anyone these days descends to profanity.

And maybe I took it as a personal failure because I try to never let a conversation take the turn this one did. But it is what it is.

In any event, anger has never been productive for me. In my younger years outbursts of anger ensued when I didn’t get what I wanted when I wanted. And what followed was a lot of drugs or alcohol to assuage my feelings.

For addicts and alcoholics anger is the toxin we must run from as if it were a real poison.

Today, when I encounter an angry person I extend compassion because I know they're suffering and in pain.  And I silently thank them for re-enforcing my commitment to live a life of calm and peace.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Changes

One thing we can count on in life is change.

Buy tickets for a vacation in the sun, then you learn that the weather forecast for that week is rain. And it's too late to change plans.

We think the market's going up. But it goes down.

The long-time trusted employee in whom we have complete confidence turns out to be as human as the next person.

Life deals us surprises all the time. But if we keep in mind that life is always about change and more change - the unexpected won’t rock our world.

For addicts life changes can tip us over unless we cultivate a manner of thinking that gives us resilience.

When we live with the idea that something new is going to happen, then when it does we’re not shocked. We tell ourselves "I expected that,” and move on with our lives.

It's rarely what happens that changes our life. It's our reaction to what happens that determines how we'll live.

And that perspective can help us stay clean and sober.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Doing Great

By chance I run into an addict I've known for some time.

I'd heard tht he'd relapsed a while back.  That he'd begun using again.  But I still wasn't prepared to see him like this.

The last time I saw him, in early summer, he had a job, a car, and a place to live.  At that time he went to meetings, was into fitness, and was upbeat about everythng.

The change was shocking.  He was downcast and wouldn't look me in the eyes.  His shoes were raggedy and his clothes looked as though he'd been sleeping in them for a while. He had an odor of old sweat about him.

When I inquired about how he'd been he said he was doing "great."  The same answer I used to give when my life was in shambles and I didn't know where to get my next fix or drink.

Before we parted I offered to take him to detox, to help him get on his feet.  He declined, saying he'd be okay.

He did accept the little bit of money I gave him.  Then he walked away as if he had somewhere to be.

I went about my day, grateful for my recovery.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mother Love

Last week a mother calls about her twenty-something son who's in our halfway house program.

He calls her daily to complain. He's forced to get up early in the morning to work on a labor ticket. He shares an apartment with two other addicts, both older men who don't like his kind of music. He has to wash his own clothing. The food sucks. He has to go to meetings after work. He wants to go back home.

His list goes on and on.

She asks about getting him into our treatment program, but doesn't have insurance.

I can feel the pain in her voice and want to somehow comfort her. But there's not much I can give her in way of a painless solution. So I start talking about reality.

And the reality is that it's good for her son to start paying the consequences of his addiction. If he doesn't get the message at his young age he might find himself residing in worse places than our halfway house program.

Maybe a homeless shelter. A spot under a bridge. The hot streets of Phoenix. The big yard in Florence. Tent City. Not exactly living the dream.

She agrees that he needs to grow up and take care of himself. But it's painful to let go.

I suggest she not pay attention to his complaints. Don't let him back home. Encourage him to change.

If she does that she might help save his life.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Overcoming Self

"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." Nelson Mandela

Earlier this year I finished Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom."

And while I'd read reports about his life in the press, the insights in this book were inspiring. His life is an example of what one can do with enough perseverance.

As a recovering addict I like to read about how others overcame challenges. And I use these examples in my own life to keep things in perspective.

The value of this knowledge for us addicts is immeasurable. When we learn what others have done to overcome challenges we gain courage.

While we addicts don't face the challenges Mandela did, we have internal battles to overcome. And while they may seem small to others, to us they may seem insurmountable.

To live drug and alcohol free we must learn to live in a different culture. And change our way of thinking. Especially if we've had a long-term addiction.

It can be a shock to our psyche to get a job. To stop stealing. To start telling the truth. To be there for our families and friends.

But if we look at the suffering others went through to succeed we can find hope for ourselves.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reason for Gratitude

At the end of the day it's easy to find reasons for gratitude.

And today I'm grateful for the medical services that are helping my youngest daughter through a problem pregnancy

Her doctor had her flown from Prescott a month ago to Banner Thunderbird hospital in Phoenix.

And she'll be there at least another month - unless the baby decides to come earlier.

Each time I visit I'm impressed with the care she receives. The staff monitors her around the clock. And so far everything's good.

When I see how well she's cared for it belies what I see in the media about healthcare in our country.

The news about healthcare in general is mostly negative. But my experience with my daughter's pregnancy has been positive.

And for that I'm grateful.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mad Dad

A former resident's dad called this week to give me a piece of his mind.

He didn't like how we'd treated his daughter, whom we discharged for using drugs and alcohol.  Didn't we know that alcohol was legal?  And that she had a prescription for those opiates?

No matter how hard I tried he didn't seem to understand that we insist on a drug free environment.

After I listened to him rant for a while I hung up.  This is something I rarely do.  However, when people just want to scream there's not much alternative.  I'm one who believes in letting other people vent.  But after four or five minutes I start to get crazy myself.

He called back but with the same result.  He couldn't control his anger long enough for us to talk.

I feel for the daughter.  While genetics aren't destiny it's pretty easy to see why this young woman uses drugs.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 27, 2014

Perfection

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” Voltaire

Often we addicts strive for perfection. And when we don’t achieve it we beat ourselves up.

We might seek the perfect job. To do the perfect 4th step. Have the perfect relationship. And when we don’t achieve these unrealistic goals we get down on ourselves because we live in the black and white world of absolutes. Either perfect or nothing.

Sometimes it’s okay if things are just good. They don’t have to be perfect. They don’t even have to be the best. Maybe good enough is okay, because that's progress.

Some of us spent half our lives falling short of what the world expected of us. We didn’t live up to our potential in school or on the job because of our love affair with drugs and alcohol. And it didn't matter much because we covered our feelings with chemicals.

Once in the light of recovery our shortcomings become obvious. And sometimes we overcompensate by trying to be perfect.

A balanced recovery incorporates the 12-step idea that progress is more important than perfection. There's a satisfaction in looking at our hard work and telling ourselves that we're doing okay. Not perfect, but moving forward.

Trying to be perfect is high stress, something most of us addicts don't handle well.

Click here for an interesting article about trying to be perfect.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Honest Addicts?

TLC is as big as it is - 700 beds - because we accept anyone who shows up - whether they have money or not.

Young or old. Any color, any background. Male, female and anywhere in between. Healthy or unhealthy. We accept everyone.

The only addicts we don't accept are those with arrests for sex offenses or arson.

However, our generosity has been a problem for us for over 20 years.

And the problem is that when addicts show up to our program they're not very honest.

I mean, the phrase "honest addict" is an oxymoron, is it not?

So we take addicts in without money. We feed and house them.  We provide counseling. We help them get a job. Then wait for them to get paid. This is usually a three-week process.

And at the end of three weeks they might owe $250-$350. But once they get paid, many will leave rather than pay something on what they owe.  Even though they've signed a contract agreeing to pay.

They'll find another halfway house, pay a week's rent, then put the rest of the money either in their pocket - or else invest in drugs.

We estimate that we lose 25% of our revenue to those who use our services, and then run off without paying.

But we've been operating this way for a long time. Yet we're somehow able to pay our bills and help others.

A more important aspect of this is that many stick around to change their lives. They pay their bills. They get sober. They give back to the world.

And that's enough for us.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pleasure and Pain

Human nature is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

It's a hard-wired survival skill, one that's brought us from caveman days to where we are now. And it applies in many areas of our lives.

Eating is pleasurable and enables us to survive. Sex is a joy, and continues our species. Taking care of our loved ones brings us the pleasure of closeness to others.

And, of course, not having these things can be painful in varying degrees.

This part of our nature served us well throughout our history.

But for us addicts in today's world the seeking of pleasure and avoiding pain is an ongoing issue.

Because we have a low tolerance for pain of any kind.

If someone rejects us we interpret it to mean that everyone hates us and always will.

If we don't get the job we might interpret that to mean that we're an incompetent boob.

If we fail a test we might believe we're stupid, rather than admit we didn't study.

We addicts know how to escape this self-induced pain. Rather than recognize that life can be a bitch at times and accept the pain, we seek instant gratification.

We suck down some Jack Daniels. Or maybe snort a line. Smoke a rock. Cook up some black tar. We drown our misery in a chemical - or maybe a mix of chemicals.

Sooner or later though we have to come out of hiding. We have to face whatever realities we temporarily escaped.

And that's what recovery is about. In recovery - if we're one of the lucky ones - we learn that successful living incorporates both pain and pleasure.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Late Night Text

In the middle of the night one of our managers receives a text. The message reads, "I'm dying."

It's from a former resident who relapsed a while back and disappeared off the radar. No one's heard from him in a while.

Our manager calls in the morning but it went to voice mail. So he leaves a message - offering help.

And he wonders if the man did die.  Or if he's simply recovering from a hangover. Because now, a few days later, he still hasn't heard from him.

That's the way it goes in the recovery business. It's pretty black and white. Addicts and alcoholics are either in recovery or they're not.  

But when they relapse we try to help them back into the program.

In this man's case we're waiting to hear from him. If he calls we'll go find him and bring him back.

We hope to hear from him.  We’ve buried far too many people this year.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mindfulness

The definition of mindfulness is "being fully aware of present experience - with acceptance."

In other words, being right here, right now, and being okay with it.

But this often is easier said than done.

After all, we might be on the job right now. Yet our mind is on that nice dinner we're planning this evening with our family.  Or, we might be thinking of that vacation we're going to take around Christmas time.

In other words, we're not fully present at our desk, or in the shop, or the office. Oh yeah, our body’s there. But our mind is elsewhere in a place we perceive as being much more pleasant.

So part of us is here. And part of us is somewhere else. Which means we're not fully in the moment.

So how do we learn to live in the present?

Mindfulness teachers suggest that we don't criticize our drifting thoughts. That we become aware of them as they pass through our mind. We observe them. We acknowledge them. But we don't criticize or judge them.

That way we experience and appreciate this moment, this time we have now. We can live moment by moment.

By living this way we have less stress and anxiety because we're not zigzagging between the past and the future.

Mindfulness training offers us simple meditation techniques we can incorporate into our lives. They are easy to use and immediately effective. 

A great resource for learning more about this practice is Ron Siegal's book, "The Mindfulness Solution - Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems"

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Partners who Relapse

As a recovering addict, what do you do if your life partner starts using again?

Do you leave? Get divorced? Give them a chance? Do you ask them to leave?

These are difficult questions. Yet couples in recovery face this issue all the time.

One partner is maybe not as committed as the other to recovery, then slides back into using.

There are no easy answers. And there's a lot of potential for conflict.

After all, there may be children involved. Or perhaps there's jointly owned property or vehicles. A couple may work for the same company. There are as many scenarios as there are people involved.

But there are lines no one should cross.

One of those is if there's any danger to children.

The other is if our partner's using threatens our own recovery.

After all, our most precious gifts are the sanctity of our families - and our hard won recovery.

Our relationship to anyone who poses a threat to these treasures has to be re-evaluated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Counting on Miracles

At a recent 12 step meeting the speaker talked of his early days in recovery.

He said he knew God was working in his life when he had a chance encounter that helped him get his old job back. A job that he still has today.

His tale of divine intervention is not unusual among those in recovery. And a common saying in the rooms is that we count on miracles in our lives.

In my own case I see the hand of God in much that we do at TLC.

It's a miracle that a disparate group of addicts and alcoholics - of all ages and backgrounds - can work together. Yet our people manage the largest unfunded non-profit in the Southwest.

Our success doesn't come without bumps in the road. We often lose addicts along the way. Some get into ego battles and leave. Others relapse. And a few find better opportunities. The reasons are many.

But the right person invariably shows up when we need to fill a spot on our management team. And it usually happens within a day or so.

Same with financial challenges. During financial downturns over the years we've always made it through.

Sometimes a landlord will cut our rent for a while. Sometimes staff members take pay cuts. Other staff members make personal contributions.

And because of this history miracles never surprise us. We count on them.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 20, 2014

Certified

When I returned from my two week vacation I had a pleasant surprise in the mail.

It was the two year renewal of my certification as a CADAC - which I'd applied for before I left. This certificate lets me counsel addicts and alcoholics in our program.

To get the certification I took a several hour examination some six years ago.  And every two years I take 40 hours of continuing education to keep my status.

It's a challenge and an accomplishment for me because I hate formal instruction. I learn most everything on my own.

Having this certificate is more about my ego than anything else. I don't make any more money because of it. And I'm already the boss, so I don't get promoted.

And for 15 years - before I got certified - I'd been providing peer counseling to those in our program anyway.

Still it's nice to have it hanging there above my desk.

Now maybe people think I know what I'm doing.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Day at a Time

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

Many of us addicts relate the phrase one day at a time to the twelve step programs.

But Lincoln supposedly said this almost a century before the 12th step programs were born.

Regardless of who came up with the idea of breaking our lives into small segments, it's a great concept to live by.

Who can't suffer through disappointment for one day? Or stress? Or depression? Or any other setback.

If I frame my life into what I can handle today then I might find that tomorrow presents a different perspective.

If I can make it today without a drink or a drug then I might be able to repeat the process tomorrow. Then for a string of tomorrows.

But we do it a day at a time.

Click here to email John