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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

On the Job

Working in the recovery field isn't boring. There's always enough drama to keep the day interesting. And to deal with this, one has to be able to change course several times a day, and sometimes several times an hour.

For example, today started out pretty normal until my nine o'clock appointment didn't show. Which sort of surprised me because he'd been pretty stable lately. He'd been trying to get this appointment for some time then doesn’t show. No phone call.  No text.  And I start wondering: is he shooting heroin again?

Then someone from the insurance department tells me we have three incoming clients – beyond the three already scheduled. Do we have enough beds? All of a sudden a scramble is on to buy more mattresses. By the end of the day we'll need eight more beds. After a while we're able to locate them and a truck is dispatchd.

Over the past week I've been working against a deadline to update a real estate spreadsheet, a project that's required some focused research.

And, right in the middle of that project a former client who's drunk and wants to return to the program calls. I hear his girlfriend screaming in the background that she's going to call 911 if he doesn't get help. Then she grabs the phone from him and tells me he's been running in and out of traffic trying to kill himself and what should she do? I tell her to call 911. However, the next thing I know he calls me and I can hear them screaming back and forth about how much they hate and love each other and how much money they've stolen from one another.

I finally get them calmed down enough to give her instructions to drive him to our Roosevelt property so he can be taken to detox. And while I'm giving her directions, another client is blowing up the phone.

So when I get done with her I call to find out why he's phoned me three times in one minute. It seems he's angry because the van driver left him behind while he was trying to bum a cigarette. He thought it was very unfair that the driver left him behind because he was broke and didn't have money and no one understood. He somehow translated being left behind into thinking that everyone had it in for him and they just didn't understand his situation. He goes on and on to tell me that he spent his paycheck on a bicycle with a flat tire and that's why he needs to borrow a smoke until my head is ready to explode and I tell him that I don't need all that information. I told him we'd deal with it in group tomorrow where he could confront all those who have it in for him. He thinks that’s a good idea.

And there was more drama in this day.  Even while I'm putting this blog together calls are coming in. But you get the idea.

The best thing about today is I’m reminded to be grateful for my sobriety.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Losing my Cool

I must confess that once in a while someone gets under my skin, shatters my calm demeanor. And that happened yesterday afternoon when I turned my phone on and saw I had a voice mail from an unfamiliar number.

As I listened to the message I heard someone saying “This f----ing guy never answers his phone.” And that was the entire message. Since I take calls as they come - unless I’m busy - I was intrigued enough to call back.

The gentleman said he was looking for a halfway house and wondered if we had a bed available. I assured him we did and gave him the address.

Then he inquired about the living conditions. Would he be in a single room? I told him he’d probably share a room with at least one other client, and maybe two – information that seemed to displease him.

He said he'd had a single room at the halfway house he just left. When I asked why he left he mentioned something about his anger management problem - which led to a disagreement with the manager. A disagreement he apparently lost because he was suddenly homeless.

When I told him we had an anger management class at the facility he said he’d already taken a couple of them – but that they didn’t work.

When I suggested he might look at other programs where he could find the accommodations and program that might suit his needs, he didn’t like that idea either.

He got lost on the way to the address I’d given him and called twice for better directions. I gave him the same directions I’d given him before and he finally found the house. However, when the manager said there’d be at least six people in the entry room he left.

He then called again to see if I could get him a single room at one of our other houses. And, of course, you know my answer.

So why did I let this guy interrupt my peace? Probably because he asked no questions about the recovery services we offer. Nor did he say he had a problem with alcohol or drugs. Nor did he exhibit a shred of gratitude for what I was trying to do for him. And while I’m accustomed to ungrateful and demanding addicts, he’d perfected it to a fine art.

Once I took a few breaths and regained my center I thanked God for the lesson in patience.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Malingering? or Sick?

Several clients have been suffering from flu and colds. And, of course, because we don't want to spread anything, we usually excuse them from group and other activities so they won't infect others.

But there’s also been an unknown malady that’s struck a few of our clients the past few weeks. It's so new that it hasn't even been identified. There's been nothing in the newspapers about it.

The interesting thing about this ailment is that it only strikes in the daytime - usually right around the time groups or individual sessions are scheduled. The symptoms are headaches, stomach aches, dizziness and - once in a while - a sore back. The clients say they simply need to lay down for a while and it'll pass. However, the symptoms always subside by evening, right after the clinic closes.

After that the client is better and is out and about – seemingly back to normal. At first it only affected one client. Then his roommate contracted the same thing. Then another client down the hall.

And the next day it sometimes comes back again. Hopefully missing these scheduled appointments won’t affect these clients’ recovery.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Self-Esteem

A client makes an uninvited visit to my office to ask a question.

He wonders why, when he achieves a modicum of success, he always sabotages it. He once started a business, then began using drugs, and lost it all. His marriage was destroyed after he went to prison on a drug charge. He claims to have repeated this pattern over and over again. And his claim is credible because he spent 20-some years on the installment plan locked up on various charges.

Further in the conversation this man diagnoses his issue as being "lack of self-esteem." He says it stemmed from his childhood during which he was raised by parents who manufactured drugs and abused him and his siblings. He says he began using before age ten. By the time he was in his teens he was an out-of-control addict.

His profile is common among our clients. Many come from fractured childhoods where they learned drug abuse, sexual abuse, and violence. Not a lot to feel good about.

As they mature they begin to mirror in their behavior the dysfunction they learned as children. Many have an inkling that these memories burned into their psyches are contributing to their self-destructive behavior. But most don't know how to start a new pattern of behavior that will help override the old one.

At TLC we suggest they start taking baby steps in order to rewrite their life story. Some of these baby steps are quite simple: stay sober, work hard, make your bed, maintain personal hygiene, keep your living area clean, don't steal or fight.

And while these simple things might seem obvious to the average person, many clients don't have the foundation other people take for granted. And once they learn how to take care of themselves we suggest they reach out to others who are new to recovery. We believe these things enhance self-esteem.

Changing self-esteem can be a long-term process and requires work. But the work is probably the best investment we can make for our long-term heatlh.

For those interested in learning more about self-esteem go to nathanielbranden.com. He offers many free tools for those interested in improving self-esteem.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Resisting Temptation

A client relatively new to recovery said he was strongly tempted to use yesterday at work when he found drugs in a car. He didn’t succumb to the temptation but broke out in a sweat and had an upset stomach for a while.

He said that when he entered the customer’s car there was a substantial amount of marijuana loose on the floor. Because this was a drug he liked, he had to make a quick choice: pick it up and use it later? Or just ignore it and go about his business? After all, no one would have missed the spilled marijuana. And, he might have gotten away with smoking it.

He chose to ignore it. Then later, he found a fat bag containing white powder in another part of the automobile. At this point he called the customer and told him he should probably retrieve the drugs before one of the other employees found them and maybe called the law.

While this client did the right thing and didn't use the drugs he faced a situation which many of our clients encounter – especially on the job.

And when this occurs it’s sometimes a test of our recovery. Are we going to use? Or are we going to invoke what we learned in the 12 steps and resist temptation?

Because, of course, drugs or alcohol are never the problem. They are merely substances we once abused. The drugs do nothing. We do everything. No one forces them upon us. The question is: what do we do when we encounter situations like this?

This client said that even though he probably could have used without anyone knowing, that his recovery was the most important thing in his life.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stressing

One of my challenges at TLC is helping employees deal with stress.

For example, this morning I walked in the door and found a key employee in tears. Later, when I was able to get the employee to take a deep breath and slow down I asked what was going on. What brought on the tears?

And last week, a very bright, well-educated professional had reached the limits mostly because she tries to do too good of a job. She allows everyone to unload on her and she tries to help. She has a generous heart, but the reality is we can't carry everyone's burdens.

Our job is to carry the message, not the mess. We can be the most saintly and wonderful human beings, but if we don't know where to draw boundaries we're going to succumb  to self-induced stress. And we threaten our recovery when we get into this state.

When I start seeing stress meltdowns among our employees I encourage them to come to me to try to find a solution. Do they need more help? Do they need to take a deep breath and be mindful of where they're at emotionally? Do we need to change procedures? Is the employee learning to delegate and let others grow by helping carry some of the load?

I learned some 20 years ago that I can't do everything. At one time my ego said I was the only one who could do the job right. And I was making myself crazy. I found out that I can delegate responsibilities to others. And by doing that I allowed them to grow and I allowed TLC to grow to its present size.  And the job got completed just fine.

I learned to slow down, get centered, and ask for help.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Using Grandma

A grandmother is full of fear because she's afraid her granddaughter will quit talking to her if she doesn't help support her drug habit.

"I just hate to see her in pain," she says. "Each time she asks me for money I want to give it to her because I hate to see her suffer.".

I assure her that the only thing she can do to help her granddaughter is to stop helping her. By the look on her face I see that the grandmother finds this counter-intuitive.

She spent some time telling me what a sweet child the granddaughter was. Up until she got into opiates. Then she changed into this unrecognizable creature who was only interested in doing what she needed to obtain drugs.

One can’t change people's beliefs and minds in an initial interview. Learning how to deal with addicts and alcoholics takes time. And without counseling it takes even longer.

For example it took my family and friends many years to realize that helping me was a useless endeavor. They spent a lot of time being concerned about me while I went on my merry way, drunk and high. It wasn't that I didn't love them or care about them. It was just that I cared more about my first loves, heroin and alcohol. Until life intervened in the form of homelessness, jail, and demoralization I was unable to do anything other than feed my habits.

I recommend to this grandmother that she learn about addiction if she wants to have a long-term relationship with her granddaughter.

Her final question is "what if she wants to come home and be with me rather than stay in the treatment program?"

I assure her that the worst thing she can do is accept the granddaughter back in her home until she has several months of recovery.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Remembering Bill W

This month in 2009 we lost an employee named Bill, who succumbed to our disease after living sober at TLC for some 17 years.

He started working for us at the original Robson house, helping out in the office. He had few skills, but taught himself to repair computers and do some basic accounting. Eventually he became our resident bookkeeper and computer go-to person.

Bill suffered from several mental disorders which weren’t obvious as long as he took his psych meds and had them changed every six months or so. We’d know it was time for him to get a new prescription when we’d go into his office and find him in tears.

We once learned how serious his mental issues were when he attempted to get an appointment with his psychiatrist, but was told there was nothing available for six months.

However - after reviewing his chart - the receptionist called back and told him that in his case they could see him that afternoon.

There are several of us old-timers who worked with Bill over the years and remember his contributions to TLC.

We still miss him.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Weighing In

Many of our clients, once in recovery from drugs and alcohol, pick up a new addiction: eating.

And we see evidence of this all over TLC. It's not uncommon for clients to gain 20, 30, 40, 50, even 100 pounds, after they've been with us a while.

And while TLC is a program designed to help them recover from substance abuse our mission goes beyond that. That statement says we "...help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives."

But the reality is that we have no formal structure to teach clients to eat properly or how to lose weight. This is often on my mind because we have so many clients with diabetes, high blood pressure, or who are morbidly overweight.

And in discussions with them I recognize that losing weight is probably as tough a battle as quitting drugs or tobacco.

Many have the idea that if they change to a plant-centric diet they won't "get enough protein." But odds are they've never met anyone in their lifetime who suffered a protein deficiency. I know I haven't. And most don't know the first thing about protein requirements or how much protein is provided in a plant-based diet. They subscribe to the myth that animal protein is somehow superior.

I think for many eating is another form of self gratification. Most don't think of eating as a way to fuel their bodies. Instead they view eating as entertainment or recreation - and pay the price in calorie intake and weight gain.

Some clients go to the gym to lose weight. But while exercise is good, better eating habits is the best way to lose weight. After all, one must run a mile burn an apple.

I'm not sure how to provide motivation for those who're unhappy about their weight. I believe one must be on fire to change any bad habit. One must get over the idea that the purpose of eating is to "get full." The real purpose of eating is to be not hungry, not to "get full."

There’s a myriad of literature and education for those who want to learn more about plant-based nutrition. One of the best resources is nutritionfacts.org.  This site features some 1500 short videos about plant-based nutrition and health.  And they are free.

However, the site doesn't offer much in the way of self-discipline or motivation. That has to come from within.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where's the Son?

A mother writes us about her thirty-something son who is “in need of help for his addiction.”

And for me, of course, the question is this: why isn't your son calling us or writing us for help? After all, he's the one with the problem.

But we all know what this is really about. Quite likely, the son doesn't even know his mother's getting in touch with us. He's likely out there somewhere in the world happily using or drinking, not caring how his behavior is affecting others.

I know that my family and friends were concerned about my addictions probably 25 years before I decided to pay attention to the issues I was having. My attitude towards them was why didn't they mind their own business? Didn't they know how to have a good time? Didn't they know how to party?

No matter that I was going in and out of jail like it had a revolving door. No matter that I couldn't keep employment. No matter that I didn't finish school. None of this mattered while I was in the grips of my addictions.

It was only after everyone stopped trying to help and began to shun me that I realized that maybe I had the wrong outlook on life. That I did have a serious problem with drugs and alcohol. It was only when people started losing interest in me that I began to change.

Hopefully this man will have enough pain that he'll decide to get help on his own. In the meantime his mother is bound to experience more frustration.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Help for Quitters

In response to my recent blog about quitting smoking a former client writes:

“After smoking for 30+ years, I quit smoking just last year. I wanted to write just to recommend ASH LINE, I'm sure you seen the ads on TV. Sponsored by the University of Phoenix, it's a free service. They will give you a sponsor who calls every week to check on your progress and offer encouragement. Like the "Big Book" they have all the tools one needs to quit. I used Chantix and had no problem with quitting, I was surprised how easy it was. Chantix is free by prescription through Ash Line or Medicaid. As a past resident at TLC I know how you feel about "MEDS". Let me assure you Chantix is safe and non-addictive and only taken for 8 to 12 weeks. Again, I just wanted to recommend Ash Line to anyone who wants to quit.”

For any of you who want to quit, click here to go to the Ashline website.

A myriad of free information is at: http://smokefree.gov/free-resources

Other free resources:www.lung.org/stop-smoking/how-to-quit/getting-help/

Click on any one of these for free help. While it’s not the easiest thing to quit, the ones who usually tell you how difficult it is are those who are still smoking.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Plenty of Addicts

Our website features a form where people can leave messages or request information about the program.

Enough requests come in to let me know there are a lot of sick people in the world who need help.

Sometimes the form will contain a simple plea like: "Help. I can’t stop using.”

Others are longer: "I'm homeless. No money. I have diabetes. I have no place to turn. Can you help?"

Sometimes we'receive requests for a bus or plane ticket. And my response is always the same: we only provide local transportation around Phoenix and Tucson in the metro areas.

At least once a month someone wonders if we have a facility near their home in Podunk because they don’t want to travel far from home.

Often the message is gibberish. And when I respond, I get a question back like "Who the hell are you?" Kind of like they were in a blackout when they wrote it.

While I’ve never doubted that there are plenty of alcoholics and addicts in the world who need help, these messages reaffirm that we’re still needed.

And the best thing about it is God has provided a way for us to continue to do this work through good times and bad.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Deadly Addiction

Smoking is the most powerful and deadly addiction there is.

Each year some 444, 000 Americans succumb to this insidious habit. There are more deaths from smoking than from all other causes combined.

That includes automobile accidents, alcoholism, drug abuse, murders, suicides, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and all other medical causes – plus all the Americans who died in World War II. And, I repeat, that’s each year.

I’m on my soapbox again about this because another staff member recently went to the hospital suffering from the effects of smoking. The doctor frightened him enough that he vowed to stop. And he now has several days without a cigarette.

Because I witnessed eight close family members die a slow suffocating death from emphysema and COPD, I encourage the smokers in our program to kick the habit.

I’m so dedicated to helping smokers quit that last year I took a 60 hour hypnosis course with the primary objective of helping – at no cost – clients to stop smoking. And so far, I’m pleased to report, there are around 10 success stories of those who have quit.

As a former smoker who quit 29 years ago I know how difficult quitting can be. For me it was much easier to quit heroin that to give up cigarettes.  But it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

And after the first week I didn’t even miss it.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nectar of Life

In the Promises we find the term a "new freedom."  What exactly does that mean?

For those of us who were enslaved by our addictions this is a wonderful promise.  It means that in recovery we have a myriad of options.

All of a sudden our life is not dictated by our master: our addiction. We no longer have to plot for money to fuel our habit.  We quit ripping off our family.  No more shoplifting sprees.  We quit cashing bad checks. We stop selling drugs for a living.

But a "new freedom" means more than removing negatives.  It means we awaken in the morning after a good night's rest, rather than coming to.  It means we can choose whether or not we want to use drugs or alcohol today.

We can decide whether to pursue a career.  Or a relationship.  Or perhaps go to school.  Maybe we'll build a business.

In my 23 years of recovery I've seen people change nearly everything about themselves.  No longer are they subservient to others who might have drugs or alcohol.  They make positive choices about their lives today without having to worry about feeding their addiction.  They no longer wonder if they're going to be able to pay their bills.

These might sound like simple things.  But for those of us who suffered through years of addiction they are the nectar of life.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

A Precious Possession

I asked an associate whose Grandmother passed away this week if he was going to the funeral - which is to be held In another state.

He said he wanted to but that he was afraid to return to the hometown where he'd lived while in his addiction.

He was afraid he might encounter former using friends and be tempted to rejoin them. His first objective is to protect his recovery.

His attitude exemplifies what recovery's all about. To protect our sobriety we don't go to places where it might be put in jeopardy.

That means bars, casinos, pool halls or other establishments where liquor is served. That includes family gatherings where alcohol is served.

If we want to be safe we don’t date those who are using anything, even if they’re only social or recreational users.

We view our recovery as our most precious possession because we know all the good in our life flows from it.

We worked hard to get where we’re at. And like this man we do nothing to jeopardize it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sad Story

I heard a sad story the other day about a one-time client – and former manager - who's fallen on hard times.

This man, who was with us for more than five years, was discharged several years back because he was taking prescription stimulants so he could lose weight. On his way out he loudly protested the injustice of our decision to terminate him – even though he knew our zero-tolerance policy regarding legal or illegal drug use.

Over the past few years stories filtered back to us about him and his adventures. Tales that chronicled drinking and drug use, loss of his home, a divorce, loss of his child to the court system. And, finally, the loss of one or both of his legs to diabetes.

It was especially sad to hear these things about this man because at one time he was a great contributor to our program, and a friend to many of us. He was intelligent, funny, and a hard worker who had all the ingredients for success.

His situation illustrates what could happen to any of us if we lose our recovery and head down the wrong path.

Many of us predicted what would happen. But these are things we hate to be right about.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Helping the Ungrateful

At TLC we’ve made a diligent effort over the years to meet halfway house client needs in the areas of employment and medical care.

For example, we help clients find jobs. And to accomplish this we have a temporary labor company that sends clients out to do day labor. In addition, we have staff members on the phone seeking work. It's a wonderful service for those who have problems finding jobs.  Especially those without skills.

For those with medical and dental problems, we have a staff member who solicits healthcare clinics for free services. And he's quite successful, having built up a list of over 40 organizations willing to help. Clients with dental issues, or who need glasses, are usually able to get these issues taken care of at no cost. And most clients are grateful for the help.

However, when extending this help to clients from the outpatient treatment clinic we've had some disappointing experiences. For example, we had four or five outpatient clients who were anxious to find work. So we found jobs for all of them. Not great jobs, but entry-level jobs that paid minimum wage until they could find something better. We were surprised when every one of them walked off the job or didn't show up for work.

And as a result, we lost our contract with these companies because they don't like it when people don't show up or walk off the job. So, you might ask, what's the big deal? Just go find another contract. But finding work for the type of clients we have isn’t easy. We sometimes spend three or four weeks trying to land a contract with a company. And we’d been with one of the companies that cut us off for two or three years.

And the same thing happened with one of our medical providers. We sent a client for free dental work, and the next day he was complaining about the quality of work. So our coordinator sent him back to the clinic so they could remedy the problem. While he was there waiting for his appointment he made a few comments about the quality of work, comments the office staff overheard. And of course you know what happened next.

Within an hour after the client left, we received a long email from the doctor who operates the dental clinic. Even though they've been providing free service to us for four years without incident, he said he wouldn’t tolerate these kinds of comments from clients for whom he was donating services. And he understandably terminated our arrangement with him.

So in a matter of a few months we've had outpatient clients cost us a few of our good contacts – something that’s never happened with halfway house clients in the past 20 years.

And the solution? Of course the solution is to cease providing these services to outpatient treatment clients because they aren’t grateful for our help. Many of them have insurance or family resources that will allow them to arrange their own dental and medical care. And as far as those seeking employment, there's a DES office right behind our facility that will be glad to help.

Our policy is to help those who are grateful.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

23 Years

Twenty-three years ago this morning, at 51 years old, I walked through the doors of a detoxification facility in Mesa, Arizona. My life hasn’t been the same since.

I was consumed by a raging heroin and alcohol habit. I was homeless. I had 73 cents in my pocket. I was facing criminal charges. I didn't even have change of clothes.

I stayed in that detox 11 days. I finally admitted I was an alcoholic. I vowed to change my life.

For the next 12 months I lived in a local halfway house that was gracious enough to accept me without money.

For six months I worked menial day labor jobs, digging ditches, landscaping, washing windows. Whatever it took to pay my rent and continue my recovery.

My health started coming back. Family started talking to me. Criminal charges were dropped or dismissed.

When I first got there my plan was to stay for 30 days. That changed to 60 days. Then 90. Finally I made a year commitment because I realized I knew little about staying sober.

I left that halfway house after a year, forever grateful for their help. And the day I left I moved into TLC’s first house on Robson Street.

Today I have a wonderful life. I'm married to the woman of my dreams. I'm surrounded by a circle of supportive friends. I have a decent relationship with my children and grandchildren. I enjoy the blessings of recovery. The Promises have come true.

And I’m looking forward to 23 more-one day at a time.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

More than a Job

One of our long-time managers says a childhood friend asked how much she's paid for working at TLC.

And her friend was dismayed at the small amount she receives.

However, she explained to the friend that she's okay with what she makes. That her needs are met and she’s as happy as she’s ever been. At that point the friend recognized that she’d really changed.

This manager's typical of many of those who work for us. Most could earn more working elsewhere. But for them it’s not about money. It's about their personal recovery and more. 

Where else could they find a job where they're helping people change their lives? Where else could they witness addicts transforming before their eyes? And know they had a direct part in that change? Where they have a sense of purpose?

There are other organizations that do things similar to what we do. But not a lot of them help anybody who comes to the door – whether they have money or not.

And another important facet of the job, is that our managers work in a family-like environment. One where employees care for one another and support each other - no matter what.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

About Success

A man I've known for the 23 years I've been sober stopped by my office the other day.

Since it had been about eight years since we talked we spent a few minutes catching up.

When we first met in 1991 I was traveling by bicycle or bus, doing day labor, and living in the same halfway house he was. He was attending college then and was also in new recovery.

When I asked where he was working he said that even though he now has three Master’s degrees, he’s having trouble finding a job. Which surprised me.

When I explained TLC's latest operation - our treatment program - he seemed impressed. He saw that I'd become successful, even though I had little money or formal education at the beginning.

After he left I reflected on why one with his education would be unemployed. And his situation reinforced for me one of my basic beliefs.

And that is that success in any arena comes not so much from having an education, money, credit, or social connections. Even though these things help, I believe they are secondary to success.

What is most critical to success is perseverance, and the willingness to fail - yet to keep going in spite of that failure.

And this doesn’t apply only to business. It applies to success in any endeavor. Whether it's about getting sober, quitting smoking, getting an education, losing weight, or reaching any goal. The same formula applies.

Persevere and keep going in spite of falling down.  Because failure is our greatest teacher.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

An Ugly Fleet

One of our drivers got into a minor fender bender last month when he rolled our van into another vehicle’s bumper at about two miles an hour at a stop sign.

When the insurance adjuster showed up he determined that our vehicle was totaled. We laughed about this because the van looked the same after the accident as it did before. Plus we’d been driving it for a year while it looked that way.

One reason TLC has survived for 22 years is because we know how to economize. We receive no funding from the government or elsewhere. We earn our money from service fees and our small businesses.

Rather than going into debt purchasing new vehicles, we buy used and own some 35 of them.

We buy most of these for $1500-2500 from the Arizona Surplus Property Management Office (SPMO). Many have over 100,000 miles on them and are approaching their limits. They are vehicles that have had a hard life with the Department of Corrections and other state agencies

Many have dents, rusted paint, or seats that are blown out - or at the best, well-worn. But even though they're ugly they serve a purpose for us – which is transporting our clients to jobs, appointments and so forth.

For us it’s about function – not about looking good.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

A Mother's Anxiety

The mother of a recovering heroin addict calls, asking me to not discharge her noncompliant son from our treatment program.

She says she lost her older son to a heroin overdose about a year ago. She says that her son has never done as well as he has in our program. And she doesn't want him to leave.

I explain that I didn't discharge him. That he decided to leave because we were going to transfer him to another house due to his ongoing involvement with female clients. I tell her of his being disciplined more than twice for sexually inappropriate behavior with female clients. Plus other infractions of the rules.

I feel her anxiety and really wanted to grant her wishes. But my primary responsibility to the program is to protect the clients from inappropriate behavior.

This incident illustrates what I talk a lot about in this blog: how our disease and addiction affects our families and those around us. This client lives a self-centered life, not caring about the effect he’ll have on others. At least not enough to change his behavior.

It says in the recovery literature that "selfishness and self-centeredness we think is the root of our problem." And in this client's case he's demonstrated over and over again that all he cares about is his own self-gratification.

Hopefully he’ll discover that he's responsible for his behavior – and the consequences of that behavior.

We wish him well.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I'm Responsible

A client who got caught taking double the medication he was prescribed blamed it on TLC staff.

"If you guys had watched me more closely,” he said, “I wouldn't have taken more than I should have.” And he was serious when he said this.

I didn't bother to explain how ridiculous that sounded.

But this is typical of how addicts think before they get into recovery. We have a habit of blaming our behavior on someone or something else because we don't want to take responsibility.

Before I got into recovery many years ago I always found someone or something to blame for my addiction. My father was abusive. No one understood me. My P.O. had it in for me. I didn’t have the advantages others had. There was always somewhere else to put the blame.

And while all these excuses might have been true, I was the one who was drunk and high and broke and often in jail – the one paying the price.

We addicts start to change when we look in the mirror and recognize that there stands the responsible party. At that point we stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We realize that we are the authors of our own misery – or our successes.

And when we accept that responsibility then we can rebuild our lives. I know, because it worked for me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Getting the Message

A client who's been with us more than once seems different lately,

He has a sense of peace about him; he's not consumed with anxiety.

While sharing in group he uses terms like "a day at a time." And "living in the moment."

And sitting in the circle across from him I wonder what happened? How did he finally catch on?

Did the daily repetition of. messages about recovery finally soak through the denial and resistance?

Did living for month after month in our recovery environment change his thinking?

One never knows. Because if we knew exactly what happened with him then we would have the formula to give others.

Just do x, y and z and you'll be fine. You'll stay sober and your life won't turn to shit once more.

But that's not how it works.

Some of us get it from meetings, others from a sponsor. Some from the bible or church.

Ultimately the path we take to recovery is not that important. The important thing is that we get there.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pain in her Voice

A call from a woman looking for her brother drives home again the emotional devastation we wreak in the lives of our loved ones.

She had flown him here the middle of December, hoping the geographical change to TLC would aid in his recovery.

But after he was here a few weeks, he relapsed while looking for a job. He dragged himself back a few days later. And we gave him another opportunity. But around New Year's Eve he came back drunk one more time. We discharged him again.

The sad part of my conversation with his sister is that confidentiality laws prohibit us from acknowledging that he is or ever was in our program. However, she stayed on the phone for a while anyway telling me of his physical disabilities and the problems he has with his alcoholism. She went over the same information three times, probably because she didn't know how to end the conversation gracefully. Or maybe because she wanted some connection, no matter how tenuous, with her missing brother.

While this missing brother very likely knows how much his sister loves him, he probably would have been deeply impacted had he heard the pain and sadness in her voice.

So many times I hear clients say that their drinking or drugging never hurt anyone – just themselves.

But if they could hear their loved ones they might have a different opinion.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Anniversary Coming

January 14, 1991, I was homeless. I had 73 cents in my pocket. I had a raging alcohol and heroin addiction. No one wanted to talk to me. I stole every day to survive. I slept in the backseat of a stolen Mustang.

My morning routine was to shoplift something to drink. The alcohol gave me the courage to steal something that I could trade for heroin.

Each day was a black cloud of demoralization. I looked over the horizon and could picture myself at 51 walking back through prison gates. I really didn't expect to live much longer. And there was a part of me that didn't care.

But somehow God saw fit to direct me to a local detoxification unit. That’s when I admitted I was an alcoholic. I always knew I was a heroin addict because I kept getting sent to jail, prison, and hospitals because of my addiction.

Once I made that admission and started attending 12 step meetings my life changed forever. I left that detoxification unit and went to a local halfway house, where I spent almost a year.

And when I left there I moved into TLC's first property on Robson Street. Twenty-three years later I can't believe the life I'm enjoying.

The point is that any of us can live up to our potential once we get clean and sober..

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

He's Willing

I received emails last week from a therapist in another state, asking if we accept clients with emotional challenges, those on medication.

Since this client had been on psychiatric medication since childhood, I asked her to have him call me, if that was possible.

And when I spoke to him yesterday, I questioned him. One was about his motivation to change his life and his willingness to do the sometimes hard work of recovery. He’s willing.

I asked about his arrest history because we don't accept those with arrests for sexual crimes or arson. He had none of those.

He had a question of his own, the right question. And that was about the local job market because he was concerned about employment. I assured him that there was work here.

At the end of the exchange I told the therapist to send him here – that we’d accept him. They both were grateful.

And while I appreciated their gratitude, the reality is that this client didn't sound any different than many of those already with us.

The motivated make it. The unmotivated drop out.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Recovering Employees

Running a business with so-called “normal” people has plenty of challenges. Running a corporation totally staffed with recovering substance abusers – as with TLC - can at times be much more difficult.

At a regular company the most common motivation for working is for a paycheck. But at a company like TLC money is not the key motivation.

Instead staying clean and sober takes precedence. It’s about saving our lives and escaping the demons of our past. It’s about not walking the big yard for years. About not seeing the looks of disappointment on the faces of our loved ones. It’s about returning to school. About rebuilding our mental and physical health.

Working with employees in recovery, however, requires patience and understanding. The reason being that just become someone’s gotten sober doesn’t’ mean they’re all of a sudden emotionally healthy.

Egos and territoriality come into play. We addicts are often emotionally fragile. Our self-esteem is in shambles. And sometimes that affects our relationships with our co-workers.

So how do we work with employees in recovery? Mostly we use the tools of recovery that we learn in 12-step meetings.

We ask them to look beyond pettiness and to the larger mission: which is to rebuild our lives and recover from substance abuse. We ask them to remember what it says in the recovery literature about not fighting anyone or anything. We ask them to forget small differences that might interfere with our efforts to change our lives.

And it’s worked for over 22 years.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sense of Belonging

TLC has some 85 employees, most of them clients who work for us as part of their program. And some have been with us more than 15 years. You might ask why anyone would work for that long in a recovery program?

After all, they can make a lot more working in the the larger community, while having more freedom. But the reality is that many of them haven't done well with money. And as to freedom, many ended up in prison or jail because of their behavior.

We also have clients with independent sources of income who work for us for little or nothing because they get something more important. They are required to be accountable. They must show up at a certain time. They are subject to drug and alcohol screenings at any time. They have to display decent behavior or they'll find themselves in a group counseling session. They can’t hang out with shady people.  They get to live a meaningful life while being of service.

Our employees become part of the larger TLC community. We become their surrogate family. When one gets sick a bunch of people show up at the hospital. If they need to get somewhere and don't have transportation we get them there. If they're hungry, they'll be fed. If they get into emotional wrecks, someone will listen.

Belonging and having a purpose in life is an important ingredient of happiness. And I’ve had more than one client tell me they’ve never been happier than during their time with us.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gratitude Moment

A man's in my office for a substance abuse assessment so he can be cleared to return to work. His eyes dart all over the room. He's sweaty, nervous, and antsy. Almost like he might bolt out the door at any moment.

I suggest that he relax and take a deep breath. Then I ask, "Are you under the influence of methamphetamines?"

"Yes I am," he replies. "I need to stop."

Then he goes on to tell me that even though he’s been using for less than a year his life “has gone to hell.”

His wife's divorcing him. He wrecked his car. His employer let him go because he'd stay awake for so many days that whenever he sat down he'd immediately fall asleep. He’s baffled because his life’s disintegrating.

He doesn’t seem happy when I point out that until he gets clean things are likely to continue to get worse.

Because of his test results, and the safety-sensitive job he does for his employer, I refer him to an intensive treatment program for further evaluation and recommendations.

And while I’m at my computer typing the referral paperwork for him, I hear snoring. Sure enough, he fell asleep.

When he left my office I had a sense of gratitude that I got sober 23 years ago.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of you! I wish you a prosperous 2014, one filled with the many blessings of recovery.  And I thank you for reading.

Since I posted the first blog July 25, 2010, while on vacation in San Diego, California I haven't missed. When I looked at the stats the other day there were around 1260 postings – about 275,000 words. There have been times when it was a challenge to keep my commitment. While on vacation in Mexico there were occasions when Internet service was spotty. Other times I've been away from my computer and ended up making a posting from my cell phone or Ipad.

My original goal was 1000 blogs, then stop. But for some reason, probably because I'm obsessive about everything, I haven't been able to. The original idea was to force myself to write daily, from a recovery perspective. I figured that since I do something each day to stay physically fit, I should also do something each day to stay mentally fit. And to improve my writing. I'm not sure I've accomplished these goals, but it seems that ideas come easier than they did back in 2010.

The most rewarding aspect of blogging is when parents say they made the decision about sending their children to TLC based on what they read here. Because I don't sugar coat what happens at TLC, I think some parents find us trustworthy. In any event, it's a blessing to help anyone get to recovery.

I appreciate those who send feedback. I welcome critiques from anyone. Thank you. Y Prospero Ano Nuevo…

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