Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We can Help

While walking out of a Subway yesterday evening I noticed a young man follow me out the door.

Once we were outside he asked for a dollar.

When I asked what was going on, he told me he was homeless and hungry.

Making an assumption that he was an addict, I handed him some money and said I could help.

But when I mentioned TLC, he had an immediate reaction.

"Not that place," he said. "I just left there today."

When I questioned him further, he had all kinds of reasons why he left. They were making him work. He had to pay to be there. There were bedbugs and cockroaches. The food was terrible. He had to go to meetings. He went on and on.

Finally - when he finished with his excuses - I gave him my card and told him if he changed his mind we were still willing to help.

As I drove away, I saw him looking at the card, perhaps thinking about my offer. 

In any event a few days being homeless and hungry might help him decide.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 29, 2014

Real Life

I received this message last week from a former client. I thought it might help others understand the real life dilemmas we face when we get clean. She kindly allowed me to publish it here. Her name is omitted to help protect anonymity.

"John,

I was at TLC for 10 months. At Robson.

It was the best experience of my life. I got a job. Got my life straightened out. Went to all my meetings and Alano

I had a relationship with my daughter and granddaughter. I recently left TLC and moved back to my hometown after 26 years.

My life is good. I started going to meetings as soon as I got here. I got a sponsor. Working part time for now. Moving into a place with my best friend from high school.

The problem is that because I decided to live life on life's terms and let my higher power lead me where He may, my daughter, who lives in Mesa, is no longer talking to me. She feels I abandoned her just when she was starting to accept that I was going to be there for her.

I explained I will always be there for her but I have to do what is right for me. I have to be happy or I could potentially go back to doing what I was doing for the last 26 years. That is not an option. So now I'm giving her time to accept that this is how it is and if she wants a relationship she will contact me when she's ready.

I have no control over her. So I'm living my life and doing what I need to do to be happy and successful. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your program. TLC truly changed my life. 


God Bless you and Miss Rebecca."

This message illustrates difficult choices we sometimes have to make in recovery.

Once we're in recovery others often have their own ideas about how we should behave. Maybe how we're supposed to make up for the past. They don't understand that if we don't have a solid recovery nothing else matters.

Hopefully, her daughter's love will eventually help her understand what's important.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Angry Father

A long time halfway house manager comes to my office and asks me to listen to a voice mail that he puts on speaker phone.

The man who left the message was obviously drunk. He slurs his words. He sounds angry. He snarls threats about what he plans to do.

One is a graphic diatribe about subjecting the manager to various sex acts. Others are about giving the manager a beating. There are many more adjectives, none positive or uplifting.

The manager told me he'd discharged the man's son for breaking rules. And that's why the father was angry.

Though it doesn't happen every day, this is not an unusual reaction from a parent.  Parents give us their addict children and expect us to change years of bad parenting in a few weeks. That rarely happens.

Some of these youngsters experience culture shock when they come to TLC.  They're not used to working. To waking at 4:00 am. To cleaning their rooms or going to meetings. To paying service fees. In essence, to being adults.

And while we work with them for a while, we eventually lose patience and send them back to mommy or daddy if they can't comply.

Our compassion goes out to this angry father. Because - on top of a hangover - he had an addict son back living on his sofa the next morning.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 27, 2014

He's Ready

Today I received an email from an alcoholic who's struggling with his disease.

He's a man in  his middle years who's been drinking for a while. He's unemployable because he went to work at early age and never developed advanced job skills.

He said he prays every night before he goes to sleep that God will take him before he wakes up.

He says that if he doesn't die soon he may take his own life.

He alarmed me when he mentioned suicide. I immediately sent him an email saying we could help him. If he had included a phone number, I would've called him.

Yet, in spite of his situation, I have high hopes for him if he can get here.

When someone comes to us who's arrived at the his station in life he has no more illusions. He has no arrogance.  He has no ego. He's totally surrendered to the fact that he's an alcoholic. Deflation.

If this man shows up, we can help.

We sometimes have addicts arrive with a car. A job. A girlfriend. A wardrobe. Usually they also bring ego, no matter how tattered it might be. These are people that we sometimes have difficulty helping because they haven't hit bottom yet.  We sometimes ask them to leave until they lose everything - until they're really willing.

But the man who wrote the email, he's ready.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Happiness Formula

We addicts are sometimes so unhappy. But why?

It usually goes back to the idea that we want something we don't have.

The past few days I spent time with addicts who were unhappy. One was in tears over I don't know what. Another was angry. One had a dark cloud of depression over his head. But why?

I'm not 100% sure.  But I know that each had the same core issue: they wanted something they didn't have. One wanted more freedom. Another to be in a relationship. Another needed a job. One didn't like being on restriction.

None accepted the idea that their unfulfilled wants made them unhappy. They were looking at externals.

If only they could have the things or situations they were grasping for they'd be okay. They wanted what they wanted and right now. Not having what they wanted equaled unhappiness.

A wise person gave me these two keys to happiness:

  • The first was that at this moment I accept everything about myself and my life. 

  • The second was that I don't want things I don't already have or can't easily get.

And this is true. If I'm satisfied with where I am and with what I have, then everything's perfect. And that means my marriage, my income, my home, my age, and so forth. Everything.

At some point I came to realize that the next great thing doesn't bring happiness. Maybe a temporary rush until the newness wore off. But that soon becomes an empty cycle.

So, to recap, the secret is that we accept what's going on at this moment. And we don't want anything in life we don't have right now.

That's happiness.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Time to Leave

A former resident who moved out several months back called to give me an update on his life.

He was struggling to get by. He hadn't relapsed yet, but also didn't attend as many meetings as he had at TLC.

Expenses of living on his own were something he hadn't calculated. Utilities, rent and deposits, car insurance and gas were eating up his paycheck.

All he really paid attention to before leaving was the $15 an hour he was earning. While living with us and paying $110 a week that seemed like a lot of money. But now that he was having to pay for his own food and living expenses he found himself running short. He had little disposable income.

And one intangible he hadn't figured on at all was that he had a lot of moral and emotional support while with TLC. In fact he said that was what he missed the most.

We counsel those who leave that these are some of the many factors to consider before going on their own.

While part of our name is transitional there's a time to do it right.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

No Limits!

"The number one reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors." Napoleon Hill

An older client from a rural community watches as I enter some of his information on my computer.

“You know,” he said, sadness in his voice, “I’ve never learned to use a computer”

He said his father told him he didn’t need to learn stuff like that. He just needed to find a simple job and do it. So, for most of his life he’s been working manual labor and menial jobs, barely getting by.

He seemed resistant when I suggested that he no longer listen to his father, who had long ago passed on. Instead, he should listen to his own dreams and desires. His eyes told me he liked the idea of doing something different. But his words said something else.

How many of us listen to voices from the past?  The chorus from negative people?  Listen to those who hobble our ambition and dreams with their negativity? Maybe suggesting we settle for something mediocre when we’re capable of so much more?

If you have a passion to go beyond what you’ve done all your life, do it now. Block out negative family, friends, or associates.

This applies to everything from your recovery to your choice of a career or business - everything.

Relatives said I’d never stay sober, that I'd spend my life in prison. Or be a bum.

My life changed because I didn't accept limitations from others.

You can change your life.  Stop accepting limits others might put upon you.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Defending the Children

At times the parents of young addicts are as hard to deal with as the addicts themselves.

And this usually happens when when we discharge someone.

The client rarely tells the the parents what happened.

"They're picking on me."

"They're lying about me."

"Other people were doing the same thing I did. But nothing happened to them."

"I got in trouble for something someone else did."

It could be threats, drug use, or sexual behavior. Whatever the infraction, the former client won't admit responsibility. And the parent will take up the cause.

When they go on the defense they sound like a bunch of lawyers.

Why are we being unfair? They want to hear details. They want to talk about what other clients did. The focus is seldom on their loved one.

The conversation usually ends with them being unhappy along with their child.

With older clients - 35 and up - the story's different. By this time the addict has worn the family out. They've put up bail. They've loaned money. They've heard all the lies. They realize there's not much they can do.

And when they hear the stories of mistreatment they have their doubts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sharing Hope

The man at the podium tells his story, one I've heard hundreds of times during my 23 years in the program.

More than two dozen arrests. A prison term. Trips in an out of jail. DUI's. A litany of failures stacked on failures.

A lifestyle of decadence and self-gratification. Of disappointing loved ones. Divorces. Ripping off friends. Of being unemployable. Being beat up.

Then, out of desperation, he finds his way to the 12-step rooms and recovery.

And even though I've heard his tale over and over, I'm enthralled because that's our story. Maybe the details vary - but the plot is the same.

And the reason his story excites me is not because of its dramatic sordid details. It's because the man speaking is proof the programs works.

His testimonial gives hope to the newcomers in the room who have failed over and over. They hear what he went though years ago. Then they see what he's like today. He gives any doubters in the room hope for a new life.

It happened for him like it can happen for any of us who listen to the message.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Old Values

No matter how long I’m in recovery, I’m periodically challenged by instincts from my previous life.

For example, while backing out of Circle K the other day I gently ran my rear bumper into a car parked slightly out of my vision.

Irritated, I got out to assess the damage. I couldn't see marks on the other car because it had dings on all sides. Maybe a slight scuff on his left rear bumper? And my Prius? A six inch scratch on the right-hand rear corner – perhaps a few hundred dollars in repairs.

The driver must've been in the store, because no one was around. No witnesses.

And for a half second – to my surprise – I weighed the option of driving off.  Why? What was the point? I have great insurance. I have money in my pocket. And damage was so slight it was something I could settle between me and the other driver.

But I didn't leave. I waited. And moments later the car's owner and his girlfriend came out of the store.

I showed him my bumper, and then we looked at his car. He couldn't tell if I’d damaged it. So he looked surprised him when I put $50 in his hand. He thanked me for being honest and left.

Driving away, I realized that though I've been sober for almost 24 years, I still have remnants of programming, fragments of old code, from my past.

For years I lived as a predator, a life of corrupt values. I prowled the urban landscape looking to get over on others. Looking for something to steal. Something I could convert to heroin or alcohol.

And I've done my best to erase that part of my past with meetings and counseling. But once in a while old values bubble to the surface.

Yes, I override them. But sometimes I forget they're there and I'm surprised when they pop up.

We addicts must remain aware of who we are lest we revert to who we once were.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Doing the Insignificant

“Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it” Mohandas Gandhi 1869-1948

Someone used this saying from Mahatma Gandhi during a staff meeting last week. But what does it mean?

The consensus is that it means we each are part of a greater whole.

It's a philosophical idea that’s easier to explain from the context of our recovery program.

At TLC there are many moving parts. Some residents might do landscaping around the houses. Another could be on the phone helping newcomers find jobs. Still another will work in the accounting office doing data entry.

These jobs in themselves might seem insignificant. Yet each is necessary for the running of our organization.

And each of our 120 staff members is vital to the orderly operation of TLC.

So no matter what we do in the humdrum of our daily routine - no matter how seemingly trivial or boring - we must realize that the world wouldn't run as well without the roles each of us play.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 19, 2014

Overcoming Frustration

I remember when a parole officer once told me "John, no one is totally useless. You can always serve as a bad example."

At the time I thought he was being rude. Or sarcastic. Maybe he was trying to be funny? But the interesting thing about what he told me is that I've remembered it for some 50 years. He was making a point. And he did. It's something that has stuck with me.

I was in my early 20's when he told me that. At the time I didn't listen to anyone about anything. I was on a mission to destroy my life. All I wanted to do was shoot heroin, drink, and steal everything I could get my hands on. I was angry about everything. I was even angry at those who were trying to help me. I just didn't get it. I thought they should mind their own business.  Yet what he said made me look at myself - even though I didn't change at the time.

And today I sometimes become frustrated with clients who don't seem to get it. Some do the same dumb things, over and over. To me the answer is obvious. If you do this you'll get this kind of result. Yet it's almost as if they have blinders on.

Then I catch myself. I look back and remember that I was one of those people. And when I do that my frustration subsides.

All of us - when we reach a certain age - can look back and remember that mentors often stood by our sides. They must've been saints because we addicts and alcoholics are a difficult population to reach.

So when I want to give up on a client - as I sometimes feel like doing - I think of those who stood by me. None gave up.

When I'm working with those in our program I know the next thing they hear might make a difference in their life. And when I keep that in mind, my frustration subsides.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

No more Cravings

Since the advent of new drugs that block the effects of opiates and other addictive substances addicts are having to ask themselves a question. And the question is: how serious am I about quitting? About living clean?

This comes up for me today because I've seen a few clients in the last few months who are offered sort of a magic pill. And the magic pill is an injection of Vivitrol that takes away the cravings for alcohol and opiates for a month or longer. But some have declined the injection, for whatever reason.

And when I think of what the reasons could be I don't come up with much. Could it be that the idea of not having a craving for their drug of choice scares them? After all, who am I going to be if I don't have my cravings? And how am I going to deal with my challenges if I can't kill the pain with drugs or alcohol? Or will I even have emotional pain? Who will I be if I'm no longer driven by my addiction? Where will I hide?

It seems to me that with the advances in pharmacology that give us drugs to take away cravings we're entering a new era.

For those serious about change this removal of cravings could be a blessing. But what about an addict's personality and character defects? Just because we take an injection - that doesn't remove the flaws that led us to use in the first place.

Do we need to still go to 12 step meetings now that we don't have cravings? After all, 12 step meetings help us develop skills to get past cravings. But without the cravings, will we need to attend meetings? After all, our issue is now under control with chemicals.

Will drug companies replace 12-step meetings and recovery programs with a prescription that will heal us all?

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Prejudice & Fear

I don't often come face-to-face with prejudice and fear. Or maybe I just don't pay attention. But it happened yesterday.

It came about when I met with a woman who's selling a property near one of our halfway houses. She'd told me in our initial phone call that she was selling because she couldn't rent to "nice people." And that's because of our halfway house down the street.

As she talked, she reminisced about the 1950's when she was a girl in Mesa. A time when things were great. A time when the population was less than 20,000.

But now, halfway houses are downtown. Plus the light-rail is coming through. And things are terrible. She doesn't like any of it.

She spoke with animation about the danger addicts and alcoholics present to the city. She talked about how she'd been able to keep halfway houses out of the neighborhood around her church.

My addict brain began spinning. I wondered what they taught at her church. Did they teach about tolerance? Love thy neighbor? Acceptance? I wondered, but didn't ask.

When I'd talk of the services we provide to the community she'd nod in agreement. But she thought we should do it elsewhere. Kind of like there wouldn't be addicts or alcoholics if those helping them would go away. Sort of like what people say about feeding cats.

I realized I was wasting my breath trying to reason with her. Her fears and prejudices kept her from seeing the humanity in those facing challenges.

And we didn't come to an agreement about the house. We might, though I'm not sure I care whether we get it or not.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Survival Skills

A man sends an email from somewhere in a northern state. He says he's living next to a dump. He’s been riding a bicycle for a few years. He would like to stop using drugs and being homeless.

Another man wrote recently to say he's been living at a rest stop for a few weeks because his car broke down. He wants to get into TLC so he can stop drinking.

These emails from those who’ve been homeless for years fascinate me. Their stories say a lot about how resourceful and tough addicts can be.

I regularly see people in our area who are mining dumpsters, looking for something of value. Suffering on Arizona’s hot streets. Some ride bicycles towing their belongings on a trailer, a sign that they're homeless.

I find this interesting because it takes a tough person to live outdoors and use their survival skills to get by.

This same toughness can help them stay clean and sober once they make the decision to change. That same energy applied in the right direction could change their whole world.

And when they're ready we're here to help.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 15, 2014

Unhappy Neighbor

While driving to lunch Saturday I saw a for sale by owner sign in front of a run-down house. It was a few doors from one of our recovery homes.

Curious, I called the number on the sign. During my conversation with the owner I mentioned we owned a property up the street from hers.

"I know who you are," the lady on the other end of the line said. "I've been fighting you for years."

Her remark piqued my curiosity. I haven't fought anyone for years. And I had no idea who she was.

She went on to explain that because we operated a halfway house in the neighborhood she was unable to rent to "nice people." That's why she was selling.

Many years ago that remark would’ve angered me. But I've long since accepted that neighbors don't understand what happens in our recovery homes.

The residents have jobs. There’s no fighting or threats. No drugs or alcohol. No sex offenders allowed. Many positive things happen in our program. But I didn’t bother telling her about them because her perception would have blocked what I had to say.

Anyway, she said she would no longer fight. She went on to say that if we agreed on a price she'd sell us the house.

As I drove away I noted that the best looking houses on the block were the ones occupied by our recovery home residents.

The yards are beautiful. There are no broken down cars. The people living there are clean, sober, and neatly dressed.

But I realized as I drove away that neighborhood fears about alcoholics and addicts are hard to change.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gratitude Blog

A man in recovery sent me his reflections on gratitude.  His sentiments are worth sharing.

"I just read your blog post on gratitude and I sometimes experience the same thing. I often forget to write a gratitude list every morning, but then I see someone living on the streets and I thank God that I am no longer homeless.

One of the things I do every time I go into the bathroom is thank the rehab I’m currently living in for accepting me into their program even though I didn’t have any money when I applied to get into treatment. And I feel grateful every time I walk down one of the hallways. They took me off the streets, gave me a hot plate of food and a warm bed, and they said, “Welcome”.

It’s easy to become complacent when we’re in a drug treatment center. Not only that, sometimes we become resentful if the staff doesn’t allow us to do something we want to do. When one of my peers becomes resentful, I tell him to remember that when we were on the streets and we had control over our lives, we were not able to do the important things in life because our addiction kept a tight grip on us.

In other words, when we were in control, when we could come and go as we pleased, we never took care of business. That’s why most of us addicts become homeless. We simply cannot make it to work in the mornings and we can’t make those important meetings that are supposed to help us.

When I want to go somewhere I always ask staff for permission. And if he or she says no, I don’t become upset because I know that they’re only protecting me from the addict that’s inside me and is waiting to come out.

You blog is an inspiration for me. I smile every time I get an email that you’ve published a new blog post and I almost always read it immediately. I’ve read some of your articles a couple times if it really resonated with me and what I’m currently going through in my life.

I started a blog too. I called it Trying to Change My Life. I write a blog post at least three times a week. I write about what’s happening in my life and sometimes I’ll write about something I read about how we can change our life for the better." 


Ramiro’s blog is: http://trying-to-change-my-life-now.blogspot.com/

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gratitude Reminder

Today, while walking into my office, I encountered a man I've known for some time. We chatted briefly, then he pulled out his smart phone to show me some family pictures. Most of them were of his son and grandson, a handsome toddler.

As we chatted, it came out that the child possibly has cancer – a diagnosis that doctors may confirm in the next week.

As our conversation continued we reflected upon the inequities of life. Here we are, two addicts who abused ourselves for years. But we enjoy relatively good health. Yet this innocent child likely faces the challenges of a serious disease.

Encounters like this always refresh my gratitude. They remind me that no matter how challenging our day - we can find reminders that we have much for which to be grateful.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 12, 2014

Faulty Tests?

A few months ago we had several clients showing up positive for alcohol on their urinalysis tests. When we'd confront them they would protest strongly.

"Alcohol's not my drug of choice," they'd say. Or "I've never drank in my life."

Many were so convincing that the question of test quality came up at weekly staff meetings. A few clients convinced their counselors there was a defect with the tests.

When clients protested too much we'd even put them on the phone with a lab technician at the testing company. And of course the technician would tell them exactly what the test showed. And how there was little probability there was a mistake – maybe less than a half of a percent.

But over a six-week period we kept getting positive tests for alcohol among half a dozen clients.

This went on long enough that we had a talk with the company representative. Could there be something wrong with the testing procedures? He assured us there wasn't. His company didn't become a nationwide corporation by doing shoddy work.

So what to do? Finally the staff came up with a solution. And it's one that seems to work – at least so far.

We bought a couple of breathalyzers to use on-site. So now – when clients are off property – they may receive a random test when they return. They never know when the tests will happen. Nor do we. Whenever our managers get the urge - or have an intuitive feeling - they'll use the breathalyzer.

And the interesting thing is that since we began using them about six weeks ago no one has come up dirty for alcohol – not one.

Hmmm...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Learning from 9/11

Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing on the morning of 9/11 when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. I was getting ready to leave for the office that morning when a business associate called and asked if I knew what was going on. I turned on the television to see what he was talking about.

For the next several days our whole world reacted to the shocking images. And at my house there was an eerie quiet in the sky because nothing was going in or out of the airport. I never paid any attention to the sound of the airplanes until they stopped flying.

I followed stories about those who died in the attack. Some had dates planned for that evening. Others had taken their children to daycare. One had a meal cooking in a slow cooker. They all had plans of some kind, but never made it home.

What I took away from this tragedy is that we should learn to live our lives to the fullest - to enjoy the journey. I sometimes talk of this event in group sessions to remind people of how fleeting our lives can be.

Most of us in recovery have wasted years chasing drugs and alcohol. We have squandered the most precious gift that God has given us: our time. And can we ever get it back? No.

But we can learn to live our lives so they have meaning – so we can contribute to the world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Recovery Business

TLC operates several small businesses as part of its recovery operations.

These include a temporary labor service, a roofing and remodeling contracting company, a small hotel, some convenience stores, an auto repair shop, and an outpatient treatment clinic. These businesses provide revenue for TLC.  And they also provide jobs for our clients.

For example, our temporary labor service often sends out 100 clients a day. They work at various arenas around the valley, cleaning the stadiums after games. Many small businessmen and contractors employ our clients for jobs no one else wants.  They like the idea of having sober employees delivered to the job - and on time.

I recently received this letter that illustrates the quality of our work:

"Mr. Schwary:

I felt it necessary to take a moment of your time to let you know that the services provided by your firm, temporary labor company, were fantastic. The crews arrived on time, performed professionally and ensured there were no mishaps or accidents on the job. All laborers worked efficiently until our extremely labor-intensive job was completed.  Each spoke highly of your program. Each staffing individual I met with (Jeremy, Mike, Lorenzo, and Jamie) exhibited absolute professionalism and exceptional marketing skills. I will, without reserve, recommend your organization to anyone in need of temporary labor services.

That said, I would like also to take the opportunity to commend you along with each member of your organization for their efforts, individually and collectively, in providing educational programming, employment support, and housing opportunities to members of our society that the public would often rather turn a blind eye to. You've all chosen to be part of the very much-needed solution.

Respectfully,

Mike

Operations

Adams Concrete Cutting and Demolition
PO Box 10518, Glendale, AZ 85318
623 – 234 – 8555"


What else is there to say?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dictatorship

While we believe we're evenhanded with our discipline at TLC, often it's difficult.

I'll have someone in my office accused of violating a rule and they'll say "where's the evidence?". Who told you that? How do I know they're telling the truth? There's no proof. On and on.

They might've stolen something. Violated curfew. Perhaps engaged in sexual behavior. Whatever it is, most of the time the offender will deny the allegations.

Generally, most information we get comes from other clients. Either from those who don't want to get into trouble. Or else those who are working on recovery and want to live in a clean environment.

The thing I explain is that just because they're accused of something they don't get a jury trial. We don't have time to investigate all the details when a client does wrong.

Instead, we look at a client's previous history. How often they've been in trouble. We consider as many factors as possible before we decide on consequences. And usually staff has discussed the client beforehand. We've pretty decided what we're going to do.

In general, consequences aren't big. Unless a person has violated rules about sexual behavior, threats of violence, or using substances, their consequences are small. Maybe write a paper, apologize to the house, or do extra chores. We never discharge clients unless they are completely resistant.

But in the final analysis TLC is not a democracy. We don't have due process. It's more of a benevolent dictatorship where we make decisions in the best interests of both the client and the program.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Drawing Lines...

Some parents just don't get it. They blame themselves for their children's addictions. What did I do wrong? What could I have done different? How can I help him right now? What can I do to help him change?

They go on and on like this. They can't wrap their brains around the idea that their once sweet baby has morphed into a sick addict.

And my response is always the same: Don't do anything.  Let him (or her) figure it out on their own.

But a mother who learned how to protect herself expresses it well. I share here some of her thoughts:

"I told my son that I can't continue financially and emotionally to keep going through his cycles....this is his work as an adult and although I love him greatly, I can no longer live like this. So, I have learned to detach....and realized finally that I can't fix him. This is between him and God now.

Will I continue to be there and support him to the extent I can so long as he is remaining drug-free and trying to help himself? You bet. Will I sacrifice my own happiness with continual worry, frustration, anger, drama, and sadness any longer? No way.

Loving myself means knowing and honoring my own boundaries....and learning that he will need to honor his own. This model has helped me in so many ways...not just with my son....but in dealings with others too. So my son probably doesn't see it, but he has actually helped me to become a better person....stronger, more compassionate, less fearful, more understanding of our frailties ....and savoring the precious life that we have right in front of us....one moment at a time..."


If parents adopted this attitude they might live in freedom. And maybe they'd save their child's life by teaching them to be responsible.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Willing?

A mother emails me this week about her son's struggles with alcoholism. She tells of his problems, the disappointments they've had trying to help him. She says he can't live with her or her husband, that they're done with him. She says the son's finally ready to get help.

I tell her we can help if he's willing.

Because that's the key. Willingness is freedom. Willingness set me free and brought me to recovery.

The process of getting clean and sober is simple. Unless we have organic brain damage or some kind of psychiatric issues we can all get into recovery. It's that simple.

And it's simple because we've become willing. That was the key for us when we finally decided to get sober. We came to realize that nobody ever held us down and poured a drink down our throat. Or tied us off and shot us up with dope. We were happy participants in our self-destruction.

Before we got clean and sober we had all these reasons and excuses. We blamed our inability to get into recovery on everything and everybody.

We had excuses. Reasons why we couldn't get into recovery. No money. No insurance. Everybody's against me. But when life finally beat us into submission and we found that magic pill of willingness, things quickly changed

There's help for us. Halfway houses that'll take us without money. Free detoxes. Sometimes government insurance. People in 12-step meetings.

The resources are there if we trade our excuses for willingness.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Anniversary

Yesterday, September 5, was an anniversary.

On that date, 54 years ago I stood in front of a Superior Court judge in Santa Ana, California. He handed me a 10 year prison sentence for heroin possession. I was 19 years old.

I went to prison angry. I was angry because the amount of heroin that I had, residue in the spoon, wasn't enough to keep an addict high for an hour. But in those days people who used drugs were evil monsters. And the only option for those convicted of possession was prison. Even being under the influence of heroin or possessing paraphernalia called for a year in jail.

Under the same circumstances today I probably wouldn't have even gone to jail for such a small amount. At the most, I would have an option of going to treatment.

Now I'm not lamenting what happened to me back in last century. It's the way things were. The prisons were full of addicts, many serving long terms for minor offenses.

Instead, I'm happy society is more enlightened. We addicts are no longer viewed as evil. Even though we sometimes do evil things for drugs or alcohol.

Those seeking recovery have options if they want to pursue them. And I believe that's a sign that we're growing up in our attitudes about alcoholics and addicts.

However, society's better attitude toward alcoholics and addicts doesn't explain why alcoholism and addiction are as rampant as they were 50 years ago.

Any ideas?

Friday, September 5, 2014

R.I.P.

We sadly note the passing of two former residents.

The first, Stanley, was at TLC several times and finally entered the Hard Six program.

He was a cordial guy who worked at our corporate office for some time. He seemed serious about recovery. He went to meetings and had a sponsor. Eventually he sought employment outside TLC and worked as a cook at a local detoxification center. He was communicating with his daughter and his future seemed promising.

But then one day, while in aftercare group, the group leader suspected he might be under the influence of heroin.

And, sure enough, he was. They told him he could come back to the program after three days. But he never did.

The story around town was that he was strung out. Once in a while someone would see him riding by the halfway houses on his bicycle. Then a day or so ago we heard that he died of a drug overdose.

The other man, Jeff, was a one-time driver for TLC. After he left that job he was living at the Southern house. Reports are that he left for work one day last week and never returned. He reportedly died under a tree outside a local retail store.

These untimely deaths impact all of us at TLC. And their deaths remind us that we have a dangerous disease that wants to kill us.

It also reminds us that what we do to help others isn't always successful. But if we can help a few into long-term recovery then what we do is worthwhile.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finding Gratitude

Every once in a while I have lunch with my sponsor. Yesterday was one of those days.

When he asked how I was doing, I mentioned health issues. They seem to occur more often now that I'm in my mid-70s. Neuropathy. Hepatitis. And so forth.

Being the saint that he is, he listened patiently for a while before commenting.

"Well," he said, "you're lucky you have health insurance to take care of these things." And I think he also mentioned something about acceptance. And gratitude.

And, of course, I agreed with him. I'm grateful that I have the ability to care for myself.

I look around at those who are facing physical and mental challenges, but with limited resources. Or with nothing at all.

My sponsor's observations help me refocus on my blessings. For many years I drank. I used drugs. And I didn't take good care of myself.

So today I'm grateful that – at 75 – I'm healthy enough to work six days a week because I want to. I'm able to spend time with my wife and family. I have a nice home. Vacations.

A prod toward gratitude always changes my perspective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Conflicting Codes

In the 12 step literature it states that "love and tolerance of others is our code." And I thought that this was something that was easy for me to practice. But I learned a couple of years ago that I have trouble applying it in all situations.

It kind of happened like this. I had joined a new fitness center a couple of miles from my house. And quite often, when I'd show up at four in the morning, I'd encounter a fellow there who was quite friendly. We would nod and speak. A couple of times I ran into him at a pharmacy in the neighborhood.

Eventually we started addressing each other by name. Sometimes we'd make small talk during our workouts. But that was about it.

Then one day, as I was driving away from my house I noticed this same guy standing in front of a house two doors from mine. He nodded and waved, and so did I.

Then a sudden realization came over me. The house was the home of a registered sex offender who had moved into our neighborhood about six months earlier. To be sure, I looked on the Internet and confirmed it. This was the same guy whose mug shot I'd seen on a flyer that came to our house when he first moved to the neighborhood.

After that, when I'd see him at the gym I'd do my best to avoid him. But that wasn't always possible. Once he invited me and my wife to have a beer and see the renovations he'd made to his patio. I mumbled something about us not drinking and not being too social and left it at that. Eventually I changed my schedule and started working out at a different time and never ran into him again.

Because I came from a prison subculture where people like him suffered a lot, I have a visceral reaction when I encounter people like him. Plus, I'm a grandparent with six grandchildren that I'm quite protective of.

But sometimes in situations like this I wonder where my love and tolerance is. Then I realize that at times life puts us in situations where our codes of behavior are difficult to apply.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Becoming What we think About

"We become what we think about most of the time, and that's the strangest secret." Earl Nightingale 1921-1989

I love the above saying.

If I think I'm going to recover, then that will happen. And if I think that I will inevitably get high – then I will.

I deal regularly with clients who live with enormous fears. They talk of them as if they're reality. And they spend so much time visualizing them that they take on a life of their own. They become slaves to thoughts of using. And before long they have a needle in their arm. Or a drink or pipe in their hands.

I was like them. When I thought I couldn't function without drugs that became reality. When all I thought about was alcohol or substances, that was what life became. I was afraid to face life without heroin in my system, or a drink in my hands. For 38 years that was my lifestyle, a mess I created because of my thinking.

But one day my thinking changed. And it changed because I was having a lot of pain. I was homeless over and over. I'd build businesses and then lose them. In and out of jail. I went through divorces. All because I thought I couldn't live without drugs or alcohol.

But one day many years ago after I sought respite in a detox center something clicked. I began to think that maybe I could find another way to live. Maybe I didn't need to have a crutch to get out of bed and face the world. Maybe I could communicate with people without needing a few drinks or a shot of dope to do so. In other words, my thinking changed.

And that change of thinking has allowed me to put together over 23 years of recovery.

So if you’re stuck in your recovery - or anywhere else - change your thinking. It worked for me.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 1, 2014

Baby Steps

A woman in recovery, whom I’ve known for some time, sent the following. It was in response to a posting I made about the importance of caring for ourselves. She writes:

“John, I was on a recovery web site yesterday. I found the following analogy: 

"Changing our obsessions is like switching seats on the Titanic".

“I was catching up on your blogs this morning, read this one and had to respond. I think differently in recovery. You can bet I never worried too much of myself or what I owe myself while I was in active addiction. In my first few months of sobriety, I realized I had replaced the drugs and alcohol with food, cigarettes, and my personal favorite, diet coke. These choices are still helping the "grim reapers" visit much sooner than necessary.


“So I have put down the cigs, making healthier choices in fueling my body. I care about the kind of person I am. I am no longer content with just getting by. I want to be useful to others. So every day I practice what I have learned through God, and AA. The diet coke is still in my life, but I have incorporated more water in my diet! Baby Steps!”

In my mind “Baby Steps” are a smart way to make change less painful. And probably more lasting.

Click here to email John