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, October 31, 2014

Mother Love

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

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

His list goes on and on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If she does that she might help save his life.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Overcoming Self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reason for Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for that I'm grateful.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mad Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Monday, October 27, 2014

Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Honest Addicts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's enough for us.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pleasure and Pain

Human nature is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Late Night Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mindfulness

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

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

But this often is easier said than done.

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

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

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

So how do we learn to live in the present?

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Partners who Relapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are lines no one should cross.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Counting on Miracles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Monday, October 20, 2014

Certified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Day at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we do it a day at a time.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Back Home

Today, back to the world of responsibilities. Back to decisions. Of showing up at certain times.

Being in Mexico for the past two weeks has given us a chance to breathe, to reflect, to rest.

Our biggest decisions have been about where to eat. When to go to the gym or down to the pool. What time to get a massage. Important stuff.

Having no schedule is liberating. Go to bed when we're tired. Get up when we awake - or not get up. Read. Write.

Of course in our world of electronic connections we do the things that need our attention. But before the stress level gets too high, we can go to the patio and watch the sailboats drift by.

We're grateful for the the time away, for our trustworthy staff that keeps everything working.

This circle we have around us is another blessing of recovery.  Without their support we'd be unable to enjoy time away.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Living in the Center

Like tightrope walkers some clients try to maintain the perfect chemical balance. They want to feel wonderful, to feel perfect at all times.

Maybe I need a Valium; that'll make things okay. Or Suboxin to stave off the urge to fix some heroin. I need to be up . No, maybe down. Something to make me sleep. Something to remove my anxiety. This hurts. That hurts.

But they never get there. Because once they get there it's not the right place. So let's try something else. But nothing works.

And that's the secret. Nothing works - except maybe temporarily. Sometimes life's just a bitch. And sometimes it's wonderful. There's pain. There's joy. We fail. We succeed. Life's a roller coaster of ups and down.

So what to do?

We stare life in the face. Embrace the things we don't like. Then the pain loses it's power, it withers because we're not giving it our focused attention.

Maybe then we can live in the center, neither up or down. But okay.  And living life on life's terms - not ours.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Higher Power

"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."  From the Third Step of the Big Book.

For those with anxiety about the idea of God this step can be challenging.

Yet the third tradition says the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. That's pretty simple. Black and white.

Right there we see that alcoholics can choose what they want to believe - or believe in nothing at all.

But an interesting thing I've noticed is that as they stick around they start seeing amazing changes in others.

They see miracles in the lives of fellow members. Families reunite. Work materializes. Health improves. Opportunities abound.

Then all of a sudden their lives seem to get better without much explanation. And that's when their perception of a Higher Power sometimes starts to shift.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncommon Things

“The purpose of an organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things.” -Peter Drucker 1909-2005, Author and Business Consultant

When I read the above quote it reminds me of the common people – the addicts - who put together TLC. And how our organization has done uncommon things.

In over 23 years TLC has helped several hundred thousand addicts and alcoholics change their lives. And the uncommon aspect is that it’s all been done by other addicts and alcoholics - and without a penny of support from the government.

In fact, in the case of TLC , in 1997 the City of Mesa attempted legal action against us that would have hampered our ability to do business – or closed us down. However, after a five year legal battle we prevailed in court.

One of the keys to the success of TLC is that we’re about recovery principles, and not about personalities.

Top to bottom, our managers are in recovery and learn that their primary job is to serve other recovering addicts.  Big egos don’t last with us.

It’s been a formula for success that has endured challenges as serious as the 2008 economic downturn and as petty as verbal sniping from so-called competitors.

And we're on track to keep growing - and helping our fellow addicts have the same opportunities we've had.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are You an Enabling Parent?

"An enabler is a person who recognizes that a negative circumstance is occurring on a regular basis and yet continues to enable the person with the problem to persist with his detrimental behaviors. Simply, enabling creates an atmosphere in which our adult children can comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior?"  Allison Botke - "Setting Boundaries with your Adult Children"

Because I regularly deal with enabling parents I thought some of you would find this author's information helpful. Here are a few questions from the author's book that might help you determine if you are an enabling parent.

1. Have you loaned him money repeatedly, seldom (if ever) being repaid?

2. Have you paid for education and/or job training in more than one field?

3. Have you finished a job or project that he failed to complete himself because it was easier than arguing with him?

4. Have you paid bills he was supposed to have paid himself?

5. Have you accepted part of the blame for his addictions or behavior?

6. Have you avoided talking about negative issues because you feared his response?

7. Have you bailed him out of jail or paid for his legal fees?

8. Have you given him "one more chance" and then another and another?

9. Have you ever returned home at lunchtime (or called) and found him still in bed sleeping?

10. Have you wondered how he gets money to buy cigarettes, video games, new clothes, and such but can't afford to pay his own bills?

11. Have you ever "called in sick" for your child, lying about his symptoms to his boss?

12. Have you threatened to throw him out and didn't?

13. Have you begun to feel that you've reached the end of your rope?

14. Have you begun to hate both your child and yourself for the state in which you live?

15. Have you begun to worry that the financial burden is more than you can bear?

16. Have you begun to feel that your marriage is in jeopardy because of this situation?

17. Have you noticed growing resentment in other family members regarding this issue?

18. Have you noticed that others are uncomfortable around you when this issue arises?

19. Have you noticed an increase in profanity, violence, and/or other unacceptable behavior?

20. Have you noticed that things are missing from your home, including money, valuables, and other personal property?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, chances are at some point in time you have enabled your adult child to avoid his own responsibilities—to escape the consequences of his actions. Rather than help your child grow into a productive and responsible adult, you have made it easier for him to get worse.

Click here to buy Allison Botke’s book.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Be the Instrument

Part of keeping emotional balance is to not take things personally. Whether the things are good - or bad.

When a therapist said that years ago -  my first time in treatment - I didn't understand.

But, now, after having thousands of addicts stream through my life over 23+ years - I know what he meant.

If I don't take things personally then I don't go through ups or downs when things don't go as I expect.

If a client relapses it’s not about me. Same as when one is successful. I don't take that personally either.

Our obligation in this business is to carry the message as best we can.

If we look upon ourselves as an instrument of change - not the cause of change - then we serve both the client and ourselves.

When a parent screams at me because her child relapsed I understand her pain. But I don't take it personal.

And when one praises us because her child has done well - I don't get puffed up about that either.

We are only tools.

Yes, we can be a little sad at failure. Or happy about success.

But if we remember we are only instruments of change then we stay in balance and avoid burnout.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gratitude Reflection

A tropical monsoon wakes me early in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, one of my favorite places.

A pleasant way to awaken. Because I've lived in Arizona for 30 years, this deluge is a treat. So I savor the downpour as I go through my morning meditation and yoga.

I easily drift to gratitude at times like this. Once more knowing I wouldn't have the blessed life I enjoy had God not broken up my love affair with heroin and alcohol.

I wouldn't have met or married my lovely and passionate wife.

I wouldn't be working with the challenging addicts God puts in my path.

Sometimes they're a frustrating group. Yet I'm grateful because they've taught me to be calm and patient.

Every once in a while one celebrates a recovery anniversary.

And at those times I thank God for allowing me to be part of the process.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fighting Ourselves

“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol.” Page 84, Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

The above phrase is clear cut. Black and white.

But sometimes I reflect that we also should stop fighting ourselves. Maybe add "even ourselves" to that line. After all, who have we fought all along?

And, of course, the answer is us. We're the authors of our own misery. We're the ones who put drugs and alcohol into our precious bodies.

But now that we're clean and in recovery are we still fighting ourselves? Damaging our own self interests?

I bring this up because over the years I've counseled thousands of recovering people. And many, while not fighting alcohol or drugs, are wrestling with other issues.

They fantasize about losing weight. Finding the right partner. Quitting smoking. Going to school. Yet something keeps them from changing. What is it?

Could it be that there are no immediate consequences if we don't deal with these issues right now?

After all, a few too many drinks might put us in jail tonight. Drug users could miscalculate a dose and end up in the hospital. Things happen fast to us addicts.

But if we keep smoking nothing usually happens right away. (Rationale: My grandma smoked three packs a day and died at 110.)

And school? Well maybe down the road. (Rationale: My uncle became a millionaire and he only finished the sixth grade.)

Weight loss? I'll get to it one of these days.  (Rationale: My doctor said I have a slow metabolism.)

We have a rationale for it all.

I believe those I counsel when they say they got sober to have a better life. But somehow they don't find the motivation to improve their health, education, or income.

Once in recovery the universe presents us with awesome opportunities to live life to the fullest. Yet we procrastinate and rationalize about what we know we should do.

We fight our higher selves when we don't do what is good for us.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Slowing Down...

I once read that Buddhists never hurry.

And that's because they're at peace with where they are at the moment. Now I'm not that familiar with their philosophy. Or if all varieties of Buddhists are in unison about such things. But I love the concept.

After all how many times do I rush through my day hurrying from one project to another? Never stopping to pay attention to life around me. Not stopping to enjoy the swollen display of monsoon clouds on the horizon? Cutting those around me short because I have to get something done? Not taking time to wrestle with my dogs because I have "business" to take care of?

The essence of life is hiding in the small precious moments we sometimes let pass unseen because we live in a world of productivity and we're pressed to get things done.

Of course It's not realistic to live as monks in the world of business. But maybe we could shoplift snippets of their philosophy to enrich moments of our lives.

I know my life's better when I take things slower.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Loving Parents

My heart goes out to parents of alcoholics and addicts.

They love their children - no matter what age - and want the best for them.

As a recovering heroin addict going on 24 years clean I understand them. Because I also have a son and grandson who are addicts - one in recovery, one likely still using.

So I'm experienced on both sides of the addiction drama. Plus I've dealt with thousands of our clients since 1992.

The parents I talked with yesterday went to some effort to get their son to our program.

Once they thought they had him on a flight to Phoenix.  But later they discovered he'd doubled back through security and missed the plane.

When they finally got him on a flight day before yesterday he made it to Phoenix.  But once here, there were other issues.

He told them it took us seven hours to pick him up from the airport. And that we woke him at midnight to go to work on his first day and who knows what else. He wasn’t happy. But none of this happened as he portrayed it. He neglected to mention his role, which is a story for another time.

As I communicated with this man's parents they impressed me with their love and concern. It came through in their emails and our conversations. This man is lucky to have such staunch and loving supporters.

But difficult as it may be, I recommend to parents that they do as little as possible for children who are using. Help them get to recovery, and that's it.

Let them work on their recovery. Don't listen to complaints about the food. The living conditions. The management. The work. If it's a complaint about anything external, ignore it. Because we addicts are good at trying to change everything outside so we'll be okay on the inside. But our insides are what need to change.

Until my family told me "no mas" I didn't change. Once those who loved me quit helping I started realizing something must be wrong with me. When the help stopped, that's when I changed. It pissed me off at the time. But later I thanked them. And I was able to repay them for their help before they passed on.

My rule is love your children.  Just don't love them to death.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Power of Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm overcomes many obstacles.

I saw an example a few years ago when I stopped by our job center at the Roosevelt property.

For those who don't know, this is where we help clients find work. We also do follow-up on how the job searches went that day.

While there, I noticed a twenty-something man at a desk in back talking with another client.

When I saw him my heart sank. He had sleeves of prison tattoos from the tops of his fingers and up his arms. But those weren't so bad. Many of our clients have these kinds of tattoos. What caught my attention was the tattoo on his neck. It depicted a knife wound with bright red blood gushing from it. Plus he had a couple of tear drop tattoos at the corner of one eye.

I thought, "This guy'll never find a job on his own."

But I was wrong.

When it was his turn to share about his job search he jumped up like a motivational speaker and spoke with animation.

He said he’d found a job working in the stock room of an auto parts store that afternoon - his first day out.

He'd looked all day without success but on his last stop he found work. While talking to the store manager he noticed his eyes were on his tattoos. Then the manager told him he had nothing available.

But as our client started out the door the manager called him back.

He told the client that though he didn't have anything he was going to create a job for him in the stock room.

He said that the client's enthusiasm about changing his life inspired him to help. He believed his enthusiasm would make him a good employee - regardless of his past.

And he didn't want to let him get away.

This client's enthusiasm not only affected the man who hired him. It also affected all of us in the room that day.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Years Clean!

God has a way of keeping balance in our lives.

Since the weekend I've been reflecting on the untimely loss of one of our long-time clients.

Then this morning I receive an email from a Hard Six graduate who tells me he has three years clean.

And success stories like his are rewarding for those of us who manage TLC

This man's success proves that anyone with motivation can change.

He spent many years on prison yards for crimes related to his addiction. The addiction that held him back most of his life.

But when he came to TLC he was hungry to change. He went to college.  He volunteered as a manager. He worked hard. He did everything required of Hard Sixes. 

Sure, he received consequences because he screwed up sometimes. However,the important thing he did was stick around. He never ran off when things got tough.

We congratulate him on three years. We wish his success for all our clients.

And enough have made it over the last 22 years to make this project worthwhile.  Even though we sometimes experience tragedy.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 6, 2014

R.I.P.

I hate calls like the one that came Saturday afternoon.

They usually start with “Do you remember so-and-so?”

And my apprehension rises because maybe the next words will be that a former resident has died.

That's the way it was Saturday when the caller told me David T. had passed at a Phoenix hospital early that morning.

He was a Hard Six who left TLC a few months ago.

David worked for a long time at TLC's corporate office, securing contracts for our labor company.

He also was in our aftercare group, and sat across from me through many sessions.

Those of us who knew David will miss him. It's always difficult when a man in his middle years leaves us much too early.

Rest in Peace, David...

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dream Big

Big dreams take no more effort than little dreams.

Don’t limit yourself with fear or self-doubt. Your imagination is a cosmic playground of possibilities.

Now that you are no longer shackled by drugs or alcohol manifest your dreams.

I share this with you because my dreams began coming true after I entered recovery in 1991. At first I was simply happy to be alive. The misery and suffering was behind me.

But while I was happy, I also knew I could do more. I needed a mission.

And I found it in helping others in recovery.

The first vision I put out to the universe was to someday operate a 50 bed halfway house. My plan was to work a job and operate the halfway house as an avocation.

But God had other plans. Because within 15 months we had over 100 residents and more on the way. The program kept growing from there. Until today we have 700 beds, several small businesses, plus a licensed treatment program.

But how did this happen? When I came to recovery I was broke. No credit. No financial angels. In fact very few people wanted to hear from me.

It happened because I had a clear picture of what I wanted. And somehow, in spite of being broke and unworthy of credit, people started selling me property.

Opportunities came from every direction. The right people showed up, addicts who wanted to be part of something. Addicts who wanted to help others.

We started with a beat-up property, three old houses.  But we were grateful to have it. It served the purpose of sheltering those who needed help.

Looking forward, we never knew where we going to get money or help. Yet it showed up, sometimes in mysterious ways.

The point of this blog is that if you have a dream have the faith to go for it.

If it's a good enough dream the Universe will provide the means. You only need a vision of what you want.

Then start doing the footwork; the rest will show up.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 4, 2014

More Gratitude...

Gratitude is my theme - in my life and in this blog.

And Thursday, while driving home from Banner Thunderbird hospital, I was full of gratitude.

I'd gone to see my pregnant daughter - who's about 25 weeks along.

Her doctor had her flown from Prescott last week to prevent a premature birth.

And she may stay in the hospital for two months - or until the baby is better developed.

But I'm grateful that - even though she's had complications - she's receiving excellent care.

For a time I worried because she's a disabled veteran who received care at the Phoenix VA hospital, a place that's received negative publicity lately.

So gratitude comes from knowing she and the baby are healthy.

It also comes from the fact that this addict has been on the planet long enough see his youngest daughter give birth.

Friday, October 3, 2014

New Horizons

We begin to walk a new path when we enter the 12 step programs - the path of recovery.

We no longer drink to build confidence. We no longer need marijuana to keep calm. We navigate life without benzos. We learn that we weren't born with a heroin deficiency.

We've been substance free for some time. But where do we go from here? Are there new horizons for living better?

There are.

We can start paying attention to our health, to our bodies. By improving our health we can enjoy our recovery even more.

And we do this in many ways.

We start by getting into exercise. Eating better. Reducing stress through meditation.  Putting down tobacco in all forms.

These may seem to be daunting challenges. But don't make a big deal of it.

Explore. Take baby steps. Stumble a bit. Don't try to be perfect. Don't be hard on yourself. Make these new ventures and explorations fun. Laugh at yourself when you don't do as well as you expect.

We addicts try to be perfect, don't we? After all, when we were using more was always better. Right?

For exercise, maybe start a simple program of walking. Or calisthenics. Or yoga. Riding a bicycle. Something simple. Something you like. Eventually you'll find your groove.

Same thing with what we eat. Start ruling out classes of food. Maybe quit drinking soda. Give up dessert. No more eating food handed out of drive-through windows. Maybe we start thinking about eating food the way God prepared it - natural and wholesome.

Make slow, small changes. So small you might not notice them until later.  Small Increments. And before you know it you will have changed - almost without realizing it.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Working the Program

Every so often an addict will say they're "working their own program."

Now I'm not exactly sure what this means. But, based on the addict's behavior, I suspect it means he's doing things his way. Perhaps still running on self-will.

The wonderful thing about the 12-step programs is that they're a tried and true way for us to change. To learn to live with this deadly disease that's taken so many of our friends and loved ones.

When I was out there "working my own program" things never went well.  Prisons. Divorces. Bankruptcy. Homelessness. Health issues. The list is longer, but you get the picture.

When I was finally cornered like a rat with no where to go, I surrendered. I followed the 12-step program the way the Founders laid it out.

Did I like it? Of course not. I never liked anyone else's plan. But I saw the successes in the rooms. What they said made sense. I shoplifted their ideas and used them in my life.

And, you know, the Promises started coming true before I even knew what they were.

After six months I realized that for the first time I was enjoying freedom and happiness. I no longer was looking over my shoulder. The cloud of demoralization had left me. Even though I had nothing material, I had a rich sense of joy at being alive.

The best decision I ever made was to start working the program. Because mine never worked.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Life's Unfair

When we discipline clients they often whine about us being "unfair."

They use other clients who committed the same offense as examples.

"She didn't get the same consequences as me!"

"He did the same thing I did, but nothing happened."

"The manager's picking on me!"

They sound like a bunch of uptight high-priced lawyers appealing a case.

The thing about us being unfair is likely true. Because that's the way life is.

When dealing with 650 clients in many locations it's difficult to be "fair" in every situation.

But isn't that the nature of life? Not just at TLC. Also in the larger world.

We can look around and find unfairness everywhere. Visit the children's hospital in Phoenix. What's fair about a child with cancer?

Follow the news. What's fair about children dying in war zones? Or serving as human shields? Civilians in Africa contracting Ebola because they were born in the wrong place?  Being beheaded for not believing in someone's version of god?

Unfairness is rampant.

Yes, we addicts know how to feel better about unfairness. Snort a line. Light a pipe. Open a fifth. Nod out for a while. That unfairness will melt right away.

Or we can look in the mirror and tell ourselves that life is perfect just as God made it. And fair or not – we simply accept it and move on.