Recovery Connections

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

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And have a blessed and prosperous Ano Nuevo.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Using our Time

"Where did the time go?"

"Where did this year go?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Act of Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Constructing the Present

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

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

Many of our clients talk about their "anxiety."

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

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

And dreams of the future look nothing like anxiety.

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Blessings of Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Magical Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Touching the Heart

A nice Christmas gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, a nice Christmas gift.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Drugs aren't the Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Missing the Message

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

Several made predictions about the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope those in our current group do better.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas in Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Perils of Smoking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Meeting Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Friday, December 19, 2014

Giving to Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Terrible Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Positive Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With a joyful ending.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Learning to Forgive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John



Monday, December 15, 2014

Never Enough

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

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

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

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

You can make your own gratitude list.

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Power of Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nice Email

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

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

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

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

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


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

Click her to email John

Friday, December 12, 2014

Doing Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Las Vegas Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teaching Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Compassion for Ourselves

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

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

And one of the exercises involved being kind to ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Monday, December 8, 2014

Being There

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Living Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all kind of balances out.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Keeping On...

1600.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Friday, December 5, 2014

Achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day of Gratitude

Yesterday was a day of gratitude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gratitude Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

R.I.P Mike D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God speed, Mike.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 1, 2014

Aware of our Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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