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.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 31

So take a look at your calendar. It's the last day of the year. Doesn't it seem like yesterday that we had a brand new 2015 in front of us?

Did you make resolutions a year ago? Maybe to quit smoking? Lose weight? Repair a broken friendship? Go back to school?

And if you did, did you accomplish any of them?

I bring this up because the one commodity we only get so much of is time. We can fritter it away on video games, Facebook, or simply drifting aimlessly. It's the priceless gift we get when we're born. A big package of minutes, days, hours, years. And we can use them however we choose. But once spent they're gone.

So since I'm giving advice, what did I do with my time this past year? For one, I took a 300 hour course in mindfulness training. And in a few weeks I'll have my certification as an instructor. It was work, but now most of it's behind me and I'm already leading meditations.

And in 2016? I'll work with our staff to spread mindfulness training throughout our halfway houses. Next year at this time I'll let you know how we did with that.

My point is that we should use our time to enrich our lives. Improve our minds. Our relationships. Our health. Something. Anything.

Because if we keep doing what we've been doing we'll keep getting what we've been getting. And I hope you all have been getting something good out of your days.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Getting Along

"Can't we all just get along?" Rodney King

Rodney King's appeal to bring calm during the Watts' riots sounds simple. And his words are often quoted today.

I thought of what he said during Christmas when I heard of a large family that wasn't getting along. In fact, the couple I spoke with left town to be away from the family during the holidays. Their alternative was to stay home and maybe have to deal with the dysfunction.

Often drama like this occurs when some family members are alcoholics or addicts. And that's the case with this family. The non-addicts in the group are the ones who get away because they're tired of the drama.

The alcoholics in the family do their best to manipulate the sober ones. They use the children, the grandchildren, money and business. Anything they can to instill guilt.

But because the couple is tired of the drama, backstabbing, and infighting, they no longer care. They just want to get along - which they know won't happen.

At least until the drinking stops.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind. We buy a product. We love it. We find out it performs as advertised. So we tell our family, friends, and neighbors about it.

The same principle works for us here at TLC. Both in our halfway houses and in our treatment clinic.

A client stays with us for a while. Changes his life. Does well and returns to the community. Sometimes the client is from Arizona. Sometimes from Florida, New York, Colorado or another state.

When they return home and stay clean, others notice. And if they know someone who needs help they refer them to us. It happens all the time.

The reverse is also true. When a client relapses they'll often blame it on TLC. Negative word-of- mouth advertising.

"The program sucks."

"The food is terrible."

"Place is full of cockroaches and bedbugs."

"It's all about the money."

"Everyone's getting high there."

Excuses for failure abound.

But the reality is we provide a safe and sober environment for the willing. For those who are through blaming others for their failures. For those who can look in the mirror and see the responsible party looking back at them.

We like the positive word-of-mouth because it might help others find their way to us. A place where they, too, can change their lives.

As to the negative word-of-mouth, we look back and reflect upon a time when nothing at all would have worked for us either.

We don't even get angry about it because we – of all people - know it takes time get past denial.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 28, 2015

Family Traditions

Each year it's a family tradition to go to Las Vegas the day after Christmas.

We've been doing this for about 15 years. When we started a couple of the grandchildren were still in diapers. Now they're seniors in high school.

And at the beginning there were only a half a dozen of us.

At dinner last night there were 17.

It's a blessing to watch the family grow. To see more of them come into the circle. It's an opportunity for us to have a reunion and catch up.

Plus it's an easy way for me to give everyone a gift they'll enjoy. They get a three day trip to Las Vegas and an envelope so they can go shopping or whatever.

Even though members of my family have had issues, none went as far down as I did.

A blessing of my recovery is that I can be an example to my grandchildren. None of them has ever seen me under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

But they know my history. And they know what I do today. That helps them understand there are no obstacles that they can't overcome. No dream they can't achieve.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Saving one at a Time

There's the apocryphal story of a man walking by the seashore after a storm. A storm that washed thousands starfish onto the beach, leaving them to die.

As the man walks, he reaches down every so often and picks one up and throws it back into the sea.

A man watching him asks, "What are you doing?"

"Saving starfish," the man responded.

"Yeah, but there are thousands of starfish on this beach. You're not going to make much difference."

"It'll make a difference to the one I threw back in the water," the man replied. And he continued throwing them back.

While this tale is not exactly analogous to what we do at TLC, it for some reason reminds me of the thousands that suffer from addictions. Maybe 14% of the population.

Sometimes they come from jails and prisons. Or shelters. Maybe the police bring them, or the fire department.  Maybe they're homeless.

We can't help them all. But we do make a difference to many of them. The lucky few who find their way to us.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Still on his Way

He's been sending emails for about four months. Says he wants help. He's still heading this way. But can't figure out how to get here. Can't get a ride. Can't afford a ticket.

Some of the emails start out coherent, then the writing becomes jumbled. Then unreadable. Each sentence looks like a different person wrote it. He surely was drinking when he wrote it. Then the alcohol overtakes him and he goes out of focus.

He sometimes mentions that if he keeps drinking he knows he'll die. And when I don't hear from him for a few weeks I wonder if that's what happened. I imagine him lying dead somewhere in a pile of empty bottles.

When I get his messages I sometimes go back twenty five years. I remember the feeling of drifting aimlessly. The demoralization of being homeless. Wondering where I might find food. Or a warm place to hang out for a while. It was a sad existence.

He's asked us to help him get here. But we don't go much further than 25 or 30 miles to pick someone up. We can't afford to send bus tickets. We'll let people in without funds. But they have to get here on their own.

When I get his emails it reminds of why we do what we do. We exist to help those lost in their disease. No matter how broke they are we'll help them. They just have to get here.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

During this month I'm regularly asked what I want for Christmas.

And my answer is always pretty much the same. That I already have everything anyone could want.

I have a loving wife. A wide circle of friends and business associates. A home that's too big for my wife and me. Loyal employees. A job that I would do - and have done - for nothing. Real estate investments. Luxury cars. Two dogs. More than I ever dreamed of when I entered recovery almost 25 years ago.

If I would want anything, it would be the ability to continue doing what I'm doing. I want to keep providing others the opportunity to have what was freely given to me. And that is the opportunity to get into recovery - whether they have resources or not.

I intend to spend the remainder of my days working with others, helping the willing to achieve their dreams and goals.

But I know that all that's happened in my life is a gift from God - as will be what happens in the future.

Merry Christmas to all and thank you for reading.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reminiscing

The call from the hospital came at around 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, 1994.

"I'm sorry to tell you this," said the nurse on the other end. "But your mother died 15 minutes ago."

I was in shock because I was just leaving my apartment, preparing to go to the hospital for my daily visit. Plus, the doctor had scheduled her for release the following day.

So during the Christmas season I always reminisce about my mother, who was a good friend. She encouraged me to do better. She helped me with my legal problems during my teen years. She stood by me long after many others had given up.

During my 16 years of incarceration she'd write and send what little money she could. She was never judgmental. Rather she expressed hope that someday I'd figure our that drugs weren't good for me.

When she died I'd been clean for three years. She was happy to see me on the path to success.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Season 1990

The 14th of January I'll celebrate 25 years of recovery. God willing.

This came up for me because I was reflecting about what I was doing during Christmas week 25 years ago.

At that time I was supporting an addiction to heroin and alcohol. And I wasn't doing it by working. Or from the proceeds of a trust fund.

Each miserable day I'd drive around in a Mustang I'd stolen a few weeks earlier. My first goal would be to find alcohol. Wine was fine. Beer would do. But anything with alcohol in it was okay. Whatever I could shoplift was what I drank.

The alcohol took the edge off, gave me courage. Once I had some false courage I'd move on to steal something larger. Something that would allow me to buy heroin - my drug of choice.

I didn't care what it was. As long as I thought I could get it in the car and find a place to sell it, I'd take it. New clothes. Tools. Televisions. Computers. Cigarettes. Generators. Cameras. I looked for anything I could sell right away.

But something happened to me around that time. I don't know if it was a moment of clarity. A spiritual awakening. Or what it was. Maybe I was just tired.

But I somehow came to the realization that if I kept doing what I was doing I would be back in prison. I wasn't having fun. I was demoralized and depressed. My life had no purpose or meaning. And that's a horrible place to be - living a life without meaning.

Within a few weeks I found my way to detox. Then after that to a halfway house that accepted me without money.

And that put me on the path to the blessings I have in my life today.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Politically Correct?

I confess. I'm not politically correct.

Like when a store clerk wishes me "happy holiday." I always respond with "Merry Christmas." And I say it loud enough so others can hear. And when I do this a few people nod their heads and smile - like maybe we're in the same club.

And so far the Bureau of Political Correctness hasn't given me a citation for this lapse. In fact, I'm not sure if that agency's in existence yet. But if trends continue it might be coming.

But at this point I don't let many things grate on me. I'm one who's in acceptance about most everything. Whether I agree or not. Political correctness, though, is an exception. Not enough to relapse over, but enough to cause mini-ripples in my serenity.

Sometimes I wonder why this irritates me. And I guess it's the idea that others try to impose their beliefs on me. I think everyone has a right to think or do whatever they want. As long as it doesn't harm others.

Kind of like the sign on the wall of our meeting room: Live and Let Live.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blue Shirts

Each year TLC has a party - usually held the Sunday before Christmas.

It starts with a 12-step meeting. Then is followed by a party for the "Blue Shirts." And for those who don't know, Blue Shirts are staff members who have made a one year commitment.

Those who make that commitment are willing to do whatever's asked. If they're told to move from Phoenix to Tucson to run a house, they ask no questions. They pack their bags and are on their way.

If a Blue Shirt has a problem other Blue Shirts show up to help. After a recent storm a house flooded. Within half an hour, a group was there with sand bags and towels.

Whether it's medical, financial, or emotional challenges, they support one another.

I believe that originally, managers began wearing blue shirts so clients would know who they were. Later, other staff members were able to join if they met the requirements.

They're a group that supports TLC and each other without questions. 

And a large part of TLC's success is due to their efforts.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Success Rate?

Sometimes I get questions about our success rate. And I must answer honestly. The answer is that I don't know the percentage.

Often I see programs advertise that they have a 60% or 80% success rate. Meaning that they're doing very well. And I'm sure that some people really believe them. But I don't.

The reality is that no one can honestly say what their success rate is. And that's because there's no way to know what former clients are doing at this very moment.

Unless you give someone a daily urinalysis or have a sensor strapped to their ankle there's no way of knowing. And anyone who says otherwise is being dishonest.

They may believe that they're doing that well - but it's probably wishful thinking.

I bring this up today because I got a message from a graduate who had been in our program two or three times. He stays in touch with me via email and tells me about his progress. What's his success rate? I think it's 100% because he reports doing the things that clean and sober people do.

But based on my beliefs about how our program operates I think we do about as well as any other program. But, there again, that's an opinion based on how I feel.  I have no way of tracking the thousands who have been through TLC.

But it is nice to get messages from those who are doing well. That's what counts for me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Picking the right People

"I’ve been blessed to find people who are smarter than I am, and they help me to execute the vision I have." Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam

There are secrets to success. And one is that successful people surround themselves with helpful people. Often people who are smarter than themselves.

Take a look at any large corporation. The founders may have had the original vision. But they soon assembled a team that made things work.

That's the same thing that makes TLC work. Once we had over 20 residents management became an issue. The more clients we had, the more managers we needed. And in different areas.

We needed bookkeepers, drivers, cooks, night security, store managers, maintenance teams, mechanics, telemarketers, and house managers. The list goes on.

But we were able to find those who had specialized skills. Some were good with people. Some worked in certain trades or businesses. The right people always showed up. And they had a common denominator: they wanted to change their lives.

Anyone who heads a business and takes all the credit for how it works has an ego problem.

In the case of TLC it's our wonderful staff that keeps us on the path we've been on for 24 years.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Addict LIfe

Today I get sad news of a distant relative who's on a respirator. The details are sketchy. But the report is that it's something to do with alcohol and drug use - maybe bath salts. The outlook's not good.

It's sad because I remember him as a baby. I recall him as a six year old riding a bicycle and doing the other things kids did in the ghetto where he was raised. I remember him as a teenager, when he first started drinking and using drugs. I knew his family, most of them addicts and alcoholics. I partied with them and did time with them. And almost all of them passed away still active in their addictions.

The last time I saw him was at the funeral of one of his uncles. By then he was in his forties and showing the effects of drinking and drugging. But like most of his family he never showed an interest in changing. He was content doing what he was doing.

And now, here he is in his mid-fifties and on life support.

His story reminds me that unless we get into recovery our lives never get better. All I can do is pray that he survives.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Helping the Mothers

Some of my emails come from mothers who are pretty unrealistic.

And I can usually tell by the tone of their message how long their child has been using. If they talk about how well they did in school this is usually their first attempt to get help.

They give themselves away by saying things like:

"She was a 4.0 student."

"He was the class president."

"He was a football star."

"She'd been accepted at such and such college."

Then they tell me what the kid needs. To get out of their old neighborhood. Stay away from their friends. Get a little clean time so they can get back to their lives.  They think that'll do it.

Now the mothers who are plain tired and burned out are much more realistic. And their kids have been at it a while. They write things like:

"I've got a restraining order against him because he threatened his step-father."

"Or she took my credit cards and maxed them out and now we're broke. I'm sick of her."

"We want him/her out of the house. Can you help?"

"He just got out of jail for the third time and I can't have him living here."

They usually don't tell me what the kid needs because they know they don't have the answers. They're just fed up and want him/her to be elsewhere. And the Arizona desert sounds great to them - even in July.

I have a heart for both kinds of mothers because my own mother didn't know what to do with an addict like me. She also was optimistic at first about my chances and was willing to help. But eventually she got burned out. That's when she told me she couldn't help anymore. That's also the message that started me on the path to recovery.

No matter which mother writes us we offer help. We know they don't have the answers.

But because we've been there we know how to help those who are willing.  And we suggest they send them to us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Legacy

Yesterday was my mother's birthday. If she were still alive she would've been 93 years old. But she died much too young, at age 72, from the effects of smoking and emphysema.

One of the blessings in my life was that she was able to see me achieve my first three years of recovery.

Because for much of her life she blamed herself for my addiction. For my heroin use and alcoholism. And that's because at 16 she married my father, an abusive raging alcoholic until he dropped dead at 60. She realized he left his marks on my life.

But taking blame for someone else's addiction is futile. Whether or not they're your child. But eventually my mother learned. And she forced me to become responsible for myself by refusing to help me until I got sober.

On this anniversary of her birth I reflect upon the good example she set for me. She was honest. She was hard-working and responsible. She sent me to good schools and did her best to help me have a good life.

What better legacy could she have left behind?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Planting a Seed

When I returned to my office yesterday I found a sticky note on my door.

Usually these are from salespeople. So I normally file them in the trash.

But this was a familiar name. It was a man who was among the first 20 clients in the program - back in mid-1992. At the time he was in his late teens and kind of a handful.

I hadn't heard anything about him after he left until about ten years later when I ran into him in a supermarket. He was sober, in business for himself, had four children, and was living the dream. It was good to see him. I hadn't heard from him since.

Curious, I called the out-of-state number he'd left. It seems like he's still successful in the business he's been in since he left TLC. It's provided him an income and helped him support his family.

But, he told me, there's an emptiness in his life. He feels like there's more he can do than just sell things. Kind of a spiritual crisis. He thinks getting in the business of helping others might make a difference.

So I suggested he try the recovery field, something he'd been thinking of for a while. I agreed to help him with the business aspect, sharing the experience we've gained. And he was grateful for that.

I share this anecdote because when we help others it often spreads. We never know what course their life will follow.

What we did was help a teenager. And 23 years later he's a sober and successful family man with his own business.

And now he's thinking of taking it full circle and giving back.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 14, 2015

Changes

"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly." Proverb

As a member of the 12-step programs for almost 25 years I've seen miracles. I've seen men and women reborn, coming back to life from what seemed a hopeless state.

I've met men and women who tried suicide while drunk or high. But they didn't succeed.

So they continued to exist in the slow death of drugging and drinking until something intervened. Maybe they went to jail. Perhaps they had an accident that put them in the hospital. Maybe the boredom of living without a purpose helped them surrender to recovery. We change for all kinds of reasons.

But the change rarely comes from something we add to our lives. It's what we take away that makes the difference. And what we take away are the substances that caused us so many problems. And when the substances go so does the insanity, the drama, and the dishonesty.

When this happens we start hanging out with others who are like us. Others in the program who teach us how to live again. Those who teach us the right thing to do.

Suddenly life begins to blossom for us. We find happiness in the simple things. We find friends. We start enjoying life a life we never dreamed of.

The Promises begin to reveal themselves.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Taking Advantage

Recovering addicts and alcoholics are sometimes viewed as second class citizens. As though they owe the world something.

Now this doesn't happen as much as it used to, but if happens often enough to irritate me.

It takes different forms. A common one is for someone to ask me to have a client work at their home or business as "community service." In other words, they want free labor.

Maybe they want their yard cleaned, their house painted, or their roof repaired. When I tell them what we charge for that kind of work, they suddenly lose interest.

We actually do service projects. But for senior citizens who can't afford to pay for their own repairs or do their own maintenance. It's a pleasure to do these kinds of projects.

And sometimes we do things for other non-profits. Our volunteers did much of the sheet rock work on what is now the Community Bridges detox on Bellview street in Mesa. We also did a lot of the interior framing on a children's center on University Drive in Mesa. As well as other projects of a similar nature over the years. This is true community service.

Within the last year we've had people try to get clients to work for little or no compensation. And this week we had a businessman make inappropriate overtures to a female manager.

It says a lot about a person's character when they prey on those they think are vulnerable.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Everyone Pays

Mothers often call asking about treatment or counseling for their children.

They want the best for their child. Professional counseling. Drug and alcohol education. Comfortable living quarters.

And I assure them that we offer these as a component of our program. And they tell me that's what they want. Then they want to know what the next step is. How do they get their child into the program?

I tell them to give me their insurance information and we'll proceed from there. It's not unusual for me to hear a period of silence after that.

Then finally she'll say something like "you mean this costs money? I thought this was a non-profit?"

And that's when I get an opportunity to practice tolerance and patience. I don't explain to them that even non-profits have a lot of expenses and overhead - as does every other business.

I don't bother to tell her that the only difference between a non-profit and for profit is where the money goes. In a non-profit the money goes to support the mission. In a for profit the money goes to the owners or stockholders. It's as basic as that.

Sometimes folks have the idea that non-profits are government supported. And a few are. But, in our case, we raise all our own funds and sometimes stretch a bit to meet our obligations. The government has never given us a penny.

It would be nice to tell mothers that we'll take their addict children and help them change their lives for free - but that's not how the world works.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 11, 2015

Saying No

Sometimes it hard to say no. And I'm one of the worst when it comes to refusing a request.

But reality is that we only have so much time in a day. We only have so many resources to expend. And to do the most good we must use our time resources wisely.

After several years I finally figured when to say yes, how to figure out what's a priority. And what's not.

And, of course, the top of the list is anything about recovery. If someone can convince me that what they need will help their recovery they usually get it.

Maybe they need a bus pass. Perhaps a clothing voucher. They might want dental work. Help with a GED. Maybe even a trip to visit a sick relative. Most of the time we can accommodate these requests. Especially the if they've been with us for a while.

The requests we don' t normally grant are for personal loans for more than a few dollars. Because usually requests for larger amounts are for non-critical things like the payment of fines or bills. Most of these problems must be worked on as a part of recovery.

And it's good that they're not easy to solve because it reminds us of how our addictions have ripped up our lives.

There's a time to help.  And a time to draw a line.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Back Home

Back in town yesterday after a week in Mexico. It was a pleasant break and a great way to celebrate my wife's birthday and our 4th anniversary.

But one thing I don't lose sight of is why I'm able to do this. It's because I got sober almost 25 years ago.

And the other reason is that I've been lucky enough to gather an excellent team around me. A team of recovering addicts who want to do something different with their lives.

I don't know of another organization our size in the Southwest that operates like TLC. Around 125 people in recovery manage the company and our halfway houses. Addicts manage our roofing and remodeling business. Our retail store. Our maintenance operations. The Christmas tree lots. The labor company. Everything run by addicts.

We do have consultants for our accounting department. And therapists with degrees in the outpatient clinic. But 99.9% of the employees are those in recovery.

Do we have issues? Yes. Just like any other company we have our infighting. Do addicts argue and create drama? Sure, just like any group of humans.

But the miracle is that many addicts on our staff rebuild their lives while also helping others find themselves.

For me it doesn't get much better than that.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On a Mission

Arriving back home today after a week in Puerto Vallarta. There's always a twinge of regret when we get back on the plane. It's tough to look down through the clouds and watch paradise shrink in the distance behind us.

The reality is that my wife and I could afford to spend our days loafing on the beach. But the larger reality is that kicking back and doing nothing is not fulfilling. In fact, it's deadening to the soul.

What has meaning is what I've been doing for 25 years. And that's helping those who want to escape their addictions.

Having a mission in life - whatever it is - is its own reward. And there's nothing like a message from the distant past to remind me of that.

Today a former resident and manager from the old days wrote to say that he's doing well and saying thank you. That's what it's about.

Doing for others can create a circle that grows and grows. I recall how wonderful I felt when a local halfway house accepted me out of detox 25 years ago when I was flat broke. It made such an impression on me that I ended up starting TLC.

That simple act of kindness made a difference. And I plan to keep passing on the help someone gave to me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gratitude's the Answer

Our chattering thoughts often lead us astray.

They may carry us on a fantasy trip that says life will be better if we follow our whims. And our whims may be to do things that aren't good for us.

Things like maybe smoking or shooting or drinking something that will bring us down again.

Those in new recovery often pay attention to these thoughts. They act as if they are real - as if they're a mandate they must follow. Even if it leads to their downfall.  Another crash landing.

The antidote is to move to gratitude. Because gratitude is a now thing. Gratitude is a vibrant in the moment expression that takes place now.

Who ever says "I'll be grateful tomorrow" when things are better?

Gratitude is a present moment experience, one that gets us away from our wandering mind. It allows us to focus on something specific in the here and now.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Reflections on Mexico

Sometimes people ask - when I'm planning a trip to Mexico - if I'm afraid to come here. When I seem puzzled, they talk about the violence, the drug wars, and the crime.

My answer is that I'm far more afraid of visiting certain areas of Phoenix than to come here.

Much of what we hear are sensationalized stories about Mexico. We hear of cartels, smuggling, and kidnappings. While these things happen, they are blown out of proportion by the media. After all, it's been proven over and over that bad news outsells good 2 to 1.

True, crime and violence occur, but I've never seen it. Nor does the average citizen here. They say it's dangerous here if one is trafficking in drugs, guns or other contraband. Otherwise, it's peaceful.  And at the least, no more dangerous than any other civilized country.

On another note my perception is that people here are happier and kinder than in the states. They greet each other - even strangers - with smiles. Young and old, they are unfailingly courteous and helpful.

Family and religious values are strong; almost like a trip back to the fifties when the U.S. shared similar values.

And they don't hurry. A common saying here is "I'll be back in a Mexican minute." Which kind of means they'll be back when you see them.

Check the links below to see a comparison of how the U.S. and Mexico compare on the happiness scale.

Wikipedia report



 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Into Acceptance

Each day I ride an open-air trolley from the tower I'm at in Mexico to an office a quarter mile down the hill. I make the trip, because management won't let me park our car beneath the condo. Even though there are a dozen big spaces in the basement. And a few have cars in them.

After 11:00 each night our car has to be stored in a garage under the main building.

So, when I'm ready to use the car in the morning a trolley shows up. And when I'm done in the evening I drop it back at the office.

But because I like rules that make sense, this irritated me. So I went to the front desk to see if I could park there. They said no. It was something about "security."

So I asked to see a supervisor, thinking maybe a small bribe was in order. But every time I'm there he's "busy" doing something else.

After a few days of this and going back and forth I got into acceptance. I decided I wasn't going to spend another minute of my time off thinking about a parking space. And once I got into acceptance I immediately felt better.

Instead I enjoy the trip down the steep and winding cobblestone road through the jungle and feel blessed that I'm such a beautiful place.

Acceptance made a difference.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Serendipity

One thing I never do In Mexico is spend time talking to vendors. And they're everywhere. On the sidewalks. In the markets. In the malls. On the beaches.

And the reason I don't is that I have enough stuff to last me a lifetime. Knick knacks, souvenirs, cups, gadgets. All junk that gathers dust until I throw it away.

And timeshares, the thing most everyone sells here, are the worst investment in the world. Buy one and you end up paying a monthly maintenance fee and so on for years. On a property you can only use one week of the year.

But yesterday I broke my rule, kind of by accident. I'm leaning up against an empty kiosk working on my iPhone, sending a photo to someone at home. And up walks the owner of the kiosk.

Because I'm on his turf, I'm nice and he offers to sell me a tour. No. Then it's a zip line experience. No. A swim with dolphins. No. Dinner on a pirate ship. No. A cruise on a jungle river. No. Then he pops the timeshare question. Again I tell him no.

And I explain why I think they're one of the worst investments in the universe. So he finally drops the sales talk and we segue into a different conversation. In fact we spent another hour talking about drug and alcohol treatment.

I learn that he's involved with others in putting together a treatment program. It's in old hotel in a town 45 miles to the North of Puerto Vallarta. It will be the first one in this area.

He has a lot of interest in our 24 years of experience with TLC. He wonders if there's some way we can work together. We exchange cards and agree to continue the dialogue.

Isn't it strange how people run into each other?

Click here to email John

Friday, December 4, 2015

From the Past...

They show up once in a while. Ghosts from the past. Appearing out of the mist.

Bringing memories of days spent scavenging the urban landscape. Looking for something to exchange for heroin.

Recollections of 25 years ago when I was running amok. Living only to stay high or drunk.

At the time I felt a bond with some of those I ran with. We were fellow predators, working like a team of lions on the prairie. Sharing the spoils of our hunt.

We searched for things to take and the spoils were the heroin we could buy. We had common goals and interests. We were a team.

Then this week one of them sends a message that he's free. He spent most of a decade in a cage somewhere in another state. He's been free for a few weeks. He wants me to call.

But it feels clumsy - what do we talk about? I've been out of prisons and jails for years. I've been clean for 25 years next month. I don't know what they talk about on the big yard these days. But if it's like when I was there it's about drugs, sex, and how to hustle. Where the best dope was. Who to trust or not trust.

Today all I know is the recovery world. I'm immersed in family and sobriety and therapy and mindfulness. That's my life today.

I probably will call when I return from vacation. But it will be a short conversation if he wants to share war stories. But possibly he'll say he's tired of what he's been doing.

And that could be a place for us to start a conversation.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrating

December 3 is a big day each year on my calendar.

Four years ago today my lovely wife, Dawn, and I married in Las Vegas. And today also is her birthday.

This year we're splurging at a cliff-side resort five miles south of Puerto Vallarta to commemorate the day. We have a sweeping view of the ocean and jungle from our wrap around fifth floor corner suite. There's a Jacuzzi on the patio, and a hammock stretched across one corner. Kind of a heaven on earth scenario. In the daytime there's a gentle 80 degree breeze coming off the ocean a few hundred feet below.

Both of us are grateful to have the blessings we have today. We've been in recovery since the early 90s. We both suffered traumatic experience that left us trying to cover our pain with years of addiction.

She took one path when she got sober, going to school and earning four degrees. Then working for the Federal Government for 12 years.

I took another, building a recovery business that has succeeded beyond my dreams.

I describe our lives because I want those we work with to realize that once sober we can enjoy life without drugs and alcohol. We can succeed at whatever we're willing to work at.

Does that mean we're well now? Not really. At times we both wrestle with the demons and nightmares of our past. Just like many of the addicts we work with.

But neither of us runs back to the dark side. Instead we use the tools we've been given. We rarely argue, instead we support and love one another. She can tell when I need propping up. And I know when she needs extra love and understanding.

God blessed me ten years ago when she came into my life. And so today I wish her happy birthday -and anniversary.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mindfulness

We've added mindfulness meditation to our outpatient treatment program over the past year. Each group includes a brief segment of mindfulness to help clients learn the practice. And one group a week is made up entirely of mindfulness training.

It's been so successful in the outpatient treatment part of TLC that we're slowly expanding it into the halfway houses. One day we hope to have it as a regular part of the peer counseling we offer our 700 halfway house clients.

But what is mindfulness? One of my favorite definitions is "being fully aware of present experience with acceptance."

It's simple to learn how to meditate - but it's more difficult to practice it. The simplest instruction is to focus on our breathing, following our breath as it enters and leaves our nostrils. Or we can follow the rise and fall of our chest, or our stomach, as we inhale and exhale.

Most of our clients say it's difficult to stay focused on the breath. And that's true. The mind is like a monkey. It jumps all over the place. Mindfulness happens when we notice our thoughts, accept them non-judgmentally, then let them go. And we practice this over and over each day.

What's the point? What are the benefits?

Over 10,000 studies over the past 30 years show that mindfulness brings us more clarity, less depression, and a state of well- being. The benefits are too numerous to list here so I'm providing links for those who have an interest in this practice.

Mindfulness Solutions

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A little Respect

Every so often someone is sent to my office because they can't get along with their co-workers on one of the outside crews.

They argue. They put one another down. They talk about the other person's lack of skill. They don't know how to do the job right. They have a lot of reasons for not getting along.

When I ask why they have this communication problem they say they don't know. They can't keep their mouth shut. They lose patience. They get frustrated and blow up. Or they rationalize and blame it on the other person.

Usually I tell them I'm surprised when I hear about their poor communication. Because when they talk to me they're polite. They're respectful. And they're gentlemen. And when they're around me we always get along.

My point is that they can control how they speak to others. The same skills that let them get along with one in authority is the same skill that will help them get along with anyone.

If we treat others as if they're the most important person in the world we'll likely never have a communication problem. That's because most everyone responds to respect and kindness.

If we talk to everyone like we talk to the so-called "important" people we'll much further along in life. And we won’t be fighting with anyone.

Remember, we all like to feel important.  And respect if one way to make others feel that way.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Myth

The idea that we get sober and life will be wonderful is a myth. What happens is that we still face life issues - only we don't cover them up with alcohol or drugs.

More than once I've heard people share at meetings about this.

"My wife divorced me. She says I'm boring now that I've quit drinking."

"I lost my job."

"I had to declare bankruptcy."

“My dog doesn’t even like me.”

The list of negatives might go on and on. And who knows the whole story of why bad things happen when we're trying to do good. Maybe it's the universe making a readjustment to see how serious we are about changing.

But I assure anyone that - at almost 25 years sober - life still happens to us. Most of the world doesn't care if we're sober. Life just flows onward. The only thing is that when we're sober we're more able to deal with it.

Since I've been sober I've been through lots of stuff. Lost my mother to emphysema. My brother to alcohol. Won a custody battle for my youngest daughter. Married and divorced. Entered a new marriage. Developed neuropathy in both feet. Have been through several lawsuits - something that takes an emotional toll - win or lose. And so on...

But you get the point. Life moves on. We can face it drunk and not deal with it very well - if at all. Or we can remain sober and develop the resilience to handle most anything.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Accidents?

This might sound woo woo, but I don't believe in accidents. For me, everything happens for a purpose. Even if I don't understand it.

And today, leaving one of our storage lots, I spot a somewhat familiar figure outside the gate. And because I'm farsighted I didn't recognize him until I got closer.

It was a man who's been making a half assed attempt to get sober - both in and out of TLC - for at least 15 years. I was happy - and a bit surprised - that he was still alive.

We greeted and made small talk. Then I asked where he was staying. And he stepped back, spread his arms wide, and said this is it. This is where I live. Meaning that he was homeless again, something he did for over six years before coming to TLC the first time. Other than needing a bath, he didn't look too worse for the wear. Maybe that's the benefit of experience.

And then he talked for a while, trying to convince me how great it was being homeless. The freedom. The lack of responsibility. Doing what he wanted when he wanted.

He also said he hadn't drank for seven days - and was on his way to a nearby 12-step meeting. Then he had plans of going to another state to help a daughter do something. He just had to figure out how to get there.

As he walked off I had a sense of gratitude that I wasn't in his situation. And maybe that's why we met accidentally - to get a dose of gratitude.

Or maybe it was a chance for God to remind him that there are places he could go to get sober.
Sometimes it takes a long time for good ideas to sink in.

click here to email John

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Solution

"God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference."  Reinhold Niebuhr

Sometimes I hear these words so often they become almost cliche. That is, they slip almost unnoticed into the background.

I hear the Serenity Prayer enough at 12-step meetings that sometimes it's a tool I forget to apply. And for me the difficult part is "wisdom to know the difference."

Because isn't that always the problem? Trying to figure out what we can change and what we can't? My idea - at least it used to be - is to change the environment. The circumstances. The people around me.

If all that would change, then everything would be great. I'd be happy. The world would run as it's supposed to. All would be peace.

Yes, for me it's definitely the wisdom part. I already have serenity. I have courage. But I definitely wrestle with the wisdom part. And over the years it's cost me a lot of time and money - especially in the business world.

I bring this topic today because many readers struggle with relatives who are using. Mothers, wives, daughters - and the rare man - wonder how to deal with their addict.

And my ego tempts me to give them a quick answer that will get that person clean and sober. But all I can tell them is what I've learned in the program.  That's all I have.

And the essence of it is in the serenity prayer.

Click here to learn the secret history of the serenity prayer.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 27, 2015

A year Old

It's seems like yesterday, but it was a year ago that my latest grandson was born.  So yesterday we celebrated at a Thanksgiving gathering.
And while I have six other grandchildren, this one's unique because he was premature.  And he spent his first month in an NICU for babies.  There were concerns about his survival.
My daughter spent the last two months of her pregnancy in the hospital due to complications.  Because she's athletic it was difficult for her to remain confined to a bed for that long. 
During that time my attitude changed.  Because of some of my experiences with the medical system I was somewhat negative.  But it shifted while my daughter was in the neonatal unit.  During her stay I met many wonderful people who took care of her and the baby.  Everyone there was on a mission to help.  
So today and every day I have a reason to be thankful:  I'm blessed to be sober and to enjoy these promises of the program.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful

It's easy for us in recovery to find reasons to be thankful on this day.

For me, I'm grateful to be alive after my history of drug and alcohol use. Compared to some, I've escaped relatively unscathed.

I'm grateful for a lovely wife. A relationship with my family. A circle of friends. A business that allows me to help others. What more could one ask? I'm one of the lucky ones who's living the promises.

Also on this day I think of those who didn't get the recovery thing. They couldn't work it into their lives so they're not with us. I'm not sure whether they're alive or dead - but wherever they are I hope they're on a good path.

In this business it's never good to cling to expectations for someone's recovery. Yet, I sometimes fall into that trap. It's only human to develop bonds with those who've been with us for multiple years. But it can leave one vulnerable to disappointment.

And that happened yesterday when someone who's been with us over the past ten years picks up a bottle. Then he left. Someone said he gave up because of health issues he was facing. Maybe he thought it was a good reason, but it was sad news for his friends in the program.

On this Thanksgiving I wish the best for all. And send a prayer for those who are still suffering from whatever.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Addict Drama

Back in the seventies a reporter asked the producer of the soap opera, "All My Children," how she came up with such wild plots.

She said it was easy. She just read the newspapers. She said most of her ideas came from the crazy stories in the daily news. Truth, she said, is truly stranger than fiction.

I think of this because I get emails that are sometimes unbelievable. In fact, some are incredible. It's stuff no one could make up.

A while back I got one from someone wanting help for a distant relative. He was kidnapped as a child by his mother, an addict just paroled from prison. She wanted her kid and took him from the foster home he was at.

So he went from the security of a foster home at age 13 to living with his addict mother and a biker boyfriend. They were on the run for kidnapping him. They managed to avoid the police for several years.

One day, in his mid-teens, he returns to their trailer park to find the mother dead of a drug overdose. By now an addict himself, he begins the life of a homeless bum. None of his relatives want anything to do with him because they've heard the stories about him.

At the time the relative wrote me the young man was 19. He has no skills. No money or insurance. No one wants to take a chance on him.

Can we help? So I explain how he can get into our program.

Most of the clients we take in don't have the dramatic narrative of this man. They're people like me, whose addiction was killing them and they had nowhere else to turn. Just boring addicts without a dramatic story.

But our mission is to help them all, no matter what their story.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's not Simple

I get lots of emails and calls from loving people. Mostly mothers. But also wives, sons, daughters - and sometimes just friends.

They wonder what to do. How do they help their loved one get sober? To give up the drugs? To stop abusing themselves? To stop stealing from them?

But most of the messages are full of naiveté. They don't understand that it's not simple to help an addict or alcoholic. The disease is complex and sometimes defies solution. Even when the client is willing.

They kind of have it on a par with going to the doctor for a physical injury. The doctor patches it, sews it up, or writes a prescription and things get better.

I can feel the pain and love in their messages. I can sense their tears as they write the words.

And it’s hard to explain to them the work it will take for their loved one to change. It’s going to take more than simply removing the drug or alcohol.

Because once the addict leaves his drug of choice she/he enters new territory. The world of recovery has values one must embrace. It’s like moving to another country where one doesn’t know the language and customs. It takes time to adjust. It can be frustrating to grasp the new language and values.

But if one sticks with recovery they start realizing the benefits. The family returns. Self-respect comes back. Their bank account grows. They find peace. Responsibility becomes a way of life. They know about gratitude.

Soon they start sponsoring others, lifting them up. And when they reach out to others like this there's hope for long-term recovery.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Look in the Mirror

"If you’re still looking for that one person who will change your life, take a look in the mirror." Roman Price

Most of us in recovery learned long ago that no one's coming to rescue us. When it comes down to making the decision to get sober, we're the ones who make that choice. And, ultimately, we're the ones who do the work.

I had a reminder of this last week when a probation officer from another state called. She'd lost track of a twenty-something man she'd sent to one of our halfway houses. Was he still with us? Could I help her? Of course I could, but I'd need to do some research before I could answer.

A database report showed that within a month of his arrival he'd relapsed and left the halfway house. A few days later he returned. But after two more days he failed a drug test and left again.

I sent the report to her with my return email. And I'm sure she was disappointed because she talked like she had hope for him. And now he'd picked up his habit in another state.

His situation is similar to many of those who come to us. They get on the plane or bus with great hope. Things will be different this time. Life will change. Everyone's happy they're willing to make the long trip out of state. To make a new start.

Then harsh reality sets in. I'm going to have to do some work. The same thing they wanted me to do back home. Quit using. Find a job. Pay my bills. Be responsible. Go to meetings.

And when these questions come up we must look in the mirror. Because that's the one person who's going to make the change.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Homelessness

The other day I left my office and noticed a man inside our dumpster in the alley mining for aluminum cans. He was busily tossing whatever he found of value onto a pile outside.

As I passed, I mused at how hard some work to survive. I often see the homeless around town. And their whole existence is about basic survival.

In fact, the homeless work much harder than the rest of us. It takes effort to find food. To find a safe place to sleep at night. A place to bathe once in a while. And for the 80-90% who are addicts it's even a bigger challenge to find enough alcohol and drugs to blot out reality.

Back in last century, when I was in California, I thought I would try being homeless. After all, no rent or utilities to pay. No one to boss me around. Kick back all day. But I was wrong. I spent all my waking hours looking for dope. For places to sleep and stay warm. For something to eat.

The final straw came when I realized I hadn't bathed in so long that my toes were sticking together. I wasn't tough enough to last even a week. Fortunately the police arrested me for trespassing and saved me from myself.

Ninety five percent of those coming to TLC are homeless addicts. And those who stay and work on their recovery become successful. Once sober, they're able to apply the same toughness and creativity that allowed them to survive on the streets. 

When they do that they can become as successful as anyone else. But it takes a while for many of them to make the decision.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Forgiving

There's a story of two Buddhist monks who see each other some years after their release from prison. They'd endured horrible torture by their captors.

"Have you forgiven them?" asks the first.

"I will never forgive them! Never!" replies the second.

"Well, I guess they still have you in prison, don't they?" the first says
.

I love this anecdote because it illustrates the dilemma we face when we hold resentments. When we hold them we are - like the monk above - in our own prison. A prison we build brick by brick with our own angry thoughts. And we only escape, set ourselves free, by forgiving.

When we cling to resentment, we carry a burning ember in our spirit. And as long as it smolders there it spreads toxicity in our lives.

Some can't forgive because they believe forgiveness means that what happened was okay. But that's not the point.

The point is that sometimes people do and say awful things to us. They may act from ignorance, intolerance, hatred, jealousy or fear. Who knows?

But should we validate the poison others spread by allowing it to fester within us?

The 12-step programs show us how to get past resentments if we choose that path.

Click this link for other forgiveness resources.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 20, 2015

Accidents Happen

As I drove to work yesterday traffic slowed for an accident ahead of me. It must have just happened, because emergency vehicles hadn't yet arrived.

As traffic slowed, I had a chance to see what was going on. What first caught my attention was a young man pacing back and forth. He was hollering something I couldn't hear and waving his arms.

Based on his emotion I feared someone was dead or badly injured. But he wasn't bleeding or limping and didn't seem hurt.  And I couldn't see anyone else.

But when I go closer I could hear him. "My car. Look at my fender. Oh my God!" He was loudly repeating the same thing over and over as I drove slowly by. And I noticed that the fender was pretty much trashed.

As I drove on I thought about his strong reaction to something so insignificant. Maybe he was in shock. But he seemed to be overreacting to something his insurance would take care of.

Perhaps I'm too judgmental, but wrecked cars and destroyed property are not things to be emotional about. Physical injuries, loss of life - those are the things of emotion.

Life is too meaningful to waste our time over the loss of material things. We can get them back. If we lose our health, our sobriety, our loved ones - those are the things of emotion.

That's my opinion. But then maybe I've wrecked too many cars in my life to place much value on them.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blessings

Our halfway house program has never solicited cash donations. Nor do we receive government grants or funding.

We raise our cash the old fashioned way - by working for it.

The one thing thing we do solicit though, is building material and supplies. And the community richly blesses us.

Businesses large and small kick in all year around. Stucco, sheet rock, flooring, paint, wiring, shingles, windows. You name it, and someone has given it to us.

We also get help from the medical community. We have many clients with dental issues from using meth and other drugs. We have 30+ dentists who give their time and expertise.

Also, we have several eye doctors who help with eye exams and glasses.

Much of our furniture, including mattresses, comes from hotels that are upgrading their properties. It's not uncommon for us to get 200 mattresses, dressers, or tables and chairs in one donation.

A large religious organization gives us thousands of dollars in vouchers each year. Clients can use them to buy clothes in second hand stores they operate.

I bring this up because this week we were looking for Thanksgiving turkeys. And, as "luck" would have it, our donation coordinator accidentally ran into a former graduate who manages a grocery chain. A man who had been at TLC years ago. He'd been sober all this time. And of course was happy to give us turkeys at cost.

It's amazing how these things just happen.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Word Power

Words have such awesome power. They can heal. Or they can destroy. And sometimes those doing the destruction don't realize the harm their words are doing.

I've been in group and individual counseling sessions for some 24 years at TLC.

And I hear often from clients abused as children. Not with fists. Not with belts. Or kicks. Or slaps. But with words. Simple words. Ugly words.

Things like "You'll never be worth a shit." "Your brother is smarter than you." "Are you retarded or something?"

The phrases take a lot of forms. But when children hear them enough they become tangled in their subconscious. And they lie there like hidden computer code, sending messages that block success and happiness.

Some parents have issues themselves with alcohol and drugs. Or they have psychological issues. They are poorly equipped to direct the lives of others. But they do long term damage to children - often contributing to their substance abuse.

What to do? It takes a lot of counseling and inner work for us to remove these old messages.

Once we discover these old messages we can remove them with self-awareness and inner work. But it takes diligence and a strong desire to live life by our own definitions - not the definitions of others.

In the meantime we give others words of love and kindness.  That's the kind of legacy that can change lives.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thoughts on Karma

I think of karma as what comes around goes around.

But mostly I've always thought of it as a long-term thing. Kind of like our reward for misbehavior in previous lifetimes. Which is a Buddhist or Hindu concept. But I've had to change my thinking.

Because in the world of drug and alcohol addiction karma seems to happen very short term. Particularly among those who continue to drink and drug as I used to.

In our TLC groups we predict what will happen to clients who continue to relapse. But it's almost like they're disconnected from reality. Or else the rewards of drugs and alcohol are so wired into their brains that fear of death means nothing to them. Many leave to use again.

They're not only disconnected from the dangers of continued use. They're also unwilling to follow the basics of health. Like quitting smoking. Eating well. And working out. It seems like they have an almost fatalistic outlook about their lives.

The idea that bad habits might affect them doesn't seem important. But karma eventually shows up for us all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

More Gratitude

Gratitude was the topic at a 12-step meeting yesterday.

And as the conversation went around the room members talked about why they were grateful.

Some said they now had their families back. Others spoke of improved health. Better relationships. Getting off probation. Good jobs and more money. Each had something a little different.

And as I listened, I thought of what I'm grateful for. And as I reflected, I realized that I've been grateful since I got sober nearly 25 years ago. Because when I first came to recovery I had this overwhelming sense of relief. A weight was off me. I was no longer poisoning my mind, body, and spirit with drugs and alcohol. Demoralization had left. The sense of imminent doom was gone. I had freedom.

Today I have everything a man could want. A successful marriage. A home. A business. I'm going to school. All those things are nice. But without recovery I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of this.

So my gratitude is for the root of all I have today - recovery.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Making life Matter

The terrorist attack in Paris rips at one's sensibilities. How can this happen in our world of high-tech surveillance? In a time when many are on alert for such things?

One who escaped the onslaught said the murderers "looked like ordinary people."

She went on to describe them as wearing baseball caps and sweat shirts. In other words, they fit in.

What can we learn from this? Evil exploding from ordinary looking people? It's incomprehensible that humans can turn on their fellows like rabid dogs. And based on a twisted medieval ideology that says if you're not one of us you should die.

What comes from this for me is the same thing that I realized after the attack on 9/11.

And that's that we live in a world that is unpredictable and sometimes evil. But we can't allow this to make us cynical, hateful, or fearful. We mustn't let these atrocities consume us. That'll mean the terrorists achieved their purpose.

For me the message is to live life as if it matters. Be kind to ourselves - and be especially kind to others. Don't waste precious moments on this planet bickering over things that don't matter. Or even things that seem to matter.

Spend our moments in a positive way.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Being Convinced

"I have nothing," an addict once told me. "I lost my job. My family. I wrecked my car. I only have the clothes on my back."

He looked at me in surprise when I reached across the desk and shook his hand.

"Congratulations," I told him. "Now maybe you'll be able to get sober."

And the last time I saw him he had a year clean.

It may seem cynical to congratulate someone on losing it all. Yet there's nothing more convincing than when our addiction trashes our life.

And I speak from experience. I went from vice-president of a nationwide company to living on the streets. And it took less than a year. At the end - with the one or two brain cells I had left - I realized I must change. Or die.

So when clients show up with nothing it's great.  I know they might have the humility to realize they're powerless.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Losing his Balls

I was having a so-so day Thursday when I get a call from the Brown Bomber. He's been in a nursing home for ten years after having a stroke while in jail. And now he has prostate cancer.

"The doctor says he's going to cut my balls off," he told me. There was sadness in his voice. But no fear.

Not many of you know him. Nor should you. He's a former brother-in-law, someone I once used and hung out with. Even after his sister and I parted ways.

Once in a while he calls to thank me for money I send each month. But some in his family object. They say I'm not helping him. That I shouldn't send him anything. They say he buys cigarettes, pot, and alcohol with it. On and on.

But I don't care. At 70+ years, half his body frozen, living in a wheel chair, I'm not going to convince him of anything. The word recovery has never crossed his lips. He's been a tough guy who always lived his own way.

Plus, when he calls I'm reminded that I don't have many bad days at all.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Flow with Life

I believe we should do our best at whatever we undertake. But I don't think we should try too hard. Especially those of us in recovery.

And while this may seem contradictory, I often deal with clients who beat themselves down.

They don't feel they're moving fast enough. Maybe they have an entry-level job. Or the hard reality of recovery isn't what they expect. They blame themselves, thinking they should be on top of the world now that they're clean. They hear of those they grew up with, getting married, or starting college. They feel they've lost time and they want to catch up.

My advice is always the same: chill. Don't get in a hurry. Beyond staying sober, don't put great expectations on yourself. Sure you've fallen behind. After all, you were a drug or alcohol seeking robot for a while. It's going to take time to repair the body and the mind. But, you're alive and sober.

When things seem tough, congratulate yourself for not drinking or smoking dope. For not running away. When you awake in the morning whisper a prayer of thanks for your freedom from addiction.

Be kind and loving to yourself when you look in the mirror. You made it this far, to another day of living in freedom.

Congratulate yourself. Because your life is better than it was when you started your recovery.

Flow with life and remember that everything is exactly as it supposed to be at this moment.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day Gratitude

Veteran's Day reminds of when my youngest daughter left for basic training.

It was before dawn on September 11, 2003, the first day of her three year enlistment. I had tears in my eyes as the recruiter's car disappeared around the corner with her inside.

Months later I attended her graduation from basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. She was so trim and fit that I barely recognized her. There were hundreds of graduates and a lot of ceremonies and marching.

And a few months after that she was sent to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. While many in her group asked for a Hawaii assignment, she was one of the lucky four that made it there.

I was happy, because I thought she'd be in a safe location. Soldiers from that base hadn't been deployed in many years. Yet six months after she got there 25,000 were sent to Afghanistan. She was was among them.

The year she spent in Afghanistan, in a front line combat area, was almost surreal to me. I somehow numbed myself to the reality of where she was. There were days when we spoke on the phone and it was as clear as if she were at home.

She completed her three years and returned home. But not unscathed. She was injured in an accident while there. Plus she has other scars that aren't visible. But they're serious enough that she has 100% lifetime disability.

Today, as always, I'm grateful that she made it back. And I'm grateful to the many others who do what it takes for our peace of mind and security.

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A little Kindness

Kindness works for me.

Last month I became involved in a not pleasant negotiation with a service provider. And it wasn't pleasant because I was busy with other things and their problem was not on my priority list.

It seems the company was unhappy about the way I displayed their logo on our website.

They wanted it in a certain place and in a certain format on a certain page. And while I wasn't opposed to making changes, some of them were going to take a while. And they wanted the changes made sooner, rather than later. It wasn't going to be easy. Especially for someone like me, born way back in last century. Before the invention of television.

So we went back and forth for a while about the best way to do it. I did some homework, sometimes with the guidance of their tech guys.

And, finally success. The logo showed up where they wanted it the way they wanted it! I was glad it was over because it took more time and head space than I cared to invest.

Then this week I get a card. When I opened I thought it was an advertisement from the same company. But, it turned out to be a hand-written card from their customer relations department. They thanked me for my help and patience.  And said other nice things.

Just those few lines changed my attitude toward that experience. It reminds me that a little kindness goes a long way.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 9, 2015

Managers talk Recovery

Yesterday, at our monthly management meeting, the topic was recovery.

Some spoke of why they came to TLC in the first place. Others talked of why they're still here years later. Some spoke of coming here two or three years ago because they had nowhere else to go. Their  plan was to leave within a few weeks. Yet they're still here today.

Some spoke of never wanting to come to our halfway houses because they'd heard horror stories. Stories about how strict the rules are. How terrible the food is. About the living conditions.

Even convicts in the state prisons caution parolees about coming to TLC. They say we're too strict and that if they get high they'll be asked to leave. Plus we'll tell the parole department that they failed a drug test.

It's true that we're a strict, no frills, organization. One that's focused on our mission of helping recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.

And underlying all of that is a deep bond that binds our managers together. When one gets sick everyone rallies and visits them in the hospital. They pick up the slack on their job. They provide support when they lose a family member or need someone to lean on.

TLC has long  been a community, a family of recovering people who care deeply for one another.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Getting in Touch

An acquaintance asked recently why I don't have a place on this blog for comments. Like many other bloggers do.

And I explained that I had one a couple of years ago. But then took it off because it didn't serve a positive purpose.

I either got comments that were flattering and nice. Or I got hateful and pointless rants. And neither served any purpose. And they took too much head space and time to deal with.

The nice comments were okay. But one thing an addict or alcoholic doesn't need is to have his ego made any larger than it already is.

And the negative ones were angry diatribes. Probably from former residents discharged from TLC for failing a UA. Or threats of violence. Or for not paying service fees.

And the angry ones didn't bother me that much. Except that they were from cowards who'll say most anything if they can do it anonymously. It's easy to talk smack about me or our program from the anonymity of a keyboard. But it takes courage to email, make a phone call, or visit my office to deliver a complaint.

So I took out the comments section. But, if anyone wants to send me a direct message they can use the email link at the bottom of this posting.

I love to hear from readers - even the ones who are unhappy with our program. Because if they're unhappy about something - and not just pissed off - what they say may improve how we deliver services.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Being Tough

Those who respond most often to this blog are parents. Usually the mothers.

Most are torn about what to do. Do they continue to help their child? Or do they start practicing tough love? Hoping that being firm will help their child to recovery?

And my advice is always the same. Be tough. Take a firm position. No more help until you get into recovery. Because, there's nothing wrong with giving someone a jump start once they're sober. But give a user food, housing or transportation and you're supporting their habit.

And while it might not seem that way on the surface, that's exactly what it is. If your kid is living on your couch you're supporting the addiction. Because without your help he/she might get done faster. They'd run out of options sooner.

Now I'm not here to say I was the great parent. That I should give advice about raising children. I was mostly in jail or using when my kids grew up. And my two oldest had a rough upbringing, though they reacted differently. One became an addict, the other a pastor.

I give my advice because I was the addict on the couch. Living on the porch. Sleeping in the garage. Only when my mother told me she was sick of me did I change. She was tired of the police looking for me. Of me not working. Of my nodding out out in the living room. She told me to get my life together or stay away.

Sure, I was hurt. Thought she was cruel. That she didn't care. I was angry.

But within a year or so, once I got sober, I was grateful that she had the courage and love to throw me out. To tell me she wasn't going to help anymore.

Once people stopped enabling me I began to look at myself. And I realized that I needed to do something before I died or ended up back in prison.

That's when I got into recovery.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Unlearning

We spend a lot of time helping clients unlearn bad habits and faulty beliefs. We find a lot of examples among those who have come through our program over the years.

We take in some people over 21 years old who know little about caring for themselves. They don't know how to clean a living area. Make a bed. Prepare their own food. Find a job. The list goes on.

We once had a man in his early twenties who had a strange look on his face as he paid his rent.

"You know," he said. "That's the first time I've ever paid to stay anywhere."

And he's not alone. We have many in his situation who know little about the real world. Whoever raised them didn't teach them the fundamentals of survival.

It seems like they wanted their children to like them above all else. So instead of making them work and take care of themselves, the parents did everything. We've even had children whose parents paid for their drug habits. They didn't want their baby to suffer withdrawal.

So some of our job is to help clients unlearn bad habits. To teach them they're responsible for themselves - including their addictions.

And, once in a while - especially if the parents stay out of the picture -we succeed.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hurting Others

Most cries for help are not from addicts or alcoholics. They are normally from someone who cares about them more than they care for themselves.

These are usually mothers, wives or girlfriends. Though sometimes it's children or friends. But what they all have in common is they're afraid the person will die unless he gets help.

I periodically hear from a loving mother from the Midwest, whose son has been homeless for some time. He's an adult, and I think he has a child of his own.

In spite of her best efforts she can't convince him to find recovery. She's told him about TLC. And I'm sure she's pointed out other opportunities in his area where he could get sober. But his disease has such a grip on him that he's not open to recovery.

We addicts understand the challenges he's facing in making a decision. There's something about his using that's still working for him. He likely hasn't had enough pain yet.

But the sad thing is what his mother goes through. She prays and hopes that he'll see the light, that he'll get sober. When reading her emails I can sense her pain - and how much she cares for him.

Addicts are fond of saying things like "I never hurt anyone but myself." But, if they had a real grasp of what their loved ones go through they might quit making statements like that.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Settling for Something

Back in last century my parole officer was counseling me about my drug use. And he said something I still recall.

What he said was that at some point I'd have to settle for something in life. But I didn't understand his point until much later. In fact, I wasn't sure what he meant..

My history told him I was constantly restless and discontented. And his statement was perhaps a way to share a bit of his philosophy. Whatever it was, I felt he was trying to help.

Only when I made a decision to get sober did I understand - years later - what he meant.

And what he meant was that at some point in our lives we have to make a decision about what we're going to do. How we're going to live our lives.

And when I got sober, that's exactly what I did. I settled for a way of living that would allow me to flourish and thrive.

I realized that if I kept drinking I'd end up dead. Or back behind bars. And at the moment of that realization I knew I had to make a decision about my life.

And that's when I found the freedom of recovery. And after being sober a while I understood what he meant.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Changing Perspective

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” ~Unknown

I love this saying because it's the opposite of what I used to believe.

Never was I content with what I had at the moment. I always needed more. More money. More freedom. More stuff.

If I just had this or that material thing my life would be okay.

From the time I was in my late teens I was never content with what I had. I thought that better houses, cars, clothes and trips would validate me. But when I started getting those things I realized I was way off base. Even though I had a glut of luxury things, there was something missing.

And what was missing was an inner core. Something beyond my materialistic fantasies. I had mistakenly thought that money and the things it bought would make me okay. And I pursued them relentlessly. I was insatiable. I liked money and the seeming power that it brought me.

Then one day it all came crashing down in a messy heap of legal papers when the government showed up with warrants and indictments for me and eight associates..

And you know the rest of the story. A series of court battles. Money for lawyers. And finally a plea agreement and time behind bars. I had sacrificed everything, including my freedom, in pursuit of stuff that disappeared when I was taken into custody.

Now, years later, I'm living the American dream. I have everything a man could want. A lovely wife. A loving circle of people around me. A dream job that allows us to help others. The whole package.

And it all began 25 years ago. with me being grateful for the simple fact that I was sober. Since that time God has richly blessed me and those I love.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 2, 2015

Emails

A man approached me at a 12-step meeting - after getting a one year chip - and thanked me for helping him get to TLC.

He said he'd sent an email in the summer of last year, asking for help. And my response was to direct him to our Southern property.

I appreciated his gratitude, even though he's the one who did the hard work of staying in recovery.

It meant something to me, though, because it's rare that I meet those who send emails.

Some are simple inquiries. Others have a tone of desperation, even drama, about them. They often say things like "if I don't get sober I'm going to die." Or, "I've lost everything and don't know what to do."

The other day a woman wrote telling me she felt like taking her life. She'd tried to get sober many times, but had never succeeded and was ready to give up. I told her to call a suicide hotline.

Others will start their email with some clarity, then the words will trail off as if they'd just done a shot of dope. Or else are about to pass out from drinking.

A few send nonsense messages that are unintelligible. Even if I can't understand them I'll send a brief answer saying that we can help.

And then there are a couple who've been writing to me every once in a while over the past year. They say they're still trying to figure out how to get a ride to Arizona.  I always wish them luck.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Finding Happiness

I don't have psychic powers. But I'm pretty sure I know what you want. You want the same thing I want. The same thing everyone else wants. And that is to be happy.

But what does that mean? To be happy?

I don't know because I'm not in your skin. I don't what does it for you, what brings bliss, joy, and comfort into your life.

For me, it's to have a good relationship with my wife. To connect with my children and grandchildren. To have meaningful employment and financial security. To help others escape the insanity of their addictions. To help my family and those around me live up to their full potential. To stay fit and healthy during my remaining years. To learn new skills.

But for you to find happiness you need to first discover what it is.

Maybe it's winning the lottery. Or a certain woman or man. A new car or home. We may get those fantasy things then realize they didn't do it for us.

We have to figure out what makes us jump out of bed in the morning. What makes our heart beat. Where's our mind when we're daydreaming? What are we passionate about?

When we discover our passion and pursue it then we realize there's a wonderful life beyond drugs and alcohol.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Still addicted

Someone I've known for years ago is in the hospital again after a third heart attack.

She's had a valve replaced. She's had stints put in her heart. She has a pacemaker. The doctors placed her in a nursing home for a few weeks after her first heart attack. They wanted to give her a long period away from cigarettes before they sent her home.

But within days of being home she was smoking again. Not so much at first. But after a short time she was puffing away like before.

As someone who lost seven family members to emphysema and COPD I'm against tobacco use. It was excruciating to watch them slowly suffocate because of this horrible addiction.

And while I might sound preachy, I'm a former smoker who quit smoking 31 years ago.. I know it's not easy. It's hard. I kicked heroin a few dozen times. And quitting nicotine was the hardest habit of all to break.

I know we have the right to kill ourselves however we want. I hear addicts say all the time that they're not hurting anyone but themselves. Not true.

We all have someone who loves and cares about us. Whether it be children, spouses, friends, or co-workers, we have an obligation to take care of ourselves for them.

That is, unless we just don't care. And I don't think many of fall into that category.  Especially when we have loved ones in our life.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 30, 2015

Being Patient

After 24+ years of working with addicts I've developed patience.

I try to give everyone an opportunity. Just show me something says the voice in my head. Give me an inkling that you might possibly - maybe - perhaps - want to change. Shed a tear. Just a hint of humility. A little scrap of willingness so we don't have to put you on the streets.

Sometimes I ask myself why I'm not tougher. Why I can't act like the boss and send unwilling clients on their way.

But, unless they're a threat to the safety of others - or else bring drugs into the program - my first choice is not to throw them out.

And I think one of the reasons is that way back in the last century a few people showed me a lot of patience. Compassion. Kindness. Love.

And as a teenager and a twenty-something I was a lot like many of our clients today. I was angry, full of suppressed rage. Confused. Thought the world was out to get me. I sometimes hated everyone. No one understood me. I felt sorry for myself.

But I remember some of the kind people who tried to help. My family. Therapists in the State Hospital. Teachers. Parole Officers. School counselors. They reached out and told me what would happen if I didn't change. But I was too angry - and much later realized that most of them were right. And a lot of them hung with me as long as I let them.

So today, I recall the kind people who tried to lift me up in spite of myself. A lot of people spent hours showing me compassion and kept coming back.

Today I try to pass that on when dealing with a difficult client.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Looking for Children

We often get calls from parents. They're calling recovery programs, looking for addicts that have fallen off the radar.

Some say they haven't seen their child in a few months. But others haven't seen them for ten years or more.

Maybe a family member is in poor health and they want to reconcile with their child. Or at least talk to them one last time. There are a lot of reasons.

Sometimes they'll say they've checked with the prisons and hospitals. But have had no luck. They're hoping we can help.

Usually we'll take the name of the person they're looking for. Then, if they're with us, we'll pass the message to them.

Those who call - or show up - always seem to be hurting. Their voices sometimes crack with emotion. One can feel the pain in their voices.

Some take the time to talk about their child's addiction. About how he or she was once a 4.0 student or a star athlete. Until drugs or alcohol derailed their lives. They appreciate the moments we spend listening to them.

If we could record these calls and play them back in our group sessions it might help some of us. We would realize the devastation our using brings into the lives of those close to us.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Taking the Time

"The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it." Sydney J. Harris

If we don't relax once in a while we're making a statement. What we're saying is we don't have time to live well. To take care of ourselves. To enjoy life.

Often I'm around those who say they don't have time to work out, to meditate, to eat right, to read a book.

They're busily engaged in the next thing, the newest distraction. Or they stay immersed with work to avoid being present with themselves.

However, most find time to be on Facebook. Or to play video games. Or perhaps veg in front of the television for hours on end. Or else a lot of time looking at their devices.

I once made a suggestion to someone who watched TV about four hours a day - but said he didn't have time to work out. And the suggestion was that he cut an hour or two out of that time for the gym. But he said he was "too tired" to do that after working all day.

Some look at distraction as relaxing. But distraction is really just a way to avoid being with ourselves.

A better way to relax might be a walk in the park. Maybe watching a sunset, or clouds drifting by. Maybe talking face-to-face with loved ones.

None of us on our deathbed will say that we wished we'd spent more time watching TV. Or visiting Facebook. Or playing video games. Or being at the office.

Hospice workers say the dying often wished they'd have spent more time with their loved ones.

Something to think about when we say we "don't have time.”

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Dilemma

The recovering addict's dilemma is that he or she knows how to feel good. And it's easy to get there.

Snort a line. Down a forty. Slam some heroin. Smoke a bowl. Wash down a few pain pills. Ahhhh...

Yes! Instant gratification. Pain is gone. Hurt feelings are no longer there. Problems dissolve without effort.

But even though we know how to change our state we can never again live this way. Not successfully.

Over and over I've worked with those who can't tolerate a small amount of pain or frustration. Instead, they relapse so they can get a moment's respite. But I've never once heard of it ending well.

No one's ever sent me a post card that read "I've started using again and my life is great! I finally figured out how to do it right. Wish you were here."

Instead, we get reports from jails or the streets or hospitals about another addict whose life is a train wreck.

Those of us who stay clean and sober come to realize that life is sometimes painful. Disappointing. Depressing. That it has its ups and downs. We learn to live in the real world.

And while the real world is sometimes a roller of coaster of successes and failures, it's far and away better than where we came from.

Click here to email John