Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015


The call yesterday from a former client's mother was a punch to the gut.

When I saw her number I hoped it wasn't bad news.

But when I heard her voice I knew it was. The worst.

Her son, not yet 25, died that morning.

My voice was choking as I gave her condolences. And I don't know what I said. But in these situations I always feel clumsy and inarticulate. What do I say to a woman who's lost her second child to the same genetic disease?

After we hang up I reflect on her son.

He arrived here from the East Coast and spent over a year with us. I think it was the longest he'd been clean.

Within a few weeks he'd endeared himself to everyone – staff and other clients.

He was cheerful and pleasant. In spite of the fact that he knew he wouldn't make it to 30.

The addicts among us admired him. Because we wondered if we'd stay clean and sober facing what he was facing.

It was my fortune to have him assigned to my caseload. And over the year I'd see him for an hour a week face-to-face.

He didn't talk much during many of our sessions. Maybe a paragraph or two. He'd sit across from me with his zen-like attitude and quiet smile.

When he did talk it was about his love for his mother. Or how he missed home. Or his pets. Or a few of his friends. Sometimes it was about video games or movies. At times he'd talk of the sister who'd passed away from the same disease. Once in a while we'd talk recovery.

I never pushed him on anything. At first I thought he'd enjoy better health if he worked out, meditated, and ate better. But he didn't think the same thing. So I left it alone.

Instead I listened to him. And I visited him on his frequent two-week hospital stays where they'd work to restore his breathing.

I'm grateful to have spent a year with him. He taught us acceptance - something we strive for in recovery. He showed us how to wear life loosely, not making big deals of things. He taught us about courage.

When he'd leave my office he always left me feeling I'd gotten much more from him than he did from me.

Godspeed, my friend...