Recovery Connections

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Moment of Reflection

How am I starting my day?

Have I awakened with a load of problems on my to-do list?

Before I even put my feet on the floor am I trying to figure out how I'm going to accomplish everything I must do?

If this is the way I begin, my day might not go very smoothly.

Perhaps I should begin again. After all, we’re allowed to start our day over.

So let's take a few deep breaths and get centered. Feel the oxygen penetrating deep into our lungs. Feel our circulation awakening.

We look around, noticing our circumstances. Maybe we say silent words of gratitude for the many blessings in our lives.

Maybe among those blessings are our health. Or perhaps our loved ones. Maybe something as simple as that we have a home. That we live in a secure country. That we have a job.

When we start our day like this, with a moment of reflection, things might go better.

Then when the rush of responsibility comes upon us, we are able to handle things with calmness and confidence.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 30, 2015

Her Boyfriend's Hungry

I received a snarky email a few days ago from a halfway house resident's girlfriend.

She complains that our Roosevelt house has none of the amenities mentioned on our website.

She says there's no art therapy or yoga. That the food is inadequate because her boyfriend is always hungry. And that the building is "ghetto."

She also wonders just what they are "getting for $110 a week."

I suggested that she had our treatment program and the halfway house mixed up. That she should check our site again.

I didn't go much further with my response though. Because I realized she must be young and not have much experience in life.

After all, I'm not sure what economy she lives in. Because I don't know of anyplace that will house and feed a person for $110 a week. And we offer more than that in the form of job help, peer counseling, and recovery support.

Now I'm the first to admit our property's not the best. We have a dozen full-time maintenance and construction people who work to keep our buildings in good shape. And they do well.

But our place is not the Meadows, Betty Ford Clinic, or Recovery in Malibu. And we don't represent it as such. In fact, as this resident's girlfriend said, it's in the middle of one of the larger ghettos in Phoenix.

However, we do tell our clients and residents that if they do what we say they'll stay clean and sober.

And that's the same thing the fancy, expensive places tell their clients – only they charge $40,000 to $90,000 a month for their help.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Being a Victim

(I share the following because it shows what we do sometimes to our family and others.)

A mother sends a 1000 word email to tell me of the pain she's in because of the way her addict son is treating her.

He abuses her verbally. She's spent so much on him that she's losing her house. He creates problems in her marriage because his stepfather doesn't want him on their property. Plus he makes threats when she won't help him.

The email goes on to list his troubled history. He's committed crimes and gone to jail. He's fathered children he doesn't support. He's on probation in two different states. The list goes on.

His behavior has caused so much stress that she's been in the emergency room twice recently. On top of that, her husband is ill and her dog is paralyzed.

People have told her she should cut her son loose. To quit helping him because he's manipulating her. But she won't.  She says she loves him too much.

She wonders if TLC can help.

And I tell her we can help if he wants it. But it doesn't sound like he does.

I suggest that she quit being a victim. And that she let him go before he creates more stress in her life.  The same thing others have told her.

But I doubt if she will. She says she "worries" so much about him being out in the cold, hungry, and without transportation.

And as long as she feels that way he'll keep misusing her.

Click her to email John

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Like a Buffet

Most who come to us for help are desperate. And because we take them in without money they're willing to do whatever we ask.

And what we ask of them is pretty simple:

-Submit to drug and alcohol screening.

-Work and pay $110 a week service fee.

-Clean their rooms and do chores around the house.

-Break no laws.

-Attend house meetings as well as 12-step meetings.

-No violence or threats.

-No chronic bad attitude.

-No sex on the property.

These are simple rules.  Many of them the same things the average citizen does.

Yet, after a while, some clients find them hard to follow. They start treating the program like it's a buffet - just taking the parts they like.

It's kind of like they say "I want help and here's the kind of help I want." Once they start feeling better and gain a few pounds they forget why they came to us.

We've actually had clients say "I'm a grown-ass man and no one's going to tell me what to do."  Yet, in reality, that's what clients pay us for - to tell them how to re-direct their lives.

And when they get this resistant attitude that's when problems start.

And it's always resolved the same way: clients either become compliant or else we send them to find someone who'll do things their way.

And if they don't find anyone who'll do it their way we'll give them another chance. But this time on our terms.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Forms of Denial

Denial takes many forms. And sometimes they're very subtle.

My favorite is when clients say they have trouble getting sober because they're different from other clients. They can't relate, so they're uncomfortable.

The difference may be racial. It may be religious. It may be social background.

We've had school teachers. Ex- convicts. Lawyers. Rocket scientists. Developmentally disabled. The gamut.

We've had most ethnic groups. White, brown, native, black and some in-between.

We've had every major religion. Including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews.

But some of these clients left because they felt like an outsider. That they don't belong. At least that's what they said.

But I believe it has more to do with denial and resistance to change.

Because if one's religion, or ethnicity, or social background were so important why didn't it keep them sober?

Denial says I'm different. I'm special. I'm not like you.

Denial doesn't let us see how we're alike. Because if I see how I'm just like you then maybe I can follow you into recovery. But if I can separate myself from you - for whatever reason - then you can't be my example.

When I got sober I took help from everyone. And I still do.

I don't care if you're green and from outer space. If you can help me over the pain of my addictions then that's all that counts.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Unique Business

The halfway house business has a unique hiring policy.

That's because the best people to manage the houses are recovering addicts who've been clean for a while. And it doesn't hurt if they also have an arrest record.

It's a resume that gives them credibility with the clients. Plus, with this background it's harder for clients to get over on them.

But having this type of employee has obvious risks.

For example, yesterday a manager and his assistant suddenly quit at one of our outlying houses. And when that happens we always wonder what was going on beforehand.

Because decisions like are rarely spur of the moment. Maybe they became lazy or dissatisfied with the job. Could have found a girlfriend. Maybe wanted more money. Could have felt like using. Or perhaps they were already using. We don't know.

With sudden departures like this we first do an audit to see if anything is missing. And often there will be discrepancies with the money.  Even though it won't be a huge amount.

Whatever it is, it'll eventually come to the surface.

In the meantime, we have another addict stepping into the job. And we can only hope he does a better job than his predecessor.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Being Willing

I often talk to clients who are down on themselves because they haven't done much with their lives.

Drugs and alcohol took over. And here they are in their twenties, thirties and beyond with little to show.

No assets. No car. No job skills. Maybe no friends. The future looks scary.

Sometimes they mention family and others their age who are doing well. They may be finishing school. Or running a business. It can be depressing.

But my counsel is that it doesn't have to stay that way. If one is willing to put in the work. I know, because I was there in my first year of recovery.

I was 51 years old. Riding a bicycle. Taking busses. Walking. Doing day labor in the Arizona summer.

Sometimes I'd put a five gallon bucket of water on the back of my bike and ride down main street washing windows for a few dollars. Whatever it took to pay my rent at the halfway house.

I worked hard to stay sober and rebuild my life. And that was the key: determination and perseverance.

Within a year I bought three ratty houses on the same lot with no money down. I started my own halfway house program - while working a full-time job.

I painted and cleaned those houses until they were okay for people to live in. Soon they were full and I found some more.

Within a year we were so busy that I had to quit my full time job. I worked at the halfway house for two years without a paycheck, just room and board. But I kept on, magically leasing and buying more property.

Addicts came to us for help, wanting to get sober. And wanting to give back. Together we built a community that today numbers over 700 people. A group that's trying to salvage what's left of their lives.

The point of all this is that if you want something and are willing to put in a lot of work with no promises of anything - you might just succeed.  

And you won't be down on yourself anymore.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Life is Better

The speaker at a 12-step meeting this weekend talked about having been through detox well over 100 times. He then went to share what his life is like today.

After three years, he’s back on good terms with his family. His daughters now communicate with him.

His health is better. He works every day and has a place to live with other sober people. He has a sponsor.

His story is like so many who have come to the program and found that their lives have become much better than they imagined.

Those who put together a period of recovery, like this man, have rejected the idea that they can have even "one drink."

Because, as the speaker explained, one drink turns into a day of drinking. Then a week. And then who knows how long?

His story was refreshing. And it inspired all of us in the room - newcomers and old-timers alike.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Killing Alcoholics

An article in the April 2015 issue of Atlantic Monthly (The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous") might kill a lot of alcoholics. Especially if they read and believe what it says.

The author, Gabrielle Glaser, makes the case that Alcoholics Anonymous is ineffective. She cites other treatments that she claims work better. And she says the science is there.

Some supposedly teach alcoholics to drink in moderation. The others involve various treatment methods - including drugs.

She lauds these science based approaches for treating alcoholism. But something she fails to mention is how to pay for these treatment programs and therapies. After all, AA is free - though one can donate.

The bulk of those I've met in meetings have little money. How will they pay for expensive drugs like Vivitrol? Or Naltrexone?

Now I agree with some of what she says. For example there are no scientific studies about AA's success rate. Duh. The program is "anonymous" for a reason. Thus, there are no studies.

And she fails to discuss the strong support system in AA. There's no treatment where one has a free sponsor to support recovery. And they're there 24 hours a day if needed. In AA one can find help with almost anything. One just has to ask.

Treatment programs, doctors, therapists, and counselors immediately stop helping if a client can't pay. And that's okay. That's how the medical business works; they have to eat too.

In reality, many medical interventions have a marginal long-term success rate. Does that mean we should stop treating people? Just because the treatment isn't 100% successful?

People like Glaser should pay homage to Bill W. and Doctor Bob and honor them for those they've helped.

Because no has found anything offering the same positive results as AA - and at no cost.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Living in the Moment

When I get into emotional trouble it's because I'm not living in the moment. I'm not here now.

When my anxiety is high it's because I"m off in the future rehearsing for a play that only exists in my mind - not on Broadway.

Nothing has happened. But my nervous system is going crazy, as if I were really there. My pulse is racing. My chest may be heaving as if I were facing a genuine challenge.

My magnifying mind is creating all kinds of terrifying images. I'm ready to flee or fight.

But if I bring myself into the moment, it all subsides. Spring sunshine is warming the day. Nothing's pressing in this moment. My family is healthy. I have the same job I've had for 24 years. Good is all around me.

Yet part of my DNA, my legacy as a human, it seems, is to create some uncertainty and anxiety in my life.

That built-in uncertainty - that heightened vigilance - is what kept us from being a meal for a wild animal in our early evolution.

This vigilance served us well down the evolutionary trail. But today that same trait might create problems in our daily life.

How do we escape this predestined dilemma? One way is to become mindful, to become of aware of our thinking. That way we can learn to live in the present and recognize that our thoughts are usually the cause of our anxiety.

Once we recognize them as thoughts we can move on.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Clients come First

Last week our newest full-time therapist said something that touched me.

It came up while he was explaining why he chose to work for us - instead of the larger agency that had offered him a position. A job, by the way, that would have paid $20,000 a year more than we do.

For him it was simple. Before going full-time he'd worked for us part-time. And during that time he found that our focus was on the recovery of our clients. That the client's interests come before everything.

In previous positions he was turned off by the focus on how many client hours the company could bill. It was as if money was the primary goal.

TLC Outpatient Treatment philosophy is an outgrowth of our 23 year old halfway house program. And that program, from day one, opened its doors to any addict who asked for help - whether they had money or not. And it's been that way since - about helping others out of their misery.

Now don't misunderstand. A treatment program must be profitable to survive. And our treatment program is no different.

We bill insurance companies, Plus we have a cash pay option, one of the most affordable in the industry at $3600 a month. It's necessary for us to make a profit to pay for the 15 plus members of our counselling and support team.

But the clients who come here get special attention. They don't need an appointment to see a therapist if they're in crisis. There's not a lot of bureaucracy. Those with physical issues can see the nurse or doctor right away. If they have complaints or other issues they can see the CEO simply by walking upstairs. They're surrounded by a staff of counselors who are in recovery - people who understand and care. They have support on every level.

And that's why clients like to be here and therapists choose to work for us.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Power of Addiction

We keep hearing reports of a long time halfway house client who left a few weeks back after someone asked him for a urine sample.

Rather than give the sample, he admitted using. He didn't say what. He then packed and left within 30 minutes. He wanted to get away before someone tried to convince him to start over.

Since he left, other clients have seen him in different places. One time it'll be a bus stop. Another day outside a fast food restaurant. Someone will spot him trudging up the street. Always a different place, just drifting.

They say he looks rough. Maybe like he's living outside. Not taking good care of himself. Not bathing or washing his clothes.

It's sad to see him come to this. And in such a short time.

Because for 18 months he was sober, working a responsible job, contributing to the community. Then he started earning a little money. And it must have triggered him to use.

It's another example of the power of our addictions. And what can happen if we don't use the tools we've learned.

We hope he makes it back.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Close to Home

Yesterday morning a gunman shot six people two miles from our corporate office, an event that rattled us for a while.

We told our drivers to avoid travel until police caught the gunman. And by early afternoon he was in custody.

This tragedy reminded me to be grateful we live in an area with a low crime rate. The most exciting thing that happens around here is when the city paints new stripes on the road. Or when a few drops of rain fall and we get team coverage.

Mesa could be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the boredom capital of America. Even though it's the 45th largest city in the U.S., it's a nice quiet place to take a nap. Or to be in recovery.

I'm grateful to live in such a normally low key city because those of us in recovery have had all the excitement we can handle. Really enough for the rest of our lives.

I feel compassion for the victims of yesterday's violence.  And I also think of those who live in the Middle East or in cities where violence is a constant presence.

I suppose those who live there become accustomed to the turmoil. But the stress of not living in a safe place has to wear on one's health and spirit.

That's why I'm happy to be here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Save your Kid

Emails come from parents almost daily. From all across from the country.

Most are desperate. They're surprised about this baby they brought from the hospital a few years ago.

Overnight they have this drug creature in their home. One that steals and lies. Someone they love disintegrating right in front of them. A living nightmare. Trust is gone.

Sometimes the kid blames mom or dad like it's their fault. Some parents accept that. Where did I go wrong? Why didn't I see this coming?

They're torn about what to do. Some spend money on beach side treatment. Once in a while a parent says they're supporting the drug habit because they don't want the kid in pain. Or the child's living with them for free while chasing their addiction.

I sense the emotion - the raw pain - behind their words. I want to give them something to help them feel better. To take away their pain, confusion, and anxiety.

Maybe a mantra. A shortcut. A way to let them down easy from the challenges they have in their lives.

But I'd be lying. Because there's no "easy" when dealing with an addict family member.

When we take someone's drugs or alcohol there's pain. When we ask them to stop, to change, it's painful.

And I tell them all the same thing. If you want to help, offer to get them to recovery. To treatment.

If they don't want to stop, then quit helping. You'll only prolong the misery - yours and theirs. It's either treatment or no more help.

It may sound cold and clinical. But so is the morgue. And that's where many end up.

It takes true courage to confront addiction - but that's what it takes to bring about change.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Need to Work

Last week I spotted a somewhat familiar face outside our corporate office. But I wasn't sure where I knew him from. He had a scruffy beard. His hair was greasy and matted. His clothes looked slept in.

Finally he comes over and greets me, breathing stale alcohol fumes in my face. Once he told me his name I remembered him well.

He was with us ten years ago. He was a strong contributor to the program. He could do most anything with construction. He worked on many of our projects, doing maintenance and repair.

When he left he'd been sober for a few years. But he wanted to go because he "needed to make money."

And now, about nine years later, he had serious health problems. He was also homeless and broke.

Of course we took him back into the program and will do what we can to help him rebuild his life.

Cases like his are one reason I caution those who leave simply to go to work. Yes, jobs are important. But many addicts believe that if they just have a job and some money life will be okay.

But rarely does anyone come to TLC to get a job. They come here because thier life is unmanageable because of their addiction.  Until they get that part right nothing else is important.

If jobs kept people sober they wouldn't need us.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 16, 2015

Being Here

Visiting a friend, I watch his three year old and some other children at play. They are oblivious to the world. Each moment is rapture and and joy.

Then one snatches a toy belonging to the other. There's pushing and shoving. Then tears. And screaming.

Yet five minutes later they're happily playing. Sharing candy. As if nothing occurred.

I'm pretty sure that neither awoke the next morning thinking of revenge. Nor did they have a bubbling resentment.

When do we lose this capacity to be spontaneous? To live in the moment? To be present every magical second?

Perhaps the world of responsibility takes it from us. Wants us to act serious. To think about the future. To fret about work and school.

I reflected on this at a meeting this morning while listening to a youngster - sober for two days - talk of plans for the future. Her mind was way down the road.  In a place where things would be wonderful when she had job, car, apartment and other stuff.

And I thought she might look at her life at the moment. She might revel in being out of her addiction and in the light of recovery. She is saved from herself. Yet she's not present to enjoy it.

Life is lived here and now. That's not say we shirk our grown up responsibilities to stay in these moments of bliss.

But it might be nice to stop and visit ourselves once in a while.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Raising Addicts

Once in while I hear parents say they don't want their children to struggle in life. To not face the challenges they did when growing up. And for some reason this rubs me the wrong way.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's a good idea for parents to provide the basics. And opportunities for their children. That's an obligation we have as parents.

But parents who go above and beyond and spoil their children deprive them of a chance to grow and learn to make decisions. In other words they don't learn to take care of themselves.

Many of our younger clients were given everything, like it was an expression of love. Most of them never worked for anything. Many of them never paid rent. Applied for a job. Did their own laundry. Cooked their own food. Mom and dad did everything for them.

Then when they grow up and face life on life's terms it's overwhelming. They need something to mask their pain and fear.  Maybe alcohol.  Heroin.  Crack.

If you want to raise an addict give them everything. Don't make them work. Let them live at home for free. Buy them a car. Give them expense money. Don't force them to go to school. Make sure you're their friend.

And if you do this, don't act surprised when they turn on you when you stop being the benefactor.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Success Story

Some days it's very clear to me why I continue to do this work.

A former client stops at my office yesterday and asks me to fill out a reference form. And I was happy to help him.

While there, he told me how pleased he was because ASU recently accepted him as a student.

It moved me when he told me this because less than five years ago he came to TLC with nothing. He was the product of the streets and prison yards. Drugs and crime had ruled his life for years.

In his early days at TLC he determined to get an education and enrolled at a community college. He also continued to do what he needed to at TLC. Plus he became active in the 12-step programs.

Even though it was tough for him, he persisted. Many a day he would say he couldn't do the work. It was too hard.  He didn't understand it. But he kept going. He never stopped believing in himself. He asked others for help and enlisted the aid of tutors.

He's another example of someone who came to our program to change his life.  Then he went above and beyond.

Friday, March 13, 2015

How to Help

A grandmother emails asking for help for her twenty-something grandson. Seems that he got out of jail and immediately started using. Then he was back in jail within three days.

In my response I tell her we'd be happy to help. If he wanted to change. If he had the motivation.

Her next email asked if we could provide the motivation.

And, of course you know what I told her. But I'll go over it again.

I told her that we did not. That we didn't have the power to motivate him. That the thing that motivates most of us to change is pain, discomfort, and loss. In other words, life experience.

When drinking and shooting dope isn't causing problems why in the world would he quit? We addicts had great times until they stopped being so great. We loved what we were doing.

But once we lost marriages, children, jobs, homes, freedom, or health then some of us woke up. Losing those things might be painful enough to motivate anyone.

That's why I discourage people from helping addict family members. Lose your guilt and direct your loved one to treatment. Otherwise you're going to enable them for a long time. And you might love them to death.

And surprise, surprise. Once in a while they follow the advice and get a good result.

Click here to email John

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Doing Maintenance

Yesterday I was out of the loop all day because of a medical screening. A screening I never look forward to.  But one those of us over 50 should get every so many years.

It's my sixth one in 24 years sober.

And I hate it because it requires a day of preparation with laxatives. A day when I can't eat solid food. Only water, juice, jello or clear broth.  No fun.

The procedure itself isn't painful because I'm asleep. One moment I'm talking to the medical team while they're preparing. Then what seems like a second later we're having a different conversation in the recovery room.  Nice.

I share this because I'm grateful to be able to care for myself. When I got into recovery I decided to be healthy in all ways.  And part of that is following through with checkups and screenings as the doctors recommend.

Also, I eat well, exercise, keep my weight and stress down. But a sad thing about many in recovery is that they're disconnected when it comes to health.

It seems like their agreement with the universe is that they'll take care of everything from the neck up, the cosmetic stuff. And they'll let the doctor take care of everything from the neck down.

But my belief is that our body is the temple of our spirit. And if we don't take care of it we might not be around to enjoy our sober years.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Another Run

Yesterday morning we hear that an employee may be using.

He was acting strange. Not his usual self. Just about always a sign that something's going on.

His supervisor calls and asks if he can pass a drug test.

"Hell no," he replies.

When the supervisor asks him to wait so he can help him, he declines. He says something about having things to do. Then he took his belongings and left.

The sad thing about this man's relapse is that when he left the last time he nearly died in a field. He's only alive because the homeless man he was shooting heroin with called 911 when he overdosed.

When he returned to TLC a while later he talked of his gratitude for being alive. About how he'd learned a lesson from the incident.

He spent months back in the program, going to groups and doing the right thing. He went to meetings. He seemed to be on the right path. And then he wasn’t.

We can only hope he survives.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ten Years

Yesterday I saw another miracle of recovery at the ten-year birthday dinner for a man who struggled for years with his addiction.

He came to us at age 19. And he was in and out of TLC some 10 times before he finally got it.

His mother died of alcoholism while he was in his early teens.  He rode away from her funeral on his bicycle and didn't look back.

After that he pursued drugs with a vengeance. It wasn't until he had a few near death experiences that he finally decided to change.

Today he lives in a suburban home with his wife, a grown son and a new child. He's become one of the key people at TLC. He's totally immersed in the 12 step programs and has helped many others into recovery.

He's another example of what happens when we remove the drugs and alcohol from our lives.

That's when - like this man - we can live up to our potential.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 9, 2015

Benefits of Helping

At our monthly manager's meeting yesterday the topic was "helping others."

The managers spoke of the good feelings they get from helping others. And the satisfaction it brings to their lives.

One manager spoke of a long ordeal he went through getting help for a client who had a stroke. He said the hospital released him back to us even though the man couldn't care for himself.

In spite of many roadblocks he finally got him to a long-term care facility. And he felt good after all his effort.

It came up at the meeting that there's a lot of science showing the benefits of giving upon the giver. Among them: better health, increased longevity, and improved immune systems.

One of those studies involved Mother Theresa. She lived many healthy years in spite of working with some of the sickest people in the worst slums.

While most of our managers do what they do because it helps them stay sober, it's nice to know there are also other benefits.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Parents call Us

About 90% of the calls we receive, maybe more, are from parents or family members. They're seeking help for their loved ones.

Some of the disembodied voices on my phone seem confused. Others are in fear. They'll say things like "I'm afraid I'm going to find him dead some morning." Or else they think he might end up in jail. Or a hospital.

They'll tell me how successful their child was at one time. Maybe he - or she - was a high school athlete. Or some kind of a scholar. Maybe they're about to lose a wife or husband.

Because most are not alcoholics or addicts they they don't understand. Why would someone continue to do something so destructive? Why would they throw away everything they worked so hard for over a drink or a drug?

And I agree that it doesn't make sense. There's nothing logical about drug addiction or alcoholism. It's a form of insanity that takes over our lives until it either destroys us or else we get sober.

I tell them they should offer to help their loved one get clean and sober. But if they don't accept the help the next move should be to cut them off. Don't enable them any longer.

Let them reach the point where they'll start to realize the seriousness of the situation. And maybe they'll get done quicker.

So many of our clients say they didn't try to get help until their families cut them off. It was a dose of reality that shocked them into doing something.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Accepting Pain

Those of us with addictions seem to have a low tolerance for pain of any kind. Especially emotional pain.

Before I got into recovery 24 years ago I always covered my angst with a substance. My first choice was opiates. But then pills, alcohol, or marijuana would all serve in a pinch. Whatever it took to feel like I fit in.

Even as a teenager, I used whatever was available to cover my raging anxiety and feelings of being less than. Something to feel different.

And it worked for a long time. Until I started getting into trouble with the law. At that point my addiction had morphed into a hungry monster, taking all my resources. All my energy. Then eventually my freedom.

Working with addicts for 24 years has taught me a lot about myself and others.

For one thing I've learned that we don't always have to be in a state of bliss where life is wonderful. Sometimes life sucks and that's okay. I can have some pain – or down days - and it's not the end of anything. It's just life.

I've learned that the thoughts bubbling up from my addict subconscious can often lie or distort reality.

But none of these ups and downs mean that I must change how I feel with drugs or alcohol.

I simply flow with life and things are soon back in order.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 6, 2015

Poor Choices

A former halfway house resident who's been drinking vodka calls for help. Says he wants to "come home."

He's been at it for a while. His drinking partner girl friend is deathly ill from the effects of alcohol. And he doesn't know how to care for her.

The manager he called suggests - not very gently - that he can't take care of himself. Let alone someone else.

And, of course, we'll let him come back. We'll help her too - if she's able to take part in the program. But it's sad that it came to this.

A few years ago, when they got together, someone suggested it wasn't a good idea. Our experience has been that two alcoholics in new recovery don't have the best chance. Same for addicts.

And when they end up in a situation where both are drinking - as we predicted - they think we're psychic. They're surprised that it happened just as we predicted.

But it doesn't take a crystal ball. The idea that two people without much recovery will gain strength from one another is questionable. Most of the time it doesn't work.

True, we have couples in recovery on our management team. But those successful relationships didn't start until each of them had some years of recovery.

The idea that one can leave a halfway house or treatment program and jump into a relationship is not good thinking.

As we see in this man's case.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Remembering a Brother

Today my younger brother, Robert, would have been 74 years old. Had he survived.

He died May 21, 2001, at 60 years old, at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, partly from complications of alcoholism.

He, like many in our family, had issues with alcohol and drugs. The difference with my brother, though, was that he didn't think he had a problem.

When we'd talk about recovery he'd say "I'm not like those guys." And he was referring to the people in 12-step meetings.

Yet he spent years putting away a case of beer a day. Along with the marijuana he grew in the desert behind his house in California. Once in a while he'd mix in a little speed.

But the reality was that he was just like them - and worse. He lived a life of denial. Even when he ended up homeless he somehow could blame it on bad luck or something else.

And the sad thing is that he could have lived many productive years. He was a talented singer and guitar player. He built houses. He read everything. When he was sober he could do stuff.

Yet, he never had the blessing of realizing that he had a disease. Because I know that - had he recognized it - he could have worked through his anger and resentments.

He would have been able to see his children mature and have children of their own.  He might have found the peace and serenity we find in recovery.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

About Kindness

Life goes smoother when we're kind to others.

But how do we do that? How can we be kind to others when maybe they're not so nice to us?

Maybe they treat us badly on the job. Or they cut us off on the phone. Or on the highway. How do we rise above that and be nice to them?

What works for me is to realize that whenever someone is rude or impolite there's usually a story behind it.

Because very few people I've met are naturally rude or mean. At some point they might have had a bad experience that's causing them to have a bad day. Or a bad year. A bad life.

We rarely meet someone who hasn't suffered at some point - maybe that day. Perhaps a death or illness in their family. Or they lost a job or a business. They may be sick themselves. We don't know.

I've found that it disarms the rude and unkind when my response is kindness and politeness. When people aren't feeling good about their lives it often shows in their behavior.

That's why a little kindness from us can be an example of a better way to live.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hard Choices

Sometimes life presents us with dilemmas.

For example, what to do when someone we live with relapses one more time? Do we make them leave? Do we have them seek help?

And this can be anyone. A son or daughter. A spouse. A friend. In some cases, even a parent.

On one hand, we want to protect the integrity of our home. And, if we're in recovery we especially want to protect ourselves. Yet, we don't want harm to come to someone we care about.

We don't want to see them homeless. We don't want them to lose their job. Their car. Or their health.

But the reality is, until they find recovery they won't have a chance at a normal life. Eventually, if they continue in their disease, they'll lose everything anyway. Plus their relationship with us.

Those of us in recovery know well the path we took once our disease overwhelmed us. While some of us were smart and recognized right away that we needed help, others didn't.

I was one of the dumb ones. In my case it took a lot of suffering before I decided on recovery.

And I made that decision after those close to me quit helping me. The told me to take a hike. When that happened I knew I had a problem.

Then I got help.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sobriety Time

Does clean and sober time count if one is in prison?

I once heard a man speaking at a meeting who had recently gotten out of jail.

He'd been away for some time. And though he'd been out for only a few months he said he'd been "sober" for three and half years. And I asked myself a question after he said it.

Does the the time we're locked away count toward our sobriety date? In other words, if we're in a sort of sterile environment does it take much will power to stay clean?

I stayed clean for several years while locked up. Even though drugs were available at a high price.

But it wasn't about staying sober. I wanted to stay out of trouble so I could get out. The concept of sobriety never crossed my mind. And the minute I was out it was on.

I guess in the final analysis it depends on the individual.

I mean there's no record keeper checking off the days we've been clean. And if someone stays sober - whatever the reason - why shouldn't it count? And if they count those days toward their recovery, why not?  Really, it’s no one else’s business.

But a different test does come in the real world where one has more freedom to drink and drug.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 1, 2015

R.I.P.

A former TLC client and manager was murdered Friday night.

News reports say intruders shot him during a home invasion.

Jack came to us almost 20 years ago. He had a rough start at first. After several tries he completed the Hard Six program.

He left TLC over 12 years ago. He served for a long time as a pastor with Set Free ministries. At his death he was pastor of a church in Phoenix.

Jack was a friend to many of us. And we appreciate the contributions he made to TLC.

We wish his family well.

Godspeed, Jack.

Click here to email John