Recovery Connections

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

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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Blaming Others

Up until we addicts get sober we mostly blame our drug and alcohol use on something - or somebody - else.

The stories vary. My parents brutalized me as a child. I was raised in the hood. Or my parents taught me to use drugs. I never had opportunities. Everyone hates me. I was spoiled and never had to be responsible. Write your own narrative; I know you have one.

Yet many of us had good reasons to cover up our pain. Some of us suffered terrible trauma as children and teenagers.

But if we're to salvage anything of our lives we must focus on recovery. We need to forget the past. It may be true that horrible things happened. But are we going to waste our lives getting high and knowing that we're justified in doing so? Will we remain prisoners of our trauma?

To be truly free we must accept responsibility for our addiction right now. Where the addiction came from is not that important.

Living with freedom in the light of the spirit - that's what's important.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Intangibles

Much of my work involves intangibles that don't exist. Memories of trauma.  Ghosts from a distant past. Anxious fantasies of the future.

Rarely does anyone sit across my desk and tell me about something concrete that I can help them with at the moment.

It's hardly ever so simple as "I need food and clothing." Or "I'm looking for a job."

Instead, most don't understand why they're feeling pain. Why they're in the grip of feelings they can't identify. Why they peer into the future with trepidation.

So I ask questions. I probe, because I know that somewhere within they do have an idea of what's going on with them. Where it all started.

But many remain semi-comfortable in the mess they carry around. So we make little progress. Their pain is familiar and safe - and thus more comfortable than an unknown solution. And if it gets too bad they know they can default back to the dope house or the bar.

I have a solution. There's a way out I tell them. There's a safe haven that's much better than where they're at: it's in the here and now. The present moment.

But when I try to bring them into the moment they often resist. They have this important thing that happened years ago that they can't accept. Can't assimilate. Or they've got something in an imaginary future that they're rehearsing for.

Sometimes I can get them to take a deep breath and join me in the moment. Their face becomes smooth and they're okay for a while. Then they follow the narrative in their head once more and lose their peace.

I never give up.  I know it takes practice to be in the moment.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Smoking

Even though I stopped smoking over 31 years ago, July 25, 1984, I still hate the habit.

My strong feelings came from losing several family members to emphysema. It was excruciating to watch them slowly suffocate. And it was something that didn't happen quickly; some of them lingered for years.

A cousin died at 43 -and an aunt in her mid 50s - both from emphysema.

And one formerly strong and healthy uncle died at 60. He couldn't walk from his front door to the mailbox during his last years without gasping for breath.

At TLC we encourage clients to quit smoking. But we do more than that.

For example we offer hypnosis for those who are serious. Plus, we sometimes buy patches if clients can't afford them.

As added incentive, I also give them statistics: over 450,000 Americans die yearly from the effects of smoking. That's more than die from accidents, murder, suicide and all other causes, plus the 225,000 American soldiers that died in World War II.

It's a difficult habit to kick.  But we can add years of healthy living if we're willing to go through a few days of pain.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reflections

I awake this morning in freedom. I don't have a hangover. I'm not dope-sick.

I have no fear. People with guns aren't looking for me any more. Not the police. Not the drug dealers who wanted me to pay them back.

I look around the bedroom and see the 5:15 light filtering through the blinds. I'm in the same home I've been in since 2001. It's a decent neighborhood with a low crime rate.

There are decisions to make: should I go down to the pool and swim for a while? Or instead use my home gym? I opt for the pool because it's a nice way to start an Arizona summer day.

I swim lazily on my back for a while, looking at the clouds, seeing the jets fly silently overhead as they leave Sky Harbor Airport. The neighborhood's still quiet, so it's a time to meditate and reflect.

My reflection is upon the many blessings I have in my life. I have a beautiful and loving wife. An extended family and a new grandson. I have many friends and associates. At 76 I'm still able to show up at the office and take care of our businesses. I enjoy four or five vacations a year. The list is long.

I never forget why I have the life I have. It's because almost 25 years I put down the bottle and the spoon. I surrendered. My way wasn't working any longer.

So I recommend recovery to anyone who wants a better life.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bad Review

Just read a Google review of our halfway house facility on Roosevelt Street in Phoenix.

A former resident wrote "the worst 90 days of my life, no kidding."

But if this former resident was so unhappy why did he stay 90 days? After all, our program is voluntary. No fences. No bars on the doors.

Although I didn't know this man, I'm sure that he came in without money like 98% of our new residents. He probably had no clothes. No job. No transportation. In other words, he had no other place to go.

After running TLC for 24 years experience tells me this former resident was unhappy about having to be responsible. About having to pay a service fee of $110 a week - which covers housing, meals, transportation, job leads and so forth.

Often when addicts come in they have the idea that our program is a place to crash. Maybe get a few meals in their belly and some rest. They're disappointed that we expect them to work and go to meetings.

Many come from the streets, the river bottom, jail, or their parent's couch.

When we wake them at 4:00 a.m. and expect them to get in the van and go to work they're in shock. Because many of them never held a job or supported themselves.

Those who stick around and work, go to meetings, buy some clothes, and save a little money are grateful for the help.

But those who continue to have the same attitude they had when they came in find that it's easy to blame others for their failures.

However, even when they're discharged for their behavior, we let them return and try again after three days.

We understand their frustration because many of us were in the same place at one time.

We too experienced shock when we awoke in a halfway house with no job skills, no resume, and a history of addiction.  But for those of us who stuck around life got better - much better.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Feeling Good

My goal for most of my life has been to feel as good as possible.

To achieve that goal during my using years I ingested various substances to achieve a state of bliss. Heroin. Alcohol. Cocaine. Whatever would do the job.

The substances I like best are illegal and costly. As a result, supporting my habits took a lot of resources I didn't have. And I kept having to break the law to take care of my habit.

Now that I've been clean going on 25 years I still have the same goal: I want to feel as good as possible. To achieve that now, I live a certain lifestyle.

Having loving people around me. No smoking. Don't eat processed food. Exercise an hour a day. Meditate. Don't hurry. Do meaningful work. I've integrated all these things into my life over the years - and they work.

But still, are we going to feel good all the time? Of course not. And that's another part of the equation. It's to accept that sometimes - in spite of our best efforts - we're going to be off center. We might have setbacks, pain, minor depression, family squabbles, whatever. But recognizing this as a part of life helps us weather these times and stay clean and sober.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Raising Children

Even though most of our clients are over 21, at times it seems like we're raising children. Some of the behaviors we deal with are also seen in the daycare down the street.

It's not unusual for a client to throw a tantrum when they don't get their way.

Or, they'll walk off if they're not getting the answer they expect.

Tears are common, especially with female clients. Though some of the men aren't far behind.

A preferred response among our male clients is anger, especially when they get frustrated. Also they like to threaten.

In working with this population we take things in stride. We know these clients didn't just now learn to behave this way.  We have patience.

These are tools they've been using for a long time. They use them automatically because they worked for them when they were home.

But when their parents got tired of them and kicked them out of the nest, they weren't prepared to deal with life in the real world. Drugs and alcohol helped cushion their disappointment until their habits got big enough to get them in trouble.

So we're quite patient with those who act like children. We don't expect them to change over night. We know they need retraining.

And if they stick around they eventually find new tools that work better than the ones they brought with them.

Click here to email John

Friday, July 24, 2015

More Acceptance

A staff member wonders how to be peaceful. To be calm as he goes through his day.

And the answer is simple to the point of being almost trite, maybe a cliché.

And that answer is acceptance. Of everything.

If we look at the world - and those in it - as being in a state of flux, of change, then what comes next is not a surprise.

If the boss is in a bad mood we accept that. If a client is demanding and rude we don't let that upset us. If traffic is so jammed up that we're late to work, that's not a big deal either.

We also accept the good things that happen as being part of change. And we don't make a big deal of them either. They're just part of the fabric of life.

If we have the world view that things should always go our way, well guess what? We'll be disappointed much of the time. Stressed. Or angry. Something unpleasant.

I believe we must insulate ourselves from ups and downs. We need to shock proof ourselves by welcoming the changes we encounter.

If we do that we won't develop high blood pressure or other stress related issues as easily.

It takes a lot of practice to develop this attitude. But if we take the time to do it life flows much more smoothly.

And we find peace.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Burnout

Yesterday's a long one.

Clients seeking drugs from the nurse. Others whining about the rules. The emotional ones communicating with tears or anger. Others missing counseling appointments. Parents wanting to manage the program because they now know what their children need. A constant drone of wanting or needing something.

Some days are like that. Others are smooth. Everyone's participating in groups with enthusiasm and positive input. The counselors are getting along with one another. Clients are upbeat.

But the sum of it - both the positive and the negative - can grind on the nerves of those of us who work helping others. Some call it burnout. And unless we develop ways of coping it can get to any of us.

As for me, I visualize myself coated with Teflon, letting nothing stick to me. And it's worked for some 24 years.

And then there are positive things that renew us, give us energy. Like when I get home this evening I get a text message with a picture attached. It's from an unknown number, someone not in my contacts list.

The message says "Here's a picture of my 18 month chip. Thank you so much for saving my life."

I message back "Who is this?"

He sends his name and more information. He's back with the nationwide company he was fired from before coming to us. His family's together.

And I'm surprised because he was one of the tough ones who didn't get it. Who didn't think he had a problem. Who frustrated all of us. And now his life is back together.

As I end my day I'm reminded that this is what it's about - the ones who make it.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Like a Referee

Sometimes I feel like a referee. That's because I spend considerable time trying to teach our clients - and staff - how to talk to each other.

Most things that happen around TLC aren't big deals. Someone made a mistake. Maybe something was overlooked. Someone filled out a form wrong. Nothing major. Usually nothing malicious.

But it becomes major when egos get involved. And most generally it's always about ego. Then the attitude kicks in.

"Don't they know who I am?"

"They can't talk to me that way!"

"I'm a grownup and expect them to treat me like one"

Ego. It can contaminate and permeate any environment if it goes unchecked. And sometimes these issues end up in my office.

I teach staff and clients to stay out of conflict like this:
  • Never tell an employee, co-worker - or anyone else - what to do. Always ask for help. You'll find that people like to be helpful. And that's what I always want - their help.
  • If you're in a conversation that’s getting heated, back off. One manager does this well. When he feels his anger rising he tells the other person he needs to cool down before continuing. It always works.
  • Apologize right away. It's easier for me to say I'm sorry immediately, rather than wait until the next day. And others seem to like when we admit our mistakes. It makes us seem more human and less arrogant.
Click here to email John

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Parking Problem

At a 12-step meeting last Sunday a man talks about getting angry when others take "his" parking space at work.

It seems that he has a certain place he likes to park. It's under a tree, which is nice in the Arizona summer.

However, there are times when others arrive before him and take the spot. And that irritates him. He wants feedback about how to deal with this.  Because others should know that's his parking place.

And those in the meeting give it to him straight up. What most of them point out is that the parking places belong to whoever gets there first. Unless one owns the parking lot it's first come, first served.

Part of my growing up in recovery was to realize that I'm not the center of the universe. That others on the planet also think they're important - which they are. Everyone has the same rights that I do.

If we look more closely at our behavior in these situations we'll find that our ego is usually the culprit. I'm special. I'm different. I'm cool. Don't they know who I am?

Whatever our ego driven thinking is, it only tends to separate us from our fellow human beings. And create suffering for us.

Click here to email John

Monday, July 20, 2015

Patience

Patiently waiting isn't natural me. I have to work at it.

And it's not that I haven't had a lot of practice. During the years I spent in cages all we did was wait. Wait for the cell door to open. Wait in line to eat. Wait for commissary. Wait for the recreation yard to open. Wait for work. Wait to go to court. Wait for the parole board. Wait for a release date. On and on.  The minutes dripping by one by one.

To develop more patience and calmness I started meditating daily over 20 years ago. And it helps. But still I find that once in a while, when I'm unaware, I become impatient. It's still clinging on somewhere within, maybe wrapped around a strand of DNA.

For example, yesterday I'm behind a woman at a drive-through ATM, planning to make a deposit. I didn't pay much attention at first as I was taking my ATM card out and getting my deposit in order.

But soon I realized she'd been at the machine for a while. And she acted like this might have been the first one she'd used. She pressed buttons. Scratched her head. Opened her door part way to get closer. Removed things from the machine. Then put things back. Then took things out. Finally she seemed ready to go. She drove forward a few feet, then put her brakes on as I drove forward. She backed up to the machine, reached out and pushed some buttons. Then, finally, she drove off.

It took me a few moments to quit judging her and to look at this interlude as on opportunity to practice patience and tolerance.

It's a work in progress.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Helping

"Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day." 
- Sally Koch - Author

After newcomers to TLC get sober they sometimes want to help others do the same. That's also a part of the 12-step canons - to carry the message.

Some have the idea they want to go to school and become a drug counselor. Others want to start a program of their own, like what we do at TLC.

And these are great ideas and ambitious plans. But in early recovery we have an opportunity each day to help others on a small scale.

If we see a newcomer who seems lonely or fearful we welcome him or her. Maybe offer them clean socks, a snack, an encouraging word, a job lead - something to make them feel a part of.

You never know how your kindness can affect another person. And, if you start with small kindnesses you may find that you like the feeling of giving. You might enjoy the feeling of showing your humanity to someone who had little hope - and doing it without expecting anything tangible in return.

These small opportunities are all around us.




Saturday, July 18, 2015

Being Here

Mindfulness training has taught me to not hurry from one thing to another.

But how can we slow down when we live in a world where getting a lot done is what it's about? Where getting there first seems very important? Where we're judged by our many accomplishments?

I've found that I get just as much done when I take my time because I make fewer mistakes. And that's because I'm working with less pressure, less stress.

I once drove fast and aggressively to get somewhere, anywhere. And often I ended up angry and stressed, angry at other drivers. Then I read about an interesting experiment a few years ago in the Arizona Republic.

Department of Public Safety supervisors assembled two teams of pursuit drivers. The teams drove from the West Valley to the East Valley in the Phoenix Metro area at rush hour.

One team was to obey all the laws. The other team was to drive as fast as possible, ignoring speed limits and traffic laws.

The outcome: the team that broke the rules arrived 15 minutes ahead of the other team. Not a big difference. And someone asked afterwards what "someone would do with that extra 15 minutes?" I've never forgotten that line.

The sadness of being in a hurry is that we're not here. We're somewhere else, off in a tentative future. And once we get there of course our mind is on the next stop, where presumably things will be better.

But that never happens because the future is a fantasy place where we think things'll better better. But they're not better because the future we hurried to becomes a now where we're looking forward to what's next.

Let's live in the moment and not waste our lives.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Recommitment

Wednesday around dusk I watched as my oldest daughter and her husband made a recommitment to their 20 year marriage.

It took place on the beach as the sun set over the ocean.

Some 14 family members and close friends were there.

It was emotional for me because I wasn't there when she got married. Nor was I present for much of her upbringing.

By the grace of God she never followed in my footsteps. Even though she was raised by her mother in a drug environment she made a decision to live a different kind of life. And she did.

After a troubled and short marriage to an addict she got divorced. A while after that she met a pastor at her church. They dated for a while, then eventually married.

Today they're both pastors and have a church in Irvine, California.

And she recently opened her own aesthetician business in Orange, California.

The nice thing is that she's forgiven me for not being there much during her childhood.

For the past 18 years we've been able to share famlly vacations in the summer and between Christmas and New Year's.

Recovery has its benefits. And reuniting with family is a big one.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Great Staff

Twenty-three years ago when TLC first opened I did every job. I did the transportation. Accounting. Buying groceries. Cooking. Finding new residents. Running groups. Property maintenance. All of it.

And it went on this way for several months. Up until the population was about 20. By then I needed help.

I not only was spending 8 hours a day at an outside job, I also was spending another six to seven hours working at the program. I almost fell asleep a couple of times while driving..

And that's when I asked for help. I began by enlisting the clients in the program. I found someone to cook. Someone else to drive. Another person to buy groceries. I recruited help with maintenance.

As the program expanded we found that it took about one person for every 10 clients for things to operate smoothly. And that ratio has increased with the opening of the outpatient clinic. Because that program alone has 18 employees and support staff.

I bring all of this up because I'm grateful to this staff. Because that means that several times a year my wife and I can take a week or two off and decompress.

And we don't have to worry about TLC while we're away because we have good people supporting us.  That's a wonderful feeling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Blessings of Recovery

I awake this morning to the sound of waves outside our condo in Imperial Beach.

It's still dark, so there's no one on the beach. Just the sounds that were here before people discovered that this is a lovely place to be in the summer.

My wife is sleeping beside me. In other parts of the complex are 14 family members. Children and grandchildren, ranging from their mid-fifties down to 6 months old.

We've been coming to this spot for nearly 20 years, most of my recovery. And at one time we all fit in one unit. Then babies came, people got married, and we kept having to lease more space.

The message is that none of this would have happened had not God blessed me with recovery.

From the day I walked into a detox in Mesa, Arizona January 13, 1991 my life has continually gotten better.

I was able to start TLC after my first year sober. I reunited with my family. I've been able to make investments. I found a loving wife to share it all with.

I have the privilege of helping other addicts and alcoholics change their lives and to reunite with their own families.

If anyone has doubts about what recovery can bring let me tell that you have no idea.

When I got sober I had no big plans. I only wanted the pain to stop. So I did what I was told and worked hard.

I had no grandiose ideas. I had a G.E.D. Three felony convictions. No money. No credit. Few friends. I didn't even have a change of clothes. My family was distant, loving but untrusting of my recovery.

Yet staying sober changed all that. It reunited me with my family.  It brought prosperity, serenity, and more importantly - love.

What more can anyone ask?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Acceptance

A key concept in recovery - and healing - is acceptance.

We read about it in the 12-step literature on page 417. It might be one the most quoted passages in 12-literature.  And it's also a key idea in other disciplines.

We find it in mindfulness meditation. We're taught that while meditating to observe our passing thoughts - and then accept them.

My mindfulness instructor teaches me to accept them all - the good, bad, and the ugly. Accept them and let them pass by. This non-critical acceptance of our thoughts is a catalyst for change.

So what are the benefits of acceptance? I mean, is it a cure-all?

Of course not. But many of us go through life in a state of denial about things that are obvious. Instead of accepting what's going on, we hope things will change on their own. We try to shape the world to our wants, rather than accept things as they are.

For example, I know someone whose marriage is unraveling to the point that he's left the house. He’s not accepting the breakup, but he’s also not paying attention to the reasons they split. And he won't change unless he recognizes his part.  And now he's living in turmoil - and looking at what she's done.

Acceptance is the foundation of change. If we don't accept what the doctor says about health issues then we'll remain unhealthy. We won't quit smoking. Or eating a lot processed food. We won't exercise.

I know a talented college-educated woman who's blind to her anger issues. It's obvious to those around her because she's lost everything. Her marriage, her home, her business, and personal relationships are gone. But, she doesn't accept her part in any of it. It's always someone or something else. Lack of acceptance is a cloud over her life.

When I find acceptance of whatever is going on then I can make changes if they're needed. And that's freedom. Even when it's painful.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Grown?

"I'm a grown ass man" or "I'm a grown ass woman."

We often hear this at TLC. And it always comes from a client who's decided not to do what we asked them to.

Usually it's the response we get when we ask them to clean their room. Look for a job. Stop arguing with another client. It's always something simple, nothing very complicated.

The reality is that when an addict comes into our program they're paying us to tell them what to do.

At the time they make that agreement with us, they're pretty desperate. Usually they are homeless. Broke. Jobless. And have a drug or alcohol habit. And probably all they own is the clothes on their back.

However, once they get a few meals in their stomach, a job, and some rest, things might change if they're not serious about recovery. At this stage some of their old thinking might come back. The addict ego may start to blossom once more. They've already started to forget what it was like out there.

At this point they usually make a decision about whether they're going to leave or stay. And we caution them about leaving in this state of mind. Because leaving angry is a sure way to relapse.

What we recommend – and not very gently – is for them to get their ego out of the way and develop some humility. We asked them to remember that their best thinking is what got them to TLC.

And the other thing we point out to them is that we're only asking them to do the same thing that an
ordinary citizen does . Go to work. Pay bills. Pay child support. Don't break the law. All that boring stuff that makes up day to day living.

But those things can contribute to a peaceful and productive life.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Happy Parents

We get a lot of emails from distressed parents who are upset about their child.  Here I'm sharing email excerpts from happy parents who are getting good reports from their daughter.  Names are left out for the sake of anonymity.

"It was June 30th when we put our daughter on a plane to fly across the country into the unknown. At least it was unknown to us.

But she seemed to know that your program was just what she needed. It has been a week and a half of texts and phone calls back and forth that has made us realize she knew what she was doing. We hear it in her voice on the phone and we read it in her texts that she is beginning to take back her life.
We know she still has many weeks and months if not even years of recovery, but we have high hopes that this time it will work for her because we know she wants it to work

Thank you for your program, thank you for the caring organization you have established. And thank you for watching over our daughter as I'm sure you do for every single individual in your care."

Emails like this are refreshing.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tangled Emotions

Sometimes clients in new recovery are dealing with such confusing emotions that they're just a mess.

They bounce from being sad and tearful to smiling and happy. All in a matter of minutes.

When I ask what's going on they don't know. And I believe them. Because they haven't learned how to deal with their feelings and emotions. Before recovery they covered emotions with drugs or alcohol.

To get to a solution I'll ask them to list what's going on. What has them in turmoil?

And the list is sometimes lengthy. Family. Job. Health. Money. Children. Fear. Sadness. Grief. On and on.

And they've stirred these together into an unidentifiable glob. Life is one big bleeping mess.

To help, I ask them to take things one at a time. And when they see them in the light of day they start to understand.

They begin to realize they can't deal with most of their issues at this moment. And some things they must simply accept.

But many times it's difficult to get them to stick around long enough to get this far.  They sometimes run.

But if they do stay and deal with their problems they'll find there's a solution to most everything in their lives. But they can only deal with them one at a a time.

If we tangle all our issues together it's no wonder life is unmanageable and depressing.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Just need a Job

A myth among our residents is that all they need is a job. Then everything well be okay. Their world will be back together. The planets will realign themselves. It's a theme song in our groups and counseling sessions.

"I just need to get back to work."

And when I respond with my stock answer, they look at me like I've relapsed. And my answer is always the same: "Jobs are not your problem."

Because if all they needed was a job, why did they start using in the first place?

After all, everyone in our program has worked at one time or the other. Yet they ended up in jail, homeless, or in a recovery program due to drinking and drugging.

My point is that addicts like me - and most of those in our program - must make recovery their priority. Then good things will begin to happen.

Over and over I've seen clients put work before everything. They can't make meetings because of their work schedule. Or they're too tired. Then next thing you know they're back in the spoon or the bottle.

I'm not anti-work. And unless we're rich kids, we must work to live. No one will support us. But, if we put work before our recovery then we'll soon be back where we started - or worse.

When our clients stay clean and sober - and spiritually centered - the universe blesses them.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More Services

Within a few months TLC will be offering treatment services at the outlying houses. This includes therapy groups, and other counseling.

The format for the groups will be the same as at our clinic on Macdonald Street.

This expansion is for those with AHCCCS. That's Arizona insurance for low-income residents. Most of our clients qualify for - or have - this insurance.

A few weeks ago the State approved our application. Now we're setting up computer software to bill for these services. It's not a simple process.

Although we have half a dozen counselors, we'll need more. We'll add more staff for scheduling, record keeping, and other administrative functions.

This is another step in our efforts to help clients rebuild their lives.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Old Programming

Today I was driving out of my neighborhood and noticed some expensive tools sitting in front of a house, unattended.

And immediately the thought flashed through my mind that they would be easy to steal.

Now I haven't stolen anything other than a few ideas since 1991, when I entered recovery. And there's nothing I want or need that I can't buy.

But 95% of an addict's life is raising money. And when I was using over a 38 year span I was a predatory animal. I was constantly on the lookout for valuables to convert to cash. For money to stop the craving and anxiety that came with withdrawal.

Recovery has removed the craving. But it hasn't erased the old neural pathways carved into my brain during those years.

They're still there, maybe a little rusty from lack of use. But still there. Like when I automatically notice something to steal.

It reminds me of the challenges we addicts and alcoholics face in new recovery. It's not easy to overcome the habitual responses ingrained within us. That's why so many relapse.

Yet persistence and hanging out with other sober people can show us the way. And help us to change our thinking.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mindfulness Training

"Fully aware of present experience - with acceptance"  - definition of mindfulness.

We have slowly been introducing mindfulness into TLC.

It started with the Outpatient Clinic. The therapy groups now each have anywhere from five to 20 minutes of meditation. Most clients are positive about it.

Six months ago we began introducing mindfulness training into the Monday evening aftercare group.  Most of the training consists of videos, supplemented with meditation sessions.

A few clients are using the training.

One client said he went to work yesterday morning thinking the day "would suck." It was over 100 degrees and he worked outside. Then he noticed and accepted his thoughts. His thinking changed and the day turned out okay.

Another reported that those around him notice a change in his demeanor, in his behavior. He attributes the change to paying more attention and being present.

Some had the idea before training started that maybe meditation was a way to relax. Or zone out.

But reality is that meditation teaches us to be present for the moments of our lives. To recognize and accept our thoughts: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There are no goals in meditation other than to meditate. There's no bad or good meditation - it's all just meditation.

Thousands of studies do report positive benefits from meditation.

But again, the only goal is to meditate, not to seek a certain outcome - which can be counter-productive.

Click here to learn more about mindfulness meditation.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Year to Live

At a 12 step meeting yesterday morning I hear about a friend who has less than a year to live.

It's a shock. Because I'd seen him at an event less than a month ago and he looked as healthy as I'd seen him in a long time.

I've known him for the 17 years of his recovery, since he first came to TLC.

Prior to that, the story is that he lived naked in the desert shooting meth.

He worked for TLC for several years repairing air-conditioners and helping out. Then he got a better job, married, and moved some 30 miles away.

I planned to call him after the meeting. But I procrastinate, doing other things. Maybe I don't know what to say, perhaps a little apprehensive. I finally pick up the phone later in the afternoon.

When he answers he sounds like he always does, upbeat and positive.

He talks about visiting the emergency room a few days earlier when they discovered his cancer.

He's matter-of-fact as he tells me what the doctors said about having less than a year to live. Then he talks about his plans to fight because he says he didn't get sober just to die. He has a list of things he's going to do to change the outcome. Before we hang up he says he'll keep me updated.

Afterward, I feel better for having called. I feel powerless because I have nothing to say that would help him. Something magic to give him.

Perhaps letting people know we care is all we can do.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Long Term Plans

At TLC we give clients what they need.

In the case of newcomers and those in early recovery it's fairly basic. We provide housing, food, jobs and a peer driven program to support their recovery.

But there's another group of clients that also has needs. And that's those who have been with us for several years. Some for over ten years. A couple have nearly 20 years with us. What are their needs?  How do we reward their loyalty?

Several of them have met with upper management to talk about this. How does TLC reward or care for those who plan to stay with the program from now on?

They're a diverse group. They range from their forties into their late sixties.

And because this is a diverse group their needs are different. Some get social security. Others have children under five years old.

And who gets included? Only those who work for TLC?  Or do we include other clients who have spent years with us?

These are not easy questions to answer. Ultimately the answers are going to come from the clients themselves.

One option is to provide housing outside TLC, which a few already have. How do we do that for all of them? Do we provide financing? Do we built a commune ? An apartment complex?

What about care for those who can no longer work? Do we create assisted living?

Do we start a separate for profit company and let the long term employees share profits?

These are some of the questions that we must answer before we move forward.

There will be more information on this in months ahead as we get input from everyone and work out a plan.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reason to Celebrate

Today we celebrate our country's 1776 declaration of independence from England - an important day.

And we addicts have a double reason to celebrate. Because those who are sober today know on a gut level what real independence means.

No longer do we depend on substances to feel normal. Today we don't have a bottle of alcohol in our home or car. We don't need a few drinks before a social gathering. We no longer awake in the middle of the night and drink to pass out again.

If we used other substances we're not caught in the perpetual cycle of stealing, begging, hustling, or dealing drugs to support our habit.

We can visit our families and not have to explain our appearance or our behavior.

We have thrown off our addiction; the weight of the world is off our shoulders.

For me that's true independence.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Mother's Email

I received this email yesterday from a client's mother and thought these excerpts were worth sharing. Names have been left out to protect anonymity.

"I've written one other time and wanted to respond to the July 2nd blog post. 

I read them all and I think TLC is amazing. You get it right. I get texts from my daughter and she is using language like "earning privileges" and "taking more responsibility". EXACTLY what she has needed to do her entire adult life.

Up to June 7 she was very much a 16 year old trapped in a 32 year old life. And I think she went off to TLC with the attitude of "doing her time". In just a few weeks EVERYTHING has changed. She texts about knowing her triggers and recognizing her anger and changing her responses.

Most importantly, she has found community - loving, accepting community. Not without its expectations for sure. But she is learning something she has so needed to learn for a long long time. She is learning how to be in relationships. She is learning about integrity. And she has a routine that keeps her engaged all day every day in purposeful, meaningful work. She is making a contribution and she seems to feel valued and appreciated.

In one of her first texts she asked me to send snacks because the food was "prison slop". I texted back that if she was unhappy she should volunteer to help in the kitchen. Today, she is head chef supervising 2 others and preparing 3 meals a day for 62 people.

I'm so proud of her for finally seeing her worth and putting her vast intelligence and creativity to productive use in the TLC community. I so hope she puts down roots and stays in Mesa because I don't think there's anything close to what she has there in NH.

Your structure and process is perfect for the addictive personality. I see such changes in her every time I hear from her. So, from one very satisfied family member, THANK YOU for everything you are doing to give addicts a road map to a happy life. It's a huge relief that my daughter is opening herself to a life of sobriety. I know it's a challenging road ahead for her and there may be lapses but she is gaining strengths and insights that will carry her through the hard times and for that I am grateful.

The other thing I appreciate is that she is the responsible party here. For too long I have stepped in and paid the consequences, fines, etc. for her actions believing each time was the last time. I am grateful that she is being held fully accountable and I can be a supportive bystander cheering her on.

I just wanted you to know all the things I appreciate about TLC and all you have done to create a model that really works."


This mother describes perfectly what TLC is about.  We're grateful that she took the time to write this.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Helping our Addict

If there's an addict in our life we need to figure out the best way to help.

Many parents I talk to focus on themselves. They often suffer from guilt. From grief. Sometimes shock. Many are in serious distress.

The sweet child they brought home from the delivery room has morphed into an addict or alcoholic. Progressed from baby pictures to mug shots. And it seems like overnight.

And there's a lot of handwringing.

"What did I do wrong?"

"Maybe I shouldn't have gotten divorced."

"Maybe I was too strict."

"Maybe I was too permissive."

The monologue takes up all their headspace and they don't know what to do. 

At this point how we raised our kids makes little difference. It's history. Maybe something the parent and a therapist can hash out.

The real issue is that there's an addict in your house. In essence, if you're supporting him or her, then your feeding their habit.

So what to do? Give an ultimatum. The ultimatum is to get into some kind of recovery program. Either treatment or a halfway house.

And put a time limit on it. Right now. Tomorrow. Three days. Whatever it is, stick with it or else you'll feel even worse.

Will my addict still love me for making them get clean? Probably not at first first. At first you'll be a bitch or a lot of mofos. 

But my experience is that once an addict achieves recovery they have nothing but gratitude for those who helped them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

People Complain

A caller from out state wondered why TLC isn't a member of the Better Business Bureau.

His daughter is coming here. And he - understandably - wanted to be sure she was coming to a reputable place.

So I explained why we weren't a BBB member - which we were at one time.

For one thing it costs money. And it takes time to keep up with their paperwork. When someone makes a complaint a staff member must answer it.

The other part is that our business gets a lot of complaints. Addicts who relapse or who refuse to pay the $110 a week service fee aren't happy when they have to leave. They had the idea they could use drugs, live here free, and not work.

So after they leave they complain about the food. Or the housing. Or the fact that they had to work, go to meetings and find a sponsor. Or the idea they'd have a roommate - or even two roommates. They thought we were just another place to hang out.

And they go to anyone they hope will listen. The County. The City. The State. One former unhappy client even went to the State Legislature to try to close us down. We're still here and last I heard he was, sadly, still drinking.

Anyone who's interested in how we operate can call me and I'll help them.

They can also talk to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health licensing, which monitors our treatment program.  (The out of state caller talked to them and got a good report.)

Another resource is Maricopa County Environmental Services. They inspect and license our commercial kitchens. They also monitor our pest control.

We also are licensed in the cities that require a license.

Click here to email John