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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Negative Feedback

I get a Google alert yesterday that someone left a comment about our Roosevelt property.

Curious, I go to the web page and read it, even though I had a good idea what it said. And, as I anticipated, it was a negative remark about the program.

And while I was there I read through five or six others left over the past few years - most of them negative.

Fifteen years ago these comments might have irritated me. I'd lay awake at night fretting about how ungrateful addicts are. Don't they know how hard we work to provide the services we offer. Blah, blah, blah.

Today I understand the addict's dilemma. In early recovery they think they're the center of the universe. Most come to us after mommy evicted them from her sofa . They've been mooching from her until she can no longer stand it.

When they get to us they expect to hang out and do what they want. Kind of like they were doing at home. They're shocked when they're awakened at 4:00 am to go to work. They're angry that they have to clean their room. And make their bed. Take a shower and wash their clothes.

And at this point many will leave.. And of course they'll also owe us money for the time they freeloaded off of us.

The interesting thing is that we addicts have learned to forgive. We realize that some of us have to go out and suffer for a while before reality sets in.

And when addicts suffer enough they start realizing that TLC isn't so bad after all. Especially when they're hungry, strung out, and homeless.

And, we generally welcome them back. Sometimes more than once.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Being Patient

While doing my job a few days ago I get an email from an angry grandmother who wanted me to call right away. Which I did.

It seems she's upset because she drove 40 miles to visit her grandson at one of our halfway houses. But she didn't get to see him.

She wanted to talk to me because she said the manager on duty was rude. She knew her grandson was asleep in his room but that no one would go get him.

Of course the manager has his own version. He said the client had signed out and was off the property. Plus he was busy dealing with our other clients at the same time.

In any event, I listened to this nice grandmother as she told me the story more than one time. In fact, she told me what happened probably four times. And maybe a few more on top of that.

Then the day after that we communicated for maybe another half hour about the same issue. And I listened patiently as she told me the same thing again..

And I'm patient because I know the family is already suffering because of the addict in their family. They have all the hope in the world that their loved one will succeed. Yet they're still dealing with one thing after another. And what they don't need is further aggravation from us.

The frustration of being powerless to help someone we love can sometimes be overwhelming.

And that's why I listen to family members without a lot of regard as to who's right or wrong.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How it Works

Every so often someone gives me credit for what we do for addicts at TLC.  It's usually a business person or a resident's family member.
 It'll be something like how wonderful I am because I help others change their lives.  Or how smart I am for putting this project together.  The compliments take various forms.
And my addict ego wants to soak it all up.  Instead, this is  when I have a chance to tell them  how TLC really works.  
It's true that I came up with the idea for TLC in 1991.  But the people who make TLC function today are the 100 plus addicts who allow the program to operate as smoothly as it does.
We have district managers.  House managers.  Assistant Managers. Drivers. Night security.  Cooks.  Mechanics.  Maintenance people.  Construction crews.  Phone solicitors.  Intake and filing clerks.  Office managers.  A hotel manager.  Store clerks and managers.  Accountants. A donation solicitor.  Labor company staff. Corporate staff.  The list goes on, but this gives an idea of the team it takes to run TLC.
Some of those above have been with us for between ten and 20 years.  They've dedicated their lives to this project and have helped thousands in the process.
And if you ask them what they get in return for their hard work they'll say that the main thing they have to show for it is their recovery.  And that’s something they never had before.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Being Grateful

Although yesterday wore on me because it overflowed with addict drama, it ended on a good note.

Because at the last minute I had a reminder of how life could have been had I not found recovery.

It happened as I was leaving my office to go home. A face from the past appeared in the doorway - a man who'd spent most of the past 24 years in prison for drug offenses.

And I'd like to say we had a constructive conversation. But it wasn't like that. Oh, there was a conversation. But mostly the conversation was a stream of consciousness with him talking to himself.

Once in a while I might wedge in a word. And that would send him off on a new tangent about something 15 years ago that he found very interesting. Or a fantasy about what he might do tomorrow.

And though I'm patient, I finally told him that talking to him was frustrating me.

And to my surprise he agreed. Others told him the same thing. Then I suggested that life might be better if he found a medication to slow down his racing thoughts. He said he was trying to see a doctor.

As I drove home I was grateful to God for my life of recovery. A life that my visitor has never been able to grasp.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 27, 2015

He did the Work

Today a man stopped by the office and thanked me for saving his life.

He was a physical and emotional wreck when he came to us around 15 years ago. No job. No money or insurance. Not even a change of clothes. But he stuck around for several years, doing whatever we asked.

He worked night security. He drove. He cooked and cleaned. Eventually he managed one of our houses, a job he held for a couple of years.

He finally left when he became old enough to draw social security. On the side he worked a few odd jobs to supplement his income.

Because he lives close by he stops once in a while to let us know that he's still sober and doing well. And when he does he always says he's grateful to us for saving his life.

But I point out to him that he's the one who did the work. He did what we asked of him. He went to meetings. He helped others. And the main thing he did was stay sober.

We provide guidelines where anyone can stay clean and sober. Like this man, all they have to do is follow directions.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Love is Action

I get a lot of correspondence from parents of grown children.

And woven throughout these messages is how much they love their addict children. They do everything they can to help them.

They'll give them money for food. They might pay off tickets so they don't go to jail. They might buy clothing and gifts for the kids on holidays because dad shot up all the money. They may even pay for more than one stay in a treatment program.

And these things show that they care. It's really love in action.

Once in a while, though, they'll mention how much their addict loves his children and family. How much he cares. And this is where I take exception.

Because love is action. Love is not a drug or alcohol induced daydream about how we think we care for our loved ones.

When we love our children we don't mouth empty words. We get off our ass and work to make their lives better. We sacrifice our own self-centered pleasure so they don't go without.

In my addiction I was one of those parents. Heroin came first. Alcohol came first. Because of my using I was always off in jail. Though I said I loved my children and family my actions didn't show it.

A true addict has one love: his or her drug of choice. And until they find recovery everything and everyone else comes second.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Relapsing

A heroin addict manager who's been with us for a short while has been acting strange.

So - as is normal in these situations - his supervisor asks for a piss test. But by the time someone locates a cup the man has disappeared.

A search of his room finds drug paraphernalia and other evidence of his using.

But within hours a new manager, another addict, is doing his job and business moves on as usual.

In the early days when a manager stole from us and relapsed it affected me more.

"How could he do this after we trusted him with our money?"

"How could someone be so ungrateful?"

"We should have noticed sooner."

The internal chatter and resentment went on and on.

But years ago I put this into perspective. After all, large corporations lose more to theft that we do. I heard recently that Walmart loses more to employee theft than to customer theft. And that Safeway loses something like 3% to theft.

The other thing is that when we're helping troubled people we're never surprised when they revert to old behavior.

That just comes with the territory.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Not how we Roll

TLC's halfway house is quite often the last door on the block for many addicts.

They might be on parole or probation. Maybe they have warrants. Perhaps tattoos on their faces that limit their employment opportunities. Some lack basic social skills, having grown up in institutions or prisons.

Yet we work with them as long as they'll allow us to do so. And as long as they're willing we're willing.

We even work with these clients when they develop health issues. As many do. Some have smoked for years. Others don't have the vaguest idea about the benefits of diet, exercise, meditation. And it's hard to teach them how to live differently, how to overcome years of poor life choices.

We've have many clients develop emphysema, heart disease, cancer, and other debilitating disease. And many of them fear that just because they can't produce we're going to kick them to the curb. To leave them homeless. But that's not how we roll.

For us that's not the moral thing to do. When we have clients who are ill we help them get better. If they can't work a full day, we find something for them part time. Maybe a clerical job that requires little physical effort and that's low stress.

Because our mission is to help rebuild their lives. And over the years we've learned that some of those we try to help aren't in the best of health.

Our mission is to help them anyway.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Talk about Loss

Last week I spoke with two mothers who had lost children to heroin overdoses. In fact, one of them had lost two children.

And there's nothing that makes me feel more helpless than when I listen to parents who've had this kind of pain.

What do we say to someone whose children have been torn from them by an overdose of poison?

Of course I learned years back to not say something dumb like "I know how you feel." Because if we haven't experienced the same loss we haven't much to say. Maybe just that we'll be there for them.

I sometimes wish I could record these conversations to play for some of the addicts in our program.

Because once in a while one of them in group will say "I only hurt myself when I was using. I never bothered anyone else."

And of course that's utter nonsense. That's the ultimate in egocentric thinking. Because when I was using those who cared for me suffered a lot.

I wasn't present for anything important and I didn't contribute to my family or children.

Yet there are some who'll maintain they hurt no one because they have no family. But the reality is that if we live on this planet we have an obligation to be a contributor, to do our share, to help others.

None of us live in a vacuum. We're all part of the human race and we have a moral obligation, at the very least, to do no harm.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

From the Past

An addict I've known for years made a surprise visit to my office yesterday. It had been 15 years since I last saw him.

And the reason I hadn't seen him in is that he's been in prison. He didn't do all that time at once; it was mostly on the installment plan.

Once in a while his family would send a message that he was home. Then a few weeks later I'd hear that he'd been re-arrested. He was never out long enough to pay a me visit.

His habit was to be out for a few days, borrow someone's car, then take it to the crack house. And, of course he'd end up with a new charge.

During his visit I realized that mentally and emotionally he was still where he was when I last saw him. His conversation was the same. He had the same plans and ideas. The world he'd been away from had passed him by.

His visit was a reminder of where my life might of been had God not intervened and blessed me with recovery.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Heroin Deficiency

"Mrs. Smith, I'm sorry to tell you that your baby was born with a heroin deficiency."

No one's ever heard a doctor make this statement.

Yet, many addicts in our program live as if they were born with a deficiency of their drug of choice.

They spend weeks and months describing their different moods. Talking about their different aches and pains and moods. This hurts. That hurts. This pill makes me sleepy. This one depresses me.

The combinations are endless. As are the drugs they sometimes end up with.

Usually drug seeking clients have a hard time with recovery. And eventually they leave because they can never find quite the right combination. And when they leave they'll revert to street drugs. They're seeking the Holy Grail of chemical perfection. That experience they had the first time they used. But they never find it.

Those who succeed find that - while drugs do serve a purpose - they're not the answer for us addicts.

They learn that life sometimes has bad moods. Our abused bodies have pain once in a while. They learn that it's not realistic to expect to always be in a state of bliss.  That sometimes life's a bitch.

When they accept that life can often be a rocky road instead of a smooth freeway they do better. And when they get to that point they're in a state of acceptance that will carry them through whatever they face.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tough Business

A stranger sent an email asking if I'd tell him how to start a halfway house and treatment program.

Normally I turn down these requests because I'm busy. Plus, it's kind like calling up McDonald's to ask them how to make a hamburger. Why would I help someone compete with us?

But this time, for some reason, I sent him my number and told him to call.

He was a nice enough fellow, a social worker at some big agency. When we talked I realized he had too many questions for a phone conversation. So I told him to send an email and I'd see if I could help.

And I did. I answered his 23 questions to the best of my ability. But as I answered them I realized he had little business background. Otherwise he wouldn't have asked some of the questions.

One thing he asked is where we got our funding to start our first house. And I thought that was naive because I've never known anyone who got funding to start a halfway house. Most people just rent or buy a place and start bringing people in.

He also asked how much we paid people. We don't pay them much and never have. This is not a business that allows big salaries; 24 years ago we were lucky to pay utilities and put food on the table.

But the real sense I got from his questions is that he didn't understand what a labor intensive, nitty-gritty kind of business this is.

Helping others change is a work of dedication. It sometimes goes 24 hours. It's frustrating when clients overdose or go back to jail. You sometimes work very hard to help ungrateful people who are only looking for a place to crash.

Most people who have started in this kind of business burn-out, relapse, or else go back to a comfy corporate job before long.

We'll see what this guy does.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Children of Addicts

What does the family do when grown children leave everything behind to pursue their addiction? Or when they go away for recovery - not to return for some time?

What about when they leave behind young children? How does one explain why daddy or mommy hasn't come home after a long absence?

This is a difficult question.  And yesterday I heard from a family member who's caring for a young grandchild whose father's an addict.

And I know of no template about the right way to deal with this issue. But in my 24 years working with addicts I've seen it handled in many ways.

Some parents don't tell a young child - like a two or three year old - much of anything. They just say daddy's away and will be back in a while.

If a child's four to six, the story might be that dad's dealing with a medical issue, or working in another state.

But when children are older, family usually starts explaining why the parent's gone. That the reason they're not home is that they're away working on recovery.

Children are smart. And the reality is that older kids know when something's not right. They might have overheard hushed conversations. They likely remember arguments or have seen the drama that surrounds an addict's life.

Most parents I know are upfront with them and it usually works out okay.

As an example, many of those in our program have dependent children who know where they're at. Children often come to TLC during vacations or school breaks to stay with their parents.

And most of them are proud their parents are doing something different.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Visiting Home

Over the past few months sober clients have shared about recent visits home.

Some went to visit a sick relative. Others had a death in the family. A few went to catch up with relatives they haven't seen in years.

For many it had been a long time since they left home.

Though they had different experiences when they visited they seemed to come back with one resolution. And that was that they no longer wanted to return to where they grew up. That something had shifted within them.

For some it was the realization that they'd built a new life here in Arizona. They'd found a surrogate family in the recovery community. And after they were gone a few days they started to miss those connections.

Others had run into old friends who were still using or drinking. People who hadn't changed in years and who might never change. They realized there was nothing there for them but depressing memories.

Their reaction illustrates what I've seen over the years. That when we get clean and sober our values change. We no longer want to live in places where we're reminded of wreckage and trauma.

Plus, in some subtle way we have become new creations. Different people with new values, dreams, and hopes. And for many of us it’s nice to live in the environment where we learned them.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Differences

A man who's been in recovery a while talks to me yesterday about the differences in his life.

He'd just returned from a trip to the East Coast where he spent time with family he hadn't seen in some time.

Relatives who once didn't want him around now welcome him with open arms. He said that in the old days they shunned him. None of them trusted him or wanted anything to do with him.

His story's an example of how life changes when we get sober. After all, everyone notices the differences in our lives.

In this man's case, his family and friends knew of his addiction. They knew that when he disappeared for years that he was somewhere walking a prison yard. And they knew that when he was free it wouldn't be for long because he'd get caught up in his disease once more and be back in jail.

But a few years ago they started hearing different messages about him. Clean for a while. Working a real job. Owning a car. Going to a community college, working for a degree. And recently they heard about his acceptance at Arizona State University.

The man’s life is different today and he rightfully gives the credit to his recovery - which gave him the freedom to do positive things with his life.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Inflexible?

I believe a key element of staying sober is to be flexible enough to accept change.

And even though I was born before World War II, I've never considered myself inflexible or set in my ways.

In fact, as I was growing up I hated those old farts who had the attitude that things were "better in the old days."

But when I look around the world now I see things I never imagined. So I have to ask myself, "Am I becoming one of those inflexible people?"

Yet when I look around I'm sometimes amazed.

I see unspeakable brutality carried out in the name of a mythical God. People beheaded, drowned, or blown up. Young girls exploited as sex slaves by so-called religious people.

I watch people screaming about racial equality when one of their people gets shot by the police. Yet they barely whisper when their youngsters murder each other by the dozens.

I believe many politicians have always been corrupt. Yet I'm surprised that some of them are leading in the polls during this election season. It's almost like morality doesn't matter as much as likability.

There's more I could rail about. But I'd sound like some inflexible old guy.

So I accept the reality that the world goes through cycles and that perhaps this is just another one.

Sometimes though, the things that occur do stretch the limits of my acceptance.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Taking care of Ourselves

For us addicts being sober is key to a good life.

And we learn that from day one. We're told to go to meetings. Find a sponsor. Work the steps. This is a tried and true way to stay clean and sober.

But there's more to do beyond working the program and working the steps.

We must also learn to take care of our bodies.

Over the years I've watched residents and managers do a good job of staying sober. They help others, they work hard, they study the book. But they do little to maintain their physical health.

They continue to smoke or chew tobacco. They live on a crappy fast food diet. They become overweight. They drink monsters and sodas all day. Plus they don't visit the doctor because - as I heard one man say - they "don't want any bad news."

And today we have residents and managers paying the price for not caring for themselves. And, to me, it's sad that they did the hard work of getting sober only to throw away their health on poor lifestyle choices.

It's not hard to develop new habits. It simply takes the same dedication we used to get clean and sober. Those of us who are able to stay sober and clean have the strength to accomplish anything else we want

And the key is wanting to change.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Being Free

Even though it's been decades since I lived in cages, a news story today took me back to where I came from.

It was about a riot in a California prison where a 71 year old died from stab wounds. Several others went to the hospital with knife wounds.

I quite likely crossed paths with some of the players during my 30 plus years of addiction. And I thought about the stress of having once lived in that insane landscape.

I reflected that had God not rescued me from myself who knows if I'd have ever changed.

During my years as a guest of the state most of those I met didn't care about change. They'd committed themselves to lives of crime and addiction. Many became enmeshed in gangs and violence and had no plans to do anything different.

Somewhere deep inside I knew I could do better. But it took years before I accepted that my addiction was the problem. For a long time I naively thought the world had it in for me. Or I just had bad luck. No one would give me a break. And so on.

It took years for me to break through my denial. To realize that all the bad things in my life flowed from my addictions.

Once I recognized that I was free.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Accepting Loss

Many of our clients have experienced loss of a loved one.

Some have lost a husband or wife to overdose. Others have lost a sibling or other family member. Maybe a marriage or love affair broke up because the partner didn't want to be with an addict. Perhaps the family no longer wants anything to do with them because they seem hopeless.

The scenario varies, but the feelings are like a raw, open wound. One that festers and takes a long time to heal - if it ever does.

In the daylight of sobriety these losses can become starkly real. So real that addicts often are leery of becoming close to anyone because the pain of loss is still an open wound. A wound that they no longer want to treat with alcohol or drugs.

Yet if we're to thrive in recovery we must accept loss - and the accompanying pain - as being part of life.

Even though it seems lofty and abstract, one way to do this is to realize that that all of life is temporary. That everything we treasure will one day be gone.

While this may sound gloomy, the lesson here is seize the moment and live our lives to the fullest.

That's probably what those we've lost would want us to do.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Downs and Ups

Yesterday we experience the downs and ups of the recovery world.

It was a day of drama. Some clients doing dumb things. Not following rules, almost daring staff to enforce them.

And even though we don't like doing it we finally say enough. We have rules and guidelines for a reason. So we enforce them and deal with the tantrums afterward.

Then parents are wanting us to help grown children. Children who have no enthusiasm for recovery.

Later we hear of a former resident from a long time ago who didn't make it. We don't know what happened but think he succumbed to our disease. There's sadness among those of us who knew him because we thought he'd make it.

Later we encounter a client doing well. Has a job. Is healthy and positive. It's hard to believe this person ever drank or used drugs. An ambassador for our program.

We don't take any of this personally - the good or the bad. For our sanity we keep our egos out of it. We learned a long time ago that we're simply messengers. We deliver the message of recovery. Clients do with it what they will.

And we return to do it again the next day.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stressed Out

Our culture teaches us that to get ahead we must do certain things.

And, depending on family values, this usually includes education, hard work and achievement. Even though positive goals, these pressures can create stress in our lives.

But no matter what our culture, few of us learned how to deal with stress in an effective manner. Many of us have all this stuff thrown at us without the tools to decompress.

We see evidence of this with our clients. Often the first thing out of their mouths when they're in trouble is that they're "stressed out."

And many remember the blissful feeling of that first drink or drug. How they had - all of a sudden - found the promised land. How they suddenly were freed of the pressure to perform and live up to the expectations of others. A feeling they like to replicate when they face challenges.

As a result, much of our job at TLC is to teach addicts that the stress they feel is a normal part of life. That they can deal it with it by accepting it as something they can live with. That they can deal with pain without resorting to painkillers or mood enhancers.

But wouldn’t it be nice if our youngsters were taught that they can enjoy life as they go? That they don't have to hurry to get to the next great thing.  That the pot of gold they’re seeking is not at the end of the rainbow? That it's in the present moment?  

That right now is okay, that it's the only moment they have in which to enjoy life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Helping the Unmotivated

It took a long time for me to decide that recovery was a good idea.

That decision only came after I'd lost everything over and over. 16 years of my freedom. Jobs. Businesses. Marriages. Self respect. Friends and family relationships. I had a lot of self-induced pain.

It took over 40 years for me to start thinking it was a good idea to get sober. And when I did I never wavered and looked back with longing for the "good old days" when I was using. I was lucky that way.

And I write about this because at times I see some of us become frustrated with our residents.

We have residents and clients who relapse over and over. And we sometimes look at them with impatience.  How can we help those who seem unmotivated?

Of course it's easy to discharge them. Let them become someone else's problem.

But what if that had happened to us? After all, many of us relapsed often before we figured it out.

If we look at our staff we can find many who failed more than once before they put together several years.

So why wouldn't we extend the same patience and understanding that was extended to us when we were struggling?

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Counting Blessings

I had a chance to count my blessings this weekend while visiting my grandson in Prescott.

He's nine months now and weighs 20 pounds. But when I first met him he weighed about five pounds. And he was in a neonatal intensive care unit at Banner Thunderbird Hospital in Phoenix.

Prior to his birth, my daughter was in the hospital for almost three months because of complications. It was touch and go for a while, as it can sometimes be with premature babies.

Now he eats everything he can get his hands on. He's a happy and good-natured baby.

I’m also grateful that my daughter is a veteran. Because of that, the VA covered the astronomical cost for her stay at the hospital.

And while visiting her there I got to see the positive side of our healthcare system.

Even though the press often talks negatively about healthcare we were all grateful for her treatment. Dedicated and skilled nurses and doctors monitored her progress around the clock.

It's a true miracle that he's alive and healthy.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reacting

"Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future." ~Deepak Chopra

If we react as we always have we'll probably keep getting the same results, won't we?

When we encounter frustration, do we give up? Back off? Or do we decide to keep going until we reach our goal?

At one time didn't the burden of frustration allow us to make the easy decision to stop at the bar - or the dope house?

But how do we change old habits?

For me, it's simple: patience,   To realize everything's not going to fall into my lap simply because I want it. Most of the good that's come my way the past 20+ years is the result of patience.

If we have the mindset that life is ups and downs, successes and failures, then we accept setbacks more easily.

And patience allows us to react differently.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Small Resentment

Just when I thought I was over resentments I came up with a new one. While this is a small resentment, it's still big enough to have thought about.

And it started last month while on vacation when I was getting ready to send an email with an attachment. As I was about to send it one of my grandkids, barely a teenager, said he would show me how to do it.

At first I thought he was kidding. But then I realized he was serious. I didn't bother to mention to him that my email address is about eight years older than he is.

Then last week my resentment grew when a young person trying to contact me asked someone if I knew how to text.

I finally got over it by realizing this had nothing to do with me.

I think the perspective of many youngsters is that people who've been on the planet as long as I have are out of the loop. And it's true that many in my generation aren't technically competent.

But in my case, I started using computers in 1982, over 30 years ago. I've done our company website for years. Plus, I can use over 50 software programs.

In the final analysis I guess it has to do with my ego. And I got over this little resentment by realizing that all of us have different experience. 

 And ultimately, we base our beliefs on our experience - no matter what age we are.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Putting ourselves First

A recovery acquaintance wonders what to do about his stress.

He has problems with his new employer, who's making unreasonable demands on his time. The boss wants him to work more hours, without giving him notice. Since he's the new guy on the job, it's hard to say no.

In addition, his ex asks him to cough up extra money for school clothes for their child. And, even though he pays support, he wants to give additional help. But because he recently started working he doesn't have the money.

He also has a sick relative living with him, someone who needs extra attention.  His wife's car needs repairs.  A bill collector keeps calling. And so on.

As he tells me about these challenges I sense his anxiety rising. He has so much going on that it will eventually affect his health. His appetite is off. His sleep is disrupted. And it could affect his sobriety.

I tell him to cut through the busyness and put himself first. Otherwise he's not going to be able to deal with his challenges for long.

When he protests that he doesn't have the time, I disagree. I suggest that he rise 30 minutes to an hour early each day to do some light exercise. Or perhaps he can learn to mediate or do visualization. Anything to take his mind off of his challenges for a few moments and reduce his stress.

I direct him to the thousands of free resources on the internet available to teach us stress reduction and time management. Within minutes he'll be able to locate something to help him live better.

To change our lives we only have to believe we can do it and an answer will show up. It takes action.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Sponsor's Help

An alcoholic talks about the help his sponsor gave him years ago while he was doing his 4th step.

In that step he'd written that his ex-wife was "a whore" and that her husband was a "dick." He'd been angry and resentful at them for years.

The sponsor asked why he felt that way.

The man explained that she'd left him for the man who's now her husband. And on top of that, she and her new husband were raising his daughter, whom he hadn't seen since she was very young.

"Were you drinking at the time?" his sponsor asked.

"Of course," he answered.

"Are you paying child support?"

"No," he replied.

Then the sponsor went on to explain that he had no right to be angry. Instead, he pointed out, he should be grateful to them.

After all, his ex-wife and her new husband had been raising his daughter. And without financial help from him up until he got sober.

The man said that after this talk with his sponsor his feelings changed.

He realizes today that the feelings he had toward his ex and her new husband were because of his drinking. They had little to do with them.

And he's grateful to this sponsor for helping him change his perspective.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Differences

A newcomer sharing at a 12-step meeting says, with a hint of pride in his voice, that before he got sober all he drank was beer. He quit drinking liquor and stronger beverages because they got him in trouble.

Then he speaks of a friend who drinks whiskey. The man has had DUI's. He's lost jobs. He has health problems.

As I listen I get the impression that the speaker believes one kind of alcohol is superior to another.

And that may be true for so-called normal drinkers. Some are connoisseurs of fine wine or aged whiskey - things they drink in moderation.

But for alcoholics like me, what we drank made no difference. If it has alcohol in it it's a deadly poison. We should avoid any alcoholic beverage because it could kill us.

Anyway, the more important thing is how much we are like the others in the rooms - not how we're different. When we feel we're different we might think the rules don't apply to us. And that's dangerous for someone like me.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 3, 2015

Wanting to Help

The man slumped at my desk seemed troubled. He tried to not look me in the eyes. And when he did he looked away.

He'd come to us days earlier from a mental health facility. However, our treatment license doesn't allow us to accept those diagnosed with severe mental illness. Because of this, we were referring him to another facility. Or else back to where he came from.

But it bothered some members of our halfway house staff. Because some who met him said he was pleasant and cooperative. He seemed like many of the others in our halfway houses. They were willing to take him back and work with him. And they wanted me to meet him.

As we talked I realized that he'd connected with a few people at the halfway house. And when he learned that he couldn't go back there or be in our treatment program he was a little down on himself.

He talked about things psychiatrists had said, the labels they'd put on him. His voice rose as he told me some of the things they said were "wrong with him."

"Did they tell you about what was right with you?" I asked when he paused.

And when I said that he seemed surprised. He teared up and looked at me with gratitude. It was like no one had said anything like that in a long time.

Our conversation ended when a cab arrived to take him to another facility. But before he left I gave him my card and told him to call if he ever needed to talk.

I wished we could have helped because we've had success with more than one person with his diagnosis.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Seeing our Blessings

As we start our Sunday do we look at our blessings? At the gifts we have in our lives? At the many opportunities the universe has given us?

If that's the way you woke up this morning congratulations. Because gratitude is the nectar that makes life sweeter and more worthwhile.

But what if we weren't taught to look at our lives this way? Maybe we grew up in poverty. Or in a family of alcoholics and addicts. Perhaps negativity was in the air.

The good news is that we can overcome this upbringing by changing our focus. Many of us grew up noticing what we didn't have. We compared ourselves to others and always came up short.

And the reason we came up short is because we compared ourselves to those who had more.

However, if we must compare, maybe we compare ourselves to those who have less. Then we can develop gratitude.

There are parts of the world where poverty and disease are rampant. Where there's little or no employment or opportunity for education. Where war and strife are part of daily life.

When we see others living with these major challenges it’s easy to recognize our blessings.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Treat people Well

An important quality for success is treating others well.

This comes up because a former friend - someone I've known for over 30 years - is having business challenges.

The challenges aren't financial. They're not because the economy is bad. The challenges stem from the way this person treats others.

No one wants to work for this person - even though the pay is great. Recently the entire management team quit because of the stress. The emotional and psychological abuse. The constant drama.

In the same vein, another former friend has lost virtually everything in the past three years. Home. Business. Professional license. Husband. Friends. No one wants to be around this person because of the cloud of anger and resentment around her - the way she treats them. No one can deal with her bitterness.

When I started hearing of their problems I wasn't shocked. Instead, I have a sense of sadness. I hate to see those with talent and ability sabotage their lives because of anger and resentment. Because of how they treat those close to them.

People are willing to step up when we treat them well. When we're kind and compassionate. When we treat them with respect and dignity - no matter where they come from or what kind of screwed up things they do.

TLC survived four rough years during the downturn because most of our employees took a 10% pay cut. They also gave up their bonuses. And they didn't do that because they were treated unkindly. They did it because they are treated with love and respect by those who run our company.

Treating others well is the key to success in every area of life. Try it.

Click here to email John