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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We impact Others

For three days in a row a mother called me about her missing son. He supposedly had come to our halfway house program after leaving prison.

Normally I don't give information about our halfway house residents. Even though they're not covered by the same HIPAA laws as our treatment program. And that's because too often it's an old girlfriend or using buddy trying to track someone down. It's simpler to not give any information.

But this was a distraught mother who feared the worst. She imagined all kinds of scenarios. He was hiding in a drug house. Someone might have knocked him in the head. He might have pulled a robbery and already be back in jail. I heard her anxiety.

I was able to search our database and tell her he wasn't here. Then I suggested she call his parole officer. He might know something.

So today she called with the good news that her son still had a few more days before his release. He was okay after all. She called to thank me for helping her.

Her calls were a reminder of how we affect those around us. Too many times addicts in our program make dumb statements.  They say things like they never hurt anyone while they were using. They claim they only hurt themselves.

But reality is that we don't live in a vacuum. Our self-centered behavior impacts everyone in our lives.

And if anyone could have listened to this anxious mother they'd have a better idea of the impact our using behavior has on our loved ones.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pleasant Parents

There are a lot of messes that happen when dealing with addicts. We expect it. It comes with our profession. And often it winds up in this blog.

Relapses. Angry clients. Upset parents who think we should have a better menu for their kid. Or maybe that we shouldn't put their poor baby to work at 4:00 a.m. It's all just a part of our landscape.

The things that stand out though is when we find nice parents. Like walking in the desert and coming upon colorful flowers growing in the midst of rocks.  It's a pleasant surprise.

And we had that happen recently, the nice parents. I think they came to see us because their son couldn't make it here. Maybe they had plans to tell us off. Maybe explain how we should have dealt with their boy. I'm not sure because they were polite from the beginning.

And after we talked with them for a while I think they understood. They realized that the son they came to talk about gave us the same problems he'd given them while growing up.

They were gracious and before they left thanked us for our efforts with their child. They understood why we couldn't deal with him.

And a week or so later - even though they owed us nothing - they mailed us a check as a way of thanking us.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 28, 2015

Relationships

This past week I heard a lot of drama about relationships. And though it's not my business I have an opinion anyway.

These failed relationships had something in common. Most of the parties involved were in recovery.

Now relationships among so called "normal" people are tough enough. Something like 50% of marriages end up in divorce.

But yet addicts - with all their baggage - fearlessly jump into relationships all the time. The rush of hormones, the romance, the excitement is a new drug. But like all drugs, the magic wears off. And the parties begin to see one another more clearly.

If we don't have give and take and resilience it's hard to be in a successful relationship. And part of being able to love another is to first love ourselves to a degree. How can I love someone if I don't also love myself?

My first definition of love is to give. Not just material things. But also give up the need to be right all the time. The need to be in control. The need to have things my way. Also, we need to make our partner's life easier by helping and supporting. It can't always be about me.

The drama I heard about last week wasn't pretty. It ran the gamut from broken hearts to restraining orders to relapses.

But I don't believe any of this would have happened had the parties put themselves first. And they could have done that by having a solid grounding in recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Principles, not Personalities

I was in a discussion with a fellow alcoholic who's been in recovery for a few years.

And it was about how a man with over 20 years of sobriety behaves at meetings. Because he's been sober a long time and knows a lot about the book this guy has appointed himself an authority. He's sort of a negative legend.

He loudly voices his opinion on every aspect of the program. How people should dress at meetings. Why they shouldn't talk about certain substances. They should shut up and listen. His list of rules goes on and on. Loudly.

While I could continue taking this guy's inventory, it's a waste of screen space.

My philosophy about how others should behave at meetings is simple: it's none of my business unless they ask for my help or opinion.

Too often I've been a meetings where the discussion gets away from principles and into personalities. That undercuts the whole purpose of the program.

Sure there are people at meetings who don't talk about the things I think they should. Or they don't behave well.

But my belief is that the idea that they're even at a meeting is a start. They have their foot in the door. And if someone comes down on them hard about something trivial they may not be back. They may leave and continue doing what they were doing. And the thing they were doing might eventually kill them.

I don't want any part of that on my conscience.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Difference

TLC built its success on being unconventional.

And one unconventional thing we do is accept addicts who have no money. As long as an applicant says they want to change their lives we accept them.

Now a lot of people think that's no big deal. They have the idea that because we're a non-profit we get funding from the government. That we only take broke, homeless addicts because we get paid to do it. No so.

If we accept someone and they start working and leave with their first paycheck we're just burned. We have no recourse. Other than a piece of paper that says they agreed to pay. It's a written contract. But how do you sue a broke addict and get paid when you win? So we don't bother to go to court.

But being unconventional has been part of our success. Of our 700 clients, those that stay and pay help keep the doors open. Although we lose 25% of what we charge in the halfway houses, what we do collect keeps things going

Would we do better if had government support? Maybe. But then the government doesn't have a big heart when it comes to helping grown addicts. They'd rather help families, children, and the elderly before throwing a bone to addicts. And I kind of agree with them.

When we addicts help each other recover it gives us a sense of accomplishment. When we help our fellow addicts change it reinforces our own recovery.

It's the same principle that makes the 12-step programs work. But few halfway houses have incorporated that idea into their programs to the extent we have at TLC.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Being Critical

Sometimes I find myself in the role of the critic.

Especially when our clients relapse into using or start showing addictive behavior.

But one way I get over it is to recall what I was like at the same age. At the age of most of our clients I was a guest of some government agency. And being punished for my drug use. That was in the era when small drug infractions resulted in serious time.

So even though I get frustrated I can turn myself around quickly today. Instead of being critical I have to admire them for even attempting to get clean. Regardless of how little effort they might be putting into it at this moment.  Because at their age I made no effort at all.

When I look at it this way I realize the each day they stick around they learn a little more. They get more information about how their addiction seduces them and how they can fight back.

And if they do relapse there's a lesson in it. Many of those who leave eventually come back somewhat chastised by their experience. And when they return with this new attitude they seem to have a better chance.

Experience has been one of the best teachers I've ever had. I learned a great deal from my pain. Enough that I made a decision to change.

So instead of being critical I hope that clients who relapse gain something from the experience.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

In the Moment

Something we learn when we meditate is how to live in the moment.

And when I tell people this they wonder why that's important. What's the big deal about being mindfully living in this moment?

Studies have shown that almost half the time our mind is wandering. We're looking for the next best thing. Or maybe reflecting upon something from our past.

That new car we want. The raise we're afraid to ask for. How we're going to lose weight. When we're going to get laid again. Where we're going on our next vacation. What we're having for supper, even while we're eating our lunch.

So half of the time we're disconnected from this moment. From this slice of time that our creator has given us. We've allowed our mind to wander off from our body.

But the essence of life is in this moment. Think of the last time you were at a beach, smelling the salt air, feeling the vibration of the waves. Or driving through the mountains with the windows down, enjoying the scent of the forest. Or maybe spending time on a lake with a loved one. These are the moments when we're present, the moments when we're connected to life.

Aside from being here when we meditate, there are over 10,000 studies demonstrating collateral benefits of the practice. These include lower blood pressure, less depression, an ongoing sense of well-being, and much more.

Here's free information about the practice if you'd like to know more.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Meeting Ourselves

I had my alcoholic feelings hurt in 1982 when I was getting on the bus to leave California for Phoenix. I was leaving the state so I could escape my addiction. I was starting a new life.

"When you get there you'll meet yourself at the bus station," my ex told me.

I didn't answer her. But to myself I said "What a mean-spirited bitch. How could she say that?"

But she was right. Within a few hours of leaving the bus depot I was living on Van Buren Street in Phoenix. I was right in the middle of drug and alcohol central. And I was high and drunk until I ended up in a detoxification unit. And it took another nine years before I entered recovery.

The point is that it's difficult to escape who we are. Wherever we go we meet ourselves there. It takes commitment and work to make lasting change.

Of course we have a better chance if we get out of our old environment because we're not around the temptation. But lasting change requires a great deal of internal work. More than only changing locations.

We examine our beliefs. We learn that we've been living a self-centered life of gratification, thinking only of ourselves. We begin to accept who we are, that we're nothing special.

We smash our ego and learn to live in reality. And we come to realize we must accept ourselves if we want peace in our lives.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A busy Life

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ~Socrates

I recall reading back in the early days of computers that the world would soon be facing a big problem. And the problem would be that people wouldn't know what to do with their spare time.

Computers would be doing all the work and we'd be a leisure society. Creating ways to use our leisure would be the major challenge.

And of course we all know what a fallacy that is. It seems like most everyone is busier than ever. We're connected to our jobs all the time. Or we're busy with our smart phones. We're texting or playing games. Or working. Many of us are not present for the moments of our lives because we're staring into a screen.

For those of us in recovery this digital overload is important to note. For years so many of us were insulated from life by chemicals. We were numb to what was going on around us. We weren't present. And life wasn't enjoyable - or even memorable.

And we don't want to fall into that trap today. While the digital world is a modern reality, once in a while we need to stop to reflect upon why we got sober. On what our lives are really about.

We need to connect face-to-face with those around us. With nature. With our bodies. With our pets.

Life is too vibrant to waste it by constantly looking into a screen. Even this one.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A new Life

If you had asked me about this man's chances several years ago I wouldn't have predicted much of a future for him.

He'd been in and out of detoxes for over 30 years. Once in a while he'd end up homeless. Or in jail. Even though he's a skilled worker, his jobs would never last more than a year or two because of his drinking. He spent a few years with us before moving on.

When I heard from him on his sobriety anniversary last week he brought me up to speed on his life.

He now has an apartment, a car, and a new driver's license. He's been working for the same company since he left TLC a few years ago. He has an ongoing relationship with his adult children. He's getting to know his grandchildren. He still attends meetings and has a sponsor. He's saving money.

He has offers to work for larger companies that want someone with his skills. Jobs that pay better. But, he's taking it slow because he realizes his recovery comes before everything else.

Twenty four years ago I used to predict who'd make and who wouldn't. But because of successes like this guy I gave that up a long time ago.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rewards of Recovery

A mother, in recovery at TLC for some time, came to my office yesterday with tears of joy. She shows me a letter from her daughter - a child she'd lost touch with years earlier because of heroin.

Included in the envelope is a picture of a smiling preteen girl.

And of course it's a loving letter. She gives her mom updates about her life. She still loves her. She forgives her. She says she understands what happened. And there's more personal stuff I won't share here.

But this letter is an example of what goes on in our life once we get some time in recovery.

People start hearing that we're doing better and get in touch. They're happy we're doing well. They reopen the door to a possible reunion and reestablishment of a relationship.

We often tell newcomers that if they stick around for a year they won't know their life. And I've seen it happen over and over. And it's different for everyone.

Families sometimes reunite. Former employers might hire them back. Others go on to finish their education. Some start a new career or a new relationship. Positive things happen.

But the one common factor among those who stay sober is that recovery brings rewards.

And I saw one of them today when this happy mother came to my office.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Meeting the Enemy

"We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

This is a famous saying from Pogo, a cartoon character from the early seventies. But I like it because it reminds me that we addicts like to blame others for our addiction. And once we realize who the real enemy is we can work on ourselves.

I recall that before I got sober I had every explanation in the world for my addiction. I was an abused child. The world had it in for me. I never had the advantages that others did. It was always someone or something else that was responsible - not me.

And that's the pretty much the story with our clients. They always want to change the outside world. And then everything will be alright. When the world does what they want they'll be able to stay sober.

But that's not the way things work. Getting into recovery requires us to do a lot of internal work.

Once we look into the mirror we can see the enemy. Our job is to make the enemy our friend.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 18, 2015

Another Attaboy

I get a letter yesterday from a mother who talks about the changes in her daughter's life. She asks that I protect her anonymity. And so I only use a few excerpts. But maybe this will help another family that's struggling with addiction.

"I wrote a while ago appreciating all that I felt TLC was doing for my daughter...

All the structure, caring, and direction has made an amazing difference...

John, this is a changed child. In fact, what I see is a young adult...

This is the gift of TLC. She left here a baby and came back a mature adult...

I just wanted you to know that so far she's clean and sober...

She is keeping accountable and I'm so far very happy for her.

It's truly a pleasure to be with her...

Life is so much better and TLC is at the heart of that change. I cannot thank you enough. I know it's still one day at a time and I am grateful just for this day and for loving this woman who is emerging from the dark. May she stay on this path to health and happiness...

GREAT GRATITUDE to you and all the wonderful staff at TLC and the sponsors and those giving back.

GREAT GRATITUDE for the abounding love. GREAT GRATITUDE for the gifts you give of structure, belonging, love, acceptance, and most of all for the education.

It works - warts and all and especially the warts as it helps one deepen one's coping skills and at the same time helping to put things in proper perspective.

Warm regards, a grateful Mother..."

Half of this letter I couldn't use out of respect for the mother's wishes. But the parts I was able to share here will give you an idea of her deep feelings.

And while I often share our rough experiences with you, it's much more fun to share stories like this.

Because our mission is to help recovering addicts rebuild their lives.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Same old Ideas

While watching the Republican debates last night I saw the same tired ideas about drug policy.

And the essence of what they said involved either jail or treatment. There was nothing new at all. It was all about politically correct positions.

As an addict since the fifties I believe there are alternatives besides jailing addicts. Because that hasn't helped. When addicts get together in jail they strengthen their network of connections. They learn how to find the best dope. And today 60-70% of the millions in jail are non-violent addicts.

And the other part of drug laws is that they haven't slowed or stopped the flow of drugs. Anyone reading this can find their drug of choice in a short time. We live in a sea of dope.

So now that I have all this criticism, what's my answer? Or am I just mouthing off?

Actually, I don't have anything new. But there are experiments going on in other countries that seem to work. For example, Switzerland has been giving addicts free heroin for 20 years.

This experiment has reduced addiction, lowered the crime rate, lowered new AIDs cases. Plus it's deglamorized the use of heroin among young people.

And there are drugs in the United States, such as Suboxin, that allow patients to live a normal life. Vivitrol is another drug that lowers alcoholic craving for up to a month. But there's still some resistance to dealing with substance abuse by substituting other drugs.

I'm not an advocate of any kind of drug. But I also hate to see us waste time and money on things that don't work.

Whatever we can do to reduce the harm addicts do to themselves is worth pursuing. But it has to be aimed more at treatment and harm reduction.  Punishment hasn't worked.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cries for Help

Sometimes I don't get an email for help in a week. Then there are days like today where I get half-a-dozen.

The first one is hardly readable beyond the first sentence. It seems to be a meth-induced stream of half conscious drivel. Something about demons and being re-born, then the rest in unintelligible. I know this one's from an addict because it doesn't make sense.

Another is from a frantic mother. As most of them are. The women around us addicts are the ones who nurture and try to help us. And her words are intense and pleading. She doesn't know what to do. He's living with a friend who wants his couch back. So he'll be homeless. No money, car, or job. Can we help? I tell her to send him to us if he's willing to come and we'll do what we do. We'll see if he shows up or not.

And there are others that only leave a phone number. I call back but no answer - so I leave messages. The phone calls rarely work out because by the time I get back to them they're at a different number. Or maybe they found a bag of dope and changed their mind.

I used to let this stream of emotion weigh me down. Sometimes I'd wake at night wondering what happened. Did they get help somewhere else? Did they overdose? Maybe they were arrested.

Today I accept that there are plenty of suffering addicts in the world. And we can't help them all.

Our only job is to be here for the ones who want to change.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Blacking Out

A friend I rarely hear from called me from another state to talk about his drinking.

It seems he'd run into a tree and didn't remember any of it. The idea he'd been driving in a blackout terrified him. He realized he could have killed someone. And he damaged his car so badly that it wouldn't run. The one thing he was happy about was that no one saw the accident and that he didn't get arrested.

Because he knew of my alcoholism and addiction he felt comfortable talking to me. He knew I wouldn't say anything to his family or friends.

He told of other experiences that made him question his drinking. He said that on more than one occasion he missed appointments because he had a hangover. And he'd made a fool of himself while drinking at company parties. He knew this hadn't helped his career. In fact it might have cost him opportunities.

Because of these issues he thought he might be becoming an alcoholic. If he wasn't already one.

Before hanging up he asked what I thought. But I didn't give an opinion because it's what he thinks that matters.

I did suggest he try a few AA meetings to get some free education.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Our monthly Meeting

About 50 of our halfway house managers meet the second Sunday each month for a two hour meeting, followed by lunch. This has been going on for about 20 years.

This meeting helps maintain TLC's sense of unity and mission. We welcome new staff members. Business talk takes up about ten minutes. Then we spend the rest of the meeting on a topic

Topics run the gamut from frustration, anger, burnout, honesty - you name it. Today the chairperson picked "brotherly love" as a topic.

And as the topic moved around the circle many perspectives came to light.

One man talked about arriving at TLC after serving a prison term. He was broke, with just the clothes on his back.

Brotherly love wasn't up there on his list. Maybe he'd never even thought about it. But the first day there other clients welcomed him with kindness and encouragement. They gave him clothing, and grooming items, and helped him feel a part of.

Another man talked of how other staff members came to his aid when his house flooded after a storm. A short time after he called for help staff members showed up from everywhere.

Others spoke of the atmosphere of kindness and respect, something that made them want to stay.

A recurring theme was that showing love is not about words. It's more about taking action.

Most everyone spoke of the rewards of doing something for others as being one reason they stay.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Changing Habits

For the past 23 years most of our work at TLC has been helping addicts unlearn bad habits. And I'm not just talking about drug and alcohol habits. Those are only part of the problem.

The habits I'm talking about are living habits they picked up before they came to us.

Some of the bad living habits are understandable, especially with those who grew up without parents. Those who were raised in group homes, juvenile facilities, or were homeless.

But some of those who come to us were raised in nice environments with loving parents. But the problem with many of them is they act as if they have something coming. They have a sense of entitlement, something they obviously learned at home.

Many misguided parents raise their kids to think they're something special. That the world owes them something. They don't teach them responsibility. About things like work. Like cleaning up after themselves. The basics.

Then when they're around 18 the parents expect them to do something besides smoke pot and play video games. That's when the trouble starts.

When many of these youngsters come of age they're unable to care for themselves. They don't know about work. About paying bills. About getting out of bed before noon. Their parents, by taking the easy way out and buying them off, have crippled them emotionally.

That's often when drug use escalates and the parents can no longer deal with them. And that's when they come to us. 

And if they stay they begin to learn hard lessons about how to take care of themselves.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Living each Moment

Fourteen years ago yesterday morning a friend called and asked had I been watching the news. I said no.

He told me to turn it on. And that's when I learned about the World Trade Center attack.

Much has - and will be - written about how this affected our country and our lives.

Most of the time I feel insulated, kind of disconnected, when things like this happen. But not in this case.

As a spin-off of this attack my youngest daughter spent three years in the military. One year was on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border- fighting terrorists. After she came home the government gave her 100% disability. But I'm happy that she came back alive and enjoys a great life today.

The memory of those who died on 9/11 stays with me. On this anniversary I'm reminded that these were just ordinary folks living their lives. Some had left their children at daycare. Others had dinner dates planned for that night. Some were going to pick up dry cleaning on the way home. But they never made it.

The message for me is that we need to live each of our moments as if they mattered. To have gratitude for our days. And to spend our time being kind and helpful to one another.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 11, 2015

Can we help Him?

A middle aged man emails to ask for help. He says he's at the end. He wants to jump in front of a train. He's tried to overdose multiple times, only to awaken once again.

He talks about long dead addict parents. He's been to treatment programs more than once. Nothing has worked. He has no friends. He presents a dark narrative.

But what to tell him? He's tried treatment and failed at that. He's even failed at his suicide attempts. How to help?

Of course my heart goes out to him and I tell him what we can offer if he makes his way here. Because if he gets here he'll find many others with a similar story.

But they had to learn something about life before they made it over the divide into recovery. And what they learned is that life is sometimes a bitch.

They learned that they're not always going to feel wonderful. That there are obstacles. They discover that employers don't want to hire old dope fiends with no work history outside of making license plates in state prison.

They find that living in recovery is sometimes hard work. That sometimes we have to overcome our instincts to run away.

Hopefully, he finds his way here so he can give it a try.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Powerless

In the first of the 12-steps we admit that we're powerless and that our lives are unmanageable.

And while the powerlessness in this step refers to a substance, many of us take it further. I know that I do. In fact I extend it to most everything in my life. Especially those things I have emotional attachment to.

Because for most of my using years I thought I was in charge of something or somebody. Hell, I even managed a couple of wars and much of the U.S. economy while I was high. But the sad reality was that I didn't even have power over my own life.

So when I admitted my powerlessness in a detox 25 years ago it was a new kind of a rush. The weight was off. I felt free for the first time in years. Even in the early days of recovery I had this sense of joy that I'd never had when I was drunk or full of opiates.

For me part of the the admission of being powerless means acceptance. Once we admit we're powerless acceptance follows. And the importance of acceptance is that we finally admit that we're nothing special. A chunk of our ego falls away and life goes much smoother.

Powerlessness and acceptance helps me stay in recovery.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Being Grateful

A man stops by my office yesterday to thank me for helping with his recovery. And because he had gratitude I believe he has a chance to maintain his sobriety.

And I say that because I've never met anyone who said "I'm so grateful that I think I'll get drunk."

We addicts and alcoholics usually move in one of two directions once we get sober.

We're grateful that we were saved from ourselves. And we want to stay that way.

Or else we find that without alcohol and drugs we still can't stand ourselves. So to cover up our misery it's back to chemicals.

It takes humility to admit we screwed up our lives. But that humility has a certain attractiveness to it. 

It draws others to us and makes them want to help us along the path.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Half Measures

"Half measures availed us nothing." from the Big Book.

When I was out there over 25 years ago shooting heroin - and drinking everything in sight - I didn't do it halfway. It was only when I was in the slammer that I was able to slow down or stop.

I was so powerless that once I started I couldn't stop on my own. I didn't even pretend to try.

This comes up for me because it seems like lately we've had many clients and residents who can't make up their minds. Do I want to get sober and clean? Or do I want to get high?

We have applicants who tell us they want to change. That life on the streets is kicking their asses. So we let them in and a week later they fail a urinalysis or a breathalyzer test. And we end up discharging them.

I have no problem with people relapsing. The literature tells us that it's a way to find out if we really have a problem. But I'd think that after five or six relapses one could figure out that something's not working.

And maybe they have a higher tolerance for pain than I did. Because once I got through with detoxing and started to get my life back together I never looked back.

Even though I had fun at first, there's nothing about that life that's attractive to me today.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 7, 2015

Being Present

Most of the time I mind my own business.

But this weekend I couldn't help myself. It happened while I was on an elevator early in the day at a resort in Mexico.

Also on the elevator were three teenage boys. They were in bathing suits and had a cooler chest and other beach stuff.

Just as the elevator reached our destination on the bottom floor something happened. Instead of the door opening, the elevator headed back up - to the 10th floor where we'd all gotten on.

They were upset. It seemed like their day was ruined. They were accusing each of other of pressing the wrong button. Of not leaving early enough. The sodas would get warm. Everybody would be mad at them. It seemed like a lot of drama over a five minute delay. They looked almost ready to fight.

But me, I was waiting patiently, accepting that we were on a round trip. But finally I couldn't restrain myself.

"So you guys are going to be late?" I asked.

They got quiet. They looked at me as if I were from another planet. None said anything. But I think they understood. Because they were quiet for the rest of the ride.

As I left the elevator I reflected that all too often we're so interested in the next wonderful thing that we lose the moment we're in. And we do that because that's what our culture teaches us to do.

After all, isn't right now the next great thing we were looking forward to a little while ago?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Be nice to Yourself

“Be nice to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time." ~Christine Arylo

Many who show up in my office for help aren't nice to themselves. And that's why I like the above saying. Because it describes the dilemma of many of us addicts. Indeed, the dilemma of much of humanity.

That's not to say that once in a while we all couldn't use self-improvement in some area. Especially me.

But I'll ask a client what's going on with them and most often it's negative.

"I can't find a job."

"My family won't take me back."

"My girlfriend's on Facebook talking about some other guy." And the list goes on.

The reality is that we can take any perspective about our lives we choose. We can see the glass half full. Or half empty.

Even though I lead a blessed life, some days I'm off center. And on those days when asked how I'm doing I have a standard response: "Well, I'm not drunk and I'm not in jail."

And those who are addicts or alcoholics know what that means. That means that things have been worse. As they have for all of us.

Being nice to ourselves means having self-compassion. Forgiving ourselves for the screw-ups of the past so we can move ahead.

Being nice to ourselves means not taking mental expeditions into the ruins of our past. Because we always return from those journeys a little worse off. A little more depressed.

Being nice to ourselves is noticing that we marked another sober day on the calendar. Noticing that we encouraged someone instead of putting them down.

And noticing we didn't run to the bar or the dope house when things didn't go our way.

Being nice to ourselves is about perspective.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Recovering from Anger

On this date 57 years ago, age 19, I slouched in front of a judge in Santa Ana, California.

He seemed unhappy. He read from a pre-sentence report that made unflattering remarks about my juvenile history. And then he sent me to California State Prison. Six months to ten years for possession of a minute amount of heroin, residue in a cotton. Not enough for one person to get high.

Three days later deputies locked me onto a chain with several other pissed off people. They took us to the Southern Reception Center at Chino. A few months later I was trudging the yard at San Quentin.

What I remember most about those years is deep anger. I seethed at the police. The injustice of the courts. The prison guards. The system. I hated all authority. And it colored my life for years.

But things change. As I grew older I realized that - justified or not - anger was destroying me. I couldn't use enough drugs or alcohol to cover my toxic, self-destructive, emotions. When I was conscious I was unhappy.

I'm not sure why I changed. But after 16 years in and out of the system I surrendered. I finally recognized that I was the problem. Sure, our system - like any system - is imperfect. But should I let it destroy me?

I stopped looking at the system as the enemy. In fact, I realized that many times the police rescued me from myself. If they hadn't saved me from my habits - by arresting me - I'd likely not be writing this today.

Now, whenever things don't go my way, I look in the mirror. And like magic my problem appears before me. And as soon as that happens I also identify the solution.

And I don't care what the problem is - the solution starts with me because that’s all the control I have.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Any program Works

A mother sends a long sad email, one that brings tears to my eyes.

She's spent a fortune sending her 30 something son to treatment programs all over the United States.

And guess what? None of them worked. And now she can't afford to help him any longer because she's spent most of her savings.

I'm not insensitive, but I send her an honest answer with as much compassion as I can muster.

The problem is obvious I tell her. And has nothing to do with the programs. Probably the first program she sent him to would have helped him stay sober. He just didn't participate.

Any program will work for the motivated. And that's always the catch.

I promise that anyone who walks into a 12-step program and does what the literature says will stay clean.

We have a 100% money back guarantee that those who come to our program will stay sober if they do what we say.

When people go to a program and then continue getting high some blame it on the program. But the program didn't make them relapse. They did that on their own.

Using drugs or alcohol requires the participation of the user. No one ambushes us and forces us to use.

But somehow it's easier for those who love us to believe that the failure lies with the program instead of the addict.

But this lady's learning.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Entitlement

An email yesterday reminded me of how we addicts sometimes have a sense of entitlement.

The lady's message read "So you were helped for free but you expect payment in your facility. Not everyone today has health insurance or money especially an addict and you surely know that."

I didn't understand the part about "you were helped for free..."

I'm not sure who she's talking about helping me for free. When I got sober a halfway house let me in without money. But I soon found a job and paid them for every day I was there. I'm grateful to them for giving me a start.

But the more puzzling question is how do we support someone without money? People often think the government funds us because we're non-profit. Not true.

Important causes like helping children and the elderly even have a difficult time getting funds. And there are few dollars for grown addicts who should be taking care of themselves. In fact, we don't even apply for money because I believe there are more worthy causes.

Contrary to what the writer above says, we help anyone. Whether they have money or not. Ninety-five percent of those who come to our door have nothing other than a drug or alcohol habit. But we open our doors and our hearts anyway.

We feed them. House them. Clothe them. And find them jobs. And in spite of this help, most of them don't make it. Maybe they're not done using yet. Maybe get a few meals in their stomachs and are feeling strong enough to take another run at it. In any case, we lose 25% of what we charge to those who leave without paying us.

Having said all this why do we even bother? It's simple.

I work with a lot of sober people who came to us with nothing and who today are doing great. They're helping other addicts. They volunteer. They have smiles on their faces and hearts of gratitude. They're carrying the message of recovery to others. They're making a difference.

And that's what it's about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation offers many promises to its practitioners.

There are thousands of studies proving its benefits. These include lower stress levels. Increased focus. Lower blood pressure. More inner peace and happiness. Some of the things we addicts once tried to achieve with drugs.

A misconception among our clients is that mindfulness might be a way to zone out. A way for us to escape reality to a state of bliss. But that's not so.

In mindfulness practice we learn to focus on our breath or another object. Then when thoughts pop up we observe them - the good - the bad and the ugly. And that's all we do, observe them without judgment then let them pass. When they return, we do the same thing again. And let them pass. And still again. All the while returning our focus to our breath or object of attention.

Practicing mindfulness can be difficult at times. We addicts are often perfectionists. So we try to meditate perfectly, to maintain focus on our breath or on an object. But there is no perfect in meditation. There's just meditation.

We're not going to get an "A" for doing it right. Or an "F" for doing it wrong. In meditation the only goal is to sit and meditate.

And my experience has been that the longer I meditate the more resilience I have. The less I over react to the challenges of life.  The days are smoother.

It's as though I have an invisible coat of Teflon that allows most so-called "problems" to simply slide away.

For those interested in learning more about meditation click here for free resources: .

Click here to email John

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Coming Back

The stories we hear at 12-step meetings are sometimes unbelievable. War stories by addicts saying something real for once in their life. Talking in front of peers who can see through lies so they must say the truth.

The drinking and drugging tales are so incredible we know they can't be true. But our experience tells us they are because we did something similar.

These are stories of heart-wrenching loss. Of mothers losing custody of babies. Or maybe a soul mate or a loved one lost to an overdose or an accident. Maybe a prison or jail term.

Tragedies unfold one after another. But then there's another side that puts things in balance.

And these are stories of rebuilt lives. Of reunification with families and lovers. Of mothers and fathers who once called the police on them now flying across the country to visit.

The tales of success give newcomers a reason to come back. Maybe some of the good mojo will rub off on them. Maybe they'll be able to rebuild almost forgotten dreams and get their lives back in order.

And that's why most of us go to the meetings. There's enough of the good stuff to keep us coming back.

Click here to email John