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.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 31

So take a look at your calendar. It's the last day of the year. Doesn't it seem like yesterday that we had a brand new 2015 in front of us?

Did you make resolutions a year ago? Maybe to quit smoking? Lose weight? Repair a broken friendship? Go back to school?

And if you did, did you accomplish any of them?

I bring this up because the one commodity we only get so much of is time. We can fritter it away on video games, Facebook, or simply drifting aimlessly. It's the priceless gift we get when we're born. A big package of minutes, days, hours, years. And we can use them however we choose. But once spent they're gone.

So since I'm giving advice, what did I do with my time this past year? For one, I took a 300 hour course in mindfulness training. And in a few weeks I'll have my certification as an instructor. It was work, but now most of it's behind me and I'm already leading meditations.

And in 2016? I'll work with our staff to spread mindfulness training throughout our halfway houses. Next year at this time I'll let you know how we did with that.

My point is that we should use our time to enrich our lives. Improve our minds. Our relationships. Our health. Something. Anything.

Because if we keep doing what we've been doing we'll keep getting what we've been getting. And I hope you all have been getting something good out of your days.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Getting Along

"Can't we all just get along?" Rodney King

Rodney King's appeal to bring calm during the Watts' riots sounds simple. And his words are often quoted today.

I thought of what he said during Christmas when I heard of a large family that wasn't getting along. In fact, the couple I spoke with left town to be away from the family during the holidays. Their alternative was to stay home and maybe have to deal with the dysfunction.

Often drama like this occurs when some family members are alcoholics or addicts. And that's the case with this family. The non-addicts in the group are the ones who get away because they're tired of the drama.

The alcoholics in the family do their best to manipulate the sober ones. They use the children, the grandchildren, money and business. Anything they can to instill guilt.

But because the couple is tired of the drama, backstabbing, and infighting, they no longer care. They just want to get along - which they know won't happen.

At least until the drinking stops.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind. We buy a product. We love it. We find out it performs as advertised. So we tell our family, friends, and neighbors about it.

The same principle works for us here at TLC. Both in our halfway houses and in our treatment clinic.

A client stays with us for a while. Changes his life. Does well and returns to the community. Sometimes the client is from Arizona. Sometimes from Florida, New York, Colorado or another state.

When they return home and stay clean, others notice. And if they know someone who needs help they refer them to us. It happens all the time.

The reverse is also true. When a client relapses they'll often blame it on TLC. Negative word-of- mouth advertising.

"The program sucks."

"The food is terrible."

"Place is full of cockroaches and bedbugs."

"It's all about the money."

"Everyone's getting high there."

Excuses for failure abound.

But the reality is we provide a safe and sober environment for the willing. For those who are through blaming others for their failures. For those who can look in the mirror and see the responsible party looking back at them.

We like the positive word-of-mouth because it might help others find their way to us. A place where they, too, can change their lives.

As to the negative word-of-mouth, we look back and reflect upon a time when nothing at all would have worked for us either.

We don't even get angry about it because we – of all people - know it takes time get past denial.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 28, 2015

Family Traditions

Each year it's a family tradition to go to Las Vegas the day after Christmas.

We've been doing this for about 15 years. When we started a couple of the grandchildren were still in diapers. Now they're seniors in high school.

And at the beginning there were only a half a dozen of us.

At dinner last night there were 17.

It's a blessing to watch the family grow. To see more of them come into the circle. It's an opportunity for us to have a reunion and catch up.

Plus it's an easy way for me to give everyone a gift they'll enjoy. They get a three day trip to Las Vegas and an envelope so they can go shopping or whatever.

Even though members of my family have had issues, none went as far down as I did.

A blessing of my recovery is that I can be an example to my grandchildren. None of them has ever seen me under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

But they know my history. And they know what I do today. That helps them understand there are no obstacles that they can't overcome. No dream they can't achieve.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Saving one at a Time

There's the apocryphal story of a man walking by the seashore after a storm. A storm that washed thousands starfish onto the beach, leaving them to die.

As the man walks, he reaches down every so often and picks one up and throws it back into the sea.

A man watching him asks, "What are you doing?"

"Saving starfish," the man responded.

"Yeah, but there are thousands of starfish on this beach. You're not going to make much difference."

"It'll make a difference to the one I threw back in the water," the man replied. And he continued throwing them back.

While this tale is not exactly analogous to what we do at TLC, it for some reason reminds me of the thousands that suffer from addictions. Maybe 14% of the population.

Sometimes they come from jails and prisons. Or shelters. Maybe the police bring them, or the fire department.  Maybe they're homeless.

We can't help them all. But we do make a difference to many of them. The lucky few who find their way to us.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Still on his Way

He's been sending emails for about four months. Says he wants help. He's still heading this way. But can't figure out how to get here. Can't get a ride. Can't afford a ticket.

Some of the emails start out coherent, then the writing becomes jumbled. Then unreadable. Each sentence looks like a different person wrote it. He surely was drinking when he wrote it. Then the alcohol overtakes him and he goes out of focus.

He sometimes mentions that if he keeps drinking he knows he'll die. And when I don't hear from him for a few weeks I wonder if that's what happened. I imagine him lying dead somewhere in a pile of empty bottles.

When I get his messages I sometimes go back twenty five years. I remember the feeling of drifting aimlessly. The demoralization of being homeless. Wondering where I might find food. Or a warm place to hang out for a while. It was a sad existence.

He's asked us to help him get here. But we don't go much further than 25 or 30 miles to pick someone up. We can't afford to send bus tickets. We'll let people in without funds. But they have to get here on their own.

When I get his emails it reminds of why we do what we do. We exist to help those lost in their disease. No matter how broke they are we'll help them. They just have to get here.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

During this month I'm regularly asked what I want for Christmas.

And my answer is always pretty much the same. That I already have everything anyone could want.

I have a loving wife. A wide circle of friends and business associates. A home that's too big for my wife and me. Loyal employees. A job that I would do - and have done - for nothing. Real estate investments. Luxury cars. Two dogs. More than I ever dreamed of when I entered recovery almost 25 years ago.

If I would want anything, it would be the ability to continue doing what I'm doing. I want to keep providing others the opportunity to have what was freely given to me. And that is the opportunity to get into recovery - whether they have resources or not.

I intend to spend the remainder of my days working with others, helping the willing to achieve their dreams and goals.

But I know that all that's happened in my life is a gift from God - as will be what happens in the future.

Merry Christmas to all and thank you for reading.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reminiscing

The call from the hospital came at around 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, 1994.

"I'm sorry to tell you this," said the nurse on the other end. "But your mother died 15 minutes ago."

I was in shock because I was just leaving my apartment, preparing to go to the hospital for my daily visit. Plus, the doctor had scheduled her for release the following day.

So during the Christmas season I always reminisce about my mother, who was a good friend. She encouraged me to do better. She helped me with my legal problems during my teen years. She stood by me long after many others had given up.

During my 16 years of incarceration she'd write and send what little money she could. She was never judgmental. Rather she expressed hope that someday I'd figure our that drugs weren't good for me.

When she died I'd been clean for three years. She was happy to see me on the path to success.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Season 1990

The 14th of January I'll celebrate 25 years of recovery. God willing.

This came up for me because I was reflecting about what I was doing during Christmas week 25 years ago.

At that time I was supporting an addiction to heroin and alcohol. And I wasn't doing it by working. Or from the proceeds of a trust fund.

Each miserable day I'd drive around in a Mustang I'd stolen a few weeks earlier. My first goal would be to find alcohol. Wine was fine. Beer would do. But anything with alcohol in it was okay. Whatever I could shoplift was what I drank.

The alcohol took the edge off, gave me courage. Once I had some false courage I'd move on to steal something larger. Something that would allow me to buy heroin - my drug of choice.

I didn't care what it was. As long as I thought I could get it in the car and find a place to sell it, I'd take it. New clothes. Tools. Televisions. Computers. Cigarettes. Generators. Cameras. I looked for anything I could sell right away.

But something happened to me around that time. I don't know if it was a moment of clarity. A spiritual awakening. Or what it was. Maybe I was just tired.

But I somehow came to the realization that if I kept doing what I was doing I would be back in prison. I wasn't having fun. I was demoralized and depressed. My life had no purpose or meaning. And that's a horrible place to be - living a life without meaning.

Within a few weeks I found my way to detox. Then after that to a halfway house that accepted me without money.

And that put me on the path to the blessings I have in my life today.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Politically Correct?

I confess. I'm not politically correct.

Like when a store clerk wishes me "happy holiday." I always respond with "Merry Christmas." And I say it loud enough so others can hear. And when I do this a few people nod their heads and smile - like maybe we're in the same club.

And so far the Bureau of Political Correctness hasn't given me a citation for this lapse. In fact, I'm not sure if that agency's in existence yet. But if trends continue it might be coming.

But at this point I don't let many things grate on me. I'm one who's in acceptance about most everything. Whether I agree or not. Political correctness, though, is an exception. Not enough to relapse over, but enough to cause mini-ripples in my serenity.

Sometimes I wonder why this irritates me. And I guess it's the idea that others try to impose their beliefs on me. I think everyone has a right to think or do whatever they want. As long as it doesn't harm others.

Kind of like the sign on the wall of our meeting room: Live and Let Live.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blue Shirts

Each year TLC has a party - usually held the Sunday before Christmas.

It starts with a 12-step meeting. Then is followed by a party for the "Blue Shirts." And for those who don't know, Blue Shirts are staff members who have made a one year commitment.

Those who make that commitment are willing to do whatever's asked. If they're told to move from Phoenix to Tucson to run a house, they ask no questions. They pack their bags and are on their way.

If a Blue Shirt has a problem other Blue Shirts show up to help. After a recent storm a house flooded. Within half an hour, a group was there with sand bags and towels.

Whether it's medical, financial, or emotional challenges, they support one another.

I believe that originally, managers began wearing blue shirts so clients would know who they were. Later, other staff members were able to join if they met the requirements.

They're a group that supports TLC and each other without questions. 

And a large part of TLC's success is due to their efforts.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Success Rate?

Sometimes I get questions about our success rate. And I must answer honestly. The answer is that I don't know the percentage.

Often I see programs advertise that they have a 60% or 80% success rate. Meaning that they're doing very well. And I'm sure that some people really believe them. But I don't.

The reality is that no one can honestly say what their success rate is. And that's because there's no way to know what former clients are doing at this very moment.

Unless you give someone a daily urinalysis or have a sensor strapped to their ankle there's no way of knowing. And anyone who says otherwise is being dishonest.

They may believe that they're doing that well - but it's probably wishful thinking.

I bring this up today because I got a message from a graduate who had been in our program two or three times. He stays in touch with me via email and tells me about his progress. What's his success rate? I think it's 100% because he reports doing the things that clean and sober people do.

But based on my beliefs about how our program operates I think we do about as well as any other program. But, there again, that's an opinion based on how I feel.  I have no way of tracking the thousands who have been through TLC.

But it is nice to get messages from those who are doing well. That's what counts for me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Picking the right People

"I’ve been blessed to find people who are smarter than I am, and they help me to execute the vision I have." Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam

There are secrets to success. And one is that successful people surround themselves with helpful people. Often people who are smarter than themselves.

Take a look at any large corporation. The founders may have had the original vision. But they soon assembled a team that made things work.

That's the same thing that makes TLC work. Once we had over 20 residents management became an issue. The more clients we had, the more managers we needed. And in different areas.

We needed bookkeepers, drivers, cooks, night security, store managers, maintenance teams, mechanics, telemarketers, and house managers. The list goes on.

But we were able to find those who had specialized skills. Some were good with people. Some worked in certain trades or businesses. The right people always showed up. And they had a common denominator: they wanted to change their lives.

Anyone who heads a business and takes all the credit for how it works has an ego problem.

In the case of TLC it's our wonderful staff that keeps us on the path we've been on for 24 years.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Addict LIfe

Today I get sad news of a distant relative who's on a respirator. The details are sketchy. But the report is that it's something to do with alcohol and drug use - maybe bath salts. The outlook's not good.

It's sad because I remember him as a baby. I recall him as a six year old riding a bicycle and doing the other things kids did in the ghetto where he was raised. I remember him as a teenager, when he first started drinking and using drugs. I knew his family, most of them addicts and alcoholics. I partied with them and did time with them. And almost all of them passed away still active in their addictions.

The last time I saw him was at the funeral of one of his uncles. By then he was in his forties and showing the effects of drinking and drugging. But like most of his family he never showed an interest in changing. He was content doing what he was doing.

And now, here he is in his mid-fifties and on life support.

His story reminds me that unless we get into recovery our lives never get better. All I can do is pray that he survives.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Helping the Mothers

Some of my emails come from mothers who are pretty unrealistic.

And I can usually tell by the tone of their message how long their child has been using. If they talk about how well they did in school this is usually their first attempt to get help.

They give themselves away by saying things like:

"She was a 4.0 student."

"He was the class president."

"He was a football star."

"She'd been accepted at such and such college."

Then they tell me what the kid needs. To get out of their old neighborhood. Stay away from their friends. Get a little clean time so they can get back to their lives.  They think that'll do it.

Now the mothers who are plain tired and burned out are much more realistic. And their kids have been at it a while. They write things like:

"I've got a restraining order against him because he threatened his step-father."

"Or she took my credit cards and maxed them out and now we're broke. I'm sick of her."

"We want him/her out of the house. Can you help?"

"He just got out of jail for the third time and I can't have him living here."

They usually don't tell me what the kid needs because they know they don't have the answers. They're just fed up and want him/her to be elsewhere. And the Arizona desert sounds great to them - even in July.

I have a heart for both kinds of mothers because my own mother didn't know what to do with an addict like me. She also was optimistic at first about my chances and was willing to help. But eventually she got burned out. That's when she told me she couldn't help anymore. That's also the message that started me on the path to recovery.

No matter which mother writes us we offer help. We know they don't have the answers.

But because we've been there we know how to help those who are willing.  And we suggest they send them to us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Legacy

Yesterday was my mother's birthday. If she were still alive she would've been 93 years old. But she died much too young, at age 72, from the effects of smoking and emphysema.

One of the blessings in my life was that she was able to see me achieve my first three years of recovery.

Because for much of her life she blamed herself for my addiction. For my heroin use and alcoholism. And that's because at 16 she married my father, an abusive raging alcoholic until he dropped dead at 60. She realized he left his marks on my life.

But taking blame for someone else's addiction is futile. Whether or not they're your child. But eventually my mother learned. And she forced me to become responsible for myself by refusing to help me until I got sober.

On this anniversary of her birth I reflect upon the good example she set for me. She was honest. She was hard-working and responsible. She sent me to good schools and did her best to help me have a good life.

What better legacy could she have left behind?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Planting a Seed

When I returned to my office yesterday I found a sticky note on my door.

Usually these are from salespeople. So I normally file them in the trash.

But this was a familiar name. It was a man who was among the first 20 clients in the program - back in mid-1992. At the time he was in his late teens and kind of a handful.

I hadn't heard anything about him after he left until about ten years later when I ran into him in a supermarket. He was sober, in business for himself, had four children, and was living the dream. It was good to see him. I hadn't heard from him since.

Curious, I called the out-of-state number he'd left. It seems like he's still successful in the business he's been in since he left TLC. It's provided him an income and helped him support his family.

But, he told me, there's an emptiness in his life. He feels like there's more he can do than just sell things. Kind of a spiritual crisis. He thinks getting in the business of helping others might make a difference.

So I suggested he try the recovery field, something he'd been thinking of for a while. I agreed to help him with the business aspect, sharing the experience we've gained. And he was grateful for that.

I share this anecdote because when we help others it often spreads. We never know what course their life will follow.

What we did was help a teenager. And 23 years later he's a sober and successful family man with his own business.

And now he's thinking of taking it full circle and giving back.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 14, 2015

Changes

"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly." Proverb

As a member of the 12-step programs for almost 25 years I've seen miracles. I've seen men and women reborn, coming back to life from what seemed a hopeless state.

I've met men and women who tried suicide while drunk or high. But they didn't succeed.

So they continued to exist in the slow death of drugging and drinking until something intervened. Maybe they went to jail. Perhaps they had an accident that put them in the hospital. Maybe the boredom of living without a purpose helped them surrender to recovery. We change for all kinds of reasons.

But the change rarely comes from something we add to our lives. It's what we take away that makes the difference. And what we take away are the substances that caused us so many problems. And when the substances go so does the insanity, the drama, and the dishonesty.

When this happens we start hanging out with others who are like us. Others in the program who teach us how to live again. Those who teach us the right thing to do.

Suddenly life begins to blossom for us. We find happiness in the simple things. We find friends. We start enjoying life a life we never dreamed of.

The Promises begin to reveal themselves.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Taking Advantage

Recovering addicts and alcoholics are sometimes viewed as second class citizens. As though they owe the world something.

Now this doesn't happen as much as it used to, but if happens often enough to irritate me.

It takes different forms. A common one is for someone to ask me to have a client work at their home or business as "community service." In other words, they want free labor.

Maybe they want their yard cleaned, their house painted, or their roof repaired. When I tell them what we charge for that kind of work, they suddenly lose interest.

We actually do service projects. But for senior citizens who can't afford to pay for their own repairs or do their own maintenance. It's a pleasure to do these kinds of projects.

And sometimes we do things for other non-profits. Our volunteers did much of the sheet rock work on what is now the Community Bridges detox on Bellview street in Mesa. We also did a lot of the interior framing on a children's center on University Drive in Mesa. As well as other projects of a similar nature over the years. This is true community service.

Within the last year we've had people try to get clients to work for little or no compensation. And this week we had a businessman make inappropriate overtures to a female manager.

It says a lot about a person's character when they prey on those they think are vulnerable.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Everyone Pays

Mothers often call asking about treatment or counseling for their children.

They want the best for their child. Professional counseling. Drug and alcohol education. Comfortable living quarters.

And I assure them that we offer these as a component of our program. And they tell me that's what they want. Then they want to know what the next step is. How do they get their child into the program?

I tell them to give me their insurance information and we'll proceed from there. It's not unusual for me to hear a period of silence after that.

Then finally she'll say something like "you mean this costs money? I thought this was a non-profit?"

And that's when I get an opportunity to practice tolerance and patience. I don't explain to them that even non-profits have a lot of expenses and overhead - as does every other business.

I don't bother to tell her that the only difference between a non-profit and for profit is where the money goes. In a non-profit the money goes to support the mission. In a for profit the money goes to the owners or stockholders. It's as basic as that.

Sometimes folks have the idea that non-profits are government supported. And a few are. But, in our case, we raise all our own funds and sometimes stretch a bit to meet our obligations. The government has never given us a penny.

It would be nice to tell mothers that we'll take their addict children and help them change their lives for free - but that's not how the world works.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 11, 2015

Saying No

Sometimes it hard to say no. And I'm one of the worst when it comes to refusing a request.

But reality is that we only have so much time in a day. We only have so many resources to expend. And to do the most good we must use our time resources wisely.

After several years I finally figured when to say yes, how to figure out what's a priority. And what's not.

And, of course, the top of the list is anything about recovery. If someone can convince me that what they need will help their recovery they usually get it.

Maybe they need a bus pass. Perhaps a clothing voucher. They might want dental work. Help with a GED. Maybe even a trip to visit a sick relative. Most of the time we can accommodate these requests. Especially the if they've been with us for a while.

The requests we don' t normally grant are for personal loans for more than a few dollars. Because usually requests for larger amounts are for non-critical things like the payment of fines or bills. Most of these problems must be worked on as a part of recovery.

And it's good that they're not easy to solve because it reminds us of how our addictions have ripped up our lives.

There's a time to help.  And a time to draw a line.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Back Home

Back in town yesterday after a week in Mexico. It was a pleasant break and a great way to celebrate my wife's birthday and our 4th anniversary.

But one thing I don't lose sight of is why I'm able to do this. It's because I got sober almost 25 years ago.

And the other reason is that I've been lucky enough to gather an excellent team around me. A team of recovering addicts who want to do something different with their lives.

I don't know of another organization our size in the Southwest that operates like TLC. Around 125 people in recovery manage the company and our halfway houses. Addicts manage our roofing and remodeling business. Our retail store. Our maintenance operations. The Christmas tree lots. The labor company. Everything run by addicts.

We do have consultants for our accounting department. And therapists with degrees in the outpatient clinic. But 99.9% of the employees are those in recovery.

Do we have issues? Yes. Just like any other company we have our infighting. Do addicts argue and create drama? Sure, just like any group of humans.

But the miracle is that many addicts on our staff rebuild their lives while also helping others find themselves.

For me it doesn't get much better than that.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On a Mission

Arriving back home today after a week in Puerto Vallarta. There's always a twinge of regret when we get back on the plane. It's tough to look down through the clouds and watch paradise shrink in the distance behind us.

The reality is that my wife and I could afford to spend our days loafing on the beach. But the larger reality is that kicking back and doing nothing is not fulfilling. In fact, it's deadening to the soul.

What has meaning is what I've been doing for 25 years. And that's helping those who want to escape their addictions.

Having a mission in life - whatever it is - is its own reward. And there's nothing like a message from the distant past to remind me of that.

Today a former resident and manager from the old days wrote to say that he's doing well and saying thank you. That's what it's about.

Doing for others can create a circle that grows and grows. I recall how wonderful I felt when a local halfway house accepted me out of detox 25 years ago when I was flat broke. It made such an impression on me that I ended up starting TLC.

That simple act of kindness made a difference. And I plan to keep passing on the help someone gave to me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gratitude's the Answer

Our chattering thoughts often lead us astray.

They may carry us on a fantasy trip that says life will be better if we follow our whims. And our whims may be to do things that aren't good for us.

Things like maybe smoking or shooting or drinking something that will bring us down again.

Those in new recovery often pay attention to these thoughts. They act as if they are real - as if they're a mandate they must follow. Even if it leads to their downfall.  Another crash landing.

The antidote is to move to gratitude. Because gratitude is a now thing. Gratitude is a vibrant in the moment expression that takes place now.

Who ever says "I'll be grateful tomorrow" when things are better?

Gratitude is a present moment experience, one that gets us away from our wandering mind. It allows us to focus on something specific in the here and now.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Reflections on Mexico

Sometimes people ask - when I'm planning a trip to Mexico - if I'm afraid to come here. When I seem puzzled, they talk about the violence, the drug wars, and the crime.

My answer is that I'm far more afraid of visiting certain areas of Phoenix than to come here.

Much of what we hear are sensationalized stories about Mexico. We hear of cartels, smuggling, and kidnappings. While these things happen, they are blown out of proportion by the media. After all, it's been proven over and over that bad news outsells good 2 to 1.

True, crime and violence occur, but I've never seen it. Nor does the average citizen here. They say it's dangerous here if one is trafficking in drugs, guns or other contraband. Otherwise, it's peaceful.  And at the least, no more dangerous than any other civilized country.

On another note my perception is that people here are happier and kinder than in the states. They greet each other - even strangers - with smiles. Young and old, they are unfailingly courteous and helpful.

Family and religious values are strong; almost like a trip back to the fifties when the U.S. shared similar values.

And they don't hurry. A common saying here is "I'll be back in a Mexican minute." Which kind of means they'll be back when you see them.

Check the links below to see a comparison of how the U.S. and Mexico compare on the happiness scale.

Wikipedia report



 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Into Acceptance

Each day I ride an open-air trolley from the tower I'm at in Mexico to an office a quarter mile down the hill. I make the trip, because management won't let me park our car beneath the condo. Even though there are a dozen big spaces in the basement. And a few have cars in them.

After 11:00 each night our car has to be stored in a garage under the main building.

So, when I'm ready to use the car in the morning a trolley shows up. And when I'm done in the evening I drop it back at the office.

But because I like rules that make sense, this irritated me. So I went to the front desk to see if I could park there. They said no. It was something about "security."

So I asked to see a supervisor, thinking maybe a small bribe was in order. But every time I'm there he's "busy" doing something else.

After a few days of this and going back and forth I got into acceptance. I decided I wasn't going to spend another minute of my time off thinking about a parking space. And once I got into acceptance I immediately felt better.

Instead I enjoy the trip down the steep and winding cobblestone road through the jungle and feel blessed that I'm such a beautiful place.

Acceptance made a difference.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Serendipity

One thing I never do In Mexico is spend time talking to vendors. And they're everywhere. On the sidewalks. In the markets. In the malls. On the beaches.

And the reason I don't is that I have enough stuff to last me a lifetime. Knick knacks, souvenirs, cups, gadgets. All junk that gathers dust until I throw it away.

And timeshares, the thing most everyone sells here, are the worst investment in the world. Buy one and you end up paying a monthly maintenance fee and so on for years. On a property you can only use one week of the year.

But yesterday I broke my rule, kind of by accident. I'm leaning up against an empty kiosk working on my iPhone, sending a photo to someone at home. And up walks the owner of the kiosk.

Because I'm on his turf, I'm nice and he offers to sell me a tour. No. Then it's a zip line experience. No. A swim with dolphins. No. Dinner on a pirate ship. No. A cruise on a jungle river. No. Then he pops the timeshare question. Again I tell him no.

And I explain why I think they're one of the worst investments in the universe. So he finally drops the sales talk and we segue into a different conversation. In fact we spent another hour talking about drug and alcohol treatment.

I learn that he's involved with others in putting together a treatment program. It's in old hotel in a town 45 miles to the North of Puerto Vallarta. It will be the first one in this area.

He has a lot of interest in our 24 years of experience with TLC. He wonders if there's some way we can work together. We exchange cards and agree to continue the dialogue.

Isn't it strange how people run into each other?

Click here to email John

Friday, December 4, 2015

From the Past...

They show up once in a while. Ghosts from the past. Appearing out of the mist.

Bringing memories of days spent scavenging the urban landscape. Looking for something to exchange for heroin.

Recollections of 25 years ago when I was running amok. Living only to stay high or drunk.

At the time I felt a bond with some of those I ran with. We were fellow predators, working like a team of lions on the prairie. Sharing the spoils of our hunt.

We searched for things to take and the spoils were the heroin we could buy. We had common goals and interests. We were a team.

Then this week one of them sends a message that he's free. He spent most of a decade in a cage somewhere in another state. He's been free for a few weeks. He wants me to call.

But it feels clumsy - what do we talk about? I've been out of prisons and jails for years. I've been clean for 25 years next month. I don't know what they talk about on the big yard these days. But if it's like when I was there it's about drugs, sex, and how to hustle. Where the best dope was. Who to trust or not trust.

Today all I know is the recovery world. I'm immersed in family and sobriety and therapy and mindfulness. That's my life today.

I probably will call when I return from vacation. But it will be a short conversation if he wants to share war stories. But possibly he'll say he's tired of what he's been doing.

And that could be a place for us to start a conversation.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrating

December 3 is a big day each year on my calendar.

Four years ago today my lovely wife, Dawn, and I married in Las Vegas. And today also is her birthday.

This year we're splurging at a cliff-side resort five miles south of Puerto Vallarta to commemorate the day. We have a sweeping view of the ocean and jungle from our wrap around fifth floor corner suite. There's a Jacuzzi on the patio, and a hammock stretched across one corner. Kind of a heaven on earth scenario. In the daytime there's a gentle 80 degree breeze coming off the ocean a few hundred feet below.

Both of us are grateful to have the blessings we have today. We've been in recovery since the early 90s. We both suffered traumatic experience that left us trying to cover our pain with years of addiction.

She took one path when she got sober, going to school and earning four degrees. Then working for the Federal Government for 12 years.

I took another, building a recovery business that has succeeded beyond my dreams.

I describe our lives because I want those we work with to realize that once sober we can enjoy life without drugs and alcohol. We can succeed at whatever we're willing to work at.

Does that mean we're well now? Not really. At times we both wrestle with the demons and nightmares of our past. Just like many of the addicts we work with.

But neither of us runs back to the dark side. Instead we use the tools we've been given. We rarely argue, instead we support and love one another. She can tell when I need propping up. And I know when she needs extra love and understanding.

God blessed me ten years ago when she came into my life. And so today I wish her happy birthday -and anniversary.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mindfulness

We've added mindfulness meditation to our outpatient treatment program over the past year. Each group includes a brief segment of mindfulness to help clients learn the practice. And one group a week is made up entirely of mindfulness training.

It's been so successful in the outpatient treatment part of TLC that we're slowly expanding it into the halfway houses. One day we hope to have it as a regular part of the peer counseling we offer our 700 halfway house clients.

But what is mindfulness? One of my favorite definitions is "being fully aware of present experience with acceptance."

It's simple to learn how to meditate - but it's more difficult to practice it. The simplest instruction is to focus on our breathing, following our breath as it enters and leaves our nostrils. Or we can follow the rise and fall of our chest, or our stomach, as we inhale and exhale.

Most of our clients say it's difficult to stay focused on the breath. And that's true. The mind is like a monkey. It jumps all over the place. Mindfulness happens when we notice our thoughts, accept them non-judgmentally, then let them go. And we practice this over and over each day.

What's the point? What are the benefits?

Over 10,000 studies over the past 30 years show that mindfulness brings us more clarity, less depression, and a state of well- being. The benefits are too numerous to list here so I'm providing links for those who have an interest in this practice.

Mindfulness Solutions

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A little Respect

Every so often someone is sent to my office because they can't get along with their co-workers on one of the outside crews.

They argue. They put one another down. They talk about the other person's lack of skill. They don't know how to do the job right. They have a lot of reasons for not getting along.

When I ask why they have this communication problem they say they don't know. They can't keep their mouth shut. They lose patience. They get frustrated and blow up. Or they rationalize and blame it on the other person.

Usually I tell them I'm surprised when I hear about their poor communication. Because when they talk to me they're polite. They're respectful. And they're gentlemen. And when they're around me we always get along.

My point is that they can control how they speak to others. The same skills that let them get along with one in authority is the same skill that will help them get along with anyone.

If we treat others as if they're the most important person in the world we'll likely never have a communication problem. That's because most everyone responds to respect and kindness.

If we talk to everyone like we talk to the so-called "important" people we'll much further along in life. And we won’t be fighting with anyone.

Remember, we all like to feel important.  And respect if one way to make others feel that way.