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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Proud of Mom

A mother writes yesterday about a daughter who's relapsed. A child who'd spent a while in one of our halfway houses.

She said she continues to be grateful for what we've done for the girl. Apparently she'd stumbled along the road to recovery, but had gotten back up and started over. Using some of the tools she'd picked up while at TLC.

The mother has a lot going for her today that she might not have had before. She can pick up on signs of drinking. She recognizes when the daughter says one thing, but means another. She's able to take more forceful positions.

The mother now interjects the word "contracts" into their conversation. This, to ensure that the daughter keeps her word, that she does her part.

Even though I've never met this mother I'm proud of her. She's put boundaries in her life. She's reaching out for some peace and happiness of her own - in spite of having a daughter with substance abuse issues.

  What I like to say to these mothers is that I don't know how you were as a parent. If you were like many of us maybe you lost the instruction book. But that doesn't mean you must live your life trapped in a matrix of guilt and shame.

We only go this way once - far as I know. And we should savor the journey. We mustn't allow our children to foist guilt or shame on us. There comes a point when a child must take responsibility for themselves.

 And it's marked on my calendar on their 21st birthday.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Working on Faith

Sometimes people credit me for being a planner. They think I must be cooking up great ideas all the time. New ways to help addicts. However, this is so far from the truth.

Reality is that at times I have no idea how we’ll get through the month. Maybe even the rest of the week. How will we pay our utilities and insurance, a not inconsiderable amount? And while I'm no spiritual giant, I know that somehow we always pay our bills. And have enough left over for bonuses.

I like to credit our success - not to any genius on our part - but instead to plain, simple faith.

I recall an incident, years ago, maybe 15, when Rockie and I threw up our hands and looked at one another. We were flat broke. No one would loan us a penny.  We had several thousand due the next day for utilities and other obligations. We thought about shutting the doors.

Finally one of us said - and I'm not sure who - "Let's give it one more day." And sure enough, the next day we got an overdue payment from somebody, And we were able to meet our obligations.

Planning? Not so much. Faith? Yes, a lot of it. And when we're trying to do things to better the lives of others we get a lot help.

Whether it's God. Our High Power. Or the Universe. We're been able to operate this way for going on 25 years.

And since it's been working I'm not going to mess with it.

Click here to email John

Friday, January 29, 2016

Picking the Future

The web is full of sites where we have a chance to pick our future mate.

We can specify religious beliefs. Hobbies. Health habits. Beauty. Sports interests. Education. Ethnic background. And so forth. Most whatever we want is out there somewhere if we just look.

But after dealing with the adult children of addicts for so many years I'm wondering if we shouldn't take this process further? Why couldn't science get this this to an even finer point?

Maybe we want a child with a certain I.Q. or E.Q. A certain hair color. Maybe a particular ethnic background. One with skills or talents that would help him them through life. One with no predisposition to alcohol or drug abuse.

For sure there was no planned parenthood in my family back in the day. . Or if it was, it was poorly executed. Because the whole crew was maladjusted in some way or the other. They were resentful about something all the time. They were all alcoholics or smokers. I can't recall any of them being happy about anything.

The exception was a grandmother with polio who spent much of her life in a wheel chair. She was a spiritual and loving person who didn't have a mean bone in her body. Tough yes. Mean no.

So, if I had the ability to pick our off-spring I'd mix in some of her DNA. Let's build up a data base where we could choose kind, generous, loving, sober people - all the good stuff.

If we had this kind of science and power I'm sure some would want to abuse it for their own evil goals. But, what if we could select people of the future from a certain gene pool?  Where people were sober and generous, brilliant and hard-working, creative and spiritual? What could be wrong with that?

I'm not sure. But someone would probably find something they didn't like about the idea.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Love him to Death

Working in the recovery field has it's rewards. We see people come into our program and their lives are a mess. They've lost it all.

The family has booted them out. They might have health problems. Maybe they're on parole. Have hepatitis C. No job or money.

After a few months they leave clean. They leave successful. Some have started college; others may have restored family relationships. Most have jobs. Life is brighter.

Then I get sad news today. I hear of a man in his early twenties who left more than a year ago - against program advice. His mother missed him. Mailed him a plane ticket home. She thought he'd "learned his lesson." Was sure he'd no longer return to heroin. But he did and was recently found dead of an overdose.

He made great progress while with us. Was beginning to understand the challenges he was facing. Yet, he accepted advice from his mother, a woman who had some idea that he should come home because he'd "learned his lesson."

There's no doubt she loved him. But sometimes we love our kids to death.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Willing to Work

Some newcomers to TLC say they can't find a job. They may have a criminal record that kept them locked up for a long time. So long that they haven't developed a work history.

Maybe they don't have a trade other than stealing, prostitution, or selling drugs.

Or perhaps daddy or mommy always paid their way. They might not have had to do chores when they were young. In other words the parents didn't teach them responsibility.

The only good thing my alcoholic father taught me was to work. Living on a farm - as I did from five to twelve - one learned to work with animals and crops. It was hard labor. Or else we didn't eat.

When I came to recovery at 51 years old - with a 16 year prison record - I was willing to do whatever it took to pay my way. I did day labor. Landscaping and ditch digging. I found a bucket and squeegee and washed windows in downtown Mesa on weekends and evenings.

When we're willing to work, the Universe, God, or whatever Higher Power we choose gives us all we can handle.

The key work in the last sentence is "willing."
.
Click here to email John

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tenth Step

One of the best ways to stay out of trouble is by using the 10th step.

For me nothing works better than a quick apology when I do something I think is even slightly wrong.

If I cut someone off in traffic I usually wave an apology to them immediately. That puts the incident behind me.

My experience in my early years was to hang on to a grudge. Hoping the other person would see the error of their ways and apologize to me.

But I've discovered that nothing is worth being uptight about. Do I want to carry baggage around about a perceived wrong? Life offers enough challenges with just meeting our responsibilities. Why add to life's burdens by stirring a bunch of junk around in our heads? Or in our hearts?

And the interesting thing is that when I admit I'm wrong it disarms the other person. And they're more than willing to forgive and forget.

Anger and resentment seems to hang on forever. But admitting we're wrong somehow has a soothing effect that can change our day.

Click here to email John

Monday, January 25, 2016

Carrying the Message

A young woman who's been sober a few years shares her story at a 12-step meeting.

She talks of the insanity in her household as she grew up. About how her parents fought. About the dysfunction she grew up in.

She said she didn't want to be like them. But found that she liked the effects of drinking so much that she took it up herself. And she lived with alcohol for a few years until she saw where it was taking her.

She talked of how different her life is now that she's sober. She's able to draw boundaries with her family. She knows she can't help them; but she can make choices about how to live her own life.

Many in the audience were in her generation, twenty-somethings. And one could see by the looks on their faces that her message was resonating with them.

And that's what the program’s about. One alcoholic carrying the message to the next. Helping them understand that there is hope if one follows the steps the way they're outlined.

Click here to email John

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Values? Or technology?

My grandchildren can't remember when there wasn't television, cell phones, or video games. It's unimaginable. They wonder how we entertained ourselves. We must have been bored silly.

When I explain that whatever exists at the time is the latest technology I'm not sure they get it. I tell them that fifty years from now we'll look back at technology today as being old-fashioned and maybe laughable. Who knows where technology's going?

Be that as it may, I think the danger of paying homage to technology is that we might become cynical.  And in the process think that old values are also outdated.

For example, has honesty changed in the last two or three hundred years? Compassion? Love? Charity? Trust? Kindness? Maybe the application - but not the values. Not much. Practicing these values teach us how to live in harmony.

Some might think these values are outdated. That technology is what's important. But to me they're as fresh - and more valuable - than the latest gadget we can get online.

We might have a better world if we tried to advance these values with the same energy we expend on technology. Maybe a Silicon Valley type center where major breakthroughs would be those that merged technology and values to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.

A place of harmony and love where we didn't destroy one another in the name of obscure deities - or in the name of simple profit.

I think this will come in time - once we realize that our most important asset is other human beings and their welfare.

Click here to email John

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Escaping Pain

When I first entered recovery 25 years ago I just wanted the pain to stop. I had no real plans beyond that. Just stop the pain.

There were no grandiose ideas about getting back into the business world. Once more becoming a top salesman. Having a nice apartment. A great income. A sports car. A relationship. None of that. It was about escaping the painful life I was living. That was all.

But after a few months in a halfway house I knew I had to do something with my life. I had a young daughter to provide for. Back child support to pay. Amends to make.

But I wanted to do more than make a living. I'd done that most of my life. But it didn't keep me sober. I needed to have meaning - a purpose - for being alive.

And I needed to do something that was compatible with my recovery. A former employer had hired me back and was paying me survival wages. But my heart was no longer in the corporate realm.

So I decided to start a small recovery program on the side. Maybe a few houses with fifty or so beds. Sort of an avocation to keep me involved with what was - and is - important in life. Living sober.

And I bring this up because a client gave me a card a few days ago - thanking me for starting TLC. It was a nice card, containing gratitude and sentiment. And I appreciated it. It sort of portrayed me as self-sacrificing, as more giving than I was at the time.

But the truth is that I started this program to save myself. And it has worked - I've stayed pain-free and sober 25 years.

The fact that others also got help over the years is an additional blessing. An unexpected result of a drug addict trying to escape the cycle of pain and misery.

Click here to email John

Friday, January 22, 2016

Running to Nowhere

An addict calls to apologize yesterday after he left the halfway house on short notice. We'd talked several times since he came to the program and I thought he was making progress. He felt bad about letting me down.

He's sorry he left and explains what happened. He says a young family member - I think it was a cousin - committed suicide. He couldn't deal with it and just had to get away.

Of course, by the time he calls, there's not much I can say to convince him to return.

The reality for us addicts is that when something emotional happens we sometimes run. But running isn't the solution. Because wherever we go we meet ourselves there. And usually the problem becomes larger.

Not only has grief overcome him. He's also homeless and without a job. At least as far as I know.

Once we become committed to recovery we accept the idea that life is sometimes painful. People leave us. We lose jobs. We can have setbacks. Life happens.

But when we're committed to recovery, we know we must face life. We realize that running solves nothing. Getting drunk or high only makes things worse.

Recovery is about living life on life’s terms. Maybe this man will discover that in time to save himself.

Click here to email John

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reflections

Yesterday we were in San Diego on a business/pleasure trip.

It's a beautiful and prosperous city. Hustling. Bustling. Activity and construction going on. Majestic sky scrapers and hotels make up a skyline that overlooks the bay. One sees and hears a mix of cultures on the streets. Exotic languages and colors. Maybe tourists here visiting for business or pleasure.

Yet in the midst of it all this prosperity is another culture. Alcoholics, addicts, and the mentally unbalanced. Somehow this culture doesn't fit.

One man wanders to the trolley station, the top of a beer can sticking out of a brown paper bag. A middle-aged woman sits cross-legged on a street corner. She's waving her arms and talking to no one in particular. A disheveled man struggles down the street, pushing a shopping cart with a huge pile of crap strapped to it.

This culture doesn't mesh with all this wealth. Yet in America we have a right to be drunk, high, or homeless. So passersby ignore them like they're invisible. Step around them. It's like they don't exist.

In my head I entertain a fantasy scenario where I'm somehow able to help them. But I know my compassion isn't practical.

I don't know about the mentally challenged. But I know that when addicts have enough pain they'll find help. If they survive long enough.  Life will convince them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Entitlement

A woman sends an eloquent email, complaining about treatment programs.

She claims to have contacted over 100 of them. And none will treat her family member.

She says all of them "want money." "Everything is about money." "None of them care about this young woman's health." And she goes further, but you get the idea.

Now I'm actually on her side in some respects. I think anyone who wants drug or alcohol treatment should be able to get it. But, there's a problem with this.

And that is that no matter what we get in the world, someone pays. I'm sure she's so blinded by love, frustration, or anger that she lost sight of this economic fact.

The reality is that doctors, clinicians, nurses, counselors, all invest years into their education. They have families, mortgages, car payments and other responsibilities. Just like anyone else.

Someone has to pay for offices and meeting rooms, for utilities, taxes, and so on.

To carry this woman's premise further, why shouldn't all treatment be free? Cancer care. Cardiac care. Diabetes care. Why should anyone have to pay for that?

When we line up the people that the world wants to help for free, we addicts are way at the bottom of the list. Maybe so far down as to be barely visible.

People would much rather help crippled children, the developmentally disabled, the elderly - even puppies and kittens - than to fork out dollars to help us addicts.

After all, we got into our addictions by choice, by our own hand.

Whereas the others didn't choose their handicap; it was foist upon by the whims of nature, the vagaries of their DNA.

Anyway, I suggested TLC’s women's halfway house program to her. Hundreds of women have changed their lives there because they were motivated.

Let's see if she responds to the offer.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Judging

Judgment is tricky. And I think often misused. In the program we talk of not being judgmental - of others or of ourselves. But it's not so much about judgment. Or being judgmental.

It's more about discretion in how we use those words. If I use judgment in a negative way that's bad. Like if I compare myself to someone so that I come out looking superior. Like if we think we're stronger or smarter or richer than the next guy. That's a negative judgment where we're putting others down so we can repair our poor little addict self-image.

So how can being judgmental be positive? I think there's a way. And that's when we judge how fortunate we are compared to many in the world.

Whenever we're judging our situation as hopeless or bad - that's when we can compare ourselves to others less fortunate. And find gratitude rather than superiority.

We do that by realizing that much of the world is suffering. In poverty. In illness and pain. Lack of opportunity. Fighting wars.

When we use our judgment this way we find a different perspective.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Self-Care

This week I received congratulations from former residents about my 25 years sober. Some were with us more than 15 years ago.

Nice messages. And I was really pleased to hear from a man who shares my beliefs about fitness and self-care. He's doing well and has been sober a while.

He mentioned a former client with serious health challenges. He said he'd given the man advice about caring for himself. But apparently he didn't listen.

It's not that this man's a doctor. But I remember him as an athlete and runner who knows the benefits of exercise and eating well.

And I'm sure he was giving basic advice: exercise, eat right, and lower stress. Simple concepts that don't take a medical degree.

My experience is that once addicts get clean and sober they don't think much about their health. They continue to smoke. Eat crappy food. And do no exercise. Nor do they go to the doctor.

One thing we must realize is that - just like our sobriety - we're also responsible for our health.

Do any of us get sober to live an unhealthy life? Not me. I created enough suffering for myself with my addictions. Now that I'm sober, I do what I can to feel as good as possible.  And it's a routine that might take as long as 90 minutes a day.

I preach about this all the time. But few have the energy or motivation to follow through. But I’ll keep trying.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

R.I.P. John W.

Long time TLC resident, John W. passed away in a Scottsdale hospital last Thursday morning.

He’d been on life support for several days after an impaired driver hit him on his motorcycle.

John, a resident of our sober living program, first came to TLC in 2001. He spent much of the past 15 years at TLC, both as a client and an employee.

John was a talented electrician who made many contributions to our maintenance department. When TLC had electrical problems he was there to help.

He recently worked for a private company, until health issues forced him to retire.

Our condolences to to his daughters and other family members.

John is missed by his many friends at TLC.

Click here to email John

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Celebration

TLC staff surprised me with a luncheon yesterday for my 25th anniversary. And I'm grateful for the outpouring of love from the fifty or so guests.

Also, two daughters came from out-of-town.  One from California, the other from Prescott.

One speaker pointed out that sobriety dates are important. Not so much for the one sober. But for the newcomers who see living evidence that recovery does work.

I view 25 years as a milestone in my sober life. But I know it's not a plateau where I can rest and say "I finally did it. Now I'm sober."

No, recovery - like the rest of life is a journey - not a destination where one stops growing.

There's an important lesson from those who are sober for years. And that's that one who has long recovery has navigated some of life's ups-and-downs. And without drinking or using drugs.

In my case, I've lost both parents and my brother. Been divorced and lost half my stuff. Have experienced business and financial setbacks. Have dealt with - and am dealing with - health challenges. Yet none of this has made me throw away my recovery.

I live in - and plan to continue to live in – the promises.

Click here to email John

Friday, January 15, 2016

Unmindful

An associate noticed me undergoing irritation for a while today. Showing frustration. It was about a project that would create more paperwork. Something about taxes. My least favorite subject in the world.

So he asked me about mindfulness. He thought my daily practice would have insulated me from frustration. Maybe kept me calmer. But I told him that wasn't necessarily so.

Some think that mindfulness means that we're always in a state of bliss. Floating on a cloud of lasting serenity. Unperturbed by whatever we encounter in life. But practice and experience teaches me otherwise.

One definition of mindfulness says that we're "fully aware of present experience - with acceptance."

But when I drift away from mindfulness I can find myself caught up in emotion as much as anyone. But mindfulness - being aware of myself- allows me to bounce back much quicker and get into acceptance.

Mindfulness allows us to look at our thoughts. Then accept them without judgement, letting them pass.

I'll never get to a place where nothing perturbs me. But I know I'm at a point now where I'm more resilient - and accepting of things that I used to let bother me for days.

And that's why I practice.

Click here to email John

Thursday, January 14, 2016

25 Years Ago

Twenty five years ago today my gut was cramping in a detox on Bellview Street in Mesa, Arizona.

I was 51 years old and sweat was coming out my pores as I started withdrawals. My brain and body craved heroin and alcohol. My bones ached. A black cloud of demoralization hung over my head. Time seemed to crawl.

Part of me wanted to bolt for the door. The only thing that kept me on that bed was that I knew. I knew that more pain and misery awaited me out on those cold December streets.

And before I walked through that door I'd had enough pain. Enough misery. I'd had nightmares of being back in prison forever. I was sick of the anxiety of finding the next fix. Of looking where I could steal the next bottle. Of finding anything to steal to survive another day.

I'd reached a point where I said I was willing to do whatever it took to change.

I had stream of consciousness monologues with myself: "Yes, I'm an alcoholic. I'm an addict. I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Meetings. Treatment. Halfway houses. Low-end jobs. Whatever it takes to change."

I don't know if pain brings on a spiritual awakening. But if it does then I had one. I was beat into submission. I had willingness. I did what was suggested.

After eleven days I went to a halfway house and stayed a year. Because I liked how the kind people there took me in with no money I decided to do what they did and started TLC.

Today I live the promises. I have a loving wife. Loving friends. My family is back. I have more stuff than I ever dreamed of having.

Twenty five years ago all I came for was to get clean and sober. But God gave me that and much more. Thank you.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Adult Children

We get another call from a parent about a middle-aged son. She wonders if we can help him with his drug problem. She says she's no longer able to care for him.

And we tell her that of course we will. So she says she'll talk to him and see if he's willing - then get back to us.

This happens more than one would think. Parents at retirement age who are still caring for their children. Children whose handicap is addiction. Something that's treatable.

My advice is that it's okay to confront an addict. Many of them think the son or daughter will no longer love them. That they'll take the confrontation the wrong way. Then maybe not talk to them anymore.

But reality is that a parent gets little love from an addict. They're too busy taking care of their addiction to offer much more than lip service to anyone else.

My experience is that when parents tell an adult child to get clean or go somewhere else, the problem is solved.

Sure, there might be sore feelings for a while. But an addict who has no one to care for him has a couple of choices: homelessness or recovery.

And if he makes the right choice his whole world could change.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Embracing Fear

I hear many addicts express concern about negative thoughts. About fear. About anxiety. About the next bad thing that might happen

This comes up often in both group and individual counseling.

But the reality is that negative thoughts are just part of life. Part of our makeup as human beings. And if we learn to accept our negative thoughts we'll find that our lives are much more enjoyable. More peaceful. More serene.

If we fight them they can become bigger, stronger. When we see negativity, fear, or anxiety popping into our mind we should welcome it.

"Oh, there you are again."

Or, "I haven't seen you for a while."

Or, "Are you still hanging around?"

If we minimize fears they lose their potency.

Will they ever go completely away? No. Fear is part of our survival. We need it.  It keeps us from walking across the freeway. It's the tool that helped us evolve as a species.

Our early ancestors learned to fear being eaten by a wild animal. Or by the tribe in the next valley. They learned to fear famine and long cold winters.

The ones who laid on the beach and partied all day, singing and dancing, probably aren't our ancestors. Because they didn't survive.

The problem in our modern world is that we often overreact to our fear. We apply the primitive reaction to things that aren't life threatening at all.

We may fear failing a class, being late on our rent, or losing our job. But none of these are life threatening, even though we sometimes worry about them as if they were.

Embrace your worries and see if life isn't better.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ironic

We're praying for a long-time sober TLC resident hit over the weekend while riding his motorcycle in Scottsdale.

The police said the 81-year-old woman that hit him was under the influence.

Reports are that he's in ICU with severe brain trauma. At this writing his prognosis is uncertain.

This accident underlines, once again, the perils of driving under the influence.

I don't know how many hundreds of times I foolishly drove while out of my mind.

And I was in half-a-dozen accidents. But thank God I was the only one injured.  I didn't hit anyone. I just drove off a cliff, hit street signs, or rolled the car. Just dumb drunk luck that no one else was injured.

Most accidents I hear of involve impaired drivers. And in fact, I think statistics show that something like over half of accidents are by those driving under the influence.

It seems ironic that one of our own has become another victim.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Winning life's Lottery

I was patiently waiting to pay for coffee yesterday at a convenience store. But for some reason the line seemed longer and slower than usual.

Then I realized it was because people were buying lottery tickets. In fact, the guy in front of me bought $200 worth. As he left I imagined him counting the 900 million he just knew he was going to win.

When it came my turn to pay I told the clerk thank you, but no, I didn't want any. I didn't bother to tell her that I won life's lottery 25 years ago when I got sober.

And that's the way I feel. Because only a small percentage of us heroin addicts and alcoholics get clean. Only a small percentage of us are blessed enough to go on to live a full and productive life.

Now I have nothing against lottery players. It's the American way.

But the idea that more money will bring us happiness is questionable. Maybe pleasure, yes. Maybe a burst of joy when we dive head first into our pile of millions. But then after a few months winners realize that managing money is a real job. In fact, some statistics show the average lottery winner is broke after seven years. Not a great outlook.

My opinion is that for anyone in early recovery a windfall of money could be a death sentence. At TLC we've seen more than one client get an insurance settlement or an inheritance and not live to spend it.

Our problem is not about money, it's about learning how to live in our own skin.

Click here to see the odds of winning the lottery versus becoming president. Or attacked by a shark and other calamities.

Click here to see what happened to 18 lottery winners.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

5.48 Years

Today marks my 2000th day of posting this blog.

That equals 5.48 years. My Microsoft Word counter at the bottom of the page shows over 438,000 words. Which translates to 1020 single-spaced pages.

So go ahead. Use the "O" word. Because that's what I am: obsessive. Once I start doing something I like  it's hard for me to change. And I guess that's okay in this case.

When I started, the commitment was to do it for a year. Then, I said, oh well, let me go for another year. And it kept on from there.

Originally I thought of it as being a way to learn to write better. More in a conversational tone. Kind of like I'm talking to you. I don't use good grammar. My goal is to use the smallest words possible. To use short sentences. To communicate rather than to impress. I believe the message is what's important.

As I went on, I found that once in a while I struck a chord. Someone out there would thank me for helping them with a family member. Some who have family at TLC said it helped them feel like they were in touch. Others said it helped them understand their addict family member a little better.

I started to realize my 38 years as an active addict and alcoholic was more than a library of war stories. That I could tell others how I got through the challenges of recovery.

How people quit enabling me. How I didn't change until I had enough pain. How powerless we are over the addicts in our lives. Those are the blogs that get the most feedback.

And for that reason I'll sit down at the computer again tomorrow. Maybe I won't know what to write about.

But I plan to be there.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Priorities

A woman calls to see if we have room for her son in our halfway houses and asks several questions.

"Does he get his own room?"

"When will he be able to start working?"

"Do we supply toiletries?"

"Is there a place for him to wash his clothes?"

"Does he need money to get in?"

After several minutes of this I ask a question of my own. I wondered why she didn't want to know about recovery services. You know, about groups, 12-step meetings and drug testing. Questions related to recovery.

Often parents think that if living conditions are right and jobs available, everything will be fine.

But if that were true their kid wouldn't be with us in the first place. Because most everyone has had a job at some time. And a place to live. But those things didn't keep them from using drugs or drinking. From trashing their lives.

The reason people come to us is because their lives are out of whack. And one way for them to get their lives back on track is to get into recovery.

Their problems aren't jobs, housing and other amenities. It's working on recovery. If they do that, everything else falls into place in its own time - usually within a few months.

Click here to email John

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Surrender

"Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you." Eckhart Tolle

Surrender is another word for acceptance. And acceptance is a big deal to us in recovery.

Clients come to us because they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Or both.

And after a period of sobriety things start getting better. But many, because they're in a recovery program, still feel as if they're broken. As if something's wrong with them. And sometimes they look to us to be the repairman, someone who can fix them.

But reality is that we can't fix anyone. We don't have that kind of power. What we can do, if they're open, is to teach them to look at the good and the positive within. To help them accept that we're all human. That we're all flawed in some respect. That we all have challenges of some kind.

The idea of completely surrendering to who and what we are can sometimes help us come to terms with ourselves.

To live sober we must accept that we have an addiction. And accept that life is sometimes a painful proposition that doesn't always go our way. If we can surrender to those two things then we have a chance to live differently - without covering our pain with substances.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mama Drama

Yesterday a mother wrote with a complaint. It seems that her son disappeared from a TLC halfway house around New Year's. And he left his personal belongings behind.

The mother called later and said she'd be down in "a day or two" to collect his things.

However, when she showed up, she seemed angry. One thing that upset her was that we'd removed his clothing and shoes from the locker he used while with us. She thought we should have left them there until she had time to pick them up. Apparently she didn't think about anyone needing that locker space.

She gave the manager a hard time, then left with her son's things. But then called five minutes later and said that many items were missing. Among them, two pair of Nikes worth $300.00 and several brand new hygiene items. This, in spite of the fact that when she left his Nikes were on top of the bag she carried to her car.

Besides complaining about the clothes, she also said we racially discriminate. She said we put "men of color" in our shabbier houses and let the whites stay in the nice houses.

She was so angry that she said she's going to contact everyone she possibly can. Clear up to the governor's office.

There was a time when complaints like hers would upset me. But I've come to realize that being the parent of an addict is stressful. And sometimes parents take their frustration out on those who are trying to help.

Hopefully her son will one day get into recovery and she won’t have to get involved in this kind of drama.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A healthy Life

Many of our clients think that because they get clean and sober they're leading a healthy life.

After all they've quit drinking. They no longer smoke or shoot their drug of choice. They've quit staying up all night. They're eating regular meals. What more could the world ask?

Most of us got sober to stop the pain. To get the stress and anxiety out of our lives. To quit going to jail. To get off the streets. To get our families off our back. Once we do that we're pretty okay.

But many, particular those no longer in their twenties, carry scars. They've contracted hepatitis C or developed other health problems. Some smoke incessantly. Their immune systems are fragile from years of abuse. They don't exercise or eat right.

Soon this poor lifestyle catches up with them. Some clients gain 30 or 40 pounds. Others develop emphysema or high blood pressure.

My counsel is to do everything possible to stay healthy. To enjoy the benefits and blessings of sober living - to the fullest.

We should treat our bodies as the temple of the spirit. We've been given a second chance. And we should do what we can to enjoy the rest of our lives.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Staying Sober

To succeed in the 12 step programs we need to do only one thing perfectly. And that is to not use alcohol or drugs. At its most fundamental it's defined as staying clean and sober. And we start by taking the first step.

But to enjoy the real fruits of the program we must do more.

For example, as we work the fourth step we look deeply into ourselves. We put our behavior under a microscope. We discover where we did harm. Where we were selfish and self centered. How we were responsible for the calamities we blamed on others.

This step can be challenging. It's one where many newcomers stumble because it's painful to look at ourselves. But if they get through this one and the next they have a new perspective.

The remainder of the steps take us yet deeper into knowing ourselves. That's when we start experiencing the bliss of serenity and peace.

But as long as we live we don't achieve perfection. The closest we come is that we learn to enjoy our journey along the path of recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Our busy Minds

"I've been through many terrible things in my life. And some of them really happened." Mark Twain, American humorist

This is one of my favorite sayings because it illustrates that most of the bad things in life occur in our minds.

We spend countless hours worrying about the future. Or fretting about the past.

"I think I might lose my job."

"This pain in my stomach might be cancer."

"No one loves or appreciates me."

"If I'd have been a better parent my child wouldn't be an addict."

Random thoughts bounce around our brains all day. They make us unhappy. We let them overwhelm us with sadness or depression or anxiety.

Yet, most of the thoughts that pop into our heads are meaningless chatter bubbling from our subconscious mind. But we act as if they're real. That they mean something. That they have substance and we should do something about them.

There's an easy way to deal with the narrative stream running through our minds. As thoughts pop up we recognize them as just thoughts. We don't judge them - or ourselves. Instead we accept them and let them pass.

One way to deal with our busy mind is to engage in meditation. And that's because a regular meditation practice teaches us to look at our thought stream as part of the human experience. We learn to accept what we see, non-judgmentally, and let it pass.

For a free meditation resource click here

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Getting Messages

I received a lot of happy New Year's messages yesterday. In fact, it took a little while to answer them all.

25 years ago today no one told me happy new year. No one wished me happy anything. At least, if they did I wasn't aware of it.

And that's because I was in the middle of an alcoholic drug using binge. No one wanted to hear from me – including my family.

I think I only had one phone number. She didn't want to hear from me either.

Major events in our lives can make a huge difference. Birth of a child. Marriage. Going away to the military. Or to college. Those are big events in our lives. Mine wasn't so elevated or noble.

The biggest event of my life was when I got sober.

Everything that's good in my life today stems from the moment I admitted I was an alcoholic. From that day on things have gotten better and better. I'd never have dreamed I'd have the life I do today.

And it wasn't that I had a spiritual awakening that made me get sober. My life had become a miserable mess. My only choice seemed to be recovery - or death.

And you know the choice I made because I'm here to write about it.

Click here to email John

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy Right Now

So if you're reading this it's now 2016. And this is the point where it's customary to say Happy New Year. So here it is: Happy New Year.

Those of you who read this blog might find this kind of flat, coming from me. I'm always upbeat and positive. Almost always.

But the reason I open this way is not because I'm negative. I'm making a point. And it's about having a happy right now. Being happy in this moment. Not the next day, hour, month or year.

At one time I lived life as if right around the next corner I'd be happy. Over the next hill I'd find the rainbow of happiness. Somewhere down the the road.

It was the next job. Or car. Or house. Or relationship. Or bag of dope. Something new and novel - that would bring happiness. The next thing was where it was at. Right now was never okay. That's why I soaked my brain in alcohol and drugs because I didn't like where I was at the moment.

Now I think differently. Right now is not always a bed of roses. But right now is what we have and I've learned to be grateful for it.

Today I make every effort to stay on the path and enjoy the journey. Whether the journey is smooth, or whether it's bumpy.

That way I don't miss life.