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, March 31, 2016

Happiness is...

"Happiness is not having what you want. It is appreciating what you have." Unknown

Many of us believe our lives will be better if we just get what we want. A better job. Nicer house. Better education. Cooler car. More friends. More stuff.

But appreciating what we already have is the key. Unless we're crazy, all of us want the same thing - happiness. And that sounds simple, but it's not that easy.

Because your idea of happiness doesn't necessarily equal mine - they're both equally valid. There's a school of psychology that that posits that we each have a "set point" of happiness. And that other than for brief periods, we pretty much stay at that "set point" regardless of what happens.

One study showed the happiness of those who won the lottery versus those who broke their spine and were paralyzed for life.

After winning the lottery, the winners had a brief bump of happiness, maybe six months. But they eventually returned to their "set point" where they were before winning.

The same with those who became paralyzed. For the first several months they were depressed. But after that most of them returned to their level of pre-accident happiness. As an aside, the paralyzed group actually were happier than the lottery winners a year after the study.

So where does happiness lie? If it isn't money. If it's not the right partner, job, house, or car, then what is it?

As it says in the first sentence I believe it's in appreciating what we have.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The magic of Pain

Pain is the great motivator.

Many parents write to tell me they've done everything for their addict children. Given them the niceties of life. Cars. Clothing. Tuition. Housing. Some even kick down money when the kid's dope sick. Yet, in spite of the this kindness they can't motivate them to quit using. And they wonder why? Do I have any ideas or advice?

And I tell them they should immediately stop giving them anything. Cut them off. Evict them from the house. Allow to them descend into the pain and misery that comes with drug and alcohol addiction.

"But how are they going to eat? Where will they live? They might overdose. They may go to jail." They have these and many other fears about what will happen if they stop helping their child. And I tell them that bad things will happen anyway, given enough time.

Over and again I've seen this. An addict is dependent upon their family and friends for help. But any help they get somehow prolongs their addiction.  The help must stop.

I saw a recent example when a woman told her sister she'd no longer help her in any way as long as she was using. And she didn't. Not a dime. Not a meal. When she was ready to change, then she might help.

It wasn't long before the sister lost everything, including the subsidized apartment she lived in. She slept in a car for a while. She later moved into a tent in a park with other addicts who were also at the bottom.

Then one day she had enough. She told her sister she wanted help. She entered a treatment program. Found work. Someone gave her a car. Today, less than a year later, she's clean and living a stable life.

All it took was enough misery and pain to motivate her to change. And that came when people stopped helping her.

And she still loves the sister who was tough on her.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Parent's Pain

I sometimes hear clients say they're only hurting themselves with their addictions. I've used some email excerpts from the parent of a halfway house client that shows how untrue that is.

"How many ways can you say no, I'm not sending money, you can't come live here, kindly ? It's always a painful conversation. My last one with him was about a month ago.

I told him to stop calling if all he wanted was money & I asked him to please surrender to the process that people such as yourself have gone through. This has been going on for years.

I hoped he would have stayed at your place but I believe he left the Roosevelt house the day after Superbowl Sunday.

I've tried everything in every form - from kindness to the toughest love tactics. Today I don't know if he is homeless, in one of your houses or jail. Or worse dead. He's my only child but I've accepted for the moment any way that God's got him & I have to accept that.

I wish kindness was possible, but unlike cancer or diabetes a lot of addicts don't take the help offered & instead they leave a trail of pain & sorrow as they take everyone down with them. Only they have a way of escaping the pain some of the time.

Kindness, love, conversations, would be a dream I strive to share with him someday."


Maybe someday this woman's son will realize how his addiction devastates those who care about him.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Try Kindness

At one time I had a great job. I used to run the universe. I was in control. I knew everything. I trusted no one's judgement but my own.

I did such a good job that I left my second year of high school in handcuffs. Between the ages of 16 and 26 I was out of jails and prisons for 17 months. And I was so angry I didn't even care.

Reality was that I couldn't even manage my own life well enough to stay out of trouble. I kept losing things over and over. Businesses, relationships - eventually I pissed them all away.

Drugs and alcohol were my answer. I made money with drugs, while at the same time numbing my feelings.

Many people were kind. Teachers, counselors, family, friends. They knew I was troubled and wanted to help me. Not only when I was very young - but all through my life. It was only when I found recovery did I understand their kindness. And start taking advantage of it.

When people were kind and tried to help me before I got sober I used to think they should mind their own business. I didn't trust them and their motives. I thought they didn't know how to have fun.

Today I depend upon the kindness of others. There are so many people who support what we do at TLC. Not only those who've been with us ten to twenty years, but also newcomers.

One thing I've discovered since being sober is that most people want to do the right thing. Even if they don't know what the right thing is. I think most people want to do the right thing because they want to belong and be accepted. And for me there's nothing wrong with that.  We all need to be part of a tribe.

I welcome kindness from others and I give it back. And It's been working for me 25 plus years.

Try it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Something to Give

"A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers."  Chinese Proverb

Giving to others, helping others, leaves a trace of good feeling within us. Especially when we do it without an expectation of something in return.

Often I encourage our clients to help each other. Especially the ones who are newly arrived.

And the answer is sometimes, "But I have nothing to give. I don't even have a job yet. I barely have a change of clothes."

But I explain that what they have to give, the important thing, is their time.

When a newcomer arrives on the property they don't know what to expect. They might have just come from the streets. Or jail. They're maybe still a bit dope-sick. But that's the person who needs your encouragement. Your time.

You don't have to say much. Just be there. Tell him or her that it gets better. Tell them about the bus schedule. Job opportunities. Tell them how you got to the program. And what's keeping you from leaving.

You never know when your words will give them the strength to stay. In fact what you tell them may keep them from going back out and putting a needle in their arm.

That little bit of time you spend may save a life.  And you thought your had nothing to give.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Plant a Tree

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb

Sometimes we let our past control our present. But who we used to be needn't define who we are today.

Often I'm around the TLC houses and hear clients telling "war stories" of past escapades. Ones that usually got them into some kind of a mess.

The saying at the top of the page says many things. How maybe we could have chosen a different path when we were younger. Maybe gone to school or work. Rather than going down the road of addiction and the crime that usually goes along with it.

But the most important thing it says is that now is the time that counts. Now is the time that we can do something meaningful. That we should seize this moment.

No matter how much time we spend regretting the decisions we made or the paths we took, today is what we have left to work with.

And the decisions we make today may affect the next 20 years of our lives.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 25, 2016

Having a Purpose

Sometimes a client says something that sticks with me.

One that stayed with me was when a man in group said he'd never been happier in his life. And it showed. He had a glow about him. A smile on his face. Everything that came out of his mouth was positive.

And it wasn't until later - in the middle of the night - that his statement soaked into my brain. Because from the outside he was a middle-aged man who'd spent much of his life in prison - and he had the old faded tattoos to show for it. He'd spent some years on the streets, living homeless. He owned nothing but his hand-me-down clothing and a few toiletries. He'd lost track of his family years earlier. He lived in one of our halfway houses with an entry level job.  Yet he was happy and acted like it.

The next time I saw him in group I asked about his statement. And to what he attributed his happiness.

And he said "for the first time I feel as if I have a reason for living. Helping others gives me a purpose. I'm around those who are pretty much like me. They had no friends or family when they came here. Their futures looked bleak. I'm starting to feel like part of a community."

And looking at it through his eyes, I understood. Happiness for him is about the basics. It's about belonging.

And that's what this man - like many others - had found at TLC.

Click here to email John

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Flowing

Even though I have the best intentions to live in the here and now sometimes it doesn't work. And it happened to me yesterday.

One moment I'm enjoying a peaceful breakfast, catching up on the news, and a phone call intrudes. It's from an employee who ends up in the emergency room due to an injury. But I'm not too worried.  He's going to be alright.  Plus we have a replacement.

Then I get a message that the replacement may have to leave town. It seems a family member has taken ill. If the situation doesn't get better he'll have to catch a flight home.

So all of a sudden I've moved from focused attention on my favorite parts of the paper into crisis mode. And hardly without giving it a thought.

How will we get everything done that we were supposed to do today? Who's going to fill in?  My head starts chattering like a cage full of monkeys.

But, by day's end, it seems that everything got done on time. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to.

And that's what I teach and try to adhere to: that life is always just as it's supposed to be. A crisis, even a major one, doesn't change the world that much.

As long as I stay on the path and accept that this is just the way things are, life goes smoothly. And when I resist what's going on, things never go that well.

 So I try to flow with it, and somehow things go better.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Graduation

Last night I completed a goal that I set a year ago: I received my certification as a mindfulness teaching instructor. It'll be hanging on my wall tomorrow.

The course took 300 hours - between study and meditation practice. I'm happy that it's over. And what I'm happy about is not that the work is done, but that I was able to complete a goal. To finish something that I set out to do.

Because at one time I was so impatient that I couldn't complete anything. I don't know whether it was from the effects of drugs and alcohol. From childhood trauma. From laziness. Or just the insanity that comes from being a dedicated addict.

And because I'm also obsessive, I'm not stopping here. This week I'm beginning an eight week course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I believe it's important that we enhance our skills and continue to develop tools to pass on to others.

And of course, what we give others, we also give ourselves.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Embracing Wisdom

"Wisdom is merely the movement from fighting life to embracing it."  Rasheed Ogunlaru

I love this quote from Ogunlaru. Because it describes exactly what happened in my life once I got sober.

Before I got sober I never accepted life on life's terms. If life wasn't 24 hour gratification, then I wasn't satisfied. Things always had to go my way. If they didn't I was a mess.

But as I've grown in recovery I got through the illusions. The illusions that life was always going to be wonderful. That success was going to fall into my lap. That I deserved to have everything my way.

Whatever happens in life today, rather than fight it I embrace it because I know that it's not about me. Life is like the surface of the ocean. Sometimes it's placid and smooth. At others it's rough and choppy. And at times it's even stormy and nearly overwhelming.

But to develop wisdom I had to start looking at life as a series of lessons. And I had to learn to live in the moment. Because no matter how much we might dislike what's going on we only are alive at this second. Not a future fantasy that we dream up where all will be better. Nor is life dwelling in the past, sorting through the messes we created.

Embrace whatever goes on. And you'll end up on the other side with maybe an inkling of what wisdom is about.

And I believe it's about embracing a series of small experiences that teaches us what life really is.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Discriminating against Addicts

A story in the Prescott Courier shows the average person's lack of knowledge about addictions.

There are facilities in our country that help those with all kinds of diseases. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more. They're big business in our society. And there are few complaints when mega-medical services want to open in a community. We welcome the help.

But even though 14% of the U.S. population has a problem with drugs or alcohol or a combination of both, finding help for them isn't easy. Nobody wants a rehab, halfway house, or sober living in their town. And some are so vehement about it that they'll go to court to stop them.

In the Courier story the parents refer to the lack of training of the halfway house manager. They said if he'd been better trained perhaps their son wouldn't have died of an overdose. They may be right.

But a tragic as the loss is, most halfway house managers aren't medically trained. Nor do they have counseling degrees. Their job is usually to see that clients sign in and out. That they keep the house clean. That they pay their rent. They do give drug tests if they think a resident is using. They usually are paid little or nothing; except for maybe free rent.

What this man needed - in my opinion - was to be in a locked treatment facility. At least until he was thoroughly detoxed. That might have kept him from overdosing because he would have been under closer supervision.

The big problem in the addiction world is that many view addiction as a moral issue - rather than a disability. Most neighbors view addicts as criminals, sex offenders, or degenerates. And will openly state that anytime there's a public hearing.

Fortunately the Fair Housing Act and the American's with Disabilities Act protects us addicts from city government and angry neighbors.

If only we treated our addicts and alcoholics with the same compassion and love we treat those with other diseases. That's when we'll know we live in an enlightened society.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

No Butts

Often I'm with a halfway house client and they'll start telling me of health issues.

Blood pressure. Diabetes. Emphysema. Kidney problems or other conditions. And once we wind up the conversation, I always ask the same question. If I know they're a smoker I'll ask them if they still smoke, in light of all their health issues. Or, if I don't know whether they smoke I'll ask. And a surprising number - even in the face of what could be a fatal health issue - admit they still do. It's simply too hard for them to quit.

When I explain to them that quitting might be a good place to start healing themselves they'll agree. But the next time I see them they're still puffing away.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of evangelist who has no experience with cigarettes. I smoked for around ten years and quit 31 years ago - July 25, 1984 at 9:00 a.m. And as someone who's kicked heroin many times during my 38 years of using, I must say that cigarettes are much harder to ick than opiates. Plus I watched seven family members slowly suffocate from emphysema. One of them was my mother.

A lot of us don't want to face pain. And I understand - I didn't either. But if you can't do it for yourself, think of those who love you; do it for them.

It is selfish and self-centered for us to not care for ourselves when there are others in our lives who care about us.

Quitting is tough. But with a few weeks I completely forgot about being a smoker.

You can do it.

Click here to email Johnclick here to email John




Saturday, March 19, 2016

False Pride

On St. Patrick's day I read a headline that I found irritating. It said "Pride of the Green," then went on to describe the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. It's an annual event attended by thousands.

I've never been to one of these get togethers. And I never colored anything green on St. Patrick's Day. Though I probably got drunk with an Irishman a  few times. But then I'd get drunk with anybody at one time - no matter who they were.

So why would I let something like this be irritating or bothersome? The reason is that certain kinds of pride creates problems.

And that kind of pride is pride in our race, our color, our sexual orientation - things like that.

In my mind this kind of pride creates divisions between those of different backgrounds and beliefs.

I don't believe that I - or anyone else - should take pride in something I had nothing to do with.

I once asked a guy who had a large tattoo that said "Brown Pride" why he put that on his chest. And he said because he was proud of being brown. And then I asked him how he became brown. And he looked at me like I was stupid and said that he was born that way. And when I told him that being born brown then was nothing to be proud of, but simply an accident of birth the conversation ended. And not too happily.

See, I'm not proud of being white - because that was an accident of birth. But I do take a certain pride in things I've accomplished. Things I had something to do with bringing about. I take pride in being sober 25 years. Of building several businesses. Of being able to help others change their lives.

Personally I don't believe in white, brown, black, yellow, gay or any of that kind of pride. Because it says I'm different from you. And the difference we perceive is that we're better than - or superior. Few talk of being ashamed of their heritage - it's generally a pride thing. And that's what separates us as human beings.

If you tell me you're proud of your Master's Degree. Your promotion at work. Of your child's grades in school I'm with you. Because you put something into that.  None of that was an accident - like the color or sexual orientation you were born with.

If we took some level of pride in how we bettered the world, that's something to be proud of. But it can be divisive to be proud because of something you had no control over.  All you're saying is I'm better than you.  And that's the foundation of a lot of violence and wars.

Take some pride in what you accomplish - not what you had nothing to do with.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 18, 2016

God's Will?

Sometimes I get confused about my will and God's will.  That's because I think I have all these great ideas. Then they don't pan out.
For example, a few years back one of my business partners and I had cooked up a perfect plan.  We would quit buying property and leave the program pretty much the size it is.  Then he'd take off for a few months at a time while I ran things.  Then he'd return and my wife and I would go somewhere for a long vacation.   
But since that time we haven't slowed down at all.  We've purchased four more properties since then.  And we're in the midst of closing on several apartment units before the end of the month.  And I'm sure it will happen because we've been going back and forth with the owners for over a year now.
So what's the story?  Why can't we stick to our plan?  I think there's a few reasons.
One is that people keep showing up who need a program while in recovery.  And then when they graduate they don't want to get too far away.  They like the communal support.
Another reason is that these days it's almost too easy for us to buy stuff.  We have a lot of private parties and banks offering us financing.  It's sort like one of those offers we can't refuse.  It's hard to turn down no money down deals.
But I think on a deeper level it's that there are a lot more addicts than there are places to put them.  And I think us helping solve the problem is God's will - not ours.
That’s the part that maybe someday I’ll get figured out.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Paying for Help

Providing service to over 700 drug addicts and alcoholics is an education in human nature.

For example, in group the other day we were sorting out an issue about the rules. Some thought they were too strict.

One man said "I'm a grown ass man. I don't need someone to tell me how to live." Then he went on to say that he'd been taking care of himself "all his life."

He didn't like the idea of making his bed each day. Doing chores. Adhering to a curfew. Signing in and signing out. These, and other things about the program irritated him.

"Then why did you come here?" someone asked. "The door's right there.  This isn't jail."

The man didn't have much else to say other than to mutter a few mofos.

But his attitude illustrates how addicts in new recovery sometimes think. They don't want responsibility. They want to do what they want when they want. And want someone else to pay for it.

What I generally say to those who don't like us telling them how to live is that they pay us to do exactly that: to have us tell them how to live. They pay us to teach them how to live without drugs. How to stay out of jail. How to pay child support and be responsible.  To grow up.

Yet, when it comes to changing their behavior they sometimes forget why they're here.  However, we keep reminding them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

R.I.P. Mike

A manager walked up to me yesterday and handed me his cell phone.

"You remember this guy?" he asked, pointing at a photo.

He looked familiar. Like the typical all-American father, standing between his two sons. They were smiling, as if it were a photo of a special event.

Maybe a middle school graduation. A wedding party. But it could've been from any event where people might wear a suit and tie. It probably wasn't taken at a funeral though, because everyone was smiling.

Before I could dredge his name up from my memory, he told me.

And of course I remembered him. He'd made several tours of our Hard Six program. And had gotten as far as the aftercare segment of the program before disappearing for a while.

Every so often conversations around TLC start out that way. Someone will bring up a picture or a name. And they'll ask if we remember the person.

In this case, a lot of people remembered this man because he been in the program many times.

It had been a while since he was last with us. But every so often we'd hear about his escapades in the drug world.

And the next question is always about what he died from. An overdose? An accident? Or something else?

No one could say what this man died from. But because of his history most of us believe something related to his lifestyle killed him – rather than natural causes.

Whatever got him, we'll remember him as another member of our community who struggled with life - and lost.

We send condolences to his family. And wish him Godspeed on this next phase of his journey.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Finding Gratitude

We can find reasons for gratitude anywhere. And most anytime. Today I found it in the morning newspaper during breakfast.

It was in a story about how many citizens are escaping - or attempting to escape - from Afghanistan. The war has been going on there for 15 years. And now, according the the story, the tide is turning against the government. And the Taliban is once again regaining territory.

People are risking the borders, attempting to reach Europe in search of a better life. One man said that soon there would be no way to escape - as all routes would be blocked. That's why he was leaving now.

One mother, with three children and one on the way, said her family was only seeking peace. Her husband wanted to work and provide a home. She wanted to educate her children and give them a future. If she stayed she believed they could die at any moment in the unpredictable violence.

Two young men with master's degrees said their education was worthless - even where they lived in Kabul. Jobs were scarce and they wanted out before the city fell back to the Taliban.

No, nothing in my day came close to the realities these people face. They're ordinary people with the simple goal of leading life in freedom.

The things that I take for granted each day.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Gain of Pain

Much unhappiness in life comes from clinging to unrealistic expectations. From expecting too much.

Say for example, you want your child to get sober. But every time she gets out of treatment she relapses within a short time. Now she's been in several treatment programs and nothing has worked. I've heard this more than once.

But there is something that works. But most of us are unwilling to try it. We're afraid our kid - or whoever we're trying to help - will no longer like us.

The key to helping is often to not help them at all. For example, I think it's okay to send your child to treatment for help. But if they don't get it the first time, what are the chances they'll get it a second or third time?

When you put your foot down and say "this is the last time I'm doing this," you might get a different response. Instead of your kid thinking you're going to keep financing recovery time after time - they might change their thinking.

They may get tired of panhandling, sleeping in an abandoned car, or in a jail cell. The pain may help them change their thinking. 

When I ask other addicts why they changed they say they got tired. Tired of being a bum. Tired of being locked up. Tired of being alienated from the family. Tired of looking at a future that offered no promise.

It happened for me. Once the pain became too intense I got sober. And it can happen for anyone

.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Promises

When I first started going to 12 step meetings a volunteer would usually read The Promises at the end of the meeting.

And to me they sounded like a fairy tale. Something made up to encourage us to stick around and stay sober for a while. Maybe we'd stay just because we hoped a couple of them would come true.

But now - 25 years later - I can say that all of them have come true.

Not in a dramatic way. But most of them at an almost unnoticeable, glacial pace. One day a few years ago I read them and realized they described my life today.

For example, number 9 reads "Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change." But for me that one was a stretch. Because for most of my life I'd had negative experiences that seemed to make my attitude and outlook worse, rather than better.

And number 8 says "Self seeking will slip away." That was another one that was hard to believe. Because all I'd done all my life was seek self gratification and pleasure. And at the cost of nearly everything else, including my freedom. Yet today, I find myself thinking of the welfare of others. And it just started happening as the months and years of sobriety piled up.

There's something about the 12-step programs that changes a person's philosophy and belief system. Sometimes without him or her even being aware of it.

And when I first discovered that each of those promises had come true I was surprised that they happened exactly as written - and almost without me noticing.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Accepting our Addiction

Why is acceptance such an important concept in recovery?

We talk about it in the rooms of recovery with reverence. The word has an almost religious overtone. But is it really that important?

And I would argue that it is for those of us who have trouble living in reality. And that covers most of us alcoholics and addicts.

When we're in a substance induced fantasy the solution can be pretty much whatever we want it to be.

Because the truth is that those who don't accept their addiction aren't going to be able to deal with it. It's kind of like if we don't even know what the problem is how can we resolve it?

I visited an attorney once and saw that he carefully defined his client's problem. He learned in law school that if he wasn't sure what the issue was how was he to deal with it?

With our addiction, it's important to get into acceptance. If we're not sure we're an addict or alcoholic we'll experiment and do what we must until we discover the truth. And a life spiraling out of control can help us accept that we have a problem. And in a short time.

That's why acceptance is a power word in the recovery world. It's the starting point.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Meditation Benefits

Yesterday I got a message from my mindfulness instructor. He was congratulating me on passing the 300 hour course I'd been taking for the past year. In a week or so I'll receive my certificate as an instructor.

I took the course to learn more about how to meditate, the benefits of meditation, how to run a retreat and so forth. It was information I planned to use throughout our halfway house program.

But I began teaching before I passed the course. Because meditation is not as complicated as some might think. The key to meditating is practice. And one doesn't need a certificate to practice or teach it. But it does lend credibility if one can show they've had training.

And as I'd learned during several lectures, one can't fail at meditation. No one is grading how well we meditate. And that was a part of the course that I liked, the idea that I could do something without failing. With 15-20 minutes of daily practice I could only get better.

Many newcomers get frustrated with meditation because they find their minds wandering. But that's the whole point: when our minds wander we bring our focus back to our breath - if that's what we're using as a our meditation object. When we discover our mind wandering that's mindfulness.

A simple definition of mindfulness is "fully aware of present experience - with acceptance." And while the definition is simple, learning to be present can be difficult.

But it's worth it. We increase the neuronal pathways in our brain. We become calmer. Some will experience lower blood pressure. Our bodies heal faster. The benefits are many.

And in closing I suggest that you don't take my word for it. The internet is full of free resources. There are literally thousands of studies validating positive effects of meditation.  And most of the information is free.  Click here for one free resource.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

11 years

Yesterday a man who started coming to TLC as a teenager celebrated 11 years of recovery.

Several of us who work for TLC honored the occasion by joining him for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

As we drove home I reflected that people like him are one reason we never give up on someone who's struggling to change.

Before he finally figured out how to stay sober 11 years ago he had bounced in and out of TLC ten times. He had a habit of coming in for a while, getting his life together, then finding a reason to relapse. Later, after suffering in jail or on the streets for a while, he'd convince us to take him in again.

But once he made the commitment to stay clean 11 years ago he never looked back.

He began working for TLC and kept getting better and better jobs. Until today, he works as director of operations - the number three job in the company.

In the past 11 years he's gotten married and has become a father once again. He lives in a nice suburban home, has a bank account, drives decent cars, and pays taxes. In other words he's living the life of a responsible citizen.

One true mark of his success is that most of his family has come to Arizona to join him. Those who once knew him as someone who was always in trouble because of his lifestyle, now look to him as the responsible member of the family - someone who can give them guidance and help when they need it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gratitude

Today I had another lesson in gratitude. I happened while I was at a clinic to have an adjustment to one of the braces I wear on each leg. It had been rubbing on my calf muscle until it created a sore spot.

Also in the waiting room were a couple of families with small children. A child with one family had a brace on her leg and used crutches to get around the room. However, she didn't let anything slow her down. She was easily keeping up with the other kids in the game they were playing.

The child with the other family was missing her left leg below the knee and also used crutches. She was busy playing with one of the kids in her group and moved almost as well as the others.

I had admiration in my heart as I watched them. And I thought back seven years to the moment the doctor told me that if I wanted to walk I'd need to wear braces. That he could do nothing for my neuropathy.

I remember feeling sorry for myself. Because for several years I'd run 5 to 15 miles a day for a workout. I had developed a fitness routine while locked up as a way to lower stress. As I grow older I've had other limitations put on my workout routine. And I was never very accepting or happy about that kind of news.

But, as I watched these children I felt gratitude that I'd been as functional as I've been for as long as I  have. These children may never experience the endorphin high of an all-out run. So they won't miss it.

But whatever life has given them they were enjoying themselves and in complete acceptance. And that's what a fulfilling life is all about - isn't it?

And I sent them a silent thank you for reminding me of that.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

No more Excuses

We addicts have all kinds of excuses for using. And often that keeps us from changing.

And when we tell our sad stories to counselors or therapists they often cosign our bullshit. They understood why we drank, or smoked, or slammed a needle in our arms. Or at least they acted like they did. And that didn't help me get well because I needed someone to make me look at reality. Someone to be a little tough with me in a positive way.

When I was in my teens, I was in a rage. Life was unfair. The world was cruel. Counselors tried to help. But I viewed them as part of the system. So I wouldn't drop my defenses and let anyone in. That attitude kept me locked in my rage and confusion.

I fought with everyone. I thought I was tough. But really I was so full of fear and anger that whoever was nearby was the enemy. It took many years of using and trouble with the law before I changed.

And what changed me was time. I started paying attention to others who had stories of abuse. Many of them suffered much worse than I had. And they were like me, always in trouble. Full of fear and rage.

When I saw myself in them I had a spiritual awakening. I came to accept that bad stuff had happened to me. But also to others. Unjustifiable things. Things humans shouldn't do to one another.

But I also came to realize that no matter what happened it wasn't worth living my life suffering over it. And I decided to change.

Part of that change was putting down the bottle over 25 years ago. Part of it was deciding that I wasn't going to let sick people hold me hostage any longer.

That's when I took the first steps down the path to emotional freedom. And today my life works.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Volunteers

The thing about the recovery business that some don't understand is that our residents are volunteers.

Oh, there are some who will say "I didn't want to come here, my parole officer forced me."

But when you ask why they don't leave and go where they want it's a different story.

"If I leave my PO will sent me back to prison."

At that point we explain that there's nothing wrong with prison. If they're unhappy, they can return to jail. I understand; I've had judges give me a choice between jail or treatment. And I'd choose jail because I was comfortable there and didn't have to change.

But the interesting thing about volunteers is that after they're here a while many want to do things their way.

Because most of them don't come from jail or prison. They come from the streets. From the police or fire department that picked them up when they were passed out somewhere. And some have been kicked off mommy's couch. They bring a resume of failures. And they bring the same issues that derailed them in the first place.  Because they're undisciplined or lazy or unmotivated they want to do what they want at our place. And they don't last long.

The ones who succeed at TLC are the grateful. Not the ones who complain about the food. Or the ones who are unhappy with the housing.

The ones who succeed have gratitude for what we offer. They're always willing to unload a truck, clean the yard, help out in the kitchen, or just talk to a newcomer. Gratitude rules their lives. They're willing to try something different because what they were doing didn't work.

A lot of our residents get caught up in war stores - which are always about who we used to be. Well, you may have been a great businessman, soldier, drug dealer, or whatever, but none of that history is important. Because your life didn't work for some reason.

These days and minutes we have right now are what's important. They may not be glorious or wonderful. They may even be boring.

But, at least we're alive and able to rebuild.  We can even create a new life story.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Living with Faith

Faith is one of those qualities that many of us say we have.

And, no, I'm not talking about faith in God or a Higher Power. Nor am I ruling it out.

This comes up in relation to TLC. It seems that we have a lot of employee turnover. And, of course, when someone quits or relapses we wonder what we're going to do. How will we replace them on such short notice?

Because those who quit usually don't give two weeks notice. Sometimes it's more like five minutes notice.

Yet over the years I've learned to have faith that the right person will show up. We just haven't met them yet - but they always show up.

It happened again this week. We lost a key manager who was in a sensitive job. Dealing with certain clients, especially treatment clients takes someone with a certain temperment. Patience. Wisdom. Tolerance. Strong recovery. Assertive, but not to the point of aggression. Filling this position had us concerned.

Yet, within 48 hours of looking around the program we found someone who meets our qualifications. And the person seems willing to the job.

Because working for TLC is not like a typical job with lots of benefits and a great salary. We give our staff enough to get by on. We provide housing, walk around money, dental and eye care.

But we give them something greater than material benefits. We give them a chance to save their lives. To live in a recovery environment while they add weeks, months and years to their recovery. Where they can work on their strengths and weaknesses.

There aren't too many places where one can work long term in a safe environment until they regain the confidence to once again fly on their own.

But that's why I have faith - the right one always shows up. And, for me, it's also a bit of trusting God.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Liking Ourselves

Learning to re-frame our thinking helps us get through some rough spots in our lives.

For example, I had a hypnosis client who told me he didn't like himself. That he was always being self-critical. So during hypnosis I made positive suggestions for him to use.

But I believe if we view ourselves as unlikeable we have some work to do. And it doesn't take hypnosis. And it's an inside job. I know, because I've been there.

As a child in a small town grammar school in Oregon with 40 kids I thought I was an oddball. And, in a way I was different. That's because there were only two of us that wore glasses.

And because of that I was the butt of the usual jokes. And I got them broken a lot because of fights I started over my defensiveness.

But at that point of my life I was too young to even know a concept like re-framing. I just know I felt like a weirdo at the time.  I didn't like myself.

But we can change not liking ourselves. Because we base this on our own self-judgment. I'm not as strong, or smart, or rich, or good-looking as the next guy. Or I didn't have the breaks that others had growing up. The self-criticism list can be long.

But I'll bet if you make list of what you dislike about yourself, I could take that same list and turn it into positives. And that's because we all have unique qualities.

There's something you do as well or better than others. And I guarantee that you have an area of insight or education that others don't. We simply have to look at the whole picture.

We can feel good that we live in this country. Because most of the people in the world live on less than a dollar a day. We see horrible photos of people just like us living in war zones struggling to survive. Through no fault of their own.

I believe if we make a gratitude list or count our blessings we immediately find ourselves likeable.  We can find the beauty of being alive and having the gifts we've be given - and learn to see them as an asset.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Referral

I met a man yesterday in our program who looked familiar.  But I couldn't quite place him.

When I ask where I know him from he tells me that I'm probably thinking of his brother -who was here several years ago.

He said his brother stayed at TLC for around six months. Then he returned home and hasn't used drugs since. He's now married, owns a home, and has his own construction business.

He said that when he started to go downhill, drinking and using heroin, his family told him to come here. At first he didn't want to, but then looked as his brother's life and knew what he had to do.

Now that we've been around for over 24 years these kinds of referrals happen more frequently.

There's no better advertising for a place like ours than when a family sees a loved one change their life.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Succumbing to Denial

Had he lived, tomorrow would have been my brother's 75th birthday. He died though at 60 years of age in 2001 in Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas. The cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs finally caught up with him.

It was a sad day for me because we were close during our early years. Until we each took our separate paths. He went into the Air Force for seven years. And I went down the penitentiary track.

Once he was discharged and I was released, we went our separate ways. And while we communicated often, we were never as close as when we were children. We became close then because we grew up protecting one another in an alcoholic household.

After I got sober in 1991 I tried to get him to join me. But he had a problem with the 12-steps. He would come from meetings and tell me that he "wasn't like" those other guys. In other words, he couldn't relate; he only saw how he was different from them. He couldn't see what he had in common with them.

He spent about 6 months at TLC - Las Vegas. And he had a hard time adjusting. He was angry at life and about his circumstances. Yet he couldn't see the relationship between his drinking and how he lost everything he owned. To him it was just bad luck.

He also didn't see the connection between his resentments and the anger that took him off on binges.

When he'd meet someone for the first time he'd eventually tell them about how his wife ran off with his best friend. And there was passion and anger in his voice as he told the story. It was a fresh open wound, like it had happened last week.

But when asked when it happened he say something like "15 years ago."  He carried that resentment all those years.

I feel bad about the untimely end to his life. Because he could have enjoyed the same blessings I have today.

But like many of us, he never got past denial.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Being here Now

Because I was born way in last century I've seen a lot of changes.

Today we have luxuries, gadgets, toys, and prosperity that people would have only dreamed of in the forties and fifties. And today we take those things for granted.

In the midst of last century a typical home was around 1200 square feet. About half of what most of us live in today.

Almost everyone today has a cell phone - even the homeless. And our phones today, with their internet connections, give us access to more data than Bill Clinton had when he was president.

Families usually have more than one television, a magical device that didn't show up until the early fifties.

I lead with this stuff to make a point about something that hasn't changed. And what hasn't changed is that we humans have the idea that we'll be happier with more of something. A better car. Job. House. Clothing. Job. Education.

And that's the way it was back then also. And I was one of the guilty ones who thought life would be better if I just had more stuff. Money. Girlfriend. Freedom. Etc. I was no different than anyone else.

But today, being 25 years in recovery I have a different outlook. At least most of the time.

Today I realize that this moment is where I can be happy. Not tomorrow. Not in the good old days. But right now.

I decided a few years ago that I was going to enjoy the journey and stop thinking of the destination.

Does that mean we shouldn't strive to better ourselves? No. Does that mean we shouldn't anticipate our next vacation?  Of course not, that's half the pleasure in life: anticipation.

But when these thoughts keep me from enjoying this slice of time God has given me, that's not okay.

It's fun to not hurry and enjoy the scenery along the way.  And I don't want to miss any of it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Acceptance?

Acceptance is a big deal in recovery. We talk about it in group sessions. We talk about it during individual counseling. We talk about in 12-step meetings.

In my mind it's one of the most important concepts in recovery literature. Yet, it also seems to be one of the harder ones to master. And even though we know acceptance is good for us we all spend time wresting with it in our heads. At least once in a while.

But what does acceptance mean? I've been taught that it means that whatever comes along my path is just the way it's supposed to be. Just the way our Higher Power planned it. Yet sometimes I get puzzled.

Because yesterday I was talking with a halfway house resident who had serious health issues. Heart and other problems. So, my first question to him - as it is to all our clients - was "do you smoke?"

And when he said yes, I wasn't shocked. But I also wasn't into acceptance of the way he treats himself. It's hard for me to accept that we spend endless hours helping addicts to rebuild their lives when they're almost blase about the idea that they could do something to improve their health.

So my question is this: do I just accept the fact that in spite of our best efforts this person is doing little to enhance his life and health?

True, he's quit drinking and drugging, which is admirable. But what kind of life are we staying sober for if we pollute our bodies with nicotine and junk food? And suffer poor health?

I guess acceptance sometimes means accepting what we really know is unacceptable. And that's because there are some things we're powerless to change.

Click here to email John