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, June 30, 2016

Half Over

"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot."  Michael Altshuler

I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that half the year had passed. It seemed like a minute ago it was New Year's Day. Now half the year is over. So what did we do with our time?

I know what I did. I completed my certification as a Mindfulness instructor. My wife and I took a couple of trips. We purchased two investment properties. In other words we made some kind of progress by taking regular action.

I know people who live with ideas for years before acting on them. And others never act on them.

For example I was eating with some folks I hadn't visited in a while. And they were discussing the same old subject: they wanted to lose weight. But while they were having the discussion it was over a table of rich food. And dessert came at the end.

What the saying above means is that you're in charge of what you do with your time. You are the pilot. But if you have ever observed a pilot in action you know that they are highly disciplined. Because one error could end everything. Not only for them, but for everyone on the aircraft.

Taking control of our time requires discipline - but that's also how we get to our destination.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reality

One way for me to stay emotionally even is to not take things personally.

In years past I used to think the only way to do things is the way I wanted them done. And If they didn't happen the way I wanted, then my universe was off balance. I'd immediately set it back in balance with a few drinks. Or with some drugs or combination of drugs. Then things were okay until the next morning.

As life moves forward I realize that nothing stays the same - ever. Each day is different. Each moment is different. Each second. People change. I change. And there's not much I can do about it. I have enough trouble trying to control my own life. Let alone trying to control someone else's.

My rule in life is to do no harm. But sometimes I harm them anyway because I see life different from them and they might not like it. At one time I would let myself get depressed over it.

But today I look at it as part of the unfolding of life. The people I see who get into the most trouble are those who think that life is always going to be perfect. That there are no bumps in the road.

But that's not reality.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Surrender

While it might sound counter intuitive sometimes the only way to win is to surrender.

An unhappy parent from a Southern state writes to me wondering what steps she can take to help her son. He's already in his mid-forties and has been in multiple treatment programs. He just got out of jail for driving while drunk.

The PO put him in a sober program and told him to get a job. Instead he went out and got drunk for three days and no one can find him. The mother thinks he might end up back in jail.

Her question to me is : "Can we help him?"

I answer with a brief email. I let her know that we sure can help. Except there's one slight problem: he needs to want to help himself.

Parents don't realize sometimes that they have little or no power over their children - especially when they're adults.

None of my children did what I expected. One became a heroin addict. Another has been a pastor for 20 years. Another became a soldier. Another is studying medicine.

But none of them did it because of my good directions. The ones who succeeded did it because they wanted to. And the one who became an addict made that his choice.

A long time I realized that when I want something very intensely I usually end up unhappy. So I surrender.  Am I there for them? Sure, because I love them.  But I'm not going to let what I want them to do make my life crazy.

Surrender is what I suggested to this mother who wrote me. I doubt if she does it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Accepting Ourselves

Because I was unhappy most of my childhood I did everything I could to escape. The unhappiness was about the violence and chaos of alcoholism. It was about a lot of hard work with little acknowledgement for my efforts A lot of times I felt sorry for myself.

Because television didn't exist, I whiled away my hours reading. Or I would disappear half a day, exploring the river and woods behind our house. Anything to get lost.

Because we lived in farming country in Oregon, everyone grew some kind of crop. I picked strawberries. Pulled weeds. Harvested hazelnuts. I escaped into making money, helping neighbors take care of their gardens. Or sometimes I'd feed their animals. I collected cans and bottles for the pennies they would bring.

Eventually the courts returned me to my mother in California. But I brought my childhood angst with me. I found different escapes. As a young teenager it became alcohol, pills, marijuana -anything to make me feel better.

Later, as I began going to jail, I escaped back into reading. And now it was all about self-improvement. About bettering my vocabulary. I taught myself Spanish. I learned to write and went to work as a news reporter when I got out of prison.  I learned business and communication.

Now there's nothing wrong with improving ourselves. We need to learn as much as we can so we can take care of ourselves.

But today, in my late seventies, I realize that though self improvement helped - I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I just wanted to feel better about myself. That's what I was doing, trying desperately to feel better.

Today, with 25 years recovery I have learned a different approach. I've learned that sometimes life's a bitch. And that's okay. I don't have to fix it. I don't have to change it. I accept the negative that sometimes drifts into my life. I welcome it and accept it each time it shows up; and I've learned that acccepting things exactly as they are has near magical power.  We no longer cling to outcomes.  We accept things just as they are.

Through absorbing myself in Mindfulness I've learned that just paying attention to - and accepting - whatever happens in my life sets me free.  And I've learned I don't have to like it - and I don't always have to feel good.  I've learned to be okay with things I used think were big deals.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lessons?

Sometimes it's not easy to practice what I preach. Especially when irritating and frustrating things happen to me. Because mostly my life runs smoothly with few bumps in the road.

And what I advocate for those who have challenges is to accept them as lessons.. Absorb them. Look at them as chances to grow. To have gratitude for what they have.

But this last few weeks has been an opportunity for me to practice what I advocate. And some of it's been frustrating.

For example, before we went on vacation last week both of my cars had problems. The first I caused by backing into the bumper of a truck in a parking lot. The body shop guy said no problem, not to worry about it. And the place I took the car said they'd have it ready by the time I was back from vacation. Great. Then I get a call yesterday afternoon from the shop. They said they replaced the bumper, but they didn't have the technical skill to fix the sensor they had replaced. In other words they couldn't get it to work. So Monday I get to take it somewhere else for repairs. I tell myself that I'm lucky to have a car at all.

Besides I have another car that works fine, parked in my garage. And I took it for a ride and found out everything worked fine. Except the air conditioning on the driver's side would put out only warm air - only the passenger's side had cold air. Oh, well I'd only have to drive it until my other car was out of the shop, then I could get it fixed. Again, I say to myself, well at least you're not walking.

Then at the last minute before heading for San Diego I realize I've misplaced the passports - which means no crossing into Mexico. Something I do each trip to purchase medication because they're 60-70% less expensive.  Oh well, another opportunity for growth.

And then to top things off, both of our air conditioners had stopped putting out cold air and we were greeted with a 100 degree house upon our return yesterday. Finally, my wife remembered that we have a swamp cooler. So that brought the temperature down to around 85 degrees.I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be learning here. But by the time it's all repaired I'm sure I'll have learned a bit more about patience.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tradition

Sometimes things take shape in families almost by accident. Then from there they grow into a tradition.

That happened in our family. Almost 20 years ago my oldest daughter and her husband and my grandchildren met us in San Diego for a week's get together at the beach.. My youngest daughter and I drove from Arizona to meet them. We all stayed in one three bedroom condo.

And it was so much fun that we decided to do it the next year. And it kept growing from there. And now we've been doing it since the 90s.

It seemed like no time at all before more family members got sober and joined in. Soon children were growing up and getting married, having children. We went from one condo and seven people to this year - at one point - there were 19 of us in three condos.  And we've already reserved four for next year.

It's become a tradition that has brought the family closer, And, a few years back we added a three day trip to Las Vegas.

Each year we get five rooms for three days at the Embassy Suites. We arrive the day after Christmas and spend three days - returning home in time for New Year's.

I think it's nice to give gifts to the family. But memories last much longer.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mindfulness vs. Technology

Computers have been a part of my life since the early 1980s.

And because of that I consider myself relatively competent in their use.

I can operate all kinds of office programs and know how to connect to my office computer remotely. Really not a great accomplishment is these days of technology. But to let you know that I know my way around a little bit in the technology world.

But this week I ran into a problem that I couldn't solve. At least not by following the instructions from Go To My PC, which provides my remote service. Someone, it seems, had hacked into their system.  And they forced everyone to change their passwords. Again, normally not a big deal - but I couldn't get mine to connect after multiple tries over four days.

But I practiced mindfulness all week, trying to connect to my office. But in spite of carefully following their instructions - no luck. I was very aware of my edginess about the problem and practiced deep breathing when I started feeling too impatient. Things like this would have one time gotten me high but just rolled off me.

But in spite of everything they suggested, nothing worked. Then I remembered that I had once used another company that provided a similar service. So I decided to cancel my problem service and go with them.

And wouldn't you know it? I was immediately able to resolve the problem after telling them to cancel my account. That I'd decided to go back to my old service that I had seven years ago.. One which never caused me trouble.

Their effciency in resolving my issues was amazing.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Flashback

In the midst of my morning walk I see a sixtyish man sleeping on a park bench near the beach. His long gray beard reaches almost to the grass beneath the bench. His clothing looks like it hasn't seen a washing machine in over a month. His nearby shopping cart is filled with stuff of no apparent value. Except maybe to him.

I immediately have flashbacks to over 25 years ago. That's when I was almost in the same shape. Sleeping in a stolen car. Stealing each day to get drugs and alcohol. I had no drive or motive for living. I think the thing that changed me was the pain of my existence. I still had enough brain cells left to know I could do better,

The town I lived in Arizona had a detox that cost nothing to get into. And once I left there after a week and a half I found a halfway house that took me in even though I was broke.

From there the blessings started. I lived in the haflway house for a year. And the day I left I opened TLC.

Among the blessings I have today is that I can reunite with 18 family members at Imperial Beach. Each year for the past 15 years we rent condos on the beach and socialize and relax.

I could have made other choices and kept doing what I was doing. But the will to live and do better made me change.

And one of the reasons I go to work every day at 77 is because I know there are others who can have a better life if they want it. And our job at TLC is to help them get there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sad Outcome

Though a sober living manager's job is fairly safe we do at times deal with dangerous residents.

We saw that a few days ago when a resident in his twenties got in trouble for not cleaning a bathroom in our program. He began screaming at the supervisors who brought it to his attention. And for that he got consequences.

The consequences were to clean all the toilets on the property. One manager predicted that he would leave rather than accept his consequences. He was right.

But what we saw on the news later was horrifying. The 23 year old went to his mother's home in a nearby city. When she arrived he attacked her with a 15 pound dumbbell, hitting her several times on the head. Then, according to police, he attempted to strangle her. He's now in jail facing multiple felonies, including attempted murder.

Who knows what motivated him? His mother may have sent him to us because of his drug habit. And, if so, she did the right thing. My theory is that he knew she wouldn't take him back in and took his rage out on her.

I know nothing of the background of this boy's relationship to his mother. But the potential for a bad outcome is why I always counsel parents to deal immediately with an addict child. Otherwise, he might end up killing himself - or someone else.

We can only pray that this mother recovers from her physical and emotional trauma.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Black & White

One good thing about being on vacation is that I can mingle with my teenage grandchildren and younger relatives.

And it helps me understand how we are all products of our experience. For example one of them thought that presidential cantidate Bernie Sanders would make a good president. And their reasoning was that he would provide free college, free medical care and so forth.

But when I asked them how the government would pay for all those benefits, they really hadn't thought it through. They just saw the free goodies being dangled before them.

A granddaughter, who has a Muslim girlfriend, wondered why there was so much hatred toward Muslims in the press. Why people were saying "mean" things about them? I explained to her that a small minority of terrorists were successfully spreading fear throughout the world and that she needed to spend more time looking at the bigger picture. I tell her that the majority of Muslims want peaceful and prosperous lives. They just want to raise their families and make a living.

Sometimes youth comes with a black and white thinking that's more about what they want. They seem shortsighted when it comes to what it takes to get it. Or what the consequences would be if the world was the way they thought it should be.

Even though none of them are addicts they also will face their challenges when they’re out in the real world.  Life is a good teacher.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Grateful for Pain

I know this may sound stupid, but be grateful for your pain. For pain, if we react to it right, might save our lives. I know it saved mine many years ago when I got sober.

At the time I quit using I was living in a stolen car. I had only the clothes I was wearing, and a heroin and alcohol habit that I thought was killing the pain in my life. But the reality is that it was slowly killing me.  It was a painful existence.

One day, even though I'd been offered the opportunity before - I went to a detox unit. I stayed ll days then moved into a halfway house that kindly took me in without money. I finally listened to the wisdom of my pain.

Pain is a great teacher. And not only for us addicts. People quit smoking when they finally realize what it’s doing to their lungs and the rest of their body. Once people feel pain when they look at the image in the mirror, they decide to try eating differently.

Those struggling with the pain of not being able to pay their bills eventually figure out how to find better employment. Or else start their own business.

So, pay attention to your pain. Embrace it as your friend.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day

Father's Day is a holiday that leaves me with mixed feelings. Probably because it dredges up old memories.

I have children who honor me with cards and gifts. And for that I'm grateful. And I try to be the best father that I can.  They bless me.

But the day also carries memories of the terrible relationship I had with my alcoholic father.

I remember when someone called to tell me he dropped dead at 60 from alcoholism I said "good."  And I meant it.  That's how angry I was at him for much of my life. In fact we never spoke the last 15 years he was alive.

Much of my outlook on life came from witnessing the violence and anger of my father's drinking. And quite likely my own path down the road of crime and prison stems my relationship with him.

As a child I was never nurtured by him. I never remember my father touching me except in anger as he was kicking my ass. So I learned to became an angry alcoholic, though I never took my anger out on my children. I ended up becoming a criminal and a sociopath who only felt good when I was out of my mind from drugs and alcohol - harming myself.

In the eighties I visited the cemetery in Ohio where he's in an unmarked grave to try some forgiveness. I'm not sure how well it worked because sometimes feelings of resentment and anger will come back to life.

Today I congratulate those of you who are loving and kind fathers. You are an example to your children. You send them into the world with a template for living. An example of how to treat others.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thoughts on Addiction

Half a century ago people looked upon addiction and alcoholism as a moral issue. The user could quit if they wanted. They could put down the bottle or the pipe if they just had the moral fiber.

And, indeed there are the exceptional few who can stop. I had a relative who drank whiskey every day for at least 50 years until a doctor told him it was harmful. And he didn't drink from that moment on. And he did the same with cigarettes. After 50 years he laid them down and never smoked again, dying years later of old-age.

But for most of us addicts it's more complex. Some of us grew up in homes where drugs and alcohol were the norm. I've known more than one addict who suffered from PTSD and other emotional issues because of childhood abuse. Lack of self-esteem or self-confidence is with them every day.

Even with four or five years of recovery, they still have the issues that made them want to use in the first place. And because most of our clients cannot afford treatment we offer them other ways to change. One powerful tool we use is mindfulness meditation.

University studies in Oxford, England have proved that a few minutes of mindfulness meditation is 20% more effective than depression medication. It's also more effective than other modalities for relapse prevention.  And far cheaper.

Mindfulness teaches us to look inward at our thinking. We learn to welcome the good and the ugly in our lives as simply life's path. And when we lay out the welcome mat for whatever pops into our mind we somehow steal its power to make us want to destroy ourselves with alcohol or drugs.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ask for Help

One thing I believe about human nature is that people like to be helpful.

So one of the things I never do around TLC is tell anyone what to do. You might ask why not? Why shouldn't I tell them what to do? After all, I started this program about 25 years ago. And I'm the guy who signs the paychecks.

But the real thing about telling employees what to do is that we never get as much done. My practice is to ask for their help. Because isn't that what I really want? Help with running the company? Help with a project?

Another thing I believe is that most people feel better when they know they have the ability to be helpful. It helps them feel more competent and more part of the company when they think they're helping run things. Which they are.

The one thing I've noticed about managers who order their employees around and demand their help is that their job becomes much more difficult.

Because I have a lazy side I'd much rather ask for help than to create a resentment in an employee who'll do a better job if she/he knows they're recognized and appreciated.

I suggest to our managers that they use this practice if they want to be more effective at their jobs.
And some of them actually do it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Maybe Harm Reduction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) states in its1916 report that some 47,000 died of accidental overdoses in 2014. Of that number over 18,000 involved prescription pain killers. And over 10,000 were due to heroin use.

And the report details how these numbers are increasing.

They are huge numbers, difficult for one to wrap their head around. They're so large as to be abstract to those not involved with addiction.

But they're not abstract to those who lose a loved one to a drug overdose. One minute they're with us; the next they're gone. The family members and friends get to feel the results of their loved ones. And untimely passing.

Sometimes a family member discovers the victim. But more often they learn of their loss when a police officer knocks on the door. And since many of these victims are young the rest of the family -usuallly the parents - get to live with pain the rest of their own lives.

For over 50 years I've witnessed our society collectively wonder what to do about drugs. For a long time it was let's lock them up. Then it was let’s have a war on drugs, one they've lost since the beginning. Treatment and 12-step programs have saved some addicts. Yet the epidemic grows.

I think the Europeans may be onto to something in their approach to addiction. For example Zurich, Switzerland got tired of locking up addicts. Of overdoses.  Of the spread of AIDS. Of panhandlers in the streets.

They believe in harm reduction and it's working so well that it's spreading to other countries. Click here to read more about their approach to addiction. And the positive results it’s created.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Incapable?

A few days ago a TLC resident I've known a long time relapsed once again. He's probably spent half of the past 15 years with us.

After he relapsed the stories about him started trickling back into the program. He was seen at a nearby bar, so drunk he could hardly walk. Someone else saw him at a local Circle K, drunk and panhandling.

Someone else said he'd moved into a nearby dope house that masquerades itself as a recovery program. However, on the second page of their web site they mention that "At this time, we are not able to accept individuals that are currently on parole." Hmmm. I wonder about that. The Parole Department has good reasons for where they place parolees.

In any case, I was saddened to hear of his relapse. I've know this person at least 15 years. And he's probably relapsed a number of times. We always take him back because we fear that he'll die if we don't.  But this last time he came back to the program I felt he might make it.

He'd found a sponsor. He chaired meetings. He did it by the book. Plus, he'd started having random seizures for which he was taking medication. Something I thought might add to his motivation to stay sober.

In the AA literature there's a phrase about some alcoholics being "constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves."

I'm not trying to be judgmental, but it's difficult to find an explanation for someone who can only stay sober in a controlled environment.

In any case I pray that he survives.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Stuff Happens

At one time what happened yesterday afternoon would have had me enraged. I might have even thrown something or used some profanity. At the very least I would have been depressed.

What happened was that while backing out of a parking spot I ran my car’s rear bumper into the front bumper of a heavy pickup parked behind me. I have no excuse for it. I wasn’t tired. My dashboard has a backup window the size of a television. I just wasn’t paying attention. Fortunately I was only going 2-3 miles an hour so not much happened to the truck.

And when I looked at my car it doesn’t look too serious either. But the last time someone ran into it and did just a little damage it came to nearly $2,000. That’s because it’s a luxury car. So I’m expecting something around that amount for this repair.

What I noticed later though was my reaction. It was minimal to nothing at all. I immediately accepted the idea that I must constantly pay attention when my car is moving. I accepted that I’d had a lapse in attention.

And probably because I’m growing more mature in my recovery and meditation I know on a deep level that nothing stays the same nor lasts forever. We live in a constantly changing world where no two days are exactly the same.

I tell myself I’m lucky to have a vehicle at all. I’ve learned to not become overly attached to material things because someday they’ll be sitting in someone’s scrap yard waiting to be turned into some other model of expensive car or gadget.

Not only that, in my early recovery I was delighted to have a bicycle to ride. And then later someone gave me an old beater of a car that got me around for six months.

In any case, what I must keep in mind is that they’re only things – and only temporary.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Spirituality

There are many definitions of spirituality on the internet and in dictionaries. Some define it as a connection to a religion. Others define it as a connection to something larger than ourselves. Most all agree it's intangible - as opposed to physical.

In any case, it was the topic of a business meeting held by the TLC staff.  Various managers talked about how they maintained their spiritual fitness.

Some spent a few moments in prayer. Others read a meditation book while having a cigarette and coffee first thing in the morning. Of the 40 plus managers, none had the exact same view of spirituality.

My view of spirituality is that it's not something we practice only in the morning. Or just part time.

I believe that if something goes sideways in my day it's because I've lost my spiritual connection. For example, if I find myself angry or upset at someone there's nothing spiritual about that. If I find myself always in a hurry or impatient there's nothing spiritual about that either.

Being spiritual, to me, doesn't mean that I'm constantly in prayer or meditation. But it does mean that my life is running smoothly and that things are in balance. It means, above all that I'm kind and compassionate to others.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dangers of being Special

There are those I know who think they're special. Either they were taught that by their parents. Or they maybe even came up with that idea on their own. Wherever it came from it's a deadly toxin that undermines their growth and hinders their potential.

I know a middle-aged man who was mostly raised by his grandmother, a lady who believed she had his best interests at heart. At least I think she did the best she could.

Since he was a handsome and intelligent child she used to feed him such crap as that everything in life should be given to him. That he probably wouldn't even have to work because some beautiful woman would scoop him up and support him. And the weird thing is that he made that the story of his life. He believed it.

But somehow her efforts to build his self-esteem backfired. The story she told him didn't follow the script. He ended up marrying an average middle class woman, having children, and working for a while. But then his life took a dive. He became a drug addict and spent a large part of his thirties and forties locked up.

Today he's in and out of jail. Sleeping on couches. Panhandling or doing odd jobs. And I think it was all because he was pumped full of this idea of his wonderful self-worth.

I believe we should reward our children for thier accomplishments and successes. And when they fall down, don't lie to them and tell them they did well. Let them know when they failed - and let them know they can do better.

But they can only do that by living in the real world.  Not an artificial world based on wishful thinking by parents who boost a child's ego and cripple him or her for life.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Patience

When people used to say "patience is a virtue," I really didn't understand it as I do today.

My attitude was to hell with patience. I want what I want. And I want it right now. You be patient if you want to. But I want it all. And the sooner the better.

But as time goes on I've come to believe that patience is probably one of our primary virtues.

Today I know that being patient is almost a spiritual thing. For example if 25 years ago I've have been given all the blessings I have today I woudn't have known how to manage or take care of them. Because I never had gratitude for the things that came to me without much effort on my part. I'd just fritter them away and move on to the next thing I could ruin.

In 1992 if someone has asked me to describe what life would be like in 25 years I would have drawn a small picture.

Of course no one asked me. I simply got up and went to work each day. I didn't move too fast. Yet everything I wanted showed up in my life just when I needed.

If I needed a house for incoming clients, somehow it would show up. Even though I didn't have credit for the first seven years of my recovery I was able to house hundreds of addicts. People would sell me property with no money down. Once I got three houses with no interest payments.

It became so routine for things to show up just when I needed them that I never worry about finances or employees today. If we need equipment, or housing, or a new staff member, I tell the staff to just tie off for a day or two. What we need will show up.

I get so many parents who write me about their children. Their letters are beautiful, sometimes so painful I want to cry for them. I suggest that their child is out there on the streets learning what doesn't work. And sometimes I get happy letters back telling me that their kid returned and he's in recovery.

I believe that God, our Higher Power, or the Universe has our interests at heart. And when we walk the path of patience we might get better answers than we even hoped for.

It happened for me. Today I have a wonderful life.  A beautiful wife who takes good care of me.  A staff that loves our clients and does their best to help them get better.  More material things than I need. And I attribute much of it to the idea that I've grasped the virtue of patience.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Acceptance

Acceptance is my answer today.

Yesterday was one those days when it seemed like the world tilted a bit. That everything had started going sideways.

And usually things like that happen when things appear to be going smoothly and everything is in the place it's supposed to be.

But rather than get into acceptance - as I recommend that others do when things go wrong - I found myself trying to sort out everything at once. And I've learned over the past several years that things don't always work out well when I take that approach. And today was one of them. And this usually happens to me when I react - rather than take my time and think things through.

This evening, I'm back on track. And I realize why most people aren't in business. Because they can't deal with the stresses that sometimes go along with it.

The thing that keeps me on track today is accepting that if things can get screwed up, they will. And the more moving parts things have the more likely something'll go wrong.

This evening will close out with acceptance, meditation, and the realization that the world doesn't always work the way I think it should.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Unhappy Mother

Today started out perfectly with a complaint from a client's mother.

She called to complain about one of our house managers. And she says she has "documentation" to back up everything she's telling me. And that she'd fax it to me as soon as we were done talking.

She said she lives across the street from our house and is able to observe what goes on there. Plus, her son has been with us for two and half years. So she has a lot of inside information.

Among her complaints was that the manager treats her son poorly. The son lost his ID so it's difficult for him to find work. She says the manager puts a lot of pressure on him to get his ID straightened out so he can find a job. In fact he's been pressuring him for the past month.

However, she says that other residents don't have identification and our manager doesn't bother them at all.

Further she said the manager lets his favorite clients stay out all night, even though it's against the rules. Also, she says he rides around with women in our company vehicle - also against the rules. There was a lot more, but you get the idea. A lot of complaints.

My question is that if our place is so terrible why doesn't she move her son across the street to her house? Hmm...

In any case I'm still monitoring the fax machine. And so far no "documentation" has come in.

I guess I'll check it again in the morning.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer Time

While talking to someone yesterday in an Eastern city they ask how we're able to endure the Arizona summers. I think our night-time low was their daytime high for the previous day.

And I gave my usual answer. "We do the same thing in the summer here that you do in the winter there. We stay inside when it gets too intense." In other words we adapt.

When one opens the door here on the first 110 degree day it's like walking into a blast furnace from hell. But then the next day doesn't have quite the same impact. And within a week or so hot just seems normal.

One upside is that my pool is perfect clear through October. The streets aren't packed with winter visitors. And most of those who work outside try to quit by midday.

Another upside is that unless you're really important, casual wear is mandatory. Only extremely important people wear ties around here in the summer.

And the halfway house program gets prepared for a population increase. It's just a little too hot to live on the streets here June through August. Staying high and living outdoors here in the summer is extremely risky - though there are those who can't fight the compulsion.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Maybe Ego?

A client was telling the group how he's afraid to do his fifth step. For those not familiar with AA that's the step where we share the results of our 4th step with another person, usually a sponsor.

When he asked why he felt so bad when certain things came up, the group facilitator suggested it might be his ego. And that response appeared to surprise him.

After all, the facilitator asked, what makes you think the things you've done are so much more terrible that what others have done? There are many of us addicts who've done descpicable things, awful things, when we were using.

And we're not in a tiny minority. Many people in the world have done terrible things - both alcoholics and non- alcoholics. So we shouldn't feel so unique that we color the rest of our lives with depression and lack of self-worth.

Nor should we be pleased with ourselves. What we must do is learn from the past. To resolve to stay on a better path

We need to not go back where we came from. Nor do we need to try to make up for lost time. We need to stay on the path of recovery and realize that we are good enough just as we are.  Just as our Creator made us.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sponsorship

Yesterday I was honored to see the 12th step in action when a man with 42 years' sobriety shared his story at a meeting.

The 12th step says, "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

This man is a great example of how this step works. He is always available to those who need an explanation of how the steps work. And he's particularly effective because he's able to express himself with a touch of humor and a lot of humility. When anyone needs a sponsor he never turns them down.

I know this because he's been my sponsor for around 20 years. In fact, I first met him when he was the director of the detoxification unit I went into when I first became sober.

Some seven years after I left that unit I asked him to become my sponsor.  And he's been there for me ever since.

I remember on my seventh birthday he told me somethng I've never forgotten. He said "You think this is as good as it gets, but it gets better." At the time I have everything a man could want: job, home, savings, all the blessing from the promises.  I didn't know how life could get better.

But it turns out he was right. Life has gotten better. And it's because I've been able to grow spiritually - to become a better human being.

And it's all due to a sponsor who's been patient and loving with me.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Acceptance

A woman resident in group was telling me how unhappy she was. But she didn't know why.

When I told her I knew why, she looked at me like I was crazy.

"So you can read minds?" she asked me, skepticism in her voice.

"No," I replied, "but it's not complicated."

And I went on to explain that if she was unhappy there was some condition in her life she didn't like. Maybe some material thing she didn't have. Maybe something she felt guilty about.

Whatever it was there was something in her life that she wasn't accepting. That she didn't want to live with.

And the way she could change her unhappiness was to change her perspective. If she can't change things in her life, accept them. And at that very moment of acceptance she'll feel much freer and lighter.

I give this same advice to many parents who wonder what to do about an addict child. And my answer is always treatment. But if the child doesn't want treatment there's not much you can do but be miserable.

If the parents accept that the child is going to be an addict until life becomes too painful, they - at least - will be happier. Because they have come to grips with the reality that they have no power over the child.

And when the child is ready for treatment they can be there to help. And they won't have spent their days being unhappy waiting for the the kid to change.

Accept whatever it is - and you'll be much happier.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Happiness

I was reading a study on happiness the other day and it confirmed things I’ve read before. But I thought I would share it anyway because some of you might be unaware of the results. And if you’re in your younger years you might find it uplifting.

About 28,000 people aged 18 to 88 took part. The first time I read this a few years ago it kind of surprised me. Because I thought the happiest segment of our society would be those in their 20's. But not so.

"The good news is that with age comes happiness," said study author Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist. "Life gets better in one's perception as one ages."

Yang's findings are based on periodic face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans from 1972 to 2004. About 28,000 people aged 18 to 88 took part.

This subject interests me because many of our TLC clients are in their twenties and thirties. Yet many of them are dissatisfied with their lives. On the surface it would appear they have everything to live for. Many have supportive families. They're healthy. Some have some schooling behind them already. Yet life is so depressing to many that they need drugs or alcohol to get through the day.

But maybe the realization that as life goes on they'll gain happiness will encourage some to try to live without chemicals. Although the viewpoint of many of our younger clients is that they want what they want when they want it. And that might keep them from looking very far into the future.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Write your Story

A client shares that he has no self-worth. That he's not worth-while because he hasn't accomplished anything. That he's a drug addict.

And he goes on during the group to explain that he bases his poor self assessment on the fact that others in his family went to college. Started businesses. Are married and raising families. That most of those he went to school with are successful at something. And all he's ever done is use drugs and work in dead-end jobs.

But someone in the group inserted a bit of wisdom. He asked why the client had to label himself based on what others expect of him. Because it's sometimes hard to shed labels. If we have a negative self image we're going to use that label as a code to live by unless we shake it.

Many of us have known those who have been branded as losers turn out to be outstanding successes by most standards. But first they had to say no one's going to label me - and they changed their lives.

I once was in prison with a man who had a 4th grade education. He was a tattooed ghetto rat who looked like the best job he might land would be at the local car wash. Yet, some ten years later he had a degree in philosophy and was the featured speaker at an international conference on general semantics. He was a man who had the toughness of spirit to not let others label him. Or hold him back.  He decided who he was.

To change your perspective realize that tomorrow is the first day of your life. You can write the script however you want. Write your own story then start believing it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

On a Mission

The longer I'm around the more old ideas I give up. I used to think everyone shared my one time obsession of making a lot of money. And to accumulate things.

In fact, at one time I made sure that our key people made a good salary. Maybe 20-30% more than the going rate. But, when it was all over they almost bankrupt the company. On top of that, some of them relapsed, lost everything they had, and ended up homeless. That’s when I realized I'd missed something.

And the thing I missed was that people will work harder if they have a mission in life than for any other reason. Addicts, like other people, want a sense of security and want to feel like they belong. And TLC provides that.

We provide recovery education, employment, and a sense of family. That's why we've had some addicts who've worked with us for over 20 years. And when the economy got tough, many of our top people took heavy pay cuts. And a few worked for no pay at all. They had such an emotional investment in this project and a sense of belonging that they did everything they could to keep our mission alive.

So like I said at the beginning I had to give up some of my old ideas. I help people belong. I help them have a sense of purpose. And while they're not getting rich, we do everything we can to meet their needs. If they need glasses or dental work or have other medical needs we do what we can to meet them. If they have no family and they're terminally ill, we allow them to live out their days here - whether they have money or not.

Possessions and money isn't what life is about: It's about what we can do to lift up our fellow man. That’s what we do here.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Needing to Work

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"
. - Albert Einstein

We hear this quote often in the rooms of recovery. It's almost cliche. But for many of us in recovery it seems like it takes a long time to sink in.

I bring this up today because one of our 750 clients decided to leave on the spur of the moment because he "needed to work." Apparently he found a sober house that would allow him to begin work the day he arrived. Even though he'd only been clean for a few weeks.

So what's wrong with that you ask? After all, the man's been sober a few weeks. Work's an honorable thing for a man to do in our society. But there's a problem with this.

This client didn't come to us because he was looking for an employment service. He came to us because we were the last door on the block. He had no place to go, and he was out of dope. His family didn't want him. He had nothing but the clothes on his back. He was as homeless as a stray dog. But after a few weeks he somehow twisted around in his head the idea that money was his problem. If he could just make a little money things would be okay.

The only problem with his thinking is that as soon as an addict in early recovery gets a few dollars in his pocket it's off to the connection. In the past 25 years we've seen thousands of addicts come in our doors and leave as soon as they get their first paycheck.

Then it's on to the next program. And the cycle repeats itself until he's either dead or in enough pain to realize his way hasn't been working.

We preach that money is never an addict's problem. It's always about recovery. Once a man or woman gets clean it's like being reborn. Life is fresh again. Usually in less than a year the family begins to trust him once again. It's a beautiful process to watch an addict blossom into recovery.

We can only hope that someday recovery will happen for this man who "just needed to work."