Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How we Work

At TLC we provide a continuum of care.

It starts from when a client walks in the door, until they move into one of our sober living units months later.

At the beginning - if they need it - we send them to a detoxification unit. Once they're sent back they undergo a three day orientation period to show them how TLC functions and what's expected of them.

Then, unless they have a job, we put them on a labor ticket until they get a week ahead on their service fees of $110 a week. It usually takes them a few weeks to get ahead. But once they're ahead a week they're free to search for a better job than working on one of our labor tickets.

While we advertise as a ninety day program, we find that those who have the most success stay longer. We have some clients who've been with us 15 years and more. Those who stay a year add to their chances of success because they've gotten into the habit of staying sober and living a normal life. They get into a routine of going to meetings and making new friends in recovery.

Those who move to our sober living apartments have an opportunity to live in the community with minimal restrictions. They're still subject to drug testing. But it's a great opportunity for them to have inexpensive housing. Something many of them can't do because they have an arrest record.

Our system works well for those who are serious about life change and living sober.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Growing

January 13, 1992, when I was sober a year, I was living by myself in a broken down house in Mesa, Arizona. I'd bought it - and the two small houses in back of it - for no money down. All I had to pay was the $375 in closing costs.

The floors were rotting. In fact, while standing in front of the toilet, one of my feet went through the floor.

Cockroaches were everywhere - even inside the curtain rods. There was a pile of used tires sitting in the front yard, next to a broken down car. The yard was full of weeds and cactus and dead orange trees.

The roof leaked and the place needed painting. Everything was wrong with it.

Yet I couldn't have been happier. I was living in TLC's first halfway house and I was the first resident. My goal was to have the place livable and ready for occupants by March 15, 1992, a goal we reached.

I bring this up because I realized we've come a long way since 1992. With zero government funding and a lot of hard work we've grown from that one house to over 40 properties.

And I chose this as the subject today because this coming week we're adding a 19 unit apartment complex and a house to our inventory. This will allow us to increase our population to around 900.

900 beds for addicts without resources to work on their sobriety and rebuild their lives.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Starting Over

Some days start out better than others. But yesterday wasn't one of them.

I usually start my day with meditation and exercise.

Then, whatever I'm doing, I stop to feed the dogs at exactly 6:15 a.m. And that's because at 6:30 I have to give one of the dogs, Jose, his insulin shot. The doctor said wait until 15 minutes after he eats, then give him the shot.

But yesterday morning, when I opened the bedroom door to go down and feed them, I smelled this odor. Like rotting flesh. It was so bad I almost threw up.

It didn't take long to find the source. Jose, the Chihuahua, had found a large dead bird that had been cooking in the yard all night and brought it into the house. He was on his blanket in front of the TV, busily tearing it apart and eating it.

When I told him in my big voice to give me the bird, he refused. Instead he kept eating it. And when I reach down to push him away, he nipped me on the hand. I tried it again with the same result. Now I was pissed.

I had to use more cunning. So instead of trying to take the bird, I took the blanket and rolled both him and the bird up in it. Then I took them outside and dumped them on the ground. I finally disposed of the bird and blanket. Then began getting the dead bird smell out of the house. I found that Febreze works great.

Needless to say Jose got his insulin shot late.

And I started my day over.  And while it tested my patience, at least it didn't smell bad.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Testimonial

Once in a while I get an email like this one - written from the heart - by a TLC graduate.  I wanted to share his gratitude with you:

"Hello John..... Hoping all is well with you..

Sometimes when I am out in the community I hear negative things about Transitional Living Communities. For instance, while waiting to cross the street the other day I over heard the following conversation between two disheveled people sitting on a park bench. "You don't wanna go to TLC, f*** TLC. They wanted me get up early and work all the time... They all about the money and they got bugs."

I have also heard complaints from parents about how unfair their forty plus year old son was "treated" as a resident of TLC because he had to be up by 6 AM or earlier and that TLC didn't serve the food that their son likes to eat.

Before I made the decision in 2012 to return to TLC, the places that I lived had bugs as well. Like the two story oleander bush that I slept under on 27th Avenue and the I-17 freeway, and along the Colorado River near the Mexico/Arizona border. After a while of knowing the true feeling of being alone and exhausting all of my resources to obtain money for methamphetamines and booze, the TLC Roosevelt House started looking pretty darn good!!!!

Granted there are some people that are homeless due to extreme examples of bad luck. It is my experience that most people end up homeless and alone because of drugs and alcohol. I personally had to surrender to win. Today I live a sober and relatively happy life. TLC gave me a safe sober environment for me to have structure and suggested that I go to AA meetings and get a sponsor to help me get through the 12 steps. I was told that nobody was going to put any effort into me until I started putting some effort into myself. Therefore, I was able to start making some positive changes. I was able to realize what was wrong with me, instead of looking at what I thought was wrong with the rest of the world.

Thanks to God, Transitional Living Communities, and Alcoholics Anonymous and the people that have come before me in sobriety, I am able to live a simple and peaceful life today... Thank you for hearing me out."  (name left out to protect anonymity)


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Enabling

A woman in recovery told me an interesting story yesterday. It was about how her parents enabled her all of her life. They never wanted her to be without or suffer. And it wasn't until they both died at an advanced age that she was able to get sober.

Often I write of the dangers of enabling our children by not holding them accountable. By not allowing them to be responsible for their lives.

Many residents of TLC only came to us after everyone else was through with them - including their parents.

It's easy to understand how parents get into enabling. Many of them feel they owe their children because they weren't able to give them the best upbringing. Maybe they were poor. Or divorced. Perhaps they were addicts themselves.

In any case, they get the subconscious idea that had they raised the child differently they wouldn't have become an addict.

So when they discover the child is an addict they procrastinate. They allow them to live at home even though they know they're using.

They're afraid to give an ultimatum because they fear losing their love. Or they're afraid the child might overdose before getting help. The scenarios are endless.

I generally suggest parents tell their child they'll help them get into recovery. But if that doesn't work, then they're done. No more help. No more using the car. Or sleeping on the couch. No more handouts.

Some don't have the stomach to take this strong of a position. But I know that once my family and others quit helping me over 25 years ago it changed my life. At first I was angry. I thought they didn't love me.

Today I know how much they really did care.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Miracle Cure?

For around 30 years I've had hepatitis C. Probably from sharing dirty needles. For many of those afflicted with this virus it can be a death sentence. It progressively destroys the liver if left untreated. Fortunately my liver has remained healthy all this time.

I bring this up after asking a halfway house client with Hep C how his treatment was going. Several months ago he said his doctor told him that his liver was getting worse. That he might need treatment. So I wondered if he'd made any progress.

When we spoke yesterday he told me that he had been on a course of treatment for, I believe, less than two months. And now, after such a short period, the virus is no longer detectable. In other words, he's cured.

I know that many of our population at TLC has Hep C. I encourage you to speak to your doctor about it. Some reports I've read show that 96% are cured within 12 weeks.  And it's something that's covered by AHCCCS, as I understand it.

Truly a miracle when a potentially fatal disease can be cured in such a short time by taking one pill a day for a few weeks.

Click here to email John

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Happy Life

If you're not happy you might look closer at your life.

When I was growing up, there was a philosophy many people lived by. It was go to school, get a good job, get married, own a house and a decent car. Retire with benefits and chill from then on.

Of course, those who believed that were from my parent's generation. Those who lived through the depression and World War II. And maybe some of them were happy when they acheived those goals.

I never asked them. While they were alive I was pursuing my version of happiness. Which was to  stay drunk and high for as long as I could.

And once I tired of the pain and misery I got sober and started living kind of like other people

It wasn't until later that the happiness question came up for me. I'd acquired what many consider success: happy marriage, business, friends, great income, investments, and so forth.

While these things are great, there's one thing that gives me special satisfaction. And that's giving others the opportunity to change their lives.

Every once in a while I'll be in public and someone will come up and thank me for helping them. And most of the time I don't remember them. They were at TLC years earlier. They now have a family, a good job or business.

They give us credit for their success. And I'm gracious and thank them. But the reality is that somewhere within they had a desire for a better life.

And they used our program to pull themselves up - just the way we designed it.  And that makes me happy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Self-Esteem

Here at TLC we often deal with those who have what they call "self-esteem" problems. It's a subject that often comes up in the weekly aftercare group I've been running for over 15 years.

And I agree with many of them. They do have poor self-esteem.

Most have used drugs much of their lives. Many of them have been in jail or institutions for years. Some have been homeless and never had a steady job. Some have never paid child support. Or learned a trade. Not a lot to feel good about.

So what to tell them? How to help them feel better about themselves?

My approach is usually to tell them to start with little things. Go to work every day. Make your bed and put your living space in order each morning.

Take care of your health. See the doctor for regular checkups. Start a fitness program.  Quit eating fast food.

Go to meetings and help out. Get a sponsor. Start being an example to younger addicts and alcoholics who need a role model.

If you don't have an education start out with getting a G.E.D.

Start changing these external behaviors and how you feel about yourself will change. Guaranteed.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Shoplifting

Yesterday afternoon I got a reminder of my life over 25 years ago.

It happened while I was walking into a supermarket to deposit a paycheck. As I was entering the front door I became aware of a loud scuffle near the other entrance to the market. Off to my right.

At first I thought it was a husband and wife fighting about something. Maybe a domestic dispute.

Then I realized it was a couple of store detectives trying to take two boxes of merchandise from a young woman. She put up a good scrap, and screamed a lot. But they finally took whatever she had away from her.

Then when they tried to take her into custody that's when she got serious. Both of them were unable to subdue her. She finally made it to a pickup truck and quickly drove off. But not before the store employee wrote down her license number.

As I went into the store about my business I reflected on the incident. In my mind it was only one thing: a drug addict so desperate that she was willing to sacrifice her freedom to take care of her habit.

And I remembered a time when I regularly risked my freedom to feed my addiction. Then I got lucky and found my way to recovery.

Hopefully this woman will someday have the same kind of luck.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Saying No

It's not unusual for us to get a call from the other side of the country from someone who wants our help.

The scenario might go something like this: The person is homeless. Strung out on meth or something else. Has no job skills. Their family won't help them. Some have been in more than a dozen treatment programs or halfway houses, jails, prisons or mental institutions.

The story goes on. The person might be on several medications. Maybe they're on parole or probation. They have mental issues. Oh, and since they're broke could we send them a bus ticket?

These are frustrating calls. I mean how do we help someone who has so many issues. And who's never succeeded no matter what help they've received.

At one time, when we didn't have as much experience, we'd try to help most anyone. Even with the set of issues I've described above. As long as they were an addict.

But we've learned that our program is not for everyone. There are those who need to be in a mental facility because they can no longer function without 24 hour supervision.

I bring this up today because I get a call from a mother begging me to help her son. And she's been making these calls for 20 years. And for the first few years we'd try to help her.

Until we realized we were working harder at changing her son's life than he was. Or that he was so mentally ill that he couldn't help himself. 

 We learned how to surrender and say no.

Click here to email John


Thursday, July 21, 2016

R.I.P.

At 2:22 a.m. yesterday, my former brother-in-law, and friend drew his last breath in a California hospital. He's now pain-free.

I feel loss because he was someone I'd known since I was 21, when his sister and I first met. While she and I didn't last, he and I remained friends all those years.

We remained friends after I left California, even though we rarely communicated. Once in a while I would see him on my periodic visits to see my children.

When we first met we were on the same path: lots of partying and drugs. Later, when I left California I took a different path. I went to work and got sober in 1992.

However, as far as I know, the words "recovery" or "sobriety" never came out of his mouth. Even though his brother and other members of his family got sober, he never did.

But he knew that if he ever needed help there were plenty of resources available. But he was okay with what he was doing.

He was a down-to-earth and simple person. He did odd jobs, like working in car washes. Just enough for him to get money to take care of his habits. His using never took him to prison, though he did a little time in jail once in a while - though I'm not sure what for.

Even though he was known as the "Brown Bomber" who got into a lot of scraps when he had too much too drink, he was loving and protective of his family and friends.

He was basically a gentle spirit who was loved and respected by those who knew him.

May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Seeing Myself

Something that's helped me last for over 25 years in the recovery field is that I started my addiction young. I started using in my teens and continued into my early fifties - around 38 years.

Now, mind you, that wasn't 38 years straight. For some 16 years of that time I was a ward of the state.. I was locked up periodically for possession and other crimes that go with using. And one of those years I spent in a State Hospital in Norwalk, California.

I bring this up because when we first started the outpatient clinic I was sometimes dismayed at the way clients acted. They would lie. Cheat. Steal. Break curfew and every other rule. Give us dirty UAs. I wondered why they were even there.

Then one day I realized I behaved the same way when I was in my twenties. I lied about everything. Stole. Cheated. During those years I - like many of our clients - was my own worst enemy.

Once I recognized myself in these young clients I developed a lot more patience. More tolerance. I'm much more willing to give a client who screws up another chance.

Today I realize it takes a certain amount of pain before we're motivated to change. I can only hope and pray that our clients last long enough to get the message.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A different Model

As a member of NAADAC, the national association of addiction professionals I receive regular email newsletters from them.

They had an article about congress voting 181 million in funding toward treatment of addicts.

I agree congress is headed in a somewhat positive direction with their support. But I doubt if even 181 billion would make a real difference when it comes to doing much for the 24 million addicts in this country.

At 77 I've seen at least fifty years of the "so-called" war on drugs. I've seen no decrease in drug use. Prisons are full of addicts. And millions of dollars get wasted each year on enforcement. As if punishing an addict will somehow teach them a lesson.

Our country needs to look at the Europeans. They have less punitive drugs laws, their prisons have few drug users, AIDS is declining. And addiction is decreasing.

But don't believe me. Look at Switzerland's drug policies. They actually give heroin to addicts, with some restrictions. It seems that after using six years most heroin addicts decide to quit on thier own.

:Portugal is another country that has legalized most drugs. Check out thier results.

Our drug policies must change; but they won't change by throwing money at them.

We must stop looking at drugs as a "moral" issue and start treating it as the public health issue that is.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Enjoying the Journey

We were in California Saturday and Sunday. Just a couple days of loafing in a hotel, with a view of the bay. About a mile from the airport.

One of the beautiful spots in the world. Someplace we might think about living. Except that we live in Arizona, helping others get sober. It's also where many of our family members live. Our roots are in the desert, far from ocean breezes.

I was reflecting yesterday - while driving here - about how much of a hurry everyone was to get here. I don't drive like most senior citizens; I usually keep it about 5-6 miles over the speed limit. Yet, even though I have one of the fastest production cars on the planet, I try to enjoy the journey as much as possible.

Our route takes us through beautiful mountains and deserts, yet I had SUVs blowing me off the highway trying to get here.

And while I understand emergencies, getting to the beach - or to a cooler climate - isn't one of them. Every time I go to San Diego, depending on the time of year, it's pretty much the same. I'm not going to miss anything by being in a hurry. Plus, when I get here I'll be relaxed and ready to enjoy the destination.

Even if someone gets here half an hour ahead of me, what will they do with that extra half hour? Will they unpack before we do? Will they check-in before we do? And what will they do with those extra minutes by getting here before everyone else?

I've learned that enjoying the moment and the journey is what life is all about. And I'm going to do my best to live that philosophy.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mixed Feelings

Today I have mixed feelings. I get a call from my daughter about her uncle, the Brown Bomber, who's in the hospital.

He's had a cancerous lung removed. Overnight his kidneys started shutting down. He has a breathing tube down his throat and is under sedation.

When she asks the doctor about his chances he shakes his head and says it doesn't look good.

A while back he told me he was tired- that he wanted to die. And I understand why.

Some 12 years ago he had a stroke while in jail. And because of poor and untimely care he's spent the last 12 years paralyzed in a wheelchair, while living in a nursing home.

One relative tried to care for him, but couldn't deal with the responsibility. She ended up leaving him at a bus stop in his wheel chair.

My mixed feelings come from losing someone I've known for over fifty years, since he was a teen. On the one hand the idea of recovery never crossed his mind. But on the other, he was a kind and loyal friend and protective of those he cared about.

People criticized him for drinking and drugging. But - as with anyone else - that was his choice - one he pursued all his life.  A few relatives were unhappy with me because I'd send him money each month; they said he used it for drugs or alcohol.

But I don't condemn those who get high.  I'm not an evangelist who preaches that everyone should get sober.  I'm simply an addict who's here to help those who do want to quit using and rebuild their lives.

On one hand I hate to see him suffer. On the other, I hate to lose someone I've know for much of my life.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Some are Sicker

When I first came into the 12-step rooms I'd hear the phrase "some are sicker than others."
But it's taken most of my 25 years of sobriety to fully realize the depth of the that statement. I just thought it was some kind of buzz term.

And as the years passed I've met some who really are sick in ways that are difficult to understand.

I've met men who had all the education, presence, and charm to do whatever they wanted in life. Yet they couldn't stay clean. In fact, before they started using they had everything a man could want. Yet they lost it all.

I remember one of of our former managers who could speak about recovery in a way that was eloquent and moving. He would bring tears to the eyes. Yet the police found him dead in a pile of liquor bottles in Apache Junction.

Another man was a marketing manager for a large corporation. He'd stay sober for six or seven months then relapse. He was found dead of alcohol poisoning in a field in Phoenix.

I have a long list of people just like these who couldn't overcome their demons. They couldn't face whatever was going on in their heads. So they threw their lives away trying to drown their demons.

Today I accept that many are too sick to make it into long term recovery.  I understand the phrase.

Still, it's frustrating when there's a simple set of rules to follow that makes the difference for those who succeed.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Meditation

In a recent article about her mindfulness practice a woman writes that at times she uncovers emotions that make her uncomfortable.

She explained that she expected something else when she first began meditating. She thought that she would float in constant bliss. That she would have perpetual joy and peace in her life. But that wasn't how it happened.

She said she often uncovered painful emotions that she'd covered up for years. She said that many times it was like peeling a band aid off an old wound that had never quite healed. She said that at first she found little peace. But she stuck with her practice anyway. And today things are good enough that she plans to continue.

Jon Kabat Zinn's definition of mindfulness is "fully aware of present experience, with acceptance." He says one should pay attention to whatever thoughts they have, accept them, then let them drift away.

And I like his definition. Because the more I pay attention to my thinking, the more peace and clarity I have.

As does this woman writer I sometimes face bad memories I'd long forgotten. Then while I'm in practice they'll pop up. But I do as suggested and accept them.

For me, the acceptance somehow takes away their power. And I do become more calm and peaceful.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Burnout

To keep from suffering burnout we make an effort to keep an emotional distance from the clients. And sometimes that's difficult.

After all, many of those we deal with are personable and charming. They may share heart wrenching stories of their upbringing. Stories that put their addiction in perspective. It's easier to understand why they're on a path of self- destruction. And it's easier to help them change direction.

Unraveling their stories might help them deal with their dilemma. To help them realize there's hope if they give themselves time for the process of recovery to take hold.

Yet all too often something triggers relapse and we have to start over. Because we never give up on a client as long as they're putting in some kind of effort toward positive change.

Through this back and forth process, though, we come to know them quite well. So when they do relapse or leave early it has a strong impact on our counselors.

After all, most who choose this field get into it because they have empathy and compassion. And it can be difficult to not have feelings when a client doesn't make it.

And too many times those feelings can lead to burnout.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Repairing the Damage

Many of our halfway house clients have done serious damage to themselves during their addiction. Our job is to help them rebuild their lives so they can at least function in society.

And the damage takes many forms. Some have hepatitis C from sharing needles. Others have emphysema from years of smoking. Some have injured themselves in accidents or fights. A few have AIDS.

Others, those who have spent a lot of time locked up, have poor social and communication skills. They still abide by the values of the big yard in a world that has left them behind. Some have tattoos on their faces that can impede them when they're seeking employment or in a social situation.

Without a lot of motivation many of these clients may never improve. The best we can hope for is that they stay with us long enough to learn to live without alcohol or drugs. If we can achieve that goal we feel we've accomplished something.

Once in a while we have a client come in who is on fire to change. They learn to take care of their health. They start eating better. They quit smoking. Some start working out. They know they can live better than they have been. And they're willing to make the effort to change.

They're the ones that make it worth while to come to work in the morning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Facing Emotions

Some of us let our emotions push us around. Like a ship at sea, we let ourself get pushed this way and that. Never at ease. Never comfortable with ourselves.

And for many of us the solution is to drink. Or smoke something. Swallow a pill. Do something to at least take temporary charge of how we feel. We get it inside of us - then we're back in power. We're okay for a minute.

But what if we tried a different approach? What if, just once, we stood up to our feelings? So what if we're sad? Or angry? Or depressed?

What's the worst thing that can happen? For a while we may suffer being upset or down on ourselves.

Looking at our feelings as something temporary or passing takes away their power. I guarantee that in five minutes of reading this line you'll feel different. Maybe better, maybe worse. But definitely different.

Our emotions can be like roller coasters taking us on wild rides. Or they can be like lounging on a raft on a quiet forest lake. But good or bad - I promise you they'll change.

Learn to embrace them. Learn to love them. Then they'll be easier to live with.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Letting Go

"Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free." Thich Nhat Hanh

What is worth giving up our freedom? Because that's what we do when we hang on or cling - to anything.

It happens to me often when I plan my day. I'll get to the office and have everything scheduled. I feel efficient. Competent. I tell myself I'm on top of things. I might even get done early.

Then a text or phone call or knock on the door about an emergency. And it's always something that is a genuine issue. Something that needs to be dealt with at that moment.

A client is misbehaving. Maybe we have a maintenance issue. Perhaps two staff members are fighting. Something small. Or something big. But it needs immediate attention because people are the important part of our mission.

And when I next look at the time a few hours have passed. When my plans didn't play out as I thought they should I'll start to get angry or irritable. But then I'm learning to let go. And I do. Then I'm free.

Today I realize that life unfolds as it's supposed to, just as a flower opens its blossoms to the morning warmth - just as it's supposed to.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Client Email

I don't often publish emails from clients.  But this client's message summarizes what we do in our sober living houses.  The writer is an example of what we try to achieve.  He has a valuable message. (Names have been excluded to protect his identity.)

"You know, I didn't think that a different life was possible. If it was possible, I didn't have a clue on where to begin. There are nooks and crannies all throughout life, that were intimidating to say the least. Functioning in society wasn't something I had focused on.

That is until I went to TLC. It took me a few weeks to acclimate, but once my negative blinders started to disappear, suddenly, with gratitude I saw the opportunities in front of me. TLC gave me a healthy platform to learn about life, myself, and methods of dealing with various emotions.

There isn't a day that goes by, that I fail to behave according to what I've learned from TLC. Be it meditation, which has given me the amazing ability to remove myself from that sick narrative within the mind. Not having my behaviors chained to my emotions, I'm able to react with kindness and patience like it's going out of style. Or what about using 'I statements" so that I can avoid the pitfalls of resentments and also become more assertive with being harsh and disrespectful.

The duty of making my bed and keeping my room clean, I fought against. That was followed by accepting that it was a rule, and today it has become second nature. My room being clean and bed being made is something I do today, and finally it isn't because of other people, it's more of a reflection of the self respect and motivation that I've gained through TLC.

The staff at TLC is absolutely wonderful, I cannot tell you how many times they would point me in the direction of gratitude when I was lost in negativity. That now carries."


His email continues but I cut it here to protect his anonymity.  But he does a much better job than I of explaining what we try to accomplish.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Power of Drugs

As an MMA fan I looked forward to a fight card this evening featuring Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier. And I'm sure millions of others were also.

Then the news that Jones won't be fighting because he failed a drug test. At this writing it's unclear whether the substance in question is performance enhancing. Or perhaps something recreational. But with the former champ's recent history of run ins with the law, it's anyone's guess.

This real life drama doesn't surprise me. Because once one crosses over the line into drug use who knows where it stops?

In our world of drug treatment we've seen many careers lost because how the person felt was all that mattered. Job. Marriage. Children. Nothing would stand in the way of that next high. It happened to me.

When I talk to parents about what their children stand to lose with their addiction I often use examples. I remind them of the superstars and athletes who've thrown away millions - and even died -in their chase for that certain feeling.

I also remind them that we view our work as dealing with life and death. That drugs sometimess have an overwhelming power that overrides everything else. Because over the past 25 years we've seen many addicts go out and overdose in spite of everything we teach them.

But what we've also seen is that when clients follow some simple suggestions they go on to rebuild their lives. And that’s what makes our mission worthwhile.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Reason for Gratitude

While preparing to write this blog I walk by the TV this evening and see the news out of Dallas. Two police officers shot. Maybe as many as six wounded. It's still such fresh news that the details are fuzzy.

And the first emotion that crosses by mind is gratitude. Of being thankful that I'm not in a dangerous place like that at this moment.

The next emotion is compassion for those folks who are so frustrated that they must take to the streets in protest. It must be awful to feel that you are powerless and maybe in danger from those who are supposed to protect you.

We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Yet many - for whatever reason - don't enjoy many of the benefits our country offers. I don't know if they truly lack opportunity. Or if they simply don't know how to go after what they want in a positive way.  They don't know how to leave a bad environment.

Something I do know is that most anyone who uses violence has come to the end of the road. Violence is the end result of anger and frustration. And no matter who wins the fight - everyone suffers.

Long ago - even while locked up - I learned that most situations could be resolved through effective communication.

That's something that's easy to say, though. And often difficult to put into effect.

All we can do is pray that the violence subsides without anyone else getting injured.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Finding Replacements

Something I like to ask our managers is to always be training their replacement. But the response is not that good most of the time.

The immediate reaction is usually, "am I getting fired?"

And while that reaction is understandable, that's the last thing on our minds. One of the most difficult things about any business is to find trustworthy managers. Ones who care about the clients and won't steal.

But if a manager is always looking for his replacement we can expand our program. We can move into new areas of business. We can help more people get sober.

But the idea of training their replacement bothers many managers. It might be human nature. Or simply an addict's insecurity. Because they very seldom find anyone they think is qualified. In fact, years ago I found one manager who would discharge anyone he thought was smarter or more qualified that he was. Of course, we found a replacement for him right away.

Because we rarely hire anyone from outside our client pool, finding the right person is sometimes difficult. Even so, for 25 years we've been able to grow and function. But to grow, we keep looking for the next qualified person.

We're always looking to do better at helping addicts rebuild their lives.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Finding Pain

I know that when I was born that the doctor didn't tell my parents that he had bad news for them. He didn't tell them that I was born with an alcohol or drug deficiency. In fact, I'm sure he told them I was a healthy, normal baby.

Yet, after I was about 12 years old it was difficult for me to face life without some kind substance in me. I needed something to cushion the harsh reality of a world that expected me to attend school. To do my chores. To work at a part time job. To be places on time.

And it wasn't long before my whole purpose in life seemed to be to live outside the mind God gave me. To stay completely out of touch with reality.

And pursuing that purpose kept me locked in cages for many years. And when I wasn't in a real prison, I was in a prison of addiction - all because I couldn't face reality.

One day, in my early fifties, the pain got too great and I decided to live a sober life. And that decision has held for over 25 years.

One of the benefits of having spent much of my life in self-destruction is that I understand what our younger clients are going through. They are just beginning to experience the pain of their addiction. All of sudden people expect them to live a so-called "normal" life - something they have no clue about.

I have compassion for them when they resist our best efforts to help them. And when they do leave to try it once again I hope they experience enough pain to make them realize it's not worth it. That’s when we can really help them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Power of the Program

This weekend I feel the power of the 12-step programs.

A speaker who has been sober over five years tells of losing a young relative a few weeks ago. Apparently she succumbed from drinking too much alcohol.  Yet he didn't relapse.

As he relates his story, those in the room can sense the intensity and emotion in his voice. We can see it in his eyes.

As he tells his story he relates to having been in detox over 100 times. Yet nothing worked for him until he finally got into the 12-step programs several years ago.  He followed all the suggestions.

Often in the rooms we hear statements from those who have relapsed over and over that "the program didn't work for me."

Yet I believe the program will work for anyone who can read and follow the steps. In fact, I believe that whoever applies the steps has a 100% guarantee of staying sober.

And I say that because in over 70 years I've never seen anyone force alcohol down anyone's throat. Or force a needle into their arm.

Those who say "the program didn't work for me" are those who didn't follow the simple steps that are hanging on the wall of every meeting room. They haven’t had enough pain yet.

The Steps are a blueprint for success. But one must have a strong desire to follow the directions.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Fourth

Today is the Fourth of July, a holiday celebrated nationwide. It is in honor of the day in 1776 that the 13 colonies declared their independence from Britain.

Most of us celebrate it in one fashion or another. Barbecuing. Visiting relatives. Or simply enjoying a day from work.

But we can also take it deeper. We can add a holiday like this to our gratitude list. Because our founders declared independence we get to live a relatively free life.

Sure, our country isn't perfect. But it is the richest and most powerful in history. Very few nations enjoy the prosperity and national security as does ours. More people are trying to get here than to leave for another country.

All one needs to do is follow the media to read of the travails and problems facing many countries. War, large scale terrorism, cities blown apart. Lives lost in the name of primitive ideologies.  Economic downturns.

Recently our nation has experienced violent spillovers from countries that don't have our freedoms. Yet what we're experiencing is minimal compared to the horrors that some nations are embroiled in at the moment.

It's easy to be grateful for what we have compared to what some live with.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tough Business

No less than once a month someone will call, wanting to sell us a halfway house.

When I start asking questions I find out why they've decided to move on to another field.

For example someone called today offering to sell us their house. The price was over market. And the other thing is that we're not looking for property right now.

Out of curiosity I asked if he had other houses. And he said he did. Altogether he had around 150 residents. And he added that he only had one other person helping him manage them. That's when I understood why he had the house on the market.

For example our staff/client ratio is about one staff member for every ten clients. That includes managers, mechanics, assistant managers, sales staff, cooks, drivers, night security, maintenance and so on.

Managing a halfway house is a tough business, one I've been in for over 25 years. And if one isn't willing to employ clients, then they'll drive themselves crazy. I remember when TLC had around 40 clients I started looking for help.

At this time we have around 750 residents and over 100 staff members. And even at that ratio it seems that everyone is always busy.

A lot of people look at this as a simple business. But when we're dealing with human lives we have a lot of responsibility to them. We take it seriously.

Expecting Change

I write often about change and the impermanence of things. But it wasn't always that way.

For example, when I was in my early twenties I went to work as a staff writer for a California newspaper. I was just out of prison and I was pretty full of myself.

And while I was at that job I was impressed with the technology they used. The type that printed the paper used to be set by hand. Then when a page was completely set up, hot lead was poured over to make a mold that was used to print the paper. I'm making it sound simple here, but it was state of the art at the time.  Now it's all computerized.

And further, I never believed there'd be a time when newspapers were unnecessary. I never imagined things like computers and the internet. And today the newspapers that were unable to incorporate an online edition into their business model have pretty much folded. Something I'd never have imagined.

Today one of the constants in my life is that I firmly believe in change. If fact, if we can count on anything at all on this planet is that things will be different. Either this minute or right around the corner. And because I once thought I was in control of my life this disturbed me a lot. Just when I thought I had the perfect situation - things would change. Nothing stayed as I thought it should.

I've since been freed of that illusion through the study of mindfulness and meditation. I've come to believe that we are never standing still. That our lives and circumstances are always in the process of change. Why is that good for me and humans in general?

Because if what we expect in life is change then we're not knocked off balance when we don't get what we expected. When something unanticipated happens my usual response is that "I expected that."

And I'm able to live with whatever happens. I don't need to put a needle in arm. Or drink. Or even get angry.

The benefit of this attitude is that I'm much calmer and at peace with myself.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Living our Best

I got sober for one reason: to stop the pain. And the pain did stop. And it's been gone for over 25 years of sobriety.

And after I stayed sober a while I made another commitment. And that was to take care of myself. To exercise daily with weights, yoga, swimming, cycling - something to keep me moving. Later I added in daily meditation. I mixed it up to keep from getting bored.

And my new regimen worked. I found the energy to put in a lot of hours on various projects. Then I decided to go a step further and changed the way I ate. I became a vegetarian and have been for most of my recovery. Today I'm 99% vegan, once in a while eating yogurt or an egg or cheese at a social occasion.

But the point of all this talk about clean living is that I used to be the butt of humor and jokes about my lifestyle. Especially from some of my younger business associates the first year I began my routine.

But through the years the way I lived has kept me healthy enough to work 40-50 hours a week and pretty much keep up with my younger cohorts and enjoy life.

And a few of those who had fun with my choices are not in good shape or have passed on - some of them in their late fifties and early sixties of cancer, diabetes, or heart problems.

Sometimes I wish I could have been more persuasive. I miss my friends, guys I think could have enjoyed more years of healthy recovery had they only made some simple lifestyle changes. But people make their own choices.

I know life eventually gets us all. But I also believe we should enjoy ourselves to the fullest while we're sober and alive.