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.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Having a bad Day?

Bookmark this blog and whenever you think you're having a bad day click this link.

But, if you don't have time, I'll summarize it for you.

A divorced couple in Ohio had a 35 year old son who had been using heroin for about 15 years.

The son lived with the father, who had revived him after he found him overdosed a few weeks earlier.

He said that reviving the son was one of the worst experiences of his life. He said he'd almost felt better if he'd have found the son dead.

A few weeks later the son asked to borrow his dad's car. When he refused, he took it anyway. When he came back he explained that he'd only taken it to buy a soda. The dad knew better. The next morning he found the son dead of an overdose.

But the story gets worse. Eleven hours later the grief-stricken mother swallowed an overdose of Valium. She left a note that said that heroin had now taken two lives. Her body was found lying on a pillow and blanket near a headstone in a cemetery behind her home, .

For us addicts these are the endings that may await us if we can’t stay with our recovery. Too many of us thought we were invulnerable while we were using.

But for many of us this could have been our story.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Being Cynical

Monday night I found myself excited about the presidential debates. I wanted to see how the outsider did.  So I planned my evening around watching them.
But in the morning I wondered what I was so wired up about.
When I look back I try to think of one thing that has radically affected my life because of who was president.
When I wasn't in trouble over my addiction I was pretty much able to find a job. No one I know  has had a major change in their life because of who got elected.
Now it's true that the recession of 2008-2012 impacted a lot of lives, including mine. But I'm not sure whose fault that was. Was it the president’s?
In other words, how much does what happens in Washington DC affect my life?
I think if we had a president who was interested in helping drug addicts, that would be encouraging.  But that’ll never happen because we have this large lobby that believes addiction is a moral issue – rather than a disease.
Perhaps at this point of life I’m becoming cynical. We hear those who want our vote promise to change everything. And do it right away.
But once they're elected they find they have a daunting job. Once they arrive they have to deal with an entrenched bureaucracy so large as to be almost unwieldy.
Don't get me wrong. It's not a job that I think anybody can do well. There is only so much money to go around. And there are so many people with their hands out.
I'd be more excited if we had a government that really cared about those challenged by addiction. It would excite me if we had a government that would do something about poverty and violence in the inner cities.
Instead, candidates promise free stuff to anyone who'll vote for them. They appeal to the weak and greedy and lazy. To those who believe the government is there to take care of them.
But once they get to Washington they have to deal with the reality that's in place.

But the reality is that nothing is free.  And the biggest changes that will happen will come from what we do for ourselves.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trying Marijuana?

An addict mother with a son in his early teens wants my opinion.

It seems that the son, who trusts her opinion, asked her a question about marijuana.

The question was did she think it was okay if he smoked it? She wondered what to tell him.

My opinion is that she should tell him it's a bad idea. And I gave her my reasons.

Even though I used heroin for over 35 years, marijuana was never my thing. But many of those I knew who went on to more addictive drugs started out with marijuana and alcohol at an early age. That's one reason.

The other reason is that the teenage brain isn't yet fully developed. There are studies that take a deep look at the risk of addiction among those who begin the drug at an early age. And the damage it can do.

My experience has been that most smokers eventually will have the opportunity to use stronger drugs. They may be at a party where the marijuana runs out. But someone there will have pills, or even cocaine, meth, or heroin.  A regular marijuana user may decide to try something different just to fit in.

Even though this mother may not be able to prevent him from trying it - if he already hasn't - my answer is still no. 

Life offers us enough challenges without taking a chance on becoming an addict.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Meeting a Robot

Because I have cataracts, my eye doctor referred me for surgery a few weeks back. He's told me over the past 12 years that the day would come when I would need to have them removed. So it’ll happen this Thursday.

It's a little scary for me because most of my life I've used my left eye to see and read. I've been almost blind in my right eye since I was a child.

After the initial examination with the cataract surgeon he told me they'd be operating with a robot guided laser. He drew a diagram for me and took me through the process step-by-step. And he told me the robot is actually more accurate than a human. So I took the leap and scheduled it for this Thursday. I wanted it over as soon as possible.

Probably the part that bothers me most is that I might not need glasses, except to read. Now that may seem strange. But I've been wearing glasses for over 72 years, since I was about five years old. I'll feel strange without them. However, I may still need glasses for reading and using the computer.

A benefit of being sober over 25 years is that I can afford to care for myself. Medicare pays part because I'm well over 65. The rest comes from a monthly supplement plan I pay for so I can see any doctor I need to. And normally without a co-pay.

I didn't get sober to be unhealthy so I get an annual physical and follow doctor's suggestions. It's something I encourage all our clients to do.

They sometimes say they don't want to hear any bad news. But the reality is that one way or the other we'll all get bad news. It's just a matter of when.

But maybe we can put it off for a while if we care for ourselves.

Click here to email John




Monday, September 26, 2016

Having Group

Group is a primary tool here at TLC. We use it for therapy in our treatment program. We also use it as a tool in our peer counseling program in the halfway houses.

And for those who are unfamiliar, a general definition is when a group of three to maybe 15 people will sit in a circle and deal with some kind of issue. If it’s a therapy or peer group there’s generally a moderator and a specific topic such as relapse, anger, fear – more topics than I can put in this blog.

But another kind of group is when we have issues between one or more people. In the halfway house clients sometimes will call a group to deal with a roommate who’s hard to live with. Maybe one of the roommates is loud, has poor sanitation habits, is a gossip, or is suspected of stealing from roommates. It is a way for everyone to say what they have to say to the person.  And to maybe suggest how they can change. It’s a way to defuse anger and improve communication. And generally it’s fairly effective.

I remember a few years back when we had a “civilian” accountant working in our corporate office. (We sometimes hire “civilians” to do jobs that the clients aren’t qualified for.} He was amazed one day when a manager called everyone into a group. He’d never worked for a company where everyone stopped what they were doing and sat in a circle to deal with a problem. I’m not sure he ever did figure out the concept.

I remember once moderating a group with three others, each of them with at least Master’s Degrees. They were having communication problems over something personal. After a while I brought it to their attention how strange it seemed to be helping trained professionals communicate effectively. After all, I only had a business degree and had spent much of my life on the streets or locked up. That group ended shortly afterward – but the issue between them was resolved.

In any event, I enjoy the process of seeing people work issues out. Many times staff members and clients don’t realize their shortcomings or the effect their behavior has on others until they hear it in group.

Group is a safe environment where everyone can say exactly what they feel or think without fear of repercussion. And we use it fairly often, especially when one on one communication hasn’t been effective.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pain = Change

Pain is a wonderful teacher. And our most successful clients are those who’ve had the most pain.

And the pain takes many forms. Divorce. Loss of job. Homelessness. Health problems. Family alienation. And more.

And why is pain so effective? Usually those who have had enough start to think there might be a better way. Even though it might be a few year process.

Most of us hardcore dedicated addicts unsuccessfully try to use over and over. Even with setback after setback many of us persist until we're out of options. That's when we might start hitting the treatment or halfway house circuit. We've burned our bridges. We've worked ourselves into a corner. We're in a situation where the only options are death, illness or prison.

When addicts reach this stage they bring a degree of willingness that makes them open to change. The pain begins to subside, life starts feeling different. Hope begins to grow.

If we don't forget the pain we have a chance. And going on 26 years later I still remember the pain and demoralization I suffered through. And it helps me stay clean today.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

No AHCCCS

We recently had an idea about  enrolling TLC into the AHCCCS program, the Arizona program for those under a certain income level.  That way we could hopefully serve more clients.
I thought it would be a good idea, considering that most of our clients are indigent. In other words they don't have the money to go into treatment. And a number of them do have AHCCCS cards. Or are eligible to obtain them.
But when our volunteers started wading through the mountain of paperwork that's required to become affiliated with the program we realized that we’d made a mistake.
Not only is there endless paperwork, the AHCCCS program also pays very low fees for counseling and other services we’d provide.  The program's focus seems to be upon volume, as opposed to results.
After I discussed the program with some of our counselors who had worked with them in the past I was sure we didn't want to become involved.
One negative thing is that they pay low rates and expect a lot of information and paperwork in return. One report I was given said that an auditor would actually come in and spend time in our accounting department auditing all the details of the operation.
Another person told me that this program only allows a company to make a certain margin profit. Anything above that margin must be returned to AHCCCS. I heard that the margin is something like 5%.
Most of the counselors I have talked to who worked with the program say they had to herd clients through like cattle. Some counselors say they carried caseloads of up to 50 or 60 clients each. Many of them became burned out after a short time.
I'm glad we made the decision to not proceed with AHCCCS. This business is difficult enough without adding more layers of stress.
I know we couldn't deliver the personal attention and quality that we now provide under such circumstances.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The hard Part

One of my more difficult jobs as CEO comes when I have to terminate someone.

But at times there's no alternative. We're forced to let the person go. Yet it's tough to sit across the desk from an employee and tell them that they no longer have a job with us. Especially when you've worked with them for quite a while.

Yet terminating someone is never a decision we make lightly.

Usually the firing process starts long before the person is let go. If they're doing shoddy work it's brought to their attention – usually more than once. And, they're given a warning of things they can do to correct their performance.

The first warning is verbal. The next is written. Perhaps they're counseled by their supervisors and other staff members.

However if this doesn't bring about changes then the only alternative is to let the person go.

For me it's always a delicate balance in the business we're in. On the one hand we may have a counselor who is excellent with the clients. But fails miserably when it comes to doing the administrative part of the work, the boring paperwork. Yet every aspect of the job is important to maintain compliance with state regulations.

Because we want the best treatment for our clients we often have to make the hard choice to replace a staff member if we can't get them to change their job performance.

And that's the part of my job that I least enjoy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Farm in the City

I live in an urban area close to my office, about a ten minute drive from my home. And I usually take pretty much the same route to work.

This route takes me past a large field that the owner uses as a farm. Or at least I think it's the owner.

One reason I enjoy driving by it is because at different times of the year he grows different crops. Sometimes it's ear corn, sometimes alfalfa, hay, or pumpkins.

After he harvests the corn and pumpkins he puts a small sign by the road and sells them from a stand that near his house at the back of the property.

Sometimes I drive past as he prepares the land with a small tractor. Then after he gets it ready, I might pass while he's fertilizing, planting or diverting water into the small irrigation canals that lace the field. I get to see the whole process, start to finish.

For some reason I get a sense of peace when I pass this small quiet farm. Surrounding it are apartment complexes, a small mall, a large nursing home complex and private homes. Cars whiz by it on both sides all day.

Maybe it takes me back to my childhood, when I was raised on a farm for several years.

I also wonder about the owners. Because of the location, the owner could sell those few acres for millions. He could live on a tropical beach for the rest of his life.

It would sadden me to see a for sale sign on the acreage. Because for sure someone would cover it with an apartment complex or shopping mall.

Though it’s none of my business I hope it's never sold or developed. It's a pleasant respite in the middle of the city.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mother Love

I believe most mothers love their children. Even mothers who are drug addicts. Once they get sober they bear a lot of guilt because of the way they neglected their children while using.

And I'm not just putting this off on mothers. We just hear more about them because in drug relationships dad is often nowhere to be found.

And I put myself in that group. I spent time in prison and jail while my kids were growing up. So I too fall into that category.

But the kind of mothers who also harm their children are the ones who enable them. This comes up because today I read a comment from an addict's mother on the internet.

Apparently she put him on a plane from another state so he could come to TLC to get sober. She said that he wasn't there but a few hours when he called her. He said that the place was nothing like it was represented.

He claimed people were making drug deals in the courtyard. The place wasn't very "nice." And that they planned to put him to work the next day. Before she could arrange a plane ticket for him to come home, she lost contact with him.

She followed with a few comments about how TLC should be ashamed of its operation, taking advantage of people like her son. Those of you who know us get the idea.

Mothers who hover over their grown children and enable them while they're using are to be forgiven because they don't understand addiction. But many parents often harm their children by not getting tough with them about their drug use.

Many of them don't realize they're on the wrong path until they see their bank accounts dwindling because of treatment bills and plane fares to out-of-state programs. And yet the kid's still using, blaming his failure on the treatment program.

Once they realize they're on an endless treadmill they start to change.

Once everyone quit helping me - including my mother - that's when I began to change. Her toughness saved my life.

Maybe in a few years this mother will realize that the "help" she's giving her son isn't working.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A deadly Habit

In group last evening the subject of smoking came up.

And, as those who read this blog know, smoking is one of my pet peeves.

I've lost seven close relatives to the habit. Mother, aunts, uncles. Plus many close friends and associates over the years. And it’s an ugly, painful way to go.

I beat this drum all the time because I've seen so much suffering caused by smoking.

And it's not like I've never smoked, I have. For ten years. It was so hard to stop that I remember the date and hour and where I was at when I quit. It was July 25, 1984, at 9:00 am, 910 N. Broad Street, Globe, Arizona.

I quit by tapering down, then chewing nine Nicorette tablets. I've never smoked again.

Now I know that in the 12-step programs it's recommended that we make no radical changes for the first year. And I agree with that.

But once that year is up, I believe we should go for it.

Many of our clients don't realize the seriousness of smoking. They almost don't seem to care about their health. Aside from smoking they also get little exercise, eat a bunch of junk food. It's like they really believe that their doctor can fix any damage they do their bodies.

I try to convey to them that our lives can be immeasurably better without drugs of any kind. And cigarettes are one of the worst drugs of all.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What the successful Do

About 25 years back, shortly after getting sober, I had lunch with a business consultant. I wanted to discuss my ideas for starting a halfway house.

And because I'd worked around him for a few years before my addiction took over, I wanted his thoughts on my business model.

He asked me if anyone else was doing what I was thinking of doing. I said of course. There were many others operating recovery programs.

"Then you can do it too," he told me. It was that simple. If someone else could do it so could I.

This memory from 25 years ago came up today while I was at a 12-step meeting. And something the speaker said - I'm not sure what - brought back that memory.

And I realized that's the same thing that happens when we decide to get sober. If someone else can do it, then we can do it.

If we see someone successfully making it in the program we watch them. What do they do that I'm not? Well, they're likely going to meetings. They may have a sponsor. A job. They're following the 12-steps.

So we do what they do. Maybe we ask them questions about the program. How they dealt with the challenges during their years of recovery. Just because they got sober doesn't mean that they didn't face challenges. Learn how they handled them. Mimic them.

If we do what other sober people do, we can stay sober just like they are.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cell Phones

I read an article the other day that about 35% of women would rather give up their boy friend or husband if the choice was between him and her cell phone.

Now that sounds almost unbelievable. But in the past few years we've had halfway house clients who also love their phone. One of the privileges of being in our program is that after a certain period with us the client can have a phone.

But, sometimes, when they break rules or relapse, the punishment might be to take the phone for three days or even a week.

However, many clients will leave the program rather than give up their phone. In other words, their recovery and their housing is less important than the convenience of a phone.

At one time we didn't allow cell phones at TLC. Then as time went on we realized that it was a tool to help clients find work. But it also turned out to be a distraction from their recovery. And a link to their old circle of friends and their dope man.

I'm not going to get into the whole thing about how electronic gadgets are changing our society. That's a discussion for someone else who's more philosophical than I am.

Plus, I'm someone who also has a phone. But it's not always on my ear. And it's helpful when I'm trying to get things done. I guess what I'm saying is that it's a handy tool for communication - which is what I use it for.

But I'm not in love with it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Relapse

A long time business associate calls yesterday. I figure he wants to discuss the contract we have between us. But instead it's personal.

When business associates call and there's drug or alcohol problems in their families they have a certain tone. It seems like almost unconsciously that their voices are lower. Almost a whisper, kind of conspiratorial.

He tells me the narrative of one his kids. Now approaching middle-age. A kid he put through college, until he developed drug problems. At that point he pulled his financial support and sent him to treatment. The kid promptly left. He sent him to another one. Same result. He walked within a week. So, dad did the wise thing Told the kid he was done. No more help. No more support.

Finally, the son straightens up, starts a family, and does well for several years. Then problems crop up. The problems don't get solved and the son's now divorced. And he's pretty much incommunicado.

His question is should he help the son once more. How should he deal with it? What's the right thing to do? And he talks of steps he's planning to take to help get him back on track.

I share with him how I dealt with my own son. I really just stayed out of it. I stayed out of it because I knew that he knew the right thing to do and where to find help.

But I also told him there's no cookie cutter template of how to deal with these things. His plan of action sounds as good as any. Tell the son he'll help him to treatment one more time but that's all. We'll see what happens.

We addicts don't realize, because we're so in love with our drug of choice, how much we rock the world of those who love us. Those who brought us up.

When we're in pain, instead of working through it, we turn to our drug of choice for respite. Then we find out that once again it has us by the balls until we either get sick, die, or go to prison.  Until we lose it all.

It’s a terrible thing to do to those who invested so much in bringing us up.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Close Call

When I awoke yesterday and turned on my phone it immediately started alerting me that I had a text message.

And because early morning messages never seem to be good news I opened it with some anxiety.

And sure enough the news wasn't good. My oldest grandson was in the ICU at a local hospital because of a heroin overdose. He's expected to be alright. But it could have been worse.

And my biggest fear is that the next time he won't survive.

Because our communication hasn't been the best the past few years, we seldom talk and rarely see one another. When I spoke to him last we had a discussion about drugs and I told him of my fears. That he might end up in prison or worse.

Of course he didn't receive my comments very well and I hadn't seen him since. Though once in a while I'd hear rumors about him.

Something we're all powerless over is what others do with their lives - whether we're related to them or not. I know that he knows how and where to find help. But because he's a tough guy he thinks he can do it on his own.

I just pray that he makes the right decisions for himself and his family.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

From the Past

An addict I first met over 25 years ago in a downtown Mesa halfway house shows up outside my office.

He's wearing a bizarre costume. He's carrying his belongings in a crumpled shopping bag. He has a day-glo inside-out Nike tee shirt wrapped around his head. A plastic bag tied to his belt contains small folded pieces of paper. Because I've known him and some of his family members for a quarter century, I invite him to sit down.

He starts talking, a non-stop stream of gibberish coming from his mouth. I can't tell if he's on meth or pysch meds. Out of courtesy I don't interrupt him for a few moments but finally I can't stand it: he's making no sense.

I tell him I don't understand a thing he's saying. So talking slower and with a little more focus he says he wants to come back to TLC. And I explain that he can’t.

I remind him that over the past 25 years - between prison terms - he's been at our program many times. Each time he's lasted a few days. Then he either disappears and ends back in prison. Or is asked to leave because of inappropriate behavior.

I explain to him that I'm no doctor, but that in my opinion he belongs in a group home setting with 24 hour supervision. That TLC isn't the place for him.

He pauses for a moment and sits quietly, like he's figuring out what to say next. Finally he agrees with me and asks for a few dollars for bus fare, which I gladly give him.

As he shuffles off, I think of when I first met him 25 years ago. At that time he was built like a football player. He stood upright and made sense most of the time. Now, even though he's not yet 50, he's hunched over when he walks, like an unhealthy man twice his age. He mostly looks at the floor, as though he lost something.

As he shuffles away I feel compassion for him. I have no idea if his deterioration is the result of bad drugs or maybe something genetic. But I do know our limitations, that there are some people whose behavior is so bizarre that we don't know how to help them.

As he leaves I thank God that I've been able to stay sober for over 25 years. And that I enjoy the life I do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

R.I.P.

None of us can see into the future. If we did we might make different decisions.

This came up for me today because one of our managers brought a memorial card to the office that had a picture of a young woman on it. The kind of card one gets at a funeral or memorial service. Someone said a car hit her, though we're not sure of that either.

He said it had come in the mail to our newest property on Dana Street.

He’d talked to the woman once after we first bought the property. She'd been living there when we took possession, when it was still a coed facility.

She asked our manager if she could stay, but he told her it was now a men’s facility, that TLC doesn't offer coed housing. However, he offered to take her to one of our all female locations a few miles away. She declined.  And that was the last he saw of her.

And then we get this card. None of us knows what really happened. People get killed by cars all the time. No one said she was high when she died. There was just the mention of the accident.

But I wonder if she'd moved to our woman's house if she might not be alive today. We addicts seem to suffer more accidental deaths than the average person. Or maybe I think that because most of those I know are addicts.

It saddens me to see young people die an untimely death, no matter what the cause. But some part of me thinks if she'd stayed with us she might still be alive today.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Useless Knowledge

I find it interesting that some of our clients like to look at their pasts, trying to figure out when or why they became addicts.

Some think it was because they suffered childhood abuse. Others think it might be their genetics. That because some relatives were alcoholics or addicts they followed in their footsteps.

But my take on this is always the same: what difference does it make why or how we became addicts?

How will that knowledge make a difference today? If I know I became an alcoholic because my father was one, will that make it easier for me to remain sober?

No matter what the abuse or the cause, the reality is that I'm an addict. And that's an issue I can deal with today. Right now. This moment.

Unless one is into historical reminiscing, knowing the events that led to our becoming an addict is useless. At one time I just had to use something to function. It seemed as natural as breathing.

If I had the power to tell you what caused you to drink or drug what would you do with the information? Would you say, "Oh, that's why I shot dope. Now it'll be easier for me to remain sober."

While there may be no harm in knowing why or how we started - I don't believe there's a ounce of benefit either.

If I use the tools I have today, staying clean and sober is easy. And that's what counts for this addict.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Photo Release

Police in Liverpool, Ohio are being heavily criticized on the internet for releasing a photo of a man and woman purportedly overdosed on heroin. The couple is sprawled In the front seat of a car, while in the back seat a four year old child is looking on.

Some of the criticism is about showing the child in the photo. Though some object to the photo being shown at all. In many of the pictures the child's face is blurred out.

The police department said the purpose of the photo release was to illustrate how the drug not only impacts the users but also those around them. Especially children.

Personally I think they did the right thing. And what they did is not uncommon in campaigns against substance abuse. We see pictures in newspapers and on various websites showing before and after photos of how drug use radically changes the appearance over a short period. The same technique is also used in anti-smoking campaigns.

I say show the ugly side of drug use any time there's a chance. It might just save a life.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Using our Time

15 years ago today, September 11, 2001, a lot of ordinary folks were going about their days.

Some had dates that evening. Others had to stop at the babysitters and pick up their children on the way home. Or maybe stop and shop for dinner, or pick up dry cleaning. Some might have planned to work late to finish a special project. All of them were just people like you and me, living their lives.

And, of course, that changed forever when the first plane exploded into the first tower. Thousands died that day. And the ones who didn't, still carry vivid memories of the trauma.

Most of us likely remember what we were doing when the news came in. I was getting ready to leave for work when a friend called. When he found out I didn't know what had happened he told me to turn on the television.

For most of us our view of the world changed that day, at least to some degree. I know mine did. Shocking attacks on innocent people are hard to erase from our memories - no matter where we were at the time.

I write about this today as a reminder that we should live our lives to the maximum. We should fulfill our dreams and not tell ourselves that "someday" we'll start that business we've dreamed about. Or maybe take up a new skill or hobby. Or go to school. Or perhaps spend more time on vacation.

If we're an addict, maybe we'll give some thought to rejoining the mainstream by getting sober and becoming part of the human race. Maybe realize that we're only half living, wasting time, when we're nodding out in a dope den. Or peeking out windows in a state of self-induced paranoia.

Our days are precious, and once used, they're only impressions on our neurons. The time we spent was either wasted or worthwhile or maybe somewhere in the middle.

For sure, many of those who fell on 9/11 had unfulfilled goals and dreams.

Their untimely, sudden deaths should remind us to not waste our precious time - the one thing we can't replace.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Changes

I keep a to-do list on my Google calendar. It gives me the feeling that I'm halfway in control of my life.

And the longer the list gets, the more valuable I feel my time is. When I get over a half dozen things on the list, my focus becomes intense. Until I at least get the priorities out of the way.

But yesterday, while having an early breakfast because I wanted to get a jump start on things - the fraud department at my bank calls.

They wanted to discuss several transactions to see if I had made them. There were about a dozen of them, none of which I had made. I Googled the company name where the charges were made. And it took me to a video gaming website.

I called them but no answer. I also tried getting help on their site. But there was no help button. I started to wonder who I knew who played video games and few came up - mostly grandkids. And I didn't want to believe that anyone close to me would buy something without my permission. Or even had access to my card number.

Anyway, to keep this short, my bank said they were freezing the card unless I could tell them those were my transactions. And that they would reverse them if they weren't mine.

finally, after being on the phone with them for half an hour, I get to my office. When I open my computer I find that from the time I left home ten minutes earlier there were now almost 20 transactions. Somebody was having fun with my card for sure.

Anyway, because I spend a lot of time preaching patience I had a chance to get some practice yesterday.

I was still able to meet all my deadlines in spite of the time I wasted on the phone. And while I often say that change is all we can expect in life I understand others' frustrations when changes upset all our good planning.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Living Now

Clients often come to my office with issues they can't solve.

If I haven't met them I spend a few minutes getting acquainted. How long have you been with us? Where are you from? How many times have you been to treatment? What's your drug of choice?

While my questions are more of a way to get them to relax, I also learn enough to maybe help them with their issue or issues.

But most of the help I give them is about changing their perspective. I can't remember a client coming to me with a problem that could be resolved in the present moment.

That is, whatever is going on with them has something to do with the past or the future – not this moment.

"I have to go to court when I get home because I have a warrant."

"My family is rejecting me because I can't quit using heroin."

"I think my wife is divorcing me over my drug use."

The way to feel better when thinking about what might happen or what has already happened, is to learn to live in the moment. Because if we look around us at the now, everything is okay.

But if we're in a far off future, or if we're mucking around in the past, it's easy to feel bad about our lives.

When Mark Twain was at the end of his life he said "I'm an old man and I've been through many terrible things in my life. And some of them actually happened."

If we can adapt this viewpoint for ourselves we might find more acceptance and joy in our days. Less fretting about the future or the past.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Being Non-Judgemental

I stopped for coffee at a nearby Circle K on my way to work yesterday. And there, off to the side of the store in an alcove sat a disheveled man with a beat-up bicycle leaned against the wall beside him. He had a small bag with him, probably containing clothing.

I'd seen him several times before, usually on the other side of the store. I think he changes locations to stay in the shade.

Each time I see him I automatically wonder how much money he'll ask me for.

Usually panhandlers use the line "Do you have any loose change you can spare?" And my response is always the same. I'll hand them a dollar or two on my way back to the car once I get my coffee.

But this guy is different. He just gives a pleasant hello and smile and never asks for anything. So I never offer him anything. I'm not sure why because he looks like he's down on his luck and maybe hasn't bathed in a few days. But rather than risk offending him, I say nothing, just reply when he speaks.

As I drove away I thought about this guy and my chattering brain started taking his inventory. Why doesn't he get a job? Is he an alcoholic? Maybe he's crazy. That's what my busy brain does sometimes - with no prodding from me.

However I was able to turn it into an opportunity to practice compassion - to look at him differently.

Maybe he had a tragedy in his life. He could be a veteran with PTSD. Maybe he was physically or mentally ill. After all, there aren't a lot of reasons I can think of why someone would be living as he appeared to be.

So instead of criticizing or evaluating him, I sent him good wishes. Hoped that an opportunity would come along that would improve his life.

And as I drove on I felt a little more gratitude for my own circumstances.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

More Addiction Talk

An amazing report came from West Virginia yesterday that more addicts died of opioid overdoses than were killed in car accidents in the previous year. A first for that state.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) the problem in growing. As medical authorities make it more difficult to obtain prescription drugs - addicts are turning to heroin and fentanyl because they'e cheaper and easier to obtain.

From the time I started using heroin in the 1950s the authorities have been beating the same drum. War on drugs. Longer prison terms. Zero tolerance for first offenders. But the reality is that none of these measures have made a difference. My habit just got larger because I knew nothing of recovery. And I met a lot of good connections when I was locked up.

About 80% of our prisons are made up of addicts. Though we don't punish people with cancer or heart disease by locking them up that's not the case with the disease of addiction.

Prison and law enforcement is big business in this country and a majority of crime stems from illegal drug use, drug sales, and crimes committed to get drugs.  From an economic standpoint punishment makes sense. It keeps a lot of people working.

My suggestion is that we become more creative. Look to the European countries that are having some succcess with curbing addiction. It's on the internet for all to see.

While we stand back moralizing about what to do with a problem that's been around for a hundred years they've taken some positive steps.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Old Days

September 8 of 1959 I was on a bus headed to California State Prison at San Quentin. I was chained to a bunch of other prisoners, most of them heroin addicts like me.

There were probably 50 of us on that bus and I was wondering what had become of the others. Were any of them still alive after all these years?  Or clean?  Or free?

Had they given up drugs and gone on to lead productive lives. Had they spent - like I did - years going in and out of insititutions because of their drug habits? Of course that's an answer I'll never have because I didn't know most of the prisoners on that bus anyway. And I've been out of that life for almost 26 years.

But once in a while I'll get a message about or from someone from the old days. Most them continued their habits, going in an out of jails and prisons for a number of years.

Some of them stayed out, but remained addicted to methadone or alcohol the remainder of their lives.

I'm reminded of this because I've gotten calls or texts from a few people I knew from those days in the past few months. I'm not sure why they call because unless they're in recovery there's not much to talk about. I haven’t talked to any of them more than once. Which kind of gives me an idea that they're still in the game. Who knows?

The reality is that I live a blessed life today for one simple reason: I surrendered and gave up my addiction. And while I wish them well, I know that I really have nothing to share with them other than memories of when times were really ugly.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 5, 2016

A New Saint

Yesterday Pope Francis raised Mother Theresa to sainthood. And while I never followed my Catholic upbringing, I think her message was universal- in other words for everyone.

Her message to the world could be boiled down to one word: Love. And she demonstrated that love by living in some of the most horrible slums in the world. She lived to serve the sick and the homeless. And she lived among them. Though I'm paraphrasing here, she once was quoted as saying she "saw Jesus in all his forms among the poor and downtrodden."

A university study once showed that Mother Theresa worked under the worst conditions yet didn't get sick herself. The study involved taking blood samples from her and those who helped her. Somehow the work she was doing fortified her immune system to protect her from illness.

A later study showed that even those who watched movies of her at work had increased protective antibodies in their systems.

To me it's amazing how one tiny nun can be such an influence and example in a world that's tearing itself apart with violence and hatred.

She shows the power of love to a world that needs more of it.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mindfulness

Every Saturday at around noon I offer staff members a mindfulness class in my office. It's big enough to accommodate around seven - which is about how many show up.

But, even if one person shows I'll have the class. Because it's not about the numbers. It's about the benefits for those who atttend.

And for the those of you who aren't aware of the benefits, there are many. Studies show that regular mindfulness sessions are 20% more effective than depression medication. And mindfulness based relapse prevention shows similar results when compared with 12 step programs or one on one therapy. That's a lot of payback for investing a few minutes of our day. Check the internet to find hundreds of evidence based studies about mindfulness meditation.

When I first started the class, I was surprised that one or two members would be snoring within minutes. At first I thought I wasn't doing it right. So after a few sessions like this I consulted a fellow instructor and he said this wasn't unusual. He said that so many people operate under such stress that their bodies take any opportunity for a break. And meditation can be so relaxing that hearing a student snoring is not uncommon.

I write this blog today for those of you who are curious about the benefits of meditation. Even though there is no goal, practitioners report that after a short period, they're calmer, they sleep better, and feel more focused.

And the nice thing is that all it costs is a little time.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Enjoy the Journey

The only thing we can count on in life is that things are constantly changing. I used to hear that saying and blow it off - like it didn't apply to me.

But on my way home from my annual physical checkup today - I realized that there are some eternal truths. And that is one of them.

I  remember that 40 years ago, on my 37th birthday while serving a drug term on a California honor farm, I celebrated by taking a 15 mile run. And thought nothing of it.

But then six or so years ago I developed neuropathy in both feet and since then have had to wear braces and have some problems with balance. Fortunately, while I can no longer run, I can ride a bike, an elliptical, use a treadmill, or swim.

Also, I found out recently that I'll have cataract removal surgery to clear up my vision.

A large blessing in my life is that I've been able to afford excellent medical care. And I'm one of those who follows my doctor's advice.

The point of all this is that I've changed radically over the years. Going from someone who was always drunk and didn't believe in change, to someone who's been sober over 25 years.

And instead of fighting change I've developed the humility to accept that someday all of us will be part of the dust that blows across our our deserts.

My message is to live a life of quality and service and enjoy each step we take on this planet - especially the changes.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Excuses

An alcoholic is hanging on by he skin of his teeth. He rejects every suggestion I give him.

I offer to pick him him and take him to detox.

"I need to pack first," he says.

We tell him to go to detox now. That we can pick up his stuff later. His priority must be recovery. Not packing a bunch of clothes. We can always get more clothing for him.

Then he needs to talk to his family. As if they'd try to talk him out of getting sober. And his boss. He needs to ask his boss for a few days off for personal reasons.

It's always something outside himself that's keeping him from jumping into recovery.

He'll plead his case - his excuses for drinking would pave a freeway.

The reality is that he's not ready. And, as we all know, it took a lot of painful experiences for us to get sober. Let's pray that one of these days he gets enough pain.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Inside Job

Often addicts come to my office and tell me they're sad or unhappy.

So I ask them what's going on. Why are they unhappy? Or why are they sad?

And the answer is that most often they don't know.

So sometimes we get out a pencil and paper and make a list. When things are visible they're often easier to understand or identify.

Usually the list starts and ends with the things we don't have. We don't have a job. Or girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Or any friends. Or they'e away from home. Or everyone back home is mad at them. You name it. Though there's nothing on the list that has the word gratitude.

Once we get the list together we start talking about who's responsible for all this stuff. And when it's examined in the light of day most of us can see who's responsible. It's me. Most all my unhappiness springs from within.

The real point is that most all of our unhappiness is an inside job. There's something that we want but don't have.

Many of these clients are younger, so I can commiserate. Some are spoiled by indulgent parents. They've been raised in a life of entitlement.

I suggest they'll be much happier if they look at their list carefully and realize it's all about things they want. Things they're clinging to.

If I surrender and say that my life is perfect, guess what? It becomes perfect. Things start flowing. We start doing for others. We begin to realize that there are many in the world who would love to live as we do.

Then the sun shines again and we can find that some of the day might be happy after all. Because all of a sudden it’s not all about me.  What does your list look like?

Click here to email John