Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

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

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.