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.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Gratitude

I was at a 12 step meeting where the topic was gratitude. It's one we often hear at recovery meetings. In fact, we hear it so often it might be considered cliche.

Yet, it's probably one of the most important concepts in recovery. As someone at the meeting said, it's very difficult to have gratitude and also relapse at the same time.

The speaker was a young woman who had been sober for some time. She told a compelling story of how she got into alcohol and drugs. She talked about the trouble she got into. She talked about almost losing her children.

But the main thing she talked about was the gratitude that she has for her life today. She has her daughter back. She and her husband are getting along better than ever. Have a nice place to live. And she has a decent job where she works long hours – but at least is able to pay the bills.

Generally speaking the plot is always the same at a 12 step meeting. What it was like. What happened. And what it's like today.

The most compelling part is what's going on today. Because that's how the people who come to the meeting learn. They find out that if they apply the principles of the 12-step programs that their life can be entirely different.

If they follow the steps they have a 100% chance of staying sober.

That's because the program has 12 simple progressive steps to guide us into a new way of living. And if we follow them diligently we have a good chance of living free of substances for the rest of our lives.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Success Rate

A parent interested in our program asked me about our success rate.

She seemed surprised when I told I wasn't sure. That we didn't know of any way to keep track of who succeeds and who relapses.

And I added that any program that claims a huge success rate is being disingenuous. Either that or they're spending a lot of money doing surveys and taking random drug tests. But such follow up is unrealistic for anyone in the long term. Maybe the government can afford these kinds of studies. But I don't know of any honest program that can say for sure if clients are succeeding after they graduate.

I mean, think about it for a moment. When a client walks out the door how do you know what he or she is doing? Do you know if they're drinking. Smoking pot? Using heroin.

Oh, we hear things. We get a rumor that so and so is using. Or a former client might call back and say they now have a great job. Or they're starting a business. Or getting married. But unless you have someone at their side 24 hours a day you can't be sure of what they're doing.

I think those who follow our strict guidelines and participate in our groups and individual sessions have a good chance of living a sober life. And we often have parents send other family members who are having problems.

But I would be lying if I gave anyone a percentage rate of how many succeed. I do think we do as good a job as other programs that offer the services we do. But there again, that’s only my opinion.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Our Beliefs

"If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right." Henry Ford.

Many of our clients have a belief system that hinders their chances of getting sober.

If I think I'm worthless and will never amount to anything, I’m right.

We find this value system embedded in our subconscious. A system of beliefs that guide our lives.

It's pretty much like the autonomic system that guides our complex nervous system. Only this one guides our behaviors.

Our parents might have given us the message that we were worthless when we were children. If we hear that message repeatedly we might live our lives doing worthless things. It's not unnatural. We're simply following our programming.

We may turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or crime as ways to express that worthlessness.

The good news is we can change our programming. We can start feeding our subconscious positive messages. Maybe through visualization, prayer, or hypnosis.

We can reprogram our subconscious by using the 12-step programs. Attending meetings helps override bad programming. The kind that makes us want to kill ourselves with drugs or alcohol.

If we work hard at change we will. If we can get rid of these old messages we can live the happy and productive life God designed us for.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Frustrated

At times I get frustrated because I don't have the words to explain to a parent how to help an addict child.

The only thing I can do to try to help them is to tell about my own experience.

How my use of drugs affected my life. How I lived in cages for years. About being homeless. About losing everything over and over again. About starting businesses and relationships – then losing it all.

I'm not sure they hear me when I tell him that they are powerless over their child. That they have to let them get enough pain in their life. Then maybe they will change. Hopefully before it's too late.

Weaning ourselves off of drugs is painful.

And that's why I tell parents not to help their children while they are using. Send them to treatment, but do nothing more.

Don't feed them. Don't drive them anywhere. Don't bail them out of jail.  Don't loan them money.

Let them start paying for their lifestyle right away. Let them suffer while they're young.

The pain of their lifestyle will make them change quicker than anything else.

Click here to email Johnschwary@msn.com

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Resentments

Some former clients never let a good resentment go to waste.

Often we'll have one leave for whatever reason.  Maybe the cook burned the toast. Or he has a roommate he dislikes.  And the next thing you know we'll have an inspector knocking on the door.

Sometimes the complaint will be about our sanitation practices. Or about how many people live in a room. Or about our licensing status. About one of our kitchens.

We've even had resentful former residents go to the State legislature to try to close us down. Or to city hall to file a complaint. The people from the government usually know they're responding to an angry former resident. But they're obligated to respond.

Usually an inspector will look around for a minute and tell us everything looks great. Once in a while they might have us change a minor procedure. But generally he'll tell us to have a good day and moves on.

Most clients who leave angry do so because they don't want to be responsible. They might not want to work. Or pay service fees. Do chores. Make their beds. They're not used to getting up and going to work. So rather than do so they'll find something to get angry about and leave. Maybe to get drunk or high.

And because they want to get even they'll do whatever it takes to try to get us. But the reality is that one day they'll run out of people to be angry at and start looking at themselves.

And once they do that they might have a chance to get sober.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

We must put in the Work

Recovery is an inside job. It's something we must want to do for ourselves.

Thought about this today because I met someone who's been in more than a dozen programs. Halfway houses, treatment, sober living. You name it and he's been there. And not for a short time either. He says that he spent a year or more in some of these places. Maybe seven years total.

When I asked him why so many rehabs, he kind of shrugged his shoulders and said "they just didn't work for me.

So he and I got into a lengthy discussion about responsibility. And the bottom line is I told him in a nice way that he was simply too lazy to put in the effort to change.  He already had plenty of information.

Because while I'd been running TLC for 25+ years and think it's the best, I know there are many great programs. There's the Salvation Army, Teen Challenge, Chicanos por la Causa, and a myriad of smaller programs.

And one thing I know about them is that if one does what the program directs them to - they'll succeed.

When a person says a program "didn't work," what he's really saying is that he didn't work.

I've seen people get sober just by going to 12-step meetings. By joining a church. Or falling in love.

The real thing about recovery is we have to have enough pain to want to change. If we have the desire most any program will work - if we put in the effort.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Change our View

A halfway house client tells the group last night all the negative things about himself. At least his perception of himself.

He's very angry, he says. He thinks others don't like him. He believes he scares others because he's kind of tough looking. And because of his ethnicity.

I thought he was kind of hard on himself and told him so. He seemed surprised at my response.

Yet he's not much different from many addicts - or non-addicts- for that matter.

We get these negative ideas in our head. and - instead of letting them go - we nurture them to the point that we began living by them. We're ugly. Or stupid. Or fat. Never anything positive.

We need to change our view of ourselves. It’s just as easy to have loving and kind perceptions of ourselves. And we might even live up to them.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Obsession

At times I find myself becoming obsessive about completing a project.

And it seems that the more obsessive I become the less I get done. I get frustrated. I become angry. I tell myself all kinds of things about how many times I've done projects like this and I've never had a problem. But yesterday wasn't one of those days.

It happened as I was trying to connect a new microphone to my computer. There's a dictation program that I like to use because I can write with it three times faster than I can when typing.

But because I'd broken my last microphone I went back to typing until I could get time to get another microphone.

And the problem started when I tried to connect this expensive microphone to my computer. I won't bore you with a lot of the technical details. But in spite of a couple hour's of research I couldn't get the program to recognize the computer.

And the longer I tried the more frustrated I became. Until finally I gave up and went back to using the keyboard. And now I'm no longer frustrated.

In the final analysis I realize that the only thing I really need to be obsessive about is staying sober. As long as I do that everything else will work out in its own time.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Amends

The best time to make amends is immediately. And that's because the more time that passes, the more difficult it is to say I'm sorry.

When I offend someone I apologize on the spot. Because if I don't, then I'm carrying a mess around in my head that doesn't belong there. It's unnecessary friction that takes up way too much headspace.

I remember two aunts of mine who for ten years during their seventies and eighties refused to speak to one another. And the sad part was that they lived in a town of about 25,000 people within a few miles of one another. I forget what they were angry about. That's how big of a deal it was. I'm not sure they remembered either. One of them finally passed away without either of them making amends.

Life presents us with enough issues without us carrying extra baggage in our heads. Not only that, anger and resentment can affect our health by creating stress and tension that we don't need.

The 12 step programs teach us how to deal with resentment by suggesting we pray for the other person. And while this may run counter to our nature, it costs us nothing more than a few moments of our day to try it.

Isn't our mental and spiritual health worth a few moments?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

How we Feel

It's hard to convince clients that it's okay to be sad. Or afraid. Or unhappy. Or angry. Particularly sensitive addicts.

Some show up at my office because they're "depressed." They think that something is wrong with them. And often they think the solution is to take a pill to change their mood.

But they often don't like my suggestion that it's okay to feel bad once in a while. It's as natural to feel sad as it is to be happy. Look at the children in our lives. They go through a range of emotions during a day. And of course we don't want them to be in pain or to cry. Because it can be irritating. Or we worry that something's wrong with them. But then the next moment we'll see them laughing and playing. It's an all day cycle with many. Usually though, they're okay.

We should pay attention to our emotions, because they're sending us a message. If we're afraid, is it because we're in danger? Or is it our anxiety about what's next?

After all, our primitive ancestors had to be afraid a lot - otherwise they might get eaten by a predator. They couldn't go down to Walgreen's and pick up a prescription to keep them calm. And if they could of it would have been a deadly mistake. Fear was nature's way of protecting them.

I find that when I'm depressed or in an emotional state it's because I'm thinking too much about myself. And my solution is to get busy helping someone else.

We can change our mood by looking at those around us who have real issues that would crush most of us.

We can always see those who face physical, financial, or emotional challenges. We can be grateful for how good our own lives are. And maybe do something to help those who face challenges.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 21, 2016

Make a Decision

"There are no traffic jams on the last mile."  Roger Starbuck

One of the most difficult habits to shake is heroin addiction. In spite of massive enforcement efforts heroin use is a leading cause of accidental death. The statistics come from the Federal website. There one can find information and trends about heroin and other drugs.

Yet as a recovering heroin addict who has been clean for going on 26 years I’m here to tell everyone that it can be done if that’s what we decide to do. We just have to be willing to go the extra mile, to decide to get clean no matter what.

And that’s where the key lies: in the word “decide.” Before I got clean it I had to make a decision. And that was whether I should live a life of stealing and being locked up. Or did I want to try to get clean and live a so-called “normal” life?

I made the decision to live a clean life. I went to a halfway house and spent a year there working on myself, following others who were staying clean. At first it was somewhat difficult.

Once I was riding a bus to work. And when it made a stop in Tempe a dealer I know got on and sat down beside me. After we said our hellos he reached in his pocket and pulled out a few bags of heroin and an outfit.

“Here,” he told me. “I owe you these,” and put them in my hand. Immediately my gut started rolling. And more than anything else I wanted to put that needle in my arm. But I had made a decision that I stuck to. I put them back in his hand.

“You don’t owe me anything,” I told him and said I was now in recovery. I remember the surprised look on his face when I handed him back the heroin.

Since I first made a decision to change my life and quit using I’ve never looked back. The only drugs I’ve used a those a doctor gave me in a hospital or clinic during a medical procedure. But, for some reason it was never the same. And it never triggered me to want to return to heroin.

I guess my point is that if we have a desire to change, we can.  But we must want to be clean more than anything else.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In the Moment

I met a woman years ago who began telling me what a terrible person her ex-husband is. She went on and on for the first 20 minutes I met her. She talked of how she suffered at his hands, how he drank, how he mistreated her and the children. Then finally she divorced him.

"How long ago did you divorce him," I asked.

"18 years ago," she replied.

I knew a guy who told a similar story when he first met someone. He'd talk about how his wife cheated on him with his best friend. And how they finally ran off together, leaving him with the children. He told the story with such anger and passion that one would think it happened maybe a month earlier. But when you'd ask him when it happened he'd mention that it was about 12 years prior. In fact, it left him so scarred that I don't think he ever went out with a woman again.

Now I felt bad for both of them. At least up to the point where I found out how many years ago these incidents had happened.

I agreed that what happened might have been terrible. That it must have had a strong emotional impact.

What I didn't agree with was how long they'd been living with the emotional pain. To carry resentment and anger with us for so many years is poison to our soul. It seemed like each of them had built their identify around being a victim. And as part of their identity they had to let everyone know how badly they were treated.

My belief is if something hurts us that much we need to get over it. Life moves on. And if we dwell on what happened years ago, then we're unable to enjoy the present. And that's the only time that God has really given us - this little slice of time that we have right now.  

Why waste it on the past?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reputation

Our program has a bad reputation in the jail houses. And on the prison yards.

Prisoners tell one another that they shouldn't come to our place. And the reasons are many. At TLC clients must work. They must submit to drug tests on demand. They can't fight or threaten anyone. And we let their probation or parole officer know how they're doing.

Now these might seem like good things to the average citizen. But to those who aren't done using or living a criminal life this is not a good place to be.

The only time a prisoner will recommend our place is to someone they know wants to change. And for those who want to do something different this is the perfect place.

Living at TLC teaches clients to be responsible. To pay their child support and program service fees. To get up every day and go to work.

To a so-called "normal" person these don't sound like big deals. But to someone who's never been responsible this is a new way of life. Before coming to our place many clients didn't know how to do the simplest of things. Things like fill out a job application. Clean their rooms. Dress appropriately for a job interview. How to be polite and respectful.

Our good reputation comes from those who reunite with a sober family member. Someone they might have almost given up on.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sober Apartments

TLC has around 50 apartments it leases at low rent to clients who have graduated the program.

And for many of them it is a blessing to have a place to go once they leave the halfway house or the treatment program. Typical rents in the City of Mesa now run around $700+ a month. And that doesn't include utilities.

Our units go for a maximum of $600 and include utilities. We normally don't ask for a deposit. And lease on a monthly or sometimes weekly basis.

Aside from that, many of our graduates have arrest records. Something that prevents them getting a decent place - even if they have the money.

We ask for drug tests if we suspect or hear that someone is using drugs or alcohol - just as we do at the halfway houses. Violation of these restrictions means loss of the apartment.

Offering this service can cause us problems when the client isn't done using or partying. Often clients who graduate text or call friends who haven't graduated. And once in a while they'll invite them to spend the night - or maybe get high. That can cause a client to lose the apartment without notice.

For those who are serious, moving to an apartment is a way to smoothly transition back into the community

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pain, then Change

Over the weekend I heard about an addict in another state who decided to change her life. And she did it with some encouragement from a family member who'd never stopped loving her. But the family member would no longer do anything for her unless she sought help.

At the time she quit using she was homeless. No job. No money. Living in an urban park. Subsisting off of handouts from family and strangers. Hustling drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of her circumstances.

But one day she decided to accept help and went to a short term treatment program. She's been clean now for nearly a year. She attends church. She has a place to live. She's putting a wardrobe back together. She's seeking employment.

There are painful times because her children still shun her for the hell she put them through while she was using. But she endures it because she knows that she earned their anger and mistrust.

And today she participates in a program that goes to the same parks she used to live in and passes out food to homeless addicts.

Her story is inspiring because for more than half her life she was addicted to some kind of drug. But like many of us, the pain became too intense and she decided to change.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Having a grateful Day

If we start our day by finding three things to be grateful for we can't go wrong.

What if we can't think of anything? Then we're not using our imagination.

We only need look around us and we can find a world of suffering.

How about the poor wretch we see on our way to the office, sitting on the bus bench? All of his worldly possessions in a filthy backpack at his side? He's staring into space at a world of his own creation. Can we be grateful that’s not us?

What about the news blurb from Aleppo, Syria, where we see tearful civilians digging their loved ones from beneath the rubble of a bombing attack on their city? We can be happy that we live in a relatively peaceful society, one not wracked by war.

How about the contrast between our world and theirs? We pull into our parking space. Go into our comfortable office. Maybe enjoying a coffee while chatting with our co-workers. We can be grateful for our jobs. Our health.

Finding things to be grateful for is all relative. There’s always someone whose life is a mess. People without opportunity.  Third world people who live on two dollars a day and somehow survive.

If we start our day with three things we’re grateful for, whether they’re small or large, we’re going to have a great day without even trying.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Back with Family

One of the most important things in life is family.

Yet once we become addicted we often trash our relationship with them. They're at odds with the path we've chosen in life. And this is especially true of my two older children who suffered the most from my addiction.

Much of their childhood I was in some kind of State facility. I didn't communicate with them because they were too small to write. They lived on welfare. They sometimes stayed with their addict mother. And sometimes with other relatives.

Between jail terms I'd see them briefly. But because I was spending my money on drugs I had little to give to their support.

They not only suffered material deprivation. They also didn't have a full time father.

I bring this up because my oldest daughter flew from California to see me this week. We're having a good time visiting and reminiscing. In spite of her upbringing, she never fell off into the drug world. In fact, she’s been a practicing pastor for over 20 years. She’s an example for me.

I write this to encourage those of you who are new to the program. Your relationships can be rebuilt. During my 25 plus years of recovery I've rebuilt most of my relationships with my family. And you can do the same.

Simply keep your focus on recovery. And your family will one day recognize that you're serious. And they'll find out that it's safe to love you again.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Anger

A long time ago I used to get angry about most everything that didn't go my way.

If someone cut me off in traffic, I'd want to get even and do the same to them.

If I had to wait in line too long at a store I'd leave my basket and simply walk out - leaving it there for someone else to deal with.

Sometimes if someone looked at me sideways I'd get angry.

And my anger turned into a fertile breeding ground for resentment that I couldn't identify. That's how much of it there was stored inside me.

But one day - not long after I got sober 26 years ago - I realized that when I got angry I just had to get over it. And the sooner the better.

Today when things don't go my way I still might get angry - but I'm much quicker to let it go. It's not good for my blood pressure. It's not good for my attitude. Angry is not who I am today.

The bad thing about getting angry for me is that I just have to get happy again. So why not stay in a good mood and not take the detour into anger and all it's bad side effects?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Power of Belief

Prior to 1954 it was believed impossible for a human to run a mile in less than four minutes.  It was supposed to be beyond the limits of human physiology.
Yet in May of 1954 Roger Bannister of England did it.  In 59.4 seconds.  
But a lesser known fact is that within two years afterward 37 others also ran sub-four minute miles. Today high school athletes routinely run sub-four minute miles.
So what happened?  Did athletes become better within two years? Or even 75 years? No.
What happened is that beliefs changed. Athletes saw what was possible and made the breakthrough. 
I bring this up because a lot of alcoholics and addicts don't believe they can stay sober because they never have.  Yet if they look around the recovery rooms there are many who have been sober for years. 
The secret of accomplishing anything is we first must believe we can do it.  Then we can.
I got sober because somewhere deep inside I knew the program worked.  But I didn’t want to believe it because I still wanted to shoot heroin and drink.
The reality that came to the surface for me is that I knew that millions of others had changed their lives and that I could do it too.
I’d seen it work for others and I knew it could work for me too.  It's about believing we can do it.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Establishment Bias

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it's lowest ones” Nelson Mandela.

Yesterday a staff member mentioned a tour he'd given to a local businessman. The man had apparently heard negative things about TLC.

Our staff member did a good job of describing our mission. Because by the time the tour was over the visitor's body language was different. And it seemed that his opinion had shifted.

Local businesses and government officials - who know little about what we do - hold a mostly negative attitude about our program.

At one period, during the late 1990s, the City actually passed three ordinances that would have prevented us from operating in our downtown locations.

Only after a five year Federal lawsuit did they rescind their ordinances.

However, the negative attitude towards addicts and alcoholics persists. A small example can be seen in the directional signs posted downtown. For example they don't describe our Macdonald Street location as a treatment program or a sober living facility. Instead, our location is called "TLC Apartments." We don't rent apartments to anyone. But those signs are another not-so-subtle reminder of the establishment bias toward addicts and alcoholics.

When a community can't have compassion and support for those who are battling the deadly disease of addiction it tells the world a lot about how they care for our citizens.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Not Ready

A man who claims to be sincere about his recovery talks his mother into buying him a plane ticket to Arizona.

Since she had picked him up as soon as he walked out of detox, she thought he was clean. And that's probably what he told her. So she spent the money to put him on a plane to Phoenix, far from his home in the Midwest.

Once he arrives and gets settled into a room I hear from his mother. She says that TLC was not at all what he thought it would be like.

The second day he was here - on a Sunday - he was put to work, holding a sign on the street advertising our weekly donation only car wash. The only part he told her about was the donations - he didn't tell her the part about the car wash.

The next day we sent him to work on one of our labor crews. He didn't expect that either because the last place he was at was free - he was there on a scholarship plan.

When he found out that he was going to have to work he asked for a ride to the airport. He said he wanted to go home and shoot some heroin.

In our opinion, he wasn't ready for recovery anyway. Because his roommates claimed he kept asking them if they knew where he could buy heroin.

I let her know that when he was ready we'd take him back. When he gets enough pain he may call.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Letting go of the Past

"It's not the bite of the snake that kills you, it's the poison left behind." Tom Callos

Many addicts spend a lot of head space living in the past. And my judgment is that they haven't surrendered. That they haven't accepted the idea that they are responsible for their addiction. They're clinging to false assumptions about why they still use.

"My parents abused me as a child."

"We were poor."

"We lived in the wrong neighborhood."

"I was adopted."

"I didn't have a problem until she divorced me."

These are a few of the reasons addicts give for hanging onto the past. Why they think they're justified in using.

But the real answer comes we look at ourselves honestly. Sure, bad things have happened to many of us. And as long as we decide to hang onto them we're going to live in pain.

And we know how to cover that pain for a while. We can can kill it with drugs or alcohol - the things that eventually will destroy our lives.

The remedy is to look our pain in the face each time it shows up. Eventually you'll find you'll accept that bad things happened. And that you must live with them and move on - or die.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Neighbors

It's easy to be judgmental. I find my self doing it, mostly unconsciously, every so often. But along with that I must be developing some compassion I never knew I had.

This comes up because I have an older neighbor who lives behind me who's been a minor irritant over the past 15 years. Nothing big, just nit-picking things.

I remember the first time I met him we barely said hello before he told me he had a 35 year old mail order bride from Asia. Which seemed to me a strange thing to tell your neighbor the first five minutes you meet him. Later I figured he might still be on his honeymoon.

Because he takes pride in his back yard he's always having crews trim trees and so on. And once in a while they drop branches in my yard. Which I promptly put back over the fence.

One time they even came on my side of the fence and trimmed some branches off one of my trees that were sticking over his fence. At that point I wrote him a letter. And explained that he could legally trim anything growing over the fence line. But couldn't have his people in my yard cutting my trees. And I cited the Arizona Revised Statutes to make my point. He never wrote back. Nor did he speak after that when he saw me in my back yard.

Another time, a few years earlier, he chastised me for trimming one of my own trees. He liked it the way it was before I trimmed it because it partially blocked the view of his pool from my side of the fence. I told him I'd let it grow back - even though I wasn't especially interested about what was happening in his pool.

Over the years it's been a series of small incidents like that. Once he filled in a hole in the wall between our yards with some kind of liquid insulation that discolored my side of the fence. And it took me a while to clean it off.

Like I said, nothing big, just irritating stuff.

But for the past few months I haven’t seen him. He used to make a circuit each day, picking up leaves and doing other chores. And the only reason I’d notice him is because my second story bedroom overlooks his back yard.

But lately I've been wondering what happened to him. I wonder if he's okay. Is he sick? Did his wife go back to Asia? Did he have an accident?

And I mention this because all 15 years I've lived here I've been mostly negative about him. Now I'm wondering if he's okay and can't figure out why.

Am I developing compassion for a neighbor who seemed to enjoy being an irritant?  Have I lost my ability to be resentful?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Helping an Addict

I talk this evening to a mother in the Midwest.

Her son is being released from a detox unit at ten in the morning. She wonders if we have room for him.  If we can help him get sober.

She has anxiety and sounds worried as she asks me the kind of questions that many mothers ask when they send their grown children to our halfway houses.

For example, she wants to know what our success rate is. I tell her that's a question I can't answer. Because I don't know. We don't have the ability to follow addicts around to see if they revert to using after they leave. And neither can any other program. And if they tell you they can, then they're lying.

I tell her a little bit about the structure of our program. And what he can look forward to when he gets here. I tell her what kind of clothes he needs to bring, mostly work clothes. Plus toiletries and personal items.

I do tell her that if he does everything we tell him to do he has a 100% chance of staying sober the rest of his life. I think she sounds relieved because she knows I'm not telling her any bullshit.

She says she's making arrangements to put him on an airplane tomorrow.

I tell her to text me his flight number. And to have him call when he arrives. One of our vans will pick him up from the airport, Which is about a mile from our Phoenix facility.

If he gets here, we may have helped another addict save his life. All he needs to do is follow directions and he won’t have to use anymore.  It's simple, especially if he's had enough pain.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Changing Early

More than half the clients in our treatment program are in their twenties. Though a few are older.

There was a time when I was amazed at how they behaved. I wondered how they could act like that. Some are self-centered, have a sense of entitlement, break every rule, lie about most everything.

Then one day I connected the dots and realized that when I was in that age range I was the same way. Most of the time, much worse.

I never went to treatment on my own - period. A judge had to hang a five year prison sentence over my head before I went off to spend a year at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California.

In over fifty years I'd forgotten that as a twenty year old I lived, as someone who knew me said, " like a wild dog." When I was out of jail - I did what I wanted when I wanted and was accountable to nobody.

My only goal in life was to escape the demons from my past. And the best way to do that was drown them in alcohol and heroin.

I would go on stealing sprees, then disappear for days in drug houses. I sold drugs, stole drugs, and smuggled drugs out of Northern Mexico. When I wasn't incarcerated, I traveled a long trail of pain and misery that only chemicals would blot out for a while.

And the strange thing about that is that I didn't think I had a problem. I thought that people who didn't live as I did simply didn't know how to party and have a good time.

So when I look at the young people we try to help today I can only admire them for being smarter than I was at their age. Even though they screw up sometimes, at least they're trying to change at an early age.

That's something I never did until I was over fifty years old.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I can See

Modern medicine is amazing.

A week ago today I was at a clinic to have a cataract removed from my left eye. As always, I approached the procedure with anxiety because let's face it: doctors scare the crap out of me. I’ve lost most of my fears in my 25 years of sobriety – but the one about doctors is still with me.

So even though others had told me how wonderful the results would be, and how painless the surgery is, I had my doubts.

But they were right. I went through four or five rooms where technicians did various vision tests. Then a nurse put drops in my left eye to "numb" any potential pain. She did that four or five times. She was right, I felt nothing as they probed my eye.

Another nurse put an IV in my left wrist. She said they would give me something "to relax" - though throughout the entire procedure I was conscious. And able to answer their questions.

Once in the operating room, they rolled me under a large machine that looked like a robot. The narrow part above my head had what looked like an eye in it.

The doctor said the machine was more accurate and precise than a human. He placed it directly over my eye and said I would feel a "slight pressure" when it came into contact with my eye. He was right - it was slight.

The procedure took only 20 minutes or so. I remember seeing a lot of strange psychedelic shapes and at the end what looked like a lot of tiny insects running around. Finally the doctor asked me if I could see a red dot. When I said yes, he said to tell him when I could no longer see it. And that was it.

They taped a metal plate over my eye and sent me home. They told me to take it off the next morning and that I wouldn't need anything other than reading glasses for that eye. While I was skeptical, they were right.

The next morning I was excited about removing the covering. Since then I've had to put prescription drops in my eye each day. But I only need reading glasses for things close up.

And now I'm scheduled to do the other eye in the next few weeks. And this time I have no anxiety about the procedure.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Meditation Feedback

I've been meditating for about 20 years. And earlier this year received my certification as a mindfulness instructor.

As such, I offer a mindfulness group every Saturday in my office at 11:30 a.m. And sometimes I go to an outlying house and offer a brief lecture, then a meditation session.

A few weeks ago I went to the Pride house for an evening session.

The manager, a strong supporter of anything that will help residents to recover, brought me some 3 x 5 cards yesterday. Written on them were comments from the residents about their experiences with Mindfulness meditation. I quote a few of them here to show how meditation can be beneficial. Quotes are anonymous, of course.

"After practicing mindful meditation I have found that I can think clearer, focus better, and rest more peacefully. I like to use mindful meditation in the morning and at night no I can stay clear headed."

"Mindful meditation has made my thoughts clearer. Made me realize my feelings more. Made me appreciate my blessings and living in a grateful state of being"

"When I actually tried to practice Mindful meditation it helped a little. I tend to meditate while I clean or listen to music, but when I actually took the time to be mindful it opened up a whole new look at things."

"I am more aware of myself and my surroundings. I am more at peace with myself. I sleep better, eat better, and feel better. My program and my mind, body, and spirit are healthier. I grow more and more every time I put it into action."

As you can see, Mindful meditation brings different results for those who practice. As there is no goal in meditation - other than to meditate - one cannot fail at the process.

One simple definition of Mindfulness is "Fully aware of present experience with acceptance - without judgement.

I have included links below for those who have an interest in learning more. There are also free downloads on some of these sites.

One of my favorites.

Another resource.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What's your Story?

I heard a motivational speaker talking this morning about how we all have a story. And depending upon how tied we are to that story it can control our life.

He talked about the overweight person who says he's overweight because he has big bones. And that's why it's hard for him to lose weight.

He mentioned an addict who says he's an addict because his parents were addicts. Plus he lived in the wrong neighborhood.

I listened for a while then started thinking about my own story - the one that used to keep me getting high. My father was an alcoholic, drunk on his ass most of the time. I was abused as a child. I didn't have any stability in my life. My parents divorced when I was four and shared custody - until my father kidnapped me and my younger brother when I was about five.

The story goes on - but you get the idea.

When I began getting in trouble as a teenager I would drag this story out for social workers and teachers who couldn't understand why I was so self-destructive. I got a lot of breaks because people felt as sorry for me as I did for myself.

But eventually people got tired of my story and sent me to jails and other places.

In my early fifties I woke up one day and decided to change my story. I imagined myself as sober and successful. And that new story is what I became.

What's your story? If you don’t like it, write a new one.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Taking Credit

At a 12-step meeting yesterday I watched a man receive his two year chip. As he introduced himself he pointed at a man sitting at the rear of the meeting room and said "I owe it all to that man sitting in the back row."

The man he pointed to is the director of a local recovery program who's been in the business for many years. While the tribute was nice, and well taken, the man was wrong.

All of us are responsible for our own recovery. Just as we were responsible for our own drinking and drug use, we are also responsible for our own changes.

No one ever held any of us down and poured alcohol down our throat. Nor did they force heroin in our arm.

We're the ones who go to the meetings. We read the Big Book. We're the ones who spend time listening to our sponsors. And other old timers in the program. We’re the ones who practice the principles.

Gratitude is wonderful and necessary. But we must also recognize our own hard work when it comes to our recovery.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gratitude Works

If we get out of bed in the morning and don't look forward to our day we need to change how we get up.

Since I'm a retired shoplifter, this is not an original idea. I stole it from a motivational talk I was listening to while working out the other morning. But it does work. And it goes like this.

When you first open your eyes in the morning think of three things you’re grateful for. It doesn't have to be anything big. It doesn't have to be anything dramatic.

For example, most of the people in the world - about three quarters of them - live on less than three dollars a day. The idea that I don't live in that part of the world brings me into gratitude right away.

I wear braces and have the hassle of putting them on every morning. But this is a path to gratitude. At least I have still have legs and can afford to buy braces to support them.

There are a myriad of things we can be grateful for. Our relationships. Our jobs. Our homes. Our freedom.

If we look at the world in this positive way when we first awaken it does something to our chemistry. And it brings our ego into check.  Our day goes more smoothly.

If we look for the blessings in life we'll find more of them. And if we look for the negative, we'll find that also.

Try it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Family Rejection

Addicts are sometimes dismayed when the world doesn't welcome them back with open arms once they get sober. And maybe have a parade or at least a party..

I recently heard of a mother and grandmother who is quite unhappy because her children want little to do with her. And she's been sober for nearly a year now.

When she sees her family in social situations they barely speak to her. Some ignore her completely.

Those in the program, who support her recovery, have told her that things will change in time. And I  believe they will.

I remember 26 years ago when I first got sober I thought it was a pretty big deal. And it was – for me.

But my grandparents and other relatives were not nearly as impressed. They had seen me for years go in and out of sobriety. They knew of my trips to jails and hospitals. As far as they were concerned it was just a matter of time before I'd be back at the bar or the dope house.

I think they were more surprised when they saw me stay sober two, then three, then four years.

And by the time I was sober for five years they all had pretty much accepted me back into their lives. Even though I've never stolen from my family I'm sure they were embarrassed to even be related to me. I think they were afraid that I would contaminate younger family members.

But after I had five years clean I was welcome to go anywhere. Everyone I knew began to trust my recovery.

If people don’t believe in my sobriety I understand and accept. I have a lot more things to do with my life than to occupy my head space about it. Whatever their opinion of me, I can respect it.

Because I’m living in the moment.