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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Promise Four

"We will know peace" Promise Four from the big book.

Before we escaped from the bonds of alcohol and other substances how many of us truly knew what peace meant?

When we were out there drinking and doing our thing peace was the last thing we expected to encounter. Most of us awoke in the morning and confronted the problem of dealing with our addiction. And that challenge was way on the other end of the spectrum from peace. Until we could get enough of our favorite substance in our system, life was a series of challenges. Going through hell to get the right chemical balance so we could make it through the rest of our day. In fact our lives were so chaotic, that if something like peace did show up we would wonder what was wrong. Was the world coming to an end?

As you will note, Promise Four says "we will know peace." It did not promise that we will have peace. It simply states that we will "know" peace.

I believe that this promise means something more in the nature that we will know peace from time to time. And after years of recovery peace will become more of a way of life as time progresses.

I know that as time goes on, and as I arrive at my 26th year of sobriety in January, peace is with me more often than not. And I believe that the further we go along in sobriety the more often we will experience peace or live in a state of peace. We finally realize that the best place in life we can be is in a state of acceptance. Which in my opinion, is where we find peace.

We come to realize that there are not too many big deals in life. And that if we calmly accept whatever challenges we face we will enter a state of peace.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Promise Three

"We will comprehend the word serenity" Promise Three from the Big Book

Different dictionaries define serenity in different ways. But their definitions all boil down to the same thing: a peaceful and calm state of being.

But if we pay close attention to this promise it doesn't say that we will have serenity. That we will enjoy serenity. All it says is that we will "comprehend" the word serenity. In other words we will understand what serenity means.

In my opinion, after nearly 26 years of sobriety, serenity is an ideal that we hope to achieve. While it is a state of being, I have seen very few individuals always in a state of serenity. I think maybe the founders put that in there as an ideal to reach. Because once we're serene we have no reason to pick up a bottle or put some other substance in our body.

My belief is that achieving a state of serenity is not something we suddenly arrive at. I believe that achieving a state of serenity is a long and winding path. The road is sometimes rough. It sometimes is a winding, rocky path before we achieve anything approaching a state of serenity.

My belief is that we all experience serenity at some at some point. But then a challenge comes and it suddenly disappears like the mist on a warm morning. It might be that we lose our jobs. Or get a bad grade in school. Or someone runs into our car in a parking lot.

So we naturally are feeling upset. Or enraged. And while we still comprehend the word serenity, it's not something that we're practicing at the moment.

When we're living in a state of serenity nothing seems to bother us. The 12 step programs have taught us to not only comprehend the word serenity, but perhaps live in a state of serenity regardless of what life presents us with. We have reached a state of philosophical depth that we know that each day is different. We lear, in fact, that the only thing we can count on in life, the only inevitability, is that things will be different each day. Or in maybe a shorter period than that.

I believe that true serenity descends upon us when we accept whatever goes on in our lives – when we learn to live with whatever the outcome.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Promise Two

"We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it" – Promise Two

This second promise is aimed at helping us get sober – as is everything in the book. While it runs counter to some of what we hear in therapy and psychology today, it serves its purpose. In other words, I believe that there is a philosophical split between the different schools of thought – but that both serve a purpose.

Often times in 12 step meetings we hear a lot of talk of what we did in the past. And not much of it was nice. We treated ourselves and our families poorly. We sometimes went so far into debt that we lost our homes and everything we own. Maybe we picked up a drunk driving case that landed us in jail. Our behavior while we were drinking and using was so bad that we had nowhere else to turn other than to the 12-step programs.

I believe the idea that we "will not regret the past"  means that the past is something that we should accept, but not dwell upon. Because many of us addicts have an obsessive nature where we regret the past to the point that that's all we think about. I think this line in the promises is more in the spirit of reminding us of how far we went when we were in the insanity of our addiction. And that's why we don't "shut the door on it." We leave it buried there in our subconscious. Most of the time out of sight, but never totally out of mind. Because if all we think about is the bad things we did while we were using we know a quick way to feel better. And that's not what any of us want.


Mindfulness practice can help deal with our regretting of the past without judgment and with acceptance. Thoughts of regret pop up and we allow them to pass through our mind. We recognize them, accept them without judgment. And watch them float away like a feather on a summer breeze.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The First Promise

Promise one in the big book says "we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness."

But the promises are something an addict or alcoholic can be dubious about. And that is understandable. For many of us never knew freedom or happiness during our whole lives. At least for any amount of time.

The idea of having freedom or happiness was a mystery to many of us addicts – including me.

That's why when so-called friends came knocking at my door with a container of either alcohol or drugs I found instant happiness and instant freedom. So much so that I wanted to feel that way the rest of my life. I remember that the first time I tried heroin I made the statement to myself "this is the way I want to feel for the rest of my life."

And I did my very best to live up to that promise. So much so that I spent almost 30 years pursuing that feeling that I first experienced as a teenager. But I was never able to achieve it again. I became a slave to a chemical that almost destroyed me and did kill many of my friends. In pursuit of that promise to myself I spent years living in cages trying to figure out who to blame for my dilemma.

So when I finally did get clean and sober, because I had no other choice other than death or more prison time - I did begin to experience a new freedom and a new happiness. But I was so unacquainted with those emotions that it took me a year to realize why I was beginning to feel different.

What had happened is that the burden of pursuing drugs and alcohol had been lifted from me. I began to work entry-level jobs. And even though I wasn't getting paid much it seemed like I always had a few hundred dollars stashed in the bank. And I think my happiness stemmed not so much from having a few dollars, but from the lifting of the anxiety I experienced when I was addicted. No longer did I have to wonder where I was going to get my next fix or where I was going to steal my next drink. That in itself was a great relief. Indeed, it could be described as freedom and happiness.

As life went on that feeling became part of my daily living. While each day wasn't always a bed of roses I had enough experience with freedom and happiness to understand what was going on with me. And what was going on with me was that I was no longer out of my mind with drugs and alcohol. And I was able to make choices about the direction of my life.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Christmas Tree Sale

Thanksgiving day each year TLC begins one of its major fundraising efforts. That's the day we open our Christmas tree lots in various areas of the Valley. Each lot is staffed by TLC clients, all volunteers who spend their own time on the project. Funds raised during the month-long sale goes to charity and Christmas bonuses for various clients and staff members who put the project together.

It might not sound like a big deal to put together Christmas tree lots. But there are a lot of details that go into this project.

First, around the middle of July a staff member starts looking for places to sell trees. So, you might ask what's the big deal about that? Well, one of the problems is that not everyone wants Christmas tree sales on their property.

Each time we find a location it must meet certain qualifications. It must be on a corner where there's a lot of traffic. The owner of the property must agree to allow us there, which means we need to get liability insurance coverage for the location. There must also be a water supply to keep the trees fresh and moist.

And this year we ran into a problem we hadn't encountered for some time: none of the suppliers where we buy our trees in Oregon had any available. Fortunately, at the last moment, we were able to locate someone who had 1000 trees for sale.

Some of our biggest benefactors over the years have been Walmart stores.

For those of you who would like to buy a tree this year we have lots at the following locations:

  • The Target store at I -17 and Beardsley,
  • Walmart at Alma School and Warner·
  • Walmart at Greenfield and I – 60
  • Chris town Mall

We are grateful to all of those who allow us to sell on their property.


Click here to email John

Friday, November 25, 2016

Forgiveness

Sometimes I never know what to believe about politicians and what they say. And one thing I rarely do is talk about political matters in this blog. Because this blog is about recovery.

But there are exceptions, especially when the exceptions relate to what is an ideal in recovery.

And what I'm referring to is the other day when Donald Trump announced he no longer had an interest in putting Hillary Clinton in jail. At first I was kind of taken aback. Because during the debates that's exactly what he promised to do. Hire a special prosecutor to deal with her email issues.

And most of the pundits and newspaper columnists who commented on it were highly approving of his action. I mean, after all what is more attractive than forgiveness?

And while Donald Trump claims to be an outsider, and not a politician, he certainly is a very pragmatic individual when it comes to getting what he wants. After all, in my opinion it takes a lot of people skills to acquire and manage over 500 companies.

He kind of brushed off questions about his losing interest in prosecuting her, instead making reference to that he has a lot of other business to take care of.

And another example of his forgiveness is when he reached out to Mitt Romney. Reports are that he is considering Romney for a position in his cabinet, even though Romney slammed him hard during the primaries. Now Donald Trump either is very thick-skinned, or else he is blessed by not having an ego that requires him to look good or be right.

And on top of all that he also appointed a woman to the United Nations with whom he had had a few spats during the primaries.

Because he is a successful businessman who deals with a lot of people he might operate on the basis of getting what he wants.  And not letting his feelings or his ego get in the way by maintaining a resentment.

All I know is that I wish I were able to forgive as easily as he seems to forgive those who gave him such a hard time during the primary elections.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks

Today is a day of giving thanks. For being grateful for what we have in our lives right now.

Even the history of Thanksgiving is murky and somewhat debatable, starting somewhere around 1621. The core factor is that the celebration evolved from those who were grateful for a successful harvest, for surviving another year, for a new child and other blessings.

For many who live in halfway houses or who are recovering from addiction it can sometimes be difficult to find things to be grateful for. Many of our clients have pasts that led them to use drugs or alcohol to the point where they could no longer function "normally." Many of them took trips to prison, have developed poor health, and have picked up little in the way of job or career skills. Some may have been divorced or lost touch with their family.

Even if you are someone who falls into this category there are still things you can be grateful for. You're alive. And if you're reading this sentence you still have your cognitive skills. Something to be thankful for.

After working in the recovery field for over 25 years, I've seen hundreds of men and women do phenomenal things with their lives. First, they became clean and sober. Then many of them have gone to school, started a business or even gotten married and are raising a family.

As addicts we often feel that we have a natural right to feel good once we get sober. But that's not the case. Life has its ups and downs. It’s as natural to feel good as it is to feel bad.

But when we are living a life of recovery we learn to deal with both negatives and positives of life without reverting to our old friends – drugs or alcohol.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More Meditation

“If a person’s basic state of mind is serene and calm, then it is possible for this inner peace to overwhelm a painful physical experience.” ~The Dalai Lama
Today I was reading a blog written by a gentleman from the Netherlands, named John Nonemaker. Normally I don't plagiarize, which is a nice way of saying that I don't steal other people's material.

But in an article entitled "Five Science Backed Benefits benefits of Meditation, he describes in a fashion that the layman can understand some of the many benefits of meditating every day. I'm going to take an excerpt from each of the five. Plus to give him  credit I'm going to link to his website so you can learn more about the benefits.

1. Improve focus and memory

A 2013 UC Santa Barbara study published in Psychological Science found that mindfulness training, including meditation, can improve our ability to focus on tasks at hand and recall details from memory.

2. Reduce stress and anxiety

Research at Harvard Medical School found that meditation can physically change the brain’s amygdala, the portion of our brain related to stress and anxiety, and lower our levels of stress.

3. Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

A 2012 study published in "Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes," found that daily meditation can not only reduce stress, but can actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well.

4. Boost our immune systems

Another great benefit of meditation, at least according to a 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, is that it can improve our bodies’ ability to fight off disease and illness.

5. Reduce physical pain

According to a 2015 study by Wake Forest University published in the Journal of Neuroscience, meditation has the ability to reduce pain sensations in our bodies.

To read the entire article follow this link http://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-science-backed-benefits-meditation/


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Acceptance

I read something a while back about the hundred most influential people in history. I think it was in a Life magazine. And there were listed many of the famous people we all recognize – from inventors to politicians and so forth.

But I was surprised to find on the list the name of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Personally, I believe that he was very influential. I guess what surprised me is that the people who made up the list also recognized it. (Maybe there were a few alcoholics on the board that made the selection).

Over the past 25 years I've read the big book several times. In fact, I went through it once a year for 23 years in a group that I used to belong to.

And I guess everyone has their favorite parts. The steps. The stories in the back of the book. The doctor's opinion. We all have our personal likes and dislikes.

And I have mine. My favorite part is on page 417 about acceptance being at the root of all of our problems today. And I revere that passage as containing the wisdom of the ages.

Because when I can accept something I'm no longer fighting with it. No matter whether it's health or wealth or relationships, if I'm in acceptance about how they are and how they're going I really don't have a lot of problems.

Instead, acceptance opens the doors to solutions. Once we accept something then we have an answer. It may not be the answer we want. But it's an answer. Once we have an answer then we are on the path to a solution – if one is even required.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Back at Work

Looking forward to being back to work today. After spending three days in the hospital last week because of pneumonia I had little or no energy for anything. However, my local drug dealer at Walgreens sold me several pills the size of a small submarine and told me to take one of them a day for seven days. After taking half of them, I'm already starting to feel stronger and more energetic. Drugs do have a purpose, you know, other than for just getting high.

I knew these must be some pretty strong medications. Because the druggist asked me "Do you know these cost $97 for seven of them? Are you sure you still want them?" Whenever they ask you questions like that you know they must be potent. And of course I told him yes. In fact I would've given him twice as much because I felt so crappy.

And because I'm feeling better I'm happy that I live in a civilized country where medical treatment is available. People hear me complain a lot about how much money our country spends on health care. In fact, our country spends something like $7500 per capita on healthcare. Or as some like to put it "sick care."

A recent article I read showed that the United States spends twice as much money as the next closest country, which is Australia, where they spend about $3500 per capita.

So one could extrapolate from that because we spend so much money we would be the healthiest population in the world. Not true. On the world health scale the United States lands somewhere between 35 and 40 in terms of how healthy the population is. It is true that we have one of the best medical systems in the world in terms of patching people up, grafting and transplanting and doing exotic operations like that. But in terms of preventive basic healthcare and nutrition we are in shameful position behind some Third World countries.

Whatever the case, I'm ready to return to work again on a limited schedule - for which I am grateful.
Click here to email John



Sunday, November 20, 2016

1 in 7

The summer of 2004 I had surgery to remove a bowel obstruction.

While I was in the hospital my sponsor and I talked about painkillers. I told him I didn't want to take the Dialauded they were giving me. And the reason was because it was the closest to my drug of choice: heroin.

So he sat by my bedside and explained to me that there are other uses for painkillers besides getting high. That a lot of people use them to do what they were designed to, which was to kill pain. He said most addicts use drugs to cover up emotional pain, without realizing that there is a legitimate use for painkilling drugs. As a teenager I seemed to be living through a lot of emotional pain – whether it was self-created or not. Drugs always helped.

So anyway I had a talk with the staff of the hospital. They told me they would get something that wasn't quite so potent since I was afraid of becoming addicted again. They moved me down to something called oxycodone. And as the pain subsided I tapered off of those within a week or two,

And this comes up for me today because I read in this morning's edition of USA Today that the Surgeon General of the United States says that more than one in seven Americans will suffer from addiction to opioids or heroin.

The article went on to say that an American dies every 19 minutes from opioid or heroin overdose. And the economic impact of this abuse costs more than $442 billion each year – topping diabetes at $245 billion.

The article quoted him as saying "we have to recognize addiction is not evidence of a character flaw or moral failing. It's a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease."

"Our whole approach to substance abuse disorders is you go to jail," he said. It's the only illness for which you send people to jail, for long, long periods of time." According to this report, nearly 21 million Americans have trouble with substance addictions. That's more than the number of people who have all cancers combined.

There was a lot of truth in this article. Because I've met thousands of people in prison who were sent there simply because they were drug addicts – maybe for committing a small property crime so they could obtain the drugs they needed to feed their addiction.

Maybe a positive new trend is developing where our society views addiction as a disease rather than a crime.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tough Love

I often give advice to the families of addicts and alcoholics who are unable to quit using by themselves. And I give the same advice to my family that I give to those who read this blog.

If an addict is unwilling to go into treatment and change their lives my advice is always the same: don't give them any more help until they decide to get into treatment. But very seldom do I meet any of the people involved in these situations. It's always via email or by telephone, seldom face-to-face.

But this weekend I had the good fortune to meet with a woman who didn't know what to do about her sister who was strung out on pills for some time. And I gave her the same advice: help her get into treatment but don't give her any further help unless she successfully completes the program. And all of the events I describe here happened nearly a year ago. But she had difficulty accepting the advice from her sister, who had never used any kind of drug or alcohol.

However, things finally became so bad that she ended up losing her apartment and becoming homeless. After a few weeks of being homeless, she accepted her sister's advice and went into a treatment program. And today she has nearly a year clean and sober. And her life continues to improve.

She's getting her body back in shape by going to the gym for at least an hour a day. She is putting together an employment resume. She attends a church that gives her a lot of support in her recovery.

So if you or a member of your family is in a similar situation I would suggest you follow the same path. Even though you love them with all your heart, give them no help that will allow them to continue their habit. That means no couch to sleep on. That means no ride to the connection. That means no giving money or a "short term loan."

Your loved one will be very pissed off at you. They will accuse you of hating them and never loving them. But if you want to have a chance of saving them, do not bend or yield. No matter if they threaten to never speak to you again.

Because the woman I talked to today whose sister would not help her until she got treatment is grateful for how tough her sister was with her.

It's your choice: you can be a positive driving force in your addict's life. Or you can be the one who yields and finds them dead somewhere with a needle in their arm. 

Make the right choice today.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reminiscing

I was having dinner this evening with a person I hadn't seen in some time. Dinner was great, then we started reminiscing about people I hadn't seen in 30 or more years.

And for some reason that excursion into the past made me realize how blessed I am today. Some of the people I knew 30 years ago are still doing the same things that I was doing when I lived on the West Coast. Some of them are in jail or prison, doing life. Others are in nursing homes, with little expectation of ever coming out alive because they have no one to care for them.

At one time some of them had made fortunes in the drug business, but then had blown it on partying and high living. Eventually they sank into drugging and drinking and succumbed to their bad habits. Or else disappeared to who knows where.

As I reflected I realize how blessed my life is today. But, of course, it would have been pretty much like their lives had I stayed there and continued using drugs and drinking.

Instead I had an opportunity to come to Arizona to get out of the area of California where I was living for so long. After a few years of being here – and continuing to drink and drug – I got tired and went into a detox. And my life has been immeasurably good ever since.

Before I went into detox I somehow had the bizarre idea that my problems in life were just bad luck.

After I got sober for a while I began to realize that my so-called "problems" were all of my own making. And due to my addictions and my inability to deal with them.

The longer I stayed sober the better my life has gotten. I have all the promises that are given to us in the 12 step programs. I have a wonderful wife. I have my estranged family back. I go on vacations a few times a year, sometimes more. I have all the material things that I used to dream about.

And I attribute all that I have accomplished to one thing: learning how to live life without drugs or alcohol.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grateful for Home

Finally out of the hospital and happy to return home. And back at work Monday.

Three days in a nice hospital isn't much different than three days in a nice jail. Even though the food and accommodations in a hospital are better, the common ingredient is lack of freedom. Being able to do what I want when I want.

But it reminds me that many people can't get out of bed at all because they are handicapped for whatever reason. Stroke, spinal injury, brain damage or other physical problems.

I can't begin to imagine how people mentally adapt to living their lives under those conditions without being in total acceptance. They must pull upon some kind of supernatural strength that carries them through such circumstances.

When I think of them I realize that I have nothing to complain about. And much to be grateful for.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Still Waiting

Still in the hospital.  But with some hope of being released tomorrow.

Apparently they wanted  to be sure they had pumped enough antibiotics in me to kill pneumonia and whatever it's  made of.  Every so often an aide comes by and hangs a plastic bag of clear liquid on a pole to replace one that's almost empty.

About four times a day someone comes by to check my blood pressure to see if it's high or low.

All in all this laying around doesn't fit well into my lifestyle.  I never feel better than when I'm moving.  Maybe tomorrow that's what'll happen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thank You

I am very grateful to have the many friends I have covering my my back while I have been in the hospital for the past few days.

I'm still not sure why I'm here.  One doctor says it's a virus.  Another will say it's the flu.

But at this writing no one really knows what's going on. All I know is that I've gotten a lot of blood tests of varying kinds - but no answers.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have good news to share.  Thanks for everyone's kind wishes.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Past

"We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present.” ~Marianne Williamson

The present is what we have. If we think we have a grip on the past, all we're really saying is that we remember what happened before. And what purpose does it serve? Yes, maybe we learn something from what happened in the past. But surely we didn't learn enough to want to spend all our free time there.

Surely there are some beautiful things that happen in our past. We became engaged. We married. We got a promotion at work. Or we graduated from college. We witnessed the birth of our children..

But most of the time when we're talking about the past, we're usually reminiscing about some trauma. Or some terrible things happened in the past that we just can't seem to get over. The past is a vast landscape and we can waste a lot of time wandering through it. We might be like the archaeologist that digs through the strata, hoping to find something unique or different. But more likely, he's just passing time, trying to figure things out. Why did this or that happen to someone like me? And if we do find out why it happened or what happened, so what? Whatever happened happened; The best thing we can is hope that we don't repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Underdog Win!

Maybe it's because I've always felt like an underdog I was very happy the way the election came out. Contrary to what most of my liberal friends thought, I believed that Donald Trump had a chance to win the election. Even after he cast slurs upon every minority and ethnic group there is, I still felt that he had a chance. Even though I disagreed with many of the things he said and the way he said them and how rude and insulting he was I thought that he might have an opportunity to become the 45th president. And of course, you all know the results.

A couple people asked me why I felt the way I did about him, about his chances of winning. Really there are several reasons. The first one was that any man who has the ability to manage 500 companies has certain skills about him that the rest of us don't have. It takes a lot of ability to put together that much management talent and to get them all to work together. Another reason that I felt he might win is because even though he appeared to anger easily, he really didn't have very thin skin. Let's face it, when everyone in the world seems to be against you it is tough to keep from being depressed and giving up. Yet in Donald Trump's case his own party was against him as well as the whole democratic establishment – but he never let it get him down. In other words, he didn't take things personally.

No matter how badly he get beat up in the press, on television, on talk shows, he just kept trudging ahead without any hesitation.

Another reason that I thought he would win is because he didn't need the money. In fact, reports are that he put $100 million of his own money in his campaign. So that told me he wasn't being greedy. That he wasn't in it for the money. Ego and fame – maybe. But the rest of the reason he ran is maybe anybody's guess.

 No matter how you may feel about his crude behavior or treatment of others there is little doubt that he loves our country. And is tired of seeing it turning into a Third World Socialist Republic. Let us be generous and hope and pray that he is able to turn our country back into the great nation it once was.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Future is Here

Fifty years ago we thought computers would set us free.

And, as all of you know, instead of being less busy and having more time to play, we're busier than ever. We often see a crowd of people where at least half of them are inputting messages on their iPhone or Android.

I believe there will come a day when we have mastered the computer world to the point where it will work for us rather than against us. And by against us, I mean taking all of our time being fascinated with these devices. We're already starting to see a wave of inventions that allow us to communicate with our refrigerators when we're away.  We can change home lighting and temperature from wherever we are. When we get home, our meal is waiting for us.

I remember about five years ago when my wife gave me an iPad as a gift. At the time I received it I had no idea what I would do with it. Didn't know anything about its capabilities and all the features it offered. Now, I rarely go anywhere for a long period of time without having it by my side. I can write messages on it. I can read a book on it. Watch a movie. Make a movie. It's fascinating what these devices will do, what they're capable of. Now I feel silly about the attitude I had at the time she gave me the gift. 15 or 20 years ago had you told me that I would have a device that would do everything my iPad does I would've thought you were smoking something really good.

But I am no longer a doubter. I am among the believers. At one time had someone told me that I would own an automobile that would drive me hands free 10 miles during rush hour down the 101, I would've said they were out of their mind. Yet that very automobile is sitting in my garage and I still haven't taken the time to learn about all of its features. It even talks to me when I make what it considers it a mistake or unwise decision. It measures how far I am from other vehicles.  It automatically brakes if I'm following another car too closely. And it tells me when I do it.  What's next?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Election

I seldom get excited about elections. Local. State. Whatever election it is I find them mostly boring and self-serving to those who are running.

But this election was something different. The man who finally won the presidency spent $100 million of his own money to achieve his goal. So even though he was crass and crude, us little guys somehow identified with him.

And you have to admit, that a man who owns and operates over 500 companies is no dummy. He may be used to getting his way, so this election was different territory for him. He had to persuade millions of people that he was a man who could clean up the corruption in Washington. He called it "draining the swamp." And I personally believe that he has a strong enough personality to achieve his goals.

The interesting part of this to me is that he's the first businessman who has won the presidency. He has no military experience, nor does he have political experience. He owes no favors to anyone so he can direct his administration into pretty much any direction he chooses to.

Some other interesting facts about him is that he's reportedly never smoked a cigarette or had a drink of alcohol in his entire life. Maybe he's a president who could be persuaded by some member of his staff to help fund a program like ours that doesn't depend upon government funding for anything.

A lot of liberals that I know who voted for the other side thought he was some kind of dummy. But in my opinion is just the opposite I think he's brilliant to the point of genius. You don't acquire the empire he has without mental discipline.

The one thing we should all keep in mind is that he loves this country as much as anyone else because it's provided him and his children with a wonderful life. I personally believe that he will do his best to make this "country great again,." Which was his campaign motto.

I'm praying that he maintains humility, and he gets everyone working together to achieve what is in our country's best interests

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Gratitude

I was thinking yesterday morning – as I do every morning – what I was grateful for. And at the top of my gratitude lists was the fact that I have a surgeon. And in the middle of the day yesterday he was to remove a cataract from my right eye.

Now don't get me wrong, mind you, doctors scare the crap out of me. Like other humans, they make mistakes. They sometimes leave us in moderate to severe pain. Yet this drug addict, who for years lived on the wrong side of the law, has government provided insurance. And that's what I was grateful for yesterday.

About a month ago the same doctor did cataract surgery on my left eye. And now, except for reading, I no longer need to wear glasses. The biggest problem I have with all of this is that I've worn glasses since I was five years old, over 70 years ago. And the reason that that's a problem is that I've become so used to wearing glasses that when I go out of the house without them I feel like I left something behind - like my shoes or pants. I'm slowly getting adjusted to the idea that I can almost see naturally, though I still need reading glasses for things close up.

I bring this gratitude thing up in this blog, because I try to teach addicts at TLC the importance of gratitude. It's difficult to get drunk or high while we also have gratitude. And another reason, is that I try to teach them to take better care of themselves.

A common response among many of the addicts we deal with is that they don't like to go to the doctor. They say things like "I don't want to hear any bad news." But the reality is that if there's bad news coming to us it's going to get to us sooner or later. Ignoring a problem never makes it go away. And if we get regular checkups – at least annual physicals – then we're showing love to ourselves. The kind of love that's positive and good for us.

Most of us addicts are fortunate to be as a healthy as we are. In fact most of us are lucky to still be alive and functional.

The reality is that none of us are going to live forever. But since we got clean and sober, shouldn't we enjoy the best life we can? That's why I encourage our clients to take care of all the damage they did to their body and mind. Part of that taking care of the damage means regular visits to your doctor. Eating right. Exercising. Learning to meditate.

If any of you need any help with any of this send me an email. I'll share with you how I stay functional.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Can't Meditate

I talk to a man who says he doesn't feel he can meditate because he can't do it "right."

When I explain to him that one can't fail at meditation. That he shouldn't judge himself on his inability to focus on his breath he seems somewhat relieved.

I've been meditating for around 20 years and I sometimes also think my meditation is ineffective. Yet, over the years I've found myself becoming calmer, more relaxed and focused.

The common definition of mindfulness is "fully aware of present experience with acceptance."

I encourage him to continue meditating. When he loses focus to just return to his breath.

As it has helped my recovery, I'm sure it'll help his.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

For the Parents

One of the blessings of being in the recovery field is that once in a while we're able to help someone.

Today I received a very sweet email from a woman in Ohio. She reads this blog every day. And she talked specifically about the benefits she gets from some of them. And those are the ones that deal with parents who have children that are addicted.

See, one of the things it says in the 12 steps is that we carry the message to others who are still suffering. And it doesn't necessarily prescribe how we carry the message. It just says that we carry the message.

So, in some ways I think that that's what this blog is mostly about. Doing my part to help people understand us addicts a little better. And in particular, I like to help relieve parents of the guilt they express when they write to me about their children – and sometimes grandchildren.

As the parent of an addict, I know that I didn't do my best in raising him. Because I was usually in a state institution or I was in some state of my addiction. I was one of the most unqualified people in the world to be a parent. And like most children, none of mine are a result of Planned Parenthood.

But what a lot of parents don't understand about their children who have an addiction is that the addiction is their priority. It's not that they love their parents less, it's that they love the drug more. And if they don't have their drug of choice they're going to be in a lot of pain for a while. And if it's a choice of killing the pain or doing what mom or dad wishes you know the one they always choose-they kill the pain  99% of the time.

For you parents of addicts who are reading this right now forget your guilt. Or shame. Or anger. Instead focus on the positive. The positive is that maybe your kid will get clean and sober.

And this is the part that always bothers people: I always tell people to do nothing for a child who is addicted except help them get to their first treatment or detox program.

If they fail at recovery don't be shocked when they blame it on the quality of the program or the counselors. The reality is that there are many wonderful programs in this country. And most any of them will work if your child does his or her part.

Life with an addict child is tough. But you must be tougher. You must be able to say no to his or her excuses. Because if you don't you'll always be delaying the inevitable. Remember that you're no longer talking to your child – you're talking to the drug. And the drug is powerful, more powerful than you are. An addict can progress from occasional use to full addiction in a short period, almost overnight. And when that happens don't be surprised if you hear about your child being involved in stealing, prostitution, going to jail, driving drunk, robbing others - and the list goes on.

Please remember that guilt, anger, and shame can overwhelm us. These are natural reactions. But do not indulge in them. Because it won't do any good. It will cause you to make irrational decisions that will hurt your health and your emotional state. Remember that you did what you thought was the best thing to do for your child at the time. But you aren’t the one that introduced the poison they put in their body.  Though they'd like to blame you.

Could we have done better? Of course we could. But we need not destroy ourselves over the past. If you can help in a positive way by getting the kids sober – great. If not, accept his or her addiction. Because, believe me, life will teach them it's own lessons.

Monday, November 7, 2016

12-steps vs.Therapy

I posted a link in this blog that will take the reader to a psychiatric website that discusses the value of 12 step programs. For some reason, the academic discussion I read on these sites generally pisses me off. And the reason is because not everybody can afford to see a psychiatrist. Especially in this age of Obama care and our approaching socialized medicine.

I do not disagree that one-on-one therapy is a bad thing. But how many of our impoverished citizens can afford the luxury of a visit to a psychiatrist unless they do something really crazy. Like an act of violence or an attempted suicide.

So any discussion comparing psychiatry with 12-step modalities is kind of a waste of time. After all, personal attention is a wonderful thing. And a skilled therapist or psychiatrist can do wonders with a patient if they can establish a bond with him or her.

But the link I'm going to post here will give you a better idea of what I'm talking about. The writer is balanced and fair, I'll have to give her that. But I also understand that the reality is that she never had to sign a paycheck or run a business. With the number of addicts and alcoholics in the world it would be virtually impossible to provide a therapist or psychiatrist for each one. It's sort of the dream of an idealistic person who wants to help people. Not a bad idea, but totally impractical.

But out in the world we have this massive organization called Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs that offer around-the-clock opportunities for people to get sober and stay sober. And the most wonderful thing about it is it's a self-help program that is free. The fact that it doesn't work for everyone is part of life on planet earth. And I give her credit for pointing that out also.

The reality of Alcoholics Anonymous is that if one does what is suggested in the steps they have a 100% guarantee of staying sober from now on. And I say that with some assurance because I've never known anyone who has been forced to drink or do drugs.

Click here to read the article for yourself.   Once at this site search for the article:  "Criticism of 12-Step Groups:  Is it Warrranted? by Tori Rodriguez. 

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Asking for Help

Most of the staff problems we have in our halfway houses come from poor communication.

I have a rule that I use on a personal level that keeps me out of difficulty with our staff. And the rule is simple. I never tell them to do anything.

If I want something done I approach them with a request: "I need your help." And I sincerely mean that.

I never throw my weight around because I'm the boss. Instead I ask for what I really need: their help. One thing I've learned about human nature is that people generally like to be helpful. I know that I do. When somebody comes to me with a request – even if I can't help them – it always boosts my ego a little to think I might have the ability to help. Plus, I enjoy helping others.

Sometimes we have new employees who have never been in a position of authority. They may have learned about what a boss does from a previous job where they were treated badly by someone in authority. They were bossed around. Hurried. Always had someone looking over their shoulder. So that's all they know. And if that's the case what else can we expect from them when they start working for us?

A different problem we sometimes encounter is an employee who has poor self-esteem. It might be the first time he's ever had authority over another person. And his lack of self-esteem may undermine his self-confidence and make him act with more authority than he needs to.

To get the best out of people we have to treat them with dignity and respect. I have no problem with someone who says I'm wrong or shows me where I'm wrong. Their suggestion might save the company money. We must treat our employees with compassion and understanding. Most of the time when an employee makes a mistake it is not out of malice, it's usually out of not understanding what's expected of them.

We get the best from them when we ask them for help - and do it in a kind manner.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

2300

On June 10, 2010 I wrote my first blog. The one I'm working on today will be number 2300.

I think in that period of time I accidentally missed one while I was on an airplane flight from Hawaii. I'm not quite sure how that happened. But five hours on an airplane does strange things to me. And on that occasion I believe it did some strange things to my memory because it was only until the next day that I realized that I hadn't posted a blog for the first time in years.

I originally started this project so I could force myself to practice writing every day. And maybe along the way help other addicts and alcoholics get a different perspective on life. And I have succeeded in both, I believe, to some degree.

One thing for sure is that I've met some wonderful people. I've never met them face to face. And in fact I think I've only talked to one or two of them on the telephone in all of this time. Most of those I've met have problems with their children or grandchildren. And I like to think that in some way I've contributed to their ability to deal with them. Maybe even to help them get sober. In any event, I like to be a resource for them. To give something back because a lot of people gave me help along the way.

One of the things I proved to myself while writing this blog is that I truly am obsessive. That's probably why I had such a difficult time getting over my heroin habit – it was an obsession and an addiction. But in this case writing a blog can harm nobody, though maybe once in a while I've offended some people. Unintentionally of course. But sometimes the truth hurts.

For those who follow this I appreciate you doing so. I plan to continue this project as long as I think it's worthwhile to someone out there. I know it helps me stay focused on the idea of recovery. And hopefully my writing has become better and easier to read.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Powerless

It took me a long time to learn that I have no power over others.

In the steps it talks about being powerless. And we hear a lot of talk at meetings about being "powerless over people, places, and things." In the 12-step programs we learn that if we give up our attempts to have power over others we'll be much happier.

Life is difficult enough dealing with our problems and maintaining self-control. Let alone trying to control others and all their problems.

I was telling one of my business associates that we have trouble maintaining control over our employees. And we even pay them to work for us.

At one time I thought I had the ability to control my children. Wrong. That I could control and manipulate my parents. Wrong again.

Even though it seems very logical that we would not have power over others, the idea of being able to have others do our bidding is attractive. "Life would just be so much easier if people would do what I expect them to do."

So we go through sometimes years of frustration before we realize that all our effort to have power has been in vain. We have created a lot of anxiety for ourselves. It's like we're carrying around a backpack of rocks.

What is the remedy? How do we uproot the idea that we have even a little control over those around us?

One thing we can do is start to realize that our efforts have been in vain. We learn that others rarely do what we want unless there is something in it for themselves.

But the real thing we learn that helps us shed ourselves of this behavior is that we feel so much lighter when we’re able to give it up.  Life is suddenly a dance instead of a trudge.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Attitude is Everything

The difference between those who succeed in life and those who fail is a matter of attitude.

We all have setbacks in life. In fact, my viewpoint is that life always presents us with challenges. In fact, I'm not surprised about challenges. I expect them. The real secret is that we get back up every morning and keep going.

I'm always inspired about the story of Michael Jordan, when he was in high school. He was the most talented person on the team. Yet his coach took him off the team for a year. He told him that if he would come in every morning at a certain hour and practice with him, he would consider him for the following year. Jordan didn't let his ego get in the way. He showed up every day just as the coach had instructed him. And of course the rest is history. He is about to become the first athlete to reach billionaire status.

So what does this have to do with addicts and alcoholics? Because that's primarily who I write this blog for.

Somehow addicts get the idea that they're supposed to feel wonderful all the time. They want to float through life in a state of bliss. And when they run into a little pebble in the road the first thing they do is pick up a drink or a needle.

It takes real guts and hard work to get sober. Yet I've seen thousands succeed. And they succeed because they're tired of the pain. They're tired of going to prison. They're tired of losing relationships. They're tired of having no self-respect. So they summon internal fortitude. They dust off their pants when they get knocked on their butt and start over again. 

They have the attitude that they can succeed. And because they have that attitude, they do.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Gratitude

I never have to look hard for something to be grateful for.

Yesterday it was an addict having a hard time wrapping his head around the idea that the only way to get sober would be to go to treatment. And this morning, when I stopped to get a cup of coffee at Circle K, it was a homeless guy begging for a few coins to get a drink.

As I got into my car and drove away I recalled the time when that was me. I was the guy who always had some self-created problem. Of course I also had the knack of looking around for someone else to blame. And, with my magical addict mind, it was easy to find a reason to get high and live as an addict.

Today, after 25 years of sobriety, the idea of gratitude crosses my mind at least once a day. I don't look far. I have a good marriage; in fact we've never had a real argument that lasted more than 15 minutes. I have the same job I've had for 24 years. One that keeps my mind active facing the challenges of dealing with 750 addicts every day. I have four children and eight grandchildren. My wife and I leave town on vacation at least 3 to 4 times a year. The list could go on.

But I write about gratitude to encourage those of you who have challenges. No matter how tough your problems are, you can always find someone who has real issues.

The secret to making this technique work for you is not to compare yourself with those who have more than you. Because they're out there. And I assure you that they face as many challenges as you do – regardless of what you think.

Gratitude, though, is like a magic elixir. As soon as you bring yourself into that state it seems like life gets a little better.

If you have a child who is an alcoholic or an addict, you can pray that they get better. And, you can remember the days before they got sucked into their addictions. You can be grateful you had them for as long as you did.

I used to visit a relative who spent 10 years in a nursing home after a serious stroke. When I would visit him he used to tell me that he just wanted to die, that his life was miserable. I never left there without thanking God for good health and the ability to still move around.

Reasons for gratitude are everywhere.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What's Important?

A former client calls and wants to talk about getting into the program one more time.

But there's a problem. The problem is that I don't think he's done using.

And the reason I think that is because he has a lot of conditions about coming into the program.

One of them is that he still has a car payment to make. Plus, he has a lease on an apartment. He wonders how he's going to take care of all of these things and still go to treatment.

I asked him a few questions about what's the most important thing in his life.

Is it the material things he's accumulated over the past year year or, is it getting free from his addiction?

After all, I explain to him that material things come and go. But we really have only one life.

And we can always get more material things. Once we lose our life or health, that's it.

I remember I once went to a treatment program, moaning about having lost everything.

"Congratulations" the intake person told me. "Now maybe you have a chance to get sober."

At the time the remark pissed me off.  Later I realized that until I had lost everything I wasn't motivated to get sober.

Sometimes it's good for us to start out from the bottom. It's only then that we can appreciate what we have lost.