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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Contempt prior to Investigation

I recall several years ago my wife bought me a gift, a electronic device that I swore I would never use. It's not that I'm not cool and up-to-date. I just didn't see any use for the device. It was called an "iPad."

And it did everything. It stored thousands of books. I could watch movies on it. I play games on it. Either face-to-face. Or with someone across the world.

For some reason I wasn't at all excited about the gift. It was expensive. It seemed to be a waste of money for a device upon which I could read books and play games.

Years later I really understood the statement "contempt before investigation." Because I didn't take any time at all to really investigate the possibilities of this machine. It was something new. It was something I had to learn about. And my life seem to be moving along pretty well without such an expensive toy.

Today, one rarely finds me around the house without this iPad lying nearby. It’s a fountain of information. I can write letters on it. I can read books in another language. And there's nothing I like more than to win an argument; and this device allows me to learn most anything about a subject. All in all it's a miraculous toy that gives me a world of knowledge at my fingertips.

I’m learning to no longer have contempt for the things that I don’t understand. Instead, things like this pique my curiosity.

I wonder what the world will come up with next? I already have owned a hybrid car; and now I have one that’s electric. I drove it once and knew I had to own it – contempt had become a word of the past.

Friday, December 30, 2016

30 Percent Veterans

There was an article in yesterday's Arizona Republic. Much of it focused upon the homeless.

Included was mention about how many are addicts or substance abusers who also were in the military - around 30%.

At TLC we have a similar situation: we have a population that includes about 30% homeless veterans. Many of them do quite well in our program because we monitor them for drug and alcohol use. Since they are used to tight structure they don't object to how closely we monitor them - and their behavior.

We allow any homeless person - except for sex offenders - to enter our program without money. They only pay $110 a week when they get their benefit checks or else find a job.

The Federal and State governments periodically issue statements about how they have no funds to house veterans and other kinds of addicts.

Just remember this number: 480-833-0143. Whoever answers the phone will explain how we

help the homeless. We feed them. We provide housing. We help them get work if they're capable.

If it involves helping a fellow addict change his or her life - we're here for them. And it doesn't cost the taxpayer or the government a penny.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Losing Privileges

Give an addict a privilege and within a matter of months they will ruin it. A few examples:

Most of those in our program want to work. So, since we have a labor company we made arrangements for them to do temporary labor work. Sure enough, within a month we were unable to employ any of them. Most of the companies we work for are under contract with us. We promise that we'll provide sober labor and deliver them to the place of business. What happened was as soon as they went to work they realized that it wasn't play. It wasn't getting high. It wasn't having fun. So within a short period we lost our contract with the company and were unable to employ them anywhere. So now, we have fewer places to put people to work.

At one time we offered cable TV to the people in the treatment program. They had their choice of hundreds of movies and programs in the lineup. But then we started getting calls from the cable company. It seems as though somebody in our program was downloading movies and making copies  – which is a strict violation of our agreement with the cable company. After the fourth time that happened the company said they were going to sue us. So, what did we do? The only thing we could do: we had the cable company remove the service from all the houses. One or two people ruined it for everybody.

We used to offer sober apartments for those who graduated our program. However those who obtained an apartment didn't seem to last very long. Out of about 25 graduates who have gotten apartments only three of them are still sober. It seems like they've never lived on their own and don't know how to take care of an apartment or stay sober on their own – which was the point of letting them move. We finally decided the best way to remedy that situation was to not give apartments to anyone unless they had been in our program without a relapse for at least a year. It sounds harsh.  But we all must recognize the consequences of our bad behavior.

Not trying to be dramatic here but mother birds force the chicks from the nest to find the next meal: learn or starve, A heroin addict is different: His poor choices will literally kill him - and maybe everyone else in the roon.  A baby bird may get hungry; a heroin addict might die,

I have a lot more examples of clients who have caused the program to lose privileges because they couldn't be responsible. But I guess that's how we we make dumb mistakes and pay the price.  And maybe learn.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Resolution

Each year about this time I start writing about New Year's resolutions. Not that I think people need to make them.

Because a lot of people are planning how they're going to lose weight, or quit smoking, or go to school.

I carry on about resolutions because of how few people follow through with them. Quitting smoking or drinking, getting a new job, going to school, lifting weights or losing weight - I mention them all.

And many I know go into the new year with big plans for self-improvement. Then 30-90 days into the year they're forgotten all about it. At this point I want to give you some help. And it's simple help if you'll follow it.

And it goes like this. Take little steps at a time when carrying out your resolutions. Instead of bench pressing 100 pounds, start light with maybe 40 pounds. Look for that new job every day, even if it's for a few minutes. Circle some numbers in the paper. Ask your friends if they know who's hiring. Look on-line for school grants; ask your friends how they got theirs. At first cut back on your smoking until you think you can take the big step and throw the tobacco away.  That's how I did it 31 years ago.

Remember, you made a resolution. While it must be serious, it's not life or death. But the more little steps you take, the further along you'll get toward achieving your goals. I think I tried to quit smoking a dozen times before I succeeded 31 years ago.

You can do, just don't do it all at once.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Adoption

Thirty some years ago I had a friend who was pregnant by a fellow I knew from the program.

She and I had nothing going on romantically. Just friends. At that time I lived with another woman. And I believe in being with only one woman at a time.

The other woman and I lived together for about three more years, had a daughter - then parted ways.

When my friend had the baby, the father went to the hospital to visit. He looked at the baby for a few minutes, left, and never saw the child again.

Eventually the friend and I became more than friends. We dated a few years, then married in the early-nineties. During the ten years we were married, I was the only father the child knew. I took her to 12 step meetings with me, to kickboxing classes and sometimes to school. I tried to be a father to her, though her mother objected to me playing that role.

But now the daughter works for my company - probably one of the smartest people there. She's bright, competent, and still calls me dad.

And to shorten this story, we've made arrangements for me to adopt her this coming March. Even though she's in her early thirties and I'm 77, I think it's never too late to make a father and daughter relationship official.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 26, 2016

Spreading Love

At a Christmas party today I got a message that shows me how love spreads and multiplies.

An in-law, who always attends our annual family reunions at a Southern California beach, asked two summers ago if it would be okay to bring a young relative to the gathering. She explained that the child’s family never has fun get togethers like ours. And that we could be a positive example for her. I told her to bring her along.

When she returned home she told her family of the welcome she received and the fun she had with us. Her enthusiasm so impressed them that now they’re planning reunions of their own.

And when I got the thank you I was genuinely impressed that this youngster has already developed the ability to express gratitude.

Later, while writing this, I realized that showing love usually always has good consequences - sometimes far-reaching ones.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sudden Passing

26 years ago last night I had a call from the hospital. The nurse was very professional and pleasant. "Your mother passed away about 15 minutes ago," she told me. It'll take us about a half hour to get her ready then you can come and visit, if you'd like," she told me.

I was in the process of preparing to spend the evening with her when the call came in. Even though she was supposed to get out of the hospital the next morning, her passing was not totally unanticipated. She suffered from emphysema, osteoporosis, plus COPD. Even though she wasn't in the best of health no one expected her to pass so suddenly.

She had entered the hospital November 1, 1994 to have a plate removed from her thigh. Years before she had broken her leg and they spliced it together with a piece of metal plating. She continually had pain from that surgery and asked me if I thought was a good idea for her to have the screw and the plate removed. I asked her what the doctor said. Would it be a dangerous procedure? How long would it take? What were the risks? She said the doctor told her it was really up to her. That it probably wasn't a dangerous procedure and that she should recover fairly rapidly. In fact it was supposed to only be a one day, outpatient procedure. However, complications arose and she spent 54 days in the hospital before she died.

Her death was a shock to me because I'd expected her to be out of the hospital the next day. As time went on, and I passed through the grieving process my pain became less. And though this may sound self-centered, the Christmas season has never been quite the same to me because it reminds me of my loss during this season of the year.

One thing I was happy about that is that she was able to see me with three years clean before she passed on. She saw me starting to succeed in life, which is the only thing she wanted.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Entitlement

I heard an interesting story in the barbershop the other day that seemed to be a good example of a person with a sense of entitlement.

The story was about this man who was quite wealthy. A self-made man with enough money put away to live for the rest of his life. He also had a sister and two brothers. And each year, to demonstrate his generosity, on the anniversary of their Social Security check he would give each of them $25,000 cash. Plus, on their birthdays, for each year older they became he would give them an additional thousand dollars. In other words, he had a sister who is 65 years old and every year she had a birthday he added a thousand dollars to it. So when she turned 66 he gave her $25,000 on her Medicare anniversary – plus he gave her $66,000 for her 66th birthday. Nice.

But there's always a flaw in every story. And it seems that one of the brothers who is in his70s, had a drinking and gambling problem. So the year before his 75th birthday he told his rich brother that he needed a little bit extra money that year. When the rich brother asked why, he explained that he had experienced some heavy gambling losses that he needed to pay off.

The wealthy brother didn't make his money by being stupid. So he told the brother that he wasn't going to do anything different with him that year than what he had done all the previous years. And that he should be grateful to get that.

And of course an alcoholic and a gambler usually has an ego to go along with his addictions. So he told his brother something really ugly: like where he could stick his money if it meant that much to him. In my mind that's a perfect example of a person who has a sense of entitlement. And to go along with it, very little common sense.

I know that if anyone handed me a fistful of money every time I had a birthday I would treat them one way – with gratitude – with quite a bit of respect thrown in.

But it sometimes is difficult for us alcoholics and addicts – even gambling addicts – to learn to live life with gratitude for what we have. And some of the most difficult people to deal with are those who have a sense of entitlement along with a lack of gratitude. For me, that would be a terrible way to live.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Overdosing

The opioid plague has finally reached the attention of the government.

The other day I read that more people are now dying of opioid overdoses than gunshots.

Which has seemingly spurred the government to designate more money for treatment than ever before.

Having been an addict for over 38 years I hope that this is a serious promise. Because it's long overdue. I've lost too many friends over the years - people who could have contributed to society for years instead of meeting an early grave.

While this is still at the end of the Obama administration, I hope that the money that has been allocated for treatment will pass on through to the Trump administration. While Trump doesn't come off as a touchy-feely kind of guy, I believe that he realizes that it costs a lot of money to keep drug addicts in jail. I think that he also realizes that it takes a lot less money to treat people than it does to house them in expensive prisons and jails.

Let's keep our fingers crossed and look at the situation positively.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Inconsistencies

A lady sent me an email the other day that pointed out some inconsistencies in my blogs. And her issue was that I had written that we should never help anyone out who is still getting high. Yet in other blogs I mentioned giving panhandlers a few dollars for drinks or drugs.

When I read what she was talking about I understood the confusion.

When I write about not helping someone who's getting high or drinking I was referring to members of our family. Not to bums living on the street.

I guess with me it's sort of an economical thing. If one of my family members is getting drunk or using – and expecting me to pay for It, that's where I draw the line.

As a matter of fact, my only rule is that if my family members are getting high and expecting me to pay for it that's when I quit doing things for them. If they decide they want to get sober I'll spend money to send them to treatment one time. But if they graduate and do the same thing all over again that's when I'm finished with them.

Because I'm a person who believes that people should do whatever they want with their lives. They want to get high – go for it. They want become sober and go to school – I'll help them do that. But I won't let them lay around on my couch getting high and expecting me to support them. That's when we we're done.

But when it comes to bums living on the street, I'll buy them a drink or hand them a few dollars if I have it. That's because I'm not an evangelist or preacher. I wish other people would live a certain way. But if they don't, that's not my business. I think if someone wants to be an alcoholic they should get as drunk as they want. Because when people get enough alcohol or drugs they eventually get sober – or die.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No Anxiety

My wife and I own a Chihuahua that we've had for about ten years - since he was a pup. Someone once told me that a 10-year-old dog is like a 70-year-old human in terms of age and I believe it.

Our dog has always loved to eat. In fact, between meals all he does is search for crumbs on the floor that he might have missed at mealtimes. Usually, he finds what he's looking for. I've heard that dogs are used to search for drugs because they can smell one molecule in 5 million – which should make them able to find most anything anywhere.

I bring this up today because our dog has diabetes. Each morning and evening – 12 hours apart – he gets an insulin shot to keep the disease under control. But I can tell that he seems to be losing the battle. He is getting skinnier and skinnier. Plus it appears that he is losing his vision. Sometimes I will throw him a treat that he used to find and devour in one second. Now he looks all around for it for a while before he locates it.

In one respect it's quite sad to see him like this. But on the other hand, I think this is where animals sometimes have an advantage over humans. Even though he's losing his vision he still seems to find his way around quite well. He never sits around involved in conversations about his illness. As long as he's getting fed and able to sleep all day he seems to be a pretty happy creature.

But us humans, for some reason we seem to make things worse by talking about them. By whining about them. By feeling sorry for ourselves. We might even want to eliminate our anxiety with some pills or alcohol.

In other words I believe that God created animals to be in total acceptance with what ever condition they have. Anxiety doesn't seem to be part of their makeup. They have built-in acceptance – something that we strive for and often don't succeed in achieving.

I know that before long we're going to lose this animal. And while I'll feel bad about his passing, I'll also feel grateful for many years of companionship that he provided us.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A time for Feeling

What I like about the holiday season is watching the enjoyment of others as they celebrate. As for myself, I spent so much of my youth in institutions that holidays just kind of went by me. Most of the places I was at didn't allow inmates to celebrate such days as Christmas.  So it's never meant much too me.

In 1959 at California State Prison I remember that the guards had placed a large Christmas tree attached to a wall about 10 feet above the floor. I guess a few of them were soft-hearted and wanted to cheer up the prisoners.

In those days prisoners were still allowed to smoke and use tobacco products. And one thing allowed was fluid for their lighters. Anyway, someone passed the word around to soak the Christmas tree with lighter fluid as the prisoners filed by. In about 20 minutes it was dripping lighter fluid. The last man in line threw a book of matches on it. And that is how we celebrated Christmas 1959 in the South Block. Locked in our cells with no dinner, inhaling smoke.

Today I love the joy on a child's face as he opens a gift. And especially I appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the gift.

I also know that Christmas is a giving time. But in those days I didn't feel like giving much of anything to anyone, except maybe a hard time.

Today I understand what giving is about. And I've learned that it's a feeling and compassionate thing. Maybe someday I'll totally erase the anger and resentment that I associated with holidays in my early years.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Parties

This is a time for Christmas parties and events. Saturday night about 40 of us attended the treatment program's annual dinner, which this year was held at Red Lobster in Mesa. And Sunday, the next day, I went to the annual TLC Christmas party at the "Name in the Hat" meeting room on E. Main St. in Mesa.

It's an event that usually occurs the third week of December each year. It has been taking place for at least 10 years. And we are blessed to have the same person speak each year: my sponsor Ralph, a man who has been sober for over 40 years.

It would seem that we'd get tired of hearing his story. But when a man has been sober all this time – and on the planet for 83 years – he could talk all day and not tell the same story twice. He has a nice manner of delivery, as well as a sense of humor.

There were several hundred years of sobriety at that meeting. Some of those had been working at TLC for at least 10 years, maybe longer.

A wonderful thing about this event each year is that it creates a sense of community, and continuity. And that's something that many of the addicts in the world don't get to experience. Unless they stay sober for a while, the only continuity they experience, the only traditions - are those of getting in trouble with the law and ending up in jail or the hospital. Or breaking up their families once more.

And the nice thing about that meeting is if an outsider walked in they would probably think it was the most boring gathering in the world. Yet it's something that those of us in recovery look forward to each year - celebrating another year of recovery,

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Hypnosis

A few years ago I received my certification as a hypnotist. It's a subject that's always fascinated me. I don't do it for money; I do it to try to help others change their lives.

First time I hypnotized someone I was terrified. Even though I had practiced and practiced I wasn't sure I knew what I was doing.

Since that time I've helped a few dozen people quit smoking. And helped others change bad habits and develop more confidence.

The first thing I was taught as a hypnotist was to forget pretty much everything I'd seen on television about hypnosis. What one sees on TV is entertainment. Nothing more and nothing very realistic.

If one were to observe a hypnosis session from outside the room, it would seem very boring. Yet there is definitely rhyme and reason to what the hypnotist is trying to do.

The goal of a good hypnotic session is to bring the client into a receptive state, the theta state, where the subconscious mind is open to suggestion.

A lot of those who ask for my assistance want me to perform some kind of magic where they will no longer be an addict or alcoholic. There's not enough room here to explain why that's a very impractical suggestion. Suffice it to say any kind of change is generally a long process. But a decent hypnotist can facilitate that process by implanting the proper suggestions in the subject's subconscious mind. And usually it takes at least three sessions to have a positive impact that will help the client change.

The good thing about us having a competent hypnotist here at TLC is that we can work very closely with the counselor on specific issues. Sometimes that helps speed the healing process.

It can help open doors for both therapist and client.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

How to Help?

Even though our hearts might be in it it's hard to help everyone.

Some days I go to my mailbox and 90% of what I take out will be junk mail. Solicitations to help somone. In fact, now that I think about it, most of what I receive is advertising for some kind of charity.

I'm sure they're mostly good causes. Some have pictures in them that are heart breaking, mostly of children needing help. Or veterans who are down and out.

What does one do when everyone needs help? Even billionaires set up foundations or pick special causes to see who is the most deserving? Otherwise they'd be overwhelmed with pleas for help.

When I decide who to help it's usually someone who has substance abuse issues. Yes, and I know there are children starving in other countries. There are refugees that need help. In other words there is always someone who needs help more than someone else. But how to sort it all out.

I think one must follow their heart and try and do what is meaningful for them. There's no shortage of suffering in the world so one has plenty of choices.

The real thing is to make that choice and do something - anything - for someone in need.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Happy Birthday

Yesterday my mother would have been 93 years old , had she not died Christmas Eve 1994.  Even though it's been over 20 years it seems such a short time ago that she was among us.

She never understood addiction, even though she married two alcoholics and suffered for years through my heroin addiction and prison terms.

Regardless, she was a loving and supporting friend who prayed for me to change. She had faith in me.  And those prayers must have worked - based on my life of recovery today. A life that started nearly 26 years ago.

What I learned from her - and always will remember - is the profound impact our disease has upon those around us.  Our pain affects them also.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Getting Reacquainted

We often receive clients from out of state, from areas where there aren't a lot services.

And sometimes it's not individuals, but also couples. Yesterday I was speaking with a young woman from the Midwest who'd been in our program for a few years.

If I'm not mistaken, she and her husband arrived about the same time. Both eventually went to work for us. For the first 90 days - they lived apart. He in the men's program, she in the woman's. That allows couples who are serious, to focus upon their recovery before getting back together.

Now they have a TLC apartment they share with a 15 year old daughter. She came to visit one summer and decided to relocate here.

A subject that came up during our talk is how couples who used together must get reacquainted again. Before getting into recovery, their one interest was in obtaining drugs. That was more or less the basis of their relationship.

Today she says they're getting acquainted as a couple and learning how to live together as a family - without drugs. Plus, she now has a teenage daughter with her, a relationship she lost for a while.

She's come to realize that just because their family is sober there are still issues of daily living that one must learn to deal with in sobriety – just like any other family.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Spirituality?

The subject of a meeting I was at recently was "spiritual awakening." In other words, what does it mean?

One thing I soon learned was that spiritual awaking is pretty much a subjective concept. No two people had the same definition.

I believe that much of what goes on in our lives depends upon spiritual forces beyond our control. But not beyond our influence.

For example, why did I get sober when I did? While my brother and father both died of alcoholism at age 60?  Did spirituality have anything to do with it?

I think that spirituality has much to do with the ego. I think that the more we're wrapped up in our ego, the less spiritual we are.

I don't care what people believe in. But I think that a spiritual person will hand a bum some money. While a non-spiritual person will look at them with contempt or judgement.

My belief is that I become more spiritual when I remain non-judgmental and accepting of others.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Starting with Nothing

When I first got sober I remember having nothing. Just the clothes I was wearing when I went in the front door.

When I complained about it to one of the counselors, she said “That’s a good place to start.”

At the time her comment offended me. But later I understood.

When we come into treatment or detox with a wardrobe, a cell phone, maybe even a car, well perhaps things weren’t bad enough. We really hadn’t hit bottom yet. We may think we’re slick enough to have stopped using before things got too bad.

In my 25 years at TLC my experience has been that those who start out with the least do the best. When they come into the program with nothing, their ego has been flattened right along with their wallet. 

When they come in they’re exposed to the world as just what they are: an addict or alcoholic who is barely struggling by. They finally have been forced to ask for help. And for those of us with an out-of-control ego, that can be devastating. 

 But on the flip side we begin to realize that things aren’t going to get any better if we don’t make some radical changes.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Getting the Money

Between the ages of five and seven I lived on a farm in rural Oregon. And because I wasn't lazy I always had a lot of opportunities to make money. I would help harvest the crops. I would weed gardens. I would pick strawberries. I would harvest hazelnuts. Pick beans. And when there wasn't anything else to do I would walk down the highway and look for bottles and cans that I could refund at the local store. In those days Oregon was a very environmentally conscious state and there were laws about refunding bottles and cans that merchants had to adhere to. So by the time I was 12 years old I had set aside quite a good size bank account - particularly for a 12-year-old kid. My rule was to deliver the product or service and always get the money.

And I guess where this came up for me today was I was attempting to activate an expensive electronic watch that was given to me as an anniversary gift. And between my wife and me we spent quite a bit of time on the phone trying to figure out why this thing didn't work. Now it seemed to me that one of the largest companies in the world (I read last year that they had more money in their bank account at Apple than the United States treasury had in its account) could make an expensive item like this watch work right away- right out of the box. Between the two of us we probably spent something like 8 to10 hours trying to contact someone smarter than we were so that we could get the thing to work. In any event, while I still have the watch, it doesn't operate.

And when I think about my rule about "always getting the money," this company will likely not get any more from me. Even though I'm a small time consumer and don't spend big money on electronics, a company that does not deliver the products you pay for eventually gets a bad reputation.

I guess the only real benefit I got out of this experience is that I was able to work on my patience and tolerance - which is always a good thing for an addict or alcoholic to have.

Click here to email John





Click here to email John

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Making Plans

January 14 of 2017 I'll be celebrating 26 years of recovery. It seems almost like yesterday that I first walked into a detox.

But a more interesting facet of this passing of time is that I had no plans to spend my recovery working with other addicts and alcoholics. My real goal, once I graduated from the halfway house I spent a year in, was to go back into the corporate world that I'd come from. The halfway house part of my life was just something I decided to do on the side. Something to help me keep in touch with my recovery, a way to help other people achieve sobriety, while staying sober myself. One might say that it was almost a selfish decision – a way for me to have the best of both worlds.

Once I graduated from the halfway house I did go back into the corporate world, but simultaneously I had the opportunity to obtain some houses and opened up my own program. It's funny how the world works when we start making plans. My grandiose plan was to open a 50 bed halfway house and work my corporate job during the day. But that isn't the way my higher power had things laid out things out. Within a few months I was so busy taking care of clients that I had to resign from my corporate job and work full-time in the halfway house.

Before the second year passed we had over 300 residents and were looking for property to house more. And even though I had no credit, or any savings or financial backers, somehow things always worked out. We were always able to pay our bills and mortgage payments and feed everyone. It was an exciting time because it required my total involvement to keep everything functioning.

And anyone who showed up and wanted to volunteer and who had halfway good sense was put to work immediately. To be honest, we did a lot of learning on the job.

Things kept growing. At one point we had 1100 beds in three states, including Nevada and New Mexico. We also were operating 10 small businesses, the proceeds of which went to pay the staff and support the clients.

So I guess the point is, if you have a dream for your recovery go ahead and pursue it. If your plan is a good one – or if it's the right plan – God will make it happen for you.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A thank You

The best we can hope for in the 12-step programs is to stay clean and sober. But once in a while things happen that make us realize that we can also help others stay sober.

For example, this afternoon I get a phone call from a man I talk to periodically but don't see on a regular basis. I first met him during my early years of sobriety. At that time, for the first six years I was sober, I used to volunteer once a week at our local detox center chairing a meeting. Each week there was a different group at the meeting because they cycled through the program pretty fast. As soon as they got clean and sober enough so they could function without being sick they were discharged; either to a halfway house or back to their home if they had one.

The man who called me today was one I met at that meeting some 23 years ago. We hit it off right away because we had a lot in common. He drank alcohol and used heroin like I did. He had been locked up off-and-on during his life and, like me, he didn't see much hope for the future. I believe he thought he was destined to always be an alcoholic and drug addict, which was the way I felt for a long period of my life. Anyway he called me to thank me for the part that I had played in his recovery.

And it was a wonderful feeling to get a call like that – because many of us forget that a lot of people helped us along the way. A lot of people shared their experience, strength and hope with us, all factors in helping us change our lives.

We chatted for a while and I thanked him for the call. I told him that his acknowledgment of my help meant a great deal to me.

That call help make my day. And also made me realize that helping others with our time and experience can be one of the most rewarding things we will ever do.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Fifth Anniversary

Those of you who follow this blog will realize for the past 12 days I've been writing about the promises. The summation of all the blessings we get once we stay sober.

But the real reason I wrote about the promises was because I was out of the country celebrating my wife's birthday and our fifth anniversary – both on December 3 – on the side of gorgeous cliff in Mexico. Her birthday, and our anniversary, fall on the same day by design. Her design not mine. But it works out just fine because we can celebrate two occasions in one day; plus I'm justified in buying her something really nice for three special occasions because we also throw little bit of a Christmas present into the mix to make it even sweeter.

It was one of the nicest nine days we've spent together since our marriage. We had an 11th floor panoramic suite at the Garza Blanca Preserve, and had a view of the ocean and coastline for miles going both ways.

But back to the promises. I wrote about the promises of because it was all on the same theme; it didn't require me to do a lot of creative thinking. It was more like writing about the brief history of my past 25 years of sobriety. And that didn't take long because my gratitude is always at the surface; I don't have to dig very deep to find it. But some days when I write this blog it takes a great deal of creativity for me to come up with something that's meaningful to both me and whoever might read it.

I've been going to Puerto Vallarta for about 20 some years. Plus I speak Spanish so it's almost like going back home sometimes. The people there are wonderful and friendly and cordial and nothing like you might read about in the press. And even though we've been going there every year during our marriage, and for five years before that it's still a wonderful and relaxing adventure.

But the best part of our fifth anniversary celebration this year is that we seem to be getting closer and closer each year we're together. We we never have fought about anything. If we ever start to get into a spat we immediately turned it into something humorous. Because both of us have been working with other humans for the last 20+ years we know what it takes to get along. Each of us works hard to put the other one first. And it has been a formula that has worked for us all of these years. I have learned a lot from my wife, primarily because she's such a good example for me about how to treat her. She has taught me that is not important to be right about everything; it is much more important that we continue to love one another.

The saying that I like goes like this :" a happy wife is a happy life." For the past five years I've bad a happy life – and now I'm working on the next five years.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Promise Twelve

"We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves"  The Twelfth Promise

Many of us addicts and alcoholics have egos the size of the Goodyear blimp. For years and years we thought we had the answers to everything. Anyone who criticized our drinking or our lifestyles, well, they just didn't know what the hell they were talking about. And I speak from personal experience. People who talked to me in a negative way about my drinking simply didn't know how to party. How to have a good time.

It took years of me getting in trouble with the law over my drinking before I started thinking that maybe somebody else knew something – maybe just a little bit.

In this promise it says that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. And that is so true. For many years I drank and used other substances as if I knew what I was doing. It took a series of circumstances before I realized that a power greater than myself was controlling my life. I can't recall how many life-threatening experiences I went through – all while I was drinking – before I realized something had to change. And the interesting thing is the moment that I realized that I would have to change I made a promise to God. And the promise was that if you get me out of these circumstances that I'd gotten myself into once more I would do something different with my life. I didn't promise that I would change my life. I didn't promise that I would quit drinking. I just said a prayer that I would change my life. And if God had asked me what kind of changes I wanted to make I wouldn't know how to answer. Because my life was so screwed up that I have no idea where I was going or what I was doing. All I knew, was that I needed to stay drunk any time I was awake, merely to function.

So I was in jail and I made this deal with God. If he would help me out of the situation I would do something different with my life. And for the first time in my life I was released from jail with no charges against me, even though I had done everything they charged me with and then some.

But after I was released from jail I forgot all about that promise I had made. But God hadn't forgotten. And within a week I found myself 500 miles away in another state, Arizona. I had no money. I had no plans. And I was still drinking when I could steal something to drink. Within a week after I arrived in Arizona I found myself living in a detoxification unit in a small town named Globe, Arizona. Now I would like to say that I got sober right then and never drank again. But it took me another seven years before I got completely sober – never to take another drink again.

Once I quit drinking my life continued to change for the better. I got my old job back. I started my own business: a recovery program that has lasted now for the last 26 years. It was something I would've never dreamed of doing on my own: it had God's fingerprints all over it.

Today I don't question what I'm supposed to do with my life. I just do whatever is put before me and recognize that God's will is stronger than mine.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Promise Eleven

"We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us" The Eleventh Promise

According to the dictionary the word Intuitive means "having the ability to understand or know something without any direct evidence or reasoning process."

In the context of the 12 promises I'm not positive what this promise means. But I think it means that most of the time we will know exactly the right thing to do, based on the summation of all the experiences we've had in our lives. I've heard the word intuitive defined in other ways that I also like. One is that intuition is the summation – the quintessence - of all our knowledge to this point of our life.

And up until the point we quit pouring alcohol down our throat our intuition couldn't have worked very well. In other words most of our experiences were gained while we were in the throes or grips of poor judgment induced by being drunk. And if all of our experiences were filtered through the cloud of poor judgment induced by alcohol just the idea that we get sober would help this part of our brain work so much better.


As we evolved through millions of years we acquired all kinds of experiences that helped us continue our species - in fact to become the dominant species on the planet. Most of our survival, prior to us becoming civilized, was made by making decisions based on split-second actions or reactions. Once we get sober I believe that our judgment automatically becomes better because the cloud in which we functioned has dissipated.  And our decision-making comes down to simply "is this going to help my life or harm it?" 

And usually our sober intuition will answer that for us.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Promise Ten

 "Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us." The 10th promise

There are a lot of reasons why people fear others. And why we fear economic insecurity. But the promises teach us that these will leave us. And I know that in my case that has been true.

As far as the first part – fear of people – there have been some people that I have feared and some that I haven't been afraid of. For some reason, probably because of my being brought up by an alcoholic father, I was always comparing myself to others. What they had. What they did for a living. Where they went to school. How they dressed. For me it was always a comparison game and for some reason I came out on the short end. And that made me feel socially incompetent.

But since I've gotten sober all of that stuff is gone away. I no longer compare myself to other people. I know that there are some who do things better than I do, just as I know that I do some things better than others. The one thing that has made a big difference for me is the fact that I have quit using alcohol and other substances. I know that deep down I just felt worthless most of the time because I wasn't living up to my potential. That's where my fear of people came from. I felt like they were judging me, though probably in reality they didn't give a crap. As long as I didn't cause problems in their life they were pretty much okay with leaving me to do my thing. But since I've gotten sober I feel like that I've learned to mesh with society, to contribute to the community, and to give back to a world that I had taken so much from.

As to the economic insecurity, I'm one of those people who has always been fortunate in that I have the ability to make money. I have owned several different businesses in my life. I've had a lot of material success. My problem was that because of my addictions I was unable to hang on to anything. Either I gave it away, or spent it on partying with people who were like me. I don't know how many businesses and relationships I lost because of my disease.

Today, going on 26 years of sobriety I feel secure in myself in most every way. And I know that none of this would've come to me unless I first got sober.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Promise Nine

"Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change" Promise Nine

As our days in recovery begin to mount up our attitude and outlook upon life will change. All the things that people used to tell us about what would happen when we got clean and sober are beginning to emerge and come true.

I've heard more than once in the rooms a sponsor tell a sponsee that he will not know his life if he sticks around for one year. And that is the truth. For something strange happens when we stop swallowing alcohol and drugs, either alone, or in combination. Usually we have a job by then. And it's strange how little money it takes to live on when we're not wasting it on parties, other alcoholics, loose women, and all the other things that go with that lifestyle. We find that we begin to have more straight friends. And we discover that people don't like to be around someone who's drunk all the time.

One day we go to the teller machine to draw out money and we realize that we have several hundred or even several thousand in the bank. And the realization comes upon us that it doesn't really take a lot of money to get by when we live like ordinary people. We show up to work every day. We stop wrecking our automobile. Our credit gets better because we pay our bills and we make amends to those to whom we owe money. Our credit improves to the point where we can buy pretty much what we want.

And this change in our circumstances has a profound effect upon our attitude. Instead of being gloomy all the time and wondering what terrible thing will happen next, we start becoming happier and more outgoing.. Our outlook changes to the point that we are able to give some of our excess to help others who might be in need.

At this point in the promises we realize what we've been missing out on all this time. And we're happy about where we find ourselves.

Click here to email John.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Promise Eight

"Self seeking will slip away" Promise Eight

It's interesting how life works once one gets sober. For the first 52 years of my life I thought my main problem was money. If I just had enough of it, life would be okay. I would have enough alcohol. I would have enough drugs. I would have enough women. I would have a nice home and car of my dreams. Everything would be perfect.

But when those things didn't come to me, in spite of what I thought were my best efforts, I just drank and used more and more to drown my failures. My deep down belief was that I would die an early death of cirrhosis. Or else end up back in prison, where I had spent much of my life.

That's why Promise Eight is so interesting to me.

And it's interesting to me because once I finally surrendered to the idea that I could no longer use alcohol or drugs successfully my life began to slowly change. After being sober just six months I had my old job back. I was living in a decent halfway house. I had a new bicycle. Sometimes I rode the bus. My wardrobe was starting to get back together. And for once, I had a sense of freedom and happiness that I hadn't experienced since I was a child. I found myself no longer depressed and demoralized.

Self-gratification and self-seeking were no longer the focal point of my life. I just enjoyed being sober and being free of the fear, the nameless fear, that comes with being an addict who is using. All of the things I used to fantasize about having, the material things, the ego things, seemed to fade into the background of my subconscious. No longer was I seeking those things.

Yet once the alcohol and drugs were removed from my life miraculous things started happening. Not overnight mind you. But changes started happening almost with no effort on my part. Or seemingly no effort.

Within a year I opened my own recovery program. And while I was working another full-time job at a company where I was previously worked, I thought that opening a halfway house would help me stay in touch with my recovery. Little did I know that God had other plans. In no time the three houses I had purchased were full. And I had to look for different places to put those looking for recovery.

Now mind you I had no money, I had no financial backers, and I had zero credit. Yet somehow I was able to acquire property with no money down and no credit. Soon TLC had almost 300 clients. In fact, we had so many people that I had to quit the job I had so I could spend full-time at the halfway house. At the beginning of the third year I began paying myself a $200 a week salary.

As it says in Promise Eight "self-seeking" will slip away. And that's what happened for me. I was so busy taking care of the many addicts streaming in our doors that I didn't have much time to think about myself.

As time went on, all the things I used to fantasize about having begun to materialize in my life – seemingly without effort on my part. All I did was focus on helping others get sober and clean. Helping them get jobs. Giving them encouragement when things looked the darkest.

It's interesting that when things became about helping other people and not seeking things for myself everything I used to think about all my life began to show up. It was almost magical. And while I don't pretend to understand how God works, I know that when we give to others somehow we always have what we need.

And even some of what we want.
Click here to email John

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Promise Seven

"We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows." The Seventh Promise

Part of growing up in the recovery program is that as we work our way through the steps we realize that one of our jobs is to give it away. To pass our experience and hope onto others.

Instead of always dominating the floor when it comes our time to share, we limit our remarks. We allow the newcomer – regardless of how crazy they may sound – to vent and brag and let anger out. If he or she is crying, we hand them a Kleenex and let them know that feelings are part of the recovery process.

We gain interest in our fellows by listening to them. But even more important, we prop them up. We help encourage them. We let them know that the program will work if they'll just be patient and take the time to keep coming back to the meetings.

For when we were out in the world drinking and doing the other things we did, our only interest was in ourselves and how we felt. It was always about "me, me, me." At this point of our program, at promise seven, we behave differently. We take an interest in our fellows to the point where we encourage their recovery. No matter what they're going through, we carry the message to them. And the message is that they only have to make it for the next 24 hours – not for the rest of their lives.

As they keep coming to the meetings, we acknowledge the changes that we see in their lives. If they talk about a new job, we congratulate them on their success. We applaud and congratulate them on their anniversaries.

We take a genuine interest in their success. And always make sure that we relate it to the fact that they are no longer drinking and doing the other things they did.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Promise Six

"The feelings of uselessness and self-pity will disappear." The Sixth Promise.

Just because we get sober why would our feelings of uselessness and self-pity disappear? I believe there are a few reasons.

One of the reasons would be that when we were drinking and doing the other things we do we did very little that was useful. Once we get sober we stop stealing, start working, become responsible for our children, and start acting like productive citizens. Those are things we didn't do much of when we were drinking. Because when we were drinking all we were thinking about was ourselves and our internal chemistry. Where would I get my next drink? Would I panhandle some change? Would I steal it from a market? It was a constant challenge to stay drunk.

And self-pity followed us around like a dark cloud over our heads. Then one day, after we've been sober a while we realized that the feeling of self-pity had disappeared. After all, when we had self-pity we had a good reason to take a drink or whatever else we took to change our state of consciousness.

But there is something powerful when we set down the bottle and start taking charge of our lives. Many of us – and I was one of them – showed up with virtually nothing but a few pennies in our pockets. In fact, all I had when I showed up was the clothes on my back and seventy-three cents. After being sober 11 days, I was sent from the detox I was in to a halfway house. Right away I started working and getting my strength back. Soon I started getting a paycheck and was able to pay rent.

I no longer felt sorry for myself because I was, to some degree, taking charge of my destiny again by getting rid of all the substances I was ingesting. It's real difficult to feel self-pity when one is doing responsible things. Like going to meetings. Like chairing meetings. Like paying rent and being responsible for ourselves and our obligations.

Of course, uselessness and self-pity might pop up once in a while, but once we have a period of sobriety under our belt it quickly disappears because we realize what we did to get rid of it in the first place.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Promise Five

"No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others" The Fifth Promise

To me this might be one of the most important promises. That's because when I first came into the program I might have had the idea that I was beyond saving. Or maybe it was just my ego telling me that no one had done the terrible things I had while they were out there using.

After sitting in the rooms of 12 step meetings for year after year and listening to the stories I think that I might've heard it all. But as usual, I find that I can always hear a story that borders on fiction because it is so incredible.

While I used the bad experiences from my childhood and in my early life as an excuse for my drinking, they were bad enough for other members to understand why I drank. But as time went on, I met people in the rooms who went through experiences that I thought were much worse than mine. I understood why they drank and did drugs. Some of their experiences were so painful that alcoholism seemed like the only rational response for them to kill their pain.

So this promise provides benefit in a few ways. For many of us we find out that we weren't quite so terrible as we thought. When we look at our behavior in comparison to some of the others it helps our self-esteem a little bit realize that we weren't the only ones on the planet trying to destroy ourselves.

While I never went to 12 step meetings with the idea of comparing myself with others, inevitably I realized that as a group we shared experiences in common. Not that that made what we did okay, but it helps us realize that if there's hope for the others in the rooms, then there's hope for all of us.

Some of these experiences in this fifth promise are not all bad. As people tell their stories after a period of recovery we can see how they worked their way through problems without relapsing. Without reverting to their old behaviors.

And when we hear things like that it makes us realize that we also can deal with the issues in life that make us sometimes feel like returning to our old behaviors.