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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Enemy

"We have met the enemy and he is us" Pogo, 1970

The above saying is taken from a poster of cartoon character Pogo, published by cartoonist Walt Kelly in 1970. I like it because in a few words it tells the story of us drug addicts.

Before we enter the realm of sobriety we learned that we're our own worst enemy. But for many addicts, that's a big problem.  Even though we created our own messes, we have a hard time accepting responsibility.

This came up the other day because I heard of a client who had been in more than 30 treatment programs. Yet, for some reason, he couldn't stay sober more than a few weeks after each one.  He was baffled.

A counselor asked him what the problem was. But the client didn't have any idea.

Finally, the counselor suggested that the programs worked just fine. It was just that the client wasn't ready to be responsible for himself.

A common factor with unsuccessful addicts is they look outside themselves for the answers to their problems. It was their family. They were abused as a child. It was the way they were brought up. It was their wife. Or husband. It's always something - imaginary or real - that won't allow them to live sober.  Always something or someone outside themselves.

Until we look at ourselves as the masters of our destiny we're sure to fail. No one changes our bad habits but us. If we overeat and get fat who's fault is that? If we smoke and develop a chronic lung disease, who can we blame but ourselves?  If we put a needle in our arm, who did it?

If we destroy our relationships because we're fearful and angry and self-centered we must blame the person in the mirror. No matter how hard we reach for an excuse, no one "does" anything to us. When we're alone in our heads at night we know on a deep level where the responsibility lies.

We truly have met the enemy.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 14, 2017

Intervention?

Two relatives came in from California this weekend to participate in an intervention on a heroin addict family member.

I declined to participate because they weren't having the intervention done with a professional interventionist. From what I heard, it turned out just as I expected. It was more or less a shouting match between family members. And the young man who was the subject of the intervention declined to enter treatment. He said he could "do it on his own."

Another reason I didn't want to participate is that some of those who were at the intervention have been enabling this young man for years. They provide him a place to live when he doesn't have a place of his own. They loan him money. They give him give him rides and other help.

You may ask what's wrong with that? If they didn't take care of him he would be homeless. And he might go hungry.

But the reality is that if you're housing or feeding or doing anything else for an addict what you're really doing is buying his or her drugs. Because the money he's saved by sponging off of you is money that he's able to use at the dope house.

It's sad to have to put out one of your loved ones, to allow them to be homeless and hungry. But that's how addicts and alcoholics learn to change their behavior. When loved ones no longer put up with their nonsense they might get the idea that they have a problem.

Like the other family members, I don't want to see this young man die of his disease. Yet in the last year, he's been taken to the hospital more than once suffering from a drug overdose. Probably the only thing that saved him was there was someone around to take him to the hospital when he fell out.

Last year over 700 people died in Arizona from opiate overdoses. And it's only by the grace of God that he wasn't one of them.

Hopefully, he will get into recovery before it's too late.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Miracles

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."  - Albert Einstein

I like this saying by because it reminds me of the two lives of an alcoholic or addict.

In the first life, everything was negative. We struggled to open our eyes many mornings, regretting that we were even alive. We were full of pain and demoralization because we had to go out and get more booze or drugs so we could face the world for another day.

The skies were gloomy. Everyone was our enemy, especially at the end. We were afraid to talk to people because we couldn't remember the last lie we told them. Or else we'd ripped them off and had no means to pay them back.

When we were really deep into our addictions we were lonely and isolated. Most of our waking hours were spent figuring out how to get enough money to blot out our pain. There were no miracles.

Our second life, when we're living in recovery, is nothing short of a miracle. We' re happy to wake up in the morning and put our feet on the floor. We turn our phone on and see messages from our friends, checking to see if we're okay. We get invited to go places and do things. We're not constantly looking in our rearview mirror to see if the police are behind us. We don't fear the knock on the door, wondering if it's our parole officer or a drug dealer that we owe money to. We're living the promises of the program, enjoying a new freedom and a new happiness.

I could go on and on about the miracles of recovery. But for those of us who are enjoying recovery, there's no need to explain. Everything in life is a miracle for those of us who have escaped the daily hell of our addictions.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Justice for a Child

A client who's worked in our office for several years called the other afternoon, his voice full of excitement. He'd just left a court hearing where he'd won a major legal victory.

The case involved his ten-year old step-daughter, who'd been molested by her biological father when she was quite young. Our client, who'd assumed the role of surrogate father after marrying the child's mother, had been on a mission to get the father's parental rights severed. After years of effort, he'd achieve that goal. But it wasn't an easy battle.

When he first learned the father had assaulted the child he went to the police in Apache Junction, where the incident occurred. However, when he talked to the detectives they acted like they weren't interested in following up. They either thought the child was too young or that there wasn't enough evidence. However, our client didn't take no for an answer. He talked to whoever he had to until charges were brought against the father, who's now facing a long term in prison for molesting his daughter and other molestation cases.

Our client's next goal is to be able to legally adopt the child. And based on his perseverance in the molestation case he'll probably achieve his goal. Before he does that though, he has to get his own civil rights restored, something I know he'll accomplish.

But the story's bigger than just the case of his stepdaughter. What this story really illustrates is what can happen when people get clean and sober. For years this man used drugs and was in and out of jails and prisons. He was not on a good path.

Even after he came to TLC it took several tries for him to succeed. And one time he left our program suddenly, taking one of our vans with him when he left for California. Eventually, he came back, made amends, and has worked in our corporate office for several years.

Recovery has not only changed his life. It also changed the life of a young girl who was traumatized at an early age.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Enabling

A mother seeking help for her daughter found my blog on the Internet. She said that her daughter is a drug addict, but that she's been supplying her with food and a cell phone. After reading my blog she realized that she was doing it all wrong.

I wrote back and told her we had treatment options available, but that she was doing the right thing by cutting off support for her daughter.

While this may sound callous and cruel, the reality is that as long as we're helping addicts in any way while they're still using we're prolonging their addiction. The only help we should give is a ride to detox or treatment.

And I speak from personal experience. When I was using 27 years ago family members and friends were helping me. It was only when they gave up on me that I decided to change. At first, I hated them and thought they were cruel. I was still angry at them when I went into a detoxification unit. But within a year of being sober, I realized that the best thing that ever happened to me was when they cut off support. They saved my life.

I have a close relative who's overdosed on heroin a few times in the last couple of years. Yet his siblings continue to provide food and shelter and transportation. I know they think they're showing him love – but the reality is that they could be loving him to death.

Parents can't be blamed for doing the best they can. When a parent realizes the child is an addict they're afraid. They don't know what to do. They think if they continue to love and support them financially that they'll realize the error of their ways and change. But that's not the way the world of addiction works.

Once the disease takes a grip on an addict, the addict is going to do pretty much whatever they have to so they can feel okay. And that includes taking advantage of family and friends.

Parents must realize they 're powerless over their children, particularly when they begin using opiates and other addictive drugs. And it's not that the children don't love the parents. It's just that they love that heroin rush so much more.

It's a tough decision to cut off our family. But it's a decision that might save their lives.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Expectations

"What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be." Unknown

Today we had to transfer a manager to another position because other employees were tired of working with him. In fact, two of them were so unhappy that they threatened to leave without giving notice. Fortunately, we were able to convince one of them to stick around for another week until we could find replacements

It was quite uncomfortable for me to have to move this employee to a different position, one where he didn't have to deal with others very often. And I was uncomfortable because he's been a dedicated employee for five years. And he has a high degree of ability and technical skill that makes him valuable to us. Plus, he's not lazy. It's just that he had a problem with those who didn't live up to his expectations.

One of the things I've learned after over 26 years in this business is not to have too many expectations of others. In fact, I expect those who work for us to screw up on a regular basis. And I'm never disappointed. Someone is always being brought to my office because of their relationships with others in the company. And very often the ones who are creating the problems are those in a supervisory or managerial position.

One of the things that make TLC different from other organizations is that 99% of our staff is in recovery. In fact, all of them went through the TLC program and worked their way up through the ranks. Along the way they not only learned how to work in a business environment, they also had a chance to work on their recovery with fellow addicts and alcoholics.

In fact, unlike most corporations, when we have a personnel problem we usually sit down and have a group with the person until we can sort out what's going on. I remember that over 10 years ago, when we had a non-addict working with our organization in the accounting department, he was amazed that we would shut down our office for 30 to 60 minutes to deal with an employee issue. But since our mission is to help addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives we rarely fire people unless they continue to do stupid things.

Our job is to help people get through tough times without having to revert to their old behavior.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Emotions

"Emotions are temporary states of mind. Don't let them permanently destroy you." Unknown

Many of us addicts take actions based on our emotions. Sometimes these actions can radically change our lives, many times permanently.

At TLC we deal with many clients who make decisions based on emotions. They may become angry because all of a sudden they have to become responsible and pay their service fees. And many of them never had a job in their lives so their idea of giving us part of their paycheck is totally alien to them. Instead of wanting to pay, they become angry and decide to leave.

Clients often are emotionally upset because of their present circumstances. Here they are in their mid-20s or 30s, and still living in a halfway house trying to get their lives together. The important people in their lives have cut them loose because they can no longer deal with their addictions. No one can really blame them for being in an emotional state. But it's when they act on these emotions that they get in trouble.

Many go to the dope house. Or else leave, violate parole, and go back to prison. An impermanent emotional state has derailed their lives. Had they waited five minutes, the emotional fires may have subsided and they'd have made a different decision.

One solution to these emotional states can be found in mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness teaches us to observe our thoughts in a certain way. When we are meditating we find thoughts popping up, seemingly from nowhere. When we see these thoughts what do we do? All we do is observe them without judgment and let them pass, like leaves on a stream. They may pop up again. And we do same things with them: observe them without judgment and let them pass.

If we start practicing mindfulness for 10 or 15 minutes a day we'll find that our emotions become much more manageable. Because we take what we learn from our regular practice of meditation with us throughout the day. When we see crazy thoughts popping up in our head we become adept at simply observing them and recognizing them for what they are: just more stuff bubbling up from our subconscious, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

Our emotions are impermanent.  But decisions based upon them can have lasting consequences.

Click here to email John

Friday, July 28, 2017

Responsibility

While walking into a drugstore the other day, I run into an old acquaintance that I hadn't seen in some time. He was slouched on a bench outside the store, apparently bumming money off passersby. He looked like he hadn't bathed or changed clothes in a few days. So I assumed he was probably homeless and using something.

I asked how he was doing – though it was pretty obvious – and he told me that he'd relapsed five years earlier. He said that eventually he turned to crime to support his habit and finally ended up in prison for a few years. It was a long story and I didn't have time to listen to all of it. But I did offer to help him get into recovery and when he declined my help I gave him $20 and moved on.

But one consistent theme that ran through his story is that everything that happened to him was someone else's fault. He started using because the doctor gave him opiates for a back injury. His wife kicked him out because he was using drugs. He went to prison because he had to steal to support his habit. Nowhere in his story did he accept responsibility for his behavior. Nothing was his fault.

And his story reminded me that the big divide between those of us in recovery and those who are not is that one word: responsibility. A responsible person would have told the doctor that he was an addict and couldn't use opiates. A responsible person, once he became addicted, would have gone to a detox. Then he wouldn't have had to steal to support a habit and he wouldn't have gone to prison.

This story reminded me that until I accepted responsibility for my behavior I always had a problem with drugs and alcohol. Only when I surrendered to the idea that I was an alcoholic and addict was I able to change. That's when I went into a detoxification unit.

Today I work in the field of recovery, something I've done for more than 26 years. And because of this long experience, I find it easy to recognize those who are going to make it.

As soon as an addict crosses into the land of responsibility and quits lying to themselves about how they got into trouble I know they have a chance of making it. And they use every resource at their disposal to become responsible. They get a sponsor. They go to meetings. They quit blaming their bad behavior on their parents or family members. They accept that their situation in life - whatever it is - is nobody's fault but their own.

For an addict to become responsible for their life right now, they must be willing to forget whatever terrible things happened to them in the past. Only then can they enjoy the freedom and beauty of recovery.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dealing with Disrespect

The mother of an addict calls me, with a question about how to deal with her adult daughter. Once again, the daughter is asking more of her than she is willing to give. What should she do?

The daughter, who's been addicted to some kind of a substance for much of her adult life, is very demanding. When she's in a tight spot financially she expects her mother to help her. When she's angry, she curses at her mother and treats her disrespectfully. All their lives it's been a one-way relationship: the mother giving and the daughter taking. In photographs of them taken when the daughter was quite young, the daughter always appears to be well-dressed in new clothes. While the mother is wearing second-hand clothing or hand-me-downs.

One of the issues between these two is that the daughter plays on the mother's guilt – or the guilt she had at one time. The mother, who never used drugs or alcohol, married a drug addict who's spending the rest of his life in prison. When the daughter was young her mother wished she was able to provide for her better than she could as a single mother, something the daughter sensed. From early on she placed blame for their circumstances on her mother, rather than the drug addict father who never took care of them. She played on her mother's unconscious guilt for years until the mother was no longer willing to take it.

I give the mother the same advice that I've given over the years. Whenever she's asked me how to respond to her abusive daughter I've always given her the same advice: don't do anything for her until she learns how to treat you with respect. There are no good reasons to allow anyone to treat us with disrespect. Especially, when all we've done is give to them.

This kind of dynamic could play out between these two for the rest of their lives – but only if the mother allows it.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Promises

My teenage granddaughter, who graduated from high school a few months ago, called this weekend to tell me that she was going to into the Air Force in about two weeks.

She'd been talking about entering the service for a few years. Now, all of a sudden, it's becoming very real. She's really going to do it.

We make small talk for a while and plan to get together next week for lunch. I want to see her one more time before she goes off to Texas for basic training.

I bring this up because this is one of the benefits of sobriety. When I got sober going on 27 years ago, this girl wasn't even born. She's never seen me high. She's never seen me drunk. All she knows is the grandfather who's always worked hard in his business and lived a sober life.

When I first got sober in 1991 I never looked very far ahead. Maybe three or four years at most. I did my best to live my life in the moment. I went to meetings. Stayed sober. I applied the twelve-step principles to my life.

Now, years later, I look at the many blessings that have been given to me because I stay sober and clean. Had I not got sober in 1991, I know I would not be alive today. I would not be able to visit my children and grandchildren and spend summer and Christmas vacations with them. I have been blessed over and over again, and it all started when I made the decision to go into a detoxification unit.

And I use this experience to try to encourage newcomers. I suggest to them that they be patient. That eventually their family will come back to them. They'll be able to find a job. Maybe go to school. Perhaps raise a family. Maybe never have to be arrested or go to jail again.

The Big Book tells us in the Promises that we will know "a new freedom and a new happiness." I'm pleased to say that the promises have come true for me.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

R.I.P. Todd

A staff member sent me an obituary of a man who was in our program less than a month ago. He'd been with us for two years. He had a job. He lived in one of our sober living houses, doing quite well.

But about a month ago we got a message that he was in his room at the sober living house, drunk and disorderly. A staff member asked him to leave or to go to detox - telling him he could come back later when he was sober.

But he refused to leave. In fact, we had to call the police to remove him from the premises.

Normally we don't let people who drink on the property and refuse to leave, to come back into the program. Especially when we have to get the police involved.

But because he'd been a good resident prior to his relapse, his manager brought him to my office. The man was quite pleasant and convinced me that if allowed to stay he would make every effort to be an exemplary resident. That I shouldn't judge him on just that one relapse. And he was so pleasant and convincing that I told him he could return – but that this was his last chance. He left my office, saying he was going to get some things from his home and then return.

That's the last I heard of him until a staff member sent me an obituary that was published by the mortuary.

In his photo, he looks like someone's next-door neighbor. He's wearing a suit and tie and has a big smile, appearing to be the picture of success. The obituary goes on to describe that he was a father, that he graduated from a major university, that he loved motorcycle rides, Golden Retrievers, and ice cream.

So what happened after two years of sobriety that made him pick up a bottle? And what made him never return again, even after we gave him permission to come back? No one really knows the answers.

All we really know is that alcohol took another alcoholic's life at the age of 55.  But his untimely death demonstrates that as sober people we can never let our guard down.

We send our sympathies to his family and wish him Godspeed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A new Addiction

Often the addicts coming into our program have poor self-esteem.  And they're also depressed about their prospects for the future.

Many spent their late teens and early twenties out of school - and without jobs. Maybe they've even done time in jail or prison. Their anxiety about the future is understandable. Without at least a basic education or job skills their feelings are warranted.  And a criminal record makes things worse.

Yet there are those who find their way back to school or into the job market. TLC has many graduates who found jobs while with us ten or more years ago and are still with the same companies today. Several of our graduates own successful small businesses or have gone on to careers in highly technical professions.

I mention this because I read about a recovering heroin addict who's done remarkable things with his life.  He ended up in jail and had many of the other bad experiences that heroin addicts go through.

Yet today he's the head of a 15 million dollar company that he started after he got clean.  For those of you in new recovery click here to see what one addict has done with his life.

His inspiring story gives anyone a reason for hope.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Upside of Stress

I just finished a book that I'd recommend for any addict or alcoholic.

The title is "The Upside of Stress," written by Kelly McGonigal.

She's a psychologist and university professor, who for many years, taught that stress was a bad thing. Something that we should avoid. But her thinking eventually changed after she saw some research describing how stress can also have a positive effect on us. That it's not as terrible as we might think.

And while I can't put all the details in the short space of a blog, the idea that stress might be good for us makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.

After all, hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were still living on the prairies and in the jungles, it was stress that kept us alive. And the stress was generated by the reality that we might be by eaten by an animal if weren't constantly on point and having an anxious awareness of the world around us.

The author describes how stress helps us perform better in certain situations, that it's something that we don't need to hide from. She cites studies that show that those who believe that stress is bad for them die earlier and suffer a lot more negative effects from stress than people who have a positive attitude toward it.

In many cases, she demonstrates that stress improves our performance, especially if we embrace it and learn to use it to our benefit.  She teaches us how to become good at it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Needing a Job?

A halfway house client, a man I've known for years, calls me in the middle of the night to ask for help.

He's so drunk that I can barely understand him. He's alternately crying and blubbering.

I finally get him to calm down enough so that I can understand what he's saying. He says he wants me to come and get him, help him to get into a detox. I tell him I'd be happy to do that.

But when I ask him where he's at, he says he doesn't know.

All he can come up with is that it's "a really nice hotel." I tell him to look on the hotel door and see if he can find an address or name of the hotel. Or else he could call the front desk and ask them where he's at. Then the phone goes silent, even though he hasn't hung up yet.

I finally hang up because I can't get him to respond. But I figure that if he was able to call me once, he'll be able to call me again when he's ready to be picked up and taken to a detox.

This man has been going in and out of the twelve-step programs and detoxes for years. As soon as he gets sober and back on his feet he thinks he's okay and can return to work.

This man is a classic example of an alcoholic or addict who thinks his only problem is finding a job. For the past 26 years that I've been working with addicts and alcoholics, I've seen this happen over and again. Once we men get sober, we think our only problem is finding a job and making money.

But if that were true, why would we have gotten drunk or high in the first place? If a job or career is what would keep us sober we'd probably never end up in a rehab or in jail or on the streets.

But one of the problems with this attitude is that most addict's families have the idea that they need to go to work also. So they will agree with, and even encourage, the alcoholic or addict in their life to find a job and go to work.

And while work is an honorable and necessary thing in our world, it's not the most important thing for someone who can't stay sober. The most important thing for us addicts and alcoholics is to get our recovery straight. Then the relationships, jobs, money, and all the other things in life come back to us.

A life that's built on a shaky foundation is always going to fall apart. And that's especially true for us addicts and alcoholics.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Letter of Gratitude

Normally I don't publish emails this lengthy.  But I'm doing it now because these words exemplify what TLC is all about.  Skip is moving on to a counseling position at another program and we wish him the best.  His friends here at TLC will truly miss him.

"John, I wanted to let you know that I am extremely grateful to you for starting TLC because it gives alcoholics and addicts like me a chance to rebuild their lives.

Myself, I came to TLC in late April of 2011 a broken man, hopeless, homeless, previously suicidal, and recently released from a psych unit in Colorado where I ended up after detox where they told me about your program.

When I got here I did not know what it would be like, although at that point I had endured so much pain in my life that I would do anything to change it. I got a few odd jobs that paid my rent for a week and then worked at a call center which I couldn't stand because I thought I was "above those people." I stayed there a week and then came to your job center at the house and you came in a mentioned a job in corporate.

I told you I was interested - along with another man - and he got that job. Well, I didn't give up because I heard the word corporate and knew it was for me because of my degree and banking experience and also because my health was not 100%.

A few days later the man that got the job quit and I went straight up to that office and you gave me a chance even if I wasn't your first choice. I worked with a gentleman staff member as my boss involving your successful temporary labor company within TLC and I couldn't even write my own name (literally).

I had drunk and did drugs most of my adolescent and adult life and did not know how to function in life as a sober person and my brain was mush at 52 years old. The guy that was my boss was so patient with me and I know he was frustrated, stuck with me and helped me until my brain started to recover. I will always be grateful to him as well as his boss and the many other staff at TLC that put up with me.

You provided me with shelter, food, a shower and toiletries, even clothes when I needed them. And I would hear other clients complaining about the food or other basic needs that were getting met for them as if it was expected.

I then ended up after 4 months or so in corporate, at another successful venture of yours within TLC which was right up my alley, a convenience store clerk that paid slightly more. I worked there for about 21/2 years with another patient man that accepted me as I was. And that is what helped me stay because I could be myself. I originally only planned to come for 90 days and I was still there. In those years I learned about AA and other sober support groups, went to outside therapy and started to accept the principles of the 12 step program into my way of life, I learned about meditation and being involved with the community of TLC by doing small groups, car washes, other required activities, and GI. I stayed at the halfway house for my first seven months and then the word came that it was time to live in a 3/4 house with my own room and more freedom.

In a short number of months, I became manager of the house which I truly loved and was there for over 5 years until I got my own apartment in December of 2016. From late 2011 to December 2013 I was working at the store and one day I asked you what it took to be a counselor at your newly formed Outpatient Clinic.

The next thing I knew I worked there as an assistant group facilitator, then facilitator, and ultimately to a case manager - handling nearly half the patients.

You and your organization are like family to me and always will be. I am deeply indebted to TLC for their kindness, compassion, structure and even discipline which helped me to live a wholesome, healthy way of life, helping others like me. A life that I never dreamed could be so grand. Thank you so very very much from the depths of my heart. P.S. Sorry this was so lengthy but I reminisced as I wrote it."


God speed, Skip.  We're grateful for your contributions. You always have a home with us.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Peers helping Peers

A few weeks ago a friend was asked by a group of non-addicts what kind of work she did. When she replied that she worked at TLC, one of the group asked: "Isn't that the place that's run by drug addicts?"

When she told them it was, their reaction wasn't very positive. My friend got the impression that they thought that professionals, such as psychologists or therapists, could do much better with addicts and alcoholics. My friend realized that the discussion would probably not be going in a positive direction, so she changed the subject.

We run into this attitude every once in a while. For some reason, the average non-addict has the idea that addiction and alcoholism can only be dealt with by professionals. However, studies have shown that peer counseling is just as effective – if not more so – than professional counseling.

And if one thinks about this it makes a lot of sense. After all, who understands addiction better than one who's already been through it and has stayed sober?

A good example of an organization that's saved millions of lives, is Alcoholics Anonymous. And it's totally nonprofessional, simply one alcoholic helping another. The only professionals involved are those with drug or alcohol problems. And indeed, one can meet any type of professional in the world in a twelve-step meeting – including doctors, lawyers, and scientists, plus the average everyday workingman. But the one thing they have in common is that those who have been around for a while understand alcoholism on a deep level. And that's the knowledge that allows them to help each other get their lives back on track.

And the same principle applies here at TLC. We get all sorts coming through our doors. Everything from homeless addicts and alcoholics to those with masters degrees in various fields. But their common desire to stay sober is what helps our organization to succeed.  And allows them to help each other.

And a final point is that peer counseling organizations, like ours and the twelve-step programs, are readily available at little or no cost to those who are seeking help and have a genuine desire to change their lives.  Giving everyone a psychiatrist or psychologist is unaffordable - nor has it proved to be more effective. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Angry in Recovery

Most of the time I'm very peaceful and easy-going.

The first thing I do in the morning is 45 minutes of mindful meditation. In fact, I'm so into meditation that I took an 11-month course to receive my certificate as a mindfulness meditation instructor. I also practice yoga for 20 to 30 minutes first thing in the morning. Then spend another 45 minutes in my home gym. In other words, I spend a lot of time on self-care aimed at keeping myself peaceful and serene. And usually, it works.

Because anger got me into a lot of trouble when I was much younger, I like living the way I do today. In my early years, anger caused me to use drugs and alcohol to mask my feelings of frustration and rage. I used to fight a lot and hurt myself and others. So being peaceful is the way I try to roll.

But the other day I let my anger get out of hand.

And it came about because I've been dealing with a person who has caused me a lot of emotional and financial issues over the last four months. Over the years I've spent a lot of money and done many things to enhance this person's life. I've been generous to a fault. I've never taken advantage of her. To the contrary, I recently spent a lot of effort helping her avoid a jail sentence for domestic violence. A sentence, that in reality, she truly deserved.

So my anger erupted when I asked her to sign a simple document that I needed for a business transaction and she refused. Her refusal won't stop the transaction from occurring. But it will slow it down because now lawyers have to get involved, which will cost time - and both of us money.

But the anger didn't come from my failure to complete the business transaction in a timely manner. As I said earlier, it will get done even though I may have to go to the expense of taking court action.

What really angered me was the sense of betrayal I got from someone who should've totally trusted me because I've never given her a reason to do otherwise.

But when I said above that I let my anger get out of hand what I really meant was that I allowed it to suffuse every part of me for an hour or so. Instead of doing what I know how to do, which is breath and let the anger subside, I instead let it get the best of me. So how did I get rid of it?

Well, the first thing I did when I got home was to go into my gym and begin wailing on a punching bag that I've had for several months. It's one of those rubber kind that looks like half a man. And I beat on it for several minutes with all of my energy until my anger began to dissipate. But I wasn't quite done yet. Next, I went into my swimming pool and swam furiously back and forth, back and forth, until I ran out of energy. Then when I regained my energy I realized that I still wasn't done. So I went back into my gym and put on some 14-ounce boxing gloves and beat on the bag some more until I could've sworn I heard it asking for mercy. After working out hard for the next day or so my anger has pretty much dissipated.

Plus, I've had a chance to think about it. And I came to the realization that when a person is terribly damaged it's difficult for them to trust anyone – no matter how kindly that person treats them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Taking it Personally

“Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” ~Unknown

Many times we get in trouble emotionally because we take things personally. And it seems like that when we take things personally, everything matters. Everything assumes great importance. Even the smallest things.

I once read some wise advice from Marilyn vos Savant, a newspaper columnist who reputedly had the highest IQ of anyone in the world – 220 plus. One time, when answering a query from one of her readers, she gave him some pointed advice.

In his question to her, he pointed out that we get stronger physically by exercising, stronger academically by going to school and so forth. But his question was how do we become stronger emotionally?

And her answer to him was quite simple. She said that we get stronger emotionally by not taking things personally. She said that if your girlfriend doesn't like your tie, either get a new tie or a new girlfriend. If your boss doesn't like the job you're doing, either do a better job or get a different job. You get the picture. But her main point was that we shouldn't take things personally because it's not good for us emotionally.

And I bring this up today because I know that we addicts and alcoholics are extremely sensitive and feeling people. Everything bothers us. Anything can set us off. Especially when we're in new recovery and don't have a lot of sober experience in life.

When we first get into recovery most of us addicts have poor self-esteem. And why shouldn't we? After all, all we did was take from others. We used our family and friends. We abused our bodies. We lost our jobs, and in many cases, we even lost our freedom because we committed crimes to get drugs or alcohol.

So no wonder we feel bad about ourselves and are overly sensitive to what others say or do. But we will get stronger emotionally if only we realize that most of the things that other people say or do isn't about us.

Click here to email John

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Happy Birthday Ralph

Today I witnessed a true miracle at a twelve-step meeting. I had the privilege of listening to a man speak who had been sober 43 years. Half of the people in the room weren't even alive when he took his last drink.

He said the secret to his sobriety was, that he "didn't drink and he didn't die."

I've known this man all 26+ years of my sobriety. And he's served as my sponsor for about 20 of those 26 years.

He's always been there for me, through thick and thin. He helped me get through the emotional issues of losing family members. A divorce. Financial setbacks. And the myriad other issues that a recovering alcoholic encounters as he progresses through recovery.

I've met many recovering people who object to the idea of having a sponsor. But It's hard to fix something that's broken with something that's broken. All of our good thinking is what got us addicts and alcoholics into the place we are today.

And if we're traveling through the twelve-step programs without a sponsor then the only advice we're probably getting is from ourselves. And we all know how well our good thinking worked when we were out there using.

All of our best thinking got us in trouble with the law, cost us our jobs and maybe our marriages, and possibly even our health.

So my recommendation is that if you're in recovery find a sponsor. The easy way to find one is to look around the rooms and find someone who has what you want. And if he doesn't work out, fire him and get someone else. Keep looking into you find the person you want, the person who might help save your life.

That's what I did.

Click here to email John

Friday, June 23, 2017

Home Again

Tomorrow we leave Imperial Beach, California, to return home to Arizona.

While I'm not looking forward to the hundred and 110+ degree heat, I am ready to get back to the real world and my familiar surroundings. After living in Arizona for over 30 years, I'm used to the heat and have learned how to live in the desert.

Each year our family makes this pilgrimage to a group of condos 10 miles from the Mexican border. This year there were 22 of us. And we had a great time shopping, eating, working out, visiting, and playing on the beach. When we first started in the 90s, we rented one condo. But this year we needed five units to accommodate all the family and friends who joined us.

A lot of people tell me how lucky I am to be able to do this. And they are right. I really am lucky.

But the luck stems from the fact that over 26 years ago I decided I was tired of living like a bum and went into a detox to get sober.

My whole point of mentioning any of this is to encourage those of you who are new in recovery that once you get sober you can do pretty much whatever you want with your life. If you want to reestablish a relationship with your family – as I have done – you can do so.

If you want to go to school and get a degree you can do that. If you want to build a business and that's your mission in life, you can do that. Nothing is without the realm of possibility once we get sober.

The foundation of everything for all of us addicts and alcoholics is based on a solid program of recovery. And as we grow in our program, the fruits of our efforts continue to show up.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

More Legal Heroin

On June 2 in this blog, I wrote about Switzerland's answer to the heroin epidemic. And Switzerland's answer is to provide free heroin to addicts and a place for them to use it. The result is a lowering of overdose deaths, fewer cases of AIDS, and a lower crime rate because heroin addicts had stopped stealing to get their drugs.

Now a program like that found in Switzerland has come to North America. In Vancouver, Canada, heroin addicts are able to get their fix every day without having to steal and without having to risk their health buying contaminated drugs, or drugs of an unknown strength.

And this week, I read that in 2016 painkillers killed more Americans than did the entire Vietnam War. Over 55,000 people succumbed to drug overdoses last year, a stunning statistic in a country that for 50 years has waged a so-called "war on drugs."

All my adult life I've watched heroin addicts die for no good reason. Yes, many people say that they deserve what they get because they made the choice to use the drugs. But the reality is that addicts are not bad people. They are sick people who are most often their own worst enemy.

The idea that countries more civilized than ours are using an intelligent approach to addiction gives me hope. And the hope is that addicts will no longer have to die or go to prison trying to obtain drugs that he or she needs to live a so-called "normal" life. We need to no longer judge addicts. We need to do, as a society, whatever we can to reduce the harm they do to themselves.

Click this link to read more about Vancouver's innovative approach to the heroin epidemic that has plagued their city for many years.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Another Overdose

Now in Imperial Beach with the family this week enjoying our annual vacation.

However, on Friday, the day before we left, we got disturbing news. My grandson is taken to the hospital because he overdosed on heroin. For a while, we feared he was going to die.  But then we hear that he's conscious.  And that he'd left the hospital against a doctor's advice.

Someone asked later how I felt about him overdosing. They knew that I'd been close to him when he was much younger.

I replied that since he'd done this a couple times before I had more or less accepted that one day I was going to get the news that he'd died of an overdose. After all, that's what happens when addicts continue to defy the odds. And today, the quality of the heroin is much stronger. In fact, in the last year, Arizona has recorded more than 700 overdoses related to opiates.

I learned a long time ago that we addicts don't change our behavior until something really bad happens. Most don't seek help until they have lost everything. And that means they either have to go to prison. Lose their job. Lose their home. Or perhaps have health issues related to their addiction.

The thing about this young man's situation is that family members and others don't care that they are aiding and abetting his addiction by giving him a place to live and helping him out in other ways. As long as they keep supporting him he'll continue to use and take advantage of their gullibility.

They may think they're showing him love.  But they might be loving him to death.

He knows where and how he can get help. But until he's forced to do so he probably won't change.

And until he gets help, I've accepted the idea that one day he may have an overdose that he won't survive.  That would be sad.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Double Blessing

The 24th of May I wrote about how blessed I was seeing my 18 year granddaughter graduate high school in Arizona.

Well, today it was a double blessing:  this afternoon I watched my grandson graduate high school in Orange County, California in the afternoon.  And that was after spending a few hours in the morning watching my granddaughter being promoted from the eighth grade to high school.

The great thing, is that none of these youngsters have ever seen me drunk or under the influence; they were born after I was in recovery for several years.

While they've heard stories of my hedonistic past, the only thing they've witnessed is a loving grandfather who takes them on vacations a couple times a year.  A person who is a respectable businessman who's an example of clean and healthy living.  Someone who can contribute to their future success.

When I first got sober all I wanted was to stop the pain and misery in my life.  I wanted to quit going to jail.  To quit giving everything I owned to the dope man.  To quit disappointing my family and friends.

But I got so much more that, more than I ever imagined.

And I tell you this because if you're new to recovery you have no idea what the future holds.  I often marvel at the wonderful life I have today because I got sober over 26 years ago.

It can happen for you.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Racist?

An upset mother, who describes herself as Mexican, sends me an email accusing our organization of being "racist."

It seems that she went to one of our facilities in Phoenix to leave her daughter some sodas and snacks. The manager at the facility, however, wouldn't allow her to leave everything she brought. The problem was that there wasn't enough storage space for all the things she wanted to leave.

She was told that she could bring the rest of the items the following week, once her daughter went through the things that she had left her.  But the mother claimed she wasn't allowed to leave the items because we were "racist" toward Mexicans.

I answered her email, telling her she could call me and we'd discuss the specifics of what happened with her and her daughter and our manager. I've had no response at this writing.

It probably would've been an interesting conversation. Because the truth is, our organization is one of the least prejudice that I know. For years we've had minority managers of every belief and description.

Plus, we have LBGT houses that have around 40 to 50 residents - some of them also people of color.

And more interesting is that one of our key executives – for many years – was married to a Latina. And our CEO, not only has Latino children but is also married to a black woman.

Our organization may be many things, but being racist is not one of them.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hoping for Prison

A young woman at a meeting is discussing her brother and her father. Apparently, both of them are having trouble with drugs and alcohol. Plus, they are facing charges that could possibly send them to prison.

"I hope both of them go to prison," she said emphatically.

Now those aren't normally things a loving person would say about their brother or father. But the woman went on to explain that she believed that was the only way they were going to survive. She believed that if they remained free, that their addictions would kill them. And I think what she said contained a lot of wisdom.

I know many addicts and alcoholics who aren't motivated to get sober as long as they have the freedom to obtain drugs or alcohol. The only way they survive is by being locked up until their mind is clear. And even then, they will eventually be set free and likely will begin using again. The only thing that would prevent them from returning to their addiction is if they got involved with therapy or twelve-step programs while they were locked up. But, in most cases that doesn't happen.

As for me, I went in and out of jails and prisons and mental institutions for sixteen years. And I believe that being incarcerated frequently and for long periods of time kept me alive if nothing else.

It was only after I was free for quite a while, and kept losing things over and over again, that I decided I needed to change the direction of my life. But that only happened after many years of believing that I could successfully use drugs or alcohol. Only when life got so painful that I could no longer deny the power of my addiction did I go into a detoxification unit and begin a new life of recovery.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breathe...

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has authored over 100 books on meditation, compassion, and other aspects of living a peaceful life. In 2014 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to make the world a better place.

The reason I bring him up today is because of the quote above. Those of us in recovery can use this quote to help us stay calm and focused in our sometimes very busy and stressful world. And to use this tool you don't have to believe in Buddhism or any other kind of dogma. You can use this simple tool of conscious breathing at any time during your day.

For example, maybe you're late to work and you're hurrying down the freeway. Then ahead of you is a sea of brake lights. Immediately you tense up, feeling your heart rate increasing, as you realize you're going to be even later for work. But instead of pounding your steering wheel and cursing at the traffic, you could react differently. Instead of getting upset, consciously take a deep breath, feeling the oxygen moving down to your lower stomach, maybe below your belly button. If you breathe like this two or three times you'll find yourself becoming calmer and more peaceful. You won't get to work any faster. But when you do get there you won't be bubbling over with anger or stress.

This is a technique that you can use very subtly and at any time. Perhaps you're in a social situation that has raised your anxiety level. No one's going to notice as you take a deep inhalation. Even if you do it two or three times. But they are going to notice your serenity and calm.

Maybe you're asking the boss for a raise, and you are understandably nervous. Instead of living with that case of nerves, draw in a deep breath as you wait for the meeting to begin. And it's something you can practice even while in the presence of your boss. He won't notice what you're doing. Plus he might interpret your calm demeanor as self-confidence and be more inclined to give you what you are asking for.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Up in Smoke

If you ask people what's the deadliest addiction in the country they'd probably give you the wrong answer. They would probably tell you that it was methamphetamines. Heroin. Cocaine, Alcohol. But they'd be wrong in every instance.

The deadliest addiction in the country is nicotine. Tobacco kills something like 425,000 people a year in the United States. It kills more than all diseases combined. It kills more people than do plane crashes or automobile accidents. It kills more people than do homicides. More people die from tobacco than all other causes combined. And you can add to that number the 225,000 American military personnel who died in World War II.

Smoking is something that I rant about every so often. Not only was it the hardest addiction I ever quit, it also killed seven of my family members. None of them died from lung cancer: all of them succumbed to emphysema – a slow painful death that eventually suffocated them.

It was 33 years ago in July when I was finally able to kick the habit. It took a lot of planning for me to do it. The first thing I did was cut down from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes. Then I started cutting down on the number of cigarettes I smoked each day. Before I finally made the leap to quit smoking, I purchased 100 Nicorette tablets. After chewing nine of them over a few days, I knew I was done. And I was. I never picked up another cigarette or tobacco product again. And I believe that it was a decision that saved my life.

I bring this up today because I see people around TLC who still smoke in spite of all the evidence. I've seen them develop emphysema and COPD. I've seen them have strokes and heart attacks. And even though they know on an intellectual level how devastating the habit is, the addiction is so powerful that many of them cannot summon the willpower to quit.

However, we are willing to help any client wants to quit smoking. And that includes purchasing nicotine patches if they can't afford them – plus we offer hypnosis for those who are highly motivated to quit but have had difficulty stopping.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Legalize Heroin?

Last year some 790 Arizonans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Arizona Republic, this state's largest newspaper.

The newspaper says this is a 74% increase since 2012. And at TLC we see the trend. Whereas many clients used to come to us addicted to meth, now they are more likely to come in with an opiate habit.

The article goes on with the usual handwringing about what to do about the heroin epidemic. It's the same old boring responses I've been listening to since I was a teenager, some 60 years ago. From then until now there's been this attitude of "doing something" about heroin.

One group will talk about raising public awareness. Another will talk about stricter enforcement. Others want to engage in a "war on drugs." I've been hearing the same thing for so long I almost have it memorized.

One solution that I don't believe has been considered in this state or in this country is a form of legalization. And of course, this kind of proposal would have everyone screaming about how legalizing heroin would encourage addiction. But that's kind of a dumb response. We already have an epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths across this country.

A few years ago we had a visitor to TLC from Berne, Switzerland. He was a man who worked as a counselor at a legal heroin clinic in his country. And he described the positive effect that legalization had on his city and country.

He said that AIDS had been cut dramatically because addicts were no longer sharing needles. Overdoses had been reduced to virtually nothing because the clinic staff taught people how much they could safely use. Drug-related crimes by heroin addicts had virtually stopped. And he said that young people are no longer as attracted to heroin as they had once been because now it was viewed as a medical problem. The fact that it was legal had made it less attractive to them.

Even though I don't believe that we should engage in any type of drug use, the reality is that it's overtaking our country. And I think we should examine any ideas that might help lower the death rate among addicts.

For more information about how the Swiss deal with heroin use, click this link.

Click here to email John.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Being 78

Back in the 1970s I never thought I'd live to see age 40. I was drinking every day. I was using drugs every day. I was stealing every day.

I spent so much time in the Orange County Jail, that when I'd leave I'd tell them to hold my job in the kitchen because I'd be back.

I lived a life of doom and gloom.  I felt I wasn't long for this planet. And for some reason, I really didn't care.

This comes up for me today because on May 31, tomorrow, I turn 78 years old. And today I really do care about living. And I give all the credit to the fact that I got sober over 26 years ago.

Because I got sober January 14, 1991, I've been able to enjoy years of blessings. I've been able to see my children and grandchildren mature. I was able to start a nonprofit corporation that helps addicts and alcoholics get sober.

I have a circle of friends. I have love in my life, something I never had while using. I have material things that I've been able to keep because I haven't had to feed a monstrous drug and alcohol habit.

And probably one of the most rewarding things I've been able to do is help others change their lives. There are few occupations where a person gets to help others so directly.

Nothing is as rewarding to me as when someone says "Thank you for what you've done for me. You changed my life."

And to think, I would've missed all of this had I not walked into a detox totally demoralized and beaten down, over 26 years ago.

I'm grateful for my life and the people around me. I love you all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Resentments

Oftentimes I hear people at meetings say things like, "I'm so grateful that I'm an alcoholic because the twelve-step programs have taught me how to deal with issues that I couldn't handle before."

Those of you who don't have a problem with substance abuse might wonder why someone would be happy to be an alcoholic. But if you are conversant with the twelve-step programs you would understand. You'd see that there are benefits for those who are in recovery and working the program.

The steps allow addicts and alcoholics to deal with issues from their past, things they used to cover up with alcohol and drugs.

This came up for me today because a friend of mine, who is in recovery, was telling me about how he'd made amends to an old girlfriend with whom he had a son. The son was getting married and had invited him to the wedding. But the son also said that his mother didn't want to have anything to do with his father, even though she hadn't seen him in 20 years. Even though he'd made amends to her, she was still fostering a resentment that didn't allow her to communicate with him in a civil manner. Had she had the tools that he'd gained from the program, communicating with him wouldn't have posed a problem for her.

My friend told me the wedding went quite well and, even though he didn't attend a pre-wedding dinner because she didn't want him there, everything worked out fine.

It's very healing for us to be able to make amends to people and get rid of our old resentments. Because, as we learned in the rooms, resentments are one of the things that can cause us to relapse.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Recovery Blessing

Tonight I had an experience that I never would've had, had I not gotten sober. I had the pleasure and privilege of watching my 18-year-old granddaughter graduate from high school. The ceremony was held at Wells Fargo Arena at ASU in Tempe.

I'd been sober about seven years when she was born. And because of her demeanor and comportment, she became one of my favorite granddaughters. She always did her best to excel in school. She stayed away from drugs and those who use drugs. She didn't drink alcohol. And she never got into any serious relationships. She was a loving and respectful child who never asked for anything.

She's already passed her exams to go into the Air Force and probably will be entering the service sometime in the fall. It didn't surprise me that she did that.  Because she always had a desire to be independent and take care of herself.

When I first got sober I really didn't think about anybody but myself. I never thought about having grandchildren. I never thought about seeing them graduate from school. The only thing I wanted when I got sober and clean was for the pain to stop. And it did as soon as I stopped putting alien substances into my body.

But for those of you who are newly sober or in your first years of recovery I'd like to point out that there are a lot more benefits and life – beyond recovery. 

And that's when we get to see our families blossom and grow. I've seen my daughters get married. I've seen them have children. I've seen them succeed in life in so many ways that I was unable to because I was such an addict. The best I could do was drag myself out of the house every day and live as a predator, trying to get enough money for the drugs and alcohol I needed to kill my pain.

I never dreamed there were so many blessings living in recovery.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A changed Life

At our monthly staff meeting this weekend a longtime staff member spoke about how his life had changed since he got clean and sober.

He came to our program after completing a prison term. And when he arrived, he had nothing. Only the clothes on his back.

But the one thing he did have was a strong determination to change his life. He was tired of manufacturing and selling methamphetamines. He was tired of being locked up.  Before getting deeply involved in the drug world, he had worked in the construction trades. So he began working for TLC in the construction department and he has done pretty much the same job for the last nine years. At TLC he's the go-to guy when it involves construction or remodeling.

Since he came to TLC he's done more than just stay sober. A few years back he fell in love and got married. Today he has a young child, and the boy is the focus of his life. You can hear the joy in his voice when he speaks about the time he spends with him.

His story is not unique.  We have many staff members who have been with us for years.  And after a while, their lives completely change as they grow in recovery.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Son in Prison

A few days ago I ran into a middle-aged couple on the sidewalk in front of our corporate office. They appeared to be lost, so I asked if I could help.

"Is this TLC?" They asked. "We're looking for a halfway house for our son."

I invited them to come upstairs to my office so I could explain to them what we do and how they could get their twenty-something son into our program. At first, they seemed anxious about the process. But after a few moments of conversation, they relaxed and I told him exactly what we did and how they could get their son to TLC once he was released from prison.

They seem surprised that they wouldn't have to put any money up front for him to get into our program. I explained that we had a labor group he could work on until he got his weekly service fees paid. And once he was paid a week ahead that he could go out and find his own job if he wanted to.

I told them that he would be required to work. That he would have to attend in-house groups, plus one outside twelve-step meeting a day for the first 90 days. He would also have to keep his room clean. Do chores on the property.  And submit to drug testing on demand.

All during my conversation with this couple, I saw them making almost imperceptible nods of their heads as if they agreed with everything I was telling them. At one point the mother said, "that sounds like exactly what he needs."

Before they parted, I provided them with an intake package that they could deliver to their son the next time they visited him.

Hopefully, the young man will have the same willingness that his parents do. If he does, we can help him change his life.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Comparing

"Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you." Unknown

I heard a young man in a meeting the other day talking about things he didn't have – but that others did have. Because he was new to recovery he didn't have a job. He didn't have a wardrobe. He didn't have a relationship with his family anymore because of his addiction. He had a long list of reasons to be unhappy. And all because he was comparing himself to others and what they had.

He could as easily have found reasons to be happy. He was sober. He seemed healthy. He lived in a relatively peaceful country where he was safe. He had opportunities to do whatever he wanted with his life. But because he hadn't been sober long, it was difficult for him to look at the positive side of things.

I was in the same place at one time. But after several years in recovery, I realized that life was pretty good. I started looking at my situation and knew that I was very blessed that I didn't have to be anyone other than myself. I didn't have to have a better car than my neighbors. I didn't need a bigger house. I didn't need to impress others with expensive clothing because nobody really cares how we look anyway. I accepted myself and my life just the way I was.

And once I took this attitude of not comparing myself to others life became much more enjoyable. I no longer had to be better than others. Nor worse. I knew that I had talents and abilities others didn't have. And, conversely, others had talents that I didn't have.

When we accept ourselves as we are we can flow with life.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gray Death

A friend was telling me about a new drug that has killed over 35 people in her home state back East.

It's called "gray death."  It reportedly has a gray cement-like consistency and contains various types of opioids. One of the ingredients is apparently an elephant sedative that's a thousand times stronger than heroin.

Now logic would tell us that anyone who heard about this drug would run the other way when it showed up. But people who think that don't understand the nature of drug addicts nor know much about drug addiction.

I recall back in my using days over 26 years ago that when a new batch of heroin would begin killing users, addicts would become excited. But they weren't excited because they wanted to avoid the drug. They were excited because they wanted to find out where it was coming from because they were looking for the strongest heroin they could find. To them, the best advertising for the heroin was if it was killing their fellow users. That may sound sick, but it's the reality in the drug world.

The nature of addicts is that they will use most anything that they think will get them high. I recall one time when I was in the Orange County jail in California the jailers had coated the handball court with a new rubberized surface that contained various toxic chemicals. Two of my fellow prisoners peeled up a piece of the surface and smoked it when they returned to the cellblock. Both were dead within a few hours.

I remember an addict who had a relative that was dying of cancer. When the relative died, the addict retrieved the painkiller cocktail that the hospice workers had left the patient. He and another addict shared a large drink of the cocktail and were dead within minutes. Obviously, they hadn't calculated how strong or deadly the mixture was. And even if they had known they probably would have drunk it anyway.

The reality is that until we addicts get into recovery we take many risks with our lives. And not all risks are deadly or life-threatening. Sometimes the chances we take with drugs cause us to lose our families and freedom. We lose jobs. We lose friends. We destroy our social networks because we steal from our friends or do other things that are way outside of the norm.

Drugs cause us to become different creatures. And the only way we can return to normal is by getting into recovery.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Revolving Doors

The other day I was talking to a client who said she'd been in over a dozen treatment programs.

When I asked her why she had been to so many programs she said that "none of them worked."

The discussion went on from there. And I asked her a few questions about what would make a program work. And, of course, the answers I got were ambiguous and vague.

The reality is that when a client has been to a lot of programs without success it says very little about the programs. And it says everything about the client.

Most any program will work if a client is putting in the effort. Even though we have our own treatment program, I'm under no illusions that it's the best program in the world. Or superior to a lot of other programs.

Because most licensed programs offer a variety of effective treatment options and ours is no exception.

My belief is that when a client has had enough pain, then they are ripe for change regardless of the program they go to. I went to a couple of treatment programs 30 and 40 years ago and they "didn't work."  But I wasn't ready to change. I was just trying to satisfy the courts and my family.

When I finally got clean and sober 26 years ago all I did was go through a detoxification unit and from there to a halfway house. I've been sober ever since. And while the detoxification and halfway house helped me, the fact is that I was very motivated to do something different with my life.

And motivation is the most important thing in any client's success. An unmotivated client can be sent to the fanciest treatment program in the world, maybe along the beach on the California coast with top-notch psychiatrists and therapists. But that doesn't guarantee that he or she will stay clean and sober.

Recovery only works when we have suffered enough to want to change.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Being like our Father

My father was a raging alcoholic who mistreated everyone. And for that reason, I never wanted to be like him. I burned the image of him into my brain – the person I didn’t want to be. I focused my hatred upon him.

Unfortunately, except for his violence, I became pretty much just like him. He had alcohol hidden all over our property.  And when I became an adult, so did I. He was always drunk. And so was I. No matter how hard I tried, I became just like him in so many ways.

And I share this memory with you because I see this scenario play itself out with a lot of addicts and alcoholics. They become the person they focus on not being.

As an example, I see the same scenario playing out with a young man that I've known since he was a child. All during his formative and teen years his mother was addicted to something. It was either pills, or methamphetamines, or whatever was available. While one part of him wanted to love her, her behavior drove him crazy. He couldn't wait to get away from home. And he always swore that he would never become like her. He hated her so much he wouldn't speak to her.

And for a few years after leaving home, he did well. He finished high school. He worked a variety of jobs. Eventually, he met a girl and fell in love. They married and had a couple of children. And he took good care of them. He worked two jobs and seemed happy

But I believe he had so much focus on not being like his parent that he became just like her. He began drinking. Using drugs. Slapping his wife. Not working. Wrecking his car. Getting evicted. All the behavior his mother taught him - the person he didn't want to become.

I believe that when we burn the image of who we don't want to be into our subconscious the universe sees that as our goal.  And it always gives us what we want.

I think it more productive to get a picture of who we want to be. A positive image that has nothing to do with our parents. In fact, we don't bring that person into the picture at all. Instead, we create an image of the person we would like to emulate and build our life around them.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

More Gratitude

Here's an email response to the May 2nd blog on gratitude.  I thought it worth sharing.

"Just wanted to respond to your blog from May 2nd real quick. 

It is easy for me to see and to practice gratitude today. I have been clean and sober for a little bit now and due to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and from taking suggestions from sober people that have something I want, I am able to see everything with a fresh perspective. For many years I thought I was a victim. Today I am able to see that I created my own misery, God didn't do it, nor my mother or loved ones.

There was a time in my life when I would start the day with the game plan that I just needed to get fifty cents from eight people, I could get a pint of cheap vodka to get my day started. That pint of vodka would give me temporary relief from the insanity and self-pity from the mess I had made of my life. This morning I probably have about thirty dollars in my wallet and the next time I go to the bank will be to deposit money, not to make a withdrawal. I feel tremendous gratitude each afternoon when I turn the key in the lock on the door to the apartment I live in. Turning that key is such a simple act, but for me, it brings me joy, relief, and comfort.

Anyway, I am truly grateful today. Not for the material things in life, but rather for the peace of mind that I have today. That peace of mind is something that one cannot put a price tag on. This peace of mind was only available to me only after I had endured enough pain and was willing to surrender and start taking suggestions from others on how to change my life for the better.

Thanks for hearing me out John.. =)


Sincerely, MB"


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude takes practice.

And when we don't have gratitude as a traveling companion life can sometimes seem dark.

So how do we infuse gratitude into our lives?  It's really about changing our perspective.

A simple way is to start when we open our eyes in the morning.  When you awake don't say "Damn, I have to get ready for work."  And then jump from the bed and start rushing to get ready.

Instead, set your alarm an hour early.  Rouse yourself slowly and stretch to get your blood circulating. Take a few deep breaths.  Then practice mindful meditation for ten or fifteen minutes.  After that do some yoga at home - or go to the gym.

Be fully present while you shower. Savor a light breakfast. Enjoy the sunrise.

Immerse yourself in the drive to work. Flow with the traffic. Be grateful that you have transportation.

Notice those along the way who have less than you. Maybe you pass someone who's handicapped and riding a motorized cart. Or someone who's homeless. Realize how blessed you are.

Keep your mind in the present. Don't let it get to the office before your body arrives. Staying in the moment nurtures our gratitude and enhances our life.

If you're unhappy about how much money you earn remind yourself that much of the world's population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Being grateful comes from how we view life.

Click here to email John


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sobriety Guarantee

TLC offers a 100% sobriety guarantee.

And to receive that guarantee there's only one condition: the client must do exactly as we ask him or her to do.

Now that may sound simplistic to the average person. Or to the parent of an addict who has failed over and over to maintain recovery. Or to an addict who has stumbled time and time again.

Yet the process of recovery is really that simple. There are no mysteries. There is no secret handshake. The road to recovery is clearly marked with directional signs. And the signs say things like "go to meetings" or "get a sponsor" or "stick with the winners."

Yet we meet clients who have been to dozens of sober living facilities, treatment programs, or halfway houses. And without success.

Over the past 26 years, TLC has housed literally thousands of clients. While we don't track success or failure rates because it's too costly, we do know that many of our graduate clients are living sober and clean lives today. And the reason they are enjoying success is because they followed our guidelines and directions.

Clients who don't make it in our programs are still having trouble accepting that they are addicts or alcoholics. They may say they have problems with things like having a Higher Power. Or they may think that because their drug of choice is marijuana that they can drink alcohol or use other drugs. But it doesn't work that way. Our experience has been that once a person is addicted to one drug they can't use any other drug, including alcohol.

Clients who are resistant and come back over and over again don't begin to change until they have encountered enough pain. And the pain takes the form of going to prison or jail. Getting a divorce. Becoming bankrupt. Living on the streets for a while. Overdosing. Going to a mental ward. Becoming sick. And so forth.

Our directions are simple and to the point. We don't get involved in a lot of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Or psychobabble. We simply teach our clients what they must do to change their lives.

And we feel blessed when they follow those directions.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Living Saint

The other day I met a living saint. And after my encounter with him, I was awash in gratitude.

I ran into him at a barbershop in downtown Mesa a few days ago. He'd brought his two children, both in their 30s, to the shop to get a haircut.

Both had severe developmental disabilities. Each of the boys was over 180 pounds.

They had difficulty communicating and were quite uncoordinated. They were somewhat unruly and loud. But the father, who was all of 120 pounds, was the picture of patience.

When they would get too loud he would talk to them calmly. He’d direct them to sit down. Or to talk more quietly. And they would be calm for a moment, then something would grab their attention and they’d start becoming excited and raucous.

At one point they became enchanted with a music video a customer was playing on his cell phone. Both of the boys immediately went into disjointed dancing and began trying to sing to the music. When they became too boisterous the father spoke to them and they slowed down. They seemed to have the constant unfocused energy of three or four-year-olds. Yet the father never lost his composure or patience when they became overly hyperactive.

Later, after they’d left the shop, the barber told me their story. Apparently, the parents had been raising the boys all their lives. Then a few years ago the mother died and the father was raising them full time by himself.

Maybe because I'm a self-absorbed addict I can't imagine caring for anyone with their challenges - and for such a long time.

Yet this man dealt with them with almost a zen-like calm and peace. Maybe it is love or maybe it is because he needs to survive emotionally. Whatever it is, he has my respect and admiration.

Monday, April 24, 2017

In Love

It's not uncommon for our newer treatment and halfway house clients to get into a relationship at the first opportunity. When we see clients heading this way we move quickly to put a stop to it. And when we do this you can't believe the protests.

"I've never met anyone like her. She's awesome."

"He's the most understanding man I've ever met. We're planning on getting married when we graduate.”

“We’re just friends. But we have so much in common.”

“I’m just hanging out with her because her ex is stalking her.” These are just a few of the many excuses we get from those violating our guidelines.

Most of the time there's no reasoning with clients who are lovestruck. Even when we put them on restriction they'll go to any lengths to get together. They'll go to the same twelve-step meeting, and then hang out outside rather than attend the meeting. We've even had clients sneak out after curfew to meet one another.

And it seems that no amount of intervention slows them down. We put them on restriction. We have them write papers. We put them on a "hi and bye" which means they can only say "hi" or "bye" to one another in passing. But nothing – not even the threat of discharge – seems to deter them. Those who are determined to focus on the short-term gratification of a new relationship will go to any lengths.

We point out to them that 50% of all marriages end up in divorce. That relationships are tough among so-called normal people. And even tougher among the addict and alcoholic population. But some clients are determined to do what they want to do when they want to do it.

It's very difficult to have a successful intervention when a battle is going on between logic and hormones.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Useless Fears

While waiting with others for the doors to open at a 12-step meditation meeting, I listened to a young woman who was full of fear.

She was worried that North Korea was going to launch a nuclear missile at North America. She talked of her plans to avoid the fallout by moving to the middle of the country – like maybe Colorado. She didn’t think the wind would blow fallout that far if the missile hit San Francisco or another West Coast city.

Someone in the group politely suggested that she might do better to stay in the moment. That there were many other things more likely to befall her before a nuclear warhead would hit us.

On my way home after the meeting I reflected that many of us waste precious time fretting about what might happen to us. While at the same time we’re making lifestyle choices that can seriously harm us in the long-term.

We might be smokers. We might eat a crappy diet from fast food restaurants. Or we might be one of those Americans who spend 40 hours a week watching television.

Many of us worry about the things we can’t control – like nuclear missiles – and do little or nothing about habits that could really destroy us - habits that we could control.

The perfect answer to unfounded fears can be found in the Serenity Prayer.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Success

The below email came from a graduate who was with us many years ago. I wanted to pass it on to show how TLC can work for those who are willing.

Hi John, I am speaking tonight at the Glendale house after graduation. I was invited by a gentleman who I have the privilege and honor to sponsor. He asked me to share for 20 or 30 minutes after their graduation.

I will share with these men that I had nothing until TLC gave me an opportunity to recover and rehabilitate at the southern house in Mesa. 

After six months sober I was given an opportunity by one of the managers to build a telecommunication and local computer network with another resident. This was absolutely one of the best gifts that I have ever been blessed with. 

Today I have a beautiful family, young adult kids who can count on their dad today. I returned to finish college, and even graduated with my Masters in Information Technology from ASU last year.

Life is beautiful.  I am sober today by the grace of God and thanks to you and the TLC staff that gave me a second a chance at life.

(I left out his name to protect his anonymity.)

Monday, April 17, 2017

About Jose

For the past few months I've watched my chihuahua, José, slowly deteriorate from the effects of diabetes. He's almost totally blind. Once in a while he's incontinent. And, although he's always loved to eat, he sometimes sniffs at his food, then goes back to his bed.

And it's sad. For the past 10 years of my recovery José has been a part of my life. I bought him 10 years ago to be a companion to a chihuahua that my aunt left me with when she died. Because I'm away from the house most of the day I didn't want her dog to be alone. So I bought José to keep her company. And that worked out pretty well. Even though her dog was older, José won her over with his playful ways.

And now I'm faced with the idea that one of these days – maybe sooner than I think – I'll have to put him to sleep. And that's the hard part for me.

It's difficult to think of getting rid of a friend who has greeted me every day for the past 10 years when I came in the door. No questions about "where have you been?" Or, "what have you been doing?" All that I have gotten from José is unconditional love and loyalty.

I've done some research about the right time to put an animal sleep. The consensus seems to be that when the animal is suffering and has no hope of recovery.

I know that when the time comes I'll be able to deal with it. And I'll walk away with gratitude for the years he was with us.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mindfulness

In the Big Book we see the phrase "sought through prayer and meditation" to improve our conscious contact with God.

Now most of us know how to pray, because we were taught as a child in Sunday school or church. But not many of us have learned how to meditate, at least not in any meaningful way. I don't know any place in the Big Book that has meditation instructions.

As for myself, I began meditating in the mid-90s after I took a transcendental meditation course. After doing that for many years I became disillusioned.  I started looking elsewhere and discovered mindfulness meditation.

I became so interested in it that a few years ago I took a one year course to become a certified mindfulness meditation teacher. While I don't practice as a meditation teacher, I do conduct a body scan meditation each Saturday at 11:30 AM in my office. And usually between three to six  employees will show up.

So why meditate? What's the point of sitting crosslegged on the floor or in a chair and focusing on your breath with your eyes closed? I'll tell you.

Studies have shown that meditation increases the neuronal connections in the brain. In other words, meditation allows us to reshape the structure of our brain. Many studies have shown that meditation increases our sense of well-being, lowers our stress levels, and brings us a greater sense of life satisfaction. A recent study out of Oxford University in England, showed that 10 minutes of meditation over an eight week period was 20% more effective than depression medication. Major corporations, including Google, offer free meditation classes to their employees because it results in greater productivity.

If you are interested in meditation I suggest you go on the Internet or else to YouTube. Just use the search words "mindfulness meditation" and you'll find more results than you have time to look at.

I think you'll find the practice rewarding.

Click here to email John



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tough Love

A long time business associate called me with a question about his daughter, who lives in another state and is using meth. She'd called him earlier in the day and left a message, saying she had a problem. His question was what should he do?

I told him to tell her that she was a smart girl with a Masters degree. That she could figure it out for herself. He liked that.

He's discussed his daughter with me over the past couple of years. He has very little experience with addicts or alcoholics, virtually none. When he first started talking to me about her I told him to take a tough stance. Before, when she would call for help, he would always give it to her. He provided money, cars, housing, but nothing kept her from using.

He had told me a sad story about when he first discovered her drug use. He had sent her to a prestigious college and had bought her a new BMW to drive. Before long she had dropped out of school and sold the car for drugs. That's when he realized that she had problems that he didn't understand. And because he was a loving father he always thought that maybe he would help her out with money and other material things. But it always backfired because she continued to use, partly because he enabled her to do so.

She moved away from home to another state. And he had high hopes for her. She married a well-off businessman and they had a couple of children. He thought that maybe the responsibility of children and being married would help her grow out of her addiction. Before long he began hearing stories about her behavior and knew that she had been unable to change.

At the very beginning, I told him that the only help he should give her was if she wanted to get into treatment. But when he offered to do that it fell on deaf ears.

My advice to him was to stay rigid. Tell her she's not welcome at family gatherings. Explain to her that she got into the mess she's in, and that she could get herself out of it.

The only reason I give him this advice is because I didn't get sober until people quit enabling me. Everywhere I went people were refusing to help. My friends refused. My family told me to go somewhere else. Everywhere I turned I ran into resistance. That's when I started realizing that I had a problem. And that's when I went into a detox began to change my life.