Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Finding Gratitude

I was reminded the other day about how gratitude can make our internal landscape much more beautiful.

It occurred after a meeting where one of the participants droned on about the challenges he was facing. And the challenges were pretty minor, in my opinion. The person was complaining about his employer not paying him enough money. About the job itself. About his girlfriend, and the fact that his car was broken. And there were other issues that he also had mixed into this stew of complaints. When he quit talking, a sigh of relief passed through the room.

Later, after the meeting, a few of us – reacting to this young man's complaints – were talking about gratitude. That it's easy to be grateful for what we have when we look around at the world today.

A horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas that rained death on people having fun on a summer evening. A raging fire that blackened one of the more beautiful areas of northern California, leaving death and destruction behind. A huge truck bomb in Somalia that ripped a city apart, leaving an unknown death toll. Hurricanes and floods slamming the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction.

When we go beyond our own petty complaints and challenges and look at the world around us we can find many reasons to be grateful. There are people living in the midst of suffering due to no fault of their own. And the uplifting thing is that survivors of those tragedies are always expressing gratitude that they survived. That they still have their lives.

If we have the sensitivity and compassion to look at what our friends and neighbors suffer through, we can start viewing the world through a different pair of glasses.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 13, 2017

Escaping the Past

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.” ~Pastor Rick Warren

It's easy to understand why many of our clients became addicts or alcoholics.

Over the past 27 years, I've heard chilling stories of every kind of imaginable abuse. Many of them were raised by parents who were drug addicts themselves. Because of their parent's addiction, they often were left without food and the other necessities of life. Often they were beaten or sexually and emotionally abused. And the biggest thing they didn't get was any kind of love or nurturing. Some of them bear scars that might prevent them from ever getting over their addictions.

Yet there are some who have decided to become bigger than their past. Somehow they reach down inside of themselves and find the courage to change. They might be so angry at their upbringing that they're determined to show the world and their families that there's a better way to live.

Those are the clients who come to us because they've had enough pain and want to change. These are the kind of clients we can work with and help to achieve success.

It's easy to pick out those who are ready to change. They're the ones who attend 12-step meetings every day. They find sponsors right away. They keep their living area clean. They find jobs and begin to pay their service fees. They don't hang out with the losers; they gravitate toward the winners.

No longer willing to live in the past; they have forged new lives for themselves.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Improving Self-Esteem

Our addicted clients often judge themselves very harshly. And why wouldn't they?

Most of those who come to us have lost everything. They lost their jobs. They lost their husband or wife. In some cases, the custody of their children. Some have lost their freedom for a period of time and came to us on parole or probation. Others have used drugs for so long that it has impacted their health or completely ruined it.

And because they have done so poorly with their life they almost always have low or zero self-esteem. In other words, they feel terrible about what they've done with their lives. And it's understandable. If someone else had done to them what they've done to themselves they'd want to harm or kill them.

So how do we help them regain their self-esteem? How do we help them dig out of the emotional hole they find themselves in?

One thing I do is ask them to move into the moment and to quit dwelling on their messed up past. I tell them to quit mucking around into what happened before or how they got themselves here.

Once they're in the here and now, in the moment, I ask them to focus on what they're doing today. Did they go to work? Did they use any drugs or alcohol? Did they go to their meetings? Did they treat others well? Did they exercise? Did they show themselves love and self-care by eating the right foods and getting plenty of rest? Because doing positive things to enhance our life, even little ones like I mentioned here can do a lot to change our view of ourselves.

Taking basic steps, even small ones will help us improve our view of ourselves. And when we feel better about ourselves life seems much more worthwhile.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Living with Anger

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."  Buddha

It seemed like I spent a lot of time last week dealing with angry people. Most were clients. But some were longtime acquaintances.

And at times it's hard to discuss anger with those who carry it around in the forefront of their minds. They sometimes are so adamant about being right, and the other person being wrong, that they're deaf to any kind of input.

But still, I feel obligated to try. And I feel obligated because I was raised in a family of angry people. And was taught during my early years that being angry was an okay way to live.  Only when I was older did I learn that forgiving and moving on was the path to peace and serenity. And a much more pleasant way to live.

One client I talked to was angry about how his parents treated him. His focus wasn't on his recovery program, but on how he perceived that they had done him wrong. When I pointed out that he was probably really upset because they weren't letting him have his way, it seemed to fuel his anger. So much so, that he cut our conversation short with an excuse that he had an appointment elsewhere.

I talked to another person about the value of just letting things go. It didn't make any difference whether she was right or wrong, anger was taking a toll. It consumed her thinking. It interfered with her sleep. She was chain-smoking. Her blood pressure went up. And her friends didn't want much to do with her because all she talked about was how she'd been done wrong. People find it boring after a while, having to listen to the same old story of being a victim.

While our anger may sometimes be justified, that's no reason to let it destroy us. Only when we can live in peace and calm can we enjoy the present moment - where we taste the true flavor of life.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Stealing our Clients

In the 26 years since I founded TLC, I've spent little time thinking about the competition. In fact, I have very little to say about others or how they run their programs.

But yesterday, I received quite a surprise when I started checking out our Google map information. Just to make sure it was accurate. And as I looked over the maps, I discovered that I didn't recognize some of the phone numbers that were displayed. So I called a couple of the numbers.

And guess what? The person who answered the phone had nothing to do with TLC or any of its houses. The person who picked up the phone answered "Better Addiction Care, how may I help you?"

Then she started asking me about my addiction problem. Could she help me find a treatment program somewhere? Did I have insurance? And what company was providing my coverage? What part of the United States would I like to go to for treatment? The probing questions kept coming until I asked if I could speak to her supervisor. And that's when she got off the phone.

After checking a number on a different map, another staff member and I began investigating Better Addiction Care. We found that it's a client brokerage and referral service out of Florida. Once we learned the name of its CEO, Shane SantaCroce, we gave him a call and asked how our phone numbers had been changed to direct calls to his business. And, of course, he gave us a lot of mumbo-jumbo about how he didn't know how that had happened. He said that a company in Israel and another in Hawaii had been changing the numbers on other program's maps to have phone calls directed his company. After several minutes of mumbo-jumbo about how his company wasn't responsible, he got off of the phone and said he'd look into it further. I provided a link here to a video on YouTube where he's featured talking about ethics and what he's doing to prevent these kinds of things from happening.

While I was looking up his company's name and trying to track him down I ran across a lot of interesting information about unethical treatment programs in Florida. Here's a link to an NBC broadcast about their investigation into the issue.

After I got this incident behind me I reflected upon how sad it is to find such a level of corruption in the recovery business. In the long run, I know that it's going to benefit our program because we've never engaged in unethical practices. Once these kinds of programs are shut down, and there are literally hundreds of them, I know that people will be looking for an ethical program where they can receive professional services.

And when they do, our doors will be open to them.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time to Leave

An employee who's doing well in the program, and who has a few years of sobriety, gives notice that he's leaving to go back home.

When I ask why he wants to leave, he doesn't sound very convincing. He has a place to live, he says. He has friends in the program. Plus, he misses the beauty of his home state.

But he doesn't have much else to say when I start talking to him about his history of recovery. He's never been able to put more than a few months of sobriety together. All the people he knows back home are drinkers, the people he hung out with before he came to us. And now that he has a couple of years sobriety he thinks the place he needs to be is back where it all started.

I tell him I don't agree with his decision because I don't think he's thought through it very well. This is the first time he's had two years of sobriety and all of a sudden he wants to make a change.

He reminds me of another client we had about 10 years ago. One day in a group session he announced that it was time for him to leave. When I asked him why, he said: "well, I've just been here long enough."

I was kind of surprised at his answer. So I asked how much money he'd saved. Did he have a car? Did he have insurance on the car? Did he have a support group where he was going? But it turns out his only rationale for leaving was that he had "been here long enough."

My experience has been that those who are ready to leave make a very gentle and smooth transition back into the community. They have a job. They have a support group. A car and insurance. An apartment or house. Plus a couple of months of savings put away in case they run into difficulty.

A lot of times those who suddenly leave, who have no concrete plan, are destined to repeat the history that brought them to us in the first place.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Resisting Change

"One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain." Rick Godwin

For many years I resisted change. And, as in the saying above, I focused on what I thought I was giving up.

I thought that if I quit using drugs and alcohol and partying all the time I wouldn't have any friends. Even though at the time I didn't have any friends anyway. They'd long ago left me, and I was too drunk and high to notice.

I thought that if I got sober life would be boring. I'd have nothing to do with my time. I had the idea that life would be dismal without my best friends, alcohol and heroin.

And it was only when I finally got sober almost 27 years ago that I realized I was living a fallacy all those years. Had I even dreamed of what a rich life recovery could offer me I would've been sober a long time ago.

And I am by no means unique in my thinking. Many of the young addicts in our program also think that when they're getting sober and into recovery, they might be losing something. Even though many of them are 50 years younger than I am, they sound just like I did when I was their age.

But I've come to realize that life is made up of experiences, the building blocks of wisdom. We sometimes have to go through bad times and punishing experiences before we find a reason to change.

I often hear people at meetings speak about how they got into the rooms. And none of them talk about how wonderful life was right before they got sober. Their stories are all pretty much the same. They lost a partner. Or a job. Or went to jail. They lived on the streets, homeless. They never get into the rooms because things were wonderful.

Those are the ones who are able to change because they figure out that anything would be better than the way they were living.  They know they're  not giving up anything.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 25, 2017

Healing Hep C

I don't know where or when I contracted the deadly virus called hepatitis C – the virus that now kills more people than all other infectious diseases combined, including HIV.

My best guess is that I got it from sharing needles in a dope house. It might've been in East Los Angeles. It could've been in Echo Park or North Hollywood. It might've been in an Orange County barrio. Maybe in a Tijuana slum. In other words, it could have been anywhere, because I shot dope in all those places and several in between over 38 years.

And for a long time, I didn't even know I had it. I only discovered it when my doctor asked me during a medical examination over 25 years ago if I knew that I had hepatitis. At that time they didn't even call it hepatitis C.  It was called non-A, non-B hepatitis.

The doctor went on to tell me that there was no cure for it.  And he sent me for a biopsy to see what condition my liver was in. Fortunately, doctors found that I had minimal scarring and minimal inflammation, something they called stage one. And my liver remained that way over the years of my recovery.

Then there was a buzz of excitement in 2013 when a new pill called Harvoni came on the market that had about a 90% success rate. But at $80,000 for a course of treatment, it was outrageously expensive. Fortunately, my supplemental insurance covered most of the cost, leaving me with about a $6000 co-pay.

So I was able to take an eight-week course of treatment at the first of this year. There were few side effects. After the treatment was done, my doctor ordered three more follow-up blood tests over an eight-month period. Each one came back showing no signs of the virus. And two weeks ago I got the results of my final test. It also was clear.

The medical staff told me I was cured and that I didn't need to see them anymore. What a wonderful feeling.

I encourage all of you out there who were IV drug users to get tested. Even if you used just once. Today there are options that can change your life. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Meeting Ourselves

Some of our clients leave the program, thinking that if they go elsewhere their lives will be better. Sometimes they say they want to go to another program. Other times they want to leave because they are homesick. And some of them simply think that a change, any change, will be better than TLC.

And then there are those who leave just because they want to get drunk or high. They're probably the most honest ones because at least they realize that they're not done using yet. They just haven't had enough pain to motivate them to change.

But the idea that if we leave and go somewhere else things will be better is generally a fallacy. Because wherever we go, we take ourselves with us. And I speak from experience because it happened to me.

When I came to Arizona from California in 1982, some 35 years ago, it was because I thought a change of scenery would change my luck. And I got really angry at someone right before I left. Because she told me that when I got off the bus in Phoenix that I'd meet myself at the bus depot. I forget what my response was, but I remember that I thought that was a very hurtful thing for her to say to me. After all, I was making a geographical change because I wanted to improve my life.

But sure enough, when I got off the bus in Phoenix I met myself there. I remember asking a clerk at the bus depot where I could find a cheap motel since I'd never been to Phoenix and didn't know anything about it. He directed me to Van Buren street, which was a few blocks from the bus station.

And as soon as I arrived on Van Buren, I found myself in my element. The whole street was populated with alcoholics, addicts, and hookers. I was in my element, among my peeps.

And it wasn't until many years later that I realized that the person who said I'd meet myself at the bus depot was absolutely right.

It doesn't matter much what program we're in. Or where we go. We can make all the geographical changes we want. But if we haven't made a psychic change, had a spiritual shift of some kind, then we're doomed to repeat our old behavior - wherever we're at.

And that's the hardest change for us to make. Because it requires us to look squarely at ourselves. To recognize that we're the problem. It's not our family. It's not our parole officer. It's not our job. It's that voice inside of us that says we can successfully drink or do drugs, without paying any price at all.

But once we get rid of the idea that we can get high with impunity we're on our way to success.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding Gratitude

In the recovery business, it's easy to find gratitude and recognize that our lives are pretty good.

I realized that today after I talked to a mother who was facing a few issues. One problem was that her drug addict son was getting out of prison in about a week and she didn't know where he was going to live. She said he couldn't live with her because the last time he was free he had stolen a lot of money from the family business. Neither she nor her husband was able to trust him.

Plus, she had another issue that would keep him from living with her anyway. She lived in a part of the country that had experienced severe flooding and she was having to move from her home because mold had settled into the walls. And at the time she talked to me, she wasn't quite sure where she was going to move.

And to top it off, her son's ex-girlfriend said she wouldn't allow the grandmother to visit her grandchildren if she had any contact with her son.

So by the time she talked to me all these things were stressing her out. She wondered what to do. Did I have any suggestions for her?

I told her I could help her with the problem of where her son would live. And, of course, I told her she could send him to Arizona and we'd be happy to welcome him into our program.

As to her grandchildren, I explained that grandparents have legal rights to see their grandchildren, but that she'd probably have to hire an attorney to deal with the issue.  Because that was a matter beyond my job description.

All during my conversation with her, I felt her anxiety and stress. But when we hung up, I had a sense that she felt a little better.

As I said at first, it's easy to find gratitude when we see the issues others are facing. Especially those who have addicts in their lives.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Clearing the Wreckage

A TLC employee, who has been in our program for some 3 1/2 years, flew back to his hometown last week to face the music. He walked into the courtroom with some anxiety, not knowing whether the judge would take him into custody and put him in jail for old warrants.

After all, he'd been before the same judge a few times and didn't show back up after being released on his own recognizance. He hadn't had a driver's license for over 20 years and had been ticketed 33 times for driving without a license.

However, the judge was impressed that he had flown to Ohio from Arizona to face the consequences of his past behavior and didn't take him into custody. Instead, she took what money he had and let him make payment arrangements for the balance of his fines.

He was excited about the outcome because for the first time in two decades he'll soon be able to drive again - this time legally.

This man's experience is an example of what happens when someone sticks around the program and stays sober for a few years. Over 3 1/2 years ago he and his wife, not knowing anything about TLC or Arizona, took a long bus ride from the Midwest into an unknown future. They both ended up working for TLC, eventually got their own apartment, and reunited with their teenage daughter.

Both of them say that the first few months weren't easy. They were in a new climate and a new environment where they didn't know anybody. But they were determined to recover from their heroin addiction, to do whatever they had to do to change their lives, no matter how uncomfortable they were.

And this man's successful encounter with the justice system last week shows that their determination paid off.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Joint Commission Accreditation

Today, TLC treatment clinic received notice that it is being accredited by the Joint Commission.

Of course, the entire staff gave each other high-fives because we worked real hard over several months to achieve this honor.

So what is Joint Commission accreditation?

On the Joint Commission's website it, states "Joint Commission accreditation requirements address an organization’s performance in specific areas, and specify requirements to ensure that care, treatment, and services are provided based on quality and in a safe manner..."

The website further states, "The Joint Commission’s accreditation process concentrates on operational systems critical to the safety and quality of care, treatment or services provided to the individual. Surveys are conducted by experienced and licensed behavioral health care professionals, including psychologists, social workers, professional counselors, behavioral health care nurses and administrators. Many Joint Commission surveyors are actively working in a range of behavioral health care settings."

So what does this mean for our treatment program, which is now about five years old?

One of the things it means is that we have a lot more credibility in the marketplace. Some insurance companies don't deal with treatment programs that don't have some type of accreditation. There are only a few types of accreditation that have any meaning across the United States, this being one of the more prominent ones. This accreditation announces to the world that we provide the highest quality of care to all of our clients and adhere to a high standard of operation.

Because our treatment program evolved into what it is today from a small halfway house operation in 1992, we believe it is quite an accomplishment to have this type of recognition in the state of Arizona and across the country.

I'm especially proud of the staff members who spearheaded this project. They worked many long and hard hours doing research, rewriting policies and procedures, and making sure every aspect of the program could withstand the scrutiny of the professionals sent out by the joint commission earlier this year.

They worked long and hard to complete this process. They are an outstanding example of what recovering addicts and alcoholics can accomplish when they set a goal for themselves.

To learn more about the Joint Commission, Click here.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Resolving Differences

Our clients are of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and educational backgrounds.

So, it's not surprising that sometimes clients have differences with one another. And one of our jobs is to help clients from this pool of diversity to get along. And sometimes it's not easy.

When I'm dealing with differences between clients, clients who have gotten angry enough to threaten one another, I take it back to basics.

The first thing I do is deal with them one at a time in the privacy of my office. And my first question is "why did you come here?"

And the answer is almost always, "I came here to get sober." Or, "I came here to get clean."

Having established that they are in the program to get sober or clean we have a basis to resolve differences.

Once I've talked to both parties, I ask if they'd be willing to meet face-to-face. And usually, unless they were over-the-top angry, they agree to meet and talk through their disagreements. And when they talk face-to-face that's generally the end of the issue.

Rarely have we had to discharge clients because they were unable to get along. I think most of them are able to rise above their differences and recognize that their recovery is the priority, something that takes precedence over petty disagreements with fellow clients.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Changing our Story

Our clients sometimes tell us stories of the past.

In these narratives, they tell us what happened, what causes them pain. It could've been an abusive childhood. It could be the loss of a family member. They might have been a rape victim. Maybe they were traumatized by their experiences in Iraq or Vietnam. Maybe a family member succumbed to a heroin overdose. Perhaps they were in a bad marriage. Their sad tales cover a spectrum of experiences.

Whatever story they tell, it's always the rationale for their drug use or their alcoholism. They really believe these events damaged them so badly that they have to drink or use drugs to cover up the pain. In fact, some of them have been cycling in and out of treatment programs, jails, or hospitals for years, not knowing how to get beyond what happened to them. And sometimes people tell themselves these stories for the rest of their lives until they die of alcoholism or drug addiction.

But there are a lucky few who are able to change the narrative. Once they get in the program and start getting sober, they begin to view the things that happened in a different light. They learn to change their story of what happened and stop using it as an excuse to drink or drug.

They may edit their narrative in a number of ways. They may tell themselves that horrible things happen to a lot of people, but they don't propel themselves headlong into drugs or alcohol because of them. Or they may realize that they have been using, almost unconsciously, their terrible narrative as an excuse to drink and drug. After all, who wouldn't use drugs or alcohol if they had lived through our experiences? Or they may come to realize that the narrative that they've been playing in their head will kill them if they don't rewrite the plot.

And those who stay sober are those who succeed in changing their story. They no longer want to suffer and thus are able to break the grips of the past by changing their view of what they went through.  And that helps change their outcome.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hanging On

In India, hunters have a unique way of capturing monkeys.

They take a coconut, then drill a hole in it just big enough for a monkey's hand to fit through. Then they place an unpeeled banana inside. When a monkey reaches in and clasps the banana in his clenched hand, he finds that it's impossible to remove it from the coconut, which is secured by a rope or chain. No matter how hard he tries, his hand remains firmly inside the coconut. And the hunter can capture him quite easily because he won't let go.

How many of us can relate the monkey's dilemma to our own issues in life? How many things do we cling to that ultimately get us into trouble?

For example, for years I clung firmly to the idea that I could use substances without paying any kind of a price. I would be going through life doing quite well, not using anything at all. Then a crisis would arise that caused me pain. The next thing you know, I'd have a bottle in my hand or a needle in my arm. Somewhere along the way I still clung to the idea that I could use without getting addicted.

I hung on to the idea that I could use successfully for many years, even though I ended up in prison, divorced, broke, and suffering from health issues.

Of course, in this blog, I use the example of drug use because that is what has caused me the most pain in my life.

But we can also apply this example to other areas of life. How many of us think that we can eat whatever we want whenever we want without turning into a lard ass? I've known people all my life who spend good money and hours at the gym because they try to lose weight that they don't have to put on the first place. For some reason, they have the idea that if they just work out hard enough the pounds won't stay with them. But the reality is that exercise – while beneficial – is a hard way to lose weight. While selecting the right food and eating the right amount is the easiest way to maintain weight. But because they hang onto their ideas about weight loss they keep going through a cycle of losing and gaining.

Same thing applies to anything in our life that gets us into difficulty. Maybe we have a habit of overspending. Or perhaps, we are a gambler or a smoker. Maybe we're addicted to bad relationships. Whatever gets us into trouble repeatedly, happens because we ignore the evidence that what we're doing doesn't work.

We must get rid of the old ideas that we hang on to. The ones we can't let go of. The ones that keep us trapped in a cycle that eventually ruins our lives.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Medical Help

When addicts and alcoholics are in the middle of their addictions very few pay much attention to their health.

If it comes down to a choice between glasses, dental work, or a physical checkup, getting high comes first.  So we get a lot of clients who need their teeth worked on or eye exams and glasses.

Part of helping addicts and alcoholics regain their lives is to help whenever possible with their medical care. And over the years we've been able to help a lot of addicts and alcoholics resolve their health issues. Particularly when it comes to getting them dental or vision care.

And the nice thing about it is that it costs TLC very little to help.

That's because we have a staff member who's been with us for many years who's able to find dentists and eye doctors to help us. At any given time we have 30 to 40 of them who provide assistance. And sometimes we have doctors who are willing to help us with other kinds of physical problems. Though usually, clients are able to help themselves by going to the emergency room or using their state insurance. But in the case of glasses and dental work, state insurance usually doesn't provide coverage.

We never thank these doctors publicly because we like to keep their donations private so they're not inundated with requests for help. But they know who they are. And they know that we're grateful for the help they give to our clients.

There is nothing better than for an addict's self-esteem than to be able to smile once again. Or to be able to see where they're going.

Our thanks to all those anonymous medical people for their generosity.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Protective Shield

I was at a meeting today where the topic was gratitude.

This is a topic that at one time would make me groan because it ended up being the subject at many meetings. It had become, to me, almost like a cliché. And that's because I was still in new recovery and I didn't realize the protective power of gratitude.

You see, gratitude is almost like a magic potion. What do I mean by that?

Well, gratitude is one of those things that can keep us from getting drunk or high. After all, it's not easy to have gratitude, and also want to pick up a drink or a drug. In my mind, those two things are incompatible. When we live in a state of gratitude it's almost as if we have a protective shield around us. When we have gratitude we no longer slip into depression about what we don't have.

And an easy way to find gratitude is to simply look around. You can start by looking close and nearby. If you're observant, you'll see many people who are not nearly as blessed as you are. No matter what your circumstances.

For example, if you're having difficulty finding a job you can take solace in the fact that there are some people who are unable to work at all, even if they have the opportunity. You can also think about the three-quarters of the people in the world who live on just a few dollars a day because they live in a country where there is little economic opportunity.

If you wake up and have the blues you might slip into depression and find yourself feeling down for a day or two. But that's something you can also be grateful for. Because how many people have you met were chronically depressed all the time? So much so, that they have to live under the burden of heavy medication all their lives.

Just now I had an experience of gratitude when I was thinking about going outside to the swimming pool and realized that at 109° it's probably too hot to even swim. I quickly got over that by realizing that there are people in parts of Texas who are living in floodwaters right now, their whole lives disrupted.

In other words, no matter how tough your life might seem you can always find someone else in worse circumstances.

I've found that most of the time when people slip out gratitude it's because their mind is either in the past or in the future. And the past can be a dark place, just as the future can be a scary place. But if I examine my circumstances and my life at this moment, everything is perfect.

If we live in the moment we find much to be grateful for. Try it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Embracing Emotion

In my hypnosis practice with clients, they often have a common goal. They want to remove unpleasant emotions from their lives.

Many of them don't want to feel any kind of pain. Fear. Anxiety. Grief. Sadness. Loneliness. Anything negative.

What they're looking for is a life full of happy and joyful emotions. That is totally unrealistic. Kind of like heaven on earth.

Some seem surprised when I ask them to think of their emotions in a different way. Because aour emotions are telling us something about our lives.

We may be sad because we've experienced loss or else we're not getting something we think we should have.

I often make suggestions when they're under hypnosis that they learn to face their emotions. To embrace their emotions and integrate them into their lives. I suggest that if they're suffering from fear they should face it, they should bring it close and see if it's based on anything real.

If they are plagued with anxiety they shouldn't try to run from it or cover it up with a drug. Instead, they should bring their anxiety close, see what it's based on. They may learn something about their thinking.

Once I started facing my own emotions – whether good or bad – I began to live a much more fulfilling life. My emotions were no longer an enemy that I had to hide from. Instead, once I examined them they gave me an idea of what I needed to work on.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Remembering History

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." George Santanya

Last week the news was all about protesters in North Carolina tearing down statutes, in an effort to erase history. One person died and several more were injured in the violence.

While their actions made for good symbolism I believe their efforts were pretty much wasted. The history of the civil war runs deep and is indelibly printed in our nation's history. Erasing reminders of it serves no purpose. In fact, the reminders might be educational.

I think it's better to memorialize the dark parts of our history so we can learn from them. And not repeat the past.

While this may be a stretch, I thought of my own history. What would happen if there were no record of the damage I did to myself and others?

What if my criminal record were erased? If I had no carbon tracks on my arms to remind me of my heroin use. No scars on my body to remind me of cars I rolled and motorcycles I ran into street signs? No reminders of having a broken jaw and nose from a drug deal gone bad?

Even if these external reminders were magically removed, all my behavior is burned into my memory. And that's good for me. Because I know what didn't work in my past. I'm reminded that some kinds of behavior didn't work before and won't work in the future.

I learn from the past by being constantly aware of it.

Click here to email John

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


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


"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


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


"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 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


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


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


“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.