Recovery Connections

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

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Biggest Loser

"Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care." Buddha

When addicts flush the drugs and alcohol out of their bodies their health usually improves.

They begin to have more energy. Their thinking clears up after a while. They're no longer putting toxic substances in their body and their body responds accordingly.

But this doesn't apply to all addicts and alcoholics. Unfortunately, many of our clients find a substitute for the drugs they left behind. That substitute usually is food, sodas, or some form of tobacco.

While most of our addict clients were smokers when they came in most of them end up continuing the habit even after a year of sobriety. Food intake is another thing. While many of us didn't eat much while we were using, most of us make up for the meals we missed in short order. It's not unusual to see a client gain 25, 50 or even 100 pounds after being around a short while.

I bring this up today because we have several staff members who are competing in a "biggest loser" contest; the winner will be the one who loses the largest percentage of their body weight rather than a certain number of pounds. First prize is $250, second prize is $150 and third prize is $100. There are already some clear leaders in the contest. A few had a plan from the beginning and have followed through with it.

But there are those who are seesawing back and forth with what they eat and how much weight they're losing. Among those who are seesawing, the word "self-discipline" often comes up.

And, of course, that's always the issue when we're trying to change from bad habits to good habits. Do we have the self-control and self-discipline to follow through with our commitments and our goals?

I guess we'll see who's able to do that at the weigh-in at the end of December.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Using our Time

Student: "how long should I meditate?"

Teacher: "you should meditate for 20 minutes. But if you can't find time to meditate for 20 minutes, then you should meditate for an hour."


At first, I didn't quite understand this exchange between student and teacher. But then, after pondering for a moment, I understood it perfectly.

For me, the message the teacher gave the student means that if your life is so busy and complicated that you can't find 20 minutes, then perhaps you should take an hour and meditate. Maybe that will help you figure out your priorities.

All too frequently I have conversations with people who say they don't have "enough time" to get everything done they want to do.

They talk about wanting to start an exercise program – but somehow they can't find the time. Or they want to take a class, but there's no room in their day.

The idea that we don't have enough time to get everything done is, in my opinion, a fallacy.

After all, how many times a day do we check in on Facebook? We have time to check in online with our friends to see what they're having at a local restaurant. What they're doing at a fancy hotel. Or what they're doing on vacation.

Or we have hours to waste surfing the Internet watching videos of funny animals or to watch human beings making videos of each other doing outrageous things. We have hours to loaf in front of the television each day. We have time to send endless and meaningless text messages to our friends. So how is it that we can't find time to do something that would be really beneficial and important for us?

The answer, of course, is that we can. We just have to find out what's important in our lives. Then cut the digital umbilical cord for a while so we can use our time wisely.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 8, 2017

Common Cold

I don't suffer very well. For the past 10 days, since the 29th of November, I've had a cold. And the bad thing is I got it on the first day of my vacation on the 29th and I still have it some three days after my return. I'm the first to admit that I'm a real wimp when it comes to things like colds and the flu.

And of course, the reason for this is that I very rarely become ill. Last time I can recall having a cold is maybe over three years ago. And I think things like this bother me more than they might someone else because I spend a lot of time eating right and trying to stay healthy. Getting sick to me is almost like a personal failure.

And this is something that I'm almost ashamed to write down. Because there are so many people in the world who really suffer from chronic ailments and diseases from which they'll never recover. But the addict and alcoholic in me say that I must always feel good or else the planet is off-kilter, completely out of balance.

It seems almost unfair that there's no cure for the common cold. The thing the doctors tell you is to drink a lot of liquids and get plenty of rest. And maybe 8 to 10 days later you will start feeling better. It's a true feeling of powerlessness.

Somewhere in the midst of this cold, I have thoughts of acceptance and gratitude. The acceptance is about recognizing that time will take care the way I'm feeling. And the gratitude part comes from recognizing that at 78 I'm blessed to be as functional as I am, to be able to show up at the office every day, to be able to drive fast cars and to enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I mean, other a vacation once in a while, what else can one ask for?

Click here to email John


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Living in a Dump

Today my daughter and I spent several hours of our vacation at a city dump in the hills above the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was a lesson in gratitude for those of us who live our privileged lives in a clean and safe environment.

A pastor my daughter met at a church service yesterday invited us to visit the facility he manages that provides housing, food, education, and daycare to the children of recyclers that work at the dump. The 70 family facility has five floors. But only one of them is occupied as of today's visit. The others are to be filled as the families are screened before moving in.

The facility, about half a block outside the dump, is modern and new. Yet, many of the families resist moving from the cardboard shacks they've called home for generations to the new facility because they don't want to give up their "freedom." After all, at the dump, they don't have to pay for the electricity and water they steal. Nor do they have to follow any rules – they do pretty much as they choose – including using drugs or alcohol.

While the dump would seem to be hell on earth to outsiders, for many of the families that live there it is the only home they've ever known. Many of them resist the idea of changing to something new and modern, even though their children will have opportunities for an education and better health care.

During our visit, we helped the staff serve lunch to preschoolers and kindergarteners who are cared for at the facility during the day while their parents recycle trash. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Anniversary?

A year ago today I was here in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary with my soon-to-be ex-wife. It was sort of a tradition for us to take a vacation on our anniversary, which also coincided with her birthday.

Today, exactly one year later, I'm here on a one-week vacation with my oldest daughter, enjoying a much-needed vacation after several months of costly dealings with attorneys and lawsuits related to my impending divorce.

And I say "much-needed" because since last February 28 life has had its challenges. The evening of February 28 is when my soon-to-be ex-wife grabbed a large butcher knife and went after my daughter for reasons that aren't clear to me or my daughter. The whole event was over in less than 30 seconds and ended with my wife in jail on domestic violence charges and my daughter and I both traumatized. It was a miracle from God that no one was killed that evening.

I got a restraining order against her the next morning and filed for divorce within days.

For several months after my wife's release from jail, we tried to work out ways of reconciling. We tried a legal separation, and in pursuit of that I shortsightedly purchased a newly rehabilitated house in my area for her to live in – a house that she selected. I filled it with new furniture and appliances and had custom blinds installed. I paid all the expenses and provided her with an allowance. I paid off her credit cards. But somehow it didn't work out.

Things really started declining when I asked her to sign a disclaimer for a company refinancing loan that I have been working on for about six weeks. For some reason, she had the idea that one of the largest banks in Arizona, a bank that had about $13 billion in assets, was out to defraud her. And she refused to sign the document - essentially stopping the loan from proceeding.

That kind of did it for me. And I was quite angry for a short while. Later, I realize that I probably shouldn't be angry at her. After all, the same thinking processes that allowed her to go after my daughter were probably also involved in her deciding to not help me with the loan.

The weekend after the loan fiasco she abandoned the house, stripping it of its furnishings. After that, we dated sporadically, but things never really got back on track. Then July 16 – when we were supposed to see each other – she sent a text saying she could no longer "do this." I agreed, and blocked her from my phone and haven't spoken to her since.

It was a good decision on my part. While I occasionally look back in regret, more and more I come to realize that I have peace and serenity in my life that I haven't enjoyed in a long time. We're supposed to go to trial February 28 to finalize the divorce. But I'm prepared, if necessary, for this thing to drag on for another year or two. Whatever happens, it's going to happen when it's supposed to.

Arizona law is very clear about the division of assets acquired during a marriage: 50-50. It makes little difference to me whether it happens next year or the year after.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Gratitude Moment

While flying to Puerto Vallarta a few days ago I got into a conversation with a 40ish woman who was seated next to me, sipping a vodka on the rocks.

It seemed like she had the ideal life. She worked as a captain for the fire department in San Diego, and in seven years she would be able to retire at 50 with 90% of her salary for the rest of her life. She said she loved what she did.

But then as we got further into the conversation it turned out that her job was very stressful. She talked of working a lot of overtime, especially during the California fire season when she had to work day after day in Napa Valley when fires devastated that area. She said that even though she works three days a week and is off for four days, she deals with emotionally taxing events on an almost daily basis when on duty.

She said that right before she came on vacation she performed CPR on a victim for an hour, but was unable to bring him back. She said the vision of his cold blue face is still burned into her memory. She went on to talk of other events: failing to resuscitate a child that had drowned, consoling a family that had lost all their belongings in a fire, helping extract accident victims from a car, and so on. It seemed like she dealt with a spectrum of human tragedy on a regular basis.

When I asked how she dealt with her stress, she told me she goes on vacations where she does nothing but relax for a week at a time. And she also works out and makes an effort to meditate and do yoga. But it seemed like what she was doing to deal with all the pressures upon her wasn't sufficient. Some of the things she dealt with were so traumatic it's difficult to get them out of her memory.

When the flight was over I had a sense of gratitude that I work in the recovery field. While it has its share of stress, it doesn't compare to what this woman deals with.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Off to Puerto

Every year, for the past 22 years, I've been vacationing in one of my favorite places in the world:  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. And I'm leaving again tomorrow for a one-week stay.

Normally I go there about four times a year. But this year, because of other commitments, I was only able to make it down there in January.

So why do I prefer it to places like Hawaii, Cancún, or Cabo San Lucas? For one thing, it's less expensive, plus it's only 2 1/2 hours away by air.  The weather's great this time of year. The people there are always pleasant and down to earth. And if one gets bored sitting on the patio looking at the marina there are a multitude of things to do. Boat trips. Horseback riding. Swimming. Sightseeing. Great restaurants. There are accommodations and food for every budget. All in all, I've had nothing but great experiences there.

I've had people ask me if I'm afraid to travel in Mexico. But the reality is, I see much more crime and drugs right here in Maricopa County. And there are places here that I don't go because I have no business there. Just like there are places in Mexico that I don't go because I no longer live in the drug world.  In fact, the people I've talked to about American perceptions of crime in Mexico say that unless one is a drug trafficker, or somehow involved in crime, there's nothing to really fear. So I'm as comfortable there as I am here.

For me, one of the blessings of recovery is that I'm able to do things like this. I have a wonderful team of people around me who work so well together that I sometimes wonder why I even bother to go to the office. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Being Here

Many of us live our lives going somewhere else, rather than being right here, right now.

We're going to be happy once we get out of school. We might envision having a wonderful career that will bring us personal satisfaction and the material things we long for.

Or maybe we think that if we just have the right spouse we'll be happier. We'll no longer be lonely and we'll have companionship.

We might be dreaming of owning a new automobile or a new home or taking a great vacation.

All of these things take us out of the moment and into a fantasy landscape where we will find joy and happiness.

Yet, as many of you know, the things I mentioned above might bring us temporary satisfaction. But in the long term, we get used to these things and they no longer fulfill us. And so off we go, looking for something else to fill that emptiness inside of us.

The reality is that we're not going to find happiness somewhere else or in something else. Yes, we might find a fleeting pleasure or a temporary joy in our acquisitions. But in the end, they usually let us down, not quite living up to our dreams.

Real happiness comes from living in the moment, living in the now. Being grateful for our health.  Enjoying the beauty of the world around us.  From realizing that the world isn't all about us and our egocentric dreams.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving

For those of us who are in recovery, Thanksgiving day doesn't just happen once a year. We celebrate Thanksgiving each day of our recovery.

When I arise in the morning I awaken to a world of peace and tranquility. While at one time when I got out of bed my first thought was where was I going to get my next drink or drug? Where could I find something to steal to satisfy my drug habit? Which convenience store could I steal a bottle of wine from, so as to get enough courage to go steal something bigger? My life was always a dark place where my only mission was to satisfy my cravings for alcohol and drugs.

But today my mode of living is mostly one of gratitude. Yes, once in a while I'm in a bad place and start to get off track. However, I immediately catch myself and get back in focus. All I have to do is to remember where I came from and what I went through trying to be out of my mind 24 hours a day. And that snaps me back to the reality of the present moment.

Today I was able to spend a beautiful Thanksgiving in the company of family and friends. Some of them were my blood family, others were my recovery family. And I reflected that until I got clean and sober I had none of these people around me. They're good people who care about me and what happens to me. People I can count on.

In the recovery world, we spent a lot of time talking about gratitude. And that's because gratitude puts an invisible shield around us that protects us from the temptations of drugs and alcohol.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 20, 2017

Forgiving Manson

Deborah Tate, the sister of Manson family victim Sharon Tate, told People magazine yesterday that she said a prayer for Manson's soul when she heard that he'd died in a Bakersfield hospital. She'd previously said that she would pray for Manson and his followers upon their deaths.

Deborah told NBC4 that while she forgives the Manson Family, what they did will remain with her forever. And even though she's forgiven them, she's played an active role in objecting to the release of any of them in front of the California parole board. But forgiveness is one thing, and protecting the public from further harm is another. Which is why she objects to the parole of any of them because she thinks they're still dangerous.

“I’ve forgiven them, but that doesn't mean I’ve forgotten what they did,” she said. “I'll never forget.”

This woman is a good example of forgiveness and of praying for those who harm us. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, she's practicing one of the concepts taught in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous on page 552. And that is learning how praying for two weeks for someone we resent can help us get over that resentment.

In commenting on her forgiveness, I have to admit that even after being sober for over 26 years, I'm not sure I'm as big as she is in that regard. Though I would like to be.

The idea of spending much of our lives being angry at someone or hating someone – no matter what they did – is harmful to our health and sanity. That's why forgiveness makes sense.

It's not about them, it's about us - and our freedom.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Radical Changes

Sobriety can bring radical changes to our life.

I'm thinking about this today because yesterday a TLC employee, who's been sober for a few years, told me about her teenage daughter and how well she's doing. There was a look of pride on the mother's face. And a hint of tears in her eyes.

She told me her daughter was soon going to enter training to become a medical assistant.

While this might not seem like a big deal to many of us, only a few years ago the daughter was living with another family member because her mother and father were addicted to heroin. When they came to Arizona from back East they left the daughter with a relative and came to TLC to get clean and sober. They left her behind because they knew she was in a safe place and would be well cared for.

After they were here awhile, the daughter came for a visit. Later on, she returned to stay for good. She enrolled in high school and got a job in the fast food industry. She bought her own car and has been doing well. This is something that might have never happened, had her parents not decided to move to Arizona and change their lives.

Since coming to TLC this family's life has gotten continually better. The father - who also works for TLC - has resolved most of his legal issues. They live in a nice two bedroom apartment. And soon will be moving into a private home.

The blessings this family is experiencing is something anyone can accomplish. But to do what they've done we must work hard and stick to the program – even when things get tough.

That's what happened to this TLC family, and they did it one day at a time by putting in the hard gritty work.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Biggest Loser

"Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most" Abraham Lincoln

We have a contest going on right now between six or eight treatment staff members who are trying to lose weight. The contest name is plagiarized from the TV program, "The Biggest Loser." It seems like none of the contestants are using the same method to lose weight. One is working with a nutritionist. Another has bought a program off of TV. Others are working out their own diet plan.

First prize is $250 to the person who loses the largest percentage of their body weight. Second prize is $150. And third prize is $100. The contest ends December 31.

I'm not exactly sure who or what inspired the contest. All I know is that it wasn't me. And I'm not in the contest because if I weighed any less I'd be a stick figure.

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about why TLC staff members and clients gain weight. But I think that as people get sober they sometimes find a new addiction: eating. After all, food is definitely another form of self-gratification and if we eat mindlessly it's easy to fall into bad habits.

But I find it encouraging when I see staff members – or clients – begin to impose discipline upon themselves. Many are already starting to look amazingly better, and some have so much energy that they're even starting to work out. Some go to the gym. A few walk or do other forms of exercise. The changes in their appearance and energy levels are truly gratifying. It's good to see them care enough about themselves to take serious steps to improve their health.

The saying in the first line of this blog says it all. We must choose between what we want now and what we want most.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Let them Go

"Accept the fact that you will grow apart from people you’ve had significant relationships with. Understand when someone no longer positively affects your life. Let them go. Don’t hinder your growth." Unknown

I had a lengthy conversation today with a woman who's had longtime issues with her mother. She and her mother have been at each other for years because they just don't get along. The daughter thinks her mother doesn't give her enough of herself. The daughter blames her mother for pretty much anything that's negative in her personal life. Among these negatives is her lack of success in business, her failed marriage, and the poor relationship she's had with her father over the years.

The last time I talked to this woman I asked her "why do you even talk to your mother if it's so painful?" I went on to explain that there's not much point in trying to have a relationship with her mother if she always ends up frustrated and angry. Life's too short to walk around with negativity festering inside of us. At the end of our talk, she said that she was going to cease communicating with her mother because it's never worked out.

When I talked to her today she thanked me and said she hadn't spoken to her mother in about a month. And that she felt much better. However, she did spend a lot of time discussing her mother's character defects. As if trying to reassure herself that she'd made the right decision by no longer talking to her.

Actually, the reason I suggested that she no longer talk to her mother was so she could examine her own part in their poor communication. I know she loves her mother and that someday she'll figure out that she has a major role in their poor relationship. And that maybe she'll reach out to her in a more mature manner to try to heal their differences.

And the other part of the situation is that maybe these two will never get along. After all, how many of us would have chosen the relatives that we ended up with? In most families, it seems like there are always people who don't get along and probably never will. My rule is that if I can't get along with someone after I've been trying to improve our communication, then I'm willing to give them up.

And it's really that simple. I wasn't put here to suffer at the hands of anyone.  And especially those with whom I'm supposed to have a close relationship.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Being in the Moment

We often deal with clients who are unhappy with themselves. And they are often so unhappy that they end up in our treatment clinic or our sober living program because drugs and or alcohol have taken over their lives.

Many of them spend a lot of time ruminating over what happened. And, indeed, some of them have had experiences that are difficult to live with. Often they've been abused, neglected, or assaulted. Or, on the other end of the spectrum – completely enabled and allowed to do whatever they wanted because their parents wanted to be "friends" with them in place of teaching them good values.

Whatever the case, my approach is to suggest that they attempt to live in the moment. To be in this moment, because that's all we really have, is this small slice of time. Our excavations into our past wreckage usually yield us nothing but more suffering, more self-condemnation. And all of our anxious looking into the future, wondering what will be, is also pointless.

So does that mean that we never look back? Of course not. We can look back to celebrate the things we succeeded at. We can enjoy the memories of pleasant times with our families and friends. We can look back at the positive. But what's the purpose of examining the negative things over which we had no power?

Quite likely most of us have dark corners in our past. Things we're ashamed of. Or perhaps distant memories of abuses we suffered when we were too young to defend ourselves. We can reflect upon these memories all we want, but unless we're doing so in the company of a good therapist, it serves little purpose to do so.

Instead, we should assess our lives as they are in the present moment. Take an inventory of our assets and liabilities, with the idea of building our future upon what we have in the present moment. If we can do that we won't waste time on useless reflection.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Happiness?

At a twelve-step meeting today the topic was "how I maintain my happiness in sobriety."

As different people shared on the topic, it became apparent that most of them realize that sobriety has its ups and downs. That it's unrealistic to think that we're always going to be happy. That just because we're in recovery things aren't going to always flow along smoothly.

If we enter a life of recovery with the idea that we're going to live happily ever after, we'll surely be disappointed. But if we step onto the path of recovery without any expectations of heaven on earth, we have a better chance of staying sober.

What a successful recovery program does is toughen us up so we can face the realities of life. The realities of life are that there are bills to pay, that our loved ones get sick, that we probably won't win the lottery, and that sometimes staying sober day by day can be a bitch.

And yes, there are moments when we can be deliriously happy because we have escaped the misery and insecurity of depending upon substances for our happiness. If we view life as a roller coaster of ups and downs, of setbacks and successes, then we're not surprised when good or bad things occur in our lives.

When we first got rid of the poisons that we thought would bring us happiness we had a new sense of freedom. A sense of freedom that was so powerful that the drugs we left behind paled by comparison. But eventually we become used to this new feeling and we have to learn to deal with the challenges that come up in life. And sometimes those challenges aren't so much fun, yet those events are what gives our life a rich texture and meaning.

So maybe we need to redefine our happiness. Instead of it always being a feel-good thing, maybe it's the realization that we can successfully navigate whatever life puts in front of us – and do it without putting form substances into our bodies.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Gratitude = Recovery

Yesterday I ran into one of our longtime employees on the sidewalk in front of my office.

"How are you doing?" I asked him.

"My life couldn't be better," he told me, as he gave me a hug.

Then he proceeded to tell me how grateful he is for the way he lives today. He said he has a wife who loves him, a young son who greets him every day at the front door with a big hug when he gets home from work, and he's moving into a better home in a nicer neighborhood.

Then he went on to explain how he'd have nothing in his life today if he hadn't stopped using drugs after he got out of prison several years ago. He gives the credit to TLC and the circle of friends who have supported him in his sobriety.

And this man's attitude is not unique. Another gentleman I work with on a daily basis rarely lets the week go by without reminding me of how grateful he is. He says that when he turns the key in his front door after work each day he has a sense of gratitude for having a place to live and work. He remembers that six years ago he was homeless and in the grips of a serious drug and alcohol addiction. He makes it a point to express his gratitude for the way he lives today. And it shows up in his demeanor and the way he carries himself around our corporate office.

It's rewarding to talk to either one of these gentlemen because I always walk away feeling good about life. Their gratitude is contagious and they lift up those who come into contact with them.

Gratitude is a topic that often comes up in 12 step meetings. So much so that it's almost a cliché topic. Yet, more than probably any other characteristic an alcoholic or addict can have, gratitude is the fuel that keeps a person clean and sober.

I've never heard anyone say that they were so grateful that they felt like getting drunk or high. Instead, I hear just the reverse. What I hear them say is, "I lost my gratitude for what I had. I quit going to meetings. I quit talking to my sponsor. The next thing I knew I was drunk and homeless and had lost everything."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Helping the Angry

Many of us have angry people in our lives, particularly those of us working in the recovery field. 

How do we stay above the fray?  How do we keep from getting sucked into negative emotions when others go sideways?  When they relapse?  When they do self-destructive things?  Or even when they threaten us?

One thing that helps me is to remember that I got into the recovery field to help others.  To share with others how I've managed to keep a needle out of my arms for 27 years.  To let them know that I was able to rebuild my life, even though I started relatively late - in my early fifties.

Another way to protect ourselves is to not take things personally.  Many of our clients are seriously traumatized and disturbed.  We must always keep in mind that it's not about us.  It's about helping clients to repair their emotions and to learn to live in reality.  When they're disturbed or upset it's generally about their distorted view of life and has little to do with us.  If they were well, they wouldn't need our help.

We need not beat ourselves up if it seems as though we're making no progress with a truculent client.  It helps me if  I look back at all the frustrated people who tried to help me before I was ready to change.  Many well-intentioned counselors, family members, and friends spent time and effort to help me shake the grip of drugs and alcohol.  But, until I was ready to change they were wasting their time.  On top of that, I was angry at them, even though they were trying to protect me from myself.

To shield us from burnout we must practice what we preach.  Use mindfulness techniques.  Get adequate rest.  Take responsibility for our mental and physical health - the same advice we give our clients.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Being Kind and Loving

Left town on Friday to hang out at my favorite condo in Imperial Beach for four days with friends.

It's wonderful to get back to the ocean, to walk on the sand early in the morning.  It's cleansing and healing to listen to the waves as the sun rises.  So peaceful and soothing after a hot and crazy summer, dealing with angry people, people threatening litigation and more.

As I walk, I pass people of all backgrounds and ages.  Some are surfing. A few older people are fishing off the pier.  Two children are building a sand castle.  A father is collecting seashells with his children.  It's a peaceful scene of people immersed in their lives, people living in the moment.  While I can't see inside their heads, they all appear to be happily enjoying this moment of their lives.

As I continue along the sand, enjoying the morning, I reflect on what I've learned about living in the here and now - in this moment.  And what the people by the ocean seem to be doing is enjoying each minute as it unfolds, oblivious to time.  Exactly what I've been taught in the mindfulness meditation course I've been attending.

During my reverie, I begin to use another technique I've learned in my Vipassana studies, that of loving kindness.  This is a practice where we sending loving thoughts to first ourselves, then our family and friends, then to even our adversaries, until our good wishes cover the entire world.

A loving-kindness meditation goes something like "May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you prosper, may you be happy, may you be free from pain, may you be peaceful..." and so forth.  There are many variations to the meditation and practitioners can be as creative as they want.  It kind of serves the same purpose as praying for those you resent, as described on page 552 in the AA Big Book.  It helps soften the heart and to clear negative emotions.

And as I return to the condo after my walk by the sea I feel purged of negativity, having a sense of peace, of oneness with the world.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recovery Romance

One of our bigger challenges at TLC is helping clients avoid relationships.

You might wonder why we're interested in a client's personal relationships. What's the point of interfering with mother nature?

But experience has taught us that a quick path to relapse is a recovery romance. All of a sudden, instead of focusing on the nuances of staying sober, the client spends most of the day fantasizing about his or her sweetheart. Here's this wonderful creature who has led him out of the bleak landscape of recovery into the hormone-laced joy of a new romance. The world has come alive. Our self-esteem is boosted when we find that somebody, anybody, cares about us.

Some clients rush headlong into romances with little thought. The romance is a substitute for the drug they haven't been successful at using. They don't stop to think that 50% of most marriages end in divorce – and that's among so-called "normal" people. I've never read any statistics about the success of marriages between addicts or alcoholics. My guess would be that they fail at an even higher rate. And when the client is on psychiatric medications or suffers mental illness, the failure rate is likely even higher.

Over the last 25 years, we've seen many clients pair up and live together, or else get married. Many of them even have had children, but I can probably count on one hand TLC clients who have succeeded at long-term marriages or relationships.

Our recommendation to those who are head over heels in love with another alcoholic or addict is to give it a year and simply work on recovery. A year is nothing for people who are truly in love.

If they last that long and are solid into recovery, that's the time to get more serious.

They often accuse us of being mean because we don't understand what they're feeling.  But all we're trying to do is protect them from themselves - to keep them from heading into another relapse.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Against the Odds

"If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it." -- Elon Musk, Tesla Inventor

When I got into recovery when I was 51, sobriety was the most important thing in my life.

After using drugs for 38 years and drinking for 42 years I had finally come to the realization that I was the problem. It wasn't my parents. It wasn't my ex-wives. It wasn't the justice system. My idea that I could successfully use kept me in constant trouble in every area of my life.

During the years of feeding my addictions, I served a lot of time on the installment plan. California State prison. Orange County jail. Metropolitan State Hospital, Norwalk, California. And several other jails. I burned through about 16 years of my life trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I could use heroin and drink without getting in trouble. But I was wrong. Nearly dead wrong, because my addictions almost killed me more than one time.

At some point, I decided I wanted to live. I was sick of the pain. I was sick of being homeless. I was sick of being broke. Even though I hated to admit it, those who told me I needed help were right.

I decided to change, even though the odds were against me starting over at the age of 51. But it was very important to me to do whatever it took to change my life. I still had children, even though all but one of them were grown. I still had parents who loved me. In other words, there were a lot of people that I didn't want to disappoint.

In the early years of my recovery, back in 1991, I started out in a halfway house where I lived for a year. And the secret to my success, I believe, is that I kept my eyes on my goal: the goal of staying sober regardless of what I encountered.

And the interesting thing is that when one has that kind of attitude, they can be unstoppable. Within a year, I had gone into the recovery business and was starting to build a team of like-minded people to help me.

Because I had the attitude that I could beat the odds I have a wonderful life today. Yes, I've had setbacks and losses. But none of them have taken my eyes off of my goal of living a sober life.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flowing with Life

After nearly 27 years of sobriety, it's easy to be a good mood. In fact, I'm pretty much in a good mood all the time. I don't have to work to get there because that's the way I wake up and that's the way I go to bed.

It wasn't always that way. When I first got sober, nearly 27 years ago, I was like many other newly sober addicts and alcoholics. I looked outside of myself to find happiness. If I was unhappy, it was because the external world was not complying with my wishes. People weren't doing what I wanted them to do. No one really appreciated me or understood just how important I was.

As the years went on, and I got further into recovery, I realized that the better relationship I had with my own thinking the better the outside world looked. No longer did I seek material things or other people for my happiness. Instead, I started paying attention to my own thinking and realize that I had to, first of all, get my ego out of the way – as much as possible. I had to learn how to accept others, just as they were – rather than as how I wanted them to be. And that shift – just looking at myself and my part in the world – made all the difference in my life.

I was at a meeting the other day where a gentleman was talking about how many problems he was having with his business partner. He said the situation was nearly driving him crazy.

But someone else in the room pointed out that there's always someone or something in our lives to challenge us. We resolve one problem or situation and another pops up. It's the rhythm of life.

And the way we stay happy and emotionally level is to realize that everything isn't always going to go our way. And if we take that view, we aren't going to pick up a drink, a drug, a cigarette, or engage in self-destructive anger.

Instead, we're going to accept the ups and downs of life and be grateful that we're here to enjoy them.

Click here to email John


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

Intervention?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Miracles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Justice for a Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Enabling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to email John

Friday, July 28, 2017

Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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