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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

R.I.P.

Yesterday morning we lost a former resident, Rob W., who had been with TLC most of the past 18 years.  He recently left TLC and moved into his own apartment.
During his time with us he served in several capacities.   He was a house manager for several years, driver, maintenance man and volunteered in other areas when needed.
At this writing cause of death is unknown.
His many friends at TLC will miss him and wish his family well.

Click here to email John

Monday, January 30, 2017

Draw a big Picture

If someone would have asked me to draw a picture of my life today when I got sober 26 years ago I'd have been way off.

When I first got sober in 1991 I had no idea of living the life I live today. At that time I was homeless. I was stealing every day to get enough alcohol and drugs in me to make life bearable.

I'm not sure what happened or why I changed. I only know that I had this deep sense that I was doing nothing with my life. And I knew, even though I only had a high school education, that I was capable of doing better. I'd owned small businesses. For several years I was vice-president of marketing for a nationwide corporation. So I knew that I could do something worthwhile with my life.

And I also knew that if I didn't change I'd either be back in prison or die from drugs and alcohol.

So I made a decision to go to a detox and try to change my life. And it worked. But had you asked me at that time what my goals or ambitions were all I would have said was that I wanted to stay sober. To stop the pain.

Instead, life carried me well beyond that. I got into a business helping other addicts change their lives. I started accumulating things. I married a lovely woman who brings me much happiness. Life today is something I'd never have dreamed of 26 years ago.

And I write about this today to tell you that you can do the same and more. Just get clean and sober and go to work.  First, though, draw a big picture.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

In the News

I have a habit of following the news every day. Not each page. But the parts of it that interest me. Most guys I know who read the newspaper only do it to keep up with sports - but that's about it.

If they're in business they'll follow the business or real estate pages. But most people I know don't read it at all.

It's too negative. Or it reminds them how much the world sucks. Or they say it makes them "depressed." It brings them down.

But my viewpoint is different. I don't care much about sports, but I do like to know what's going in business, technology, politics, science and world affairs.

I don't let so-called "news" bring me down. But I think we need to be reminded that our world can be a dangerous and unpredictable place. And to be mentally prepared for whatever happens.

I think we need to understand government, political and business trends so we're not surprised when the world turns upside down.

I love to watch "man on the street interviews." I've seen shows that demonstrate how little we know about the world we live in. Last week I saw an interviewer on a college campus who encountered a girl who didn't know who the vice-president was. Or what the three branches of government are.

I know there are depressing things in the news. But we don't have to internalize them.

But the more we know about the world the more we can relax when the unexpected happens.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Winning the War?

It'll be an interesting four years as our new administration works to fulfill its promises to reduce crime and close the borders.

The crime in the inner cities is mostly fueled by drug trafficking and dealing. Last year in Chicago alone, more than 600 hundred youngsters were murdered over crimes related to drug sales and dealing. Or during robberies to get money for drugs

For over 50 years I've heard the mantra about the "war on drugs." But the so-called war has never come close to being won. It hasn't even been a draw.

The new administration is sending every signal that it's going to be "tough on crime." But I'm not sure if that means to lock up drug users as we do now. Or does it mean mandatory treatment?

Let's face it: there are only a couple of ways to deal with social crimes like drug use. One is to lock them up and throw away the key. The other is to provide treatment and education to help heal sick addicts.

Both of these approaches have been tried. And neither has worked in the long term..

The administration that makes any kinds of inroads into drug addiction and use will be in office forever. Because addiction is a special challenge of its own.

And the incredible profit it generates make criminals willing to risk their lives for a piece of the action.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Processing Life

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” ~Wayne Dyer
This is one of my favorite quotes from Wayne Dyer, who recently passed away at the age of 75.  He left of a legacy of over 30 books that he'd written during 30 years of writing, teaching, and public speaking.

What I think Dr. Dyer was talking about was acceptance of things however they are at this moment.  When things show up in life that bring us unhappiness or dissatisfaction they seem larger than life.  And most of the time they are too large for us to change in any meaningful way.

How many of us, myself included, have thought that if we just had this perfect set of circumstances our lives would be wonderful.  But then we get that job. Or house.  Or car or girlfriend – whatever, and we find that wasn’t the answer to our problems either.

One thing I’ve learned after being on the planet for over 75 years is that it’s much easier to accept what we don’t like than it is to change it.  And that’s probably because when we were much younger we were taught that to achieve certain goals would bring us happiness.  But after a few rounds of following that myth and not finding the holy grail of happiness we start to think differently.  We start to realize that where we’re at in life right now is not so bad.

I have a reader who has an alcoholic son that she builds her life around.  She prays for him.  She wonders what she can do to free him of his drinking.  And I sometimes give her what I think is good advice.

But I wonder what would happen if he suddenly showed up one day sober and living a decent life.  Would she be happy then?  Would his new way of living change her life?  What would she do with the worry she had about him?  Who would she direct the prayers at that haven’t worked so far?

I know she hasn’t accepted his drinking and way of life.  But would she be happy if he quit drinking?  What would she do with all the sorrow and grief she’d gone through all these years – so long that it’s almost become a way of life?

Would she be happy with his recovery?  Or would she have to find something else to do with all the energy she spent crying out to God to save him?

Would she be able to process life just as it is?


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Family Matters

My wife was in a home store the other day and overheard a mother and daughter arguing loudly. In fact, they were so loud that my wife couldn't help but overhear what they were arguing about.

"How dare you!" shouted the daughter in the mother's face, "to spend my inheritance money on a roof for your house?"

And the argument escalated from there and continued until the pair walked out the store together. The mother had tears running down her face as they dissappeared from sight.

Too often today I see grown children who somehow have gotten the idea that their parent's money belongs to them - even before they're cold in the ground.

I'm not quite sure where children get these ideas but I know mine are going to be quite disappointed when I go. At one time I was going to make one of them a trustee and let her handle the affairs of the estate, something many families do. But since I've gotten to know her husband better - and how he handles money - thats not going to happen. Instead I'm going to use a fiduciary or law firm to manage the affairs of the estate to assure that each child and grandchild gets what I want them to have.

Greed is a terrible thing - and unfortunately it runs in many families - just like it does the rest of our society.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Moving On

Something that’s always been difficult is finding people to replace us when we move on.  Years ago I used to tell managers to “always be looking for your replacement.”
 But that isn’t the way they would interpret it.  Their thinking probably took several different turns along the lines of “I’m not going to look for my replacement. “The next thing you know they’re going to fire me.  They never thought along the lines of “we’re going to be expanding and we’ll need someone to replace us.  It seemed that their thinking was more based on fear and insecurity.”
But for us to make a smooth transition to the next generation we need clients who understand money and who are good at dealing with other addicts and alcoholics.  They have to have several years of sobriety behind them, they must be impeccably honest. And I would estimate that 2 out of 1000 fall into that category.

In the past 25 years we’ve been through generation after generation of managers; some stayed with us a long time.  Others couldn’d stand the pressure and either relapsed or disappeared.


Somehow we’re always managed to function and pay our bills.  And my belief is that we’ll be able to continue to do so for many years to come.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Long time Ago

In the late fifties I was aboard a Mexican prison bus, sentenced to 90 days in jail for possession of paraphernalia. Plus I had a trail of red needle marks running up my arms from constantly injecting heroin in my veins. I had ankle bracelets around my legs that were attached to several people who looked like they were in the same situation I was.

One more time I wondered what kind of a mess I'd gotten myself in.

There were only four of us when we went down there. I don't know where we hooked up with the other two. I think they were sailors stationed in nearby San Diego and had drank too much liquor while on their visit. In any case it seemed like it took us forever to get the van to the jail down the bumpy winding road.

Once we arrived we were dragged off the bus and deposited into a large noisy room wth 300 or so other people in it. All those people shared one toilet and one very slowly dripping shower head. It was hell on earth.

I swore that If I ever got out of that place I'd never return. But I was lying to myself and lying to the world.

It took me a lot of days of jail and bad decisions before I finally got 26 years sober. A lot of pain and misery before I could change.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Peaceful Meetings

A habit I've had since I started my recovery is that I only go to certain meetings 
 And those are meetings where most of the members are clients of TLC. 
Early on I found that if I went to meetings with a lot of former TLC members, that it created a negative atmosphere. 
Many members  had gotten drunk or high at our place and had to be removed by the police for disorderly conduct.  And, of course, that didn't set well with anyone, including me and my staff. 
Many times the meetings would turn into an argument about who was right or who was wrong.  There was little or no conversation about recovery, which was the only reason I was there. 
At one time things got so bad that several residents formed their own meeting so though wouldn't have to listen to the bickering about why they had to leave TLC.
 And that's the meeting I've attended for over 25 years.
The only purpose for going to a meeting is to work on my recovery and nothing else,   I know where to go if I want to argue and it's far from a recovery meeting format.
Click here to email John 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Making a Difference?

I've been working in the recovery field for 25 years. And I've been sober for over 26 years.

By working, I mean housing recovering addicts and alcoholics until they can find work. Get a car, a wardrobe, an apartment. All the things it takes to make a new beginning in life.

Our organization, (TLC) transitional Living Communities, does this without government funding or grants. A couple of times in the past few years we've received a check from Boeing Aircraft. Usually it's about $10,000, enough to last us for one to two days of operating expenses. Not a large sum, but something we're grateful for because it means someone thinks we're doing a good job.

And I'll help us feed our 700 plus residents for a few days..

Besides our halfway houses, we also operate a state-licensed treatment program that will hold about 60 clients. We also own a state licensed roofing and remodeling company, a day labor company for those who have trouble finding a job right away. At several of our locations we operate small convenience stores that have been self-supporting for some time. I hate to admit it, but most of our profits come from things like sodas, cigarettes and junk food. But the profits helps pay the bills

We also have developed an LBGTQ housing program for addicts with sexual or gender differences. Their residences are among the cleanest and best operated in TLC. Interestingly, it's also one of the most successful parts of the program.

And one final thing: We do all of this without many professionals on our staff. We do have licensed counselors running our treatment program. And we have CPAs and professional accountants who help us keep the books straight.

Other than that it’s simply addicts helping other addicts.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Picking a Family

I once heard someone say that if we picked our families, most of us would have chosen a different one. And I think they were serious about it. I know I would have picked a different one.

Maybe one with wealth and the ability to care for a child. Maybe one with love and understanding. Maybe a family that would spend time with them. Perhaps a family that taught the value of love and kindness.

Anybody but the people they went home with.

Many of the clients in our program come in with some kind of mommy or daddy issue. It's typical that the parents gave them anything they needed or wanted. By doing so what did they teach them? What they taught them was irresponsibility. That all you have to do is ask. It's also known as entitlement.

Then one day the parents look around and wonder why the kid is still asleep in the middle of the day. That's because the parents taught them that they were "special" and that they could slide through life with little or no responsibility. And they taught them that by expecting nothing from them. They just wanted the kid to like them; to be their friend.

Generally this arrangement comes crashing down when the parents realize they're raising an addicted bum. That's when the parents figure out - almost too late - that they must do something.

Then begins the treatment cycle which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't .

How much better if we raised our children to be responsible and sober. And, while it might be painful to say no - it's less painful than to watch their addiction evolve into something that often will kill them.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Writing a Blog

Today I was reminded about why I write this blog.

And that was during a phone call with a parent who told me he reads it each day. He said he started following it because his son has never done as well as he has since he came to our program. He may wonder what TLC does different.

And the son has been to a number of programs over the past two years - at some expense to his family. But he kept relapsing when he left.

But back to why I write each day. I do it mainly for the family members so they can understand how we run our program, what we do differently. But I also do it to improve my communication skills.

I have this on again off again fantasy about writing a book someday.

In fact I've put together some 800,000 words. That includes about 500,000 words in this blog alone. One of these days I might start pulling related blogs together and make an inspirational book from them.

I know it won’t change my life much, but at least I’ll have a sense of accomplishment.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hurting our Family

A mother shares her grief with me yesterday because her alcoholic son continues to drink. And he's showing no signs of slowing down.  She says he looks terrible.

She's been sending me messages about him for around a year. And I think she's followed some of my advice. Like don't loan or give him money. Don't let him sleep on your couch. Don't loan him your car.

I have no doubt that this woman loves her son. I can hear the emotion and tears in her voice. But I believe for him to really change she needs to continue being tough on him.

She may - by being hard on him - shock him into one day realizing how self centered he's being by continuing to use her. He may realize that life is about others - not him and his journey to self-destruction.

For all of you who are sober now, think back about how you treated your family and friends. When you make your amends list your family should be at the top . Even before you start paying them back.

Help dry their tears.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

About Vivitrol

A story in our local paper yesterday discussed a plan to keep addicts from relapsing.

It involves giving them a shot of Vivitrol 10 days before their release from prison.  The plan has been endorsed by our governor, Doug Ducey.

What is Vivitrol you may ask? It's a drug that is injected in a muscle, usually the buttocks, and blocks the effects of opioids and alcohol for up to 30 days. It's generic name is Naltrexone and you can learn more about it at drugs.com.

I'm familiar with the drug because we've offered it for a while at TLC. And those who have begun using it report that it removes their desire to use drugs or alcohol.

So now we have a potential cure for those addicts who use opiates or alcohol. While it is expensive - at around $600 a month, it's still cheaper than keeping users in jail.

But the interesting thing to me is that some addicts have declined to use the drug. And some who have used it have stopped after the first month.  And declined further injections.

What does this mean? To me it means they aren't done using. They haven't had enough pain yet.

Is it possible that some people just like the effects of drugs and alcohol? And no matter what cure is offered they will shun it?

Click here to email John




Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Striving for Peace

Yesterday we celebrated Martin Luther King Day. And in our state there were various events to celebrate it. Government office were closed, along with many businesses.

But when I first came to Arizona the holiday wasn't recognized. It took a lot of back and forth wrangling before Arizona began recognizing a man who had won a Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful efforts against racism. At 35 years of age he was the youngest man to receive the prize.

One might ask that why in these "enlightened times" there still would be so many people in this country who objected to celebrating his legacy.

But one only must look around our world and see that there are ethnic or religious wars going on all the time. Hatred of our fellow man takes many forms. And our own country has been at war in the Mideast for "helping" to solve some of these divisions for 15 years.

For example, the rise of ISIS demonstrates that cruelty of one group toward another is only limited by the imagination. That particular group has outdone any other in figuring out creative ways to eliminate those they hate.

They have beheaded, drowned, blown up and killed thousands in the name of their effort to create a so-called religious caliphate.

Our world will never have peace until we can learn to accept our differences with our fellow man.

We may not agree with everyone - but we can grant them the same rights we all have to live the life of our choice in peace.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Keeping life Simple

I like to keep my life as simple as possible. And in particular that includes my computer life.

I don't need one that holds a terabyte or two of memory. Or that does a lot of things with pictures. Or is super fast. Though I guess those things have their uses at times.

About the only thing I do with pictures is upload them to our website. and when I'm done with them I trash them. I don't need much speed for anything I do.

One computer program that was problematic for me was Windows 8. So I finally got rid of it and reverted to Windows 7, which really served my needs well. But, finally it began to have a few problems with the email, so I thought I'd get a new laptop that had Windows 10 on it. Mainly because the reports about it seemed quite favorable. Much better than Windows 8 and so forth.

So then, always the optimist, I got one as a Christmas present to myself.

And once again I find myself learning about all the new features it offers. And this time I've promised myself to be patient and learn to use them regardless how frustrating it may be at times.

Part of being sober for me is being calm and taking my time. I'm sure I'll get my share of practice with this new machine.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Words of Gratitude

Over the weekend I received many texts and emails from friends and clients, congratulating me for being sober for 26 years.

Several - especially those from TLC - thanked me for the changes in their lives. Many have now been with us for years. Some have babies and young families. I was very moved by their words.

And while gratitude is wonderful, the changes these folks made really came from the hard work they put into their own recovery.

While I understand perfectly where they're coming from, their lives wouldn't be what they are today without all their hard work for which they deserve credit.

My only contribution to most of their lives is that we built an organization - a framework if you will - that gave them time to work on themselves. To get the habit of living and working sober.

The ones who stuck around have remained sober now for many years themselves. And they did it because they took advantage of the opportunity to start a new life.

I think they got tired of the pain - just as I did. And today we're all enjoying the blessings of a sober life.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Starting Out

26 years ago today I entered a detoxification unit in Mesa, Arizona. It was the first time in my life that I'd voluntarily gone anywhere to get sober. But I was willing to do whatever they told me if it would keep me from drinking and using drugs. I was in that much pain.

I had a lot of questions when I went in. One was about what kind of 12 step program I should attend? At this place they had Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. Since I used all of those things did that mean that I had to attend each one of them?  Boy, I'd be really busy.

How long would I have to stay there? Where would I go when I left? And there were a lot more.

But the longer I remained there, these questions more or less answered themselves. After attending different meetings I decided I would go to A.A. After all, I liked to drink and it seemed that something like 65% of A.A. members also used other kinds of substances. Mostly whatever they could get their hands on.

Another thing that attracted me to A.A. is that the speakers who came to talk about the program seemed more grounded and solid in their recovery.

After 11 days I was sent from the detox to a nearby halfway house. I was fortunate because they were willing to accept me without money. They told me they'd give me time to find work. And they were true to their word.

A new life began the day I went to the detox. And since then I've learned not only how to stay sober, but also how to enjoy life while doing so.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Dealing with Anger

Long before getting sober I had problems with anger. When life didn't go my way, anger took over. If I became frustrated, something got broken. Or my day was ruined because all I could focus on was what had gone wrong.

And while I can blame it on the genes I inherited from my alcoholic father, anger never got me anywhere.

Of course, while drinking and doing drugs, anger wasn't an issue. Because like most addicts I didn't deal with feelings. I covered them with a substance of some kind. And then later, when I came to, I'd wonder what I was pissed off over. Then I'd get high again.

But now that I'm 26 years sober on the 14th of this month, what do I do with anger or frustration? Because when we addicts don't have the tools to deal with anger, we can always turn to our best friend. You know, that substance that got us into trouble in the first place.

Today, I rarely get angry. I do, at times get frustrated with myself. In fact I can't remember the last time I became truly angry at anyone or anything.

Sobriety has helped me see the early warning signs. And if frustration is serious enough I'll call my sponsor and see how he'd handle the situation. But today I don't have to take it that far.

I've learned that there's a solution to most anything we're angry about. If it's another person, for example, we can apologize. Or at least ask them why we're having issues.  Usually we can talk our way through it.  If it's a problem at work, there's a solution somewhere.  We just have to be patient enough to find it.

One of my favorite solutions is to do some strenuous exercise. Or go for a quiet walk. Or perhaps meditate. Once sober, we all develop our own favorite tools to defuse our frustration.

I tell myself what's the use of getting angry - I just have to take the time to get happy again.

Click here to email John

Thursday, January 12, 2017

In the Moment

"You can’t change yesterday, but you can ruin today by worrying about tomorrow." Unknown

Many times a client has come to my office with a "serious issue."

So, as is my habit, I'll sit and listen for a while, trying to figure out what the issue is. Because generally the person isn't talking about something that's going on today. Not about anything tangible. They're either far off in the future, worrying about how they'll find a job. Or go to school. Or pay a bill.

Or, they're dwelling in the past, wondering why they did something stupid. Or still reacting to some wrong that was done to them long ago.

When I ask them about right now, what's going on right now, they look at me curiously. They look at me like I'm stupid because they just told me what was going on. At least in their mind, they did.

But, when I point out that things are okay right now, this moment, they get the point.

One of the things that mindfulness teaches us is to be in this moment, without judgement, and with acceptance.

Things are okay at this moment. It's when we start dwelling in the past or wandering into the future that we get into trouble today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Who's Responsible?

Most of our halfway house clients are between 30-40. Our treatment program clients are mostly in their 20s. I guess that someone has hope for them because they're still youngsters.

I was thinking of this today when a mother called about one of her sons, a man I've known since I first got sober. In fact I met them about the same time.

Her son has been struggling for well over 20 years with alcohol and pills. And his mother is still making up reasons about why he can't stop. She has trouble placing the responsibility where it belongs - on him.

This is a pattern I've observed most of my sober life. People either get tired of listening to our excuses and cut us loose - or we change. It's not always that clear cut. But that's a common pattern.

It took until my 4os before people stopped listening to my stories and quit helping me. They let me know that I was responsible for myself. And some of them were kind of mean about it. But it worked.

Once I began looking at myself, things changed rapidly. Within a year I was working full time and starting my own business. Life has been much smoother ever since. 

I just had to look at who was responsible.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Anxiety?

I didn't learn until long after I was out of school that anxiety isn't necessarily a bad thing.

And, believe it or not, I heard it at a mindfulness seminar. The speaker explained to us that we might not have survived millions of years ago if we hadn't looked at the future with some amount of anxiety.

Of course he was referring to the days when we were both predator and prey. And if we didn't have anxiety about what was around the next clump of trees or rocks we might not survive.

He emphasized that our DNA is interwoven with anxiety as a survival mechanism. An early warning system that danger could lurk ahead. That we should pay attention to anything that might devour us. Run over us. Eat us.

After all, there are a million kinds of danger in our modern world. But when our anxiety becomes an obsession that requires medication so we can make it through the day, then it becomes an issue.

When we look at the future as being dangerous, we can find all kinds of things to be anxious about.

I think we do better when we accept that a little danger exists in all our lives. Accepting that as a part of reality makes us stronger and more prepared.  Maybe one day we'll be taught this in school.

Click here to email John

Monday, January 9, 2017

Changing

What makes people change? I wish I had the formula, the answer.

It seems like everyone has a different story.

God willing, the 14th of this month I'll have 26 years without a drink or drug. When I stopped I was a few months short of 52. I was sleeping in the back seat of a stolen car. I had an alcohol habit. A heroin habit, plus I used anything else I could get my hands on.

I'd start my days shoplifting some kind of alcohol. Wine, beer or whiskey: I didn't really care. When I had enough of that to get my courage up I looked for something more valuable to steal so I could feed my heroin habit.

My whole existence was built around getting enough drugs in my system so I could make it through the day. Then I'd crash for a few hours in the back seat of the stolen car I was idriving then start again the next morning.

I think what changed me is I woke up one morning and everything was gloomy and dark and hopeless. I knew that if I continued the path I was on I'd either be back in prison or jail, in a hospital, or cemetery. I thought about that for a while and decided to give recovery a decent try. To take a chance on getting sober.

I took my stolen car to a nearby detox and went to ask for help. Surprisingly, they told me I'd have to get rid of the car before they could do anything for me. So I did. I parked it a couple blocks away and went back. I've been clean ever since.

After being there 11 days  they sent me to a halfway house where I spent a year. My life has never been the same.

So pain and misery made me change. I don't know what it'll take for you. Whatever it takes don't give up. Life in recovery is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Relapsing

A few days ago an addict came by my office, a man I hadn't seen in about a year.  So we greeted each other warmly, as friends do when they've been out of touch for a while.

I knew the reason I hadn't seen him is because he'd relapsed. At least that was the message he sent back to his home group. And that's something I usually believe because people don't spread lies about themselves when they start using again.

As soon as I saw him I knew the story was true. He had lost about 50 pounds or more. Plus he had that beat down look we get when we start using every day.

He started apologizing to me and I politely cut him off. Because there's nothing to apologize about when our disease creeps back into our lives. The Big Book speaks on the subject in several chapters.

At one time I wrote a number of blogs about this guy because he'd done a lot to turn his life around. The major thing he did was go to college to work on a counseling degree. For him it was a major accomplishment because he mostly was raised in the 'hood and various prison yards. He was an example to all of us.

I really admired him because he'd changed his life's path and put in a lot of effort to reach his goals. In any event, I welcome him back and was  happy to see him heading once more in the right direction.

And even though he'd relapsed I still respected him because he had the courage to come back and start over.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Self-Loathing

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Self-loathing is a terrible thing.  It's the ultimate form of not liking ourselves.  It even borders on self-hatred. Yet many of our clients engage in it  all the time.  They'll show up for an appointment and out comes the worn out self-diagnosis of "no self-esteem."
When I ask them what that's about I usually know the answer.
And the answer is that their life is the product of wasted years - maybe a wasted life - of drug use and sponging off anyone who'll have anything to do with them.
A lot of it comes from playing the comparison game. We may encounter a friend we haven't see in a few years.  And he's already got his degree.  Maybe he’s started a business.  He might have married already and started a family.  And because we haven't done any of these things we're down on ourselves.
The cure is, as Thich Nhat Han says, "to accept yourself."
The negative thoughts only exist in our head.  They're simply negative opinions that can be changed with practice.
We can start now.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Never

Never say never. About anything.

For example, I used to say that I'd never own a dog again. I'd had several when I was young and had become quite attached to them. It was heartbreaking when they would age and die. Or else get run over by a car. Once my father was drunk and called me out to the back porch. He forced me to watch him shoot my young dog in the head because he’d killed one of our hens. That was painful. I think that’s when I said I’d never own another dog.  Maybe my addiction started there, from the buried pain.

But even though I said that I’d never own another, my wife and I ended up with two Chihuahuas, one we've had for around ten years. And it wasn't like I went looking for these dogs. Circumstances just brought them into our lives.

It started when an elderly aunt of mine asked if she could live with me after my Uncle passed. She also wanted to bring her dog, Cuca. And to be kind and loving in her time of grief I said okay. She also asked if I would take care of the dog after her death. And again, I said yes. I mean it would have been hard for me to turn down my 83 year old aunt; my mother’s closest relative.

My Aunt lived another three months before she suddenly died during the night. When I awoke in the morning I found her by her bed – cold to the touch.

So now, once I took care of the arrangements, we had to figure out what to do with the dog. After some discussion we decided to get another dog, one to keep my Aunt's dog company while we were at work. Also to keep my word to her.

And that's when Jose came into our lives a month or so later.

I remember visiting a friend in East Mesa and he told me about a neighbor whose dog had just dropped a litter of Chihuahuas. I gave her a hundred dollars and took the pup. I remember how frightened he was as we drove home with him curled up in my lap.

Also I recall the look on Cuca’s face when I brought the pup home. She had an expression like “what the hell is this?” when she looked at Jose, the pup I bought to be her companion. Eventually, though, Jose won her over with his playfulness and they became best buddies.

Then, mysteriously, Cuca disappeared one night. I looked all through the neighborhood and tacked signs everywhere. But, we never saw her again.

And now we were back in the same dilemma. Only this time I had to find a companion for Jose. And within a week I found the perfect match at a shelter for abused dogs.

But when the cycle will stop again I don’t know. Because now Jose has diabetes and suffers from other ailments. I don’t expect him to be around for long. He’s losing his sight and also a lot of weight.

I don’t want to use the term never because of the way life happens. But losing pets we love can be as painful as losing a human.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thinking of Quitting

Today I was thinking of an alcoholic who was in the hospital a few years ago, suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.

I’d never met the man, but I’d known his wife and son for a few years. They worked at the same recovery business I worked for. And she often spoke to me of his drinking. How she was afraid it would soon kill him.

Once in a while she'd ask me to speak to him about his drinking, a twelve step call. Maybe she thought I could persuade him to get help. But it took a while before I finally had a chance to meet him.

It was when he was at the end of a drinking binge, while he was recovering in the Veteran's Hospital.

He was quite ill from the effects of nonstop drinking. However, he was a coherent and bright man. He was a good conversationalist, except when it came down to the topic of recovery. When I tried to get him to talk about drinking he'd quickly change the subject.

So I'd share my own experience with him and he seemed at times like he might be listening.

Before the visit was over I invited him to come into our recovery program where he could get some real help.

He replied, "I'll give that some consideration."

I don't know whether he considered it or not because I never spoke to him again.

The next time I talked to his wife she told me he never quit drinking and died about two weeks after our visit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Motivation

The biggest challenge to those trying to live sober is motivation. We have clients who have been in as many as 15 treatment programs.

Then down the road somewhere - after they graduate - they fall into an opportunity to go to a party and feel they deserve a break. And the next thing you hear is that they tried a little meth or cocaine or heroin. Before long they're at it full speed.

Until after a while life comes crashing down around them and they're back at treatment, scratching their heads. Wondering what happened?

To become sober and stay sober we must have a burning desire to change our lives. A desire to make amends to those we've hurt, those we've disappointed and let down.

We especially try to make things right with our parents, who suffered much pain and disappointment because of our drug and alcohol use.

I shamed my parents many times back in the day. Yet they still tried to help me until thier dying breathes.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Choosing our Family

I've heard it said more than once that if we had to pick our families we've have chose a different one than we ended up with.

In my own case I was taken home from the hospital by an an alcoholic father who drank whenever he was awake. Now at the time I was born I was unaware of the dangers of alcohol. How it could destroy the family, ruin our health, and generally turn the world upside down.

In fact my entire positive relationship with the world was when I was hungry or else needed a diaper changed.

It was only as I grew older that I had the sense that I was different from the other kids in the neighborhood. Once in a while I would walk upon a group who were talking about how my father had gone into a rage because the world wasn't going his way.

They would talk of how he'd beat one of the farm animals because it kicked over a bucket of milk. Or else it broke out of the barn and would be grazing in the garden, destroying the neat rows of plants. They enjoyed watching his sadism as he rendered justice upon the offender.

Because I didn't pick my family I think I turned out to be a better human being. Being raised in a hostile environment taught me how to survive in a world I didn't design.

It took me 20-30 years to get over my own suppressed anger. Today all I want is to get along with others and learn to live as a compassionate human being.

Monday, January 2, 2017

It's all Relative

In a supermarket line I overheard two ladies in a discussion about how the previous year had gone for them.

One was having financial problems. The other's husband had been seriously ill, maybe to the point that he might not make it another year.

It wasn't my conversation so I just listened and was grateful I hadn't faced any of their issues. The sad thing was that neither of them had a solution to their problems. All they did was lament about the challenges they faced.

I kind of look at the world as everything being relative. I can be grateful for whatever's going in my life. Especially when I look at the mess our world has created in the Middle East. Where millions have been murdered over political disputes based upon whose God is best. How children are soldiers at the age of 9 or ten or forced to blow themselves up in the middle of a religious ceremony.

If we look at the world as everything being relative we can find gratitude most anywhere - instead of whining about small setbacks. Compared with what's happening in the Middle East our lives are smooth - heaven on earth.

Ask God for gratitude and he'll give you more than you can dream of.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Being Free

In this blog I've often said that being locked up made me feel disconnected when it came to holidays. But maybe I sort of lied. At least about New Years.

New Year's day is a holiday I looked forward to because it meant I was that much closer to being free. Not that I was going to party and have fun with friends.

"Free" meant I was that much closer to being out of whatever cage I was in at the the time.

What I didn't know, though, when I was paying the price for being an addict, is that we can be free, whatever our circumstances. Wherever we are.

But I didn't become aware of that until I became older and a student of mindfulness. Mindfulness practice taught me that I don't have to be a prisoner of my thoughts, of my desires, or my longings. Once I understood that being free is state of mind - I really was free.

Once one learns to meditate we discover that we are no one's prisoner. Once I accepted that the Parole Board might keep me for years if that was their whim - I felt a sense of lightness. Many of my cohorts were full of rage and anger. But I just told myself that I'd been granted a large number of moments in which to improve myself and learn.

Practicing mindfulness means we cling to nothing. We grasp at nothing, because our lives are fine just because we're breathing.

We observe the world and accept it as it is, without judging the thoughts passing through our minds.

That is freedom - and it's nothing new; it's been with as long as we practice it.