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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What we do...

Last week I encountered a resident while going into my office.  She wanted to chat so I invited her in to sit for a moment.

For no other reason than to protect her story and her family's anonymity, I'll leave their names out. Their names are important, but it might be more important that what happened here for them could happen to someone else.  Maybe change another family's direction and bring them to our program.

A few years back both she and her husband were doing their share of drugs and living the life that goes with it.  It wasn't a lack of talent that lost everything for them because they're both bright and presentable people.

It's just the same things that we all did to ruin our lives and get to places like this.  It got bad enough that a relative took their child for a while.

Who knows?  That might have woke them up.  Before long they found themselves on a bus headed from the Midwest.  They weren't sure this was the place for them, but they stuck it out.

And last year this same mother pulled me aside for another conversation.  That time it was to share her excitement about her daughter coming to spend a summer with the family.  She came. She found a part-time job.  And liked it so much she wanted to come the following year -  and she did.

And what did the mother want to share this time?  Well, now the daughter has a driver's license, a car, and a job just a mile from their apartment.

More than anything else this is why I do this job.  For me, this family's success makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Name Change

I’ve gotten a number of comments the past few days in my email basket. Most all of them have to do with my computer misadventures while on vacation in Mexico.

I speak the language but not when it comes to  technical stuff. So mostly that’s the kind of stuff where I get in trouble in English, so why not it Spanish?

I also had some comments about dates being off. I guess I could have used Google – but I never come up with the good answers until it’s too late to benefit from them. In any event it turned out I never did get it right.

So, to those who’re still following, forgive my imperfections – I promise there’ll be more of them. We’re all human. No?  

One thing that got me in trouble is my big ego.  It it happened when I decided to name this "John's Daily Blog."  I'm going to change that by re-naming this "John's Blog."  And I managed to put one out every day for years.   The "Daily" is gone.  That way it won't be quite as easy to make a mistake.

And now, without getting semantic, I can screw up once in a while

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Next Great Thing

Here it is nearly March and we’re already done with an early spring vacation. And now we're looking forward to the one after that.

It may that our problem in life is that we’re always looking forward to the next thing to do.

Why is it so difficult to enjoy life at this moment, this second, this breath? And with those they love?

I think's difficult to do because we want to do the easier softer thing. Looking for something better. The next great thing. To heck with everything else.

I've tried that. And I can tell you it never works for long.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not the right Tools

There's nothing worse than being in a foreign country and have a computer break down.   It’s frustrating, angering, and a whole lot of other adjectives that aren’t very nice.
I got through it but not very gracefully.  Even if I’d had the parts with me I probably couldn’t have fixed it because of my lack of experience working with hardware.   
And the longer I tried the more frustrated I became.  Until finally I gave up and used my Ipad.  And now I'm no longer frustrated.
In the final analysis, I realize that the only thing I need to be obsessive about is staying sober.  As long as I do that everything else will work out in its own time.
Click here to email John

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Internet Problems

Yesterday was a terrible day for the internet at our hotel here in Puerto Vallarta.  Which is kind of a surprise because usually I have no problems down here.  Connections are as good as they are in the states.

But yesterday I called down to the front desk for help and they sent some guy upstairs who looked like he needed an oil change.

In fact the first thing he did was try to blame the problem on me.  Something about Windows 10.

As he rushed out the door he hollered back that if I needed any help to be sure and call him at extension 6505.  Fat chance of that happening.

I'll sure be happy to get home tonight where I can use  my own computer

Click here to email John

Frustration

One of the most frustrating things is to be out of town and have a computer crash. And in a foreign language at that.

Then the technician who comes to help somehow thinks he has the answers to your problems though he's never worked on your make or model.

On top of that he thinks you understand the make and model he is using.  Frustration sometimes comes in many forms,

Click here to email John.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

R.I.P.

The last time I saw Gregg V. alive I had a strange feeling. Not that I’m prescient or anything like that. It’s just that there was something different about him.  He wouldn’t exactly look me in the eyes. He stood at the side of my desk with his head hung down – almost like he was ashamed to talk to me.

“If it’s all the same to you,” he said, I’d like to wait til the first of next month to pay you that hundred I owe you. I’m a little short this month.

Since I had several hundred in my pocket, I agreed. Besides, he always repaid me in the past.

The next thing I heard was that he’d been found dead in bed after no one had seen him for a few days.

He was a former TLC manager who had managed the Mac House for a time.

Rest in Peace, Gregg.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saint Valentine

Who was Saint Valentine? Not many of us know, even those of us who were raised Catholic.

She is best known for refusing to worship a pagan idol. Instead, she destroyed the idol and was burned to death in 309 a.d.

Saint Valentine’s Day keys were given in a bid to open the loved one’s heart, though no statistics were kept to see how effective the keys were.

The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards, (known as "valentines").

Valentine's Day symbols used today include a heart shaped drawing of doves, the figure of the winged dove. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards - somehow removing the charm from the occasion.

Click here to email John

Monday, February 13, 2017

Worse Off? Better Off?

It’s always easy to find someone who’s worse off than we are. For example, today I was driving on a four lane highway with a divider in the middle and a stoplight about half a mile ahead.

In the middle of the divider was a small, shriveled up man who appeared to be selling newspapers. The kind given away in front of every convenience store.

And I'm the kind of person that likes to help people - especially the handicapped. And this man had an obvious handicap.

Both of his feet were so deformed they were turned inward so that it looked like he was walking on the tops of them. It was painful to even look at him.

Yet he traveled with agility, moving from car to car trying to sell papers that anyone could have picked up free at a convenience store.

The interesting thing is that he was quite successful. Probably half the people rolled down their windows and handed him money. Most of them didn't take the paper. Though I took the one he handed me because I never miss an opportunity to be nice.

Maybe I'm being judgmental by thinking he's worse off than I am. For all I know, with all the material things I have, he may still be the happiest guy on the planet.

After all, he has a mission in life: to survive. And maybe even a family he takes care of.

He's really the only one who knows the answer to the happiness question.

Click here to email John

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The worst Drug

Many addicts give up drinking and drugs but won't give up the worst drug of all.

"I gave up everything else," but I'm not about to give up smoking. Or in some cases, chewing. And many of them will die of emphysema, or C.O.P.D. (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.)

As a former smoker who quit July 25, 1984, nothing irritates me more than to be around a smoker. In fact, as quick as they show up I go the other way.

And my disdain for smoking is not a personal whim. It's based on facts. Statistics show that each year smoking kills more people that all other causes combined. That includes cancer, heart disease, AIDs, and auto accidents. Plus, that figure includes all of the Americans killed in World War II. Those numbers total up to over 480,000 victims a year.

The idea that we can't quit smoking is a myth. In 1974 nearly half the population smoked. Today the number is down to between 15 and 19 percent.

As the leading cause of preventable death, there will hopefully come a day when smoking is a long forgotten part of our history.

Click here to email John

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Alcohol Test

On page 31 in the Big Book it says - if we doubt we're alcoholic- to go to the bar and try some controlled drinking. You know, drink for a while, then suddenly stop. See how that works for us.

If we can walk away from a drink - or half a drink - with no problems or repercussion or headaches then quite likely we're just a social drinker.

Nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here.

But if the idea of a drink has you salivating and drooling then you might reconsider if you really have a problem or not.

I know that I was an alcoholic and addict long before I'd could or would admit it. No matter what I tried - be it drugs or alcohol - there was never enough for me.

One of my problems was that I had an incredible tolerance. I only overdosed once in my life. And that was after shooting some heroin - after drinking a fifth of White Port. But did that slow me down? Not a bit. The next day I was right back at it even though I might have nearly died.

It took other things for me to finally quit using substances. And the big one was that I was simply tired of being a miserable bum.

One day I told myself that I'd had enough of living like an animal, going rapidly downhill.

I checked into a detox and my life has never been the same since - and that was over 26 years ago.

Click here to email John

Friday, February 10, 2017

Too Lazy to Work

An angry addict left a comment on Google. And he gave us a rating of "1" which I thought was good until someone explained to me that that's the worst rating you can get.

Apparently, our managers discharged him from the program because he didn't want to work.

And one of the comments he added was that our program was "all about the money."

That part that made me laugh because we charge $120.00 a week for housing, three meals a day and help finding work. We also provide work clothes, toiletries, and store credits.

I kind of figured out where he was coming from when he left a comment for those who don't want to work and live for free. He said they should go to New York City where the shelters are free and one doesn't have to work.

Something this man will learn one day is that no one lives on this planet for free. We must all contribute or we'll go hungry and find ourselves living under a bush somewhere.

I have yet to find a recovery program where one can live for free and not work. And someone who thinks that a program is "all about the money has no idea what things cost."

Today a person can't stay at a sleazy motel for $50.00 a day, let alone $120.00 a week. On top of it all, one can enter TLC without a dime in their pocket. And we find them a job and help them get to and from work until they get their service fees caught up.

One of my favorite sayings is that “education is expensive however you get it.” I think this man's education is going to cost him quite a bit.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Behaving Well

The first time I read this it was hard for me to accept or understand.

And that was that the best behaved prisoners in any prison are those who are doing life without possibility of parole. Or else are on death row awaiting execution.

I later digested it by realizing that they already have their lives laid out for them. They know what time they're getting up in the morning. They know what's on the menu for that day.

They don't have to worry about what they're going to wear because someone will bring it to their cell a couple times a week. They don't have to worry about it being ironed because no one cares what they look like anyway.

They don't have to worry about utilitities, transportation, insurance or medical care. All of that is fitted into the budget. They don't even have to think about it.

They don't have a lot of choices to make. Other than what to read or what TV shows to watch.

But for myself I wonder if such a life would be worth living. No challenges, no contributions to the world, family and friends growing more and more distant. Just existing in a sterile vacuum with little or no social interaction.

Where on occasion another human walks by and looks in at you like you're a zoo animal on display.

Always a Threat

For over 26 years my only mission in life has been to stay clean and sober. And, you know, after a while living without chemicals in my body has become a way of life. A good way.

I don't have to get up in the morning and wonder where I'm going to get my next drink or fix. Instead, I get up, meditate for half an hour, then get about my day.

A brief workout, a wholesome, mostly raw, vegan breakfast, then down to my office. It's a peaceful life, one where I feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile as I work with the addicts in our program.

But then nothing runs along smoothly forever. Does it? What I never took into consideration when I first got clean is that we get older as the years pass.

And like an old car, parts start wearing out and one spends more time at the doctor having repairs made. And along with the repairs, comes pain.

Now my doctor understands that I'm an addict. But he really doesn't understand addiction and how easily it can grab a hold of an addict.

I remember when I had six inches removed from my lower intestine back in 2004. When I awoke from the surgery I thought I was in heaven.

"I sure feel wonderful," I told the nurse. "What did you guys give me?"

"Dilaudid," she said.

"Don't give me any more of it," I told her. Then explained to her that Dilaudid was a heroin addict's dream.

When the doctor came we made a compromise. And he kept the pain down with Oxycodone, which didn't have near the potency.

After a few talks with my sponsor, I did alright with the Oxycodone. And he explained to me that there was a legitimate use of pain medication. That it wasn't made so that people could get high and nod out - that it really would kill the pain. And that it was for physical pain - not the emotional pain I experienced as a teenager.

So last week when I fell down stairs and fractured my lumbar I made it through the pain okay with something called Tramadol.

But I doubt that there'll be a point in life where opiates won't present a threat to my recovery.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

25 Years

Next month, about the 15th of March, TLC celebrates its 25th anniversary. It seems like yesterday that we were at our 20th birthday.

In fact, if memory serves me, we had graduates whose children who'd already made it to TLC as residents. This year there'll be even more of them for sure.

It's a great satisfaction to celebrate 25 years. Especially when a lot of of people laughed at the idea that we'd even last a year or two. Among them was my first sponsor, Dean W. We surprised him when we lasted the first year.

In 25 years we expanded from three shacks on South Robson Street in Mesa, Arizona to facilities in New Mexico and Nevada. From three buildings to around 60 buildings in less than 25 years.  From five residents to 1100.

And it was all accomplished without government funding or grants. Just a lot of addicts working to stay sober and keep a roof over their heads.

While a few try to live at TLC and continue to get high, they don't last long. Later you hear them complain that it's "all about the money." That they were discharged because they couldn't pay $120 a week.

Try to live somewhere today for $120 a week - including meals, transportation, and some medical care. When you find it please let me know.

I'm waiting here by the phone.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Addicts helping Addicts

Running a company that’s operated by 99% drug addicts is an educational experience.

There’s no college that I know of that teaches how to manage a recovery program of 750 drug addicts – and do it without government funding or grants.

Now there are people with a lot of letters after their names who work for us. And they help us operate professionally and look businesslike. But none were involved in the founding or keeping the doors open when times were depressed.

No colleges teach how to operate without insurance or equipment or property or capital. None that I’m aware of.

The difference between us and other organizations is that we’re on a mission to stay sober and help others to get sober – whether they have money or not. The only people we don’t accept is sex offenders or arsonists because we don’t know how to help them.

The nice thing about our organization is that it is managed by addicts from top to bottom.

And we would be happy to help the government learn to use our template if they would let us do it without drowning us in bureaucracy and paperwork.

But if they let a bunch of drug addicts help them that might be kind of like admitting failure.

Click here to email John

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Enjoy the Moment

"You don’t stop having fun because you get old, you get old because you stop having fun." Unknown

I think more people die of boredom that of any other cause. In other words we need a reason for living or we're going to slow down.

Years ago, when people first started opening doors for me to let me go ahead of them I'd get irritated. When they started calling me "sir" it would bother me. Anything that would indicate that time was catching up with me could be irritating.

Then one day I changed my perspective. After all, if we're lucky we'll all get old some day. So we might as well learn to live in the moment and learn to enjoy wherever we're at in life.

Several major studies have shown that the happiest years of a person's life are when they're 60 and above. While study results vary, none find that youth is the happiest time of life.

After all, when we reach midlife we've gotten into a lot of acceptance about who we are and where we're going. We begin to see the beauty in the wrinkles on our face. Our careers are on track. We start liking our gray hair. And we're happy to live a life where we know that there are few very big deals.

In other words we learn about acceptance. Which for good reason is the mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Dog's Lesson

About ten years ago an Aunt of mine came to live with me for the rest of her life. Her husband, my Uncle had died of cancer a few months earlier and she had no one to care for her. Could she stay with me?

So I told her yes. The only problem was that she had a dog, a little yappy Chihuahua. She wondered if she could bring the dog along with her. Because she was my mother’s favorite sister I relented. Now she and the dog were both with me.

My Aunt, poor thing, only lasted another three months before she passed on. And before she died she made me promise I’d take care of the dog as long as it lived. I agreed.

However, I felt bad because the dog was at the house all day alone. So in the spirit of kindliness I bought another Chihuahua to keep my Aunt’s dog company. And it worked out fine.

But then one night my Aunt’s dog disappeared and here I was stuck with the companion dog.

So what did I do? Well I went and bought another Chihuahua to keep the companion dog company. And it all worked out fine for some time. We had a great routine around the house and the dogs even began liking each other – and my new wife – more than they cared for me. So for a year or so things went great.

Then the companion dog got sick with diabetes. So now, twice daily, I’m injecting the dog with insulin and giving it other medicine on schedule. But I guess there are lessons in everything. Because the dog not only has diabetes – it’s also going blind.

And the lesson I’ve learning is that the dog doesn’t complain. I’m not even sure it knows what blindness is. And, after I feed him he takes his usual nap and then plays with the other dog. And that’s what they do all day.  Of course the one that’s going blind is a little more careful so it doesn’t run into things.

But, unlike humans, the dog never whines about the injustice of life. It never whines about “poor me.” Or gives any indication that he feels sorry for himself.

Maybe that’s not the way animals are built, but I know that this dog handles setbacks and pain better than most humans. And that’s a lesson that many of us could put to good use.

Click here to email John

Friday, February 3, 2017

Well Behaved

The first time I read this it was hard for me to accept or understand.

And that was that the best behaved prisoners in any prison are those who are doing life without possibility of parole. Or else are on death row awaiting execution.

I later digested it by realizing that they already have their lives laid out for them. They know what time they're getting up in the morning. They know what's on the menu for that day.

They don't have to worry about what they're going to wear because someone will bring it to their cell a couple times a week. They don't have to worry about it being ironed because no one cares what they look like anyway.

They don't have to worry about utilitities, transportation, insurance or medical care. All of that is fitted into the budget. They don't even have to think about it.

They don't have a lot of choices to make. Other than what to read or what TV shows to watch.

But I wonder if such a life would be worth living. No challenges, no contributions to the world, family and friends growing more and more distant. Just existing in a sterile vacuum with little or no social interaction.

Where on occasion another human walks by and looks in at you like you're a zoo animal on display.
Making no difference at all.

Mindfulness and Depression

I have a relative who has suffered from depression since childhood. Psychiatrists, and various other doctors had given her different drugs for more than 20 years in an effort to help her live a normal life.

But whatever they prescribe eventually loses its effectiveness. Then it’s on to the next drug. And the cycle keeps repeating itself. And she continues to live in frustration and misery.

Because we teach mindfulness meditation at our drug treatment program I suggested that she should look into mindfulness meditation as another potential solution to her bouts of depression. Even though she’s not an addict, I thought it could benefit her.

A recent study at Oxford University in England showed mindfulness as being 20% more effective than depression medication after only a short period of practice. So, hopefully she will give it a try. After all it will cost her nothing but 15 to 20 minutes a day with the promise of a new way of life if she’s successful.

To learn more about mindfulness and depression click this link.    Or try this one.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Freedom of Speech

Even though we're known for freedom of speech in the U.S., one couldn't tell.

Last night a violent protest broke out at Berkeley, California because the liberals didn't agree with the speaker's viewpoint about "sanctuary cities.

Someone set fires. Others threw rocks. Someone destroyed vehicles.

To me, freedom of speech means just that: we should be able to express ourselves in all areas of our lives without fear of reprisal. And while it's a wonderful ideal, it really doesn't work that way in our country.

A good example is the drug issue. In respect to drugs I'm more of a Libertarian. I think people should be able to use whatever they want. I also believe they should pay the price in terms of damage to their health. But as long as they don't harm others they should smoke, drink, and ingest whatever they choose. Life will eventually teach them what is good or bad for them.

Even though I work in the drug field I still believe that people are going to make their own choices - good or bad.

But for most of my life I've seen a loud "moral" majority do whatever they can to punish addicts - as if that will change their views. What it really does is punish an addict's family and cost society a lot of money to house and feed these "criminals."

I believe that drugs, legal and illegal, are harmful to our bodies and minds. But while addicts do immoral things while under the influence, that doesn't mean they are worthless people.

As long as people think that their way is the only way we'll live in a society where conflict is the norm - no matter what the issue.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wasting Life

I usually introduce myself at TLC functions as “TLC’s oldest living resident.” I do it for a laugh, to kind of lighten the mood before I start sharing.

But, the fact is that for most of my 25 years here that’s been the case. If there’s a gathering at TLC I’m usually the oldest one there. In fact, I’ve only met one client who was older than I and he passed away a few years ago. He called himself “O.G.”

I bring this up today because I heard about a 75 year client with a bad attitude who just arrived at one of our Phoenix houses. I think he came to us from prison.

And for some reason hearing about this new arrival made me kind of sad. Because he came from prison at his age he probably was there for a long time. And while I know nothing about the guy I imagine that if he’s like most addicts, he wasted much of his life either sitting behind bars or else figuring out how to stay drunk or high.

When I encounter older clients I’m happy that we can offer them a safe place to live. They’re not homeless. They’re not panhandling in front of a convenience store. They’re not living on the river bottom in a cardboard shack.

If they stay with us long enough they find themselves among friends. We become a surrogate family for them. We help them stay sober, we help them feel like part of a community. They become responsible for themselves and others.

I guess the sadness in this came to me because there was likely a point in their lives when they could have accomplished anything.

Instead they spent their years emptying bottles and pipes, trying to escape their pain the quickest and easiest way possible.

Click here to email John