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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Entitlement

Today I read a comment on Google from someone who had been in our halfway houses - then left on bad terms.  He had a lot of complaints.

And they said a lot about his lack of interest in getting into recovery.  And taking responsibility for his own life.

One of his comments was that our program is "all about money."  It seemed that he had a problem paying $120.00 a week for our services.  He complained about having to get up at 4:00 a.m to go to work.  The food wasn't to his taste.  He didn't like the rooms. Cockroaches and bedbugs everywhere.  I won't bore you with the rest of his angry complaints.

I've been hearing comments like his for the 25 years we've been in business.  And usually they come from twenty-somethings who recently got evicted from their parent's sofa or extra bedroom.

They've never had to support themselves or pay for rent or food.  It's a shock when we ask them to carry their own weight. So, because they're unwilling to be responsible they end up going back out and using. Usually 95% of the time.

Sometimes they come back. They've gone out and found that anywhere they go they're going to have to work and follow guidelines. That no one wants to take care of them and let them live for free.

Once they learn that they have a better chance succeeding at TLC.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Success

While visiting a hardwarre store a few days ago to get some keys made I notice one of the clerks staring at me. I rummage through my memory, trying place him. But no names come up.

Finally, he walks over to me and puts his hand out.  "Remember me?"

I didn't.

Then he goes on to tell me that he was at TLC a few years ago.  He's married now and has a one year old child.  He says his life is going great and I believe him.

And that's because his eyes are clear, like someone who's been sober a while. He has the glow, the aura of someone who's living a clean life. He seems happy.

Every once in a while I run into people who graduated our program and are doing well.

And usually I don't recognize them unless they worked around the corporate office and I saw them on a regualar basis. With 800+ residents it's difficult to know more than a few of them.

I mention this today, though, because that's one of the rewards in my life. Seeing graduates out in the community doing well.

If this man continues doing what he's doing he'll raise a child who'll never see him drunk or high.

And that's a feel-good thing for me.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 27, 2017

Harvoni

Over 30 years ago I contracted hepatitis C.  At the time I was diagnosed it hadn't even been identified. The doctor simply told me I had "non-A, non-B" hepatitis.  He said there was nothing to do other than avoid alcohol and drugs - which I've been doing for over 26 years.

But the good news, he said, was that my liver has little damage.  And that's the way it's stayed over these many years.

And recently the pharmaceutical companies released Harvoni.  It's a pill that is 98% effective in curing the virus.  It's also crazy expensive at $900 a dose.  However, a nice pharmacy technician told me I should apply for Medicare Part D, which reduced the price for the treatment to around $6,000. Something more reasonable.

I'm now four weeks into the eight week treatment. And I've had few side effects.  Once in a while a little fatigue, which is said to be one reaction. And sometimes I feel like I'm living in a haze. But it's not intolerable.

I encourage any of you who were IV drug users to be tested. See if you're a candidate for treatment. If you don't have insurance keep looking for resources because I've heard that sometimes the drug companies will help those who can't afford it.

Here's the link for Harvoni, the manufacturer.  You can learn everything about the treatment at their website.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 24, 2017

When shit Happens

Like a lightening bolt out of a clear sky, trauma and loss sometimes strike an addict's life.

And what's there to do when we encounter sudden loss? One minute life is flowing smoothly. Then out of the blue everything's upside down.  All of a sudden it's raw emotion because of 30 seconds of insanity and violence.  The brain constantly revisits the situation as if the script could be re-written or somehow edited.  As if time could be rolled back and a different outcome created.

So how do we wrap our brains around serious loss?  We could get high.  Cover the pain with drugs or alcohol.  Or we can use the tools we've picked up during our recovery so we can heal.

And fortunately I have tools that I'm able to use after I went through trauma late last month.  I have friends and associates who listen to my pain and give me encouragement.  I have phone conversations with my children.  I have a sponsor and others in the 12-step programs to lean on.  I'm blessed to be in a circle of loving people. Their kindness and good wishes are like a salve to my spirit when I'm down.

As time passes I know my emotional wounds will heal. The nature of the universe is for us to heal.

Yet during this process, the subconscious sends memories of good years shared with the person I lost. The subconscious works hard with rationalizing.  Trying to figure out an answer to a conundrum, a situation with no acceptable solution.

Click here to email John 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Having a Purpose

At a 12-step meditation meeting I attended last night in Scottsdale I listened to an older gentleman describe the problems he's going through now that he's retired.

He said his life is sort of "aimless," that he feels he has no purpose since he left the job he worked at for 28 years.  He seemed quite depressed and didn't know what he was going to do.

This is a classic issue with people who strongly identify themselves with their employment.  The job gives them a reason for being, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  And it's a talking point when they're socializing with others.  Their life story and identity are built around the job.

But we are so much more than a job, even though we may spend a third of our day working.  We are a father, mother, brother, sister, church member, sports fan, and so on.  We have so many identities outside of what we do.  Yet usually when two men meet the first thing they learn about each other is what they "do."  As if what they "do" is who they are.

In other words they are "human doings" rather than "human beings."

My belief is that we must look at the many aspects of our lives and learn to appreciate the other
 aspects of who we are.  And not identify just with our job.

This gentleman needs to find new interests.  Maybe take up a hobby.  Or volunteer at a homeless shelter or hospice.  Join a gym or book club.  Go hiking.  If he stops clinging to the identity he had while on his job he may find a new mission for his life.

Click here to email John



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Positive Trend

Today at a 12-step meeting one of our female managers says she has four days with no cigarettes. And I congratulate her, because smoking is such a tough addiction.

Harder than quitting heroin some say. Of course I agree, because quitting smoking 33 years ago was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Lately I've seen more and more residents take up the challenge of quitting smoking.  Not sure what's going on.  Maybe they're noticing how many of our people are going to the hospital because of smoking.  At one time a couple of weeks ago there were four TLC residents on the same floor of Banner hospital.  I think a few of them were scared into quitting after the hospital stay.

I read a year or so ago that tobacco kills some 450,000 Americans a year.  The article went on to say that cigarettes kill more people than all other causes combined.  That includes auto accidents, plane crashes, murders, suicides - plus add all the 200,000 plus Americans who died in World War II.

Congratulations to those who are trying to quit. Picture what the outcome will be if you continue to smoke.  Scare yourself into quitting.

Love yourself enough to suffer the pain of withdrawal for a few days.  Stay strong.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rewarding Work

A paycheck is nice.  Every Friday the envelope appears on my desk  Then off it goes to the bank.

But working with addicts at times has a reward that is beyond a paycheck.  In fact if one does this job for money he soon will become disillusioned and suffer from burnout.  At least that's been my experience.

I bring this up because today I get a call from a therapist who once worked for us.  He's moved on to another program to a better job.

He asks if I recall a client we had with us a few years ago.  And of course I did because the guy always wanted to do the program his way.  Constantly in trouble.  Relapsing. Denying he had a problem.  Blaming everything on everyone else. Stealing.  We finally discharged him because he was making no progress.

Anyway, this therapist tells me that the man now has a job.  He's back with his family.  He's raising a child.  And he's been clean for some time.

So why is that rewarding?  Well, I find it rewarding because I like to think that we have some kind of influence on clients - even those who don't succeed right away.  Sometimes addicts have to go to two or three other programs before getting it.  The message finally soaks in.

And it's rewarding to think he might have learned something from his time with us that's helping him be successful today.  That's the way I look at it.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

25 and Counting

25 years ago today our Chief Operating Officer arrived at LARC in Phoenix.  He was at the end of a 27 year drug and alcohol run.  And he was at death's door.

He was in such bad shape that he spent nearly a month in detox before being discharged to the Robson Street property in Mesa.  He was among the first 15 residents.

At first, recovery was a mystery to him.  He did everything he could, though, to be helpful.  And to help build the program.  He was hungry for change.

He says that when he first arrived, his only goal was to learn how to stay sober so he could go back to his old job - which was hustling and stealing.

After a while he found out that wasn't what recovery was about.  He began attending 12 step meetings.  He started running in- house groups, helping others to learn about sobriety.  Before long he was TLC's first manager.  He worked at a car wash during the day, then managed the house after work.

He was a driving force in the growth of the program.  As clients kept showing up, he would work on adjacent houses TLC purchased.  He painted and repaired them.  He found beds at second hand stores. He looked for food donations. Eventually so many clients came in that he had to quit his outside job.

This blog would be quite long if I listed all the things he did to help the program grow and flourish. But among his larger accomplishments was opening TLC housing in Las Vegas, Nevada and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He also opened several of TLC's businesses, including the Inconvenience Stores, Roofing and Remodeling company, TLC Labor Group and more.

But one of the more important things he did was start the Hard Six program.  It's a strict regimen for those who fail in the regular program three times. Hundreds of hopeless addicts have found recovery under his direction.  He recruited some of our best managers from Hard Six program graduates who wanted to stick around and reinforce their recovery.

And during this time he's enjoyed 25 years of sobriety.  Happy Anniversary Rockie.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Changing Lives

We have a tradition at our corporate office about celebrating anniversaries.  Belly button birthdays. And more importantly, sobriety dates.  We make a big deal about those who have a sobriety birthday.

We stop the office operation for fifteen minutes or so around 11:00.  Then 10 or 15 of us will sing happy birthday and listen to a few words from the person being honored.

And last week a man being honored celebrated 12 years.  And the interesting part is that all of those 12 years, he has worked at TLC.  First as a client, then later managing various aspects of the business - both in and out of the corporate office.  He's now our number three employee and assumes responsibility for a large part of our operations.

Prior to that he was in and out of TLC for ten years in a row.  Each year he would make a certain amount of progress.  Then he would relapse or break some other rule and leave.  When things got too tough he would return and start over. In reality he's been with us much of his adult life since 1995.

Today he explains that he finally started looking at other clients who were succeeding.  He watched what they did to stay sober and remain in our program.  He used them as a template for how to behave.

Now he's married, has children, and lives in a nice suburban home.  Not a bad life for someone who came to us with nothing many years ago.

But a good example for the youngsters who come in despairing ever being able to change.  He can show them how to do it.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Our Plans vs. God's Plans

I never understand the changes God puts in our lives.  Probably never will.  What's the point I want to ask him.  Why did that happen?  Why did this happen?

Less than two weeks ago my life seems on a course I thought it would follow forever.

I'm married five years to a woman I care about.  Living in suburbia.  Our staff is taking care of over 800 addicts.

My business partner and I are more or less letting the next generation do all the heavy lifting - a job they're doing well.  We let them shoulder more and more responsibility as time passes.  One day they'll be running the whole thing.

In the past year my wife and I visit Hawaii once.  Mexico three times.  Why not I figure? I've been working at this job for over 26 years.  Play a little.  And so we do.

Life is on a peaceful, blissful track.

Then violence visits.  No one is physically injured.  But we're all traumatized. Some are seeing therapists.  I thought someone was about to die or be seriously maimed.  I knew I was beyond my ability to de-escalate the situation.  It was out of control; rage was in charge and my words have no power.

A lot of people told me they'd of done this.  Or done that.  But until violence and rage suddenly pop up in your face, you never know what you'll do.  There's no planning for insanity and chaos.  It all happens so fast.  Running.  Screaming. Noise. Raw fear. Then the police come and you know that at least everyone's safe for now.

So if your life is on a good track, enjoy it.  Be grateful for your blessings.  Be thankful that you can live among peaceful people who care for and love you.

Savor and be grateful for each day of your happiness and safety.  Love those around you - even the ones who are hard to love.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 3, 2017

Upside Down Life

I'm no longer publishing daily blogs.

But I plan to get with you guys a couple times a week - at least. I know it's self-centered, but I miss daily blogging.  However, doing it every day since June of 2010 was making it like a job.

But that isn't why I didn't post all this week.  Instead, it was because of a near tragedy involving two family members. A couple of us might have died -or been severely injured - when someone close to me became enraged over old resentments and attacked one of my adult children with a 10 inch butcher knife.

Fortunately I was able to restrain her with only minor injury to myself and my daughter was able to summon 911 and escape.

This illustrates to me - more than anything - the unpredictability of life.  In 26 years in recovery I never was in such fear or terror.

I just want to say to you all - love one another.  Be transparent.  Deal with your issues and angers.

Even though I never want to see this person again - I'm working my way toward healing my trauma by trying to forgive.  And it's tough right now.

However, I dread violence and threats to my family. That precludes me from having anything to do with this person again.  I like living in safety and security.

In closing, I want to thank all the loving brothers and sisters at TLC who came to my aid.  They brought food.  They smothered me with love. They called me. They descended on my house like army ants and changed the locks and secured the perimeter.  They packed her things and moved them to storage within hours. It was awesome. They made me realize how many friends I have surrounding me.

I'm eternally grateful for - and to - them.  I thank them for their love and send them my blessings.

Click here to email John