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.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sobriety Guarantee

TLC offers a 100% sobriety guarantee.

And to receive that guarantee there's only one condition: the client must do exactly as we ask him or her to do.

Now that may sound simplistic to the average person. Or to the parent of an addict who has failed over and over to maintain recovery. Or to an addict who has stumbled time and time again.

Yet the process of recovery is really that simple. There are no mysteries. There is no secret handshake. The road to recovery is clearly marked with directional signs. And the signs say things like "go to meetings" or "get a sponsor" or "stick with the winners."

Yet we meet clients who have been to dozens of sober living facilities, treatment programs, or halfway houses. And without success.

Over the past 26 years, TLC has housed literally thousands of clients. While we don't track success or failure rates because it's too costly, we do know that many of our graduate clients are living sober and clean lives today. And the reason they are enjoying success is because they followed our guidelines and directions.

Clients who don't make it in our programs are still having trouble accepting that they are addicts or alcoholics. They may say they have problems with things like having a Higher Power. Or they may think that because their drug of choice is marijuana that they can drink alcohol or use other drugs. But it doesn't work that way. Our experience has been that once a person is addicted to one drug they can't use any other drug, including alcohol.

Clients who are resistant and come back over and over again don't begin to change until they have encountered enough pain. And the pain takes the form of going to prison or jail. Getting a divorce. Becoming bankrupt. Living on the streets for a while. Overdosing. Going to a mental ward. Becoming sick. And so forth.

Our directions are simple and to the point. We don't get involved in a lot of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Or psychobabble. We simply teach our clients what they must do to change their lives.

And we feel blessed when they follow those directions.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Living Saint

The other day I met a living saint. And after my encounter with him, I was awash in gratitude.

I ran into him at a barbershop in downtown Mesa a few days ago. He'd brought his two children, both in their 30s, to the shop to get a haircut.

Both had severe developmental disabilities. Each of the boys was over 180 pounds.

They had difficulty communicating and were quite uncoordinated. They were somewhat unruly and loud. But the father, who was all of 120 pounds, was the picture of patience.

When they would get too loud he would talk to them calmly. He’d direct them to sit down. Or to talk more quietly. And they would be calm for a moment, then something would grab their attention and they’d start becoming excited and raucous.

At one point they became enchanted with a music video a customer was playing on his cell phone. Both of the boys immediately went into disjointed dancing and began trying to sing to the music. When they became too boisterous the father spoke to them and they slowed down. They seemed to have the constant unfocused energy of three or four-year-olds. Yet the father never lost his composure or patience when they became overly hyperactive.

Later, after they’d left the shop, the barber told me their story. Apparently, the parents had been raising the boys all their lives. Then a few years ago the mother died and the father was raising them full time by himself.

Maybe because I'm a self-absorbed addict I can't imagine caring for anyone with their challenges - and for such a long time.

Yet this man dealt with them with almost a zen-like calm and peace. Maybe it is love or maybe it is because he needs to survive emotionally. Whatever it is, he has my respect and admiration.

Monday, April 24, 2017

In Love

It's not uncommon for our newer treatment and halfway house clients to get into a relationship at the first opportunity. When we see clients heading this way we move quickly to put a stop to it. And when we do this you can't believe the protests.

"I've never met anyone like her. She's awesome."

"He's the most understanding man I've ever met. We're planning on getting married when we graduate.”

“We’re just friends. But we have so much in common.”

“I’m just hanging out with her because her ex is stalking her.” These are just a few of the many excuses we get from those violating our guidelines.

Most of the time there's no reasoning with clients who are lovestruck. Even when we put them on restriction they'll go to any lengths to get together. They'll go to the same twelve-step meeting, and then hang out outside rather than attend the meeting. We've even had clients sneak out after curfew to meet one another.

And it seems that no amount of intervention slows them down. We put them on restriction. We have them write papers. We put them on a "hi and bye" which means they can only say "hi" or "bye" to one another in passing. But nothing – not even the threat of discharge – seems to deter them. Those who are determined to focus on the short-term gratification of a new relationship will go to any lengths.

We point out to them that 50% of all marriages end up in divorce. That relationships are tough among so-called normal people. And even tougher among the addict and alcoholic population. But some clients are determined to do what they want to do when they want to do it.

It's very difficult to have a successful intervention when a battle is going on between logic and hormones.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Useless Fears

While waiting with others for the doors to open at a 12-step meditation meeting, I listened to a young woman who was full of fear.

She was worried that North Korea was going to launch a nuclear missile at North America. She talked of her plans to avoid the fallout by moving to the middle of the country – like maybe Colorado. She didn’t think the wind would blow fallout that far if the missile hit San Francisco or another West Coast city.

Someone in the group politely suggested that she might do better to stay in the moment. That there were many other things more likely to befall her before a nuclear warhead would hit us.

On my way home after the meeting I reflected that many of us waste precious time fretting about what might happen to us. While at the same time we’re making lifestyle choices that can seriously harm us in the long-term.

We might be smokers. We might eat a crappy diet from fast food restaurants. Or we might be one of those Americans who spend 40 hours a week watching television.

Many of us worry about the things we can’t control – like nuclear missiles – and do little or nothing about habits that could really destroy us - habits that we could control.

The perfect answer to unfounded fears can be found in the Serenity Prayer.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Success

The below email came from a graduate who was with us many years ago. I wanted to pass it on to show how TLC can work for those who are willing.

Hi John, I am speaking tonight at the Glendale house after graduation. I was invited by a gentleman who I have the privilege and honor to sponsor. He asked me to share for 20 or 30 minutes after their graduation.

I will share with these men that I had nothing until TLC gave me an opportunity to recover and rehabilitate at the southern house in Mesa. 

After six months sober I was given an opportunity by one of the managers to build a telecommunication and local computer network with another resident. This was absolutely one of the best gifts that I have ever been blessed with. 

Today I have a beautiful family, young adult kids who can count on their dad today. I returned to finish college, and even graduated with my Masters in Information Technology from ASU last year.

Life is beautiful.  I am sober today by the grace of God and thanks to you and the TLC staff that gave me a second a chance at life.

(I left out his name to protect his anonymity.)

Monday, April 17, 2017

About Jose

For the past few months I've watched my chihuahua, José, slowly deteriorate from the effects of diabetes. He's almost totally blind. Once in a while he's incontinent. And, although he's always loved to eat, he sometimes sniffs at his food, then goes back to his bed.

And it's sad. For the past 10 years of my recovery José has been a part of my life. I bought him 10 years ago to be a companion to a chihuahua that my aunt left me with when she died. Because I'm away from the house most of the day I didn't want her dog to be alone. So I bought José to keep her company. And that worked out pretty well. Even though her dog was older, José won her over with his playful ways.

And now I'm faced with the idea that one of these days – maybe sooner than I think – I'll have to put him to sleep. And that's the hard part for me.

It's difficult to think of getting rid of a friend who has greeted me every day for the past 10 years when I came in the door. No questions about "where have you been?" Or, "what have you been doing?" All that I have gotten from José is unconditional love and loyalty.

I've done some research about the right time to put an animal sleep. The consensus seems to be that when the animal is suffering and has no hope of recovery.

I know that when the time comes I'll be able to deal with it. And I'll walk away with gratitude for the years he was with us.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mindfulness

In the Big Book we see the phrase "sought through prayer and meditation" to improve our conscious contact with God.

Now most of us know how to pray, because we were taught as a child in Sunday school or church. But not many of us have learned how to meditate, at least not in any meaningful way. I don't know any place in the Big Book that has meditation instructions.

As for myself, I began meditating in the mid-90s after I took a transcendental meditation course. After doing that for many years I became disillusioned.  I started looking elsewhere and discovered mindfulness meditation.

I became so interested in it that a few years ago I took a one year course to become a certified mindfulness meditation teacher. While I don't practice as a meditation teacher, I do conduct a body scan meditation each Saturday at 11:30 AM in my office. And usually between three to six  employees will show up.

So why meditate? What's the point of sitting crosslegged on the floor or in a chair and focusing on your breath with your eyes closed? I'll tell you.

Studies have shown that meditation increases the neuronal connections in the brain. In other words, meditation allows us to reshape the structure of our brain. Many studies have shown that meditation increases our sense of well-being, lowers our stress levels, and brings us a greater sense of life satisfaction. A recent study out of Oxford University in England, showed that 10 minutes of meditation over an eight week period was 20% more effective than depression medication. Major corporations, including Google, offer free meditation classes to their employees because it results in greater productivity.

If you are interested in meditation I suggest you go on the Internet or else to YouTube. Just use the search words "mindfulness meditation" and you'll find more results than you have time to look at.

I think you'll find the practice rewarding.

Click here to email John



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tough Love

A long time business associate called me with a question about his daughter, who lives in another state and is using meth. She'd called him earlier in the day and left a message, saying she had a problem. His question was what should he do?

I told him to tell her that she was a smart girl with a Masters degree. That she could figure it out for herself. He liked that.

He's discussed his daughter with me over the past couple of years. He has very little experience with addicts or alcoholics, virtually none. When he first started talking to me about her I told him to take a tough stance. Before, when she would call for help, he would always give it to her. He provided money, cars, housing, but nothing kept her from using.

He had told me a sad story about when he first discovered her drug use. He had sent her to a prestigious college and had bought her a new BMW to drive. Before long she had dropped out of school and sold the car for drugs. That's when he realized that she had problems that he didn't understand. And because he was a loving father he always thought that maybe he would help her out with money and other material things. But it always backfired because she continued to use, partly because he enabled her to do so.

She moved away from home to another state. And he had high hopes for her. She married a well-off businessman and they had a couple of children. He thought that maybe the responsibility of children and being married would help her grow out of her addiction. Before long he began hearing stories about her behavior and knew that she had been unable to change.

At the very beginning, I told him that the only help he should give her was if she wanted to get into treatment. But when he offered to do that it fell on deaf ears.

My advice to him was to stay rigid. Tell her she's not welcome at family gatherings. Explain to her that she got into the mess she's in, and that she could get herself out of it.

The only reason I give him this advice is because I didn't get sober until people quit enabling me. Everywhere I went people were refusing to help. My friends refused. My family told me to go somewhere else. Everywhere I turned I ran into resistance. That's when I started realizing that I had a problem. And that's when I went into a detox began to change my life.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

25th Anniversary

Today at Red Mountain Park in Mesa, Arizona I witnessed the miracle of recovery.

Around 500 addicts and alcoholics gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Transitional Living Communities. There were visitors and guests from as far away as Tucson, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada. Many of the guests were former residents who were with us 15 and 20 years ago.

At 10 AM, the CEO  welcomed them and thanked them for attending. Jeremy West, our director of operations, orchestrated the presentation of some 200 plaques. The plaques were given to those clients who had over two years sobriety. Other plaques and awards were given to our many house managers, volunteers, and outside supporters. It took over two hours to make the various presentations.

At noon, the guests lined up for barbecue and other food prepared by John Keene and volunteers. It took more than an hour to serve the 500 guests.

Every five years TLC celebrates its anniversary. And this was the fifth and largest celebration of all.

It was wonderful to hear addicts express their gratitude for how TLC helped them. Their testimony shows how we can all help one another to heal and rebuild our lives.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 7, 2017

Healed

I don't know where I got the virus over 30 years ago.

Maybe it was in a dope house in Tijuana, Mexico. Maybe I was shooting up in a gas station in East Los Angeles, near Brooklyn Avenue. But then again, it could have been in Orange County, in a nice suburban home. Wherever it was, I became contaminated with the hepatitis C virus, which can destroy the liver.

Perhaps I used someone else's needle, which was common in those days. Because I didn't care about anything other than feeling the rush. It was like a long climax.

All I know, is that it was over 30 years ago. Because that's about how long ago a doctor asked me if I knew I had hepatitis. I was surprised. But I wasn't shocked. There had to be some residual effects after shooting heroin over a span of 37 years.

But by the grace of God, my liver has stayed healthy for thirty years. (Healthy means one has minimal scarring and minimal inflammation.) And as I wrote a few weeks ago, the pharmaceutical companies finally came up with a pill, Harvoni, for the type of hepatitis C that I had.

And I say had, because a few days ago my liver doctor told me I was cured. When he entered the exam room he handed me a paper with the results of my last blood test. It said that the HCV virus was undetectable in my system. That was after only four weeks of taking one pill a day.

Needless to say, I was excited at the news.

I encourage any of you who have put a needle in your arm to ask your doctor to test you for hepatitis C at your next check up. Because now there is a cure.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What Happened?

A few days back a man who had recently left after being with us for over 18 months called.  He wanted to share his progress with me.

He said he'd found a mobile home near his place of employment so he could walk to work.  That was a good deal for him because he hadn't gotten his license restored yet from an old DUI.  So he felt fortunate about the way things were falling into place.

He sounded confident about his recovery and pleased to have his life back on track. I wished him well and thought he might have a chance of making it.  And that was great, because he had a history of relapses over the past 20 years.

Then today - maybe two to three days after he'd called me - someone told me that he had started drinking again.  He'd called friends at TLC to let them know.

And my question is what happened?  He did all the right things while with us.  He had a sponsor.  He went to meetings.  He worked hard each day.  Yet within ten days of leaving he's back in the grips of his disease.

I could make a lot of judgements, but that would serve no purpose.  It would just be my opinion.  I do know that alcohol and drugs had a powerful grip on me.  It took everything I could muster to get into recovery and stay there.

And underlying everything, I had a burning desire to change and be a different person.  If we don't have that it's questionable if we can stay sober.

Monday, April 3, 2017

25 Year Celebration!

TLC's 25 year anniversary celebration is Sunday, April 9th, starting at 9:00 a.m.  We expect around 300 guests.

Everyone is welcome to join us for food, games, and fellowship.

To reach the event go to  Red Mountain Park, 7745 E. Brown Road, Mesa AZ 85207.

TLC's area is at the Hawk Ramada, SW area of the park, next to the lake.

Long time staff members and residents will receive plaques, tee shirts and other awards for their service to the program.

TLC operates several small businesses.  Among them are TLC Outpatient Treatment, TLC Labor Group, TLC Roofing and Remodeling, TLC Air Conditioning, The Inconvenience Stores, the Mechanic Shop and more.

At this writing TLC has over 800 residents. Our database shows that 170 of them have been with us over one year.  We also have several residents who have been with us longer than five years. And a few others have more than ten years.

Click here to email John