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, May 30, 2017

Being 78

Back in the 1970s I never thought I'd live to see age 40. I was drinking every day. I was using drugs every day. I was stealing every day.

I spent so much time in the Orange County Jail, that when I'd leave I'd tell them to hold my job in the kitchen because I'd be back.

I lived a life of doom and gloom.  I felt I wasn't long for this planet. And for some reason, I really didn't care.

This comes up for me today because on May 31, tomorrow, I turn 78 years old. And today I really do care about living. And I give all the credit to the fact that I got sober over 26 years ago.

Because I got sober January 14, 1991, I've been able to enjoy years of blessings. I've been able to see my children and grandchildren mature. I was able to start a nonprofit corporation that helps addicts and alcoholics get sober.

I have a circle of friends. I have love in my life, something I never had while using. I have material things that I've been able to keep because I haven't had to feed a monstrous drug and alcohol habit.

And probably one of the most rewarding things I've been able to do is help others change their lives. There are few occupations where a person gets to help others so directly.

Nothing is as rewarding to me as when someone says "Thank you for what you've done for me. You changed my life."

And to think, I would've missed all of this had I not walked into a detox totally demoralized and beaten down, over 26 years ago.

I'm grateful for my life and the people around me. I love you all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Resentments

Oftentimes I hear people at meetings say things like, "I'm so grateful that I'm an alcoholic because the twelve-step programs have taught me how to deal with issues that I couldn't handle before."

Those of you who don't have a problem with substance abuse might wonder why someone would be happy to be an alcoholic. But if you are conversant with the twelve-step programs you would understand. You'd see that there are benefits for those who are in recovery and working the program.

The steps allow addicts and alcoholics to deal with issues from their past, things they used to cover up with alcohol and drugs.

This came up for me today because a friend of mine, who is in recovery, was telling me about how he'd made amends to an old girlfriend with whom he had a son. The son was getting married and had invited him to the wedding. But the son also said that his mother didn't want to have anything to do with his father, even though she hadn't seen him in 20 years. Even though he'd made amends to her, she was still fostering a resentment that didn't allow her to communicate with him in a civil manner. Had she had the tools that he'd gained from the program, communicating with him wouldn't have posed a problem for her.

My friend told me the wedding went quite well and, even though he didn't attend a pre-wedding dinner because she didn't want him there, everything worked out fine.

It's very healing for us to be able to make amends to people and get rid of our old resentments. Because, as we learned in the rooms, resentments are one of the things that can cause us to relapse.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Recovery Blessing

Tonight I had an experience that I never would've had, had I not gotten sober. I had the pleasure and privilege of watching my 18-year-old granddaughter graduate from high school. The ceremony was held at Wells Fargo Arena at ASU in Tempe.

I'd been sober about seven years when she was born. And because of her demeanor and comportment, she became one of my favorite granddaughters. She always did her best to excel in school. She stayed away from drugs and those who use drugs. She didn't drink alcohol. And she never got into any serious relationships. She was a loving and respectful child who never asked for anything.

She's already passed her exams to go into the Air Force and probably will be entering the service sometime in the fall. It didn't surprise me that she did that.  Because she always had a desire to be independent and take care of herself.

When I first got sober I really didn't think about anybody but myself. I never thought about having grandchildren. I never thought about seeing them graduate from school. The only thing I wanted when I got sober and clean was for the pain to stop. And it did as soon as I stopped putting alien substances into my body.

But for those of you who are newly sober or in your first years of recovery I'd like to point out that there are a lot more benefits and life – beyond recovery. 

And that's when we get to see our families blossom and grow. I've seen my daughters get married. I've seen them have children. I've seen them succeed in life in so many ways that I was unable to because I was such an addict. The best I could do was drag myself out of the house every day and live as a predator, trying to get enough money for the drugs and alcohol I needed to kill my pain.

I never dreamed there were so many blessings living in recovery.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A changed Life

At our monthly staff meeting this weekend a longtime staff member spoke about how his life had changed since he got clean and sober.

He came to our program after completing a prison term. And when he arrived, he had nothing. Only the clothes on his back.

But the one thing he did have was a strong determination to change his life. He was tired of manufacturing and selling methamphetamines. He was tired of being locked up.  Before getting deeply involved in the drug world, he had worked in the construction trades. So he began working for TLC in the construction department and he has done pretty much the same job for the last nine years. At TLC he's the go-to guy when it involves construction or remodeling.

Since he came to TLC he's done more than just stay sober. A few years back he fell in love and got married. Today he has a young child, and the boy is the focus of his life. You can hear the joy in his voice when he speaks about the time he spends with him.

His story is not unique.  We have many staff members who have been with us for years.  And after a while, their lives completely change as they grow in recovery.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Son in Prison

A few days ago I ran into a middle-aged couple on the sidewalk in front of our corporate office. They appeared to be lost, so I asked if I could help.

"Is this TLC?" They asked. "We're looking for a halfway house for our son."

I invited them to come upstairs to my office so I could explain to them what we do and how they could get their twenty-something son into our program. At first, they seemed anxious about the process. But after a few moments of conversation, they relaxed and I told him exactly what we did and how they could get their son to TLC once he was released from prison.

They seem surprised that they wouldn't have to put any money up front for him to get into our program. I explained that we had a labor group he could work on until he got his weekly service fees paid. And once he was paid a week ahead that he could go out and find his own job if he wanted to.

I told them that he would be required to work. That he would have to attend in-house groups, plus one outside twelve-step meeting a day for the first 90 days. He would also have to keep his room clean. Do chores on the property.  And submit to drug testing on demand.

All during my conversation with this couple, I saw them making almost imperceptible nods of their heads as if they agreed with everything I was telling them. At one point the mother said, "that sounds like exactly what he needs."

Before they parted, I provided them with an intake package that they could deliver to their son the next time they visited him.

Hopefully, the young man will have the same willingness that his parents do. If he does, we can help him change his life.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Comparing

"Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you." Unknown

I heard a young man in a meeting the other day talking about things he didn't have – but that others did have. Because he was new to recovery he didn't have a job. He didn't have a wardrobe. He didn't have a relationship with his family anymore because of his addiction. He had a long list of reasons to be unhappy. And all because he was comparing himself to others and what they had.

He could as easily have found reasons to be happy. He was sober. He seemed healthy. He lived in a relatively peaceful country where he was safe. He had opportunities to do whatever he wanted with his life. But because he hadn't been sober long, it was difficult for him to look at the positive side of things.

I was in the same place at one time. But after several years in recovery, I realized that life was pretty good. I started looking at my situation and knew that I was very blessed that I didn't have to be anyone other than myself. I didn't have to have a better car than my neighbors. I didn't need a bigger house. I didn't need to impress others with expensive clothing because nobody really cares how we look anyway. I accepted myself and my life just the way I was.

And once I took this attitude of not comparing myself to others life became much more enjoyable. I no longer had to be better than others. Nor worse. I knew that I had talents and abilities others didn't have. And, conversely, others had talents that I didn't have.

When we accept ourselves as we are we can flow with life.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gray Death

A friend was telling me about a new drug that has killed over 35 people in her home state back East.

It's called "gray death."  It reportedly has a gray cement-like consistency and contains various types of opioids. One of the ingredients is apparently an elephant sedative that's a thousand times stronger than heroin.

Now logic would tell us that anyone who heard about this drug would run the other way when it showed up. But people who think that don't understand the nature of drug addicts nor know much about drug addiction.

I recall back in my using days over 26 years ago that when a new batch of heroin would begin killing users, addicts would become excited. But they weren't excited because they wanted to avoid the drug. They were excited because they wanted to find out where it was coming from because they were looking for the strongest heroin they could find. To them, the best advertising for the heroin was if it was killing their fellow users. That may sound sick, but it's the reality in the drug world.

The nature of addicts is that they will use most anything that they think will get them high. I recall one time when I was in the Orange County jail in California the jailers had coated the handball court with a new rubberized surface that contained various toxic chemicals. Two of my fellow prisoners peeled up a piece of the surface and smoked it when they returned to the cellblock. Both were dead within a few hours.

I remember an addict who had a relative that was dying of cancer. When the relative died, the addict retrieved the painkiller cocktail that the hospice workers had left the patient. He and another addict shared a large drink of the cocktail and were dead within minutes. Obviously, they hadn't calculated how strong or deadly the mixture was. And even if they had known they probably would have drunk it anyway.

The reality is that until we addicts get into recovery we take many risks with our lives. And not all risks are deadly or life-threatening. Sometimes the chances we take with drugs cause us to lose our families and freedom. We lose jobs. We lose friends. We destroy our social networks because we steal from our friends or do other things that are way outside of the norm.

Drugs cause us to become different creatures. And the only way we can return to normal is by getting into recovery.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Revolving Doors

The other day I was talking to a client who said she'd been in over a dozen treatment programs.

When I asked her why she had been to so many programs she said that "none of them worked."

The discussion went on from there. And I asked her a few questions about what would make a program work. And, of course, the answers I got were ambiguous and vague.

The reality is that when a client has been to a lot of programs without success it says very little about the programs. And it says everything about the client.

Most any program will work if a client is putting in the effort. Even though we have our own treatment program, I'm under no illusions that it's the best program in the world. Or superior to a lot of other programs.

Because most licensed programs offer a variety of effective treatment options and ours is no exception.

My belief is that when a client has had enough pain, then they are ripe for change regardless of the program they go to. I went to a couple of treatment programs 30 and 40 years ago and they "didn't work."  But I wasn't ready to change. I was just trying to satisfy the courts and my family.

When I finally got clean and sober 26 years ago all I did was go through a detoxification unit and from there to a halfway house. I've been sober ever since. And while the detoxification and halfway house helped me, the fact is that I was very motivated to do something different with my life.

And motivation is the most important thing in any client's success. An unmotivated client can be sent to the fanciest treatment program in the world, maybe along the beach on the California coast with top-notch psychiatrists and therapists. But that doesn't guarantee that he or she will stay clean and sober.

Recovery only works when we have suffered enough to want to change.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Being like our Father

My father was a raging alcoholic who mistreated everyone. And for that reason, I never wanted to be like him. I burned the image of him into my brain – the person I didn’t want to be. I focused my hatred upon him.

Unfortunately, except for his violence, I became pretty much just like him. He had alcohol hidden all over our property.  And when I became an adult, so did I. He was always drunk. And so was I. No matter how hard I tried, I became just like him in so many ways.

And I share this memory with you because I see this scenario play itself out with a lot of addicts and alcoholics. They become the person they focus on not being.

As an example, I see the same scenario playing out with a young man that I've known since he was a child. All during his formative and teen years his mother was addicted to something. It was either pills, or methamphetamines, or whatever was available. While one part of him wanted to love her, her behavior drove him crazy. He couldn't wait to get away from home. And he always swore that he would never become like her. He hated her so much he wouldn't speak to her.

And for a few years after leaving home, he did well. He finished high school. He worked a variety of jobs. Eventually, he met a girl and fell in love. They married and had a couple of children. And he took good care of them. He worked two jobs and seemed happy

But I believe he had so much focus on not being like his parent that he became just like her. He began drinking. Using drugs. Slapping his wife. Not working. Wrecking his car. Getting evicted. All the behavior his mother taught him - the person he didn't want to become.

I believe that when we burn the image of who we don't want to be into our subconscious the universe sees that as our goal.  And it always gives us what we want.

I think it more productive to get a picture of who we want to be. A positive image that has nothing to do with our parents. In fact, we don't bring that person into the picture at all. Instead, we create an image of the person we would like to emulate and build our life around them.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

More Gratitude

Here's an email response to the May 2nd blog on gratitude.  I thought it worth sharing.

"Just wanted to respond to your blog from May 2nd real quick. 

It is easy for me to see and to practice gratitude today. I have been clean and sober for a little bit now and due to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and from taking suggestions from sober people that have something I want, I am able to see everything with a fresh perspective. For many years I thought I was a victim. Today I am able to see that I created my own misery, God didn't do it, nor my mother or loved ones.

There was a time in my life when I would start the day with the game plan that I just needed to get fifty cents from eight people, I could get a pint of cheap vodka to get my day started. That pint of vodka would give me temporary relief from the insanity and self-pity from the mess I had made of my life. This morning I probably have about thirty dollars in my wallet and the next time I go to the bank will be to deposit money, not to make a withdrawal. I feel tremendous gratitude each afternoon when I turn the key in the lock on the door to the apartment I live in. Turning that key is such a simple act, but for me, it brings me joy, relief, and comfort.

Anyway, I am truly grateful today. Not for the material things in life, but rather for the peace of mind that I have today. That peace of mind is something that one cannot put a price tag on. This peace of mind was only available to me only after I had endured enough pain and was willing to surrender and start taking suggestions from others on how to change my life for the better.

Thanks for hearing me out John.. =)


Sincerely, MB"


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude takes practice.

And when we don't have gratitude as a traveling companion life can sometimes seem dark.

So how do we infuse gratitude into our lives?  It's really about changing our perspective.

A simple way is to start when we open our eyes in the morning.  When you awake don't say "Damn, I have to get ready for work."  And then jump from the bed and start rushing to get ready.

Instead, set your alarm an hour early.  Rouse yourself slowly and stretch to get your blood circulating. Take a few deep breaths.  Then practice mindful meditation for ten or fifteen minutes.  After that do some yoga at home - or go to the gym.

Be fully present while you shower. Savor a light breakfast. Enjoy the sunrise.

Immerse yourself in the drive to work. Flow with the traffic. Be grateful that you have transportation.

Notice those along the way who have less than you. Maybe you pass someone who's handicapped and riding a motorized cart. Or someone who's homeless. Realize how blessed you are.

Keep your mind in the present. Don't let it get to the office before your body arrives. Staying in the moment nurtures our gratitude and enhances our life.

If you're unhappy about how much money you earn remind yourself that much of the world's population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Being grateful comes from how we view life.

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