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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Taking it Personally

“Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” ~Unknown

Many times we get in trouble emotionally because we take things personally. And it seems like that when we take things personally, everything matters. Everything assumes great importance. Even the smallest things.

I once read some wise advice from Marilyn vos Savant, a newspaper columnist who reputedly had the highest IQ of anyone in the world – 220 plus. One time, when answering a query from one of her readers, she gave him some pointed advice.

In his question to her, he pointed out that we get stronger physically by exercising, stronger academically by going to school and so forth. But his question was how do we become stronger emotionally?

And her answer to him was quite simple. She said that we get stronger emotionally by not taking things personally. She said that if your girlfriend doesn't like your tie, either get a new tie or a new girlfriend. If your boss doesn't like the job you're doing, either do a better job or get a different job. You get the picture. But her main point was that we shouldn't take things personally because it's not good for us emotionally.

And I bring this up today because I know that we addicts and alcoholics are extremely sensitive and feeling people. Everything bothers us. Anything can set us off. Especially when we're in new recovery and don't have a lot of sober experience in life.

When we first get into recovery most of us addicts have poor self-esteem. And why shouldn't we? After all, all we did was take from others. We used our family and friends. We abused our bodies. We lost our jobs, and in many cases, we even lost our freedom because we committed crimes to get drugs or alcohol.

So no wonder we feel bad about ourselves and are overly sensitive to what others say or do. But we will get stronger emotionally if only we realize that most of the things that other people say or do isn't about us.

Click here to email John

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Happy Birthday Ralph

Today I witnessed a true miracle at a twelve-step meeting. I had the privilege of listening to a man speak who had been sober 43 years. Half of the people in the room weren't even alive when he took his last drink.

He said the secret to his sobriety was, that he "didn't drink and he didn't die."

I've known this man all 26+ years of my sobriety. And he's served as my sponsor for about 20 of those 26 years.

He's always been there for me, through thick and thin. He helped me get through the emotional issues of losing family members. A divorce. Financial setbacks. And the myriad other issues that a recovering alcoholic encounters as he progresses through recovery.

I've met many recovering people who object to the idea of having a sponsor. But It's hard to fix something that's broken with something that's broken. All of our good thinking is what got us addicts and alcoholics into the place we are today.

And if we're traveling through the twelve-step programs without a sponsor then the only advice we're probably getting is from ourselves. And we all know how well our good thinking worked when we were out there using.

All of our best thinking got us in trouble with the law, cost us our jobs and maybe our marriages, and possibly even our health.

So my recommendation is that if you're in recovery find a sponsor. The easy way to find one is to look around the rooms and find someone who has what you want. And if he doesn't work out, fire him and get someone else. Keep looking into you find the person you want, the person who might help save your life.

That's what I did.

Click here to email John

Friday, June 23, 2017

Home Again

Tomorrow we leave Imperial Beach, California, to return home to Arizona.

While I'm not looking forward to the hundred and 110+ degree heat, I am ready to get back to the real world and my familiar surroundings. After living in Arizona for over 30 years, I'm used to the heat and have learned how to live in the desert.

Each year our family makes this pilgrimage to a group of condos 10 miles from the Mexican border. This year there were 22 of us. And we had a great time shopping, eating, working out, visiting, and playing on the beach. When we first started in the 90s, we rented one condo. But this year we needed five units to accommodate all the family and friends who joined us.

A lot of people tell me how lucky I am to be able to do this. And they are right. I really am lucky.

But the luck stems from the fact that over 26 years ago I decided I was tired of living like a bum and went into a detox to get sober.

My whole point of mentioning any of this is to encourage those of you who are new in recovery that once you get sober you can do pretty much whatever you want with your life. If you want to reestablish a relationship with your family – as I have done – you can do so.

If you want to go to school and get a degree you can do that. If you want to build a business and that's your mission in life, you can do that. Nothing is without the realm of possibility once we get sober.

The foundation of everything for all of us addicts and alcoholics is based on a solid program of recovery. And as we grow in our program, the fruits of our efforts continue to show up.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

More Legal Heroin

On June 2 in this blog, I wrote about Switzerland's answer to the heroin epidemic. And Switzerland's answer is to provide free heroin to addicts and a place for them to use it. The result is a lowering of overdose deaths, fewer cases of AIDS, and a lower crime rate because heroin addicts had stopped stealing to get their drugs.

Now a program like that found in Switzerland has come to North America. In Vancouver, Canada, heroin addicts are able to get their fix every day without having to steal and without having to risk their health buying contaminated drugs, or drugs of an unknown strength.

And this week, I read that in 2016 painkillers killed more Americans than did the entire Vietnam War. Over 55,000 people succumbed to drug overdoses last year, a stunning statistic in a country that for 50 years has waged a so-called "war on drugs."

All my adult life I've watched heroin addicts die for no good reason. Yes, many people say that they deserve what they get because they made the choice to use the drugs. But the reality is that addicts are not bad people. They are sick people who are most often their own worst enemy.

The idea that countries more civilized than ours are using an intelligent approach to addiction gives me hope. And the hope is that addicts will no longer have to die or go to prison trying to obtain drugs that he or she needs to live a so-called "normal" life. We need to no longer judge addicts. We need to do, as a society, whatever we can to reduce the harm they do to themselves.

Click this link to read more about Vancouver's innovative approach to the heroin epidemic that has plagued their city for many years.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Another Overdose

Now in Imperial Beach with the family this week enjoying our annual vacation.

However, on Friday, the day before we left, we got disturbing news. My grandson is taken to the hospital because he overdosed on heroin. For a while, we feared he was going to die.  But then we hear that he's conscious.  And that he'd left the hospital against a doctor's advice.

Someone asked later how I felt about him overdosing. They knew that I'd been close to him when he was much younger.

I replied that since he'd done this a couple times before I had more or less accepted that one day I was going to get the news that he'd died of an overdose. After all, that's what happens when addicts continue to defy the odds. And today, the quality of the heroin is much stronger. In fact, in the last year, Arizona has recorded more than 700 overdoses related to opiates.

I learned a long time ago that we addicts don't change our behavior until something really bad happens. Most don't seek help until they have lost everything. And that means they either have to go to prison. Lose their job. Lose their home. Or perhaps have health issues related to their addiction.

The thing about this young man's situation is that family members and others don't care that they are aiding and abetting his addiction by giving him a place to live and helping him out in other ways. As long as they keep supporting him he'll continue to use and take advantage of their gullibility.

They may think they're showing him love.  But they might be loving him to death.

He knows where and how he can get help. But until he's forced to do so he probably won't change.

And until he gets help, I've accepted the idea that one day he may have an overdose that he won't survive.  That would be sad.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Double Blessing

The 24th of May I wrote about how blessed I was seeing my 18 year granddaughter graduate high school in Arizona.

Well, today it was a double blessing:  this afternoon I watched my grandson graduate high school in Orange County, California in the afternoon.  And that was after spending a few hours in the morning watching my granddaughter being promoted from the eighth grade to high school.

The great thing, is that none of these youngsters have ever seen me drunk or under the influence; they were born after I was in recovery for several years.

While they've heard stories of my hedonistic past, the only thing they've witnessed is a loving grandfather who takes them on vacations a couple times a year.  A person who is a respectable businessman who's an example of clean and healthy living.  Someone who can contribute to their future success.

When I first got sober all I wanted was to stop the pain and misery in my life.  I wanted to quit going to jail.  To quit giving everything I owned to the dope man.  To quit disappointing my family and friends.

But I got so much more that, more than I ever imagined.

And I tell you this because if you're new to recovery you have no idea what the future holds.  I often marvel at the wonderful life I have today because I got sober over 26 years ago.

It can happen for you.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Racist?

An upset mother, who describes herself as Mexican, sends me an email accusing our organization of being "racist."

It seems that she went to one of our facilities in Phoenix to leave her daughter some sodas and snacks. The manager at the facility, however, wouldn't allow her to leave everything she brought. The problem was that there wasn't enough storage space for all the things she wanted to leave.

She was told that she could bring the rest of the items the following week, once her daughter went through the things that she had left her.  But the mother claimed she wasn't allowed to leave the items because we were "racist" toward Mexicans.

I answered her email, telling her she could call me and we'd discuss the specifics of what happened with her and her daughter and our manager. I've had no response at this writing.

It probably would've been an interesting conversation. Because the truth is, our organization is one of the least prejudice that I know. For years we've had minority managers of every belief and description.

Plus, we have LBGT houses that have around 40 to 50 residents - some of them also people of color.

And more interesting is that one of our key executives – for many years – was married to a Latina. And our CEO, not only has Latino children but is also married to a black woman.

Our organization may be many things, but being racist is not one of them.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hoping for Prison

A young woman at a meeting is discussing her brother and her father. Apparently, both of them are having trouble with drugs and alcohol. Plus, they are facing charges that could possibly send them to prison.

"I hope both of them go to prison," she said emphatically.

Now those aren't normally things a loving person would say about their brother or father. But the woman went on to explain that she believed that was the only way they were going to survive. She believed that if they remained free, that their addictions would kill them. And I think what she said contained a lot of wisdom.

I know many addicts and alcoholics who aren't motivated to get sober as long as they have the freedom to obtain drugs or alcohol. The only way they survive is by being locked up until their mind is clear. And even then, they will eventually be set free and likely will begin using again. The only thing that would prevent them from returning to their addiction is if they got involved with therapy or twelve-step programs while they were locked up. But, in most cases that doesn't happen.

As for me, I went in and out of jails and prisons and mental institutions for sixteen years. And I believe that being incarcerated frequently and for long periods of time kept me alive if nothing else.

It was only after I was free for quite a while, and kept losing things over and over again, that I decided I needed to change the direction of my life. But that only happened after many years of believing that I could successfully use drugs or alcohol. Only when life got so painful that I could no longer deny the power of my addiction did I go into a detoxification unit and begin a new life of recovery.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breathe...

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has authored over 100 books on meditation, compassion, and other aspects of living a peaceful life. In 2014 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to make the world a better place.

The reason I bring him up today is because of the quote above. Those of us in recovery can use this quote to help us stay calm and focused in our sometimes very busy and stressful world. And to use this tool you don't have to believe in Buddhism or any other kind of dogma. You can use this simple tool of conscious breathing at any time during your day.

For example, maybe you're late to work and you're hurrying down the freeway. Then ahead of you is a sea of brake lights. Immediately you tense up, feeling your heart rate increasing, as you realize you're going to be even later for work. But instead of pounding your steering wheel and cursing at the traffic, you could react differently. Instead of getting upset, consciously take a deep breath, feeling the oxygen moving down to your lower stomach, maybe below your belly button. If you breathe like this two or three times you'll find yourself becoming calmer and more peaceful. You won't get to work any faster. But when you do get there you won't be bubbling over with anger or stress.

This is a technique that you can use very subtly and at any time. Perhaps you're in a social situation that has raised your anxiety level. No one's going to notice as you take a deep inhalation. Even if you do it two or three times. But they are going to notice your serenity and calm.

Maybe you're asking the boss for a raise, and you are understandably nervous. Instead of living with that case of nerves, draw in a deep breath as you wait for the meeting to begin. And it's something you can practice even while in the presence of your boss. He won't notice what you're doing. Plus he might interpret your calm demeanor as self-confidence and be more inclined to give you what you are asking for.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Up in Smoke

If you ask people what's the deadliest addiction in the country they'd probably give you the wrong answer. They would probably tell you that it was methamphetamines. Heroin. Cocaine, Alcohol. But they'd be wrong in every instance.

The deadliest addiction in the country is nicotine. Tobacco kills something like 425,000 people a year in the United States. It kills more than all diseases combined. It kills more people than do plane crashes or automobile accidents. It kills more people than do homicides. More people die from tobacco than all other causes combined. And you can add to that number the 225,000 American military personnel who died in World War II.

Smoking is something that I rant about every so often. Not only was it the hardest addiction I ever quit, it also killed seven of my family members. None of them died from lung cancer: all of them succumbed to emphysema – a slow painful death that eventually suffocated them.

It was 33 years ago in July when I was finally able to kick the habit. It took a lot of planning for me to do it. The first thing I did was cut down from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes. Then I started cutting down on the number of cigarettes I smoked each day. Before I finally made the leap to quit smoking, I purchased 100 Nicorette tablets. After chewing nine of them over a few days, I knew I was done. And I was. I never picked up another cigarette or tobacco product again. And I believe that it was a decision that saved my life.

I bring this up today because I see people around TLC who still smoke in spite of all the evidence. I've seen them develop emphysema and COPD. I've seen them have strokes and heart attacks. And even though they know on an intellectual level how devastating the habit is, the addiction is so powerful that many of them cannot summon the willpower to quit.

However, we are willing to help any client wants to quit smoking. And that includes purchasing nicotine patches if they can't afford them – plus we offer hypnosis for those who are highly motivated to quit but have had difficulty stopping.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Legalize Heroin?

Last year some 790 Arizonans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Arizona Republic, this state's largest newspaper.

The newspaper says this is a 74% increase since 2012. And at TLC we see the trend. Whereas many clients used to come to us addicted to meth, now they are more likely to come in with an opiate habit.

The article goes on with the usual handwringing about what to do about the heroin epidemic. It's the same old boring responses I've been listening to since I was a teenager, some 60 years ago. From then until now there's been this attitude of "doing something" about heroin.

One group will talk about raising public awareness. Another will talk about stricter enforcement. Others want to engage in a "war on drugs." I've been hearing the same thing for so long I almost have it memorized.

One solution that I don't believe has been considered in this state or in this country is a form of legalization. And of course, this kind of proposal would have everyone screaming about how legalizing heroin would encourage addiction. But that's kind of a dumb response. We already have an epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths across this country.

A few years ago we had a visitor to TLC from Berne, Switzerland. He was a man who worked as a counselor at a legal heroin clinic in his country. And he described the positive effect that legalization had on his city and country.

He said that AIDS had been cut dramatically because addicts were no longer sharing needles. Overdoses had been reduced to virtually nothing because the clinic staff taught people how much they could safely use. Drug-related crimes by heroin addicts had virtually stopped. And he said that young people are no longer as attracted to heroin as they had once been because now it was viewed as a medical problem. The fact that it was legal had made it less attractive to them.

Even though I don't believe that we should engage in any type of drug use, the reality is that it's overtaking our country. And I think we should examine any ideas that might help lower the death rate among addicts.

For more information about how the Swiss deal with heroin use, click this link.

Click here to email John.