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, August 30, 2017

Medical Help

When addicts and alcoholics are in the middle of their addictions very few pay much attention to their health.

If it comes down to a choice between glasses, dental work, or a physical checkup, getting high comes first.  So we get a lot of clients who need their teeth worked on or eye exams and glasses.

Part of helping addicts and alcoholics regain their lives is to help whenever possible with their medical care. And over the years we've been able to help a lot of addicts and alcoholics resolve their health issues. Particularly when it comes to getting them dental or vision care.

And the nice thing about it is that it costs TLC very little to help.

That's because we have a staff member who's been with us for many years who's able to find dentists and eye doctors to help us. At any given time we have 30 to 40 of them who provide assistance. And sometimes we have doctors who are willing to help us with other kinds of physical problems. Though usually, clients are able to help themselves by going to the emergency room or using their state insurance. But in the case of glasses and dental work, state insurance usually doesn't provide coverage.

We never thank these doctors publicly because we like to keep their donations private so they're not inundated with requests for help. But they know who they are. And they know that we're grateful for the help they give to our clients.

There is nothing better than for an addict's self-esteem than to be able to smile once again. Or to be able to see where they're going.

Our thanks to all those anonymous medical people for their generosity.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Protective Shield

I was at a meeting today where the topic was gratitude.

This is a topic that at one time would make me groan because it ended up being the subject at many meetings. It had become, to me, almost like a cliché. And that's because I was still in new recovery and I didn't realize the protective power of gratitude.

You see, gratitude is almost like a magic potion. What do I mean by that?

Well, gratitude is one of those things that can keep us from getting drunk or high. After all, it's not easy to have gratitude, and also want to pick up a drink or a drug. In my mind, those two things are incompatible. When we live in a state of gratitude it's almost as if we have a protective shield around us. When we have gratitude we no longer slip into depression about what we don't have.

And an easy way to find gratitude is to simply look around. You can start by looking close and nearby. If you're observant, you'll see many people who are not nearly as blessed as you are. No matter what your circumstances.

For example, if you're having difficulty finding a job you can take solace in the fact that there are some people who are unable to work at all, even if they have the opportunity. You can also think about the three-quarters of the people in the world who live on just a few dollars a day because they live in a country where there is little economic opportunity.

If you wake up and have the blues you might slip into depression and find yourself feeling down for a day or two. But that's something you can also be grateful for. Because how many people have you met were chronically depressed all the time? So much so, that they have to live under the burden of heavy medication all their lives.

Just now I had an experience of gratitude when I was thinking about going outside to the swimming pool and realized that at 109° it's probably too hot to even swim. I quickly got over that by realizing that there are people in parts of Texas who are living in floodwaters right now, their whole lives disrupted.

In other words, no matter how tough your life might seem you can always find someone else in worse circumstances.

I've found that most of the time when people slip out gratitude it's because their mind is either in the past or in the future. And the past can be a dark place, just as the future can be a scary place. But if I examine my circumstances and my life at this moment, everything is perfect.

If we live in the moment we find much to be grateful for. Try it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Embracing Emotion

In my hypnosis practice with clients, they often have a common goal. They want to remove unpleasant emotions from their lives.

Many of them don't want to feel any kind of pain. Fear. Anxiety. Grief. Sadness. Loneliness. Anything negative.

What they're looking for is a life full of happy and joyful emotions. That is totally unrealistic. Kind of like heaven on earth.

Some seem surprised when I ask them to think of their emotions in a different way. Because aour emotions are telling us something about our lives.

We may be sad because we've experienced loss or else we're not getting something we think we should have.

I often make suggestions when they're under hypnosis that they learn to face their emotions. To embrace their emotions and integrate them into their lives. I suggest that if they're suffering from fear they should face it, they should bring it close and see if it's based on anything real.

If they are plagued with anxiety they shouldn't try to run from it or cover it up with a drug. Instead, they should bring their anxiety close, see what it's based on. They may learn something about their thinking.

Once I started facing my own emotions – whether good or bad – I began to live a much more fulfilling life. My emotions were no longer an enemy that I had to hide from. Instead, once I examined them they gave me an idea of what I needed to work on.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Remembering History

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." George Santanya

Last week the news was all about protesters in North Carolina tearing down statutes, in an effort to erase history. One person died and several more were injured in the violence.

While their actions made for good symbolism I believe their efforts were pretty much wasted. The history of the civil war runs deep and is indelibly printed in our nation's history. Erasing reminders of it serves no purpose. In fact, the reminders might be educational.

I think it's better to memorialize the dark parts of our history so we can learn from them. And not repeat the past.

While this may be a stretch, I thought of my own history. What would happen if there were no record of the damage I did to myself and others?

What if my criminal record were erased? If I had no carbon tracks on my arms to remind me of my heroin use. No scars on my body to remind me of cars I rolled and motorcycles I ran into street signs? No reminders of having a broken jaw and nose from a drug deal gone bad?

Even if these external reminders were magically removed, all my behavior is burned into my memory. And that's good for me. Because I know what didn't work in my past. I'm reminded that some kinds of behavior didn't work before and won't work in the future.

I learn from the past by being constantly aware of it.

Click here to email John



Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Enemy

"We have met the enemy and he is us" Pogo, 1970

The above saying is taken from a poster of cartoon character Pogo, published by cartoonist Walt Kelly in 1970. I like it because in a few words it tells the story of us drug addicts.

Before we enter the realm of sobriety we learned that we're our own worst enemy. But for many addicts, that's a big problem.  Even though we created our own messes, we have a hard time accepting responsibility.

This came up the other day because I heard of a client who had been in more than 30 treatment programs. Yet, for some reason, he couldn't stay sober more than a few weeks after each one.  He was baffled.

A counselor asked him what the problem was. But the client didn't have any idea.

Finally, the counselor suggested that the programs worked just fine. It was just that the client wasn't ready to be responsible for himself.

A common factor with unsuccessful addicts is they look outside themselves for the answers to their problems. It was their family. They were abused as a child. It was the way they were brought up. It was their wife. Or husband. It's always something - imaginary or real - that won't allow them to live sober.  Always something or someone outside themselves.

Until we look at ourselves as the masters of our destiny we're sure to fail. No one changes our bad habits but us. If we overeat and get fat who's fault is that? If we smoke and develop a chronic lung disease, who can we blame but ourselves?  If we put a needle in our arm, who did it?

If we destroy our relationships because we're fearful and angry and self-centered we must blame the person in the mirror. No matter how hard we reach for an excuse, no one "does" anything to us. When we're alone in our heads at night we know on a deep level where the responsibility lies.

We truly have met the enemy.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 14, 2017

Intervention?

Two relatives came in from California this weekend to participate in an intervention on a heroin addict family member.

I declined to participate because they weren't having the intervention done with a professional interventionist. From what I heard, it turned out just as I expected. It was more or less a shouting match between family members. And the young man who was the subject of the intervention declined to enter treatment. He said he could "do it on his own."

Another reason I didn't want to participate is that some of those who were at the intervention have been enabling this young man for years. They provide him a place to live when he doesn't have a place of his own. They loan him money. They give him give him rides and other help.

You may ask what's wrong with that? If they didn't take care of him he would be homeless. And he might go hungry.

But the reality is that if you're housing or feeding or doing anything else for an addict what you're really doing is buying his or her drugs. Because the money he's saved by sponging off of you is money that he's able to use at the dope house.

It's sad to have to put out one of your loved ones, to allow them to be homeless and hungry. But that's how addicts and alcoholics learn to change their behavior. When loved ones no longer put up with their nonsense they might get the idea that they have a problem.

Like the other family members, I don't want to see this young man die of his disease. Yet in the last year, he's been taken to the hospital more than once suffering from a drug overdose. Probably the only thing that saved him was there was someone around to take him to the hospital when he fell out.

Last year over 700 people died in Arizona from opiate overdoses. And it's only by the grace of God that he wasn't one of them.

Hopefully, he will get into recovery before it's too late.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Miracles

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."  - Albert Einstein

I like this saying by because it reminds me of the two lives of an alcoholic or addict.

In the first life, everything was negative. We struggled to open our eyes many mornings, regretting that we were even alive. We were full of pain and demoralization because we had to go out and get more booze or drugs so we could face the world for another day.

The skies were gloomy. Everyone was our enemy, especially at the end. We were afraid to talk to people because we couldn't remember the last lie we told them. Or else we'd ripped them off and had no means to pay them back.

When we were really deep into our addictions we were lonely and isolated. Most of our waking hours were spent figuring out how to get enough money to blot out our pain. There were no miracles.

Our second life, when we're living in recovery, is nothing short of a miracle. We' re happy to wake up in the morning and put our feet on the floor. We turn our phone on and see messages from our friends, checking to see if we're okay. We get invited to go places and do things. We're not constantly looking in our rearview mirror to see if the police are behind us. We don't fear the knock on the door, wondering if it's our parole officer or a drug dealer that we owe money to. We're living the promises of the program, enjoying a new freedom and a new happiness.

I could go on and on about the miracles of recovery. But for those of us who are enjoying recovery, there's no need to explain. Everything in life is a miracle for those of us who have escaped the daily hell of our addictions.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Justice for a Child

A client who's worked in our office for several years called the other afternoon, his voice full of excitement. He'd just left a court hearing where he'd won a major legal victory.

The case involved his ten-year old step-daughter, who'd been molested by her biological father when she was quite young. Our client, who'd assumed the role of surrogate father after marrying the child's mother, had been on a mission to get the father's parental rights severed. After years of effort, he'd achieve that goal. But it wasn't an easy battle.

When he first learned the father had assaulted the child he went to the police in Apache Junction, where the incident occurred. However, when he talked to the detectives they acted like they weren't interested in following up. They either thought the child was too young or that there wasn't enough evidence. However, our client didn't take no for an answer. He talked to whoever he had to until charges were brought against the father, who's now facing a long term in prison for molesting his daughter and other molestation cases.

Our client's next goal is to be able to legally adopt the child. And based on his perseverance in the molestation case he'll probably achieve his goal. Before he does that though, he has to get his own civil rights restored, something I know he'll accomplish.

But the story's bigger than just the case of his stepdaughter. What this story really illustrates is what can happen when people get clean and sober. For years this man used drugs and was in and out of jails and prisons. He was not on a good path.

Even after he came to TLC it took several tries for him to succeed. And one time he left our program suddenly, taking one of our vans with him when he left for California. Eventually, he came back, made amends, and has worked in our corporate office for several years.

Recovery has not only changed his life. It also changed the life of a young girl who was traumatized at an early age.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Enabling

A mother seeking help for her daughter found my blog on the Internet. She said that her daughter is a drug addict, but that she's been supplying her with food and a cell phone. After reading my blog she realized that she was doing it all wrong.

I wrote back and told her we had treatment options available, but that she was doing the right thing by cutting off support for her daughter.

While this may sound callous and cruel, the reality is that as long as we're helping addicts in any way while they're still using we're prolonging their addiction. The only help we should give is a ride to detox or treatment.

And I speak from personal experience. When I was using 27 years ago family members and friends were helping me. It was only when they gave up on me that I decided to change. At first, I hated them and thought they were cruel. I was still angry at them when I went into a detoxification unit. But within a year of being sober, I realized that the best thing that ever happened to me was when they cut off support. They saved my life.

I have a close relative who's overdosed on heroin a few times in the last couple of years. Yet his siblings continue to provide food and shelter and transportation. I know they think they're showing him love – but the reality is that they could be loving him to death.

Parents can't be blamed for doing the best they can. When a parent realizes the child is an addict they're afraid. They don't know what to do. They think if they continue to love and support them financially that they'll realize the error of their ways and change. But that's not the way the world of addiction works.

Once the disease takes a grip on an addict, the addict is going to do pretty much whatever they have to so they can feel okay. And that includes taking advantage of family and friends.

Parents must realize they 're powerless over their children, particularly when they begin using opiates and other addictive drugs. And it's not that the children don't love the parents. It's just that they love that heroin rush so much more.

It's a tough decision to cut off our family. But it's a decision that might save their lives.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Expectations

"What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be." Unknown

Today we had to transfer a manager to another position because other employees were tired of working with him. In fact, two of them were so unhappy that they threatened to leave without giving notice. Fortunately, we were able to convince one of them to stick around for another week until we could find replacements

It was quite uncomfortable for me to have to move this employee to a different position, one where he didn't have to deal with others very often. And I was uncomfortable because he's been a dedicated employee for five years. And he has a high degree of ability and technical skill that makes him valuable to us. Plus, he's not lazy. It's just that he had a problem with those who didn't live up to his expectations.

One of the things I've learned after over 26 years in this business is not to have too many expectations of others. In fact, I expect those who work for us to screw up on a regular basis. And I'm never disappointed. Someone is always being brought to my office because of their relationships with others in the company. And very often the ones who are creating the problems are those in a supervisory or managerial position.

One of the things that make TLC different from other organizations is that 99% of our staff is in recovery. In fact, all of them went through the TLC program and worked their way up through the ranks. Along the way they not only learned how to work in a business environment, they also had a chance to work on their recovery with fellow addicts and alcoholics.

In fact, unlike most corporations, when we have a personnel problem we usually sit down and have a group with the person until we can sort out what's going on. I remember that over 10 years ago, when we had a non-addict working with our organization in the accounting department, he was amazed that we would shut down our office for 30 to 60 minutes to deal with an employee issue. But since our mission is to help addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives we rarely fire people unless they continue to do stupid things.

Our job is to help people get through tough times without having to revert to their old behavior.