Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 29th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Resolutions

I recently read a book by James Clear called "Atomic Habits."

At first, I thought this was another rah-rah book about changing habits instantly and with explosive power. But I had it all wrong.

The "Atomic" in the title actually refers to something small, maybe the size of an atom. And to boil the book down, it refers to making small incremental changes each day.

Instead of quitting smoking cold turkey, for example, a smoker may quit with much less pain and effort by smoking one less cigarette each day. Within 20 days a pack a day smoker would be down to one cigarette a day.

Same way with losing weight. Instead of quitting eating altogether and exercising like crazy, maybe the dieter first cuts out drinking soda, then once he/she is used to that maybe cut out eating deserts one, two, or three days a week. Following this pattern before long, one finds themselves eating healthy all the time while shedding pounds in the process.

Same goes with exercise. Instead of working out for an hour with intensity, start slow for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, something that's within the range of most anyone. That way you won't get sore and give up within a week or two.

The key message about change is to start out with something you can manage. Before you know it you'll you'll be keeping your New Years resolutions without a lot of pain.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Gratitude

Today I'm counting my blessings and want to wish a Merry Christmas to all those who have helped make TLC the success that it is.

At this time 28 years ago I was addicted to heroin and alcohol, stealing to make a living, and during the last week of my using, I was living in a stolen car. At that time, my outlook was very bleak. I figured it wouldn't be too long before I died. Or be back in prison.

But January 13 of 1990, I had a moment of clarity and decided to enter a detox in Mesa, Arizona. I'm not sure what happened, but I know that I was miserable. And completely demoralized. I knew that if I didn't change something my life was going to get considerably worse – if I even survived.

When I entered the detox I was totally willing to do whatever they asked. I was going to finally admit that I was an alcoholic. I had known for a long time that I was a drug addict, but for some reason, I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that I was also an alcoholic. I must've thought that if I admitted I was an alcoholic that I would have to stop drinking. Yet when I drank, it wasn't very long before I was back into the spoon, using heroin and quickly spiraling downward into homelessness.

I stayed in that detox for 11 days before they released me to a halfway house that was willing to take me without money. I planned to stay there for 30 days, then get a job and move on with my life. But at the 30-day point, I realized that I knew very little about living sober and that if I left at 30 days it wouldn't be long before I would be back drinking and doing the same old thing. So I made a commitment to stay for three months. But even at that point, I realized that I wasn't ready and I decided that I was going to stay a year and get my life on a solid footing.

And that was what made the difference. At one year my head was clear. I was working at my old job and making plans to start my own recovery program as a sideline. Before long the recovery program I planned to operate as a sideline became so demanding that I quit my corporate job and devoted my efforts full time to run the recovery program.

Within two years we had nearly 300 clients and were becoming known in the recovery community as a place to go if you were serious about recovery.

When I look back on that time in the early 90s, I never realized that TLC would turn into one of the biggest programs in the Southwest. All I know is that we got up every morning and put one foot in front of the other and tried to do the right thing. Sometimes we made mistakes, but we just kept moving ahead.

Today we have some 850 beds and a lot of dedicated staff members who make things work. And I count my blessings because without them none of this would be possible.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Suffering Mother

I was talking to an addict today whose 18-year-old daughter is addicted and on the streets.  She hasn't heard from her for about five days, and of course, fears the worse. 

Is she in a ditch somewhere?  Has she overdosed? Is she in a hospital? A lot of scenarios are running through her mind.  And none of them are good.

She says she checks the county jail website each morning when she awakes and each night before she goes to bed, hoping that she's been arrested. If she sees her mugshot there at least she'll know she's alive.

This experience of having a child who's deep into addiction has made her realize what she put her own mother through. In fact, she was affected so strongly that she called her mother to make a second amends.  She never realized the constant worry and suffering her mother must have experienced when she'd disappear for long periods.

Part of our recovery is realizing the hell we put our families and loved ones through. If we can keep that in the forefront of our minds we have one more reason to stay on the path of recovery.

Click here to email John



Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Generous Doctors

This time of year we're grateful for our blessings.

And one of the many blessings we have at TLC is the support of the medical community. Many of our clients come to us suffering from the aftereffects of drug abuse: bad teeth, needing glasses, or else facing other medical problems.

Over the past 10 years, one of our staff members has developed a long list of medical people who help us address these issues.

After a client is with us for a while and acts like they're serious about their recovery, we help them with their nonemergency medical issues through the services of those who so generously help us.

One of the most common problems clients face is dental issues. It has been years since many of our clients have seen a dentist and many of them are long overdue for help. We have about 80 dentists who pull teeth, build bridges, provide dentures, and other procedures at no cost.

And nothing is more gratifying than to see an addict or alcoholic who came to us with missing or decayed teeth who are once again able to smile. And the interesting thing is that clients who are willing to go through the pain of dental work usually stay and spend the time needed to work on their recovery. It seems like when they're able to boost their self-esteem in one area, they are also able to work on other areas of their life.

I'm sure that most of the medical help that we've been given has come from those who just naturally have generous hearts.

But I don't think they realize how much good they really do or how much effect they have on the community when they contribute to an addict who's serious about recovery. Their acts of generosity go far toward changing the course of another human being's life.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Living with Trauma

In our treatment program, we deal with a lot of clients who wrestle with trauma from their the pasts.

The number one issue that seems to traumatize clients is if they were abused as children – either physically, emotionally or sexually or a combination of the three.

And indeed, these are some of the toughest issues to deal with, especially when a client also has a co-occurring drug issue. It often takes a long period of therapy for people who have many interwoven issues to make changes.

In my opinion, the best approach is if we are able to help the client see that they should bear no guilt or shame for what others did to them when they were so vulnerable and young. But that's easier said than done.

For oftentimes it's a family member who exploits the vulnerable child, leaving the victim with confusing memories of trauma imposed upon them by those who should be protecting them.

When a victim is very young it's difficult for them to make sense of a world where those they trust and love and depend on are crossing sacred boundaries. Many times they are unable to understand any part of it and are left in a swirl of shame, pain, and confusion.

When a victim carries such unresolved and conflicting issues into their teens and early 20s it's no wonder that they find drugs and alcohol such a relief. We often hear people say in 12 step meetings that the first time they got drunk or high is the first time that they felt like they belonged to the human race. All of a sudden all of their pain is abated and they feel a new sense of freedom.

So is there an easy or simple way to deal with trauma from our early childhood? The answer is that there is a way to deal with it.  But it's probably never going to be painless or simple.

The answer is that we ultimately accept and assimilate what has happened to us. Unless we want to go through life carrying a burden of pain, depression, and sadness, we have to be able to accept the fact that there are many things that happen in our lives over which we have no control. We must accept that there are bad people in the world, sometimes even those who are supposed to protect and care for us.

Sometimes it's a tough choice to make: do we reopen old wounds in our quest for peace? Or do we just wait and hope that somehow time will heal us as our trauma disappears in the mists of the past? Whichever path we take, we must realize that our time on this planet is limited and that we want to live happy and free. 

Otherwise, we might find ourselves doing a lifelong dance with alcohol, drugs, and therapists in our quest for peace of mind in an effort to mitigate our pain.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Ego

At a meditation group the other day, the topic of ego came up.  And the facilitator and others shared their insights on the subject.

It was somewhat enlightening, and after the group, a friend and I talked more about ego.  She had a question was about her own ego and whether she has one.

Of course, you do I told her.  We all have one. Then I suggested that the question she really wanted to ask was if she had an over-sized ego. Which she doesn't.  Her ego seems just right: a balance of humility and healthy self-esteem.

And I believe that is where the line is drawn, having balance.

After all, we need an ego to navigate our way through life and to have a focal point for who we are, to have a sense of "self."

But when we get all puffed up about who we are, what we've accomplished, how smart or good-looking we are, or what we own, then that's an over-inflated ego.

For my ego to work well I have to have a balanced view of who I am:  I'm neither the most wonderful person in the world, nor am I the worst.  I must walk the balance beam of reality that says there are parts of me that do well, parts of me that need work, and yet other parts that are so-so.

It's a daily maintenance project to keep these things in balance - being neither too self-critical nor too self-aggrandizing. Then my life works well.

A large ego erects walls between us and others, something we never need.

Click here to email John








Monday, December 10, 2018

WTF

The other day my four-year-old grandson walked down the hall and into the kitchen when he spotted my daughter at the top of a ladder cleaning the tops of the cabinets.

Apparently surprised to see her there, he exclaimed "What the f....!"

My daughter said it was all she could do not break out laughing.  In her recounting of what he said she asked me where I thought he'd learned to say that.

And, of course, I said something like go look in the mirror or else talk to your husband.  Because most of the things we learn at that age come from mimicking those around us.  And in this case, he probably didn't learn it from the bus driver or his school teacher.  He likely was following dad or mom around and picked up on what they say when they're exasperated.

My daughter wondered how she might get him to forget the "F" word but I didn't have any good ideas.  After all, I think it's a lot easier to learn bad habits than it is to unlearn them.  She might try to avoid using the term in the future but it could take a long time for him to disremember that kind of term

But there's an object lesson somewhere in all of this.  And it is that no matter where we are in life there's always someone who may be listening to us.  And sometimes emulating us.

That's why it's important - especially for those of us who work in recovery programs - to be good examples for our clients and co-workers in everything we do.  While I confess to using the F-bomb myself once in a while -usually when angry - I generally make it a practice to not use profanity.  That's because I never know who's listening and who might find it unbecoming.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Meditating

Each Wednesday evening I attend a mindfulness meditation meeting here in Mesa from 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

Everyone is welcome to attend and usually between 10 and 30 people show up.

The first 15 minutes the facilitator of the meeting explains how meditation works those who are new to the process. The next 40 to 45 minutes we meditate. Then for the last half-hour, the facilitator answers questions for those who are new or are relatively inexperienced.

I find it interesting the kinds of questions newcomers bring up. Those who are unfamiliar with the process often look upon meditation as some sort of therapy that will help them heal past trauma, almost as if it were a cure-all. And while it is true that meditation can help make us calmer, more focused on the present, and less anxious, it is by no means a panacea. At best, one might look at it as a tool that supports our efforts to live a more sane and fulfilling life.

Because what meditation teaches us – if it teaches us anything at all – is how to pay attention to our thinking. This continual examination of our thinking makes us realize that most of our thinking is not that important, that thoughts are not something so tangible that we have to react every time one of them passes through our mind. We learn to look at our thoughts from the standpoint of being an observer. And when we observe the thought we recognize it without judgment, then let it pass through our mind like clouds through the sky.

I believe the meditation process is particularly helpful to those of us who are in recovery. And the group I attend has several members who have been in recovery for many years. And I say this because what else got us in trouble but our crazy thinking about our lives and how we should solve our problems? The twelve-step programs recommend meditation as one of the processes of remaining sober, though they don't recommend any specific school of meditation.

Try it, you might like it.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 3, 2018

Not Quitting

July 25, 1984, at 9 AM, I smoked my last cigarette. It was one of the most difficult things I'd ever done. And that's why it's so easy for me to remember the time and the date. But it was also the best thing I ever did for my health.

At the same time, I quit I gently suggested to someone that I was very close to that she should also quit. But her answer was no. She said she had given up alcohol and every other vice in her life and that she certainly wasn't going to give up smoking.

When I pointed out to her that the habit would probably kill her, she said something to the effect that at least she would "die with some flavor on her lips." And I have to give her credit. She stuck to her guns and has never made any moves to quit smoking. At least as far as I know. And she's still alive.
She's breathing and functioning in spite of having had multiple heart attacks, heart operations, pacemakers and, and other procedures on her heart. And the last I heard, she's still smoking around four packs of roll your owns a day. But the reason this comes up for me now is that she recently had what one of her family describes as a "mini-stroke."

And while it's obvious this person has no concern for her health problems they do cause a great deal of anxiety in her family.

And that's the sad part of this whole scenario. Even though it's none of my business because people have a right to destroy themselves however they choose I think that they sometimes forget that loved ones and family members live with a lot of pain when they witness the suffering of a close family member going through medical issues.

I think the addicts among us have all inflicted pain upon others at one time or another, simply because we were using some kind of drug that would eventually kill us. While it's sometimes a sacrifice to give up our drug of choice, it's one of the greatest gifts we can give to those who love us.

Click here to email John


Friday, November 30, 2018

Ungrateful

A difficult job at TLC is feeding three meals a day to our 800+ clients.  Over 2400 meals a day.

Plus, everyone has different tastes, which are hard to accommodate when feeding so many.

And the people on the front lines, those cooking and serving, bear the brunt of the complaints from the clients when meals aren't to their liking.

Much of the food we serve is donated and the cooks sometimes must be quite creative to come up with meals that are both nourishing and within our budget.

This comes up today because a group of clients in our treatment program, which has a large budget - much larger than the halfway houses - were complaining about having sandwiches for lunch for several days in a row.  Because a few of them have a sense of entitlement, they thought lunch should be something fancier so they began complaining.

They were also unhappy with cereal for breakfast two days a week.  They wanted steaks, barbeque, and roast beef for dinner, and so forth.

But the reality is that most of them - as we addicts are wont to do - forgot that a few months earlier eating well was not their priority.  Drugs and alcohol were what they craved.  Many of them ate what they could sponge from their family or friends or perhaps steal from a convenience store.  Things like hot dogs or packs of lunch meat.

Once clients get really sober they start to become grateful.  They begin to realize that they're much better off than many people in the world.  People who would be grateful to have even one meal a day, regardless of what it was.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gratitude

There was an article in the newspaper this morning, on the front page, about a large group of refugees attempting to cross from Tijuana into the United States.

The article detailed how authorities on the United States side of the border were spraying the group with tear gas from the other side of the fence to keep them from crossing. The photo on the front page showed about 600 refugees from Central America, men, women and children, trying to force their way into the country. It was a sad scene.

I never get into politics in this blog, and I'm not going to now.

But what I did take away from this was a lot of gratitude because I live in a country of prosperity and relative security. I can't imagine walking a couple thousand miles with nothing but the clothes on my back because conditions are so bad in the country where I was born. That I can no longer live there because of the terrible conditions.

And I think that many times we fail to recognize how blessed we are to be in a country that provides relative security, opportunity, and even prosperity for those willing to work for it. Often times we get caught up in the negativity that we see on the news networks and in the newspapers because we don't live in a perfect world. But the reality is that a perfect world doesn't exist.

We can have a great life, good job, good marriage, great education, but there are always a few clouds in the sky. But we have the choice of simply noticing them and letting them pass or we can tell ourselves how terrible things are. Instead, maybe we can enjoy the sun filtering through the clouds and realize that life is always a process of change. Sometimes that change is bad. And sometimes it's good. But the one thing we can count on is that life will be different tomorrow.

And when see groups of ragged refugees trying to claw their way into this country over a steel fence through clouds of teargas we can find gratitude for our circumstances. Because even if we're living in a halfway house or a recovery program, we know that we have a great future ahead of us if we simply stay clean and sober.  Many don't have the opportunities we do.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Group Counseling

It's no surprise that when 10 drug addicts live together in the same house communication problems arise all the time. Of course the same could be said about 10 so-called "normal" family members who live together in the same quarters. It's inevitable that people cross other people's boundaries and step on other people's toes when they live in close proximity to one another.

A wonderful tool that we've used for the last 25 years here at TLC is peer group counseling. These groups are a way for our clients to confront one another in a safe setting. One client can accuse another of most anything, as long as it's not done in a threatening manner.

For example, one client might like to go to sleep early. But his roommate enjoys late-night conversations with his girlfriend, or perhaps is watching YouTube videos on his cell phone. While this might seem to be a small deal, it can create resentments and anger that can erupt into something bigger.

Or one client might be eating another's food from the community refrigerator, or leaving his dirty clothes on the floor, or not doing his part in keeping the restroom clean.

In a group setting these things can be brought out and dealt with before they grow into larger problems.

Groups are also used to deal with a person's recovery behavior. If a client notices that his or her roommate is not attending meetings, it might become the topic of a group. And it's a valid topic. Because the purpose of our program is to help people rebuild their lives and part of that process is working a recovery program.  And attending meetings is an integral part of that process.

The good thing about groups is that they can serve as a tool to help clients bond with one another. When clients confront each other in a safe setting it means they care enough to observe each other's behavior. And once clients become used to groups, they find it easier to confront each other outside of groups in a positive way that will help with their growth.

Something I once read that I found quite interesting is that it's never been established that group counseling run by professional therapists is any more effective than peer group counseling run by addicts helping one another.  I believe that to be true.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Perseverance

An alcoholic wrote me a letter today, asking me to help him get started in the recovery business. He wasn't asking for money. But he was asking for advice, which I'm happy to give anybody. I sent him an email back, telling him that I'd be in touch with him.

And I'll contact him because I think it's important to encourage other people to help addicts and alcoholics any way they can. Some might say that's a stupid idea. Why would someone who's already in the recovery business give someone else advice about how to get into the same business. It's kind of like calling McDonald's and asking them to help you start a hamburger stand.  But I believe it's important to help others however you can.

One of the things this gentleman mentioned in his email was about doing research to raise funding to get started. But the reality is that if you want to get to the recovery business or most any other business, money is the least of your problems.

The biggest problem for most people is perseverance and self-discipline.

I remember that I searched for a piece of property for a good six months before I found three dilapidated houses on a piece of property that I was able to get for $350 in closing costs. After I spent a year in another halfway house learning how to run a recovery business, I moved into my own houses. I started cleaning. Painting. Patching floors. I spent about two months getting the place ready for the first five residents. And while doing this, I worked an outside job to support myself and to buy materials to get the houses ready for the first residents.

Getting started was a slow and tedious process of drudgery and hard work. But people started showing up. Most had no money, but if they looked like they had some willingness I let them stay. Within a year we acquired other houses and had over 130 residents. Within two years we had about 300 residents, and of course more property to accommodate them.

After two years we got so busy I quit my outside job and devoted full time to running the halfway houses. I also started paying myself a small stipend each week to cover my expenses. The expenses weren't large: food, mortgage payment, utilities, and transportation. Fortunately, enough clients paid service fees to cover expenses.

The drift here is that it doesn't really take money to start a successful business. What it does take is a burning desire to succeed at what you're doing. In my case, the burning desire was to stay sober and I knew that one way I could do that was being around other addicts and alcoholics who were also sober. But the process of helping other alcoholics while staying sober myself was sometimes daunting.

There's a lot more to the recovery business than meets the eye. There are groups to run. Meals to prepare. Utilities to pay. Arguments to defuse. City officials showing up, wondering if you have the right permits. Addicts who will live with you for two or three weeks, then leave when they get their first paycheck.

It can be a heartbreaking business, one that grinds you down and wears you out. The only thing that kept us going in those early days was perseverance and having the discipline to get up each day to help the constant stream of addicts and alcoholics who kept coming to our doors. And we helped them, no matter what.

That's what made us the success we are today – we never gave up and we never quit. We put everything we had into our project and kept reinvesting until it hurt. And today there are new people coming in who share that same perseverance self-discipline. And they too will reap the blessings of their efforts.

Just as those of us who have been here for many years.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Finding the good Within

"Don’t worry if someone does not like you. Most people are struggling to like themselves."

I was reading an article in Psychology Today this week in which the author was talking about an experiment she did in a therapy group. 

She asked each member to mention three things they liked about themselves. As she expected, the majority of them struggled with her request.

She wrote that most people who are given this assignment find it challenging. On the other hand, if she asks the opposite question, the result is quite different.

She says when she asks people to come up with negative things about themselves they almost always can go on and on until she has to stop them.

And, I myself have been in groups where the same experiment took place. And the results were always the same.

So why do we humans find it so difficult to see the good within ourselves? We can blurt out the negative without hesitation, yet stutter when asked to look at the good.

Is it because we think we should be doing better? Is it because we haven't lived up to our expectations? Do we feel as if we're bragging if we recognize the good and worthwhile within us? Or is it that much of the human race has lousy self-esteem?

I've never seen or read a satisfactory answer to this conundrum. But, as a person in recovery, I believe that if I wear life loosely and don't take things too seriously I'll feel good about myself most of the time.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Patience

The last blog I wrote was while I was in Mexico.  And in that blog, I said that I'd be home the next day.  But, that's not what happened.

Instead, once we boarded and started taxiing down the runway something went wrong with one of the engines and the pilot aborted the take-off and the plane was sent to a far corner of the airport and parked.  The pilot announced that something was wrong with one of the valves in the engine and that we'd have to have to sit for a while to see if it could be repaired.

After an hour or so, there came another announcement.  The engine couldn't be repaired right away and we all - some 200 of us - would be bussed back to the terminal and put on other flights.  Well, that seemed to be a minor inconvenience, except that when we got to the terminal all the flights were taken and we'd have to wait until the following day, which was yesterday.

On the upside, though, we would be housed - at no cost - at a resort hotel and all our meals and drinks would be paid for by the airline.  Well, there were mixed feelings about that arrangement.  Of course, the drinkers were really happy about having all they could drink at no cost. But some of the people seemed kind of upset because they had jobs and other obligations back in the States.

Part of me wanted to be upset.  But another part of me said this was a time to practice meditation and acceptance.  Because there's always something that goes wrong and if I make a big deal out it all that happens is that life gets more stressful.

Besides, all of the work I was wanting to get done was still waiting for me and I was able to get a good portion of it completed by the deadline. Somehow things always seem to work out - just not always the way I want them to.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 12, 2018

Gratitude

Tomorrow I'm back home from vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  And as always my visits here are a lesson in gratitude.

And the gratitude comes from the people here.  They are friendly, helpful, and kind.  Everyone here works hard just to survive.

Recently the Mexican government raised the national minimum wage from $4.25 to $4.70 cents a day.  Yes, you read that right:  $4.70 cents a day.  About what we Americans spend on a latte or a trip through a fast food restaurant if we're lucky enough to get by that cheap.

Yet, somehow they get by.  Some work two jobs.  Others start small businesses selling everything from handmade jewelry to flowers to fruits and vegetables at the intersections on busy streets.

Also, they seem to have larger social networks than Americans, family to depend on when things get tough financially or when they're between jobs.  

They also don't take life quite as seriously as we do and spend less time keeping up with their neighbors in terms of having the best house or the newest car.  Their relationships seem to mean more to them than the things they can acquire.

They seem to wear life more loosely and are quick to find humor in most everything - qualities that I admire.





Friday, November 9, 2018

Helpful Policewoman

While driving with my companions in downtown Puerto Vallarta yesterday while on vacation, I was waved to the curb by a policewoman.

Since I wasn't speeding I couldn't imagine why she was stopping me. I hadn't cut anyone off.  I wasn't weaving.  The rental car had the proper tags on it.  I didn't have any warrants.

But as soon as I rolled down the window she let me know that I was driving while talking on the phone.  She told me that was illegal in Mexico.

I told her I was unaware of such a law, that I was sorry, and I wouldn't do it anymore.  But she wasn't impressed and asked for my license.

After I gave her the license she pulled out her ticket book and started writing.  As she did so she told me that I'd have to see the judge the next morning.

She said the fine was $147.00 in American money and that once I paid it I could get my license back.

Since I knew I didn't want to spend even one or two hours of my vacation in a courthouse I used the technique I've always used when I have encounters with the police in Mexico.

Whether you know it or not the police in Mexico are very compassionate and understanding, something I discovered many years ago when I got stopped in Tijuana.

So, when she told me I had to appear in court I asked if she could do me a favor.  Because I was on vacation and didn't want to waste time in court would she mind taking the money to the judge for me?

She looked around, a bit uncomfortable, and told me she really couldn't do that, that she might get into trouble.  But when I pulled two 100 dollar bills from my wallet and held them where she could see them she handed her ticket book through the window.  At which point I put the money into it and handed it back.

She said she would take the money to the judge and made me promise to stop talking on the phone while driving.

I told her that I wouldn't and drove on.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Being Lucky

While you're reading this post, I'll be sitting in a condo on the eighth floor of a building that overlooks the beach in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. I'd post a picture for you on Facebook, except I don't do social media. I have enough drama in my life, without that.

Before I left yesterday, someone told me how lucky I was to be able to take vacations three or four times a year. And I agreed with them. I am lucky. Lucky to be sober for nearly 28 years. Lucky to have my family back in my life. Lucky to have started a recovery program 27 years ago that has spread clear across Arizona. Lucky to have my hands in several other small businesses.

But the reality is that there's more to it than that. While luck is definitely a component of many successful people's lives there is something else that people don't often recognize. And that's the fact that what many people call luck I call hard work and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise.

As Thomas Edison said: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work". And a truer statement was probably never made.

In my case, the success I enjoy is because I show up every day, whether I feel like it or not. The reason I'm able to show up is that I quit putting drugs and alcohol in my system. But once I got the drugs and alcohol out of my life I decided that I was going to enjoy the years that I had left. And because I had destroyed businesses and opportunities over and over again, I knew that I had to be disciplined about showing up every day - whether I felt like it or not. Showing up equates with hard work.

If you're an addict or alcoholic who hasn't done too much damage to your brain or your health and are willing to work you can enjoy whatever kind of life you choose. I know many addicts and alcoholics today who are outstanding successes in every way – financially, socially, with their families, and as members of their community.

But if you look behind the scenes you'll see that every one of them show up every day and do their best. And they are "lucky" because they work hard.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Angry Client

Last week I was in a conversation with an angry former client. She was so angry that her words came spewing out of the phone like hot lava out of a volcano. I had to put her call on speakerphone for fear of damaging my eardrums.

She was screaming so loud and so fast that I couldn't get a word in edgewise. And I really didn't even want to respond to her invective. All I wanted to do was ask her to take a deep breath and relax for a moment. But before I had a chance to say anything she ran out of steam and ended the call.

Unfortunately, this wasn't my first conversation with this former client. I'd spoken to her perhaps a week before and she was fairly pleasant. She claimed that I didn't know what was going on in our halfway houses, especially the woman's houses. She said they were overrun with rodents, cockroaches, and bedbugs. She said that several female clients have been rushed to the emergency room from the effects of bedbug bites and rodent droppings. She also claimed she'd been hospitalized for several days for serious after-effects from exposure to bedbugs and rodents. Before we were done talking I told her I would look into the matter and call her back.

When I asked the managers if any of what she said was true they said they didn't think so but that they would do a new inspection of the houses. The inspection resulted in the discovery of two dead bedbugs in one of the bed frames. And as we do in all such cases, our staff took the bedding to a heat room and let it sit in 140° temperature for a while. They also cleaned the room thoroughly and filled in any cracks where bedbugs might hide. And this is what they do in any situation where bedbugs are found.

In addition, Maricopa Environmental Services inspect our facilities regularly and generally give us passing marks at all our facilities.  Plus, we have contracts with pest control companies that regularly inspect and document their treatments.

I'm not sure what this woman's problem is other than that maybe she has relapsed and is blaming it on our organization. Either that, or she might need to find a facility that could deal with her emotional issues and out of control rage.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Needing a Job

The economy is really great right now, but for TLC it's a double-edged sword. Nearly anyone who wants a job can get one easily. There are signs posted everywhere, businesses looking for help.

But the problem it creates for our organization is that most of our staff comes from our population. We use very few outside professionals for anything. If we can do it ourselves we do it. Our peer counselors are drawn from our population. Those who staff our houses are clients who have been sober for a while and want to work in a safe environment. For them, it's not about the money. It's about staying clean and sober, something that many of them haven't had a lot of success at.

But some of our clients have the idea that if they can just get a job everything will be okay. And of course, work is an honorable endeavor in our society. When a client tells his family member or loved ones that he just needs to get back to work they usually will agree with him or her. In fact, they usually offer encouragement.

However, the truth is that 95% of those who come to us only have one problem: their drug or alcohol addiction. Drugs and alcohol made them homeless, put them in jail, got them fired from jobs, kicked out of their homes, and into all kinds of other messes. Yet, when they're with us for a while and start making a little money and return to health their problems with drugs and alcohol become a dim memory. They know that no one will fault them for getting a job and making some money. But unless they have a solid foundation of recovery behind them it's easy to backslide. And once again they find themselves at our doors asking for help.

The other part of the equation is that it becomes difficult for us to recruit staff members who will stay around for a while. Most of those working in key positions at the moment are here for their recovery because they realize that money is not their issue – in fact, that it can sometimes fuel their problems. If it wasn't for this core of people who are dedicated to their recovery our management problems would be even more difficult.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Addict Children

I don't think addicts truly understand the impact their addiction had on their parents until they find out that their own child is an addict.

Many of our clients, some of whom have been addicts for years, also have children who are now drug addicts or alcoholics. And when we first learn that our children are addicts it's kind of like a punch in the gut.

I was one of those parents. When I first learned that my son was using heroin it was a shock. But I don't know why. Because I knew that the only examples he had in his life were other drug addicts, including me. So when I heard that he was spending his money on drugs and losing everything I shouldn't have been surprised. The same when I discovered that my grandson was a heroin addict. I just looked at the examples he had in his life.

For many of us with addict children, I think it helps us to recommit to our recovery because we want to become an example to our children, to give them hope that they can also get clean and sober.

There are many of us at TLC who deal directly with the parents of the addicts who live with us. And I think the idea that some of us also have addict children makes us more empathetic with them. They know beyond a doubt that we understand pretty much how they feel about their situation when they learn that we are not only addicts - but the parents of addicts.

We can't turn back time and erase the damage we did to our loved ones by letting them witness our addictions.  We can only be the best examples we can be today.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Being Grateful

It's never hard to find reasons to be grateful.

Last night, while driving home from the market, I passed a man who was struggling with about eight shopping carts he was navigating down the sidewalk. He'd take a couple of them at a time and move them ahead 20 or 30 feet, then go back and get a couple more and put them in line behind the ones he'd just moved.

And it wasn't like the carts were empty. Each was piled full of miscellaneous scraps of whatever: blankets, aluminum cans, pieces of wood, quite a bit of cardboard, and other things I couldn't quite identify. Whatever was in them must've been relatively heavy because it seemed like it was taking a lot of effort to move them.

As I drove on I wondered why he was collecting all of that stuff and what he was doing with it. Because being in the recovery business, I automatically default to the idea that he might be an alcoholic or an addict. With perhaps an overlay of some kind of mental illness.

Because the reality is, that anyone who is capable of putting that much effort into moving shopping carts full of junk around town is capable of working pretty hard. Someone who expends that kind of effort to collect a bunch of miscellaneous crap obviously has the energy to work a real job. Especially in today's economy. So I finally concluded that his problems were more mental than anything else.

And I was grateful that it wasn't me out there pushing shopping carts around. I was pleased that I found out almost 28 years ago that if I just quit drinking and shooting heroin and went to some meetings that my life would be great. Which it is.

While I never recommend that we play the comparison game, because we usually end up comparing ourselves with people with yachts and Learjet's, there are times when it is beneficial to realize that there are a lot of people who have problems much worse than the ones we face in dealing with our addictions.

Those of us in recovery have been rescued from ourselves and have found a solution. And if we use that solution in our daily lives we're not going to return to the way we once lived. Instead, we have guidelines that help us direct our behavior when we run into challenges and problems. Instead of turning to a drink or drug when we're facing challenges, we may call our sponsor or go to a meeting. And if we are serious about our lives it's just about that simple.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 22, 2018

Winning the Lottery

A friend asked today if I was going to buy a lottery ticket. After all, he told me, it's now up to over a billion and a half dollars.

"No," I answered.

He looked at me as if he didn't understand why I was missing such a great opportunity. After all, he explained, this is probably the biggest lottery jackpot there's ever been.

The reality is, I told him, that I won the lottery over 27 years ago when I became sober. After all, only a small percentage of heroin addicts stay clean for nearly 28 years, as I have. To me, that's like winning the lottery. Because if I hadn't gotten clean I wouldn't be here today to talk about it.

For most addicts and alcoholics with long-term sobriety living a clean and sober life is the best thing that could ever happen. After all, many of us had some success in our life before we became addicts. Many of us had businesses, careers, homes, and more. Yet we traded it all to live in the insane world of addiction. The fact that we're alive today is a miracle in itself.

Then there's the flip side of winning the lottery. I read the other day that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning while bobsledding backward down Mount Everest than he is to win the lottery. And those who are mathematically inclined have calculated the odds of winning are millions to one. Whatever the odds, I've read many horror stories about lottery winners and how their lives got screwed up by the sudden influx of cash.

While a few are prudent and invested wisely, there's an abundance of stories of those who did otherwise. I read of one man who won $27 million and blew through half of it within a year. One woman who won the lottery twice in one year is now living in a trailer park on Social Security. Another man who won $5 million was almost killed by a hit man hired by his brother and sister-in-law, who planned to inherit the windfall. The horror stories go on and on about greed, poor investments, suicides, and reports from many winners that they wish they had never won because their lives were totally messed up from then on.

It takes more self-discipline than many of us have to live a balanced life when we have millions of dollars. It might be something nice to fantasize about but that kind of winnings would be simply exchanging one set of problems for another.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 19, 2018

Back with Family

One result of addiction is that many addicts and alcoholics eventually lose their families.

Of course, it doesn't happen right away. Many times families exhibit unusual patience and spend thousands of dollars trying to get an addict back on track. But finally many of them give up. Their addicted family member has stolen from them. Maybe they've gone to prison or jail a few times. Perhaps they've been in accidents. Or maybe ended up in the emergency room after an overdose. The emotional baggage overwhelms many families and they understandably give up hope.

When I first came into recovery nearly 28 years ago I had a few phone numbers, but none of them really wanted a call from me. Including my family members. And it can be quite discouraging for the newcomer when they feel there's little chance of getting back together with those they love.

Yet I'm here to tell you that all of that can change. But it doesn't happen overnight. For most of us it doesn't happen even in the first six months. But within a few years – as long as we stay clean and sober – our families will realize that we're serious about recovery and start communicating with us once more.

I know that in my case it took about three years for my family to realize that I was serious about staying sober. And once they realized that, we started spending holidays together, summer vacations together and saw each other on a regular basis. At one point I had five family members living with me in a three bedroom house.

And for some of us, the very unusual happens. For example in my case, I had a daughter show up who was born in the late 1960s, a child that I was unaware of.

As long as we remain in recovery, there's hope for us all.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Changing Attitudes

A constant theme in my life is how things seem to always change.

And this came up for me today after I had a meeting with the city regarding some changes we want to make to our property so we can add services to our program. The people I met with, one lady from the building and safety department, and a gentleman from planning and zoning, were very accommodating and seemed like they really wanted to help us provide the documentation we need for the State Department of Health. They were patient with me and helped me to understand exactly what I needed to provide them so we can move ahead with the project. I walked away from the meeting with a sense of optimism and felt like I had been well served by our city government.

But it wasn't always this way. Back in the 1990s, our program got into a legal battle with the city. We spent over five years in federal court and a lot of legal fees just to be allowed to operate our halfway houses in the downtown area. At that time it seemed like everyone wanted to run addicts and alcoholics out of town, as opposed to helping them. The attitude seemed to be that if the addicts went somewhere else the addiction problem would cease to exist. But to us, that was a shortsighted view. After all, statistics were and are that some 15% of Americans have some kind of a problem with substance abuse – either alcohol or drugs.

I'm not sure changes have happened within city government or within my own views. I know that since the 1990s the public and the politicians have become more aware of how many addicts are dying from methamphetamines, alcohol, and opioids. In 2017 alone around 800 addicts died from opioid overdoses. In addition, hundreds more died from alcohol and the abuse of other drugs such as methamphetamines.

I think the public and the political world have come to realize that it's important to support any group that's making an effort to help educate and save addicts and alcoholics from themselves. I believe this change in attitude is going to make it much easier for us to carry out our mission of helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives.



Saturday, October 13, 2018

New Daughter

Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

A few blogs ago I mentioned that I was contacted by a daughter that I never knew existed.  A daughter born of a brief relationship in the late sixties.

During those years I drifted, as addicts are wont to do, from one city to another and one relationship to another with little thought of the consequences.

Then recently a cousin contacted me to ask if I'd ever known a woman named Arlene, that she had a daughter who was looking for her biological father, whom she'd never met.  Once she mentioned the woman's name I realized that I now had four daughters, rather than three.

And this evening I met my new daughter Gina, and we talked for a few hours.  She filled me in on how she was eventually adopted and about her upbringing.  She talked about searching for me over the years, then after no success stopped looking until recently.  And not long afterward she got some clues that put her on the right track.

Someone asked prior to my meeting her if I had any anxiety about it.  I thought that maybe I should have some, for some reason I didn't.  In fact, I was looking forward to meeting her.

And once we met I found her to be charming and attractive.  I know we'll know each other better in time and are getting together again tomorrow.

Once we addicts have a certain period of recovery we learn to not fear our pasts, regardless of how we lived.  And sometimes we encounter good things from our past that we never knew about -  like a new daughter.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Nothing Personal

One thing I've learned after being on the planet nearly 80 years is that it's easy to be unhappy.

One sure way is to want things to be different than they are at the present moment. Our ego may demand that people treat us differently than they do. We may think we're more important than we really are. And when we want people to treat us this way and they don't do it we can be very unhappy.

A long time ago I heard the real secret of happiness: never take things personally. Even though it seems like most of life's about us and our needs and our wants and desires if we live this way we're going to find ourselves constantly disappointed and frustrated and out of sync with the world.

When I live this way – not taking things personally – I'm a pretty happy camper. Because what others say, do, or think doesn't have a lot to do with me.

At times they just want someone to listen. There are others who are large and bullying personalities who want to be the center of attention. Or who always want to be right about everything even though they usually fall short.

If we do what we learn in the 12-step programs and accept people as they are, we rarely get into difficulty. Because no matter what our opinion of what they say, it doesn't make a hill of beans in the scheme of things. Their opinion is their opinion and I let them keep it and express it as often as they want. In other words, I don't take it personally because it's not about me.

I guarantee that if you try living this way, not taking things personally and allowing other people to express themselves you're going to be much happier. And you'll be more at peace.

And isn't that what we all got sober for?

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Our Stories

The stories we hear in Alcoholics Anonymous help us get sober.

And I say that because I was one of those people who thought I was unique. That I was different. No one had a story like mine. That no one drank and used drugs like I did. Therefore, I viewed Alcoholics Anonymous as a place that wasn't for me because I wasn't like the rest of the people who were there. But that's where I was terribly wrong.

Now it's true, that most people we meet in Alcoholics Anonymous are different from us in many ways. They come from different backgrounds. They have different levels of education. They are of other ethnic groups and religious backgrounds. Some are old. And some are young.

But even though no two are like, their stories follow the same plot. They began drinking or using and something bad happened to them. While it took many of them years, they eventually had some kind of spiritual awakening that brought them into the twelve-step meeting rooms. And once they grasped what the program was all about and began practicing the principles, life became remarkably better. And that's why I say the stories we hear in the meeting rooms are what help us get sober.

No matter how bad we think our stories are, there's always someone who will tell a story that's so outrageous that we wonder how they're sober today. I've heard speakers talk of unimaginable abuse and suffering, yet somehow they were saved by the principles of the twelve-step programs. They tell real-life stories of terrible childhoods and abuse, yet they got sober and came through it all.

Probably one of the main reasons that the twelve-step programs have been successful for some 75 years is that its members find strength and recovery while they solve their common problems.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Meditation

Last night I went to a Wednesday night meditation at the Buddhist temple in Mesa.

After we meditated for 45 minutes, the group leader asked if anyone had questions.

One person, who was apparently new, asked about the benefits of meditation. And the instructor explained some of them: lower blood pressure, more peace in our lives, less stress, clear thinking, and many more.

Having meditated for 25 years myself, I believe that the benefits of meditation are cumulative. I remember that when I first started it was kind of a question for me of "what's the point?" It didn't seem like I was getting anywhere with my meditation. My mind would wander. Sometimes I would fall asleep. Yet I kept at it because I was getting something out of it even though at times I didn't believe it.

My experience is that as I continue to meditate I take more and more of my meditation experience out into my daily life. Meditation has allowed me to become a much calmer person. Rather than reacting to stressful situations, I seem to be able to absorb and accept them as part of my daily life. Instead of erupting in anger when something doesn't happen just the way I want it to, I find it much easier to look at the situation with acceptance and to move on.

Also, I have learned to not cling to things, to realize that everything in the world is temporary and fleeting. And when one has that perspective it's much easier to live in the now and enjoy the moments that our Creator has given us.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 1, 2018

Resentment

Today while I was at Walgreens I ran into a dentist I hadn't seen in maybe four or five years. In fact, it had been so long ago that she didn't remember my name.

In any event, I'd quit using her services because she didn't take care of business the way I thought she should. Several years ago she placed implants in my lower jaw. Every so often implants need parts replaced because they eventually wear down from being removed and replaced for cleaning.

But it seemed like every time I went to her office in Scottsdale for my replacement appointment she never had the right parts. They were either too small. Or too large. Made of the wrong material. It was always something.  One time I even had to drive over to the laboratory to pick up the parts myself and take them back to her office so she could replace them.

Now I'm pretty patient, as those who know me will confirm. However, I finally lost patience. So when I went for my last appointment and once again she didn't have the right fittings for my implants I decided I'd had enough.  I found a dentist who practices about half a mile from my house. The first time I went to see him he had the right size fittings. And he's had them in stock ever since; all I need to do is show up and he takes care of me in about 15 minutes.

When I explained why I'd quit seeing her, she told me that I should've talked to her about my problems and she would've responded. But from my perspective, it had been an ongoing issue that had occurred more than four or five times. My attitude is that if someone wants my business they should keep supplies in stock to take care of me. And the fact that she never had the right parts should've told her that I wasn't getting the kind of service that a patient expects.

While she did halfway apologize, she said she resented the negative review I gave on her website after I left.  I'm not sure what she expected, but surely she couldn't have thought that I would leave a positive response after the service I received.

As I went on my way I realized that at least we alcoholics have a positive way of dealing with our resentments and getting over things.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 27, 2018

New Daughter

A couple of weeks ago I got  a text from a cousin, telling me a woman had contacted her, seeking information about her father - someone named "John."

She said the woman didn't know "John's" last name. 

But she did mention the name of her mother, a woman I'd been using drugs with for a few months in East Los Angeles in the late 1960s.  The last time I saw her, she said she was pregnant.  And even though it's been about 50 years ago, I remember she was angry and we didn't part on good terms.

Around a week after I last saw her I went to jail in Orange County for drug charges and didn't see the sun for about 18 months.  When I was released, I resumed my heroin addiction and my path as a career criminal.

During those years I wasn't fit to be a parent.  I had two children I knew about, but I was rarely there for them.  My life was all about self-gratification, about taking care of my heroin addiction. I was really a self-centered, miserable human being.

A couple of times I wondered what had happened to her mother.  Was she really pregnant?  Did she have the baby?  Did her addiction cause her to lose it?  But I never spent the time or effort to learn more.  As it turns out, she was blessed by being adopted when she was three years old and raised by normal people.

And now, for the past few days, I've been getting acquainted by text and telephone with a delightful new daughter that I never knew I had.  She has children and grandchildren.  We're slowly getting to know one another.

In reflecting on meeting her I'm reminded of how our addictions can take precedence over everything else in our lives - much to our detriment.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 24, 2018

Raising Children?

Sometimes it seems like we're raising children whose parents didn't finish raising them.  Maybe it's because they didn't care about them.  Or maybe the parents were drug addicts themselves and never developed parenting skills because they were too busy chasing drugs.

We have a lot of clients who don't know how to fend for themselves.  No work experience or job skills.  Not much schooling.  And it's not because they're stupid.  It's because they had no one to guide them when they were growing up.

Many of our clients who come from prison or the streets seem to fall into this category.  They don't know how to apply for a job. They don't have the first clue about how to dress or groom themselves before they look for work.  It's easy to see why they were homeless or in jail

On the positive side, many of them respond when we try to bring them into the world of responsibility.  In fact, many of those who spend six months to a year or more with us learn skills and trades that translate into good jobs out in the real world. 

Many of our clients over the past 26 years have gone on to own their own businesses, have graduated from college and gone on to become productive citizens.

Often getting into recovery is about simply growing up and learning to become responsible.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Karma

There are many definitions of karma.  Some are from Buddhism.  Others from Hinduism and other religions.  The internet has many definitions, but they all pretty much boil down to the same thing:  what comes around goes around.

And I had a good example of karma recently in my own life. 

I've been in some long-term litigation - as many readers know - something that has drained a lot of my psychic and financial resources.  That's what lawsuits can do to us.

What happened, in this case, is that the party that I'm suing has been lying - even while under oath - about a contractual agreement we'd entered into several years ago.  The other party maintains that she didn't understand the agreement.  That she was pressured into signing it. That she didn't have proper legal representation and so forth.  So the court granted a hearing because it seemed like it was kind of her word against mine.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, I encounter an old friend of the other party, someone I hadn't seen in a while because she lives back East.  She asked how the lawsuit was going and I told her I was going to a hearing in a couple of weeks because the other party was saying she hadn't understood the agreement and was pressured into signing it. Therefore she was attempting to dismantle it.

My friend was aghast.  She told me - something I was unaware of - that she and the woman I'm suing had many lengthy discussions about all aspects of the agreement before it went into effect.  Of course, I immediately passed this information on to my lawyers and they're taking the appropriate legal steps.

I've always believed that when one does the right thing, good things come back to them. In this case, I was doing my best to live up to my end of the contract, but the other party lied about her understanding of it and will ultimately pay the price - karma in action.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 17, 2018

Staying Peaceful

It's difficult for us addicts to remain calm and peaceful when it seems as if the world is collapsing around us.  And it might be difficult because before we got sober we had ways of dealing with difficult times:  we medicated ourselves.

Drugs.  Alcohol.  Whatever it took to numb our brains and desensitize us.

However, today we can't use substances to stay calm.  All that happens if we use is that we further destroy our lives and things get more complicated. But there are healthy things we can do.

For openers, we can start by talking to our sponsor.  After all, most of the issues and drama that we encounter in our recovery is something our sponsor has already dealt with.  A sponsor with any kind of time has many answers and suggestions to help keep us on track.

And something that works for me personally is a workout.  A good run on the elliptical or 45 minutes with the weights can pump calming endorphins into our system - and endorphins are more powerful than opiates without the dangers of overdosing.

Another personal favorite is meditation.  I do 30 minutes each morning when I first awake, plus attend a weekly meditation class at a local Buddhist temple. A recent study at Oxford University in England showed that 15 minutes of daily Mindfulness meditation is 20 percent more effective than depression medications.  And with no side effects.

So there are safe places to turn when things get tough.  We just need to be willing to use them.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 14, 2018

More Long Term Sobriety

As I said earlier this week, TLC doesn't have the time or resources to keep track of how many of our graduates stay sober long term.

Then I mentioned in a blog a few days ago a man who was here 25 years ago and who's still sober today. He was in town on business and stopped to say hello.

Then yesterday I hear from a former female resident about a client was here in the early nineties when we first started the program. She wrote:

"John,

I met a man in an online recovery group.

 He made me an admin because he trusted me. As time went in we became internet friends and exchanged phone numbers. We talked for hours on the phone. 

He had over 25 years of sobriety and when I told him I had been at TLC in Mesa, Arizona, he told me he had also been through your program at the very beginning. Another success story. 

He passed away last year and my heart was sad - but so happy he had years of living the good life. Thanks mostly to your program and a willingness to become more. He taught me a great deal and I'll forever be grateful for that and for you. 

God bless. Keep up the amazing work you do.  

Thanks,  JM"

These are the kind of letters that gladden my heart. The idea that we can help even a few people stay sober makes all of this worthwhile.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

25 Years Ago

While TLC doesn't have the resources or time to keep track of how many graduates stay sober, we often get reminders of our successes.

And today a man stopped at our corporate offices to tell me that 25 years ago today he entered our program when we still had a facility on Country Club Drive in Mesa.  It was an old hospital that we'd converted into a halfway house.

He said that when he arrived he only had two bags with him, all of his worldly possessions. Today he's a sales executive with a major corporation and had come to town to visit a new facility his company had purchased in Arizona.  (I omit his name to protect his anonymity.)

I only had a few minutes to talk with him because I had an appointment scheduled so we made plans to visit the next time he visits the Valley.

Later in the day, I reflected upon how long this man had kept his sobriety.  For 25 years this man has been a contributor to society, working, not driving under the influence, not going to jail - an example of what can happen by following a few simple guidelines.

And the guidelines he followed 25 years ago are the same ones we teach our residents today.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Long Time Reader

I hear from a reader who's been following this blog for many years, something I appreciate.

When she first wrote it was to see if TLC could help her adult son who'd been drinking and living on the streets in the Midwest for quite a while.  And my response was that of course we could help him.  All he needed was to be willing and to show up.

However, he wasn't interested in changing.  And, as far as she knows he's still doing the same thing, but now in another state on the East coast.

Much of our correspondence has been about how to deal with someone we love who refuses to change.  And the reality is that until someone experiences enough pain they're not too motivated to do anything different - regardless of how painful it is to those around them.

Even though she suffers greatly over her son's alcoholism, this woman has fortunately been able to focus on the many blessings in her life.  She has children and grandchildren who love and care for her.  She has participated in support groups that have helped her realize that until her son decides to change all she can do is live in acceptance.

Most of us alcoholics and addicts don't realize the pain we cause our family and friends.  It's only when we get sober and begin to make amends that we realize the damage we've done.

The positive thing is that if we stay sober these relationships can be repaired.

Click here to email John




Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Angry People

"You will not be punished for your anger.  You will be punished by your anger"  Buddha

What do we do when we're dealing with someone so angry that they threaten to kill us?  I ask this question because for those of us in the recovery field this happens every once in a while.

The Big Book clearly states on page 84 that "We ceased fighting anyone or anything..."  But if we follow this statement does that mean that we just roll over and not defend ourselves?  It's not an easy question to answer, not without splitting some philosophical hairs.

After all, we got into recovery so we could live in serenity. Yet, here were are faced with having our lives taken by an angry addict.  And while many times the person may be blowing off steam, one never knows when someone will act on their anger.

I learned during my years of incarceration to take every threat seriously.  Regardless if the person was considered dangerous or not, one never knew whether they would act on their threat.  And the situation would be dealt with appropriately.

But in the world of recovery, we no longer can take matters into our own hands if we want to live in peace and serenity.

So the solution for me is to let the law deal with threats; after all, that's why we pay taxes.  And on the last three occasions, we've either put the offenders in jail or placed restraining orders upon them.

And while sometimes that doesn't satisfy the more primitive part of my brain, my sober self tells me that living with the bounds of the law is the right thing to do today.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Changes

Yesterday I got another example of how our lives can quickly change forever.

For over 20 years I'd worked with a business associate and friend who provided us with accounting and consulting services.

He was a pleasant man in his seventies who did a good job with our books, keeping the IRS happy and usually giving us good advice about how to take care of our finances.

He had a few personal quirks, such as a mild stutter when he got nervous, which was sometimes distracting when I was trying to have a serious conversation with him.  But, all in all, I was satisfied with his services and figured he'd be with us as long as we were in business.  He was a bright man and had good ideas for tax strategies.

But then during tax season two years ago he called me up around 8:00 pm, which was not like him, and started rambling to me about some tax work that we needed to complete right away.  Tax work that we'd completed a month earlier.

At first, I thought maybe he'd had a memory lapse, or maybe one too many drinks, and explained to him that we'd already filed those taxes on time.  When he called me the next day, he brushed it off as a memory lapse and I didn't think much more about it.

But over the next few months, he began having more lapses in memory and judgment and I realized that something serious was going on with him.  Somehow we scraped through the tax season.  But I started talking with my business associate about finding another accountant.  Which we ultimately did to complete our 2017 taxes.

After that, I lost track of him.  I tried calling, but he didn't answer.  His old firm, which had let him go, wouldn't give any information about him. He'd disappeared.

Then, the other day, I ate at a restaurant he used to frequent and they told me that he'd developed dementia and that his grown children had put him in a local rest home.  Which didn't surprise me, considering how erratic he'd become the last few months I'd worked with him.

I was saddened to see how quickly this man deteriorated.  How quickly he went from being active and employed to being confined to a nursing home.

And it reminded me how everything in life is temporary.  And that we should live it to the fullest.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Unimportant

A while back I read that most things in life are very unimportant.  At first, I had a negative reaction to that idea.  But then I thought about it for a minute and I had to agree.

Because many things that people think are important are really meaningless.  A good example of this can be found among those who spend a lot of time on social media.

I've actually seen people get angry and resentful about what someone else says about them on Facebook.  Since I've never had a Facebook page and know little about it I'm kind of uninformed here.  And probably sound like it.

But I've heard people become very angry when someone blocks them on Facebook.  And there's something called a "wall" that I've heard people upset about.

I've been eating with someone who takes a picture of their meal and posts it online - as if it were something important - which it's not.  But unimportant things go beyond social media.

I know those who get very upset if their hair or clothes aren't perfect when they leave the house.  As if the world really cares about how they look.  Or else they'll have a blemish on their face and their day is ruined.  We place way too much importance on what others think of us - something we can't control.

In my opinion, the important things in life are our families, our health, and our friends. Some would maybe add jobs to the list.  And jobs are important, but only as a means of caring for those we love and care for.

In my opinion, the most important thing in life is to lift up those around us and do what we can to make the world a better place.

Click here to email John


Monday, August 27, 2018

Cravings

The topic of cravings often comes up at 12-step meetings.

"I've got these terrible cravings and want to drink"

"If  these cravings don't  go away  I'm going to put a needle in my arm."

One hears statements like these - or variations of them - in meetings on a regular basis.

Yet, we must pause and ask ourselves: what are cravings?  While many treat them as if they're monsters lurking along our path of recovery waiting to pounce upon us, that's only our brain asking us for more of that wonderful substance that took away all of our pain - at least for a while.

In other words, our body and mind want to feel that sense of oneness with the world, that feeling that makes us believe that everything's okay.  That feeling that gives us power over everything, even our unruly selves.  That feeling that ultimately brings everything in our lives crashing down around us.

A craving - in my opinion - is a normal part of recovery.  And each time one pops up, if we resist the temptation we become stronger.  Eventually, if we continue to ignore our cravings they dissipate and don't return.

Think of your craving as merely a thought, then let it pass through your mind.  Kind of like a cloud drifting through the sky.

A craving is only a request, not a command that we must act upon.  After all, we make the choice to use or not use.  Do any of you ever recall anyone holding you down and pouring alcohol down your throat - or forcibly putting a needle in your arm, or a pipe in your mouth? 

Remember that we're the decision makers when it comes to using.  And resisting the cravings is a wise decision.

Click here to email John

Friday, August 24, 2018

Gratitude Letter

I received a brief letter from one of our managers last week, one that I wanted to share with readers. And the reason is that this letter exemplifies what TLC is all about and some of the changes that it brings to our clients' lives.

It reads:

"Thank you, John

I'm writing this note to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of your vision to help others find sobriety.

Realizing that our goals, through your program, to develop integrity, ethics and a moral compass are just as important as the abstinence from substances and true sobriety is inspirational.

The ability to work on my recovery while trying to facilitate your ideas of a well-rounded program has made me realize that we all have a higher purpose should we choose to work for it.

The monetary compensation is greatly appreciated as well as the benefits of health that the dental procedures have provided me. But the ability to reset my life is invaluable. Once again – thank you. 

Your friend in need and follow supporter."

(Name left out to protect anonymity)

I receive letters like this ever so often. And once in a while I publish them because the message comes from the heart.

Many times clients arrived in our program in poor health, having lost everything to their addiction. And every so often one of them will start realizing the benefits of sobriety and stay with us for a while, some until they work their way into management. 

That's what happened to the author of this letter. He worked his way up from the bottom and found a place in management. He's giving back to his fellow addicts, while at the same time maintaining his sobriety.

He used TLC just the way it was designed and is reaping the benefits of his hard work and consistent effort.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Balance

"The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness." Carl Jung

At one point in life when I was much younger, I thought I always had to feel good, to constantly be happy. And I dedicated years of my life pursuing that idea.

Drugs, alcohol, parties, sex. Those were always my go-to ways to feel good.

In fact, I pursued my goal so intensely that I repeatedly lost everything I had. Jobs. Relationships. Businesses. Friends. Money. Even my freedom.

Only when my pursuit of happiness took everything from me did I get a different perspective on life.

I began to realize that on the other end of life's teetertotter was a measure of pain and sadness. Part of being on planet earth, even clean and sober for years, I experience my share of pain and sadness.

And the good thing is that I don't look for chemical happiness. I know that if I wait long enough the sun will shine again. I can trust that my physical and emotional pain will eventually subside.

I know that happiness and sadness are opposite sides of the same coin.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A strong Team

I finally got back to the office yesterday after returning the day before from a week in Maui.

And even though I've come back from vacation many times before and always find things running perfectly I still have a warm feeling when I return and find that everybody's been doing what they're supposed to do.

And it's not that I'm an untrusting person or don't have confidence in those who run our programs. I think it's that I marvel at what addicts and alcoholics can do when they get sober and unleash their potential.

Within our management, we have people from every background.  We have those who have no criminal history, and others who have spent decades behind bars. Some have college degrees, others have only finished high school.  We have clients ranging from 18 years old to some in their 70's.

Yet somehow this diverse group - with their common goal of rebuilding their lives and staying sober - manages to function as a well-coordinated team to get their jobs done.

Does that mean they that they never disagree or that everything runs perfectly all the time?  Of course not.  But somehow they keep things together in a way that makes me proud that they're part of TLC.

Click here to email John


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

No bad Days

In a jewelry store here in Maui I asked the woman waiting on us how her day was going.  Her answer surprised me.

Because she smiled and said, "I haven't had a bad day in 39 years." And I could tell by her demeanor that she really meant it.

Now, of course, I understand that she didn't mean that bad things hadn't occurred in her life.  What she was telling me though was a very important message.  Especially for us addicts.

Her message was that we choose how we look at life each day.  We choose what kind of moments we have.

We can awake and maybe not feel the greatest, but it's easy for us to turn that around if we want. Bad days or good days are the choices we make.

If we wake up on the wrong side of the bed we can do things to change that mood.  Perhaps we meditate.  Do several minutes of yoga and stretching.  Go to the gym.  Take a swim. 

Or perhaps we reflect that we are fortunate to have the blessings we have in our lives:  a bed to sleep in, food to eat, friends and family to share our lives with.

Our day is our choice.  Let's have a good one.

Click here to email John




Sunday, August 12, 2018

TLC is Unique

Transitional Living Communities, a non-profit corporation, is unique among recovery programs in Arizona.  In fact, there aren't any in the United States that work the same way - at least to my knowledge.

The program was started in January 1992 with no government funding - just addicts with dreams of staying sober and rebuilding their lives.  The first housing was an old three-building complex on south Robson street in Mesa, Arizona.

In the beginning, we struggled to make ends meet.  We found used beds and furniture. We pooled our money to buy food.  Everyone, even the managers, worked outside jobs and contributed toward paying the bills.  Nothing came easy in the early days.

None of the managers drew salaries, a few of them didn't get paid for the first two years.  Everyone had their eyes on the goal: to help recovering addicts rebuild their lives, a mission that made the struggles worthwhile.

One unique policy we had was that we accepted any addict who asked for help, whether he had money or not.  The only exception is that we didn't accept sexual predators or arsonists.  It's a policy we still follow today.

At this writing, we house as many as 850 clients at one time.  We serve some 2700 meals a day. We obtain clothing, dental services, prescription glasses and other medical services for our clients.

Over the years we've created several businesses, including a temporary labor group, an air conditioning company, a roofing and remodeling company, a state-licensed treatment program, a towing company, a convenience store, a maintenance service, - all businesses that provide employment and training for those who come to us mostly without skills. Recently we obtained our State contractor's license, which allows us to build from the ground up. And between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we sell Christmas trees from Oregon to provide bonuses to our management team and also for those who run the lots.

Almost 27 years later we're still doing the same thing and helping those who have no where else to turn.

Click here to email John



Thursday, August 9, 2018

Gift of Recovery

Nearly 28 years ago, right before I got sober, I never dreamed I'd have the life I enjoy today.  In fact back then, in 1990 and 1991, I wasn't sure I was going to survive much longer.

I had a drug and alcohol habit that required all of my waking hours.  I would go out in the morning and steal something to drink.  Once I downed enough alcohol I'd find the courage to steal something I could sell to buy - or trade for - some heroin.  And that was my life right before I got sober: stealing, getting out of my mind, then repeating the cycle over and over.

I think the only reason I got sober was that I had a moment of clarity where I realized that if I kept on the path I was on I'd either be back in prison or suffer a miserable death.  And that's when I went into a detox in Mesa, Arizona with a commitment to change my life.  I had a resolve to get sober and followed through with it.

And I write about this today as I'm sitting on the patio of a condo in Maui, reflecting upon the many blessings I have in my life.

When I got sober I had only one plan:  to stop living in misery as a slave to alcohol and drugs.  Yet my Creator has blessed me with everything I've dreamed of all because I made a decision.

Not only have I been sober nearly 28 years, I also lead a life where I'm able to be of service to other addicts and alcoholics.  I have a circle of great friends, I have financial security, I have peace.

And I attribute all of these wonderful blessings to that long ago decision to make a change.

Click here to email John


Monday, August 6, 2018

Forget the Past

In the recovery field, I deal with many troubled people who blame today's problems on how they were raised.  They blame the past for their failure to succeed in relationships, careers or whatever else they set out to do.

As a result, they muddle through life, drinking, using recreational drugs, or serial sex partners to ease their self-induced pain.  They might achieve some degree of success, only to self-destruct because they can't get over whatever happened to them.

Now some of these folks truly have been abused, either sexually or emotionally, and have reason to be distressed about those events.  But I always ask them the same question: do you want to squander the precious moments of your life reacting to what happened 20 or 30 years ago?  Events that may be distorted or magnified by time and the constant reliving of them in your mind?

I remember one client who had a wonderful upbringing with all the amenities and privileges.  Yet she blames her past for her current misery.  No matter what goes on in her life she finds someone else to blame.  She's constructed a fantasy personal history that explains away all her failures and unhappiness - a history that bears no semblance of truth.

The reality for all of us is that life is sometimes a bitch, filled with disappointment and unhappiness.  And the way to get happy is to be real with ourselves and recognize that life sometimes sucks.  If we can really believe that then we can roll with the times when we're down.  We can accept that things don't always go our way.  That the world is sometimes quite unfair.

Obstacles and pain often teach us the most valuable lessons.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Defusing Anger

After unloading groceries into the trunk of my car the other day in a supermarket parking lot, I turned around to see the basket I'd just emptied rolling down the gentle slope of the lot toward the back of another car.

It was already 10 or 12 feet away from me and only a few feet from the car when I noticed it, so I was unable to stop it from running into the car's bumper. It made a gentle thud as it came to a stop.

The owner of the car, who was sitting inside, immediately jumped out and came over to me and began giving me a loud lecture about how I should've been more careful with my basket so it wouldn't have run into his car.

Now there was a time in my life that when I would've reacted to his anger differently than I did the other day. Because he was very belligerent, almost as if I had done it on purpose

Rather than engaging in a heated disagreement on a 110° day, I agreed with him that I should've been more careful with the basket. And I apologized if there was any damage to his car. And after we examined the bumper and determined that it hadn't been damaged, that kind of put an end to our conversation. We ended up shaking hands and going our separate ways.

But I could tell that he was the kind of person, that had I reacted with the same anger that he did, the outcome might've been entirely different.

One of the things we learn in the twelve-step programs is that "we ceased fighting anyone or anything..."

And that's a principle that I apply in my life today. Even though I felt like arguing with the guy about the parking lot incident, I realize that arguing wouldn't help anything. So rather than escalate the incident, I offered an apology. Which is something that wouldn't have happened in the days before I got sober.

As I drove out of the parking lot I gave credit to my recovery program for having the ability to defuse what potentially could have been a bad situation. Yes, it may seem like a small incident. But many times small incidents have caused me – and others – a lot of problems.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Too Young to Die

As I arrive at the office yesterday I greet a coworker who's usually upbeat and cheerful.  But right away I notice she's kind of down and teary-eyed.

Before I can ask what's going on she tells me that her 13-year-old nephew had passed away after a long battle with a blood disease.

It was kind of a shock because I'd been on the internet following his back and forth battle with the disease.  And because at times he seemed to be improving I never really considered that he might suddenly pass away.  He was just too young, hadn't even had a chance to experience life.

My coworker mentioned how we addicts and alcoholics are still alive after all of the messes we create in our lives and in the world, but we lose a young and innocent boy.

Yet the truth is that innocent, good people, succumb randomly to illness or accidents in a pattern that shows there are no universal rules, no cosmic justice, about who survives and who doesn't.

Perhaps one takeaway from this is that we should try to live our lives to the fullest, giving our best to the world and being grateful for the moments we have on this planet.

Regardless of how we lived in the past.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Slowing Down

The other day I got an after-hours call from a placement counselor at a detoxification program. They were discharging a client and they had no place to put him. Could we help?

The only problem with this request for help was that the counselor was talking so fast
I could barely understand what he was saying. He sounded like the people at the end of radio commercial disclaimers that talk so fast I can never figure out what the hell they're saying.

Finally, I asked him to slow down, take a breath, and tell me what he wanted and I would see if we could help. So he slowed down and explained what he needed.

Well, as it turned out, the client wasn't appropriate for TLC because he had underlying psychiatric issues that we weren't trained to deal with.  So we were unable to help - other than to give him the names of other programs that might be able to assist.

One thing I've learned after being in business for much of my life is that - unless someone's life is in danger or the building's on fire there are very few true emergencies.  There are just situations that we label emergencies and we try to speed everything up so we can get done with whatever we're working on.

Part of staying serene and calm is to not get in a big hurry about anything.  If we practice this we'll find that our stress level is lower and - surprise! - we get just as much done as if we go full speed. 

And with fewer mistakes.

Click here to email John