Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-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.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Enabling

In the nine years I've been writing this blog I've struck up long-distance friendships with many readers. These friendships normally start when I write about a topic that parallels something that's going on in their lives. When that happens they write to tell me about it.

They thank me for my perspective and input. After that, I hear from them every once in a while. In almost all the cases it's about a loved one who's addicted to something and going to jail, or living on the streets. And when the communication first starts they're quite stressed and frustrated. As time goes on, though, those who continue writing seem to change perspective.

Most come to realize that they're the ones suffering, while their addicted loved one is somewhere in an alcohol or drug induced haze doing whatever the hell they want. The addict doesn't give a crap about anyone but themselves, especially when it gets in the way of their addiction. While they may have some remnants of love for their family, we all know that their drug of choice is number one on the list of the things they love. Family members rank somewhere down around nine or 10 on the list.

My readers who are doing the best are those who have been able to accept that they have no power over the addict. They realize and understand that until the addict gets enough pain and suffering there'll be no change. Most of them withdraw their support – all of it – no matter how hard it is. They've come to understand that when they help an addict with money, rent, cigarettes, transportation or any other type of support that it's the same as buying them their drug of choice.

And this is a painful thing for the parents of an addict. To think that their child might be sleeping outdoors. Or hungry, without clean clothes or having a place to shower. This is really tough on the enablers among them. But I always suggest that they don't help because all they're doing is supporting an addiction. And while they understand it on an intellectual level it's tough to accept on a visceral level.

The only help we should give an addicted family member is a ride to the hospital or detoxification unit. And they won't ask for that ride until things become too painful for them.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

In Acceptance

"Don’t waste your time looking back on what you’ve lost. Move on, for life is not meant to be traveled backwards." Unknown

Acceptance rids us of many burdens.

When it comes to change, many of us addicts get stuck on what has happened to us. It's hard for us to accept the bad things that occurred while we were drinking and drugging and creating a path of wreckage across the landscape.

Some of us have gone to jail due to drugs or alcohol. Maybe our relationships and marriages disintegrated. We might've been booted out of our jobs. Maybe we were seriously injured in an accident while we were under the influence. Perhaps we have the feeling that we would be much further ahead in life, had we not been seduced by the pleasures of alcohol or drugs.

And many of us, rather than live in the present moment and enjoy the beauty of recovery, dwell in the past and ruminate about what we lost. But none of us can explain the benefit of doing this. And that's because none of us can change the past. If we're lucky, we can only learn from our mistakes.

I know many people who have dedicated their lives to focusing on the bad things that happened to them, even though they can do nothing about them. They identify as victims and will tell you the story of the terrible things that befell them as soon as you give them an opening. One woman I know, who within five minutes of meeting someone new, starts telling her story about the husband who deserted her and her daughter over 20 years ago. At first, people feel sorry for her, until they realize that what she's talking about occurred half a lifetime ago.

I know others who refuse to define themselves by their past. I know one woman in particular who has risen above her ghetto upbringing, started her own business, and who spends time in her church helping others who were raised in similar circumstances. She has turned her negative upbringing into a positive example for others.

So we have the opportunity when bad things happen to use them as steppingstones to success or as excuses to return to our favorite drug. It's our choice as to how we spend the precious moments of our life.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Toxic People

It's important for those of us in recovery to keep toxic people out of our lives. It doesn't make any difference whether they're friends, children, grandchildren, or business associates. Whoever they are, we have a choice about who we allow in our lives.

And what I mean by toxic is those who poison the atmosphere wherever they go. They malign others. They spread gossip. They tear people down for no reason. They have a sense of entitlement. They are angry for no reason. They're never wrong. They're resentful, and always trying to get even with others over perceived wrongs, things that never occurred.

In my past 27 years of recovery, I've had to cut off communication with several people who brought poison and vitriol into my life. And three of them, I was related to. One I let go for several years was a son, who finally got his life back on track and today we have a fairly decent relationship.

The other was a grandson, with whom I have no communication. He's been mired in the drug world for years and has mistreated me on more than one occasion. At this point, I'm not sure he'll ever quit feeling sorry for himself and change. But that's not my problem; he's a grown man and eventually, by the grace of God, he will change. But in the meantime, I don't want to be part of his mess.

And this weekend I removed my oldest granddaughter from my life. And I finally did it because I've had enough. For years she's verbally abused my oldest daughter. She's lied about her. She's slandered her. She's done everything within her power to destroy my daughter's reputation in the community. She frequently drops the F-bomb on her. She screams at her and is disrespectful in every way possible.  All of this in spite of my daughter being one of the best mothers I've known.

While my granddaughter is a beautiful woman and a talented singer and songwriter she's never experienced any real success in that field. She lives in Hollywood and has always struggled to support herself. Because of her sense of entitlement, she's unwilling to work a regular job while she pursues her career. Instead, she sponges off family members at times to meet her basic needs. And even though she has trouble supporting herself – somehow she manages to support her "medical" marijuana habit and drive a Mercedes.

My point in all this is that you can give yourself permission to remove anybody you want from your life. And if you're in recovery, as most of my readers are, it's important that you do that – for both you and them. Continuing to tolerate them will do nothing for your serenity and peace of mind; nor will it help them look at themselves and change their behavior.

If they change – which a majority of sick people don't – then you can reconsider having a relationship with them. But in my experience, it often takes years for people with a sense of entitlement to take a good look at themselves. When it does occur, it's usually because they have finally cut themselves off from everyone and have no one else to blame for their circumstances in life.

I got sober to have serenity and peace in my life. I've gotten that and much more by being selective about those I let get close to me.

Click here to email John

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Being Kind

"You never know what people are going through. Be kind. Always." Unknown

The other day I was in a bank with a business associate. We were there to modify a business account and were being helped by a banker who was having difficulty finding the necessary paperwork.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, seeming somewhat frustrated. "I've been out of the office for a couple of weeks and have to get used to where everything is again."

"No problem," I replied. "How was your vacation?"

"I wish I'd been on vacation," she replied. Then she explained that she'd been home for two weeks because her teenage son was seriously injured when a truck T-boned the car he was in. He was bedridden and she was the only one available to care for him.

I immediately felt compassion for her and quietly chided myself for feeling somewhat impatient.

While filling out the paperwork, we continued talking. She revealed that not only did she have to deal with her son's recuperation, but she also had a son with Down's syndrome and a daughter who was being treated for leukemia.

My business associate commented that she really seemed to be able to keep her self together, considering the challenges she was facing.

The banker replied that it wasn't easy. She said that sometimes on her 30-mile drive home she'd cry all the way, then put on a happy face before entering the house to take care of her husband and children.

As we concluded our business and left the bank I realized that I need to cultivate an attitude of kindness toward others at all times. In traffic. When I'm in a hurry. When I'm dealing with business people who don't seem to know what they're doing. Whenever I'm dealing with anyone, I need to show them kindness.

Because, as the encounter with this banker showed me, we never know the challenges and problems others are facing. We never know when they've gotten bad news about their health. Or they are having issues with their spouse or children. Maybe they just lost their job or a relative. We just never know.  That's why it pays to always be kind - whether we feel like it or not.

Click here to email John



Monday, March 19, 2018

Dealing with Anxiety

A few times a month I do hypnosis with clients.

And those who come to me have various reasons for wanting to be hypnotized. Probably 10% want to quit smoking.  And these are some of my favorite clients. About seven of my family members died from emphysema and COPD, due to smoking. So anything I can do to help someone quit is well worth the time and effort. And about 95% of those who want to stop usually succeed after one or two sessions.

Others come to me because they want to work on depression, self-esteem, self-confidence, anxiety or other issues. And among these, overcoming anxiety is probably the number one challenge that many of them face.

So, not surprisingly, many clients are puzzled when I explain to them that I don't believe that a certain amount of anxiety is necessarily a bad thing.

I ask them to start thinking differently about anxiety. After all, if our ancestors didn't have a great deal of anxiety while living on the prairies of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago, none of us would probably be here today. After all, if they weren't concerned about what predator might be lying in wait around the next rock or tree, they had a good chance of becoming some animals main course. Which meant that we would have died out as a species.

The problem today, though, is that we can still experience that high level of anxiety in our modern life. Are we going to get the job? Am I going to be able to pay the rent? Does my sweetheart still love me? Is that lump in my chest cancer? The fears go on and on, depending on our life experience or our age. Sometimes, our genetic legacy makes us react as if we're still living in the jungle and we overreact to our thoughts. And that overreaction can sometimes be overwhelming, causing us to lose sleep and engage in fantasies about all the dire things that might befall us.

One thing I suggest before and during hypnosis is that we learn to view our thoughts as just thoughts, and not as something so real that we have to act upon them. We need to learn to embrace our thoughts, to view them simply as natural reflections of our fears and concerns about the future. Not some enemy that's going to overwhelm us.

If we can learn to do that we'll find ourselves becoming calmer and more peaceful human beings.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Regulating Addicts

I've been back from vacation since Wednesday and much of my time has been spent discussing the controversial halfway house zoning proposals taking place this summer in the city of Phoenix.

And most of my conversations are taking place with my contemporaries in the recovery home business.

Many of them fear what will take place if the proposed zoning changes are put into law. And rightfully so.

Some of the changes the city is proposing border on the ridiculous.

For example, the city wants to get involved in the internal workings of recovery homes and so-called halfway houses.

One of their proposals is that all managers have a high school diploma or GED. However, they have no explanation of how this would help addicts and alcoholics with their recovery. Another proposal is that they want managers on duty 24 hours a day, but they don't say who's going to pay their wages or what purpose it would serve.

Another idea they're putting forward is that halfway house managers must have no criminal convictions or arrests in the previous five years. Now everyone knows that addicts get in trouble, either for dealing drugs or stealing to support their drug habit. The city has no suggestions about where one finds "nice" alcoholics and addicts who haven't been in trouble with the law because of their addiction.

Other aspects of the city's proposed changes include creating mountains of paperwork and reports. The reports include such things as how many 12 step meetings the house members attend, how often the residents get drug tested, policies for dealing with discharges and problems with neighbors and on and on.

In my opinion, all of these extra layers of bureaucracy the city is attempting to impose on recovery homes is really a way to prevent them from operating. I've never heard of the state of Arizona or any city in the state providing funding for the operation of halfway houses or recovery homes. My belief is that the city's goal – supported by the neighborhood groups that are pushing the politicians – is to simply overwhelm recovery home operators with so much bureaucracy and regulation that they can't afford to operate.

However, I believe that this discrimination that will prevent addicts and alcoholics from getting the help they need will eventually be overturned by the higher courts.

If one looks closely at this move to regulate halfway houses out of business they will discover that it's really all about fear and money. Neighbors and homeowners, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, fear that halfway houses and recovery programs will lower property values.

However, studies across the United States have shown that these are groundless fears. Another common fear is that halfway house residents will increase the crime rates in the community – another fear that has proved groundless on more than one occasion. In fact, in 1998 when we were suing the city of Mesa a study was done about police calls in the areas of our halfway houses. The study showed that there was no difference in numbers of police calls around our houses than there were in any other area of the city. An interesting result of the study showed that the most police calls came from neighborhoods where a convenience store was located.

It's really sad that on one hand, the media laments the number of deaths due to the opioid crisis – while at the same time the government is doing everything it can to squash the recovery programs that are helping to save the lives of addicts and alcoholics.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Killing Addicts

About 900 Arizonans died in 2017 from opioid overdoses.  Some were found dead in bed.  Others in fields or alleys.  Some in cars.  A few in dope houses and dumpsters.  Some drew their last breath in hospitals, despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses.

Some were found by their children. Their parents. Their lovers.  Their crime partners.  Some looked like they'd merely fallen asleep.  Others had already turned blue.  Some were beginning to decompose by the time they were found, the stench of rotting flesh leading to the discovery of their bodies.

In spite of this epidemic, this pall of death that hangs over our state, the State Legislature, the City of Phoenix, and various neighborhood associations are making every effort to increase the body count.

One might think this a reckless accusation, the writing of someone who himself is under the influence of drugs.  

But one need only read the latest proposed ordinances published by the City of Phoenix to understand the truth.

Every line, every word, every sentence is composed with the goal of limiting - or even stopping - the only groups that are helping addicts change their lives.  And that's the recovery home operators who provide services to some of the sickest members of our society.  It's a shameful document rife with thinly disguised discrimination against the weak and vulnerable in our communities.

The homes under attack provide shelter, peer counseling, jobs and other assistance to helpless - and truly disabled addicts - who have no other place to turn.

And now our government is trying to assure that - with the support of the good folks, the nice people who run neighborhood associations such as Take Action Phoenix (TAP) - that addicts will have even fewer chances of survival.

In 1998 the City of Mesa made similar discriminatory moves against recovery home operators, especially our organization.  We sued them in Federal Court for five years before reaching a settlement in 2003 - an agreement that repaid some of our legal fees and allowed us to continue helping addicts change their lives.

If the City of Phoenix passes these discriminatory ordinances we promise that they'll be meeting our Fair Housing attornies in Federal Court - something I'm sure will happen.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

We're Different

Even though I've been sober more than 27 years I sometimes still ponder the differences between those who can drink socially and those of us who are alcoholics.

It happened for me again while on the plane from Phoenix to Puerto Vallarta a few days ago.

While the plane was still on the ground, the steward came by to take drink orders.  Almost automatically I ordered water, as did my companion.

Then he went to the second row of seats and took orders.

"Gin and tonic," said a voice in the row behind us.

"Bloody Mary," said the next person.  And so it went as the steward made his rounds, though not everyone ordered alcohol.

As I listened, I realized that a non-alcoholic wouldn't pay attention to what others are drinking.

Yet here I was paying attention.  And when the steward returned to see if they wanted another drink, I noticed that they said they'd had enough.  And I knew right then that these people didn't drink like I did many years ago.

Because there was never an occasion where I missed an opportunity for another drink. There was never enough. And I drank that way until there was no more alcohol.  And it was the same for whatever substances I put into my body; if they made me feel good I kept going until I couldn't.

We alcoholics and addicts have something in our wiring that doesn't understand moderation.  And if life doesn't intervene to help us get sober, we usually end up dying early.

I'm happy that I finally had enough pain to finally want to go into a detox.  Because of that, I have a fulfilling life today.

Click here to email John

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Mexican Moments

My daughter and I are at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, this week.  It's a makeup for a vacation we took last November when we both caught the flue from someone on the plane while coming here.  We were sick the whole week and had little fun at all.

This time we're feeling good, working out, eating healthy, and spending time making up for all we missed in November - if making up for anything we miss in life is possible.

And I say that because my orientation these days is to live in the moment and enjoy life as it unfolds.  Rather than fretting about what might have been or what might happen next.

Before I got sober 27 years ago I spent much of my time either in the past or the future.  Either I was feeling sorry about what life had dealt me or else I was fantasizing about the future - usually through glasses of negativity.

Today I counsel our clients to practice living in the moment.  If they must wander to the past, accept what they find there.  And if they must peer into the future do it, not with fear, but with a positive attitude.  If we look with the right attitude who knows what riches and blessings we'll discover?

If we must leave the present moment, let's arm ourselves with acceptance and positivity.




Sunday, March 4, 2018

Taking care of Number One

"Those who say they can, and those who say they can't, are both right." Unknown

I was talking to a friend who said he had a great deal of difficulty incorporating exercise into his life.

He says he'll make a commitment to take a walk, or ride his bicycle, but is rarely able to fulfill his commitment. He'll get started okay, but then before he knows it he's turning around to go back home. For some reason, he's unable to do what he needs to do to take care of his health in regards to exercise. And he's been this way over the many years that I've known him.

My experience is that doing things that require self-motivation means that we need to raise it to a level of importance so that we can follow through. It's kind of like doing anything else that's important to us: going to the doctor, going to a business meeting, going out to dinner with friends, planning for a vacation and so forth.

When things are important enough, we set aside the time to do them. And the way we set aside the time to do them is to set our alarm in the morning – for example for exercise – and get up and work out. And it really is that simple. We need to schedule the time to do things for ourselves, just as we would schedule a time to do things for our family and friends.

The only way I get anything done is to set aside time to do it. I set my alarm for 5:30 every morning and do mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes. Immediately after that, I hit the gym for 45 to 60 minutes for exercise. Do I always feel like doing these things? Hell no. Sometimes I tell myself that I deserve a day off. I need to get to the office a little earlier today. Or I deserve a day off.  But I never give in to those thoughts. Instead, I complete what I set out to do and my day goes much better because I do that.

We all have the same amount of hours, minutes, and seconds, in our days. And people who make weak excuses about not having time to take care of themselves and to do good things for themselves are really lying to the most important person in the world – themselves. Very few of these people will miss their favorite TV show or the opportunity to spend time fooling around on the Internet. So there is no excuse that we don't have time. Somehow we have to reach down inside of ourselves and find the motivation to take care of ourselves so we can live the best lives we can.

Click here to email John



Thursday, March 1, 2018

Anxiety about the Future

"Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future but from wanting to control it."  Kahlil Gibran

Many of us, especially those of us in the addict population, spend a lot of time gazing anxiously into the cloudy future. We wonder if we're going to get our family back. Will our old boss give us another chance? And what about my parole officer? Is he going let me continue on parole or send me back to prison? Am I going to get my life back after I spent so much time tearing it down? On and on rolls our magnifying mind.

But the saying at the beginning of this blog sums it up: it's not the thinking of the future that creates anxiety for us. It's because we want to control what might happen to us.

Thinking we can control how the future unfolds wastes the precious moments of our lives. Life happens to all of us, to everyone all over the world. Life is an unpredictable and precarious place, no matter who we are or what our background.

A better attitude – if we must look into the future at all – is to accept our life as it unfolds. That means we enjoy the present moment. The breeze on our face. Time with our friends. Our drive to work. The idea that we live in a mostly secure country, despite news to the contrary.

And we must rid ourselves of fear, for fear is what makes us want to control the future. Most of our time traveling to the future involves avoiding pain and insecurity. Rarely is our fantasy of the future about how wonderful and rich it might be - and often is.

We find our safe place while savoring the moment, being mindful of the present.

Click here to email John