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.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Back to the World

Following is an email from a recent graduate that I thought was worth sharing:

"I just wanted to appreciate your program once again. I completed the program several weeks ago.

Those still at TLC complain. But when you leave that safety net things on the outside are really a lot tougher than we thought. 

Certainly, the tools which were afforded us in the form of knowledge help. But it's all- out warfare once you leave. There is NOBODY but yourself to blame or rely upon. You are your own checks and balances.

So to those grumbling about the rules, I say: enjoy it, work the program and learn with an open heart and a willing mind. Because those two things are going to soon be your best defense against an all-out war when you return to the world you left behind. 

Even family and super close friends are pushing sobriety to the limit. Luckily I have a great friend that I met while in your program and luckily we keep each other grounded. But believe me when I say the war is very real. 

Thank you for preparing me to at least stand strong in my sobriety. I will be eternally grateful."

(Name omitted to protect anonymity.}

Click here to email John

Friday, April 27, 2018

Update

Within the past two weeks, I wrote about my conversation with an alcoholic who was still drinking.

Actually, he didn't call me, his wife did. She was concerned about his health because he had been drinking a whole lot for a long time.

Anyway, when his wife called we talked briefly then she put him the phone. He was very cordial and spoke quite openly about his drinking and what a problem it had become in his life. He mentioned his health issues, the financial setbacks they had because of his drinking and the fact that he needed to quit. He knew he was destroying his life but there's just no way he could get to treatment because he didn't have the time to be away from work.

But when I suggested that he go into our outpatient clinic or our halfway house program he dug in his heels. He said that he couldn't be off of his job and that he needed to be home to take care of his wife.

When I suggested that he could keep his job while living at our halfway house he seemed interested. However, that quickly changed when I found out that he worked as a bartender three nights a week. Our program doesn't allow clients to do certain jobs, including bartending, driving taxicabs or other occupations that might threaten their recovery. He told me that he wasn't allowed to drink on his job and that they had cameras that kept him from doing that. But I told him that didn't make any difference, that he couldn't work in a bar and be in our program. And that was the end of our conversation.

However, within a week I had an update on his situation. It seems that one day after work he was discovered sitting in the car in his driveway, passed out with the remains of a fifth of vodka at his side. When he was finally aroused and told to go into the house he stood up and fell flat on his face.

As a result of the fall, he lost his front teeth, flattened his nose and broke bones in his face. From what I understand he no longer can work because he has no teeth and is in some type of hospital or care facility recuperating from the fall.

Sometimes life intervenes with us alcoholics and addicts and then we have a chance to get sober and rebuild our lives. Hopefully, that's what will happen for this man.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Letting go of Anxiety

"I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety in order to be light and free." Thich Nhat Hanh

A manager talks to me about being in overwhelming anxiety. He's concerned about his job performance. He's afraid he might be replaced by someone else. He's riddled with fear.

I explained to him that none of those thoughts are real, just ideas that are popping up in his brain. That they have no basis in reality because we haven't had any plans to replace him.

I go on to explain that our anxiety is a natural part of our genetic inheritance. Maybe 100 generations ago, when his ancestors lived on the plains or in the jungles of Africa anxiety was a natural state of being. Those who didn't have concerns about what was hiding behind the next bush or rock might easily become a predator's next victim. Our ancestors, those who handed us our genetic blueprint, survived only because they were wary and fear-based. In some respects, anxiety could have been looked upon as a survival tool.

Today many of us, addicts and non-addicts, experience anxiety. But it's mostly anxiety that's conjured up in our brain. The anxiety we experience today is not an immediate threat to our existence, but too much of it can disrupt our happiness and peace of mind. It can lead to bad health and other physical problems.

Those who come to me with anxiety are those who are always peering into the future, imagining that something dire is about to happen. And even though it's all in their head they sometimes are so worked up that they're on the edge of panic.

My prescription for those who are in this state of mind is always the same: eat well, exercise, and above all – practice mindful meditation.

And I emphasize meditation because the longer we practice the more we free ourselves from our tangled thinking. Meditation helps us realize that our fearful thoughts are not real, just illusions that pass through our minds in sometimes endless streams. And they appear without our help, just as they will pass through our minds and disappear without our help. As we meditate, we observe them and accept them without judgment. 

And as strange as it seems, after a short period of practice our thinking begins to change and our thoughts are not the threatening monsters that used to keep us in a state of unrest.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Willingness

An acquaintance recently asked if I would be willing to talk to a lady friend of hers who's been married to an alcoholic all of her life. I told her I'd be happy to and gave her my phone number.

The lady called a few days later and we spent about half an hour on the phone discussing her husband's drinking. She said that his drinking had put them into financial ruin. At one time they had business interests and a good lifestyle. But his drinking had lost all of that.

She said he has problems with his kidneys and his liver and because he's in his 60s she doesn't expect him to be around very long if he keeps drinking. I agreed with her and asked if her husband would be willing to speak with me. She said that because her friend recommended me, that she thought he would.  So we set up a time for me to call her back so she could put him on the phone.

Our conversation was pleasant enough, but I could immediately tell that I was dealing with a typical alcoholic. When I suggested that he get into treatment or into a sober environment, like a halfway house, he had many reasons why he couldn't do that. He had to take care of his family. He had a job three days a week as a bartender, and he would lose the job if he didn't show up to work. He didn't want to leave his wife by herself. And he had several other excuses, but you get the idea.

He was very agreeable and pleasant as I pointed out what his drinking would eventually do to him. I explained to him that he had to be motivated to change, that I couldn't provide motivation for him. Nor could his family or anyone else. I explained to him that most of us only change when we get enough pain, like a serious illness, or becoming homeless or getting a DUI and going to jail. He was agreeing with me about everything I said and told me he would "think about it." But the reality is that this man really hasn't had enough pain in his life to make him put down the alcohol.

Those of us who are sober today are truly blessed that we stopped in time.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blame Game

"When you blame others, you give up your power to change"  Dr. Robert Anthony

A common characteristic of addicts and alcoholics – and even some so-called normal people – is to blame others. And when we blame others, we render ourselves powerless.

So many times I've heard alcoholics or addicts say "If my mom and dad didn't use I wouldn't have started using." And while it may be true that the parents introduced the child to addiction it doesn't do a lot for that person's recovery today. When we make someone the scapegoat for our behavior it is pretty easy to continue that behavior.

And this kind of blaming goes beyond just blaming parents. Some of us blame the system, claiming that is rigged against us. Or because we're minorities, we blame a racist society for our addiction and our lack of success. Others blame their lack of financial success on their poor education.

But this blame game only goes so far. All of us know someone who was raised in the direst circumstances by the most horrible people. Yet they overcame their upbringing and became successful in spite of all the obstacles.

Some members of my own extended family were raised in dire circumstances. One of them elected to do something with her life got an education, becoming a successful business person. A couple of others are pretty much losers and addicts who blame their parents for their present ugly circumstances and are stuck in a cycle of blaming others for their lack of success.

For many years I blamed my failures on my upbringing. My father was a raging and brutal alcoholic, a nightmare to be around. So it was easy for me to blame him for my drinking and drug use. And for my subsequent years of prison and mental institutions. Ultimately though, I realize that I would never change unless I took responsibility for my own behavior.

And that was the beginning of my road to recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Another Attaboy

I received this email from a graduate yesterday, a message that I thought was worth sharing. The sender's name is left out to protect his anonymity.

"Good morning Mr. Schwary,

I just left TLC's Dana House and returned home to Colorado.

I want to THANK you. Your program saved my life. Ever thought about trying the program out in Colorado??? There is a HUMONGOUS need for it here in my hometown.

Thanks to you, I now have the tools to start my life completely over. I am reconnecting with my family. Old friends and old behaviors do not even factor into my life. THANK YOU!!"


These are the messages that we like to receive because it shows that our mission of helping substance abusers rebuild their lives does work.

And the reality is that our program works for anyone who puts in the effort.

This man followed TLC guidelines just as they were written. He didn't use alcohol or drugs. He went to meetings. He got a sponsor. He worked and paid his service fees. He participated in program activities.

And if he keeps applying what he learned while with us he'll continue to live a life free of the tyranny of addiction.



Thursday, April 12, 2018

Happiness

“Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

In the saying above, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh summarizes one of the major fallacies of our times.

And that is the idea that if things were somehow different our lives would be so much better.

If I had a better job I would be happy. Or if my wife were treating me differently I would be happier. Maybe a nicer car would bring me joy. Or a bigger house.

The reality is that externals very seldom bring us happiness. Yes, maybe we can find a moment of joy if we can change the way we feel. An example of that would be how we feel when we drink alcohol or take a large jolt of our favorite drug. Yes, for a while we feel wonderful, maybe even ecstatic or joyful. And then eventually we come down to earth and many times work very hard to get back to that same state of consciousness. Some of us stay on this treadmill for years: getting high and coming back down, trying to catch one more moment of what we consider to be happiness. And many of us do this for years, at the cost of everything we own and treasure, including our freedom.

We all know someone who is into acquiring new things. Whether it be cars or motorcycles. The latest fashions or jewelry. Yet most of them find, that within a few weeks, the newness has worn off. And the search is on for the next great wonderful thing that will fill that hole. Seeking happiness outside of ourselves is an endless task that seldom or never brings us what we're looking for.

Because what we're really seeking is peace and contentment within.

And we only find that when we have gratitude for just being alive in this great and wonderful universe.

Click here to email John

Monday, April 9, 2018

Being Alone

In a group yesterday I heard someone in recovery say that they were "a loner." They didn't like to depend on others. Their goal was to be by themselves.

But are we ever truly alone? Are we ever in a situation where we don't depend upon others? I don't think so.

After all, we depend upon others for our very existence. Do we hunt for our food today? Are we farmers who grow our own crops? What about our clothing? Do we make it ourselves? I don't think so.

Nearly everything comes to us through the efforts of others. Someone grows our food. Another person delivers it to a supermarket. Someone else builds our cars. The whole world around us is created by a widespread network of others who support our very existence. So the idea of us being self-sufficient stops pretty much at the edge of the sidewalk or somewhere near the city limits.

On an even more important level, our recovery from alcohol and drugs has everything to do with those around us who are also in recovery. I mean, if we could have gotten sober by ourselves, many of us would've done it. Instead, we were led into recovery by those who got clean and sober ahead of us. They supported us when we were ready to relapse. They took us to meetings. They helped us through our steps. They took the time to listen when we wondered if it was all worthwhile. There's nothing like the wisdom of those who have gone ahead of us to help us stay clean and sober.

So I don't believe that the idea of us being a loner – especially those of us in recovery – reflects our best thinking. To live a full life we need to embrace the rest of the human race, not because we necessarily like them, but because we need them.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 6, 2018

Making a Difference

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― Dalai Lama

Regardless of how we act, we all can make a difference in the world. If we act negatively, then we have a negative effect on those around us. And if we act positively, we help make the world a better place.

We have over 100 people at TLC who perform various jobs. And in my mind, the jobs they do are very important. And that's because what they do ultimately helps other addicts and alcoholics get clean and sober.

But many times, when they're feeling down, they forget that what they're doing to help others in recovery makes a big difference in the world.

Some of our people manage houses. Some of them find jobs for the clients. Some answer telephones. Others serve as security guards. Others collect service fees and put the money in the bank. Others collect enough food to serve 2500+ meals a day, while still others cook and serve the same food. Some repair roofs, laundry machines, leaky pipes. You name it, if it breaks or needs maintenance, someone on our staff is able to fix it.

At its best, TLC runs like a well-oiled machine, all parts functioning smoothly. At other times, when the planets are not in alignment, it doesn't function very well at all and everything kinda grinds to a halt for a few hours until we get everything back on track.

But sometimes our clients don't look at what they do as being very important. And I have to point out to them that when we help someone rebuild their lives that's extremely important.

When a father or mother graduates from our program and returns home to lead a sober life with their family that makes a big difference. All of a sudden mom and dad are present for their children. They're no longer going to jail, selling drugs, stealing, and doing all the other terrible things that addicts do to maintain their addiction. Instead, the children have a parent who drops them off at school, a parent who attends their ballgames and school events, a parent who takes them on vacation.

And a parent who behaves this way stands a chance of raising sober children who will never step foot in a jail or a halfway house. and that's the kind of difference we can make in the world.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Staying Sober

One day when a client was painting a bedroom wall on a hot summer morning, he asked: "What does this have to do with recovery?"

When I asked what he meant, he said, "Me painting this wall. I'm not sure what this has to do with me staying clean and sober."

"Well, are you drinking or using drugs?" I asked him.

"No," he replied.

"Well then," I told him, "that's the point."

I think that sometimes our clients believe that sobriety is all about going to meetings and maybe being in counseling.

And while that's a crucial part of staying sober, there's more to it than that. Sometimes being in recovery is hard work. All of a sudden we're like the rest of the world: getting up in the morning after going to bed sober. Doing a job that we don't necessarily like. Treating other people with respect. Paying our child support and other bills, like rent and groceries. We begin to understand that the real heroes in the world of those who work hard, support their families, pay their bills, and don't cover up their problems with drugs or alcohol.

Another reward for doing the boring work that at times comes with recovery – especially for those who work at TLC – is that we're performing a service to the recovering addict who's coming in behind us. Whether we're a TLC employee, or whether we're simply doing community service, giving to others helps pave the way for those who have never experienced recovery.

TLC was built by one addict helping another. And while much of the time we're not face-to-face with the addicts we're helping, when we're preparing a place for them to live and get sober, we're doing the ultimate in service work.

Most of those who succeed at TLC are those who don't question why they're asked to do certain things. Instead, they have blind faith and just do what they're asked because the information is coming from someone who's been sober much longer than they have.

A life of recovery many times lacks the excitement and drama of the drug world. But there's a deep satisfaction that comes when we rejoin the human race and start giving back to the world.

Click here to email John