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.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Being 79

There was a point in my life, back when I was addicted to heroin and alcohol in my early 30s that I never expected to reach age 40. I was living the life of a predator, always searching for drugs and alcohol. My only goal was to feel good on some kind of chemical and stay half out of my mind. Gloom and doom were my best friends. And probably the only thing that saved me was I kept ending up in prison, jail or a mental hospital.

Yet, despite that history, I woke up this morning and realized that today was my 79th birthday. And my next realization was that the only reason that I was able to turn 79 today is that I got sober when I was 51 years old, back in 1991.

And I bring all this out for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is that I'm sharing my gratitude for being able to stay on the planet this long in spite of living as an alcoholic and addict for so many years. And the other reason is to encourage others who might think that they're too old or too sick to get into recovery. Because we're never too far along in life to change course. All we need is willingness.

What happened to me, when I was 51, was I realized that I had a choice: either I remained in misery with my addiction or I could decide to make something of my life. And of course, you all know the decision I made, one of the best I've made in my life.

It's amazing what happens in the universe when we decide to get our lives on the right track. While I was happy and full of joy during my first year of recovery, it seemed that doors immediately began opening for me. Opportunities abounded. I was able to start rebuilding my life within the first year. And while I faced many challenges I've experienced a lot of success in my over 27 years of recovery. To be honest, much more than I ever dreamed of having.

Have I had downtimes? And challenges? Of course. In fact, I'm going through some of them right now. But today I know that the challenges we face are just part of life on planet earth and that if we stay the course of recovery we can deal with anything.

Click here to email John

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

Those of us in recovery do best when we have gratitude. And it's never a stretch for us to find something to be grateful for.

Many of us are grateful to simply be alive after what we put ourselves and our loved ones through while we were pursuing our addictions.  Some of us are grateful because we're no longer living in a state of demoralization, in a constant state of gloom. Some of us are grateful to have our freedom, to not be behind bars for the stupid things we did while using.

And Memorial Day is yet another reason to be grateful.  I had several family members, including my youngest daughter, who served in the military.  And while none of them died while serving, all of their lives were impacted.  My daughter, for example, receives 100% lifetime disability due to her service in Afghanistan during 2004.  I'm just grateful they returned alive.

Today, something like one half of one percent of our citizens serves in the military, compared to around 12 percent during World War II.  And one of the reasons for this is the government stopped the draft and began an all-volunteer military in 1973.  Another reason for a smaller military is that technological advances in weapons require fewer soldiers. Thus we have a military that is not nearly as visible as it was two generations ago.

Even though they're not as visible we still must have gratitude for the freedoms our military has given us.  We can vote. We can disagree. We can call our government officials names. We can demonstrate and protest. We can practice our beliefs - all things that many other countries don't have the freedom to do.

On this Memorial Day, we can remember to thank our military for protecting these freedoms.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Wanting it Now

I wanted what I wanted. And I wanted it now. I was in a hurry.

And I lived that way until I got clean and sober. But once I admitted I had a problem with substances, life slowed way down.

Once my mind became clear and I started getting my health back I realized that I'd found what I was looking for. The things that I'd been looking for all of my life: peace of mind, serenity, happiness, revealed themselves. They were within me.

This realization came over me during my first year of recovery, back in 1991. I remember I was riding my bicycle on Center Street in Mesa on the way to my job. The sun was shining. It was still spring, so it wasn't too hot. I had less than $10 in my pocket. I was wearing clothing that I'd purchased at a secondhand store. And my home was a small room in a halfway house, where I paid $85 a week for a place to live and two meals a day.

Even though I owned nothing but a used bicycle and a few second-hand clothes I was happier than I'd been in years. And as I thought about it I realized that I was happy because it was the first time since I was a teenager that I didn't have warrants, was off parole, wasn't full of drugs and alcohol and didn't have anyone looking for me.

And I recognized that the state of mind I was in was because, for the first time in my adult life, I was no longer a slave to heroin or alcohol. I was living by the principles of the twelve-step programs and I'd been set free. I no longer had to look outside of myself for happiness because I realized that I could be as happy as I chose to be.

Did that epiphany in 1991 mean that I had no more problems in my life? Of course not. What it did mean is that I shifted my focus from looking at external things as being the source of my problems. I realized that I was the author of my own misery and that I had created a lot of it during my life.

The twelve-step programs opened a new dimension for me where I stepped across the threshold of responsibility. While many traumatic things happened to me as I was growing up I was now able to go beyond them and become responsible for my own behavior. I no longer let them serve as excuses for me to destroy my life.

And I no longer am in a hurry because I have what I want right now: the peace and serenity that comes from living a life of recovery.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A New Direction

This past month I've been in a couple of meetings with representatives of the City of Mesa. One was at the TLC corporate offices, the other at the City Courthouse on First Avenue. And I left both meetings feeling positive about the direction Mesa is taking with the homeless, particularly with homeless addicts and alcoholics. And that hasn't always been the case when I left meetings with the city. But things change sometimes when people realize that what they've been doing hasn't been working.

The meetings were initiated by a member of the City's homeless outreach team. Their goal is to figure out a different way to deal with the homeless. It seems that the court system spends some $800,000 a year dealing with homeless addicts and alcoholics and the mentally ill.

Their plan is to set up a program where they can keep the homeless from winding up in the court system at all. One of the representatives explained that the same 200 people keep cycling through the system over and over for petty crimes like trespassing, disorderly conduct, and failure to appear. He said the failure to appear rate is something like 60 to 70% because most of them don't fear getting arrested or going to jail. In fact, many of them welcome it because it's a chance for them to eat a few meals, get some rest, and take a shower.

The plan, as I understand it, is to get anyone involved who might provide services to the homeless. Aside from TLC, that would involve the Veterans Administration, detox centers, AHCCCS, and any other organization that might be able to help the homeless transition back into the community. The ultimate goal would be for police officers on the street to have referral sources that could provide help to the homeless without having to arrest them or take them to jail. And, of course if a person refuses help then the alternative would be to arrest and incarcerate them.

I thought it was interesting that the Courthouse administrator said that they're beginning to realize that they can't arrest their way out of the homeless situation. That the real solution is to try to provide answers and services to help people change their lives - before they enter the justice system.

And since TLC has been helping people rebuild their lives for over 25 years this is a project that we can happily get involved.

Click here to email John

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Changing our Story

We all have a story. For us addicts, it's a familiar one.

Many of us grew up in a so-called "dysfunctional" home. We were exposed to alcohol or drugs at an early age. Maybe it was by a parent. Perhaps it was school friends.

A large percentage of us say that the first time we drank or used drugs we immediately felt like we belonged. We were the life of the party. All of a sudden we were popular and good-looking. And then when we came down, it all crashed around us. And we were back to being the same old losers that we always were.

But we didn't give up. If we have nothing else, we addicts have perseverance. For years and years, most of us continued to seek the euphoria and the freedom of our first encounter with drugs or alcohol. And of course, all of us failed miserably and ended up divorced, broke, or maybe even in jail. We succeeded in losing nearly everything – even our self-respect.

But that story is history, it's old news, not a template that we have to live by. Just as an author edits his words we can change our life story to one of success. To one of peace and happiness. And it's not as difficult as it might seem.

All we need is to be done with our old life. Tell ourselves we're tired of losing everything. Of losing relationships with our families. Abusing ourselves and treating ourselves poorly.

Instead, we must start telling ourselves that our lives are worthwhile. That today we don't have to be who we used to be.

And we don't do this in one giant leap. We start changing our lives in tiny increments, and in baby steps. That's how change occurs, sometimes painfully slow. We start educating ourselves about our disease by going to meetings or counseling. We begin to make amends to those we have harmed. We start taking care of our physical self by exercising and eating right. Maybe we attempt to quit smoking. And we give ourselves times to allow these changes to take effect.

If we do this, within a year we won't know who we are because our lives will be so much better. And the nice thing about this process of change is if you are unhappy with your success it's pretty easy to go back and find your misery.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hurting Others

I don't get angry very often. But one thing that does anger me is when I hear addicts or alcoholics say they never hurt anyone while they were using. Just themselves.

One of the realities of the recovery business is that we don't just deal with our addict clients. We also deal with their parents. Their children. Their wives. Along with other loved ones.

And if an addict wants to see real pain, talking to the parents – or other loved ones – will give him all the evidence he needs.

I was reminded of this today while talking to a woman who called several months ago to see about getting her son into our program, once he was released from jail. The first time we talked she was looking for a place for him if the courts released him before sentencing.

During each of our conversations, I could sense her anxiety. Even though all of the information she needed is on our website, she wanted to talk to a real person about how TLC operates. So I took the time needed, patiently explaining to her about the application process, about how the program works, the housing, the food, the job situation and so forth. It was obvious that she was concerned about her son, his addiction, and what would become of him. In other words, she was going through a lot of pain and anxiety because of her son's addiction. An addiction that had landed him in jail and could potentially put him in prison if he doesn't succeed in our program.

I've seen this scenario play out over the years many times. And sometimes it doesn't end well. Often the parents or family members I talk to call me later to tell me that the child or husband died of an overdose.

So the idea that our addiction only hurts us is an example of how self-centered we addicts can really be. Not only do we hurt those who care about us, we also hurt society at large. After all, how many of us contributed anything to the world during our addiction? We took and took until we burned everyone out or ended up in jail or a mental hospital. And at the same time, we were breaking other people's hearts.

Only as we mature in our recovery do we realize just how much impact our disease had on the world and those we love.

Click here to email John

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Grateful Client

While I was trying to decide what to put in this blog today a client sent me this email of gratitude.  It's worth sharing because it might help a newcomer realize what TLC is about.

"I was a resident at TLC for 14 months. I entered just after my 21st birthday and celebrated my 22nd birthday at TLC Southern house. I left TLC a few months ago on good terms! :)

I also worked as a staff member at the corporate office.

I wanted to send you an email and thank you for TLC.  It saved my life. It really really did.

A few months ago I met with my sponsor and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him that I wanted to be a musician and truthfully, the only reason I stayed sober for as long as I did before I had my spiritual experience was because I felt that I would never be able to be capable of writing the type of music I wanted to.

As I approach 18 months sober I'm finishing up the tracks on my debut album and I've been collaborating with a lot of different artists and even recently signed on with a producer from Japan to be his main composer & since we both have a formal musical background our musical communication is easy.

I can't thank you enough for creating the environment that allowed me to get my life back.

I still visit TLC Southern regularly.  And I have my TLC certificates, my 90/90, and all my TLC shirts and still wear them.

I meet people all the time who tell me how horrible TLC was for them because of the "dumb" rules. It used to make me angry.  But now I just smile at them and say that those "stupid" rules are what stopped me from killing myself.

I've been out of the program for a few months now and I've quit smoking and started exercising more.
My go-to for stress management these days is, believe it or not, exercising!

Thank you Mr. Schwary."

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Lost War

Since I was a teenager in the sixties I've been hearing about the "war on drugs."

Countless politicians have been elected because they promised to "do something" to rid our communities of this plague.

Some work to pass tough new laws. Maybe strengthen the borders.  Some are so radical as to suggest funding treatment, which most addicts can't afford even if it is available. During the so-called  "opioid crisis," the president even suggested executing drug dealers as they do in Singapore.

But so far, nothing stops - or even slows down - drug availability. If you have a few dollars you can go in almost any direction in our country and find your drug of choice in a short time. Young, old, rich or poor it's pretty easy to get high in our country.

But if spending millions on drug enforcement, courts and prisons don't work what will?

At this point in history, no one knows for sure.  The only thing we do know is what doesn't work.  And radical, expensive enforcement has just burned piles of money over the years to no effect.  A huge amount of resources are wasted on a giant drug enforcement bureaucracy that is the definition of impotence. Yet we keep spending and supporting insane policies because we're afraid to take risks that might solve - at least partially - the problems of addiction.

My suggestion would be to focus our attention and our billions on all-out treatment and drug education initiatives that would dwarf what we're doing today.  Education starting in early childhood as part of school curriculums and mandatory treatment for drug offenders at their first encounter with the justice system.

If we stopped viewing drug use as a moral failure rather than the disease that it is we might have a different outcome.  Addiction is bad, but so is cancer and heart disease.  The difference is that we don't treat those with other diseases as morally corrupt.

Click here to email John



Sunday, May 6, 2018

Path of Recovery

We don't all have the same experiences when we start down the path of recovery.

For some of us, once we get clean and sober everything turns to gold. Our family returns. We get our old job back, or maybe a better one. We regain our health. Life is wonderful and all the promises are coming true for us.

Then there are others who start down that same recovery path and lo and behold, things seem to get worse. They find out how much their family really does hate them for all their bad behavior. The children may despise him them Their spouse may divorce them. They can't seem to find employment in their chosen field. And because of this many of them revert to drinking and drugging – or at least want to. Life has become so painful that they wonder "what's the use?"

I heard a speaker sharing at a meeting this morning and the latter was her story. She'd gotten sober a few years ago and had experienced a lot of loss. Some family members weren't talking to her. A significant person in her life had passed away. I could sense her pain as she fought back tears while sharing her experiences.

But the idea that some of us have good experiences when we get sober, and others have bad experiences, is not that uncommon. After all, isn't that the story of life? Sometimes things go great for us. And other times nothing seems to go right.

We must embrace the idea that life is always changing and that the only thing we can depend is change - whether we're sober or not.

It's helpful for those of us who are facing negative experiences in our recovery to learn to accept them and to view them as an opportunity for growth.  As a way to add strength to our recovery.

Click here to email John





Thursday, May 3, 2018

Meditation

In the twelve-step programs, we hear the term "... Sought through prayer and meditation."

But what exactly does that mean, the part about "meditation?" Because nowhere in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous have I found an explanation.

When I discuss it with others they define it in many different ways. Some say they silently sit and reflect. Others may read a page or passage from a meditation book.

After many years, I found an answer. I took a company-sponsored meditation course in Transcendental Meditation. And for a long time, I was satisfied with that. After about 18 years though, I began investigating other types of meditation and discovered Mindfulness.

Although it's not religious in nature, it is derived from Buddhism and has been practiced for over 2500 years. Today it has migrated into the secular and is practiced by many, regardless of their religious beliefs.

I've been practicing at least 30 minutes a day for about five years and discovered that it was exactly what I was looking for. Today it is quite popular throughout the country. In fact so popular, that Google provides free mindfulness courses to all of its 350,000+ employees. Many other organizations, including law firms and government agencies – such as the Veterans Administration – provide free meditation classes.

And a couple of years ago, wanting to learn more about the practice, I took a meditation teacher training course from a local Buddhist minister who offers classes on the Internet. After 11 months I received my certification as a mindfulness instructor. And today I'm able to teach our clients meditation and frequently do so.

For those of you are interested, the definition of mindfulness is: "fully aware of present experience with acceptance, and without judgment."

And a simple way to incorporate this practice into your life is to find time each day where you will be able to sit quietly and not be disturbed.

Once you are seated, either on the floor cross-legged, or perhaps in a chair, you begin to focus on your breath as it comes into your nostrils. Follow the breath into your lungs and continue to follow it as you exhale. Virtually everyone who tries to follow their breath for very long finds their mind wandering. When that happens we are told to pay attention to our thoughts, observe them without judgment and watch them pass from our mind like clouds through the sky. Then we return our attention to our breath.

It's an easy way to stay focused and relaxed, regardless of what life brings us.

Click here to email John