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, June 30, 2018

In the Present

Don’t judge yourself by your past. You don’t live there anymore." Unknown

Many addicts and alcoholics new to recovery judge themselves by their past. And many of them bear a heavy burden from the things they've done.

Maybe they've abandoned their families. Perhaps they committed a crime while drug seeking and ended up in prison. Others have experienced bankruptcy or divorce. Without a lot of looking most of us in recovery can find many things to judge ourselves for.

I think it's good for us to remember the price we paid for our addiction, but to continue to define our whole lives by our disease is a waste. Because the reality is that we alcoholics and addicts are known for bad decisions and poor judgment. But for us to waste our precious headspace and time dwelling on what we did and how far we've fallen behind our peers can impede our recovery.

Instead, we must learn to forgive ourselves and to live in the present. That's not to say that what we did was okay, or that we shouldn't make amends for our misdeeds, but when we forgive ourselves we can make progress.

I've witnessed many times what happens when addicts live in the past: they end up returning there and repeating their history. But those who have a healthy outlook on what they did, and who are working on recovery, can find themselves living successful lives.

I have some outstanding friends who have been sober over 25 years who have rebuilt their lives in every way. They are physically, financially, and spiritually healthy and giving back to the world and to their families.

You can do the same by living in the present and moving forward.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Finding Gratitude

In the summertime, we can often lose our patience, especially here in Arizona when the temperatures are typically over 110° this time of year. And I found myself in that situation today while in the drive-through of a restaurant waiting to pick up a burrito.

Now mind you, I was sitting in a comfortable seat in an air-conditioned car with the interior temperature at about 68°. Yet, even though I was cool just the idea of the heat outside made me a little testy and wonder what was taking so long for my order.

While waiting, I happened to notice out of the corner of my eye an elderly one-legged man in a dilapidated wheelchair struggling with both arms to move the chair forward toward the crosswalk, which was about 20 feet ahead of him. His progress was slow and painful. It seemed to take all of his strength and effort to move a few feet, yet he continued forward.

As I watched, I marveled at his persistence. I wondered how he had lost his leg and gotten himself into a situation where he would be out in 110° heat in his condition. Had he lost his leg in an accident or maybe to diabetes? Was he an alcoholic or drug addict? Was he homeless? Was there something I could do to help him?

While all this was going around and around in my head he made it across the intersection and disappeared into a parking lot on the other side of the street.

After I lost sight of him I realized that my impatience had disappeared. Instead, I found that it had been replaced by gratitude for the circumstances of my own life. No matter the temperature, I was able to stay comfortable in both my automobile and in my comfortable suburban home.

Sometimes the universe reminds me that there are many who suffer and struggle to just make it through the day. And it's these kinds of reminders that help me travel in a state of gratitude for the life I have today.

Click here to email John

Sunday, June 24, 2018

44 years

Today I was at a meeting where a man received a chip for being sober for 44 years.

Now someone new to the twelve-step programs might not understand the significance of someone receiving a chip for being sober 44 years. They might ask a question like, why bother? After being sober a few years, why does anyone go to meetings, particularly after they've been sober for more than half of their life?

But the reality is that a lot more happens at 12 step meetings than just not drinking or using drugs.

What really happens at 12 step meetings is that once people get into recovery and start living in sobriety, they start refining their lives and begin learning how to rejoin the human race. Many of them, particularly younger people, have never really truly learned how to live. They mistreated their wives, their parents, and coworkers, and others living around them.

So that's why the twelve-step programs have twelve-steps. Each step is a progression toward learning how to live better, how to treat people, and how to become a decent human being. And for the many who have spent years immersed in a life of drinking and drugging, it takes a long time to change and learn how to live in peace and harmony with others.

The gentleman in question – the man who has been sober 44 years – happens to be my sponsor. I met him when I first got sober but he didn't become my sponsor until seven years later. Now many of the questions I ask him I already know the answers to – something he often reminds me of. But the good thing about having someone who's been in recovery longer than we have is that they have been through many of the experiences we are facing. And even though we might know the answer, they can confirm that we're on the right track.

I would recommend to anyone who doesn't have a sponsor to try to find someone they can relate to. They can become a friend who will guide us through the rough patches in our recovery.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Example of Resentment

I once knew a person who had the perfect life

She had a great income. She had the time - because she didn't work - to enjoy several exotic vacations a year.  Drove a new luxury car.  Had a wardrobe that filled three closets. Credit cards to purchase all her wants.  A housekeeper who came in regularly to clean house.

She dripped with fine jewelry, had regular massages, beauty treatments, and cosmetic surgery.  All of her needs were met beyond most peoples' imaginations.  Yet - even though she supposedly was in the program and should know better, she nursed a secret resentment.  A resentment that eventually changed that perfect life.

Her resentment was against one of her husband's relatives, someone she fantasized was plotting against her.  Her resentment evolved into a rage that led her to attack the relative, an attack that ended with her being led away to jail in handcuffs and facing criminal charges.

I write about this today because it's important for those of us in - and out of - recovery to deal with our resentments before they evolve into something so destructive that they change the course of our lives.

It's happened to me at times and resulted in me doing self-destructive things.  And, I've seen it happen to many others.  Though not too many went to the extremes of the person I describe here.

If you have resentments, speak to your sponsor about them.  It's the kind of conversation that could save you a lot of misery.

Click here to email John

Monday, June 18, 2018

Unhappiness

Often addicts come to my office, to tell me of their unhappiness, wearing pain and discontent on their face. And after hearing them for a while to make sure I understand, I usually offer the same solution.

And the answer is that unhappiness is a choice they make. That their unhappiness stems from their thinking.

Perhaps they’re not pleased with their circumstances and want them to change. Or they’re sorting through the baggage of their past  - things they can do nothing about.

The unhappy among us are rarely savoring this wonderful moment our creator has given us. Instead, the thinking is somewhere else.  We’re peering into the future or the past. Thinking that if this or that were different life would be so perfect.

But the only perfection in life comes when we accept the inevitability of change.  We embrace the present, whether it's bitter or sweet and savor the good and the bad - which is the essence of life.

If we can do that then we’ll be happy and free.

Friday, June 15, 2018

On Vacay

"The harder you work the luckier you get" Gary Player

One of the blessings of being in recovery for over 27 years is that I get to take frequent vacations. And, of course, the reason for that is that I work - sometimes six days a week - and often deal with people who are emotionally difficult, which requires that I decompress as frequently as possible.

So tomorrow I meet family and friends in Imperial Beach in Southern California, right between San Diego and Tijuana. And this year there'll be 24 of us in all because my business partner and some of his children and grandchildren are joining us. It's a tradition that's been going on since 1995 when my now 18-year-old grandchildren were still toddlers and we only required one unit for all of us. This year, we have seven units, which makes for quite a crowd when we all get together to eat.

The only reason I enjoy the lifestyle I do today is because I got sober over 27 years ago. Often, clients and coworkers will tell me how lucky I am. And they're right. I am lucky. But there's also more to it than luck.

My luck comes from two things: my sobriety and the fact that I get up and go to work nearly every day of the month. I do take Sundays off, but it's rare that our brains are really ever off duty when we're in the recovery business. So it's kind of like we're working all the time.

Vacations remind me that the most important thing is the people around us, those we love. And when we get a chance to vacation together we refresh our relationships and catch up on what everyone's been doing since the last time we saw them.

I'm looking forward to the next week, with gratitude.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Back to Jail

When someone called last week to tell me that my grandson was back in jail, my response was "Great, that's exactly where he belongs."

That may sound hardhearted, but those of us in the family who care about him agree it's the best place he can be.

And that's because over the past several years he's ended up in the emergency room on several occasions because of heroin overdoses. And we periodically hear stories from the part of the East Valley where he runs around about different things he's involved with, a few of them involving weapons. We recently heard about him kicking in a door and holding a pistol to someone's head. Someone else tells us about a burglary. A robbery. A car theft. We also hear about him being placed on probation. About having warrants for failure to appear and wearing an ankle bracelet. The stories go on and on about him being broke, sleeping in his car, being homeless, being kicked out of family members' houses. It's a constant litany of near disasters involving him and his drug addictions.

Now I don't know how many of the stories are true and how many are false. But I do know this: when a lot of stories are circulating about anyone I know – while all of them might not be true – odds are that some of them are true. After all, none of us is so important that people are always making up negative stories about us.

But for me, the idea that he's in jail is a relief. Not that people don't get drugs in jail once in a while, but the odds are much better that he won't die of an overdose.

In my own case and in the case of many of those I know, a lot of bad things had to happen to us before we decided to change. And among those things that happened were time in jail. Loss of jobs. Homelessness. Rejection by our families. Visits to the emergency room. Health problems and so on.

My hope is that my grandson will spend a term in either jail or prison, enough time to make him realize that he needs to get help for his addiction. That might be his only chance at life.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Kindness

"Leave footprints of kindness wherever you go."

I've never gotten in trouble for being kind to others. But I've often had to clean up my mess when I was rude or impolite.

I believe that kindness is a way to travel through life. A way that pays dividends on many different levels. When we're kind to others, it seems like the universe opens up and rewards us.  We feel better about ourselves and have less stress.

I remember that I once had an aunt who wasn't very well liked. She lived in northern California, in a small home that she and her husband had built. And she remained there after he died of cancer, living by herself even though she was legally blind. She had other relatives living in town, including nieces and a sister. But because of their attitude toward her, none visited or offered to take her shopping or help her in any way. She was pretty much on her own.

However, after my mother passed away I developed a relationship with my aunt because she and my mother had a close relationship. I guess at first I connected with her because it was some sort of link to my late mother. When I would call or visit her we would spend a lot of time talking about their childhood together and experiences they had shared as adults. Eventually, when she got sick she came to live with me in Arizona and remained with me until she passed on.

Before she passed away she told me that because of my kindness she wasn't leaving anything to anyone except me. I didn't pay much attention to her because as far as I knew she didn't have much of anything other than the small house in California, which didn't appear to be worth much. But I was surprised at how much she did leave me. And I later reflected that sometimes a little kindness sometimes brings surprising results.

If we walk through life with the idea of being kind to everyone it can open a lot of doors for us, just as being unkind can make people not want to be around us.

I've been kind to some people and had them take advantage of my kindness. I've loaned them money. Or given them business opportunities. Only to have them burn me.

But for some reason, I don't let this kind of stuff bothered me because as a general rule the world will bless us when were kind to others – just as it will punish us when we are evil to others. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Being a Victim

"Abandon the idea that you will forever be the victim of the things that have happened to you. Choose to be a victor."  Seth Adam Smith

Many addicts I know view themselves as victims. And as long as they look at themselves that way they'll never have a chance to get sober or have a normal life. And this is because everything in their world revolves around "what happened" to them.  And how to find enough drugs to kill the pain.

Perhaps they were abused as a child, maybe raped, beaten, or emotionally abused.

And this is not to excuse or minimize what happened to them. This is written with the idea of helping them take a different look at themselves. To help them realize that they will be stuck on an eternal treadmill of angst, self-pity, substance abuse, gambling or sex addiction. Anything they can do to dull the pain of the self-constructed victim cage that they find themselves so comfortable in.

The reality is that we live in a world where terrible things often happen to people when they're young. And what happened to them is even more inexcusable because they were so young and defenseless. But in today's world there are many resources for people who want to grow beyond their childhood trauma. The thing is they need the courage to reach out and grasp the resources available.

My experience has been that many people use the bad things that happened to them as an excuse to wallow in their addiction and self-pity because it's the most comfortable place they know. Most people would rather live with a known misery than take a chance on an unknown joy.

And I know this because I was one of those people. I came from an abusive childhood where most everyone was drunk and angry – at least those who had any power over me. And I used that for many years as an excuse to destroy my life with drugs and alcohol. After years in jails and institutions I decided there had to be a better way and at 51 I decided to change my life.

I reached out and found the resources to get sober and the counseling that would help restore my sanity. My story illustrates that it's never too late to rewrite your life story – you just have to have the courage to do it.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Punishing Ourselves

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

Several times during this past year I've been dealing with people who are consumed by anger. I had to get a restraining order against one of them because he showed up at our offices late one afternoon about a year ago with a few of his ex-con buddies, threatening to kill me and my business partner.

Fortunately, we'd both left a few hours earlier. And the next day we got a restraining order to prohibit him from coming near our properties or employees. We also had an enhanced security system installed. And a few weeks later, he was returned to prison for violating his parole. However, he was released again a few weeks ago and sure enough, he showed back up at our offices wanting to speak to me. And once more, I was not at the office – this time because I was ill and forced to spend the day at home. Which was fortunate for me.

This man's been angry at me for over 20 years because he thought I'd taken advantage of one of his relatives in a business transaction. However, the relative and I settled our differences 20 years ago when I bought her half of the business we jointly owned. She and I are on good terms today and have phone conversations every so often. But somehow, his seething resentment and anger – coupled with his borderline schizophrenia – have stayed with him all this time, disrupting his serenity and peace of mind.

And I have another person with that same degree of anger in my life. And she, like this man, is borderline mentally ill. She and I were involved in a long-term contract that went bad and have been in court several times over the issue. She's so consumed by anger and rage that she's spent thousands of dollars trying to punish me and obtain what she considers to be "justice." I've made several generous offers to her – going far beyond what Arizona law requires – but to no avail. Even my attorneys have told me that I'm going beyond what is required and that the matter will have to be settled by a judge. And of course, the judge will follow the guidelines of the Arizona Revised Statutes – which will definitely resolve the matter in a way that'll be fair to both parties.

I feel compassion for these people. Because they're wasting their precious time on this planet being angry. They both feel and act like victims. They both express a sense of entitlement that's totally unjustified. Part of their challenges, in my opinion, is that their mental problems have made them delusional to the point that they don't have the ability to act in their own best interests.

And if they do have the ability, then this is another example of people being punished, not for their anger, but by their anger.

Click here to email John