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.

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.

Click here to email John




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.

Click here to email John