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, September 27, 2018

New Daughter

A couple of weeks ago I got  a text from a cousin, telling me a woman had contacted her, seeking information about her father - someone named "John."

She said the woman didn't know "John's" last name. 

But she did mention the name of her mother, a woman I'd been using drugs with for a few months in East Los Angeles in the late 1960s.  The last time I saw her, she said she was pregnant.  And even though it's been about 50 years ago, I remember she was angry and we didn't part on good terms.

Around a week after I last saw her I went to jail in Orange County for drug charges and didn't see the sun for about 18 months.  When I was released, I resumed my heroin addiction and my path as a career criminal.

During those years I wasn't fit to be a parent.  I had two children I knew about, but I was rarely there for them.  My life was all about self-gratification, about taking care of my heroin addiction. I was really a self-centered, miserable human being.

A couple of times I wondered what had happened to her mother.  Was she really pregnant?  Did she have the baby?  Did her addiction cause her to lose it?  But I never spent the time or effort to learn more.  As it turns out, she was blessed by being adopted when she was three years old and raised by normal people.

And now, for the past few days, I've been getting acquainted by text and telephone with a delightful new daughter that I never knew I had.  She has children and grandchildren.  We're slowly getting to know one another.

In reflecting on meeting her I'm reminded of how our addictions can take precedence over everything else in our lives - much to our detriment.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 24, 2018

Raising Children?

Sometimes it seems like we're raising children whose parents didn't finish raising them.  Maybe it's because they didn't care about them.  Or maybe the parents were drug addicts themselves and never developed parenting skills because they were too busy chasing drugs.

We have a lot of clients who don't know how to fend for themselves.  No work experience or job skills.  Not much schooling.  And it's not because they're stupid.  It's because they had no one to guide them when they were growing up.

Many of our clients who come from prison or the streets seem to fall into this category.  They don't know how to apply for a job. They don't have the first clue about how to dress or groom themselves before they look for work.  It's easy to see why they were homeless or in jail

On the positive side, many of them respond when we try to bring them into the world of responsibility.  In fact, many of those who spend six months to a year or more with us learn skills and trades that translate into good jobs out in the real world. 

Many of our clients over the past 26 years have gone on to own their own businesses, have graduated from college and gone on to become productive citizens.

Often getting into recovery is about simply growing up and learning to become responsible.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Karma

There are many definitions of karma.  Some are from Buddhism.  Others from Hinduism and other religions.  The internet has many definitions, but they all pretty much boil down to the same thing:  what comes around goes around.

And I had a good example of karma recently in my own life. 

I've been in some long-term litigation - as many readers know - something that has drained a lot of my psychic and financial resources.  That's what lawsuits can do to us.

What happened, in this case, is that the party that I'm suing has been lying - even while under oath - about a contractual agreement we'd entered into several years ago.  The other party maintains that she didn't understand the agreement.  That she was pressured into signing it. That she didn't have proper legal representation and so forth.  So the court granted a hearing because it seemed like it was kind of her word against mine.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, I encounter an old friend of the other party, someone I hadn't seen in a while because she lives back East.  She asked how the lawsuit was going and I told her I was going to a hearing in a couple of weeks because the other party was saying she hadn't understood the agreement and was pressured into signing it. Therefore she was attempting to dismantle it.

My friend was aghast.  She told me - something I was unaware of - that she and the woman I'm suing had many lengthy discussions about all aspects of the agreement before it went into effect.  Of course, I immediately passed this information on to my lawyers and they're taking the appropriate legal steps.

I've always believed that when one does the right thing, good things come back to them. In this case, I was doing my best to live up to my end of the contract, but the other party lied about her understanding of it and will ultimately pay the price - karma in action.

Click here to email John

Monday, September 17, 2018

Staying Peaceful

It's difficult for us addicts to remain calm and peaceful when it seems as if the world is collapsing around us.  And it might be difficult because before we got sober we had ways of dealing with difficult times:  we medicated ourselves.

Drugs.  Alcohol.  Whatever it took to numb our brains and desensitize us.

However, today we can't use substances to stay calm.  All that happens if we use is that we further destroy our lives and things get more complicated. But there are healthy things we can do.

For openers, we can start by talking to our sponsor.  After all, most of the issues and drama that we encounter in our recovery is something our sponsor has already dealt with.  A sponsor with any kind of time has many answers and suggestions to help keep us on track.

And something that works for me personally is a workout.  A good run on the elliptical or 45 minutes with the weights can pump calming endorphins into our system - and endorphins are more powerful than opiates without the dangers of overdosing.

Another personal favorite is meditation.  I do 30 minutes each morning when I first awake, plus attend a weekly meditation class at a local Buddhist temple. A recent study at Oxford University in England showed that 15 minutes of daily Mindfulness meditation is 20 percent more effective than depression medications.  And with no side effects.

So there are safe places to turn when things get tough.  We just need to be willing to use them.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 14, 2018

More Long Term Sobriety

As I said earlier this week, TLC doesn't have the time or resources to keep track of how many of our graduates stay sober long term.

Then I mentioned in a blog a few days ago a man who was here 25 years ago and who's still sober today. He was in town on business and stopped to say hello.

Then yesterday I hear from a former female resident about a client was here in the early nineties when we first started the program. She wrote:

"John,

I met a man in an online recovery group.

 He made me an admin because he trusted me. As time went in we became internet friends and exchanged phone numbers. We talked for hours on the phone. 

He had over 25 years of sobriety and when I told him I had been at TLC in Mesa, Arizona, he told me he had also been through your program at the very beginning. Another success story. 

He passed away last year and my heart was sad - but so happy he had years of living the good life. Thanks mostly to your program and a willingness to become more. He taught me a great deal and I'll forever be grateful for that and for you. 

God bless. Keep up the amazing work you do.  

Thanks,  JM"

These are the kind of letters that gladden my heart. The idea that we can help even a few people stay sober makes all of this worthwhile.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

25 Years Ago

While TLC doesn't have the resources or time to keep track of how many graduates stay sober, we often get reminders of our successes.

And today a man stopped at our corporate offices to tell me that 25 years ago today he entered our program when we still had a facility on Country Club Drive in Mesa.  It was an old hospital that we'd converted into a halfway house.

He said that when he arrived he only had two bags with him, all of his worldly possessions. Today he's a sales executive with a major corporation and had come to town to visit a new facility his company had purchased in Arizona.  (I omit his name to protect his anonymity.)

I only had a few minutes to talk with him because I had an appointment scheduled so we made plans to visit the next time he visits the Valley.

Later in the day, I reflected upon how long this man had kept his sobriety.  For 25 years this man has been a contributor to society, working, not driving under the influence, not going to jail - an example of what can happen by following a few simple guidelines.

And the guidelines he followed 25 years ago are the same ones we teach our residents today.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Long Time Reader

I hear from a reader who's been following this blog for many years, something I appreciate.

When she first wrote it was to see if TLC could help her adult son who'd been drinking and living on the streets in the Midwest for quite a while.  And my response was that of course we could help him.  All he needed was to be willing and to show up.

However, he wasn't interested in changing.  And, as far as she knows he's still doing the same thing, but now in another state on the East coast.

Much of our correspondence has been about how to deal with someone we love who refuses to change.  And the reality is that until someone experiences enough pain they're not too motivated to do anything different - regardless of how painful it is to those around them.

Even though she suffers greatly over her son's alcoholism, this woman has fortunately been able to focus on the many blessings in her life.  She has children and grandchildren who love and care for her.  She has participated in support groups that have helped her realize that until her son decides to change all she can do is live in acceptance.

Most of us alcoholics and addicts don't realize the pain we cause our family and friends.  It's only when we get sober and begin to make amends that we realize the damage we've done.

The positive thing is that if we stay sober these relationships can be repaired.

Click here to email John




Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Angry People

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

What do we do when we're dealing with someone so angry that they threaten to kill us?  I ask this question because for those of us in the recovery field this happens every once in a while.

The Big Book clearly states on page 84 that "We ceased fighting anyone or anything..."  But if we follow this statement does that mean that we just roll over and not defend ourselves?  It's not an easy question to answer, not without splitting some philosophical hairs.

After all, we got into recovery so we could live in serenity. Yet, here were are faced with having our lives taken by an angry addict.  And while many times the person may be blowing off steam, one never knows when someone will act on their anger.

I learned during my years of incarceration to take every threat seriously.  Regardless if the person was considered dangerous or not, one never knew whether they would act on their threat.  And the situation would be dealt with appropriately.

But in the world of recovery, we no longer can take matters into our own hands if we want to live in peace and serenity.

So the solution for me is to let the law deal with threats; after all, that's why we pay taxes.  And on the last three occasions, we've either put the offenders in jail or placed restraining orders upon them.

And while sometimes that doesn't satisfy the more primitive part of my brain, my sober self tells me that living with the bounds of the law is the right thing to do today.

Click here to email John

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Changes

Yesterday I got another example of how our lives can quickly change forever.

For over 20 years I'd worked with a business associate and friend who provided us with accounting and consulting services.

He was a pleasant man in his seventies who did a good job with our books, keeping the IRS happy and usually giving us good advice about how to take care of our finances.

He had a few personal quirks, such as a mild stutter when he got nervous, which was sometimes distracting when I was trying to have a serious conversation with him.  But, all in all, I was satisfied with his services and figured he'd be with us as long as we were in business.  He was a bright man and had good ideas for tax strategies.

But then during tax season two years ago he called me up around 8:00 pm, which was not like him, and started rambling to me about some tax work that we needed to complete right away.  Tax work that we'd completed a month earlier.

At first, I thought maybe he'd had a memory lapse, or maybe one too many drinks, and explained to him that we'd already filed those taxes on time.  When he called me the next day, he brushed it off as a memory lapse and I didn't think much more about it.

But over the next few months, he began having more lapses in memory and judgment and I realized that something serious was going on with him.  Somehow we scraped through the tax season.  But I started talking with my business associate about finding another accountant.  Which we ultimately did to complete our 2017 taxes.

After that, I lost track of him.  I tried calling, but he didn't answer.  His old firm, which had let him go, wouldn't give any information about him. He'd disappeared.

Then, the other day, I ate at a restaurant he used to frequent and they told me that he'd developed dementia and that his grown children had put him in a local rest home.  Which didn't surprise me, considering how erratic he'd become the last few months I'd worked with him.

I was saddened to see how quickly this man deteriorated.  How quickly he went from being active and employed to being confined to a nursing home.

And it reminded me how everything in life is temporary.  And that we should live it to the fullest.

Click here to email John