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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Needing a Job

The economy is really great right now, but for TLC it's a double-edged sword. Nearly anyone who wants a job can get one easily. There are signs posted everywhere, businesses looking for help.

But the problem it creates for our organization is that most of our staff comes from our population. We use very few outside professionals for anything. If we can do it ourselves we do it. Our peer counselors are drawn from our population. Those who staff our houses are clients who have been sober for a while and want to work in a safe environment. For them, it's not about the money. It's about staying clean and sober, something that many of them haven't had a lot of success at.

But some of our clients have the idea that if they can just get a job everything will be okay. And of course, work is an honorable endeavor in our society. When a client tells his family member or loved ones that he just needs to get back to work they usually will agree with him or her. In fact, they usually offer encouragement.

However, the truth is that 95% of those who come to us only have one problem: their drug or alcohol addiction. Drugs and alcohol made them homeless, put them in jail, got them fired from jobs, kicked out of their homes, and into all kinds of other messes. Yet, when they're with us for a while and start making a little money and return to health their problems with drugs and alcohol become a dim memory. They know that no one will fault them for getting a job and making some money. But unless they have a solid foundation of recovery behind them it's easy to backslide. And once again they find themselves at our doors asking for help.

The other part of the equation is that it becomes difficult for us to recruit staff members who will stay around for a while. Most of those working in key positions at the moment are here for their recovery because they realize that money is not their issue – in fact, that it can sometimes fuel their problems. If it wasn't for this core of people who are dedicated to their recovery our management problems would be even more difficult.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Addict Children

I don't think addicts truly understand the impact their addiction had on their parents until they find out that their own child is an addict.

Many of our clients, some of whom have been addicts for years, also have children who are now drug addicts or alcoholics. And when we first learn that our children are addicts it's kind of like a punch in the gut.

I was one of those parents. When I first learned that my son was using heroin it was a shock. But I don't know why. Because I knew that the only examples he had in his life were other drug addicts, including me. So when I heard that he was spending his money on drugs and losing everything I shouldn't have been surprised. The same when I discovered that my grandson was a heroin addict. I just looked at the examples he had in his life.

For many of us with addict children, I think it helps us to recommit to our recovery because we want to become an example to our children, to give them hope that they can also get clean and sober.

There are many of us at TLC who deal directly with the parents of the addicts who live with us. And I think the idea that some of us also have addict children makes us more empathetic with them. They know beyond a doubt that we understand pretty much how they feel about their situation when they learn that we are not only addicts - but the parents of addicts.

We can't turn back time and erase the damage we did to our loved ones by letting them witness our addictions.  We can only be the best examples we can be today.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Being Grateful

It's never hard to find reasons to be grateful.

Last night, while driving home from the market, I passed a man who was struggling with about eight shopping carts he was navigating down the sidewalk. He'd take a couple of them at a time and move them ahead 20 or 30 feet, then go back and get a couple more and put them in line behind the ones he'd just moved.

And it wasn't like the carts were empty. Each was piled full of miscellaneous scraps of whatever: blankets, aluminum cans, pieces of wood, quite a bit of cardboard, and other things I couldn't quite identify. Whatever was in them must've been relatively heavy because it seemed like it was taking a lot of effort to move them.

As I drove on I wondered why he was collecting all of that stuff and what he was doing with it. Because being in the recovery business, I automatically default to the idea that he might be an alcoholic or an addict. With perhaps an overlay of some kind of mental illness.

Because the reality is, that anyone who is capable of putting that much effort into moving shopping carts full of junk around town is capable of working pretty hard. Someone who expends that kind of effort to collect a bunch of miscellaneous crap obviously has the energy to work a real job. Especially in today's economy. So I finally concluded that his problems were more mental than anything else.

And I was grateful that it wasn't me out there pushing shopping carts around. I was pleased that I found out almost 28 years ago that if I just quit drinking and shooting heroin and went to some meetings that my life would be great. Which it is.

While I never recommend that we play the comparison game, because we usually end up comparing ourselves with people with yachts and Learjet's, there are times when it is beneficial to realize that there are a lot of people who have problems much worse than the ones we face in dealing with our addictions.

Those of us in recovery have been rescued from ourselves and have found a solution. And if we use that solution in our daily lives we're not going to return to the way we once lived. Instead, we have guidelines that help us direct our behavior when we run into challenges and problems. Instead of turning to a drink or drug when we're facing challenges, we may call our sponsor or go to a meeting. And if we are serious about our lives it's just about that simple.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 22, 2018

Winning the Lottery

A friend asked today if I was going to buy a lottery ticket. After all, he told me, it's now up to over a billion and a half dollars.

"No," I answered.

He looked at me as if he didn't understand why I was missing such a great opportunity. After all, he explained, this is probably the biggest lottery jackpot there's ever been.

The reality is, I told him, that I won the lottery over 27 years ago when I became sober. After all, only a small percentage of heroin addicts stay clean for nearly 28 years, as I have. To me, that's like winning the lottery. Because if I hadn't gotten clean I wouldn't be here today to talk about it.

For most addicts and alcoholics with long-term sobriety living a clean and sober life is the best thing that could ever happen. After all, many of us had some success in our life before we became addicts. Many of us had businesses, careers, homes, and more. Yet we traded it all to live in the insane world of addiction. The fact that we're alive today is a miracle in itself.

Then there's the flip side of winning the lottery. I read the other day that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning while bobsledding backward down Mount Everest than he is to win the lottery. And those who are mathematically inclined have calculated the odds of winning are millions to one. Whatever the odds, I've read many horror stories about lottery winners and how their lives got screwed up by the sudden influx of cash.

While a few are prudent and invested wisely, there's an abundance of stories of those who did otherwise. I read of one man who won $27 million and blew through half of it within a year. One woman who won the lottery twice in one year is now living in a trailer park on Social Security. Another man who won $5 million was almost killed by a hit man hired by his brother and sister-in-law, who planned to inherit the windfall. The horror stories go on and on about greed, poor investments, suicides, and reports from many winners that they wish they had never won because their lives were totally messed up from then on.

It takes more self-discipline than many of us have to live a balanced life when we have millions of dollars. It might be something nice to fantasize about but that kind of winnings would be simply exchanging one set of problems for another.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 19, 2018

Back with Family

One result of addiction is that many addicts and alcoholics eventually lose their families.

Of course, it doesn't happen right away. Many times families exhibit unusual patience and spend thousands of dollars trying to get an addict back on track. But finally many of them give up. Their addicted family member has stolen from them. Maybe they've gone to prison or jail a few times. Perhaps they've been in accidents. Or maybe ended up in the emergency room after an overdose. The emotional baggage overwhelms many families and they understandably give up hope.

When I first came into recovery nearly 28 years ago I had a few phone numbers, but none of them really wanted a call from me. Including my family members. And it can be quite discouraging for the newcomer when they feel there's little chance of getting back together with those they love.

Yet I'm here to tell you that all of that can change. But it doesn't happen overnight. For most of us it doesn't happen even in the first six months. But within a few years – as long as we stay clean and sober – our families will realize that we're serious about recovery and start communicating with us once more.

I know that in my case it took about three years for my family to realize that I was serious about staying sober. And once they realized that, we started spending holidays together, summer vacations together and saw each other on a regular basis. At one point I had five family members living with me in a three bedroom house.

And for some of us, the very unusual happens. For example in my case, I had a daughter show up who was born in the late 1960s, a child that I was unaware of.

As long as we remain in recovery, there's hope for us all.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Changing Attitudes

A constant theme in my life is how things seem to always change.

And this came up for me today after I had a meeting with the city regarding some changes we want to make to our property so we can add services to our program. The people I met with, one lady from the building and safety department, and a gentleman from planning and zoning, were very accommodating and seemed like they really wanted to help us provide the documentation we need for the State Department of Health. They were patient with me and helped me to understand exactly what I needed to provide them so we can move ahead with the project. I walked away from the meeting with a sense of optimism and felt like I had been well served by our city government.

But it wasn't always this way. Back in the 1990s, our program got into a legal battle with the city. We spent over five years in federal court and a lot of legal fees just to be allowed to operate our halfway houses in the downtown area. At that time it seemed like everyone wanted to run addicts and alcoholics out of town, as opposed to helping them. The attitude seemed to be that if the addicts went somewhere else the addiction problem would cease to exist. But to us, that was a shortsighted view. After all, statistics were and are that some 15% of Americans have some kind of a problem with substance abuse – either alcohol or drugs.

I'm not sure changes have happened within city government or within my own views. I know that since the 1990s the public and the politicians have become more aware of how many addicts are dying from methamphetamines, alcohol, and opioids. In 2017 alone around 800 addicts died from opioid overdoses. In addition, hundreds more died from alcohol and the abuse of other drugs such as methamphetamines.

I think the public and the political world have come to realize that it's important to support any group that's making an effort to help educate and save addicts and alcoholics from themselves. I believe this change in attitude is going to make it much easier for us to carry out our mission of helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives.



Saturday, October 13, 2018

New Daughter

Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

A few blogs ago I mentioned that I was contacted by a daughter that I never knew existed.  A daughter born of a brief relationship in the late sixties.

During those years I drifted, as addicts are wont to do, from one city to another and one relationship to another with little thought of the consequences.

Then recently a cousin contacted me to ask if I'd ever known a woman named Arlene, that she had a daughter who was looking for her biological father, whom she'd never met.  Once she mentioned the woman's name I realized that I now had four daughters, rather than three.

And this evening I met my new daughter Gina, and we talked for a few hours.  She filled me in on how she was eventually adopted and about her upbringing.  She talked about searching for me over the years, then after no success stopped looking until recently.  And not long afterward she got some clues that put her on the right track.

Someone asked prior to my meeting her if I had any anxiety about it.  I thought that maybe I should have some, for some reason I didn't.  In fact, I was looking forward to meeting her.

And once we met I found her to be charming and attractive.  I know we'll know each other better in time and are getting together again tomorrow.

Once we addicts have a certain period of recovery we learn to not fear our pasts, regardless of how we lived.  And sometimes we encounter good things from our past that we never knew about -  like a new daughter.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Nothing Personal

One thing I've learned after being on the planet nearly 80 years is that it's easy to be unhappy.

One sure way is to want things to be different than they are at the present moment. Our ego may demand that people treat us differently than they do. We may think we're more important than we really are. And when we want people to treat us this way and they don't do it we can be very unhappy.

A long time ago I heard the real secret of happiness: never take things personally. Even though it seems like most of life's about us and our needs and our wants and desires if we live this way we're going to find ourselves constantly disappointed and frustrated and out of sync with the world.

When I live this way – not taking things personally – I'm a pretty happy camper. Because what others say, do, or think doesn't have a lot to do with me.

At times they just want someone to listen. There are others who are large and bullying personalities who want to be the center of attention. Or who always want to be right about everything even though they usually fall short.

If we do what we learn in the 12-step programs and accept people as they are, we rarely get into difficulty. Because no matter what our opinion of what they say, it doesn't make a hill of beans in the scheme of things. Their opinion is their opinion and I let them keep it and express it as often as they want. In other words, I don't take it personally because it's not about me.

I guarantee that if you try living this way, not taking things personally and allowing other people to express themselves you're going to be much happier. And you'll be more at peace.

And isn't that what we all got sober for?

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Our Stories

The stories we hear in Alcoholics Anonymous help us get sober.

And I say that because I was one of those people who thought I was unique. That I was different. No one had a story like mine. That no one drank and used drugs like I did. Therefore, I viewed Alcoholics Anonymous as a place that wasn't for me because I wasn't like the rest of the people who were there. But that's where I was terribly wrong.

Now it's true, that most people we meet in Alcoholics Anonymous are different from us in many ways. They come from different backgrounds. They have different levels of education. They are of other ethnic groups and religious backgrounds. Some are old. And some are young.

But even though no two are like, their stories follow the same plot. They began drinking or using and something bad happened to them. While it took many of them years, they eventually had some kind of spiritual awakening that brought them into the twelve-step meeting rooms. And once they grasped what the program was all about and began practicing the principles, life became remarkably better. And that's why I say the stories we hear in the meeting rooms are what help us get sober.

No matter how bad we think our stories are, there's always someone who will tell a story that's so outrageous that we wonder how they're sober today. I've heard speakers talk of unimaginable abuse and suffering, yet somehow they were saved by the principles of the twelve-step programs. They tell real-life stories of terrible childhoods and abuse, yet they got sober and came through it all.

Probably one of the main reasons that the twelve-step programs have been successful for some 75 years is that its members find strength and recovery while they solve their common problems.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Meditation

Last night I went to a Wednesday night meditation at the Buddhist temple in Mesa.

After we meditated for 45 minutes, the group leader asked if anyone had questions.

One person, who was apparently new, asked about the benefits of meditation. And the instructor explained some of them: lower blood pressure, more peace in our lives, less stress, clear thinking, and many more.

Having meditated for 25 years myself, I believe that the benefits of meditation are cumulative. I remember that when I first started it was kind of a question for me of "what's the point?" It didn't seem like I was getting anywhere with my meditation. My mind would wander. Sometimes I would fall asleep. Yet I kept at it because I was getting something out of it even though at times I didn't believe it.

My experience is that as I continue to meditate I take more and more of my meditation experience out into my daily life. Meditation has allowed me to become a much calmer person. Rather than reacting to stressful situations, I seem to be able to absorb and accept them as part of my daily life. Instead of erupting in anger when something doesn't happen just the way I want it to, I find it much easier to look at the situation with acceptance and to move on.

Also, I have learned to not cling to things, to realize that everything in the world is temporary and fleeting. And when one has that perspective it's much easier to live in the now and enjoy the moments that our Creator has given us.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 1, 2018

Resentment

Today while I was at Walgreens I ran into a dentist I hadn't seen in maybe four or five years. In fact, it had been so long ago that she didn't remember my name.

In any event, I'd quit using her services because she didn't take care of business the way I thought she should. Several years ago she placed implants in my lower jaw. Every so often implants need parts replaced because they eventually wear down from being removed and replaced for cleaning.

But it seemed like every time I went to her office in Scottsdale for my replacement appointment she never had the right parts. They were either too small. Or too large. Made of the wrong material. It was always something.  One time I even had to drive over to the laboratory to pick up the parts myself and take them back to her office so she could replace them.

Now I'm pretty patient, as those who know me will confirm. However, I finally lost patience. So when I went for my last appointment and once again she didn't have the right fittings for my implants I decided I'd had enough.  I found a dentist who practices about half a mile from my house. The first time I went to see him he had the right size fittings. And he's had them in stock ever since; all I need to do is show up and he takes care of me in about 15 minutes.

When I explained why I'd quit seeing her, she told me that I should've talked to her about my problems and she would've responded. But from my perspective, it had been an ongoing issue that had occurred more than four or five times. My attitude is that if someone wants my business they should keep supplies in stock to take care of me. And the fact that she never had the right parts should've told her that I wasn't getting the kind of service that a patient expects.

While she did halfway apologize, she said she resented the negative review I gave on her website after I left.  I'm not sure what she expected, but surely she couldn't have thought that I would leave a positive response after the service I received.

As I went on my way I realized that at least we alcoholics have a positive way of dealing with our resentments and getting over things.

Click here to email John