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.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Ungrateful

A difficult job at TLC is feeding three meals a day to our 800+ clients.  Over 2400 meals a day.

Plus, everyone has different tastes, which are hard to accommodate when feeding so many.

And the people on the front lines, those cooking and serving, bear the brunt of the complaints from the clients when meals aren't to their liking.

Much of the food we serve is donated and the cooks sometimes must be quite creative to come up with meals that are both nourishing and within our budget.

This comes up today because a group of clients in our treatment program, which has a large budget - much larger than the halfway houses - were complaining about having sandwiches for lunch for several days in a row.  Because a few of them have a sense of entitlement, they thought lunch should be something fancier so they began complaining.

They were also unhappy with cereal for breakfast two days a week.  They wanted steaks, barbeque, and roast beef for dinner, and so forth.

But the reality is that most of them - as we addicts are wont to do - forgot that a few months earlier eating well was not their priority.  Drugs and alcohol were what they craved.  Many of them ate what they could sponge from their family or friends or perhaps steal from a convenience store.  Things like hot dogs or packs of lunch meat.

Once clients get really sober they start to become grateful.  They begin to realize that they're much better off than many people in the world.  People who would be grateful to have even one meal a day, regardless of what it was.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gratitude

There was an article in the newspaper this morning, on the front page, about a large group of refugees attempting to cross from Tijuana into the United States.

The article detailed how authorities on the United States side of the border were spraying the group with tear gas from the other side of the fence to keep them from crossing. The photo on the front page showed about 600 refugees from Central America, men, women and children, trying to force their way into the country. It was a sad scene.

I never get into politics in this blog, and I'm not going to now.

But what I did take away from this was a lot of gratitude because I live in a country of prosperity and relative security. I can't imagine walking a couple thousand miles with nothing but the clothes on my back because conditions are so bad in the country where I was born. That I can no longer live there because of the terrible conditions.

And I think that many times we fail to recognize how blessed we are to be in a country that provides relative security, opportunity, and even prosperity for those willing to work for it. Often times we get caught up in the negativity that we see on the news networks and in the newspapers because we don't live in a perfect world. But the reality is that a perfect world doesn't exist.

We can have a great life, good job, good marriage, great education, but there are always a few clouds in the sky. But we have the choice of simply noticing them and letting them pass or we can tell ourselves how terrible things are. Instead, maybe we can enjoy the sun filtering through the clouds and realize that life is always a process of change. Sometimes that change is bad. And sometimes it's good. But the one thing we can count on is that life will be different tomorrow.

And when see groups of ragged refugees trying to claw their way into this country over a steel fence through clouds of teargas we can find gratitude for our circumstances. Because even if we're living in a halfway house or a recovery program, we know that we have a great future ahead of us if we simply stay clean and sober.  Many don't have the opportunities we do.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Group Counseling

It's no surprise that when 10 drug addicts live together in the same house communication problems arise all the time. Of course the same could be said about 10 so-called "normal" family members who live together in the same quarters. It's inevitable that people cross other people's boundaries and step on other people's toes when they live in close proximity to one another.

A wonderful tool that we've used for the last 25 years here at TLC is peer group counseling. These groups are a way for our clients to confront one another in a safe setting. One client can accuse another of most anything, as long as it's not done in a threatening manner.

For example, one client might like to go to sleep early. But his roommate enjoys late-night conversations with his girlfriend, or perhaps is watching YouTube videos on his cell phone. While this might seem to be a small deal, it can create resentments and anger that can erupt into something bigger.

Or one client might be eating another's food from the community refrigerator, or leaving his dirty clothes on the floor, or not doing his part in keeping the restroom clean.

In a group setting these things can be brought out and dealt with before they grow into larger problems.

Groups are also used to deal with a person's recovery behavior. If a client notices that his or her roommate is not attending meetings, it might become the topic of a group. And it's a valid topic. Because the purpose of our program is to help people rebuild their lives and part of that process is working a recovery program.  And attending meetings is an integral part of that process.

The good thing about groups is that they can serve as a tool to help clients bond with one another. When clients confront each other in a safe setting it means they care enough to observe each other's behavior. And once clients become used to groups, they find it easier to confront each other outside of groups in a positive way that will help with their growth.

Something I once read that I found quite interesting is that it's never been established that group counseling run by professional therapists is any more effective than peer group counseling run by addicts helping one another.  I believe that to be true.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Perseverance

An alcoholic wrote me a letter today, asking me to help him get started in the recovery business. He wasn't asking for money. But he was asking for advice, which I'm happy to give anybody. I sent him an email back, telling him that I'd be in touch with him.

And I'll contact him because I think it's important to encourage other people to help addicts and alcoholics any way they can. Some might say that's a stupid idea. Why would someone who's already in the recovery business give someone else advice about how to get into the same business. It's kind of like calling McDonald's and asking them to help you start a hamburger stand.  But I believe it's important to help others however you can.

One of the things this gentleman mentioned in his email was about doing research to raise funding to get started. But the reality is that if you want to get to the recovery business or most any other business, money is the least of your problems.

The biggest problem for most people is perseverance and self-discipline.

I remember that I searched for a piece of property for a good six months before I found three dilapidated houses on a piece of property that I was able to get for $350 in closing costs. After I spent a year in another halfway house learning how to run a recovery business, I moved into my own houses. I started cleaning. Painting. Patching floors. I spent about two months getting the place ready for the first five residents. And while doing this, I worked an outside job to support myself and to buy materials to get the houses ready for the first residents.

Getting started was a slow and tedious process of drudgery and hard work. But people started showing up. Most had no money, but if they looked like they had some willingness I let them stay. Within a year we acquired other houses and had over 130 residents. Within two years we had about 300 residents, and of course more property to accommodate them.

After two years we got so busy I quit my outside job and devoted full time to running the halfway houses. I also started paying myself a small stipend each week to cover my expenses. The expenses weren't large: food, mortgage payment, utilities, and transportation. Fortunately, enough clients paid service fees to cover expenses.

The drift here is that it doesn't really take money to start a successful business. What it does take is a burning desire to succeed at what you're doing. In my case, the burning desire was to stay sober and I knew that one way I could do that was being around other addicts and alcoholics who were also sober. But the process of helping other alcoholics while staying sober myself was sometimes daunting.

There's a lot more to the recovery business than meets the eye. There are groups to run. Meals to prepare. Utilities to pay. Arguments to defuse. City officials showing up, wondering if you have the right permits. Addicts who will live with you for two or three weeks, then leave when they get their first paycheck.

It can be a heartbreaking business, one that grinds you down and wears you out. The only thing that kept us going in those early days was perseverance and having the discipline to get up each day to help the constant stream of addicts and alcoholics who kept coming to our doors. And we helped them, no matter what.

That's what made us the success we are today – we never gave up and we never quit. We put everything we had into our project and kept reinvesting until it hurt. And today there are new people coming in who share that same perseverance self-discipline. And they too will reap the blessings of their efforts.

Just as those of us who have been here for many years.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Finding the good Within

"Don’t worry if someone does not like you. Most people are struggling to like themselves."

I was reading an article in Psychology Today this week in which the author was talking about an experiment she did in a therapy group. 

She asked each member to mention three things they liked about themselves. As she expected, the majority of them struggled with her request.

She wrote that most people who are given this assignment find it challenging. On the other hand, if she asks the opposite question, the result is quite different.

She says when she asks people to come up with negative things about themselves they almost always can go on and on until she has to stop them.

And, I myself have been in groups where the same experiment took place. And the results were always the same.

So why do we humans find it so difficult to see the good within ourselves? We can blurt out the negative without hesitation, yet stutter when asked to look at the good.

Is it because we think we should be doing better? Is it because we haven't lived up to our expectations? Do we feel as if we're bragging if we recognize the good and worthwhile within us? Or is it that much of the human race has lousy self-esteem?

I've never seen or read a satisfactory answer to this conundrum. But, as a person in recovery, I believe that if I wear life loosely and don't take things too seriously I'll feel good about myself most of the time.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Patience

The last blog I wrote was while I was in Mexico.  And in that blog, I said that I'd be home the next day.  But, that's not what happened.

Instead, once we boarded and started taxiing down the runway something went wrong with one of the engines and the pilot aborted the take-off and the plane was sent to a far corner of the airport and parked.  The pilot announced that something was wrong with one of the valves in the engine and that we'd have to have to sit for a while to see if it could be repaired.

After an hour or so, there came another announcement.  The engine couldn't be repaired right away and we all - some 200 of us - would be bussed back to the terminal and put on other flights.  Well, that seemed to be a minor inconvenience, except that when we got to the terminal all the flights were taken and we'd have to wait until the following day, which was yesterday.

On the upside, though, we would be housed - at no cost - at a resort hotel and all our meals and drinks would be paid for by the airline.  Well, there were mixed feelings about that arrangement.  Of course, the drinkers were really happy about having all they could drink at no cost. But some of the people seemed kind of upset because they had jobs and other obligations back in the States.

Part of me wanted to be upset.  But another part of me said this was a time to practice meditation and acceptance.  Because there's always something that goes wrong and if I make a big deal out it all that happens is that life gets more stressful.

Besides, all of the work I was wanting to get done was still waiting for me and I was able to get a good portion of it completed by the deadline. Somehow things always seem to work out - just not always the way I want them to.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 12, 2018

Gratitude

Tomorrow I'm back home from vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  And as always my visits here are a lesson in gratitude.

And the gratitude comes from the people here.  They are friendly, helpful, and kind.  Everyone here works hard just to survive.

Recently the Mexican government raised the national minimum wage from $4.25 to $4.70 cents a day.  Yes, you read that right:  $4.70 cents a day.  About what we Americans spend on a latte or a trip through a fast food restaurant if we're lucky enough to get by that cheap.

Yet, somehow they get by.  Some work two jobs.  Others start small businesses selling everything from handmade jewelry to flowers to fruits and vegetables at the intersections on busy streets.

Also, they seem to have larger social networks than Americans, family to depend on when things get tough financially or when they're between jobs.  

They also don't take life quite as seriously as we do and spend less time keeping up with their neighbors in terms of having the best house or the newest car.  Their relationships seem to mean more to them than the things they can acquire.

They seem to wear life more loosely and are quick to find humor in most everything - qualities that I admire.





Friday, November 9, 2018

Helpful Policewoman

While driving with my companions in downtown Puerto Vallarta yesterday while on vacation, I was waved to the curb by a policewoman.

Since I wasn't speeding I couldn't imagine why she was stopping me. I hadn't cut anyone off.  I wasn't weaving.  The rental car had the proper tags on it.  I didn't have any warrants.

But as soon as I rolled down the window she let me know that I was driving while talking on the phone.  She told me that was illegal in Mexico.

I told her I was unaware of such a law, that I was sorry, and I wouldn't do it anymore.  But she wasn't impressed and asked for my license.

After I gave her the license she pulled out her ticket book and started writing.  As she did so she told me that I'd have to see the judge the next morning.

She said the fine was $147.00 in American money and that once I paid it I could get my license back.

Since I knew I didn't want to spend even one or two hours of my vacation in a courthouse I used the technique I've always used when I have encounters with the police in Mexico.

Whether you know it or not the police in Mexico are very compassionate and understanding, something I discovered many years ago when I got stopped in Tijuana.

So, when she told me I had to appear in court I asked if she could do me a favor.  Because I was on vacation and didn't want to waste time in court would she mind taking the money to the judge for me?

She looked around, a bit uncomfortable, and told me she really couldn't do that, that she might get into trouble.  But when I pulled two 100 dollar bills from my wallet and held them where she could see them she handed her ticket book through the window.  At which point I put the money into it and handed it back.

She said she would take the money to the judge and made me promise to stop talking on the phone while driving.

I told her that I wouldn't and drove on.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Being Lucky

While you're reading this post, I'll be sitting in a condo on the eighth floor of a building that overlooks the beach in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. I'd post a picture for you on Facebook, except I don't do social media. I have enough drama in my life, without that.

Before I left yesterday, someone told me how lucky I was to be able to take vacations three or four times a year. And I agreed with them. I am lucky. Lucky to be sober for nearly 28 years. Lucky to have my family back in my life. Lucky to have started a recovery program 27 years ago that has spread clear across Arizona. Lucky to have my hands in several other small businesses.

But the reality is that there's more to it than that. While luck is definitely a component of many successful people's lives there is something else that people don't often recognize. And that's the fact that what many people call luck I call hard work and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise.

As Thomas Edison said: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work". And a truer statement was probably never made.

In my case, the success I enjoy is because I show up every day, whether I feel like it or not. The reason I'm able to show up is that I quit putting drugs and alcohol in my system. But once I got the drugs and alcohol out of my life I decided that I was going to enjoy the years that I had left. And because I had destroyed businesses and opportunities over and over again, I knew that I had to be disciplined about showing up every day - whether I felt like it or not. Showing up equates with hard work.

If you're an addict or alcoholic who hasn't done too much damage to your brain or your health and are willing to work you can enjoy whatever kind of life you choose. I know many addicts and alcoholics today who are outstanding successes in every way – financially, socially, with their families, and as members of their community.

But if you look behind the scenes you'll see that every one of them show up every day and do their best. And they are "lucky" because they work hard.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Angry Client

Last week I was in a conversation with an angry former client. She was so angry that her words came spewing out of the phone like hot lava out of a volcano. I had to put her call on speakerphone for fear of damaging my eardrums.

She was screaming so loud and so fast that I couldn't get a word in edgewise. And I really didn't even want to respond to her invective. All I wanted to do was ask her to take a deep breath and relax for a moment. But before I had a chance to say anything she ran out of steam and ended the call.

Unfortunately, this wasn't my first conversation with this former client. I'd spoken to her perhaps a week before and she was fairly pleasant. She claimed that I didn't know what was going on in our halfway houses, especially the woman's houses. She said they were overrun with rodents, cockroaches, and bedbugs. She said that several female clients have been rushed to the emergency room from the effects of bedbug bites and rodent droppings. She also claimed she'd been hospitalized for several days for serious after-effects from exposure to bedbugs and rodents. Before we were done talking I told her I would look into the matter and call her back.

When I asked the managers if any of what she said was true they said they didn't think so but that they would do a new inspection of the houses. The inspection resulted in the discovery of two dead bedbugs in one of the bed frames. And as we do in all such cases, our staff took the bedding to a heat room and let it sit in 140° temperature for a while. They also cleaned the room thoroughly and filled in any cracks where bedbugs might hide. And this is what they do in any situation where bedbugs are found.

In addition, Maricopa Environmental Services inspect our facilities regularly and generally give us passing marks at all our facilities.  Plus, we have contracts with pest control companies that regularly inspect and document their treatments.

I'm not sure what this woman's problem is other than that maybe she has relapsed and is blaming it on our organization. Either that, or she might need to find a facility that could deal with her emotional issues and out of control rage.

Click here to email John