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 30th 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.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Loving Him to Death.

A lot of people don't understand or are in denial about how they support the addictions of their children and family members.

I've been managing one of the largest drug programs in Arizona for nearly 29 years. And people ask over and over how they can help their loved one kick a habit. And the first thing I tell them is to stop supporting their habit.

"Oh, we don't," they usually reply. "We told him we don't want him doing that kind of stuff. We get angry when he doesn't listen. We cut off help. We threaten to quit talking to him if he doesn't get help."

But when I start digging deeper I find out that's not necessarily the case. Maybe they don't give them money. But I ask them to take an inventory of what they do give him. Do they let him sleep on the couch because he's lost his apartment? Do they feed him? Do they do his laundry? Do they buy him cigarettes? Do they give him rides to strange neighborhoods? Do they give him pocket money?

I'm a person who used heroin and other opiates for about 38 years. And alcohol for 42 years. And as long as people would enable me with any kind of help at all I used them to support my habit.

It was only when my dear mother, God bless her soul, said she was giving me no more help until I got sober and clean that I began to change. And I mean she cut me off cold. And I was very angry, but she didn't care. She was tired of seeing me dying from drugs and alcohol. She wouldn't feed me. She wouldn't buy me cigarettes. She wouldn't even let me sleep in her toolshed. And I thought she was cruel and had no understanding. Why had she turned so mean?

But see, when people quit helping me, that's when I began to change. When I could no longer borrow money, or bum rides, or get any kind of help I began to change. At first, I thought the world had turned against me and that everyone was just becoming downright evil. That they had no understanding of my substance abuse problem and my abusive upbringing.

But when people stopped helping me, that's when I changed. It took a while for people to notice.  But when they did see those changes then they began to give me real help. They saw me planning businesses. They saw me going to work. They saw me going to twelve-step meetings. They weren't stupid. They realized that I was trying to do something with my life and they gave me 100% encouragement which made me want to continue to do even better. That's the only kind of help to give an addict: get behind him or her 100% when you see that they're really making motions to change their life. And when they stop trying to change their life once again that's when you quit helping.

But too many people have the idea that their loved one will no longer like or love them. That their relationship will somehow fall apart. So they continue to help them no matter what. And that's why I gave this blog the title "Loving Them to Death."

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Resolution

So here we are once more on the cusp of a new year. And it seems like January of 2019 just kicked off yesterday.

I don't know if I accomplished anything this year, though I did complete a divorce. Which was a relief from the anxiety of court appearances and wondering how much my legal bills were going to be for the next month.

I've never made New Year's resolutions. I'm not sure why I don't engage in that tradition. But when I got sober I made one big resolution: to live the best lifestyle I could. And I knew that I didn't have to wait till the beginning of the year to kick it off.

When I got sober almost 29 years ago I made a resolution to live the best life I could. And for me, the best life I could live is one where I was fit and healthy in all ways. Emotionally. Physically. Financially. Spiritually.

So I did things to maintain my sobriety and recovery by going to twelve-step meetings. After I had a year sober I started a side business running a recovery program while working a 9-to-5 job. However, circumstances changed and I ended up having to leave my 9-to-5 job to run the recovery program full-time because it grew so rapidly it required my full-time attention.

But I did more than just go to meetings and build a business. I began reading one to two books a month. I got involved in weightlifting and playing racquetball at the YMCA, a gymnasium I used for nearly 20 years until they sold the building. I also took a course in transcendental meditation, a practice I did for about 15 years until I switched over to mindfulness meditation. Meditation was a practice that was so good for me that I eventually obtained a certificate as a meditation instructor.

The picture I'm trying to paint here is one of being involved in constant improvement. I guess it's all right to set goals or make New Year's resolutions. However, that hasn't been my best way to get things done. I believe that we improve our lives by getting involved in something that we can do one day at a time, bit by bit, inching along with progress and not necessarily hurrying toward a goal where we stop moving when we reach our destination. I believe that a well-lived life is one where we can continue to grow, where we can be a benefit to the community and give others the opportunity to improve their lives.

I'm not saying don't make a resolution because you're not going to listen anyway. For if you're an addict like I am, you'll learn your own lessons as you try different things. But for your sake and the sake of society do something positive – no matter what it is – because whatever you do positive will contribute to us living in a better world.

When we're out there living positive lives other addicts and alcoholics might notice us and want to follow our example. What better gift could you give the world?

Click here to email John

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Sadness

One of the things we learn in recovery is that life is a series of ups and downs.  And the 12-steps teach us - if we use the tools - how to handle the roller coasters of life without having to resort to  drugs and alcohol once again.

This is always a rough time of year for me because my mother died on Christmas Eve 25 years ago. 
Her death was unexpected, even though she'd been in the hospital for 54 days.  She'd entered the hospital for a one-day procedure to have a pin removed from her thighbone which had been put in years earlier when she broke her leg.  The doctors figured the bone had healed well enough that they could remove the pin and relieve her of her pain.

It was supposed to be a simple procedure, but they ended up keeping her overnight for observation.  To make a long story short, the operation didn't go well and she developed complications that put her in a coma from which she eventually emerged.  The doctors had to put in a new pin and she required extensive rehabilitation to get back to normal.

Finally, she was scheduled to return home on Christmas Day and my brother and I were looking forward to her release from the hospital.

On Christmas Eve I had just left work and was preparing to visit her when I got a call from the hospital.  The nurse told me that my mother had died 15 minutes earlier.  She explained that she'd suffered a pulmonary embolism - a form of blood clot in her lungs which killed her almost instantly.

Of course, I was in temporary shock because she seemed so healthy when I'd visited her the evening before.  That she wouldn't come home was the last thing on my mind.

Regardless of the years that have elapsed, memories of her passing are with me at this time of year.  I long ago accepted her passing as a natural part of life but her memory is still with me this time of year.

She was a wonderful example for me and taught me much.  She was proud of me for having been clean for nearly three years at the time of her passing.  And for that I thank Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Friday, December 20, 2019

Saying Goodbye

At 4 o'clock this afternoon I attended a viewing of my grandson's body at a crematorium in East Mesa. It was a four-hour event, the first two hours being reserved for family.

He looked peaceful, his hands across his chest with his fingers intertwined, and dressed in a Dallas Cowboy's T-shirt. Of course, his eyes were closed, but he had a hint of a smile that was a part of his natural features. If it weren't for the slight pallor of his skin he almost appeared to be peacefully sleeping. Several letters and photos had been placed in the coffin by friends and family members.

His father spoke to the gathering about how it was "the worst thing that had happened to him in his life." We could all see the pain on his face and realized that he would grieve for some time over the loss of his only son. I also spoke about some of my experiences with my grandson and of my conversations with him about his drug use. It is difficult for anyone to put into words the pain of losing a loved one for any reason, especially one who dies of an accidental overdose of a seductive substance.

Because I work in the recovery field and have for 29 years, burying addicts who overdose is not uncommon for me. But somehow, when it's a blood relative it takes on a different dimension and meaning and has an even deeper impact. One reason it has such an impact is that for years we'd tried to convince him to get into treatment. To do something different with his life. To come into our program, which he could have done by simply picking up the phone and calling me. When I walked out of the crematorium I felt once again the deadly impact that drugs have upon families and friends.

All those who attended will carry his loss with them during a period of grieving. And when the grieving process is over they will still have the memory of losing a loved one. This time next year they will still remember the brightness that he brought into their lives, a brightness that will only live on in their memories.

By the time I post this blog, all that will be left of him besides these memories will be his ashes – which will be placed in two urns - one to be given to his mother, the other to his father.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Grandson's Overdose

On the 15th my daughter called with a message that my grandson had been found dead in bed from a drug overdose at 2 PM that afternoon. Without stating the obvious, I was stunned for a moment and broke into tears.

At this writing, no one knows exactly what the drug was and I found out somewhat later that he had taken some alcohol with him to the apartment where he was found dead. Although I know he favored benzodiazepines and opiates, at this point no one knows exactly what killed him or if he was drinking. But if he was combining Xanax, Valium, Fentanyl, or Percocet with alcohol that is definitely a deadly combination. Plus, he had a history of overdosing on opiates over the past five years; in fact, I think he went to the hospital four times in one year for heroin overdoses.

Like many people I know, he had a susceptibility to overdose quite easily. For some reason, I only overdosed one time in 38 years and I stupidly combined various drugs and alcohol. Life can be so random.

The sad part of my grandson's death is the pain and grieving that he left behind with his parents, four sisters and the rest of us. Much of this day was carried out in a background of tears as we drove around visiting family members.

My grandson and I had only been talking for a few weeks prior to his death. And the reason we'd been talking is that he had gotten out of prison a few months back and wanted to re-establish a relationship. I was hoping that the months he'd spent in prison had maybe changed him to some degree and decided we should give it a try.  And it seemed that he had changed. He looked clean. He acted clean. Had a positive attitude. He was working and under the supervision of the parole department.

One thing we learn in the twelve-step programs is to forgive and not carry resentments. And I decided that this was the opportune time for me to put the program into practice.  I'd always had a lot of confidence in my grandson's ability to succeed at whatever he tried. He was a hard worker. He had a good personality. He was healthy. He was a handsome 28-year-old who could have done anything with his life.

The only good that can come of this is that I can use his example when counseling others; maybe someone will listen and avoid the same untimely passing.

Go with God, Mijo...

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Peer Counseling

Although TLC has a treatment program, the bulk of our staff is made up of volunteers who themselves are addicts or alcoholics. In other words, they are peer counselors who help others get sober.

Many families and parents don't have experience with drugs or alcohol and don't quite understand this concept. How can another addict or alcoholic give my little darling the help he needs? After all, he's never been in serious trouble because of his drug and alcohol use. He's never been to prison. He never lived in the ghetto. He's never belonged to a gang. He just partied too much and maybe got into a little trouble.

How can these nonprofessional, untrained managers – some of them with only a GED – bring the best level of care and attention to my child or loved one? After all, he's a very bright child who was raised with all the advantages.

While I have nothing against professional counseling or training for those who deal with alcoholics and addicts, there's much research that shows that peer counseling is as effective – if not more so – than that delivered by the best trained professionals.

In my opinion our peers have a much better grasp on addict thinking and behavior than those who have never lived in the drug world.

Professional counselors are good at at telling us why we put a needle in our arms or drank ourselves into unconsciousness. But in the final analysis – to use a well-worn cliché – does it make a hill of beans why we used drugs or alcohol? My thinking is that the more important thing is where I go from here?

And the reality is that no one can spot addict behavior like another addict. Our volunteer peer managers – those who have been there themselves so many times – have an almost animal instinct about when one of our clients is about to use or if they have used. After the client has used, one of
our trained therapists can do a postmortem on the person's behavior and speculate upon why they relapsed. But is that a great deal of help?

It may help a little after the addict gets sober again and reflects upon the behavior that led up to his using. But in my opinion analysis of past behavior has never served much purpose unless we're really motivated to change. All the knowledge in the world doesn't mean crap if we don't apply it.

Click here to email John 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Irresponsible

I know that for the many years that I used alcohol and drugs I always found some reason that my substance abuse was someone else's fault.

It was because my father was an alcoholic.

It was because he beat my mother when he would get drunk, and set a bad example for me when I was a child.

I drank because I was raised in a poor environment by poor parents who were not very well educated.

After I started getting arrested for crimes committed so that I could obtain drugs and alcohol then I would blame it on the system.

"The police just have it in for me," I would say. I said that to my mother one time when she asked me why I was always getting into trouble. And that's what I told her: "the police just want to mess with me, they have it in for me."

But I never told her that again after she asked me why they didn't have it in for her.

A long time ago people could could see through my façade of blaming others for my behavior, of not wanting to be responsible for myself.

But I'm here to tell you today, after having been sober for nearly 1/3 of my life, that there's only one person who's responsible for our recovery: and that person is us. I'm the one responsible when I crack open a bottle of whiskey. Or pick up a bag of dope.

I'm the one who was responsible when the jailhouse doors slammed behind me. I'm the one who was responsible when I lost a job, or got divorced, or got fired from my job.

And it was all because I didn't want to quit drinking and doing drugs and live a normal life like most of the people I knew.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Reflecting

It was about this time of year in 1990 that I decided that it was time for me to get sober. Nothing in life was going right. I didn't have a job. I had to steal every day to survive and get enough alcohol and drugs to carry me through till the next day. And probably the biggest thing of all that made me get sober is that I was just plain unhappy with my life.

There'd been times before I fell deep into my addictions when I'd owned businesses, houses, and had good relationships with friends and family. But I was at the point in my life in early December 1990 where I had nothing but the funky clothes on my back in and a serious drug habit to maintain.

And I guess I bring this up today because this time of year always reminds me of the last days of my using, and the beginning of my recovery. It's not really like I'm reflecting upon an anniversary but it does remind me of how far I've come from those many years ago when I was sleeping in the back seat of a stolen car.

I think reflecting upon the twists and turns of our lives is good for us because it reminds us of where we might go if we don't pay attention to what we're doing each day. The Big Book has a line in it that says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And while I was sure I fit that definition of insanity I certainly didn't think I was crazy. I just thought that I was having some bad luck or maybe that the stars weren't quite aligned in my favor. It took a lot of painful experiences before I decided to take a chance on recovery. And, I think it's probably the best thing that I ever did. For that reason I don't forget where I came from.

So January 2020, on the 14th, it will be 29 years ago that I walked into a detoxification center on Bellevue St. in Mesa, AZ. And I had with me one of the most important things an addict can have if they want to get sober: and that was a willingness to go to any lengths to change my life. And I had that willingness.  And today my life is unbelievably wonderful thanks to all of those in recovery who spent the time to teach me how to live without substances.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Surrender

A lot of times at AA meetings we hear the word "surrender "

Today I understand what surrender means, but at one time the way I walked through life was with the idea that I'd never surrender anything. And I didn't.

I was one of those arrogant, egotistical, people who thought they knew everything and thought they ran everything. No one could tell me anything about my lifestyle. About getting an education. About using drugs and alcohol. From the time I was a teenager I did things just the way I wanted to most of the time.

And playing captain of the universe as I did showed me just exactly how smart I was. Because nearly everything I put my hands on, I messed up. My know-it-attitude and unwillingness to listen to others resulted in me spending something like 16 years locked up in various types of institutions for stupid drug charges and the crimes associated with obtaining drugs.

Yet today, I follow the dictum in the big book that says "we ceased fighting anyone or anything..." And you know, for some reason the world is a much easier and pleasant place. I finally came to the point where I realize that cause-and-effect is a reality. That there's a purpose and a lesson behind nearly every challenge that we meet.

And I sometimes wonder – in moments of whimsy – why it took me so long to learn the simple lesson that there's a certain kind of sweet victory when we surrender in these unwinnable battles with ourselves.

For example, I used to have a bad habit of wanting to be right about everything – even if it didn't make a bigger difference one way or the other. It was just my fragile alcoholic ego at play and I wasn't even smart enough to recognize that.

Today I have strong opinions about things just like before; but the main thing is that I keep my mouth shut because no matter what I say I'm not going to convince anybody that I'm right or wrong. And even more than that nobody gives a crap because they have their own opinions.

To be sober and happy I believe that one must flow with life. I need to give up the idea that I have to always be right about everything. I believe that whenever we have a chance we must express kindness rather than anger over silly things that mean little or nothing. After all, life is short and we need to do our best to enjoy it without fighting with ourselves or anyone else. And that's how we surrender.

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Carrying the Message

I've always understood that the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. And my definition of "still suffers" is that someone who may not be drinking, but may be so new that he or she doesn't understand how to apply the tools that are in the big book. The tools that have led millions over the past 75+ years onto the path of sobriety.

For someone new, the environment of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be intimidating. There are strange slogans on the wall that say such things as "One Day At A Time," or "Easy Does It." People are friendly. Some of them are laughing and virtually all extend their hand to welcome newcomers. Even though the group may seem friendly, there are many newcomers with a lot of social anxiety and are still suffering from withdrawals on top of that.

Yet, over the years I've seen several alcoholics with decades of recovery who behave so poorly in the meetings that it makes these newcomers so uncomfortable that I'm surprised to see them at the next meeting - if ever again.

Almost all of them fall under the category of what is known as "old-timer." One fellow, whom I haven't seen in probably a year, used to carry a dogeared big book around in a custom-made case and and collar a newcomer and begin to tell them exactly how to read the book, tell them loudly what was wrong with them, and generally badger them until they were looking for a place to hide – anywhere to get away from this pesky, overbearing loudmouth.

Last week, I saw an old timer approach a group of newcomers and do something similar. It seems this fellow has a fetish about where people sit in the meetings. He gets really upset if anyone sits in the back of the room when there are open chairs in the front. I think he's gone as far as to remove a couple of the back row chairs so people are forced to sit in the front of the room. However, at the meeting I'm talking about there were maybe one or two empty chairs in the front two rows when five or six people came in at the last moment, just as the meeting was starting.

So a few of them went to the back and brought chairs forward so they would have a place to sit. However, this old-timer jumped up and ran back and pointed to the front of the room and told them that there were plenty of chairs up front for them to sit in. Then I guess he noticed that there were only a couple of open chairs and allowed them to bring extra chairs forward so they would have a place to sit.

While I'm not sure what this old-timer's problem is, it probably has something to do with control and power. But the reality is that our goal in AA is to help people get sober. And anything that affects them negatively might interfere with that process.

I know that when I first came to 12 step meetings I didn't necessarily want to be there. And anything negative that would happen would be just one more reason for me to not be there. Today, after more than 25 years of recovery, I don't give a crap where anybody sits in a meeting or if they sit at all. To me, the important thing is that they're inside the room.  And hopefully some of the words they hear will sink into their subconscious.

The alcoholics and addicts who are not quite sure whether they want to be there will use any excuse at all to avoid having to come back. Especially when longtime members treat them rudely or embarrass them.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 29, 2019

Here and Now

One thing I've learned in almost 29 years of sobriety is that I 'm never in trouble when I'm living in the here and now.  Worry and anxiety are future things.   Depression occurs when I'm dredging through the garbage of my past.

But in this moment, right here and now, everything is just fine.  I have a job.  My doctor says I'm in good health.  I own stuff that's paid for.  I have a wide circle of friends, family, and acquaintances that I can call on for help.  I have a job that allows me to help others do something different with their lives if they're tired of drinking and drugging.

So, the point of this blog is that living in the here and now is desirable.  A healthy thing, a way to keep our brains from leading us astray.

About 20 years ago I decided to learn how live in the moment.  I took a course in meditation and kept it up on a twice daily basis for the next 15 years.  Then, I started investigating other kinds of meditation and decided to take a one year course to become a meditation instructor.  I thought it would be somthing I could use with those who are in our recovery program. And it's something I use periodically when someone seems like they might benefit by learning to live in the moment.

It has helped others when I teach them meditation, and at the same time it reinforces my own efforts to live in this moment - in the here and now.  And I find that that is a good thing because all we have is this moment -the here and now....

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Vanity

Today I was at my dermatologist's office to have a growth removed from my forehead.

As he was describing the procedure, he explained that he was going to be careful when he closed the wound so he wouldn't leave a scar. I replied that while I appreciated his doing a good job I told him that I didn't think it would make much difference because not many people – if any – pay much attention to what my 80-year-old forehead looks like. I believe that people don't care much what any of us look like – they're usually quite interested in what they look like.  And understandably so,

In any event,  he completed the process much sooner than they'd planned and now I'm at home writing about my experience at the doctor's office.

As I was driving home I reflected upon the years I was raising my teenage daughter. If she had even a small pimple or blackhead she would want to stay home from school. While I never let her I did try to explain that people weren't too concerned about how she appeared because they spent a lot more time thinking about their own appearance. I'm not quite sure she was mature enough to understand exactly what I was saying because I'm sure, that to her, that small flaw was the size of Mount Vesuvius. And that she would be ostracized for the rest of the school year if anyone noticed it.

I think vanity has  made changes in our culture. The other day I went into the restroom at a local restaurant to wash my hands and noticed there were no mirrors. And that isn't the first time I experienced that. But on this last occasion I happened to run into the manager – a fellow I've known for some time – and asked him about the mirrors. He explained that he'd been forced to remove them, because many of his employees – from waiters to busboys – seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in front of them. He learned that whenever he was missing an employee, he could usually find them in front of the mirrors, admiring themselves.

As we grow older we realize that it's not who we are on the outside – it's what we are on the inside that determines what the world thinks of us. The superficial distortion looking back at us from the mirror rarely seems to improve.

Click here to email John 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Worthwhile Decision

One of the most worthwhile things I've done in my life is quit using any kind of drug or alcohol that wasn't prescribed by a doctor. And that was almost 29 years ago.

Now a lot of people who have never had a problem with substances might find that an extreme statement. I remember, when I was a young boy, every Christmas my grandmother used to have a glass of white wine with dinner. The glass wasn't very big but I remember she used to say something like "I can't drink anymore of this, I'm starting to feel it."

And in my later years when I was deep into my alcoholism I used to marvel at that statement. Because for me the only purpose of putting alcohol in my body was so that I could feel it. And the more I felt it, the better I liked it. And the same philosophy extended to the other illicit drugs that I used as a teenager until I got sober in my early 50s.

And this came up for me today while I was reflecting on my recovery while returning from my grandson's fifth birthday party. I began doing an inventory of all the blessings that have appeared in my life since I got clean and sober. And this birthday party was just another one of them. To see my grandson opening presents with all of his friends and relatives was priceless. And socializing with about 30 sober relatives and friends is something that I could never have imagined during the years of my addiction.

Because when I got sober I only wanted one thing: I wanted the pain to stop.

And before very long, probably when I had six months sober, the pain did stop. That didn't mean that the problems in my life stopped. But what it did mean is that I no longer lived with depression and anxiety about the path my life was taking. I became much stronger and more capable of dealing with my problems. I began to realize that life had its ups and downs. But, if I remained sober and clean those problems were much easier to deal with. Instead of looking at the bumps in the road as disasters, I began to look at them as challenges. And when I took that point of view things were much easier to deal with.

If you're an alcoholic or addict and you're on the fence at all about whether or not you can successfully use alcohol or drugs I'd suggest that you make the right decision. Because if you have to ask yourself questions like that you already know the answer. And I'm here today to tell you that your life can be unbelievably wonderful, beyond your wildest dreams, if you make the right decision.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Acceptance

When one is ailing and goes to the doctor the first thing the doctor does is diagnose the ailment. Something similar happens when one goes to an attorney with a legal problem: the attorney defines what the problem is so that he knows what he or she is dealing with.

And what happens when an alcoholic gets deep into Alcoholics Anonymous is that he or she accepts that they have a drinking problem. And it's really that basic. Before we can resolve any challenge that we're facing in our life, we first have to define what the challenge is.

Now in the case of an alcoholic or an addict it would seem obvious what our problem is. And the reason it would seem obvious is because we are always getting in some kind of trouble. We either end up broke. Divorced. Homeless. Or maybe even in prison. Or perhaps with some kind of health issue.

So one of the most important words, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, is acceptance. And after that, while it may not be an easy road, the steps we have to take to change our lives are very clear. They are in the big book. They are on the walls of virtually every twelve-step meeting room. They are the subject of big book studies.

But for many newcomers, and I was one of them, the acceptance of our alcoholism is sometimes not so easy. We might ask ourselves questions like maybe I should just stick to drinking wine. Or beer. Or whiskey. Or maybe I should just smoke pot. Or take pills. These are all forms of denial that keep us from getting sober.

Acceptance is key, really the only key to a sober life. Because once we realize that every time we drink alcohol we get into some kind of trouble we find the source of our problem. And once we find the source of our problem, then we find the answer to our problem. And the reason we go to meetings is because there are a lot of people there who have faced problems we may one day face. Yet they have come through the experience with their sobriety intact. And that's why it's important for us to hang around with sober people and to go to twelve-step meetings. We learn that if we want to stay sober we do what sober people do.

But if we can't accept what we hear in the meeting rooms from the veterans who have been sober for many years we may just have to go out and try it once again. And that's why acceptance is the key, acceptance that we are alcoholics and addicts. A simple word, yet it contains a world of wisdom.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Day at a Time

At a twelve-step meeting a young man is talking about how many times he's failed at staying sober. He described some of the scenarios that preceded his previous relapses. His voice was heavy with depression, his shoulders were slumped, and his head hung down as he spoke. His sadness and pain permeated the room. Many of those there, who spoke later, were able to relate with him because some of them had to make many tries before they succeeded in putting together a few years.

A phrase we often hear at twelve-step meetings is "keep coming back." And the phrase has been in the program for many years because it's one of the secrets of staying sober. Just because a person goes to a twelve-step meeting, that doesn't mean they're going to stay clean and sober. But if one is going to meetings on a daily or weekly basis, sooner or later some 12-step wisdom has to sink into our subconscious. When one keeps showing up in meetings, yet relapses on a periodic basis, that doesn't mean they should quit coming because the program doesn't work. All it means when a person keeps relapsing is that they don't apply the techniques and principles that one learns by attending meetings.

For example, one thing that's never heard at a meeting is that a person relapsed and that their life got better. Instead, what we hear is that we picked up a drink or a drug and all of a sudden everything disappeared. Things crashed very quickly. Maybe we picked up a DUI. Maybe we sold everything we owned so we could buy more cocaine. Maybe our wife or girlfriend left us for someone who is living a sober life. Perhaps we showed up for work and found that we no longer had a job. When we keep hearing bad stories like this over and over we soon come to realize that no good ever comes from a relapse. But the reason people tell us to keep coming back is so that we continue to hear the sad stories about what happens when we get off track.

Sooner or later the lessons we hear at meetings begin to sink in. And the more we hear them the deeper they go into our subconscious mind. Until sooner or later we no longer entertain the idea that using anything is going to result in a good outcome.

I've often heard that until we get enough pain it's hard to give up our bad habits. And I don't know how it works for other people, but for me it's been true in every area of my life.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Flowing with Life

Every once in a while I hear the term "just go with the flow."

And it wasn't until I was in my sobriety for a number of years that I really understand what that saying meant. At first I interpreted it a lot of different ways. I thought that maybe it meant don't get excited about things. Don't worry, everything will work out. Or maybe it was just something that people said so that they would sound

But today I look at it entirely differently. Because after being sober for almost 29 years I've come to realize that life is just made up of a series of small events – some I liked and some I didn't. And before I got sober, if I didn't like those events I would change how I felt about them with drugs or alcohol. And once I did that who knew what would happen?

But today "go with the flow" means simply to accept whatever happens whenever it happens. For we find our unhappiness when we fight with life. One of the things we learn as we move through our years is that life is never going to go exactly the way we want it.

Perhaps we want to obtain a certain job, but the company hired someone more qualified than we were, someone with more experience. So what do we do? I don't know about you, but in my case I go knock on the next door. I'll make the next phone call. And if I continue to have bad luck about finding a job, I simply create my own job. It's much easier to expend our energy doing positive things to obtain what we want out of life, than it is to complain about how unfair the situation is. Or complain about how unlucky we are.

Going with the flow is just another way of saying accept what life brings us. If we are confronted with a situation that we can do nothing about, then we accept it, we flow with it, and we move on to the next thing. Otherwise we end up being a depressed mess.

And I have found that it's a lot easier to get things done in life when I feel positive. Somehow, that attitude opens up a world of possibilities that being negative never opens up for us.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 11, 2019

Daughter and Veteran

My daughter was 18 years old she decided to go to college. But that didn't last too long. So her next step was to find a job. Because that was kind of our deal: either go to work or go to college.

She found a job working at a theater but she wasn't very happy at that either. I told her she had to find something to do and she decided to join the Army. I encouraged her but deep inside I didn't really think there was much chance that would happen either. She was very quick-tempered and was always fighting with someone about something.

I figured they'd give her a battery of tests and find that she had difficulty following orders. So I was kinda surprised a couple weeks later when she came in with some papers and told me that she was going in the Army before the end of the year. In fact, on September 11, 2003 I was standing in my driveway with tears in my eyes as she left in the car with her recruiter. I didn't see her again for several months, until she graduated from basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And I only saw her a few times after that when I visited her at her final post in Hawaii. The last time I saw her, before she returned to the mainland, was when I went to visit her before she shipped out with 25,000 other soldiers to Afghanistan.

Many in my distant family had been in the military and it didn't have a lot of personal effect upon me at, at least I don't remember feeling like I did as when my daughter was deployed.
But in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions she ever made. Before she went into the Army she was always angry and didn't want much to do with education. When she came out, though, she attended the Texas Culinary Academy for two years and got an Associates degree as a chef. Once she returned to Arizona she worked for some of the finest restaurants in Scottsdale. Eventually, she tired of that though and went back to school and got a bachelors degree in business – all paid for by the military.

Today she has her own marketing business, is married, has a son, and is living pretty much the life of a suburban housewife.

I'm inspired to write this because today is Veterans Day, a day that honors those who served in our military. And many of those served at great personal sacrifice, including giving their lives, so the rest of us could live as well as we do with the security that we have. But there is so much more to it than that.

While many veterans come out of the military traumatized and emotionally damaged, many come out with benefits that stay with them for the rest of their lives. And among these benefits are loans from government, educational opportunities, and the pride of having done something for their country that is greater than themselves.

And and that's why today I take great pleasure in thanking and congratulating my daughter for her service.

Click here to email John

Friday, November 8, 2019

Sad Ending

I heard some bad news last week about a former friend. And to me, it's probably the worst kind of news a person can get. I know that if it happened to me I would consider it the worst thing that happened – worse even than getting cancer or dying.

And what I heard was that this person had developed dementia and that a family member was placing her in a nursing home.

Even though my relationship with her had broken up long ago, at one point we were good friends until my friend ended up getting a divorce over her volatile personality. From the time they divorced, she never had a good word for me again and in fact I don't recall ever speaking to her after that.

She went her way and started her own business and I lost track of her. However, once in a while rumors about her activities would trickle back to me. It turns out she'd run afoul of some Arizona Department of Behavioral Health Regulations and had lost her license to practice as a social worker in the state of Arizona. Although there are some more sordid details involved, it would serve no good purpose to spread it across this blog. She did what she did and she ended up paying serious consequences for her behavior.

It didn't shock me that she ended up with dementia. I had read more than once that dementia can be the result of having a lot of stress and anger in one's life. And if anyone was angry most of the time, it was her. The more successful she became in her business the more angry and arrogant she became. In fact, at one time she got so angry that she slapped and scratched one of our staff members and was charged with assault. She didn't go to jail, but she did end up having to take anger management classes and spend time on probation. And her anger never got better after that.

I guess this comes up for me today because even though I didn't have any love or real anger for this person, it made me quite sad when I heard where she ended up. I guess the part that I reflect on that's the saddest is that she was a good writer with a Masters degree in social work and was a very bright woman. At one point she'd helped a lot of people. But somewhere along the way she developed depression, anxiety, anger, and other things that I feel – from my layman's point of view – contributed to her present circumstances of probably living the rest of her life in some kind of nursing home.
I understand that dementia and Alzheimer's attacks not just angry people, but also nice people. But for some reason I think that her extreme anger in some ways had a lot to do with her developing dementia in her mid 60s to the point where she had to be institutionalized.

Even though there was no love lost between us I still wish her the best and hope that she doesn't go through a lot of suffering for the remainder of her life.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Helping Addicts?

Many years ago, the United States government recognized that disabled people should be treated as well as their healthy neighbors. So, many states followed their example and set up legal protections for the disabled.

Those with handicaps were provided legal protections and given the same opportunities to live where they wanted, working the jobs they wanted, and to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of those who were not handicapped.

Thus was born the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.

Out of these laws came such requirements as special parking places for those drivers who had handicaps, railings in bathrooms for those who had difficulty using the facilities, ramps that allowed the handicapped to access buildings in their wheelchairs and wider doorways that accommodated those wheelchairs.  Those Americans with disabilities were allowed to find housing that accommodated those disabilities. We were seemingly becoming an enlightened society that looked out for those who have difficulties doing ordinary everyday things that most of us take for granted. Even people who have trouble functioning because of a drug or alcohol addiction were provided protection under these laws.

But it seems like our society has a short memory. Because in the last couple of years the state of Arizona and various municipalities have passed laws to restrict the ability of alcoholics and drug addicts to receive services. New laws are now being put into effect, laws that have have been cobbled together by various lawyer types to protect the rest of the world from those who have the misfortune to have a drug or alcohol addiction – which is now recognized worldwide as a disease.

A law that I think is one of the more ridiculous examples of our government at work – is the one that requires recovery homes and halfway houses to be a certain distance from one another. Usually the distance is around 1500 feet, but today I saw a requirement that was 1320 feet. What in the world does the government expect to accomplish by making addicts live about a quarter-mile from one another?  I think if addicts have a real urge to visit or consort with one another all they have to do today is pick up the phone and call Uber, or walk to the nearest light rail station.

The government has also stuck its nose into how many people can live in a building. Now I agree that too many people living in a small space is not a good thing. But I think that in some cases this is a really arbitrary law – particularly when it comes to addicts and alcoholics. If one drives around downtown Phoenix they can see clumps of addicts and alcoholics almost living in a pile or in a dumpster behind Circle K, surrounded by shopping carts. Yet, when they decide they want to get clean and sober the government is very interested on how many of them are living in a house, using a toilet, using a kitchen, or even how many parking spaces they might occupy. Just in case anyone has noticed, no good self-respecting drug addict has an automobile to park or drive unless they stole it from someone else. Yet these kinds of concerns, worded in fancy, legal sounding language seems on the surface to have the best interest of alcoholics at heart. Yeah, right.

But the reality is, all the government is trying to do is to put up barriers to those who are trying to help addicts and alcoholics change the course of their lives. After all, they need to keep their consstituents happy,  The government spends little money helping addicts and alcoholics change their lives. But they love to spend a lot of money on legislating against those who are trying to provide services to them at no cost to the government. What we're going to see if the government prevails in enforcing these laws is more drug deaths than ever and more homelessness than ever

Last year some 900 people died in of Arizona from opioid overdoses. That number will no doubt rise as the addicts among us are denied services while the government pursues prohibitive laws to deny them healthcare. If we applied the same laws to those with cancer, heart disease, COPD, or emphysema, there would be an outcry that could be heard clear to California.  But somehow the attitude is different when one is dealing with addicts or alcoholics - beacause they are in some ways participants in their own problems.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Legalize drugs?

If I gave you a handful of $20 bills – or even less – and told you to go buy me some drugs in the next 30 minutes I'm pretty sure you'd be able to do that. After all, drugs are available in all of our communities today.

All one need is to have a bit of cash or something of value to trade and he or she will return with their drug of choice. Now I know that sounds strange coming from someone who's been running a recovery business for nearly 30 years, but the reality is that I speak truth.

And the reason I bring the subject up today is that our society somehow has the ridiculous idea that tougher laws and longer prison terms will somehow slow down drug use. Or stop it altogether.

But the reality is that there is no kind of punishment that will keep people from using drugs. There are countries, like the Philippines, Singapore, and some Middle Eastern countries where getting caught using drugs could bring the death penalty. The point is, that tough doesn't work. They still have drug problems in those areas.

When I was a teenager some 65 years ago the government began what they call "a war on drugs." I think it might've been Richard Nixon who initiated the first battle cry. But the interesting thing is that nothing has changed: in fact drug abuse has gone up in some areas and more deadly drugs are being sold than ever before – specifically in the opioid family.

So, you might ask, do I advocate that we legalize drug use? And I think that my answer is going to be yes. After all there are countries in Europe, and cities in Canada where heroin use is sanctioned and monitored by the government. And the amazing thing that has been discovered is that drug use has gone down. AIDS transmission is going down. The crime rate has gone down.

In Bern, Switzerland the merchants – who were fed up with addicts stealing from their businesses – went to the government and asked them to provide free heroin to drug addicts, give them a place to use it, and a welfare check so they wouldn't have to be living on the streets. And they discovered that after about six years those enrolled in the drug program began withdrawing from opiates and many quit altogether. They also discovered that many teenagers who might have once been attracted to the drugs no longer found them interesting. They began to look at heroin addicts who were in the government program as a bunch of sick people who sat around all day nodding out and doing nothing much productive with their lives.

The reality is, that we have made zero progress in the war on drugs. Isn't it time we began experimenting with a different approach?

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

killing Addicts

Today my daughter sent me a photograph of a poster tacked on the wall on a fast food restaurant. The sign read "174 Americans die each day from drug overdoses."

Now I don't get angry often. But when I see signs like this, or hear about them, it angers me at the inaction of our country when it comes to dealing with drug addiction. And I say this because if 63,000 Americans a year died in a foreign war – such as Afghanistan – the outcry would be so great that our government would take radical action in dealing with this problem. People would be rioting in the streets until we we withdrew our soldiers. There would be strikes. There would be demands for immediate action. And if you don't believe me think back to 9/11 when over 3000 Americans died in a terrorist attack. We're still reacting to that in more ways than one and we began reacting immediately.

But when 174 Americans die of substance abuse each day the reaction is almost lackadaisical. There is little enthusiasm for looking at drug abuse as a national emergency. Oh, there are the usual platitudes about praying for the families of the departed. But nothing much happens to effectively make a dent in drug use or abuse. Just earwash from the political types.

In fact, in the 29 years I've been involved in the recovery field, trying to help people get free of their addictions, our organization has spent thousands of dollars fighting off legal challenges to what we're doing to help people save their lives. Some "nice" people don't like the part ot town that we're in. They wish we would set up business elsewhere.

Others don't like the way we operate, yet they contribute nothing in the way of finances or resources to help battle one of our greatest national epidemics. It's like they don't care about how many of our citizens fall prey to this insidious chemical onslaught that is growing greater by the year. They haven't answered the door when the police show up to tell them that one of their loved one was found dead in an alley of an overdose. They believe that addiction is something that kills other people – not the people they love or care about.

Instead they are more concerned about the procedures organizations like TLC uses when they're trying to save lives. The legal establishment earns more money pandering to the the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) crowd, than backing self-supporting organizations like ours that work hard to help change lives.

TLC gets zero government funding or grants to fund its 900 bed program. Yet we accept any addict or alcoholic who asks for help - whether they have money or not. Most have no trade skills or education. Some come from prison with tattoos on their faces. Some have physical or mental disabilities such as bipolar or schizoeffective disorder. We provide peer and professional counselling. We find them dental and eye care. We encourage them to find outside employment and if they can't, we find them a job through our labor company. Or, if they don't like that option, we allow them to volunteer as clerks, cooks, drivers or house managers - for which they receive free housing, utilities, and a weekly stipend.

Our clients have many paths they can take while on the road to recovery: they can seek work outside the program, they can work inside the program for our labor group where they earn minimum wage or better, or they can volunteer to help operate the program and work on their long-term recovery while having their basic needs met – which includes a weekly stipend.

Or when they're ready to stay sober and clean on their own, they can leave the program because everything at TLC happens on a volunteer basis – including being here.

Those who object to any aspect of programs like ours – on any level – should examine their hearts and souls and decide if they want to continue to be part of the problem. If they do a serious self-examination they might find that as members of the human race it might be nice to be part of the solution.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

It's how we Think

I just got back from Mexico after spending a week at the beach.

Most of the time down there it was cloudy, rainy and somewhat humid, though the humidity wasn't much different than it is here in Arizona.

On more than one occasion another tourist would comment on how sad it was that it was going to be raining for most of the week. However, they were kind of surprised when I responded with how much I enjoyed the rain. In fact, most of the time when it was raining the hardest I would be out in it walking along the beach while listening to an audiobook. It was only after I explained that we were from Arizona and the rain is such a rarity here that they understood where I was coming from. I think it rains from 9 to 11 inches here in Arizona in a whole year.  And I think it rained that much down there in a couple of days.

And I think that much of life comes down to how we interpret what's going on. For the past two and a half years I've been going through some challenging situations. Divorce. Lawsuits. Friends becoming too sick to work anymore. Losing other friends to accidents and illness. Having major disagreements with family members who have certain ideas about how I should live.

And there are a lot of ways I could interpret the ups and downs that have come into my life. I could feel sorry for myself and ask why do these things happen to me? Or I could look upon them as being educational experiences that I can use as objects of meditation. Or I could look at my life in comparison to much of the rest of the world. And that's probably my favorite ways to look at things. Because there are many around our planet who live on much less than we do and who do not enjoy the benefits that we are given in our modern world.

There are those who live on a few dollars a day. There are those who walk miles to get clean water. There are those who suffer from lack of medical care. There are those who don't have the benefits of education and so forth. When we interpret our lives we can compare our ourselves either to those who have a lot more than we do. Or we can compare ourselves with those who have a lot less than we do. And when I run into a rough patch in my life I usually look around me and see others who have real challenges surviving from day to day.

When I filter the circumstances of my life that way I always find gratitude for where I'm at today. The way I see it I'm lucky to be alive today after spending more than 51 years addicted to alcohol and drugs and going in and out of jail. Even though I promised myself I would never get married again, I know that I can always pick up the phone and find someone to spend time with if I get lonely. After 28 years of sobriety I've developed a lot of friendships and have many people who support me.

Today I've learned to come to terms with my thinking, which at one time used to get me into a lot of trouble.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Stuff Happens

Tomorrow we return home from Mexico and I'm looking forward to getting back into my routine. I'm one of those people who can take so much idle time, then I start wondering what to do with myself. Plus, we had a few mishaps along the way.

After coming down here for 25 years, it seems like I would get tired of going back to the same place. But that's not the case. One of the things that was different this time that has never happened before in my many visits is that it rained virtually five days out of seven – at least part of the day. A lot of people would look at that kind of weather as a negative. But not me. I come from Arizona, where it rains an average of about 9 inches a year. And I think that it rained 9 inches on some days since I've been here. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of my vacation.

Also, I had an experience that I've never had in my 80 years on the planet. About three days after we arrived here we'd gone out to eat and were coming back from grocery shopping and riding up to our condominium in the small elevator. However, when we got to our floor the door would only open 4 inches or so. We tried calling the emergency number that was imprinted in the metal on the elevator, but nobody answered. So we then pressed the emergency alarm, but nobody showed up.

Finally, I called the rental agent and told him that four of us were locked in the elevator and there was no way to get out. He didn't seem too excited about the dilemma we were in and said he would call the company that had installed it  – but because it was a Sunday he wasn't sure he would get any kind of a response. However he finally reached someone and after an hour of being crowded in a hundred degree elevator someone from the company that installed it came and released us. I promised myself that I would never get in that thing again, even after it was fixed. Now, three days later it still hasn't been fixed but I haven't changed my mind at all about using the stairs.

Another thing I will never do is book a vacation through VRBO or it's subidiary, Home Away. The advertisement on their website said that the 3000+ square-foot condominium had all of the amenities, including cable and Internet. However, when we arrived, the agent in charge of giving us the keys and showing us around told us that the owner "didn't believe in cable or internet" and therefore we were out of luck if we were expecting to find any in the unit. After a couple of days I figured out how to use my laptop to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime and use my iPhone as a hotspot and so we were able to get by. I was able to contact my office computer on a regular basis and the three women with me were able to use my iPhone hotspot.

And while I had a resentment for a few days I got over the resentment part. One of the things I learned in recovery and through my mindfulness practice is that things will usually work out if I simply allow myself to be patient. At the very least I expect to get some of my money refunded for the inconveniences we suffered during our stay. And if I get nothing back at all I'll have to accept that life sometimes happens.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Loving Mexico

Some friends of mine and I are spending a week in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, planning to return to Arizona next week, on the 24th.

During my conversations with those back home some expressed concern about the violence between the drug cartels and police in Culiacan that captured the headlines a few days ago. Several people were killed, soldiers were kidnapped, and the president of the country ended up freeing the cartel members the government had taken into custody in exchange for the soldiers.

While I agreed with them that it was pretty dramatic, the kind of stuff movies are made from, it didn't bother me anymore than a similar incident in the United States would affect me.

Often, when others find out I plan to go to Mexico on vacation, they ask me whether I'm afraid to come down here. And my answer is always the same: no. In fact, I often reply that the part of Mexico I go to is probably safer than Phoenix – which has 250 to 300 murders per year. Not to count all of the police shootings.

It's probably just part of our human psychology, but the craziness and violence that we're familiar with is probably not near as scary as the violence in other places that we don't know very well. It's not unusual to have 30 to 40 shootings on a weekend in Chicago, yet I never hear any of my friends or acquaintances express much more than a mild concern about such violence.

I've been coming to this area of Mexico, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta for over 25 years. Sometimes 3 to 4 times a year. In all that time I've had nothing bad happen here, except once I had a new rental car stolen while I was at the gym. But other than the mild inconvenience of filling out police paperwork that was the extent of it. And I think in all these visits down here, I've only seen one or two minor auto accidents. Something that kind of surprises me because people seem to drive all over the road down here at whatever speed they want.

This is pretty much a peaceful place and if I didn't have the responsibilities I have back home I'd probably own a place somewhere down here along the beach. The people here are very welcoming, gracious, and friendly – probably attributes they developed because we tourists are how they make their living. But for whatever reason, I enjoy the slow pace of life, the beauty of the beach and ocean, and the escape from the daily routine of the office.

And I'm already planning my next trip back.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Emails

Sometimes I get messages from clients which I feel like sharing with those who follow this blog because they might help someone's recovery. Here's the first one:

"One day you will tell your story of how you will overcome what you're going through now, and it will become part of someone else's survival guide."

I've been at TLC for 12 years and met you a couple times... And I followed your blog for several years. Today I saw the line above this paragraph on a morning meditation Facebook page and wanted to share it with you, although you may have seen it before. It's a poster that should be in every AA meeting room and on every TLC property. Pretty much says what recovery is all about. And I want to thank you for helping me, through TLC, to stay sober." Bob

And here's the second:

"John, I'm not sure if you remember me or not, but your loving kindness towards me was one of those moments that changed the path of my life. I am clean today but by the grace of God and Narcotics Anonymous. Just wanted you to know I that I have never forgot what you and your staff did for me." Michael

And here's the third and last one:

"I love this blog today. I am a graduate of TLC. I have moved home to Nevada, and have remained clean and sober for over six years now and I have had the opportunity and privilege to work for an organization that manages a 20 bed homeless halfway house." Name not included.

Probably one of the best feelings there is, the biggest reward of doing this work for 28 years, is messages like the ones above where graduates of our program talk about the successful lives they are are living today. It may sound dramatic, but when we help one person stay sober we change the world. And the way we change the world is that those people who get sober at TLC will probably be raising sober children and grandchildren who will by their example carry the message of recovery to those around them.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Helping the Homeless

Out of the 800+ clients that we have at TLC, probably 90% of them have been homeless at one time or other. When drugs and alcohol are your priority a person doesn't have money for housing and food and the privilege of living indoors.

I bring this up today because once a month TLC has a business meeting. And today, after our meeting, the entire group, made up of about 35 staff members and managers, got into their vehicles and delivered food and bottles of water to the homeless. Part of this was a way of giving back to others who were in the same situation we were in at one time, and the other part was to give those people an opportunity to come to TLC where  they would have the opportunity to change their lives.

All in all it was a very successful run and everywhere we stopped we passed out bags of food and water and it disappeared within minutes.

On the way home, those in our truck discussed what a lesson in gratitude it was to be able to do what we did. So many people – not just us addicts and alcoholics – take for granted the many blessings we have in our life. We all take for granted the idea that we have food to eat each day. That we have cold water. A job to go to. A place to take a shower and wash our clothes – the basic necessities of life. But the people we saw today were so grateful for the tidbits that we handed them that it was almost overwhelming.

I'm not writing this to advocate that being homeless is a good thing, because it's not. A lot of political people and others get into debates about why people are homeless, or why we should help the homeless, or that the homeless are lazy, or that they are drug addicts. I only write this to say that we should have enough compassion for our fellow human beings to help them on whatever level we can. None of us know the stories of how these people ended up homeless. It may be true that they are drug addicts. It may be true that they are lazy. Perhaps they have mental issues.  Who knows?

But the bottom line is, the core of the issue is, that if people's lives are bad enough that they have to live outdoors and struggle for the basic necessities of life then they need our help. And once they get that help we can later sort out positive ways to help them change their lives permanently. Whether that help comes in the form of providing housing, jobs, education, healthcare, or whatever else they need.

Probably none of these people we saw today woke up one morning and said, "Gee, I think it would be a great idea to become homeless." Within each one of them is probably a long twisted story of how they ended up on the streets. But judging them, condemning them, or looking down upon them, is definitely not going to make their life any better. There are groups out there helping the homeless and doing it somewhat effectively. But much more needs to be done to really make a dent in the problem.

It's so heartbreaking to see our fellow human beings suffering – no matter who caused the suffering or how they ended up on the streets.

Click here to email John



Thursday, October 10, 2019

What's Your Story?

I've been working with addicts and alcoholics for over 28 years, throughout my entire sobriety. And I have yet to meet a one of them who doesn't have some kind of story.

And the stories aren't all bad. Nor are they all good. And I doubt if most of them are100% true: after all, a good story has to have a little drama if we expect people to listen to us.

Yes all of us – me included – have some kind of story woven through our lives, a trail of footprints that show the path we took to get to this point of our life. Many of us who've been around for a while have a pretty decent story. A story of sobriety, of building a new family, of building a business or getting an education – something that we can be really proud of. And for those of you who have this kind of the story this blog probably won't have a lot of meaning for you.

But many people get stuck on a story that's really quite terrible. One of an abusive childhood. Living in juvenile hall. Going without more often than not.

And if you have that kind of a story, one that has led you to live a life of being homeless, of being in prison, and having no self-esteem this blog is for you. Because my point is that you can tell a new story about your life. You can write a new plot for your life. You can use your imagination to create new goals. New aspirations.

I know what I'm telling you is true. Because at one time I had a terrible story. I grew up in an alcoholic and violent home. I never was sure where I was going to be living the following month. I was in and out of juvenile hall and jail for much of my young life. I had a real sad story and it seemed like I told it to anyone who would listen to me.

And it wasn't until I was in my early 50s that I decided that things must change or I was going to die or spend the rest of my life incarcerated. So I wrote a new story for myself. I decided to use what skill and talent I had to become a businessman, a sober member of society, as good a parent as I could be to my already grown children and so on. And the interesting thing is that within 2 to 3 years my whole life was different. I was sober. I was in the first few years of building a successful business organization. I had friends. My family had come back to me. My whole world changed. The only reason it changed was because I changed the plot.

So if you find yourself in that kind of situation try to write a new storyline for your life. Imagine the kind of job you want to have. Imagine the kind of relationship you want to have. Imagine yourself being clean and sober. Before you know it – even though you might have to edit your story a little bit – you'll be a different human being. You'll be able to live up to your potential and have a story of gratitude, rather than a story of negativity.

Click here to email Johnschwary@msn.com

Monday, October 7, 2019

Being Bored?

Before I got sober over 28 years ago I had a lot of real anxiety. And my anxiety was: what was I gonna do with all the time I was going to have on my hands?

I wouldn’t have any friends. Not that I had any anyway. I would be so bored out of my mind that I probably go back to drinking and drugging eventually. Things looked pretty bleak.

I would have to work all the time and support myself. Which meant I would have to give up my career as a thief and a drug dealer. What a boring prospect!

I'd have to find a place to live. I'd have to pay utilities and buy food. I'd have to buy my own car, because the law frowns on taking vehicles without the owner's permission – which I used to do whenever I needed a quick ride.

But like many decisions I'd made up until that point in my life I was totally wrong about sobriety being a boring prospect. Instead of not having enough to do, it seems like I rarely complete one project before another pops up.

After my first year of sobriety I no longer had to look for opportunities. It seemed like once people realized I was going to stay sober they kept presenting me with opportunities to do more and more. And because I was helping addicts and alcoholics get sober there were always plenty of people who needed help.

And it wasn't until much later that I realized that there wasn't anything at all boring about helping others. In fact, there's nothing more rewarding than seeing someone start off on a new path.

Quite often I run into people that I don't even recognize, people who went through our program some 10 years back. And they thank me for helping them, for saving their lives. While I'd like to take credit saving someone's life, the reality is that people save their own lives using the guidance and direction we provide them. We get no one sober: what we do is give them an opportunity to live a different kind of life.

And another thing I came to realize is that one can never give away more than life gives them back.

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Friday, October 4, 2019

Being Healthy

One of the reasons I got sober is because I got tired of feeling bad all the time. I got tired of being broke. I got tired of being hungry. I got tired of being homeless. I got tired of living in a cage as a guest of the state.

And as a part of my new lifestyle of sobriety I kept exploring other things that would make me feel better. I began a regular exercise regimen, something that I used to practice regularly during my many years in prison and jail. I learned to meditate and became a certified mindfulness meditation instructor. I also took a course in in hypnosis, which I use – not only with myself – but also with our clients. And in the last few years I've been able to help some 25 people quit smoking – something I feel very good about. And the reason I feel good about helping people quit smoking is that seven of my family members died of the habit – either from emphysema or COPD.

But I made one change I made that a lot of people thought pretty radical –  though for me it was simply an experiment in trying to live a healthier life – when I started eating a plant-based diet. When I became a vegan about 25 years ago.

The first question people always ask someone who's a vegan or vegetarian "where do you get your protein?" In the first few years I didn't have too many snappy answers for them because I never really thought about how much protein I needed. All I knew, was the people that I knew and who had I had read about who ate a plant-based diet always seemed to be quite healthy. And statistically, they were living longer and healthier lives – some of them working into their 90s and beyond. It took me a while to develop some responses that seem to work for me.

Now when people ask me "where do you get your protein?" I tell them something like "the same place the cows you eat get their protein." From plants. And, it as the discussion progresses I point out to them that the largest and strongest mammals on earth get most if not all of their nourishment from plants. That includes gorillas, elephants, whales, bulls, giraffes and on and on.

After being vegan for many years I realized that not many people know much about what they eat.  If it tastes good they'll eat it, regardless of the health consequences.  That's why the  U.S. rates about number 40 on the world health scale.  That's why we have a diabetes epidemic in our  country.  Most people know nothing about nutrition - including doctors who typically get less than 10 to 12 hours of nutritition training in medical school.

The longest lived and healthiest populations on earth eat a plant based or plant rich diet. And that's good enough for me.

I stay sober by doing what sober people do and I stay healthy by eating what healthy populations eat.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Jailhouse Calls

Normally I don't accept collect calls from jails or prisons because I know it's never good news.  But I broke my own rule last month because I was at one time a friend of the guy calling.  And I also was friends with other members of his family.  So, because I was curious about what was going with him and the family I accepted the call.  Besides, these days calls - at least from the prison he was at in Maryland - were only about a penny a minute.  Whereas, many years ago they were very costly.

But I was glad that I took the call. Not because he and I were that great of friends. But more because it reminded me of what I was like 30 years ago - a few years before I got into recovery.

As the conversation began he started down the path of explaining how he was innocent, that he was appealing his case because he was falsely convicted.  He spent much of the conversation rationizing his behavior and trying to convince me of the injustices that had been done to him and his son - who had been sent to prison along with him for an assault and robbery they were accused of.

I mostly listened as he talked because I knew my view of the world and his view of the world were so different that I'd be unable to convince him that there could be a better to live. So I spent the four or five minutes on the phone listening to him explain the case and how his son had also been unjustly convicted.

But the good part is that I realized while listening how much my thinking had changed in the 28 plus years I've been sober.  I no longer rationalize; when I do something stupid I accept the responsibilty.

And I wondered: did my younger self  ever sound like this former associate?

After we hung up I realized just how far I'd come in growing up and accepting responsibility for everything that occurred in my life during my years of addiction and going to jail for my behavior.

It's often a long path for many of us addicts to change our lives. And once in a while, we have an opportunity to confront our former selves in the people we used to know, people who are still doing the same thing today that we were doing many years ago before we got clean and sober.

When it does happen it can be an awakening and a reminder of who we once were.

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Leaving Las Vegas

Probably by the end of this year TLC will no longer have a presence in Las Vegas. And it's not due to lack of motivation on our part. It's just that the state of Nevada has such strict rules for halfway houses and recovery programs that it's impossible to break even.

At one time, back in the 90s, TLC had 220 beds in the city of Las Vegas. We had a wonderful group of managers. We had a lot of motivated alcoholics and drug addicts, men who wanted to change their lives.

When a member of my staff and I went to Las Vegas in the mid-90s because we had heard that there were a lot of homeless addicts and alcoholics we were appalled at what we saw. North of the old part of town there were blocks covered with homeless people living in makeshift camps on the sidewalks, defecating and urinating wherever they could find a place to relieve themselves. Looking back, it seemed like there were at least 1500 people living on the streets in that area. And when we saw that we realized that we had to do something about it. And we did.

We found a dilapidated four – plex on 10th St. near the old part of Las Vegas that the owner leased to us for a reasonable price. She probably did it because it would've cost too much for her to repair and rent to ordinary people who were looking for a decent place to live. We started repairing and painting the units and in a matter of months we were full. And we had to start looking for other properties.

The only area we could locate, near Fremont Street, was infested with addicts, ex-convicts, prostitutes – members of our society who had fallen through the safety net and had no insurance or other resources to help themselves. And that's where we came in and began cleaning up the area bit by bit.

But government, as it usually does, started interfering with our business. And they didn't interfere in a positive way. They started passing more rules and regulations on recovery programs and halfway houses – as if they were concerned about the welfare of addicts and alcoholics. To those of us who were in the business it seemed like they wanted to put so many rules on us that we wouldn't be able to operate. They cloaked all of their new rules and regulations in language that made it look like they were concerned about the welfare of addicts and alcoholics. But they didn't have any concern about addicts and alcoholics, because they didn't put up any money or resources to help them. The only thing they put up were barriers to those of us who were to trying to help addicts and alcoholics change their lives.

We were one of the few programs in the area that would allow addicts and alcoholics to come into the program, whether they had money or not. As we do in Arizona, we would let them come into our program and if they couldn't find work outside in the community we would allow them to do volunteer work inside the program. Many of these men had never held a real job. Many had tattoos on their faces. Many of them had AIDS or other diseases that prevented them from doing a real day's work out in the community. So we would find something simple for them to do such as answer telephones, maintain the landscaping, perform janitorial services; some kind of busy work that allowed them to build up their self-esteem until they could get the confidence to go out and find a job that paid them more than the stipend that we granted them.

But now the owner of the building has found a buyer and he's ready for us to move on. He's been a wonderful landlord and even cut our rent to $2500 a month three or four years back. But even at that rate we were losing five to $6000 a year for the past five years. The only reason we didn't pull out much earlier is because many of the addicts were older and had serious illnesses, and didn't have the resources to move elsewhere. We offered to let them come to Arizona, but most of them now have found other accommodation that will allow them to stay near their friends and medical resources in Las Vegas.

Under the circumstances I believe we did our best to help as many people as we could for as long as we could.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wasting Time

I stopped on my way to the office this morning at Circle K to pick up a cup of coffee. Which is kind of my typical routine.

As I walked in an older man standing outside the door asked me if I had a few dollars I "could spare."

Actually, I had no change at all but I told him that I would get some in the store and touch him up on the way out. And I did, because I have a habit of giving money to just about anyone who asks me for it. I don't care what they do with it, it's just the idea that if they're in bad enough shape that they have to ask strangers for money then they must need it. He might've used it for alcohol, drugs, or who knows what – that's none of my business.

As I drove away, though, I reflected on how this person was wasting his life begging for dollars.

In an economy like today's most anybody with a pulse can get a job of some kind. Even people with no skills. Businesses are willing to teach people how to work, how to develop some skills, just so they can get some employees.

But how other people waste their lives is none of my business. And the reason it's none of my business is because I did the same thing for a long time. I did'nt use my days or weeks or months or years wisely. I used drugs, I stole, I spent years in jail to pay for my crimes. In looking back, I deserved the punishment that I got.

But had I looked into the future and realized that using my time wisely I could've created the life I have today I might have done something different. At least I say I would have. But the reality is that I was so into the instant gratification of alcohol and drugs that probably nothing could have changed my mind. What finally did change my mind was that I had enough pain and misery to realize there must be a better way. And so I got sober and clean and began working with other addicts and alcoholics – something I've been doing for over 28 years.

Being sober, I've come to realize that time is the most precious thing that I have. We can waste a lot of things, but time is not one of them. If we don't use our time wisely and constructively we just wasted part of our life. Does that mean that we don't ever have a good time or play or relax? Of course not. But to just spend our time watching television or playing video games or seeing how many "friends" we can develop on Facebook is not what I would consider a good use of time and is something I don't do.

A lot of addicts like myself spent many years engaging in self gratification. Today most of my time is used in helping others to learn how to use their time constructively.

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Right Here

A man at a twelve-step meeting this morning was talking about how he'd just gotten out of prison within the past few weeks.

During a major portion of his incarceration he was locked in a small cell for 23 hours a day. He said that all he thought about when he was inside was what he was going to do when he got out, when he finally got into freedom.

But then he discovered, when he arrived at TLC, that he would be on restriction for three days. Plus the program has a lot of rules that kept him from going anywhere or doing anything until he had a little bit of time in the program. He said that it frustrated him so much that he almost left because he knew he could get a job somewhere and rent a place to live where he could do just as he pleased.

As I listened to him speak I realized that his mind and imagination were somewhere in the future. He didn't have a word of gratitude for the idea that he was out from behind prison walls and in a place where he could begin a new life. And somehow he had the bizarre idea that if he went somewhere else that he would be much happier. That all his problems would be taken care of.

Now I'm not criticizing this gentleman. I am simply using him as a example. Because many of us think just as he does. That if we just get to that next place in life we're going to be much happier. Life will be more rewarding.

And I know that many of you understand what I'm talking about. We get a new job, new home, new car, new girlfriend and we think that at last we have found happiness. But before long reality sets in. Reaching the goal we had to acquire something new didn't provide the satisfaction we wanted. The new girlfriend is wearing out our credit card. Our new car isn't quite as cool as we thought it was. And the house requires constant maintenance and cleaning. And that job is okay, but the boss as it turns out, is a tyrant.

Now there's nothing wrong with setting goals and trying to improve our lives. But if we're on a constant gerbil wheel of running real fast but not getting anywhere, it's probably because our mind is off in the future someplace. At some point, to get some satisfaction out of life we have to learn that where we are right now is pretty much okay.

This applies especially those of us who have suffered greatly from our lifestyle of finding instant gratification in our chemical of choice. Once I learned to live drug-free in the here and now life had much more depth and became much more enjoyable.

As far as I know, there is no better place to be than in this moment right here right now. And not with my mind wandering off in some fantasy future.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Problems

The biggest difference I saw when I got sober is that problems aren't nearly as large as they used to be.

I remember that when I was drinking and drugging anything that didn't go my way was a big deal. Relationships. Money. A place to live. A job. The weather. My whole life was a convoluted mess and the only way I could deal with things was if I was out of my mind on some type of chemical substance.

But when I finally got sober things changed.

When challenges came into my life it became easier to deal with them because my mind was clear and my faculties intact. When I was using, I had zero tolerance unless things happened exactly the way I wanted.

But after being sober for a few years I began to understand that life has a certain rhythm to it. Sometimes everything goes our way. And sometimes everything seems to be a battle.

When we accept that life doesn't always travel along smoothly we can live with the ups and downs without having to run to the dope house or the liquor store.

When we're sober - and in the state of acceptance the program teaches us - we flow with unpredictability as being as how the universe works.

And we discover that so-called problems are part of the gift we were given at birth.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Killing Pain

There are a lot of reasons we alcoholics and addicts drink and do drugs to the point where it kills -  or almost kills us.

Some of us just like to party and feel good all the time, feel like we belong.  Then, after a while we find that it takes more and more of our drug of choice to simply feel normal.  And for me, that's when it ceased to be fun any longer.  All that happened for me was that I got into trouble and lost everything.

But over the past 27 years I've been sober I've met a few users who fall into a different category.  Those in this group didn't start abusing drugs or alcohol to be part of the crowd or to feel good. Instead, they used - mostly alcohol- to numb the pain of losing a loved one.

I was reminded of this the other day while at a meeting when a man shared about the loss of his mate.  As he shared, his pain was clear and he nearly broke down more than once as he spoke.  After his wife succumbed to a serious illness he was in such pain that he drank to the point where he lost his job and home and lived on the streets.

Now many of us who use end up in the same situation. And most of see it coming but are so far into our addictions that we don't care what happens.  We party till we end up in jail, the hospital, or on the streets.  Like I did.

But when I encounter someone like this guy somehow I have more compassion for him than I do the average drunk.  I guess I feel like that at least he had some kind of excuse. A genuine rationale.

But regardless of the reason we use, the substances we abuse treat us equally: they take everything we have and and destroy us.

Alcohol and drugs treat us all the same, regardless of why we become addicted to them. And our only hope lies in reccovery

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Suggestions

A friend of mine who was recently released from the hospital said she thought she might be getting sick again.

I told her to stop telling herself things like that. While she was in the hospital doctors were unable to diagnose what was wrong with her. She had lost something like 35 pounds over a two-month period.

During her stay, about six different specialists examined her and none could agree on why she was ill. They did a nuclear scan of her body, ruling out one doctor's opinion that she might have cancer. Kidney, liver, heart and thyroid specialists also examined her but none could come up with a diagnosis.

Once she was released and started exercising and eating normally she soon gained back the weight she'd lost. Actually, perhaps more than she wanted to gain back. But she looked healthier and felt much better.

I made a suggestion to her that she start telling herself that she is healthy in all ways. And that, in fact, she is in vibrant health. I also explained to her that something like 75% of people who go to doctors complaining of ailments usually have nothing wrong with them.

I also told her to look into the placebo effect. There are many excellent books on Amazon and other sites that have examples about how placebos work.  And they work with people who have both real and imaginary illnesses. And for those of you who don't know what a placebo is, it is usually a sugar pill that researchers administer to patients when they are trying to determine how well it performs compared to a pill containing a real medication. A surprising number of drugs never make it to market because of this this placebo testing, which demonstrates the power of belief.

In closing, I believe that the suggestions we place in our minds are stronger than we realize. I believe that we can overcome addictions, become successful in business, develop good relationships and more – but only if we place the right instructions into our subconscious minds.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Key to Happiness

Most clients who come to my office with problems are unhappy about something that they don't have.

And I tell them that I have the key to happiness, which I will willingly give them, whether they use it or not.

Most of them look at me with disbelief. Because like all of us addicts, they have been looking for happiness all of their lives. But somehow, they haven't found it.

Many of them have looked high and low for it. They've drained bottles of alcohol seeking happiness. They'vd smoked illicit substances like cocaine and methamphetamines and marijuana seeking the bliss that eludes them. Some have tried to find it through sexual gratification, but have found that that also doesn't bring them lasting happiness.

Prior to coming to us many of them sought happiness through the acquisition of material things, like cars, clothing, vacations or nice homes. Yet that didn't do it for them either.

And when I explain to them that the key to happiness is very simple, some of them have a difficult time accepting what I share, or putting it into practice.

And this key to happiness is not something that I came up with, something that is original with me. It's something that I've gleaned from various authors, spiritual practices, and motivational speakers throughout the years. Like most of my worthwhile ideas, my formula for happiness came from someone else.

I might even be characterize it as plagiarism. Or simple shoplifting. But that doesn't make what I'm about to tell you any less valuable.

And the formula for true happiness is this: give up all your attachments and accept life just as it is and you will find yourself truly happy.

Because when we want things to be different from the way they are that brings us unhappiness. We all know that when we seek something and get it that after a while the luster wears off.

The new car isn't that great anymore. The new romantic partner begins to show some character defects after a few months or years. That wonderful house we purchased isn't so wonderful anymore because all of a sudden it's a lot of stuff to take care of – plus spend one third of our income on.

So does that mean we should give up the idea of owning anything? Seeking any kind of pleasure or gratification?

Of course not. The key is to give up our attachment to these things. Because when we don't have the things that we think we need or want we risk having that disturbing sense of dissatisfaction that grows into unhappiness.

But life works much better if we can accept things just as they are at this moment – because this moment is all we have. Whether it's a bad moment or a good moment and there's nothing we can do to change it, then we if we accept it we will find ourselves becoming okay with whatever life has brought.  And we will be happy.

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