Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 29th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

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, exceptt once I had a brand-new rental car stolen while I was at the gym working out. 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.

Click here to email John

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.

Click here email John

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.

Click here to email John

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.

Click here to email John

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.

Click here to email John

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.

Click here to email John

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.

Click here to email John

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

Click here to email John





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.

Click here to email John

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.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Returning Again

A few weeks ago a former client called me, asking if he could return. As soon as I heard his voice I recognized him. He'd been at TLC three or four times in the past.

I remember him because he was an energetic volunteer. And he had computer and clerical skills that made it easy for us find a slot for him. After a few years, though, he'd find an outside job and leave. And it seemed that each time he left, he'd find a job with a company that could use his computer experience. Eventually though, he'd lose that job and ask to return. And we'd take him back because our mission is to help people rebuild their lives. And since he seemed to be willing to take another shot at it we'd always accept him.

We have many middle-aged residents who fall into the same category. They'll stay with us for a few years, working as volunteers, then graduate and leave. But for one reason or another the world isn't working for them and they either start using or ask to return before they relapse. And, practically without exception, we take them back and find a spot whethey can continue to work on improving and changing their lives.

We have several clients who have come back more than once and end up staying with us, some for 15 years and longer. Many are older than average, have no family or friends and sort of adopt us as a surrogate family. As far as I'm concerned there are no bad reasons to remain at TLC as long as one can stay sober and avoid being homeless. Many of these men and women are excellent residents who provide a core of stability to the program.

Over the years I've come to realize that all of us need to belong to some kind of social group. And many clients end up adopting us because –  not only because we help them stay clean and sober – we also take care of their basic needs for food and shelter and help them when they have medical issues. Our donation staff has developed relationships with dentists, doctors, and other medical professionals who are willing to donate their time and services at no cost.

We've also have had more than one client whose become terminally ill.  And because they have no outside resources they ask if they can stay with us until they pass. As long as they make arrangements with hospice to deal with their pain and other medical issues we never turn these requests down.

So, because we have this philosophy of helping where we can, I understand why some clients return when their lives aren't working elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lost Years

Back in 1998-1999 my younger brother was a reluctant client at TLC for around eight months. I'd invited him to the program because he really had no place else to go - he was homeless.

However, because he couldn't relate to the other clients - or the outside 12-step meetings - he ended up leaving.  He financed his departure with the proceeds of a Pell grant the government had given him to return to school.  And when he left he was as angry as when he'd entered.  On his way out, he told the manager "F... TLC" and said that he could "kiss his ass."

He went to work at a casino in Primm, Nevada, as a maintenance man and resumed drinking and drugging.  Within a few years, right after his 60th birthday, he died from complications of his lifestyle.

And I bring this up here because we visited my niece, his only daughter, on Labor Day weekend while we were in Reno/Lake Tahoe.  We had a wonderful visit with her, her husband, and my brother's two grandchildren.

Driving back to our hotel I reflected on how much life my brother had missed because his disease took him so young. He died young and he also died angry at me and the world around him.  He wasn't pissed off at anything in particular, just the world in general - like many of us when we're using.

Not only did he die too soon, but he never got to meet his two grandsons, ages around 4 and 7.  They are really smart, well-behaved kids who do well in school and don't seem to be on the same path as their grandfather or me.  It's a pleasure to be related to such happy, well-adjusted children.

Once we wander down the path of addiction, whatever we use, we risk missing a big slice of what life is all about.  Our family, our friends, and the enjoyment that life brings us when we engage in posititive and constructive things are experiences we can never get back once we trade them for our addictions.

Click here to email John


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Lake Tahoe

I'm spending this Labor Day weekend in Lake Tahoe, probably the first time I've been here in 25 years.

I came for two reasons.  One was to visit my only niece, who's lived in nearby Reno for over 20 years.  And the other was to have a brief respite from the 100 plus heat in Arizona.  Beyond that I didn't do much planning.

And I discovered my lack of planning after we arrived at the Lake.  For some reason - a few weeks ago - when I made the reservations - I didn't think about this weekend being a holiday and that driving around Lake Tahoe would be like driving in downtown Los Angeles at rush hour.

So, instead of my planned leisurely cruise around the lake enjoying the scenery, we were stuck in stop - and - go traffic for 10 miles or so before I could find a place where it was safe to turn around and head back to the hotel.

Fortunately, after 28 years in recovery I've learned to not get too excited about the small stuff and to make the best of whatever comes my way.

Because we stayed at a casino in downtown Tahoe I was reminded of my drinking days. Most everyone here who was old enough to drink was either drunk or working on getting there.

I quietly wondered if I behaved liked these folks when I drank but I didn't follow that train of thought very far.  I'm sure that I drank much more than they did.  They looked mostly like people who still had a life.

After all they could afford to stay in a deccnt hotel, dress nice, and not behave poorly enough to get arrested - something I managed to do on a regular basis.

I once again was reminded that there's a world of difference between social drinkers and real alcoholics.

Click here to email John


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Never Stopping

When I was a youngster back in the 40's and 50's I remember that my parents' goal was to retire at around 60 or 65 and just relax for the rest of their lives.  Maybe just sit on the porch and swat flies, fish, garden or pursue a hobby they enjoyed.

But since those years much has changed. The other day I read a survey where most people plan to work into their seventies and beyond.  Some of them must do it for economic reasons because they didn't save enough to live on.  But others are seeking to do something meaningful with their lives, to make worthwhile contributions to the world, so they plan to stay busy until they die.  Plus, science has discovered that people who stay busy with work they enjoy live years longer than their less active contemporaries.

As for me, my plan is to work at TLC the rest of my life.  I find satisfaction in showing up every day.  Because I'm in my eighties, my kids ask me when I'm going to retire and enjoy life.  And I tell them that I do enjoy life because I have a chance to make a difference in the world helping people get sober and find a new path.

Our mission here at TLC is to help recovering addicts rebuild their lives.  And to be honest, most of those we try to help don't make it.  Those addicted to heroin, meth, alcohol and other drugs have a low success rate.  But their chances of succeeding would be much lower if no one was helping them.

Their is no better feeling than to see a success story walk out of our doors and into a new productive life.  And that's why I'll be here as long as the Universe allows.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Key to Happiness

I've been reading a lot the past few months in the area of what makes us happy and what keeps us in the opposite state:  one of unhappiness.

The internet - especially YouTube, Ted Talks, and podcasts by authors like Robert Puff - offer an abundance of free information about how we can be happy.  And what makes us unhappy.

And right here and now I'm going to give you the free formula, according to what I've gleaned.  And I won't even charge you for it.

And the formula goes like this: accept your life - and everything about it - just as it is right now.

Now, of course, we see this in the Big Book and we hear it in 12-step meetings all the time.  But even though many of us who live in the world of recovery may not pay much attention, the larger world around us shares our quest for happiness.

When I first started hearing about acceptance as a key to happiness it seemed overly simple.  But the more I looked at it the more it made sense to me.

Now many of us believe that if we just have enough money we'll be happy.  Or the right soul mate.
Or the perfect job.  A beautiful home.  A luxury car. 

The list can be endless, but as many of us have experienced, externals don't bring us happiness.  The new car starts to get scratches, the big home we coveted is a lot more work than we thought, and our new life partner shows personality traits we didn't notice when we were blinded by hormones.

So does acceptance mean that we shouldn't try to succeed, to do better, to get more stuff? Not at all the experts say.  What it does mean is that we should enjoy the journey right now, in this moment.

Because if we're only happy when we have everything we want and life is perfect, then we're going to be unhappy when we don't have what we want.

In other words, accept what we have now and love what we have now - and happiness can be ours all the time.

Click here to email John


Friday, August 23, 2019

TLC's qualityTreatment

When one looks at advertising for treatment programs, particularly for the more expensive ones, there's a strong emphasis on luxurious accomodations and how many amenities the program offers. And there's usually a description of the treatment offered and the credentials of those who provide them.

It all looks very positive and encouraging. But I'm not sure what luxury has to do with recovery.

One thing one rarely or never sees is statistics about how successful the program is for those who graduate from these fancy programs. And it's kind of understandable that they wouldn't do that because tracking client success is a difficult and expensive process. It really requires following someone 24 hours a day to see whether they stay clean or not. And any time I see a program that claims a 60 or 70% success rate I think people should run the other way.

Something else we rarely see in program advertising is what a deadly disease alcoholism and drug addiction really is. I'm not sure why there isn't more emphasis put on the seriousness of the challenges addicts and alcoholics face. But that might scare off potential clients.

At TLC we provide a range of services and have a staff of dedicated quality counselors who have a strong belief in what they're doing and the empathy to reach their clients. Many of them are in recovery themselves, and understand on a deep level what our clients are going through.

We emphasize throughout all phases of our program that substance abuse is a life-and-death disease that can take our lives in an instant as well as forever affect the lives of our families and friends.

When we lose a client to this disease it affects us as if they were a member of our own family. And when we see a client graduate and lead a successful we take pride in being able to help them succeed.

Because our clients receive services in such a caring and empathetic environment their chances of success are as good as anywhere in the country.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Ups and Downs...

I opened my eyes about 4:30 AM and wasn't at all looking forward to today.

I'd gone to bed with a lot of unfinished business on my plate and didn't sleep well.

A bank was asking me a lot of questions that I couldn't answer off the tip of my tongue. I was going to have to talk to our accounting department and see if we could dredge up the answers. We are in the process of refinancing about eight properties to lower the interest rates. And banks, understandably, want a lot of details before they make investments of that size.

I didn't blame them for asking the questions. When I was in grammar school I always dreaded doing homework. And somehow, answering these kinds of questions is like doing homework. It's just one of those things I dread.

And then I got an update yesterday about some new regulations that the state is coming out with regarding recovery programs. I knew they'd been working on some, but I wasn't sure if the rules they were making up applied to programs like ours. My last observation was that they probably would.

And then all this week I've had some ongoing conflicts with family members that seemed endless.

And on top of those three things, my shoulder hurt because I keep forgetting that I'm 80 years old and that I can't throw weights around like I used to because sometimes I overdo it. It's just part of my addict personality.

So with all of those things on my plate, I start my day.

But before I put my feet on the floor I decided that I was going to attack things head on. And as a friend of mine does, I decided to face the toughest issue first. And that was the banking issue.

I took a chance and called the banker's office around 7 AM on the off chance that he might be there early. And I was in luck. Not only was he there, but he was in a pretty good mood. And the first thing he said was that the after hours email I'd sent him answered all of his questions. And that if he had any more he would call me later on. One down.

Later in the morning, once I was in my office, I found out that the state's new regulations will probably not apply to us. Two down.

After that I got a pleasant email from the family member I've hassling with. Three down.

And as to my painful shoulder I'm not going to exercise it today. Instead, I'll get on the elliptical machine and do some cardio while I read my iPad.

And as I conclude this blog I remind myself that the only thing I can count on in life is that there will be changes – some of which I will like and others that I won't.

schwary@msn.com

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Getting on Fire

In the 28 years of my recovery I've learned that there's a lot more to staying sober than just going to meetings and not using drugs or alcohol.

I learned that I not only have to exercise and eat well. But I also listen to and read motivational material to keep myself moving forward.

After 28 years I still go to weekly meetings. I work in a recovery environment. And I only associate, practically without exception, people who are in recovery. The remainder of my associates are either family members or business acquaintances who are – as far as I know – not addicted to anything.

Just because I get up and go to work every day in a clean and sober environment doesn't mean I have all the answers to keep myself going. That I don't need encouragement.

There are times I get discouraged because things aren't happening quite as fast as I want them to.
Maybe our company is facing a lawsuit.  (At the moment in fact, we're facing two lawsuits.) Maybe we're having financial issues. Perhaps our population is going down, or a key staff member is suffering from ill health. As long as we're living, there's something to challenge us.

Something I do every day – just to get myself charged up and ready for what's ahead will – is to feed my mind and spirit motivational material. Sometimes it's a book, but lately I've found myself listening to motivational talks I find on YouTube or Ted Talks.

In our digital world today there is a plethora of material we can find to get fired up and ready for whatever challenges we might face in the office or on the job when we get there.

There are motivational videos from back in the day, when I was a youngster – long before we had iPads and iPhones. Today I feel blessed to be able to listen to such pioneers as Napoleon Hill. Zig Ziglar. Or Earl Nightingale.

Whatever your field of interest, whether it be sports, religion, business, entrepreneurship, there is someone out there to help you get motivated. Someone to get you started. Someone to make you want to jump out of bed and get busy trying to do something with your life other than just exist.

It's true that the most important thing for an addict or alcoholic is to remain sober. But we're also capable of doing much more than simply staying sober. For example, if we have a passion for sobriety, perhaps we get involved in a program or business that focuses on helping others stay sober.

I guess my bottom line point is there's plenty of information that will supplement what we already know about recovery. And there's nothing wrong with trying to improve our lives in any way possible.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Worst Drug

The most difficult drug  for an addict to quit is not heroin. Nor alcohol. Nor methamphetamines. Or crack cocaine.

The most difficult to quit 99% of the time is nicotine, especially cigarettes. One of the services we offer clients of our treatment program here at TLC is smoking cessation hypnosis. And I would estimate that in the last 2 to 3 years we have 25 people who are ex-smokers.

While I quit smoking January 25, 1984 at 9 AM in Globe, Arizona, 35 years ago, I still remember smoking as being one of the most difficult addictions I've quit. And I've probably gone through heroin withdrawal a minimum of 25 times between the ages of 16 and 45, yet it was never as difficult as quitting nicotine.

One reason we started offering smoking cessation hypnosis here at TLC treatment center is pretty much a personal thing. I had seven aunts and uncles who died early deaths due to either emphysema or COPD caused by smoking. One of my cousins passed away at age 35 from emphysema. And a couple of my uncles, both of whom were strong healthy guys who worked in the mines and in construction, both slowly suffocated because of emphysema. It was a sad way to see them go.

Because I thought it was a good idea for clients to quit smoking in the least stressful manner I took a six month course to learn to help them stop smoking through hypnosis. At first I was kind of anxious about whether this method would succeed. But before long I had half a dozen people who were non-smokers. In fact out of everyone I've hypnotized to quit smoking only one was unable to quit. And she ultimately died from the effects of COPD, which saddened her many friends here in the program.

The twelve-step programs recommend that we don't make major changes in our lives during our early months of recovery. That includes starting new relationships, new careers or anything that might have a strong emotional impact upon us. And quitting smoking can certainly cause stress. Yet if a client is motivated I'm always willing to help them.

And if a person can get off such a strong drug as nicotine, then they are strong enough to quit using any other drug. The ability to quit smoking takes major self-discipline and inner fortitude. And I have a great deal of respect for those who succeed at quitting this drug.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 11, 2019

No Violence

This last week we had an incident where a longtime manager slapped a former client she had discharged within the previous 10 minutes.

Now the manager has been with us for over four years and has contributed a great deal to our program. While she manages her division of the company with a lot of energy and confidence, this is the first time she's had a violent interaction with anyone – inside or outside of the program.

A cardinal rule at TLC is that we don't allow violence or threats of violence. And when a person commits an act of violence - or threatens to - there's a strong possibility they'll be discharged. This applies to managers or clients.

We have this rule so the clients will feel safe and can live in an environment where they can work on their recovery in peace. And it's a policy that's worked for a long time. After 27 years and over half a million clients less than a handful had been discharged for breaking one of these two rules.

There was a special meeting today, which took about two hours, to deal with the consequences this manager should receive. While there were a variety of opinions about what she should receive, because of the circumstances of the incident a lot of us understood why she did what she did.

After he was fired and discharged from the program he approached her and began verbally abusing her. He used every profanity in the book but she didn't assault him. It was only when he told her she was a "stupid f------g c--t" that she lost control and slapped his face.

She immediately regretted what happened because she fully understands that there's no excuse for putting her hands on anybody, whether they're a client or not. We teach our managers that when they're threatened the best thing is to walk away if possible and if necessary to call the police.

In any event the incident is over and she's received consequences. The police gave her a ticket and she must appear in court.  She'll probably have to attend domestic violence classes.  Because – even though she was provoked – it's not legal to put our hands on anyone in anger.

She also is going to each of the houses to apologize. And she has to present a paper next month as a formal apology to the management group. Plus she lost her blue shirt for 90 days, a shirt worn by managers as a formal recognition of their status in the company.

While many of us understand how she was provoked to the point where she lost her temper, violent behavior never turns out well. As people in recovery we need to follow the line in the big book where it says "we ceased fighting anyone or anything..."

There's a reason it's there.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sobriety might Work

When I got sober over 28 years ago it wasn't because I was on a winning streak.

The last months before I got sober I was sleeping in the back seat of a stolen car because I'd lost everything. I only wore the clothes on my back and when what I was wearing got dirty, rather than washing them I would simply steal something new to wear.

When I would awaken each morning I was usually sick from lack of alcohol and heroin. So my quest each morning was to find an open store where I could steal something to drink to kill my pain. Once I accomplished that I would then set out to find something to steal that I could sell or trade for heroin. 

I was living a miserable existence and I couldn't get enough chemicals in my body to override my feelings of demoralization and despair. I was at a point of where I knew I was going to end up in prison or dead. And that was the moment that I decided that getting sober was my only option because I couldn't continue the way I was. And in that state of mind I entered a detoxification program in Mesa, Arizona.

I didn't know what the future had to offer. But I knew that whatever it was, it was much better than what I'd left behind. I had no expectations about what lie before me, but I was willing to try anything to get off of the path that I'd been on for so many years.

Had I known that the recovery world was such a good place to be I have gotten sober a long time ago. But as someone once told me, we get sober at exactly the time we're supposed to.

Now, over 28 years later, I'm blessed with the productive life of an ordinary citizen. I've had the same job for over 28 years, working in the recovery field helping other addicts and alcoholics change their lives.

And in doing this work, I've been able to save my own life in the process. If you're on the fence about what we should do with your life and need to get into recovery do it. If it doesn't work for you, you can always get your misery back.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 5, 2019

I Stayed Sober

I was recently reminded of an old story I heard over 28 years ago when I first joined Alcoholics Anonymous. And it goes like this:

A young man was attending his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and someone suggested that he find himself a sponsor.

Since he didn't know what a sponsor's function was or how he could be helped by a sponsor the man he was talking to explained it to him.

After it was explained to him, he asked the man if he knew anyone who could work with him as a sponsor. And the man obligingly pointed out an older gentleman who was seated at the other side of the meeting room.

The young man approached the older gentleman with some trepidation. Then he asked if he could talk to him about being his sponsor.

"What would you like to talk about?," asked the older man.

"Well," asked the younger man, "how many people have you sponsored?"

The older man scratched his head for a moment, then answered "probably in the hundreds."

"And," asked the younger man, "how many of them are sober. In other words, what's your success rate?"

"My success rate is 100%," answered the older man.

The younger man looked at him in astonishment. "You mean that 100% of the people you sponsored are sober?"

"No," the older man replied. "But I am."

And I have always loved this story because it kind of sums up the secret of Alcoholics Anonymous: when we work with others and help them stay sober we have a good chance of staying sober ourselves.

Click here to email John

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Friend Is Leaving

This email is from a client who participated in our work therapy program for over seven years and who is leaving this weekend. During her seven years with us she affected many lives and I know that a lot of women today are alive and thriving because of her generous help. 

 She volunteered for years as a manager, mentor, sponsor, behavioral health technician, and in any other capacity where she thought she could be of help.

She always wore a genuine smile on her face, and lit up whatever room she was in just by her presence.

We're going to miss her infectious laugh, the love she showed all of us and wish her Godspeed on her journey back to the East Coast to rejoin her family. Following is her email:

"I remember the day I found Transitional Living Communities online.  

I had relapsed after eight months of dry, white knuckled sobriety, gotten kicked out of yet another house and was staying with a woman who allowed me three weeks to find a place. I was really scared at this point so when I saw TLC’s website I called the number.  

Wow! I didn’t have to have any money.  Who does that?! I was told if I could get myself to Mesa, AZ. , someone would pick me up at the airport or bus depot. My life has never been the same from the day I arrived at the women’s house on Robson.  

To say I am grateful is really an understatement of how much love and joy I feel today because of the opportunities that were laid at my feet.  This idea born from a man who just wanted to help alcoholics and addicts get their lives back! God Bless John!"

We're all going to miss you...


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Finding Gratitude

A simple shift of perspective makes it much easier for us to find gratitude.

It seems to be human nature, even among non-addicts, to compare ourselves with others. But the others we usually compare ourselves to are not those who have less than us. But to compare ourselves with those who have more than we do.

And of course, that makes sense. After all, why compare ourselves with a bunch of losers when we can compare ourselves with the rich and famous?

Now I can see going down the path of fantasy once in a while. After all, it might give us a burst of inspiration if we look at the lives of those who are living with prosperity and fame and all the benefits that go with those things.

But I think if we engage in this kind of thinking very much we can find ourselves becoming depressed. Because something that many of us don't stop and think about is that those who are in some respect better off than us are usually those who worked hard to get where they're at.

I read about people like Elon Musk who sometimes are at their office for days in a row, eating a meal a day, and even sleeping there. How many of us are willing to do that? Or athletes like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan who practiced for hours to become the champions they became?

No, I think that if we shift our perspective we can develop balance in our lives and become more confident human beings if we look at our fellow man in a more realistic way.

We not only look at those who have more than us, but we also look with compassion on those who have less than us. There are those who were born with physical disabilities. Those who were brought up in terrible family situations. Those who had no positive role models around to guide them into adulthood.

If we look up and down the spectrum, we can decide how hard we're willing to work to become the kind of person we want to be. Then we can decide if we're willing to sacrifice to get what we want.

But we never want to fall into the trap of depression because others have more than we have. Instead, we need to be able to look at those who have less than we have and be happy with the blessings that we enjoy today.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 27, 2019

2700 Blogs

As I sat down to write this blog today, I happened to look over at the post counter and noticed that I now have written 2700 blogs since 2010.

I can actually remember where I was when I wrote the first one. I was on vacation in Mission Bay, California on the third floor of a condominium we'd rented for a weeklong getaway. I don't know why I started there. But I think it was because I had been promising myself for a long time that I would publish a blog and at that moment I had plenty of time to write.

The only promise I made to myself at that time was to keep the subject matter on recovery and things related to recovery. I didn't want to get into politics. I didn't want to write about business. Just mainly about recovery, because that's what this website is about after all.

I did have a secondary motive. And that was to improve my writing skills. I didn't want to improve my vocabulary because I'm fairly pleased with it after all the years I spent locked in cages reading and writing and studying. But I did want to improve the aspect of my writing whereby I could communicate with the reader on a conversational level. After all, it's one thing to have a good vocabulary – but the more important thing is to communicate your ideas and thoughts with the reader.

Over the years I've developed a lot of long-distance relationships with mothers and fathers whose children or family members have been at TLC. Reading this blog has been a way for them to connect with their loved ones even though they're far away.

There are a few families that I actually feel quite close to because every once in a while they update me on the success – or lack of success – of their loved ones who have been through our program. And when I develop these kinds of relationships solely through the written word I feel like I've accomplished my goal of effective communication.

Those of us who have gone through the hell of long-term addiction and years on the streets and in institutions have, I believe, a moral obligation to give back to society. Perhaps help someone else avoid taking the path that we did.

This blog is part of my effort to achieve this.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Halfway House Credentials

Running a recovery program or halfway house is a unique business. I don't think there's a college or university in the country that offers a course on the subject.

Oh yes, there are many schools and universities that offer courses in psychology, alcoholism, and drug addiction, but having a degree of that type will not equip one to run a successful halfway house or program that deals with the type of addicts we do.

Those type of degrees won't hurt you if you're planning on running a recovery program but you also must have more education than that. And that education requires that you yourself be a recovering addict or alcoholic. Without that kind of education, you'll never be a success in this business.

At TLC we have few people who aren't addicts or alcoholics. Among them are therapists, medical staff, and accounting staff – those who have specific education in that area. And even then, many of those have been addicted to something at one time or other.

But the nonprofessionals on our staff suffer from some degree from the ravages of alcohol and drugs. Some have been imprisoned. Many have lived on the streets for years. The bulk of them has lost everything, including their families and personal relationships. Their histories are often a classic train wreck.

And why is this important? It's important because it takes another addict or alcoholic to communicate effectively with another addict. A non-addict or alcoholic could never manage this business with any success. It would be like someone who went into a computer factory and tried to manage it without having any experience with computers. It just doesn't work.

We actually at different times have tried to use non-addicts to help run our business. But we have learned the hard way that they never work out. It's not that they're bad people. It's just that they can't relate effectively and with credibility with people who have grown up in an addict or alcoholic culture.

At varying times I've hired my own family members to help in the business but reluctantly had to let them go because they didn't quite fit in. Not only did they not work out, but there were also some sore feelings when I let them go.

Sometimes those our staff have the idea that we are going to put our family members in charge once we're gone. But the only thing they'll be in charge of is of any real estate they own – and that's all under a long-term lease to TLC.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ceased Fighting

 In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there's a phrase that any of us could use in our lives if we want to live with peace.

And that phrase is "We ceased fighting anyone or anything..." While that's just part of the phrase, it's the most important part.

And the reason that I believe that is important to not fight anyone or anything is that usually – unless you're a professional fighter – there's never a clear-cut winner.

I bring this up today because I saw two people get into an argument that escalated to the point where it could have had serious consequences. And while I don't want to break anyone's anonymity the whole subject could have been resolved if one of the parties had realized that they had no power in the situation. Instead, the person felt like they'd been treated unjustly. And once that happened the ego kicked in and the communication got more and more volatile.

And who knows where it could've gone had I not intervened.

My philosophy in life today, one that I learned the hard way, is to not fight or argue with anyone. If something can't be discussed in a calm and reasonable manner than I usually suggest that we wait till later before we continue the conversation.

And another thing I practice is to always look at my part in the situation. Because the reality is that the only thing I control in the world is my own behavior – and that's if I'm lucky. I can't control other people and what they think or do. But if I stay on my side of the street and admit where I am wrong then things are pretty easily resolved.

I very rarely have to raise my voice or get angry at anyone about anything. And as a result, my life goes much smoother.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Gratitude

Each summer, usually during June or July, my family and friends and I come to Imperial Beach, California, where we spend a week at the shore.

When we started this tradition back in the mid-90s there were just four of us. And we all fit into one unit. This year we counted over 42 participants, and it took 10 units to accommodate everyone.

While I was grateful for our trips that started over 20 years ago, I'm even more grateful today. Because today the company is a lot larger, and some of the staff members come along on this trip. And we leave behind the ones who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company.  If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be able to do things we're doing this week.

This trip is an example of the fruits of sobriety and recovery. While sometimes it takes nearly a year of planning to put these trips together before we got sober our idea of a long-range plan was how to get enough drugs or alcohol in us to make it through a day.

Life certainly changes for the better once we get into recovery.

Click here to email John





Sunday, July 14, 2019

Return of the Family

At one time in my early sobriety some 28 years ago I thought I might never reestablish a relationship with my family.

After all, I'd been pretty much out of communication with them during my years of drinking, using heroin, and the time I spent in prison as the result of my behavior.

And a lot of addicts I work with today in our recovery program express the same fears – that their family will no longer want anything to do with them.

But I write today to tell you that that's not necessarily true. Because after I had been sober about five years and was on a good financial footing I invited my oldest daughter and her husband to spend a week in Imperial Beach, California for a vacation by the ocean.

That initial vacation in the mid-90s has become a family tradition. And each year we've had to add condominiums to accommodate a growing family and extended family and friends. And this year something like 45 people showed up and we ended up renting 10 condominiums at one property.

I can promise any of you who are addicts who are in the same situation as I was during the early 90s and before that you can rebuild your relationships with your families. And in fact, even see them blossom and grow stronger.

Before closing, I want to add that the most important thing in our lives is our relationships with others – particularly our relationships with our families. A recent report based on the Harvard study – which spanned some 75 years – found that the key ingredient to happiness among all groups regardless of wealth or education was the relationships they had with their families, friends, and associates.

After all, we can gain all of the material things in the world and a wealth of education, but if we don't have someone to experience it with than what is life all about?

It happened to me and it can happen for you.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In the moment

It is difficult for us to understand, sometimes, unless we're quite spiritually or emotionally advanced that our happiness flows from living in this moment. This second. This minute. Right now.

It's taken me a long time to practice living in the moment. And sometimes my practice falters. And I find myself delving into my past. Or looking to something in the future.

And when I notice that I'm feeling off-center, or have a vague sense of discomfort, it's because I'm not right here in this present moment.

At one time I lived my life with a disembodied mind. My mind was off somewhere else. Thinking about some wrong someone had done me in the past. And maybe what I was going to do to get even with them. I would gnaw on old grievances, digging them up from where I buried them in my mind. I would spend time with them until I tired of going over them again and again. Then I would bury them and return to them another day.

Or else I would be wandering off in the future, indulging in some fantasy about some acquisition or situation that would finally bring me ultimate happiness. Maybe it would be a new relationship. A new job. A new car. Or a new house.

But as I grew older, I found that when I did acquire these things I fantasized about, they didn't bring me the happiness and joy that I sought. After a few days, when the new car got dirty, or the new relationship lost its spark then I would return to the unhappiness and dissatisfaction where I seemed to exist most of the time.

Happiness for me only exists in the present moment. I can't be happy in the past. Nor can I be happy in the future. All that exists is the here and now and this is the only time that I can enjoy it.

I've learned to accept the good and the bad in life as part of the pattern of the universe and I have learned to be happy with all of it – right now.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hope

At a 12 step meeting today the chairperson brought up the topic of "hope."

And, for me, the idea of hope shows me that recovery is all in our mind. After all, very few of us are what we could call hopeless. The problem though with those who don't think they have a chance to get sober is that they don't believe they can.

For sake of example, those who don't believe they can get sober are those who have a lot of reasons why that's not possible. They may bring up the idea that they are alcoholics because their parents were alcoholics. They may have the idea that being an alcoholic is something that's in their genes. Something that they can't control. They are alcoholics because their father was an alcoholic, their grandfather, their great-grandfather was an alcoholic, and so forth. They have some idea that their genetics are their destiny. But believe me, Alcoholics Anonymous has proved over and over that this is a myth.

The rooms of AA are full of people who have a family history of addiction and alcoholism. Yet many of them have decades of sobriety.

Other excuses that are used for being unable to stay sober is that we were brought up in a certain environment. Maybe it was an abusive family life. Maybe it was a bad neighborhood. Perhaps all of our friends were alcoholics and addicts and that's why we are also. But, once again if we look around the room at a 12 step meeting we'll see a lot of people who were brought up in terrible circumstances: yet they are sober today and have been for many years.

The formula for staying sober is observing what those do who are staying sober on a long-term basis. Do they go to meetings? Are they employed? Do they hang out with other people who are sober? Are they reading the literature and attending meetings on a steady basis? Do they have a sponsor?  In other words, it's not complicated. If we want to learn how to do anything in life we observe those who are doing the same thing that we want to do and just copy them.

It takes nothing more than willingness and having the hope and belief that we can do the same thing. After all, getting and staying sober is not rocket science. But many of us, because are not done or we can't stand the pain of doing a little bit of real work default to our drug of choice and keep relapsing over and over.

Then we show back up at meetings because we realize that our life hasn't been working. We sit there depressed, head down, one more time wondering where we went wrong. We complicate our lives by overthinking, rather than looking around us and seeing what the successful people in recovery are doing.

But if we do what they do then there is hope for us.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Panhandler

As I drove up and parked in front of the CVS pharmacy the other day I noticed a tiny figure in a wheelchair panhandling off to the right of the front door. I didn't pay much attention to him going in because I knew I didn't have any small bills to give him. But I did plan to give him something on the way out.

After I picked up my prescription, I set aside some bills in my pocket and walked outside. The man in the wheelchair motioned to me, a large cup in one hand. It was only then that I noticed the condition of his body. He only had one leg, one arm, and it appeared that the right half of his body was missing. When I handed him the money he reached up and grasped it with his toes. Apparently, the loss of various parts of his body had forced him to adapt and use his foot whenever his hand was occupied.

"Thank you," he told me. "Now I'll be able to get a motel tonight."

As I drove away it was with several emotions. Even though I have nothing in my life that's causing me overwhelming problems the few I did have immediately became very minuscule. I couldn't imagine having to navigate through life in the circumstances that this man is living with. However, I reflected that probably he suffered from some kind of birth defect or else had been in a serious accident. If It was a birth defect he probably was used to living that way, having never known any other life. However, if an accident was the cause of his deformed body it probably took a great deal of perseverance to learn to navigate with just one arm and one leg.

And as I write this today I reflected that perhaps it's judgmental of me to think that this man's life is so terrible. Maybe he's accepting of the situation because he has a way to make a living and probably sometimes runs in the people who are quite generous with him. Who am I to say? But I guess it's human nature for us to look at life through the template of our own existence; after all, what else can we compare to?

The one thing I did take away from this encounter is that I know I must be grateful for all the blessings I have in my life today. I must be compassionate to others and share with them when I am able. I must not judge others, whatever their circumstances.

And I must remember that life is exactly is the way it's supposed to be at this very moment.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

I'm Responsible Today

For years I played the blame game.  Everything was someone else's fault.  The easiest thing for me to do was shrug my shoulders like I had no responsibility at all.

I used drugs for years because my father was a raging alcoholic who beat everyone and everything around him.  I did lousy in school because of my home life.  It seemed like I was a burden to my family and I never received nurturing at home.  Just criticism and abuse.

And while all of these things were true about my childhood and caused me to grow up full of pain, it also caused me to spend years mired in addiction and alcoholism.  Jails.  Divorces.  Bankruptcies. Accidents.  My life was a trainwreck.

It was only when I became homeless after losing everything for the umpteenth time that I decided to change.  I was so full of pain that I was either going to change or die. And at that juncture, I decided I wanted to live up to my potential and be someone different.

And I did become someone different.  I surrendered my past, joined the 12-step programs and went to work in the recovery field.

At first, I couldn't believe how good I felt and how life started to flow for me.  Twenty-eight years later I enjoy many blessings in my life.  All of the promises continue to come true for me.

But it only happened when I accepted the past and started living in today.

Click here to email John

Friday, June 28, 2019

Flowing with happiness

Since February 2017 my life has been a series of ups and downs. Divorced. Financial setbacks. Key people relapsing. Old friends getting sick and a few others passing on. Clients filing lawsuits over nonsensical issues, hoping to make a quick buck.  To use a cliché it's kind of been one thing after another.

So what does one do when life is all of a sudden upside down?

Well the old me, the person I was before I got sober 28 years ago would have reached immediately for my favorite painkiller which was heroin, alcohol, or just about anything else I could get my hands on. I would drown my misery for as long as I could until I ended up in more trouble such as jail, bankruptcy, or homelessness.

Today though, after living through so many years of recovery and the challenges of life I know exactly what to do. I not only follow the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and go to meetings on a weekly basis, but I also attend meditation gatherings. And each day I also engage in 45 minutes to an hour of exercise, either aerobic, swimming, bicycling or working out with weights. Aside from that, I feed my mind positive thinking podcasts or audiobooks because I believe that we are what we consume.

I am currently listening for the fourth time to a book by Doctor Robert Puff, titled "Finding Our Happiness Flow." This is a book that I heartily recommend to anyone at any time and especially when we are living in difficult situations or have serious challenges in our lives. He also has free podcasts on YouTube that cover almost every aspect of our lives. Great stuff.

The essence of what he teaches us is how to be happy, no matter what our circumstances. He describes some of his clients who have cancer, some who are on death row, some who are billionaires, and how he has taught all of them to be happy no matter what they're going through. He is a very convincing best-selling author who has changed my outlook on life since I encountered him a few years ago. And if you're going through stuff, I believe that he can change yours too.

It's especially important for people like myself, drug addicts and alcoholics, to use every available resource to remain on track and to be a contributor to the world. And if we keep pumping positive thoughts into our minds we really do have the capability of doing anything we choose to do with our lives.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Changes

Many of us hate change.

Now I don't know about so-called "normal people." But we addicts are especially susceptible when it comes to change. We start a new policy at the company, and people freak out. A key employee leaves, and rumors abound.

The sky is falling. The company is collapsing. "Oh my, what are we to do?"

We experienced that this week when an employee who's been with us since 1992 moved from his position as chief operating officer to the position of consultant. He wanted to quit but I asked him to work with us as a consultant for at least a year, the reason being that he has a plethora of knowledge about the company since he has been with us since the first two months we opened. He helped formulate many of the policies that we operate by today. And there are many in the company who relied on his long sobriety and wisdom to help them stay sober. If It wasn't for his hard work and willingness to go to any lengths to help we wouldn't be as successful as we are today. He had a passion for what he did and never went halfway with anything. This consultant position will allow him to pursue other goals he has and get a break from years of working day-to-day with addicts – a job that can grind anybody down after a while.

I'm one of those who don't like this change. Because not only was this man my coworker, I've always considered him my best friend and felt much closer to him than to my own brother. So now there's a void in my work life that I know I'll get used to as time moves on. It's just that when you work with someone for over 26 years it takes some adjustment when you walk by their former office and someone else is sitting at their desk. Now I know I can always pick up the phone and get his opinion or advice on the many challenges that come up in this business every day. Still, it's not the same and it'll take me a while to get used to this change.

Some of the best advice I've ever received is the fact the only thing we can count on in life is that there will be changes.

We grow older. We find new lines on our faces. We get married, then divorced – maybe multiple times - as in my own case. Our businesses make money for a while, then maybe the revenue goes down. We lose loved ones, sometimes suddenly. Babies are born. The economy changes.

If we can absorb the idea that all of life is impermanent, then we're prepared for whatever changes show up.

We're emotionally healthier because we can tell ourselves when doing our self-talk that "I expected that and I accept whatever change the universe brings into my life."