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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Living in the Process

I just finished a book called "Practicing Mind" about the value of living in the present moment. And it was so good, that I'm going to listen to it again. And I would recommend it to anyone who has trouble living in the moment and being in the here and now.

And while the author meditates on a regular basis, he's not a meditation instructor nor is he espousing any schools of meditation.

His point throughout the book is that we spend a lot of time in our country focusing on goals, our eyes on the end product. And he succinctly points out that when we do that we miss a lot of moments of our lives.

His point is mostly that the enjoyment in our lives comes through the process of creating and obtaining the things we are focused on – not in the possession of what we had as our goal.

And I'm sure we've all experienced what he's talking about at some point in our lives. Take for example the years when we decided we wanted a new car and were finally able to get it. At first, we didn't allow a speck of trash or dirt in that car. We washed it every week. We waxed it. We didn't park around other cars for fear that they would scratch it when they open their doors.

But as you all know, the novelty of that wonderful object we were looking to obtain wears off. Pretty soon the car no longer holds its fascination for us. We allow trash and dirt to accumulate in it. We rarely wash or wax it anymore.  And we're busily looking at the next goal that we want to obtain – the next thing we think will make us happy.

Now goals are not a bad thing. But if we only have our eyes on the goal are we enjoying the moments of our lives spent trying to obtain that goal? Because as the author points out, we put a lot of effort, skill, education, in achieving different goals. And when we get them we find out that they are somewhat hollow and empty.

He says we should focus – and I heartily agree with him – on the processes that allow us to obtain what we want. That's where we're able to flex our mental and creative muscles and put in the hard work that allows us to get these things that somehow don't seem so magical once we have them.

After all, we feel much better about ourselves if we realize that we're the sum total of what we do – not just the things we have.

Click here to email John

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Welcoming all

TLC is one of the few programs in Arizona that will accept any addict or alcoholic who asks for help – whether they have money or not.

And while we lose a lot of money because of this policy, it has also helped us to become one of the largest recovery programs in Arizona.

We started doing this back in 1992 when we discovered we had empty beds and decided to take a chance on letting people come in with no money. It's a policy that a staff member came up with, one that has worked to our benefit. By following this procedure we went from five beds to over 100 beds within 15 months. But at the same time, we started losing about 25% of the money we charged people to be in our program. Today we house 900 people or more, depending on the season.

In 1992 we charged $80 a week to be at TLC. For that $80 the client received housing, food, peer counseling, job search assistance, and even job training if they were working on TLC projects.

Because we're one of the few programs in Arizona that operate without state funding this policy of accepting anyone who asks for help has put a lot of strain on our resources. Even so, we've never turned anyone away who is serious about change.

And it also has given us independence in the way we operate. Because we don't depend on grants or state funding to keep our doors open we also can be stricter about the way we expect people to behave. We have zero tolerance for drug use, chronic bad attitudes, threats of violence, or violence. And this strict policy has sometimes put us at odds with other agencies. It also has given us a bad reputation on the prison yards, in the jails, and on the streets.

In fact, we have such a bad reputation on the prison yards that convicts say that you shouldn't go to TLC unless you are serious about staying clean and sober and changing your life. And what they're saying is the truth. It's also a reputation that we are proud of.

Addicts helping addicts is what has made this a tough program. Those who are serious about being in recovery and staying sober won't tolerate people who try to use in the program. They know that they only have a chance of staying clean and sober themselves if they're not around people who are actively using. Being around people who are high can be a trigger for many people who are new to recovery.

In 27 years we've had nearly half a million people come through our doors. And while a lot of them are not clean and sober today because we're not magicians who have a magical cure, there are many men and women today who are living clean and sober lives – enjoying the promises of recovery.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

After the Cloud

Once addicts are sober for a while they find that the "pink cloud" of recovery starts to dissipate.  But when they first get sober everything seems wonderful.

Their family starts talking to them again.  Maybe their husband or wife is giving them a second chance.  If they're on parole or probation the officer quits threatening to send to take them back into custody.  Even their dog loses its fear of them.

They start getting a paycheck.  Maybe they can afford a car.  They replenish their wardrobe.  All-in-all it seems as though they're on the sunny side of the street.

But once the newness of recovery wears off things can change. Because life still happens whether we're sober or not.  While life seemed rosy for a while because we stopped living under the cloud of negativity that comes with addiction, we begin to realize that the humdrum of daily life has returned.  We're back living the life we lived before our addiction took over.

And maybe we encounter the same life issues that prompted us to begin coping with our boredom or pain with drugs or alcohol.  And this is the point where we must make a decision:  am I going to learn to live with life on life's terms?  Or am I going to get back into the chemicals that gave some relief until they didn't work anymore?

And this is the point where we either relapse - or else use the tools of recovery to work our way through life's issues.

Click here to email John

Sunday, January 20, 2019

No reasons, only excuses

I was at a meeting today where a man spoke on the 28th anniversary of his sobriety. And it was amazing that he was able to stay sober 28 years, considering where he came from.

His parents divorced when he was four years old and his mother was awarded custody. That changed when his father kidnapped him and his brother and took them out of state. He lived out of state with his father from age five until the age of 12.

It was an unhappy time of his life. His father was a raging alcoholic who was angry at the world and took it out on everyone.

Eventually, the speaker ended up back with his mother in California. But when he returned he was a different person. 

He was angry. He was traumatized. And it wasn't long before alcohol and drugs became a part of his life. He spent some 16 years in jails and mental hospitals. He drank for 42 years and used heroin for 38 years. He really expected to be dead by the time he was 40.

During the time he drank and used drugs, it was suggested that he seek help in the 12 step programs. These suggestions came from parole boards and counselors while he was incarcerated. And while he reluctantly attended the meetings they suggested he attend he never paid much attention to what was going on. His belief was that he didn't have a problem, that other people didn't know how to party like he did.

It wasn't until his early 50s that he realized he could no longer continue as he was. He knew that he would end up in prison, a mental hospital, or in the cemetery. He made a decision to get sober, no matter what it took. At the time he was homeless and stealing every day get enough alcohol and drugs to drown out his self-imposed pain.

He spent a couple of weeks in detox and then lived for a year in a halfway house. At that point, he decided to go back into business for himself and started making plans for a new life.

Life has been great since that time even though he's faced many obstacles, including deaths in his family, divorces, and a few illnesses. Even so, he expressed his gratitude for the blessings he has found in the 12-step programs.

His parting message to the audience was that there is no good reason to lose our sobriety – only excuses.  

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Real compassion

"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals." Pema Chodron

When it comes to expressing compassion there is no hierarchy. When we are truly trying to help someone we can only do it if we get onto their level – the human level.

Sometimes people come to us asking for help, looking for an answer. And they come to us because we may be in a position of authority. We may be a therapist. We may be an employer. We may be a parent.

But when it comes down to our basic humanity we are neither below nor are we above others. We all entered this planet the same way. As will we all leave the same way. And anything we acquire in between our arrival and our parting is really just on loan to us from the universe.

And while it may seem a bold statement, nearly everything that we own or achieve is through our connection with others. One person may be a teacher. Another may be a child who teaches us by living in the present moment. Still, another might be someone who teaches us by example. None of us achieve anything solely by ourselves in the strictest sense of the word.

The buildings we live in, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the education we get, the cars we drive, everything we have is because there's a broad connection between us and the other people in this universe.

So when we are trying to help someone, regardless of their status or ours, we must forget the differences between us and recognize our commonality. Then we can be truly helpful.

Those who come to us for help will recognize immediately if we're speaking from a lofty pedestal based on our background or education. We reach them most effectively when we recognize that we're dealing with a person who is just as human as we are who wants to hear that we understand their suffering and their dilemma.

To do this is a fine art. And probably the simplest way to arrive at this state is to forget about our ego for the time we're with them. When we can do that they can see our inner nature and realize that we're doing our best to help and understand them.

Click here to email John

Monday, January 14, 2019

R.I.P Sean G.

Today we get news that a treatment client who was with us two or three times since 2012 suddenly died. 

He was reportedly sober and doing well when he passed and that's as much as we know.  But knowing a little about his history and the severity of his alcoholism I can't help but think that his chronic alcohol use - even though he died sober - contributed to his death.

While he was participating in our treatment program he was mostly positive and upbeat.  He knew the severity of his disease and did what he could to regain his health. He was enthusiastic about fitness and was a regular at the gym.

He also had other health issues - of which he was aware - and he never downplayed the importance of his recovery.  However, more than once he would graduate, only to return after another relapse to try to get it right.  At least he kept coming back for another try.

We get news reports on a regular basis about those who die in our country from alcohol and drugs.  And the numbers vary, depending on who's doing the reporting.  But the deaths from overdoses and alcoholism have so much more impact when it's someone we know personally.

And it's sad to see a man go so early - someone who had a lot to live for.

Click here to email John


Friday, January 11, 2019

28 years

On Monday, January 14, I'll have been sober for 28 years.

There was a period in my life prior to my getting sober where I never believed that I could stay away from heroin or alcohol for even a day. Yet here I sit, almost 1/3 of my lifetime, without having to go back to the misery of using heroin or alcohol.

Much has changed over the past 28 years, thanks to my recovery.

For example, when I first got sober I thought that the path to happiness was to stay sober and make a lot of money. But once I arrived at the point where I had enough money, investments, and income I found that wasn't the answer. Oh, those things are fine, because when you have them you have the freedom to do other things. But I found that wasn't necessarily the answer either.

Somewhere along my 15th year of sobriety, I found that my greatest joy was when I was able to help other people with their recovery. There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing someone whose life has been a total train wreck achieve sobriety. To have the privilege and ability to help another person change their lives and get sober is one of the greatest blessings I've had in my recovery.

Of course, there are other benefits of being able to stay sober a long time. It used to be that most anything could get me angry or frustrated. Particularly any kind of change in my life. But for years now I've been able to let most anything roll off of me like water off a duck's back.

I developed a philosophy where I realize that the only thing I can count on in life today is that there will be changes. And when I learned to live that way when something new would come along, problems would arise, or challenges would come up I was no longer surprised by them. I expected them. And when we expect something then we can roll with it no matter how unpleasant or difficult it might be. It's amazing how calm a person can be when they can accept change without frustration or anger.

I could go on and on talking about having almost 3 decades of recovery and about the many benefits it has brought me.

But instead, I send thanks to those who have supported me during my recovery and for the 12 step programs that have made this last 28 years possible.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Mentally challenged Addicts

Most of our clients are pretty much run-of-the-mill drug addicts and alcoholics. But once in a while, we deal with someone who is quite disturbed. Not people who are necessarily schizophrenic, but those who have borderline personality disorders or who are bipolar.

And over almost 27 years we haven't had too many who are physically dangerous. But we have had several who have caused problems after they left. Especially those who have left on bad terms for such things as not complying with the rules or not paying service fees.

I remember one fellow that we discharged six or seven years ago because he wouldn't work or pay his service fees. For a few years afterward, he went to nearly every government agency that would listen to him to complain about TLC.

He went to the city of Mesa. He went to Maricopa County. He went to the Arizona health department. He even went to the state legislature. He filed complaints with all of them. Once in a while, an official with one of these agencies would call us and ask a few questions. But that was about the extent of it because most of them realized that the former client wasn't dealing with a full deck.

He even used 12-step meetings to complain about our program and especially about me personally - even though I'd never met him.  The last I heard of him, he'd relapse and disappeared.

I bring this up today because we now have a woman who's been harassing since she left the program about four months ago.  She too has gone to every agency she can think of to file complaints about our operations.  She's made claims about being hospitalized for some kind of virus she says she caught at one of our facilities.  She contacts our clients, offering to help them get to a "safe" halfway house, and so on.  She even started a Go Fund Me page wanting $50,000 to help her "cause."  So far the page has raised zero dollars in six weeks.

Today we were in court because we'd obtained a court order to keep her from harassing us or our clients.  She was contesting the court order.  The judge reminded her that she should stay away from our employees and facilities and that was the end of it. 

There's always a lesson to be learned from dealing with addicts that also have serious mental problems.  And that lesson is that we must be grateful that we're not facing the same challenges they are.  

Staying sober is enough for an addict or alcoholic to deal with. But when one has mental health issues along with it life must be really challenging.






Friday, January 4, 2019

Losing it All

A friend and I were reflecting on how some addicts destroy themselves. Even though they have good lives, great jobs, and long periods of sobriety, somehow it's not quite enough. And they do something self-destructive like destroying their marriage or losing their jobs because recovery didn't work for them.

And as I write this I wonder why we even waste time talking about them. Because, of course, we all have heard of addicts who become successful, then do everything they can to destroy themselves.  And more often than not, they succeed.  It's not at all uncommon.

Yet this is a facet of the human condition that mystifies me. How can talented and educated people suddenly go off the tracks once more - even knowing how their world will change for the worse? I mean, we can speculate all we want and we still will never know for sure what triggers them to turn again to the dark side.

I knew a woman a number of years ago who was married to a good friend of mine. She was attractive. She had a Masters degree. She was a state-licensed social worker. She made great money with a counseling business she had started, had a nice home, and drove a beautiful car. And yet somehow it all went to her head. She became a completely different person until she finally drove her husband to seek a divorce.

She did well in the divorce settlement, walking away with something like $1 million. For a while, she operated her business and was still on track to success. But later it was reported that she lost the business, blew through all her money, lost her home, and eventually lost her counseling license for committing perjury. I still scratch my head when I realize how in a short time she screwed up her life after working hard for so many years to achieve success.

And I knew another fellow who threw it all away a few years ago. He was hard-working and bright. He was an asset to his company. He had a great home in the suburbs where he lived with his wife and children. Yet one day he didn't show up for work and his employers soon found out that he had reverted to using drugs. He went downhill amazingly fast. Within a few months, he was selling his belongings to get money for drugs after he had blown through his savings.  His behavior only leaves question marks.

There are some things about human - and especially addict - behavior that we'll likely never understand.  We can only hope that the twelve-step programs and the other therapeutic tools available to us will keep us from the same fate.

And I believe they will if we use them.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year

More than once these past few days someone has asked about New Year's resolutions.  As in did I make any.  And my answer is usually the same: no I didn't.

Not that I don't think I need to improve myself.  I guess It's that I don't think about doing it a certain time of year.

My belief is that we should have some project of self-improvement going all the time.  Whether it be to improve our fitness, our communication skills, writing skills, management skills and so on.

I believe that when we lose interest in improving ourselves then we're missing out on life.  Or maybe we've given up on ourselves.

Sometimes family members will ask when I'm going to retire and enjoy life. And my answer is that I enjoy my life now, why would I retire and sit around and rust?

I enjoy working as hard as I do.  And it's not about the money, because I have enough income now to live very comfortably.  It's more about a sense of accomplishment, about keeping myself physically and mentally fit and up for the challenges of daily life.

As far as I know, we only pass this way one time.  And for that reason, we should make our moments on this planet count by using our capabilities to the maximum.

It doesn't matter what you do, but do something to improve your life and challenge yourself.

As for my present project, I'm going to get back to it right now: learning to build a better website.

Click here to email John