Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 29th year of recovery.

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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Time

All of a sudden we turn around and March is staring us in the face.

What happened to our New Year’s resolutions? You know. The ones about not smoking? Or losing weight? Or starting to school? Or completing your 4th Step?

Oh? Too busy? Life got busy? Maybe you’ve joined the millions who spend hours a week in front of the television or playing video games.

So what’s wrong with that? Nothing at all if done in moderation. But most of us - especially us addicts. - don’t understand the concept of moderation.

Until we're a few years deeper into recovery,  balance, and moderation aren't part of our routine.  Many of us are still in the "more is better mode" and we waste much of our time doing little that's productive.

Even though it seems obvious, time is the one thing that - once wasted - we can never regain.  

We should treasure our time like the gift it is an use it wisely.  Does that mean we should always be working and not savoring life?  Of course not.  But we also shouldn't squander it as though we have an endless supply.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Visualization

Many of us know about visualization. If we played sports in high school or college, the coach gave us several talks that were laced with visualization.

"Picture yourself catching the ball and running all the way down the field and making a touchdown."

"See yourself leaping up and sinking the ball in the basket."

If he was a good coach he used this technique because he realized that picturing ourselves doing something helps us succeed.

A good coach or teacher uses many of these techniques to motivate their students.

In fact, there's a famous study where one group of basketball players practiced layups as part of their daily workout. At the same time, another group of players from the same school sat on a bench at the side of the gym. Their instructions were to visualize themselves doing layup practice while the other group of players was doing actual layups. At the end of the experiment, the group that sat on the bench did just as good as the group that did the actual practice.

And the reason I bring this up today is that the same type of visualization works for those of us in recovery. Most of us come into recovery with a lot of enthusiasm. And those of us who do have a better chance of succeeding than those who are wishy-washy about our recovery.

And the reason for this is that those of us who are enthusiastic about our recovery create scenarios in our mind where we are staying sober on the job, during our leisure activities, and so on. At the same time, those of us who are negative and questioning whether or not we can avoid alcohol or drugs often prove to ourselves that we can't stay clean and sober.

 If we have negative ideas about our chances of staying alcohol and drug-free we'll probably live up to those ideas. When we're in recovery programs we often hear the phrase, "stick with the winners." And of course, the reason for that is that the winners create examples and scenarios for us where we can see ourselves being just like them – staying clean and sober no matter what.

Click here to email John

Friday, February 22, 2019

All in the Mind

'I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." Mark Twain

The line above has been one of my favorite sayings ever since I got sober in 1991.

Why?  Because it summarizes in a short sentence the addict's dilemma. 

For years I was ruled by my emotions:  mostly frustration and anger.  And the way I overcame those things was to bury them with drugs and alcohol.  And that worked, of course, until it didn't and my life became a trainwreck.

But stop and think about how many catastrophes we've been through in our lives that later turned out to only be our fear-based thinking.  So-called thinking that caused us to make rash decisions based solely upon how we felt at the time.

So, how do we escape these fears and anxieties that cause us to make terrible decisions, feelings that sometimes cause to think that life is really unbearable?

Well, I've found that one way is to pay attention to our thinking and realize that our thoughts most of the time have little basis in reality - especially when it comes to our fears about what might occur in the future.

Another means of escape is to learn to live in this moment.  And realize that life is a journey and not a destination where we'll find a life that is without problems.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Recovery blessings

The blessings of sobriety are often too numerous to mention. But some of them are outstanding enough to talk about.

After being sober 28 years, I have many younger relatives who have never seen me drunk, using heroin or doing time in prison. Anything they know about my past is secondhand information about what my life used to be like before they were born.

And today I'm thinking about my 20-year-old granddaughter, who boarded a flight to San Antonio, Texas today, where she's going into basic training for the Air Force.

And when I was thinking about her leaving last week, prior to her going away party, the realization came upon me that had I not gotten sober January 9, 1991, I would've never had the experience of knowing her. Let alone seeing her grow up, graduate from high school, and then joining the Air Force.

Being sober this long has allowed me to witness many members of the younger generation of my family do much better than I did at their ages. Although I have to admit that it's not much of a challenge to do better than I did as a youngster.

Early in my sobriety, my sponsor told me that I wouldn't recognize my life in a few years. And he was right. I've had so many blessings come to me that I never even thought about.

Today I have a large extended family, five children, and many grandchildren.

I have the privilege of working in the same business for over 26 years and have seen more than half a million addicts and alcoholics come in and out of our doors. Some of them didn't make it because they hadn't had enough pain yet. But others have been sober for years. 

Many of them have gone back to school and gotten their degrees. Others have started businesses. Some of them have gone into the recovery field themselves and are helping other people stay sober. And some have gotten married, and are raising children – children who hopefully will never grow up beneath the cloud of addiction or alcoholism.

But still, in spite of all the people I've seen succeed and do well, one of the biggest thrills is when I see members of my own family, children, and grandchildren living productive and sober lives. Something I would've never seen had I not gotten into recovery when I did.

schwary@msn.com

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Victims of Themselves

In the 28 years that I've been sober, I've tried to be compassionate to my fellow man. And most of the time, I'm pretty successful at it.

I'm not a person who holds grudges. I don't stay resentful at anyone for long. And I try to practice forgiveness of those who commit even the most egregious offenses toward me. And that's because I don't want to carry a lot of garbage around in my head. After all, I'd much rather spend my precious time enjoying life and doing what I can to help my fellow addicts and alcoholics have better lives.

I bring this up, because for the past 28 years of my recovery – working with TLC in the recovery business – it seems like I've always had someone who was angry at me about something. For a long time, there was a guy who had the strange idea that he owned part of TLC, simply because he was one of the first 10 residents in the program. While he was spending about 20 years in prison he was writing letters to everyone he could think of trying to make sure that he got the part of the company he owned. As far as I know, he hasn't had a lot of success because I don't hear anything about him anymore. Of course one of the reasons I don't see him around is that we got a restraining order against him for two years in a row and haven't seen him since.

Then about 10 or 12 years ago, there was a gentleman who made me the topic of conversation at every 12 step meeting he attended. He went to every governmental agency in the state, including the governor's office, the Attorney General's office, the legislature, the Environmental Protection Agency and I don't know who else, trying to put us out of business. Whatever he was doing, it didn't work. Because we're still in business, helping people get sober and clean.

But the interesting part of it to me was that I had no idea who this guy was or what his problem was. He was just someone who was very angry at me and TLC and spent a whole lot of his headspace and time trying to have something done about us. I'm still curious about why he was angry.

And just when I thought that maybe the craziness had died down for a while, late last year another delusional person pops up to make us a target.

And the strange thing is that I'm not angry at any of these people. In fact, I have a lot of compassion and pity for them because they're wasting their lives and precious time on this planet trying to harm those who are performing a service to the community.  Each of them could use their innate intelligence and ability to build a great life for themselves if they only did positive things – rather than looking at themselves as victims.

Because my experience has been that those who characterize themselves as victims usually live up to their self-image.

Click here to email Johnschwary@msn.com

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Changing Times

In this blog, I talk a lot about change. And about how change is of the things we can expect in our life. Something that we can count on.

This week I experienced a change that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. And while it may seem kind of silly or strange to those of you who read this blog, to me it was a tough decision to make the change I did.

So don't laugh when I tell you that the change I made was to quit taking the daily newspaper. Because I know that most of you don't subscribe to or read the daily newspaper. Today most of you get your news off of your telephone. Or off the Internet. Maybe out of one of the free papers – like the New Times.

But it was a little more emotional decision for me because for much of my early life I worked on newspapers as either an editor, headline writer, or staff writer. I even worked on the newspaper when I was in prison - if the prison was one that had a newspaper. And one of my goals in high school and early life was to become a writer and working on a newspaper – while not well paid – was a good way to get a lot of experience. In fact, one time I was released on parole and shortly thereafter went to work as a staff writer for one of the biggest newspapers in the United States. That gig came to an end when I got caught leaving the newsroom one night with six capsules of heroin in my pocket. And before long I was back writing for the prison newspaper.

So, if I was so much in love with newspapers why did I quit subscribing? Well, the answer is very simple. The answer is that they raised the price of the monthly newspaper – seven days a week delivery – to over $55 dollars a month. And a few years ago, maybe as few as three or four years ago, the paper was only $25 a month. But the price wasn't the only factor. The paper not only went up in price, they got rid of some of their better writers, while at the same time reducing the number of pages to the size of a throwaway tabloid. The only papers that had any size to them at all were the  Wednesday and Sunday editions where all of the advertisements appeared.

So I made the decision and canceled my subscription. It only took a few minutes on the phone to cancel it. But it probably took me a year or so to make the decision because I love the idea of opening pages and reading in-depth analyses of what's going on in the world. So I canceled reluctantly, and with mixed feelings.

Now I read my news on my iPad, a change I know it'll take a while to get used to.

Click here to email John

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Living in Reality

"If you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time." Byron Katie

I was at a meeting this morning where the topic was acceptance. And I recalled this saying by Byron Katie because reality and acceptance are really close cousins.

For example, when I was in the midst of my drug and alcohol mess I stayed in it for something like 40 years. And that's because I didn't accept the reality that I had any kind of a problem. In spite of the fact that I've been in and out of jail multiple times for drug and alcohol-related crimes, I still didn't believe I had a problem. In other words, I wasn't living in reality.

As soon as I accepted responsibility for the chaos in my life, I accepted reality. The reality is that the indiscriminate consumption of drugs and alcohol caused me to waste half of my life at least. One half I wasted locked up some kind of institution. And the other half was spent trying to rebuild my life once I got out of jail and had gotten rid of my habits.

The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes insanity as when we do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. And that's another form of not accepting or dealing with reality.

While a lot of the references I make here deal with the alcoholic or addict who argues with the reality of his or her disease, ignoring reality also gets so-called "normal" people in trouble.

So how do we figure out what's reality and what's not reality? That's almost a dumb question.

All we need to do is ask ourselves this: is my life working today? And if it's mostly working, then that means we're basing our actions in reality. And if it's not working at all then our answer is, of course, that we're not based in reality. And once we accept that we are not living n reality, then we have the answer to our question.

Click here to email John

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Letting Go

Years ago I heard someone in a 12- step meeting say, "I never let go of anything without leaving claw marks all over it."

At the time I really didn't appreciate the wisdom in that sentence. It's only years later that I realized how much truth there is in that statement. And that's probably because I've been working in the recovery field for over 25 years with addicts and alcoholics who are struggling with their recovery.

But I believe we often stop struggling with our recovery once we accept the fact that a lot of bad things happened to us as we were growing up. And the breakthrough comes when we realize that there's not much we can do about it but accept it.

Most addicts I deal with have some kind of a dramatic story in their past (don't we all?) and sometimes that story has many chapters and nuances. Whatever the story is, it is painful for the person who is living with it. After all, pain is such a personal thing.

When an addict comes to me with issues from their past, or anxiety about the future, I always try to bring them into the moment. Because it's only in this moment that we can deal with our lives. The past is a memory, sometimes a bad one. And the future is many times just wishful thinking or fantasizing.

Living in this moment by learning meditation and relaxation skills, can help us to understand and accept the sometimes painful memories that can make our lives uncomfortable.

And we can learn to let go of things more easily, maybe even without leaving claw marks on them.

Click here to email John

Monday, February 4, 2019

Acceptance

Accepting ourselves as we are is one of our most constant challenges.

If it's not about us changing, it's about us wanting to change someone - or something - else.

It seems like it's ingrained in us, woven into our genetic makeup. That if I just had this relationship, job, car, a certain amount of money in the bank, family members who understood me, then I'd be okay.  Or else it's that I should be smarter, or better looking, or stronger and healthier.  These wishful fantasies can lead us down a path of unhappiness.

But then say I get those things - some of them or all of them - and I'm still not satisfied. What's wrong here?  What lesson am I not learning?

And that's a question that's been around for thousands of years. And many of us - particularly us addicts - continue hoping to change something in the outside world in our quest for happiness.  Yet looking outside ourselves never seems to do it for us.

But there is a simple answer available to us all.  And while the answer is available, practicing it is another thing.

And the answer is in accepting life just as it is.  Accept and love ourselves with all our imperfections.  Be grateful for who and what we are.  For our creator made each of us unique and different.

This isn't something we must do.  We can choose to be miserable and caught up in trying to change ourselves, others and the world around us and remain stuck in a cycle of unhappiness.

But once we say give it all to me just as it is - then we can be happy.

Does that mean we don't try to be better, healthier, smarter people?  Does that mean we shouldn't want stuff?  And live well?

Of course not.  It simply means we need to live in this moment while we're working toward our goals.  While that may seem counterintuitive, remember that all the progress we make is in this precious moment.  Let's not waste those moments...

Click here to email John


Friday, February 1, 2019

Being Nice

A friend had an experience recently that reinforces the idea that it always helps to be nice to people – even when they treat us badly.

He shared his frustration with me a while back while asking my advice about how to deal with a difficult customer.

He described the customer as one of the nicest people he'd ever met, at least when he first did business with him. He said the guy was polite and friendly and treated everyone on the crew very well. But later on, the guy became difficult to deal with. He became increasingly demanding about certain aspects of the job that he previously was satisfied with. He expected my friend to perform services that went beyond their agreement – and at no extra cost. It seemed that no matter what my friend did to get along with this customer, he just became more difficult.

But even though he was becoming very frustrated with this gentleman, he determined to follow through with the job until it was completed to the customer's satisfaction. Then when he went to the customer's house the last time, that's when he understood why the customer had become so hard to deal with. The customer divulged to my friend that he had a terminal disease and only a short time to live - maybe less than the few months.

And then everything came in the focus for my friend and he understood why the man had changed.

How many times do we encounter this in our daily lives? We'll get irritated about how someone is driving. Or we'll have problems with a clerk or a waiter. We'll allow someone's behavior to color our whole day and put us in a bad place.

But how do we know what other people are going through? We don't know what's pushing them to behave badly or treat others rudely. They could've got bad news about their health. A family member could be having problems. They might've lost their job.

Whatever it is that's affecting their behavior, we might stop and think for a minute before we let someone else ruin our day. They might have just gotten some bad news and they're having trouble coping with it.