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.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Life getting Better

I've been going to 12 step meetings for over 28 years.

And one thing I never hear in any meeting is that life got worse after becoming a member of the program.

Anytime anyone shares about their experiences after they relapsed is that things immediately got worse. They usually lost nearly everything they had worked for while they were sober. Many of them got into accidents. Got divorced. Went to jail. Some of them ended up homeless. The stories of those who returned to sobriety are enough to keep anyone from thinking that picking up drugs or alcohol again is a very good idea.

And while I never relapsed once I got sober and admitted that I was an alcoholic, my life has gotten progressively better over the years. I have been blessed with success on many levels and achieved success in several areas of my life without even trying.

My sole purpose when I first came into the program back in 1991 was to get the pain and demoralization out of my life. And it was interesting that within six months I was a pretty happy person – actually about as happy as I am today. During those first years of sobriety, I developed a purpose in life, one of helping others get into recovery. And I think that having a purpose makes a big difference.

Sometimes newcomers get the idea that because they got sober they'll have no more problems. But they soon learn that that's not the case. The reality is that problems continue to arise as long as we live. But when we're living clean and sober we're much more able to take things in stride. The ups and downs of daily life no longer throw us into a tailspin.

We learn to accept and expect a certain amount of adversity and pain, but we're able to handle things without propping ourselves up with chemicals. We join a fellowship of like-minded spirits, and often use each other for support when things get tough. Over and over through the years, I've seen addicts and alcoholics help one another when they were facing obstacles. Being in a fellowship, one has a level of support that they've never experienced – even from their own families.

I'm still waiting to see a speaker show up someday who says that as soon as they started drinking or drugging life immediately improved. Still waiting...

Click here to email John

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Road Rage?

I've always been mystified by people who get angry when I slow down in front of them to make a right turn.

And though it rarely happens, it happened to me yesterday.  I was about two blocks from my home in fairly heavy traffic when I realized that I needed to get into the right lane so I could make my turn.  I saw a two-car length opening in front of a red pickup on my right and sped up and eased in front of him.

Once I was ahead of him I activated my turn signal so he'd know I planned to turn at the next corner  - which was still a block ahead.

When I arrived at my corner to turn I slowed and noticed that he was still behind me, rather going into the next where he had ample opportunity to pass.  As I turned, he leaned on his horn and kept going.  In turn, I reacted and tapped my horn a couple of times to acknowledge him.

A half block from the corner I pulled into my garage and sat there a moment gathering my things to go into the house.  As I opened my car door I noticed the pickup that had been behind me when I turned sitting at the end of my driveway with its window upon.  When they noticed me leaving the car, someone inside - either the driver or passenger hollered "f... you" in my direction. Then the vehicle sped away.

While I'm glad he was able to vent and drive away before the situation could escalate I wondered what was going in this person's life that he would take the time to follow someone over such a minor incident.

When I first got sober I used to get into a lot of problems in traffic.  Then one day I was talking to my sponsor about it and he said something that I've never forgotten.  And what he said is that he quit getting into problems in traffic when he realized that he could only drive one car at a time.

If I'd had the chance to talk to this guy who was so upset I probably would have shared that with him.

Not that he'd have listened.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 25, 2019

Heartbreaking

I heard a heartbreaking story the other day that makes me realize how grateful I should be for the life I have. The story came from my youngest daughter.

One of her best friends has a girlfriend who has a three-year-old baby. When the baby was about three months old, a babysitter, who was supposedly a good friend of the mother called to tell her that the baby was having some kind of a breakout on his hand. The baby's hand was red and swollen and the babysitter claimed the baby was having an allergic reaction to a medication she'd given him.

However, when the baby was taken to the hospital the medical staff said that no allergy could cause that kind of damage. They said it appeared the baby's hand been put in scalding water, and reported the incident to the police, who arrested the babysitter for child abuse. The babysitter eventually received a five-year prison sentence, which to me seems kind of lenient considering the damage to the baby's hand.

Over the past three years, the baby has undergone as many as six surgeries. The surgeries were required to keep the skin from tightening and interfering with the growth of the bones in the child's hands and fingers. But during the last surgery, a few days ago, the anesthesiologist and the doctor injected the wrong medication into the baby prior to the surgery and its heart stopped. The medical team was able to revive the child, but now the baby is in an induced coma and no one is sure whether it suffered brain damage during the period that its heart was stopped. It'll be a few days before anyone knows the outcome.

Even though I've been sober 28 years and rarely let much disturb me, this story bothers me a lot. The idea that an innocent child has undergone such trauma because of the actions of a deranged babysitter is far beyond understanding.

Incidents like this remind me that there is always someone who has suffered over and over again through no fault of their own.

I've been dealing with addicts and alcoholics for 28 years and during that time I've heard a lot of complaining about how life has treated them. And it's true, that we have many clients who have suffered during their lives – especially when they were children. But a way to get over stuff like this, in my opinion, is to realize that there's a lot of suffering in the world, that we're not the only ones who have been mistreated or been the victims of bad fortune.

I bring this up, I guess because many of us addicts and alcoholics for years used our terrible upbringing as an excuse to kill our pain with alcohol or drugs. And I was one of those who blamed my early childhood as the reason I turned out to be an addict and alcoholic. It was only when I realized what I was doing to myself that I decided to accept my past and cross over into the land of recovery.

Anytime we feel like our lives are tough we can look around and see others – like this baby – who are undergoing extreme suffering through no fault of their own. When we can see things from this perspective it's much easier to stay clean and sober and be grateful for the lives that we have.

Click here to email John

Friday, March 22, 2019

Acceptance

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today..."  Big Book

Probably the word acceptance is one that we hear most often in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Although one might argue that gratitude's right up there with it.

Whatever the case, acceptance has an important place in the lives of those of us in recovery and especially for me.

Because until I accept what's going on in my life, whatever challenges I'm facing, there's not really a path to a solution.  But bingo, as soon as I accept whatever it is that I'm facing then I can set about resolving it.

My DNA tells me to fight and resist everything until I get my way.  But that old thinking pattern is what used to get me into a lot of trouble.  It took me many years and lots of internal battles before I realized that most of the things I used to think were important weren't such big deals after all.

And as soon as I changed my thinking, my life became much easier and less stressful.  In fact, these days, it's pretty easy for me to analyze whatever I'm facing and decide whether it's worth fighting about in short order.  Once I cross the bridge into acceptance, then potential solutions begin presenting themselves.  Sometimes the answers come to me while I'm sleeping or just daydreaming and not even looking for a solution.

For me, there's almost something magical about acceptance because it's the quickest shortcut to serenity.

Click here to email John


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Frivolous Litigation

Since opening TLC in January 1992 we have had over 500,000 addicts and alcoholics come through our doors.

And as one might suspect, we've had all types. Some who come through our doors are quite functional and after a 90 day stay return to the community and hopefully remain sober and clean from then on. And, periodically, we get reports back from those who are once more with their families, raising their children, working, going to school, or doing something else positive with their lives. And those are the reports that are gratifying.

Other clients come to us and stay with us for years. They like living in a sober environment. They like being part of our surrogate family. They contribute to our community, and in turn, we see to their needs. They often end up working for TLC,  becoming part of our success story – assisting us with our mission of helping addicts and alcoholics rebuilding their lives.

And then, as within any large population of people, we get a small percentage of those who are seriously mentally ill (SMI), bipolar, or who have borderline personality disorders or other psychological issues. And these we also try to help because many of them use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and to quiet the demons in their heads. Sometimes we are successful even with this group because once we take the drugs and alcohol out of their lives they sometimes become healed. But there are others among this group, that are intractable. They are so mentally ill that we must refer them to another facility, although many of them just disappear on their own before we can make a referral.

We had one man at our facility who was quite brilliant, yet we had to discharge him because he all of a sudden started having delusions about his house manager being Jesus. We dealt with another man for over 20 years, during the periods that he was out of prison, who thought he was one of the owners of TLC because he was among the first five residents into the program. We finally had to get a series of restraining orders to keep him from coming onto the property.

And we just won a case in the state Supreme Court last year against a transgender client who falsely claimed that our managers had given clients permission to have sex with him/her whenever they chose. And while we "won" the case, we still spent over $25,000 defending ourselves. That's money that could have been spent on our mission of helping other people.

And at the moment we're defending ourselves against two other lawsuits. And while I have no doubt that we'll prevail with both of them, it still takes a lot of research and time providing information to the attorneys. In one of the cases, we've been sued for the same type of matter on three occasions and each time the state courts have ruled in our behalf. One of the cases went clear to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before we prevailed – but it set a great precedent.

In the second case, our lawyers are defending against a former client who has a long history of trying to make a living suing anyone and everyone for imaginary damages.  This is a case that our insurance company will waste resources on, but another case we'll ultimately win.

If people like this would use their energy trying to help others, instead of attempting to make a dishonest dollar, they might be surprised at how much further along they'd be in life.

Click here to email John


Saturday, March 16, 2019

No Comments?

Ten years ago when I first started this blog I had a section where people could leave comments.  The comments could be either anonymous or the writer could sign their name.

I forget exactly when I took that section out of the blog.  But I bring it up today because a friend asked me why  I didn't have a comment section for those who had something to say.

So, I explained why I took it out.  Most of the comments were from haters, people who had been discharged from our program because they didn't follow the guidelines.  So some of them would go to the comment section and spew a lot of venom and anger toward me and the TLC staff.

Usually, it was laced with profanity and filled with lies or half-truths about our program.  And I was wasting a lot of my time trying to answer them.  So I removed the section and was able to get more done.  However, I still have a way for people to vent their feelings or air their complaints. 

All they need to do is to go to my email - at the bottom of each blog - and they can say whatever they please.  And every so often someone will write and tell me what's on their minds.  Once in a while they are angry and that's okay; I believe anyone can communicate their anger in a mature way.

I know that not everyone is going to like our program or our guidelines.  They were not raised in an environment that taught them self-discipline - the kind of self-discipline they learn if they hang around TLC for a while.

But I believe if they stick with it and don't run away they'll create positive change in their lives.

And if you can't stick it out and do go back to the dope house or the bar send an email and let me know how that's working for you.  Even if you're pissed off and call me a bunch of mofos we're still willing to take you back whenever you're ready to get help.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Let's Worry

Clients at TLC always seem to be "worried" about something.

"Will I be able to find a job?"

"Treatment is boring."

"My family hates me."

And the list goes on and on. There are a lot of things to worry about. Whether we are in treatment, or whether we're just the average citizen trying to make it through life.

But I heard a solution one time and I believe that it really works. And since it didn't cost me anything I'm not going to charge you anything for it either. I'm giving it to you free to use – or not use – as you wish.

Tell yourself that it's okay to worry. In fact, you can worry all you want. But there's only one rule that I was taught about this method of dealing with worry.

And that rule is this: make an appointment with yourself every day to worry for a certain period of time. It could be for half an hour. Fifteen minutes. An hour. Whatever it is, make an appointment with yourself for say 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock – wherever you have a slot in your day when you have nothing to do but sit and worry.

Then all you do for the period of time that you have selected is worry. And worry. And worry. Worry about everything and anything you want to worry about. And then when your time is up, stop worrying and go on about your business. And you'll find that it's easier to go about your business because you've done all the worrying you're allowed to do for today.

And then tomorrow, you go through the same routine. You pick yourself a time of day when you have some open minutes or hours and tell yourself just to worry as much as you want.

So what's the point, you might ask. Well after you do this boring routine for a week or two you will realize that all of a sudden you have the power and the choice to worry or not worry. It's all up to you. And for some reason, maybe just the idea that you have control over your thoughts, you find yourself viewing worry a little bit differently.

Try it. Like I said, I'm not going to charge you anything for the tip. And when it works you can thank me later.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Missing Link

If you've been following this blog a while, you probably noticed that it disappeared for a couple of days.

And I take full credit. I spent about 12 weeks putting a new site together, but somehow I didn't reconnect the link to the blog the way I was supposed to. So a reader pointed out to me that the blog had disappeared – or that at least they hadn't been able to connect to it.

So anyway, I was up till about midnight last night trying to figure out what I had screwed up. Finally, I figured it out by doing something really simple. I just went back and looked at the link that I had on the previous website and duplicated it on this one.  And now it works just fine.

Someone asked me a while back why I didn't get a professional to do our website. After all, I don't take care of my own yard or swimming pool. Nor do I clean my own house. It's a better use of my time to pay someone to do that for me.

But in the 20 years, TLC has had a website I've never been able to find anyone to work on it who didn't charge an astronomical price and at the same time produce dismal results.

About four or five months ago, I decided that maybe the problem was me. So I once again spent a couple of thousand dollars on a web designer and the same thing happened as before. I wasted that money on a site that I wasn't able to update – a site that also didn't capture the spirit or feeling of what we do at TLC.

One of my pet peeves is looking at the websites that most other recovery programs use in their advertising. The front page is usually filled with beautiful people, without tattoos, who have all their teeth, who are holding hands, laughing, and frolicking on a beach in a resort-like setting. But in my not so humble opinion recovery is not about luxury living, gourmet cooking, or luxury accommodations.

Recovery is about the reality of life. And the reality of life for most of us addicts that we didn't come from Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive or live in a mansion on a beautiful beach. And I don't blame those who have the insurance that allowed them to go to those kinds of places – but the idea that the recovery there is any better quality than what we offer here is a myth. Plus it's kind of deceptive; because as soon as the insurance runs out those same addicts find themselves looking for a new place to live.

At least at TLC when a person's insurance runs out we don't kick them to the curb. As long as they're willing to work and contribute to their own support we find a place for them to continue their recovery as long as they want to stay with us.

Anyway, to circle back around to where all this started, the website is now connected to the blog once more. However, in my quest for perfection, you're going to see continual changes in the website until I get it to the point where I think it reflects what we do here at TLC: work hard at changing our lives and living in recovery.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Winning the Lottery

I heard on the news this morning that someone stepped forward to claim a 1.5 billion prize that had been won last September in a state on the East Coast.

No one knows whether it was a man or a woman because in that state prizewinners are allowed to remain anonymous. And this person or persons has chosen to remain anonymous.

There was a lot of speculation about why the winner hadn't stepped forward. One person suggested the winner had become so excited that they had a heart attack and died when they realized they had won. Someone else said the person probably was drunk when they selected the ticket and lost it. The theories went on and on. And any one of them could have been possible.

My own theory is that the winner behaved very wisely. They probably surrounded themselves with attorneys and financial advisors to help them decide what to do with the windfall. One thing that the authorities in that state did reveal was that the person elected to take the cash option, which amounted to something like $878 million after taxes.

This person's behavior indicates that he or she will probably be one of the winners who successfully live with their windfall. Because statistics show that something like 70% of lottery winners goes bankrupt 5 to 7 years after they win.

And there are all kinds of reasons why they end up bankrupt. Some of them go on spending sprees, living as if the money will never run out. Others become drug addicts or alcoholics. Still, others get ripped off by their families and friends. Others make unwise business investments. There's a wide range of reasons why people don't succeed in living with such large sums of money.

What people who win the lottery don't realize is that managing money is kind of like managing a large business. And those who manage a large business successfully realize that there's a lot of planning about how the money is to be spent and invested. And those managers who don't make wise decisions can bankrupt the company. And lottery winners who don't manage their sudden gains wisely end up right back where they started and sometimes even worse.

Instead of money solving the problems they think they have, the money itself becomes a problem. And more than once we read about lottery winners who say they wish they had never bought the winning ticket.

I believe that those who succeed as lottery winners are those who realize that they entered territory that they've never been in before. And, as such, they realize that they need to seek advice before they get their hands on the money.

And, as for me, I don't buy lottery tickets because I won the lottery 28 years ago the day I got sober.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bad Experiences

A young family member called me and was upset over the way her child was treated by another group of four and five-year-olds.

They didn't really jump him or anything like that.  It was just that they treated him like an outsider.  They didn't include him in the group and didn't play with him.  And I guess it was kind of a new experience for him.  It was probably like experiences many of us had while growing up.  Painful and uncomfortable and feeling like a loser.

Yet, I didn't think this was necessarily a bad thing for the boy.  He's a kid who has a lot of personality and energy and usually makes friends quite easily and mostly gets his way.  It was likely a shock that he found himself being treated that way.

My belief is that opposition of any kind makes us stronger and more resilient.  If we have everything handed to us and have no opposition as we're maturing when we do run into something tough we might not be able to handle it too well.

In fact,  I think that's about the time I began dabbling in drugs and alcohol and crime.  I wanted to belong and be accepted and would go to any measures to achieve that acceptance.  I fell in with low companions and little thugs like myself and whatever drugs they had or crimes they plotted I was right in the middle because I wanted to belong.

Once I got sober, though, all that changed and I realized that not everyone was going to like or accept me.  And by that point, I'd been through enough negative experiences and had toughened up enough where what others thought didn't make a  hill of beans.

Tough experiences can make us tougher and stronger and should be looked upon positively.

Click here to email John