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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Being Tough

When addicts and alcoholics give testimonials at twelve-step meetings I very rarely hear them say they got sober or clean because someone else wanted them to. Virtually all of them say that life was kicking their butts.

They ended up getting a charge of drunk driving. Maybe their wife divorced them. Perhaps they ended up in prison or jail for a drug or alcohol offense. Perhaps they were fired from a job. Whatever bad or terrible thing happened to them, that's when they started paying attention to that little voice in their head that said it's time to make a choice about how I want to live the rest of my life.

That's why I sometimes get frustrated when parents contact me about what they should do about their child or other loved one when their drinking or drug use is totally out of control. Because the answer I give them seems so harsh that it falls on deaf ears.

My response requires them to be tougher than they want to be. And many parents of addicts or alcoholics feel that it is unloving to ask the child to leave the home because of drinking or drugs. Somehow, they think that therapists or counselors have some magic solution that will help their child recover with little or no sacrifice in the child's part.

They don't understand that it takes a degree of pain before their offspring or loved one will change. Most of the addicts and alcoholics that I encounter in meetings – and here at TLC – say that life had to be really miserable before they decided to change. Most of them had tried every possible way to maintain their habit, yet somehow there was never enough drugs or money to get them to the state of consciousness they were trying to achieve.

So if you have someone in your life who is addicted and out of control, help them to stop by doing absolutely nothing for them. Give them no money. Don't give them a ride, unless it's to a detoxification unit. Don't let them sleep on your couch. Don't listen to their tired old stories about why they're an addict. Taking an immediate position with them and tell them no more help is coming from you until they get clean and sober.

Once they do that, then you'll talk to them about how you can help them change their life.

Click here to email John

Saturday, April 27, 2019

No Time

A friend and I were talking the other day about exercise, and the benefits of working out.

As the conversation went on he said he'd like to work exercise into his routine. But for some reason, he could never find the time.

"Then what you're really telling me," I told him, "is that you don't have time to take care of yourself." He was a little taken aback at my bluntness, but what I told him was the raw truth.

Because the reality is, it's a rare person who doesn't have time to do at least a minimal amount of exercise.

Some people equate exercise with spending an hour in the gym, pumping iron, or doing aerobics. And of course if one thinks about exercise that way it will take a bit out of their day, especially when one includes getting there and back. Time that a lot of people really don't have because of their other obligations.

But exercise can take a lot of forms, as science is finding out. One can find a lot of easy workout routines on YouTube. There are literally thousands of them available. Also, we can get a few more steps in each day by parking further away from the door to our office or from the market we shop at. If we work in a sedentary job, as so many of us do, we can carry our phone with us as we talk to our business associates and move around our office during the conversation. We can always work in a few push-ups along the way. We can use the stairs rather than the elevator.

Because I live in the world of recovery I know a lot of people who have substituted food, video games, and television for the addictions that they gave up. But my reality is that I didn't get sober 28 years ago just to pick up another kind of addiction or to live an unhealthy life.

At one point I didn't think I was going to live to be 40. And now, if I make it another month, I'll be 80. And because of my lifestyle of healthy living and eating I'm still relatively functional. I have the privilege of working six or seven days a week, taking vacations, and meeting all of the other challenges of daily life.

Does it take discipline? Yes. But the discipline is worth it if we want to enjoy our time on this planet.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Warmer Days

For the past few weeks the weather has been relatively pleasant here in Arizona. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just about right.

Then a couple days ago I came out the door in the afternoon and it was a little bit over 90°. "Here it comes," I thought, "the beginning of a few months of baking in hell."

Then I reflected on about a month or two ago – in fact about all the winter months – when it seemed like it was the coldest winter on record. I think I might've even read that somewhere.

Like I said, never happy.

But the reality is for me, that hot weather is much more preferable than cold. The thing is, it just takes a few weeks of becoming acclimated to it for me to stop thinking about how warm it is. Becoming used to the warm weather is relatively easy for me; but I never get used to the cold weather no matter how long I'm out in it. As soon as we have a few days above 100° I won't be paying too much attention to it at all.

Quite often I talk to people on the East Coast during the summer and they usually ask the same question: how can you stand living in hundred plus degree weather? And my answer's pretty much always the same: the same way you stand living in freezing weather, you just stay inside when it's cold. And that's sort of what we do here when it gets too warm. Those who work outdoors usually start working at first light, or earlier, and wrap things up by mid day. During the summer most of us live in air-conditioned cars and homes. Or else in the swimming pool for those of us fortunate enough to have access to one – which I am.

Part of the reality of life is learning to accept whatever is going on around us, whether it's good weather or bad. But that doesn't mean we have to be happy about it. Nor do we have to be unhappy about it.

Those of us in recovery learn to live life with acceptance if we want to get the most happiness out of our existence. And if we approach life that way everything becomes much easier.

Click here to email John

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Violence

I rarely get into politics or religion in this blog. Because most of my focus is and has been upon the benefits and challenges of recovery.

But today I'm going to digress and talk briefly about religion. Because this morning when I read the morning news up came the story about the 200+ people killed in terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka on an Easter weekend.

Now I don't advocate for or against any religion. I think that anyone has a right to believe as they choose.  But I object to any religion that teaches that those who don't believe as they do are "infidels" or "nonbelievers."

And because the Sri Lankan authorities have identified the suspects as an Islamic terrorist group and the bulk of the victims as part of the country's Catholic minority this was definitely an effort to spread the influence of Islam.

And when one looks at the conflicts in the Middle East, probably 90 percent of them are based upon religion as the primary cause.  Also, look at the attacks on Israel, on the twin towers, on the schools in Africa, on the Christians in many other countries by Islamic extremists and one sees the pattern that fans the flames of violence.

While many apologists in our country call Islam the "religion of peace," the reality is that one can find few examples of Christian terrorism imposed upon others who don't believe as they do. There are those who would explain Islamic terrorism as the work of a radical minority, nonetheless the Islamic community is very quiet about these latest attacks. 

In recovery, we learn that resentments are the cause of most of our problems.  That's a principle that could extend into the larger world.  If it did, religious groups would be much more forgiving and tolerant of those they disagree with and the world might be a safer place for everyone.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Gratitude

I flew in to San Antonio,Texas today with other family members to see my granddaughter graduate from basic training at Lackland Airbase.

This is a special occasion for me because this is a child who has never seen me under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And it is also important because she never went down that path of drinking or drugging as did some of her other family members and peers.

I would like to think that it was my good example that helped her to choose this positive course in Her life.  But then, that would be my ego talking.

Sometimes people can have all of the encouragement in the world. Yet they still turn out to be an addict or alcoholic. Sometimes it seems to be a roll of the dice as to who does well in life.

The one thing I do take away from this is gratitude that she’s headed in a positive direction.

 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Family Tradition

I found out yesterday that my grandson had been sentenced to around two years in prison here in Arizona. I'm not quite sure what the sentence was for, exactly, but it had something to do with drugs, stealing, and other behavior that stemmed from his addiction to alcohol and drugs. You know, he was following the family tradition of drinking, drugging, fighting, and doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.

When I talked to my son, his father, he agreed with me that prison was the best place for him. I'm not sure what his mother or sisters thought. But I'm pretty sure they weren't very happy about it. After all, he was the only boy and was pretty spoiled.

Now it might sound kind of cold-blooded to be pleased about a grandson being in prison. But I know that in his case he's been getting into difficulty because of his addiction for about 10 years. Somehow he's always managed to avoid too many consequences for his behavior. Oh yeah, he's been homeless. He's lost relationships. And jobs.

But all in all, he somehow has managed to avoid serious jail time, though he's ended up in the hospital a few times for heroin overdoses. However, as soon as he awoke, he'd find his car keys and go right back to doing what he'd been doing.

So I'm pleased about him being in prison because I think it might save his life. I know that drugs are available in prison but I'm hoping the fact that he ended up there may make him think twice before he puts a needle in his arm again. But he might be as hardheaded as I was and have to return two or three times before he gets the idea that his lifestyle isn't working for him. One can only pray that he gets the message.

I hope he doesn't have to spend as much time as I did in prison and jail, which was over 15 years before he realizes that only he is responsible for his behavior – and that only he can change it.

A lot of people talked to me when I was his age about where I was headed if I didn't change. But it took a lot of suffering and pain before I decided to move into the world of recovery because what other people told me didn't mean much at the time.

Today I believe that life teaches us lessons – and the more painful they are the more we learn from them.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 12, 2019

Being Nice

I've been visiting the hospital nearly every day for the past few weeks. And probably some of the nicest people I've met are the staff members in the hospital,

It seems like they are from one large family because they all have a loving and kind attitude toward the patients. During the hours I've spent visiting my friend I've noticed a lot of patients making what I would consider being unreasonable demands. Yet the nurses and the doctors somehow maintain a kind of inner calm that transcends whatever they're facing.

Their complete focus seems to be upon the comfort of their patients and fulfilling their needs. They have a quality that I admire and wish that I could emulate all the time.

As I left the hospital this evening I reflected that even though I consider myself a nice person I wish I always felt that way through and through. Because earlier today I was in a long meeting with attorneys over what I consider a totally frivolous legal matter – and while I was nice on the outside – on the inside I felt somewhat different. Somehow the nice person inside me had disappeared. And while I was polite and businesslike I didn't feel like I normally feel towards the people around me.

But the reality of the world, I believe, is that we get a lot more out of life if we are genuinely nice and kind to all of those around us, regardless of the circumstances.

One of the things I often tell our clients is that I've never gotten into real trouble being nice to people, though once in a while I do get taken advantage of. But the idea that someone takes advantage of me once in a while is a small price to pay to have peace and harmony in my relationships and communications. While it doesn't always happen, I would say that 90% of the time my efforts to be nice and polite to people are well rewarded.

And the good thing about it, when I'm able to maintain a demeanor of kindness and pleasantness I don't have to get angry very often. At one time I was angry all the time and fighting with almost everyone. As my sobriety grows and I move on in life I find that I less and less frequently have to drag myself out of a state of anger – that I can maintain equanimity most of the time.

I've been able to enjoy a state of blissful serenity that for much of my life I didn't experience.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Part of Living

Each day for the past week I've been visiting a friend in the hospital who's dealing with a serious illness.

And usually, the waiting lounge near the entrance is filled with visitors. Some look bored or sad.  Others are half asleep as if they've been there for hours.  Some are eating, others are playing games on their phones.  None of them seem pleased to be there - like they'd like to be elsewhere.

And as I pass through I sort of understand where they're at because visiting the hospital is not something I enjoy either.  Unless one is there for the birth of a child, visiting a hospital is not on our list of fun things to do.

Yet, each time I visit I'm glad I took the time, made the effort to provide support.  Even though It's a place we don't want to go, at some point we may all have to go in for repairs - whether large or small.

The reality of being alive is that things wear out. Our bodies change.  Accidents happen.  Illness comes to us and only an institution like a well-equipped hospital can take care of it.

So I somehow put a positive spin on things and realize that I'm fortunate to live in a country where healing the sick and injured is a priority.  And where healthcare is available to everyone whether they have the money or not.

Click here to email John


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Finding Gratitude

A friend and I were having a discussion the other day about gratitude.

The subject came up after I mentioned that I've been going to the hospital every evening for the last week visiting a good friend who's having serious medical problems. The strange part of my friend's illness is that the doctors are mystified about what's going on.  And one reason they are mystified is that they can't do certain kinds of diagnoses because the chemicals they need for the diagnostic procedure would have a negative effect on other organs in her body. So they're having to be detectives to figure out what's going on without the tools they normally rely on.

And while they're forced to take their time to figure out how to help she's continuing to lose weight and undergo the stress of being away from the two teenage children she's supporting and deal with the other financial obligations she has to keep up with. Fortunately, her employer is keeping her on the payroll while she's ill. Plus she has a large circle of friends from her church who visit her and help as much as they can.

As my friend and I were talking I mentioned that this person has never smoked, used drugs, or drunk alcohol, but she is suffering from this strange illness. While at the same time, we know addicts and alcoholics who've trashed their bodies all their lives and have done very little positive but continue to enjoy good health.

And I guess that's where the subject of gratitude came up for us. Because quite often bad things happen to really good people, people who are helpful and kind to others. Yet many among us who live like heathens and treat our bodies like trash cans skip along merrily without a care in the world.

And when we reflect on this we realize that the universe is not evenhanded as it deals with us humans. We all know people who went to school and graduated with honors who later turned out to be abysmal failures. And many of us know alcoholics and drug addicts who turned out to be quite successful.

And that's probably where gratitude came up. Because we realize that the universe doesn't hand out results evenly. We all must be grateful for the good things that happen in our life and try to accept when we face serious issues.

It helps us to maintain our gratitude when we can live in the moment and appreciate what we have right now. Because many of us alcoholics and addicts know that we have much better lives than we deserve, considering the time we wasted doing self-centered and unproductive things.

So perhaps we should wrap ourselves in gratitude and pray for those who face challenges.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

We get Email

I get emails regularly, many of them flattering.  Then sometimes I get things like this.

"I want to tell you about my experience with your place. 

I'll just start by saying that I was not happy being there. I am a homeless person who was apparently bribed into going there by a family member. 

I felt out of place with all the people who were there because of their drug and/or alcohol abuse. Now I didn't have any problems getting along with the other clients, but I just felt really uneasy. 

And to be told that I had to pay rent was a crock of B.S. I am an unemployed person who only does seasonal or part-time work. And I felt very strange being there with these meetings with all the other addicts and abusers. 

Anyway, I will never come back to your place ever again, nor will I recommend anyone to your place."

Obviously, he was in the wrong place because TLC is about working and being responsible for oneself.  

Of course, he was incorrect about the paying rent part.  Because we charge addicts a service fee for the services we render - and housing is only a portion of what we offer.

Until this person suffers enough pain from his homelessness and substance abuse he won't be motivated to change.  We have many clients who start out with the same attitude he has.  But ultimately they do recognize they have a living problem and start using our program to rebuild their lives.

We'll have a bed for him when he's ready to come back and change.