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.

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."

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Keeping our Perspective

This morning when I turned my phone on there was a text message from a long time acquaintance who lives in a southeastern state. At one time he worked for our company when we had a location in Albuquerque.  And once that facility closed down he moved on and we only were in touch every few years.

The message said simply "my ex-wife and daughter were murdered last night at their home in Albuquerque." It's a shock to get that kind of message when one first awakens. So I had to read it two or three times to grasp what he was telling me.

As soon as I was sure that I'd read it right I attempted to call him. But my call went to his voicemail.

So I replied to his text and told him that I was very sorry for his loss. He wrote back, saying he couldn't speak at the moment, but thanked me for the message.

My heart really goes out to him because I know how much he loved his 19-year-old daughter and the feelings he still had for his ex-wife. 20 years ago we were close enough that he and his wife and another couple from our company and my daughter and I all went together on vacation to Mexico for a week. The wife was a longtime employee of the public defender's office in Albuquerque, while the daughter was a college student at the University of New Mexico. Their deaths are a tragic loss to him and the rest of the family and their friends.

And that message this morning changed my whole perspective. When I went to bed last night my mind was buzzing with all the issues that I have been dealing with this week. Plus I knew that I had a lot of things waiting for me at the office that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible.

But after reading that message all of my so-called problems seemed to diminish to nothing. In relation to what this man is facing with the loss of his loved ones the minor things I'm dealing with seemed almost minuscule.

And I believe that that's the way it is in life. A lot of times we think that we have all kinds of problems facing us. Maybe relationship troubles.  Perhaps financial issues. Maybe even health issues. But when we look around the world at what others are facing it helps us keep our lives in perspective.

No matter how much pain or misery we're going through we can see others that have real-life problems that make ours look small. We simply need to take the time and realize that we all suffer at some point – but there are others who are also going through their own pain.  It helps us to keep our lives in perspective.

Click here to email John.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Resentment

One of the things I've learned in the twelve-step programs and in my many years of recovery is to forgive people. Because I work in the recovery business there are a lot of people I could have been resentful at over one thing or the other.

Quite a while ago, when I was in early recovery I went through a divorce. And later on, I ran into a friend who told me that I must be really happy to have gotten rid of that "bitch." But my reply might've surprised him. Because I told him that I had no resentment toward her. I said that at one time we had a great relationship and that we loved each other a lot. Just because we went through some tough times and ended up getting a divorce didn't mean that she was any less of a person or any less worthy of my respect.

During my 28 years of recovery, I've had a lot of people do things that made me angry or resentful. But I forgave them because I believe that that was the spiritual thing to do, the right thing to do. There are very few perfect humans on this planet and I'm pretty suspicious of the ones who think they are. Because at one time or another we've all stepped on someone's toes, and the right thing to do is to turn about and ask for forgiveness.

I had an incident with an associate the other day, where he brought up some things from the past that I'd long forgotten about. Since this person and I are both in recovery I thought it was strange that he was still carrying around this resentment and anger. I mean people all do stupid things, especially me, because I'm a busy person and I have a lot of things on my plate. When I do someone wrong I promptly ask people to forgive me and if they won't then I've done my part – I cleaned up my side of the street.

But the idea that we use our precious days being angry at things that people have done to us is a waste of our time on this planet. We could be spending that time with our family relaxing and enjoying their company. We could be taking a walk in nature and enjoying the sunset. But doing those things while carrying a backpack of resentment isn't good.

A lot of people have ripped us off at TLC. And people ask me how can I trust people after they've done us wrong over and over. And I tell them that it doesn't bother me a whole lot because I trust people to be people – not to be perfect. A lot of times people are forgetful. Or they have too much stuff on their plate and they don't sort out their priorities, or maybe they're just malicious. Whatever it is, I find that it's much healthier for me to forgive them and move on with my life rather than keep gnawing on old resentments and letting them color my life from this point on.

In my mind, part of being a healthy human being is not clinging to anything negative – no matter what it is. That way we can enjoy the present moment and live our lives to the fullest.  

If I have trouble forgiving someone I need to look at my ego.  If I think that I'm so important that I can't forgive another's wrongs then I have a serious problem.

Click here to email John

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all the dads among us.

Much of the baggage that our clients bring to TLC involves being poor or absentee fathers. Many of the discussions I have with new clients involve their relationships with their children.

Many of them wonder, after so many years of using drugs, going to jail, being homeless, and not being there for their children if there's a chance that they'll be able to reunite with them. And these conversations usually take place within the first weeks or months that they're in our program. Because that's when their anxiety level is usually at its peak.

I always assure them that at first, their family members are quite likely to be skeptical of their ability to stay clean and sober. After all, this is not the first time that many of them tried to get sober – then relapsed.

But my experience has been, that after six months to a year of an addict or alcoholic remaining clean and sober the family starts to think that maybe this time something is different. My experience is that if someone stays sober for two years, generally they have opened lines of communication with their family. And it seems that most families, particularly if they are functional and so-called normal, have nothing but the greatest hopes that their loved ones are on the right track at last.

In my own case, my family had only known me for many years as someone who was away in jail or prison. Or else seriously addicted to heroin and alcohol running amok all over the landscape trying to find more and more of my favorite drug. I was really a loser when it came to being a parent because I was never there for my children.

Once I got sober and became successful I explained to them that I could never make up for the lost time or the years that I was away from them. I told them that all I could do, when I got sober 28 years ago, was to be the best father I could be for the rest of my life. And I've made every effort to try and be that person – though I'm not sure I've always succeeded.

Today I have a good relationship with my children. We take vacations together. Some of us work together. And we really don't spend a lot of time delving into the past. I found in my 28 years of sobriety that family is the most important thing, much more than any amount of material things.

If someone would've told me 28 years ago when I got sober that I would have my family back in my life, including a new daughter that I never knew about who was born in 1969, I wouldn't have believed them. But for me, one of the great joys of my life is my children – and grandchildren – relationships that I never believed that I would have.

Click here to email John



Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Phoenix Rescue Mission

Yesterday my staff and I had the privilege of visiting the Phoenix Rescue Mission, near Seventh Avenue and Van Buren in downtown Phoenix.

And I say privilege, because the program is virtually the same as ours, with a few minor exceptions. In fact, there are many more similarities than there are differences in terms of the way the program is run.

They house both men and women, mostly homeless and most of them drug and alcohol abusers -  which is what we do.

They offer their clients free entry if they're willing to follow the requirements of the program. And the only requirements for entry that are different from ours is that their program is Christian-based and the applicants must express a belief in some kind of higher power. Our program differs in that we don't have the requirement that an applicant believes in anything regarding religion or spirituality.

And like us, they operate small businesses, one of them a restaurant that is open to the public and faces on Van Buren Street. The clients of the program operate the restaurant as part of their "work as therapy" program – a program that teaches the clients the various aspects of operating a restaurant. The whole operation is run by volunteer clients who did a very professional job of serving us a reasonably priced lunch during our visit.

Other aspects of the program are also run by volunteer clients as part of their rehabilitation process before they go out and seek employment on their own. As we toured the facility, we encountered volunteer clients who were maintaining the landscaping and doing maintenance on the property, others doing clerical work, and still others serving as case managers and doing myriad other jobs as part of their rehabilitation process.

It was truly awe-inspiring to see clients volunteering to help other clients who were struggling to rebuild their lives. This program, much like our program, is open to anyone who wants to change.

While this is just one of many volunteer programs in the U.S. that are similar to ours, I'm always impressed that so many are willing to give back and in the process find that they regain their own lives.

Click here to email John

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Where does Compassion stop?

I think of myself as a compassionate person. But there are times when compassion is not what I feel toward some people. Instead what I feel is a kind of anger toward certain people, or at the very minimum, deep disappointment.

It's not because they did anything to me. To the contrary: they would be surprised that I have any interest in all in what they're doing or that I have any concern at all about their situation. But being without compassion is not who I want to be or how I view myself. I like to view myself as being compassionate to everyone.

To explain further, to shed light on what I'm talking about, this really has nothing to do directly with me. It's probably even really none of my business.

One of the situations has to do with a good friend of mine who has a family member who is elderly, yet functional. He spends a great deal of his free time doing nice things for her. He sometimes cooks for her. He accompanies her to medical appointments and sits in while the doctor talks to her. He loves her and does a lot to show it. He's probably one of the most helpful people I know, not just with his family but with everyone else in his life.

The problem comes up because she doesn't follow directions when it comes to her well-being. The biggest instruction the doctor gives her is to get more exercise. When she complains of feeling tired, he tells her to get more exercise. When she says she feels cold all the time he tells her she needs more exercise. Virtually every complaint she has the doctor's response is always that she needs to get her strength built up and she can only do that by exercising. Yet for some reason, she can't comply.

On occasion, she has fallen and had to call for help. However, if she'd followed the doctor's orders she probably would have better balance and not be as likely to fall. My friend's concern is that she will continue to become weaker because of lack of exercise and will eventually require the kind of care she could only get in a nursing home.

The other situation I'm talking about involves an older woman who has smoked all of her life. Smoking has caused her to have more than one heart attack, stents put in her heart valves, a pacemaker installed, stents placed in her legs, and many ambulance trips to the hospital. Yet, in spite of all the medical interventions she has had she refuses to quit smoking – or even try. She has even asked people to smuggle her cigarettes into the hospital intensive care unit. She tells her family that she doesn't want to live and doesn't care if cigarettes kill her. And while she's been this way for many years, it's caused her family a great deal of suffering watching the misery she goes through.

And that's where the question of compassion comes in. Because while I feel sorry for these two sick people I described here, I feel even worse for family members who are forced to witness their painful decline. While it's not my place to judge others because I definitely have my own character defects I have a tough time mustering up any compassion for people who are dedicated to destroying their lives. Because I'm a person who believes that a person has a right to kill themselves however they want. But the problem for me is the suffering it causes those around them, those who care for them.

It's one thing for us to destroy ourselves for whatever reason. Whether we're sick. Or whether we have an addiction. But do we have a right to make those around us suffer while we are actively – or passively – shortening our lives while others stand around helplessly watching us suffer?

I ask myself if compassion is a blanket proposition? To be a compassionate person, must we be compassionate toward everyone? Is compassion something we can be selective about? For me, it's a conundrum.

All I know is that I hate to see my friends and those I care about suffer when those they love won't care for themselves.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rewarding

I enjoy working with recovering addicts, even when they whine a lot and want to be doing most anything else but working on their sobriety.  Because sometimes I see myself in them and that's rewarding because I realize that I've made progress from where I was 28 years ago when I first got sober.

And then I have things happen like occurred yesterday when I had a new washing machine delivered.

When I met the two delivery guys in front of my house one of them told me that I looked familiar, that he knew me from somewhere.

Then he remembered that he'd met me at an AA meeting when he first came to TLC.  He said that he and his wife had both been sober for two years and had come to our program from another state where there weren't many recovery options for those without money.

At first, they were irritated because we wouldn't let them live together for the first 90 days.  Because our policy is to separate married couples so they can focus on their sobriety rather than on each other.

He says that today he understands the policy because they now have two years' recovery and are doing very well.  They both have jobs and are planning to purchase a home.

These encounters with past residents are heart-warming and the most rewarding part of my job.

Many times they give us credit for their recovery, but the reality is that they do all the work.  We provide the structure and guidelines - but they're the ones who use them to change their lives.

The reward comes when they start living sober lives.

Click here to email John

Monday, June 3, 2019

In the Moment

It's difficult for us addicts and alcoholics to live in the moment. I know that so-called normal people deal with the same thing. But since TLC is in the business of helping addicts and alcoholics most of the messages in this blog are directed to them and their needs.

Clients and staff members show up in my office every so often with an issue they would like to discuss. And after they sit down, I ask them what's going on. And almost without exception, it involves something that's either in the past or the future.  It's never about this moment.

Now, of course, many of us have suffered bad experiences that led us to get into drugs and alcohol in the first place. And so it's understandable that many people would be suffering from PTSD or other trauma because of these experiences. And this kind of trauma can sometimes dominate our thinking. But if we recognize it for what it is then it loses its power over us.

Same with people who are thinking about the future. Now when someone is planning their future, like what kind of job are they going to do, or what school are they going to select, what kind of business are they going to start, then it's understandable that they would be looking at the future. But the people who sit across my desk are usually those who have fear about what the future will bring. And while a little bit of that is okay, when it starts to dominate us then it becomes a problem.

One of the favorite sayings I use with people who are in this state of mind is one attributed to Mark Twain: "I've been through many terrible experiences in my life – and some of them actually happened." Because most of the fears running wild in our brain are of our own making; they are simply fear-based fantasies.

While it might seem overly simplistic, one of the ways to stay emotionally balanced is to live in the moment. Because if we live in the moment, when things from the past or the future have us upset we can recognize where the thoughts are coming from. And when we're aware of where our thoughts come from all of a sudden they lose their power over us.

One of the ways to solve this problem of living in the moment is to learn mindfulness meditation or some other meditation of your choice. Because meditation helps us become a little more aware and a little more present each time we practice. And awareness will help us recognize that our thoughts are just thoughts and have only the power we give them.

Click here to email John