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, July 30, 2019

Finding Gratitude

A simple shift of perspective makes it much easier for us to find gratitude.

It seems to be human nature, even among non-addicts, to compare ourselves with others. But the others we usually compare ourselves to are not those who have less than us. But to compare ourselves with those who have more than we do.

And of course, that makes sense. After all, why compare ourselves with a bunch of losers when we can compare ourselves with the rich and famous?

Now I can see going down the path of fantasy once in a while. After all, it might give us a burst of inspiration if we look at the lives of those who are living with prosperity and fame and all the benefits that go with those things.

But I think if we engage in this kind of thinking very much we can find ourselves becoming depressed. Because something that many of us don't stop and think about is that those who are in some respect better off than us are usually those who worked hard to get where they're at.

I read about people like Elon Musk who sometimes are at their office for days in a row, eating a meal a day, and even sleeping there. How many of us are willing to do that? Or athletes like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan who practiced for hours to become the champions they became?

No, I think that if we shift our perspective we can develop balance in our lives and become more confident human beings if we look at our fellow man in a more realistic way.

We not only look at those who have more than us, but we also look with compassion on those who have less than us. There are those who were born with physical disabilities. Those who were brought up in terrible family situations. Those who had no positive role models around to guide them into adulthood.

If we look up and down the spectrum, we can decide how hard we're willing to work to become the kind of person we want to be. Then we can decide if we're willing to sacrifice to get what we want.

But we never want to fall into the trap of depression because others have more than we have. Instead, we need to be able to look at those who have less than we have and be happy with the blessings that we enjoy today.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 27, 2019

2700 Blogs

As I sat down to write this blog today, I happened to look over at the post counter and noticed that I now have written 2700 blogs since 2010.

I can actually remember where I was when I wrote the first one. I was on vacation in Mission Bay, California on the third floor of a condominium we'd rented for a weeklong getaway. I don't know why I started there. But I think it was because I had been promising myself for a long time that I would publish a blog and at that moment I had plenty of time to write.

The only promise I made to myself at that time was to keep the subject matter on recovery and things related to recovery. I didn't want to get into politics. I didn't want to write about business. Just mainly about recovery, because that's what this website is about after all.

I did have a secondary motive. And that was to improve my writing skills. I didn't want to improve my vocabulary because I'm fairly pleased with it after all the years I spent locked in cages reading and writing and studying. But I did want to improve the aspect of my writing whereby I could communicate with the reader on a conversational level. After all, it's one thing to have a good vocabulary – but the more important thing is to communicate your ideas and thoughts with the reader.

Over the years I've developed a lot of long-distance relationships with mothers and fathers whose children or family members have been at TLC. Reading this blog has been a way for them to connect with their loved ones even though they're far away.

There are a few families that I actually feel quite close to because every once in a while they update me on the success – or lack of success – of their loved ones who have been through our program. And when I develop these kinds of relationships solely through the written word I feel like I've accomplished my goal of effective communication.

Those of us who have gone through the hell of long-term addiction and years on the streets and in institutions have, I believe, a moral obligation to give back to society. Perhaps help someone else avoid taking the path that we did.

This blog is part of my effort to achieve this.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Halfway House Credentials

Running a recovery program or halfway house is a unique business. I don't think there's a college or university in the country that offers a course on the subject.

Oh yes, there are many schools and universities that offer courses in psychology, alcoholism, and drug addiction, but having a degree of that type will not equip one to run a successful halfway house or program that deals with the type of addicts we do.

Those type of degrees won't hurt you if you're planning on running a recovery program but you also must have more education than that. And that education requires that you yourself be a recovering addict or alcoholic. Without that kind of education, you'll never be a success in this business.

At TLC we have few people who aren't addicts or alcoholics. Among them are therapists, medical staff, and accounting staff – those who have specific education in that area. And even then, many of those have been addicted to something at one time or other.

But the nonprofessionals on our staff suffer from some degree from the ravages of alcohol and drugs. Some have been imprisoned. Many have lived on the streets for years. The bulk of them has lost everything, including their families and personal relationships. Their histories are often a classic train wreck.

And why is this important? It's important because it takes another addict or alcoholic to communicate effectively with another addict. A non-addict or alcoholic could never manage this business with any success. It would be like someone who went into a computer factory and tried to manage it without having any experience with computers. It just doesn't work.

We actually at different times have tried to use non-addicts to help run our business. But we have learned the hard way that they never work out. It's not that they're bad people. It's just that they can't relate effectively and with credibility with people who have grown up in an addict or alcoholic culture.

At varying times I've hired my own family members to help in the business but reluctantly had to let them go because they didn't quite fit in. Not only did they not work out, but there were also some sore feelings when I let them go.

Sometimes those our staff have the idea that we are going to put our family members in charge once we're gone. But the only thing they'll be in charge of is of any real estate they own – and that's all under a long-term lease to TLC.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ceased Fighting

 In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there's a phrase that any of us could use in our lives if we want to live with peace.

And that phrase is "We ceased fighting anyone or anything..." While that's just part of the phrase, it's the most important part.

And the reason that I believe that is important to not fight anyone or anything is that usually – unless you're a professional fighter – there's never a clear-cut winner.

I bring this up today because I saw two people get into an argument that escalated to the point where it could have had serious consequences. And while I don't want to break anyone's anonymity the whole subject could have been resolved if one of the parties had realized that they had no power in the situation. Instead, the person felt like they'd been treated unjustly. And once that happened the ego kicked in and the communication got more and more volatile.

And who knows where it could've gone had I not intervened.

My philosophy in life today, one that I learned the hard way, is to not fight or argue with anyone. If something can't be discussed in a calm and reasonable manner than I usually suggest that we wait till later before we continue the conversation.

And another thing I practice is to always look at my part in the situation. Because the reality is that the only thing I control in the world is my own behavior – and that's if I'm lucky. I can't control other people and what they think or do. But if I stay on my side of the street and admit where I am wrong then things are pretty easily resolved.

I very rarely have to raise my voice or get angry at anyone about anything. And as a result, my life goes much smoother.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Gratitude

Each summer, usually during June or July, my family and friends and I come to Imperial Beach, California, where we spend a week at the shore.

When we started this tradition back in the mid-90s there were just four of us. And we all fit into one unit. This year we counted over 42 participants, and it took 10 units to accommodate everyone.

While I was grateful for our trips that started over 20 years ago, I'm even more grateful today. Because today the company is a lot larger, and some of the staff members come along on this trip. And we leave behind the ones who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company.  If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be able to do things we're doing this week.

This trip is an example of the fruits of sobriety and recovery. While sometimes it takes nearly a year of planning to put these trips together before we got sober our idea of a long-range plan was how to get enough drugs or alcohol in us to make it through a day.

Life certainly changes for the better once we get into recovery.

Click here to email John





Sunday, July 14, 2019

Return of the Family

At one time in my early sobriety some 28 years ago I thought I might never reestablish a relationship with my family.

After all, I'd been pretty much out of communication with them during my years of drinking, using heroin, and the time I spent in prison as the result of my behavior.

And a lot of addicts I work with today in our recovery program express the same fears – that their family will no longer want anything to do with them.

But I write today to tell you that that's not necessarily true. Because after I had been sober about five years and was on a good financial footing I invited my oldest daughter and her husband to spend a week in Imperial Beach, California for a vacation by the ocean.

That initial vacation in the mid-90s has become a family tradition. And each year we've had to add condominiums to accommodate a growing family and extended family and friends. And this year something like 45 people showed up and we ended up renting 10 condominiums at one property.

I can promise any of you who are addicts who are in the same situation as I was during the early 90s and before that you can rebuild your relationships with your families. And in fact, even see them blossom and grow stronger.

Before closing, I want to add that the most important thing in our lives is our relationships with others – particularly our relationships with our families. A recent report based on the Harvard study – which spanned some 75 years – found that the key ingredient to happiness among all groups regardless of wealth or education was the relationships they had with their families, friends, and associates.

After all, we can gain all of the material things in the world and a wealth of education, but if we don't have someone to experience it with than what is life all about?

It happened to me and it can happen for you.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In the moment

It is difficult for us to understand, sometimes, unless we're quite spiritually or emotionally advanced that our happiness flows from living in this moment. This second. This minute. Right now.

It's taken me a long time to practice living in the moment. And sometimes my practice falters. And I find myself delving into my past. Or looking to something in the future.

And when I notice that I'm feeling off-center, or have a vague sense of discomfort, it's because I'm not right here in this present moment.

At one time I lived my life with a disembodied mind. My mind was off somewhere else. Thinking about some wrong someone had done me in the past. And maybe what I was going to do to get even with them. I would gnaw on old grievances, digging them up from where I buried them in my mind. I would spend time with them until I tired of going over them again and again. Then I would bury them and return to them another day.

Or else I would be wandering off in the future, indulging in some fantasy about some acquisition or situation that would finally bring me ultimate happiness. Maybe it would be a new relationship. A new job. A new car. Or a new house.

But as I grew older, I found that when I did acquire these things I fantasized about, they didn't bring me the happiness and joy that I sought. After a few days, when the new car got dirty, or the new relationship lost its spark then I would return to the unhappiness and dissatisfaction where I seemed to exist most of the time.

Happiness for me only exists in the present moment. I can't be happy in the past. Nor can I be happy in the future. All that exists is the here and now and this is the only time that I can enjoy it.

I've learned to accept the good and the bad in life as part of the pattern of the universe and I have learned to be happy with all of it – right now.

Click here to email John

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hope

At a 12 step meeting today the chairperson brought up the topic of "hope."

And, for me, the idea of hope shows me that recovery is all in our mind. After all, very few of us are what we could call hopeless. The problem though with those who don't think they have a chance to get sober is that they don't believe they can.

For sake of example, those who don't believe they can get sober are those who have a lot of reasons why that's not possible. They may bring up the idea that they are alcoholics because their parents were alcoholics. They may have the idea that being an alcoholic is something that's in their genes. Something that they can't control. They are alcoholics because their father was an alcoholic, their grandfather, their great-grandfather was an alcoholic, and so forth. They have some idea that their genetics are their destiny. But believe me, Alcoholics Anonymous has proved over and over that this is a myth.

The rooms of AA are full of people who have a family history of addiction and alcoholism. Yet many of them have decades of sobriety.

Other excuses that are used for being unable to stay sober is that we were brought up in a certain environment. Maybe it was an abusive family life. Maybe it was a bad neighborhood. Perhaps all of our friends were alcoholics and addicts and that's why we are also. But, once again if we look around the room at a 12 step meeting we'll see a lot of people who were brought up in terrible circumstances: yet they are sober today and have been for many years.

The formula for staying sober is observing what those do who are staying sober on a long-term basis. Do they go to meetings? Are they employed? Do they hang out with other people who are sober? Are they reading the literature and attending meetings on a steady basis? Do they have a sponsor?  In other words, it's not complicated. If we want to learn how to do anything in life we observe those who are doing the same thing that we want to do and just copy them.

It takes nothing more than willingness and having the hope and belief that we can do the same thing. After all, getting and staying sober is not rocket science. But many of us, because are not done or we can't stand the pain of doing a little bit of real work default to our drug of choice and keep relapsing over and over.

Then we show back up at meetings because we realize that our life hasn't been working. We sit there depressed, head down, one more time wondering where we went wrong. We complicate our lives by overthinking, rather than looking around us and seeing what the successful people in recovery are doing.

But if we do what they do then there is hope for us.

Click here to email John

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Panhandler

As I drove up and parked in front of the CVS pharmacy the other day I noticed a tiny figure in a wheelchair panhandling off to the right of the front door. I didn't pay much attention to him going in because I knew I didn't have any small bills to give him. But I did plan to give him something on the way out.

After I picked up my prescription, I set aside some bills in my pocket and walked outside. The man in the wheelchair motioned to me, a large cup in one hand. It was only then that I noticed the condition of his body. He only had one leg, one arm, and it appeared that the right half of his body was missing. When I handed him the money he reached up and grasped it with his toes. Apparently, the loss of various parts of his body had forced him to adapt and use his foot whenever his hand was occupied.

"Thank you," he told me. "Now I'll be able to get a motel tonight."

As I drove away it was with several emotions. Even though I have nothing in my life that's causing me overwhelming problems the few I did have immediately became very minuscule. I couldn't imagine having to navigate through life in the circumstances that this man is living with. However, I reflected that probably he suffered from some kind of birth defect or else had been in a serious accident. If It was a birth defect he probably was used to living that way, having never known any other life. However, if an accident was the cause of his deformed body it probably took a great deal of perseverance to learn to navigate with just one arm and one leg.

And as I write this today I reflected that perhaps it's judgmental of me to think that this man's life is so terrible. Maybe he's accepting of the situation because he has a way to make a living and probably sometimes runs in the people who are quite generous with him. Who am I to say? But I guess it's human nature for us to look at life through the template of our own existence; after all, what else can we compare to?

The one thing I did take away from this encounter is that I know I must be grateful for all the blessings I have in my life today. I must be compassionate to others and share with them when I am able. I must not judge others, whatever their circumstances.

And I must remember that life is exactly is the way it's supposed to be at this very moment.

Click here to email John

Monday, July 1, 2019

I'm Responsible Today

For years I played the blame game.  Everything was someone else's fault.  The easiest thing for me to do was shrug my shoulders like I had no responsibility at all.

I used drugs for years because my father was a raging alcoholic who beat everyone and everything around him.  I did lousy in school because of my home life.  It seemed like I was a burden to my family and I never received nurturing at home.  Just criticism and abuse.

And while all of these things were true about my childhood and caused me to grow up full of pain, it also caused me to spend years mired in addiction and alcoholism.  Jails.  Divorces.  Bankruptcies. Accidents.  My life was a trainwreck.

It was only when I became homeless after losing everything for the umpteenth time that I decided to change.  I was so full of pain that I was either going to change or die. And at that juncture, I decided I wanted to live up to my potential and be someone different.

And I did become someone different.  I surrendered my past, joined the 12-step programs and went to work in the recovery field.

At first, I couldn't believe how good I felt and how life started to flow for me.  Twenty-eight years later I enjoy many blessings in my life.  All of the promises continue to come true for me.

But it only happened when I accepted the past and started living in today.

Click here to email John