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, August 29, 2019

Never Stopping

When I was a youngster back in the 40's and 50's I remember that my parents' goal was to retire at around 60 or 65 and just relax for the rest of their lives.  Maybe just sit on the porch and swat flies, fish, garden or pursue a hobby they enjoyed.

But since those years much has changed. The other day I read a survey where most people plan to work into their seventies and beyond.  Some of them must do it for economic reasons because they didn't save enough to live on.  But others are seeking to do something meaningful with their lives, to make worthwhile contributions to the world, so they plan to stay busy until they die.  Plus, science has discovered that people who stay busy with work they enjoy live years longer than their less active contemporaries.

As for me, my plan is to work at TLC the rest of my life.  I find satisfaction in showing up every day.  Because I'm in my eighties, my kids ask me when I'm going to retire and enjoy life.  And I tell them that I do enjoy life because I have a chance to make a difference in the world helping people get sober and find a new path.

Our mission here at TLC is to help recovering addicts rebuild their lives.  And to be honest, most of those we try to help don't make it.  Those addicted to heroin, meth, alcohol and other drugs have a low success rate.  But their chances of succeeding would be much lower if no one was helping them.

Their is no better feeling than to see a success story walk out of our doors and into a new productive life.  And that's why I'll be here as long as the Universe allows.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Key to Happiness

I've been reading a lot the past few months in the area of what makes us happy and what keeps us in the opposite state:  one of unhappiness.

The internet - especially YouTube, Ted Talks, and podcasts by authors like Robert Puff - offer an abundance of free information about how we can be happy.  And what makes us unhappy.

And right here and now I'm going to give you the free formula, according to what I've gleaned.  And I won't even charge you for it.

And the formula goes like this: accept your life - and everything about it - just as it is right now.

Now, of course, we see this in the Big Book and we hear it in 12-step meetings all the time.  But even though many of us who live in the world of recovery may not pay much attention, the larger world around us shares our quest for happiness.

When I first started hearing about acceptance as a key to happiness it seemed overly simple.  But the more I looked at it the more it made sense to me.

Now many of us believe that if we just have enough money we'll be happy.  Or the right soul mate.
Or the perfect job.  A beautiful home.  A luxury car. 

The list can be endless, but as many of us have experienced, externals don't bring us happiness.  The new car starts to get scratches, the big home we coveted is a lot more work than we thought, and our new life partner shows personality traits we didn't notice when we were blinded by hormones.

So does acceptance mean that we shouldn't try to succeed, to do better, to get more stuff? Not at all the experts say.  What it does mean is that we should enjoy the journey right now, in this moment.

Because if we're only happy when we have everything we want and life is perfect, then we're going to be unhappy when we don't have what we want.

In other words, accept what we have now and love what we have now - and happiness can be ours all the time.

Click here to email John


Friday, August 23, 2019

TLC's qualityTreatment

When one looks at advertising for treatment programs, particularly for the more expensive ones, there's a strong emphasis on luxurious accomodations and how many amenities the program offers. And there's usually a description of the treatment offered and the credentials of those who provide them.

It all looks very positive and encouraging. But I'm not sure what luxury has to do with recovery.

One thing one rarely or never sees is statistics about how successful the program is for those who graduate from these fancy programs. And it's kind of understandable that they wouldn't do that because tracking client success is a difficult and expensive process. It really requires following someone 24 hours a day to see whether they stay clean or not. And any time I see a program that claims a 60 or 70% success rate I think people should run the other way.

Something else we rarely see in program advertising is what a deadly disease alcoholism and drug addiction really is. I'm not sure why there isn't more emphasis put on the seriousness of the challenges addicts and alcoholics face. But that might scare off potential clients.

At TLC we provide a range of services and have a staff of dedicated quality counselors who have a strong belief in what they're doing and the empathy to reach their clients. Many of them are in recovery themselves, and understand on a deep level what our clients are going through.

We emphasize throughout all phases of our program that substance abuse is a life-and-death disease that can take our lives in an instant as well as forever affect the lives of our families and friends.

When we lose a client to this disease it affects us as if they were a member of our own family. And when we see a client graduate and lead a successful we take pride in being able to help them succeed.

Because our clients receive services in such a caring and empathetic environment their chances of success are as good as anywhere in the country.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Ups and Downs...

I opened my eyes about 4:30 AM and wasn't at all looking forward to today.

I'd gone to bed with a lot of unfinished business on my plate and didn't sleep well.

A bank was asking me a lot of questions that I couldn't answer off the tip of my tongue. I was going to have to talk to our accounting department and see if we could dredge up the answers. We are in the process of refinancing about eight properties to lower the interest rates. And banks, understandably, want a lot of details before they make investments of that size.

I didn't blame them for asking the questions. When I was in grammar school I always dreaded doing homework. And somehow, answering these kinds of questions is like doing homework. It's just one of those things I dread.

And then I got an update yesterday about some new regulations that the state is coming out with regarding recovery programs. I knew they'd been working on some, but I wasn't sure if the rules they were making up applied to programs like ours. My last observation was that they probably would.

And then all this week I've had some ongoing conflicts with family members that seemed endless.

And on top of those three things, my shoulder hurt because I keep forgetting that I'm 80 years old and that I can't throw weights around like I used to because sometimes I overdo it. It's just part of my addict personality.

So with all of those things on my plate, I start my day.

But before I put my feet on the floor I decided that I was going to attack things head on. And as a friend of mine does, I decided to face the toughest issue first. And that was the banking issue.

I took a chance and called the banker's office around 7 AM on the off chance that he might be there early. And I was in luck. Not only was he there, but he was in a pretty good mood. And the first thing he said was that the after hours email I'd sent him answered all of his questions. And that if he had any more he would call me later on. One down.

Later in the morning, once I was in my office, I found out that the state's new regulations will probably not apply to us. Two down.

After that I got a pleasant email from the family member I've hassling with. Three down.

And as to my painful shoulder I'm not going to exercise it today. Instead, I'll get on the elliptical machine and do some cardio while I read my iPad.

And as I conclude this blog I remind myself that the only thing I can count on in life is that there will be changes – some of which I will like and others that I won't.

schwary@msn.com

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Getting on Fire

In the 28 years of my recovery I've learned that there's a lot more to staying sober than just going to meetings and not using drugs or alcohol.

I learned that I not only have to exercise and eat well. But I also listen to and read motivational material to keep myself moving forward.

After 28 years I still go to weekly meetings. I work in a recovery environment. And I only associate, practically without exception, people who are in recovery. The remainder of my associates are either family members or business acquaintances who are – as far as I know – not addicted to anything.

Just because I get up and go to work every day in a clean and sober environment doesn't mean I have all the answers to keep myself going. That I don't need encouragement.

There are times I get discouraged because things aren't happening quite as fast as I want them to.
Maybe our company is facing a lawsuit.  (At the moment in fact, we're facing two lawsuits.) Maybe we're having financial issues. Perhaps our population is going down, or a key staff member is suffering from ill health. As long as we're living, there's something to challenge us.

Something I do every day – just to get myself charged up and ready for what's ahead will – is to feed my mind and spirit motivational material. Sometimes it's a book, but lately I've found myself listening to motivational talks I find on YouTube or Ted Talks.

In our digital world today there is a plethora of material we can find to get fired up and ready for whatever challenges we might face in the office or on the job when we get there.

There are motivational videos from back in the day, when I was a youngster – long before we had iPads and iPhones. Today I feel blessed to be able to listen to such pioneers as Napoleon Hill. Zig Ziglar. Or Earl Nightingale.

Whatever your field of interest, whether it be sports, religion, business, entrepreneurship, there is someone out there to help you get motivated. Someone to get you started. Someone to make you want to jump out of bed and get busy trying to do something with your life other than just exist.

It's true that the most important thing for an addict or alcoholic is to remain sober. But we're also capable of doing much more than simply staying sober. For example, if we have a passion for sobriety, perhaps we get involved in a program or business that focuses on helping others stay sober.

I guess my bottom line point is there's plenty of information that will supplement what we already know about recovery. And there's nothing wrong with trying to improve our lives in any way possible.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Worst Drug

The most difficult drug  for an addict to quit is not heroin. Nor alcohol. Nor methamphetamines. Or crack cocaine.

The most difficult to quit 99% of the time is nicotine, especially cigarettes. One of the services we offer clients of our treatment program here at TLC is smoking cessation hypnosis. And I would estimate that in the last 2 to 3 years we have 25 people who are ex-smokers.

While I quit smoking January 25, 1984 at 9 AM in Globe, Arizona, 35 years ago, I still remember smoking as being one of the most difficult addictions I've quit. And I've probably gone through heroin withdrawal a minimum of 25 times between the ages of 16 and 45, yet it was never as difficult as quitting nicotine.

One reason we started offering smoking cessation hypnosis here at TLC treatment center is pretty much a personal thing. I had seven aunts and uncles who died early deaths due to either emphysema or COPD caused by smoking. One of my cousins passed away at age 35 from emphysema. And a couple of my uncles, both of whom were strong healthy guys who worked in the mines and in construction, both slowly suffocated because of emphysema. It was a sad way to see them go.

Because I thought it was a good idea for clients to quit smoking in the least stressful manner I took a six month course to learn to help them stop smoking through hypnosis. At first I was kind of anxious about whether this method would succeed. But before long I had half a dozen people who were non-smokers. In fact out of everyone I've hypnotized to quit smoking only one was unable to quit. And she ultimately died from the effects of COPD, which saddened her many friends here in the program.

The twelve-step programs recommend that we don't make major changes in our lives during our early months of recovery. That includes starting new relationships, new careers or anything that might have a strong emotional impact upon us. And quitting smoking can certainly cause stress. Yet if a client is motivated I'm always willing to help them.

And if a person can get off such a strong drug as nicotine, then they are strong enough to quit using any other drug. The ability to quit smoking takes major self-discipline and inner fortitude. And I have a great deal of respect for those who succeed at quitting this drug.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 11, 2019

No Violence

This last week we had an incident where a longtime manager slapped a former client she had discharged within the previous 10 minutes.

Now the manager has been with us for over four years and has contributed a great deal to our program. While she manages her division of the company with a lot of energy and confidence, this is the first time she's had a violent interaction with anyone – inside or outside of the program.

A cardinal rule at TLC is that we don't allow violence or threats of violence. And when a person commits an act of violence - or threatens to - there's a strong possibility they'll be discharged. This applies to managers or clients.

We have this rule so the clients will feel safe and can live in an environment where they can work on their recovery in peace. And it's a policy that's worked for a long time. After 27 years and over half a million clients less than a handful had been discharged for breaking one of these two rules.

There was a special meeting today, which took about two hours, to deal with the consequences this manager should receive. While there were a variety of opinions about what she should receive, because of the circumstances of the incident a lot of us understood why she did what she did.

After he was fired and discharged from the program he approached her and began verbally abusing her. He used every profanity in the book but she didn't assault him. It was only when he told her she was a "stupid f------g c--t" that she lost control and slapped his face.

She immediately regretted what happened because she fully understands that there's no excuse for putting her hands on anybody, whether they're a client or not. We teach our managers that when they're threatened the best thing is to walk away if possible and if necessary to call the police.

In any event the incident is over and she's received consequences. The police gave her a ticket and she must appear in court.  She'll probably have to attend domestic violence classes.  Because – even though she was provoked – it's not legal to put our hands on anyone in anger.

She also is going to each of the houses to apologize. And she has to present a paper next month as a formal apology to the management group. Plus she lost her blue shirt for 90 days, a shirt worn by managers as a formal recognition of their status in the company.

While many of us understand how she was provoked to the point where she lost her temper, violent behavior never turns out well. As people in recovery we need to follow the line in the big book where it says "we ceased fighting anyone or anything..."

There's a reason it's there.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sobriety might Work

When I got sober over 28 years ago it wasn't because I was on a winning streak.

The last months before I got sober I was sleeping in the back seat of a stolen car because I'd lost everything. I only wore the clothes on my back and when what I was wearing got dirty, rather than washing them I would simply steal something new to wear.

When I would awaken each morning I was usually sick from lack of alcohol and heroin. So my quest each morning was to find an open store where I could steal something to drink to kill my pain. Once I accomplished that I would then set out to find something to steal that I could sell or trade for heroin. 

I was living a miserable existence and I couldn't get enough chemicals in my body to override my feelings of demoralization and despair. I was at a point of where I knew I was going to end up in prison or dead. And that was the moment that I decided that getting sober was my only option because I couldn't continue the way I was. And in that state of mind I entered a detoxification program in Mesa, Arizona.

I didn't know what the future had to offer. But I knew that whatever it was, it was much better than what I'd left behind. I had no expectations about what lie before me, but I was willing to try anything to get off of the path that I'd been on for so many years.

Had I known that the recovery world was such a good place to be I have gotten sober a long time ago. But as someone once told me, we get sober at exactly the time we're supposed to.

Now, over 28 years later, I'm blessed with the productive life of an ordinary citizen. I've had the same job for over 28 years, working in the recovery field helping other addicts and alcoholics change their lives.

And in doing this work, I've been able to save my own life in the process. If you're on the fence about what we should do with your life and need to get into recovery do it. If it doesn't work for you, you can always get your misery back.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 5, 2019

I Stayed Sober

I was recently reminded of an old story I heard over 28 years ago when I first joined Alcoholics Anonymous. And it goes like this:

A young man was attending his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and someone suggested that he find himself a sponsor.

Since he didn't know what a sponsor's function was or how he could be helped by a sponsor the man he was talking to explained it to him.

After it was explained to him, he asked the man if he knew anyone who could work with him as a sponsor. And the man obligingly pointed out an older gentleman who was seated at the other side of the meeting room.

The young man approached the older gentleman with some trepidation. Then he asked if he could talk to him about being his sponsor.

"What would you like to talk about?," asked the older man.

"Well," asked the younger man, "how many people have you sponsored?"

The older man scratched his head for a moment, then answered "probably in the hundreds."

"And," asked the younger man, "how many of them are sober. In other words, what's your success rate?"

"My success rate is 100%," answered the older man.

The younger man looked at him in astonishment. "You mean that 100% of the people you sponsored are sober?"

"No," the older man replied. "But I am."

And I have always loved this story because it kind of sums up the secret of Alcoholics Anonymous: when we work with others and help them stay sober we have a good chance of staying sober ourselves.

Click here to email John

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Friend Is Leaving

This email is from a client who participated in our work therapy program for over seven years and who is leaving this weekend. During her seven years with us she affected many lives and I know that a lot of women today are alive and thriving because of her generous help. 

 She volunteered for years as a manager, mentor, sponsor, behavioral health technician, and in any other capacity where she thought she could be of help.

She always wore a genuine smile on her face, and lit up whatever room she was in just by her presence.

We're going to miss her infectious laugh, the love she showed all of us and wish her Godspeed on her journey back to the East Coast to rejoin her family. Following is her email:

"I remember the day I found Transitional Living Communities online.  

I had relapsed after eight months of dry, white knuckled sobriety, gotten kicked out of yet another house and was staying with a woman who allowed me three weeks to find a place. I was really scared at this point so when I saw TLC’s website I called the number.  

Wow! I didn’t have to have any money.  Who does that?! I was told if I could get myself to Mesa, AZ. , someone would pick me up at the airport or bus depot. My life has never been the same from the day I arrived at the women’s house on Robson.  

To say I am grateful is really an understatement of how much love and joy I feel today because of the opportunities that were laid at my feet.  This idea born from a man who just wanted to help alcoholics and addicts get their lives back! God Bless John!"

We're all going to miss you...