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.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Leaving Las Vegas

Probably by the end of this year TLC will no longer have a presence in Las Vegas. And it's not due to lack of motivation on our part. It's just that the state of Nevada has such strict rules for halfway houses and recovery programs that it's impossible to break even.

At one time, back in the 90s, TLC had 220 beds in the city of Las Vegas. We had a wonderful group of managers. We had a lot of motivated alcoholics and drug addicts, men who wanted to change their lives.

When a member of my staff and I went to Las Vegas in the mid-90s because we had heard that there were a lot of homeless addicts and alcoholics we were appalled at what we saw. North of the old part of town there were blocks covered with homeless people living in makeshift camps on the sidewalks, defecating and urinating wherever they could find a place to relieve themselves. Looking back, it seemed like there were at least 1500 people living on the streets in that area. And when we saw that we realized that we had to do something about it. And we did.

We found a dilapidated four – plex on 10th St. near the old part of Las Vegas that the owner leased to us for a reasonable price. She probably did it because it would've cost too much for her to repair and rent to ordinary people who were looking for a decent place to live. We started repairing and painting the units and in a matter of months we were full. And we had to start looking for other properties.

The only area we could locate, near Fremont Street, was infested with addicts, ex-convicts, prostitutes – members of our society who had fallen through the safety net and had no insurance or other resources to help themselves. And that's where we came in and began cleaning up the area bit by bit.

But government, as it usually does, started interfering with our business. And they didn't interfere in a positive way. They started passing more rules and regulations on recovery programs and halfway houses – as if they were concerned about the welfare of addicts and alcoholics. To those of us who were in the business it seemed like they wanted to put so many rules on us that we wouldn't be able to operate. They cloaked all of their new rules and regulations in language that made it look like they were concerned about the welfare of addicts and alcoholics. But they didn't have any concern about addicts and alcoholics, because they didn't put up any money or resources to help them. The only thing they put up were barriers to those of us who were to trying to help addicts and alcoholics change their lives.

We were one of the few programs in the area that would allow addicts and alcoholics to come into the program, whether they had money or not. As we do in Arizona, we would let them come into our program and if they couldn't find work outside in the community we would allow them to do volunteer work inside the program. Many of these men had never held a real job. Many had tattoos on their faces. Many of them had AIDS or other diseases that prevented them from doing a real day's work out in the community. So we would find something simple for them to do such as answer telephones, maintain the landscaping, perform janitorial services; some kind of busy work that allowed them to build up their self-esteem until they could get the confidence to go out and find a job that paid them more than the stipend that we granted them.

But now the owner of the building has found a buyer and he's ready for us to move on. He's been a wonderful landlord and even cut our rent to $2500 a month three or four years back. But even at that rate we were losing five to $6000 a year for the past five years. The only reason we didn't pull out much earlier is because many of the addicts were older and had serious illnesses, and didn't have the resources to move elsewhere. We offered to let them come to Arizona, but most of them now have found other accommodation that will allow them to stay near their friends and medical resources in Las Vegas.

Under the circumstances I believe we did our best to help as many people as we could for as long as we could.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wasting Time

I stopped on my way to the office this morning at Circle K to pick up a cup of coffee. Which is kind of my typical routine.

As I walked in an older man standing outside the door asked me if I had a few dollars I "could spare."

Actually, I had no change at all but I told him that I would get some in the store and touch him up on the way out. And I did, because I have a habit of giving money to just about anyone who asks me for it. I don't care what they do with it, it's just the idea that if they're in bad enough shape that they have to ask strangers for money then they must need it. He might've used it for alcohol, drugs, or who knows what – that's none of my business.

As I drove away, though, I reflected on how this person was wasting his life begging for dollars.

In an economy like today's most anybody with a pulse can get a job of some kind. Even people with no skills. Businesses are willing to teach people how to work, how to develop some skills, just so they can get some employees.

But how other people waste their lives is none of my business. And the reason it's none of my business is because I did the same thing for a long time. I did'nt use my days or weeks or months or years wisely. I used drugs, I stole, I spent years in jail to pay for my crimes. In looking back, I deserved the punishment that I got.

But had I looked into the future and realized that using my time wisely I could've created the life I have today I might have done something different. At least I say I would have. But the reality is that I was so into the instant gratification of alcohol and drugs that probably nothing could have changed my mind. What finally did change my mind was that I had enough pain and misery to realize there must be a better way. And so I got sober and clean and began working with other addicts and alcoholics – something I've been doing for over 28 years.

Being sober, I've come to realize that time is the most precious thing that I have. We can waste a lot of things, but time is not one of them. If we don't use our time wisely and constructively we just wasted part of our life. Does that mean that we don't ever have a good time or play or relax? Of course not. But to just spend our time watching television or playing video games or seeing how many "friends" we can develop on Facebook is not what I would consider a good use of time and is something I don't do.

A lot of addicts like myself spent many years engaging in self gratification. Today most of my time is used in helping others to learn how to use their time constructively.

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Right Here

A man at a twelve-step meeting this morning was talking about how he'd just gotten out of prison within the past few weeks.

During a major portion of his incarceration he was locked in a small cell for 23 hours a day. He said that all he thought about when he was inside was what he was going to do when he got out, when he finally got into freedom.

But then he discovered, when he arrived at TLC, that he would be on restriction for three days. Plus the program has a lot of rules that kept him from going anywhere or doing anything until he had a little bit of time in the program. He said that it frustrated him so much that he almost left because he knew he could get a job somewhere and rent a place to live where he could do just as he pleased.

As I listened to him speak I realized that his mind and imagination were somewhere in the future. He didn't have a word of gratitude for the idea that he was out from behind prison walls and in a place where he could begin a new life. And somehow he had the bizarre idea that if he went somewhere else that he would be much happier. That all his problems would be taken care of.

Now I'm not criticizing this gentleman. I am simply using him as a example. Because many of us think just as he does. That if we just get to that next place in life we're going to be much happier. Life will be more rewarding.

And I know that many of you understand what I'm talking about. We get a new job, new home, new car, new girlfriend and we think that at last we have found happiness. But before long reality sets in. Reaching the goal we had to acquire something new didn't provide the satisfaction we wanted. The new girlfriend is wearing out our credit card. Our new car isn't quite as cool as we thought it was. And the house requires constant maintenance and cleaning. And that job is okay, but the boss as it turns out, is a tyrant.

Now there's nothing wrong with setting goals and trying to improve our lives. But if we're on a constant gerbil wheel of running real fast but not getting anywhere, it's probably because our mind is off in the future someplace. At some point, to get some satisfaction out of life we have to learn that where we are right now is pretty much okay.

This applies especially those of us who have suffered greatly from our lifestyle of finding instant gratification in our chemical of choice. Once I learned to live drug-free in the here and now life had much more depth and became much more enjoyable.

As far as I know, there is no better place to be than in this moment right here right now. And not with my mind wandering off in some fantasy future.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Problems

The biggest difference I saw when I got sober is that problems aren't nearly as large as they used to be.

I remember that when I was drinking and drugging anything that didn't go my way was a big deal. Relationships. Money. A place to live. A job. The weather. My whole life was a convoluted mess and the only way I could deal with things was if I was out of my mind on some type of chemical substance.

But when I finally got sober things changed.

When challenges came into my life it became easier to deal with them because my mind was clear and my faculties intact. When I was using, I had zero tolerance unless things happened exactly the way I wanted.

But after being sober for a few years I began to understand that life has a certain rhythm to it. Sometimes everything goes our way. And sometimes everything seems to be a battle.

When we accept that life doesn't always travel along smoothly we can live with the ups and downs without having to run to the dope house or the liquor store.

When we're sober - and in the state of acceptance the program teaches us - we flow with unpredictability as being as how the universe works.

And we discover that so-called problems are part of the gift we were given at birth.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Killing Pain

There are a lot of reasons we alcoholics and addicts drink and do drugs to the point where it kills -  or almost kills us.

Some of us just like to party and feel good all the time, feel like we belong.  Then, after a while we find that it takes more and more of our drug of choice to simply feel normal.  And for me, that's when it ceased to be fun any longer.  All that happened for me was that I got into trouble and lost everything.

But over the past 27 years I've been sober I've met a few users who fall into a different category.  Those in this group didn't start abusing drugs or alcohol to be part of the crowd or to feel good. Instead, they used - mostly alcohol- to numb the pain of losing a loved one.

I was reminded of this the other day while at a meeting when a man shared about the loss of his mate.  As he shared, his pain was clear and he nearly broke down more than once as he spoke.  After his wife succumbed to a serious illness he was in such pain that he drank to the point where he lost his job and home and lived on the streets.

Now many of us who use end up in the same situation. And most of see it coming but are so far into our addictions that we don't care what happens.  We party till we end up in jail, the hospital, or on the streets.  Like I did.

But when I encounter someone like this guy somehow I have more compassion for him than I do the average drunk.  I guess I feel like that at least he had some kind of excuse. A genuine rationale.

But regardless of the reason we use, the substances we abuse treat us equally: they take everything we have and and destroy us.

Alcohol and drugs treat us all the same, regardless of why we become addicted to them. And our only hope lies in reccovery

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Suggestions

A friend of mine who was recently released from the hospital said she thought she might be getting sick again.

I told her to stop telling herself things like that. While she was in the hospital doctors were unable to diagnose what was wrong with her. She had lost something like 35 pounds over a two-month period.

During her stay, about six different specialists examined her and none could agree on why she was ill. They did a nuclear scan of her body, ruling out one doctor's opinion that she might have cancer. Kidney, liver, heart and thyroid specialists also examined her but none could come up with a diagnosis.

Once she was released and started exercising and eating normally she soon gained back the weight she'd lost. Actually, perhaps more than she wanted to gain back. But she looked healthier and felt much better.

I made a suggestion to her that she start telling herself that she is healthy in all ways. And that, in fact, she is in vibrant health. I also explained to her that something like 75% of people who go to doctors complaining of ailments usually have nothing wrong with them.

I also told her to look into the placebo effect. There are many excellent books on Amazon and other sites that have examples about how placebos work.  And they work with people who have both real and imaginary illnesses. And for those of you who don't know what a placebo is, it is usually a sugar pill that researchers administer to patients when they are trying to determine how well it performs compared to a pill containing a real medication. A surprising number of drugs never make it to market because of this this placebo testing, which demonstrates the power of belief.

In closing, I believe that the suggestions we place in our minds are stronger than we realize. I believe that we can overcome addictions, become successful in business, develop good relationships and more – but only if we place the right instructions into our subconscious minds.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Key to Happiness

Most clients who come to my office with problems are unhappy about something that they don't have.

And I tell them that I have the key to happiness, which I will willingly give them, whether they use it or not.

Most of them look at me with disbelief. Because like all of us addicts, they have been looking for happiness all of their lives. But somehow, they haven't found it.

Many of them have looked high and low for it. They've drained bottles of alcohol seeking happiness. They'vd smoked illicit substances like cocaine and methamphetamines and marijuana seeking the bliss that eludes them. Some have tried to find it through sexual gratification, but have found that that also doesn't bring them lasting happiness.

Prior to coming to us many of them sought happiness through the acquisition of material things, like cars, clothing, vacations or nice homes. Yet that didn't do it for them either.

And when I explain to them that the key to happiness is very simple, some of them have a difficult time accepting what I share, or putting it into practice.

And this key to happiness is not something that I came up with, something that is original with me. It's something that I've gleaned from various authors, spiritual practices, and motivational speakers throughout the years. Like most of my worthwhile ideas, my formula for happiness came from someone else.

I might even be characterize it as plagiarism. Or simple shoplifting. But that doesn't make what I'm about to tell you any less valuable.

And the formula for true happiness is this: give up all your attachments and accept life just as it is and you will find yourself truly happy.

Because when we want things to be different from the way they are that brings us unhappiness. We all know that when we seek something and get it that after a while the luster wears off.

The new car isn't that great anymore. The new romantic partner begins to show some character defects after a few months or years. That wonderful house we purchased isn't so wonderful anymore because all of a sudden it's a lot of stuff to take care of – plus spend one third of our income on.

So does that mean we should give up the idea of owning anything? Seeking any kind of pleasure or gratification?

Of course not. The key is to give up our attachment to these things. Because when we don't have the things that we think we need or want we risk having that disturbing sense of dissatisfaction that grows into unhappiness.

But life works much better if we can accept things just as they are at this moment – because this moment is all we have. Whether it's a bad moment or a good moment and there's nothing we can do to change it, then we if we accept it we will find ourselves becoming okay with whatever life has brought.  And we will be happy.

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Returning Again

A few weeks ago a former client called me, asking if he could return. As soon as I heard his voice I recognized him. He'd been at TLC three or four times in the past.

I remember him because he was an energetic volunteer. And he had computer and clerical skills that made it easy for us find a slot for him. After a few years, though, he'd find an outside job and leave. And it seemed that each time he left, he'd find a job with a company that could use his computer experience. Eventually though, he'd lose that job and ask to return. And we'd take him back because our mission is to help people rebuild their lives. And since he seemed to be willing to take another shot at it we'd always accept him.

We have many middle-aged residents who fall into the same category. They'll stay with us for a few years, working as volunteers, then graduate and leave. But for one reason or another the world isn't working for them and they either start using or ask to return before they relapse. And, practically without exception, we take them back and find a spot whethey can continue to work on improving and changing their lives.

We have several clients who have come back more than once and end up staying with us, some for 15 years and longer. Many are older than average, have no family or friends and sort of adopt us as a surrogate family. As far as I'm concerned there are no bad reasons to remain at TLC as long as one can stay sober and avoid being homeless. Many of these men and women are excellent residents who provide a core of stability to the program.

Over the years I've come to realize that all of us need to belong to some kind of social group. And many clients end up adopting us because –  not only because we help them stay clean and sober – we also take care of their basic needs for food and shelter and help them when they have medical issues. Our donation staff has developed relationships with dentists, doctors, and other medical professionals who are willing to donate their time and services at no cost.

We've also have had more than one client whose become terminally ill.  And because they have no outside resources they ask if they can stay with us until they pass. As long as they make arrangements with hospice to deal with their pain and other medical issues we never turn these requests down.

So, because we have this philosophy of helping where we can, I understand why some clients return when their lives aren't working elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lost Years

Back in 1998-1999 my younger brother was a reluctant client at TLC for around eight months. I'd invited him to the program because he really had no place else to go - he was homeless.

However, because he couldn't relate to the other clients - or the outside 12-step meetings - he ended up leaving.  He financed his departure with the proceeds of a Pell grant the government had given him to return to school.  And when he left he was as angry as when he'd entered.  On his way out, he told the manager "F... TLC" and said that he could "kiss his ass."

He went to work at a casino in Primm, Nevada, as a maintenance man and resumed drinking and drugging.  Within a few years, right after his 60th birthday, he died from complications of his lifestyle.

And I bring this up here because we visited my niece, his only daughter, on Labor Day weekend while we were in Reno/Lake Tahoe.  We had a wonderful visit with her, her husband, and my brother's two grandchildren.

Driving back to our hotel I reflected on how much life my brother had missed because his disease took him so young. He died young and he also died angry at me and the world around him.  He wasn't pissed off at anything in particular, just the world in general - like many of us when we're using.

Not only did he die too soon, but he never got to meet his two grandsons, ages around 4 and 7.  They are really smart, well-behaved kids who do well in school and don't seem to be on the same path as their grandfather or me.  It's a pleasure to be related to such happy, well-adjusted children.

Once we wander down the path of addiction, whatever we use, we risk missing a big slice of what life is all about.  Our family, our friends, and the enjoyment that life brings us when we engage in posititive and constructive things are experiences we can never get back once we trade them for our addictions.

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Lake Tahoe

I'm spending this Labor Day weekend in Lake Tahoe, probably the first time I've been here in 25 years.

I came for two reasons.  One was to visit my only niece, who's lived in nearby Reno for over 20 years.  And the other was to have a brief respite from the 100 plus heat in Arizona.  Beyond that I didn't do much planning.

And I discovered my lack of planning after we arrived at the Lake.  For some reason - a few weeks ago - when I made the reservations - I didn't think about this weekend being a holiday and that driving around Lake Tahoe would be like driving in downtown Los Angeles at rush hour.

So, instead of my planned leisurely cruise around the lake enjoying the scenery, we were stuck in stop - and - go traffic for 10 miles or so before I could find a place where it was safe to turn around and head back to the hotel.

Fortunately, after 28 years in recovery I've learned to not get too excited about the small stuff and to make the best of whatever comes my way.

Because we stayed at a casino in downtown Tahoe I was reminded of my drinking days. Most everyone here who was old enough to drink was either drunk or working on getting there.

I quietly wondered if I behaved liked these folks when I drank but I didn't follow that train of thought very far.  I'm sure that I drank much more than they did.  They looked mostly like people who still had a life.

After all they could afford to stay in a deccnt hotel, dress nice, and not behave poorly enough to get arrested - something I managed to do on a regular basis.

I once again was reminded that there's a world of difference between social drinkers and real alcoholics.

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