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 30th 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, November 29, 2019

Here and Now

One thing I've learned in almost 29 years of sobriety is that I 'm never in trouble when I'm living in the here and now.  Worry and anxiety are future things.   Depression occurs when I'm dredging through the garbage of my past.

But in this moment, right here and now, everything is just fine.  I have a job.  My doctor says I'm in good health.  I own stuff that's paid for.  I have a wide circle of friends, family, and acquaintances that I can call on for help.  I have a job that allows me to help others do something different with their lives if they're tired of drinking and drugging.

So, the point of this blog is that living in the here and now is desirable.  A healthy thing, a way to keep our brains from leading us astray.

About 20 years ago I decided to learn how live in the moment.  I took a course in meditation and kept it up on a twice daily basis for the next 15 years.  Then, I started investigating other kinds of meditation and decided to take a one year course to become a meditation instructor.  I thought it would be somthing I could use with those who are in our recovery program. And it's something I use periodically when someone seems like they might benefit by learning to live in the moment.

It has helped others when I teach them meditation, and at the same time it reinforces my own efforts to live in this moment - in the here and now.  And I find that that is a good thing because all we have is this moment -the here and now....

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Vanity

Today I was at my dermatologist's office to have a growth removed from my forehead.

As he was describing the procedure, he explained that he was going to be careful when he closed the wound so he wouldn't leave a scar. I replied that while I appreciated his doing a good job I told him that I didn't think it would make much difference because not many people – if any – pay much attention to what my 80-year-old forehead looks like. I believe that people don't care much what any of us look like – they're usually quite interested in what they look like.  And understandably so,

In any event,  he completed the process much sooner than they'd planned and now I'm at home writing about my experience at the doctor's office.

As I was driving home I reflected upon the years I was raising my teenage daughter. If she had even a small pimple or blackhead she would want to stay home from school. While I never let her I did try to explain that people weren't too concerned about how she appeared because they spent a lot more time thinking about their own appearance. I'm not quite sure she was mature enough to understand exactly what I was saying because I'm sure, that to her, that small flaw was the size of Mount Vesuvius. And that she would be ostracized for the rest of the school year if anyone noticed it.

I think vanity has  made changes in our culture. The other day I went into the restroom at a local restaurant to wash my hands and noticed there were no mirrors. And that isn't the first time I experienced that. But on this last occasion I happened to run into the manager – a fellow I've known for some time – and asked him about the mirrors. He explained that he'd been forced to remove them, because many of his employees – from waiters to busboys – seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in front of them. He learned that whenever he was missing an employee, he could usually find them in front of the mirrors, admiring themselves.

As we grow older we realize that it's not who we are on the outside – it's what we are on the inside that determines what the world thinks of us. The superficial distortion looking back at us from the mirror rarely seems to improve.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Worthwhile Decision

One of the most worthwhile things I've done in my life is quit using any kind of drug or alcohol that wasn't prescribed by a doctor. And that was almost 29 years ago.

Now a lot of people who have never had a problem with substances might find that an extreme statement. I remember, when I was a young boy, every Christmas my grandmother used to have a glass of white wine with dinner. The glass wasn't very big but I remember she used to say something like "I can't drink anymore of this, I'm starting to feel it."

And in my later years when I was deep into my alcoholism I used to marvel at that statement. Because for me the only purpose of putting alcohol in my body was so that I could feel it. And the more I felt it, the better I liked it. And the same philosophy extended to the other illicit drugs that I used as a teenager until I got sober in my early 50s.

And this came up for me today while I was reflecting on my recovery while returning from my grandson's fifth birthday party. I began doing an inventory of all the blessings that have appeared in my life since I got clean and sober. And this birthday party was just another one of them. To see my grandson opening presents with all of his friends and relatives was priceless. And socializing with about 30 sober relatives and friends is something that I could never have imagined during the years of my addiction.

Because when I got sober I only wanted one thing: I wanted the pain to stop.

And before very long, probably when I had six months sober, the pain did stop. That didn't mean that the problems in my life stopped. But what it did mean is that I no longer lived with depression and anxiety about the path my life was taking. I became much stronger and more capable of dealing with my problems. I began to realize that life had its ups and downs. But, if I remained sober and clean those problems were much easier to deal with. Instead of looking at the bumps in the road as disasters, I began to look at them as challenges. And when I took that point of view things were much easier to deal with.

If you're an alcoholic or addict and you're on the fence at all about whether or not you can successfully use alcohol or drugs I'd suggest that you make the right decision. Because if you have to ask yourself questions like that you already know the answer. And I'm here today to tell you that your life can be unbelievably wonderful, beyond your wildest dreams, if you make the right decision.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Acceptance

When one is ailing and goes to the doctor the first thing the doctor does is diagnose the ailment. Something similar happens when one goes to an attorney with a legal problem: the attorney defines what the problem is so that he knows what he or she is dealing with.

And what happens when an alcoholic gets deep into Alcoholics Anonymous is that he or she accepts that they have a drinking problem. And it's really that basic. Before we can resolve any challenge that we're facing in our life, we first have to define what the challenge is.

Now in the case of an alcoholic or an addict it would seem obvious what our problem is. And the reason it would seem obvious is because we are always getting in some kind of trouble. We either end up broke. Divorced. Homeless. Or maybe even in prison. Or perhaps with some kind of health issue.

So one of the most important words, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, is acceptance. And after that, while it may not be an easy road, the steps we have to take to change our lives are very clear. They are in the big book. They are on the walls of virtually every twelve-step meeting room. They are the subject of big book studies.

But for many newcomers, and I was one of them, the acceptance of our alcoholism is sometimes not so easy. We might ask ourselves questions like maybe I should just stick to drinking wine. Or beer. Or whiskey. Or maybe I should just smoke pot. Or take pills. These are all forms of denial that keep us from getting sober.

Acceptance is key, really the only key to a sober life. Because once we realize that every time we drink alcohol we get into some kind of trouble we find the source of our problem. And once we find the source of our problem, then we find the answer to our problem. And the reason we go to meetings is because there are a lot of people there who have faced problems we may one day face. Yet they have come through the experience with their sobriety intact. And that's why it's important for us to hang around with sober people and to go to twelve-step meetings. We learn that if we want to stay sober we do what sober people do.

But if we can't accept what we hear in the meeting rooms from the veterans who have been sober for many years we may just have to go out and try it once again. And that's why acceptance is the key, acceptance that we are alcoholics and addicts. A simple word, yet it contains a world of wisdom.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Day at a Time

At a twelve-step meeting a young man is talking about how many times he's failed at staying sober. He described some of the scenarios that preceded his previous relapses. His voice was heavy with depression, his shoulders were slumped, and his head hung down as he spoke. His sadness and pain permeated the room. Many of those there, who spoke later, were able to relate with him because some of them had to make many tries before they succeeded in putting together a few years.

A phrase we often hear at twelve-step meetings is "keep coming back." And the phrase has been in the program for many years because it's one of the secrets of staying sober. Just because a person goes to a twelve-step meeting, that doesn't mean they're going to stay clean and sober. But if one is going to meetings on a daily or weekly basis, sooner or later some 12-step wisdom has to sink into our subconscious. When one keeps showing up in meetings, yet relapses on a periodic basis, that doesn't mean they should quit coming because the program doesn't work. All it means when a person keeps relapsing is that they don't apply the techniques and principles that one learns by attending meetings.

For example, one thing that's never heard at a meeting is that a person relapsed and that their life got better. Instead, what we hear is that we picked up a drink or a drug and all of a sudden everything disappeared. Things crashed very quickly. Maybe we picked up a DUI. Maybe we sold everything we owned so we could buy more cocaine. Maybe our wife or girlfriend left us for someone who is living a sober life. Perhaps we showed up for work and found that we no longer had a job. When we keep hearing bad stories like this over and over we soon come to realize that no good ever comes from a relapse. But the reason people tell us to keep coming back is so that we continue to hear the sad stories about what happens when we get off track.

Sooner or later the lessons we hear at meetings begin to sink in. And the more we hear them the deeper they go into our subconscious mind. Until sooner or later we no longer entertain the idea that using anything is going to result in a good outcome.

I've often heard that until we get enough pain it's hard to give up our bad habits. And I don't know how it works for other people, but for me it's been true in every area of my life.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Flowing with Life

Every once in a while I hear the term "just go with the flow."

And it wasn't until I was in my sobriety for a number of years that I really understand what that saying meant. At first I interpreted it a lot of different ways. I thought that maybe it meant don't get excited about things. Don't worry, everything will work out. Or maybe it was just something that people said so that they would sound

But today I look at it entirely differently. Because after being sober for almost 29 years I've come to realize that life is just made up of a series of small events – some I liked and some I didn't. And before I got sober, if I didn't like those events I would change how I felt about them with drugs or alcohol. And once I did that who knew what would happen?

But today "go with the flow" means simply to accept whatever happens whenever it happens. For we find our unhappiness when we fight with life. One of the things we learn as we move through our years is that life is never going to go exactly the way we want it.

Perhaps we want to obtain a certain job, but the company hired someone more qualified than we were, someone with more experience. So what do we do? I don't know about you, but in my case I go knock on the next door. I'll make the next phone call. And if I continue to have bad luck about finding a job, I simply create my own job. It's much easier to expend our energy doing positive things to obtain what we want out of life, than it is to complain about how unfair the situation is. Or complain about how unlucky we are.

Going with the flow is just another way of saying accept what life brings us. If we are confronted with a situation that we can do nothing about, then we accept it, we flow with it, and we move on to the next thing. Otherwise we end up being a depressed mess.

And I have found that it's a lot easier to get things done in life when I feel positive. Somehow, that attitude opens up a world of possibilities that being negative never opens up for us.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Daughter and Veteran

My daughter was 18 years old she decided to go to college. But that didn't last too long. So her next step was to find a job. Because that was kind of our deal: either go to work or go to college.

She found a job working at a theater but she wasn't very happy at that either. I told her she had to find something to do and she decided to join the Army. I encouraged her but deep inside I didn't really think there was much chance that would happen either. She was very quick-tempered and was always fighting with someone about something.

I figured they'd give her a battery of tests and find that she had difficulty following orders. So I was kinda surprised a couple weeks later when she came in with some papers and told me that she was going in the Army before the end of the year. In fact, on September 11, 2003 I was standing in my driveway with tears in my eyes as she left in the car with her recruiter. I didn't see her again for several months, until she graduated from basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And I only saw her a few times after that when I visited her at her final post in Hawaii. The last time I saw her, before she returned to the mainland, was when I went to visit her before she shipped out with 25,000 other soldiers to Afghanistan.

Many in my distant family had been in the military and it didn't have a lot of personal effect upon me at, at least I don't remember feeling like I did as when my daughter was deployed.
But in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions she ever made. Before she went into the Army she was always angry and didn't want much to do with education. When she came out, though, she attended the Texas Culinary Academy for two years and got an Associates degree as a chef. Once she returned to Arizona she worked for some of the finest restaurants in Scottsdale. Eventually, she tired of that though and went back to school and got a bachelors degree in business – all paid for by the military.

Today she has her own marketing business, is married, has a son, and is living pretty much the life of a suburban housewife.

I'm inspired to write this because today is Veterans Day, a day that honors those who served in our military. And many of those served at great personal sacrifice, including giving their lives, so the rest of us could live as well as we do with the security that we have. But there is so much more to it than that.

While many veterans come out of the military traumatized and emotionally damaged, many come out with benefits that stay with them for the rest of their lives. And among these benefits are loans from government, educational opportunities, and the pride of having done something for their country that is greater than themselves.

And and that's why today I take great pleasure in thanking and congratulating my daughter for her service.

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Friday, November 8, 2019

Sad Ending

I heard some bad news last week about a former friend. And to me, it's probably the worst kind of news a person can get. I know that if it happened to me I would consider it the worst thing that happened – worse even than getting cancer or dying.

And what I heard was that this person had developed dementia and that a family member was placing her in a nursing home.

Even though my relationship with her had broken up long ago, at one point we were good friends until my friend ended up getting a divorce over her volatile personality. From the time they divorced, she never had a good word for me again and in fact I don't recall ever speaking to her after that.

She went her way and started her own business and I lost track of her. However, once in a while rumors about her activities would trickle back to me. It turns out she'd run afoul of some Arizona Department of Behavioral Health Regulations and had lost her license to practice as a social worker in the state of Arizona. Although there are some more sordid details involved, it would serve no good purpose to spread it across this blog. She did what she did and she ended up paying serious consequences for her behavior.

It didn't shock me that she ended up with dementia. I had read more than once that dementia can be the result of having a lot of stress and anger in one's life. And if anyone was angry most of the time, it was her. The more successful she became in her business the more angry and arrogant she became. In fact, at one time she got so angry that she slapped and scratched one of our staff members and was charged with assault. She didn't go to jail, but she did end up having to take anger management classes and spend time on probation. And her anger never got better after that.

I guess this comes up for me today because even though I didn't have any love or real anger for this person, it made me quite sad when I heard where she ended up. I guess the part that I reflect on that's the saddest is that she was a good writer with a Masters degree in social work and was a very bright woman. At one point she'd helped a lot of people. But somewhere along the way she developed depression, anxiety, anger, and other things that I feel – from my layman's point of view – contributed to her present circumstances of probably living the rest of her life in some kind of nursing home.
I understand that dementia and Alzheimer's attacks not just angry people, but also nice people. But for some reason I think that her extreme anger in some ways had a lot to do with her developing dementia in her mid 60s to the point where she had to be institutionalized.

Even though there was no love lost between us I still wish her the best and hope that she doesn't go through a lot of suffering for the remainder of her life.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Helping Addicts?

Many years ago, the United States government recognized that disabled people should be treated as well as their healthy neighbors. So, many states followed their example and set up legal protections for the disabled.

Those with handicaps were provided legal protections and given the same opportunities to live where they wanted, working the jobs they wanted, and to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of those who were not handicapped.

Thus was born the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.

Out of these laws came such requirements as special parking places for those drivers who had handicaps, railings in bathrooms for those who had difficulty using the facilities, ramps that allowed the handicapped to access buildings in their wheelchairs and wider doorways that accommodated those wheelchairs.  Those Americans with disabilities were allowed to find housing that accommodated those disabilities. We were seemingly becoming an enlightened society that looked out for those who have difficulties doing ordinary everyday things that most of us take for granted. Even people who have trouble functioning because of a drug or alcohol addiction were provided protection under these laws.

But it seems like our society has a short memory. Because in the last couple of years the state of Arizona and various municipalities have passed laws to restrict the ability of alcoholics and drug addicts to receive services. New laws are now being put into effect, laws that have have been cobbled together by various lawyer types to protect the rest of the world from those who have the misfortune to have a drug or alcohol addiction – which is now recognized worldwide as a disease.

A law that I think is one of the more ridiculous examples of our government at work – is the one that requires recovery homes and halfway houses to be a certain distance from one another. Usually the distance is around 1500 feet, but today I saw a requirement that was 1320 feet. What in the world does the government expect to accomplish by making addicts live about a quarter-mile from one another?  I think if addicts have a real urge to visit or consort with one another all they have to do today is pick up the phone and call Uber, or walk to the nearest light rail station.

The government has also stuck its nose into how many people can live in a building. Now I agree that too many people living in a small space is not a good thing. But I think that in some cases this is a really arbitrary law – particularly when it comes to addicts and alcoholics. If one drives around downtown Phoenix they can see clumps of addicts and alcoholics almost living in a pile or in a dumpster behind Circle K, surrounded by shopping carts. Yet, when they decide they want to get clean and sober the government is very interested on how many of them are living in a house, using a toilet, using a kitchen, or even how many parking spaces they might occupy. Just in case anyone has noticed, no good self-respecting drug addict has an automobile to park or drive unless they stole it from someone else. Yet these kinds of concerns, worded in fancy, legal sounding language seems on the surface to have the best interest of alcoholics at heart. Yeah, right.

But the reality is, all the government is trying to do is to put up barriers to those who are trying to help addicts and alcoholics change the course of their lives. After all, they need to keep their consstituents happy,  The government spends little money helping addicts and alcoholics change their lives. But they love to spend a lot of money on legislating against those who are trying to provide services to them at no cost to the government. What we're going to see if the government prevails in enforcing these laws is more drug deaths than ever and more homelessness than ever

Last year some 900 people died in of Arizona from opioid overdoses. That number will no doubt rise as the addicts among us are denied services while the government pursues prohibitive laws to deny them healthcare. If we applied the same laws to those with cancer, heart disease, COPD, or emphysema, there would be an outcry that could be heard clear to California.  But somehow the attitude is different when one is dealing with addicts or alcoholics - beacause they are in some ways participants in their own problems.

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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Legalize drugs?

If I gave you a handful of $20 bills – or even less – and told you to go buy me some drugs in the next 30 minutes I'm pretty sure you'd be able to do that. After all, drugs are available in all of our communities today.

All one need is to have a bit of cash or something of value to trade and he or she will return with their drug of choice. Now I know that sounds strange coming from someone who's been running a recovery business for nearly 30 years, but the reality is that I speak truth.

And the reason I bring the subject up today is that our society somehow has the ridiculous idea that tougher laws and longer prison terms will somehow slow down drug use. Or stop it altogether.

But the reality is that there is no kind of punishment that will keep people from using drugs. There are countries, like the Philippines, Singapore, and some Middle Eastern countries where getting caught using drugs could bring the death penalty. The point is, that tough doesn't work. They still have drug problems in those areas.

When I was a teenager some 65 years ago the government began what they call "a war on drugs." I think it might've been Richard Nixon who initiated the first battle cry. But the interesting thing is that nothing has changed: in fact drug abuse has gone up in some areas and more deadly drugs are being sold than ever before – specifically in the opioid family.

So, you might ask, do I advocate that we legalize drug use? And I think that my answer is going to be yes. After all there are countries in Europe, and cities in Canada where heroin use is sanctioned and monitored by the government. And the amazing thing that has been discovered is that drug use has gone down. AIDS transmission is going down. The crime rate has gone down.

In Bern, Switzerland the merchants – who were fed up with addicts stealing from their businesses – went to the government and asked them to provide free heroin to drug addicts, give them a place to use it, and a welfare check so they wouldn't have to be living on the streets. And they discovered that after about six years those enrolled in the drug program began withdrawing from opiates and many quit altogether. They also discovered that many teenagers who might have once been attracted to the drugs no longer found them interesting. They began to look at heroin addicts who were in the government program as a bunch of sick people who sat around all day nodding out and doing nothing much productive with their lives.

The reality is, that we have made zero progress in the war on drugs. Isn't it time we began experimenting with a different approach?

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