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.

Sunday, December 8, 2019


It was about this time of year in 1990 that I decided that it was time for me to get sober. Nothing in life was going right. I didn't have a job. I had to steal every day to survive and get enough alcohol and drugs to carry me through till the next day. And probably the biggest thing of all that made me get sober is that I was just plain unhappy with my life.

There'd been times before I fell deep into my addictions when I'd owned businesses, houses, and had good relationships with friends and family. But I was at the point in my life in early December 1990 where I had nothing but the funky clothes on my back in and a serious drug habit to maintain.

And I guess I bring this up today because this time of year always reminds me of the last days of my using, and the beginning of my recovery. It's not really like I'm reflecting upon an anniversary but it does remind me of how far I've come from those many years ago when I was sleeping in the back seat of a stolen car.

I think reflecting upon the twists and turns of our lives is good for because it reminds us of where we might go if we don't pay attention to what we're doing each day. The Big Book has a line in it that says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And while I was sure I fit that definition of insanity I certainly didn't think I was crazy. I just thought that I was having some bad luck or maybe that the stars weren't quite aligned in my favor. It took a lot of painful experiences before we decided to take a chance on recovery. And, I think it's probably the best thing that I ever did. For that reason I don't forget where I came from.

So in January 2020, on the 14th, it will be 29 years ago that I walked into a detoxification center on Bellevue St. in Mesa, AZ. And I had with me one of the most important things an addict can have if they want to get sober: and that was a willingness to go to any lengths to change my life. And I had that willingness.  And today my life is unbelievably wonderful thanks to all of those in recovery who spent the time to teach me how to live without substances.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019


A lot of times at AA meetings we hear the word "surrender "

Today I understand what surrender means, but at one time the way I walked through life was with the idea that I'd never surrender anything. And I didn't.

I was one of those arrogant, egotistical, people who thought they knew everything and thought they ran everything. No one could tell me anything about my lifestyle. About getting an education. About using drugs and alcohol. From the time I was a teenager I did things just the way I wanted to most of the time.

And playing captain of the universe as I did showed me just exactly how smart I was. Because nearly everything I put my hands on, I messed up. My know-it-attitude and unwillingness to listen to others resulted in me spending something like 16 years locked up in various types of institutions for stupid drug charges and the crimes associated with obtaining drugs.

Yet today, I follow the dictum in the big book that says "we ceased fighting anyone or anything..." And you know, for some reason the world is a much easier and pleasant place. I finally came to the point where I realize that cause-and-effect is a reality. That there's a purpose and a lesson behind nearly every challenge that we meet.

And I sometimes wonder – in moments of whimsy – why it took me so long to learn the simple lesson that there's a certain kind of sweet victory when we surrender in these unwinnable battles with ourselves.

For example, I used to have a bad habit of wanting to be right about everything – even if it didn't make a bigger difference one way or the other. It was just my fragile alcoholic ego at play and I wasn't even smart enough to recognize that.

Today I have strong opinions about things just like before; but the main thing is that I keep my mouth shut because no matter what I say I'm not going to convince anybody that I'm right or wrong. And even more than that nobody gives a crap because they have their own opinions.

To be sober and happy I believe that one must flow with life. I need to give up the idea that I have to always be right about everything. I believe that whenever we have a chance we must express kindness rather than anger over silly things that mean little or nothing. After all, life is short and we need to do our best to enjoy it without fighting with ourselves or anyone else. And that's how we surrender.

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Carrying the Message

I've always understood that the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. And my definition of "still suffers" is that someone who may not be drinking, but may be so new that he or she doesn't understand how to apply the tools that are in the big book. The tools that have led millions over the past 75+ years onto the path of sobriety.

For someone new, the environment of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be intimidating. There are strange slogans on the wall that say such things as "One Day At A Time," or "Easy Does It." People are friendly. Some of them are laughing and virtually all extend their hand to welcome newcomers. Even though the group may seem friendly, there are many newcomers with a lot of social anxiety and are still suffering from withdrawals on top of that.

Yet, over the years I've seen several alcoholics with decades of recovery who behave so poorly in the meetings that it makes these newcomers so uncomfortable that I'm surprised to see them at the next meeting - if ever again.

Almost all of them fall under the category of what is known as "old-timer." One fellow, whom I haven't seen in probably a year, used to carry a dogeared big book around in a custom-made case and and collar a newcomer and begin to tell them exactly how to read the book, tell them loudly what was wrong with them, and generally badger them until they were looking for a place to hide – anywhere to get away from this pesky, overbearing loudmouth.

Last week, I saw an old timer approach a group of newcomers and do something similar. It seems this fellow has a fetish about where people sit in the meetings. He gets really upset if anyone sits in the back of the room when there are open chairs in the front. I think he's gone as far as to remove a couple of the back row chairs so people are forced to sit in the front of the room. However, at the meeting I'm talking about there were maybe one or two empty chairs in the front two rows when five or six people came in at the last moment, just as the meeting was starting.

So a few of them went to the back and brought chairs forward so they would have a place to sit. However, this old-timer jumped up and ran back and pointed to the front of the room and told them that there were plenty of chairs up front for them to sit in. Then I guess he noticed that there were only a couple of open chairs and allowed them to bring extra chairs forward so they would have a place to sit.

While I'm not sure what this old-timer's problem is, it probably has something to do with control and power. But the reality is that our goal in AA is to help people get sober. And anything that affects them negatively might interfere with that process.

I know that when I first came to 12 step meetings I didn't necessarily want to be there. And anything negative that would happen would be just one more reason for me to not be there. Today, after more than 25 years of recovery, I don't give a crap where anybody sits in a meeting or if they sit at all. To me, the important thing is that they're inside the room.  And hopefully some of the words they hear will sink into their subconscious.

The alcoholics and addicts who are not quite sure whether they want to be there will use any excuse at all to avoid having to come back. Especially when longtime members treat them rudely or embarrass them.

Click here to email John