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.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Another boring Election

In about a week we're all going to know who our next president is going to be for the following four years.

And today I was wondering to myself why an election is such a big deal. I mean I know it's a big deal to those who are participating and those who are going to benefit in some way or the other – liking getting a good government job or a post at an embassy.  But anyone who thinks that their life is going to change dramatically because we switch governments or switch presidents is, in my opinion, living in a dream world.

And of course I'm speaking from a personal perspective. But if you ask me I will tell you that I can't think of one thing in my life that has gotten better or worse because this party or this person won or lost the election. If of course if a person is easily influenced, they can listen to the ads on TV talking about what a dark world it's going to be at this man or woman becomes the president. Or if this or that political party assumes office and get excited about the outcome.

Each election cycle I always hear something about what politicians are going to do about the war on drugs and crime. But my experience has been that no matter who is in office there's not been a lot of difference as far as how much time people do or the kind of penalty they get for their crimes.

I've already voted and hope my choice wins.  But if he doesn't I'm not moving to Canada,

Click here to email John

Friday, October 23, 2020

Quitting smoking

In my opinion, one of the worst drugs in the world is nicotine. Once one becomes addicted to it, all bets are off. It is extremely hard for most people to quit, even though it does the most damage of virtually any drug out there. And the sad thing, is that it's legal.

During my younger years, especially when I was in prison, I probably smoked a total of 10 years off and on. I didn't really keep an accurate count of how much I smoked but I know it was bad for me and I would quit for a while.  But then sometimes I would get frustrated about something and go back to the habit. One of the reasons that I was always motivated to quit is because I did a lot of running at one time – at least 5 miles a day – for many years. Running was an addiction for me. Like cigarettes were when I was using them. But when I would get out of jail and take up running again, it was really easy for me to quit because after the first lap my lungs were screaming out to me to quit the habit.

But there was more to it than that for me as far as cigarettes go. I had seven aunts and uncles and all of them smoked, including my mother and stepfather. Back in those days almost 50% of the population smoked or used some form of tobacco. But at that time almost no one really understood the damage that cigarettes did. And it was not uncommon to see doctors in print or television advertisements extolling one brand of cigarette over another. And as a result, a large part of our population is suffering damage from smoking even though they might have quit 20 or 25 years ago.

As an example every one of my seven aunts and uncles, my mother, and a 35-year-old cousin all suffered from the serious effects of their habits. My mother, who died some 25 years ago on Christmas Eve probably would've still been alive had she not smoked. The thing that took all of them was either emphysema or COPD. But by the time they realized how damaging nicotine was the damage had been done. And the damage in the case of emphysema and COPD is virtually irreversible.

I bring this up today because I have a close friend who has made repeated efforts to quit smoking. But without success. So because I give free hypnosis to those who are serious about quitting smoking, she asked if I might hypnotize her so that she could quit. I explained to her that hypnosis is not a magic pill. And I tell that to everyone of my hypnosis clients; the desire to quit must be also accompanied by a strong motivation to quit.

At least 95% of the people that I try to help quit smoking are successful in doing so. But I have a routine that I make them follow before we ever sit down and go into hypnosis I spend a week or two preparing them. One thing I make them do is buy a level one nicotine patch to help them through withdrawals. I sometimes have them make weekly appointments with me a couple of weeks before we actually do the hypnosis just to follow up and see how motivated they really are. If they keep all the appointments I realized that they are serious about changing and in turn I get quite motivated to help them.

To date I have over 30 non-smokers and feel quite good about it because I believe that I have helped them change their lives. But I didn't change their lives, all I did was show them the path and give them the tools and they did all the work. But still, there's nothing like the feeling of helping another human being live a fuller and longer life because you help them stay away from the poison that was shortening their days.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Learning from Mistakes

The best way to give someone self-condidence is to let them make mistakes.  And, after they make the mistake don't criticize them.  Instead teach them to look at the mistake as a learning experience that will teach them how to do it right the next time.

We all have seen those who went to college for years, then have to enter the job market to get some real world experience.  It happens to professionals such as doctors.  To lawyers who have to be a clerk for an attorney with years of experience.

We have many addicts and alcoholics who tell us that they have a lot of job experience when they first come in to our program.  But when they start working - whether for us or an outside company - we find that most of them have worked doing general labor and have little or no experience in a specific trade.  Still, we don't criticize them, we simply start them doing a simple job like cleaning our properties, yard maintenance, painting, or working in the kitchen.

And we try not micromange them; we allow them to make mistakes so they can grow and learn.  The only way I've learned is by making repeated mistakes.  And mistakes taught me a costly lesson, which I often quote, And that's that education is expensive - however we get it.

In closing, I'll point out that many of our clients have learned from their mistakes and today are living successful and happy lives.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Accepting Pain

A friend was talking to me about problems she's having with her husband, and that they were currently separated. I told her that since I'd been divorced four times that she'd probably come to the right person.

After all, I got over all four of those divorces after a time. Now admittedly, in looking back, I was really the one who created most of the problems in the marriages.   During the first two marriages I was using drugs and alcohol.  So I put them in a different category that the last two. The reality is that when two practicing addicts are married – while they may love one another – it seems like the drugs and alcohol always get in the way. 

In any case, I gave her the best advice I could.  And that until she was able to accept the fact that her marriage was in trouble she would find herself going up and down emotionally. In my own case I was quickly able to recognize my own part in the situation and was able to get over my anger and pain pretty quickly.

And one thing I never did was put the blame on them when I was talking to other people. After all, at one time I thought each of my wives was the most beautiful person in the world and I would've done anything for them. Just because we got divorced didn't make them into some kind of a monster or terrible person. And as a result today we are able to communicate on good terms without fighting or putting each other down.

My suggestion to her was to first of all stay busy, which would help her get over her pain. I told her she should talk to her sponsor and other friends. To focus on her job and her children. And to think about all of the good fortune that she has in her life today.

I understand that pain sometimes has a life of its own and it keeps cropping up at the strangest times. But when it does crop up we should look it right in the eye and accept it as being a natural reaction to the emotions we are going through. The more often we are able to do this, the sooner the pain will subside.

The one thing we do not want to do is go back to drugs or alcohol because all that does is give us two problems to have pain about. Even though it sounds boring and we hear a lot of it in the 12 step programs, acceptance really is the key to most of our problems today.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

More on Anger

"We will not be punished for our anger.  We will by punished by our anger."  Buddha

After my last post about anger a reader writes to tell that her ex-husband - after 20 + years - is still so angry at her that he constantly bad-mouths her to their sons.  She wonders what suggestions she can give them because they are sick of hearing it.

Of course they are tired of hearing it because they see their mother in a different light than he does.  

Her ex sees her as the source of his pain and likely takes zero reponsiblity for their divorce.  Her ex is probably the type of person who believes he's a victim.  Like many angry people, they believe their challenges and troubles in life are caused by something or someone outside of themselves.  They blame their failures and unhappiness in life on outside circumstances:  ex-wives, the economy, the pandemic, their boss, politicians.  Whatever.  If only everything and everything else would change their lives would be fine.

But that isn't the way the world works.  Others rarely are responsible for our misery; to be happy we must realize that we are reponsible for everything that befalls us if we want to enjoy our lives.  If we spend our time blaming others for our unhappiness we're wasting the precious time God gave on this earth.

About all her boys can do is accept the fact of who their father is and take away lessons from it.  Some times the world deals us a bad hand.  Sometimes our wives leave us because they can no longer take our controlling behavior.  After so long the boys will look at their father's misery and maybe decide they should spend less time around him.  

They could tell him they don't want to discuss their mother with him because it upsets them.  He may not stop, but he may understand why they stop spending much time with him.  He may find that his anger is not productive for him and not waste his time expressing it if it alienates his children.

After all, who wants to leave a legacy of anger behind when they leave this planet?

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Anger Destroys

A fellow I knew died around 20 years ago from the effects of drugs and alcohol. At least that's what the autopsy report said.

But I really believe that a lot of what killed him was not substances, but rather his anger. And had I been asked for my input on the report that's what I would've said: that his anger killed him. Every time I was around him and he was halfway sober he was angry. The only thing that seemed to soothe his anger was alcohol, methamphetamines, and once in a while a little bit of marijuana.

And I'm not hundred percent sure of what he was angry about. But I know a lot of it was directed at his ex-wives. Even though he had been divorced from both of them for many years one of his topics of conversation was how poorly they treated him. What bitches they were. How he had never been able to trust women since his divorces. Somehow it was difficult for him to move on with his life after the perceived wrong that they had done him.

When I would suggest that perhaps he would feel better if he would forgive them he would look at me like I was crazy. And say something like he would rather kill them. And when I would suggest that he would feel a lot better if he could realize that both of those relationships were behind him he would examine me from across the table as though I was the one with the problem because I didn't commiserate with him.

One of my strong beliefs is that most so-called bad things that happen to us – while they may be painful – are forgivable. And that they need to be forgiven for our own mental and physical health. Because there is a large body of research out there that shows that anger is toxic.

Usually, around TLC, we find a percentage of people who carry anger with them. And, of course, one way to get rid of our anger is to cover it up with drugs or alcohol. But the problem with getting rid of anger that way is that it is only temporary. We discover very soon – usually when we sober up – that the anger is still there festering in our mind like a cancer eating away at us.

Often in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous we hear people speak about the only way that they were able to get rid of their anger or resentment was to pray for the other person. And it works. In fact that remedy comes right out of the big book and is there for anybody to use and practice in their daily lives.

I have found that when we go through our lives extending kindness and good feelings towards others, that's usually what we get back from them. I remember from the early days of my addiction that my anger always got me in trouble. Being kind to others never got me in trouble and has actually opened many doors for me.

Look at it this way: we only have so many days on this planet and why would we want to waste them on someone who is no longer even in our lives? In the case of being angry at an ex-spouse, we can all look back and remember when we first met this person and they were the most wonderful human being we had ever met. But once we depart from them, all of a sudden they are the source of all our misery and problems.

But the reality is our problems in life are not caused by the problems themselves but in the we we perceive them. We can view the bad situations that happened to us as an educational experience and move on with our lives. Or, we can blame the other person and waste our precious time on this planet, time that we cannot replace, on being full of anger and misery.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Losing the War

 I watched the debate last night between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence and I wasn't surprised at all about what I didn't hear.

They didn't mention anything at all, either of them, about the drug abuse that plagues our nation. It almost seemed like the only thing that was important was for each of them to play gotcha in an effort to make some points with the voters.

I can look back through my life – clear back into the 50s when I first started using drugs – and remember political candidates talking about the problem with drug addiction in our communities and across our nation. I saw presidential candidates get tough on drugs, giving longer jail terms to those selling drugs and using drugs than they did to convicted murderers.

They called it the "war on drugs." And today one can look about any city in most any state in the country and see that the war on drugs has pretty much been lost. And I say that because one can buy so-called "medical marijuana" quite easily. In fact, all one really needs is a prescription from a doctor and he can purchase the drugs almost anywhere. And in some states recreational marijuana can be purchased without a prescription.

Now marijuana was never my drug of choice. I was one of those people who got paranoia from smoking it and I had a whole bunch of other things I'd rather use before marijuana. But where I'm going with all of this is I see a softening in the legal system and in the public toward the use of what used to be considered a drug that was very dangerous. And now I think the only danger with the drug is what it does to our lungs and what happens when people drive under the influence of marijuana – something I don't think a lot of people know a lot about at this point.

Where I'm going with this is I haven't heard much during this presidential campaign year about what anybody's going to do different about opioids, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and the other drugs that are devastating our communities. And the reality is that there's not much they can do, except arrest people and put them in prison until they get out and start all over. There's been absolutely nothing innovative done about dealing with people who use drugs like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph. And the reality, which is right under our nose if we just choose to pay attention to it, is there is already de facto legalization all over this country. And I say that, because anybody with a few dollars in their pocket can walk into the right neighborhoods and take their choice of drugs home with them. Or else use them right there at the dope house where they got it.

Now other countries are smarter than we are. For example, in Bern, Switzerland, a heroin addict can get his supply free from the state. Not only does he get free heroin, the state provides him with a check every month so that he can support himself, a facility where he can get his daily dose and use it right there on the spot. And this occurred because merchants in the city were tired of addicts stealing their merchandise to trade for heroin. They went to the legislature and asked them to craft regulations that would allow addicts to use heroin under certain restrictions, an action that pretty much satisfied everyone. The last statistics show that the prison population went down, crime went down, and the transmission of AIDS went down from addicts sharing needles. And the interesting part is that after six years of legal use, many of the addicts decide to wean themselves off of the drug and go on to a more productive life. 

But our country has some kind of twisted moral objection to this idea of allowing addicts to use drugs. Instead of giving addicts free drugs in an environment where could be monitored and where they could receive medical attention if they overdosed, where they can be taught how to use drugs safely we would rather punish them for what the medical community has characterized as a disease. Countries all over Europe, such as Portugal. have adopted the model of legalizing all drugs because they realize that there is not much likelihood that they're going to be able to stop drugs by declaring war on them and the people who use them.

Maybe someday our country will get over this stupid idea that legalizing drugs will mean everyone uses  them. And ask their state legislatures to create safe havens for addicts until they can get medical and psychological help and move on to a better life. But then again we would have to overcome the reality that law enforcement and incarceration is a big business and that legalizing drugs in order to control the drug trade probably doesn't make financial and political sense to the majority.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 5, 2020

Helping the Hopeless

Many clients who come through our doors have nothing.  They don't have a job, or job skills.  They have no money. No home.  What friends and family they once had long ago abandoned them.  A percentage have rotten teeth, or none at all - also known as "meth mouth."  Others have serious health issues such as COPD, diabetes, heart problems.  Others have mental health issues, like bipolar or psychizo-effectice disorder and others.

On top of these issues many have few social skills because they were either either raised by addict or alcoholic parents.  Some have tatoos on their face because in prison that shows a committment to a life of crime - something that doesn't play well with potential employers.  Nor do they have much basic education.  And few have degrees.

Yet we take them in without upfront money because we know that addicts and alcoholics spend their money on their habits before they'll use it to get into treatment.  We know that, as we've been there ourselves because our entired organzation - which has eight hundred beds - is comprised of addicts and alcoholics in recovery.  Even the staff.

Some outsiders think we're a government funded organization.  But that's not so.  TLC raises all of its funds by collecting $135.00 weekly from those employed outside the organization. Plus, we make a small amount from several small businesses that also serve as training programs for the inexperienced.

Clients who are unemployable for whatever reason, are allowed to volunteer in our program.  For this activity they receive a small weekly stipend, housing, medical and dental assistance, and other benefits, such as peer counseling.

At times we have resistance from the community because they view addiction as a moral issue as opposed to a medical problem.  We've sued more than one community - and won the lawsuit - because addicts and alcoholics and addicts are a protected class under the Americans with Disabilites Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.  If anything gets in the way of their recovery they have standing to seek recompense.  After all, the disabled - like cancer patients, and the mentally ill - are entitled to help -regardless of how much the community objects.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 2, 2020

In the Moment

Have you ever been in a situation in your life where you thought that if things just changed you would be happy?

I know this happens, not just to us addicts and alcoholics, but to the world at large. If I just get this job I'll be happy. If I just find the love of my life then I'll be happy. This new car or new house will complete my life. Or if I get to go on this vacation everything will be just fine.

But don't you see the problem here? If are always in this mode of sitting around and waiting for the next good thing to happen then our life is always on hold.

Because, if we're always sitting and waiting for the next best thing then as soon as we get it how long are we going to enjoy it? The new car starts getting a few dings in it and trash in the back seat. Pretty soon it's a year old and one of the neighbors has bought a newer model or more expensive car and all of a sudden your love affair with your new car is over. It wasn't quite the fix you thought it would be.

Same with finding the love of your life. The first six months are a honeymoon. A love affair out of a movie. But then we start seeing that the person we love is just another ordinary human being with all the faults and character defects other human beings have.

And maybe that vacation that we fantasize about and were saving money for wasn't all that great. Maybe it rained. Maybe you lost your luggage. Maybe you missed your flight. In any case the memories you return home with weren't very memorable in a positive way.

The point is if we live our lives with the idea that we'll really be happy when we arrive at the next best thing, the next goal or amount of money or job or whatever we're seeking then we aren't living our life in the moment or living our life today. We're living in suspended animation as the minutes and hours and days pass by with us waiting for what we think will make us happy.

But the reality is that nothing will make us happy if that's the way we travel. Because happiness only happens in this moment, not in the future. So the remedy is to keep focused on here and now because this little slice of time is all that God has given us and all that we can count on. It's impossible to be happy in the future today. And it's such a waste of the precious moments we have on this planet.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hearing from a Mother

The last blog I wrote was about the blessings of sobriety. And I wrote that blog because I was truly grateful for my daughter's sobriety and the fact that she had the previous day given birth to her fourth child – a baby girl. And she would have never had the children she had – and I the grandchildren that I have – if she hadn't gotten clean and sober many years ago.

And while I never expect a response from any of these blogs that I write, because I write them for myself primarily, I received two responses. One was from my daughter who had been the subject of the blog. The other was from a lady who lives in a Midwestern city, a woman I've been communicating with for many years – a communication that started when she ran across my blog on the Internet.

Many years ago, maybe nine, she started writing to me about her son who is a homeless alcoholic who has lived on the streets for many years. He mostly stays around the Midwestern city she lives in. But for a period of time he went to Washington DC, attempting to get an interview with the president about the government's denial of his disability claims 20 years ago.

When she first started writing to me she was doing a lot of things for him. Such as helping him with his laundry. Taking him food and cigarettes. And giving him a little money for whatever he needed, which he probably spent on booze.

When she asked for my opinion, I immediately suggested that she take a hard stance with him.  I told her that by helping him continue drinking by taking him food and cigarettes and giving him money she was just prolonging his alcoholism.  Now I knew this would sound kind of harsh to a loving mother, but I didn't get sober until my family completely exiled me from their lives because they had given up hope that I would ever quit using drugs or alcohol.  And by doing that, they saved my life.

At first I thought they were very cruel and unfair. But eventually I realized that they no longer supported my lifestyle.  And eventually I sunk so low that I sought help on my own.  Now this woman that I'm talking about is a very loving mother, but she did take some steps that allowed her to quit enabling him.

She does help him out once in a while but not like she was before we started communicating. One of the steps she took was to start going to 12 step meetings that deal with relatives and friends of addicts and alcoholics.  She gained strength from reaching out to others who had similar problems and learned that she could distance herself from him most of the time. 

She today gives him minimal help – only occasionally giving into the urge to help him.  One of the things that she did do to insulate herself from him was to move into a senior community, where she is not allowed to have anyone living with her permanently.  That way he's not going to be living on her couch while continuing to drink and bring unneeded drama and pain into her life.

Her story, and the measures she has taken to not enable him, as a lesson for anyone in her situation who is dealing with a loved one who is addicted.  I wish her the strength to continue.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Blessings of Sobriety

Today I was thinking about the blessings of sobriety.

This came up for me now because I'm invited to visit one of my daughters who gave birth to a another daughter last week. She now has two boys and two girls.

While one of the boys has left home and is on his own, she's busy these days raising – along with her partner – the three children that still remain at home. On top of that she has a full-time, high level position in a state licensed treatment program. So between working, commuting a half-hour a day each way back and forth to work she has her hands full.

None of this would be possible for her if she hadn't decided to get sober a number of years ago. At the depths of her addiction she probably never believed that she would have a large, beautiful home in the suburbs and all of the amenities to go with it. She enjoys all of this because of a decision she made many years ago to change her life.

And her story of success is an example of what happens to all of us once we get rid of the alcohol and drugs and start living up to our full potential.

In almost 30 years of working in the recovery field I've seen her story duplicated over and over again. Clients come in our treatment program and have nothing. They spend time in groups, and in private counseling, and if they're willing, they become different beings. Many of them redefine their goals, become responsible, and live on to become successful at whatever they choose.

In the above paragraph I used the term "become responsible." And assuming responsibility is probably the primary thing we all need to change our lives. Many of the clients who show up at our doorstep are pointing their fingers at everyone else who was responsible for the situation that they're in today. And while other people may have influenced our lives in a negative way, the ultimate responsibility for the changes that we make in our lives come from within. Not from changing externals. Because external things are usually out of our control. But in treatment and recovery we learn how to take charge of our own lives and become responsible for everything that befalls because we learn to reframe our thinking,

This is what happened to me and also happened to my daughter. And because of that we live good lives today.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Treating addicts Poorly

"The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members"  Mahatma Ghandi

The American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease in 1956. In 1987 the AMA classified addiction as a disease.

In spite of those classifications, alcoholics and addicts have always been the target of those who scorn the idea that addiction or alcoholism are diseases. The idea that someone has an illness to which he or she contributes somehow doesn't fit into certain people's ideas of how the world works – or should work. As a result of the public's attitude our operation has always been at odds with somebody over some legal issue that involves their view of us as second-class citizens.

Back in the 90s, TLC had programs in a certain municipality that I won't mention here because we now have a good relationship with that city. But the city government and city fathers decided they didn't like programs like ours and the others that were situated in the downtown area. In 1998 the city council was pressured into changing laws involving the licensing of recovery homes and halfway houses. They did this, in spite of the fact that their own city attorney advised them that their decision would violate Fair Housing laws and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In the face of this legal challenge that would've put us out of business we hired one of the best fair housing attorneys in the country, who was situated in Washington DC, and filed a federal injunction against the city to prevent them from taking further action until our case worked its way through the courts – which took until 2003. Some five years later we reached a settlement with the city where they changed two laws and paid a large portion of our legal fees.

But in spite of that settlement, our organization has always been the target of some type of legal action. In fact, I can't remember a year out of the last 25 where we haven't had some kind of a lawsuit that we were spending money on.

Several of them were quite frivolous, one of the most noteworthy being a client who wanted two million dollars because she claimed she suffered two bedbug bites while residing at one of our facilities. And of course we won that one because of its nature – but it still cost us legal fees to defend ourselves. In fact she knew enough about the law to file the case on her own because of the 10 years she'd spent in prison filing endless lawsuits over trivial issues – never prevailing in one case.

Probably one of the things that irritates me most is when we have a run in with code enforcement in whatever city we're in. City zoning and planning ordinances are difficult enough for trained architects to understand, let alone us uneducated addicts. 

We spend a lot of time and money keeping our properties in a livable condition. But every so often an unhappy addict will be mad because we discharged him from the program because he refused to seek employment or pay service fees. 

In retaliation he'll go to the city and complain about the living conditions. And of course, code enforcement is obligated to reply and we usually reach some accommodation with them that satisfies everyone. And at the moment we have a matter where a client was discharged for not following the rules and went to the city and told them that he was forced to bathe outside the house and get his drinking water from a garden hose, which was a flat out lie. Of course the city was forced to respond and we're spending a lot of money bringing the house into compliance with the international residential codes.

Rather than looking at the matter as it really was – an angry addict seeking retaliation for a perceived wrong – code enforcement is wasting time and money to make us change residential housing that has been grandfathered in at that location for over 22 years.

I have a long list of cases where we've had to defend ourselves against frivolous matters. What no one seems to take into consideration is that we provide a wonderful service to the community. We feed over 2500 meals a day. We teach addicts construction skills so they can go out on their own and work independently and in many cases even start their own companies. We bring homeless addicts and alcoholics into our program without any upfront money, something no one else does.

Yet every once in a while someone from the city will show up and express a lot of concern about how addicts and alcoholics are treated by our organization. Yet, for some reason, none of them ever provide any kind of funds, food, supplies or anything else that will help people become responsible for themselves and keep them off of the streets.

What they don't realize is that we're addicts helping addicts save their own lives, yet many people across  the spectrum – from the government to the legal profession  – can't find the compassion to appreciate what we do for the community and society at large by helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives.

Click here to email John

 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

More about Gratitude

 I was talking to a youngster the other day, a fellow maybe 22 years old, and he was telling me how unhappy he was about the new restrictions placed on our lives because of the pandemic.

Because he's so young he has sort of a sense of entitlement. He kind of has the attitude that the rules surrounding this pandemic that limit contacts between citizens don't apply to him. Usually I'll see him walking around without a mask and I have to remind him that the mask is to protect his life and the lives of others. But because he's so young he feels that he's invulnerable to pandemics, he kinda has the idea that he'll live forever – as do many people his age.

And when he expresses himself that way, I usually suggest that he is selfish and self-centered. Because while he may be strong and young and invulnerable that doesn't mean that he can't carry the virus to someone who's in my generation.

Because he's so young his whole world is centered on himself. But I suggested he look at the world in a different way. I tell him that he should have a sense of gratitude for his life right now, even though he perceives it as being extremely difficult because of this pandemic. And when I mention gratitude, he looks at me like I'm sort of off balance or just too old to understand him. But then I go on.

I point out that there are people in the world who would give their left arm to have the kind of life he enjoys. I point out that he is fortunate enough to live in the United States, even with all the turmoil created by the pandemic, the riots, and the fires that are ripping across the Western states. I suggest to him that he look at the fact that he has employment. An automobile. A home to live in. Abundant good health. Fresh food to eat. And I point out more, but you get the idea.

I suggested he read about people in other parts of the world that don't even have running water. Or enough to eat. Or maybe they're in the middle of a civil war. Perhaps they never had the opportunity to go to school because their country is so poor that they can't afford to educate the population.

Even though he's not an alcoholic or drug addict I tell him about the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs. And one word that is constantly floating around the rooms is gratitude, with maybe acceptance being a close second. And I'm not sure that he understands how those words apply to him because he's neither an addict nor an alcoholic.

But gratitude is a universal term. That it can apply to anyone who wants to have a good and happy life. Because when we're grateful, were not going to get in trouble, nor will we become depressed. Instead will use our gratitude to change our outlook on life. And that will carry us when times are tough.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 17, 2020

All Lives Matter

It's getting pretty boring lately to see all of the publicity about BLM. And of course anyone who is not living in a gopher hole knows that those initials stand for Black Lives Matter. But I'm a person who is not politically correct. And I believe that whether we like it or not, all lives matter: black, white, brown, red – all of them.

One of the things that kind of pisses me off is that most of the people that we see at the riots and protests are not black. They are 90% white and mostly young liberals who are looking for a cause, a reason to rebel. And mostly uninformed about the so-called violence of the police against minorities in this country.

Statistics actually show that it you get stopped by the police and you are white you're much more likely to be killed by the cops than a black person would be. These facts are borne out by a study done by a black professor at Harvard University who was going to prove that black people are more likely to be killed by the police than people of any other race. He reportedly was surprised when the data showed something different. Just the opposite: white people are much more likely to be gunned down by police than black people or other minorities. 

On the flip side, the study also showed that black people and minorities suffer more at the hands of police than do white people. For example, the police are much more likely to handcuff a minority person than they would a white person. The police also frisk black people and other minorities much more often than they do white people. And they also were more likely to slam them up against a wall and rough them up in other ways.

I believe that when one undertakes a cause they should understand some of the foundations of the cause they are supporting. Probably many would be shocked to find out that during slavery several hundred black people owned plantations and slaves. One black slave owner, William Ellison, is described in Wikipedia at some length in an article which describes his ownership of some 63 slaves. This is the kind of research that people don't like to look at. If one really wants to dig into the slavery issue they'll learn a lot about how exaggerated it is. For example, most people don't know that the majority of slaves were first brought to Brazil, then were taken to the Caribbean and still later to Florida. Only a small number of  slaves, less than 10%,  brought from Africa were brought directly to the United States and sold to slave traders in this country.

Now these previous paragraphs are not to diminish the horror of slavery or to exculpate those who engaged in it. The only purpose for bringing up these facts in the above paragraphs is so that those who are so sure that we're a racist society might study a little bit of history of the subject they're talking about. They might also ask themselves if we're such a racist society why did 78 million white people vote for Barack Obama in 2014? That doesn't sound like institutional racism to me, it just sounds like they voted for who they felt was the most qualified candidate.

In closing, my opinion is that those that think we're a racist society have a political agenda where they think they might get something for nothing. Communism and socialism has never worked anywhere in the world and I don't believe that it'll work here. But BLM and Antifa are masters at manipulating our political system and the liberals among us to achieve their ends. And if they succeed at that everyone will suffer – including the minorities they claim to represent and protect.

Click here to email John


Monday, September 14, 2020

Strange Times

One of my earliest childhood memories is the end of World War II. At the time I was living in Newport Beach, California and when the announcement came over the radio everyone in our neighborhood went pouring into the streets dancing and singing with joy.

At around five years old I didn't understand the gravity of war. But I remember odd things that did stem from our country being at war. Because we lived near the coast the population was required to put blackout curtains over their windows. And if they went out at night for any reason they had to leave the lights off on their cars or else cover them with burlap bags just in case a Japanese submarine was off the coast. That's how close the war came to us back in the 1940s. And it was only much later that I understood why people were so happy when the war ended in 1945.

Since that time I've been through many strange years. There have been other wars, like Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other military actions. I lived through the social unrest of the sixties and seventies.

But as I was talking to a friend the other day who is a few years younger than I am, we both agreed that this is one of the strangest years in our memories. Neither of us had ever experienced anything the magnitude of this pandemic that is sweeping across the country. Neither of us has seen the political situation so volatile. Nor have we seen lengthy riots such as the ones in Seattle and Portland that have been going on for months. We haven't seen the world in such a state of unrest as we have since the first of this year.  Neither of us have seen the country this divided politically.

Both my friend and I have been through battles with alcohol and drugs, battles that lasted for years. We both ended up going to prison in different states. We both had a lot of money at different times, but mostly we were just down and out drug addicts that were doing our best to take care of our habits.

But as we reminisced, we both agreed that we have never lived in such an uncertain time. A time when we're dealing with things that aren't in our control. And the reality is that there's nothing we can do about our current situation except move into acceptance - a word that is one of the strongest that we hear in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Not only is it the strongest, but is also one of the most useful from a standpoint of practicality. As long as we can accept what's going on around us as part of the normal changes that we encounter in life, we won't be tempted to go off the rails and revert to our former lives when we were in the middle of our addictions.

Instead we can stand strong and accept whatever the universe presents us.  And if we can do that we'll get past the challenges we've been presented during this strangest of times.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 11, 2020

A lesson from 911

Nineteen years ago the twin towers were demolished by terrorists carrying out jihad so they could find paradise and honor Allah.

While none of us know if they reached their goals, we do know their acts of terror changed this country forever. They triggered a war in the Mideast as we searched for Bin Laden and his murderous Al Qaeda followers.

When terrorism struck our mainland we realized the vulnerability of our security systems. and everything tightened up at the airports, seaports, and other potential targets. Even though it’s more of a hassle to travel today, most of us agree that the increased security is comforting.

But for me there is another take away from that awful event.  And that is that we need to live our lives to the fullest each day.  Because probably none of the victims in the twin towers, the Pentagon, or the passengers on the planes knew it would be their last day.  Some had dates for that evening, some had children at day care, others had family or friends awaiting their arrival at airports.  They were going on with their lives when the unspeakable happened.

We need to treat each moment as precious because we only have this slice of time we exist in.  And for those of us in recovery this is especially meaningful because we wasted countless hours in a self-induced stupor wasting time - the one thing we can't replace.




Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Covid 19

I'm still amazed - and pleased - that during all of these months of the pandemic, and with 600 to 700 clients, we've had less than a dozen contract the virus.  All of them were quarantined on our properties - mostly in the same apartments - for the period the doctors prescribed.  And none ended up in the hospital.

I attribute this low infection number to the fact that we followed government guidelines as to distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and sanitizing surfaces.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, most of us addicts don't live the healthiest life-styles when we're in the midst of our addictions.  Many of us smoke, have poor eating habits, sometimes are homeless, have no medical care other than periodic trips to the emergency room.  In other words we engage in high-risk life-styles that compromise our immune systems.

Through my eyes, the positive side of this is that if an addict has the discipline to follow the rigid Covid-19 protocol, just maybe they can apply the same principles when they graduate our program and return to society.

Who knows?

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Old Memories

On Friday, September 5, 1958, I was sentenced to six months to 10 years in California State Prison for possession of heroin. And I was reminded of this because today is September 5, 2020. And that was so long ago it seems like almost a bad dream today. And on September 8, 1958, I was delivered in leg irons to a prison reception center at Chino, California.

At the reception center I spent about six weeks undergoing psychological and physical tests to see where I would fit best in California's extensive prison system. I was subjected to the Minnesota multi-phasic personality inventory and also a few other tests that I don't recall the names of. Finally, it was determined that I was a "young, trainable adult." And that meant that I would be sent to a vocational institution for education and training before I returned to society. But because they didn't have any open beds at that 2400 hundred bed institution I would be housed at San Quentin prison near San Francisco. I would remain at that prison until there was an opening at the vocational facility, which was located near Tracy, California. So at 19 years old, an age when I knew everything, I found myself unceremoniously dumped in front of the huge gates at the front of San Quentin

All of this comes up today because for some reason I was asking myself what happened on September 5 and September 8 eight a number of years ago? And it took me a while to dredge up the fact that that's when I got sentenced and delivered to prison for the first time. But at the time, those are two dates I thought I would never forget because it was sort of traumatic to go to prison for the first time – and for such a minor offense as possession of a small amount of heroin.

Looking back at my life some 60+ years later I would have never dreamed that I have the life that I enjoy today. While it took me some 30 more years to get off of drugs and alcohol and out of the criminal justice system it somehow seems like it was all worth it. Of course a person can get a lot of education and build a business without having to be incarcerated or addicted to anything. But I was a person who always had a hardhead and like to do things my way. It was only until drugs and alcohol beat me down and put me on the streets that I finally surrendered.

I knew that if I didn't get sober and start living like other so-called normal people that I would end up either dead, in an institution, or back in prison. I chose the path of sobriety and recovery. And have never looked back. I had no expectations about what my life was gonna look like after I got clean and sober but things have turned out much better than I imagined.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Biting the Hand

TLC doesn't often have clients or volunteers stealing from us. Although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions.

I remember one time when I called the manager of our Las Vegas facility. It was on a Saturday morning and he hadn't reported any collections from the night before. So I called to ask him about it.

"Well," he said, "the reason I didn't call any collections in is because I have the collection bag sitting beside me in the bar where I'm having a beer. Plus I used some of the money to buy some crack and I'm about ready to go back and buy some more."

"Wait right there" I told him. "We're on our way." And after I hung up the phone I called my chief operating officer and told him we needed to make a quick flight to Las Vegas.. It was two more days before we found him. He didn't have any money left. But he did have our company pickup, which we took possession of.

Another time, a client stole one of our company vans and drove to California to visit Universal Studios. I think he also stole some of our money to to cover his expenses on the trip.

And the reason I bring this up is because we discovered, during an audit this week, that one of our volunteers had been stealing from us for about three years. Now not a lot of money was taken. But that isn't the point.

The point is that we run a recovery program. And one of the precepts of a recovery program is people learn to be honest and not steal or do other things that would cause them to want to relapse. When we first confronted this person about stealing from our business it was vigorously denied.  The person claimed that it must've been a "memory lapse," or that they "forgot" to make an entry or pay for the personal items that were on the receipt.

In each of these cases we dealt with the clients with a great deal of compassion. In a couple of the cases we discharged them.  Then let them back into the program later. In fact, today one of them has a position of great responsibility and handles a lot of money at times. He's turned out to be one of our most reliable volunteers. And we do this because we know that it takes addicts a while to get honest and to work a good program. And it might save their lives

Click here to email John 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Anger

 "You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger." Buddha

I was thinking about anger last Saturday when I was very frustrated. I had awakened early because I had a couple of appointments to attend to.

Normally, the first thing I do when I wake is meditate for 30 minutes. Then I turn on my cell phone to see if I have any calls or text messages that I must respond to right away. But when I turned on my iPhone, the Apple symbol showed up on the screen and the phone froze right there. I tried all the methods I've used before but I couldn't get anywhere with it. It was stuck right there and and I couldn't do anything to change it.

Since it was still early in the morning – around 6:45 AM – I knew I wouldn't be able to get the phone repaired until the phone store opened. But I I got on my computer anyway and found the closest store and sure enough, it didn't open until 10 AM.

So wanting to make the best of the situation rather than waste time waiting for the store to open, I logged into my office computer remotely, planning to do some accounting. However, for some reason my accounting program had disappeared from my desktop. And after looking for a while I had no luck in finding it. Nor could I find it on my home office computer.

Aware that I was becoming quite frustrated with the way my day was starting off, I made a commitment to not become angry although every cell in my body was crying out for me to smash something. Maybe my computer. Or maybe kick a hole in the wall. Something destructive. But I didn't react that way.

And I didn't because I realized a long time ago in my early sobriety that anger was my default emotion. And the anger I indulged in never got me anywhere. And when I was done being angry I still had the same problem facing me. At some point I realized that I no longer wanted to spend one second of my precious time engaging in anger over anything. We only have so much time on this planet and I believe that it's a total waste of those precious minutes to engage in anger - no matter what is going on.

Now I realize that it's superhuman to never get angry about anything. That it's just not natural to not get passed off once in a while. But with practice I learned that I can become more aware of my emotions and realize that I don't have to go there – and in particular - I don't have to stay there.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 27, 2020

RIP Art B.

 It's very unusual for TLC to experience two clients passing away in one week. I don't think it's happened before. Although, technically, the first one who passed away was a former client, as he had already moved out of TLC into his own apartment.

Two days ago, Art B. a client of many years, failed to show up for his volunteer job on the paint crew. Because he was quite responsible and always showed up to the project, his supervisor became alarmed and went to his apartment. His pickup was still parked outside of his window and he didn't respond to knocks on the door. Once our people gained entry they found that he had passed away during the night.

Art had many friends at TLC. And I was one of them. But I wasn't surprised at his early demise at 60 years old. When he returned the last time – a few years ago – it was after his wife died of alcoholism. And one of the things she told him before she passed was that she wanted him to return to TLC. Which he ultimately did.

But he loved his wife and he never got over his grieving for her. He told more than one person about how much he missed her and how he'd like to be with her. He was often depressed over her passing and it showed in his demeanor.

However, he died sober and I'm sure that is something both he and his wife would have been happy about.

May you rest in peace Art; all of us here at TLC will miss you and wish you well on the next path of your journey.

Click here to email John




Monday, August 24, 2020

RIP Steve A.

Over the weekend we got news of a client who passed away. Steve A. had been with us several times over the past few years, and had many friends at Transitional Living Communities.

Steve was a larger-than-life personality. He always had a smile that lit up any room he walked into and he always radiated positivity and energy whenever you were in his presence. He worked in pharmaceutical sales for many years, a perfect career for someone with his personality.

He also was a talented piano player and singer and spent much of his time on his keyboard recording and creating music. While at TLC he had turned out more than one Christmas album. He reportedly also worked as a studio musician and was part of a band whose members were in the medical field.

In his last year at TLC he volunteered as a salesperson for TLC Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and was quite adept at securing contracts for the company.

During his last stay with us he developed medical problems that put him in the hospital at various times, including a condition that caused him to have blood clots in his legs.

One of his obsessions was playing golf. And when he left suddenly a few months back it was said that he rented a condominium on the edge of a golf course where he could play on a regular basis.

No one I know told me what he died from. But because he was with us because of issues with alcohol I have little doubt that alcohol was somehow connected with his untimely death. At this point it doesn't make a lot of difference what he died from because he is now on a different path. But experience has taught me over the last 29 years that middle-aged people his age don't die for no reason.

We'll all miss you Steve. Rest in peace and go with God.

Click here to email John

Friday, August 21, 2020

Gratitude

On my gratitude list today is how well our staff has dealt with the pandemic.  And as evidence of what a good job they've done, we simply can look at our population of more than 600 residents.

Out of that population we have had only 12 clients put on quarantine.  And none of them ended up in the hospital.  Most were on quarantine for two weeks; one even spent 28 days at home.

They complied with the recommended guidelines and wore masks and practiced social distancing as much as posssible.  Did everyone comply 100%?  

Of course not.  But they washed their hands, distanced themselves, sanitized living areas, and took extra steps to comply with health department guidelines.

About half of our corporate office volunteers were able to work from home.  And those that needed to be at the office went home as soon as they finished their projects. Most were gone by midday. 

As I said at the beginning I'm grateful for the way our people stepped up and looked out for one another.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Meditation

The first thing I do each morning is meditate for half an hour.  It's something I've been doing for the past 25 years of my recovery.

Why did I start doing it?  Because in the 12-steps there's line that says "sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God..."

Now I've known how to pray since I was a child.  I was in church every weekend and sometimes in the middle of the week.  We did a lot of praying out in the Oregon countryside where I lived for seven years as a boy.

But I never saw anyone meditating that I know of.  I didn't even know what the word meant.  And when I joined AA I still didn't know.

So I joined a Trancendental Meditation group and learned how to meditate.  I practiced that discipline up until about six years ago when I switched to Vipassana meditation.  Eventually I took a year-long course and became certified as a meditation instructor.  Finally I knew what meditation was about and it was much simpler than I thought.  So simple that I'll share it with you here.

Find a quiet place to sit, either on a cushion or chair.  Close your eyes and focus on your breath as it goes in and out of your nostrils.  As you breathe you'll find that your mind will wander to the thoughts crossing your mind.  Simply observe the thoughts and let them pass.  Don't judge them, simply accept them and let them pass.

Then return to observe your breath.  It's that simple.  No goal, no expectation.   There's no good meditation.  No bad meditation.  So don't judge yourself.  Accept what you see in your thoughts.

It is its own reward.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A different Time

Usually our population at this time in an ordinary year is 700 to 750.  But then everyone will likely agree that there's been nothing ordinary about this year since January.  At the moment the count is hovering at around 600.

Most who remain have jobs and are working 12-step programs.  Some go to outside meetings that have social distancing plus mask requirements.

While we've been extremely fortunate in only having a few people who needed to be quarantined, there's still the added pressure of clients having to wear masks and do social distancing as much as possible.  A couple of those who were quarantined left the program and disappeared into the 115 degree Arizona heat.  Maybe they convinced their families to take them back, that they'd be safer at home.

Very few people work at our office unless it's absolutely necessary.  Most of the staff is gone by noon.  And those who work on the phone are doing the job from home.  But those who do remain in the office get more work done because the place stays pretty quiet.

For me the most difficult part of all this is living in the moment.  Sobriety is learning to live one day at a time.  And meditation is all about training our monkey minds to live in this moment.  Those two principles are what I use to make it through the day.  Remember that all we can count on is change.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Things could be Worse

 I was listening to one of my favorite podcasters yesterday and he made a statement that made me think.  His answer to a person who was complaining about the Covid 19 virus was that we must realize that things could be "ten times worse."

The guest was surprised at the answer and asked the podcaster to explain.  And he did.

He started out by bringing up the 1917 Spanish flu epidemic that is estimated to have taken at least 50 million lives around the world.  And it wasn't like Covid 19, which is relatively slow acting compared to the Spanish Flu.  When a person got the Spanish flu they normally were dead within four hours.  It destroyed whole populations before it disappeared.  Maybe this virus will mutate into some less manageable than it is now.  Who knows?

While I agree that our present situation is rough, the reality is that the restrictions put on our lives make things more difficult.  We've seen schools disrupted.  Our favorite sports have come to a halt.  We take a risk when we visit friends and family.  Our gyms and favorite eating places have tight restrictions.  But things could get worse as jobs disappear and supplies tighten up because of restrictions on factories and major suppliers.

I was just reading that there are something like 75,000 homeless in Los Angeles.  I'm sure many of them are homeless because of mental conditions or drug addictions.  But I believe that many of them had homes and jobs at one time but maybe they lost their jobs because their companies closed down and they were forced onto the streets.

Even though we're far out of our comfort zone we must remember that the only thing we can count on in life is that things may be different tomorrow - and not in a positive way.  And we can either accept our circumstances or feel bad about them.  It's our choice.

Click here to email John


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Missing Meetings

I used to go to meetings on a weekly basis.  But since this pandemic swept the country I've only gone to one.  Even though I've been sober over 29 years I still went on a regular basis.  

But this pandemic has put some fear in me.  Even though the one meeting I attended had only six people and they had over six feet between them and were wearing masks, I still was uncomfortable.

For some reason I have little faith in our government's mandates about social distancing and wearing masks.  But since that's all they have to offer to protect us I follow their mandates.  But lurking in the back of my mind is the thought that their instructions haven't slowed this thing down.

So my life today is lived in my home or my office.  I once in a while go to the market or visit a friend - but I try to contact others as little as possible.

Because I'm an octogenarian I'm in what's considered a vulnerable class and I don't want to push my luck.  We all have to make choices about how to live and mine is to survive as long as I can.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Pandemic Anger

Not often do I find myself in the grips of anger.  But since this Covid pandemic has overtaken our country I sometimes go there.

It's not the kind of anger that make want to confront people and go off on them. It's more the anger brought on by disbelief.  The kind that makes me shake my head and wonder how people can be so self-centered and stupid.

For example, I know this woman who has a large family, one of them who's quarantined with the Covid.  She pays him a visit, then volunteers to babysit her grandson the next day. Because she has many health problems of own she doesn't expect to live for very long and has no concern for others or their well-being - apparently even her grandson.  She won't wear a mask because she believes that everything is God's will.

And I know others who think the pandemic is a political conspiracy and that there's nothing to it.

My bad attitude today comes from when I heard that long time acquaintance of mine was on a ventilator in a local hospital and that his prospects of coming home are not good.  Those who don't wear a mask or practice social distancing may feel different when they lose a loved one to Covid.

I think it's a simple thing to make a few minor adjustments in our lives if we can protect those around who want to live and enjoy life.

We all have the right to take our own lives because of our beliefs. But we have no right to put others in danger because of our self-centerness.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 3, 2020

No Excuses

Even though we've been in Arizona since 1992 - around 28 years  - we still find that many people have never heard of TLC.

At first that surprised me, but now it makes sense.  Until you, a family member, or friend develops an out of control drug or alcohol habit, addiction recovery programs aren't on your priority list. 

Only after you develop a need do you start looking and maybe stumble across our program.  And it's likely that our name will pop up.  And that's because today we're fairly well-known in the recovery community because we have over 800 beds.  And we accept anyone who asks for help - even if they have no money or insurance to pay for treatment.  Once the referring program learns that an applicant has no resources to pay for expensive treatment services, they refer them to us because we accept anyone seeking recovery regardless of their financial status.
  
And because we welcome anyone wanting to change their lives our beds stay full most of the time.  The first thing we do is help clients find employment and develop a support system that will encourage them during the rough times that sometimes pop up in early recovery.

If they have personality issues or lack work skills we find tasks that they can volunteer for in our program.  Volunteers built TLC and their efforts as cooks, drivers, maintenance workers, etc., help the program stay afloat.

If they have job skills but can't secure a job we find placement for them with outside companies through our labor group.  In these positions they earn minimum wage and are able to pay their way through our program and the peer services they receive.  It's a win-win for everyone, including the taxpayers, because we get zero government funding.

TLC is the perfect model of addicts helping other addicts change their lives.

Friday, July 31, 2020

A dying man's Gratitude

Gratitude is the sweet spot in recovery. 

And mine was renewed earlier this week when I got a call from a voice I didn't recognize.  He insisted that I knew him and that he'd worked for me during the early months of 2012 when were starting our State licensed treatment program.  But for the life of me I couldn't place the name he gave me.

Finally I asked him if he had a nickname - and bingo!  Just like that I knew who he was.  His nickname is "Johnny" - a name he used because he was from Haiti and his Haitian name, while close to Johnny was spelled much differently - so that's how he got the nickname-it was easier to pronounce.  But back to gratitude.

He called to tell me he was in hospice and had - at most - a year to live.  He'd developed pancreatic cancer and the doctors caught it too late.

He went on to tell me that his stay with us at TLC had changed his life.  He'd been clean since he left in 2012.  He worked in a treatment program for five years.  He found a woman and had developed a long-term relationship. He was totally positive and grateful for his life even though he had less than a year to live.  He sounded accepting and peaceful.

And I left the call with real gratitude for the life I have now.  Thank you, Johnny, for the call.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Facing the Unknown

I think in this era of Covid 19 that those of us in the twelve-step programs are learning the true meaning of powerlessness.

Powerlessness is one of the key concepts of the twelve-step programs. Over and over we hear sad tales of our alcoholic and addict friends one more time going out and trying to successfully use drugs. And those who have gone out and failed come back to meetings and drag themselves to the podium to share with the rest of us tales of woe. Stories of where they have lost everything they've accumulated during their sobriety in a very short order. And those stories are good for us to hear. It's almost like going to school, taking a long course in how deadly and powerful are common enemy is.

Sometimes we hear stories from those who have lasted three months, six months, nine months, and sometimes even a year or two. But the outcome is inevitably that we are greeted by failure and once more we tell stories that always have the same same outcome: failure and woe and a fall from grace.

And this leads me to circle around to the first sentence of this blog where I mention Covid 19. Because when it first struck I didn't take it very seriously. I was one of those naysayers who thought we would get rid of the virus right away. I didn't want to wear a mask everywhere I went. I didn't want to socially distance. Sometimes I sided with those who thought it was a government plot. I don't think I started taking things as seriously as I do now until I saw the death tolls put out by the CDC every day. No matter from where or how the virus got here when people start dying – sometimes in the hundreds – I had to start believing that this thing was serious and act accordingly.

A part of my job is that I bear some responsibility for providing an environment for recovering alcoholics and addicts so they're as safe as they can be from this pandemic. We are constantly cleaning and sanitizing everything. We require social distancing and enforce it as much as we possibly can. We require everyone to wear a mask.

And the interesting thing is that even though we deal with a bunch of addicts and alcoholics most of them have been surprisingly cooperative. When this thing first struck I had visions of clients packing their bags and leaving by the dozens, driven by the fear of an unknown enemy and an unknown future. After all, isn't that what we used to do when we faced the unknown fear that drove us to drugs or alcohol?

But that hasn't happened in our program here at TLC. And I'm so proud of our managers and staff members who have exhibited such patience in dealing with this unknown that we're facing.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Uncaring

I've found myself being angry and disappointed in the last few weeks. And it's not because of the politics. It's not because of the rioters and anarchists who are tearing down Seattle and Portland, using the death of a black man as an excuse to create chaos.

No, my anger is much closer to home.

No, my anger pops up when I see people not even doing the basics to prevent the spread of this virus. I see people I'm fairly close to walk around without masks and who don't have a care about social distancing. At first, I was one of those people who was very skeptical about the effectiveness of masks. And even though I still have questions about whether they work or not, I come from the streets and the drug world and have zero medical background. Therefore, when the bulk of the medical community is wearing masks and is advising us to wear masks, then that's what I do. 

I don't want to wear a mask. But nobody has come up with any other suggestions that would possibly slow this thing down. Masks and social distancing is the best they've come up with so far.

Yet, people I know well and care about somehow don't seem to get it. I have a couple of friends who have frail, elderly relatives and friends – I'm over 80 myself – yet I have never seen a mask on their face. And because I know that deep inside they're loving and caring people I can't figure out what's going on with them. I even know one person who has a family member who is bedridden. 

Yet have never seen a mask on his face.  Is it because the mask is too uncomfortable and inconvenient?
Is it because this person is spaced out? Is it because he doesn't care? Or does he think the idea of masks is a bunch of propaganda? I'll never know why he doesn't follow the majority and I'm sure that if I asked him he would come up with some kind of excuse that he felt was logical.

All I know is if I say I care but I don't practice the basics that might protect my fellow man – then I'm lying to myself and everyone else.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Man vs. Machine

One thing we realize after we are sober for a while is that we don't have to react to everything that goes wrong by picking up a drink or drug. But just because we got sober doesn't mean that we won't have a reaction when things go wrong. Even if we meditate 30 minutes a day, we don't turn into peaceful monks who love everybody, people who can't get frustrated or angry, and who are always at peace with what goes on in the world.

What we do learn when we're sober for a while is that we don't have to react when things don't always go our way. And I bring this up because that's something that I've learned this last month on a deeper level.

It all started when my computer crashed about six weeks ago and I purchased a new one from Best Buy, which I later found out was a serious mistake. The new computer, which cost about $1500 for a desktop, a Hewlett-Packard model, a brand which has always served me well. My laptop is a Hewlett-Packard. My printer is a Hewlett-Packard. And over the years I've had a series of them because they're  basic and functional.  The only reason I ever replace them is because a newer and faster model will come out – one with more features and more storage. So I pass my old one to a member of my family and they usually get a year or more use out of it.

Anyway, this model that I bought has been a nightmare. At this time of year of my paperwork doesn't require a lot of my time. But this year I'm having difficulty getting things done because I keep hiring someone look at it and figure out why it keeps crashing. Best Buy has a repair group called the Geek Squad that supposedly has brilliant youngsters who fix things really quick. So I went down to the store and made an appointment to get my computer to work, but found that they couldn't get to it for at least a week. And my workflow is such that I need to get things done right now. Not later.

They did tell me that I could go on their website and and it would guide me through the problems I was facing.  And I could probably get my problems resolved much faster that way. Well, that didn't work very well either. Because after spending $1500 for a machine I figured that they would be happy to fix it for me with the idea that they would get more business from me in the future. But they were so blasé and indifferent that I made a commitment right then that I would find another retailer who wasn't doing as well as they were who would be motivated to help me solve my problems.

So, I've been working around the problems with the computer but am about to the end of my relationship with it. I've hired a few freelancers to work with it and they keep it running for a while. But even after 30 years of being sober I sometimes get visions of taking the computer to the top of the stairs and drop kicking it over the rail. I know that's immature and that it won't solve my problem. But, it would provide a certain amount of gratification.

But anger is something that I got over with pretty much during the first years of my sobriety and I want to stay that way – living without anger. And frustration? Well I guess that's just part of being a human being - whether I like it or not.

Click here to email John

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Fighting the Disease

Although this is supposed to be a blog about recovery and ways to do recovery I keep finding myself gravitating toward the sad tales of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus.

A few days ago I mentioned a group of college students who were throwing "coronavirus parties." Reportedly, the prize for the winner of one of the party games was that they got to throw the next party. In other words, they had to go out and find someone who had been exposed to the coronavirus and bring them to the party and see if another member of the party would contract the virus. It saddens me to report that the "winner" of one of the parties – as she was dying – was quoted as saying that she didn't realize the seriousness of what they were doing. And thus a number of people at the party she went to were exposed to the virus, including her. At first I didn't believe that people were doing things that stupid, but when you hear things multiple times there has to be some kind of truth in it.

Some of the reports I have heard is that the majority of people getting the virus are under 40 to 45 years old. That runs counter to what was reported initially when health authorities released information about who is most likely to get the virus and die from it. At that point, the reports were that 75% of the people who succumbed to the virus were in the 65-year-old and up age group. I recall that here in Arizona there was a huge spike in cases immediately after the bars and fitness centers were open once more – businesses that cater in most cases to a younger crowd.

Here at TLC we have been following government mandates as close as we possibly can. At the moment we have two or three people on our team who have the virus and a couple who have been recently tested are awaiting results. With such a large group of people our staff is having a difficult time enforcing social distancing – but I have to compliment them because they are doing the very best they can. As anyone in recovery knows, addicts and alcoholics are often very difficult people to deal with in the best of circumstances. However, in this situation it seems like most everyone is taking the situation about masks and social distancing very seriously. On a deep level I think we all are starting to realize the seriousness of what we are facing.

I think when a person is facing two battles – both recovery and this virus – it's much easier to understand that life today is a real challenge, one that we have never faced before.


Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Equalizer

I think this pandemic is probably going to be the greatest equalizer our world has seen in the last century.

Soon, a realization will come upon us that we have a common enemy.  One that so far we haven't been able to do much about.  Instead, some people write it off as a governmenet conspiracy, a plot by China, poor management by Donald Trump, or maybe even the fury of an angry God spanking a corrupt world for it's sins.

We see some of this in the way political parties are are blaming the other side for the whole mess.  It's those damn Democrats.  No, it's the Republicans.  But the reality is that when we get to the bottom line is that it's nobody's fault, but also everyone's fault.  And that we're going to have to work together like never before.  And forget blame and fault as they serve no purpose.

I've heard people say that no one can force them to wear a mask or social distance.  That it was against their constitutional rights.

And that may be true.  But they might have a different attitude when they pass this virus to a family member who doesn't surive.  Will they be so cavalier when they express and exercise their constitutional rights?

Even members of the 12-step  programs, who have been fighting a common enemy for years have adapted to wearing masks and social distancing.  At meetings they stay six feet apart and they wear masks.  Their fight for survival has taught them a lot that non-addicts and social drinkers could likely benefit from.  They have learned that if they want to live they must follow a few simple rules and have found that their lives become worth livng.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Lives do Matter

One thing I know about the twelve-step programs is that I have never run into racism – at least anything that was overt enough to pay attention to. The one positive thing that one picks up on in the drug world is that we deal with people of all races and nationalities. Our priority is not hatred toward others, it's finding enough drugs and alcohol to keep us out of our minds. And I've never heard anyone say I'm not going to buy drugs from that person because they are brown or yellow or black. All we addicts care about is keeping our head full of drugs or other substances that will help us reach the chemical balance we're attempting to achieve. We don't care what color the salesperson is, if we want to get high we will buy it.

I bring this up today because a lot of youngsters – even some in my family – pay a lot of attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. But what they don't understand because of their immaturity is that racism in its many forms has been around for a long time. The stuff that's going on right now, particularly the political aspects where politicians are using black Lives Matter as a way to hopefully win an election. And once they get their vote, they'll probably show them the way back to the ghetto.

While I'm not totally sure about who is responsible for the idea of getting rid of the police we all got to see the disaster that occurred when the police weren't allowed to enforce the law and let the protesters govern themselves. That part of the city turned into an extension of the city dump, and something like three or four people were murdered. I think that is one of the best civics lessons I've ever seen. We can all speculate about what will happen if no police are around.  But when we see this radical social experiment in action, we probably have a pretty good answer as to what will happen if this leftist view comes into effect.

I believe that those who fail in life always look for someone else to blame their failures on. And that includes us white people, brown people, black people, and any other color you want to pick. But I'm also a person who believes that those who have that worldview are not looking for equality in terms of opportunity. Because opportunity exists for everyone if you're open to reaching out and embracing it. I believe that when people use their color as an excuse for their lack of success the thing they really are looking for is not equal opportunity but equal outcomes. And, of course, the radical leftists among us are willing to play that game with them by offering them free everything.

But my belief is that while black lives matter, so does every other life on the planet. A lot of people talk about "institutional" racism. And I'm sure that institutional racism does exist. But it doesn't just exist in our country among white people. I have visited other areas where so-called institutional racism existed. I have been subjected to so-called institutional racism among the Cubans in Miami, the Hawaiians and Japanese in Honolulu, but other than remembering it, I didn't pay a lot of attention. One thing about people of different races is that people tend to live among and socialize with people who are mostly like themselves. And personally, I think that's okay. Because people of different races mostly share the same cultural and religious values, and many other beliefs that a lot of us don't understand.

In closing, I believe that we should bury our hatred toward others and give them the same courtesies we would give people in our own culture. Will that ever happen? Yes, in a while.

After all, some 75,000,000 white people voted a black man into office in 2008. While I wasn't one of them, it demonstrates that with the right motivation and opportunities a man of any color can be voted into the highest office in our land.

Click here to email John.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Changes

I found myself in a supermarket line, and doing my part by staying six feet away from the closest person. But I couldn't help but eavesdrop on a conversation between a couple who was standing close together, probably married, in the line ahead of me.

"I'll really be happy when things get back to normal," the man said to the woman. And while I believe his sentiments were genuine, I felt like telling him that there probably would never be anything like the "normal" that he was referring to – a world in which there was no such thing as the coronavirus.

Because the reality is that this so-called pandemic is probably going to change the world forever. At least in terms of how we deal with hygiene, travel, entertainment, education, sports, and everything else you can name. And while there have been other deadly pandemics in the world, reality is probably that none of us have ever dealt with anything like this. Our world has been turned upside down. We can no longer safely go to social events where people are close, like nightclubs and bars, AA meetings, sporting events, and so on.

And I think many people are reaching the end of their patience. I've read in the news that people have assaulted one another because one would be wearing a mask and the other wouldn't. And while I was one of those who said they would never wear a mask, I now find myself with a whole case of them in my bedroom and make sure that I wear one whenever I'm out in public or around others. While I still don't feel like wearing it, reality is that how I feel about it doesn't make a lot of difference. Science is science. And from what I understand from science is that the coronavirus is transmitted when it becomes airborne, as it is when someone coughs close to another person.

So I often go on and on about how the only thing we can expect in life is change. And the change may be positive, and this virus will disappear. Or the change may be negative. And the virus will become worse. Whatever occurs, we are going to stay more emotionally healthy if we accept the idea that all we can expect in life is that things will be different day-by-day. Maybe not radically. But still, things will be different and life will change for all of us.

And the only real way to maintain happiness is to expect change and then we won't be spiraling into depression when things are all of a sudden different.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Being our Best

I was following the news the other day and I heard a disturbing story. It seems that in various areas of California Asians were being blamed for the coronavirus. Some were assaulted. Others were yelled at, spit on, and told they should go back to where they came from. Most of those initiating the attacks were minorities themselves, people who had come from other countries. The report finished with the information that the FBI is looking into these assaults as civil rights violations.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised to hear these stories, even though I know it's human nature to blame others for our difficulties.

My experience in Arizona is entirely different. It seems like there's more a sense of community, the idea that we're all in the same boat and that we should do what we can to help one another. When I'm out in public or in a store I noticed that people are more courteous and polite. The same seems to extend to the way people drive, which at one point was aggressively.

I would like to think that this common enemy we're facing will bring the best out of us. I know several people who have been quarantining and can't go out and shop on their own. Yet, they have friends and others looking out for them, making sure they are okay. Some of them have been quarantining for three and four weeks because they have health issues and don't want to be exposed.

I think that when people play the blame game and put responsibility for this virus on other people – while they may be right – it doesn't do them any good on a personal level.. It does us much better in terms of healing and keeping our stress down to hope that everyone comes through this as best they can. To be angry, to hate, and to attack others does nothing but raise our stress level and makes us more vulnerable to whatever might be out there that could endanger us.

Kindness to others is good therapy.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Ambition Matters

Some friends asked me to see fireworks this Fourth of July. But I declined. And that's because I grew up during my teen years about 5 miles from Disneyland when it was first constructed.  Every night I got to see a lot of fireworks.  Now, admittedly, I was far enough away to not hear all the noise they made. But you must admit that seeing fireworks for three or four years can somewhat numb you to the effects of pyrotechnics.

But this year – while not thinking about fireworks – I've spent time thinking about the state of our country and how we seem to be descending into political and health chaos to a degree I've never seen. For the past nearly 4 years I've watched the liberal press attack a president who has done nothing but fulfill his promises and bring prosperity to our citizenry. But for some reason, obviously liberal ones, the press spends about 75 to 80% of their time demonizing the current occupant of the White House. I believe that he could give each citizen $1 million cash and the liberal left would still hate him. This in spite of the fact that he has brought more prosperity to this country than we have seen in 50 some years. Other than not yet completing the wall, he has pretty much fulfilled his campaign promises.

I love the country I was born and raised in. And I do what I can today to be a good citizen and help improve it. And if I didn't like this country I wouldn't be here. I would be living either in Canada or Mexico – where citizens seem to have love and passion about their country. I invite those who are  unhappy here to find someplace else to live.

Because I believe that anyone who wants to succeed in this country can – unless they have a mental or physical disability that prevents them from succeeding. I know that prejudice exists in our country but I also have seen many many people overcome the barriers of color and become wildly successful because they had determination and drive. I know, that no matter what color you are, you can succeed if you have drive and determination. All you have to do is drag yourself out of bed and get off your lazy ass and go to work.

I know this because the first 50 years of my life I was a drug addict who lived in and out of jails and prisons for some 16 years, was homeless for a time, and still succeeded to where today I have whatever I want pretty much when I want it. And if you don't believe me, I'll be happy to take your phone call or make an appointment and explain how I did it.

But if pursuing a dream is too much work for you, then you're welcome to continue living in your misery.