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.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

RIP Tinash

So yesterday I get a message about a former client named Tinash who was at TLC some five years ago who passed away from what was likely an opioid overdose. And the person who sent the message was a lady friend of his who finally had to go her own way because of his addiction – even though she still loved him.

She said he'd passed away in Missouri last December.  And since his remains couldn't be immediately identified his ashes were unable to be claimed by his family until February 25th from the third party that was holding them - perhaps a funeral home or crematory.

I was sorry to hear that Tinash passed away because he was a wonderful person. He was intelligent, easy to communicate with and cared about others.

He was gifted with such an intellect that he received two full-ride scholarships to major universities in his younger years. One scholarship was for soccer (which he loved) and the other for debate. He ultimately chose to study political science and debate.

Not only did I know him, but on one occasion I also became acquainted with his father - a pastor who dearly loved his son. The family was from Nigeria and migrated here when he was eight years old.

There will be a service on Saturday, February 29, at Grace Baptist Church, at 1120 E. Plainview Rd., Springfield, Missouri, for those who wish to send cards, flowers, or to attend.

May you go in peace, Tinash,

Click here to email Johnschwary@msn.com

Monday, February 24, 2020

Temporary Emotions

"Emotions are temporary states of mind. Don’t let them permanently destroy you"  unknown

Many times we act like how we feel at the moment is the way things will be forever. And that's when we' re walking on quicksand. Because anytime we think that our anger is permanent we're in trouble. Anytime our frustration seems like a never-ending burden we' re also in trouble.

Because these are the times we let our emotions rule us. And as addicts and alcoholics in recovery, we all know that when we let our emotions rule us we have that magic solution waiting for us: either a visit to the dope house or the liquor store. And there is no such thing in my world as one visit to a dope house. Or one visit to the liquor department. For me, once the ball gets rolling someone else has to stop it because I'm usually incapable of doing it. And that someone who will usually stop it for me is a representative of the law – either a police officer or a parole officer. Once I get addicted to whatever I'm using at the time it's never a fun thing when it comes to a screeching halt because by then I've lost everything and I usually end up living the next few months or years in some type of cage.

But now that I've been sober 29 years I don't get into these situations anymore. I've learned something called "self-talk." And you know, the more I use it, the easier it gets for me to talk myself out of a bad place or a bad mood and move on with my day.

Since I work in a recovery program I have many opportunities to see people who are acting like their life is in permanent trouble over a temporary situation. Their family may be angry with them. They may have to pay child custody payments and not have a job. They may have hepatitis C. Maybe their last excursion in the drug world cost them everything they had plus a moment or two in jail – something that they're still fighting about even though it's in the past and they once more have their freedom. You name the problem and I've had someone tell me about it.

But I try to teach them what I do without being critical of them. I may tell them that I didn't feel like getting out of bed this morning but instead, I made myself place my feet on the floor and get into my gym clothes and spend 30 to 45 minutes dragging my carcass around the gym. At the same time, I'm doing this, I also have a set of headphones and am listening to some type of positive thinking talk. There are so many resources today that we can listen to on YouTube for nothing, the motivation that will reset any kind of bad mood.

I tell myself things like "John, you didn't get sober and clean to lead. So get off your ass and get moving and do something for someone else. It will make you feel better." And invariably whatever I tell myself of this nature works. Because I did not get sober to lead a miserable life. I got sober to be happy, joyous, and free of the kind of emotions used to drive me to feel good experimenting with different chemicals. Experiments – by the way – but I never could seem to get right.

So while it might sound silly to talk to yourself, remember that no one has to hear you talk because you don't have to say anything out loud. The conversation only takes place in your head. But if it's a good conversation it gets you on fire. It gets you to open your meditation book. It gets you to doing some push-ups. It makes you open your iPad and listen to a motivational talk.

If that temporary state of mind that you're carrying around is negative, I challenge you to change it. Because I know that if one thing an alcoholic or addict has is a creative mind; if he didn't have one he wouldn't be able to hustle enough drugs to stay high.

Click here to email John

Friday, February 21, 2020

Great Team

I remember when I first went on vacation back in 1994, the first I'd had since I opened TLC in 1992. And I was so paranoid when I went away from the program for a week that I stopped at every phone booth and punched in my pager number so that someone would call and let me know that everything was okay.

Finally, the staff got tired of me calling and told me they were no longer going to answer my pages. That I should just enjoy my vacation and quit bothering them. And with a certain level of anxiety, I did exactly as they said and didn't call during the rest of the vacation. Because in their own blunt way, they let me know that I could have confidence in their ability to run the program while I was away. And when I get back everything was fine.

And now when I go on vacation I seldom call unless I need a specific bit of information. And that's because we have a staff that is well-trained and reliable who take care of the business while I'm out of town.

Today when I opened my office door, everything was exactly as I when left. I looked at reports. I walked through the offices. I asked questions. Everything was functioning just as it was supposed to.

I sometimes am amazed at what addicts can do when they all get on the same page. I have a strong belief that our society could model many recovery programs after our program. Programs where addicts work together to help each other change their lives – and at no expense to taxpayers. In fact, what we do provides great savings to taxpayers because we help keep people out of jail, out of prison, out of mental hospitals without funding from any agencies.

I'm not sure the government will ever allow addicts to help each other without exerting a lot of control over how they operate. For some reason, they seem to think they know the answers to all social problems. 

And my belief is that because of government intervention we have the massive drug problems we are dealing with today.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Kind Mexicans

I'm in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico as I write this.  And often, before I come here, some of my friends ask me if I'm not afraid to visit South of the border.

And my answer is usually the same.  I reply that there are places in Phoenix and other areas of the United States that are as dangerous - or more so - than here. Think Chicago, for example, where there may be 40 shootings on a weekend. Or Los Angeles, or any other metropolitan areas where gangs do battle over drug turf. 

In my 25 years of coming here, I've never seen a fight.  And, even though people drive as crazily as anywhere, I've only seen one or two auto accidents.

In my experience, this is a peaceful and friendly place and I can easily visualize myself living here someday out of the hustle and bustle of the Phoenix metro area where I've lived for over 30 years.

As an example of how gracious the folks are here, I'll tell you about how some locals helped me out of a dilemma this past Sunday.  I 'd pulled over to use a portable bathroom at the roadside.  And when I was done and started to drive off I was unable to drive anywhere.  The patch of dirt I'd parked on consisted of a crust of sand on top of a pool of wet sand that had swallowed our rental car to the front bumper.  And no matter what I tried I was going nowhere.

While I was trying to dig my way out with my hands, a cab driver dressed in a white shirt and tie stopped and offered his help, but to no avail.  Then a gentleman in a BMW stopped and tried pulling us out with a nylon strap he attached to his bumper.  Still no luck.

By now, we were surrounded by a gathering of neighbors - men, women, and children - offering to help.  And finally, with the BMW pulling, and about ten neighbors pushing, we were unstuck. 

And the interesting thing is that most of them didn't want to accept any pesos for their efforts. It was simply a case of people wanting to be helpful to their fellow humans - gringos they didn't even know and might never see again.

Click here to email John


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Opioid Tsunami

I read that in Franklin County, Ohio, so many addicts are dying from Fentanyl overdoses that County officials are considering opening a second morgue to accommodate the victims until their bodies can be processed.  One day during the past month, ten addicts died from what officials believe to be Fentanyl.

It seems that addicts are buying so-called heroin or other drugs that dealers lace with Fentanyl to increase drug sales.  And one of the problems, of course, is that addicts under-estimate their tolerance to drugs while hoping to get the maximum rush.

I recall when I was using over 30 years ago that when a lot of overdoses occurred everyone began seeking out the dealer because they wanted the strongest dope possible.  They didn't think an overdose would happen to them - or maybe they simply didn't care.

Since June of 2017, there were over 4000 opioid deaths in Arizona.  Check the following link to see the statistical breakdown.  https://www.azdhs.gov/prevention/womens-childrens-health/injury prevention/opioid-prevention/index.php.

Yet treatment in our State meets a lot of resistance from the public.  An example is that citizens want more stringent laws dealing with homes and facilities that offer services to addicts, a group that is protected by the Fair Housing Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.  If the disability were from diabetes, cancer, heart disease or another ailment one would never hear a peep from the public. In fact, they likely would strongly support it.

But try to help an addict get clean and sober and there's an uproar in the community and legislative bodies.

As an addict and alcoholic who's been clean 29 years- and a treatment program operator - I know that the so-called "war on drugs" has failed miserably. Yet the go-to solution with most of the public is to look upon addicts and alcoholics as morally corrupt and to resist the efforts of those who try to help them.

Their best ideas include punishment and discrimination.  Put them in jail and get them out of our neighborhoods.  And how has that worked?

Click here to email John

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wanting to stay High

The mother of a young addict tells me that her son has had every opportunity get sober – but won't.

She has the resources to send him to a treatment program. He won't go. She's offered to rent him an apartment until he can find employment – but he won't look for a job. He just bums money from wherever he can, and lays up in a cheap motel. But his addiction is becoming so debilitating that he soon will be homeless because he can't even hustle up enough money to pay for his own motel.

She's tried everything in the world to get him on a recovery track, but addiction rules his life. Because she was using drugs when he was a child he uses that as a guilt card when he talks to her. And because she's overly sensitive she has a tough time putting her foot down. Even though she's in recovery and knows that she had to suffer enough pain before reaching the point where she got serious, she somehow has a difficult time applying the same principles to her son.

Because I know these people well I have some understanding of the dynamic between her child and her. I tell her she must be willing to let him go all the way to the bottom. Let him go to jail. Let him go to the streets. Let him suffer enough to figure out that his decision to continue using is going to keep him immersed in suffering. He'll begin to understand that his way isn't working.

I tell her that I never got into recovery until people stopped helping. When the person who loved me the most, my mother, told me she'd no longer help me I began to realize that I must be the problem. She wouldn't let me sleep on her couch. She wouldn't let me sleep in her garage. She wouldn't "loan" me money. Nor would any of my friends. I was without resources.  And ended up being homeless for a time.

But that was probably the best lesson of my life. I finally had to look at myself and say "You know, John, you may be the problem here." I began to realize that other people weren't the problem. Yeah, so I was raised in an abusive home as a child when I lived with my alcoholic father. While we had enough to eat, we were relatively poor as I was growing up.

All of the bad things that happened to us as we were growing up or going through relationships or jobs or life itself, may be true. And they may be bad, even horrible. But if that's what we use as an excuse to get high or drunk, then we're destined to never get well. All we're doing is perpetuating a bad situation. And eventually, those bad situations historically get worse, never better. If we live through our addictions, we may find ourselves in prison. Or on the streets. Maybe a mental hospital. Who knows? And the sad thing is that as we get older, we find that hardly anyone cares about us because we don't care enough about ourselves to accept help from others.

But there's a solution for all of us addicts. All we need to do is open up our minds and hearts – and reach out. Someone will help us get into recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Communication

Communication is one of the most important parts of running a recovery operation.

This morning we had our monthly TLC business meeting and each of the 40 some participants were asked to submit five new ideas of how to improve TLC's operations. This is the first time we've had a meeting where all of the house managers got together in one room to exchange ideas about how to improve the program.

For over 25 years we've had monthly meetings. But the focus of those meetings was more on recovery and less on business. My contention is that we're supposed to take care of our recovery in 12 step meetings or with our sponsors. Because 80% of running a nonprofit corporation is about business and 20% is about the mission of helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives. And our housing and business operations support our mission very well. But we can do more to help our recovering population if we run it in a more businesslike fashion.

For example, we often get into problems over simple things. Because we have some 70 parcels of property and around 900 residents we spend a lot of money and time on maintenance problems. A house manager may call for help with a leaky toilet or an air conditioning unit that's not functioning properly. He calls his supervisor, the district manager, who relays the information to our air-conditioning department or our maintenance people.

But many times – not always – a maintenance crew will arrive and address the problem then leave without telling the manager they completed the project. Perhaps the manager was off property running an errand, or else dealing with another issue on the property and was unaware that the maintenance people had even been there or if they fixed the problem.

As a solution, the manager of our maintenance people came up with a good answer: when a house manager needs something repaired or looked at, he submits a work order which gets passed up the chain of command to the chief operating officer. The chief operating officer sends a work order out to the appropriate department and thus creates a paper trail that describes the problem and how it was resolved. When the job is completed the house manager signs the invoice. Copies of work orders are then scanned into a database so that we have a history of the issues at each property.

While this may seem like a no-brainer or a simple thing for those who run large businesses, one must keep in mind that TLC from top to bottom is managed by addicts and alcoholics. And many of them have no experience with this type of organization. Or maybe they've never worked at all until they came to us.

Another thing in our managers often learn while they're volunteering at our houses is that dealing with addicts is not simple. But once again, I emphasize that it's all about communication.

Many of our clients show up from prison or off the streets and are frustrated and angry. Our natural impulse is to get angry in return. But the appropriate way to deal with an angry client is to simply listen. That often resolves the issue. But if it doesn't, and they continue to be angry or if they start to threaten our staff we usually ask them to leave. And if they don't, we tell them that we'll call the police and have them removed from the premises.

If we can deal with angry clients and calm them down before we get to this point, we save ourselves problems. On a few occasions, we've actually been involved in lawsuits because clients thought they were treated unfairly or that they were disrespected by a manager. And while we've never lost one of these lawsuits, we still went to the expense of hiring an attorney and sometimes spending months and weeks until we reach a resolution.

Communication is important in every realm of life but especially when we're dealing with people's lives and futures.

Click here to email John

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Trusting the Untrustworthy

On more than one occasion we’ve had managers steal from us.

Some have stolen money, others have taken vehicles. And a few have stolen both. Then they leave, they relapse, and either end up walking a prison yard or living on the streets.

And yet, even though they’ve done us wrong, we’ve allowed them to return to TLC when they show up asking for help.

And I’ve had people question my sanity because I’ve allowed them back. And sometimes I question my own sanity. But then I reflect hat a lot of people gave me more than one chance even though I let them down multiple times. Of course, when we let them back in they don't start out with a job where they handle money or other valuable assets, such as vehicles. They have to start at the bottom and work their way back into our confidence.

And, believe it or not, we actually had two clients who ripped us off a second time – and we gave them a second chance. And they didn't let us down. In fact, one of them is still with us and in a position where he handles large sums of money. The other one stayed a few years, then left and started his own recovery program. Sadly, he was murdered one night while collecting service fees from his clients.

All those who did us wrong and came back and made their amends to TLC are now sober for several years.

Perhaps the core of our philosophy here at TLC is that we trust some of the most untrustworthy people on the planet. Clients show up at our program from all kinds of places: prisons, the streets, hospitals, from other states, from detoxification units, from police departments, hospitals and so on.

The things that most all of them have in common is that 95% are homeless, jobless, and without money. Yet we give them credit and welcome them as long as they're not arsonists or sex offenders.

And as far as letting them back in if they rip us off, well that's just what addicts and alcoholics do. Until they get sober they take from everyone around them in some form or another. And that's why I believe in giving addicts and alcoholics second chances – because people gave me chances over and over until I finally got it right.

And once I did get it right I'm able to enjoy the wonderful life I have today. All the Promises have come true.

Click here to email John

Monday, February 3, 2020

Change

When our clients complain about the obstacles in their lives I give them some wisdom I was given a long time ago. And that wisdom is simply this: all we can count on in life is change.

And sometimes change is good.  And sometimes it's not so good. But regardless, it's the one constant in our lives that we can depend on. And, I believe, change is mostly a good thing.

This topic came up for me today because someone was complaining about their iPhone 7, about how poorly it performed compared to the latest models of iPhones. That's when I pulled out a bit of trivia that I use when people have luxury issues like which iPhone or iPad or other gadget is the best.

I tell them about when I was a child back in the nineteen forties when we didn't even have a telephone in the house. In fact, the only thing we had that could be called technology was a radio. And what came out of it was pretty limited and scratchy. Yet that radio was the latest technology. I remember that the family used to listen to boxing matches, ballgames, the Amos and Andy show, fibber McGee and Molly, the Falcon, Family Theater and the news. Of course there were other offerings. But those are the ones I remember.

Television hadn't been invented yet, it didn't come along until around the nineteen fifties and it was the most amazing thing to hit the neighborhood I lived in. The first families to own one were very popular. And it was not uncommon for them to have a living room full of visitors watching a little tiny box with a black and white screen and a very limited program selection. And, of course, today it's not unusual for someone to have a television screen that covers half of the wall.

And change keeps marching on. The other day I was surprised to hear some teenagers talking about Facebook being a site for old people, that they had other types of social media that they preferred over Facebook. And me? I never have had a Facebook page nor am I interested in getting one. I realize that I'm really out of the loop when it comes to social media, because I'm too busy as it is to keep updating information that's read by people that I mostly don't even know.

So how does all this relate to recovery? I think that if we can accept that change is inevitable, then we aren't surprised when bad things happen in our lives. Nor are we surprised when good things occur in our lives. And when we can accept change and wrap our heads around it then we're not so likely to react negatively and revert to using drugs or alcohol.

Change is on the march toward all of us. People will leave our lives unexpectedly. We may get our dream job. We may even hit the lottery, though that's a big maybe. We'll find ourselves growing older every day no matter what kind of exercise we do nor what kind of vitamins we take. But if we can expect change and learn to welcome it, life will run much smoother and our recovery will be much more solid.

Click here to email John