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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

New Measures

Here in Arizona we're now supposed to stay home after 5 PM. each day for the rest of the month of April. This was passed on to the public at a governor's news conference yesterday. Someone told me that we could get out to purchase certain necessities like food, gasoline, or medical treatment. But the reality is, this is so new that nobody really know what's going. The only people who are leaving home during the day are those who work in vital industries, such as hospitals, markets, and other institutions that provide the daily necessities of life.

For us recovering addicts and alcoholics things like this used to be an excuse to relapse and deal with anxiety as we always did: calm ourselves with a healthy dose of drugs or alcohol. 

At TLC those of us on the corporate staff really didn't know what to expect from clients. But not much has changed in our program. In fact, our population has increased by about 25 or 30 and everybody has continued to work on their outside jobs or at TLC on their volunteer jobs inside the program. Maybe the idea that we're all facing an unknown crisis – one like we've never encountered before – is bringing out the best in everyone. I've seen in the media that a lot of outside groups are  volunteering to help neighbors and others who are more vulnerable to this virus. And it's heartening to me to see people helping each other when things get tough.

Something that I commonly hear lately is that the world will never be the same again. And it's easy to believe that because because this is an enemy we've never encountered, at least on this scale. The last time anything of this magnitude occurred was in 1918 when some 50,000,000 people died from the Spanish flu. And possibly it could have been a larger number, because communication was much more primitive over 100 years ago and it was harder to come by reliable information from third world countries. Yet the world got through it and prospered to where it is today.

My thought is that the survivors will come through this as more grateful and stronger people.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Positive Results?

There's been a lot of chatter about the pandemic, Coronavirus – 19.

And after seeing some of the results of that chatter for the last few days I'm beginning to think that this pandemic may have some positive sides to it.

All of a sudden – or at least as fast as Congress moves – the government has come up with some sort of financial agreement that will put trillions into the economy to fight the expected results of this new disease. All of a sudden people in government – former adversaries – have overcome their animosity and hammered out some kind of an agreement. All of a sudden, they have found interests in common.

And just this evening I saw a blurb on the Internet where the Federal Drug Administration had approved a new testing device that will discover if someone is infected with the coronavirus within 15 minutes. Now considering that the coronavirus just came to the surface during the first months of this year, this is lightning speed for this agency to move. This is a great improvement over the former test, which took something like eight hours before results could be learned.

To me it kind of shows that when there's a common adversary such as a disease that threatens all of us, that people can forget their petty differences and learn how to work together. Large companies have joined in the effort by stopping the production of automobiles to produce ventilators for hospitals that are supposedly short of such equipment.

While there has been some petty bickering around the town I live in over toilet paper, hand-sanitizer, and other "necessities" of life, the few people who are out in public seem to be much nicer and more considerate. I think that we've learned that we all have a common enemy – a disease that we really don't know anything about or understand – and that we're not going to overcome it by squabbling.

When people join to battle a common adversary it seems that a lot of creative energy is released. Even though a lot of them have different motives there's a common goal. Some are concerned about the health of their families. Others about the health of their companies. 

And many are loving human beings who have compassion for their fellow man and will do whatever it takes to help the world become a better place. I want to be a part of this latter group.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

CDC Coronavirus Information

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2O19?  (COVID-19)

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. 

Can people in the U.S. get COVID-19? 

Yes. COVID-19 is spreading from person to person in parts of the United States. Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are close contacts of someone known to have COVID-19, for example healthcare workers, or household members. Other people at higher risk for infection are those who live in or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Learn more about places with ongoing spread at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/ transmission.html#geographic.

Have there been cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.? 

Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. The current count of cases of COVID-19 in the United States is available on CDC’s webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html

How does COVID-19 spread? 

The virus that causes COVID-19 probably emerged from an animal source, but is now spreading from person to person. The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses at https://www.cdc.gov/ coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 

Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of • fever • cough • shortness of breath 

What are severe complications from this virus? 

Some patients have pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and in some cases death.

How can I help protect myself? 

People can help protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions. • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. 

If you are sick, to keep from spreading respiratory illness to others, you should 

• Stay home when you are sick. 
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. 

What should I do if I recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19? 

If you have traveled from an affected area, there may be restrictions on your movements for up to 2 weeks. If you develop symptoms during that period (fever, cough, trouble breathing), seek medical advice. Call the office of your health care provider before you go, and tell them about your travel and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness. While sick, avoid contact with people, don’t go out and delay any travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others. 

Is there a vaccine? 

There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands often. 

Is there a treatment? 

There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.

INFORMATION TAKEN FROM CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Changes

One thing in life that we can be sure about is that things will be different tomorrow. And this new virus from China is an example that proves it.

People in all walks of life were blindsided by the rapidity and suddenness of this new pandemic.

Those in the political world had their minds deeply wrapped around the different ways they were going to run their campaign. Inventors were working on their latest project, trying to figure out an answer to a problem that might have eluded them for years.

Parents trying to figure out how they were going to save going to save enough money to send their children to college. And the children who are graduating from college were trying to plan their next career move. Should I accept this job? What's the best use of my newly acquired skills?

Others were planning their social lives. Some were working on marriage plans. Others on vacation plans.

I'm willing to bet that not one of them was sitting around figuring out what they were going to do while they were quarantined for a week or a month or two months. Or how they were going to find enough toilet paper to wipe their butts while they stayed at home. Or how many different ways they could figure out how to prepare beans and rice so that their families could eat.

And the interesting thing about all of this is that no one knows where this thing is going. All of a sudden we are living in a time of immediate uncertainty.

This is really a big deal in my life because it's the first time I've ever encountered anything like this.

It's not one of those things where there's an easy solution. But it does make me tell myself how grateful I would be if this would all this go away and I could go back to the "problems" I was facing two to three weeks ago. It reminds me that I must always learn to live in the moment – because this might be the best moment I will ever experience.

Click here to email John



Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Success Story

One of the most rewarding parts of operating a recovery program is when I get emails like the one below:  (Anything that would reveal the writer's identity has been left out to protect his anonymity.)

"Hey John, how are you?  

On May 17, 1993, I came to TLC helpless, homeless and hopeless. You and Rocky gave me a place to stay, food and a chance to make something of my life. Fast forward 27 years and I'm happily married, have kids in college, am an executive at a well-known global corporation and in May of this year I am graduating cum laude with my doctorate in business. Thank you for giving me a shot.

John, I learned something very important at TLC. I still use it today. 

Hitting a bottom that required me to show up homeless, full of ego, at one of your Mesa facilities with two plastic bags of dirty, urine-socked clothes, was not a death sentence. It was a second chance to start life over.  Only this time I could write the script. My biggest question at the time was what I wanted to be when I grew up (and got sober). 

I remember sitting out by that pool area and Janis Joplin came on the radio and sang a line I'd heard a  hundred times before: It was “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” 

With all my legal, IRS, financial and family issues still pending, that was my moment of clarity. I could do anything and go anywhere as long as I didn't drink. However, I also had to “build my brand”. I had to better myself in other ways to ensure I saw progress in other areas of my life along with my sobriety. 

Rocky used to tell me “You've got a thinking disease - you better find something to do with those f-d up thoughts of yours or your're going to drink again”. Well he was right. It was not good enough just to tell the world I don’t drink anymore, I had to become more valuable as a person, son, brother, employee and member of society. 

I chose the sobriety+school route. I started my masters right there at Pepper street, riding my bike and bus to UOP every weekend. For others it may be a different track. But the biggest take-away I learned was that starting over is a privilege not a consequence.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

More Hysteria

All of this hysteria about the corona virus is getting on my nerves. At least as much as I let anything get on my nerves.

When people ask me what I'm doing about the virus my response is "probably not much." I don't wash my hands any more than I normally do. I don't scrub my kitchen or bathroom any more than I normally do. I still wash my clothes on a regular schedule, as I normally do.

I haven't done any more grocery shopping than I normally do because I still have a freezer full of food, plus my pantry is three quarters full of beans and rice and other staples. I believe life presents us with enough issues without magnifying the threats that are posed by this virus.

After all, I wonder how many of these people thought about the dangers of our everyday life before this virus thing showed up. I think 70,000 people got killed last year by the flu virus, and I heard little or no hysteria about it. I didn't hear a lot more news about let's wash our hands more often. Let's stay out of crowds. Or let's cancel sporting events. People just went on with their everyday lives.

Nearly 500,000 people people died in the U.S. from smoking cigarettes last year, while another 41,000 died from inhaling secondhand smoke. But for some reason, we didn't hear this wave of hysteria about smoking, probably because a lot of big retailers would be losing major money if cigarettes were totally banned. However, the cartels would probably be happy because they would have a new product to put on the shelves.

Last year about 85 people died from jaywalking in the city of Phoenix; but no one heard much about that either. Opioid overdoses killed over a thousand people last year in Arizona, and at least that many each of the preceding three years; yet there was a little dust up about it and then it died down in the media and people went on to the next disaster.

One of the most ironic things I saw today was a 350 pound guy moving to the side of a market, pulling down a mask that he presumably was wearing to protect him from the corona virus, and lighting up a cigarette. Go figure. I guess he was trying to be kind of selective about what he was dying from.

I guess the point for me – besides an opportunity to vent – is that we can do a lot of things to take care of our health and to protect our families. But if we decide to mix in a large dose of hysteria and panic we do nothing to improve the situation. All hysteria and panic can do is cloud our thinking and prevent us from making the best decisions about how to survive whatever threats we're facing.

The reality is that most of us do not live optimal lives when it comes to taking care of our health. And the panicky worldwide reaction to this perceived threat – which may be a real threat as it has taken several lives – is doing absolutely zero to improve our odds of surviving.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Corona Hysteria?

Maybe I'm cynical, but this Corona virus thing is getting kind of boring. 

Not saying that it's not real.  Or that some people who have other conditions don't have reasons to be cautious, like people who are elderly or who have weak respiratory systems.

But when a person goes to the market and find that all the water or toilet tissue is sold out, that's what I pay attention to.  After all one must be on the hysterical side if they let the media excite them about a virus that so far - comparatively speaking - hasn't taken near the lives that some other diseases have taken.  Then there are the hucksters who sell masks on the internet at inflated prices that probably do nothing more than give others a false sense of security.  Fortunately, it's not against the law to look  stupid wearing a mask that has questionable value.

Not many people realize that something like 70,000 people a year succumb to flu in the U.S.  Or that around a hundred years ago the flu killed 50,000,000 people world-wide.  Some say it could have been twice that many because some believe that many third-world country deaths went unreported because of lack of communication at the time.

Yes, I'm profoundly sorry for those who have already lost a loved one to this disease, but I believe that our immune systems work much more efficiently when not being assaulted by hysterical media.

If one practices basis sanitation practices they'll likely be okay - in my opinion.

Click here to email John

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Job-Training

During a business meeting this week our staff began discussing plans to start offering more services to our clients. And of course the ideas we came up with were by no means new.

There are programs around the United States that offer the same services we do. One of them is Pioneer Human Services, in the state of Washington. They have trade schools and businesses where they teach clients good work habits and train them in various trade skills. That way, when they graduate they'll have a good foundation to start a new life. Pioneer Human Services operated for some time a decal business under contract with Boeing aircraft. That particular business provided decals for helicopters and other aircraft. Studies have shown that those with skills that allow them to support themselves after leaving a program or institution have a better chance of staying clean and sober.

Another program that has a great reputation for helping its graduates succeed, is Delancey Street foundation, located in San Francisco, California. The program has a long distance moving company. An automobile repair shop. A print shop. A five-star restaurant. And other businesses.

None of their clients graduate until they learn a trade skill, a sales skill, obtain a high school diploma, and have a job. Some graduates have obtained employment with the San Francisco fire department, while others have become members of the San Francisco City Council. It's interesting to go to their website and see what they've accomplished in a matter of a few years.

In our case, we have a lot of buildings that need repair, and the work is done primarily by volunteers who have the skill to do that kind of work. Our plan is to teach unskilled and untrained clients carpentry, sheet rock, painting, roofing, cooking, sales, and other occupations that will help them survive when they leave our program for the real world. While we already teach them the skills, we are going to start doing it with the assistance of those who have more experience in the particular fields than we do. The way the economy is going at the moment, one doesn't really need a lot of skills to find employment as long as they are teachable. But the economy doesn't always stay as it is now and one day a certificate of completion or certification of a certain period of training will have a lot of meaning when one is seeking employment.

Because we're in the planning stages we don't know exactly what our outcomes will be. When people leave our program they will not only have skills to support themselves but we will be able to provide certification that they completed training in those particular areas.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Acceptance

I'm attending a mindfulness meditation meeting last night when I heard a surprising message: the beloved teacher who has taught the class for several years has come down with a serious illness.

While the disease is potentially fatal, he probably will survive because of modern medical treatments.

Because mindfulness stems from Buddhism, and one of the tenets of Buddhism is that all things are impermanent, it shouldn't surprise me at all that even our teachers become sick. But they do.

We in the Western world view life somewhat differently from those who come from the East, where death is a normal and accepted part of everyday life.  Because of that it's more of a surprise when we lose someone to death or we hear that someone has a potentially fatal illness.

The teacher – a middle-aged man – seems an example of acceptance. And those who've been around him for many years don't treat him any differently. I guess the idea that things are going to change in his life one way or the other was probably a surprise to me more than anyone else.

I've read somewhere that older people are much happier and satisfied with life then are much younger people. And for a long time I couldn't figure that out. But the reality is that those of us who are well past middle-aged do realize that life doesn't go on forever. And because of that we maybe enjoy every moment that we have as long as we can.

Whatever happens, I wish him well, because he has given me any insights into life. And I hope he'll be around to give me many more.

Click here to email John

Monday, March 2, 2020

Higher Power?

Higher Power is a term is a term that one hears frequently in the twelve-step programs.

And Higher Power is a term that a lot of new addicts and alcoholics have a problem with. And I suppose, in some ways, that this is understandable. After all, most addicts and alcoholics that we meet at 12 step meetings or treatment programs didn't get there because they were on a winning streak. They almost all arrived there because life, in one way or the other, kicked their asses.

And Higher Power pops up a lot in the rooms and sometimes one even hears the word "God." And if one wants to have problem with the twelve-step programs this is an easy and obvious way to start. A lot of people object to the idea of having to believe in anything or anybody – especially a power greater than themselves.

But if one sticks around the rooms long enough and is under the guidance of a wise sponsor she/he will come to understand that there are many powers and forces in our world that are greater than ourselves.

My personal opinion – and I emphasize that this is my personal opinion – is that people use the idea of "God" or "Higher Power" as a way to not commit to the program, as a sort of backdoor because they really haven't yet committed to their sobriety and recovery. Now I could understand their feelings if some denominational church or worldwide religion were pushing this idea upon them. And there are churches that do have twelve-step programs. But as far as I know, none are registered with the central office of any of the twelve-step programs that I'm familiar with.

For those who have trouble with the concept of a higher power I suggest they think of it in a more philosophical fashion. Perhaps they take a walk on the beach, sit down, and marvel as the waves roll into the shore, then recede gently back into the depths of the ocean. One doesn't have to believe in God to accept the idea that a power greater than themselves has created this marvel they are witnessing. Or perhaps they take a walk into a forest or canyon and recognize that some force greater than themselves created that wonderful landscape.

And sometimes I see things as being created by a power greater than myself – a spiritual force – in modern projects. I once drove two to three times a month between Phoenix and Las Vegas on business on US Highway 93 over about 12 years. I passed over the Colorado River via Hoover dam on each trip, where a bridge was being built so that people wouldn't have to drive across the dam any longer. It took some seven years to build the dam, which is considered the longest concrete arch in the world. And during my trips I would observe the project as it slowly arose from each bank of the Colorado River where it was to meet in the center. I marveled at the expanse of the project. I was amazed that a group of human beings could cooperate in such a way as to create what is a truly amazing structure when looked at from below. (Driving over the bridge from the top, one might barely notice it if they weren't aware of the project before hand.)

I was able to witness the project from beginning to end, and because I only took trips out there every few weeks I could see the slow progress of the project and marvel at the idea of so many diverse people working together toward one goal. And when they finally completed the arch it was reported that it was only three quarters of an inch off from one side of the concrete span to the other – which to me was a miracle.

One doesn't have to look far to see powers greater than themselves: think the corona virus that's spread all over today's news, witness the devastation of typhoons and hurricanes and forest fires and floods and perhaps visualize yourself as having more power than such forces. It's okay if someone doesn't want to get sober. But to use the concept of a Higher Power as an excuse to not do so is rather naive.

Click here to email John