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, April 28, 2020

Thinking Differently

We can get a a lot of information off YouTube if we take the time to seek out and listen to some of the great speakers on the website.

I find some on Ted Talks. Ted, for those who who don't know, stands for technology, education, and design. There you will find speakers who speak on most any subject in the world. And I mean any. It is a good way to get a free education in creative thinking or philosophy.

Then there are speakers who speak on YouTube as a way of spreading influence and ideas.

One of those is professor and author Srikumar Rao. He has YouTube podcasts of all lengths and descriptions - free for our listening.

Most teach us how to gain confidence and build resilience as we work toward our goals. Some of his better ones are about how you get over the idea that you have control over yourself or anything else. He teaches that it's a fallacy to think that getting what you want will make you happy.

He says that from the time we're children, all our effort goes toward controlling the world. Our friends, our environment, our family, our employers. Everything and everyone.

But the reality, he says, is that we've never had control over anyone or anything. We don't have control over anything now. And we never will have control over anything.

And when we have this desire to control everything we're disappointed because we come up short. People don't do what we want. Or if they do, they don't do it the way we want. The universe doesn't pay attention to us.  How disappointing,

But he says if we accept that we don't have control, we'll be very happy because we no longer will struggle internally over anything. We'll live in acceptance about everything –  and regardless of  the challenge – our lives will be so much easier.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 24, 2020

Sick Puppy

Although I've been on the planet more than 80 years, one thing that I never get used to it is feeling ill. I'm a person who just doesn't suffer very well and when I don't feel well I'll curl up in a corner of the sofa or bed and wait for things to pass.. And that's the situation that I'm in since last night. And on top of not feeling well – kind of flu – like symptoms – I also have a case of the hiccups. I don't know where the hell they came from; but they make it difficult to sleep and relax.

 I was up all night and then felt a little better this morning. When I'm feeling like I do now I just try to stay away from others, so I don't spread my misery – or possibly my ailment – onto them. I also reflect on how healthy I've been much of my life in spite of drinking alcohol for 42 years and shooting heroin for 38 years. In fact, I tell myself that I'm lucky to be alive.

One of the things that really comes to the forefront is how much people care about me and my health. I receive nice get well messages from staff members that I don't ordinarily have a lot of communication with. One of my daughters made me some lentil soup to take home.

But probably the thing that helps me the most, is that I reflect upon how many clients we've had who have suffered from terminal illnesses and didn't feel sorry for themselves at all. We had a guy who was only 38 years old when he died last week from leukemia, He was the nicest guy in the program. Yet he died in his sleep within a week of graduating and returning home,

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Another Relapse

Over the years we've accepted many people into our recovery program who are chronic relapsers. And while many stay sober, some have been coming in and out for years.

Most do well as long as they're on a restricted program, where the only thing they do is work, go to 12 step meetings, and attend house meetings. Our rule is that if someone has been in the program three times, without success, then they enter our hard six program. The first time they're in that program they're restricted to the property for six months. The second time they leave and come back they're on restriction for 12 months. And the third time it could be as long as 18 months.

You might ask why we keep taking them back after so many relapses?

We changed our policy when we had a bad experience about 20 years ago after we told a man that he could no longer return because he'd been here too many times – that we were unable to help him. Within a week after we turned him away he was found on a sidewalk in Phoenix, dead from alcohol poisoning. Over the years we've had a number of alcoholics relapse, disappear, and be found dead somewhere from drinking. One was found in a field in Apache Junction, surrounded by empty liquor bottles. A few years ago another man was found in an empty lot in Phoenix after drinking himself to death.

We had a man this week disappear after being sober for nearly 4 years – the longest time he'd accumulated in the past 15 years or so. He started out in our program in Las Vegas, and eventually transferred to Phoenix. He has a pattern of staying sober a while, getting off restriction, doing well for a few months and then picking up a bottle and starting off on another run. The last time we found him and took him back into the program, he was close to death. Within a few years he got his driver's license back. He'd worked his way off restriction. He'd purchased a vehicle and a supply of tools. He was chairing meetings and appeared to be working a strong program. Then all of a sudden he's nowhere to be found. Three empty vodka bottles were in the trash at the property where he lived. And it was obvious what had happened.

And if he survives this drinking binge I know we'll take him back. Because the alternative isn't good. If we turn them away he'll continue to drink until he either has a seizure, gets killed in an accident, or dies of alcohol poisoning. And when things like that happen it's devastating because people who have been with us so long become almost like members of our family.

The only thing we can do is our part: be here for those who are willing to trying get sober one more time.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 17, 2020

RIP Conor

We received the news earlier this week that a longtime resident of our treatment program passed away in his sleep shortly after he left TLC Treatment and returned to his home on the East Coast.

And it's been kind of gloomy around the treatment program the last few days because Conor was well- loved by the staff and therapists who worked with him, as well as the other clients.

I first met him almost a year ago when he came to my office to ask if I'd hypnotize him so he could quit smoking. I agreed. And a few days later he returned and we had a one hour session. We had a couple of follow-up meetings after that and he was able to break the habit.

I didn't know much of his history at the time, but he told me he was battling a rare blood disease – I believe something related to leukemia – and that he wanted to quit smoking because that would give his body more energy to fight the disease. During the nearly a year he was with us he had many doctors appointments and spent short periods of time in the hospital. When I'd run into him around the campus he was always pleasant and usually smiling. We'd chat briefly and I was always impressed with his equanimity in the face of a life-threatening disease.

He also was serious about his recovery, attended many meetings, and worked regularly with his sponsor. He was a strong example for the other clients because – in spite of his health challenges – he kept a pleasant demeanor and never complained about anything. He did everything expected of him in the treatment program and never used his illness as an excuse to miss meetings or not participate.

He was an example for me, because I don't know how I'd respond to a life-threatening illness that was causing me pain. Would I have the same courage as he? And do everything I could to fight for survival? Or even though I have 29 years sober, would I relapse and return to my drug of choice to kill the pain? Of course this is a rhetorical question, but still I was impressed with his courage in the face of such a daunting challenge.

May you rest in peace, Conor. And thank you for the time you shared with us. By your example you made all of our lives a little better.

Click here to email John.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Fixing our Lives

"You are not responsible for the programming you received in childhood. But as an adult, you are 100% responsible for fixing it."  Author Unknown

I had a very confusing childhood. I would live for a while with one parent, then with the other parent. Finally a judge gave custody of my brother and me to my mother. Since I lived with my mother – who was living with my grandmother and grandfather – I was raised by an assortment of people. Mostly good people, but still people with different values. As part of the divorce settlement my father was allowed to take my brother and me for one weekend each month.

And since he was a functioning alcoholic who was always angry and fighting with somebody, my brother and I got a different sort of education from him.

Finally, when I was about five years old, my father picked my brother and me up for a weekend visit and took us to live in Oregon, where he'd bought a farm. My mother didn't know where we were for three years. And it was another four years before she was able to regain custody of us and take us back to California, where she had custody.

Needless to say, living for seven years with an angry, raging alcoholic taught me to also be angry and frustrated. I learned how to solve my problems by fighting or going into a rage. And it took many years for me to change that. My anger led me down a dark path. Into alcoholism, drug addiction, mental hospitals and prisons.

I cite this brief biography, because many of our clients were raised in similar situations. A lot of our work at TLC is to teach people how to be responsible. Many are stuck on the trauma that was imposed on them by parents who either didn't care or didn't know better. It's understandable why many people drank and used drugs. It's because they don't know any better. It was a shortcut to killing pain and the short term solution to their problem. But eventually, life and justice caught up with them and their life continues to spiral downward. They either got into trouble with the law, or their health gets bad, and they lose everything they might have accomplished to that point in their lives. And then they end up either in jail or in a place like ours trying to change.

Our job is not easy. It's not easy to get people to look at themselves and realize that they're the ones who are responsible for change. Even though I agree that what happened to them might have been traumatic or terrible, they're the only ones who can rescue themselves.

And the only reason I can state that with such authority is because that's what happened to me. In my early fifties I decided that I was either going to get clean and sober or else my habits would kill me. My childhood had traumatized me to the degree that I was always in pain. And it took me a lot of therapy and looking at myself before I was able to accept that those things had happened. And that I could do nothing about them today but accept them as part of the reality of my early upbringing. Once I did that, my anger subsided and I realized that I had to make the best of what was left of my life. And so I did.

I believe today that I was one of the fortunate ones who was able to work my way through all my issues and get to the place I am now. I know there's nothing I can do about the past, other than accept it and all the ugliness that went with it. And it's the same with the future: whatever comes I must accept it if I want lasting happiness.

And that's what I do today.

Click here to email John

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Leaving the Past

The addicts we deal with come from many backgrounds and cultures.  But it seems the majority of them have things in common:  they were either raised by very permissive parents who gave them whatever they wanted - or else they were raised by parents who neglected and abused them physically, emotionally, or both.

Perhaps the largest group consists of those raised by permissive parents who gave them pretty much whatever they wanted.  They didn't discourage them from drinking, using drugs, or have sex when they were teenagers.  They acted like it was a "phase" they were going through.

They might have paid lip service to the idea they should use birth control and not drive while under the influence.  But otherwise they had the attitude that as long as the child did fairly well in school and stayed out of trouble with the law there was no real harm.

And the other group, those who were neglected and abused - spent more time with friends who had similar home lives. Often, the clients in this group were raised by parents who themselves used drugs and got crossed up with the law.  They were primarily concerned about their own addictions and didn't have time for their children.

One of our functions here is to teach clients to live so-called "normal" lives.  To teach them to be responsible for themselves.  We often agree with those who blame their parents for their addictions and social problems.  But we also teach them that no amount of blame or finger-pointing is going to help them live a better life.

While it's one thing to vent about those who didn't point us in the right direction, it's a waste of time in terms of improving our futures.  Regardless of our upbringing, we must move past yesterday if we want a fulfilling life.  Often a client's anger toward the parent is so embedded that it may take them time to come to terms with their past and start living for their own self-interest.

But the bulk of them graduate from our program with the perspective that they're responsible for their own recovery and that blaming others only impedes their growth.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Business as Usual

Even though this pandemic is ripping through the country and impacting a lot of businesses, TLC is functioning pretty much as normal.

Our count is still above 800.  The treatment program is able to operate as usual, utilizing the services of a program called Zoom which allows us to do both group and individual counseling remotely via computer.  Therapists and some office personnel have been able to work from home.

While a few clients who work outside the program have lost their jobs, others have been able to find employment because some companies lost employees that elected to stay home and self-quarantine.

Most clients have been helpful and cooperative and we've had a lot less drama than normal.  I think the gravity of the Covid-19 epidemic has perhaps made people a little more serious-minded.

One important part of the program that we all miss is that clients aren't allowed to attend outside 12-step meetings or attend church.  An important part of the program, especially during the first 90 days is meeting attendance.  It gives clients a chance to hear others' success stories and also to meet with their sponsors.

But, considering the gravity of this situation, these are small inconveniences when one considers the potential consequences of contracting this illness - which none our clients have.

Click here to email John

Saturday, April 4, 2020

New Challenges

Here's a pandemic update.

With over 800 clients it would seem we'd have a case or two of Covid-19.  After all, addicts and alcoholics don't always follow the best health practices.  But so far, we've had less than six people who were suspected of contracting it.  And all of them are medically cleared as of this writing.

As far as we can tell, our clients are taking this pandemic seriously.  They keep their distance from one another. Group meetings of all kinds have been suspended until further notice.  None are allowed to attend outside 12-step or other group functions.

Our treatment programs are avoiding possible transmission of the virus by using software from Zoom, which allows clients to enjoy the benefits of group and one-to-one therapy meetings without leaving their houses.

Clients wash their hands frequently and cleaning crews are constantly scrubbing the houses.

Most of the clients employed by outside companies are retaining their jobs.  And several companies have asked us to supply more employees - particularly retail outlets that are having difficulty keeping their shelves stocked

While none of us know how long this virus will be around, we're doing everything we can to keep it from spreading further or growing in intensity.

Many of us are finding this a good time to practice the principles of recovery and to be patient and tolerant of others.

Click here to email John