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, June 30, 2020

Entitlement

The Covid 19 pandemic seems to have raised controversies for which there are no perfect answers.

Just last night the governor of Arizona closed down certain types of businesses.  Among them were bars, gymnasiums and certain other gathering places where people are bunched together in large groups – like the Salt River.  In fact I heard that he withdrew the liquor licenses of seven drinking establishments in Scottsdale because customers weren't wearing masks or adhering to the social distancing requirement.

Now everyone has their own opinion and I'm no different.  But a lot of the people who party in bars and group floats down the salt River are mostly under 40 years old and probably even less.  And one of the things I've heard among my grandchildren (one of whom has the coronavirus) is that the coronavirus is something that won't affect them.  And that's probably because the Centers for Disease Control statistics show that most victims of Covid 19 are people over 65.  So, perhaps, younger people think the odds that they'll succumb to the virus is next to zero.  But for three days during the last week over 30 people a day in our state were contracting the coronavirus, though I admittedly don't know what age group they were in.

In my opinion the reason that the United States has the highest incidence of Covid 19 in the world is that we are spoiled. I believe that many of us have the idea that the rules apply to others, not us.  When I speak to my grandchildren about health issues like eating right or exercising they seem to think that rules for healthy living don't apply to them.  Oh, they may agree with me.  But for me agreeing is one thing, and practicing healthy and safe living is another.

A lot of people don't wear masks, practice safe sex, or wear seatbelts, because they think that bad things won't happen to them – just other people.  But that isn't the way the world works.  None of us thought six months ago that the world would be enveloped in a plague that the brightest minds in science haven't been able to resolve.

I believe that many of our young people have a sense of entitlement because they were raised by people who didn't teach them responsibility for anything – including their health.  It seems like a large number of parents today want to be friends and buddies with their children.  They don't realize that their primary job is to teach their children how to navigate a world that is sometimes very dangerous – as it is right now.  I was very tough on the one daughter that I raised pretty much by myself.  And she is one of the most self-sufficient and independent people I know.  She served in the military – including Afghanistan – for three years, graduated from the Texas Culinary Academy, then obtained her bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix.  And she did it all on her own and I believe it was because I didn't baby her as a child because I wasn't trying to be her friend – I was doing my best to be a responsible father.  And I'm proud of the way she turned out.

I'm kind of going off in the weeds with this blog.  But the bottom line is that those with a sense of entitlement, that don't think the rules apply to them, are among those who may contract the virus because they won't practice social distancing distancing or or wear masks.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Disappointment

Other than having to wear a mask when I'm in a public place the coronavirus hasn't affected me personally – other than maybe being a little inconvenient once in a while.  That is, until yesterday.

Every year for the past 20 some years my family and I leased some nice condominiums in Imperial beach, California.  The place is gorgeous, with beautiful ocean views from every condo, and direct access to the beach.  Across the street is Aroma Thai, which has served the same wonderful quality Asian food since we've been going there.  And up and down the street side of the condo there are more restaurants, ranging from fine dining to fast food.  All in all, most of our vacations there have been like being in paradise.

At the time I made the reservations, almost a year ago, no one had heard anything about pandemics or anything else that would keep us from going.  It had turned into a tradition that I love.

But this year things changed.  Because the virus has been raging through my home state of Arizona and into Southern California a lot of family members became hesitant about going on a vacation that wouldn't be too much different from from being at home.  Guests are allowed to go to the beach, but not into the water.  Nor are they able to sit or lie on the beach.  Their only access to the beaches is to exercise or walk.  The swimming poll and barbecue area of the condominiums is off-limits, as is the Jacuzzi.

Like here, everyone is required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.  After much thought of about the potential of losing the prepaid rent on seven condominiums, I decided to cancel the trip.  And most of the family was relieved about the decision.

A few of them were angry at me about canceling the trip.  But because I already have a granddaughter who has the coronavirus and a few other family members that have been exposed to her, I though the safest thing to do is cancel the trip.

At some point I'm sure that this thing will subside, either this year or next.

Other than the dangers of contracting the coronavirus 500 miles from home I think the biggest disappointment was the fact that we couldn't go into the ocean or lie on the beach, which is at least half of the reason that we go there.  But looking at things on the positive side, there will be other years and other vacations and this disappointment will just be a distant memory.

Click here to email John


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Learning Step-by Step

In my 81 years on the planet I've never experienced a year like this one.

A worldwide pandemic that so far has killed thousands.  Political infighting that rivals anything I've ever seen in many elections.  Violence in the streets that politicians don't have the courage to deal with. People suffering because they've been out of work, unable to travel, and even unable to socialize with close friends and family without danger of contracting a life-threatening disease.

Yet for some reason I believe that we're all going to come through this – though it may take another year or so – as better people.  As people who faced tough challenges and came out on the other side as stronger and more grateful people.

But it wasn't always that way for me.  At one time, before I got sober almost 30 years ago, this would've been the perfect excuse for me to find enough alcohol and drugs to get out of my mind.  And there's only one thing that I attribute my current state of mind to: and that's because I was able to get sober in 1991.  Once that happened, I was able to face all kinds of challenges, challenges that at one time would have sent me back to the liquor store or the dope house.

One of the things we learn in the 12-step programs is that life is not always a bed of roses.  We know that when times are tough we have a fellowship that we can turn to that will guide us in the right direction.  If we're working the right kind of program we have a sponsor to whom we can relate our anxieties and fears.  We learn that life is kind of like the stock market – sometimes things are up and sometimes they're down. 

And we learn that the important thing is how we react to the ups and downs.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Happy Seven Years, Julie

I was reminded yesterday about how TLC is a vehicle for change for those who want to get sober.

It was when I received a message from a woman named Julie who was thanking me for the opportunity she had during her time at TLC' s Robson house – and her seven years of sobriety. She has stayed in touch over the years and comments periodically about things she reads here and keeps me updated on her recovery.

I always write back to congratulate her because hearing how people are succeeding is one of the best rewards for the work we do at TLC.

The reality is that those who come to TLC, and succeed, must give themselves credit for putting in the hard work that it sometimes takes to remain sober.

It's true that a lot of people wouldn't stay sober if it weren't for the fact that we have 850 beds available for those who are serious about changing their lives. I think one of the reasons that we have a good success rate is that a lot of people are able to get into recovery at TLC without having money. The only reason that many people don't get sober in our society is because it requires insurance or some kind of funds just to get in the door.

But the peer counseling and therapeutic services that we offer are basically the ones that any other treatment program offers. The only difference with us is that 95% of those we take in have zero resources. No insurance. No job. No money. In fact some of them don't have anything but the clothes on their back. And about 40% of them come to us from the court system or the prisons that refer them to us as the place they should go.

While many of the new people who come to us are only looking for a place to to lay their heads and get a few meals, others are on a serious quest to stop the pain of their addictions. And those are the ones who, like this woman, put in the hard work and effort to change their lives.

And those are the ones who reap the rewards.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Happy 46 years sober, Ralph H.

The longer my sponsor stays sober the more planning I have to put into obtaining a chip for him.

Last year, he celebrated 45 – years. And since TLC sells twelve-step books, chips, and cards, I was able to walk downstairs from my office and get him a 45 – year chip and a card to go along with it. This year, though, I went down and learned that 45 years was as high as our inventory goes.

So, I had to get on the telephone and search around the valley until I could find a 46 – year chip. Luckily, I was able to locate one near the Alano club in Scottsdale. In fact, the clerk told me that he had a range of choices in the 46 – year chip selection. Now, at least, I know where to look when I need to pick up his 47 – year chip.

The bad thing about this year, is that I won't be able to present it to him at a meeting because of the coronavirus. Because both he and I are senior citizens, we do our best to stay out of crowds and to distance ourselves from others. Instead, the day before his birthday on the 24th, he and I are going to go to a Mexican restaurant and have lunch. We figured that that's a compromise that won't be too dangerous.

It was always an honor, though, to present him a chip in front of a large group because he had been sober long before many of the people in the room had even been born. But once again, I realize that we have to practice the principles that we learned in the program – and that is that the only thing we can count on in life is change. And the 12 step programs teach us that if we want to remain emotionally healthy and sober we must understand that change is the only thing in life that we can really count on.

Even if it is sometimes painful.

Click here to email John




Saturday, June 13, 2020

Changes

The only thing we can count on is change.

I was reminded of that again today when I was talking to a college student working at a fast food restaurant. She was wise beyond her years, which was somewhere in her mid-20s, because when I was her age I never thought about such things as change. I kind of had a decent life at that point – not great but not bad – but still I never thought about change being part of my world. At least not in a major way.

When I was her age, roughly 60 years ago, life was much simpler. The technology of today did not exist. If someone had told me that everyone, even poor people, would have a powerful telephone that they spent a lot of time looking at I would've thought they were crazy. The idea of a mass-produced electric car was something that I never dreamed of.  And now I drive one.

In those days I never thought our country would be in turmoil over racial differences – it never crossed my mind.

I lived in rural Oregon as a child and it was rare to see minorities. I remember when a student from Mexico enrolled in our school he was treated with awe. None of us were antagonistic toward him; in fact it was almost as if an alien had landed on our schoolyard because he dressed and talked so much differently from the country kids in that small town of 300. We were fascinated with the way he spoke and dressed and the burritos and tacos he brought to school for lunch. Everyone welcomed him and treated him nicely. And I don't even remember seeing a black person except once in a while there would be a crew from the nearby railroad that shopped at the small country store in the middle of town. But we rarely had occasion to talk with them and didn't even think about their color. They were just like everyone else in that part of the world, they were working to make a living.

Late last year and early this year I recall being optimistic about the future of our company and our country. No one anticipated that we would have a virus that none of us had seen before, one that would rock our economy, and have us working from home. Nor, in the midst of that challenge, did anyone believe a police officer would murder a black man in public on camera and set off widespread racial turmoil that is still going as I write this.

Somehow I'm optimistic enough to believe that positive things will come these differences as long as things don't get too far out of control. Sometimes radical change stems from radical behavior. But I don't even count on that – all I can really count on is change.

Click here to email John


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Want Equality?

I mostly talk about recovery on these pages. But today I'm going to wander off into the weeds a little bit and make some comments that sort of relate to the current political situation.

Many years ago – around 50 – I was doing 10 years in prison for possession of heroin. I knew that if I behaved while I was there I could cut a lot of years off of that sentence. So I ended up going to school.

Even though I already had a GED that I'd acquired while I was in a juvenile prison, I believed that more education would give me some opportunities once I was released. So I took typing classes, correspondence courses in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, became a staff writer for the prison newspaper (eventually becoming editor), and taught myself Spanish grammar and got enough practice with my fellow inmates who spoke Spanish that I eventually became an interpreter several years later. Stick around because I'm going somewhere with this. We select we get

A lot of what we hear in today's current political climate is that minorities lack opportunities for education and advancement in society. But I disagree with that. I believe that if one is on fire – no matter what their circumstances or where they come from – they can become successful. But there's a little problem between going from where you are and achieving success: and it's a little word called work. Most people are not willing to put in the work to succeed in life.

And many of the protesters that we see right now breaking out department store windows and hauling out bags of stolen luxury items such as $250 pairs of tennis shoes, luggage, and other goods that many people work very hard to pay for are not looking for equal opportunities. The opportunities are there if one is looking for them. What the so-called "disadvantaged and oppressed" want out of life is equal outcomes. But that's not the way the world works.

In the almost 30 years that I've been operating TLC as CEO I've seen many men walk into our program with nothing. They came from the streets. Maybe they were released from prison. Many had zero education, yet today some of them are millionaires with their own businesses.  Others have obtained doctors degrees in various disciplines.

And the only difference between them and those who end up with nothing, is that they were on fire to succeed and did so. They did not revert to drugs and alcohol. They kept their eyes focused on their goal of seeking a successful life – and they did so.

So ask yourself what you looking for: equal opportunity? Or equal outcomes?

Click here to email John

Sunday, June 7, 2020

RIP Greg

We got the message late last evening that a long time former TLC client and manager had passed away, reportedly of cirrhosis.

While you probably shouldn't believe anything you hear on the Internet – including what I write here – we'd been getting reports over the past few years that he was suffering from hepatitis C. And that it had progressed into cirrhosis.

I spent many an hour with Greg during counseling sessions to which he made many insightful contributions. For quite a period he was manager of the hard six- program and helped many other alcoholics and addicts stay sober. He had a wealth of experience and, if I'm not mistaken, was close to obtaining his Masters degree in psychology. He was a pleasant personality, usually with a smile on his face, and a pleasant word for whoever he encountered.

Maybe the biggest difficulty in his life, one that many addicts and alcoholics share, is he had difficulty staying sober – in spite of all his experience and education. A few years ago he parted from TLC and went to work with one or two other former residents who were operating their own halfway houses.

After he left I never saw him again. I heard a lot of rumors over the grapevine that he was frequently in the hospital being treated for his cirrhosis – then we got this latest message.

All of us at TLC wish you well Greg as you travel on the next phase of your journey.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Making Amends

Making amends is simple. Yet many people I work with in the 12 step programs find them difficult. And I was one who had a difficult time making amends. But before long I realized that I had been making a big deal out of nothing.

After I was sober about a year I talked to my sponsor about beginning to make amends. And he guided me through the process. He told me to start with little things like making apologies to those I had harmed. And he suggested that I could get some practice, probably on a daily basis by just immediately apologizing to someone if I felt like I offended them in some way.

Maybe I interrupted them while they were speaking, which gave me an opportunity to apologize and tell them to go ahead with what they were saying. Or maybe I started an argument with them over something trivial is because my ego said I had to be right, when in reality the right or wrong of most situations don't make much difference. A lot of times it's much easier to just keep our opinions to our self, because that's exactly what they are: opinions. And while we have a right to our opinions, we don't have a right to spread them all over everyone else.

After following his direction for a while I realized that apologizing and admitting my wrong was not a big deal as I thought.

But I have to tell you that the first amends I made – a financial amends – really scared the crap out of me. I'd been working for a meat and seafood company selling high-quality products door – to – door. At the same time, I was doing some heavy drinking and periodically using drugs. One day I ran out of money because I spent the proceeds of my sales on a one – man party of drinking and shooting heroin.

So not only did I owe him about $1500 for the products he had fronted me, I also kept the van that he let me drive to sell the products out of. Eventually, the police recovered the van from in front of the dope house I was at, but I still owed him for the products that I hadn't paid for. Now it wasn't so bad that I owed this man $1500 for his products, he also was a former professional football player who weighed about 350 pounds. When I thought about making amends to him, I visualized him sitting on me and squashing me like a bug before I could hand him the envelope into which I had placed 15 $100 bills that I owed him.

Fortunately, I was faster than he was and was able to fan the $1500 out in front of him at his desk before he could strangle me or do something else terrible to my body. That was the biggest amends I had to make, and once I got through the trauma of that the rest of them were pretty easy.

I think it is characteristic of us alcoholics and addicts to magnify everything and make them bigger than they are, both good and bad things. Actually, after I repaid the man, he offered me my old job back but by then I was working in the recovery field and knew that I had to continue doing what I was doing if I was going to stay sober and clean. But I did get to sincerely apologize to him and pay him back and felt much better afterward.

So, if making amends is on your mind and seems challenging, start out with little things and work your way up to the things that you're afraid to apologize for. Most people understand that we have problems and that we did what we did not because we were bad people – but because we were addicts and alcoholics who had only one mission in life – which was to stay high.

Click here to email John

Monday, June 1, 2020

What's it really About

I don't write about politics very often. And that's because I don't pretend I know a lot about politics or the way the world should run.

But the things that are going on across the country right now, the burnings and the "so-called" protests and riots over the murder of a black man in Minneapolis somehow don't connect for me.

First of all, one of the things I notice is that many of the people out protesting are not minorities but appear to be some of the privileged white people that minorities complain about.

By no stretch of the imagination can one connect the murder in Minneapolis with the smashing of plate glass windows in upscale stores across the country. Tell me how looting and burning have anything to do with this man's death.

Yes this man's death was horrible and unjust – and hopefully the perpetrator will be punished with a life term. Also, the officers who were with him should suffer some punishment for their role in failing to prevent this man's death. In fact they probably should face the same charges the perpetrator did.

The destruction and fires across the country seem to have more to do with out and out criminality or a broad-based anger at the system, the so-called "man." But the reality is that we live in one of the best countries in the world in terms of opportunity to better our lives. But what these people want, from my perspective is not to better their lives, not to have equal opportunity – but to have equal outcomes. In other words they want to live in a world of far left socialism where they don't have to work for a living, or where someone else will pay for their education, or their healthcare will be given to them for free, and they won't have to do anything responsible with their lives.

Yet there's never been a place in the world where socialism or communism has shown to be successful in the long term. When we aren't responsible for our own lives, for our own education, and for our own income, we are abject failures as human beings. It seems like these days that so many people feel like victims because others have more than they have. Rather than looking at others who are more successful than they are as role models, they look at them with envy and hatred. They want what they have but they are unwilling to work and study and struggle to get it. They somehow feel like successful people have stolen everything they've gotten - rather than working for it.

If they succeed in bringing down our society to any degree, they will realize what real suffering is about because all of us will have a little bit less of everything that success is about.

I believe that if you have an idea for a more successful world don't try to smash the one you're in – try to improve it with all of your might and then see what the results are. You might be surprised.