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.

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.