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.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Anger

 "You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger." Buddha

I was thinking about anger last Saturday when I was very frustrated. I had awakened early because I had a couple of appointments to attend to.

Normally, the first thing I do when I wake is meditate for 30 minutes. Then I turn on my cell phone to see if I have any calls or text messages that I must respond to right away. But when I turned on my iPhone, the Apple symbol showed up on the screen and the phone froze right there. I tried all the methods I've used before but I couldn't get anywhere with it. It was stuck right there and and I couldn't do anything to change it.

Since it was still early in the morning – around 6:45 AM – I knew I wouldn't be able to get the phone repaired until the phone store opened. But I I got on my computer anyway and found the closest store and sure enough, it didn't open until 10 AM.

So wanting to make the best of the situation rather than waste time waiting for the store to open, I logged into my office computer remotely, planning to do some accounting. However, for some reason my accounting program had disappeared from my desktop. And after looking for a while I had no luck in finding it. Nor could I find it on my home office computer.

Aware that I was becoming quite frustrated with the way my day was starting off, I made a commitment to not become angry although every cell in my body was crying out for me to smash something. Maybe my computer. Or maybe kick a hole in the wall. Something destructive. But I didn't react that way.

And I didn't because I realized a long time ago in my early sobriety that anger was my default emotion. And the anger I indulged in never got me anywhere. And when I was done being angry I still had the same problem facing me. At some point I realized that I no longer wanted to spend one second of my precious time engaging in anger over anything. We only have so much time on this planet and I believe that it's a total waste of those precious minutes to engage in anger - no matter what is going on.

Now I realize that it's superhuman to never get angry about anything. That it's just not natural to not get passed off once in a while. But with practice I learned that I can become more aware of my emotions and realize that I don't have to go there – and in particular - I don't have to stay there.

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Thursday, August 27, 2020

RIP Art B.

 It's very unusual for TLC to experience two clients passing away in one week. I don't think it's happened before. Although, technically, the first one who passed away was a former client, as he had already moved out of TLC into his own apartment.

Two days ago, Art B. a client of many years, failed to show up for his volunteer job on the paint crew. Because he was quite responsible and always showed up to the project, his supervisor became alarmed and went to his apartment. His pickup was still parked outside of his window and he didn't respond to knocks on the door. Once our people gained entry they found that he had passed away during the night.

Art had many friends at TLC. And I was one of them. But I wasn't surprised at his early demise at 60 years old. When he returned the last time – a few years ago – it was after his wife died of alcoholism. And one of the things she told him before she passed was that she wanted him to return to TLC. Which he ultimately did.

But he loved his wife and he never got over his grieving for her. He told more than one person about how much he missed her and how he'd like to be with her. He was often depressed over her passing and it showed in his demeanor.

However, he died sober and I'm sure that is something both he and his wife would have been happy about.

May you rest in peace Art; all of us here at TLC will miss you and wish you well on the next path of your journey.

Click here to email John




Monday, August 24, 2020

RIP Steve A.

Over the weekend we got news of a client who passed away. Steve A. had been with us several times over the past few years, and had many friends at Transitional Living Communities.

Steve was a larger-than-life personality. He always had a smile that lit up any room he walked into and he always radiated positivity and energy whenever you were in his presence. He worked in pharmaceutical sales for many years, a perfect career for someone with his personality.

He also was a talented piano player and singer and spent much of his time on his keyboard recording and creating music. While at TLC he had turned out more than one Christmas album. He reportedly also worked as a studio musician and was part of a band whose members were in the medical field.

In his last year at TLC he volunteered as a salesperson for TLC Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and was quite adept at securing contracts for the company.

During his last stay with us he developed medical problems that put him in the hospital at various times, including a condition that caused him to have blood clots in his legs.

One of his obsessions was playing golf. And when he left suddenly a few months back it was said that he rented a condominium on the edge of a golf course where he could play on a regular basis.

No one I know told me what he died from. But because he was with us because of issues with alcohol I have little doubt that alcohol was somehow connected with his untimely death. At this point it doesn't make a lot of difference what he died from because he is now on a different path. But experience has taught me over the last 29 years that middle-aged people his age don't die for no reason.

We'll all miss you Steve. Rest in peace and go with God.

Click here to email John

Friday, August 21, 2020

Gratitude

On my gratitude list today is how well our staff has dealt with the pandemic.  And as evidence of what a good job they've done, we simply can look at our population of more than 600 residents.

Out of that population we have had only 12 clients put on quarantine.  And none of them ended up in the hospital.  Most were on quarantine for two weeks; one even spent 28 days at home.

They complied with the recommended guidelines and wore masks and practiced social distancing as much as posssible.  Did everyone comply 100%?  

Of course not.  But they washed their hands, distanced themselves, sanitized living areas, and took extra steps to comply with health department guidelines.

About half of our corporate office volunteers were able to work from home.  And those that needed to be at the office went home as soon as they finished their projects. Most were gone by midday. 

As I said at the beginning I'm grateful for the way our people stepped up and looked out for one another.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Meditation

The first thing I do each morning is meditate for half an hour.  It's something I've been doing for the past 25 years of my recovery.

Why did I start doing it?  Because in the 12-steps there's line that says "sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God..."

Now I've known how to pray since I was a child.  I was in church every weekend and sometimes in the middle of the week.  We did a lot of praying out in the Oregon countryside where I lived for seven years as a boy.

But I never saw anyone meditating that I know of.  I didn't even know what the word meant.  And when I joined AA I still didn't know.

So I joined a Trancendental Meditation group and learned how to meditate.  I practiced that discipline up until about six years ago when I switched to Vipassana meditation.  Eventually I took a year-long course and became certified as a meditation instructor.  Finally I knew what meditation was about and it was much simpler than I thought.  So simple that I'll share it with you here.

Find a quiet place to sit, either on a cushion or chair.  Close your eyes and focus on your breath as it goes in and out of your nostrils.  As you breathe you'll find that your mind will wander to the thoughts crossing your mind.  Simply observe the thoughts and let them pass.  Don't judge them, simply accept them and let them pass.

Then return to observe your breath.  It's that simple.  No goal, no expectation.   There's no good meditation.  No bad meditation.  So don't judge yourself.  Accept what you see in your thoughts.

It is its own reward.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A different Time

Usually our population at this time in an ordinary year is 700 to 750.  But then everyone will likely agree that there's been nothing ordinary about this year since January.  At the moment the count is hovering at around 600.

Most who remain have jobs and are working 12-step programs.  Some go to outside meetings that have social distancing plus mask requirements.

While we've been extremely fortunate in only having a few people who needed to be quarantined, there's still the added pressure of clients having to wear masks and do social distancing as much as possible.  A couple of those who were quarantined left the program and disappeared into the 115 degree Arizona heat.  Maybe they convinced their families to take them back, that they'd be safer at home.

Very few people work at our office unless it's absolutely necessary.  Most of the staff is gone by noon.  And those who work on the phone are doing the job from home.  But those who do remain in the office get more work done because the place stays pretty quiet.

For me the most difficult part of all this is living in the moment.  Sobriety is learning to live one day at a time.  And meditation is all about training our monkey minds to live in this moment.  Those two principles are what I use to make it through the day.  Remember that all we can count on is change.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Things could be Worse

 I was listening to one of my favorite podcasters yesterday and he made a statement that made me think.  His answer to a person who was complaining about the Covid 19 virus was that we must realize that things could be "ten times worse."

The guest was surprised at the answer and asked the podcaster to explain.  And he did.

He started out by bringing up the 1917 Spanish flu epidemic that is estimated to have taken at least 50 million lives around the world.  And it wasn't like Covid 19, which is relatively slow acting compared to the Spanish Flu.  When a person got the Spanish flu they normally were dead within four hours.  It destroyed whole populations before it disappeared.  Maybe this virus will mutate into some less manageable than it is now.  Who knows?

While I agree that our present situation is rough, the reality is that the restrictions put on our lives make things more difficult.  We've seen schools disrupted.  Our favorite sports have come to a halt.  We take a risk when we visit friends and family.  Our gyms and favorite eating places have tight restrictions.  But things could get worse as jobs disappear and supplies tighten up because of restrictions on factories and major suppliers.

I was just reading that there are something like 75,000 homeless in Los Angeles.  I'm sure many of them are homeless because of mental conditions or drug addictions.  But I believe that many of them had homes and jobs at one time but maybe they lost their jobs because their companies closed down and they were forced onto the streets.

Even though we're far out of our comfort zone we must remember that the only thing we can count on in life is that things may be different tomorrow - and not in a positive way.  And we can either accept our circumstances or feel bad about them.  It's our choice.

Click here to email John


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Missing Meetings

I used to go to meetings on a weekly basis.  But since this pandemic swept the country I've only gone to one.  Even though I've been sober over 29 years I still went on a regular basis.  

But this pandemic has put some fear in me.  Even though the one meeting I attended had only six people and they had over six feet between them and were wearing masks, I still was uncomfortable.

For some reason I have little faith in our government's mandates about social distancing and wearing masks.  But since that's all they have to offer to protect us I follow their mandates.  But lurking in the back of my mind is the thought that their instructions haven't slowed this thing down.

So my life today is lived in my home or my office.  I once in a while go to the market or visit a friend - but I try to contact others as little as possible.

Because I'm an octogenarian I'm in what's considered a vulnerable class and I don't want to push my luck.  We all have to make choices about how to live and mine is to survive as long as I can.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Pandemic Anger

Not often do I find myself in the grips of anger.  But since this Covid pandemic has overtaken our country I sometimes go there.

It's not the kind of anger that make want to confront people and go off on them. It's more the anger brought on by disbelief.  The kind that makes me shake my head and wonder how people can be so self-centered and stupid.

For example, I know this woman who has a large family, one of them who's quarantined with the Covid.  She pays him a visit, then volunteers to babysit her grandson the next day. Because she has many health problems of own she doesn't expect to live for very long and has no concern for others or their well-being - apparently even her grandson.  She won't wear a mask because she believes that everything is God's will.

And I know others who think the pandemic is a political conspiracy and that there's nothing to it.

My bad attitude today comes from when I heard that long time acquaintance of mine was on a ventilator in a local hospital and that his prospects of coming home are not good.  Those who don't wear a mask or practice social distancing may feel different when they lose a loved one to Covid.

I think it's a simple thing to make a few minor adjustments in our lives if we can protect those around who want to live and enjoy life.

We all have the right to take our own lives because of our beliefs. But we have no right to put others in danger because of our self-centerness.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 3, 2020

No Excuses

Even though we've been in Arizona since 1992 - around 28 years  - we still find that many people have never heard of TLC.

At first that surprised me, but now it makes sense.  Until you, a family member, or friend develops an out of control drug or alcohol habit, addiction recovery programs aren't on your priority list. 

Only after you develop a need do you start looking and maybe stumble across our program.  And it's likely that our name will pop up.  And that's because today we're fairly well-known in the recovery community because we have over 800 beds.  And we accept anyone who asks for help - even if they have no money or insurance to pay for treatment.  Once the referring program learns that an applicant has no resources to pay for expensive treatment services, they refer them to us because we accept anyone seeking recovery regardless of their financial status.
  
And because we welcome anyone wanting to change their lives our beds stay full most of the time.  The first thing we do is help clients find employment and develop a support system that will encourage them during the rough times that sometimes pop up in early recovery.

If they have personality issues or lack work skills we find tasks that they can volunteer for in our program.  Volunteers built TLC and their efforts as cooks, drivers, maintenance workers, etc., help the program stay afloat.

If they have job skills but can't secure a job we find placement for them with outside companies through our labor group.  In these positions they earn minimum wage and are able to pay their way through our program and the peer services they receive.  It's a win-win for everyone, including the taxpayers, because we get zero government funding.

TLC is the perfect model of addicts helping other addicts change their lives.