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, September 29, 2020

Hearing from a Mother

The last blog I wrote was about the blessings of sobriety. And I wrote that blog because I was truly grateful for my daughter's sobriety and the fact that she had the previous day given birth to her fourth child – a baby girl. And she would have never had the children she had – and I the grandchildren that I have – if she hadn't gotten clean and sober many years ago.

And while I never expect a response from any of these blogs that I write, because I write them for myself primarily, I received two responses. One was from my daughter who had been the subject of the blog. The other was from a lady who lives in a Midwestern city, a woman I've been communicating with for many years – a communication that started when she ran across my blog on the Internet.

Many years ago, maybe nine, she started writing to me about her son who is a homeless alcoholic who has lived on the streets for many years. He mostly stays around the Midwestern city she lives in. But for a period of time he went to Washington DC, attempting to get an interview with the president about the government's denial of his disability claims 20 years ago.

When she first started writing to me she was doing a lot of things for him. Such as helping him with his laundry. Taking him food and cigarettes. And giving him a little money for whatever he needed, which he probably spent on booze.

When she asked for my opinion, I immediately suggested that she take a hard stance with him.  I told her that by helping him continue drinking by taking him food and cigarettes and giving him money she was just prolonging his alcoholism.  Now I knew this would sound kind of harsh to a loving mother, but I didn't get sober until my family completely exiled me from their lives because they had given up hope that I would ever quit using drugs or alcohol.  And by doing that, they saved my life.

At first I thought they were very cruel and unfair. But eventually I realized that they no longer supported my lifestyle.  And eventually I sunk so low that I sought help on my own.  Now this woman that I'm talking about is a very loving mother, but she did take some steps that allowed her to quit enabling him.

She does help him out once in a while but not like she was before we started communicating. One of the steps she took was to start going to 12 step meetings that deal with relatives and friends of addicts and alcoholics.  She gained strength from reaching out to others who had similar problems and learned that she could distance herself from him most of the time. 

She today gives him minimal help – only occasionally giving into the urge to help him.  One of the things that she did do to insulate herself from him was to move into a senior community, where she is not allowed to have anyone living with her permanently.  That way he's not going to be living on her couch while continuing to drink and bring unneeded drama and pain into her life.

Her story, and the measures she has taken to not enable him, as a lesson for anyone in her situation who is dealing with a loved one who is addicted.  I wish her the strength to continue.

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Blessings of Sobriety

Today I was thinking about the blessings of sobriety.

This came up for me now because I'm invited to visit one of my daughters who gave birth to a another daughter last week. She now has two boys and two girls.

While one of the boys has left home and is on his own, she's busy these days raising – along with her partner – the three children that still remain at home. On top of that she has a full-time, high level position in a state licensed treatment program. So between working, commuting a half-hour a day each way back and forth to work she has her hands full.

None of this would be possible for her if she hadn't decided to get sober a number of years ago. At the depths of her addiction she probably never believed that she would have a large, beautiful home in the suburbs and all of the amenities to go with it. She enjoys all of this because of a decision she made many years ago to change her life.

And her story of success is an example of what happens to all of us once we get rid of the alcohol and drugs and start living up to our full potential.

In almost 30 years of working in the recovery field I've seen her story duplicated over and over again. Clients come in our treatment program and have nothing. They spend time in groups, and in private counseling, and if they're willing, they become different beings. Many of them redefine their goals, become responsible, and live on to become successful at whatever they choose.

In the above paragraph I used the term "become responsible." And assuming responsibility is probably the primary thing we all need to change our lives. Many of the clients who show up at our doorstep are pointing their fingers at everyone else who was responsible for the situation that they're in today. And while other people may have influenced our lives in a negative way, the ultimate responsibility for the changes that we make in our lives come from within. Not from changing externals. Because external things are usually out of our control. But in treatment and recovery we learn how to take charge of our own lives and become responsible for everything that befalls because we learn to reframe our thinking,

This is what happened to me and also happened to my daughter. And because of that we live good lives today.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Treating addicts Poorly

"The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members"  Mahatma Ghandi

The American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease in 1956. In 1987 the AMA classified addiction as a disease.

In spite of those classifications, alcoholics and addicts have always been the target of those who scorn the idea that addiction or alcoholism are diseases. The idea that someone has an illness to which he or she contributes somehow doesn't fit into certain people's ideas of how the world works – or should work. As a result of the public's attitude our operation has always been at odds with somebody over some legal issue that involves their view of us as second-class citizens.

Back in the 90s, TLC had programs in a certain municipality that I won't mention here because we now have a good relationship with that city. But the city government and city fathers decided they didn't like programs like ours and the others that were situated in the downtown area. In 1998 the city council was pressured into changing laws involving the licensing of recovery homes and halfway houses. They did this, in spite of the fact that their own city attorney advised them that their decision would violate Fair Housing laws and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In the face of this legal challenge that would've put us out of business we hired one of the best fair housing attorneys in the country, who was situated in Washington DC, and filed a federal injunction against the city to prevent them from taking further action until our case worked its way through the courts – which took until 2003. Some five years later we reached a settlement with the city where they changed two laws and paid a large portion of our legal fees.

But in spite of that settlement, our organization has always been the target of some type of legal action. In fact, I can't remember a year out of the last 25 where we haven't had some kind of a lawsuit that we were spending money on.

Several of them were quite frivolous, one of the most noteworthy being a client who wanted two million dollars because she claimed she suffered two bedbug bites while residing at one of our facilities. And of course we won that one because of its nature – but it still cost us legal fees to defend ourselves. In fact she knew enough about the law to file the case on her own because of the 10 years she'd spent in prison filing endless lawsuits over trivial issues – never prevailing in one case.

Probably one of the things that irritates me most is when we have a run in with code enforcement in whatever city we're in. City zoning and planning ordinances are difficult enough for trained architects to understand, let alone us uneducated addicts. 

We spend a lot of time and money keeping our properties in a livable condition. But every so often an unhappy addict will be mad because we discharged him from the program because he refused to seek employment or pay service fees. 

In retaliation he'll go to the city and complain about the living conditions. And of course, code enforcement is obligated to reply and we usually reach some accommodation with them that satisfies everyone. And at the moment we have a matter where a client was discharged for not following the rules and went to the city and told them that he was forced to bathe outside the house and get his drinking water from a garden hose, which was a flat out lie. Of course the city was forced to respond and we're spending a lot of money bringing the house into compliance with the international residential codes.

Rather than looking at the matter as it really was – an angry addict seeking retaliation for a perceived wrong – code enforcement is wasting time and money to make us change residential housing that has been grandfathered in at that location for over 22 years.

I have a long list of cases where we've had to defend ourselves against frivolous matters. What no one seems to take into consideration is that we provide a wonderful service to the community. We feed over 2500 meals a day. We teach addicts construction skills so they can go out on their own and work independently and in many cases even start their own companies. We bring homeless addicts and alcoholics into our program without any upfront money, something no one else does.

Yet every once in a while someone from the city will show up and express a lot of concern about how addicts and alcoholics are treated by our organization. Yet, for some reason, none of them ever provide any kind of funds, food, supplies or anything else that will help people become responsible for themselves and keep them off of the streets.

What they don't realize is that we're addicts helping addicts save their own lives, yet many people across  the spectrum – from the government to the legal profession  – can't find the compassion to appreciate what we do for the community and society at large by helping addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives.

Click here to email John

 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

More about Gratitude

 I was talking to a youngster the other day, a fellow maybe 22 years old, and he was telling me how unhappy he was about the new restrictions placed on our lives because of the pandemic.

Because he's so young he has sort of a sense of entitlement. He kind of has the attitude that the rules surrounding this pandemic that limit contacts between citizens don't apply to him. Usually I'll see him walking around without a mask and I have to remind him that the mask is to protect his life and the lives of others. But because he's so young he feels that he's invulnerable to pandemics, he kinda has the idea that he'll live forever – as do many people his age.

And when he expresses himself that way, I usually suggest that he is selfish and self-centered. Because while he may be strong and young and invulnerable that doesn't mean that he can't carry the virus to someone who's in my generation.

Because he's so young his whole world is centered on himself. But I suggested he look at the world in a different way. I tell him that he should have a sense of gratitude for his life right now, even though he perceives it as being extremely difficult because of this pandemic. And when I mention gratitude, he looks at me like I'm sort of off balance or just too old to understand him. But then I go on.

I point out that there are people in the world who would give their left arm to have the kind of life he enjoys. I point out that he is fortunate enough to live in the United States, even with all the turmoil created by the pandemic, the riots, and the fires that are ripping across the Western states. I suggest to him that he look at the fact that he has employment. An automobile. A home to live in. Abundant good health. Fresh food to eat. And I point out more, but you get the idea.

I suggested he read about people in other parts of the world that don't even have running water. Or enough to eat. Or maybe they're in the middle of a civil war. Perhaps they never had the opportunity to go to school because their country is so poor that they can't afford to educate the population.

Even though he's not an alcoholic or drug addict I tell him about the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs. And one word that is constantly floating around the rooms is gratitude, with maybe acceptance being a close second. And I'm not sure that he understands how those words apply to him because he's neither an addict nor an alcoholic.

But gratitude is a universal term. That it can apply to anyone who wants to have a good and happy life. Because when we're grateful, were not going to get in trouble, nor will we become depressed. Instead will use our gratitude to change our outlook on life. And that will carry us when times are tough.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 17, 2020

All Lives Matter

It's getting pretty boring lately to see all of the publicity about BLM. And of course anyone who is not living in a gopher hole knows that those initials stand for Black Lives Matter. But I'm a person who is not politically correct. And I believe that whether we like it or not, all lives matter: black, white, brown, red – all of them.

One of the things that kind of pisses me off is that most of the people that we see at the riots and protests are not black. They are 90% white and mostly young liberals who are looking for a cause, a reason to rebel. And mostly uninformed about the so-called violence of the police against minorities in this country.

Statistics actually show that it you get stopped by the police and you are white you're much more likely to be killed by the cops than a black person would be. These facts are borne out by a study done by a black professor at Harvard University who was going to prove that black people are more likely to be killed by the police than people of any other race. He reportedly was surprised when the data showed something different. Just the opposite: white people are much more likely to be gunned down by police than black people or other minorities. 

On the flip side, the study also showed that black people and minorities suffer more at the hands of police than do white people. For example, the police are much more likely to handcuff a minority person than they would a white person. The police also frisk black people and other minorities much more often than they do white people. And they also were more likely to slam them up against a wall and rough them up in other ways.

I believe that when one undertakes a cause they should understand some of the foundations of the cause they are supporting. Probably many would be shocked to find out that during slavery several hundred black people owned plantations and slaves. One black slave owner, William Ellison, is described in Wikipedia at some length in an article which describes his ownership of some 63 slaves. This is the kind of research that people don't like to look at. If one really wants to dig into the slavery issue they'll learn a lot about how exaggerated it is. For example, most people don't know that the majority of slaves were first brought to Brazil, then were taken to the Caribbean and still later to Florida. Only a small number of  slaves, less than 10%,  brought from Africa were brought directly to the United States and sold to slave traders in this country.

Now these previous paragraphs are not to diminish the horror of slavery or to exculpate those who engaged in it. The only purpose for bringing up these facts in the above paragraphs is so that those who are so sure that we're a racist society might study a little bit of history of the subject they're talking about. They might also ask themselves if we're such a racist society why did 78 million white people vote for Barack Obama in 2014? That doesn't sound like institutional racism to me, it just sounds like they voted for who they felt was the most qualified candidate.

In closing, my opinion is that those that think we're a racist society have a political agenda where they think they might get something for nothing. Communism and socialism has never worked anywhere in the world and I don't believe that it'll work here. But BLM and Antifa are masters at manipulating our political system and the liberals among us to achieve their ends. And if they succeed at that everyone will suffer – including the minorities they claim to represent and protect.

Click here to email John


Monday, September 14, 2020

Strange Times

One of my earliest childhood memories is the end of World War II. At the time I was living in Newport Beach, California and when the announcement came over the radio everyone in our neighborhood went pouring into the streets dancing and singing with joy.

At around five years old I didn't understand the gravity of war. But I remember odd things that did stem from our country being at war. Because we lived near the coast the population was required to put blackout curtains over their windows. And if they went out at night for any reason they had to leave the lights off on their cars or else cover them with burlap bags just in case a Japanese submarine was off the coast. That's how close the war came to us back in the 1940s. And it was only much later that I understood why people were so happy when the war ended in 1945.

Since that time I've been through many strange years. There have been other wars, like Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other military actions. I lived through the social unrest of the sixties and seventies.

But as I was talking to a friend the other day who is a few years younger than I am, we both agreed that this is one of the strangest years in our memories. Neither of us had ever experienced anything the magnitude of this pandemic that is sweeping across the country. Neither of us has seen the political situation so volatile. Nor have we seen lengthy riots such as the ones in Seattle and Portland that have been going on for months. We haven't seen the world in such a state of unrest as we have since the first of this year.  Neither of us have seen the country this divided politically.

Both my friend and I have been through battles with alcohol and drugs, battles that lasted for years. We both ended up going to prison in different states. We both had a lot of money at different times, but mostly we were just down and out drug addicts that were doing our best to take care of our habits.

But as we reminisced, we both agreed that we have never lived in such an uncertain time. A time when we're dealing with things that aren't in our control. And the reality is that there's nothing we can do about our current situation except move into acceptance - a word that is one of the strongest that we hear in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Not only is it the strongest, but is also one of the most useful from a standpoint of practicality. As long as we can accept what's going on around us as part of the normal changes that we encounter in life, we won't be tempted to go off the rails and revert to our former lives when we were in the middle of our addictions.

Instead we can stand strong and accept whatever the universe presents us.  And if we can do that we'll get past the challenges we've been presented during this strangest of times.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 11, 2020

A lesson from 911

Nineteen years ago the twin towers were demolished by terrorists carrying out jihad so they could find paradise and honor Allah.

While none of us know if they reached their goals, we do know their acts of terror changed this country forever. They triggered a war in the Mideast as we searched for Bin Laden and his murderous Al Qaeda followers.

When terrorism struck our mainland we realized the vulnerability of our security systems. and everything tightened up at the airports, seaports, and other potential targets. Even though it’s more of a hassle to travel today, most of us agree that the increased security is comforting.

But for me there is another take away from that awful event.  And that is that we need to live our lives to the fullest each day.  Because probably none of the victims in the twin towers, the Pentagon, or the passengers on the planes knew it would be their last day.  Some had dates for that evening, some had children at day care, others had family or friends awaiting their arrival at airports.  They were going on with their lives when the unspeakable happened.

We need to treat each moment as precious because we only have this slice of time we exist in.  And for those of us in recovery this is especially meaningful because we wasted countless hours in a self-induced stupor wasting time - the one thing we can't replace.




Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Covid 19

I'm still amazed - and pleased - that during all of these months of the pandemic, and with 600 to 700 clients, we've had less than a dozen contract the virus.  All of them were quarantined on our properties - mostly in the same apartments - for the period the doctors prescribed.  And none ended up in the hospital.

I attribute this low infection number to the fact that we followed government guidelines as to distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and sanitizing surfaces.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, most of us addicts don't live the healthiest life-styles when we're in the midst of our addictions.  Many of us smoke, have poor eating habits, sometimes are homeless, have no medical care other than periodic trips to the emergency room.  In other words we engage in high-risk life-styles that compromise our immune systems.

Through my eyes, the positive side of this is that if an addict has the discipline to follow the rigid Covid-19 protocol, just maybe they can apply the same principles when they graduate our program and return to society.

Who knows?

Click here to email John

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Old Memories

On Friday, September 5, 1958, I was sentenced to six months to 10 years in California State Prison for possession of heroin. And I was reminded of this because today is September 5, 2020. And that was so long ago it seems like almost a bad dream today. And on September 8, 1958, I was delivered in leg irons to a prison reception center at Chino, California.

At the reception center I spent about six weeks undergoing psychological and physical tests to see where I would fit best in California's extensive prison system. I was subjected to the Minnesota multi-phasic personality inventory and also a few other tests that I don't recall the names of. Finally, it was determined that I was a "young, trainable adult." And that meant that I would be sent to a vocational institution for education and training before I returned to society. But because they didn't have any open beds at that 2400 hundred bed institution I would be housed at San Quentin prison near San Francisco. I would remain at that prison until there was an opening at the vocational facility, which was located near Tracy, California. So at 19 years old, an age when I knew everything, I found myself unceremoniously dumped in front of the huge gates at the front of San Quentin

All of this comes up today because for some reason I was asking myself what happened on September 5 and September 8 eight a number of years ago? And it took me a while to dredge up the fact that that's when I got sentenced and delivered to prison for the first time. But at the time, those are two dates I thought I would never forget because it was sort of traumatic to go to prison for the first time – and for such a minor offense as possession of a small amount of heroin.

Looking back at my life some 60+ years later I would have never dreamed that I have the life that I enjoy today. While it took me some 30 more years to get off of drugs and alcohol and out of the criminal justice system it somehow seems like it was all worth it. Of course a person can get a lot of education and build a business without having to be incarcerated or addicted to anything. But I was a person who always had a hardhead and like to do things my way. It was only until drugs and alcohol beat me down and put me on the streets that I finally surrendered.

I knew that if I didn't get sober and start living like other so-called normal people that I would end up either dead, in an institution, or back in prison. I chose the path of sobriety and recovery. And have never looked back. I had no expectations about what my life was gonna look like after I got clean and sober but things have turned out much better than I imagined.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Biting the Hand

TLC doesn't often have clients or volunteers stealing from us. Although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions.

I remember one time when I called the manager of our Las Vegas facility. It was on a Saturday morning and he hadn't reported any collections from the night before. So I called to ask him about it.

"Well," he said, "the reason I didn't call any collections in is because I have the collection bag sitting beside me in the bar where I'm having a beer. Plus I used some of the money to buy some crack and I'm about ready to go back and buy some more."

"Wait right there" I told him. "We're on our way." And after I hung up the phone I called my chief operating officer and told him we needed to make a quick flight to Las Vegas.. It was two more days before we found him. He didn't have any money left. But he did have our company pickup, which we took possession of.

Another time, a client stole one of our company vans and drove to California to visit Universal Studios. I think he also stole some of our money to to cover his expenses on the trip.

And the reason I bring this up is because we discovered, during an audit this week, that one of our volunteers had been stealing from us for about three years. Now not a lot of money was taken. But that isn't the point.

The point is that we run a recovery program. And one of the precepts of a recovery program is people learn to be honest and not steal or do other things that would cause them to want to relapse. When we first confronted this person about stealing from our business it was vigorously denied.  The person claimed that it must've been a "memory lapse," or that they "forgot" to make an entry or pay for the personal items that were on the receipt.

In each of these cases we dealt with the clients with a great deal of compassion. In a couple of the cases we discharged them.  Then let them back into the program later. In fact, today one of them has a position of great responsibility and handles a lot of money at times. He's turned out to be one of our most reliable volunteers. And we do this because we know that it takes addicts a while to get honest and to work a good program. And it might save their lives

Click here to email John