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.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Another boring Election

In about a week we're all going to know who our next president is going to be for the following four years.

And today I was wondering to myself why an election is such a big deal. I mean I know it's a big deal to those who are participating and those who are going to benefit in some way or the other – liking getting a good government job or a post at an embassy.  But anyone who thinks that their life is going to change dramatically because we switch governments or switch presidents is, in my opinion, living in a dream world.

And of course I'm speaking from a personal perspective. But if you ask me I will tell you that I can't think of one thing in my life that has gotten better or worse because this party or this person won or lost the election. If of course if a person is easily influenced, they can listen to the ads on TV talking about what a dark world it's going to be at this man or woman becomes the president. Or if this or that political party assumes office and get excited about the outcome.

Each election cycle I always hear something about what politicians are going to do about the war on drugs and crime. But my experience has been that no matter who is in office there's not been a lot of difference as far as how much time people do or the kind of penalty they get for their crimes.

I've already voted and hope my choice wins.  But if he doesn't I'm not moving to Canada,

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Quitting smoking

In my opinion, one of the worst drugs in the world is nicotine. Once one becomes addicted to it, all bets are off. It is extremely hard for most people to quit, even though it does the most damage of virtually any drug out there. And the sad thing, is that it's legal.

During my younger years, especially when I was in prison, I probably smoked a total of 10 years off and on. I didn't really keep an accurate count of how much I smoked but I know it was bad for me and I would quit for a while.  But then sometimes I would get frustrated about something and go back to the habit. One of the reasons that I was always motivated to quit is because I did a lot of running at one time – at least 5 miles a day – for many years. Running was an addiction for me. Like cigarettes were when I was using them. But when I would get out of jail and take up running again, it was really easy for me to quit because after the first lap my lungs were screaming out to me to quit the habit.

But there was more to it than that for me as far as cigarettes go. I had seven aunts and uncles and all of them smoked, including my mother and stepfather. Back in those days almost 50% of the population smoked or used some form of tobacco. But at that time almost no one really understood the damage that cigarettes did. And it was not uncommon to see doctors in print or television advertisements extolling one brand of cigarette over another. And as a result, a large part of our population is suffering damage from smoking even though they might have quit 20 or 25 years ago.

As an example every one of my seven aunts and uncles, my mother, and a 35-year-old cousin all suffered from the serious effects of their habits. My mother, who died some 25 years ago on Christmas Eve probably would've still been alive had she not smoked. The thing that took all of them was either emphysema or COPD. But by the time they realized how damaging nicotine was the damage had been done. And the damage in the case of emphysema and COPD is virtually irreversible.

I bring this up today because I have a close friend who has made repeated efforts to quit smoking. But without success. So because I give free hypnosis to those who are serious about quitting smoking, she asked if I might hypnotize her so that she could quit. I explained to her that hypnosis is not a magic pill. And I tell that to everyone of my hypnosis clients; the desire to quit must be also accompanied by a strong motivation to quit.

At least 95% of the people that I try to help quit smoking are successful in doing so. But I have a routine that I make them follow before we ever sit down and go into hypnosis I spend a week or two preparing them. One thing I make them do is buy a level one nicotine patch to help them through withdrawals. I sometimes have them make weekly appointments with me a couple of weeks before we actually do the hypnosis just to follow up and see how motivated they really are. If they keep all the appointments I realized that they are serious about changing and in turn I get quite motivated to help them.

To date I have over 30 non-smokers and feel quite good about it because I believe that I have helped them change their lives. But I didn't change their lives, all I did was show them the path and give them the tools and they did all the work. But still, there's nothing like the feeling of helping another human being live a fuller and longer life because you help them stay away from the poison that was shortening their days.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Learning from Mistakes

The best way to give someone self-condidence is to let them make mistakes.  And, after they make the mistake don't criticize them.  Instead teach them to look at the mistake as a learning experience that will teach them how to do it right the next time.

We all have seen those who went to college for years, then have to enter the job market to get some real world experience.  It happens to professionals such as doctors.  To lawyers who have to be a clerk for an attorney with years of experience.

We have many addicts and alcoholics who tell us that they have a lot of job experience when they first come in to our program.  But when they start working - whether for us or an outside company - we find that most of them have worked doing general labor and have little or no experience in a specific trade.  Still, we don't criticize them, we simply start them doing a simple job like cleaning our properties, yard maintenance, painting, or working in the kitchen.

And we try not micromange them; we allow them to make mistakes so they can grow and learn.  The only way I've learned is by making repeated mistakes.  And mistakes taught me a costly lesson, which I often quote, And that's that education is expensive - however we get it.

In closing, I'll point out that many of our clients have learned from their mistakes and today are living successful and happy lives.

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Accepting Pain

A friend was talking to me about problems she's having with her husband, and that they were currently separated. I told her that since I'd been divorced four times that she'd probably come to the right person.

After all, I got over all four of those divorces after a time. Now admittedly, in looking back, I was really the one who created most of the problems in the marriages.   During the first two marriages I was using drugs and alcohol.  So I put them in a different category that the last two. The reality is that when two practicing addicts are married – while they may love one another – it seems like the drugs and alcohol always get in the way. 

In any case, I gave her the best advice I could.  And that until she was able to accept the fact that her marriage was in trouble she would find herself going up and down emotionally. In my own case I was quickly able to recognize my own part in the situation and was able to get over my anger and pain pretty quickly.

And one thing I never did was put the blame on them when I was talking to other people. After all, at one time I thought each of my wives was the most beautiful person in the world and I would've done anything for them. Just because we got divorced didn't make them into some kind of a monster or terrible person. And as a result today we are able to communicate on good terms without fighting or putting each other down.

My suggestion to her was to first of all stay busy, which would help her get over her pain. I told her she should talk to her sponsor and other friends. To focus on her job and her children. And to think about all of the good fortune that she has in her life today.

I understand that pain sometimes has a life of its own and it keeps cropping up at the strangest times. But when it does crop up we should look it right in the eye and accept it as being a natural reaction to the emotions we are going through. The more often we are able to do this, the sooner the pain will subside.

The one thing we do not want to do is go back to drugs or alcohol because all that does is give us two problems to have pain about. Even though it sounds boring and we hear a lot of it in the 12 step programs, acceptance really is the key to most of our problems today.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

More on Anger

"We will not be punished for our anger.  We will by punished by our anger."  Buddha

After my last post about anger a reader writes to tell that her ex-husband - after 20 + years - is still so angry at her that he constantly bad-mouths her to their sons.  She wonders what suggestions she can give them because they are sick of hearing it.

Of course they are tired of hearing it because they see their mother in a different light than he does.  

Her ex sees her as the source of his pain and likely takes zero reponsiblity for their divorce.  Her ex is probably the type of person who believes he's a victim.  Like many angry people, they believe their challenges and troubles in life are caused by something or someone outside of themselves.  They blame their failures and unhappiness in life on outside circumstances:  ex-wives, the economy, the pandemic, their boss, politicians.  Whatever.  If only everything and everything else would change their lives would be fine.

But that isn't the way the world works.  Others rarely are responsible for our misery; to be happy we must realize that we are reponsible for everything that befalls us if we want to enjoy our lives.  If we spend our time blaming others for our unhappiness we're wasting the precious time God gave on this earth.

About all her boys can do is accept the fact of who their father is and take away lessons from it.  Some times the world deals us a bad hand.  Sometimes our wives leave us because they can no longer take our controlling behavior.  After so long the boys will look at their father's misery and maybe decide they should spend less time around him.  

They could tell him they don't want to discuss their mother with him because it upsets them.  He may not stop, but he may understand why they stop spending much time with him.  He may find that his anger is not productive for him and not waste his time expressing it if it alienates his children.

After all, who wants to leave a legacy of anger behind when they leave this planet?

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Anger Destroys

A fellow I knew died around 20 years ago from the effects of drugs and alcohol. At least that's what the autopsy report said.

But I really believe that a lot of what killed him was not substances, but rather his anger. And had I been asked for my input on the report that's what I would've said: that his anger killed him. Every time I was around him and he was halfway sober he was angry. The only thing that seemed to soothe his anger was alcohol, methamphetamines, and once in a while a little bit of marijuana.

And I'm not hundred percent sure of what he was angry about. But I know a lot of it was directed at his ex-wives. Even though he had been divorced from both of them for many years one of his topics of conversation was how poorly they treated him. What bitches they were. How he had never been able to trust women since his divorces. Somehow it was difficult for him to move on with his life after the perceived wrong that they had done him.

When I would suggest that perhaps he would feel better if he would forgive them he would look at me like I was crazy. And say something like he would rather kill them. And when I would suggest that he would feel a lot better if he could realize that both of those relationships were behind him he would examine me from across the table as though I was the one with the problem because I didn't commiserate with him.

One of my strong beliefs is that most so-called bad things that happen to us – while they may be painful – are forgivable. And that they need to be forgiven for our own mental and physical health. Because there is a large body of research out there that shows that anger is toxic.

Usually, around TLC, we find a percentage of people who carry anger with them. And, of course, one way to get rid of our anger is to cover it up with drugs or alcohol. But the problem with getting rid of anger that way is that it is only temporary. We discover very soon – usually when we sober up – that the anger is still there festering in our mind like a cancer eating away at us.

Often in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous we hear people speak about the only way that they were able to get rid of their anger or resentment was to pray for the other person. And it works. In fact that remedy comes right out of the big book and is there for anybody to use and practice in their daily lives.

I have found that when we go through our lives extending kindness and good feelings towards others, that's usually what we get back from them. I remember from the early days of my addiction that my anger always got me in trouble. Being kind to others never got me in trouble and has actually opened many doors for me.

Look at it this way: we only have so many days on this planet and why would we want to waste them on someone who is no longer even in our lives? In the case of being angry at an ex-spouse, we can all look back and remember when we first met this person and they were the most wonderful human being we had ever met. But once we depart from them, all of a sudden they are the source of all our misery and problems.

But the reality is our problems in life are not caused by the problems themselves but in the we we perceive them. We can view the bad situations that happened to us as an educational experience and move on with our lives. Or, we can blame the other person and waste our precious time on this planet, time that we cannot replace, on being full of anger and misery.

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Losing the War

 I watched the debate last night between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence and I wasn't surprised at all about what I didn't hear.

They didn't mention anything at all, either of them, about the drug abuse that plagues our nation. It almost seemed like the only thing that was important was for each of them to play gotcha in an effort to make some points with the voters.

I can look back through my life – clear back into the 50s when I first started using drugs – and remember political candidates talking about the problem with drug addiction in our communities and across our nation. I saw presidential candidates get tough on drugs, giving longer jail terms to those selling drugs and using drugs than they did to convicted murderers.

They called it the "war on drugs." And today one can look about any city in most any state in the country and see that the war on drugs has pretty much been lost. And I say that because one can buy so-called "medical marijuana" quite easily. In fact, all one really needs is a prescription from a doctor and he can purchase the drugs almost anywhere. And in some states recreational marijuana can be purchased without a prescription.

Now marijuana was never my drug of choice. I was one of those people who got paranoia from smoking it and I had a whole bunch of other things I'd rather use before marijuana. But where I'm going with all of this is I see a softening in the legal system and in the public toward the use of what used to be considered a drug that was very dangerous. And now I think the only danger with the drug is what it does to our lungs and what happens when people drive under the influence of marijuana – something I don't think a lot of people know a lot about at this point.

Where I'm going with this is I haven't heard much during this presidential campaign year about what anybody's going to do different about opioids, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and the other drugs that are devastating our communities. And the reality is that there's not much they can do, except arrest people and put them in prison until they get out and start all over. There's been absolutely nothing innovative done about dealing with people who use drugs like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph. And the reality, which is right under our nose if we just choose to pay attention to it, is there is already de facto legalization all over this country. And I say that, because anybody with a few dollars in their pocket can walk into the right neighborhoods and take their choice of drugs home with them. Or else use them right there at the dope house where they got it.

Now other countries are smarter than we are. For example, in Bern, Switzerland, a heroin addict can get his supply free from the state. Not only does he get free heroin, the state provides him with a check every month so that he can support himself, a facility where he can get his daily dose and use it right there on the spot. And this occurred because merchants in the city were tired of addicts stealing their merchandise to trade for heroin. They went to the legislature and asked them to craft regulations that would allow addicts to use heroin under certain restrictions, an action that pretty much satisfied everyone. The last statistics show that the prison population went down, crime went down, and the transmission of AIDS went down from addicts sharing needles. And the interesting part is that after six years of legal use, many of the addicts decide to wean themselves off of the drug and go on to a more productive life. 

But our country has some kind of twisted moral objection to this idea of allowing addicts to use drugs. Instead of giving addicts free drugs in an environment where could be monitored and where they could receive medical attention if they overdosed, where they can be taught how to use drugs safely we would rather punish them for what the medical community has characterized as a disease. Countries all over Europe, such as Portugal. have adopted the model of legalizing all drugs because they realize that there is not much likelihood that they're going to be able to stop drugs by declaring war on them and the people who use them.

Maybe someday our country will get over this stupid idea that legalizing drugs will mean everyone uses  them. And ask their state legislatures to create safe havens for addicts until they can get medical and psychological help and move on to a better life. But then again we would have to overcome the reality that law enforcement and incarceration is a big business and that legalizing drugs in order to control the drug trade probably doesn't make financial and political sense to the majority.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Helping the Hopeless

Many clients who come through our doors have nothing.  They don't have a job, or job skills.  They have no money. No home.  What friends and family they once had long ago abandoned them.  A percentage have rotten teeth, or none at all - also known as "meth mouth."  Others have serious health issues such as COPD, diabetes, heart problems.  Others have mental health issues, like bipolar or psychizo-effectice disorder and others.

On top of these issues many have few social skills because they were either either raised by addict or alcoholic parents.  Some have tatoos on their face because in prison that shows a committment to a life of crime - something that doesn't play well with potential employers.  Nor do they have much basic education.  And few have degrees.

Yet we take them in without upfront money because we know that addicts and alcoholics spend their money on their habits before they'll use it to get into treatment.  We know that, as we've been there ourselves because our entired organzation - which has eight hundred beds - is comprised of addicts and alcoholics in recovery.  Even the staff.

Some outsiders think we're a government funded organization.  But that's not so.  TLC raises all of its funds by collecting $135.00 weekly from those employed outside the organization. Plus, we make a small amount from several small businesses that also serve as training programs for the inexperienced.

Clients who are unemployable for whatever reason, are allowed to volunteer in our program.  For this activity they receive a small weekly stipend, housing, medical and dental assistance, and other benefits, such as peer counseling.

At times we have resistance from the community because they view addiction as a moral issue as opposed to a medical problem.  We've sued more than one community - and won the lawsuit - because addicts and alcoholics and addicts are a protected class under the Americans with Disabilites Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.  If anything gets in the way of their recovery they have standing to seek recompense.  After all, the disabled - like cancer patients, and the mentally ill - are entitled to help -regardless of how much the community objects.

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Friday, October 2, 2020

In the Moment

Have you ever been in a situation in your life where you thought that if things just changed you would be happy?

I know this happens, not just to us addicts and alcoholics, but to the world at large. If I just get this job I'll be happy. If I just find the love of my life then I'll be happy. This new car or new house will complete my life. Or if I get to go on this vacation everything will be just fine.

But don't you see the problem here? If are always in this mode of sitting around and waiting for the next good thing to happen then our life is always on hold.

Because, if we're always sitting and waiting for the next best thing then as soon as we get it how long are we going to enjoy it? The new car starts getting a few dings in it and trash in the back seat. Pretty soon it's a year old and one of the neighbors has bought a newer model or more expensive car and all of a sudden your love affair with your new car is over. It wasn't quite the fix you thought it would be.

Same with finding the love of your life. The first six months are a honeymoon. A love affair out of a movie. But then we start seeing that the person we love is just another ordinary human being with all the faults and character defects other human beings have.

And maybe that vacation that we fantasize about and were saving money for wasn't all that great. Maybe it rained. Maybe you lost your luggage. Maybe you missed your flight. In any case the memories you return home with weren't very memorable in a positive way.

The point is if we live our lives with the idea that we'll really be happy when we arrive at the next best thing, the next goal or amount of money or job or whatever we're seeking then we aren't living our life in the moment or living our life today. We're living in suspended animation as the minutes and hours and days pass by with us waiting for what we think will make us happy.

But the reality is that nothing will make us happy if that's the way we travel. Because happiness only happens in this moment, not in the future. So the remedy is to keep focused on here and now because this little slice of time is all that God has given us and all that we can count on. It's impossible to be happy in the future today. And it's such a waste of the precious moments we have on this planet.

Click here to email John