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.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

A different Year

In a little over a month this year will be over and the hope is that the next one will be different.

Never have I experienced such a collision of interests, as if the universe had tilted and everyone went a bit crazy.  After all, political campaigns are bad enough, but when pandemics, riots, unemployment, and fires across the West Coast are mixed in at the same time it's a lot to absorb.

With several cures for the Covid 19 virus supposedly on the way next month and early next year we can hope that the world is taking a positive turn where the pandemic will subside.

A new president will probably assume office - and while he may not do a better job than his predecessor - at least the tone of the political world will change.  What politicians do has never had much of an effect on my life but sometimes it's hard to ignore the drama when it's mixed in with other layers of drama as during 2020.

For me the recovery world has even changed, mainly because meetings have become limited.  Because of my age, which puts me in the most vulnerable group, I've chosen to stay away from any large gatherings.  I go from my home to my office and not much anywhere else.  And I usually wear a mask when in public, regardless of what the skeptics say.

What helps the most is that I apply the principles I've learned during my nearly 30 years of recovery.  I live in the moment, recognizing that many in the world are truly suffering and that I'm blessed to be where I am in life.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks

Today those of us who have gratitude in our hearts celebrate it with a day our country sets aside for this occasion.

In this country we have much to be grateful for, even though we've been through one of the worst years since I was a child.  On top of the challenges of normal life, we were struck by a pandemic that ravaged our country and the world, we experienced all the vitriol of a vicious political campaign, riots raged in the streets of the Northwest and forest fires burned millions of acres in California, Oregon and Washington.

So one must  be very optimistic to find something to be grateful for after such a series of dramatic events.

But I have a favorite technique I use when my world spins out of control as it has recently.  When things get crazy I play kind of a comparison game.  I look around and I can always find someone who has it really rough.

For example, I live within several blocks of some assisted living homes.  And as I drive to work I usually follow a route that takes me past them.  I often see the elderly and sick riding their electric carts on the sidewalks - even when the temperature is over 110 degrees.  Some are puffing a cigarette, or returning from the market with a basket of groceries, or maybe just escaping the confines of their rooms.  Whatever they're doing - which is none of my business - they remind me that I have a lot of freedom and blessings in my life.

And I'd suggest that you develop some techniques of your own that help you feel grateful when things get really rough.  Yes, many have it better than us - but don't look at them because you'll feel envy, or jealousy or some other ugly emotions that'll drag you further into depression.

Instead, have gratitude for whatever life has handed you because today might be the best day of your life.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Blessings of Recovery

In January I'll have 30 years in recovery.

And one thing I never had a problem with is finding things to be grateful for.

For example, my youngest daughter is going to be 36 tomorrow.  This is an anniversary I'd never have seen had I not gotten sober.  And I know that it's just a birthday and what's the big deal?  But the big deal to me is that I was able to get custody of her when she was about seven years old and raised her until she was 18 and decided to go into the army.

She served three years in the military, one of them in Afganistan.  She worked as a chef while in the service.  And when she was released she enrolled in Texas Culinary Academy and earned an associates degree.  Later she moved to Arizona and earned a bachelor's degree in liberal Arts.

Today she's married to an actor on the Discovery Channel's Gold Rush series and is raising my five year old grandchild and spends a lot of time bodybuilding.

I'm proud of her accomplishments and she gives me a lot to be grateful for.

Click here to email John

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Working Together

Last week I heard that two companies have developed vaccines that are over 90% effective in curing the Covid-19 virus.  And they did it in record time:  in less than a year.  It doesn't surprise me that this happened because I believe that humans can accomplish anything if they learn to work together toward a common goal.

But looking beyond the virus, what other problems could the world accomplish if everyone decided to work in unison?  What if researchers and governments decided to join together and wipe out drug addictions and alcoholism?  

I know it can be done; in fact there is already a trend to decriminalize drugs in countries around the world.  And in some states here in the U.S.  While it may take a few decades to bring common sense to society, I believe that this will be the norm:  rather that putting people in cages because they try to solve their problems with substances, we someday will send social workers to help them work through their issues.  Instead of them seeing parole officers or judges they will go to counseling sessions and learn new coping skills.  Society will teach them new ways to live rather than send to them away from their families and the real world.  Some people were never nutured or taught to live an ethical life.

Moving on from drugs, society could teach people how to escape poverty and the ghettos.  Someone had the bright idea that everyone needs to go to college to succeed.  And I think that those who want to become doctors or lawyers or scientists should do this- in fact they must.  But someone who wants to start their own business could learn all the skills they need in a trade school - which many millionaires have done.

If we can work for the common good there's nothing we can't achieve.  We've already seen this in many areas of the world.  We need to see it keep growing.

Click here to email John

Monday, November 16, 2020

Challenges

I was watching a news show this weekend and the host was talking to a psychiatrist who stated that, according to a study done during the quarantine that one out of four college students had considered suicide.  And that was because they were so depressed about the pandemic and how the quarantine had limited their lives.  No parties.  Wearing masks.  No hanging out with their friends, etc.

And I found that somewhat shocking.  I'm still trying to understand it because a lot of bad things happen in life and not having fun or freedom for a few weeks is not - to me - that big of a deal.  

After thinking about this for a while the only conclusion I could come up with is that these students had never faced any kind of adversity or had never been told no.  They always got what they wanted when they wanted it.  They had never developed the resiliance that comes with facing tough challenges.  They probably never had to work or take care of themselves.

In the recovery field we encounter many people who have lived rough lives.  They suffered sexual and physical abuse in their early years.  They spent time in foster care and juvenile halls.  As soon as they were old enough they graduated to prison.  Yet they became tough people, people who knew that life had its ups and downs.  Of course they didn't become tough overnight.  They tried to escape their challenges by using alcohol and other drugs until they found that that cure didn't solve their problems either.

The only way we get tougher is by facing the tough challenges in life.  While this pandemic is terrible, those of us who survive will learn to value to our lives and appreciate each day we have been given.

We'll come through these challenges stronger, better, and more grateful for what we have.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Be Here

The other day I dealt with a client who had a severe case of anxiety. He had trouble sleeping. He had trouble relaxing. He spent a great deal of time looking into the future, or dwelling in the past.

And like many of the addicts in our program he had the perfect solution for his anxiety: he would bury it with drugs or alcohol until he passed out. The only problem is that he had to wake up the next day and start all over again. This regimen didn't work out very well for him because eventually he lost his job, his marriage, his automobile, and the home that he lived in for seven years.

As I got better acquainted with him I learned that he had been treated poorly as a child. But instead of blaming those who mistreated him, he blamed himself for the bad things that happened to him. And of course that affected his self-worth. When in school he got poor grades. He ended up hanging with other students who had similar experience to his. He had found a clique of drug addicts to whom he could relate and who accepted him just as he was. And because of his association with them he eventually ended up in juvenile hall and then jail. And for the next 20 years he spent a lot of time associating with people like him and ultimately returning to jail or prison.

During my sessions with him I was able to help him understand that he could do nothing about the past. Nor could he really plan a future. But something that he would be able to do that would bring him some happiness and peace was to learn how to live in the moment. It took a while for me to help him understand that the only thing he had control over was this moment. And when he spent his time in the past or the future he was wasting a lot of the brief time that we all have here on earth.

After a while his anxiety went away because he began to grasp the concepts that I was teaching him about living in the moment. Someone taught me that concept a long time ago. And when I'm able to share it with others who begin to use it in their lives I feel like I'm helping someone learn how precious each moment of our life is.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Acceptance

 Being angry is probably one of the most destructive things we can do to our mind and body.

This comes up as a topic for me today because I met a lot of people who were unhappy about the results of the election. And one of the worst things for an alcoholic or drug addict to do is to carry around anger about things they have no power over.  And even if they do have power over something and get their way, so what?  Even if we get our way or if we are right that's a very small victory in the scheme of things.  While we might feel a small sense of satisfaction because we won an argument or switched someone over to our point of view that doesn't mean that something new is not going to come up tomorrow. And we'll find our self pissed off again.   

So what's the answer when we're upset? Well here again comes that boring old word that we learned in 12 step meetings straight out of the big book: acceptance.  Other than maybe the word gratitude, acceptance is the most powerful word in the book in my opinion.

Because when I can find acceptance with whatever goes on I don't get angry and I don't carry resentments around with me all day. When we accept any person, place, or situation  just as it is then we have no reason to get upset.  Instead, we can be the observer and maybe even learn something from what is going on.

Of course there are some things that happen on this planet that are totally unacceptable and worthy of our anger. But things like that don't come along very often. I'm talking about if we witness someone mistreating a child, abusing an animal, or doing something else that is outside the boundaries of a civilized society. At that point we can use our anger to intervene and do our best to change the situation.

But most things fall in the category – in my experience – of not being worthy of our anger or resentment. And that's when we can exercise our acceptance.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Consequences

I have heard it said that elections have consequences.

But whatever consequences they have, I'm truly happy that the election is over. Or at least it should be over, according to the law and other precedents.

Used to be a saying in my family that two things people should not talk about: religion and, of course politics. And unless I'm pretty positive about someone's political or religious leanings, I very rarely talk about either. I just keep my opinion to myself – except for a periodic lapse of commitment – like maybe a few lines in this blog.

One thing that I am certain of is that the election was not about who was the best man for the job. It was more about being against the incumbent and voting for somebody – anybody – else who was willing to take on such a grueling job. Because I'm a person who likes to see results from the people who lead our country and state. And like his personality or not, Trump was a businessman who got things done and really didn't care a whole lot about what people thought about the way he did it.

The one thing that I agree with most people about is that he was not a politician; he was a businessman. And as a businessman he didn't have the luxury of sitting around on his butt and taking forever to make a decision. I think that was why a lot of people didn't like him, his policies, or the way he operated. Because he operated this country like a business. He set a goal and carried it out. During his term we had the best economy that we've had in the last 50 years. The lowest unemployment rate. We became independent of the Mideast for our oil. Minorities had the lowest unemployment rate in history. He showed that we could operate the government without all of the bureaucrats whose positions were not filled once he became the president.

Yet in spite of all of this, you would never hear anything of substance if you ask people why they didn't like him. If you asked that question, people would just say something bright like "I don't know, I just don't like the way he does things." Or something equally stupid.

The people who responded this way knew very little about his policies, politics, or anything about government. I think they got their idea of how a president should operate from CNN, ABC and other liberal outlets.  

And then another factor was the fact that at least 75% of the press is liberal, and the liberals were trying to get him out of office almost from the moment he was declared the winner in 2016. Within weeks they started out with fantasy stories about Russians and his employment by them as a Russian agent. And it never stopped from that point on. We were constantly swamped and inundated with news about how terrible Trump was and the awful things he did.

But like I said in the first sentence of this blog; elections have consequences. And we're going to see some of those consequences within about 60 to 90 days.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Recovery vs. Recovered

 At times I've heard people use the term I am a "recovered" alcoholic. Or a "recovered" addict.

But really, that's a misuse of the term "recovered." And I say this because I learned a long time ago that for us addicts and alcoholics there is no such thing as being "recovered." I kind of understand what people mean when they use "recovered" this way.

But the correct way to use the term is recovery. Not recovered. Because even though they mean to say that they are in recovery when they use the term recovered the words have a distinction that is very important. Recovered means that we have arrived at the state of sobriety. And recovery means that we're in the process of recovery and we will never arrive at a time where there is an appropriate use of the word recovered.

Being in recovery means that we are living a certain type of life. Usually one that we learned in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Big Book, the fellowship, the sponsor – sponsee relationship are all part of the process of being in recovery. And the things that I just mentioned are part of a process – not a place where we sit on our laurels and say that finally we have arrived and we no longer have to take any action.

Being in recovery means that we have a toolkit that has been given to us through the generosity of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. And other than the Big Book itself, all of these tools that have been given to us describe a kind of behavior that we practice as members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Among these behaviors are making amends when we do something untoward to another person. Another behavior is giving our recovery to others who need our help. Another behavior is sitting alongside of someone who is having a rough time understanding what this recovery thing is all about, explaining to them the process of recovery.

The term recovery – used in the place of "recovered" – signifies action. It signifies that we're following a certain path in life that will help us remain sober and clean.

To put it more simply, recovery means action. And recovered means that there's nothing else we need to do to stay sober – something that's a fallacy in most cases.

Click here to email John

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Path To Happiness.

Ask a room full of people to raise their hands if they want to be happy probably 98% of them will raise their hands.

Taking it further, if you ask each person to define what happiness is for them you get a multitude of answers. For a number of them, it will be a lot of money – maybe even to be come a billionaire. The next person might want something simpler, like a new house, a better job, a new wardrobe.

And if you take it a step further and ask them how long they've been seeking these things that will make them happy, some of them will answer that they been thinking this way most of their lives.

In the case of most people it seems that most of them will only be happy when they reach the next thing that makes them feel good. And I'm sure we've all experienced this to some degree. I'll be happy when I get my grades to an acceptable level. I'll be happy when I get a slot on the football team. I'll be happy when the girl of my dreams accepts my invitation to go on a date with her. Or maybe I'll be happy when I graduate from college and get my first job.

The one thing that all of these desires have in common is that they lie somewhere in the future. Virtually everything that we think will make us happy is somewhere down the road. Because my experience in life is the things that make me happy are the challenges associated with accomplishing them. To me it is somehow personally validating to start a project and see it flourish and grow. Once it becomes what I visualize it to be, it doesn't seem so great after all.

If you look at Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon, who also happens to be the wealthiest man in the world, and ask him what makes him the happiest he will likely answer something like "the process of putting together a project or achieving a goal." Because at this moment he can purchase any material thing he wants. He can take any vacation he wants. He could buy so much stuff that it would drown him. It I'm sure that percolating somewhere in the back of his brain is the next step he has to take on his way to completing another project.

I believe that if we look at our lives as a path that will lead us to success and happiness we will be much happier people. Because I've achieved many things I set out to do in my life. In looking back upon what I've achieved up to this point I would say the struggle, the hard work, planning, is what my life is been all about. I always find myself – once I completed what I set out to do – finding myself looking to the next thing I want to learn or accomplish.

For example, one of the things I wanted to do was quit using drugs and alcohol, something I accomplished 29+ years ago. And because I don't want to have to start out at step one and do it all over again I stay on the path of sobriety and live with recovery at the center of my life. And that has given me the freedom to accomplish other things – such as helping others achieve their goals of living in recovery. The point of all this is that you will find your happiness as you put in the work to achieve your goals, no matter what they are.  And living with this goal brings me great happiness.