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.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A New Year

Happy New Year! to all.  And hopefully it wll be better than the last.

I don't need to dwell on pandemics, economic downturns, riots, fires, and political squabbles.  That's because anyone reading this was right there with me.

Many of you lost loved ones or had family members who contracted the disease.  None of the older people in my family got the virus, though two of my grandchildren were hit wth it.  However, they came through it with their health intact.  For which I am grateful.

So did we learn anything this past year?  I think that most of my close ones learned that life can suddenly turn very serious through no fault of our own. Life just sometimes happens.  How we respond and get to the other side of challenges is what's more important.

I think that at first the youngsters in my family didn't think the virus would affect them.  Then they were the only ones who got it. They now seem a little more humble.  And being humble is what we get when times can become hard.

I have a positive outlook on this next year because I see new medical solutions arriving and some people becoming more careful about distancing and wearing masks.  All of a sudden we are viewing life as more serious.

I miss meetings and I miss socializing, but I try to follow what the medical people suggest.  My world is pretty much limited to my home office, business office and a limited amount of food shopping, And until I get the vaccine that's the way it will.  

I pray that you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas Present

Either tomorrow or the next day I'm getting myself a Christmas present; I'm leasing a 2021 Dual Motor Tesla plus.  Not that there's anything wrong with my old one, except it's a 2016 model and it's starting to show a little bit of wear and tear. Plus my lease is up on January 13 so I had to make a decision between buying the car or leasing a new model. After a few days reflection I opted for the new model.

One of the reasons I opted for the new model is that Tesla has a habit of adding new technology which it downloads over the Internet and I want to be driving a model that's equipped for the new things that are coming up, such as hands-free driving and a 400 mile driving range before having to recharge. Plus it will reach 60 mph in 2.3 seconds. Something no other production car in the world will do unless it's another Tesla.

This will be the fourth Tesla that I have leased.. The three cars I had prior to that were Toyotas, the Prius model. So why did I decide to go from an inexpensive car that was very economical to the fastest production car in the world?

Someone might say that it was about my ego. And there may be a little bit of that mixed in there. After all, there's nothing like being a senior citizen who owns a vehicle that can outpace nearly every other stock car on the road. Another thing I like about the vehicle is that it only requires servicing once a year. Because it's completely electric the only thing I can put in the vehicle is windshield wiper fluid and air in the tires. It also only has four gears: drive, reverse, neutral, and park.

Another reason I leased the car is that I spend very little money on myself. I live in the same house I've owned for 21 years. And sometimes people tell me why don't I get a bigger house because I could afford it. But I'm actually thinking about getting a smaller house or even a condominium because I don't like to have a lot of stuff to take care of. 

I'm a person who buys only things that I like, whether other people like them or not. I do much of my clothes shopping at Walmart, Amazon, Old Navy. I don't dress to impress. I dress to be comfortable, which is the way I think we all should live our lives – but that's something that's none of my business. I just know that people aren't going to like me any better no matter how much I spend on clothing or housing or cars. So I choose to be comfortable with what I purchase and don't worry about impressing others.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas

On the 14th of this coming January I'll be celebrating 30 years of sobriety, more than 1/3 of my life in recovery.

But I remember Christmas day 30 years ago what I was doing. I was living in a stolen car parked in an apartment complex. My daily routine was to wake up and find a Circle K where I could steal some booze. Then when I got my courage up I would steal something more valuable that I could trade for heroin or other opioids. Never during those dark days did I think about getting sober and changing my life.

But one day while going through the same routine I just got sick and tired of my life. I had absolutely no money, no friends, and the future looked bleak. I realized that I would either end up going back to prison, back to a mental hospital or dying.

Less than three weeks later I found myself living in a halfway house in downtown Mesa, Arizona. And my life has never been the same. 

After living in a halfway house for a year I decided to start a recovery program of my own. And for the past 30 years I've never stopped trying to help others get into recovery. I have a rewarding life today. I have friends, I have all the material things I could want, and I wake up clearheaded and not wondering what I'm going to do with my day.

Because this day and every day in my future I'm going to do something to help carry the message to others who don't believe they can change their lives.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Thoughts of Christmas

For over 25 years Christmas hasn't been one of my favorite holidays. And it's not because I'm some kind of a grinch or don't like to see people celebrating the holiday. The reason it's not one of my favorites is because my mother died 26 years ago on Christmas Eve.

She had been in the hospital since November 1, 1994, to have a piece of metal removed from her leg that was starting to cause her pain. She had broken her leg several years earlier and the doctors had placed a metal splint on the bone in her leg, along with a few screws, so as to give more support to the spot where the break had occurred. But it had begun to cause her pain and she asked me if I thought it was a good idea to have it removed.

Of course I don't like surgery or hospitals – I know they are necessary for our survival – but I left the decision entirely up to her because she was the one who was suffering from the pain, not me. Of course, in retrospect I would have told her to not go into the hospital. But the way she explained it to me is that it was a very simple surgery that would be done on an outpatient basis. The metal splint would have been removed and she was to return home the same day. But things didn't go quite the way she explained it.

The doctors decided to keep her in the hospital under observation for a few days because of her reaction to the surgery. They wanted to make sure that she was entirely functional after she left. Anyway, to make a long story short one complication led to another and her condition started to deteriorate. At one point she even developed pneumonia. But after some therapy so she could get used to the new splint that they had put in her leg they made plans to release her on Christmas morning of 1994.

I had gotten off work that day and went home to shower and was planning to visit her as I did every day she was in the hospital when a call came from a nurse. She told me that my mother had passed away 15 minutes earlier. Of course, I was devastated and went to the hospital full of grief and with tears running down my face.

It seemed so surreal to me, so unbelievable, because I was planning on picking her up the next morning and taking her home. But it didn't happen that way.

Many people have advised me to get over my grieving and I believe that I did a long time ago. But still, because it happened on Christmas Eve I am always reminded at this time of year that I lost one of my best friends, someone who supported me through the many years when I was living the life of a drug addict. She didn't support my habit or anything like that. But she did encourage me to get help both when I was in jail and out of jail and it took me a long time to follow her advice.

One of the things that makes me happy is that she was able to see me sober for three years and working in the recovery field. I think that gave her more joy than anything. And even though I recognize that today,  the Christmas holidays are not the best time of year for me.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Being Kind

 I believe it always pays to be kind to other drivers when we're on the highway.

Because a lot of times we'll be driving and someone will cut us off and we immediately respond with anger. But the reality is, unless we have extrasensory perception, we don't know what's going on with the driver in the other car. Many times we make the assumption that they're just naturally rude – or at the best – very unaware of the other drivers. But the reality is that we don't know what's going on with others. Maybe they're on the way to the hospital to visit a sick relative. Maybe they just got into an argument with their spouse. Perhaps they just lost their job. Even though we have a human tendency to come down on the side of negative, we'll feel a lot better if we give the person in the other vehicle the benefit of the doubt.

I don't believe that rude drivers get up in the morning and say "I think I'll go out and drive crazy and get everyone angry at me."  Instead, I think they always have something on their minds that takes their attention away from their driving. That's not an excuse for driving rudely or cutting others off.  But it is something to think about when we get upset on the road at the way others are driving a 4000 pound vehicle that could do a lot of damage if it got out of control over some petty anger.

And when we look back at these kind of incidents that inevitably occur once in a while we really don't remember much about them or why they occurred. Unless we get into a real accident, the things that happen on the highway are very unimportant in the scheme of things. 

And the nice thing is that we get home safely to our family and loved ones.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

R.I.P.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my grandson's death. He was found dead in bed at a friend's house a few months after he'd been released from prison. There was some disagreement among family members of what he died from. And of course I have my own opinion because he had a history of ending up in emergency rooms from drug overdoses.

He and I had been at odds for a few years before he died. He had a habit of borrowing money from me then would quit talking to me for a year or two. We went through this cycle a couple of times of me loaning him money and and him not repaying me. Until it came to a point where we rarely communicated unless it was when we ran into each other by accident.

My first reaction to his death was anger. Because when he got out of prison his dad and I and a couple of other family members went out to dinner. I was happy that we were once more on speaking terms. And we discussed what he was going to do. And one thing he assured me of was that he was done with the drug world and wanted to make something of his life. He had the talent, looks, and personality to do anything and I really believed that he was going to make it this time.

I felt especially bad for his father – who loved him very much. Also, the sisters he was close to. They all grieved heavily when he died and many of them still are. I eventually got over my anger because it served no purpose. But my first reaction was anger because I felt such a loss at losing a young man who had the world going for him if he had just decided to follow the right path.

I will miss my grandson for the rest of my life. His death reminds me that we need to enjoy our lives every day and live life to the fullest. All any of us can do is move on from here and appreciate the good times that we enjoyed with him. I know that he would've wanted us to be happy, prosperous, and successful – rather than spend our days grieving his loss. But his loss does teach us that we need to enjoy our loved ones and be grateful for the time that our creator has given us.

Click here to email John

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Looking Better?

 I've seen several news reports last week that say the government will begin distributing the Covid vaccine. I'm sure that it's a massive undertaking, distributing millions of doses of a vaccine while at the same time keeping track of who got a dose and who didn't. But one thing I will say, is that once those companies were given the green light they moved full speed ahead. Which just goes to show that when everyone works together, things can happen really fast.

The last stories I've heard say that the medical people and first responders will get the first doses. Then the people who are in nursing homes, the elderly, and the more vulnerable will get the next doses. However it happens, this is a positive way to end what has been an ugly year. To me, this last 11 months it seems like the universe has gotten off balance somehow. 

Pandemics. Massive forest fires. Months long riots. Venomous political battles. But those of you who have survived know the stories. I don't have to repeat them for you. But I'm sure that you share my gratitude that some solutions are on the horizon.

The one thing I always like to do to wind up blogs like this is to remind everyone that the only thing we have, if we're lucky, is this present day. I usually say this to clients who are fretting about the future and who have developed some anxiety about what's gonna happen. None of us know what will happen in the next months. Things will probably get better – but they could get worse. We never know.

That's why it's important for us to get up in the morning, plant our feet on the floor and thank our creator for another day. And then we need to plan how we can use that day to perhaps improve the lives of others.

Click here to email John

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A great staff

Our company, TLC, has been very lucky when it comes to the consequences of the Covid 19 virus. We probably have had fewer than 12 people quarantined since February, and only one or two were sick enough to go to the hospital and they were elderly and had underlying issues. And none of them died.

I attribute our low infection rate to our staff, from our chief operating officer on down to the house managers. Everyone has taken this pandemic very seriously. They have quickly quarantined anyone with symptoms. They are constantly cleaning and wiping and disinfecting everything. They require clients to wear masks at meetings and when they are outside of their rooms. We have around 600 clients right now and I feel that we have been very blessed in in the low infection rate all due to the safety measures we have taken. Everyone who works in our office is required to take a mask to work and to wear it – including myself.

TLC has faced a couple of serious crises during its lifetime, over 25 years. One was when the twin towers were hit and the economy suffered a low employment rate. During that time our count went down to about 400 people and we were barely scratching by in terms of paying our expenses and helping people get sober. But we weathered the storm. 

The second crisis came during the recession of 2009 – 2012. Several of our key managers including myself stopped getting paid for about 3 1/2 years and elected to take a pay cut rather than seek employment elsewhere. It seems like when people are grateful for their sobriety they do everything they can to stand up and help preserve the program.

I just want everyone to know who's involved with TLC that we are very grateful for their help and cooperation. Without our managers and staff and willing clients we wouldn't have a program. And after 27 years it would be a tragedy to lose everything we have worked for: an open door for any addict or alcoholic who wants to change – whether they have money or not.

Click here to email John

Monday, December 7, 2020

More Covid

 It seems like my whole world the last five days have been about Covid 19 or related to Covid 19.

Late last week I found out that I had been exposed to someone who is positive for the virus. So I was going to take a rapid test myself, but was unable to secure an appointment. But I knew that we had someone coming into our office today to test all 25 staff members who work in my department and decided to quarantine myself until today.

So I was there promptly at 10:30 AM and the test showed I was negative for the virus. And so were the other 25 staff members, which was a relief.

But to show how the virus has affected many segments of our society I will tell you about something I witnessed at the Circle K where I get a cup of coffee each morning on my way to work.

There were about eight people waiting to pay for purchases. One of the guys who was about 6 feet tall and weighed around 300 pounds was not wearing a mask. Behind him an older guy about half his size told him loudly that he should be wearing a mask. The bigger man turned around and told him to go "fuck himself." And that if he didn't shut up he would take him out to the parking lot and "stomp his ass."

The littler guy told the bigger man that he wasn't afraid of him and that he could do whatever he wanted.   At that point I think that the larger man realized that the smaller man was a little bit overconfident and then he noticed that he had a small baseball bat in a holster at his side. And that he was also wearing a backpack that had several small pockets which could have contained most any kind of weapons. 

In any case he paid for his purchases and left the store and nothing more came of the incident.

But that was my day and I accepted it as being a perfect day because I was still sober and hadn't let any of the stresses of life get me down.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 4, 2020

Being Self-Centered

A close recovery friend called the other day to tell me he'd been exposed to Covid-19 and that I shouldn't visit him for a few weeks as he was going to self-quarantine.  I thanked him for the heads-up and asked him how he was exposed - so he told me about it.

He's a successful businessman and one of his cousins in another state asked if  he could put her son to work so he could learn about business.  Since the kid was bright, but didn't want to go to college, she thought maybe her cousin could introduce the son to the world of business.  And since my friend believes experience is a better teacher than any classroom, he told his cousin yes.  And gave her 20-something a job and let him live rent-free at his home.

And he said things went pretty well for a while.  The youngster was a good worker, showed up on time, and became an asset to the company.  But he had one flaw: he didn't believe in wearing masks or social distancing.  And he had a habit of bringing different girls to the house and they didn't wear masks either.  

Finally my friend told the youngster he could no longer bring any of his friends to the house.  And the youngster made other arrangements.  But most of the time he wore a mask on the job and was reminded if he forgot to wear one.

When my friend asked if he and his friends wore masks when they were together outside the house he said they did.  But my friend didn't believe him because of previous conversations they'd had.  Once he brought the subject up and the youngster that "he'd be okay, that he wouldn't catch anything."  When my friend explained to him that wasn't about him, it was about the vulnerable people, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems it didn't seem to have much impact on him.  Though he did half heartedly nod in agreement.

And a few days ago the youngster exhibited symtoms of infection so my friend had him tested.  And, sure enough, he came back positive.

My friend was angry at first because he has to rapid test about 25 people who worked in the same office.  Plus the boy failed to use common sense and follow his advice.  

My friend wasn't amused when I reminded him of the old saying that "No good deed goes unpunished."

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Risking our Lives

As the pandemic intensifies I find it difficult to understand why people are so resistant to complying with measures that might save their lives or the lives of others.

For example there was a lot of controversy in the media about how to deal with Thanksgiving.  Eat with the family?  Or stay home?  And depending on the state one lives in, there were conflicting suggestions from government health officials about where to spend the holiday.

I believe that part of the issue is that we Americans have always been independent and don't like anyone telling us anything.

We see this when the government closes certain businesses or institutions.  Whether it's a bar, church, or school being closed the outcry is deafening.  People scream about their "constitutional rights" while half of them know little or nothing about the constitution and what it says.

From my perspective, whatever I can do to distance myself from others I'll do it.  I've heard that masks don't work and that they do work.  But I take a chance that they do work and wear one whenever I'm around people.

I think we've become a nation of entitled babies and don't want to suffer the slightest inconvenience.  When we don't care whether we spread a deadly disease to others we show the world how self-centered we really are.

I believe there's a lesson here for all of us.

Click here to email John