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 31st 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.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

When We're Ready

A parent calls our treatment program today to get help for her daughter.  She's in a detox now withdrawing from a habit she's had over the past several months.

The mother wondered if we had bed space for her and also inquired about our treatment options.

"Why didn't your daughter call?" I asked the mother.  "After all, she's the one who needs help."

She was quiet for a moment, then told me the story of how she's paid for her daughter's past three treatment programs.   But within a few weeks after leaving a program she'd be using again as if she'd learned nothing.

While the mother was discouraged about the money she'd spent on her daughter's failure to recover, she said she was still going to help her.

And I think was kind of surprised when I replied that the daughter's problem was that she was giving her too much help.

After all, she described how she'd helped her get on her feet a few times.  Doing things like renting her an apartment.  Buy her food and clothes, helping her find a job.  Only to find that she once again had relapsed and was on the streets.

I told her my own story of using heroin over a 38 year period.  But I didn't quit until everyone gave up on me and quit helping me.  At first I was angry and kept using until I ended living on the streets, sleeping in abandoned buildings or stolen cars.  Life finally got do painful that I decided to change.  I knew that if I didn't change I would end up back in prison, in a mental hospital - or dead.

So I went to a detox, got sober, and never looked back. I told the mother that once I had enough pain I decided to changes.  People quit helping me and that's what made the difference.

This girl hasn't had enough pain yet. And she won't until her mother and others quit rescuing her,

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Sunday, June 13, 2021


Last January ninth I was sober 30 years and felt kind of bad because I wasn't able to go to large gatherings because my doctor didn't want me to risk exposure to Covid 19.  Instead I met with my sponsor at a small cafe and had lunch.  And then he presented me my 30 year chip.

Afterward, back at the office, someone asked me why I needed a sponsor after 30 years of recovery.  That it seemed like I would know what it took to stay sober after so many years.

The reality is that a person who can read and understand the Big Book probably doesn't need a sponsor.  Because if we do everything that the book tells us we'll learn to live sober.  In fact, it's almost a 100% guarantee.

But  the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests sponsorship as a strong support for those in recovery.  Especially those in new recovery.

Every challenge to our sobriety requires an anwer and who better to help us than someone who has several years sobriety and who hasn't taken a drink no matter what challenges they faced.  My sponsor has faced health problems and many other challenges in his 47 years of sobriety, yet remains sober.

Generally when I have an issue to deal with and call him about it he'll end telling me that I know the right answer - and he's always been right. He's been with me through the last 25 years of my recovery, which included two divorces, the overdose of a grandson, two bouts of cancer, and several business challenges.

Would I have relapsed without his support?   Highly unlikely.  But it's always comforting to know that when I need sage advice I can dial his number.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Raising a six-year Old

I have a six year old grandson who's been dismissed from every school he's been enrolled in.  And yesterday my daughter told me he'd now been kicked out of summer camp because of his behavior.  She wasn't too happy.

And I can understand her angst about his inability to stay in one school for long,  So I told her that research shows that 30% of multimillionaires and billionaires never got a college degree.  Among them are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Ralph Lauren, Steve Jobs, Sean Combs, Coco Chanel, Simon Cowell, and a long list of others.

Now I'm not saying it's okay for our youngsters to misbehave and get into minor scrapes that get them ejected from school.  There are a lot of theories of why they behave this way but one I really agree with is that people who don't behave like so-called "normal" people are a different breed.  

They are bored with what schools teach.  They have a high tolerance for risk.  They have a lot of creativity and imagination. They have a lot of energy.  

And the ones who don't turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to deal with these aspects of their personalities might just channel these characteristics into a successful business, career, and do much better than their "well-behaved" contemporaries.

My grandson, for example, has an extremely high emotional quotient and makes friends everywhere he goes.  And one of the top rated skills is the ability to communicate well with others.  After all, when you communicate well with others they can help you succeed in life and channel your talents into success.

I know it can be stressful and challenging for my daughter to raise a child with his energy but chances are that someday she'll realize it was well worth the effort.

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Raising sober Children

I remember I was sleeping one night in 1970 - not even sure the date was - when my girlfriend awakened me and told me that I had a phone call.

She said that she had some bad news, that my father had died.  She was hestitant to tell me because she didn't know how I would take it.  I told her that I was glad that he had died - then I was back to sleep in about ten minutes.

This came up for me today when I was looking at my schedule for the rest of the month and happened to notice that the 20th was Father's Day.

While the program has taught me to not harbor resentments even to this day I can recall when I was a child and the sheriff' would show up at our door to question my father for suspcion of child abuse.  Neither my brother and I would talk to the police so nothing happened to him.

One of the reasons I bring this up is that I notice that the worse childhood our clients had the more problems that drugs and alcohol created in their lives.

That's why I experience happiness when I hear stories of families reuniting while in TLC and returning their children's lives to some kind of normalcy.  We've even had staff members marry and have children while working here and it's wonderful to see how the love of a family strenthens their commitment to recovery.

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

Giving it Back

A man I once sponsored over 20 years ago called me today.  Now this is someone I hadn't seen in 20 years yet his experiences at TLC helped change his life.  He learned the lessons of recovery and they stuck with him.                         

But he didn't call to talk about sobriety.  He's reached a point in his life where he wants to give something back.  What he - and some of his friends want to do - is start a program for the homeless based on the TLC model.  In Seattle.

He said their goal was to go beyond helping substance abusers; they also wanted to also help non-subtance abusers who were homeless for other reasons.  He mentioned those with mental issues and problems with life skills.

I, of course, told him we would do what we could to help him succeed.  After nearly 30 years we have a template that we'll share with anyone in another state if they're serious about helping others.  And not just trying to make money off the down and out.

I bring this up because here is an example of what helping others change their lives can do.  We did something good for this man two decades ago.  And now he wants to give back.

It goes to show that when we help others we make the world a better place for everyone,

Monday, May 31, 2021

Those who Serve

Today we have the freedom to pursue our ambitions, to be whoever we want to be.  And we owe this privilege to those who died for our country while protecting our freedoms.

A lot of people think the holiday is just a day off work. Or a chance to go fishing while getting paid.  Or maybe a chance to grill steaks by the pool.

A few years ago almost 20% of the population served in the military.  Today that figure has dwindled to about seven percent.

But whatever the number. we have an obligation to honor those who provide us the freedom to pursue our dreams.

While technically the holiday honors those who died in combat, we need to honor all of those who served our country as part of our military machine.  Because it's more than a person firing a gun who makes sacrifices.  Those who suffer PTSD, lose limbs, who suffer emotionally, also deserve our respect and honor.

My youngest daughter served three  years in the U.S. Army.  And was in some dangerous situations.  She's earned two college degrees. She has a six year old son.  Her husband acts on the Discovery Channel.  She has a home in the suburbs.  

But, fate blessed us by bringing her safely through her time in Ahfganistan.  Something for which I'll be forever grateful.

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Thursday, May 27, 2021

I Might Have Missed It

Today I attended a ceremony at my grandson's kindergarten.  

And as the ceremony proceeded I found myself drifting off, thinking about the many blessings I've found in recovery.

As I watched my grandson receive his promotion certificate, I realized that this is something I would have never witnessed had I not made the decision to change my life over 30 years ago.  

Watching a grandson get promoted to the next class was one of many joys I've had since I decided to put substances out of my life.  To do something positive.  To live up to my potential (something I'm still working on).

One thing I want to share with my brothers and sisters in recovery is that one of the important elements of getting and staying sober is patience.  If you expect magical things to happen as soon as you get sober you're going to get disappointed.  

When I first got sober the magic for me was that I could wake up and not worry about having to feed a habit.  I had a bed to sleep on in a halfway house.  I had an old bicycle to ride.  I did day labor.  I went to meetings and educated myself about recovery.  And in that freedom from drugs I found peace for once in my life.

Look around you and find your blessings.  Maybe your family is back.  You might have found a decent job. You have food, clean clothing.  If everything you need or want hasn't showed up yet - be patient because it will.  If you read the a Big Book, you'll notice that it has promises.  If you're patient and follow the instructions you'll be as blessed as I have.

You'll see your loved ones succeeding and have a sense of joy and realize that because you're sober you're not missing the good things in life.

Click here to email John