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, May 5, 2021

Discriminating Against Substance Abusers.

For some reason it seems like our local government is frequently at odds with the entrepreneurs who operate recovery homes for substance abusers in reccovery.  It's happened before and it appears to be coming back to life.

For example, in 1998 the City of Mesa passed ordinances that would clamp down on halfway houses.  Since we had several locations downtown we were right at the center of the target.

One ordinance was that before one could open a halfway house they would have to appear for a public hearing at city hall to obtain approval, a process that involved public input,  Of course we all know how those kinds of hearings turn out.  No wants recovering people in their neighborhood.  I've been at those hearings and I saw one woman break down and cry hystercally at the possibility that a house might be occupied by a group of substance abusers.

The second ordinance was to not allow halfway houses to be located in the so-called "Downtown Overlay," an area covering Country Club to Mesa Drive and University to Broadway.  Halfway Houses were perceived as bad for business,

The third ordinance was to require halfway houses to be located 1200 feet apart.- something I never did understand,

In any case TLC wasn't about to go anywhere.  So we filed a lawsuit in 1998 and went into Federal Court and  obtained an injunction against the City of Mesa to prevent them from acting on the ordinances until they worked their way through the courts. Five years later we negotiated a settlement in Federal Court that left the distance requirment standing and awarded us $40,000 of our legal costs.

I don't have a good feeling about the prospect of a new lawsuit.  But I believe another one is on the horizon.  And of course TLC will be in the fight because we've been helping addicts and alcoholics change their lives for 30 years.

And we're going to continue to fight those who don't care whether we get sober or not.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

On the Inside

This weekend I was cleaning out my closet when I began reflecting about my first days in sobriety 30 years ago.

When I first got into recovery in January of 91 all I had was the clothes on my back.  Literally. 

It took me several months to build anything resembling a wardrobe.  Because I had a lot of entry-level jobs I would get clothing from the halfway house donation room.  Or else take a few dollars and search the local second hand stores - because that was all I could afford.

Since I didn't have a lot of spare money for entertainment, I'd spend hours searching the second hand racks to find something that I could afford that also would fit.  Today I found in the back of my closet a sport coat that I paid ten dollars for in 1991.  It must be 30 or 40 years old today and it's still in good shape and fits me well.

But back to cleaning my closet.  I must have gotten rid of 20 items, things I hadn't worn for five or six months.

I was inspired to do this a while back while I was reading about some very wealthy people who always wear the same clothes.  And I think that's the way to live. After all who's going to like us better just because we wear expensive clothes with designer labels?  Mark Zukerberg is always in tee shirts and levis.  Barack Obama reportedly wore the same clothes.  So did Steve Jobs.  And these were or are some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world.

I guess the point of all this is that it's not what we wear that makes us who we are.  What impresses others is who we are on the inside; it's the generosity, compassion and kindness we show others.

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Making a Decision

30 years ago I was living a hopeless life.  I had no job.  No friends.  My family didn't want me around. If I wanted to eat I'd steal from a market or go to a soup kitchen.  If I needed to go somewhere I'd steal a car or bicycle.

Life only had meaning if I had enough alcohol or drugs in me.  And it seemed like I could never get enough of either,

But one dayI made a decision.  I woke from a nap in a park on a picnic bench.  I remember reflecting on my life of constantly chasing drugs and alcohol.  Of taking from others.  Of drifting aimlessly until I could find something to steal so I could get drunk and high again.

Then out of nowhere I had a thought: "I'm tired of this shit, of living like a bum, of going nowwhere,"

I kept reflecting on my choices: prison, mental hospital, cemetery and none of them were very appealing,

I'll get sober I told myself.

So I found a detox that would take me without money in Mesa, Arizona.  They kept me for 11 days and then found a halfway house that would take me without money.  And that's where it began a little over 30 years ago.

If you're in a situation like I was do what I did.  If it worked for me it'll work for anyone.  Life is a beautiful thing and we only have one of them.

Click here to email John

Monday, April 26, 2021

Once an Addict...

 We learn in the 12-Step programs that once we're an addict we're always an addict.  Does that mean we're always relapsing or drinking and drugging?  Of course not.  

But to me it means that deep down I still sometimes have that anger, anxiety, insecurity and othet personality defects that made me want to use in the first place.  Only by living by the guidelines of the 12-step programs do I recognize when I'm about to go off track.  We just think different.

I started thinking about how different we alcoholics are last night while at a Japanese restaurant.  The guests at the next table had paid their bill and left.  But I noticed that they had left behind some half full glasses of wine, along the bottle they were poured from - also half full.  

As the busboy cleared the table I thought "what a waste of good booze."  That's something that I would never have done, left behind good alcohol.  And the reality is that I've been sober over 30 years.

Yet even with 30 years sober I still notice things like.  Things that normal people never pay attention to.  I also know that if I follow the precepts of the 12 step programs I know I'll never relapse and return to the hell I once lived in.

Click here to email John

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Finding Gratitude

About 6:00 a.m. I was sweating on my indoor bicycle, something I do nearly every morning as part of my morning routine.  And if it's not the bicycle, it's the treadmill, rowing machine, ellipitical machine. Bowflex weights, or one of the many other pieces of equipment that populate my living room.  I'm fortunate enough to have the resources and the space to have a home gym, one that would compete wth some hotel gyms - which seem to be offered to guests as a sort of afterthought.

But, I'm going off in the weeds here.  While I was riding, I received a phone call from a friend who's serving an eight year prison term in Maryland.  As do most prisoners, he claims he was innocent of the robbery.  That he was just giving his son a ride to a market when the son came running out and jumped in his car after robbing the store at gunpoint.

To make a long story short he's now into the third year of his sentence and going back to court on an appeal because he was only the driver and didn't take part in the actual robbery.  He told me the sad story of contracting Covid when it swept through the prison, of the terrible conditions there, of the poor treatment, food, and living conditions - the kind of thngs we all complained about while in jail.

After he hung up I had a feeling of gratitude wash over me.  Because I no longer use drugs or alcohol it's not too likely that I'll never be locked up again.  Once I got sober I was able to take responsibilty for my behavior.

When life is imperfect - as it often is - it's not to difficult to look aroumd and find someone whose life is really a mess.  And from that will come gratitude.

Click here to email John

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Birthday Present to Myself

It's strange how things come to pass.

Back in the late seventies and early eighties I used to own and ride motorcyles.

On the first one I owned I was  coming home from a night club after a couple pitchers of beer and found myself wrapped around a street sign with the foot peg - rubber still on it - lodged in my calf muscle.  I swore I'd never ride again.

But did that stop me?  Of course not.  I was drunk as could be and in the visiting room at the Orange County Jail visiting my wife.  She was encouraging me to leave because I was so obviously intoxicated but I stayed until I slipped off the stool with a loud smack that drew the attention of the guards.  They immediately started chasing me, but because they were on the other side of the visiting room glass they couldn't catch me before I got to my Honda and escaped.

Even though the police weren't behind me I was going way too fast and ran head first through a wooden fence when I took a corner too fast and hit some gravel.  Inside the fence were about a dozen immigrants sitting around a bonfire drinking beer.  They immediately ran away when they saw a drunk Americano on a huge motorcycle crashing through their fence and ruining their party.

Another time I rode a dirt bike down a steep hill and ended up in the hospital.  After the doctor stitched up my injuries he said he wanted to talk to me about my drinking. I immediately checked out of the hospital.

But now that I've been sober 30 years I thought I would try another motorcycle.  The difference with this one though is that it's a three wheel 2016 Polaris and not as easy to wreck.  Plus, I have 30 years sober and drive much more carefully.

Besides I haven't bought myself a birthday present in years.

Click here to email John,


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Having a Sponsor

I've had the same sponsor for over 30 years.  But I hadn't seen him face-to-face for over a year until we met for lunch today.  And of course our not being able to see one another was due to the pandemic.

Because he's 87 and I'm almost 82, we were both afraid that we would be susceptable to the infection so waited  until we got our vaccinations.

You might ask why someone with 30 years of recovery needs a sponsor.  So I'll tell you.  None of us, just because we have some time behind us, has all the answers.  Because I've been through two divorces in 30 years there have been many times when I've picked up the phone and cried on his shoulder about what I should do next.  One of the best things he told me was that I should stop getting married.  But since he's been sober for for 46 years he has a lot of recovery life experience that he shares with me when I need it.

My gratitude goes to my sponsor for the wisdom he's shared with me over the years.  I suggest you find a mentor like him to help you.