Monday, December 31, 2012

What's your Mission?

A woman speaking at a meeting today said she was at loose ends many years earlier when she was drinking and doing drugs.

It was only after she was sober a while that she developed a purpose in life – a mission.

She makes a wonderful point – one I don't often hear at meetings.

When we were drinking and using our mission was to be out of our minds all the time – at least that was the mission I pursued when I was conscious.

She said when she got sober her mission became just that:  to remain sober and carry the message to other alcoholics and addicts.

Her pursuit of that mission has kept her sober for the many years she’s been in the program.

Her message makes a point that can be applied in anyone’s life – not only alcoholics in recovery.

The point is that all of us, like our speaker, need a purpose in life.

Whether our mission is sobriety, going to school, raising a family, learning a trade or breaking a world record,  the mission is what keeps our heart beating.  It makes us want to put our feet on the floor in the morning.

My mission is to stay sober and help others do the same. And each day when I head to the office – though it may be a dull day of shuffling papers – I know that it helps me carry out my mission.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


The other day someone asked if I were going to make any New Year’s Resolutions. I said no.

It’s not like I have anything against change or improvement. But for me change doesn't occur overnight nor depend upon a certain date. Like New Year’s.

Change isn't a simple process. Like deciding I’ll do it, and it happens. No, for me change is a gradual process. An example is when I quit smoking 28 years ago.

Once I made the commitment I began making slow changes in my smoking habits. I went from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes. After that I progressed to cigarettes with less tar. Then I tapered to less than ten cigarettes a day. And when the time came to quit – July 25, 1984 at 9:00 am, I was ready. I’d armed myself with Nicorette gum and took the plunge. I've never smoked anything since.

I admire those who change overnight – but I don’t have their fortitude. That’s not my nature.

Each change comes slowly. With exercise, I started light - with few repetitions - and not a lot of weight. Twenty-two years later I’m still at the gym six days a week and enjoy a decent level of fitness. I kept at it because I didn't hurt myself. Nor did I have unreasonable expectations about what my badly-abused middle-aged body could do when I started working out again in 1991.

Same with diet. I gave up meat 22 years, but slowly. First beef and pork. A few years later chicken, then fish. Today I eat virtually no animal products. But I couldn't have done it over night.

To incorporate changes in our lives my recommendation is take baby steps.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Recovery Support

I spoke briefly at a meeting last Sunday about the importance of building a network of friends and supporters in our lives.

This came to mind again this evening while on a three day vacation in Las Vegas with my family. This is something I wouldn't be able to do without all the wonderful people who work for TLC. They keep things operating while I’m out of town or busy with the new Outpatient Clinic.

For those of us in recovery a network of friends is important for many reasons.

Most important is when I've had trouble with my recovery someone has helped me over the bumpy spots. I went to them with issues that might threaten my recovery. They told me how they dealt with them.

Another example is when I've experienced emotional trauma. Over the past twenty years recovery friends have embraced me in a circle of love while I've grieved the loss of loved ones. When I went through a divorce they helped me control my anger and frustration.

A network of friends is a Godsend when we’re in - and also as we go through our daily lives.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Likely Story

A client whose drug tests have been turning up dirty said he couldn't understand why. He claimed he hadn't used marijuana since he started treatment.

          “Maybe,” he suggested to the therapist, “you could talk to my wife.”

           “And why would I talk to your wife,” the therapist asked. “She’s not our client”.

            “Yeah, but she’s still smoking. So maybe I’m dirty from second hand smoke.”

He kept trying various explanations for the rising THC levels in his weekly tests, but the therapist would hear none of them.

This client’s replies are typical of addicts in denial. However, he seems to be an inexperienced user who doesn't realize that counselors have been hearing excuses like his for years. So he’s likely to keep stumbling along until he loses his job or his freedom for drug violations.

As a counselor, who’s also in recovery, I’m not judging this client harshly. And that’s because I did the same thing for years before I finally figured out that the best plan for my life would be to get sober.

But it’s still interesting to hear the excuses we use to explain our behavior - before we finally get honest.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Anger Subsides

Anger’s an emotion I’ve never dealt with very well. In years past I’d let it get out of control and usually ended up looking like an ass – or at the very least feeling stupid.

So today, while driving to a three day family vacation in Las Vegas I realized I’d changed a lot since entering sobriety in 1991. This occurred to me while on Grand Avenue, heading through Sun City toward Wickenburg.

Traffic was snail slow and I was resigned to flow along with it, knowing we’d get there in God’s time. Then, all of a sudden, a truck nearly hit the front of our car as it pushed into the small slot in front of us. I was startled and tapped the horn to let the driver know I was there; at which point he signaled his contempt by flipping me off. And for good measure he slammed his brakes, causing me to do the same to avoid him.

My initial reaction was an adrenalin powered surge of anger. But then I took a deep breath and made a conscious decision not to carry things further. That was a much different reaction than I would have had in early recovery.

I’m not sure when I gave up on anger; it was likely a slow process of change. I think that at some point I didn’t find it all productive. And it seemed to be a lot of work to get back to serenity and peace of mind.

One reason I entered sobriety so many years ago was to have peace and joy in my life. I have that today and I don’t let my reaction to other people take it away.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recovery Challenges

A former client who left a few weeks ago reports having trouble adjusting to his new life outside the structure of TLC.  Though he hasn't relapsed he says he’s having a lot of "indecision and insecurity."

While I'm not sure this client left too soon - because he completed his 90-day commitment - sometimes three months isn't enough for many of us.

Often we come into recovery after years of trashing our lives with drugs and alcohol. It took us a long time to get to the state we’re in by the time we finally become desperate enough to seek help.

Yet when we’re in the sterile structure of a halfway house - with its restrictions and sometimes uncomfortable living conditions – nothing seems as attractive as being back home in our own place.

However,  the problem is that recovery is rarely about externals like living conditions, jobs, or being back with friends.

Recovery is about learning to live life on life’s terms wherever we are. It’s about learning to fill that hole in our spirit with positive things we learned in recovery. It’s about learning to say no when we’re at wits end and feel like picking up a bottle or going to the dope house.

I can easily relate. When I first went to a halfway house 22 years ago the idea was to get a job, a car, a girlfriend, an apartment and get back into the fast lane of life.

I wanted to leave that halfway house because there was no privacy. Living conditions weren’t the greatest. I didn’t have the kind of freedom I thought I needed.

But I ended up staying a year because I realized I wasn't totally prepared to live on my own.  It was the best investment of time I ever made.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memory

Christmas of 1959 a fully decorated 12 foot Christmas tree sat on a platform attached to the inside wall of the South Block at San Quentin Prison.

As the prisoners filed by on their way to the evening meal, several sprayed lighter fluid on it until it was thoroughly soaked. Then one threw a lit matchbook on it.

A quick blaze and plume of smoke shot 30 or 40 feet into the air. Then alarms went off and the cheering prisoners were herded back to their cells. Most of us missed supper that night. That was a memorable Christmas day at California State Prison.

Each Christmas I was locked up way back in last century, the warden would get on the loudspeaker to proclaim that officials would tolerate no floods, fires, or demonstrations. Of course his announcement was the signal to light mattresses and toilet paper on fire, and plug toilets and flood the cell block.

From this backdrop, even though I’ve been free for years, it took a while for Christmas to take on meaning for me. That’s because I’d been steeped in the toxic environment of prison where societal norms were looked upon with scorn and disdain by those who lived outside the boundaries.

Today, though, Christmas means having gratitude - and bringing joy to my loved ones and those less fortunate.

And I owe it all to getting sober 22 years ago and rejoining the human race.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Nostalgia

I remember the call from the hospital on December 24, 1994, as if it were yesterday. The nurse said, in a kind voice, that my mother had died "15 minutes" earlier – at 4:15 pm.

I was shocked and devastated. After 54 days of treatment she was supposed to be discharged the following day – in time for Christmas. Instead I was planning a funeral.

Even though it's been 18 years since her death it's always made Christmas a little different for me.   Not necessarily sad. Perhaps nostalgic is the better word. But this day’s a reminder of her untimely death at a time we were expecting her home.

At her passing, I'd been sober for over three years and the idea of relapsing didn't cross my mind.

My mother was my friend, and a strong supporter. In fact, she wanted me to get clean and sober a long time before I decided to do so. It was a blessing that she was able to see me firmly grounded in recovery.

She wrote me while I was in prison. She was there during my teenage struggles. In the 1940s she fought a six year court battle to regain custody after my father kidnapped me and my three year old brother and took us out of state.

I know she never understood how someone with my potential wasted precious years as a criminal and drug addict.

But the last three years of her life she was delighted because I had finally entered sobriety. I still miss her.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Divine Guidance

Yesterday I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in a while. We greeted each other warmly, and then sat down to catch up.

She wondered how TLC endured through the economic downturn of the past four years. And I told her I wasn't sure.

But I did explain that from our early days some 20 years ago it seems like we've had divine guidance.

We started without money – or credit – yet within 18 months we were housing around 120 people. And somehow paying the bills. And we kept expanding until we were in three states and managing 1100 beds – within about five years.

And the interesting part is that none of us had experience at managing large operations. But with hard work we were able to keep things together.
More than once we've been on the verge of bankruptcy. And then a financial windfall would come through.

And, almost without fail, when we had an idea, the means to carry it out would present itself.

An example: a year ago we were kicking around the idea of starting an outpatient treatment clinic. Within a few months a tenant moved from an 1800 square foot office we’d leased - and we moved in. Someone with insurance and billing experience showed up. Someone else with a treatment background came aboard. We met counselors who were looking for work. Here eight months later the project is in the black.

The simplest way I can put it is that we've always been provided for...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Reflections

Last evening, while Christmas shopping, I was reflecting on the difference between my life 22 years ago and my life today.

22 years ago I was in the middle of my heroin addiction and alcoholism. I was homeless. I was living in a stolen car. I was shoplifting every day to obtain money for alcohol and drugs. I had a DUI and other pending criminal charges. I had hepatitis C.  I was a three time loser.   I was totally demoralized about my life, living under a black cloud of depression.

At some point, though, I had a moment of clarity.  I realized it was either prison or death – or sobriety.

Fear of the first two options forced me to get sober. I entered a detox and admitted I was alcoholic - something I'd never done.  I was willing to do whatever it took to change.

I never had a problem admitting I was a heroin addict. The evidence was there: I’d spent some 15 years locked up and another year in a mental hospital - all because of my heroin addiction.

But I didn't want to admit I was an alcoholic because I'd have to stop everything. Alcohol was my doorway to other drugs. In addition, I had a raging alcoholic father who died of alcoholism; I never wanted to be anything like him.

But then a merciful God gave me the strength to admit I was alcoholic. And, you know, from that point on I've never looked back.

My life totally changed. Even though I had no credit or cash, I purchased three houses the first year I was sober. I went from having a GED, to getting a degree in counseling psychology - then became a state certified drug and alcohol counselor. I developed one of the larger programs in the Southwest for recovering addicts and alcoholics.

I was able to invest in real estate. Today have a comfortable home. And best of all, a year ago I married a beautiful psychologist who is the center of my life.

I'm grateful for my blessings today - and to the many kind and loving people who've helped me get here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Baby Alert!

Happy news during the holidays!  Two TLC graduates – still affiliated with and working with TLC - are expecting a child in about eight months. And all of us are delighted about this new life they’re bringing into the world.

Readers from TLC know this couple.  However, in keeping with my blog policy of protecting anonymity of those in recovery, their identities aren't revealed here.

The blessing God has bestowed upon them is a fulfillment of the 12-step promises: “…a new happiness.”  What more powerful affirmation of the benefits of sobriety than to be entrusted with a new life – nurturing another human being?

Other TLC graduates and employees have been blessed with children in the past several years. And, without exception, they've remained sober and evolved into wonderful, loving parents.

Probably this couple will follow in the footsteps of these other TLC parents and blow up everyone’s smart phones with endless pictures of the baby’s every move.

How seemingly normal we become when we rejoin the human race.  Congratulations!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


A friend in new recovery called today, in disbelief about her teen son, whom she’d caught "sexting."

I’m sure most of you know what “sexting” is. But if you don’t, here’s the Urban Dictionary definition:

” the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; initially casual, transitioning into highly suggestive and even sexually explicit.

While this seems to be what occurred in my friend’s life, I thought she was overly upset. After all, we're talking about a pubescent, hormonal teenager doing what teenagers do – which is often about having sex.

The only difference here - from what youngsters have traditionally done - is the use of new technology.

Because we live on a planet dominated by Mother Nature, I tried to explain that this behavior – while modern and up-to-date – is what youngsters have done for centuries. But I'm not sure she heard me.

I know it's a shock to a parent when they realize their baby has a sexual nature. A nature that will quite likely continue to express itself throughout their lives.

Even though I was raised in the Stone Age, I was blessed with a mother who had frank discussions with me about sexual behavior. I believe she gave me a healthier outlook about sex.

However, when I first recognized my own children were sexual beings, it took a minute for me to accept that they were acting like healthy young people dealing with a sudden burst of hormones.

My job was to give them direction, which I did my best to do.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sentiment of Gratitude

Received a Christmas card today from a client who included a brief note. The note expressed gratitude for the gift card she'd received from TLC - a small amount to help her give a gift to her child..

Beyond the thank you, she said something even more important.

She wrote, and I quote in part,

"Thank you for allowing me the chance to be a part of the TLC program. TLC has given me something I have not had in a very long time. That is hope. Hope for a new life, for a chance to have a relationship with my daughter – and most of all, myself.

“TLC and sobriety will always be a part of my life. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Messages like this are a tribute to what we do at TLC. This woman’s expression of gratitude for what she has received from us gives her a foundation for success.

Grateful people have no reason to pick up a drink or a drug.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Life goes On

The speaker at last Sunday's 12-step meeting said something to the effect that "life goes on."

In her near 15 years of sobriety she's experienced loss of family, sickness, marriage, and other setbacks. Yet none of this has driven her to pick up another drink.

And her central point – that life goes on – is a truism for all of us in recovery. Some in new recovery have the naive idea that life becomes a bed of roses when they get sober.

But that's not the case. We'll all encounter challenges, as this woman did. But when we’re sober - instead of becoming so devastated we pick up alcohol or drugs – we have the tools to deal with issues.

Newcomers sometimes react to challenges by drinking or drugging because they haven’t figured out how to put the tools in action.

Those who us who succeed use the steps when facing life's challenges. We may be jobless. We may have rough times with our children – or our jobs. We know life brings myriad challenges. We expect some adversity, but don’t let it get us down.

We practice the principles of the program in all our affairs – especially with emotional things. And if we're lucky we get to the other side still sober.

Monday, December 17, 2012


It was a 4 x 5 postcard, addressed to TLC’s corporate office.

Since it looked like junk mail, I started to toss it.  But then I noticed the name of a former client in the return address. The card was a graduation announcement from a mid-western college, saying the client would receive his bachelor’s degree this month.

The former client had been at TLC off and on for some ten years. When he first came he kept relapsing. He wasn't stupid. It just took a long time for principles of the 12-step programs to penetrate his thick skull.

Finally, after much struggle, he got it. He became a TLC manager. He started working with others. He finally graduated.

Every so often we get this validation of our mission, which is “to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives.”

Sometimes it comes in a graduation announcement. Other times a client starts a business and stops by to leave a business card. We see some in public with their family, seemingly happy and healthy. We get wedding invitations. Or birth announcements.

It’s rewarding when clients succeed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Predicting Recovery

My 22 years of working with substance abusers has led me to form opinions about who will enjoy long-term recovery.

One is that the more self-centered an addict is, the less likely they will stay clean and sober.

Those whose number one concern is how they feel, how mean everyone is, how they've been mistreated, who are constantly whining about what they need, don’t have a good chance.

As part of their self-centeredness, they expect the world to conform to them. They are like babies. Many seem to have not matured beyond early childhood.

This is in contrast to those who enjoy long term sobriety. They spend time supporting others. They sponsor. They volunteer. They give of their time and resources. They've learned that giving helps one stay sober. And they have deep gratitude.

A client whose conversation is about how others need to change, about what’s going on with the managers, with their roommates, their parole officer, their spouse, their living conditions and blah, blah, blah, may soon be at the bar or the dope house.

Clients who speak of gratitude, of the internal changes they need to make, of the blessings they enjoy in recovery are following in the footsteps of those who have 5, 10 or 15 years of recovery.

It’s so predictable it’s almost a cliché.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another Attaboy

Yesterday I received this attaboy from a former client, which I’ll share with you.

“I’ve followed your blog for two years and felt a need to thank you. After three years at TLC in Sunnyslope, I left just over a year ago. The lessons I learned during my stay have changed my whole outlook on life. I’m happy and most of all healthy. I look forward to each new day beginning with taking a moment to read your blog and connect with TLC. You often talk about “TOOLS” and I feel the insight found in your blog is one of the best tools available. So I just wanted to say Thank Your. Please keep it up. Bob O.”

Comments like this are a reason to write this blog each day. If anything said here helps others gain insight, then it’s worth the effort.

Another reason to write is that once in a while I receive comments from parents who say they decided to send a loved one to us after reading this blog. They like the idea that I tell it like it is. I don’t sugar coat what happens at TLC.

Sure, I brag about our successes. But I balance those success stories with the sad accounts of those who don’t make it. Of those who fall on their ass after one more misguided attempt to get high.

Perhaps the parents get an idea of the gravity of addiction, of the challenges we addicts face in the life and death battle we wage with our demons.

Also, for those of us in recovery, stories of those who fell might help us avoid the same path – a path they started on the moment they thought they might get high “just once.”

Thank you, Bob, for the message. Your comments help me – and others. And helping is what it’s about.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Road to Relapse

A twenty-something client who relapsed said she had a good time for the first few hours. But from then on it was hell.

In some thirty days of using she was robbed, beaten and sexually assaulted. For a few nights she stayed in an alley or behind a convenience store.

She also became alienated from family and friends. They’re weary of helping because they recognize that she’s on a dark path of destruction. They can only watch her downward slide.

Because she was spoiled all her life she has a difficult time accepting that no one’s going to show up to help her one more time. Her history has been to use until she gets into serious trouble – then let her family pick up the pieces.

It's frustrating dealing with this person because one minute she acts as if she’s willing to do whatever it takes to recover. The next minute she has problems with everything. She doesn’t want a roommate, She doesn’t like the food. The program’s too far from the bus line. And on and on.

One issue in trying to help her is that- in spite of a few years of using drugs – she somehow maintains a cherubic demeanor of youthful innocence that can beguile others into giving her what she wants. And she plays it to the max.

The last time we met I pointed out that one day there’ll be no one around to pick her up – that consequences become more serious each time we relapse.

I’m not sure she heard me. But then my job is to carry the message. The rest is up to God.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Believing the Lie

A recovering heroin addict sat in group this week, speaking eloquently about how his life had changed from a year ago.

He’d recovered from a life threatening medical condition. He’d attended months of out-patient treatment. He'd landed a good job, working in his former trade.  He had a sponsor.  He was re-connecting with old friends from high school.  He'd saved enough money to start buying gadgets for his room. He'd never been happier.

But as the topic passed around the circle, a group member noticed the client scratching his nose.  And that his eyelids were drooping.

So he was tested right after group and discharged from the program because the test was dirty.

Later, one of his close friends asked how he could trust anyone after his roommate had deceived him about using – especially after talking so positively about recovery.

I wasn’t sure how to answer him on the trust issue.  But those of us in long term recovery see people relapse over and over again because they start believing the lie that one or two fixes or drinks won't hurt. Or that they'll get high once and then stop.

The literature uses the term “cunning, baffling and powerful,” and this man’s relapse in another example of how our disease can waylay us if we’re not constantly vigilant.

After a year of intense recovery, this man had the tools.  For some reason he didn't use them.

We wish him well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Motivation was Monday’s aftercare topic. And, of course, different clients had different things that motivated them.

One client got sober because he awoke one morning sleeping under a bush in a mud puddle. He was freezing cold and knew at that moment that he needed to change his life.

Another client was motivated by the happy people he met at 12 step meetings. At first he thought they were part of a cult. But after attending for a while he realized their happiness was real, and based on genuine values.

Another addict was sick of going in and out of jail. His life consisted of short periods of getting high, followed by long periods of incarceration. He’d leave jail, start smoking pot, then within the week would have a crack pipe in his mouth. He knew the cycle of self-destruction was killing him.

Others had various motivators, including losing relationships, being homeless, and suffering the black demoralization of addiction.

Pain and suffering seemed to motivate them all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


A characteristic of some in recovery is that they try to make their problem our problem.

For example, one client is supposed to complete 26 domestic violence classes. However, he always has an issue.

He can't afford the classes. He doesn't have a job. He doesn't have a ride. He can’t find a babysitter. Can he be excused?

Another client, at one of our outlying locations, has similar issues. She can’t afford the $15 weekly fee for DUI classes. She doesn't have transportation and on and on. Can we give her a break?

And while they might have real issues in their lives, don’t we all? The idea that we’re going to be the solution to their problems is misguided.

While we're not heartless, we have guidelines we must follow while running a treatment clinic. Clients must show up to participate at a certain time for so many weeks, to get a certificate of completion.

Our responsibility – when clients don't show up – is to report that they were noncompliant. Almost without exception, we have no other options.

The primary responsibility for those of us in recovery is to learn to be responsible. That means showing up on time. That means paying our bills. Finding resources to help us comply with probation and parole rules is a responsibility we must meet - unless we want dire consequences.

I deal with clients like these from a history of personal experience. There were times when I behaved just like them. And my life never got better until I did my part.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Disengaging from Insanity

While at a social event last night I inadvertently encountered one of the two people on the planet I’m unable to communicate with.  It's really kind of sad.   Because I've known this person for over thirty-years.  And at one time we were great friends.

One reason I feel bad about it might have to do with my ego.  I’m in recovery.  I don’t remain angry at anyone for more than a moment. I pride myself on getting along.  I care about others.  I think one of our greatest responsibilities is to communicate effectively.

But for some reason, this person with whom I was once great friends has over the years developed a personality disorder that doesn't allow getting along with anyone. Family, friends, business associates, all eventually are victims of unexplained, gratuitous, abuse.

And no matter how many times I've tried to maintain this communication, eventually there’s an eruption over virtually nothing. It’s happened probably a dozen times or more. Oh yes, I’ll later receive a profuse apology. And for a while things go smoothly. But then, one day - for virtually no reason - I’ll get a phone call. And I’ll be berated and excoriated until I hang up.

So maybe five years ago I decided to disengage. Because if I don’t - and keep getting abused - it’s my fault. It’s kind of like walking through a neighborhood where’s there’s a vicious dog that sometimes chases and bites those who pass by. A smart person stays out of that neighborhood.

Also, along the same vein, the Big Book describes insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I've decided that I won’t engage in that kind of insanity.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Clean Environment

Sometimes the seemingly smallest thing can interrupt a daily routine.

For example, an employee coming into the office Friday morning noticed a puddle of vomit beneath the outside staircase.

Now at most companies something like that might go unnoticed. It might just be seen as a disgusting mess. Not in our case. Right away we checked to see if everyone was sober. That’s the mindset in a recovery program.

For us, a fresh splatter of vomit could mean a client was drinking – or perhaps had gotten high.

So, instead of starting the day by cleaning out my inbox, I became involved doing a mass breathalyzer test of the whole corporate office. And of everyone who works in the building. Upstairs and downstairs. That included me.

In spite of administering about 18 plus tests we found no one under the influence. And that's great. At least we know everyone was clean.

Someone probably really was sick. However, we’ll likely never know because no one came forward. And maybe it was simply someone passing by who decided to be sick on our property.

This may seem like overkill over such a small incident. But when one lives in the world of recovery – where sobriety is a life and death situation – we take whatever measures possible to insure a clean environment.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Positive Feedback

A client and his wife were in our clinic this evening and while speaking of their experience in counseling, she said "this has been life-changing for us."

Her remarks were refreshing. Often we work with people and don't get such positive feedback. Clients come for counseling, then leave. We believe they make progress, that somehow we’ve given them techniques to help them. But her testimonial confirms that we're doing something worthwhile.

And I could tell by their body language that she wasn't saying something for my benefit. She and her husband were looking at each other with love. They were holding hands and standing close to one another. This was a strong contrast to when they first came to us . When we first met them their posture and distance from one another shouted "we're not getting along."

Once in a while it feels good to have our work validated.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Medical Marijuana? Hmm...

A court-ordered client who was attending group - while under the influence of marijuana – said he had a "legal right" to do so.

Then, he proudly displayed a "medical marijuana" card he'd obtained from a doctor here in Arizona who’d given it to him for “chronic pain.”

The problem with this – regardless of whether he had a medical marijuana card – is we don't allow clients to use opiates or mind altering drugs of any kind. Even with a legal prescription. After all, there are many legal substances that are not compatible with recovery – alcohol being among them.

Further to this thought, we have a policy of not allowing clients to use, other than on a short-term basis, opiate-based pain killers. On occasion, when clients are injured, we allow them to use prescribed drugs. But clients taking opiates for chronic pain – even though they have a legitimate injury - are referred elsewhere. Some programs allow clients to use drugs of most any kind, as long as they pay to be there.

Also, we’ve had clients who smoke spice, or use bath salts. They try this because they know the tests for these drugs are expensive - that many programs don't have them. .But, guess what? We spend the money for these tests. And we sometimes find clients who are under the influence of these substances.

As I’ve often written, we have no issue with those who want to get high; just not at TLC.

As a philosophical aside, I have trouble understanding those who want to get high - but also be in a recovery program. What's the point? If one wants to get high, go for it. Many of us at TLC did it for years until it didn’t work.

We simply want to run a clean program that gives those who want sobriety to have the best opportunity to do so.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Getting" to do Things

"I have to go to work," said a friend in recovery.

“No, you get to go to work,” I corrected him.

After all, those of us who've been through the turmoil and devastation of addiction are fortunate to be on the planet today.  Let alone, being blessed with jobs and other opportunities.

I hear this statement often.  In fact, sometimes I use it myself.  However, when I find myself saying I “have to “do anything, I quickly change my perspective.

Those of us in recovery should realize that we "get" to do things.  And if we take this perspective, that we are blessed to still be here, then our day looks better.

Don't look at those who have more.  Look to those who are less fortunate. 

There are those who – through no fault of their own – have handicaps.  Have been in accidents.  Were born with disabilities or deformities.

Against this backdrop we find much to be grateful for.  We can either envy those who have more.  Or we can look at those who face challenges.

It's a matter of perspective. And perhaps a prescription for a better day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

10th Step

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” 

The 10th step is a gift from the 12 step programs and a wonderful stress reducer.

If we apply it, it’s a miracle tool we can use in our lives each day. We deal with issues right now. The 10th step uses the word “promptly,” and to me that means here and now. Before a situation grows into something bigger.

The Founders must have known that little things get us drunk or high - so they gave us the 10th Step to help us alleviate problems that once tipped us over.

It’s not uncommon in our busy world to have small disagreements with others. On the job. At school. At home. In traffic. The 10th step admonishes us to keep problems small and resolve them as they arise.

My experience has been that it's a lot easier to do this along the way, rather than wait until things escalate into something larger. Before the ego gets involved.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trusting God

Trust God.

This was the first part of a prescription given by a doctor back in the 30s as a guide to those who might want to get sober. (The other two parts were “clean house” and “help others.”)

But what does it mean to those of us in recovery, this "trust God" thing?

For this recovering alcoholic, it's pretty simple. To me it means that no matter what's going on in the world I must trust that it's God's will.  In step three of the 12 step programs we made a decision to "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." That’s where I began "trusting God.”

I usually got in difficulty when I’d confuse my will with God's will. My will got me in trouble many times. My will caused me to use drugs to the point where I ended up incapacitated and incarcerated. My will resulted in broken relationships and lost friendships. There's a trail of devastation leading back to my youth, carved out by self-will.

I must remember that when I'm in fear or confused about what's going on I must simply be patient. Eventually, God's will is revealed. Even though I may be baffled about what's going on and have no idea about God's plan I must wait.

In my 21 plus years of sobriety I’ve been blessed so many times with the right people and the right situations that I not only trust God – I depend upon him.

Sometimes I get impatient with His timing. Then later I realize that – once again – my impatience would have made a mess of everything.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday and happy anniversary to my lovely wife, Dr. Schwary!

She's a beautiful 50 years old today. And we were married a year ago today in Las Vegas.  I think she planned having these events on the same day so I could combine gifts. No problem.  I welcome the opportunity to do something nice for her whenever I can. And it's because she does so much to enhance my life.

I talk often about the blessings of recovery in this blog. In fact that's what this blog is really about. And in my life there are so many blessings it’s difficult sometimes to know where to start.

If someone told me 20+ years ago that I’d be living the life I'm living today I wouldn't have believed them.

At the top of my list is my marriage and the joy that brings into my life. I have the presence of a woman who's easy to be with, who’s not quick to anger, who taught me forgiveness by her forgiving attitude – and who cries at movies. She’s a lover, not a fighter.  Except when she has to be - and that’s usually when she’s battling the bureaucracy to get help for a sick addict.

I’m grateful she’s in my life.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Act of Kindness

This week a photo of a police officer giving a pair of shoes to a homeless man in New York City made worldwide news. It was a moving photo, one that resulted in the officer being lauded for his kind behavior.  It was very kind of him to spend his own money on this homeless man. Indeed, his behavior is an example to us all.

But later, after reflecting on this incident and all the publicity it generated, I wondered why this particular act of kindness generated such publicity?  Maybe it was because the giver was a police officer and the recipient was homeless – in a city that supposedly has a reputation for being callous. I'm not sure.

During my 22+ years of recovery I've encountered many generous people who've gone out of their way to help others. Some of this help has been given anonymously. Other times it's been in the public eye. In fact, acts of kindness are so common in this part of the world that they generate little or no attention. We look upon it as near normal.

A while back a man told me of some associates who are remodeling the home of a woman who's about to die of terminal cancer. They've dug into their pockets to build ramps, widen bathroom doors, and do other things to make her last days easier. These folks bring minimal attention to themselves. As I said acts of kindness happen here all the time.

For me the benefit of the publicity about this police officer giving this man shoes is that it brings attention to acts of kindness. 

And it illustrates one of the most important commandments in the Bible: love thy neighbor. We can do more of this - not only during holidays - but year around.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Winning life's Lottery

In the midst of the lottery fever a few days ago I was asked if I planned to buy tickets, try to get that $500+ million that was up for grabs.

Of course, regular readers know my answer. But for those who aren’t, the answer was negative. And for a few reasons. First of all, the below statistics show the odds of various events that might occur in our lives:

The actual odds of winning the Powerball $550 million jackpot was 1 in 176 million.

Here are some other extremely unlikely things that could have happened to you before you won the Powerball jackpot this week.

  • Dying from a bee sting: 1 in 6.1 million.
  • Dying from being struck by lightning: 1 in 3 million.
  • An amateur golfer making a hole in one on a par-3 hole: 1 in 12,500.
  • A golfer hitting a hole in one on consecutive par-3 holes: 1 in about 156 million.
  • Hitting a deer with a vehicle in Hawaii, the state where State Farm says deer/verhicle collisions 1 in 6,267.
  • Being struck by lightning over an 80-year lifetime: 1 in 10,000.
  • Drowning and other beach-related fatalities: 1 in 2 million.
  • Being attacked by a shark: 1 in 11.5 million.

But the larger and more important reason is that money is not – and has never been- an issue in my life. The issues in my life have always been learning how to live life on life’s terms. How to deal with my addictions.

At various points in my seventy plus years I’ve had money. But I never respected it. The money I had nearly killed me more than once. I never used it to help others. It was wasted in complete ego-driven self –centered dissipation.

I won the lottery the day I truly admitted I was an alcoholic. From that moment on my life has been a twenty two year series of blessings.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Powerful Addiction

A recovering alcoholic I've known for many years – a heavy smoker – went to the hospital last week and underwent 12 hours of surgery to replace heart valves. 

He'd originally gone to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing due to the onset of emphysema and COPD.  While dealing with the emphysema, doctors discovered the issues with his heart.

I remember many years ago talking to this man, now in his mid-50s, about the devastating effects of smoking. His reply was that he given up drinking and drugs but he wasn't going to give up the one thing that still gave him pleasure: smoking.

Smoking is something that I still have an obsession about. My mother, my brother, three aunts, two uncles, and several cousins died prematurely from emphysema and COPD – all smoking-related. One cousin died at 43 years old, suffocating from emphysema. And I know that if I hadn't quit over 28 years ago I myself would've succumbed prematurely.

The American Lung Association reports:

"Three decades ago, public outrage killed an automobile model (Ford's Pinto) whose design defects allegedly caused 59 deaths. Yet every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined.

Approximately 440,000 people die from their own smoking each year, and about 50,000 die from second-hand smoke annually.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 22,073 people died of alcohol, 12,113 died of AIDS, 43,664 died of car accidents, 38,396 died of drug use — legal and illegal — 18,573 died of murder and 33,300 died of suicide.

That brings us to a total of 168,119 deaths, far less than the 440,000 that die from smoking annually."

Facts like these don't carry much weight with a nicotine addict. In my case quitting nicotine was far more difficult than quitting heroin – something I'd done more than two dozen times in 40 years. Yet quitting cigarettes saved my life and added quality to my years.

In the recovery community smoking addiction is inverse to that of the general population. 80% of recovering people smoke: approximately 20% of the general population smokes.

I encourage my brothers and sisters in recovery to take the final step to an addiction free life by quitting tobacco.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


"We're like the cat that looks at the world through mouse colored glasses - all it sees is mice."  -Author Unknown

A client complained of how tired she was of living at the main woman's compound because of all the "drama."

She said the women there were continually gossiping, arguing, and putting each other down. She said she wanted to be moved to a smaller house so she wouldn't have to put up with that behavior - she was sick of it.

She was kind of taken aback when I suggested she might look at the situation in a different manner.  I told her she could probably eliminate a lot of the drama if she eliminated it from her own mind.

I explained that when there's drama in my life, that's what I see in others. If I'm peaceful  then I  find that people are peaceful.  If I'm loving then I find loving people.   Normally, whoever I am internally seems to be what the world is all about.

Our world reflects back what we are inside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perfect World?

Yesterday was one of those crazy days.

Maybe it started because at aftercare Monday evening I was talking about how we live in a perfect world. I repeated my belief that everything in God's world is exactly is supposed to be at the moment. Did something emanate from that statement? Maybe a test of how much I really believe what I said?

The day started normally enough, with a visit to the gym. But somewhere between there and my house I misplaced my wallet with all of my credit cards, drivers license and some cash. I'm sure it's probably somewhere in a cranny around the house. But I had to start the day without money or credit card or driver's license.

And from there the day became really strange. A meeting with an insurance provider didn't have the desired results. Then a nail in a tire.  After that a client was having difficulty adjusting to the program and had to be taken to a psychiatric hospital. Another client who was reportedly sleep walking and keeping other clients awake half the night had to be moved. Managers at one of the properties were suspected of stealing – or at the very least allowing security to become so lax that clients were able to steal money and property.

Sandwiched between the above were normal business things that take up most of a typical day. The result was a 14 hour non-stop day.

Do I still think we live in a perfect world?  Yes…

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Genuine Commitment

A new client was sharing at a meeting about he found his way to TLC from the East Coast.

                “I went to the TLC website and liked what I saw,” he said.  “Next thing I knew I’d sold my house and was on the Greyhound headed to Arizona.”

Some three days after boarding the bus he awakened from a slumber and looked out the window at nothing but desert.  Looking over the barren landscape he asked himself what the flip he'd been thinking by getting rid of everything and going to a state he knew nothing about.

However, a powerful motivation was to get away from family and friends – most of them addicts, alcoholics and criminals.  So he stayed on the bus and continued to his goal because he knew he could never get sober back home.

This man’s story is an example of the kind of wholehearted commitment it takes to get onto the path of  recovery. There’s little doubt that if he stays the course he’ll enjoy a clean and sober future.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Giving Back

A professional therapist with nearly two decades of experience was discussing a young client on her caseload who was “driving her crazy.”

The client had relapsed several times over a three month period.  She kept blowing up the therapist’s phone with normal addict drama.  She’d been assaulted.  For a time she lived in an alley. She couldn't get into detox. The hospital wouldn't take her. And on and on...

In addition, her family was calling nearly daily from the East Coast – either to get updates or to relate conversations they’d had with her in the middle of the night.

When I asked why she didn't assign the client to another counselor or take other measures she said she couldn't do that.

She explained that 25 years ago, when she was in her own addiction, she had many of the same issues as this young woman.  She’d been jailed and in and out of recovery more than once. She’d caused a lot of heartbreak.

But even though her parents, grandparents and counselors were frustrated and talked of giving up on her – they never did.

Because of the support she got from those around her she’s sober today.  And she wants  to try to help this young client get to the same place.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Killing Himself

A former client who’s been with TLC several times called from the hospital room where he and his alcoholic girlfriend were being treated for alcohol poisoning.

                “You guys are right,” he said to the manager who took the call. “My relationship with this woman’s going to kill me.” And he’s probably right.

In my opinion this man has one issue in his life: his alcoholism.  When he first came to us several years ago it was from a corporate job with a nation-wide company. He was relatively healthy looking.  His brain seemed intact.  And he had a decent personality.

Then he met an attractive woman 20 years his junior at a 12-step meeting. And it was on. Before long he left and they were drinking buddies.

Each  time he’d return and start working a decent recovery program she’d call and blow in his ear. That’s all it took. Even though he was prohibited from communicating with her the last few times he was in the program he’d find some way to be in touch. And not long after they’d be drunk together.

One of the last things he said before he left is that he was worried about her and wanted to go help her. I’m afraid the kind of help he’s giving her could kill them both.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Life's Lessons

While leaving my office yesterday I encountered a man shuffling toward me, his arm dangling at his side. He struggled to put words together as he introduced himself.

As he explained his condition he told me the day he left TLC three years earlier he’d injected a large dose of methamphetamines and had a stroke that paralyzed his right side.

He went on to describe the challenges he had in learning to speak and walk on his own again.  While he still hasn’t fully recovered, he says he wants to stay away from drugs and rebuild his life.

After we parted I reflected on the many TLC clients over the years who’ve had experiences like this man – or worse.

And he reminded me of how blessed am to be sober these many years. Once I got into the 12-step programs and started enjoying some of the early benefits of recovery I never looked back -  for which I'm grateful.

Talking to this man yesterday reaffirms that getting sober-and staying sober- was one of the best things I ever did.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Changing Perspective

A new client was lamenting yesterday about how his ex-wife and her attorney had taken “everything” from him – including his business, his home and his car.  He was angry and wanted his stuff back.

But he kind of changed his perspective after I pointed out that most clients in our program have had “stuff.” 

Some have had great jobs. We’ve been married to great partners. We’ve owned homes.  Maybe we went to college. Perhaps we had a small business.  And though we might not like to admit it, we threw it away for drugs and alcohol.  And for us real addicts, it happened over and over again.

For many new men in our program, the initial issue always seems to be jobs and money. But our message is that once we get clean and sober we find we have everything we need.

And after a period of sobriety many discover that it doesn’t take nearly as much to live when we’re not wasting money on drugs and alcohol.  Soon we have a bank account, clothing, maybe even a car.

Before we know it we have our “stuff” back and more. Then we come to realize that the most important thing in our life is the recovery from which our blessings flow.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Thanksgiving is about gratitude. And gratitude is the road most of us in recovery travel on a daily basis.

Gratitude is a regular topic at 12-step meetings. And it’s the first thing to go before we relapse. Because having gratitude is incompatible with relapse – we lose it to pave the way to pick up again.

As I go through this day I reflect on the many things for which I’m grateful.
  • I’m happily married to a lovely woman. 
  • My children are healthy and stay in touch.
  • I have close friends to help – and who help me. 
  • At 73 I’m blessed with health that allows me to work in multiple business operations. 
  • Our employees and volunteers are gifts from God – without them none of what we do at TLC would be possible.
My gratitude is to all those who help create this dream life that I enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Back

Today I saw another example of what makes TLC work.

A new client, who was referred to us today from a local hospital, was obviously confused and anxious about coming into a new facility that he knew nothing about.  His discomfort was apparent to all of us and we did our best to welcome him.

Then a few hours later, when I returned to my office to complete a project, I noticed a client sitting with him in front of the housing units, orienting the newcomer to our facility.

The interesting part of this is that the man helping the newcomer had only been with TLC for a month himself. Yet, already he was starting to give back, to carry the message to others.

A core function of recovery is carrying the message to newcomers, which is what this client was spontaneously doing on his own.

TLC has functioned this way for over 20 years – addicts helping other addicts. And it was pleasing to see the growth in a client who's only been with us for a month.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


A 47 year old former TLC client was killed instantly last week when she walked in front of a commercial truck on Highway 60 in Superior, Arizona.

A police investigator said she was “impaired by marijuana and pain medication.”  Other witnesses said she was “intoxicated.”

I remember her from a few aftercare sessions she attended. She was a pleasant and grateful woman who sought help after learning she couldn't stay clean and sober on her own. She participated in groups and was supportive of program activities.

But after she left she apparently stopped using the tools we gave her.  We give clients the guarantee that if they follow the guidelines we give them they'll stay clean and sober. But they have to do the work.

Our wishes and prayers are with the loved ones she left behind.

 Rest in peace Elaine.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Miracles Happen

The speaker at Sunday morning’s 12-step meeting is a living example of the miracles that happen when an addict or alcoholic decides to change.

His epiphany came when he awoke early one morning in a cheap Van Buren Street motel to find a noose dangling from the rafters.  As he cleared his head he recalled placing the rope there the night before.  He'd planned to kill himself because he was sick of where his addictions had taken him.

Instead of placing the rope around his neck he broke down in tears as he realized how far down he’d gone. He asked God for help and within a few hours found himself in a halfway house where he spent more than a year getting his life back on track.

Today he’s a respected manager at a company he’d worked for years ago, a job he'd left after threatening to kick his supervisor’s butt.

One of his close friends today is his former wife, who at one time had a restraining order against him. He also has a good relationship with his children and sees them on a regular basis.

His powerful message resonated with everyone at the meeting.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Loving Parents

Sometimes in this blog I gently beat up on doting parents who enable their children by providing support that isn’t helping them get clean and sober.

 While I’m not changing my attitude about enabler parents I must acknowledge that – even though they may be misguided – they almost always come from a place of caring and love.

And sometimes when I talk to these parents or write about what they’re all going through I emphasize the tough love part and perhaps don’t acknowledge how much they care.

Over the past 20 years I’ve talked to parents who have literally spent their retirement money trying to save their children from themselves – almost always without success.

The message I give them is that the sooner they quit supporting the addiction, the quicker their loved one will seek help.

But usually- misguided love gets in the way and sobriety doesn’t happen until a few more years down a bumpy road.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Secondary Victims

At TLC we regularly encounter primary victims of drugs – clients who’ve been streaming through our doors for 21 years. And while I see the impact on our clients and their families I seldom think of the effect drug use has others in the world.

But today, while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I talked with a housekeeper who’s a secondary victim of drugs – a woman who was forced to leave her hometown of Acapulco with her family because the drug battles there have left the town – in her words – “quebrado.” (broken)

She said that while there have been periods of tranquility in the resort city, the publicity about several gang shootouts over the past few years have scared tourists away. And it has been the death knell for a city that has subsisted for years on tourism. Subsequently, jobs for families like hers have disappeared.

Fortunately, she and her family were able to migrate to this peaceful area of Mexico and find new jobs in the tourist industry.

While there’s not much practical value in this kind of information, it brings an added perspective to the scope of what we’ve been dealing with the past 21 years.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurting Others

The grandmother was on the phone, bewildered and in pain. Once more her granddaughter had relapsed- after a few months of being clean.  But this time, instead of doing it in her hometown on the East Coast, she was 2000 miles across the country in Arizona.

Completely out of reach of the family. And because she picked up again, she’s out of reach of anyone’s help until her disease forces her to seek help again.

For over 20 years we've dealt with this scenario: loved ones calling, trying to make sense of a cruel disease that grants no mercy to those who don’t fight it with every tool at their disposal. And even then, once sober and clean, it lurks in the shadows waiting for a moment of weakness so it can strike again.

Sometimes they think we’re cruel or unfeeling because we suggest they don’t send money or support while their loved one is using.  But we say this because few of us changed until drinking and drugging took us to our knees.
Once we suffered enough we understood on a gut level that living sober was less painful than being broke, sick, in jail, homeless and on and on…

I pray that this grandmother one day has a clean and sober granddaughter in her life so her love for this child won’t be wasted.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We are Blessed

I had a gratitude check today here in Puerto Vallarta while driving back to the hotel when I had to pause for a man who was struggling to cross the street.

He was probably in his fifties and was traveling on a homemade cart that kind of resembled an oversized skate board. Most of the lower half of his body was missing. He was sweating as he pushed himself slowly along with two short sticks that he pushed into the ground to propel the cart forward.

It touches my heart when I see someone with his challenges struggling to do things most of us take for granted – like the simple act of crossing the street.

While I can’t recall being ungrateful for anything in years, seeing this man emphasized the many blessings I have in my life.

Though life is not a comparison game, I believe we can all look at our lives and find others who don't have near the blessings we have.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Family Values

While on vacation in Mexico I was talking to a man who'd returned to live in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago. Several years earlier he'd gone to the United States to work and finish high school. After high school he’d found a job that allowed him to send money home to his family.

But he said he'd returned after his large extended family decided the most important thing was not that the children live in the United States and send money. The important thing was to be connected, regardless of how little or how much money they had. So the family returned.

This man's story interested me because of a study I read last week that showed Mexico as one of the happiest countries in the world – actually number six. And where was the United States? It was somewhere around 23 or 24.  Hmmm....

As a person in recovery, who works as a substance abuse counselor, I have an interest in values and what brings happiness.  And when I read something about a culture that’s rated as one of the happiest on earth I become curious. Maybe there’s something here that I can impart to a client to help him or her look at their lives differently.

This happy man I met found that his wealth was his relationship with his family. What are your values?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serendipity in Paradise

After being sober for over twenty years I normally live in a state of serenity – at least 90% of the time.

However, my serenity was threatened last Saturday when we arrived at the Mexican resort we normally stay at, only to find that the condo we’d reserved was unavailable.

I was disappointed at this unexpected turn of events because we’d booked this vacation a month earlier. However, I kind of took a deep breath, and then asked the receptionist if we should find another hotel.

But he said no, that the reason the rooms were unavailable in the ocean view wing we’d reserved was because they were being refurbished. He said in the meantime he could put us another section of the resort that had been recently refurbished. But it didn’t have an ocean view. Instead, the second story condo overlooked the marina at the rear of the property.

We didn’t have great expectations about the new location, but decided to not let anything interfere with us getting a much needed break. And he promised to move us to the unit we’d reserved when an opening became available.

When we got to the unit we were amazed. It was much bigger than the one we’d reserved. And it had a stunning second floor view of the marina, with yachts, sailboats, and fishing vessels passing on a regular basis.

A forty foot deck went around the front of the unit, and there was a postcard view from the floor to ceiling windows.  It even had a washer and dryer, something the other units never offered.

So, of course, we told them to forget the about the unit we’d reserved. We’re just fine where we’re at.