Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Mother's Pain

This response from a mother - to a blog I posted last week – is an eloquent testimonial that capsulizes why I write this blog each day.

“John, I just need to tell you that I read your blog almost daily. I have a daughter who is caught up in the turmoil of addiction. We have had to learn to "love her from afar". After trying for years to help her, we finally realized that wanting to do something and being able to do something are two different things. Reading your words reassures me nearly every day that we are doing the right thing. It’s painful to be the parent of an addict, but it’s even more painful when you're swirling in the midst of their addiction with them. Thank you for so frankly sharing your stories and experiences.”

Those of us in recovery need only to read the above message to realize once again the devastating impact our disease has on those close to us.

Though we may apologize and make financial amends to our loved ones, how can we ever repair the damage we do to their hearts and dreams?

Once we find our way out of the emotional haze of alcohol and drugs we must look beyond ourselves and realize that we forever have a responsibility to those around us - and to the world at large.

I pray that this mother soon has a whole and healthy daughter back in her life.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Be Worthwhile

“Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile.”  Sir Wilfred Grenfell 

Most clients show up with little or nothing. And their concern – after a little rest and a few meals - is on getting “their stuff” back.  They talk as if they just had the right job and enough money everything will be okay.

But for most of us in recovery money and material things are never the issue. When we had money and material things we traded them for drugs or alcohol or frittered them away. The issue for us now is to learn to build rewarding lives that include jobs and material things as a part of the equation.

The most successful among us are those able to be of service to others. While most clients transition back to the community, others with no family or outside obligations often stay with TLC because helping others is the most rewarding thing they've ever done.

There's such a feeling of joy and accomplishment when I encounter a former client whose life has turned around. While the client is the one who did the difficult work of recovery, it’s a great gift to have helped facilitate someone’s success.

It is “doing something worthwhile.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Fruits of Sobriety

Last night I spoke at a monthly graduation at one of our outlying houses in North Phoenix. Even though I’m CEO and founder of TLC, I only share if I’m asked.

And my message is always the same: I’m living sober - and so can you.

 I never take an evangelical rah rah approach. I don’t try to convince anyone it’s a good idea to get sober.  Life lets us know if sobriety is a good idea. If we’re having life problems because of alcohol or drugs then living sober might be a good idea.

I talk about what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like today.

I talk about dragging myself into a detox in Mesa, Arizona January 13, 1991, homeless, broke and dope sick.  I was 51 years, had hepatitis C, no job, and had lived the previous two weeks in a stolen car.  I feared my retirement might include a long prison term.

However, life changed after I admitted I was an alcoholic. After eleven days in detox I moved to a local halfway house that accepted me without money.

Within months my health started returning. I attended meetings and went to in-house groups. I found work with a former employer.  First I bought a used bicycle, then later an old beater of a car. Life got better.

At the end of the first year I moved into a dilapidated house I purchased with no money down and started TLC. Within 15 months we had over 130 clients.

Sobriety brought many changes:  I lost my parents and only brotherI reunited with my children. I got divorced.  Recently I married again - to a wonderful woman who brings me pleasure. I enjoy much success and prosperity. 

And it all happened because I got sober.  These are the things I shared with our clients.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Commitment

This evening a manager told me he'd made a commitment to live and work at TLC for another year.

He said he made the decision with some misgiving, but after he looked at his life today he decided it was the best thing. For years he'd lived on the streets as a homeless addict and alcoholic and for the first time in a long while he had stability and meaning in his life.

Today he has self-respect, and a place he calls home. And at the same time he's helping others like himself into recovery.

His story is similar to that of several of our managers. Many have the talent and ability to do other things. Some have an independent source of income that would allow them to live elsewhere.

But the real thing for them is that for once in their lives they are able to remain sober while making a difference in the world..

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No Agenda

                 "What do you want me to say?" a client asked me in group.

                "I don't want you to say anything. I have no agenda," I replied.

I explain that it made no difference to me if he participated in group. More important was that he attend, and not be disruptive.

Many times over the last 20 years I've had clients in group who sit and say little - or nothing. Then later, they start changing. Because they're not talking in group, nor overtly participating, doesn't mean they're not hearing something of value.

We once had a client who spent two nine month stints in aftercare. The first time he said little, sitting with his arms crossed and kind of looking at the floor. Then one day he announced that he probably wouldn't be back the following week – that he was going to go drink. And that’s what he did.

Months later the man returned. And after six months he was back in aftercare. He started participating. He not only started participating, he also sought counseling at a community center. He started taking antidepressant medication prescribed for him at the center.

And what was interesting is that the man underwent a radical change. Although he graduated from our aftercare group a long time ago, he’s still in our long-term program and doing well.

So when we have someone who doesn't want to participate I tell them they don't have to. My only hope is that while they're sitting there they mght hear something that will change their life.

It's happened more than once here at TLC.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Visualize for Change

"I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there." – Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa makes a point: focus on the positive.

Often in our groups clients say things like "I don't want to go back to prison." Or "I'm tired of being homeless." Or I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." And sure enough, many bring into reality what they're focusing on with all of the fear and anxiety they can muster.

The point is that our thoughts are the basis for action. If we spend the day thinking about what we don't want, guess what? Our subconscious is busy creating what we don't want, what we focus on. The universe receives the pictures we send out - and takes action

When I awake each morning and envision serenity, sobriety, joy and happiness my day is wonderful. But if my vision is a litany of complaints of “having to get up” and “my back aches” and so on – then what do I set myself up for?

There's an abundance of available literature on the power of visualization and positive thinking. For many us visualization can be the doorway to a new existence.

Monday, September 24, 2012

800 Blogs Posted

800 blogs in a row...

To me it's pretty amazing that I've been able to do this every day.  There are times, like last night at midnight, that I didn't feel like writing.  But I've heard that's when one must write, when one doesn't want to.

What's the point I sometimes wonder .  When I started it was to share about TLC.  And to force myself to write something each day.

I think I've accomplished both goals in the last 800 days. I now have over 200,000 words in this blog.  More than one person has written to say they've gotten some insight into what we do.  Perhaps the most rewarding is when parents thank me for letting them vicariously share what their child goes through while at TLC.

So how long am I going to continue?  You know, I'm not sure. I once had a vague idea that I was going to do this for a thousand days.  And if that's the case then I'm 80% there.

Probably the real gauge of how long I do this is how long I find it to be rewarding.  And so far it's been rewarding.  I believe this blog has allowed me to develop a more conversational writing style. Sometimes I'll let a higher abstraction creep in when I'm irritated or pissed off. But since the goal of writing is to communicate I believe a conversational approach works best.

Come back tomorrow.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Like vs. Love?

"I love her, but I don't like her," said a man at a 12-step meeting the other day.

For some reason I take issue with this statement because I don't understand it.  To me it's difficult to love someone if you don't like them. The statement seems like pseudo-intellectual sophistry..

My attitude is "why bother?" I mean why split hairs about the amount of feelings you have for somebody. Is the speaker casting himself as a lofty spiritual being who loves everyone – but doesn't like some people? I'm not sure.  It would be difficult for me to be around someone whom I love, and not like most everything about them. Otherwise, I wouldn't be around them.

Is the speaker saying he doesn't like everything the person does but still loves him or her? We'll probably never know.

In the 12 step programs we learn that love and tolerance of others is paramount. We also learn about acceptance, as is explained on page 417 of the 12-step literature. Is this information compatible with loving but not liking?

So when I hear pontificating or splitting hairs about loving versus liking I'm simply confused.

And maybe it's only "listen to me I'm cool" ear wash designed to confuse unsophisticated people like me.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Karmic Blessing

"What comes around goes around."

 We often hear this axiom in the context of getting even. Or maybe, if someone’s harmed us, we’ll use the phrase to let the world know that karmic justice is thundering down the road.   Hopefully, in the near future.

Today, though, TLC was on the receiving end of good karma.  In fact the leasing agent I called used the “k” word. It went kind of like this:

For nearly five years TLC has owed around five thousand dollars to a former landlord – the balance due when we terminated an office lease. However, at the time we didn’t have it.  But we promised to pay it later.

However, “later” became months, then years. It seemed we could never get the funds together in one lump – once we met our more pressing bills. Last week, though, because I felt bad about not being able to take care of this debt, I hit upon a plan. And the plan was to pay at least $500 a month until we paid it off.  But the leasing agent’s answer took me by surprise.

                “You have good karma coming your way today,” he told me. 

Then he said that because of the good we do in the community the debt had been forgiven by the property owner – a large Arizona based charitable organization.

I guess you could say they have some good karma headed their way…

Friday, September 21, 2012

Awareness is Key

The group moderator today explained that awareness is a key component of successful recovery.

And at first the group members didn't quite seem to grasp the importance of awareness.  But, as he went on to explain, self-awareness is especially critical in dealing with anger, frustration, and other feelings that lead us to get high.

He pointed out that none of us grew up with the goal of becoming a miserable alcoholic or drug addict. Our initial goal might have been fun, to be one of the crowd. Or maybe to reduce our stress. Or maybe to escape. Few of us were aware we might be opening the door to a life of misery and enslavement. 

Awareness allows us to monitor feelings in an effort to avoid a relapse. As the moderator said, none of us ever sat down and said the most logical thing I can do is stick a needle in my arm. Or smoke meth. Or slam down a fifth of whiskey. Our experience is that many addicts use to escape feelings, to gain respite from an accumulation of emotional pain or stress.

However, if we clean house as we go through our day , emotional crap doesn't build up. How do we clean house?  By dealing with issues as they arise. We talk to our sponsor. We speak to our coworkers. If angry, we let someone know. When afraid, we confront our fears. We carry as little emotional luggage as possible as we go throughout our day and week.

And we do this by being aware of where we're at emotionally and dealing with issues as they arise.  It's a rewarding habit that can be cultivated with practice.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Someone asked why I didn't force a client – who’d told an obvious lie – to admit his lie.

While it may be a philosophical difference between me and the person who asked the question, reality is I don't care whether he lies. I know he's lying. He knows he's lying. And most of the people around him know he's lying.

The idea that I'm going to make him admit he's a liar won't – in my opinion help anyone. And my ego doesn't require that he admit his lie.

I believe life teaches us lessons.  Eventually this client will learn that lies don't improve his life – and probably will complicate it.  He may learn that lies we tell others are one thing.  But the lies that are hard to escape are the ones we tell ourselves.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

We are Self-Image

A long-term client in aftercare group paints himself as a “bad guy.”

When questioned he says he just “wants to let people know who he really is.” He spent many years’ homeless, doing drugs, and hurting those around him. He no longer wants to delude people or misrepresent himself.  He wants to be “honest.”

More than once he’s been confronted about this negative self-image.  A counselor asked if he’s still engaging in bad behavior, the kind of things that make him feel like this “bad guy.” He says he’s not.

And eventually he’ll admit that he’s going work, attending meetings, working with a sponsor, and contributing to the community – all positive things.

Like many addicts his story about who he is now is based on past behavior. While it’s probably appropriate to recognize our misdeeds, if we use them to define who we are today we’ll not make progress.

If I think I’m kind I’ll do nice things for people. If I think I’m smart, I’ll try to make intelligent decisions. But if I think I’m a loser and use an ugly past as a foundation for who I am now, then I risk reliving that history.

It’s hard to escape our self-image.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

God Things

A frustrated client, who was walking out the door to get a beer, said God saved him one more time. When he opened the door, standing there was the friend who'd helped him to get into recovery in the first place.

When the friend asked where he was going, he said he had to "take care of some business."

The friend said "Oh, I thought maybe you'd like to get something to eat." And after a moment of reflection, that's what the client decided he should do. The friend showing up when he did stopped  him from relapsing.

Another client, who was a bit down because he didn't get the grades he expected on his college test was riding his bicycle home from class when he ran into a former client on the street.  He said the client was in pretty bad shape, obviously under the influence of something.

As he rode his bicycle away from that encounter he realized he had a lot to be grateful for. He said the former client had tried to get into the same school program he was in – but instead relapsed.

All of a sudden, the fact that he hadn't done 100% on his examinations seemed less important. He has a new sense of gratitude for the life he has today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hurting Loved Ones

An addict in group a few days ago said, “I never hurt anyone but myself.”

His words came to mind last week when a father told me his addict daughter, who’d been in recovery for around six months, hadn’t showed up to an important family gathering.

                “I hope she’s okay,” he told me. But the tone of his voice and the pain in eyes said  he feared that she’d relapsed again.

While I don’t know the daughter - and only know the father because we’re at the gym about the same time each morning – I’ve been able to follow her odyssey though his eyes for the past three years.  And it hasn’t been pleasant to witness.

The daughter started using meth over 12 years ago. And the father and mother have been raising her daughter.  During the three years I’ve known him she’s been in and out of recovery. And each time she attempts to get clean I sense his renewed hope. Then I see his pain and frustration when she goes back out again.

If we addicts could see the pain on the faces of our loved ones, we might have more resolve when it comes to recovery.

It years for me to fully realize the emotional turmoil I created in the lives of those around me when I was in my addictions.

Besides myself, I hurt others over and over – pain I can never erase with a simple apology.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Faking it...

An addict sent to us by the courts because of anger issues had an outburst in group today. It didn't surprise anyone, because for several weeks he was saying he was "cured."  When questioned, he'd say he had his anger under control. And it seemed for a while that he was right. He hadn’t blown up in a while – and seemed aware of what triggered his outbursts.

And awareness, I believe, is the key to successful change.  To reduce anger I must remain aware of things that inspire me to an outburst. If I want to stop being afraid , I need to pay attention to my fears and learn to confront them.  Whatever I'm trying to change, self-awareness is the key.

But this client came to group after a rough day at work in the hot sun. He hadn't slept well so was tired when he showed up. And because of this, his awareness was down. Instead of acting in his self-interests he let feelings take over.

When confronted afterward by his therapist he minimized the situation. But because the therapist knew why he'd been referred to the clinic he explained there was no minimizing the outburst. It was that very behavior  that brought him to treatment in the first place. Once the client realized the gravity of his outburst  - and that his probation status might be in jeopardy - he became contrite and apologetic. Ultimately he changed his attitude and once more exhibited compliance.

Whether he was acting – or not – makes no difference.  Often I suggest to clients that they fake a change of behavior so we can help them through the process to meet court requirements.

But what often happens when they follow this suggestion is they learn that the behavior they’re “faking” is actually working for them.  And they may keep it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cunning and Baffling

Even though he was not yet 50, the applicant sitting across from me at my desk had the face of a man several years older. His skin was the texture of leather, like an old saddle that had sat on the corral fence in the hot sun for a long time.

Fear was in his eyes. His hands slightly trembled. He had hepatitis C that had progressed into cirrhosis of the liver. One side of his abdomen was swollen, pushing his shirt out.  All his possessions were in a shopping bag on the floor beside him.

When I did his intake he had no emergency contact. His family wanted nothing to do with him because of his drinking – and he had no friends who wanted to hear from him.

But he said the magic words that would help him get into TLC: "I want to change my life," he said. "I'm tired of living this way and I'm afraid that if I drink again the cirrhosis will kill me."

And then described a friend of his who had drunk himself to death, turning green before he died. "I don't want to go that way," he said with conviction.

Because our mission is to help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives we accepted him into our transitional living program. When the house manager came to pick him up he thanked me and shook my hand.

Then this morning I got a call that he’d disappeared without saying anything, taking his few belongings with him.

Once more I witnessed the power of our disease.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Anonymous Drivel

In over 780 blogs I've never deleted a comment. But I did this week because someone anonymously regurgitated about 200 words about how much drinking and drugging he'd done at our Roosevelt property.

He started his comments on a positive note, with a lot of flattery. Then he digressed into writing about how he learned to cheat and lie and drink and use drugs at our facility. Not only that, he said that the managers were in collusion – that everybody was drinking and drugging.

It was a string of lies. For example, he said that he would go downstairs to tell the manager about someone who was in bed with a bottle of whiskey. And that the manager would say to just "leave the guy alone, that he wasn't bothering anyone. "

The writer didn't have the courage to sign his name. But whoever sent it wrote like they were on meth, spewing stream of consciousness drivel about the program.

Now I don't object to comments, especially constructive ones. But when one engages in unsupported negativity- while obviously under the influence - I have a hard time accepting it.  And in this case, I didn't.

On this blog I welcome comments. Of course I like attaboys. However, anything constructive is welcome. But if someone is venting because they failed the program – I'm not sympathetic.  I'd prefer that they call if they really have an issue and I'll deal with it.

I don't listen to nonsense face-to-face. So I'm not sure why I would do it when someone's cowering behind anonymity in an e-mail.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hangover, but no Fun

Talking with a friend today with over 35 years sobriety who told me of a drinking dream he’d had the night before.

                “The bad thing about it,” he lamented. “Is that all I remember is the hangover. I don’t remember having any fun.”

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a dream. And he thought the dream might've come from a story he heard at a meeting he’d attended earlier in the day.

A man there said he'd relapsed after ten years of sobriety – several months after he quit going to meetings. 

The man’s story reminded my friend that we must be vigilant about our sobriety. That if we don’t do the things that have kept us sober we become vulnerable to relapse.

The conversation with him brought to mind the many times I’ve been asked how long I have to go to meetings. And my answer is always “as long as I want to stay in touch with my sobriety."

I'm aware that sobriety is the center of my existence. Without it, everything disappears.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Half Measures

In the 12-step literature we often hear the phrase, “half measures availed us nothing.”

While working in this field for over 20 years I’ve seen many clients who take half measures - or less - when working on their recovery.

For example, we recently received a young client who was desperate for help.  His family was done with him. He was dope sick. He was broke. His girlfriend had dumped him.  The dope man wanted to hurt him because he owed for drugs purchased on credit.  In summation, his life was a mess.

During the intake interview he was a tearful, emotional wreck.  But he was willing to whatever it took to change his life. He was on fire to do something different – to start over.

However, at around two weeks that willingness subsided.  The change seemed to begin when he started to feel better after his withdrawal from the drugs. He’d also gotten some rest and had put on a few pounds. The family was talking to him again.

And then he started coming late to groups. He began having trouble getting out of bed in the morning for meetings. He didn’t want to clean his living area. All of a sudden the food wasn’t acceptable. He became bored. His attitude morphed into one of entitlement.

He’d arrived at the point when many clients relapse – or leave.  While we’ve encouraged this client to get back to a state of willingness - only time will tell.

Hopefully he’ll turn it around so he doesn’t have to learn more hard lessons.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Success in Sobriety

In the real world success is often measured by such things as jobs, income, education or the neighborhood one lives  in.

But at TLC, though, our idea of success is different.  Our primary measure of success is if one is living sober.

And tonight one of our client demonstrated success when he described a series of setbacks that would have normally gotten him drunk before he came into the program.

But even though he’d experienced loss of his job and living quarters and hadn’t gotten high, he was still down on himself because he wasn’t being “an example.”

As the group went on though he began to realize that the idea of not drinking or drugging in the face of setbacks is a definition of “success” in the world of recovery at TLC.  And it’s the kind of example that counts to other clients struggling with recovery.

Our experience over the years has been that if one simply deals with the disease that brought them to the program – the measures of success valued by the larger community will also show up.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Peer Pressure

While spending time today with my 14 year old granddaughter I asked if she had close friends.

“Not as many as last year,” she told me.

“How come?” I asked, as I wasn’t sure why an intelligent and attractive 14 year would have fewer friends, rather than more.

“They wanted me to do bad things,” she replied. Then, she told me girlfriends had offered her drugs on more than one occasion.

“I kept saying ‘no’” she said.  “Now they don’t have much to do with me.”

 However, she said it in a manner that indicated she was okay with her decision. And was going to stick by it.

We continued our conversation along this vein for a while and I encouraged her to continue her wise decisions.

Her decisions at 14 are such a contrast to the clients we have at TLC.  Many share that they eagerly began using drugs and alcohol as young as ten years old – and some earlier. In the case of my brother and me we’d follow our alcoholic father around the house and drink from his bottles at five and six years old.  It’s rare when someone tells us they didn’t start until their 20s.

I'm proud my granddaughter is avoiding the peer pressure that pulls so many into addiction. And even though she's strong, I'll continue to encourage her.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


“Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation”. Lao Tzu, author of theTao Te Ching.

Little is known about Lao Tzu, the sage who lived – according to some scholars - 600 to 300 BC in China.

In spite of the mysteries surrounding this ancient sage, his wisdom is as valuable today as it was over 2000 years ago. The tools we pick up in the 12-step program help us in the self-transformation to which he refers.

Before we transformed ourselves by working the steps, many of us were a drain on society. Because of my addictions and alcoholism I spent over 16 years as a guest of various governmental agencies who were punishing me for my bad behavior.  And rightly so.

While the price I paid might seem severe by today’s standards, my consequences were compatible with what was done by the legal system  at the time. In the 50s and 60s we never heard of treatment programs. And the disease concept of addiction wasn’t as widespread as today. So when people committed crimes to get drugs the reaction of the legal community was incarceration.  And at taxpayer expense.

But when we transform ourselves it is a gift to the world. All of a sudden, instead of being takers, we are givers. We give back to the world. We make amends. We start righting the wrongs we've done to the community.

We support our children and start to care for our families. We find jobs and become taxpayers once more. Instead of  draining the community we enhance it.

Self-transformation makes us different human beings who begin to reap the benefits of a new life.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Joining the Human Race

Part of the evolution from being a self-centered, self-absorbed addict is when we start getting sober and realize we're part of the larger human race.

While, of course, this is my opinion, I think that when we realize we’re part of the larger community we start looking at those around us and realize that maybe our situation is not so bad. For example, I dealt with a client the other day who was very concerned about the type of food we serve at TLC.

He was on the verge of being a homeless when he arrived. He's on probation with his employer. His wife left him a long time ago, and his children really don't want him around because he's so unpredictable. He has no money or resources. Yet he was extremely concerned about his living conditions and the food.

While I understand that people like to eat and live well, when they're living in a halfway house in early recovery it's probably better that they focus on why they’re there in the first place.

Once sober for a while then we may realize that there are many in the world who are really suffering. There are those who can't afford food and have no place to live other than a shelter. Many can't afford medical care. There are young people who are suffering from serious illnesses.

When we look at the world around us we can realize that we have it pretty good.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Whiz Kids

Every so often TLC is fortunate enough take in a client – a whiz kid really - with a lot of financial expertise.

And another one showed up the other day. After a week or so on the property he did the math and figured out that TLC was “getting rich.”

What he did was take the calculator on his cell phone and multiply the $110 a week that clients are supposed to pay times the 80 residents at the Macdonald House.  And bingo, he came up with a figure of $8,800 a week! Or nearly $40,000 a month!  

Then, of course, he then extended the numbers out to include the entire program and got really excited. 110 times 600 clients is a nice number all right. Impressive figures. But they’re not real.

First of all, TLC never collects 100% of the service fees charged. The real number is more like 62%.  And this number wouldn’t be bad either.  But that’s not net – that’s gross income.  (For the challenged gross means the total amount coming in.)

One thing our whiz kid didn’t consider is expenses. For example, June through October electric bills run at $55,000 to $65,000 a month.  This month’s electric bill for the City of Mesa alone: around $20,000.  TLC utilities run nearly $700,000 a year.  Mortgages and leases run about $900,000 a year.

Other things to consider: vehicle insurance at $4,000 a month. Gasoline: around $12,000 a month. Liability insurance $7,000 a month.  Food: $13,000 a month.  The list goes on and on.

My feedback -  when I hear about clients with this kind of financial expertise - is to invite them to our accounting office. We need all the help we can get.