Friday, February 28, 2014


Calls that come before sunup are gut-wrenching because they’re usually not good news. And this one is no different. A former Hard Six client who left around five years ago is found somewhere dead.

At that early hour no one is sure of the exact cause. But the suspicion is that it’s somehow related to his addiction. It’s a reasonable suspicion, because addicts in their early forties aren't likely to succumb to natural causes.

The sad news ripples instantly through the TLC community, as are updates about how he might have died.

Whatever the cause, we’re all immediately reminded of the potential consequences of relapse. Of the specter awaiting to pounce if we ignore the advice of the sober guides who share their experience with newcomers.

This man’s untimely death reminds those of us who've been around a while why we do this work: we have the hope that sometimes the message gets through.

We wish his family and loved ones well.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Saving Ourselves

Most of those I meet who work with substance abusers have a close connection to the disease. They’re either in recovery themselves. Or else they have a loved one who’s an addict. And TLC’s no different.

For example, we have some 70 staffers on the halfway house side of TLC who are all addicts or alcoholics. They serve as house managers, assistant managers, cooks, night security, maintenance, drivers, business managers, labor coordinators, and so forth.

In fact, on the halfway house side we only have two so-called “normies.” One’s a CPA; the other an accountant, both of whom act as consultants to help keep the books straight.

In the Outpatient Treatment Clinic itself, about half of the outside professional staff is in recovery. The support staff itself consists 100% of clients who want to stay close to their recovery. And a few are in training to become professional counselors.

In my own case I realized when I first entered recovery in 1991 that working with others would help me stay clean – which has been true. The mission has become my life.

Helping others is its own reward. And sometimes it even saves our lives.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Power of Now

While in group with a distressed client yesterday I realized again how most of our anxiety is self generated.

During much of the session the client revisited incidents from the past. Her mother was angry at her for things she had done while she was using. One of her siblings was upset over something to do with a car the parents purchased for one of them. She was ruminating over a whole list of things, some going back four or five years. And she didn't know what she was going to do about them when she left the program.

Her primary therapist wisely asked her why she was spending so much time dredging up things from the past. After all, what could she possibly do about what had happened yesterday?

This is a common failing among addicts – and even among non-addicts. We spend precious time going over and over things that we can do nothing about. And usually, there's a lot of emotion coupled with them. Things like anger, sadness, or grief. And we treat these emotions as if they were something tangible, rather than just a tortured memory.

The same thing happens when we generate anxiety about the future. In essence, we're rehearsing for a play that hasn't happened yet. And we experience fear and trepidation about a future that hasn't occurred.

So what's the solution?  The obvious answer, of course, is that we learn to live in the present moment. And no matter how much we might deny it, this moment is the only place we can be where we have power over our lives.

An excellent book by Eckhart Tolle, "The Power of Now," is a resource for those who would like to live in the moment.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Refusing Help

We finally discharge a client who - in spite of our best efforts - is determined to do what he wants when he wants.

During his two month stay he’d been disciplined for stealing, making sexual overtures to female clients, lying and other misbehavior.

Then last week he drops two urine tests and when the results came from the lab today - both were hot for opiates.

And while we were having a staff meeting to deal with the dirty tests, a female client tells a staff member that he’d been harassing her at a 12-step meeting.  Even though he was banned from speaking to female clients because of previous harassment.

In spite of ongoing efforts some clients refuse our help. And this client was one of them.

When we accept a client into the program our goal is to help them graduate.  To help them rebuild their lives and remain sober.  But they must show at least a little effort.  

We can’t do it all.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Accepting Responsibility

The following email arrived yesterday, a 154 word from the heart - stream of consciousness - single sentence. But I post it here verbatim because you'll find important truths about recovery.

"I was asked to leave the program once and I believe in my heart of hearts that I did it on purpose when you decide to become clean and sober you need to stop listening to yourself and listen to what others tell you to do and if that means you have to go back into specialized treatment then you do it .you need to be absolutely willing ....not getting out of bed / not going to groups she was asking for it and it sounds like you guys did everything & tried to be very loving and very caring .sometimes you want to blame another person for you going out and relapsing and therefore she can say oh they kicked me out so I'm going to go use again ....see what they did to me.... It's just a copout when you're ready you're ready and you're going to do whatever it takes."

This email says it all for me: the essence of recovery is taking responsibility for ourselves. We simply must be ready.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Love in Passing

A client at one of our Phoenix facilities is dying of cirrhosis. He only has a few days to live.

Because he wanted to spend his last days at the facility, we grant his request.

Hospice workers visit to assure that he's comfortable as possible, to ease his pain.

An interesting aspect of his passing is that it seems to bring out the best in other clients, who rally around him as if he were family. They're offering him prayers and encouragement.

Though his untimely passing is sad, a positive aspect is that it allows others to witness the potential consequences of addiction.

It also allows them to express care and love for another human being.

We wish this client well on his journey home.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Investing in Recovery

When we were active in our addictions we did whatever it took to stay drunk or high.

We stole drugs from medicine cabinets. We borrowed from our families. We sold drugs, or else picked up for others, knowing they’d reward us for our efforts. Maybe we were shoplifters or panhandlers. Perhaps we engaged in more serious crimes, like burglary or robbery.

We were so driven by our addictions that we didn’t care much about the consequences. We were willing to take from whomever, even our loved ones. We risked – and sometimes lost – our freedom so we wouldn't have to face the pain of withdrawal.

Yet today – even though we gave all to stay high – some of us are tepid about grabbing on to recovery.

Although we spent 24/7 pursuing our addiction, spending an hour a two a week on recovery seems a challenge.

Someone once said in a meeting that if we spend even five percent of the time on recovery as we did getting high we’ll be wildly successful.

How much are we willing to invest in our recovery?

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Blessings Come

A manager sends an email to share her excitement about the impending birth of her first grandbaby. She plans to fly home next month to be there for the birth. And she rightly gives credit for being able to be there to her sobriety.

While the experience is unique to her, this is typically what happens after we get into recovery – assuming we have anyone left. Over the past 23 years I've witnessed thousands of clients reuniting with families and friends. It's joy to witness them coming together.

Many clients, especially younger ones, are disappointed when the reunion doesn't happen right away. It seems like they're thinking, "well I've been sober for a month now, where's my family?"

However, that's rarely the way it works if we’ve been drinking and drugging for a while. It sometimes takes six months, a year, or longer depending on our age and how long we were out there being a fool.

In my own case, my family was still talking to me. But from a distance. They really didn't want me around and I understood why.

After a few years though, when I stopped asking for money and I sounded sober each time I called, their attitudes began to change. I started sending gifts and cards on holidays. I made amends. After a while they started believing I was serious. That's when the doors opened.

Today, I'm blessed to be able to take the whole family on a couple of vacations each year. Sometimes I'm able to help financially.

But it all took time. And I would have understood their reluctance if it had taken even longer.

I’m so happy for our manager. As she stays sober more blessings will flow her way.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Re-framing Loss

I spoke to an alcoholic this week who's been drinking for several years. He's now at a point where it’s causing marital, health, and financial issues. Our discussion revolved around him getting into recovery.

He revealed that his drinking stemmed from the loss of a child several years earlier. And when he spoke of this loss, it was clear he thought this was a justifiable reason to drink.

It's easy to commiserate with him. After all, what can be more devastating than the loss of an infant? There’s no logic when we're confronted with these kinds of losses. There’s just sheer, raw emotion that cuts to our very soul.  How do we move on?

I attempted to give him a different perspective. I shared with him what worked for me when I lost my mother – my best friend - 20 years ago.

I told him I came to realize that too much grief could be counterproductive. If I continued to live with overwhelming pain I might pick up a drink or a drug as an escape. I told myself I must take a larger perspective.

I asked what my mother would want, how she would want me to live my life? And I realized that she would want me to do my best. To remain sober and be a productive member of the community. And that's what I did because I knew anything else would dishonor her memory.

Of course pain remains. And this man's grief will never go away. But if we re-frame our loss by asking what our loved ones would want - we'll have an answer.

Whether it's a parent or an infant, we can safely surmise that they would want us to live our lives to the fullest – while still remembering them with love in our prayers and our memories.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

God Working

Sometimes we’re privileged to see God at work.

It happened last week when a client from one of our Phoenix facilities went to the hospital for a relatively minor surgical procedure.

While he was being prepared for surgery, almost on the operating table, he told one of the doctors that he was having chest pains.

The medical staff quickly diagnosed that he was having a heart attack and went into action. When he awoke from the surgery he found that doctors had not only completed the procedure he went to the hospital for, but also had placed a stent in his heart.

A few days later he's walking around feeling fine and in awe at his good fortune in being where he was when he had the heart attack.  As we all were.

This is a man who survived being imprisoned for half his life. Plus he lived through the many challenges he faced as an alcoholic. Yet he made his way to recovery.

And now he’s witnessed once more the presence of God in his life.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Being Unwilling

A client is made to pack her belongings and leave the program yesterday because she’s exhibited a chronic pattern of poor behavior.

Among other things, she refused to get out of bed for group. She had a constant bad attitude. She'd relapsed a day earlier and tried to take some of the women with her.

Then when she returned from detox after her relapse, she refused to move to a more restrictive part of the program – a consequence given her by her house managers and the treatment team.

It’s always difficult to discharge a client. For one thing, their families have invested in their recovery with emotional and financial support. And the other part is that it’s our job to help them get clean – not discharge them.

But when a client refuses to participate in the process even a little bit – then we haven’t any alternative.  They need to keep trying it their way.

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Monday, February 17, 2014


Half a dozen female clients request a meeting with me. It seems that a male client has been verbally abusing them and making sexual comments.

Among the comments purportedly made was one to a gay female client who said he told her he had the sexual prowess to "turn her straight."

Another female client said that he had invited her to "go fishing" at a nearby lake. Yet another said that he’d told her he was well-endowed.

After 20 minutes or so of discussion in the group room I ask the women if they’d like to confront him in group. Or did they simply want me to discharge him?

They wanted to confront him in group.

Once he was on the hot seat he did as expected: he denied everything. He was misunderstood. People were out to get him. He did everything he could to deflect blame.

His consequences were that he could no longer speak to the women about anything. Plus he was moved to our Roosevelt facility – where conditions aren't so comfortable.

I doubt if anything will make much difference with this man's behavior. But in any event, what the women had to say surely got his attention.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Positive Drama

Much of the drama that occurs at TLC goes on in clients' minds.

But last week was different. I wrote then about an email from a young woman from an Eastern state who was in dire circumstances. She was addicted and being abused in every way. A virtual prisoner.

Because her email was so filled with pain, a few staff members decided to do something we never do. We bought her a non-refundable bus ticket and did what we could to help her get here. (Normally we don’t provide transportation from out-of-state because in the past addicts have used us for a free ride across the country).

Because most of the Midwest and East was locked down in deep-freeze storms, bus service was sporadic and it took longer than normal for the journey.

However, we received periodic phone calls during her travels. She experienced delays because of the weather. She spent several hours at bus depots during the three day odyssey. Sometimes when we didn't hear from her for a while, we'd wonder if she'd maybe changed her mind.

Last night we took a breath of relief when we got a tearful phone call from the Phoenix bus terminal. She'd arrived safely.

It was drama, but positive drama.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


An eminent characteristic of those in recovery is that they’re responsible for their lives and their behavior.

They don’t blame others. They accept that they’re the source of their own misery. They look in the mirror and easily admit that the person looking back is the one who brought them to this point. They’re not into the blame game.

I talked yesterday with a young man who has difficulty accepting that he’s responsible for the way his life’s going. He’s often on restriction for minor infractions. He believes everyone "has it in for him,"  that they’re “out to get him.”

He seemed surprised when I suggested that few us are that important. We are so irrelevant that most of the time others are unaware we’re even around.

Each time I attempt to discuss this young man’s behavior he tries to point the conversation in the direction of what someone else has done.

Like, “I don’t know what her problem is. She’s jealous. That’s why she’s in my business.”

He became irritated when I told him that he and I were the only ones present. That I wouldn't allow him to deflect my attention by discussing someone who wasn't present. I’m not sure he got what I was talking about.  

When he does accept responsibility, he’ll find some personal power that will lead him to recovery.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Moral Code?

While confronting a client suspected of stealing food and cigarettes from other residents he responds with indignation.

"I'm not a thief!" He told me. "It's against my moral code to steal."

I didn't bother to point out to him how incongruous that statement sounded. After all, I've never met too many drug addicts of any kind who weren't also thieves. It comes with the territory. I mean, come on, an honest dope fiend?

But I did point out to him that each area of the program he's lived in has had problems with theft. And when he's moved, the stealing stops. And then the new area he moves into sees a rise in theft complaints. Hmmm, what a coincidence.

Then I confronted him about something else that seemed inconsistent with any kind of moral code. It seems this man has a fiancé who's pregnant, a woman he's been involved with for some time. A woman he says he loves.

Yet recently he was engaging in casual sexual activity at TLC with a different woman, something he admitted to when confronted by management. (For those unfamiliar with our guidelines sexual behavior on TLC property is prohibited).

When I asked how that squared with his statement about his "moral code" he hung his head. And he had no answer.

In any event, the purpose of this confrontation was not to be judgmental. It was about helping educate him about his behavior. Perhaps about giving him some ideas so he could construct positive guidelines for a sober life.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Losing Benefits

Sometimes the most trivial things take a lot of time to resolve. That happened this week when I spent around three hours dealing with problems caused by clients illegally downloading movies.

Since this movie theft issue happened six times before, the cable company kept the Internet service off for almost a week. They turned it on again today.  But they promised to discontinue it permanently if there were another incident.

I explained to the clients that if it happened again there would be no service. simply because there's no one else to provide it. After all, there are only so many cable companies.

The alternative would be for each client to spend $30-$50 a month to receive internet through a phone service via a personal hot spot.

Incidents like this have occurred in the past when clients have abused services and no longer have access to them

Among amenities we offer are use of a fitness center. Weekend field trips, such as movies or bowling. Barbecues on holidays. Massages, facials and yoga classes.

But at one time we offered even more benefits. Up until January we had free dental service. Then we lost that because a client complained about the care he received. The dental clinic, which had been donating service for 4 1/2 years, responded by cutting it off. They said they didn't need the aggravation of dealing with ungrateful people. So now clients to have to take care of dental problems on their own.

Another amenity we offered was an in-house job service that was available to treatment program clients. However, after four clients walked off the job the first day, we lost our contract with that company.. Clients now must find jobs on their own.

Sometimes we are unable to help in spite of our best intentions.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A few weeks back a client who got drunk and overdosed on pills was put on restriction.

He was angry about his punishment. He claimed that all he’d done was drink Nyquil because he had the flu. At the same time he’d taken a few more of his sleeping pills than he should have. And maybe that’s why he overdosed.

He was so out of it that he didn’t remember the police and paramedics coming. Nor did he recall how he’d gotten to the hospital.

Because Nyquil contains alcohol we couldn’t determine if he was telling the truth or not about drinking. However, not using his pill prescription as directed qualifies as a relapse.

In any event, he was allowed to return to work the following week.

Then last weekend a few clients told us he smelled of alcohol. At first he refused to submit to a test. But when told he’d have to leave the program if he didn’t submit, he relented. And the test came back positive.

After that he was taken to detox for the night. The next morning he returned to the program.

This man’s drinking and drug use shows the power of our disease. He has a responsible, well-paying, job that he’s had for years. A job that’s in jeopardy if doesn’t complete treatment. He has dependents to care for.

Yet he’s willing to let everything go because he has to drink and get high.

Most of us in recovery today can relate to this man, because we did similar things until we got over our denial and into recovery. We hope he does the same thing.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Uphill Battle

Yesterday I had a lengthy conversation with Natalie Smith, one of the directors of NevadaCure, an organization that advocates for prisoners in Nevada.

Because their organization doesn't provide housing for those being released, she wanted suggestions about how to put together a housing program.  She said a woman offered them several hundred acres that could be used for housing those released on parole.  In addition, the benefactor offered to finance housing on the property. 

However, when she told me the parcel is located some 50 miles in the desert outside of Las Vegas, I said it probably wouldn't work.  After all, our experience has been that those being released need to work, have transportation and other services.  And this place is so far in the country that it would be impractical for reintegrating parolees into society.

Additionally, I explained to her that Nevada law is so prohibitive for those who help addicts and alcoholics that unless one has deep pockets it's nearly impossible to open a facility.  Under state regulations one must operate a simple halfway house like it's a medical facility.  Each client needs a case file.  A nurse has to be available.  There's a $100 fee per bed each six months, meaning that a 50 bed facility would pay a $10,000 a year bed tax.  And these aren't all the regulations, just some of them. That’s why Nevada has few services for those who need them.

We estimated a few years ago that it would require nearly half a million to purchase and prepare to operate a licensed halfway house in Las Vegas.  This is a near impossibility for a business that barely breaks even under the best of circumstances.

The law is so restrictive in Nevada that we ceased our halfway house operation in Las Vegas a few years back.  All we offer there is sober housing.  We can't tell residents to go to meetings.  We can't have 12-step meetings on the property.  We were told that we can't give addicts or alcoholics any help because that would make us a halfway house.

I complimented Natalie on the great work her organization does.  But her energy might be better spent advocating for prisoners because that endeavor has experienced some success and isn't as vulnerable to the whims of the state.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Helping the Helpless

Years ago I watched a television interview of the producer of “All My Children” who was asked where she got ideas for the bizarre plots of the long running show.

As I recall, she said it was simple: her inspiration came from the daily newspapers. In other words, from real life.

And the longer I write this blog – now at 1300 days- the more I understand what she meant. Because truth is stranger than fiction.

This comes up because some of my subject matter is obtained from often heart-wrenching emails from readers seeking help for themselves or family members.

For example, this week a young woman wrote a desperate email from someone else’s computer. Apparently, she’s been the virtual prisoner of an older drug dealer who’s kept her addicted for years - while abusing her sexually and emotionally. She has no phone, car, or money and is seeking to escape and start a new life.

Further, this is only the surface of the story, because it’s even more sordid than this. At the moment, though, we’re working to get her to a safe place until we can get her to Arizona.

Even though I spent years in the drug world and prison and think I’m hardened to the diabolical, I find things that test my limits. And this young woman’s story is one of them.

While on the streets and in prison a lot of rough things happened, the code I was raised with didn’t allow taking advantage of the helpless. In fact, when I was in prison, those who committed crimes against children, women, and the elderly were used for target practice in gang initiations.

The situation this woman is in is beyond civilized behavior.

Probably stories like hers are one reason we work hard to keep our doors open for those who need help.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Upset Family Member

A client’s family member sends a well-written – but anonymous - email about her concerns with our program. She has a short list of issues that were brought to her by the family member.

Among them are under-cooked chicken and the fact that cooked beets were served with the same meal. She says she’s known “maybe 2 or 3 people in my life who actually like cooked beets.” She continues with the comment that she’s “dismayed that this is what qualifies as dinner and how often a “meal” such as this is offered.” She also heard that the cook has an “unpleasant attitude” and a “questionable 12-step program.”

She further wonders why we serve breakfast from 1:00 am through 6:00 am. Why we take most of a client’s labor group pay when they owe back service fees? If we’re incorporated? Who’s on the board of directors? Who provides oversight? Do we have policies and procedures? What about the grievance process? You get the idea – a lady trying to protect her loved one.

While I wasn’t rude in my reply to her, I admit I wasn’t exactly nice either. And I was unkind enough to point out that – for some reason - her loved one wasn't living on her couch, eating her food, and working for her.

Many family members over the years have contacted us with concerns. Some of their concerns are well-taken, but the reality is that addicts end up with us because no else want them around. And no one else can deal with them.

Nobody provides funding to TLC. Everyone must work to pay the bills. And in that process we may even earn enough to pay the 75-80 clients who help us manage the 650 addicts who live with us.

Do we do it perfectly? Never. Do we do our best? Most of the time.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Unhappy former Client

A client who was discharged sends an angry email message about how unfairly he was treated at TLC.

He says he dropped a urinalysis and it came back with what he described as "a false positive." At that point he was told to pack his belongings and leave - standard procedure at our halfway houses. And they must wait three days before they can return.

He also made comments about TLC being "a moneymaker and a fraud."

In my response to him I told him I was sorry that he was angry. And that if he ever needed help our doors would be open. As to TLC being "a moneymaker and a fraud" I pointed out that probably every business in the country – if it wants to continue to operate – must make money.

Twenty years ago I’d get upset when addicts attacked the program. However, today I realize it's part of the recovery business. Because they’re still in denial about their addiction, they lash out at us for their failure.

Today we have many clients who started out exactly like this chap. In fact, some failed half a dozen times. But today they are sober and many are key long-term employees. Some have more than ten years of recovery.

That’s why we don’t give up on those who slip a few times

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Friday, February 7, 2014

An Attaboy

Here are excerpts from a client’s email, illustrating the changes that sometimes occur after clients get into recovery.

“I just wanted to drop you a line to express my gratitude and thankfulness for TLC and what you have allowed me to do. I am now clean and sober for 7 months, after a lifetime of drug use (I believe I have shared with you that I was born a heroin baby, given drugs as a child, then chose drugs as I grew up).

I have found a new calling while at TLC, I enjoy working with others in recovery, I have completed the work and am now a State Certified Peer Support Specialist, something I don't believe I would've done without TLC's help and support. I am currently seeking my first job in the field. The experience I have gained while at TLC will definitely help in that.

I also want to express my thanks for you guys not giving up on me and my journey, even though I know I have made mistakes. I will learn the lessons and move on. In short, I have been able to accomplish in the 7 months I have been here what I couldn't manage to do in the seventeen years I was in recovery before I got here.

There have been some mistakes, challenges and hard blows. But, the program, the fellowship, and most of all my reliance on GOD have given me the tools and grace to deal with these things without drinking or using. I take nothing for granted and ask for one day at a time. I am truly grateful for my recovery.

Again Thank You and TLC”

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Smoke-Free Blog

The announcement yesterday by CVS pharmacy that it would stop selling tobacco products later this year is another step in the battle against one of our country's deadliest addictions: nicotine.

In their press release CVS noted that tobacco products kill over 400,000 people in the U.S. annually, more than all other causes combined. That includes all diseases, plus automobile and plane crashes, murders and suicides.

And they went on to state, as a company that deals in healthcare, getting rid of tobacco was a logical step. Even though the company makes a very small profit on tobacco products, a company spokesman said it was a way to bring people into the store where they would be exposed to other merchandise.

The country probably won't see a great decline in smoking rates, if any, just because one chain stops selling tobacco. However, the idea that a nationwide retailer is willing to lose $1-$2 billion a year because it's the right thing to do will put pressure on other businesses to do the same thing.

And while smokers will always be able to satisfy their addiction by buying elsewhere, this move brings into the national consciousness in a dramatic way the idea of how deadly cigarettes can be.

My expectation is that CVS will ultimately see an increase in their business because most people in the country are non-smokers. I believe they will view this move by CVS as ethical and honorable and will quite likely reward the store by doing business there.

I know I will.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Work of Recovery

Every so often, maybe once a month, someone asks me how to start a halfway house or recovery program.

And if they're in Arizona I usually respond with "if you wanted to start selling hamburgers would you ask McDonald's for their recipe?" Usually the conversation ends with them making unpleasant remarks about my maternal ancestors. Or else they'll say something snarky about me not wanting to help addicts and alcoholics get sober.

Normally, when someone contacts me from out-of-state and asks how to do what we do, I offer assistance. But my experience has been that once I explain about housing costs, zoning laws, insurance - and tell them how many hours it takes each day to manage a group of people - I don't hear from them again.

The reality is that the recovery business is emotionally draining hard work. And those who succeed know about long hours and hard work.

They become used to changing direction a few dozen times a day. One minute we might be breaking up an argument between two clients. The next minute we'll have a phone call from the bank wondering why we don't have insurance on a certain property. Next we'll get an emergency call about a sewer line backed up. Or we’ll get a call from an employer saying one of our clients walked off the job. Then a client will complain that the cook burned the toast. After a while you learn to accept the changing tempo as being part of the day's work.

There’s an unceasing stream of issues when dealing with human beings who have problems with drugs and alcohol.

I recommend this as a business if one has a mission of helping others get into recovery.

It’s a gift from God to see an addict blossom and grow into their potential. Just make sure to bring your work clothes.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014


A client who's in trouble for breaking house rules is given consequences.

One of them - besides writing a paper and doing extra chores - is to apologize at a house meeting.

However after he apologizes – which he did quite eloquently – he begins to explain his behavior, why he did what he did. He had a rationale for why he had food in his room. Why he cursed another client. And why he went into another client's room.

After the meeting, he was counseled by the house manager about his apology. The house manager pointed out that it's not an apology when it's accompanied by a series of explanations about why the infractions occurred. That’s not an apology. It's a rationale. A justification.

Part of our mission at TLC is helping addicts face responsibility. To own up to their behavior. And the purpose of that is so we can deal with the behavior. If we make rationales, we're watering down what we did until we obscure it entirely.

So how does what addicts do in the protected environment of a recovery program relate to the real world?

Before we addicts use, we usually tell a lie - to ourselves. The lie may be something like this: “I'm only going to do it this one time.” Or : “No one will know.” Or: “I worked hard all week and I deserve a fix or drink.” They go on and on.

But if we learn to stop explaining away our bad behavior, then when we have these thoughts we might do something different. We may instead tell ourselves something like: “I don't know where that thought came from, but it's a dumb idea.”

And sometimes it's just that simple.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Meeting Ourselves

A man from San Francisco comments on this blog and says he’s “struggling to get clean.”

I respond by letting him know we can help if he wants to come to Arizona.

He answers with, “Arizona sounds awesome. But I've decided not to do any more running. It never works out!

“Before I arrived in San Francisco I lived in Miami, Houston, Hartford, Denver and a bunch of small towns in between. And every time I moved to a new city I told myself I'd stay clean.

I've been clean before and I've had my own businesses. But then I relapse and find myself starting over.”

He has a good point. No matter where we go we take ourselves with us.

Almost 30 years ago I left California for Arizona with some vague idea that I’d leave my issues behind. But when I arrived in Phoenix I met myself at the bus depot.

Moving had changed nothing. Things only changed when I faced my addictions and got into recovery.

Sounds like this reader is going to do the same thing.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Mother's Pain

I have a conversation with a woman who reminds me why mothers are my heroes.

She tells of a long term marriage to an abusive husband who immersed himself in drugs and alcohol. She went through many changes during the relationship, seeing therapists and counselors. Going to 12-step meetings. Doing her best to save a lopsided marriage. Sometimes she was trying to fix herself, thinking she was the problem. When nothing worked, she finally divorced him.

Then, on her own, she faces the task of raising two children. She says that when they were babies she never had an idea they'd grow up to become addicts like their father.

For a few years, while they were in their teens, she struggled to help them. She'd pay for treatment programs. She went to court to bail them out. She did her best to get them on the right track. And even though they'd stay clean for a while, eventually they'd relapse and end up back in rehab or jail. Until one of them paid the ultimate price and died of a drug overdose.

She talks of her devastation, of staying awake at night, rehearsing plans to kill herself because she couldn't escape the pain. But she couldn't follow through because she had another child who was still addicted - who needed her help.

And now that her remaining child is in rehab and has been clean for a few months she feels better. But still, she says when the phone rings she fears the worst. She wonders if it’ll be a message like the one about her first child.

When she talks of this tears come and I pass her a tissue.

Even though I've talked to dozens of mothers over the years who've lost children to addiction it's never easy to witness their pain. It’s a poignant reminder of how our disease affects those who love us.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Manana? Or Now?

Here we are already, the first day of February.

Look back to 30 days ago.  We were at the beginning of a brand-new year.  We were full of resolutions.  Maybe we were going to quit smoking.  Perhaps we were going to lose weight.  Maybe start school. Go to the gym.  Start that business.  But have we really accomplished anything?  Or has the manana syndrome overtaken us?  

So with one 12th of the year gone it's time to take inventory.  And if we did accomplish something, we need to pat ourselves on the back.  But if we didn't accomplish anything what are we going to do to change our behavior?

After all, no one’s coming to rescue us from ourselves.  If we want to do something we need to take a risk and do it.  Michael Jordan said one of the reasons he succeeded in life was because he'd failed "over and over and over" again.

We need to take that small risk and do something different – even if we don’t succeed the first time.  This is not a dress rehearsal for life. This is our life.  And if we waste our time playing computer games and vegging out in front of the TV we’ve made a poor use of our precious time.

Make it count!