Saturday, October 31, 2015

Still addicted

Someone I've known for years ago is in the hospital again after a third heart attack.

She's had a valve replaced. She's had stints put in her heart. She has a pacemaker. The doctors placed her in a nursing home for a few weeks after her first heart attack. They wanted to give her a long period away from cigarettes before they sent her home.

But within days of being home she was smoking again. Not so much at first. But after a short time she was puffing away like before.

As someone who lost seven family members to emphysema and COPD I'm against tobacco use. It was excruciating to watch them slowly suffocate because of this horrible addiction.

And while I might sound preachy, I'm a former smoker who quit smoking 31 years ago.. I know it's not easy. It's hard. I kicked heroin a few dozen times. And quitting nicotine was the hardest habit of all to break.

I know we have the right to kill ourselves however we want. I hear addicts say all the time that they're not hurting anyone but themselves. Not true.

We all have someone who loves and cares about us. Whether it be children, spouses, friends, or co-workers, we have an obligation to take care of ourselves for them.

That is, unless we just don't care. And I don't think many of fall into that category.  Especially when we have loved ones in our life.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 30, 2015

Being Patient

After 24+ years of working with addicts I've developed patience.

I try to give everyone an opportunity. Just show me something says the voice in my head. Give me an inkling that you might possibly - maybe - perhaps - want to change. Shed a tear. Just a hint of humility. A little scrap of willingness so we don't have to put you on the streets.

Sometimes I ask myself why I'm not tougher. Why I can't act like the boss and send unwilling clients on their way.

But, unless they're a threat to the safety of others - or else bring drugs into the program - my first choice is not to throw them out.

And I think one of the reasons is that way back in the last century a few people showed me a lot of patience. Compassion. Kindness. Love.

And as a teenager and a twenty-something I was a lot like many of our clients today. I was angry, full of suppressed rage. Confused. Thought the world was out to get me. I sometimes hated everyone. No one understood me. I felt sorry for myself.

But I remember some of the kind people who tried to help. My family. Therapists in the State Hospital. Teachers. Parole Officers. School counselors. They reached out and told me what would happen if I didn't change. But I was too angry - and much later realized that most of them were right. And a lot of them hung with me as long as I let them.

So today, I recall the kind people who tried to lift me up in spite of myself. A lot of people spent hours showing me compassion and kept coming back.

Today I try to pass that on when dealing with a difficult client.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Looking for Children

We often get calls from parents. They're calling recovery programs, looking for addicts that have fallen off the radar.

Some say they haven't seen their child in a few months. But others haven't seen them for ten years or more.

Maybe a family member is in poor health and they want to reconcile with their child. Or at least talk to them one last time. There are a lot of reasons.

Sometimes they'll say they've checked with the prisons and hospitals. But have had no luck. They're hoping we can help.

Usually we'll take the name of the person they're looking for. Then, if they're with us, we'll pass the message to them.

Those who call - or show up - always seem to be hurting. Their voices sometimes crack with emotion. One can feel the pain in their voices.

Some take the time to talk about their child's addiction. About how he or she was once a 4.0 student or a star athlete. Until drugs or alcohol derailed their lives. They appreciate the moments we spend listening to them.

If we could record these calls and play them back in our group sessions it might help some of us. We would realize the devastation our using brings into the lives of those close to us.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Taking the Time

"The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it." Sydney J. Harris

If we don't relax once in a while we're making a statement. What we're saying is we don't have time to live well. To take care of ourselves. To enjoy life.

Often I'm around those who say they don't have time to work out, to meditate, to eat right, to read a book.

They're busily engaged in the next thing, the newest distraction. Or they stay immersed with work to avoid being present with themselves.

However, most find time to be on Facebook. Or to play video games. Or perhaps veg in front of the television for hours on end. Or else a lot of time looking at their devices.

I once made a suggestion to someone who watched TV about four hours a day - but said he didn't have time to work out. And the suggestion was that he cut an hour or two out of that time for the gym. But he said he was "too tired" to do that after working all day.

Some look at distraction as relaxing. But distraction is really just a way to avoid being with ourselves.

A better way to relax might be a walk in the park. Maybe watching a sunset, or clouds drifting by. Maybe talking face-to-face with loved ones.

None of us on our deathbed will say that we wished we'd spent more time watching TV. Or visiting Facebook. Or playing video games. Or being at the office.

Hospice workers say the dying often wished they'd have spent more time with their loved ones.

Something to think about when we say we "don't have time.”

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Dilemma

The recovering addict's dilemma is that he or she knows how to feel good. And it's easy to get there.

Snort a line. Down a forty. Slam some heroin. Smoke a bowl. Wash down a few pain pills. Ahhhh...

Yes! Instant gratification. Pain is gone. Hurt feelings are no longer there. Problems dissolve without effort.

But even though we know how to change our state we can never again live this way. Not successfully.

Over and over I've worked with those who can't tolerate a small amount of pain or frustration. Instead, they relapse so they can get a moment's respite. But I've never once heard of it ending well.

No one's ever sent me a post card that read "I've started using again and my life is great! I finally figured out how to do it right. Wish you were here."

Instead, we get reports from jails or the streets or hospitals about another addict whose life is a train wreck.

Those of us who stay clean and sober come to realize that life is sometimes painful. Disappointing. Depressing. That it has its ups and downs. We learn to live in the real world.

And while the real world is sometimes a roller of coaster of successes and failures, it's far and away better than where we came from.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 26, 2015


The subject of powerlessness came up at a meeting yesterday.

And I thought it interesting that we alcoholics believe we have any kind of power.

I performed a lot of important tasks while using. I ran the government. The CIA. The economy. A few wars. Fortune 500 companies. Most everything, including the lives of those around me.

But the reality was that I couldn't control my own life. I was so in control that I ended up in jails, prisons, and mental institutions. I lost everything over and over. Jobs. relationships, homes, businesses – all of it.

A major breakthrough in my life was when I admitted I was powerless. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders. All of a sudden I was able to focus on one thing: staying clean and sober.

There was a great sense of relief when I lost the illusion that I had power, that I was in control.

Instead I found gratitude that I was a lucky survivor - one of those made it to the safe haven of recovery.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Being Fortunate

I spent a few days this week revisiting my past when a relative came to visit from my hometown in California.

It was wonderful to spend time with a family member. And her visit reminded of how fortunate I was to have moved to Arizona over 30 years ago.

The people I knew - those still alive - are doing the same things they were when I left in 1982.

Some are slinging dope. Others are fighting criminal cases or Federal indictments. A few are serving so much time they'll rot behind bars. Some are living on the streets.

And I know that if I hadn't left there I wouldn't be alive. I'd have remained immersed in the drug culture underworld I grew up in. I knew too many people.

Somehow God and fortune smiled upon me though. I got off the bus in Phoenix in July of 1982 with $300 in my pocket. I didn't know a soul, but was still able to find drugs and alcohol. But it was never the same.

Even though it took me another nine years to get sober, I never sunk to the level I was at in California. I made a few half-assed runs at recovery. Until I finally had enough pain to want to change.

And since I made that decision I've been in recovery ever since - almost 25 years.

Click here to email John

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Angry Clients

In the halfway house business one must have thick skin, like a rhinoceros.

When clients get discharged from TLC they're likely say to anything to deflect blame for their lack of success.

They'll call the city, the state, or the county. And tell them most anything to have inspectors come to our properties. We have bugs. We serve rotten food. Toilets don't flush. We've come to expect it. In fact, we welcome it, because it makes better operators. It keeps us on our toes.

But sometimes we come under even more slanderous, personal attacks. A few years ago a client who left said he and I were using heroin together. A quick drug test proved that to be a lie.

And one I hadn't heard before popped up a few days ago. A client who was with us in 2007 told another halfway house operator that she and I were recently having an affair. She even had a story about a two day trip she and I took to Las Vegas. The only thing is, it never happened.

Not only did it not happen - I wouldn't recognize this person if she walked into the room right now.

There are things I don't do today. I don't drink or use drugs. And I don't cheat on the woman I love.

And, in spite of everything, I’ll continue to help addicts get clean and sober.  Both the grateful and the ungrateful.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Making Changes

I meet with clients, mostly young, whose lives are a constant war zone. But the war is rarely with anyone or anything else. The war is an internal one. It's with themselves.

They want to be here. They don't want to be here. They want to quit drugs, except for smoking pot. They want a job, but they don't want to look very hard to get one. They want to work out, but somehow can't get to the gymnasium.

The both love and hate themselves at the same time because they're stuck and doing nothing.

How do we help those who are in a constant battle with themselves?

My usual suggestion is that they commit to something positive. Nothing big, just something to get them started.

If they want to get sober they must abstain from everything, including pot. But not for the the rest of their lives. Just for today, a day a time.

If they want to get fit start out light. Take a walk. Do a few push-ups and sit-ups.  Don't get sore.

To find a job, start out by investigating the employment market. Practice on-line making a resume. Think about your skills, what kind of job might motivate you to wake up in the morning.

We addicts often suffer from black and white thinking. If the first thing we try doesn't work we give up because we think we failed.

But when we take challenges and life in smaller chunks we're more likely to succeed. And this small success can help us feel better about ourselves.

We may even find peace.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


"Love is the absence of judgment." Dalai Lama

I often find myself being judgmental. Not just of others. But also of myself.

And, I ask myself where this comes from? Part of it might be my family upbringing. I had a large family, seven aunts and uncles. And it was a pastime - when I was a kid - for everyone to sit around and talk crap about each other.

There was never anything right about anyone. They either made too much money. Or thought they were better than. They were ugly. Fat. Or stupid. They didn't know how to live or, for that matter, do anything else right. The list would fill an encyclopedia.

Even though that was the atmosphere I grew up in, I like to think of myself as above that stuff. That I've grown beyond. But somehow, like weeds popping up in a garden, judgments intrude in my life. It takes no effort on my part; they just appear.

I stop this immediately as soon as I catch myself. The remedy is always acceptance. Whether I'm judging others or myself, acceptance immediately stops me.

My goal in life is to not waste my time on anything negative. And judgment of self or others is the ultimate waste.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Twenty some years ago I'd predict whether a client would stay clean. Whether they'd be able to make it in recovery.

I'm not sure it was a conscious habit. More of an unconscious judgmental thing that would randomly pop up.

I recall a man who came into our program years back with all the ingredients for success. Sharp. Well-spoken. A lot of sales skills. When I met him I just knew he'd get his stuff back together and and resume his business career. He even worked for us for awhile and did well..

But one day he relapsed and went off the radar. Then he showed up again and started over. He kept this cycle up for a few years, until the last time he left. We later got a message that he'd been found dead in an empty lot.

We've had more than one client with formal education in psychology and addiction. Maybe as many as half-a-dozen. Though I thought they'd do well, none seemed to last long. Even though they might put together a few years, their cravings would overwhelm them. And we'd hear they went back out.

And I bring this up because a few days ago I walked into a business to make a purchase.

As I started to pay the clerk said, "You don't remember me, do you?"

And while the person looked familiar, I wasn't sure where I knew him from. Then he told me his name and it all came together.

Needless to say I was surprised and pleased. Because this was a person who, the last time I saw him, couldn't carry on a coherent conversation. He made little sense at all. He was back and forth at the program a few times, but we didn't think he was in the right place. And he eventually left.

And now, here he was a few years later, functioning at a high level, helping customers in a retail establishment - seemingly a different human being.

And that's why today I don't make predictions about outcomes. Because we never know who'll hear the message and put it to use.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More about Stress

Something I read during the past few weeks keeps coming up for me. And it was this: that most of the stress in our lives comes from other people.

Now I'm not sure how true that statement is. But for some reason it keeps resonating with me. And when things keep running through my head like a gerbil on a wheel I start paying attention.

After all, even though I like to follow politics, it's not stressful. Yeah, I have my favorites of who I'd like to see win the presidency. But it doesn't keep me awake at night. And that's because no matter who's president there's little change in my life.

Even the world situation, with all the wars going on, doesn't create stress for me. Since I was a child there have been dozens of conflicts going on. Sadly, I think I've become inured to the violence in the world.

But now the people I deal with each day, that's a different story. In the addiction field we deal with a lot of different personalities. Many of them have conflicting interests. Some are in a lot of emotional pain, mostly self-inflicted.

And when dealing with human lives we have greater responsibility. It can be frustrating to come up with answers for every situation. To help everyone who comes through the doors. And often we aren't able to.

And because we're compassionate and caring that powerlessness can sometimes weigh on us. And that's when we have to recognize when we're getting overloaded and take a deep breath.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 19, 2015

Accidentally Stealing

Last night, while buying groceries, I accidentally stole something.

Now those who know my pre-sobriety history are probably saying, "Yeah, sure, an accident." But, it was.

It happened at our local Sprout's Market. I'd loaded several things into a shopping cart. One of them was a small box of blueberries.

Somehow, while going through the checkout line they slipped into a crack in the basket. And I didn't see them as I loaded the conveyor belt.

I only noticed them after I was at the trunk of my car. And there they were, edged sideways into a small crevice in the cart.

I checked my receipt, and sure enough I hadn't paid for them.

Oh well, I thought, I'll just give them the money next time I go there. After all, it was a small item anyway. Plus you're already in the parking lot. No one knows about it. And what difference did it make?

But as soon as I heard this narrative I was telling myself I went back into the store.

The guy at the checkout line was surprised. I told him they hadn't charged me $4.99 for a box of blueberries. For a moment he didn't seem to know what to do. But then he looked up the price and took my money.

He thanked me for coming back and paying. I told him I did it because I didn't want to be thinking about it all night.

As I drove away I realized that my world is different today. Twenty five years ago I used to pride myself on the number of things I could shoplift.

Televisions. Cameras. Cigarettes. Jewelry. Tools. Liquor. Clothing. I'd take whatever I could turn over for quick money .Not once did I take something by accident.

And now it seemed strange to be wrestling with my conscience over a $4.99 box of berries.

But then I realized it wasn't about the value of the item. It was about keeping a commitment I made when I got sober.

And that commitment was to change most everything about my life. And that didn't just include not drugging and drinking.  It also included being honest and staying straight with the world.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dealing with Stress

“Stress happens when your mind resists what is.” ~Dan Millman

How true. The secret of lower stress is to embrace life exactly as it is. Not resist it.

If I didn't accept that my neighbor is intent upon being a jerk, then I'll have stress. But I long ago realized who he is.

If I'm unhappy because I can't participate in sports with the intensity I once did, then I'll live with stress. But if I recognize that life has its seasons, the stress dissipates.

If we have chronic health issues that we can't change we mustn't resist them. For lower stress we accept the reality of our condition.

It doesn't matter if the issue is small or large. If I resist what I know is true my stress levels go up. And then I pump cortisol throughout my body. If this stress stays with us long term it affects many aspects of our health.

But a simple fix to our thinking changes everything. If we learn to flow with life - wonderful or not so - then we can keep our stress low.

And remember, stress is all about perception. It's not real unless we make it so.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Bad

Today I feel dumb because I relied on a TMZToday report that an NBA star had died of a drug overdose in Las Vegas. And I mentioned it in Thursday's posting.

The most reliable reports I read now say that he may survive. That he's responding and so forth. However, doctors are talking about potential brain damage.

While this blog is only my opinion, I should have done more research. Especially when it comes to someone's life. I guess a lot of times I think that if it's on the internet it must be true. If fact, it has to be pretty outrageous before I question the authenticity of a story.

In any event, the only reason I ever mention drug deaths or overdoses is to underscore the dangers of using. Not that we're unaware.

Most of those in our program who survived overdoses seemed surprised that it happened. One minute they were feeling good. The next minute paramedics were working on them.

But for more than one, the overdose was the catalyst that finally brought them to recovery.

What I hope to do in this blog is give addicts enough information to support wise choices. Choices that will allow them to enjoy a life of recovery.

But, once in a while I screw up, for which I'm sorry.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 16, 2015


Yesterday comes news of an NBA star who died in a Las Vegas hospital.

Most stories imply - or say - that cocaine was a contributing factor. It might be true, because 35 year old former athletes don't normally die of natural causes.

When people go that young it's more about lifestyle.

For me the story underscores the tragic consequences of drug use. Wealthy. Famous. Poor. White. Black. Brown or yellow. Educated or uneducated, drugs can take anyone down.

Over the years I've known many addicts. But most didn't die. Because they usually didn't have enough money to do themselves in. Heroin and cocaine are expensive.

But they were able to use enough to go to jail or prison. Lose their families. Lose jobs and homes. Sometimes their health. They dug themselves a deep enough hole that it’s taking years for some of them to dig themselves out.

For me this is the real tragedy of drug use. That many of us wasted a chunk of our lives trying to recapture the bliss of that first rush or drink. But it never happens, no matter how hard we try.

As advanced as we are in many areas of our society, the conundrum of drug use seems to defy solution.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reasons to be Grateful

It's easy to be grateful today.

Last night the TV screen fills with smoke and violence. Palestinian children attack Israelis with rocks and knives. People dying over religion and race. Unless a miracle happens it will morph into another war.

Bodies litter Chicago's ghettos. Mostly youngsters killing each other. Something about drugs and turf.

The turmoil rages in Syria. People killing over religious and tribal differences. Murder on behalf of God. Their version.

Friends tell me they don't watch the news. Because it's mostly this kind of stuff, the stuff that viewers feast on. They find it depressing.

But I watch some of it because it reminds of the blessings we have in our lives.

Yes, we disagree here. Sometimes about most everything. But at least in our country we have relative peace. Our Constitution lets us express our beliefs.

Yes we have inequities in our country. They're part of the human condition. It's a reality that surrounds us as long as we live. But here, at least, we're mostly safe.

It's never difficult to find reasons to be grateful.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Being mindful is being present in this moment - with acceptance.

Practicing mindfulness is especially good for us addicts and alcoholics. And why so?

It's good for us because it teaches us to pay attention to our thought stream.

Instead of always running from who we are, we look at our thoughts. They may be judgmental. They may be ugly. They may be wonderful. Whatever they are we look at them, accept them, and let them pass.

The practice works like this. We find a quiet place where we won't be distracted for ten to twenty minutes. We seat ourselves in a comfortable position on a cushion or chair, with our spine erect.

Next we focus on our breathing, maybe at the point where it enters and leaves the nostrils. Then we follow the breath.

Soon we'll realize that our mind has wandered. It has slipped into the ongoing narrative that races through our minds. We gently and lovingly bring out focus back to the breath. And we repeat the process during the time we're sitting.

What does this do for us? This practice lets us realize that we're not our thoughts. That they just pop up at random, without any encouragement from us. This helps us to know ourselves better. And to not identify with the anger, jealousy, rage, resentment, fear and other thoughts we may encounter.

We can compare our mind to a television screen, with our thoughts being what's playing on the screen.

Some 10,000 studies over the past 30 years prove the benefits. Mindfulness is as effective, or more so, that depression medication. It shows benefits in lower blood pressure, stress reduction, increased clarity and much more.

Go to this website for more free information on mindfulness and its benefits.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Starting the Week

Yesterday morning a client shakes my hand as I'm headed into the office

He's smiling proudly as he tells me he has four years of recovery this week.

I'm impressed. Because I recall that when he came to us he was all sucked up. He had a lifetime history of alcoholism and going to detoxes. He had serious dental problems. His drinking had separated him from his children. He had almost lost hope of staying sober

But now things are different.

He works a strong 12 step program, attends meetings, and has a sponsor. He has a steady job working with TLC maintenance.  He has new teeth.

He long-ago rebuilt his relationship with his family, even though it's long distance.

It's a good way to start a Monday morning because he reminds me of what our mission is all about.

And it reads: "We help recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sticking to It

"The 12 steps didn't work for me."

"I tried that diet but it wasn't any good."

"I signed up for a yoga class, but it was too hard."

What's the common thread in the three statements above? And, of course the common thread is that the participants didn't stick to it.

The reality is that most any self-improvement plan will work if we stick to it.

The 12-step programs work for millions. But it only works for those who follow directions. In fact, it's a 100% guaranteed that if one follows the 12-steps they'll remain clean and sober.

Same with a diet. If one wants to be on a diet, yet eat whatever they want whenever they want, the diet won't work. The simple equation is to take in fewer calories than one expends.

Likewise with an exercise plan. We follow instructions as best we can and soon we'll look and feel better.

Motivation is one of the keys to success in anything we try. But when we get lazy and unmotivated we'll drop out with a bunch of excuses to explain our failure..

And when we drop out we'll talk about the how the program, plan, or class didn't work.

But, we won't tell it those who are succeeding. We'll tell to others just like us - those who also dropped out - and we'll have a large audience that agrees with us.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Patience, Patience

Patience is a wonderful quality for those of us in recovery. Or for anyone.

And that's because if we're patient we come to realize that everything is temporary.

The pain of our addiction is temporary, as it lessens day by day.

Our bad fortune is temporary. As is our good fortune.

The problem with us addicts is that we want it all. And we want it now. We have no patience.

Our experience has been that when we do a drug, it's instant gratification. And from that we sometimes get the idea that we should have everything instantly.

In our early addiction we were pretty much able to do that. It was only when our habit turned into a voracious monster that we couldn't keep up with it.

When we're patient we learn to live in the moment, to stay in the here and now. And when we do that we learn that - even in the here and now - we're on shifting sand. We're in an ever-changing kaleidoscope where things are never quite where we want them.

We realize that whatever state we're in is constantly shifting and changing texture.

But as we develop patience we learn to roll with changes.

We accept them as part of the scenery on the road of life.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dependent Children

One of the worst things we can do to our children is to allow them to become dependent upon us. To take care of all their needs.

Our job as parents is to teach them to take care of themselves. To teach them to fend for themselves in the real world. But a lot of those in our program never had the benefit of being raised this way.

Many of the young addicts in our program never learned about responsibility.

Some don't know about basic things, like making a bed or cleaning their room. How to prepare their own meals. Or do laundry.

A lot of our job is teaching those in their twenties and thirties things they should have learned as children. Many of them had everything given to them.

And when they felt bad mommy or daddy made everything okay by giving them whatever they wanted.

And then they reached their twenties and the parents realize they can no longer deal with them. They find they have an adult under their roof who has the coping skills of a ten or twelve year old. So they send them to us.

Sometimes we're able to help addicts like this. But only if the parents stop rescuing them.

Friday, October 9, 2015

More about Gratitude

Often in 12-step meetings the topic is gratitude. In fact it happens so often that it seems almost cliche. Sometimes my response is "Oh no, not again."

Yet we alcoholics may have known all along something that science now confirms. And that's that practicing gratitude changes the wiring in our brains. Plus it floods our brain with serotonin and dopamine. Both of which are feel-good chemicals that give a sense of well-being.

But sometimes we addicts believe we have nothing to feel good about. Maybe we're living in a halfway house. Perhaps our family is pissed at us. We may have health problems because of our drug use. No job. The list can be lengthy.

And when I talk to those who feel that way I ask them to find gratitude. And they can do this by looking around at others who have real challenges.

We can look around us, near or far, and see many who would love to change places with us. Those in war zones. In hospitals or nursing homes. Those who never had the advantages we had while growing up. Watching the news can help us be grateful.

If we just look beyond the self-made suffering in our heads we can find others in the world who have real issues.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


A few of my recovering friends practice multitasking.  And sometimes I have to ask them to slow down. Their minds race a mile a minute. They'll have two or three projects going at once.

And I'm not sure why. Maybe it's about making up for all the time they lost while using. I once-in-a-while have to ask them to breathe because they even talk fast. Sometimes their conversation is one long sentence.

Some believe that doing two or three things simultaneously helps us get ahead. Maybe we'll get a raise. Maybe the boss will think we're motivated. And for sure, we'll get a lot more done.

I don't know any personally, but I've even heard of people who drive and text at the same time. They sometimes make the news.

But neuroscience reports the opposite of the practice.  They say multitasking doesn't work. The brain operates most efficiently doing one task at a time.

Click here if you'd like to see proof of why it doesn't work.

And maybe you'll be able to slow down and savor life a bit more.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

No Deficiencies

Last week a former client of our women's house in Mesa called Maricopa County to complain.

Among her complaints: toilets didn't flush. Food was outdated. Rat droppings were everywhere. Bedbug infestations. Many cats on the property. And a few others I don't recall.

Well, sure enough, two inspectors showed up last Monday. The were from Environmental Services. They were there to inspect the property.

They went house to house, flushing toilets, inspecting mattresses and looking for signs of pests. They also inspected the kitchen.

And yesterday another inspector who specializes in kitchens showed up. Even though he gave us an "A" in August, he was also following up on the same complaint.

The result of both inspections: no deficiencies in any of the houses. And the kitchen inspection resulted in another "A".

Angry clients often lash out at us this way. They'll call everyone they can think of, from the Governor on down. A few years ago we actually had one unhappy client go to the State Legislature. He was trying to get them to pass a law that would shut us down.

But, you might ask, why would a client be that unhappy? It's simple. Until we get into recovery we look at everything outside of ourselves as being the problem.

It's always something or someone else that makes me want to use drugs and drink. If conditions were perfect maybe I could get sober. If people would just do what I want I wouldn't get high.

Only when we start taking responsibility for ourselves do we get into recovery. Hopefully these angry addicts will get there some day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Curing Pain

Most of the time I feel good. But yesterday I got up with a tender sore spot under the brace I wear on my left leg.

And because I don't suffer well, I start the day off whining to myself. Not out loud. But in my head. I mean, after all, I used serious opiates for some 38 years because of imaginary emotional pain. That pain was so bad that covering it up with heroin put me in jail many times.

But now here's a real, tangible pain. Sore and real. But because I've been clean for nearly 25 years I elect to do nothing about it.

Because today I look at painkillers with trepidation. Even with legitimate pain. I ask myself what's worse? Killing the pain with a doctor's prescription? Or risking a relapse? So I do nothing, not even an Advil.

Then as I'm on my eight minute drive to the office I find the cure for the pain. As I'm sitting at the light I notice a man half my age who's riding on an electric cart, kind of hunched over.

All of a sudden the pain faded into the background.

I realized that though this man might not have been in pain, there was some reason he was on that cart, hunched over.

And I immediately realized that pain is a relative thing. And the rest of the day went better.

Click here to email John

Monday, October 5, 2015

Free Schooling

Probably one of the best places on the planet for free education is a 12 step meeting.

Quite often the justice system makes offenders attend meetings. Generally when offenses involve drugs or alcohol. Usually it's a condition of probation.

Particularly in cases of domestic violence or driving under the influence.

And the reason is that we can learn from others at the meetings. It's called vicarious experience

The stories of those who have suffered from addiction can be heart-breaking..

Visitors might hear a story from someone just like them. They started getting arrested for small things. Then their problems increased as they continued using.

We hear speakers tell of losing everything. Marriages. Businesses. Freedom. Friends. And even their health.

More than one skeptic has told me that they heard stories that changed their thinking. They might not have reached the same point. But they can see where they're heading.

And, as I mentioned, it's free.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Facing our Challenges

A young man sits across my desk, the picture of depression. He's slumped in his chair, head in his hands.

He's unhappy because - after years of driving a big rig cross country -he can no longer work. His job is his whole world. He doesn't know what he'll do if he can no longer drive.

It seems that he wasn't on time for a scheduled drug test. And the way the Department of Transportation works, not showing up is the same as refusing to test.

Before he can return to work he has to go through testing and counseling to see if he has a substance abuse issue.

And even though the chances are good that he'll eventually drive again, to him life seems bleak. All he can look at is what he's lost.

Before we start the testing process I ask him to look at the bigger picture. What was his role in not showing up? Where does his responsibility lie in the issues he's facing? How many others have failed tests and eventually returned to work?

Too often when we face challenges in life we focus on our problems and not the solution. Like this man, we can't see beyond our losses. We just feel sorry for ourselves.

His demeanor improves when I suggest he drop his anger and self-judgement.

Then I ask him to look at the real world. There are many men his age who can't work. Maybe they're handicapped. Maybe they don't have the training or the skills. Maybe they don't have his ambition. Perhaps he should count his blessings - even with his temporary setback.

When we focus on the right things we can get past most any challenges that life hands us.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Being Present

In dealing with recovering addicts for 25 years I've learned a few lessons.

And perhaps the most important is about living in the moment.

When clients show up in my office and they're unhappy it's rarely about this moment. It's usually about the past. Or something that hasn't occurred yet. Something over the horizon.

The depressed are usually in the past. They're excavating into a pile of old memories. They'll dredge up something especially depressing and wonder why they're gloomy or sad.

The anxious ones are generally skipping off into the future. Where am I going to find work? Will my family accept me when I return? Will I be able to get back in school?

There's no way I'm trying to minimize what our depressed clients have been through.

Many of them suffered trauma. Some lost siblings to drug overdoses. Some lost a wife or family member. Others harbor guilt about what they've done to others. Our pasts can be ugly.

And those who are off in the future and in a big hurry to move on have a fantasy that tomorrow will be better than right now. But who knows about the future? It might be worse.

My prescription for all of them is to learn to be in the present. Because the present is what we can really deal with.

Plus we might find joy that we hadn't experienced before.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 2, 2015

The real World

It's hard for addicts to stay clean if they believe they should always feel wonderful.

They don't understand that sometimes life is painful. At times it's sad. Sometimes our back hurts. Maybe we're broke. We might miss that euphoric rush of a drug high. Life has its ups and downs. And until we accept that idea we're not going to be happy.

Many addicts think that the right prescription might make life perfect. Then when they get it they find that they were wrong. It's not perfect. They're never quite where they want to be.

So then they'll go to the next doctor in hopes that he can prescribe the perfect chemical cocktail. It can be an endless cycle trying to maintain artificial bliss.

One of our biggest jobs at TLC is to teach clients to live in the real world. And sometimes the real world is distant from our fantasy world.

We teach them they must work. Pay child support. Clean their room. Be polite. Not threaten others. Some of the same things that ordinary people do.

Living drug and alcohol free doesn't always feel wonderful. But those of us who've found recovery learn to be grateful for life's ups and downs because it means we're still alive.

Click here to email John

Thursday, October 1, 2015

1900 Days

1900 hundred days ago, on vacation in San Diego, I made a commitment. And it was to write a daily blog for a year.

But after a year I couldn't stop. I'm not sure why. Maybe I find reward in self-discipline. Doing something that's not always easy - and doing it each day. Because at times it's hard to take an idea and mold into something readable. Something that makes sense.

Or maybe it's more basic. Perhaps I'm still that addict who - when I find something that feels good once in a while - I keep it up. And some of those feel good things are hearing from readers.

As I continued this project, I found that a few, usually mothers, saw hope in what they read here. They found some of the postings educational. They'd read a success story and imagine that could be their kid one day. It's rewarding to hear from them. To know I helped.

I also hear from those struggling with recovery. I have one man who's been heading our way for the past six months from somewhere in Washington. Not sure whether he's hitchhiking, riding trains, or walking. Maybe he's touring every bar and liquor store along the way. I say that because it's taken him six months to get to Southern California. I think the last time I heard from him he was somewhere around Indio. I encouraged him to continue the journey.

In summation, the rewards of doing this outweigh the challenges. That's why I'm aiming for the next 100 days.