Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Too Young to Die

As I arrive at the office yesterday I greet a coworker who's usually upbeat and cheerful.  But right away I notice she's kind of down and teary-eyed.

Before I can ask what's going on she tells me that her 13-year-old nephew had passed away after a long battle with a blood disease.

It was kind of a shock because I'd been on the internet following his back and forth battle with the disease.  And because at times he seemed to be improving I never really considered that he might suddenly pass away.  He was just too young, hadn't even had a chance to experience life.

My coworker mentioned how we addicts and alcoholics are still alive after all of the messes we create in our lives and in the world, but we lose a young and innocent boy.

Yet the truth is that innocent, good people, succumb randomly to illness or accidents in a pattern that shows there are no universal rules, no cosmic justice, about who survives and who doesn't.

Perhaps one takeaway from this is that we should try to live our lives to the fullest, giving our best to the world and being grateful for the moments we have on this planet.

Regardless of how we lived in the past.

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Slowing Down

The other day I got an after-hours call from a placement counselor at a detoxification program. They were discharging a client and they had no place to put him. Could we help?

The only problem with this request for help was that the counselor was talking so fast
I could barely understand what he was saying. He sounded like the people at the end of radio commercial disclaimers that talk so fast I can never figure out what the hell they're saying.

Finally, I asked him to slow down, take a breath, and tell me what he wanted and I would see if we could help. So he slowed down and explained what he needed.

Well, as it turned out, the client wasn't appropriate for TLC because he had underlying psychiatric issues that we weren't trained to deal with.  So we were unable to help - other than to give him the names of other programs that might be able to assist.

One thing I've learned after being in business for much of my life is that - unless someone's life is in danger or the building's on fire there are very few true emergencies.  There are just situations that we label emergencies and we try to speed everything up so we can get done with whatever we're working on.

Part of staying serene and calm is to not get in a big hurry about anything.  If we practice this we'll find that our stress level is lower and - surprise! - we get just as much done as if we go full speed. 

And with fewer mistakes.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Many years ago I saw a bumper sticker that I never forgot.

It was about this time of year when I saw it. And it read: "I'm not going to hell when I die, I live in Phoenix."

And I was reminded of it when I went out outside this morning at around 9 AM and it was already around one hundred degrees.

As I opened the door it seemed like a flaming blast furnace hit me in the face, sucking all of the oxygen from my lungs.

After I got into my car and cooled down for a moment I quickly got into acceptance, which is the credo I live by today. After all, the weather can be an interesting topic of conversation, but it's another one of those things we can't do a lot about. The only thing we can change is our circumstances, which means we get into the swimming pool or go into an air-conditioned room and continue with our day. And stay hydrated.

In my role as a businessman, I have a lot of conversations with people from the east. And when they hear what the temperature is they ask questions like, "how do you live there?" Or, "how do you stand it?"

My answer's always the same: "we live here in the summer just like you live there in the winter. When it gets too intolerable, we just go indoors."

I think one thing that helps me deal with the weather, besides acceptance, is that I arrived here July 25, 1982, at the Greyhound station in downtown Phoenix, when it was over 100°.

Knowing that I couldn't return to my former home in Orange County, California, I reluctantly accepted the fact that my new home in Arizona was just a hot place to live.

And once we accept things that are hard to deal with they become less of a problem.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

No Discrimination

One thing we know about alcohol and drugs is that they don't discriminate.  If misused, they kill us all equally.

Poor. Rich. Young. Old. Educated. Ignorant. White. Black. Brown. Red. Famous. Unknown. All are subject to succumb to our addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Something like 750 people died just from opioid overdoses in 2017 in Arizona. And depending upon who's counting, between 25,000 and 40,000 people died in the United States last year from opioid overdoses.

And then there's the issue of alcohol and other prescription drugs. They take thousands of more lives randomly, without discriminating.

Is there a solution to this epidemic? And the answer is yes. New medications are coming out all the time. Some of them take away the craving for opioids. Others block the desire to use opioids and alcohol. And of course, these solutions require insurance and money. There is one solution however, that's absolutely free to all, plus it's been around for over 70 years.

And that's a solution offered by the twelve-step programs. And this came up for me this morning as I sat in a meeting with about 20 people.  I thought about how wonderful the program is because it's open to all, welcomes everyone - discriminating against none.

The speaker was a Native American from Arizona.  A doctor sat in the front row.  A young mother was in the room with her child.  Also in the room were laborers, businessmen, technicians. People of all ages, colors, backgrounds.  All united by a desire to stay sober and clean and rebuild their lives.

Anyone who wants to get sober can do it in the 12-step programs because they welcome all of us.  We just have to walk through the door.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fruits of Recovery

Today my oldest daughter flies in from California to visit.  With her is my 15-year-old granddaughter, who's planning to attend college here when she finishes high school.

We spend a pleasant evening, eating, visiting with family members, swimming and planning how we'll spend the next few days before she returns to California Sunday afternoon.

Their visit is a pleasant break from the pressures of business, dealing with new and old lawsuits, and the day-to-day running of an 850-bed recovery program. 

After they returned to their hotel I reflected that had I not gotten sober I would never have experienced a relationship with my family. Or enjoyed the many blessings I have in my life today.

And that's the reason I bring this up in today's blog.  One thing that concerns many of those new in recovery is whether they'll ever be able to rebuild their relationship with their families.

And the answer is yes. At first, our family might be suspicious and lack confidence in our recovery. 

But after a year or two, their mistrust dissolves. They see something different in us and our relationships begin to get tighter.  I've rarely seen a family not embrace a loved one - once they become confident with their recovery.

It happened for me.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Gratitude for Everything

I was at a twelve-step meeting yesterday where the topic was gratitude.

Now gratitude is brought up frequently at 12 step meetings, and anywhere recovering people gather. After all, gratitude is the fuel that drives recovery and when we lose it our recovery might go along with it.

But at this meeting, one person who shared had a different perspective on gratitude.

It was an older gentleman and he said we not only should be grateful for the good things in our life but that we should be grateful for everything in our life. Because he added, if we're only grateful when life's good then we're going to have a lot of time where we won't have any gratitude.

After all, he said, he never experienced much growth when things were wonderful. It was only when he had challenges – whether financial, physical health, relationships or whatever – and met the obstacles and moved on that he experienced growth. And once he went through some of these tough times he realized he had more ability and strength than he knew he had. And therefore he kept growing and was able to take on bigger and bigger challenges.

As I reflected upon what he was saying, I recall many articles that I've read where people talked about overcoming the challenges in their lives. They usually say that once they got on the other side of whatever they were facing they were bigger and better human beings because they survived the experience.

I left the meeting realizing that gratitude is something that I should apply to whatever I'm facing because the experience is an opportunity for growth.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

We gave it Away

"Don’t waste your time looking back on what you’ve lost. Move on, for life is not meant to be traveled backward." Unknown

Many addicts make themselves unhappy by looking back at what they've lost. But most of the things they think they lost are really things they gave away to their addictions.

A friend told me one time that he lost his wife because of his drinking. My response was "no your wife lost you because of your drinking." The only reason I could tell him that with such conviction is because I was kind of like him at one time. I used to think I lost marriages, jobs, properties, even my freedom, because of my heroin and alcohol addictions. But the reality is that I didn't lose anything. I gave it all away in the pursuit of pleasure, trying to recapture the euphoria of that first high.

Like it or not, we must learn to live in the present moment, relishing the gift of the time that we still have left after all we put ourselves through. For the fact that we survived our addictions and the consequences of our addictions is truly a miracle.

But many times I speak with addicts who are depressed because they no longer have what they once had. They might've had a nice home. A wife who cared about them. Children who loved them. A great job or even their own business. In other words, they were living the American dream.

Then they woke up after a few years of pursuing their addictions and it all was gone. And even though they've been sober a year or longer they spend a lot of time reflecting upon what they let slip through their fingers.

And that's a sad place to be because they're missing this valuable present moment. For even though it's an old cliché, this moment is the beginning of the remainder of our lives. And to waste it excavating through the wreckage of our past is to miss the essence of our lives.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another Lawsuit

Yesterday, while I was taking my daily break, someone kept ringing my doorbell. I have one of those devices that lets me see who's at the door and an app on my smartphone that lets me answer without opening the door.

The man at the door identified himself as an officer of the court and said he had some papers for me, which I could see in his hand.

"Aha," I told myself, "must be another lawsuit." And I answered the door and retrieved the paperwork. And sure enough, an angry former client had hired an attorney and is ready to sue us.

Now normally, back in the old days, this kind of stuff would get me upset. But it's happened so many times over the last 26 years that I almost feel like something's wrong when we're not in litigation about something.

And of course, my calm about these things comes from the fact that I now have some experience under my belt. Out of about 20 lawsuits, I think we've lost only two. In one of those matters, our driver had pulled in front of an oncoming motorcycle and the man was seriously injured. We ended up paying damages to him, as we should have. I believe we should have won the other one we lost and felt that the court had made a bad decision. But life isn't always fair when it comes to things like lawsuits.

And a lot of times just because you win a lawsuit you don't feel like you won. And that's because the cost of the litigation is about the same, win or lose. We just won a case that went to the Arizona Supreme Court that cost us over $20,000. The guy who sued us, did so from prison so his fees were very minimal. All his lawsuit cost him, as far as I know, was of some of his time. And I'm sure he has plenty of that these days. And the other cost of being in a lawsuit is that it takes our time away from our mission of helping addicts and alcoholics change their lives.

One of the mysteries of life is that people come to us asking for help and then when they don't like the help we give them they sometimes sue us. Go figure.

Click here to email John

Saturday, July 7, 2018


As founder and CEO of Transitional Living Communities, one of my biggest jobs has always been to help staff members to communicate more effectively. Not only with each other. But also with the clients.

Now one would think that staff members, even the highly trained professionals that operate our treatment program, would be the most effective communicators. But even they get into spats with one another and I have to step in and mediate.

I recall one time sitting in an office with two women therapists, with seven advanced degrees between them, who were screaming about how much they hated each other. There was even a bit of profanity involved.

Finally, I intervened.

"You know," I told them, "there's something really wrong with this picture."

Then I went on to explain to that it was really bizarre that I, with only a high school degree, had to have a discussion with two therapists with advanced degrees about how to communicate effectively. That shocked them into reality and they eventually reached an accommodation and were able to work together much more effectively from then on.

In most all of these cases of ineffective communication, the solution can be found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It's summed up in the phrase, "principles before personalities."

For I have found that any time there's a communication breakdown it generally involves personality differences, specifically ego clashes. It's very rarely the facts of the situation that causes a communication breakdown. Because in a discussion about facts, things are pretty straightforward and clear.

We eventually get over these things by someone pointing out that none of these differences are really big deals and that there'll always be something else to disagree about tomorrow. The real thing is we have to get ourselves out of the way and join together in working toward a solution.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4

If you ask a certain percentage of people they won't have any idea what the fourth of July is about. They'll tell you it's about picnics, hot dogs, ballgames, and a day off work. As is the case with many of our holidays its meaning has migrated a long way from what it celebrates to what it is today.

The publication by the 13 colonies of the resolution of their independence from Great Britain occurred July 4, 1776. But the actual resolution was drawn up two days earlier, on July 2, 1776. Because it was published two days later, on July 4, that's when we celebrate Independence Day.

Probably the Declaration of Independence could be considered one of the great events in world history. Because of that, the United States became one of the freest and most powerful countries in the world.

While there's divisiveness today in the press about the role of government, about our current president, about the way our legislative process works, the reality is that our current form of government is what makes our country great.

There are few places in the world where we can get away with calling the president an idiot. Or gathering in public to peacefully protest anything we disagree with. And while our current political situation may seem outrageous to many of us, one only need look back through history to find similar situations where opposing sides were slinging mud at one another. Perhaps the only real difference between today and past history is the presence of instant communication and social media, where news travels around the world in an instant.

While the press often talks about what a mess our country is, we need to only look at our Southern border to see how many people risk their lives to flock to this country. If this is such a terrible place, it would seem like more people would be trying to get away from here rather than getting here by any means possible.

We must be grateful for the fact that we can disagree with others about most anything and that they have the right to disagree with us. Like it or not, that's what makes our country great.

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