Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 31st year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021


 Not infrequently a client will ask me to teach them how to meditate. And, depending on the time of day I'm certainly willing to spend 30 to 60 minutes with them showing the rudiments of the practice.

A number of years ago I became interested in learning how to meditate and went to class for two years to learn how to become a meditation instructor. I thought it would change my life a lot more than it did. Not that I didn't benefit from it. But somehow I thought that learning this exotic practice would help free me from something that I didn't know was there, some secret part of myself that I had never known before.

And I think a lot of clients have unrealistic expectations about what a meditation session will do for them. Because the reality is, there is no secret to meditation. There is no right way or wrong way to do meditation – there's just meditation. Once people learn that, it becomes an entirely different thing to set up on a cushion and spend time delving into your own mind. Because I'll tell you right here the secret: the secret is to observe what passes through your mind. You don't judge what passes through. You don't evaluate it. You don't look for solutions to your problems within it. You just observe it and let it pass it on its way. And as I mentioned in an earlier paragraph there is no right or wrong way to do meditation – there's just meditation. At times you will find yourself meditating and coming out of it with the most wonderful sensations in the world. And other times you'll  view your meditation journey as a waste of your time and effort. But in both of those occasions there was an element of expectation that let down.

The one thing I will say is that over a period of years I have become much calmer and more peaceful – over 25 years ago since I started the practice. If you are interested in learning about meditation you can  speak to me in my office. Or you can look around the city because there are several small temples and meditation rooms that are available to any of us at absolutely no cost.

Even though I say that you should have no expectations about what you're going to get out of it I do want to tell you that it is well worth it to spend your time with yourself for a few moments at least once a day.

Click here to email John

Friday, February 26, 2021

The beauty around us

Sometimes we don't appreciate the beauty around us. It came to me as I was riding in the back of a taxicab, having just returned from southern Mexico from a two-week vacation.

Many years ago when I came to Arizona the 202 freeway was just an idea gathering dust on somebody's drawing board. Probably some Senate Budget Committee was trying to figure out how to raise the money to construct such a grand project. And these days it is completed. A thing of beauty. Bordered by an artificial lake.

And as we were driving by in the taxicab I looked across the lake and for the first time fully appreciated all of the work and all of the projects that have been completed on the shoreline. And in a way I felt kind of stupid. Because, I had just come from a 2500 mile trip to the Pacific side of Mexico to spend a couple of weeks in a similar environment. Yet here, within 10 miles of my home was almost the same place. The shoreline of Tempe town Lake has very few spots anymore where skyscrapers can be placed or where condos can be built. Yet, a few years ago it was just a rocky shoreline, a man-made lake that would become a centerpiece of this part of Maricopa County and the.State.

So now many of you probably know where this blog is going. It all started last night when I woke up and for some reason had a vision of moving out of the house I lived in for 20 years and resettling myself on the banks of this nearby beautiful Lake that once got only a fraction of the attention it does today.

Will my fantasy take place? Who knows? I came here in 1982 to get sober and to rebuild my life. And guess what: all those dreams I had when I was on my way to this dry desert area have come true and then some.

Tomorrow is another day.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Rewards of Recovery

Operating a treatment program can be one of the most frustrating thing a person can attempt to do. However, on the flipside it can be one of the most rewarding things a person can do. I know that this sounds kind of ambiguous, but on the other hand there's nothing like the feeling one gets when he client comes in, becomes sober,and startst helping other people become the same way.

There are special cases of addicts who come in and you wouldn't bet $0.50 on their staying sober for 10 minutes. They have bad attitudes, they might have just gotten released from prison. Their family might have deserted them and done so for all the good reasons that makes our family finally cut us loose. Yet the rewarding part comes later. And that usually happens when you see someone in public that you think you know. The person may be well dressed. They may be driving a new car. And then it finally comes to you: the person that you thought you recognize is the same person who came into your program a couple of years ago and seemed to be a hopeless case is now a successful citizen who is raising a family and children. And perhaps even owns his or her own business.

It is true that more than half of the people who come into our program only last about 30 days at the most. But I take no responsibility for addicts who don't make it 2 to 4 weeks. All it tells me is that the person was not sufficiently motivated or else had not had enough pain to want to change his or her life. Many of those who don't make it were raised in homes where they had a sense of entitlement. They were allowed to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. And everyone got to see the payoff. 

 Click here to email John

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Missing Blogs

Last month I realized that it had been at least a year since I'd been on vacation - something I normally do about 4 times a year.  And of course the pandemic was to blame, something over which I had no control.

So I booked a hotel, bought tickets and started -packing.  Ah yes, a week in paradise with nothing to do but loaf, read and sight see.

And then it happened:  an accident that would have kept most people at home recuperating,  I slipped on a wet tile floor and fractured three ribs and did other minor damage. But somehow I was able to convince the doctor to let me go anyway.  Then the next day I slipped on a storeage  trunk and injured my lower back: no problem; some Ibubrofen 800 and the pain was gone.

But the thing that bothered me the most was that I had missed nearly a week in a row of blogs after nearly ten years in a row of only a few missed days.

The human ego is a tender thing.

Monday, February 15, 2021


Probably one of my least favorite holidays is Valentine's Day.  And I'm not sure even why.  Of the top ten it's surely at the bottom bottom of the list.

Maybe it's because it' a kid's holiday, maybe be like a birthday party or close to one. And I don't like those either.  Or maybe it's just a celebration that I was never a part of as a child.  Whatever it it is is's stuck to me this day.

Click here to email John

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Life in Paradise

It's been 14 months since I've had a vacation, just before Covid-19 jumped into our consciousness and turned our world upside down

And being a creature of habit I've returned to the place I'm vacationing at for the past 25 years:  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Also known as the Mexican Riviera.

I've been coming here so long that I have many first name acquaintancess here and restaurants I've been patronizing for the past 25 yeears. I've been using the same car rental agency for so long that we're on a first name basis.  They don't even try to sell me extra insurance or GPS.  And I get my choice of cars.  Just one of the benefits of getting to know people.

One thing that's different though is the reponse to Covid-19.  Everywhere I go in the states there's a place to get a free test within a few days.  And there are signs everywhere about the precautions one should take.  And as far as vaccines one sees no publicity at all about where to get it or when it's arriving.  And that's probably the big difference betwen Mexico and the U.S; the level of poverty here affects everyone in a negative way.

Yet people seem positive and upbeat as if everything is normal and ordinary.  The only obvious difference is - just like the states - everyone's wearing a mask or face covering.

A few people have asked if I'm afraid to visit here - but since I've already had the vaccine - of course I'm not concerned at all.

Click here to email John

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Learning Gratitude

Our society has faced a lot of challenges since this worldwide pandemic. The challenges include unemployment, increased drug and alcohol use, businesses closing down because the government has put regulations in place to protect society at large.

In spite of the changes that have taken place I think that the world is going to be better once science has slowed or stopped this disease.

And I know this might sound strange in the face of the suffering we see around us, but I have seen a lot of people volunteer to help those who are sick from this disease. I have seen people at TLC who sometimes act like they don't give a crap about anything, step up and sanitize living areas, keep their distance from others, and wear irritating masks even though that's the last thing they want to do.

I know that if someone came up with a magical cure tomorrow that a tsunami of gratitude would sweep around the world and many would remember the good old days when they could do whatever they want, go wherever they want, and not have to worry about social distancing, sanitizing their hands, or wearing masks.

But I think gratitude is something we learn. I don't believe we come out of our mother's womb full of gratitude. Otherwise, why would we be be screaming and crying? Gratitude is a learned skill. And I think that some of us only learned it once we lose something we once took for granted as being a part of everyday life. And once we lose the freedom to socialize with whomever we want whenever we want, that's a huge loss.

And the entrepreneurs among us are not only suffering personal losses from the disease, but many have had to close their doors and shut down their businesses because customers were no longer able to utilize their services because of government mandates.

Even though this is a worldwide disease, we Americans love our freedom. And last year when this thing first broke loose we saw a lot of people who felt like they had a freedom to do anything, even if it endangered the lives of others. Only when those they loved, such as members of their family - were infected by other family members - did people begin to start taking things seriously. I remember during the first months of this thing that college students were throwing "Covid 19" parties and the guests who contracted Covid 19 got the honor of hosting the next Covid19 party. It was only when those who thought they were invulnerable to the disease started catching it and dying did things begin to change.

Once we have the freedom to live our lives as we choose we will look back on these days and have gratitude because they are behind us.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


Until the Covid pandemic struck the first of last year I'd gotten into a routine of taking vacations at least four times a year.

One of them was in June or July each year when I took the entire family to the beach for a week and we had a family reunion.  We would have at least 30 of us in six or seven condominiums.  We would usually eat together at one of the local cafes, shop at the International Mall next to the Mexican border, or just hang out on the beach or surf.

Then in December we would spend the days between Christmas and New Years in Las Vegas, which we didn't do last year because of the Pandemic.

So I'm excited as I write this because this time next week I'll be in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, one of my favorite places on the planet enjoying the first break I've had in over a year.  We'll be staying at the Garza Blanca Reserve, living in a penthouse 12 stories above the ocean.

The resort features a fitness center, exotic restaurants, in room Jacuzzi, hammocks, and much more.  We'll be surrounded by beautiful jungle and a helpful staff that can provide every need. 

And while there are still concerns about the pandemic, the same rules apply there as they do here.

I'll be reporting more about this venture.

Click here to email John

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Spending Time

A week or two ago Elon Musk was informed that the stock in his company had risen so high that he was now the richest man in the world.

He responded by saying "Isn't that something." Then the next thing he said was "Well I guess I better get back to work."

Now many people might wonder at his reaction when he got the news. I think a lot of people would jump up and down and express a great deal of excitement. But I think that people who react that way look at money as the most important thing there is. Whereas, someone like Musk probably views time as most valuable thing in the world.

I've read many stories about how he uses his time. When he first started Tesla he used to work at his office something like 24 hours a day. He even had a mattress beside his desk in case he got really tired he could take a quick nap and get back to work. When he did go spend time home he often worked until late in the night until he resolved whatever challenges he was facing producing his automobile. I don't know if he works that many hours today but I believe that time is one thing that he doesn't waste under any circumstances.

So what's the point of talking about this in this blog? Well, in my mind we addicts waste a lot of years and hours and days of our time trying to feel better than we do at the moment. But the problem is that no matter how much time we spend we can never feel quite as good as we did the first time we used our favorite drug.

At TLC the people who eventually become successful at staying sober dedicate a lot of their spare time going to meetings and focusing on living a different life. Those who stay with us a few years usually find employment in the private sector and a new way to spend their time.

The one thing that we cannot replace is time. And if we waste our time playing video games or watching television, are we making a good use of our time? I doubt if any of us are so dedicated to a mission that we are going to work at it most of our waking hours. 

But if we have a simple mission of changing our lives and staying away from alcohol and drugs we will learn that just a few hours a week dedicated to recovery is adequate.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


 For most of the last year of this pandemic I was feeling pretty good about the fact that very few of our key staff members had contracted the disease. In fact maybe I was feeling a little bit too good.

Because all of a sudden, it seemed like 80% of the staff members in the office were quarantined at home and a couple of them were in the hospital for a few days. Because it's so hard to track where this disease comes from. It's just that we were taking extra measures to distance ourselves from one another, to wear masks, and to wash our hands on a regular basis.

But we had been doing those things all of the past year and probably had less than a dozen people who we had to quarantine. But when it hit the office it took out most of the key people in short order. It's just been this week that we've had a few people come back and be able to work for a few hours. And the ones who are able to work from home have been doing so. 

So I guess the lesson for me is to never get too cocky about anything. I guess I figured because we were adhering to a strict Department of Health protocol that was getting us by. But now I am getting to realize that once this thing takes hold in a certain area there is no telling who's going to be infected.

I think life will be better once everyone gets vaccinated or at least the majority of them. I've had one vaccination myself. And I get the next one on February 8. For which I am grateful.  I think that once life gets back to normal people are going to be expressing a lot more gratitude for what they have.

Click here to email John

Sunday, January 24, 2021


I don't get angry very often and when I do it's very rarely at someone else – it's usually myself that has me angry and irritated.

t happened while I was driving home from running an errand. I was turning the corner and someone cut me off and I had to turn my left front tire into a curb to avoid hitting him. And of course you know what happened. I have low-profile tires and blew the tire and bent the left front rim. And because my car doesn't carry a spare I pulled into an empty lot and called for a tow truck. 

My plan was to have the car delivered to my house where I would deal with the issue tomorrow. And sure enough, an hour later my car was backed into my garage waiting to be repaired.

The next part of my plan didn't work so well. I had planned to go grocery shopping but was unable to find a car rental agency that was open so I finally gave up and decided to deal with it tomorrow.

One of the things that exacerbated my anger was when I called and told a friend of mine my dilemma they immediately had a myriad of solutions of how to resolve the issue. And probably nothing irritates me more when I'm caught in a dilemma and someone tries to give me unsolicited advice about how to resolve the problem. I guess this person forgot that our company has 47 vehicles and that we deal with things like this all the time.  One thing I learned a long time ago it was that it never works out very well when people try to give me unsolicited advice. I know that they're only trying to be helpful and make me feel better but the reality is all I was trying to do is let the person know that I would be unable to keep an appointment with them later on this evening. But, it turned into something else because each of us very different agendas.

So tomorrow is another day. I will go to a rental agency and get a car for three or four days. I'll call the company I leased the car from and have them order me a new rim and tire and that'll be the end of it.

At least I didn't get so angry that I ended up breaking something or picking up a bottle of booze or a handful of pills. That used to be my common response to anything that frustrated me. Today I realize that patience is truly a virtue and one that gets us through many problems.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

We get Emails

 One of the most rewarding things in my life today is the emails I get from former clients. I publish some of them because I believe they will give hope to others:

"28 years ago today I walked into a halfway house after being homeless.... and was forever changed. 

For 365 days Transitional Living Communities was my new home and residence. I really went there looking for something to eat so I could head back out to the streets. But several of the 25 other men who lived there had such a kindness and giving hearts that my thinking, goals and desires changed.

Before that I basically lived off of the streets from the time I left home until I was 29. I's made many friends during that time but nothing as deep and rewarding as a friendship that I made in 1993 after walking into TLC ( a halfway house) started and created by a man named John S that I'm grateful to until this day. By the way he just recently celebrated 30 years of sobriety. And also I was inspired and helped by his associate and assistant who I quote  to this day on his words of wisdom.

After 10 years of sobriety, I relapsed.  And it took me 6 years to get sober again. On September 16 of last year I celebrated 11 years of sobriety for the second time in my life.

Every year on this date I just reflect on how grateful I am to God and all that He used that helped guide me to this life that I have today. I never said when I was little boy I wanted to grow up and be an addict and an alcoholic but it seems as if I took all the right steps to make that happened.

Today I'm blessed with a relationship with God, an awesome family, a network of friends and a Remodeling Company that I started in 2007 that provides very well for me and my family. I am forever grateful and humble through the lessons, trials and tribulations of my life that brought me to this point. 

If anyone is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction or an unhealthy habits or even un healthy thoughts and needs someone to talk to... I am always here... We really don't have to go through this alone."

Click here to email John

Monday, January 18, 2021

Raising Children

Perhaps one of the greatest ways to express our love to another person is to share a child with them. Our love for one another is really a test of what kind of people we are. Bringing a child into the world, ensuring regular feeding, bathing, caring, and responsibility with the other parent is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our society.
I'm sure you've all heard people say that babies don't come with instruction manuals. And in the strictest sense of the word they don't. But if we ourselves were brought up in halfway decent homes our parents taught us how to live and treat others by their own examples.  Our instruction  manual  is the things we observe in our parents,

Childhood abuse and trauma teaches that many children grew up not knowing right from wrong.  And many of them not caring about the difference.  And that is why we have so many addicts and alcoholics living homeless on our streets.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Happy Thirty

January 13 of 1991 I entered a detoxification unit in Mesa, Arizona.

But I still get confused about when my sobriety date is. And I'm probably trying to figure it out. Today is the 13th, the same day I entered the detox. But I didn't have 24 hours sober until the next day, the 14th. So which is it? Is it the 13th? Or is is the 14th, when I had my first 24 hours? Or does it make a lot of difference and am I making a big deal out of nothing at all? It's probably the latter.

I know that I have received some really sweet greetings today, congratulating me on my 30 years. I love all of you who sent me messages because they warmed my heart. And after 30 years, what difference does a day make?

One of the things that I've really missed during this last year's pandemic is attending live meetings. Now a lot of the meetings in our town make sure that people are wearing masks and that they are are 6 feet apart. And my next question is always "and where did they get their medical degree?"

I have only gone three places in the last year. My home. My office. And the supermarket. And so far I haven't caught the disease. I believe what epidemiologists say about staying out of large groups. Up until this pandemic started I never went a week without attending one or two meetings. And I always spoke on the anniversary of my recovery.

But I learned early in my recovery that the only thing I can really count on is change.  The kinds of changes that have happened during this past year.

Click here to email John

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Who Me?

I know a fellow who's the picture of health who wss hit with Covid 19 a few days ago.  And he actuallly seemed surprised that the virus had knocked him on his butt.  And I was kind of surprised also because this guy is pretty athletic and works seven days a week.  Plus he's never sick.

But looking back it doesn't surprise me  Because he sort of poopooed the mask idea and only wore it when at work.  In other words when it was really forced on him.

So far I haven't got it and I don't want to,  'Even though I hate wearing a mask I do it anyway.  I don't go anywhere other than to my office.  I don't go to parties or social events. Too msny healthy people have fallen to this disease,  If there's something that dangerous that can't be seen with the naked eye who am I to think I can outsmart it?

I'll take any advice I can that make sense when it comes to staying healthy - and keep my fingers crossed,

Click here to email John

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Sober vs Using Relationships

 I very seldom write about former clients. First of all, I don't stay in touch with many of them. And then there's the thing about confidentiality. But I do have a few former clients I am still friends with.

And tonight, I was talking with one of them that I had just recently gotten in touch with after several years.

And for some reason, even though I come up with a topic every three days for a new blog, tonight I was sort of uninspired. So I asked him to come up with a creative idea for me. And he suggested I write about the difference between relationships when we're sober versus relationships when we were using drugs or alcohol. At first I didn't like the idea but then this is a guy who has been in literally hundreds of relationships.

When he was with us over 20 years ago everyone in the halfway house was amazed at his ability to attract women. It seemed like every morning and every night he had a different date. One woman would pick him up and take him to work, then another one would bring him home. After that another one would pick him up and take him to dinner. Women used to bring him so many gifts that the house manager banned  him from accepting gifts from women.  

Aside from being attractive, he also had a natural sense of humor, plus he was a high-level martial artist who was at that time a skilled kickboxer. He had the verbal skills to become a manager at a local telemarketing company, which are ordinarily staffed with plenty of twentysomethings – the perfect environment for someone like him.

So now to the part of being in relationships when we're sober versus relationships when were using. And the key part of this last sentence is using. Because all of us addicts know that we use everyone in the world for our own gratification, regardless of how they feel about us. He did it. I did it. And I'm sure you all did it too when you had the opportunity.

We addicts are a very self-centered species, a species that must feel good all the time. And if we need to misuse those around us – including our women friends – we do it because our addiction comes first.

I remember a woman who took care of my heroin habit for some 13 years, until she went broke and lost her house and everything else. After I got clean and sober I began to make amends to her. She was about seven years older than I was and she became sick and had little means of support. But after I got sober and became a sort of decent human being I began to support her and pay her bills anonymously. I never did tell her the money came from me but she figured out eventually that I was her benefactor and was surprised and grateful. Because the only side of me she had ever seen was the side that misused everyone around me.

So to answer my friend's question about the difference between sober and using relationships it's really quite simple: sober relationships are about giving to your partner. Giving to your partner does not necessarily mean material things. We give her our compassion. We rub her neck when she is stressed out. We take the time to listen to her. We do whatever we can to make her life better.

Using relationships are about taking everything you can get your hands on.  We don't care about how they feel. We don't care what they want – as long as we get what we want. Every thing about a using relationship is me, me, me. If I'm drunk or high enough I may give her a few minutes of my time though she can't count on it.

And that's the difference between using relationships and sober relationships.

Click here to email John

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Last Year

 I saw on the news today that some 350,000 Americans have died after becoming infected with the coronavirus. And thousands more are being infected each day.

This time last year none of us could imagine that a tsunami-like disease would race around the globe and infect a large swath of the population. But the good news is that the most vulnerable among us are being inoculated against the disease. One prominent immunologist said by the end of August our country should achieve what is known as "herd immunity" where the bulk of the population will be protected against the disease. Although this is a well-known and publicized scientific reality I'm skeptical enough to say let's just wait and see. As if we had any choice.

I often mention in these blogs the importance of living in the moment. Of living in this day. Of enjoying the moment because the reality is that all any of us have is this moment that our Creator has given us. And I believe that we should savor it, enjoy it, and do something constructive with it.

Because I work in the world of recovery world I often consult with clients who have what they consider to be serious issues. But once they sit down across the desk from me they get a different perspective on what's bothering them. Probably 90% of the time, if not more, the only issue the client is having is that he or she is not living in the present moment.

The client is either looking off in the future, catastrophizing about what disasters might befall them. Or else they're sorting through the wreckage of their past, wondering where they went wrong and feeling bad about what they did to make them feel so depressed.

My answer to them is always the same: live in and enjoy the moment because that's all we can count on. We never know when a pandemic or plague or some other unheard of disaster might befall us. But it is better to live in the moment and not dwell on the unknown. That way we're not wasting our precious time, the one thing that we can never recover.

Click here to email John