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.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Those who Serve

Today we have the freedom to pursue our ambitions, to be whoever we want to be.  And we owe this privilege to those who died for our country while protecting our freedoms.

A lot of people think the holiday is just a day off work. Or a chance to go fishing while getting paid.  Or maybe a chance to grill steaks by the pool.

A few years ago almost 20% of the population served in the military.  Today that figure has dwindled to about seven percent.

But whatever the number. we have an obligation to honor those who provide us the freedom to pursue our dreams.

While technically the holiday honors those who died in combat, we need to honor all of those who served our country as part of our military machine.  Because it's more than a person firing a gun who makes sacrifices.  Those who suffer PTSD, lose limbs, who suffer emotionally, also deserve our respect and honor.

My youngest daughter served three  years in the U.S. Army.  And was in some dangerous situations.  She's earned two college degrees. She has a six year old son.  Her husband acts on the Discovery Channel.  She has a home in the suburbs.  

But, fate blessed us by bringing her safely through her time in Ahfganistan.  Something for which I'll be forever grateful.

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Thursday, May 27, 2021

I Might Have Missed It

Today I attended a ceremony at my grandson's kindergarten.  

And as the ceremony proceeded I found myself drifting off, thinking about the many blessings I've found in recovery.

As I watched my grandson receive his promotion certificate, I realized that this is something I would have never witnessed had I not made the decision to change my life over 30 years ago.  

Watching a grandson get promoted to the next class was one of many joys I've had since I decided to put substances out of my life.  To do something positive.  To live up to my potential (something I'm still working on).

One thing I want to share with my brothers and sisters in recovery is that one of the important elements of getting and staying sober is patience.  If you expect magical things to happen as soon as you get sober you're going to get disappointed.  

When I first got sober the magic for me was that I could wake up and not worry about having to feed a habit.  I had a bed to sleep on in a halfway house.  I had an old bicycle to ride.  I did day labor.  I went to meetings and educated myself about recovery.  And in that freedom from drugs I found peace for once in my life.

Look around you and find your blessings.  Maybe your family is back.  You might have found a decent job. You have food, clean clothing.  If everything you need or want hasn't showed up yet - be patient because it will.  If you read the a Big Book, you'll notice that it has promises.  If you're patient and follow the instructions you'll be as blessed as I have.

You'll see your loved ones succeeding and have a sense of joy and realize that because you're sober you're not missing the good things in life.

Click here to email John


Monday, May 24, 2021

100%

Since TLC first opened its doors January 9, 1992 it's had at least 500,000 people come through its doors.

Now I'm not writing this to tell you that all of those 500,000 people got sober.  I think we'd be lucky if we could say even a quarter of them got sober.  And that may be optimistic.

But I will say that 100% of those who are living by the guidelines we taught them - they're all sober.  In fact we guarantee that if an an addict or alcoholic practices the principles we try to instill in them they will remain sober for the rest of their lives.  And not many programs can say that with confidence - but we do.

Even on the prison yards people about to be released will be told by others that wherever they go, don't go to TLC.  Then they add to only go there if  they want to get sober.

One of the reasons we have a bad reputation among many addicts and alcoholics who have failed at our program is that we expect them to be responsible.  We expect them to work a regular job.  To go to 12-step meetings.  To remain drug and alcohol free.  To make their beds.  To keep their living area clean. To help others.  And give us clean drug tests.  To tell us if others are using.  To respect others. 

The addicts who can't do those things end up leaving.  And do they have anything good to say about us after they leave.   Of course not.  They're not ready to change their lives or behavior.

One of the negatives about our program is that we don't have fancy new facilities.  We have a lot of donated furniture and food.  When people come to our places they're might be expecting fancy luxury facilities.  But they're disappointed if they do.  We have clean and well-maintained facilities.  But they're nothing fancy.

But they do provide the basics for getting sober and changing their lives.  And living a clean life is what satisfaction and happiness is all about.

While we may have a tough reputation, we're more concerned about the lives we save than what others think of us..

Click here to email John

Friday, May 21, 2021

Helping Others

Finally the pandemic seems to be abating somewhat.  Some scientests have even said that if everyone would get the vaccince that's now available free almost everywhere it would be pretty much over within a matter of months.

Yet we read about people in all parts of the country who aren't sure that they want the vaccince - free or not. 

Now I'm the last person who believes that goverment should control our lives anymore than it already does.  However, if there's a possibility that a remedy has a 95% chance of curing me I'm going to take it - no matter who's giving it out.

But I hear people say they're not sure they want to take it.  And their reasons are many.  It might make me sick.  I didn't get Covid so why should I get the vaccine? I can't stand needles.  The government's not going to control my life.  I'm too healthy to get Covid.  The excuses go on and on.

But my opinion is that people who take this stance are not thinking of anyone but themselves.  I believe that if I can do something to improve our communal health then I'm going to do it.  I don't like needles and the time it takes to get the shot.  But if I have to go through a little inconvenience to help my friends and neighbors stay healthy I'm going to do it.  And I did.

 How would you feel if your self-centeredness kills a family member?  Could you carry that guilt with you from now on?

If you can read and comprehend maybe you should look up the word compassion. Then add it to your vocabulary and practice it at times like this.  You might feel like a better person if you do.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Changes

I’ve tried to live by a saying I once heard:  “The only thing in life we can really count is change.”   That things will be different tomorrow.  We don’t know what to expect tomorrow.

So what’s the benefit of that?  Well, for one thing when bad things happen we’re not surprised. Or depressed.  Or angry.

We learn to roll with the punches.  To accept the good with the bad.  Knowing that tomorrow we might win the lottery.  Or lose our job.  Or become overwhelmed by a pandemic.  We don’t know what’s coming next. 

So what’s the point?  The point is that we learn to live in the here and now.  To enjoy this moment of our lives.  Because this is the moment God gave us.  That this slice of time is all we can count on.

If we learn to expect change then we can be truly happy.



Saturday, May 15, 2021

To be Happy

Ask  anyone about their definition of happiness and you’ll likely get hundreds of different answers.

One person might respond that they would like to become a billionaire. The next person might say that they would like to have a wonderful marriage to a beautiful woman.Still another would like to have a college degree or even become a doctor.

But, as we all know, the list of things that bring us happiness goes on and on and keeps changing from time to time. Because, as soon as we obtain one thing we fancy we soon get used to it, or a newer model comes along and we’ re on a new chase.

Why are we built this way? Why can’t we accept and be happy with where we’re at with life as it is?  Part of it, I think is that we were brought up to believe that the more we have the better we are, the more important we are.

And that’s when many of us begin to get into trouble.  Drugs and and alcohol bring us instant gratification.  All of a sudden we’re on top of the world.  We’re wonderful and important and everything is great.  Until it isn’t.  All of a sudden we’re not able to get enough of the magic substances that took us to that place we craved, that place of pleasure that we pursued as we sought more and more gratification.

And those of us who survived came to accept life as it is.  To be grateful for both the good and bad and the ups and down as being part of the the natural order of the universe.

To be happy accept what is and your life will be abundant.

Click here to email John


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Anger Management

I had a chance to practice anger management yesterday - one of the few times I’ve had to use that part of my recovery education in a real life situation.  And the interesting thing is that l’d done nothing at all to inspire the other person’s anger.

The incident happened when I was filling my vehicle at a local Circle K gas pump in Mesa.  Just as I was fastening my seat belt after getting back into my Polaris Slingshot I noticed a vehicle that had pulled parallel to me on the passenger side of my vehicle when the driver blew her horn.

Thinking the driver wanted to speak to me, or ask a question, I waited until she lowered her window and asked if I could help her.

“Yeah,” she screamed out the window.  “You can get the f... out of my way, I’m almost out of gas.”

My daughter, an army veteran who can deadlift 250 pounds and who’s a veteran of over 30 street fights and has military combat training calmly replied that we would take as much time as we needed.  That when we were done we would leave, which we were starting to do when she arrived. 

Our calm replies seemed to enrage her even more and she began screaming racial slurs about white people.   

When I suggested she calm down, she became even angrier and louder and we both realized that trying to talk to her was fruitless.

The interesting part to me was that I was able to remain completely calm and unruffled. I attribute that to over 30 years of recovery, 10 years of daily meditation and all the sessions I spent counseling other recovering addicts and alcoholics.

And as I drove away I even found myself having some compassion for a person who was so frustrated that they had to scream at people in a public place over what they perceived to be a serious problem.

Recovery can help improve your life in more ways than you know.

Click here to email John



Sunday, May 9, 2021

Thinking of Mom

My mother, who passed away over 24 years ago on Christmas Eve, was a great influence on my life. She had a calm demeanor and seldom got angry. 

She was hard working, very focussed, and sorely disappointed because I - her first-born - turned out to be a criminal and drug addict.  

While she didn't like my lifestyle, she never stopped being loving and kind.  When I was a teenager she sent me and my brother to private high schools and worked in an electronics plant to pay our tuition.

My brother graduated and went into the Air Force.  While I not only didn't graduate, I was led out of the school in handcuffs for burglarizing doctors offices. I spent nearly two years in a juvenile prison in California and when I was released I pursued a career as a drug dealer, thief and smuggler.

While my mom never knew exactly what I did, she knew I was up to no good.  After all, who gets released from jail and within a few months has a pocket full of money, a nice wardrobe, and a new sports car?

But she was never angry at me for my choices.  Of course she'd admonish me to do well and reminded me that my trips to jail were my own doing.  But she was smart enough to know that getting angry or chastising me would do little good.

Once her husband died in 1993 she moved here to Mesa so she'd be close to me.  By the time she moved here I'd been sober a few years, something she was quite pleased about.  By the time she died in 1994 I had over three years clean.  

Even though I got sober to save my own life, I know that she was so happy that I made that choice.

Happy Mother's Day....

Click here to email John

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Discriminating Against Substance Abusers.

For some reason it seems like our local government is frequently at odds with the entrepreneurs who operate recovery homes for substance abusers in recovery.  It's happened before and it appears to be coming back to life.

For example, in 1998 the City of Mesa passed ordinances that would clamp down on halfway houses.  Since we had several locations downtown we were right at the center of the target.

One ordinance was that before one could open a halfway house they would have to appear for a public hearing at city hall to obtain approval, a process that involved public input,  Of course we all know how those kinds of hearings turn out.  No wants recovering people in their neighborhood.  I've been at those hearings and I saw one woman break down and cry hystercally at the possibility that a house might be occupied by a group of substance abusers.

The second ordinance was to not allow halfway houses to be located in the so-called "Downtown Overlay," an area covering Country Club to Mesa Drive and University to Broadway.  Halfway Houses were perceived as bad for business.

The third ordinance was to require halfway houses to be located 1200 feet apart.- something I never did understand.

In any case TLC wasn't about to go anywhere.  So we filed a lawsuit in 1998 and went into Federal Court and obtained an injunction against the City of Mesa to prevent them from acting on the ordinances until they worked their way through the courts. Five years later, we negotiated a settlement in Federal Court that left the distance requirment standing and awarded us $40,000 of our legal costs.

I don't have a good feeling about the prospect of a new lawsuit.  But I believe another one is on the horizon.  And of course TLC will be in the fight because we've been helping addicts and alcoholics change their lives for 30 years.

And we're going to continue to fight those who don't care whether we get sober or not.



Sunday, May 2, 2021

On the Inside

This weekend I was cleaning out my closet when I began reflecting about my first days in sobriety 30 years ago.

When I first got into recovery in January of 91 all I had was the clothes on my back.  Literally. 

It took me several months to build anything resembling a wardrobe.  Because I had a lot of entry-level jobs I would get clothing from the halfway house donation room.  Or else take a few dollars and search the local second hand stores - because that was all I could afford.

Since I didn't have a lot of spare money for entertainment, I'd spend hours searching the second hand racks to find something that I could afford that also would fit.  Today I found in the back of my closet a sport coat that I paid ten dollars for in 1991.  It must be 30 or 40 years old today and it's still in good shape and fits me well.

But back to cleaning my closet.  I must have gotten rid of 20 items, things I hadn't worn for five or six months.

I was inspired to do this a while back while I was reading about some very wealthy people who always wear the same clothes.  And I think that's the way to live. After all who's going to like us better just because we wear expensive clothes with designer labels?  Mark Zukerberg is always in tee shirts and levis.  Barack Obama reportedly wore the same clothes.  So did Steve Jobs.  And these were or are some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world.

I guess the point of all this is that it's not what we wear that makes us who we are.  What impresses others is who we are on the inside; it's the generosity, compassion and kindness we show others.

Click here to email John