Friday, December 29, 2023

100% Success!

 I was reflecting today on a story I heard over 33 years ago when I first joined Alcoholics Anonymous. And it goes like this:

A young man was attending his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and someone suggested that he find himself a sponsor.

Since he didn't know what a sponsor's function was or how he could be helped by a sponsor the man he was talking to explained it.

After it was explained, he asked the man if he knew anyone who could work with him as a sponsor. And the man obligingly pointed out an older gentleman who was seated at the other side of the meeting room.

The young man approached the older gentleman with some trepidation. Then he asked if he could talk to him about being his sponsor.

"What would you like to talk about?," asked the older man.

"Well," asked the younger man, "how many people have you sponsored?"

The older man scratched his head for a moment, then answered "Probably in the hundreds."

"And," asked the younger man, "How many of them are sober today? In other words, what's your success rate?"

"My success rate is 100%," answered the older man.

The younger man looked at him in astonishment. "You mean that 100% of the people you sponsored are sober?"

"No," the older man replied. "But I am."

And I've always loved this story because it kind of sums up the secret of Alcoholics Anonymous: when we work with others and help them stay sober we have a good chance of staying sober ourselves.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

We have Choices

 It's amazing how we can change our lives if we just make a decision to do so. I say this, because 33 years ago this month I was sitting on a park bench wondering what I was going to do with my life.

I was homeless. I was addicted to heroin and alcohol. I was sleeping in a stolen car. I had no money, no insurance, and no plans about how I was going to live my life. I was totally demoralized and sick and tired of the way I was living. I had no family or friends who wanted to speak to me. They'd given up.

While sitting on that bench I realized that I had a few choices. I could keep doing what I was doing and end up back in prison, in a hospital, a mental institution, or I could go into a detoxification unit and get sober. After sitting there for some time I decided to try to change my life by getting sober. So I located a detoxification center on Bellevue St. in Mesa, Arizona. Even though I had no money or insurance, they accepted me. They kept me there for 11 days, until I no longer had a craving and I was no longer sick. Then they found a local halfway house a few blocks away that would accept me without funds. And that's how I began my journey into recovery.

When I went in that halfway house it was with the idea that I would stay about 30 days. Then I would leave, find an apartment, and begin living like other people. But after I was there 30 days I realized that  wasn't nearly enough time for me to get my life together. I discussed the issue with my sponsor and he suggested I stay six months and get a really solid footing in recovery. So for a change, I listened to someone else's advice, someone who had more experience than I did with recovery, and made a commitment to stay six months.

But even at six months, I realized that I didn't have the solid footing that I felt I needed. So without even discussing it with my sponsor I made a decision on my own to stay in the program a full year before I went out of my own. During the last six months of that stay in the halfway house I went to work for them as a house manager. I enjoyed that kind of work and because I like to help people, I thought I might start a halfway house of my own after I had more experience.

I won't burden you with all the details and hassles I went through to secure my first three houses after I had a year sober. I will tell you that it was scary to take that first step and that the first year was really a bitch. But after the first year things started flowing a little more smoothly and when a few years passed I had a program with over 300 residents in it. In the 33 years since I got sober I've been blessed by being able to help many people do the same thing. And I've also had the sad experience of seeing many people leave our program before the miracle happened and end up overdosing or dying of alcoholism.

I share this with you to let you know that we have choices in our life. And if we take the time to think about what we want to do we might make the right choice.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 23, 2023

First World Problems

This has been an interesting year for me, especially this Christmas season.  While I had big plans for the end of the year they didn't turn out at all the way I visualized.

One of my plans was to spend 10 days in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - from November 27 through December 7 - in a condo by the Marina, relaxing and looking at the sailboats beneath our balcony.  I was able to achieve some of that, but then on the fifth day I slipped on a carpet and broke a couple bones in my right foot.  So, the next five days I was hobbling around on crutches with my foot encased in a boot.

And because of the break, my plans to accompany my family to Las Vegas for three days between Christmas and New Years were quashed.

Like many addicts I find it easy to slip into a bad mood and feel sorry for myself.  Because once I visited my doctor here at home he restricted my life even more by telling me to keep my foot elevated for four to six weeks and not do much else.  Of course that's not my style because I like to keep moving and taking care of business.  The only reason I followed his directions is because I thought I'd make things worse if I did what I wanted.

As I mused about my situation I began to realize that in relation to many others my life is just fine,  Specifically, I thought about the hell that people are going through in the war between Israel and Gaza.  In comparison with what the tunnel hostages are going through my problems are zero.

I think the term "first world problems" is a good description of what we face in our country compared to what many in the so-called third world are forced to live with.  In the 32 years of my recovery I've learned to have gratitude for everything in my life, regardless of how difficult I think they are..

Life depends upon my outlook.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Not Enough Time

"It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?"  Henry David Thoreau

Clients – and sometimes friends – sometimes talk to me about not having enough time to do good things for themselves.  Things like exercise.  Or meditation.  Or eating healthy food because it might take a while to prepare.

However, I believe that "not having enough time" is simply an excuse we use to avoid change.  Or not wanting to admit that we're lazy.

When I have these conversations I usually start out with the obvious.  How much time do you spend playing video games?  Or surfing the internet looking at funny cat videos?  On Facebook, chatting with friends?  Or simply vegging out in front of the television?  Or taking smoke breaks?

For example, I have a family member who admits watching four hours of television after he gets home from work.  But somehow, he can't find time to get to the gym - even though he says he'd love to work out if he had the time.  And I know more than one person in our company who'll play video games well into the night, then show up for work saying he's tired because he didn't get enough sleep.

We have choices about what to do with our time.  Most of our choices are based on our priorities.  If our priorities are to escape the present moment and distract ourselves, we have myriad ways of doing that. Our televisions, our cell phones, our computers, all give us an opportunity to escape into fantasyland and avoid the present.  And we somehow delude ourselves that these things are more important than making healthy choices about how we spend our time.

The one thing that we cannot replace is time.  We either spend it wisely.  Or else we fritter it away on useless distractions.

Am I on my soapbox condemning the use of technology to distract ourselves?  No.  I sometimes divert myself the same way: surfing the net, watching television, or talking with friends on the phone.  But I don't do these things to the point where I don't have time to improve my life.

I guess the bottom line is that it's about balance.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Christmas Thoughts

For over 29 years Christmas hasn't been one of my favorite holidays.  And it's not because I'm some kind of a grinch.  Or don't like to see people celebrating the holiday. The reason it's not one of my favorites is because my mother died 29 years ago on Christmas Eve.

She'd been in the hospital since November 1, 1994, to have a piece of metal removed from her leg that was starting to cause her pain. She had broken it several years earlier and the doctors placed a metal splint on the bone in her leg, along with a few screws, so as to give more support to the spot where the break had occurred.  But it had begun to cause her pain and she asked if I thought it was a good idea to have it removed.

Of course I don't like surgery or hospitals – I know they are necessary for our survival – but I left the decision entirely up to her.  Because she was the one who was suffering from pain, not me.  Of course, in retrospect I would have told her to not go into the hospital.  But the way she explained it to me is that it was a very simple surgery that would be done on an outpatient basis.  The metal splint would be removed and she was to return home the same day.  But things didn't go quite the way she explained it.

The doctors decided to keep her in the hospital under observation for a few days because of her reaction to the surgery.  They wanted to make sure that she was entirely functional after she left.  Anyway, to make a long story short one complication led to another and her condition started to deteriorate.  At one point she even developed pneumonia.  But after some therapy so she could get used to the new splint that they had put in her leg they made plans to release her on Christmas morning of 1994.

I'd gotten off work that day and went home to shower and was planning to visit her as I did every day she was in the hospital when a call came from a nurse.  She told me my mother had passed away 15 minutes earlier.  Of course, I was devastated and went to the hospital full of grief and with tears running down my face.

It seemed surreal to me, so unbelievable, because I was planning on picking her up the next morning and taking her home.  But it didn't happen that way.

Many people have advised me to get over my grieving and I believe that I did a long time ago. But still, because it happened on Christmas Eve I'm always reminded at this time of year that I lost one of my best friends, someone who supported me through the many years when I was living the life of a drug addict.  She didn't support my habit or anything like that.  But she did encourage me to get help both when I was in jail and out of jail and it took me a long time to follow her advice.

One of the things that makes me happy is that she was able to see me sober for three years and working in the recovery field.  I think that gave her more joy than anything.  And even though I recognize that today, the Christmas holidays are not the best time of year for me.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

About Trauma

 In our treatment program, we deal with many clients who wrestle with trauma.

The number one issue that seems to traumatize clients is if they were abused as children – either physically, emotionally or sexually or a combination of the three.

And indeed, these are some of the toughest issues to deal with, especially when a client also has a co-occurring drug issue.  It often takes a lot of therapy for people who have many interwoven issues to make changes.

In my opinion, the best approach is if we are able to help the client see that they should bear no guilt or shame for what others did to them when they were vulnerable and young.  But that's easier said than done.

For oftentimes it's a family member who exploits the vulnerable child, leaving the victim with confusing memories of trauma imposed upon them by those who should be protecting them.

When a victim is very young it's difficult for them to make sense of a world where those they trust and love and depend on are crossing sacred boundaries.  Many times they are unable to understand any part of it and are left in a swirl of shame, pain, and confusion.

When a victim carries unresolved and conflicting issues into their teens and early 20s it's no wonder they find drugs and alcohol such a relief.  We often hear people say in 12-step meetings that the first time they got drunk or high is the first time that they felt like they belonged to the human race.  All of a sudden their pain is abated and they feel a new sense of freedom.

So is there an easy or simple way to deal with trauma from our early childhood?  The answer is that there is a way to deal with it.  But it's probably never going to be painless or simple.
The answer is that we ultimately accept and assimilate what has happened.  Unless we want to go through life carrying a burden of pain, depression, and sadness, we have to be able to accept the fact that there are many things that happen over which we have no control.  We must accept that there are bad people in the world, sometimes even those who are supposed to protect and care for us.

Sometimes it's a tough choice to make: do we reopen old wounds in our quest for peace?  Or do we just wait and hope that somehow time will heal us as our trauma disappears in the mists of the past? Whichever path we take, we must realize that our time on this planet is limited and that we want to live happy and free. 

Otherwise, we might find ourselves doing a lifelong dance with alcohol, drugs, and therapists in our quest for peace of mind in an effort to mitigate our pain.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Here and Now

While I usually relate living in the moment to New-Age or Eastern philosophy, Western science also knows the value of living in the now.  

The Psychology Today website article, "The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment" cites techniques for those of us who would lower our stress by living  in the moment:

1.       To improve your performance, stop thinking about it (unselfconsciousness).
2.       To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present (savoring).
3.       If you want a future with your significant other, inhabit the present (breathe).
4.       To make the most of time, lose track of it (flow).
5.       If something is bothering you, move toward it rather than away from it (acceptance).
6.       Know that you don’t know (engagement).

This is good information for anyone who wants to enjoy life to the fullest.  I especially recommend this to those of us in recovery.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Broken Bones

Just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last night after spending nine nights in paradise,  But I probably should rephrase that because it wasn't nine nights - it was only five nights.  Because on the fifth day I broke my right foot while exercising,  Like most addicts I was denying that it was broken; I thought I'd simply sprained it.

So I took some Tylenol and laid down, believing I'd feel better in a few hours.  However, that wasn't the case.  When I put my right foot on the floor an excruciating shock went through my foot and ankle and I found myself heading for the emergency room.  An x-ray confirmed that I'd snapped a bone on the outside of my right foot and did serious damage to the bone next to it,

The prognosis was that it would heal if I stayed in bed for the next 4-6 weeks with my foot elevated on a pillow.  When off the bed I was to wear a large boot that would force the bones to stay together.  At that point the best part of the vacation was over because the only movement I made was either on crutches, in a wheelchair, or while wearing my boot.

My companion and I discussed returning home early.  But that didn't make much sense because wherever I was my movement would be limited so why not be by the ocean?  So we stayed.

I guess the worst part of being bedridden is that it cancelled my Christmas trip to Las Vegas, made me miss Christmas events and requires that I work from my home office.

Even though this is unpleasant, the one thing one learns after 33 years of sobriety is how to accept the adversity that sometimes comes our way.

Click here to email John

Friday, December 1, 2023


 On vacation.  Blog will resume December 7.  Thank you for visiting.  John.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

At the Marina

Today I'm writing this blog from the balcony of my rented condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have a beautiful view of the marina full of sailboats and motor yachts.  The last time I was here was November 2022.  I've been trying to get back here ever since.  But for one reason or other the trip has been canceled – either by crisis at the office or being ill.

In any event, I'm not complaining.  In 32 years sober I feel grateful to be alive and still on the planet.

When frustration takes hold of me, as it does when I don't get the things I want, I start thinking about poor me.  But then I pinch myself and realize that I must be grateful every day for having gotten sober January 9, 1991 in Mesa, Arizona.

And since I got sober I've been trying to help other people get sober and built an organization to help facilitate that project.  And mostly my trying to help others has been a great blessing to me as I've been able to pretty much live the life I dreamed of before getting sober. 

In all my fantasies I never imagined I'd be able to live the life I do today.  I work the hours I want, probably about six hours a day.  I own my own home.  I take my family on vacations in the summer and around Christmas time.  Although none of us are totally in control of our destiny I sometimes get the feeling that my life is going exactly as I would want it to without changing anything. 

And I say that to let you those of you in recovery know that there is a better life possible when we get sober and/or clean.  And while this may seem common sense, it's much easier to say it than to put it into practice.  While the idea of recovery might sound to some people as being easy it sometimes is quite the opposite.  Just because we get sober, life doesn't go away.  We still have to work.  We still have to raise our kids.  All the same kinds of things happen when we're in recovery, as happened when we drinking and drugging.  However, it's just not quite as bad and most of the time a lot better.

Try staying sober, living a normal life, and good things will happen for you also.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 25, 2023

You can do It

 "Those who say they can, and those who say they can't, are both right." Unknown

I was listening to a friend who says he has difficulty incorporating exercise into his life.

He says he'll make a commitment to take a walk, or ride his bicycle, but is rarely able to fulfill his commitment.  He'll get started okay, but then before he knows it he's turning around to go back home. For some reason, he's unable to do what he needs to do to take care of his health.  And he's been this way over the many years that I've known him.

My experience is that doing things that require self-motivation means that we need to raise it to a level of importance so we can follow through.  It's kind of like doing anything else that's important to us: going to the doctor, going to a business meeting, going to dinner with friends, planning for a vacation and so forth.

When things are important enough, we set aside the time to do them.  And the way we set aside the time to do them is to set our alarm in the morning – for example for exercise – and get up and work out.  And it's that simple.  We need to schedule the time to do things for ourselves, just as we would schedule a time to do things for family and friends.

The only way I get anything done is to set aside time to do it.  I set my alarm for 5:30 every morning and do mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes.  Immediately after that, I hit the gym for 45 to 60 minutes.  Do I always feel like doing these things?  Hell no.  Sometimes I tell myself that I deserve a day off.  I need to get to the office a little earlier today.  But I never give in to those thoughts.  Instead, I complete what I set out to do and my day goes much better because I do that.

We all have the same amount of hours, minutes, and seconds, in our days. And people who make weak excuses about not having time to take care of themselves are really lying to the most important person in the world – themselves. Very few of these people will miss their favorite TV show or the opportunity to spend time fooling around on the Internet.  So there is no excuse why we don't have time.  Somehow we have to reach down inside of ourselves and find the motivation to take care of ourselves so we can live the best lives we can.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Being Thankful

If there were to be a major holiday for alcoholics and addicts it would have to be Thanksgiving Day. Because that's when we give thanks for most everything.  And gratitude is the recurring theme for most of us in successful recovery.

And even though I have no ongoing resentments, I sometimes get irritated this time of year over how the media characterizes this holiday.  About half of the time "Thanksgiving Day" is expressed as "Turkey Day."  And while my memory may not serve me well, this has become a trend over the past few years.

So what's the big deal about Turkey Day versus Thanksgiving Day?  In my mind, demeaning this day with a focus solely on what we eat pays no homage to the purpose of the holiday.

For the historically challenged, it started in 1621 when the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony celebrated a feast of thanks with their Native American neighbors.  Because they were grateful for a bountiful harvest. And through the years the holiday has become a time to reflect on our blessings.

My fear, though, is that if we trivialize this sacred day by making it all about what we eat then we've taken the spirit from of it.  It has become just another excuse to overeat a lot of rich food, rather than a day of gratitude for what God has provided.

Let us be grateful and also express it with Thanksgiving for our very existence,

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Tough Love

 A woman sent an email recently about her father, a man in his seventies, who had relapsed and started using again.

She wrote that she and her husband had given him an ultimatum: that they would no longer communicate with him or be in his life until he sought help.

By the tone of her email, I could tell that she was quite distressed by having to take that position with her father, who isn't in the best of health.

But in my opinion, that's the most loving thing she could have done for her father – to try to help him salvage the remaining years of his life and live them in health and sobriety.  I've never met this lady and admire her courage, because somewhere along the way she's learned tough love and has put it into action.  Even though he hasn't asked her for money or financial help, she doesn't want to socialize with him while he's under the influence of whatever poison is putting in his body.

She's a rare species.  Because most family members I deal with are seeking some kind of magic potion that will instantly cure their loved ones without having to do anything painful to them. 

But this woman apparently understands that we addicts will use anyone we can to get whatever we want as long as we're in the grips of our disease.  We'll lie to our children, our wives, our parents, anyone we can take advantage of.  We'll steal from our employers, strangers, or anyone else who's vulnerable.  We'll risk our health, our freedom or sanity for that temporary rush of euphoria our drug of choice brings us.

And the best way to help someone who is caught up in addiction is exactly what this woman did. She and her husband presented a united front by taking a position with someone dear to them. Because they realize that the father has the choice. 

And the choice is his family or the poison that he's putting into his body.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

This Moment

Here and now is a place where things are manageable.  I can get up today to go to work, even if I'm not sure I could do it the rest of my life.  The pain in my back might be severe today.  But is it going to stay with me from now on?  Today I may be broke, or not have a job.  But will this always be the case?

If I stay present, I face life in manageable chunks.  If I speculate about a problematic future, I might become overwhelmed to the point of picking up a drink or drug.

If I'm managing an archaeological expedition through the wreckage of my years of drinking and drugging and being irresponsible and abusing I might get lost and never get back to today.  Living in today, I don't need to open the door and enter that tunnel to my dark past.  Instead, I stay in today, where where the light of the moment shines upon my activities and keeps me focused on what's real.

The idea of living in today did not originate with the framers of the 12-step programs.  Eastern religions for centuries have taught the value of focusing upon this minute, this moment, this second that we've been given.

Regardless of where it came from, the concept of living a day at a time teaches us that life is manageable - something each of us in recovery can use to our benefit.

Monday, November 13, 2023

We all can Prosper

About 100 feet behind my office are two large dumpsters that have block walls around them - probably put there by the City to make the area more esthetically pleasing.

Sometimes when I drive by them to my parking spot there's someone either in the dumpster, or climbing out of the dumpster.  Most appear to be homeless men searching for aluminum cans or other items they can recycle or sell.  For sure, those dumpsters are a regular stop for those on the homeless circuit who park their shopping carts outside while they look for something of value to put in them.

While the dumpsters are there for the businesses in the area, construction workers, and landscapers who don't want to drive to the city dump also make use of them.

I bring this up because sometimes I have a hard time understanding why people would work that hard to survive.  Are they addicts?  Are they mentally ill?

When you think about it, being homeless is hard work and sometimes dangerous.  There's never a guarantee that a homeless person will find something to eat.  A place to shower, a safe place to sleep or take care of their other needs. To survive on the streets takes a certain amount of cunning and ambition.

Several studies show that the homeless population has many addicts and mentally ill within their population.  Yet, in spite of that, they somehow muster up the ability to survive and feed their habits.

I know that if they took the time to think about it, there are much easier ways to meet life's needs.  We live in a time of prosperity where signs are posted everywhere by companies seeking help. One would have to be blind to not see them.

I think they all could prosper if they would put the energy they expend on scavenging - toward positive things like working a regular job - they would succeed.

Or they might read the story of the man who went from being homeless to becoming worth 3 billion  dollars.  His name is Paul Jones DeJoria and he's one of the creators of a top line of hair products.  His story is on YouTube and is well worth reading.  Forbes magazine rates him as one of the 400 wealthiest people in the world which goes to show that anything's possible if we have the will - homeless or not.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Culture of Recovery

 I get lots of emails and calls from loving people.  Mostly mothers.  But also wives, sons, daughters - and sometimes just friends.

They wonder what to do.  How do they help their loved one get sober?  To give up the drugs?  To stop abusing themselves?  To stop stealing from them?

But most of the messages are full of naiveté.   They don't understand that it's not simple to help an addict or alcoholic. The disease is complex and sometimes defies solution. Even when the client is willing.

They kind of have it on a par with going to the doctor for a physical injury.  The doctor patches it, sews it up, or writes a prescription and things get better.

I can feel the pain and love in their messages.  I can sense their tears as they write the words.

And it’s hard to explain to them the work it will take for their loved one to change.  It’s going to take more than simply removing the drug or alcohol.

Because once the addict leaves his drug of choice she/he enters new territory.  The world of recovery has values one must embrace.  It’s like moving to another country where one doesn’t know the language and customs.  It takes time to adjust.  It can be frustrating to grasp the new language and values.

But if one sticks with recovery they start realizing the benefits.  The family returns.  Self-respect comes back.  Their bank account grows.  They find peace.  Responsibility becomes a way of life.  They know about gratitude.

Soon they start sponsoring others,  lifting them up.  And when they reach out to others like this there's hope for long-term recovery.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Do I want Sobriety?

TLC is a good place to be if your goal is recovery.  And it's a terrible place to be if it's not.

This came up for me a while back when I got feedback about former clients who had left.

One had left a TLC halfway house because he couldn't use prescribed painkillers.  But eventually he was able to find a house where prescription drugs weren't a problem.

Soon though, he wanted to return.  It seems everyone at his new place was using something, either alcohol or drugs.  Management was absent.  Police showed up once in a while. People stole from him.   And people threatened him.

Another report came from a program where several former clients had gone after relapsing at TLC.

At that program pretty much anything goes. As long as they don't create problems and pay their rent residents do what they want.  Drink.  Use drugs. Whatever.

Over the past 32 years I've seen this scenario over and over.  Someone starts a halfway house, thinking it's an easy way to earn a living.

Then reality sets in: do I want to help addicts get clean?  Or do I just want to turn a quick buck?

Those who choose the quick profit option don't last.  Because before long word gets around. And the only people who go there are those wanting to drink or drug.  And they're a pretty unreliable bunch when it comes to paying their bills.  Soon the place folds.

Eventually, those who are serious come back to TLC because they know if they follow our guidelines they'll stay clean.

It's just kind of sad to see them take these detours.  But relapse is sometimes an educational part of the process.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Pain = Change

 The "turning point" was the topic at a twelve-step meeting a while back.

And as the topic circulated through those attending the meeting they all said they'd decided to get sober for different reasons. One person had lost a parent and child within a short period of time. Another had ended up in jail. Another was served divorce papers. Yet another was in a serious automobile accident that almost cost him his life.  Another was about to lose his job.

Myself, I look at the turning point as the catalyst that helps us to change.  But instead of calling it the turning point, I just call it pain.  Because really that's what it all boils down to: pain.

Addicts and alcoholics in the grips of their disease rarely make changes when they're on a winning streak,  Or when they have enough alcohol or drugs to keep them out of their minds.  Change always comes after we're put in jail, in the hospital, evicted from our homes, or perhaps served divorce papers.  No one is merrily skipping along in life and all of a sudden gets the idea that they should attend a twelve-step meeting because they're bored and have nothing else to do.

Those attending their first meeting are refugees from some kind of a demoralizing or impossible situation in their life.  They either got into the doors of the meeting on their own.  Or perhaps they had a push from the court system or a family member.  Or maybe their life had completely crashed and they were homeless and broke.

In my case, I'd gone through the pain of withdrawal many times.  And I suffered such serious consequences as going to hospitals and prisons, losing jobs, getting divorced, and becoming alienated from my family.  All of these things would seem to be motivation enough for a person to want to get sober.  But I apparently had a high tolerance for pain because it took me until I was in my early 50s to decide to change.

I believe that pain is the great motivator that helps many of us get clean and sober.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Constitutionally Incapable?

The star of a popular television series was recently found dead in the hot tub at his home in Los Angeles.  According to press accounts, he was much beloved and recognized by his fans.  And he was also very open about his alcoholism and addiction to drugs.

I never watched the show he starred in, so I don't really know much about him.  But after I saw all the publicity I watched a couple of interviews where he discussed his disease quite openly.  During one of them, he described that he had been in literally dozens of detoxification programs and had attended hundreds of 12 step meetings – but that nothing had worked.  He said something about being incapable of staying sober.

In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous it talks about alcoholics who are "constitutionally incapable" of change.  And in another section it mentions that "some are sicker than others."   Not being judgmental of this man's premature death at 54 years old, these two quotes came to my mind after I listened to the interview that he was giving when he talked about his difficulty with alcohol and drugs.

Thank God I didn't have as much difficulty getting sober as he did.  When I came into the program I realized that I was an alcoholic, something that I had never denied.  It just took me a lot of pain and misery before I elected to do something about it and get sober.

And I found when I went into a detoxification unit with the attitude of wanting to get sober, everything changed.  After 11 days of medical detox I went to a halfway house, where I lived for a year.  During that time I regularly attended 12 step meetings and while I don't consider myself an expert in recovery, I have managed to stay sober and clean for almost 33 years.

One thing I like about the 12 step program is that it's pretty black-and-white, cut and dried.  If I do what is suggested I will stay sober.  And I have done what is suggested to the best of my ability.  And the result is that I have a wonderful life today.

My suggestion to anyone who wants to get sober and stay sober is to follow the simple directions found in the Big Book and in the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The meetings are free and if you're not happy with the results you can always go back out and embrace the misery that you came from.

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 29, 2023

One car at a Time

A friend who's moved to another state tells me during a phone call about his anger with the drivers in the metro area where he now lives.

"These people here don't know how to drive," he tells me, anger and frustration in his voice,  Since he spends a lot of time on freeways I'm sure he's not too happy during his commutes.

So I share with him something my sponsor said a long time ago.  I'd arrived a few minutes late to a meeting and when it was my turn to share I expressed my anger at the traffic that had made me late.  My sponsor could see I was upset and when it was his turn to share he said something that I know was directed at me. 

"I learned a long time ago that I could only drive one car at a time," he said.  And with that simple statement he influenced my driving behavior from then on.  While he passed on around 20 years ago I no longer drive any cars on the highway other than my own.  Oh yes, once in a while someone's driving behavior will scare me and I'll react for a second.  But, as a rule, I drive my own vehicle as safely as I can and don't cuss at other drivers or flip them off like I once did.  And my life is much more peaceful with just that one small piece of wisdom from my sponsor.

I shared this information with my friend but I doubt if it'll  work.  Because when he used  to live in Arizona he used to say that the driver's here also didn't know how to drive. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Living in the Moment

 "You don’t stop having fun because you get old, you get old because you stop having fun." Unknown

I think more people die of boredom that of any other cause.  In other words we need a reason for living or we're going to slow down.

Years ago, when people first started opening doors for me to let me go ahead of them I'd get irritated. When they started calling me "sir" it would bother me.  Anything that would indicate that time was catching up with me could be irritating.

Then one day I changed my perspective. After all, if we're lucky we'll all get old some day.  So we might as well learn to live in the moment and learn to enjoy wherever we're at in life.

Studies have shown that the happiest years of a person's life are when they're 60 and above.  While study results vary, none find that youth is the happiest time of life.

After all, when we reach midlife we've gotten into a lot of acceptance about who we are and where we're going.  We begin to see the beauty in the wrinkles on our face.  Our careers are on track.  We start liking our gray hair.  And we're happy to live a life where we know that there are few very big deals.

In other words we learn about acceptance. Which for good reason is the mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Monday, October 23, 2023

We Ceased Fighting...

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol."  From the Big Book 

We find this line on page 84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.   And, as we accrue time in the  program, reading the literature, going to meetings, and talking to our sponsors, we come to understand on a deep level what the book conveys about ceasing fighting.

In my opinion there's nothing gained when we're fighting.  But when I was out drinking and doing whatever else I ingested, it seemed as if I were fighting the entire world.  Even though they existed mostly in my distorted mind I could always come up with an adversary.

I had many.  My wife.  My employer.  My parole officer. The man. The system. I could always conjure up someone or something to fight with.  Now, mind you, many of my adversaries didn't even know I was upset at them.  And most - had they known - wouldn't have cared anyway.

However, in my alcoholic brain I was the center of the universe and didn't these assholes know who I was?  See, this is the dilemma for us alcoholics.  Our ego says we're real important.  We think everyone's against us.  We think they hate us.  But it's kind of like looking in a mirror; because we see the reflection of the one we're really angry at - the one responsible for all our problems.  Our disease, though, has us in its grip and likes that we're so very angry that we fight everything.  Our disease provides us with  the rationale to keep destroying ourselves with the poisons we use.  

Yet in the sunlight of recovery we find that our anger begins to dissolve, to melt away.  We may not know why, but bit-by-bit we begin to feel better about ourselves and the new friends we meet who are on the same journey.  

And we eventually discover that our life flows more smoothly because we no longer fight anything or anybody.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 20, 2023

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

 In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous we see the phrase "... Cunning, baffling, powerful..."  But why is it in the book?   And what does it mean?

My opinion is that the founders put it in the book because they knew the dangers that existed for those of us who are alcoholics and addicts.  They understood that a logical person doesn't make a decision to destroy his or her life with substances just because they are facing a myriad of problems.

But a vulnerable alcoholic or addict – particularly one in new recovery – is subject to succumb to his or her disease when things get tough.  I mean all of us humans look for an easier softer way to resolve our problems.

An easier, softer way for us is to either open a bottle of our favorite beverage or find some other substance that will relieve what we perceive to be intolerable pain.

But after the "... cunning, baffling, powerful..." phrase there are some other words that give us direction. And they are "... without help, it is too much for us..." But some might ask what is this help and where can I find it?   And of course that's where the beauty of the Alcoholics Anonymous program comes in.  It was designed by people like us for people like us.

So when we run into a situation that is overwhelming and our disease is about sneak up on us, what do we do?  The best idea is to do what the program suggests.  We talk to our sponsor.  We go to meetings. We read the literature that is provided for us at the meetings, usually free of cost.  We gather phone numbers from people we meet at the meetings.  We call them when we have a problem.  There's a reason that people call Alcoholics Anonymous a fellowship.  And that's because we have the opportunity to be around people just like us. People who understand our issues and problems and are willing to give of their time and effort to keep us from relapsing and getting back into the messes that brought us to the program in the first place.

There is a solution as we face our cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.  We just need to open our hands and hearts to receive it.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Being here Now

 Because I was born way in last century I've seen a lot of changes.

Today we have luxuries, gadgets, toys, and prosperity that people would have only dreamed of in the forties and fifties. And today we take those things for granted.

In the midst of last century a typical home was around 1200 square feet. About half of what most of us live in today.

Almost everyone today has a cell phone - even the homeless.  And our phones today, with their internet connections, give us access to more data than Bill Clinton had when he was president.

Families usually have more than one television, a magical device that didn't show up until the early fifties.

I lead with this stuff to make a point about something that hasn't changed. And what hasn't changed is that we humans have the idea that we'll be happier with more of something.  A better car.  Job.  House. Clothing.  Education.

And that's the way it was back then also.  And I was one of the guilty ones who thought life would be better if I just had more stuff.  Money.  Girlfriend.  Freedom. Etc.  I was no different than anyone else.

But today, being over 32 years in recovery, I have a different outlook.  At least most of the time.

Today I realize that this moment is where I can be happy.  Not tomorrow.  Not in the good old days.  But right now.

I decided a few years ago that I was going to enjoy the journey and stop thinking of the destination.

Does that mean we shouldn't strive to better ourselves?  No.  Does that mean we shouldn't anticipate our next vacation?   Of course not,  that's half the pleasure in life: anticipation.

But when these thoughts keep me from enjoying this slice of time God has given me, that's not okay.

It's fun to not hurry and enjoy the scenery along the way.  And I don't want to miss any of it.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Remaining Calm

Sometimes it's difficult for us addicts to remain calm and peaceful when it seems the world is on a path to self-destruction and collapsing around us.  

Fighting in Ukraine and Israel.  Inflation raising the cost of everything.  Homeless people proliferating in our biggest cities.  An abundance of negative drama in the media.  And it might seem hard to stay serene because we don't do what we used to - which was to medicate ourselves.

Drugs.  Alcohol.  Whatever it took to numb our brains and desensitize us.  When I was high nothing mattered.  Not wars.  Not $5.00 a gallon gas.  High interest rates and food costs.  My attitude was "So what?"  When my brain was numb none of it mattered.

However, today we can't use substances to stay calm.  All that happens if we use is that we further destroy our lives and things get more complicated.  But there are healthy things we can do.

For openers, we can start by talking to our sponsor.  After all, most of the issues and drama that we encounter in our recovery is something our sponsor has already dealt with.  A sponsor with any kind of time has answers and suggestions to help keep us on track.

And something that works for me personally is a workout.  A good run on the elliptical or 45 minutes with the weights can pump calming endorphins into my system - and endorphins are more powerful than opiates without the dangers of overdosing.

Another personal favorite is meditation.  I do 30 minutes each morning when I first awake. A recent study at Oxford University in England showed that 15 minutes of daily Mindfulness meditation is 20 percent more effective than depression medications.  And with no side effects.

So there are safe places to turn when things get tough.  We just need to be willing to use them.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Finding Gratitude

Imagine you wake up in the morning and find that armed terrorists are smashing in your front door with rifle butts.

The next thing you know, you and your family are pushed to the floor, and your hands are secured behind your back with plastic ties.  You are frozen in terror as your family is brutalized and screamed at before being executed before your eyes one by one.  Maybe you are the only one to survive, because you are being taken hostage into unknown territory to be held for ransom by savage animals.

While this may be something extreme for you to imagine, it was the unspeakable horror for many families in southern Israel this past weekend.

I bring up this example because many of us sometimes have trouble finding something to be grateful for – especially in early recovery.  But if we only look at the lives we lead in this state and in our country we can find many things to be grateful for.  In spite of political turmoil in our own country, we have a great deal of security in our lives, compared to the events the Israelis experienced this last Saturday. That alone is something to be grateful for.

This blog is not long enough for me to list the many things that I'm grateful for.  But I can be grateful for such mundane things as having enough to eat, employment, an automobile, and a roof over my head.  Yet at times I hear recovering alcoholics and addicts whine about the most basic things.

And I understand this. Because 32 years ago I was in new recovery myself. And I had this attitude of feeling sorry for myself at times. I would whine about poor me. What did I do to deserve this? Doesn't the world know who I am?

But today, with the perspective of having many years of recovery behind me, I'm grateful when I wake up in the morning and can open my eyes.  I'm grateful for my job.  I'm grateful for my friends.  I'm grateful for the people I love and the people who love me.  I'm grateful that I have my family back in my life – something that wasn't true when I first got sober.

My counsel to anyone reading this is to take an inventory of what you're grateful for.  You'll find many things – some of them minor and seemingly inconsequential – that maybe you haven't noticed before.

But these little things are the grist of our lives, the things that make up our very existence.  The things that make a life in sobriety so beautiful.  

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Anger punishes Us

"You will not be punished for your anger.  You will be punished by your anger"  -Buddha

Anger's an acceptable emotion for some in early recovery.   It sends a clear message that pushes others away.   At the same time it raises blood pressure, creates stress and turmoil, and halts effective communication.  Carried to an extreme it may result in violence.

In the early days so many TLC clients were angry, that we started an anger management class for newcomers.  Clients don't move to the next level until they complete the class.

The Buddha was correct when he said we're punished not for our anger, but by our anger.  I've seldom seen a good outcome when one becomes angry.  Even though it's a common weapon in the arsenal of those who've been locked up or who've lived in the streets.

A more effective tool in dealing with others is kindness and compassion.  Yes, once in a while someone might think I'm a chump or a pushover because I'm nice.  But who cares?  Never once have I gotten in trouble by being kind or compassionate.

My experience is that kindness and compassion in place of anger results in good karma.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Respecting Everyone

Every so often someone is sent to my office because they can't get along with their co-workers on one of the outside crews.

They argue.  They put one another down.  They talk about the other person's lack of skill.  They don't know how to do the job right.  They have a lot of reasons for not getting along.

When I ask why they have this communication problem they say they don't know.  They can't keep their mouth shut.  They lose patience.  They get frustrated and blow up.  Or they rationalize and blame it on the other person.

Usually I tell them I'm surprised when I hear about their poor communication.  Because when they talk to me they're polite.  They're respectful.  And they're gentlemen.  And when they're around me we always get along.

My point is that they can control how they speak to others.  The same skills that let them get along with one in authority is the same skill that will help them get along with anyone.

If we treat others as if they're the most important person in the world we'll likely never have a communication problem.  That's because most everyone responds to respect and kindness.

If we talk to everyone like we talk to the so-called "important" people we'll be much further along in life.  And we won’t be fighting or arguing with anyone.

Remember, we all like to feel important.  And respect if one way to make others feel that way.

Monday, October 2, 2023

We Quit Fighting

The 12-step programs tell us to cease fighting.  And that means anyone or anything.

I'm reminded of this when a man at a meeting tells of his encounter with a rude driver in a parking lot.

He became angry when the driver beat him to a parking spot.

While he immediately found another space, he had visions of kicking the guy's ass.

But on later reflection he realized his anger served no purpose. It just left him upset.

As we grow in recovery we learn new ways of thinking.  We learn to relate to others without anger.  Without upsetting ourselves because people don't do what we want.

When we first come into the rooms - and I was one of those people - we think everything’s about us.  It's me me me and my my my.  It's all about us and we know everything will be okay if the world would just do what I need it to do.

But after we stick around a while we realize we're just another speck on the planet.  That there are 8 billion or so other people who are as important as we are.

As we move on in recovery we become kinder and more understanding of others. Instead of pushing them aside or getting angry, we show compassion.

As we give them compassion we add to the spiritual dimension to our recovery

Friday, September 29, 2023

Set them Free...

"If you love something set it free. And if it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it…”   Author unknown

An alcoholic was upset with his girlfriend who had cut him loose over who knows what.  The quote above - a humorous twist on an old saying - reminds me of his response.  It seems like he really cared about her and the idea that she had cut him loose is something he found unacceptable.

Apparently he began – according to her – sending endless e-mails and leaving innumerable voice messages.  And all to no avail.  After the barrage of communications she wanted even less to do with him.

I've seen this situation more than once in the 32+ years I've been sober.  An addict or alcoholic is sober for a while, and then falls in love with the woman -often a fellow addict - of his dreams.  But maybe it doesn't work out.  And rather than move on, those of us with a fragile alcoholic/addict ego are crushed.  Instead of looking at the situation objectively we take it personally, thinking something is wrong with us.  And we often spend a lot of time in fruitless attempts to figure out what we did wrong and to get back with our former lover.

When those I sponsor get into this situation I explain to them that - even for sober people - relationships are volatile.  Why else do we have a divorce rate of over 50% in our country?   Living with another person and being consistently kind and generous and understanding is not easy.  But for a self-centered, self-absorbed alcoholic or addict it can often be near impossible.

That's probably why we hear in the rooms that we shouldn't get into a new relationship for at least a year after we are sober.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The wonder of Gratitude

Gratitude takes practice.

And when we don't have gratitude as a traveling companion life can sometimes seem dark.

So how do we infuse gratitude into our lives?  It's really about changing our perspective.

A simple way is to start when we open our eyes in the morning.  When you awake, don't say "Damn, I have to get ready for work."  And then jump from the bed and start rushing to get ready.

Instead, set your alarm an hour early.  Rouse yourself slowly and stretch to get your blood circulating. Take a few deep breaths.  Then practice mindful meditation for ten or fifteen minutes.  After that do some yoga at home - or go to the gym.

Be fully present while you shower.  Savor a light breakfast.  Enjoy the sunrise.

Immerse yourself in the drive to work.  Flow with the traffic.  Be grateful that you have transportation.

Notice those along the way who have less than you.  Maybe you pass someone who's handicapped and riding a motorized cart.  Or someone who's homeless.  Realize how blessed you are.

Keep your mind in the present.  Don't let it get to the office before your body arrives.  Staying in the moment nurtures our gratitude and enhances our life.

If you're unhappy about how much money you earn remind yourself that much of the world's population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Being grateful comes from how we view life.

Saturday, September 23, 2023


My daughter was visiting a recovery group on Facebook and ran across the snippet below, which was directed at TLC.  Of course, she immediately forwarded it to me.  And I liked it so much I'm sharing it on this blog.

"I see a lot of great places that post on this page as far as sober living.

I've been helping people for a long time and I appreciate everything I find on this group. The one group I don't see a lot from is TLC and they win the award hands down.

You need nothing when you show up. I have taken people there with nothing but the clothes on their back and they don't turn them away. They get them in there with no deposit.

They constantly take hits when people leave and don't pay their program fees, but they still accept them. Talk about the unspoken hero.  Not a lot of people have a deposit or a penny to their name - and I see a lot of programs that will shut there the door on them right away.

TLC won't do that and that's why they are the best.  I hope they can read this so they know how truly important they are to the community and how amazing they truly are."  (Name left out to protect anonymity.)

I understand that people like to live in the nicest of accommodations. 

But TLC, which was started by addicts for addicts, has never had accommodations as a priority because of funding issues.  Our program doesn't get government grants and struggled to survive for the first 15 years.  As time passed and we became a little more prosperous, we've started to put more money into remodeling and updating properties.  While we'll never be Betty Ford clinic - or a Scottsdale-type program - we do our best to provide for our clients. 

We see that they are well fed.  We see that they're clothed.  We see that they get glasses and dental work.  If they qualify, we sent them to our treatment program where they receive services from professional counselors. 

The one thing clients can count on when they come to us is that they're going to receive some gut level treatment, much of it through the peer counseling they receive from fellow addicts and alcoholics. 

We’ll always be here to help the addict who comes to our door broke and broken.  And we also will do our best to provide suitable accommodations while they’re in the process of rebuilding their lives. 

Click here to email John 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Pain is Helpful

A business associate - a man in his early twenties - knows I work in the recovery field and asks how he can help a friend who's an addict.

"I was in high school with this guy," he said. "And, he's one of the nicest and smartest people I  know.  The last time I saw him a few years ago he asked me for money.  But I didn't give it to him and I haven't seen him since."

So I told him that until his friend suffers enough pain he probably won't change.  Because the only thing that made me change was the pain of being dope-sick, homeless, and ostracized from friends and family.  And most of the addicts in our program say the same thing:  the pain of their lifestyle was what brought them to our doors.

Parents talk to me often about how to help their addict children and I tell them that when their child suffers enough pain he or she will change.   And of course the idea of their child being in pain is appalling to most parents.  They instead let them live at home, feed them, buy them gas and clothes and so on.  I tell the parents that that's an addicts dream life, sponging off of mommy and daddy while they're using Fentanyl or some other lethal substance.   I tell them that by supporting the child they are, in essence, supporting their drug habit.  Of course they'll deny this at first.  But they'll ultimately find it to be true.

The idea of not helping the addicts we love is alien to most.  But real love is withdrawing support and forcing the addict to deal with his issues on his own.  Of course, the one exception to that is if the addict wants to get into treatment - that's the only help I endorse.

click here to email John

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Smelling Bad

About 10 minutes before the 12 step meeting started this morning a man walked in that I hadn't met before.  He seemed in pretty bad shape.  I could smell him from about three feet away. He appeared to have not showered in three or four days, and his clothing was sweat stained and filthy.

I introduced myself and he told me he hadn't slept all night, that he'd slept on the streets.  He said that he was an alcoholic, but had switched from alcohol to fentanyl pills and that he had smoked something like 20 of them in the last 24 hours.  He said the drug is selling for something like a dollar a pill, that they were almost giving it away.

Just then the meeting started, but he continued his story when it was his turn to share.  He rambled on and on for a while about his adventures with going to detoxes and trying to get into recovery.  Like many addicts he had a lot of reasons why recovery wasn't working for him.  He said that he'd been to a few detox facilities but left after a few days for one reason or another.  He also had been in a couple of residential treatment programs in the past few weeks but left because he had confrontations with the staff.  He had a lot of excuses why different programs wouldn't work for him.  He was a perfect example for the rest of us at the meeting about how denial keeps us from getting into recovery.

After the meeting, several of us talked to him.  We offered to get him into a detox facility for a few days, a place which would refer him to a longer-term facility so he could build up some time in recovery.  However, he must've not been ready.  Because after we talked for a while he said he needed to go smoke a cigarette.  And he didn't return to the meeting hall.

He was a good lesson for all of us.

Click here to email John

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Accepting Ourself

Because I was unhappy most of my childhood I did everything I could to escape. The unhappiness was about the violence and chaos of my father's alcoholism. It was about a lot of hard work with little acknowledgement for my efforts.  A lot of times I felt sorry for myself.

Because television didn't exist, I whiled away my hours reading.  Or I would disappear half a day, exploring the river and woods behind our house.  Anything to get lost.

Because we lived in farming country in Oregon, everyone grew some kind of crop.  I picked strawberries.   Pulled weeds.  Harvested hazelnuts.  I escaped into making money, helping neighbors take care of their gardens.  Or sometimes I'd feed their animals.  I collected cans and bottles for the pennies they would bring.

Eventually the courts returned me to my mother in California.  But I brought my childhood angst with me.  I found different escapes.   As a young teenager it became alcohol, pills, marijuana -anything to make me feel better.

Later, as I began going to jail, I escaped back into reading.   And now it was all about self-improvement. About bettering my vocabulary.   I taught myself Spanish. I learned to write and went to work as a news reporter when I got out of prison.  I learned business and communication.

Now there's nothing wrong with improving ourselves.  We need to learn as much as we can so we can take care of ourselves.

But today, in my mid-eighties, I realize that though self improvement helped I was doing it for the wrong reasons.  I just wanted to feel better about myself.  That's what I was doing, trying desperately to feel better.

Today, with 32+ years of recovery I've learned a different approach. I've learned that sometimes life's a bitch.  And that's okay.  I don't have to fix it.  I don't have to change it.  I accept the negative that sometimes drifts into my life.  I welcome it and accept it each time it shows up; and I've learned that accepting things exactly as they are has near magical power.  We no longer cling to outcomes.  We simply accept things just as they are.

Through absorbing myself in mindfulness I've learned that just paying attention to - and accepting - whatever happens in my life sets me free.  And I've learned I don't have to like it - and I don't always have to feel good.  

I've learned to be okay with things I used think were big deals.

Monday, September 11, 2023


The definition of serenity is "being calm, peaceful, and untroubled."

That was the topic of the 12 – step meeting I attended this morning.  And I thought it was timely, considering the state of the world we live in today.  Wherever we look there are earthquakes, fires, wars, and other disasters.  All conditions that run counter to serenity.

But I believe that living in a state of serenity is an important goal for recovering alcoholics and addicts.  Because when we live in serenity, our first answer when problems present themselves is to deal with them calmly and peacefully.

But when I was much younger almost anything could set me off on a binge. If I stubbed my toe, got a flat tire, or was late to work  – any of these relatively trivial things would destroy my peace. And I thought the only way for me to become peaceful again was to crack open a bottle or stick a needle in my arm.

So how do we find this magic elixir of serenity?  One way I find it is to meditate each day upon awakening.  I spend 30 to 45 minutes in a state of meditation, coming out of it completely relaxed and eager to face the day.  An alternate way for me to find peace is through exercise.  I have a gymnasium in one room of my house with everything I need to get a good workout.  There's something about working out and filling my system with endorphins that relaxes me and removes any stress that I might be feeling.  Meditation helps put all of my problems – if I have any - into the proper perspective.

But what works for me might not work for you. You may have your own favorite pastime when you want to get away from issues and bring peace to your life.  Maybe your answer is a walk in the park.  Going to a movie.  Sharing dinner with a friend.  Or giving your dog a bath.

There are many ways to bring serenity into our lives.  And my answer may not work for you. Whatever you do to calm yourself down and brings you peace is fine.  The good part is that it works. 

And whatever works for you enhances your recovery, which is the most important thing.

Click here to email John

Friday, September 8, 2023

Acceptance Works

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today..."   from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Probably the word acceptance is one that we hear most often in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Although one might argue that gratitude's right up there with it.

Whatever the case, acceptance has an important place in the lives of those of us in recovery and especially for me.

Because until I accept what's going on in my life, whatever challenges I'm facing, there's not really a path to a solution.  But bingo, as soon as I accept whatever it is that I'm facing then I can set about resolving it.

My DNA tells me to fight and resist everything until I get my way.  But that old thinking pattern is what used to get me into a lot of trouble.  It took me many years and lots of internal battles before I realized that most of the things I used to think were important weren't such big deals after all.

And as soon as I changed my thinking, my life became much easier and less stressful.  In fact, these days, it's pretty easy for me to analyze whatever I'm facing and decide whether it's worth fighting about.  Once I cross the bridge into acceptance, then potential solutions begin presenting themselves.  Sometimes the answers come to me while I'm sleeping or just daydreaming and not even looking for a solution.

For me, there's almost something magical about acceptance because it's the quickest shortcut to serenity.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Getting your Life Back

I often talk with clients who are depressed because they haven't done much with their lives.

Drugs and alcohol took over.  And here they are in their twenties, thirties, and beyond with little to show.

No assets.  No car. No job skills.   Maybe no friends. The future looks scary.

Sometimes they mention family and others their age who are doing well.  They may be finishing school. Or running a business.  It can be depressing.

But my counsel is that it doesn't have to stay that way.  If one is willing to put in the work.  I know, because I was there in my first year of recovery.

I was 51 years old.  Riding a bicycle.  Taking busses.  Walking.  Doing day labor in the boiling Arizona summer.

Sometimes I'd put a five gallon bucket of water on the back of my bicycle and ride down Main street washing windows for a few dollars.  Whatever it took to pay my service fees at the halfway house where I spent my first year of recovery.

I worked hard to stay sober and rebuild my life.  And that was the key: determination and perseverance.

Within a year I bought three ratty houses on the same lot with no money down.  I started my own halfway house program - while working a full-time job.

I painted and rehabbed those houses until they were okay for people to live in.  Soon they were full and then I found some more.

Within a year we were so busy that I had to quit my full time job.  I worked at the halfway house for two years without a paycheck, just room and board.  But I kept on, magically leasing and buying more property.

Addicts came to us for help, wanting to get sober.  And wanting to give back.  Collectively we built a community that today numbers around 700 people.  A group that's trying to salvage what's left of their lives.

The point of all this is that if you want something and are willing to put in a lot of work with no promises of anything - you might just succeed.  

And you won't be down on yourself anymore.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Last House on the Block

TLC is usually the last house on the block for recovering addicts and alcoholics.

And I say that because most of the people who come to us are not on a winning streak.  Generally speaking, they have no money, no insurance, no job, no luggage, no transportation, and usually no friends or family support.  So most of them seem pretty happy when we allow them to enter our program after they fill out their application.  At this point, they're so demoralized and downtrodden and in such emotional pain that they will do most anything to feel better.

But after they have a few days clean and sober, some start reevaluating their situation and decide to go back out.  I'm not sure what their reasoning is – perhaps they figure that a few days is all they need to get back on track so they pack up and leave.  The ones who stay at least five days have a better chance of completing the 90-day program, though some of them also decide they have their lives together and leave prematurely.

Because we have over 700 beds in our program, it's not unusual to see 20 people come in and 15 others rotate out on a daily basis.  But our management team knows that the real addicts or alcoholics will eventually be back – either to TLC or to another program.  And because we don't require upfront money they usually wind up coming back to us.  A real addict or alcoholic doesn't decide to get sober while they still have money in their pocket.  And we usually welcome them back.

An interesting aspect of our program – and one that has made us successful over the last 31 years – is that our management team is made up primarily of addicts and alcoholics in recovery.  The only professionals in TLC are the medical and counseling staff in our State – licensed treatment program, which holds about 60 clients at any time.  It seems like many addicts and alcoholics would rather get advice from a fellow addict or alcoholic than from a professional therapist.  And studies have shown that both professional counseling and peer counseling are about equally as effective.  The beauty of having a peer counselor is that we know that they know exactly what we're talking about when we're discussing addiction.

Sometimes we get comments on social media about how terrible our program is from an angry client who has left without notice.  And most people who know anything about recovery realize that that's good advertising for TLC.  Because it means that we are a tough program that doesn't coddle its clients.  

We give them what they need, which is a regular dose of tough love and honesty about what it takes to get sober.

click here to email John

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Since 1992

TLC is one of the oldest recovery programs in Arizona, having been founded January 9, 1992.

It is a 501(c)(3) corporation and has been raising its own funds for around 30 years.  Most funds come from service fees paid by clients, the remainder coming from several small businesses that TLC operates.  Among these are a state-licensed treatment program, an air conditioning company, a labor group, and several small convenience stores.

It is unique in the respect that it started out with five donated beds in an old shack in Mesa and now has some 40 buildings in various cities across the valley.  The interesting thing is that all of this expansion was created by addicts and alcoholics who were trying to get their lives together and built TLC as a team effort.

In the early days all of the recovery was through peer driven groups and attendance at 12-step meetings. Only later, when we started the state licensed treatment program, TLC would begin hiring professional therapists, doctors and nurses to help clients with their recovery.

In the early years TLC was the object of a lot of criticism from the recovery community.  And that's because we had older buildings that were nothing like the Betty Ford Clinic.  TLC is probably, in terms of aesthetics, one of the ugliest programs in the state.

But our mission is to help recovering addicts and alcoholics rebuild their lives, something we're very effective at.  We never planned to provide beautiful buildings and luxury surroundings as many programs do.  We were just about helping addicts, working together to create an environment where we could all stay sober – not that everyone did.  However, we feel that we are the equal of any program in the state in terms of our success in helping addicts rebuild their lives. 

And because we have some 850 beds available we are able to serve a much larger population of homeless addicts and alcoholics who are seeking help.  The kind of addicts who come to our program are like me: I didn't give a shit what kind of accommodations I had - I just wanted the pain to stop.  And that's what happens at TLC, because addicts are able to stop the pain they're willing to put up with our accommodations and to work on themselves.

And it works.

Click here to email John

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Science of Gratitude

(This is a re-run of a previous blog which I ran several years ago)

Gratitude is often a default topic at 12 step meetings. And many say it is harder to relapse if one has gratitude for whatever life has brought us. And now a mainstream study cites further benefits of being grateful.

This excerpt from an October 20, 20ll press release from the University of Kentucky cites a study on the subject of grateful people:

“Grateful people aren't just kinder people, according to UK College of Arts & Sciences psychology Professor Nathan DeWall. They are also less aggressive.

DeWall proves his point with five studies on gratitude as a trait and as a fleeting mood, discovering that giving thanks lowers daily aggression, hurt feelings and overall sensitivity. 

"If you count your blessings, you're more likely to empathize with other people," said the researcher who is more well-known for studying factors that increased aggression. "More empathic people are less aggressive."

Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others and stimulates pro-social behavior, according to DeWall.  Although gratitude increases mental well-being, it was unknown whether gratitude reduced aggression.

DeWall and his colleagues conducted cross-sectional, longitudinal, experience sampling, and experimental studies with more than 900 undergraduate students to show that gratitude is linked to lower aggression.

"We tried to triangulate on this phenomenon in as many different ways as we could," said DeWall, who tested the effects of gratitude both inside and outside of the lab.

The study, found in Social Psychological and Personality Science, links gratitude to "a nonviolent heart," with those less inclined to aggression.

Across all, there was "converging support for the hypothesis that gratitude is an antidote to aggression," according to DeWall. The relationship proved consistent even after controlling for general positive emotion.

"We know that grateful people are nice people," said DeWall. "But this is the first study to really show that they're not very aggressive either."

You don't have to be a naturally appreciative person to experience these effects, either.

"I wanted to bust the myth that only certain people are grateful," DeWall said. "Gratitude is an equal opportunity emotion that causes lower levels of aggression."

"An activity as basic as writing a letter or mentally counting your blessings can be enough to decrease aggression.

"Take a step back, and look at what you've got," said DeWall. "Don't spend every waking moment being grateful, but one time a week definitely increases your well-being over time. And if you get bad news—you're given a shot that protects you."

DeWall's findings have broad applications and can inform interventions aimed at reducing interpersonal aggression and anger."

This article isn’t going to increase my level of gratitude but it’s nice to have science in our corner.