Saturday, April 29, 2023

Cunning, Baffling & Powerful

In 12-Step meetings we hear about addicts and alcoholics who have 15 or 20 years sober who suddenly go back out and start using or drinking again.  At 32 years of sobriety I've heard of people doing this fairly often, even though they have a lot of time living sober.  

In the early years of my recovery this kind of surprised me.  And the reason it did is that I couldn't imagine going back to the hell of my addiction.  Waking up sick and needing a fix or a drink.  The fear of ending up homeless again.  Or back behind bars and suffering the pain of losing everything over a substance.  Losing the trust of my loved ones.  To me, going back to that world didn't make sense.

In the recovery literature there is the term "cunning, baffling and powerful," which is used to describe the insidious power of our addictions.  In other words, when it comes to using any addictive substance there is little or no logic to it.  

Why would a person with a career, a family, and good health suddenly risk it all for the momentary bliss of that initial drink or shot of dope?  It's not like someone holds us at gunpoint and forces us to use.  It all comes from our addict brains. Somehow we tell ourselves that we're the exception. That just one time won't hurt.  Nobody will know.  And then we're off to the races.

I write about this today because someone I've worked with over the past 20 years - who had some years of sobriety - went back out and used once more.  

And the sad thing is that he had a place to live.  A vehicle.  And a steady job.  And, on top of that he was undergoing medical treatment for a condition he's suffered from for a few years.  My fear is that he'll end up homeless and totally without resources because of his bad condition.

One thing I've learned in my recovery journey is that there's never a good reason to step back in to the insanity and hell of addiction.  And, as long as I keep that thinking at the front of my mind, I'll be okay.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

23 years of Sobriety

Below is an email we received this week from a former client who was with us in 2000, well over 20 years ago.  I appreciate emails like this because it says we've been making a difference in the community for a long time.  The email reads:

"I was at the Roosevelt House in Phoenix in July of 2000. I came in with 6 months of sobriety but was headed back out before I entered and given a safe place to stay sober.

I was hired as an assistant manager and in October sent to Southern House in Mesa, where I was made an Assistant Manager.  I was inducted as a blue shirt and eventually promoted to manager, until I had a resident pass away due to an overdose. When my supervisor came in, he had no compassion.  He said I was too thin-skinned and wanted me to take a drug test which I refused.  I admit my pride may have gotten in the way, but I really had things to take care of in Indiana - where my mother was dying.

Well to get to the reason I am writing is I now have 23 years 3 months clean and even through some tragedy I have remained sober, And this is because of the tools TLC gave me to learn to face the world head on.

I want to thank TLC for everything they gave me. I like to think I’m a success story. But I didn't do it alone."

Click here to email John

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Reducing Stress

Even though stress is not something tangible in the sense that we can see it with our eyes or hold it in our hands - it is nevertheless something very real.  And those of us who are addicts often attribute our using - or desire to use - to the stress in our lives.

Mostly I've been successful in dealing with stress, but the truth is that sometimes it can also overtake me.  I don't get an urge to use drugs or drink when stressed.  But I can feel the effects of stress in other ways.  I find myself becoming impatient.  Or feeling like I'm overdue for a vacation.  I can find myself needing more rest.  Or feeling like I'm not accomplishing what I need to get done.  I feel burdened.

The above usually occurs for me when I have a lot of issues coming at me all at once.  And that was the issue this past week.  I was arguing for several days with a landlord.  A bank said it wasn't going to loan me money for a house - even though they'd been loaning me money for 12 years and I'd never been late on a payment and have an 840 credit score.  A good friend was ill and had to go to the hospital.  One of my dogs got sick and needed medical care.  

By themselves, these events could raise anxiety.  But these were things that were all happening at the same time, all mixed up together.  And there were other issues going on that I won't mention here.  Needless to say it made for a hell of a week.

Looking back, I accept that life is just as it's supposed to be - even when everything comes rushing at us all at once. I need to remember that I have little or no control over anything or anyone,  If I just remember that each morning as I walk out the door - and be grateful for the great life that I have today - things will be alright.

Click here to email John

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Be careful what you Pray for...

 I had to sort back through the past couple of days and ask myself what I had been praying for. Was it for serenity? Tolerance? Understanding? Wisdom?

Because the day seemed to be an emotional roller coaster. A kaleidoscope of addicts involved in interpersonal conflicts. A male employee coming under scrutiny because of his behavior.  A lot of misperceptions and drama from all sides. Roommates catfighting like a couple of middle school brats. Lenders reneging on promises.  On and on.

I had to ask myself what I'd been praying for. Because when I pray for patience God doesn't just bestow it upon me. Instead, what usually happens is that I find in my path a lot of things to be impatient about. Computers that don't work. People not showing up on time. Employees bitching about each other. Irritating things that require the patience of Job to sort out. That's what I usually get when I pray for patience.

Same thing when I pray for tolerance. All of a sudden it seems like a raft of intolerable people show up at my office. Or they start blowing up my phone.

I guess the point of all this is be careful what you pray for. Because it doesn't seem like God says, "Okay here it is,just what you asked for."

Instead he sends us to school, gives us lessons that teach us how to achieve what we want. A prayer for tolerance seems to equal intolerable people. A prayer for serenity or peace of mind usually brings a crew with a jack hammer outside my office or home.

To keep my life simple my prayer tonight is going to be a simple “thank you.  I'm still above ground."

Monday, April 17, 2023

The homeless Paradox

As I'm driving to my office, I notice a homeless man on the sidewalk pushing a shopping cart. Even though it was only around 9 AM, I could see that his filthy T-shirt was soaked with sweat and grime. He must've had a hundred pounds of rags and other trash piled in the shopping cart. Whatever was in it, it was so heavy he was straining to push it.

Even though the city of Mesa doesn't have as many homeless people as our neighboring city, Phoenix, we are beginning to see them all over our city. And we might begin to see more.  Because recently merchants sued the city of Phoenix to remove several thousand homeless people who live in the center of downtown in an area known as the "Zone."  I believe the merchants won the lawsuit. Which poses the question of where will homeless people go if removed from downtown?

Over the years I've heard a lot of debate about whether homeless people are mentally ill? Or maybe drug addicts? Or perhaps both? To me, it doesn't make much difference what they are unless one is proposing to solve the problem and get the homeless off the streets. It is going to take a multifaceted and well-financed operation to help clear Arizona's streets of the estimated 6000-7000 people who live on them.

Many of TLC's clients fall under the category of homeless when they arrive at our door. At least 95% of them have no place that they can call home.. About 40% come to us from jail or prison and the rest come from various places – mostly the streets.  Most of those who come to us have a primary problem of addiction - though many also have borderline issues with mental illness of one flavor or another.

When the homeless come to our program and stay for at least 90 days we give them the skills to become self-sufficient.  The interesting thing about homeless people is that as a rule they're not lazy.  Living on the streets is one of the hardest jobs a person can have.  They struggle every day to survive.  They have to find food.  They have to figure out how to stay warm in the winter and cool in our blistering summers.  Where can they bathe?  Wash clothes?  Find health care?  Just getting the basic necessities of life is a hard job when one has no income.

If they stay with us long enough we can teach them how to live a productive life.  And, obviously, they must be motivated to do something different with their lives.

Click here to email John

Friday, April 14, 2023

Virtue of Patience

 When people used to say "patience is a virtue," I really didn't understand it as I do today.

For years my attitude was to hell with patience. I want what I want.  And I want it right now. You be patient if you want to. But I want it all. And the sooner the better.

But as time goes on, I've come to believe that patience is probably one of our primary virtues.

Today I know that being patient is almost a spiritual thing. For example if 30 years ago I'd have been given all the blessings I have today, I wouldn't have known how to manage or take care of them.  Because I never had gratitude for the things that came to me without much effort on my part.  I'd just fritter them away and move on to the next thing I could ruin.

In 1992 if someone has asked me to describe what life would be like in 30 years I'd have drawn a small picture.

Of course no one asked me.  I simply got up and went to work each day.  I didn't move too fast.  Yet everything I wanted showed up in my life just when I needed.

If I needed a house for incoming clients, somehow it would show up.  Even though I didn't have credit for the first seven years of my recovery I was able to house hundreds of addicts.  People would sell me property with no money down.  Once I got three houses with no interest payments.

It became so routine for things to show up just when I needed them that I never worry about finances or employees today.  If we need equipment, or housing, or a new staff member, I'd tell the staff to just tie off for a day or two.  What we need will show up.

I get so many parents who write me about their children.  Their letters are beautiful, sometimes so painful I want to cry for them.  I suggest that their child is out there on the streets learning what doesn't work.  And sometimes I get happy letters back telling me that their kid returned and he's in recovery.

I believe that God, our Higher Power, or the Universe has our interests at heart. And when we walk the path of patience we might get better answers than we even hoped for.

It happened for me. Today I have a wonderful life.  A staff that loves our clients and does their best to help them get better.  More material things than I need.  And I attribute much of it to the idea that I've grasped the virtue of patience.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

We have no Power

A co-worker who's having a rough day visits my office to vent about the challenges she faces.  She's a good worker, very competent and intense about what she does.  I don't visit her office too often because I know she'll be on the phone wrangling with some agency about their rules and regulations.  But when she comes to my office, which is nearby, I know that she has something serious to discuss.

So she stopped by today and we talked.  She does her very best to solve problems on her own and quite frequently - when my office door is open - I can hear her wrestling with insurance providers about rates or regulations or something else that she has a lot of expertise in.  I actually am not up to speed with the details of insurance enough to understand the challenges she faces.  All I know is it's complicated stuff and I'm glad we have someone like her dealing with it.

Anyway, we talked for a while and I gave her my opinion, which is that there are many things in our world that we have no power over.  And that is also something that those of us in recovery learn as we mature in recovery:  that we are pretty much powerless over the way the world runs.  And if we can live by that precept we'll have much less stress in our lives.

But the problem with me - and the addicts around me - is that at times we become so immersed in our jobs that we forget to live by the guidelines we are given in the program:  that we are powerless over much of what happens in the world.  

Does that mean we do nothing and follow a zen path that says everything is cool all the time.  No, that's not what I'm saying.  What I am saying is that we need to not take it personally when things don't go our way.  When things go sideways we should understand that we have little or no control.  And when business starts unraveling before our eyes we must do what we can to change the situation.  But if we can't, then we need to accept it and move on.  Who knows?  Something better might be right around the corner.

Self awareness is the key.  But sometimes things come at us so fast from so many directions that we get buried in the moment.  And that's when we need to step back and breathe.  And tell ourselves that life's just as our creator intended.

Click here to email John

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Manipulating the System

When I first got into the the recovery business in 1992, there were less than half a dozen halfway houses in the city of Mesa.

And there were also two or three large treatment programs, both residential and outpatient.

As time went on, though, halfway houses began springing up all over.  Someone got the idea that operating a halfway house was a good way to make money fast.  But the majority of them started closing within a few months or years, because a halfway house or sober house is also labor-intensive.  It's not an easy business unless one is dedicated to helping others get clean and sober.  There are  much easier careers that aren't nearly as emotionally draining.

In the past few years though, there have been many new residential treatment programs being opened in the Valley.  In fact, there were so many popping up that it was hard to keep track of how many there really were.

One program I heard of had something like 100 LLCs, each containing a small one house recovery program.  One story circulated was that the owners and operators were from a country in Africa and that none of them were in recovery or educated about recovery.  However, they apparently were shrewd business people who knew how to manipulate a system. The last I heard that was that they'd made quite a bit of money by just housing people to whom they were not providing services. They reportedly left the country once their business started unraveling after their insurance providers and the state learned of their practices.

Not too many things anger me, though I can become irritated at small things, like computer problems for example.  But I do become angry when unscrupulous operators take advantage of people in recovery who are unable to help themselves.  That's what many operators have done and are doing, though the insurance companies and state government are beginning to take notice of these practices and are beginning to take action.

TLC is one of easiest and least expensive programs to get into.  And it has operated pretty much the same way for over 30 years.  And I believe our success comes from the fact that we accept anyone into the program, whether they have money or not.  Also, 99% of our staff are themselves in recovery, which gives them credibility with our clients.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Simple Program

When people go to Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time, it's all kind of a mystery to them. They have entered into a new culture, one that promises that life will get better if he or she follows a simple set of guidelines.

And for those that stick around, it does get better as long as they don't drink or use drugs or other mind altering substances. And for those who stick around, and continue to come back to meetings their lives can undergo an amazing transformation.

But statistics show that only a small percentage of people who go to alcoholics anonymous for the first time will die sober. And why is that? 

Well, I don't believe that a person is going to stay sober until they are really motivated. And motivation comes to people in many ways. Some may end up in prison after getting into an auto accident while drunk, which provides them with the motivation to want to change. Others may have a wife who is tired of their drinking and divorces them. Or their boss may fire them because they are drinking on the job. And there are many other reasons.

But those who stay find a new way of life, one that is much more satisfying than when they were drinking. After being sober for a while, newcomers realize that life is going much smoother. They find that they have money in their bank account. They find that their career is going better. They find that they have a growing circle of friends. Their health seems to be getting better. Their family may welcome them back with open arms.

As time goes on and  their lives improve, they realize they made the right decision by sticking around and living sober. They find a new joy and a new happiness.

Click here to email John

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Does Gratitude Work?

 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.

Click here to email John