Tuesday, May 30, 2023

About being 84

Tomorrow, on May 31, I'll be celebrating 84 years on the planet. Probably celebrating is not exactly the right word because I never thought that I would live this long, considering the life that I lived the first 51 years I was alive. 

I recall that I was surprised when I turned 60. And just as surprised and maybe more so when I turned 70.  80 was also another milestone I never expected to reach.

In my experience not a lot of people spend the first 50 years of their life dissipating on drugs and alcohol.  When I was in my early 30s I really didn't expect to live much longer than 40 years.  I lived my life almost as if I had some kind of death wish.  One of my wives once said that I lived like a wild dog, because I was constantly running the streets and hustling drugs until I would either get arrested or had to come home and recuperate for a few weeks. 

I was always angry and never cared much about anything. My behavior constantly got me arrested and I spent 16 of my first 51 years locked up in various prisons or mental institutions. I spent so much time incarcerated that it felt strange to be out of custody. I was behind bars for so long that I became comfortable there and I'd lost my fear of being sent back.

It's not like I didn't enjoy freedom, but I just didn't know how to function without a lot of alcohol and drugs.  And a person who is dependent on drugs and alcohol to get through their day usually ends up in some type of institution.  That was the pattern I followed.

Today I live an entirely different kind of life. Last January I was sober 32 years, something I did celebrate. I look back on my life and I realize that being locked up when I was younger probably saved my life. I had a brother who was an alcoholic and who never spent one day in jail. But the fact that he never took a break from drinking or smoking marijuana or using speed had an impact on his health and he died at 60 – much too young.

Because I was incarcerated so long there are many years that I was never able to destroy my health with substances.  Plus I had plenty of time to work out, read and write and study. I taught myself to speak read and write Spanish well enough that I worked a couple different jobs as an interpreter.  I learned to write well enough that I was hired by a major metropolitan newspaper as a staff writer when I was released.  I learned to look at my experiences as a drug addict more as a learning experience rather than something that has ruined my life. People said that I could've done the same thing out of prison that I did while I was in prison. But the difference is that most of the time I was locked up I was not under the influence and so I had to focus on doing something else with my life.  While a lot of other prisoners only played dominoes or worked out, I used some of my time to try and improve my brain.

Becoming a senior citizen hasn't always been easy. About 10 years ago I developed neuropathy and now wear braces on both feet so that I'm able to walk fairly well. I've also had cancer twice and came through that okay.  Even though I live a healthy life, I believe that all of the dissipation I engaged in while I was younger had a long-term effect on my health.  When one gets to be in their 80s they can kind of expect parts to break down, sort of like an old car needs parts replaced once in a while. But I am blessed because I have insurance and a group of physicians that I can go to whenever I have a problem.

I look forward to more healthy years as long as I take care of myself - which I plan to do. I do my best to stay as healthy as I can because I didn't get sober to to be miserable.  I have friends that I enjoy spending time with, plus I have an extended family that shows me a lot of love.

In conclusion, I would like to wish all of you reading this a long and prosperous life – which is what happens to a person when they live in sobriety.

Click here to email John

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Musing about the Homeless

 I say that I don't judge others.  But that's not true.  

This morning, while on my way to work, I stopped for a red light and sitting on the corner was an unkempt man with a makeshift sign that read "Homeless, Please Help."

The ironic thing is that he was panhandling in front of a fast food restaurant that had a large help wanted sign on the building offering $15.00 an hour to start, plus a $1,000 bonus if the employee stayed for a certain period.

After I drove on I was wondering why there are so many homeless people when there are so many entry-level jobs available.  But, after a while I realized that it was none of my business why they couldn't find a job and that it wasn't very spiritual of me to have an opinion about it.

The reasons for homelessness are many and quite complex, according to the few articles I've read on the subject.  One lengthy article said that a majority of the homeless have either mental issues or drug addictions - or both.  With those kind of issues it's quite difficult for homeless people to turn their lives around and reintegrate into the community.

For example, if we expect a homeless person to apply for work, he or she is going to need decent clothing and a place to shower, shave and become presentable.  And that's a big hill to climb when someone doesn't even have the basics, such as a wardrobe and transportation.  And judgement from people like me doesn't make a difference because I believe that most of the homeless don't really care what others think. They're simply trying to survive.

The city I live in has purchased an old 70 room motel on the edge of the city that is going to be used to house the homeless.  Perhaps that will make a difference, though I'm not very optimistic about it making a dent in the large population of homeless we see in our community.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Anger Punishes

"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 never 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 peace and kindness bring us good karma.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Science of Gratitude

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. The study in this blog cites many 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.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Taking advantage of Alcoholics

 In the past few weeks there has been a flood of publicity about "treatment providers" going to Arizona reservations and bringing back tribal members that have alcohol problems for so-called treatment.

Those with knowledge of this practice say that white vans drive onto the reservation and offer pedestrians alcohol and other inducements to come with them to Phoenix to receive treatment for problems. Reportedly, once they arrived at the facility they are provided with alcohol and coerced into signing paperwork that will sign them up for Arizona's state insurance program.

Some reports say that the Native Americans are even offered money to stay in the program, a program that offers zero services that would help them cope with their alcohol and other addictions.

This practice is another example of how unscrupulous operators take advantage of those with financial resources or insurance, without giving a thought of helping them change their lives.

But all of this is about to change because authorities have closed down something like 100 to 200 programs in the last few weeks, depending upon which reports you read.

Some of the stories on the streets about how these Native Americans were treated are horrendous. Many of them were held, virtually against their will, unable to contact their family or friends. There have been accounts of people having to climb out of windows and over fences in order to get to a telephone where they could contact their families to help them return home.

The bad thing about people who operate this way –  taking advantage of the vulnerable – affects those who operate an aboveboard recovery operation.  Fortunately the government is taking action that will prevent this kind of abuse from occurring again.

Click here to email John

Monday, May 15, 2023

Having Friends

Psychologically normal people usually like to have friends. I don't know how psychologically normal I am, but I've always liked to have several people that I can call friends.

In fact, probably one of the reasons that I started drinking and using drugs in my early teens was a byproduct of my quest to have friends and people to socialize with. When I was in high school I used to seek out others willing to do what I did – which was drink,take pills, smoke marijuana, and use other drugs. And if they liked to steal a little bit, that was okay with me too. 

However, these kinds of friends didn't help me accomplish much in life other than ending up with some kind of drug habit or a few trips to jail or prison.

These are all things a friend would do for another friend and that's why I do these things for myself. The things I did to myself in the past, a good friend wouldn't do to another person. Today, I have a totally different outlook on what a friend should be.

The first person I look to as a friend is the person who is looking back at me when I look in the mirror. After all, if I can't be a friend to myself I certainly can't expect to be friends with anyone else. 

By being a friend to myself, I mean taking good care of myself in all respects. I try to eat right. I exercise. I visit the doctor when necessary. I work at keeping my stress level down. And I meditate. I'm not very self-critical.

So who do I look to today to be my friends? That's an easy question. I look to people who can enhance my life, who can help me become a better human being.

And where would I find these people? I find many of them in 12 step meetings, the people who can help me stay clean and sober and keep my stress level down. I also look to people in the business world who can help me advance my business and investment career.

And you know, the interesting thing? It's as easy to find people who can help you do positive things in your life as it is to find people who drag you down and keep you from achieving your goals. You just have to look around for others who share your same interests and goals. Believe me, they are out there.

Click here to email John

Friday, May 12, 2023

Key to Happiness

Most clients who come to my office with problems are unhappy about something that they don't have.

And I tell them that I have the key to happiness, which I will willingly give them, whether they use it or not.

Most of them look at me with disbelief. Because like all of us addicts, they have been looking for happiness all of their lives. But somehow, they haven't found it.

Many of them have looked high and low for it. They've drained bottles of alcohol seeking happiness. They'vd smoked illicit substances like cocaine and methamphetamines and marijuana seeking the bliss that eludes them. Some have tried to find it through sexual gratification, but have found that that also doesn't bring them lasting happiness.

Prior to coming to us many of them sought happiness through the acquisition of material things, like cars, clothing, vacations or nice homes. Yet that didn't do it for them either.

And when I explain to them that the key to happiness is very simple, some of them have a difficult time accepting what I share, or putting it into practice.

And this key to happiness is not something that I came up with, something that is original with me. It's something that I've gleaned from various authors, spiritual practices, and motivational speakers throughout the years. Like most of my worthwhile ideas, my formula for happiness came from someone else.

I might even be characterize it as plagiarism. Or simple shoplifting. But that doesn't make what I'm about to tell you any less valuable.

And the formula for true happiness is this: give up all your attachments and accept life just as it is and you will find yourself truly happy.

Because when we want things to be different from the way they are that brings us unhappiness. We all know that when we seek something and get it that after a while the luster wears off.

The new car isn't that great anymore. The new romantic partner begins to show some character defects after a few months or years. That wonderful house we purchased isn't so wonderful anymore because all of a sudden it's a lot of stuff to take care of – plus spend one third of our income on.

So does that mean we should give up the idea of owning anything? Seeking any kind of pleasure or gratification?

Of course not. The key is to give up our attachment to these things. Because when we don't have the things that we think we need or want we risk having that disturbing sense of dissatisfaction that grows into unhappiness.

But life works much better if we can accept things just as they are at this moment – because this moment is all we have. Whether it's a bad moment or a good moment and there's nothing we can do to change it, then if we accept it we will find ourselves becoming okay with whatever life has brought.  And we will be happy.

Monday, May 8, 2023


An alcoholic sent me an email a while back, asking me to help him get started in the recovery business. He wasn't asking for money.  But he was asking for advice, which I'm happy to give anybody.  I sent him an email, telling him that I'd be in touch with him.

And I'll contact him because I think it's important to encourage others to help addicts and alcoholics any way they can.  Some might say that's stupid.  Why would someone who's already in the recovery business give someone advice about how to get into the same business?   It's kind of like calling McDonald's and asking them to help you start a hamburger stand.  But I believe it's important to help others however you can.

One of the things this fellow mentioned was about finding money to get started.  But the reality is that if you want to get into the recovery business - or most any other business - money is the least of your problems.

The biggest issue for most people is perseverance and self-discipline.

I remember that I searched for a piece of property for a good six months before I found three dilapidated houses on a piece of property that I was able to get for $375 in closing costs.  After I spent a year in another halfway house learning how to run a recovery business.   I moved into my own houses.  I started cleaning.  Painting.  Patching floors.  I spent about two months getting the place ready for the first five residents.   And while doing this, I worked an outside job to support myself and to buy materials to get the houses ready.

Getting started was a slow and tedious process of drudgery and hard work.  But people started showing up.  Most had no money, but if they looked like they had some willingness I let them stay.  Within a year we acquired other houses and had over 130 residents.  Within two years we had about 300 residents, and of course more property to accommodate them.

After two years we got so busy I quit my outside job and devoted full time to running the halfway houses.  I also started paying myself a small stipend each week to cover my expenses.  The expenses weren't large: food, mortgage payments, utilities, and transportation.  Fortunately, enough clients paid service fees to cover expenses.

The drift here is that it doesn't really take money to start a successful business. What it does take is a burning desire to succeed at what you're doing.  In my case, the burning desire was to stay sober and I knew that one way I could do that was being around other addicts and alcoholics who were also sober. But the process of helping other alcoholics while staying sober myself was sometimes daunting.

There's a lot more to the recovery business than meets the eye.  There are groups to run.  Meals to prepare.  Utilities to pay. Arguments to defuse.  City officials showing up, wondering if you have the right permits.  Addicts who will live with you for two or three weeks, then leave when they get their first paycheck.

It can be a heartbreaking business, one that grinds you down and wears you out.  The only thing that kept us going in those early days was perseverance and having the discipline to get up each day to help the constant stream of addicts and alcoholics who kept coming to our doors.  And we helped them, no matter what.

That's what made us the success we are today – we never gave up and we never quit.  We put everything we had into our project and kept reinvesting until it hurt.  And today there are new people coming in who share that same perseverance self-discipline.  And they too will reap the blessings of their efforts.

Just as those of us who have been here for many years.

Friday, May 5, 2023


Addicts and alcoholics are great at coming up with excuses about why they are the way they are.

Some of them blame their addiction on their upbringing. They say they had a terrible childhood, where they were abused and mistreated by their parents. Others might say that they are alcoholics or addicts because their father or mother used drugs and alcohol.

Still others say that they suffered trauma in their life that caused them to start using. Maybe a loved one passed away. Maybe they were in an accident or assaulted.

I'm bringing this up as a topic today because I was thinking about my own experiences that I used when I was explaining to counselors why I was like I was. What I learned as I grew up is that counselors, social workers, doctors, and others in the helping professions are very sympathetic and compassionate people as a general rule. Sometimes they would even write me a prescription. They would listen to my excuses and nod their head in sympathy.

But the reality with all of us is this: we are not going to change our lives until we accept complete responsibility for who and what we are today. True, many bad things happen to all of us at some point in our lives – though that not always the case. The problem with excuses is that it leaves us sitting exactly where we are at this point in time. Until we recognize that we are participants in our problem we are never going to change.

And so if bad things did.happen to us, it provides us with a plausible excuse for what we are doing to ourselves. But that really resides only in our minds.  I always had an excuse for why I was poisoning myself with heroin and alcohol. 

Most of us ended up in treatment or recovery because everyone got tired of us and stopped listening to our sorry excuses about why we are the way we are. Even the most enabling parents or friends eventually become tired of our same old lame excuses and tell us to leave. The first few times that happened to me it left a burning hole in my heart. 

But eventually, when I had enough pain, I recognized the truth in what they said and decided that I needed to get sober. 

And that's what I did over 32 years ago.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, May 2, 2023


Someone once said that if you want to have a short 12-Step meeting just pick the topic of gratitude. And the meeting will be over shortly.

But I have found that is not true when a meeting is populated by people who have many years of recovery. And that's because those with 10, 20 and 30 years in recovery have experienced the ups and downs of life in sobriety and know what they have to do to stay sober.There is so much in the world to be grateful for. That is, if we just take the time to look around us at the larger world we will be filled with gratitude. For example, we are fortunate that we are not living in someplace like the Sudan or in Ukraine. Those two countries are devastated by war and those who live there are in constant fear of being the target of a missile or bomb attack. In the world we live in today, here in the United States, we have so much more security than people in other parts of the world do. That's something to be grateful for.

And we have much more to be grateful for in other areas of our life. When's the last time you have gone hungry? Or been without a home? Or been unable to get medical care?

How many people do you know in your world who have much less than you do? Do you know people who have physical limitations? How about people with incurable diseases? Or terminal illnesses? There are so many people in our lives who suffer from physical and psychological illnesses of which we are unaware.

Another good thing about learning to look at the world through glasses of gratitude is that it's harder to relapse when we have that state of mind. When we are angry or resentful it's easy to get high or get drunk. I've never heard anyone say "I just felt so full of gratitude that I had to take a drink."

We can even learn to be grateful for the challenges in our lives. And that's because when we overcome the challenges facing us we become stronger human beings. When we face obstacles and go around or over them we add layers of strength to our lives.

Click here to email John