Friday, June 30, 2023

Declaring our Freedom

This upcoming 4th of July is one of the biggest celebrations in our nation.  On this day in 1776 we celebrated the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain.

But for us sober alcoholics and addicts it denotes much more than the political freedom that was declared way back in history.  For us, real freedom came when we threw away the spoon and threw out the bottles.  For it is the day we reclaimed our lives.  We stopped being slaves to substances and alcohol.  We found that our new freedom allowed us to rebuild our lives. We could take responsibility and follow through.

On the day we declared our personal freedom we took a major step.  We were able stop going to prison.  We were able to build relationships.  To get married.  To return to our families or to start building one of our own.

Many Americans I meet aren't that philosophical about the 4th of July.   It's merely a time to celebrate.  Maybe take a day from work and go fishing or have a barbeque.  Do something fun.  But our freedom allows us to do much more than that.  We are now free to express ourself as we wish - as long as long as it doesn't hurt others.

If we look about, we can discover the freedoms we have in our country that others don't enjoy.  We can educate ourselves.  We can build a business.  We can become a benefactor to others.  Our choices are unlimited.

Today my freedom allows me to make positive choices to enhance my life - as well as the lives of others.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Jump-starting your Day

After 32 years of sobriety I feel like I have a good foundation in life.  Do I think I have all the answers?  Do I think it's impossible for me to relapse?   No, I don't believe anyone can say that no matter how many years they have clean and sober.

I still go to meetings at least once a week.  I work and talk with recovering addicts on a daily basis because I work in a treatment program.  But I don't make the mistake of getting my work in the treatment program mixed up with my personal recovery – although it doesn't hurt to be in an environment where the focus is on helping people get sober and rebuild their lives.

But I do more than just read recovery material or go to meetings to keep myself on track.  While I sometimes read recovery material in the morning, I also find inspiration in listening to self-help audio books. And it's a habit I've had for years, maybe 15.

I usually listen to audiobooks, because I can exercise in my home gym and listen to inspirational material at the same time.  Sometimes I drag myself out of bed not feeling particularly inspired or full of energy because I've been doing the same thing for 32 years.  But after listening to an inspirational audiobook I find myself getting charged up and ready for the day. 

Among the authors I recommend are Wayne Dyer, David Goggins, Deepak Chopra, Ryan Holliday, and Tony Robbins. And this is not an exclusive list.  But if you start listening to this type of material you soon find yourself finding other authors of the same genre.  There are hundreds of them out there.  At the moment I'm looking through Amazon for a book by Helen Keller, the blind, deaf, and dumb author that I've never got a chance to read about – though I have heard of her story from others.

I think that now that we're sober it's very important that we continually feed our brain with good information from positive authors. Their stories kind of run parallel to what we hear in an alcoholics anonymous meeting.  Of course the theme is different, but generally speaking the stories that I listen to and relate to are those about overcoming obstacles of various kinds.  The message is really about having the strength and fortitude to continue improving our lives no matter what challenges we face.

Trying incorporating this kind of input into your morning routine and you may be surprised at the results.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Too Young to Die

A longtime recovery friend - once a TLC client – sent me a text today about a close relative who recently went to a one-year recovery program.  But he ended up leaving after he was there for six months.

But his early departure didn't end up well at all. Upon departing, he immediately became intoxicated and stole a car.  That car got stuck in the mud so he abandoned it, then stole another one.  The second stolen car ended up getting stuck on the railroad tracks and hit by a train.  Undeterred, he stole another car and drove it until he flipped it and ended up in the hospital.

According to my friend, he died in the hospital at age 23.  Way too young.

While I did many insane things when I was using drugs and alcohol I was fortunate enough to survive.  And looking back I'm surprised that I didn't end up just like this young man – in the morgue.

After being sober for 32 years and having a wonderful life, I can't imagine reverting to the old lifestyle. Though I see it happen all the time with the clients at TLC and also to those who graduate from our treatment program.

When I think about this young man's too early death I wonder what happened to him while he was in the treatment program.  Did he forget why he went to the program in the first place?  Was he bored with living a sober life?  Did he have an argument with a girlfriend or family member?  Because I didn't know him personally, anything I thought about it would only be speculation.

When I went into recovery it was because life was becoming much too painful.  I was never happy. Couldn't keep a job.  All of my relationships had gone into the toilet.  Nothing in my life was working and I really thought I would rather die than continue as I was. 

And death was a distinct possibility because of my lifestyle.  Before I went into detox, I knew that if I didn't change I was either going back to prison, jail, or a mental hospital.  None of those options looked too appealing to me.  And that state of unhappiness is what made me knock on the door of a detoxification program in Mesa, Arizona, in 1991.   I had finally surrendered and it saved my life . 

I believe that all we can do when someone dies of alcoholism or drug abuse is to look at it as a life lesson. 

May he rest in peace. 

Click here to email John 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

49 Years Sober

This Sunday I'll have the privilege of seeing the 12th Step in action.  That's when my sponsor, Ralph H., speaks at my home group at 1045 E. Main in Mesa at 10:30 a.m. on the anniversary of his 49th year of sobriety.

The 12th step says, "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

This man is a great example of how this step works. He's always available to those who need an explanation of how the steps work.  And he's particularly effective because he's able to express himself with a touch of humor and a lot of humility.  When anyone seeks a sponsor he never turns them down.

I know this because he's been my sponsor for around 25 years. In fact, when I first met him, he was the director of the detoxification unit I went into when I first became sober in 1991.

Some seven years after I left that unit I asked him to become my sponsor.  And he's been there for me  since.

On my seventh birthday he told me something I've never forgotten. He said "You think this is as good as it gets, but it gets better."  At the time I had everything a man could want: job, home, savings, all the blessings from the promises.  I couldn't imagine how life could get better.

But it turns out he was right.  Life has gotten better.  And it's because I've been able to grow spiritually - to become a better human being.

And it's all due to a sponsor who's been patient and loving with me.  And I respect him because at 89 years of age he's still carrying the message to alcoholics.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Hating Dad

For many years I hated Father's Day. Not only that, I also hated my father for as long as I could remember.

And I hated him because he was a brutal, raging alcoholic who would get stupidly drunk and beat everyone and everything around him when he was on a rampage. 

Between my brother and me, I would suffer the brunt of his anger and get my ass kicked on a regular basis.  My little brother was much smarter than me.

When my father would strike him, he was smart enough to fall to the floor and start crying.  At that point, my father turned on me.  After a while, I became the focus of his attention because most of the time he would start assaulting me and my brother would escape completely. And the reason he would start on me, is because I didn't care how much punishment he gave me, I'd be defiant and unwilling to even give him the satisfaction of shedding tears.  Instead I'd run outside with my bottled up pain and find someplace on our small farm to vent my tears and anger.  Usually I'd end up behind the barn or perhaps sitting at the edge of the small creek that bordered one side of our property. There I'd sit, crying until I had no more tears left. But I still carried a residual anger that I took out on those around me.

Between eight and 12 years old I took my anger out on those around me in the small country school I attended.  I became known as someone who was not to be messed with.  Even though I was a skinny little kid, my unpredictable anger kept others away from me.  There were only a couple of kids out of the 90 some students that attended that small school who could beat me up. And they didn't want to bother with me because they usually became injured in the process of putting me in my place.   

Around the time I was 12, my mother took custody of me and my brother and moved us to Southern California to live with her and my stepfather. The one thing I brought with me from Oregon and that small farm was the anger that I carried inside.  And today I believe that that anger is what led me to alcohol and drugs – into a life of crime that put me in prison, jail, and mental hospitals for over 15 years.

Until I was in my 50s I carried anger and resentment toward my father.  It was only until later, maybe into my 40s, that I realized that living with these feelings was getting me nowhere.  Once I got sober I came to terms with my childhood and in fact found some strange sense of gratitude for the upbringing that I had at the hands of my father.

I think that because of the way I was treated I had a sense that I was less than others.  And because of that I felt a burning desire to become a success. And eventually I came to a point where I was even prepared to forgive my father for how I was treated.  In fact, I visited the small cemetery in Ohio where he was supposed to be buried.  But the caretaker told me his grave was unmarked and that he didn't know where it was.

I left that cemetery feeling a little lighter - even though I was unable to visit his grave and maybe say a few words.  Today I think it was because of the way my father treated me is why I've been able to have a successful life, rather than dying from alcohol and drugs. Or perhaps ending my days in a prison cell.

 I became able to focus my anger and resentment and use that energy to become successful at whatever I tried to do.  And I was able to do that.

Because I have worked with addicts and alcoholics for the last 30 years I've heard many stories from those who blame their addiction on their upbringing in a violent home. But because of my own experiences, I am able to tell them that it's a waste of our precious time to dwell on what happened to us as a child. And I can tell them that because I spent much of my time using my upbringing as an excuse for living with my addictions.

The only way to change our lives today, is to accept what happened to us in the course of our upbringing. Only then can we live a clean and sober life and focus on becoming a successful human being.

Click here to email John

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Reason for Gratitude

 No matter where we go in the world we can always find something to be grateful for.

I bring up the subject of gratitude because I'm on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and I see a lot of handicapped people on the streets panhandling. Of course I'm grateful that it's not me out there panhandling.  But it also tells me that no matter where we go in the world that some people have it worse than others.  In the case of some of these handicapped panhandlers, a lot worse.  Many of them are missing limbs and unable to get around without the aid of a wheelchair or crutches. And I'm pretty certain that most of them don't have disability insurance.

The average person in this country makes about $16.50 a day. The only exception is those who live around the northern border of Mexico, next to the United States. Mexico has raised the minimum wage in that area because a lot of American companies operate there and they'll pay a higher wage for employees and still save money over what they would pay in the United States.

Still, people from this country seem to be happy and satisfied with their lives. Even though they don't have the latest electronic gadgets or fancy cars I never hear a lot of complaining from them about their circumstances. They seem to be grateful for having their health and their families, a place to live, and food on the table.  I think they realize that beyond the basics more stuff is not going make them any happier.

When I see them struggling to provide the basics, yet still seeming to live happy lives I'm even more grateful for the opportunities I'm given in my own country.

Click here to email John


Monday, June 12, 2023

Do I want Success?

 Do I want to succeed?

When I went into a detoxification program over 30 years ago I had a burning desire for success. And what did success mean to me at that time? 

Then, success meant many things – but none of them were really material things. True, when I first got out of detox and went to a halfway house I had nothing. Zilch. I didn't even have a change of clothes. But those were things that I could accumulate in time.

Back then, success meant being free of the drug and alcohol habit which had plagued me for much of my life. All I needed was a job.  A home.  A car.  But those could wait.  Because the most important thing was being completely sober.  And learning to live that way happily.

So I lived my life a day at a time.  I spent no time muddling around in my past.  Nor, did I spend a lot of time looking toward the future.  I knew I could do nothing about my wretched past except feel bad about it.  And I knew I could do nothing about the future until it arrived. 

But, I began to feel successful once I went into the halfway house.  For the first time in my life I had a clear vision: I wanted to live life without being enslaved to drugs and alcohol.

Even though I was 51 years old at the time, I started out at the bottom. I worked entry-level jobs. I did day labor.  I remember that I had one job digging holes under swimming pools looking for leaks – and at minimum wage.  Another job I had was spreading gravel with a shovel for a landscaping project in 110° heat.  But, I didn't let the hard work deter me because I had a burning desire to succeed.

I attended 12 step meetings. I found a sponsor with whom I could communicate, one that I thought would understand what was going on with me. I did service work, chairing meetings at the local detoxification center for the first six years I was sober. My sponsor led me through all the steps and I began to understand the dimensions of my disease.

I had originally planned to stay in that halfway house for 30 days, thinking that I would have my life together by then. But I didn't think I was ready when I arrived at 30 days so I made a commitment to stay six months.  And when I arrived at six months I decided I needed at least a year of sobriety before I set out on my own.  So I ended up living at the halfway house for a year.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

After I left the halfway house I decided to start my own recovery program.  It was hard work, but I felt successful whenever I helped someone learn how to live in recovery.

Today I have a lot of material things, but none of them are as important as the feeling of freedom I have from my addiction.

Is there any advice here for an addict or alcoholic who's looking for success?  Yes.  And that advice is to follow your passion.  Believe in yourself and your dreams.  Be willing to fall on your butt once in a while because being successful and staying sober is often hard work.  Wrap your success in recovery and your success will come easier.

You're worth it.

Click here to email John

Friday, June 9, 2023

Why get Sober?

Why get sober is a question I used to ask myself for years.  I mean I thought I was living a great life, always drinking or shoving a needle in my arm.  Not working, always stealing or slinging dope so that I could live in an altered state of consciousness.

In my opinion those who questioned my lifestyle just didn't know how to party and have a good time.  People might suggest that I get a goal in life and I  would say that I had a goal:  to get as high as I could for as long as I could,  And in a sense, that's what happened,

I'd be in and out of jail on a regular basis.  Once I spent a year in a mental hospital in a therapy program.  When I did the math I figure that I'd been in custody for about 16 years - all because of my addictions.

But there came a time in 1991 when I had a moment of clarity.  I'd lost everything for the umpteenth tune and didn't know where I was going to get my next fix or drink.  I was living in a stolen car, had zero money, and was probably going to have to steal a nasty hot dog from Circle k if I wanted dinner that night.

While I sat in that stolen Mustang contemplating the state of my life I made a decision that forever changed my life.  I realized that I was either going back to jail, die of an overdose, return to a mental hospital - or get sober.  When the get sober option popped up it was like a jolt of electricity coursed through me.  And that's because it's an option that I'd never seriously considered ,

After mulling that over for a while it seemed like a good idea.  No more stealing.  No more looking over my shoulder for someone about to arrest me.  No living in a state of anxiety or fear because I never knew what was about to happen.

That was in 1991, over 30 years ago.  Once I made that decision to get sober everything changed.  I went to a detox for 11 days, then spent a year in a halfway house.  When I left there I started my own recovery business.

Today, as I write this, I'm sitting on the penthouse balcony of a resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, overlooking a marina filled with sailboats and yachts.  I have a wonderful life back in Arizona, operating a business that helps other addicts and alcoholics get their lives together.  My mission in life today is to continue to help others change their lives if they're so motivated.

And, believe me, helping others is a good reason to get sober.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Happy & Homeless

Today a staff member noticed a former client of our treatment program sleeping in the doorway of a business down the street.

Wanting to be helpful, our staff member asked him if he'd like to return to the program and start over. But the man declined, saying he was quite happy living on the streets with nothing.  So he purchased him a soft drink from a nearby store, and went on his way.  Before he left him in the doorway, he told him he was always welcome to take another try at the program once he got tired of the streets.

It's not unusual for clients to abruptly leave after they have an issue with the way things are operated - or they simply get into a fit of anger.  Patience is often not a virtue among those in recovery.

And this kind of behavior does not disturb us much.  Over the last 10 years we've seen hundreds of clients become impatient with their progress and simply walk away.  Some will do this more than one once because it often takes repeated failure for people to change.

Many clients seem to think that once they enter a treatment program their so-called problems will automatically be solved.  It takes them a while to realize that treatment is hard work and often comes dressed in work clothes.  And the hard work is not done by the staff, but it has to be done by the client themselves if there's to be any hope for change. Many newcomers are looking for an easier, softer way to get sober. But speaking as someone who's been sober for 32 years, recovery is sometimes a very difficult proposition.  Just because I got sober, that doesn't mean that life automatically gets better.  Life can still be a bitch and things will not always go our way..  Life will always have its ups and downs no matter how sober we are or how good our intentions are.

But what we teach in our treatment program is that one can live sober and clean if he or she has the motivation and uses the tools that we give them.

The longer one stays clean and sober the more one realizes that living in recovery is not for sissies. The people in the world with real courage are the single mothers or fathers who are raising a family on a low-paying job, yet still not reverting to drugs or alcohol to prop themselves up.

They have learned to live life on life's terms.

Click here to email John

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Acceptance is the Key

I speak only for myself when I say that one of the greatest single words in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is acceptance.

It appears a few times in the book.  And once I let the word sink in it changed my whole outlook on my drinking and drug use.

I first really paid attention to it at a speaker meeting.  The man at the podium was describing his misadventures with booze.  He said that one day his sponsor told him that he would never succeed at staying sober until he got into acceptance.  Until he accepted that he was incapable putting any addictive substances into his body he didn't have a chance of living like other people.

He said that it took a while for the concept of acceptance to take hold.  He said that for a long time he knew he was an alcoholic but that he had some idea that he wasn't really that bad.  That he could stop whenever he wanted to quit.  But while reflecting, he realized that since he was a teenager he was always having problems with alcohol and other substances.

And when family or friends would suggest that he slow down and use in moderation he would tell them that he was just having a good time with his friends.

Yet his partying and using seemed to always get out of hand and before he knew it he was in trouble.  Yes, he could quit for a few days.  But sooner or later he would find himself in jail, or a hospital because he couldn't control himself.

Until his sponsor had him make a list of times he successfully drank without eventually getting into a mess, he wasn't fully convinced that he was powerless over drinking alcohol and using other substances.

Once he looked over that list his sponsor had him write he realized that examining his history with drinking and drugs is what made him realize he had a problem.  He said acceptance of who and what he was is what set him free.  

To stay sober for the past 32 years I first had to accept that I had a disease called alcoholism.  Once I did that things kept getting better and better.  And I'm able to enjoy the life I have today.

Click here to email John