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.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Resentment's a Waste

In the 32 years I've been sober, I've tried to be compassionate to my fellow man.  And most of the time, I'm successful at it.

I'm not one who holds grudges.  I don't stay resentful at anyone for long.  And I try to practice forgiveness of those who commit even the most egregious offenses toward me.  And that's because I don't want to carry a lot of garbage around in my head.  After all, I'd much rather spend my precious time enjoying life and doing what I can to help my fellow addicts and alcoholics have better lives.

I bring this up, because for the past 32  years of my recovery – working with TLC in the recovery business – it seems like I've always had someone who was angry at me about something.  For a long time, there was a guy who had the strange idea that he owned part of TLC, simply because he was one of the first 10 residents in the program in 1992.  While he was spending some 20 years in prison he was writing letters to everyone he could think of trying to make sure that he got the part of the company he owned.  As far as I know, he hasn't had a lot of success because I don't hear anything about him anymore.  Of course one of the reasons I don't see him around is that we got a restraining order against him for two years in a row and haven't seen him since.

Then about 15 years ago, there was a gentleman who made me the topic of conversation at every 12 step meeting he attended.  He went to every governmental agency in the state, including the governor's office, the Attorney General's office, the legislature, the Environmental Protection Agency and I don't know who else, trying to put us out of business.  Whatever he was doing, it didn't work.  Because we're still here, helping people get sober and clean.

But the interesting part of it was that I had no idea who this guy was or what his problem was.  He was just someone who was very angry at me and TLC and spent a lot of his headspace and time trying to have something done about us.  I'm still curious about why he was so angry.

And just when I thought that maybe the craziness had died down for a while, a few years back another delusional person pops up to make us a target.

And the strange thing is that I'm not angry at any of these people.  In fact, I have a lot of compassion and pity for them because they're wasting their lives and precious time on this planet trying to harm those who are performing a service to the community.   Each of them could use their innate intelligence and ability to build a great life for themselves if they only did positive things – rather than looking at themselves as victims.

Because my experience has been that those who characterize themselves as victims usually live up to their self-image.

Click here to email John

Monday, August 21, 2023

Then the insanity Returns

I witnessed the insanity of addiction play out over the past couple of weeks.  And it wasn't pretty, because people close to this addict were insisting he hadn't relapsed.  Instead, they swore he was experiencing a psychotic episode due to his bizarre behavior.  

He had a responsible job he'd held for going on 20 years.  He was involved with his church on a deep level and carried the word wherever he went - almost to the point of sometimes irritating those around him with his proselytizing.  

Then he started exhibiting bizarre and erratic behavior.  He'd leave home early, returning late at night.  At some point he left his long time job.  He depleted the family savings and purchased a new automobile a few levels above his income grade.

Still family members were doubtful he was into drugs - even though he'd used them when he was much younger.  Since he has a large family there was a lot of buzz as to where he was and what he was doing.  

His car was seen at a hotel.  He was spotted sleeping behind a convenience store.  He'd declare that whatever he needed the Lord would provide.

At some point - convinced that he was going crazy - the family petitioned the court to hospitalize him.  And when the police caught up with him they took him to a hospital for observation.  However he was released shortly after because he apparently convinced the staff he was okay.

Whatever the case, he ended up at a different hospital a few days later and is still there at this writing.

The part of the this story that fascinates me is how family and friends insist he must be going crazy, rather than looking first at the obvious: a relapse into substance abuse.  

They may be a bit more open to the idea of a drug problem once they learn that drug paraphernalia was found in his car when he was arrested.

Click here to email John

Friday, August 18, 2023

Premature Death

 I received word this week that a distant relative I hadn't seen in a long time had passed away of "natural causes."

And, of course I didn't believe for a moment that this man – at 57 years old – had died of natural causes.  While I didn't socialize with him because he lived in another state, I'd heard stories over the years of his excessive alcohol and drug use.  And my belief is that he died from effects of his addictions as so many of my friends and family have over the past many years.

I knew this man from the time he was a child because his father and I were fellow alcoholics and drug users and good friends.  I spent probably 15 or 20 years around him as he was growing up.   And the only education he ever really got was from parents and friends who were all drug users and addicts of one kind or another.

There's an old saying that goes "apples don't fall far from the tree." And that was the case with this man, who was never exposed to anything positive as he was growing up surrounded by addicts.

I'm not being critical of this man even though he and I were not very close. I just bring it up because we learn in recovery that our addictions never bring us a happy life. We either end up in jail.  Homeless. In the mental hospital.  Or in some other unhappy situation.

Only a small percentage of the people that I socialized with when I was in my addiction have died sober.  The remainder came to a sad ending.

Now that I've been sober for 33 years I've seen addicts get sober and raise sober children. I believe we always become to some degree just like the people we're surrounded with and children surrounded with a sober family have the best chance of growing up to be sober and contributing members of society.

I've known this man's brothers and sisters for as long as I've known him.  And hopefully they're doing something positive with their lives.  But with the upbringing they had I have serious doubts about how their lives will go.  Life sometimes teaches us tough lessons, and this man's premature passing is simply another of those lessons. 

May he rest in peace.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Why get a Sponsor?

When I first came into recovery I really questioned the idea that I'd need something called a "sponsor."  Yet every 12-step meeting I went to, people at the meeting would refer this person in their lives who gave them advice on how to stay sober and deal with life's issues.

But for some reason, probably my ego, I didn't see the purpose of having someone tell me how to live my life just because I had gotten sober.  After all, I've read much of my life, having had plenty of time to do so while locked up for 15 years on the installment plan.  I also had been employed by a nationwide newspaper chain and worked as a staff writer for quite a while.  So I knew how to read and understand the literature that was presented to me in Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs.  

It was only later, that I realized I was kidding myself.  And that epiphany came to me when I heard someone at a meeting say that, "if you don't have a sponsor it's like you're trying to fix something that's broken, with something that's broken."  And of course the thing that was broken was my brain.  If I was trying to fix my broken brain with my broken thinking I wasn't going to get too far.

So after I heard that, I decided to consider the idea of finding someone to help me understand what the Big Book was all about.  And it wasn't easy to find a sponsor with whom I was compatible.  I went through probably three of them before I found the one that I've had for the last 25 years.

You see, the thing about a sponsor is that if you get the right one, he or she will have encountered the same problems you have.  And they've been able to deal with them and stay sober while doing so.  It's sort of like someone who goes to medical school.  Before they're allowed to practice they have to do what is called an internship, which teaches them how to deal with real life medical issues that occur.  All the books they've read have just given them a foundation; they have to learn how to put the knowledge into practice. This analogy is kind of what happens when we get sober: we have to learn how to put what we read in the book into practice in real life.

So about 25 years ago I was able to find a sponsor I could get along with.  Next year he'll have 50 years sober, while I'll have 33.  I don't call him much anymore because he usually tells me that I know the answers to my own problems.  But we periodically still enjoy lunch together – and a meeting – just because we have become good friends.  

And these kinds of  friends help save your life.

Click here to email John

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Serious about Recovery?

Clients in our program aren't allowed to be on any kind of opioid maintenance.  The only painkillers they're allowed are over-the-counter medications like Aspirin, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Advil or others in that category.  No Methadone or suboxone.  The only exception is if they'd had a medical procedure and the doctor puts them on an opioid for a few days.

However, in spite of our best efforts to convince them otherwise, we often have people who think they should be allowed to use drugs - as well as so-called "Medical Marijuana" - just because they have a doctor's prescription. We've even had addicts threaten to sue us over this issue.  But that wouldn't get them far because we don't object to their use of those substances; they just have to do it elsewhere.  And we have the right to make the rules for our clients.

But the real issue comes down to whether one wants to recover or just straddle the fence.  Because our philosophy at TLC is pretty black and white:  either you want to get clean or you want to get high.  Our belief is that you can't have it both ways.

While this may sound melodramatic, our view of addiction is that it's a life or death proposition.  Recent statistics show that two people a day die from substance abuse in Arizona.  Our mission is to help recovering addicts rebuild their lives,  And part of that process is living clean so they can stay alive instead of becoming a statistic.

We're not here to make them happy.  Our goal is to teach them to live sober and reach their potential. 

Click here to email John

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The good side of Stress

 I just finished a book that I'd recommend for any addict or alcoholic.

The title is "The Upside of Stress," written by Kelly McGonigal.

She's a psychologist and university professor, who for many years, taught that stress was a bad thing. Something that we should avoid. But her thinking eventually changed after she saw some research describing how stress can also have a positive effect on us. That it's not as terrible as we might think.

And while I can't put all the details in the short space of a blog, the idea that stress might be good for us makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.

After all, hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were still living on the prairies and in the jungles, it was stress that kept us alive. And the stress was generated by the reality that we might be by eaten by an animal if weren't constantly on point and having an anxious awareness of the world around us.

The author describes how stress helps us perform better in certain situations, that it's something that we don't need to hide from. She cites studies that show that those who believe that stress is bad for them die earlier and suffer a lot more negative effects from stress than people who have a positive attitude toward it.

In many cases, she demonstrates that stress improves our performance, especially if we embrace it and learn to use it to our benefit.  She teaches us how to become good at it.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

24 hours

One term we hear often in the rooms of the 12 step programs is "one day at a time."

So what's the deal?  To newcomers the concept is sometimes difficult to understand.  Yet the idea of living life on a 24-hour basis is integral to the success of those who are in early recovery.  It's kind of like the old question of how do you eat an elephant?  And the answer, of course, is one bite at a time.

If we feel like running off from the treatment program because we can't stand the idea of being sober we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we can hang out just for the rest of the day.  And the answer is, of course, that any of us can do such a small task as stay sober the rest of the day.  Why so?

Well, think about it.  When we look at our lives and are facing all kinds of challenges it's natural to wonder "do I have to do this stuff for the rest of my life?"  And the answer, of course, is yes.  But that's where the idea of living our lives one day at a time is so helpful.

After all, most any of us can do anything for one day at a time.  But thinking of having to do the same kind of hard, grinding work for the rest of our lives doesn't look like so much fun.  So that's the beauty of living life a day at a time.  Actually, I've heard in the program talk about living life an hour at a time, which is sometimes necessary. The idea is that we can find the fortitude and courage to do difficult things in small increments.

And before we know it, those days at a time become years of recovery - with all its blessings.

Click here to email John

Thursday, August 3, 2023


 Sometimes patience is not one of my virtues

I bring this up because about three weeks ago I had some minor surgery and am not supposed to not do any serious exercise for at least 5 to 6 weeks.

About the first week after surgery I was itching to start working out again.  However, I overcame my desire for a dose of endorphins because I wanted my recovery to be complete before I got started again.

And this is not the first experience I've had having to learn patience.  A year ago February 7 a car ran a red light and totaled my car, hitting my driver side door and injuring both me and my daughter.

She suffered some serious damage to her pelvic area and and internal organs. My sternum was fractured from top to bottom, my three left ribs were broken, my left shin had the skin taken off of it, and my right knee cap came loose.

And this accident created another situation where I had to develop patience.  I couldn't work out at all for about six weeks.  Then I had to start very lightly and very slowly – mostly doing calisthenics and walking.

I had almost gotten back into my pre-accident condition when I had another accident in my home gym and broke three ribs on the left side.  Again, I had to practice a lot of patience before I was able to get back to my exercise routine.

I have a lot of conversations with myself about acceptance, tolerance, and patience.  But that's the way I roll. When something isn't going my way I sometimes have to spend a lot of time talking to myself until I realize that this too shall pass or something new will come up in life.  The one thing life teaches us, the longer we're on the planet, is that the only constant in our lives is the changes that sometimes happen when we least expect them.

I know that many in recovery abhor exercise.  But for me it's been one of the pillars of my recovery.  I don't exercise for any other reason than to stay healthy and mobile as I move into my mid 80s.  I'm a person who believes that I'm responsible for my own health, not my doctor.  While I use the doctor when necessary, I maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I guess that's why I'm impatient today.

This might not seem to be the right topic for a recovery blog.  Yet I think that a successful recovery is based on a lot of patience, acceptance, and tolerance – something we can benefit from by applying them in all areas of our life.

And even though I've put all these words on my screen and believe everything I'm saying here, I still have the urge to get back into my routine. But I won't because I have the patience to wait - for my own good.

Click here to email John