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