Tuesday, November 28, 2023

At the Marina

Today I'm writing this blog from the balcony of my rented condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have a beautiful view of the marina full of sailboats and motor yachts.  The last time I was here was November 2022.  I've been trying to get back here ever since.  But for one reason or other the trip has been canceled – either by crisis at the office or being ill.

In any event, I'm not complaining.  In 32 years sober I feel grateful to be alive and still on the planet.

When frustration takes hold of me, as it does when I don't get the things I want, I start thinking about poor me.  But then I pinch myself and realize that I must be grateful every day for having gotten sober January 9, 1991 in Mesa, Arizona.

And since I got sober I've been trying to help other people get sober and built an organization to help facilitate that project.  And mostly my trying to help others has been a great blessing to me as I've been able to pretty much live the life I dreamed of before getting sober. 

In all my fantasies I never imagined I'd be able to live the life I do today.  I work the hours I want, probably about six hours a day.  I own my own home.  I take my family on vacations in the summer and around Christmas time.  Although none of us are totally in control of our destiny I sometimes get the feeling that my life is going exactly as I would want it to without changing anything. 

And I say that to let you those of you in recovery know that there is a better life possible when we get sober and/or clean.  And while this may seem common sense, it's much easier to say it than to put it into practice.  While the idea of recovery might sound to some people as being easy it sometimes is quite the opposite.  Just because we get sober, life doesn't go away.  We still have to work.  We still have to raise our kids.  All the same kinds of things happen when we're in recovery, as happened when we drinking and drugging.  However, it's just not quite as bad and most of the time a lot better.

Try staying sober, living a normal life, and good things will happen for you also.

Click here to email John

Saturday, November 25, 2023

You can do It

 "Those who say they can, and those who say they can't, are both right." Unknown

I was listening to a friend who says he has difficulty incorporating exercise into his life.

He says he'll make a commitment to take a walk, or ride his bicycle, but is rarely able to fulfill his commitment.  He'll get started okay, but then before he knows it he's turning around to go back home. For some reason, he's unable to do what he needs to do to take care of his health.  And he's been this way over the many years that I've known him.

My experience is that doing things that require self-motivation means that we need to raise it to a level of importance so we can follow through.  It's kind of like doing anything else that's important to us: going to the doctor, going to a business meeting, going to dinner with friends, planning for a vacation and so forth.

When things are important enough, we set aside the time to do them.  And the way we set aside the time to do them is to set our alarm in the morning – for example for exercise – and get up and work out.  And it's that simple.  We need to schedule the time to do things for ourselves, just as we would schedule a time to do things for family and friends.

The only way I get anything done is to set aside time to do it.  I set my alarm for 5:30 every morning and do mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes.  Immediately after that, I hit the gym for 45 to 60 minutes.  Do I always feel like doing these things?  Hell no.  Sometimes I tell myself that I deserve a day off.  I need to get to the office a little earlier today.  But I never give in to those thoughts.  Instead, I complete what I set out to do and my day goes much better because I do that.

We all have the same amount of hours, minutes, and seconds, in our days. And people who make weak excuses about not having time to take care of themselves are really lying to the most important person in the world – themselves. Very few of these people will miss their favorite TV show or the opportunity to spend time fooling around on the Internet.  So there is no excuse why we don't have time.  Somehow we have to reach down inside of ourselves and find the motivation to take care of ourselves so we can live the best lives we can.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Being Thankful

If there were to be a major holiday for alcoholics and addicts it would have to be Thanksgiving Day. Because that's when we give thanks for most everything.  And gratitude is the recurring theme for most of us in successful recovery.

And even though I have no ongoing resentments, I sometimes get irritated this time of year over how the media characterizes this holiday.  About half of the time "Thanksgiving Day" is expressed as "Turkey Day."  And while my memory may not serve me well, this has become a trend over the past few years.

So what's the big deal about Turkey Day versus Thanksgiving Day?  In my mind, demeaning this day with a focus solely on what we eat pays no homage to the purpose of the holiday.

For the historically challenged, it started in 1621 when the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony celebrated a feast of thanks with their Native American neighbors.  Because they were grateful for a bountiful harvest. And through the years the holiday has become a time to reflect on our blessings.

My fear, though, is that if we trivialize this sacred day by making it all about what we eat then we've taken the spirit from of it.  It has become just another excuse to overeat a lot of rich food, rather than a day of gratitude for what God has provided.

Let us be grateful and also express it with Thanksgiving for our very existence,

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Tough Love

 A woman sent an email recently about her father, a man in his seventies, who had relapsed and started using again.

She wrote that she and her husband had given him an ultimatum: that they would no longer communicate with him or be in his life until he sought help.

By the tone of her email, I could tell that she was quite distressed by having to take that position with her father, who isn't in the best of health.

But in my opinion, that's the most loving thing she could have done for her father – to try to help him salvage the remaining years of his life and live them in health and sobriety.  I've never met this lady and admire her courage, because somewhere along the way she's learned tough love and has put it into action.  Even though he hasn't asked her for money or financial help, she doesn't want to socialize with him while he's under the influence of whatever poison is putting in his body.

She's a rare species.  Because most family members I deal with are seeking some kind of magic potion that will instantly cure their loved ones without having to do anything painful to them. 

But this woman apparently understands that we addicts will use anyone we can to get whatever we want as long as we're in the grips of our disease.  We'll lie to our children, our wives, our parents, anyone we can take advantage of.  We'll steal from our employers, strangers, or anyone else who's vulnerable.  We'll risk our health, our freedom or sanity for that temporary rush of euphoria our drug of choice brings us.

And the best way to help someone who is caught up in addiction is exactly what this woman did. She and her husband presented a united front by taking a position with someone dear to them. Because they realize that the father has the choice. 

And the choice is his family or the poison that he's putting into his body.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

This Moment

Here and now is a place where things are manageable.  I can get up today to go to work, even if I'm not sure I could do it the rest of my life.  The pain in my back might be severe today.  But is it going to stay with me from now on?  Today I may be broke, or not have a job.  But will this always be the case?

If I stay present, I face life in manageable chunks.  If I speculate about a problematic future, I might become overwhelmed to the point of picking up a drink or drug.

If I'm managing an archaeological expedition through the wreckage of my years of drinking and drugging and being irresponsible and abusing I might get lost and never get back to today.  Living in today, I don't need to open the door and enter that tunnel to my dark past.  Instead, I stay in today, where where the light of the moment shines upon my activities and keeps me focused on what's real.

The idea of living in today did not originate with the framers of the 12-step programs.  Eastern religions for centuries have taught the value of focusing upon this minute, this moment, this second that we've been given.

Regardless of where it came from, the concept of living a day at a time teaches us that life is manageable - something each of us in recovery can use to our benefit.

Monday, November 13, 2023

We all can Prosper

About 100 feet behind my office are two large dumpsters that have block walls around them - probably put there by the City to make the area more esthetically pleasing.

Sometimes when I drive by them to my parking spot there's someone either in the dumpster, or climbing out of the dumpster.  Most appear to be homeless men searching for aluminum cans or other items they can recycle or sell.  For sure, those dumpsters are a regular stop for those on the homeless circuit who park their shopping carts outside while they look for something of value to put in them.

While the dumpsters are there for the businesses in the area, construction workers, and landscapers who don't want to drive to the city dump also make use of them.

I bring this up because sometimes I have a hard time understanding why people would work that hard to survive.  Are they addicts?  Are they mentally ill?

When you think about it, being homeless is hard work and sometimes dangerous.  There's never a guarantee that a homeless person will find something to eat.  A place to shower, a safe place to sleep or take care of their other needs. To survive on the streets takes a certain amount of cunning and ambition.

Several studies show that the homeless population has many addicts and mentally ill within their population.  Yet, in spite of that, they somehow muster up the ability to survive and feed their habits.

I know that if they took the time to think about it, there are much easier ways to meet life's needs.  We live in a time of prosperity where signs are posted everywhere by companies seeking help. One would have to be blind to not see them.

I think they all could prosper if they would put the energy they expend on scavenging - toward positive things like working a regular job - they would succeed.

Or they might read the story of the man who went from being homeless to becoming worth 3 billion  dollars.  His name is Paul Jones DeJoria and he's one of the creators of a top line of hair products.  His story is on YouTube and is well worth reading.  Forbes magazine rates him as one of the 400 wealthiest people in the world which goes to show that anything's possible if we have the will - homeless or not.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Culture of Recovery

 I get lots of emails and calls from loving people.  Mostly mothers.  But also wives, sons, daughters - and sometimes just friends.

They wonder what to do.  How do they help their loved one get sober?  To give up the drugs?  To stop abusing themselves?  To stop stealing from them?

But most of the messages are full of naiveté.   They don't understand that it's not simple to help an addict or alcoholic. The disease is complex and sometimes defies solution. Even when the client is willing.

They kind of have it on a par with going to the doctor for a physical injury.  The doctor patches it, sews it up, or writes a prescription and things get better.

I can feel the pain and love in their messages.  I can sense their tears as they write the words.

And it’s hard to explain to them the work it will take for their loved one to change.  It’s going to take more than simply removing the drug or alcohol.

Because once the addict leaves his drug of choice she/he enters new territory.  The world of recovery has values one must embrace.  It’s like moving to another country where one doesn’t know the language and customs.  It takes time to adjust.  It can be frustrating to grasp the new language and values.

But if one sticks with recovery they start realizing the benefits.  The family returns.  Self-respect comes back.  Their bank account grows.  They find peace.  Responsibility becomes a way of life.  They know about gratitude.

Soon they start sponsoring others,  lifting them up.  And when they reach out to others like this there's hope for long-term recovery.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Do I want Sobriety?

TLC is a good place to be if your goal is recovery.  And it's a terrible place to be if it's not.

This came up for me a while back when I got feedback about former clients who had left.

One had left a TLC halfway house because he couldn't use prescribed painkillers.  But eventually he was able to find a house where prescription drugs weren't a problem.

Soon though, he wanted to return.  It seems everyone at his new place was using something, either alcohol or drugs.  Management was absent.  Police showed up once in a while. People stole from him.   And people threatened him.

Another report came from a program where several former clients had gone after relapsing at TLC.

At that program pretty much anything goes. As long as they don't create problems and pay their rent residents do what they want.  Drink.  Use drugs. Whatever.

Over the past 32 years I've seen this scenario over and over.  Someone starts a halfway house, thinking it's an easy way to earn a living.

Then reality sets in: do I want to help addicts get clean?  Or do I just want to turn a quick buck?

Those who choose the quick profit option don't last.  Because before long word gets around. And the only people who go there are those wanting to drink or drug.  And they're a pretty unreliable bunch when it comes to paying their bills.  Soon the place folds.

Eventually, those who are serious come back to TLC because they know if they follow our guidelines they'll stay clean.

It's just kind of sad to see them take these detours.  But relapse is sometimes an educational part of the process.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Pain = Change

 The "turning point" was the topic at a twelve-step meeting a while back.

And as the topic circulated through those attending the meeting they all said they'd decided to get sober for different reasons. One person had lost a parent and child within a short period of time. Another had ended up in jail. Another was served divorce papers. Yet another was in a serious automobile accident that almost cost him his life.  Another was about to lose his job.

Myself, I look at the turning point as the catalyst that helps us to change.  But instead of calling it the turning point, I just call it pain.  Because really that's what it all boils down to: pain.

Addicts and alcoholics in the grips of their disease rarely make changes when they're on a winning streak,  Or when they have enough alcohol or drugs to keep them out of their minds.  Change always comes after we're put in jail, in the hospital, evicted from our homes, or perhaps served divorce papers.  No one is merrily skipping along in life and all of a sudden gets the idea that they should attend a twelve-step meeting because they're bored and have nothing else to do.

Those attending their first meeting are refugees from some kind of a demoralizing or impossible situation in their life.  They either got into the doors of the meeting on their own.  Or perhaps they had a push from the court system or a family member.  Or maybe their life had completely crashed and they were homeless and broke.

In my case, I'd gone through the pain of withdrawal many times.  And I suffered such serious consequences as going to hospitals and prisons, losing jobs, getting divorced, and becoming alienated from my family.  All of these things would seem to be motivation enough for a person to want to get sober.  But I apparently had a high tolerance for pain because it took me until I was in my early 50s to decide to change.

I believe that pain is the great motivator that helps many of us get clean and sober.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Constitutionally Incapable?

The star of a popular television series was recently found dead in the hot tub at his home in Los Angeles.  According to press accounts, he was much beloved and recognized by his fans.  And he was also very open about his alcoholism and addiction to drugs.

I never watched the show he starred in, so I don't really know much about him.  But after I saw all the publicity I watched a couple of interviews where he discussed his disease quite openly.  During one of them, he described that he had been in literally dozens of detoxification programs and had attended hundreds of 12 step meetings – but that nothing had worked.  He said something about being incapable of staying sober.

In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous it talks about alcoholics who are "constitutionally incapable" of change.  And in another section it mentions that "some are sicker than others."   Not being judgmental of this man's premature death at 54 years old, these two quotes came to my mind after I listened to the interview that he was giving when he talked about his difficulty with alcohol and drugs.

Thank God I didn't have as much difficulty getting sober as he did.  When I came into the program I realized that I was an alcoholic, something that I had never denied.  It just took me a lot of pain and misery before I elected to do something about it and get sober.

And I found when I went into a detoxification unit with the attitude of wanting to get sober, everything changed.  After 11 days of medical detox I went to a halfway house, where I lived for a year.  During that time I regularly attended 12 step meetings and while I don't consider myself an expert in recovery, I have managed to stay sober and clean for almost 33 years.

One thing I like about the 12 step program is that it's pretty black-and-white, cut and dried.  If I do what is suggested I will stay sober.  And I have done what is suggested to the best of my ability.  And the result is that I have a wonderful life today.

My suggestion to anyone who wants to get sober and stay sober is to follow the simple directions found in the Big Book and in the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The meetings are free and if you're not happy with the results you can always go back out and embrace the misery that you came from.

Click here to email John