Friday, December 29, 2023

100% Success!

 I was reflecting today on a story I heard over 33 years ago when I first joined Alcoholics Anonymous. And it goes like this:

A young man was attending his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and someone suggested that he find himself a sponsor.

Since he didn't know what a sponsor's function was or how he could be helped by a sponsor the man he was talking to explained it.

After it was explained, he asked the man if he knew anyone who could work with him as a sponsor. And the man obligingly pointed out an older gentleman who was seated at the other side of the meeting room.

The young man approached the older gentleman with some trepidation. Then he asked if he could talk to him about being his sponsor.

"What would you like to talk about?," asked the older man.

"Well," asked the younger man, "how many people have you sponsored?"

The older man scratched his head for a moment, then answered "Probably in the hundreds."

"And," asked the younger man, "How many of them are sober today? In other words, what's your success rate?"

"My success rate is 100%," answered the older man.

The younger man looked at him in astonishment. "You mean that 100% of the people you sponsored are sober?"

"No," the older man replied. "But I am."

And I've always loved this story because it kind of sums up the secret of Alcoholics Anonymous: when we work with others and help them stay sober we have a good chance of staying sober ourselves.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

We have Choices

 It's amazing how we can change our lives if we just make a decision to do so. I say this, because 33 years ago this month I was sitting on a park bench wondering what I was going to do with my life.

I was homeless. I was addicted to heroin and alcohol. I was sleeping in a stolen car. I had no money, no insurance, and no plans about how I was going to live my life. I was totally demoralized and sick and tired of the way I was living. I had no family or friends who wanted to speak to me. They'd given up.

While sitting on that bench I realized that I had a few choices. I could keep doing what I was doing and end up back in prison, in a hospital, a mental institution, or I could go into a detoxification unit and get sober. After sitting there for some time I decided to try to change my life by getting sober. So I located a detoxification center on Bellevue St. in Mesa, Arizona. Even though I had no money or insurance, they accepted me. They kept me there for 11 days, until I no longer had a craving and I was no longer sick. Then they found a local halfway house a few blocks away that would accept me without funds. And that's how I began my journey into recovery.

When I went in that halfway house it was with the idea that I would stay about 30 days. Then I would leave, find an apartment, and begin living like other people. But after I was there 30 days I realized that  wasn't nearly enough time for me to get my life together. I discussed the issue with my sponsor and he suggested I stay six months and get a really solid footing in recovery. So for a change, I listened to someone else's advice, someone who had more experience than I did with recovery, and made a commitment to stay six months.

But even at six months, I realized that I didn't have the solid footing that I felt I needed. So without even discussing it with my sponsor I made a decision on my own to stay in the program a full year before I went out of my own. During the last six months of that stay in the halfway house I went to work for them as a house manager. I enjoyed that kind of work and because I like to help people, I thought I might start a halfway house of my own after I had more experience.

I won't burden you with all the details and hassles I went through to secure my first three houses after I had a year sober. I will tell you that it was scary to take that first step and that the first year was really a bitch. But after the first year things started flowing a little more smoothly and when a few years passed I had a program with over 300 residents in it. In the 33 years since I got sober I've been blessed by being able to help many people do the same thing. And I've also had the sad experience of seeing many people leave our program before the miracle happened and end up overdosing or dying of alcoholism.

I share this with you to let you know that we have choices in our life. And if we take the time to think about what we want to do we might make the right choice.

Click here to email John

Saturday, December 23, 2023

First World Problems

This has been an interesting year for me, especially this Christmas season.  While I had big plans for the end of the year they didn't turn out at all the way I visualized.

One of my plans was to spend 10 days in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - from November 27 through December 7 - in a condo by the Marina, relaxing and looking at the sailboats beneath our balcony.  I was able to achieve some of that, but then on the fifth day I slipped on a carpet and broke a couple bones in my right foot.  So, the next five days I was hobbling around on crutches with my foot encased in a boot.

And because of the break, my plans to accompany my family to Las Vegas for three days between Christmas and New Years were quashed.

Like many addicts I find it easy to slip into a bad mood and feel sorry for myself.  Because once I visited my doctor here at home he restricted my life even more by telling me to keep my foot elevated for four to six weeks and not do much else.  Of course that's not my style because I like to keep moving and taking care of business.  The only reason I followed his directions is because I thought I'd make things worse if I did what I wanted.

As I mused about my situation I began to realize that in relation to many others my life is just fine,  Specifically, I thought about the hell that people are going through in the war between Israel and Gaza.  In comparison with what the tunnel hostages are going through my problems are zero.

I think the term "first world problems" is a good description of what we face in our country compared to what many in the so-called third world are forced to live with.  In the 32 years of my recovery I've learned to have gratitude for everything in my life, regardless of how difficult I think they are..

Life depends upon my outlook.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Not Enough Time

"It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?"  Henry David Thoreau

Clients – and sometimes friends – sometimes talk to me about not having enough time to do good things for themselves.  Things like exercise.  Or meditation.  Or eating healthy food because it might take a while to prepare.

However, I believe that "not having enough time" is simply an excuse we use to avoid change.  Or not wanting to admit that we're lazy.

When I have these conversations I usually start out with the obvious.  How much time do you spend playing video games?  Or surfing the internet looking at funny cat videos?  On Facebook, chatting with friends?  Or simply vegging out in front of the television?  Or taking smoke breaks?

For example, I have a family member who admits watching four hours of television after he gets home from work.  But somehow, he can't find time to get to the gym - even though he says he'd love to work out if he had the time.  And I know more than one person in our company who'll play video games well into the night, then show up for work saying he's tired because he didn't get enough sleep.

We have choices about what to do with our time.  Most of our choices are based on our priorities.  If our priorities are to escape the present moment and distract ourselves, we have myriad ways of doing that. Our televisions, our cell phones, our computers, all give us an opportunity to escape into fantasyland and avoid the present.  And we somehow delude ourselves that these things are more important than making healthy choices about how we spend our time.

The one thing that we cannot replace is time.  We either spend it wisely.  Or else we fritter it away on useless distractions.

Am I on my soapbox condemning the use of technology to distract ourselves?  No.  I sometimes divert myself the same way: surfing the net, watching television, or talking with friends on the phone.  But I don't do these things to the point where I don't have time to improve my life.

I guess the bottom line is that it's about balance.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Christmas Thoughts

For over 29 years Christmas hasn't been one of my favorite holidays.  And it's not because I'm some kind of a grinch.  Or don't like to see people celebrating the holiday. The reason it's not one of my favorites is because my mother died 29 years ago on Christmas Eve.

She'd been in the hospital since November 1, 1994, to have a piece of metal removed from her leg that was starting to cause her pain. She had broken it several years earlier and the doctors placed a metal splint on the bone in her leg, along with a few screws, so as to give more support to the spot where the break had occurred.  But it had begun to cause her pain and she asked if I thought it was a good idea to have it removed.

Of course I don't like surgery or hospitals – I know they are necessary for our survival – but I left the decision entirely up to her.  Because she was the one who was suffering from pain, not me.  Of course, in retrospect I would have told her to not go into the hospital.  But the way she explained it to me is that it was a very simple surgery that would be done on an outpatient basis.  The metal splint would be removed and she was to return home the same day.  But things didn't go quite the way she explained it.

The doctors decided to keep her in the hospital under observation for a few days because of her reaction to the surgery.  They wanted to make sure that she was entirely functional after she left.  Anyway, to make a long story short one complication led to another and her condition started to deteriorate.  At one point she even developed pneumonia.  But after some therapy so she could get used to the new splint that they had put in her leg they made plans to release her on Christmas morning of 1994.

I'd gotten off work that day and went home to shower and was planning to visit her as I did every day she was in the hospital when a call came from a nurse.  She told me my mother had passed away 15 minutes earlier.  Of course, I was devastated and went to the hospital full of grief and with tears running down my face.

It seemed surreal to me, so unbelievable, because I was planning on picking her up the next morning and taking her home.  But it didn't happen that way.

Many people have advised me to get over my grieving and I believe that I did a long time ago. But still, because it happened on Christmas Eve I'm always reminded at this time of year that I lost one of my best friends, someone who supported me through the many years when I was living the life of a drug addict.  She didn't support my habit or anything like that.  But she did encourage me to get help both when I was in jail and out of jail and it took me a long time to follow her advice.

One of the things that makes me happy is that she was able to see me sober for three years and working in the recovery field.  I think that gave her more joy than anything.  And even though I recognize that today, the Christmas holidays are not the best time of year for me.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

About Trauma

 In our treatment program, we deal with many clients who wrestle with trauma.

The number one issue that seems to traumatize clients is if they were abused as children – either physically, emotionally or sexually or a combination of the three.

And indeed, these are some of the toughest issues to deal with, especially when a client also has a co-occurring drug issue.  It often takes a lot of therapy for people who have many interwoven issues to make changes.

In my opinion, the best approach is if we are able to help the client see that they should bear no guilt or shame for what others did to them when they were vulnerable and young.  But that's easier said than done.

For oftentimes it's a family member who exploits the vulnerable child, leaving the victim with confusing memories of trauma imposed upon them by those who should be protecting them.

When a victim is very young it's difficult for them to make sense of a world where those they trust and love and depend on are crossing sacred boundaries.  Many times they are unable to understand any part of it and are left in a swirl of shame, pain, and confusion.

When a victim carries unresolved and conflicting issues into their teens and early 20s it's no wonder they find drugs and alcohol such a relief.  We often hear people say in 12-step meetings that the first time they got drunk or high is the first time that they felt like they belonged to the human race.  All of a sudden their pain is abated and they feel a new sense of freedom.

So is there an easy or simple way to deal with trauma from our early childhood?  The answer is that there is a way to deal with it.  But it's probably never going to be painless or simple.
The answer is that we ultimately accept and assimilate what has happened.  Unless we want to go through life carrying a burden of pain, depression, and sadness, we have to be able to accept the fact that there are many things that happen over which we have no control.  We must accept that there are bad people in the world, sometimes even those who are supposed to protect and care for us.

Sometimes it's a tough choice to make: do we reopen old wounds in our quest for peace?  Or do we just wait and hope that somehow time will heal us as our trauma disappears in the mists of the past? Whichever path we take, we must realize that our time on this planet is limited and that we want to live happy and free. 

Otherwise, we might find ourselves doing a lifelong dance with alcohol, drugs, and therapists in our quest for peace of mind in an effort to mitigate our pain.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Here and Now

While I usually relate living in the moment to New-Age or Eastern philosophy, Western science also knows the value of living in the now.  

The Psychology Today website article, "The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment" cites techniques for those of us who would lower our stress by living  in the moment:

1.       To improve your performance, stop thinking about it (unselfconsciousness).
2.       To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present (savoring).
3.       If you want a future with your significant other, inhabit the present (breathe).
4.       To make the most of time, lose track of it (flow).
5.       If something is bothering you, move toward it rather than away from it (acceptance).
6.       Know that you don’t know (engagement).

This is good information for anyone who wants to enjoy life to the fullest.  I especially recommend this to those of us in recovery.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Broken Bones

Just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last night after spending nine nights in paradise,  But I probably should rephrase that because it wasn't nine nights - it was only five nights.  Because on the fifth day I broke my right foot while exercising,  Like most addicts I was denying that it was broken; I thought I'd simply sprained it.

So I took some Tylenol and laid down, believing I'd feel better in a few hours.  However, that wasn't the case.  When I put my right foot on the floor an excruciating shock went through my foot and ankle and I found myself heading for the emergency room.  An x-ray confirmed that I'd snapped a bone on the outside of my right foot and did serious damage to the bone next to it,

The prognosis was that it would heal if I stayed in bed for the next 4-6 weeks with my foot elevated on a pillow.  When off the bed I was to wear a large boot that would force the bones to stay together.  At that point the best part of the vacation was over because the only movement I made was either on crutches, in a wheelchair, or while wearing my boot.

My companion and I discussed returning home early.  But that didn't make much sense because wherever I was my movement would be limited so why not be by the ocean?  So we stayed.

I guess the worst part of being bedridden is that it cancelled my Christmas trip to Las Vegas, made me miss Christmas events and requires that I work from my home office.

Even though this is unpleasant, the one thing one learns after 33 years of sobriety is how to accept the adversity that sometimes comes our way.

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Friday, December 1, 2023


 On vacation.  Blog will resume December 7.  Thank you for visiting.  John.