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Voices for Recovery

John Schwary (09/13/2010)

John Schwary

My story is like those of many others in recovery.

I lived for several years with an abusive alcoholic father.  I stole my first drink from one of my father's bottles when I was around five years old.  I was beaten so often  that the sheriffs offered to put me in foster care when I was eight years old after they were called by school authorities who were alarmed at my condition.  But fear kept me right where I was.  I think I was afraid he would kill me before the police could take me away.  I became so inured to physical abuse that when my father beat me I'd no longer cry.  I wouldn't let him know I was hurting.

That repressed anger stayed with me much of my life and I'd fight at the least provocation.  By the time I was 12 and returned to live with my mother I was on a path of self-destruction.  I hung out in school with those who did drugs and drank.  I started stealing and at age 15 I was arrested in the principal's office and booked into juvenile hall for burglarizing several doctor's offices.  Between the ages of 15 to 26 I was out of jail or prison for 17 months.  My offenses always involved drugs.

By the time I got into sobriety I had spent some 16 years incarcerated, plus a year in a state mental hospital in California. I had drank for 40 some years and used heroin for 38.

One problem I had getting sober was that I wouldn't admit I was an alcoholic.  I knew I was a drug addict because I was always being arrested for drug charges. But those in the prison culture look down on alcoholics. For that reason I didn't want to be one.  In spite of this bias against alcoholics we were busy making alcohol whenever we had the chance.

I was 51 years old when life finally convinced me that I had a problem with any substance I put in my body.  At the end I would steal alcohol every day from convenience stores.  I would drink enough to muster the courage to steal something bigger to trade or sell for heroin.  That cycle finally brought me to my knees.  I was totally demoralized.  I knew I had to do something or else I'd be back in prison, the mental hospital, or dead. The day I got sober I was homeless and living in a stolen car.  I had one change of clothes and $.73 in my pocket. 

I stayed in a detoxification unit for 11 days.  When I entered those doors I admitted I was powerless over everything.  I was willing to do whatever I was told if it would help me get clean and sober.  Once sober, I went to a halfway house in Mesa, Arizona.  My plan was to stay 30 days, get a job, an apartment, and move on with my life.  Once there, though, the dimensions of my problems became apparent.  I stayed a year in that program.  It was one of the best years of my life, because it started me on the path of recovery.

While in the halfway house I decided to get into the recovery field.  The day I left I opened my own five bed halfway house, which has since expanded into one of the largest recovery programs in the Southwest. Today our organization has 800 beds available for homeless substance abusers.

January 14, 2011 I'll have 20 years sober.  These have been the best 20 years of my life.  Pain free or uneventful?  Of course not. I've been married and divorced. I've earned two college degrees.  I lost my only brother to alcoholism.  Family members and friends have passed on.   From being homeless and broke I've become financially secure. In other words I've been living the ups and downs of life.

And through all, by the grace of God, I haven't drank or done dope.

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