THIS MONTH'S GUEST SPEAKER: "John B."
Originally posted in July 2004(The author retains all rights to this material)
IT WASN'T UNTIL I GOT TO N.A. THAT I STARTED LISTENING
My name is John and I am an addict. I never had to think twice about this – from the time I first smoked pot at age twelve until I was thirty-nine my whole life and thinking was centered in drugs in one form or another: getting, and using, and finding ways and means to get more. My adolescence and young adult life was controlled by drugs.
Some of you reading that will recognize quotes from NA literature. I consciously opened that way because it wasn’t until I got to NA, started listening to what the people who brought meetings into the hospital I was detoxing in were saying, that I realized that there were people who knew exactly how I felt. These people were describing how it felt to be beaten down by addiction, what it was like to keep using even when I desperately wanted to stop – that feeling I had while waiting on the corner for my man to show up, ready to pick up despite just having gone through a week of hellish discomfort kicking, doing that bag even while a voice inside me was saying “no please no, not again.” I was powerless over my addiction, and life had become unmanageable. The last time I got out of detox, I was so afraid I would go back to using, so hopeless that suicide seemed like a valid, the only valid, alternative. I was so terrified by the reality of this insane thinking that I called the crisis unit of a local hospital and voluntarily committed myself.
Because I had burnt the last remaining bridge, alienated my last chance means of support by picking up, I was homeless and ended up spending a month inpatient while trying to find emergency housing. I realize now that this delay was a higher power answering my desperate pleas for help, because during that time, besides getting my weight up and my mental state somewhat stabilized, I got to hear the NA message twice a week. The H&I subcommittee of the Central Jersey Area Service Conference of Narcotics Anonymous had made arrangements with the hospital, and area addicts had volunteered to serve, to carry the message to the still sick and suffering addicts inside. That definitely included me, and to this day I am grateful to those addicts who took the time to come in and share their hope with this hopeless addict. I pray that I never forget to be grateful for the message that has saved my life, because I trust in the saying: “a grateful addict will never use.”
At first I just stuck around the meetings because it was nice to have any visitors, and these people seemed to be having a good time, smiling and sharing some friendship among themselves, and reaching out to us despite the fact that most of us were not exactly friendly, mixing varying degrees of addiction and mental illness. But some time around the third week I started to listen to what people were saying, and to pay attention to what was written on those cards they had us read out loud at the start of every meeting. It began to dawn on me that these people were telling my story, that there were people out there who had known that desperate hopeless feeling that had gotten me to what seemed like the end of my road. I realized that the words of the First Step – “powerless over addiction – life had become unmanageable” were a precise description of that state of mind. Others had felt that feeling before, and these people were trying to tell me that admitting defeat didn’t mean the end, that it could in fact be the first step towards finding a new way of life.
For this addict, coming to this understanding really did come as a flash of revelation. It was as if a huge weight had suddenly been lifted off of me. Narcotics Anonymous members had shared their hope with me when I had none, and I was finally ready to accept it. Since leaving the hospital and getting involved with NA on the outside, NA has kept its promise: “an addict, any addict, can stop using, lose the desire to use, and find a new way of life.”
I have come to believe that the power we can find through working this program can work for any addict, because I was committed to using drugs. From the first time I got high, I pursued any means to alter my thinking with substances I could find. I loved getting high more than anything else, as I was to prove repeatedly any time something seemed to interfere with my using. When I was a teenager in the late 70s, it was pretty common for kids to experiment with drugs, but I was never the type to just try something once, or once a month or once a week. Whatever I got into, I did every day. I couldn’t start my day without using whatever I was into at the time.
I’m still in the process of learning about myself, and finding out what is at the root of this urge to get outside of my own mind, but it was at least in part a way to feel less different. I was always the weird kid, never quite fitting in to any of the groups. Getting high made me acceptable to the kids who thought I was a nerd because I didn’t have any trouble with schoolwork. I can remember once hanging out in a group that included a girl I had had a crush on for years. When she saw me take a hit off the joint that was passed around, she looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you were cool.” I took that lesson to heart: straight ‘A’s or the lead roles in school plays didn’t matter; taking drugs made me cool. This is not to try and place any blame; I was already a committed user by that time, it’s more an example of what events in my life I chose to emphasize to justify my using.
Drugs dominated my choices for a quarter century. When it came time to choose a college, which I did because it was always just assumed that I would, and I tended to drift along with whatever (not because I was grateful for being blessed with intelligence and a family who struggled for the means to help me develop it), I found a little liberal arts college that I could tell would be a good place to find lots of new drugs. It has a great academic program, but I was on the lookout for those little clues we addicts can spot. It’s amazing the powers of observation we have when looking for drugs, yet we’re able to overlook so much about how we live our lives! My instincts were correct, and I became quite the connessuer of psychedelics. Drugs even determined my academic choices – no to rigorous stuff like science, yes to esoteric literature and philosophy, and highly abstract math – it’s okay if your papers on surrealism or symbolist poetry are a little “out there!”
I decided to do my last two years of college in NYC. When I got there, I got involved with some friends who were into the music scene. My spacey-hippy sensibilities were confronted with the East Village punk scene, loud raw craziness in little dive bars. My fan-boy awe over musicians soon gave way to the “I can do that” feeling that was so liberating about that scene, and I soon was in a band with some college friends. But from the start the band was something to do while we got high, and even when we began to get better after a few years, it continued to be about the drugs to a greater or lesser extent. In my case greater, of course. Another part of that 80s East Village scene was what became my longest-running drug of choice, which had been one of my “I nevers”: I started doing heroin, and didn’t stop for fourteen years. Well there were brief periods when I only did methadone, but for me there is no difference – narcotics dependence is narcotics dependence whether you get your drugs from the street or from a clinic.
Despite some minor success with the band, there came a point – and I can remember saying this – that the music was interfering with my drugs. I had to make a choice, and I chose using. The same thing with my relationships with women over the years: there always came a time when they said, “it’s the drugs or me,” and it was really no contest. My whole life and thinking was controlled by drugs. The sickness of my thinking finally began to dawn on me during the last relationship I had while using. Look up “codependance” in the dictionary if you want to see our picture. As her addiction progressed I was able to see in her the things I would never see in myself. My self-esteem finally got so low I could no longer stand it as I began to accept her supporting our habit through prostitution, and watched as our desperation led her to increasingly worse situations. Wanting for her what I could not yet want for myself, I agreed to go into a detox just to get her to go too. I was scheduled to go into detox on 9/14/01. Three days before that, the outside world became as crazy as my inside world. Stunned, I arranged to move back down to the Jersey shore where I grew up, to stay with my sister after detox.
I am grateful to her for giving me a place to go, but it was her belief that as long as I didn’t use illegal drugs, it would be okay if I drank. Thinking of alcohol as different from other drugs caused this addict to relapse. I had never been fond of drinking, but I found that I could use bourbon obsessively if that was what was around. I also thought it would be okay to visit my semi-ex-girlfriend in NYC, get drunk and see a band. (This is what they mean by “people, places, and things”!) After a night I wish I could forget, I decided the best cure for my hangover would be some heroin. Thus began my last run, lasting until my sister could no longer sustain her denial and cut my funding. I hit bottom – helpless, hopeless, sick and suffering, wanting to stop but still not able to, I became eligible for membership in Narcotics Anonymous.
This weekend I celebrated 18 months clean. For someone who never made it home from a detox without picking up, who never went two days without using (outside of a hospital) for 25 years this is truly a miracle. I owe this to the program of Narcotics Anonymous: admitting my powerlessness, deciding to turn my will over to the care of a loving higher power, and learning some spiritual principles through the fellowship I find in meetings and the people I have found there. I say higher power because this is a spiritual, not a religious program
I started going to meetings as soon as I got out of the hospital because I knew I had to. Now I also want to; when I’m feeling lousy, I get to a meeting and I start feeling better. I got involved in service, because that’s what the people who had what I wanted (like my sponsor) were doing. Today I have the privilege to bring an H&I meeting into a hospital – often I go to meetings and see people who brought the meeting in to me and people who were at meetings I brought in, and I am grateful to our predecessors who found this way to stay clean a day at a time and learn a new way of life, and let us know that we keep what we have only by giving it away. I am grateful for the ability to learn to live and enjoy life on life’s terms by working the program of Narcotics Anonymous.
Thank you for letting me share.