THIS MONTH'S GUEST SPEAKER: "Tommy V."
How did I get to NA? Well, the short story was I was busted for dealing at college by campus security. The college administrators gave me a choice, to face the real police & probable jail time or to go to a rehab. My reply was: "Let me think about it." I really didn't want to go to rehab; the thought of facing myself was too much. Lucky for me, my kid brother told me "Don't be an idiot, you can spend six weeks in there and play your guitar."
I had started abusing drugs as a young kid, when I used some medication. I don't know exactly how old I was. When I was older, age 11, I started drinking and a year later I discovered pot. I was using often, whether it was stealing booze from my parents or from other kid's parents. I would take money from my mom's purse. I was in love with getting high. In grade school, my friends said I was 'permanently high.' What they didn't know was I was using nearly every day.
I graduated to other drugs. I didn't have a single clean day through my high school career. I figured I was smarter than every one because as long as I didn't use a needle, I wasn't a drug addict. But LSD, speed, coke, or whatever was ok. I had several near death experiences in high school. For example, in freshman year I was found choking on my own vomit. My kid brother saved me. When I got my license I would drive while hallucinating, or drunk, or whacked out...and sometimes the car would spin out of control, ending up in some unusual places. I even crashed my car on my graduation day, in the school parking lot.
I am a good swimmer, and yet I had to be pulled out of a pool when someone saw my body lying at the bottom not moving. I went "fishing" and ended up with a pipe in my back. I had a single bicycle crash, and someone found me unconscious and called an ambulance. My older siblings tried to help by telling me not to party so much. My parents told me not to hang out with certain kids, but they didn't realize I was the problem.
Somehow I ended up in college, and my using got worse. I knew I was damaging my brain and my body, but I didn't care. I was on the 'honors floor' and I needed to get high after I woke up. I couldn't get my usual connection that day, so I asked someone for another contact. I needed to remember four numbers, and walked down the hall to use the pay phone (sorry, pre-cell phone people). Anyway, I walked back three times to get the number. On the fourth time, the dude wrote it on a piece of paper...and I was on the "honors floor" and couldn't remember four digits.
I would do whatever it took to get high. I stole from a charity to buy drugs. It didn't matter. I over-dosed and was rushed to the hospital. They sent a priest for last rites and I screamed and curse the poor guy out of my room, like I was straight out of "The Exorcist." After I got out of the hospital a couple days later, I want right back to using. I blamed it on a bad combination of drugs.
A friend coped some opium, and I smoked it. I absolutely fell in love. I didn't want to use needles, so I asked him to cop more. Then I asked him for heroin. Some friends of mine were busted for dealing coke, and ended up doing jail time. Then someone on campus I sold to was busted by the campus security. At this point I didn't really care whether I lived or died. As a matter of fact, I knew security was coming for me because I saw them walking down the hall toward my room. I thought about throwing my stuff out the window but didn't. I felt almost relief when they knocked on my door.
At the doors of rehab, they took my guitar away. I was a six foot tall 20-year-old, weighing in at 119 pounds dripping wet. I wasn't sure I wanted it, but I wanted to want it after I saw people bring in meetings. They seemed happy, and I really couldn't imagine a life without using. The rehab told me two things. My odds for staying clean were not very good and don't go to NA, it doesn't work.
Back in the early 1980s there weren't many NA meetings in my part of NJ, and I went to AA at first. I found someone who used like me, and would call him everyday as he suggested. I told him everyday my first year that I wanted to get high. He would say the same thing: "You can, tomorrow, just don't use today, and call me before you pick up tomorrow." I started working the steps. I didn't feel the instant relief as some people do, but I heard, "don't quit until the miracle happens" in the NA meetings. I started to gravitate more and more to NA and went 'all in' the NA program. I got an NA sponsor and home group, and did service. I started with chairs, ashtrays, and greeting people. I didn't know how to talk to people when I wasn't high, but by taking those early commitments, I learned.
So after 33 years in recovery, I can say that NA gave me a life worth living. It is hard in the beginning, and I often wanted to run-a-way from myself by getting high, but by sharing with the group, and sponsor, and allowing the love and support to come in, I've stayed clean despite myself. I stay clean just for today. All I have to do is not get high today. To me, we are all in this together. I definitely haven't gotten everything I wanted, but I have been given more than I expected. Give yourself a break and give NA a chance.
I've lost jobs, girlfriends, and had my share of setbacks. I was injured at work in my thirties, and came back. At around 10 years I married the love of my life, we have two wonderful kids, I went back to college, got a masters degree, and now I am in a doctoral program. I developed head and neck cancer and was sick for about 18 months. All this time, I was open to the joy of living, despite the suffering. The steps and meetings were probably the most important reason I am still clean. The steps have helped me live in the moment and be open to joy and love, sorrow and pain; in short, they have helped me live a happy life on life's terms. The meetings are so important, because I got to know other addicts from regular contact, and they could tell when something was wrong, even if I didn't want to share it and was planning on getting high without telling anyone.
I do not know if this helps you, I really feel my words are not good enough to express my gratitude to NA, or the gifts I have been given. I will say that NA works, if you surrender. I also think you should give yourself a break, like I have done. My best thinking nearly killed me. Today, I simply try to follow the path of recovery just for today.