By Rickard Jean-Noel
September 30, 2020
Often times in life we are presented with a task that leaves a life lasting impression on us. Theremarkable thing about life, is that the greatest lessons often times come unexpected. There are many different ways to look at addiction. Many people view addiction as a disease and often times outcastes the sick. We look down upon them and cast them to the waste side. We put titles on them such as crack head, boozer, loser, lowlife, and junkie. We cast judgement without explanation and provide them with no recourse or an option for redemption. After attending the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) my views on the individuals and my views on addiction have completely changed. After attending the meeting, I now see the entire person and not just their addiction.
The Narcotics Anonymous meeting that I attended was called “Uptown Men’s Meeting”. I was able to locate the meeting by conducting a google search with the key words “NA meeting in New York City. I was then forwarded to https://nerna.org/virtual-meetings/ where I joined a meeting via Zoom. I was surprised to see so many meetings on this website and the fact that there was a meeting starting every 30mins for all hours of the day. From my understanding, the meeting place for the group that I joined was usually at a church in Harlem, New York, however due to the social distancing regulations and the COVID-19 virus, their meetings were now being held online. The people in the group praised technology because it allowed up to 86 people into the group chat. I was surprised at the amount of people that were in the group and how casual there were speaking about their addictions and things that they have done in their past.
Upon the start of the meeting I felt like a fly on the wall. I was observing everything that was going on and what I can compare it the best to was church. They started off with affirmations, and one of the common ones that they read was the “Serenity Prayer”. The prayer was written by theologian and professor Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr. The prayer goes as follows: “God, grant me the serenityto accept the things I cannot change,the courage to change the things I can,and the wisdom to know thedifference.Living one day at a time,enjoying one moment at a time;accepting hardship as a pathway topeace;taking, as Jesus did,this sinful world as it is,not as I would have it;trusting that You will make allthings rightif I surrender to Your will;so that I may be reasonably happy in this lifeand supremely happywith You forever in the next.Amen” (Reinhold Niebuhr, https://www.celebraterecovery.com/resources/cr-tools/serenityprayer).
I was surprised to see that they had included spirituality into their meeting, but they also reminded the group that they were not a religious or political group. They reminded the group that they were not affiliated with any courts of law or law enforcement agencies. They also stated some ground rules at the start of the meeting which included not share the details of the meeting on social media. Their rules also stated that the group was a men’s only group, hence the name “Uptown Men’s Meeting”. Surprisingly, there were women in the group. Some of the women were there to support their husbands, some of them identified as men, and some left the group once they heard the rules. We were also asked if we were new to the group to introduce ourselves. Everyone that introduced themselves would say “Hi my name is________, and I’m an addict”. Again, this was a shock to me because I have never heard addicts say outright that they were addicts. However, after thinking about it deeply, I realized that the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.
This particular group was exceptionally large and had over 86 people in the Zoom meeting. Because of the groups size, it caused it to be remarkably diverse. Like stated earlier, it was a men’s only group but there were a couple of wives supporting their husbands. However, the majority of the people in the group were men. The men ranged from all different ages. I am not sure of their exact ages; however, I saw young men, and I saw older men. They were men with their babies in the meeting, and there were older men that barely had any teeth in their mouths. There were men with gray hairs, and there were men in the group that did not have hair at all. The racial make up was also remarkably diverse. There were African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasian Men in the group. There were people from Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Florida, and etc. This was one of the things that was said in the introduction of the group, that there were people from all walks of life, both rich and poor, tall and short, old and young, but all suffering from addiction and all here to support each other. The one thing that united everyone in the meeting was the illness of addiction, and the fact that they all wanted to be better and do better.
This particular NA group used the “12 Stepof NA” as well as “The Twelve Traditions of NA”. The “12 Step Recovery Modal” that was shared and read at the beginning of the meeting went as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
One thing that the group facilitators stressed to the people in the group is that the steps do seem like a tall order at first, however it was not intended to be conquered all at once. They reminded the group members that they did not become addicts in one day, and therefore it would take time to recover. They also stressed the importance of three spiritual principles which are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. If applied correctly, these principles would help led you to sobriety. The group also stressed that they took a realistic approach to addiction by encouraging one addict to help another. They did this by pairing the group members with sponsors. The Sponsors hold each other accountable for their actions. The group also stated that once the problems in our lives were addressed and improved upon, the rest of our lives would improve as well. They were also realistic in stating that the only way to beat addiction is to never do drugs at all because doing it once is too much and once you do drugs, even after doing it over a thousand times will not be enough. They also stressed the need to stay away from all drugs during recovery, including alcohol, which is a drug as well and that leads people with addictions back to doing other drugs.
The “Twelve Traditions of NA” includes the following:
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on NA unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority— a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or NA as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.
- An NA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every NA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- NA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Narcotics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. (https://naindia.in/natest/12-steps-12-traditions/)
During the meeting it was explained that understanding all of these principles would take time and patience. They all stressed that in order to be successful in the group, there must be some form of “NA unity”. It was also stressed that we must follow the 12 steps and the 12 traditions and that no part of it was negotiable. We were also informed that the principles when applied correctly helped the success of those that came before us and therefore will be able to help us the same.
Members of the group were able to express themselves and provide feedback one at a time. There were several individuals in the group celebrating the anniversary of their sobriety. Some were celebrating 10, 15, 20, and 35 years of sobriety, which was an inspiration for other group members. Many of the group members spoke about their relationships with their sponsors and other group members and how they helped to empower each other and helped each other through life’s many ups and downs. Members were able to comment on what the speakers said through the Zoom group chat, and provide writing and verbal feedback. Majority of the feedback was positive; however, one older gentleman was a bit cranky because he was interrupted during his Yankee game to give his testimony. Overall, the climate of the group was a very laid back one. It seemed like the majority of the members knew each other and had been attending groups for an exceptionally long time. They spoke about different times in their lives and how they helped each other get through it. Some even stayed back after the end of the conversation to have personal conversations and to catch up on old times.
Judging by the way that the group was conducted, the many testimonies given, and the overall good vibe of the group, I would say that the 12-step meetings can play a significant role in the recovery of persons with addictions. I believe that it is the support system and the fact that they have a safe place to be honest with others that allows them a place to actually heal. The people in the group were transparent and they held each other accountable, which allowed them space to grow. I believe that this would be incredibly positive for anyone that is dealing with addiction, or any problem. I would consider referring a client to a 12-step meeting because it would help them to be around individuals that acknowledge that they have a problem and are willing to not only fix their problems, but to help others fix their problems, and receive help from others to fix their problems as well. I believe that if it could leave such a strong and lasting impression on me, then it would do the same for a client, especially one that needs the help. Overall, it was a great experience and I would not mind doing it once again.