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NA: FUBAR or A-OK?
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NA: FUBAR or A-OK?

So, I went to my first NA meeting last night. It wasn't quite what I'd expected. See, I envisioned one of two things:

1. Some namby-pamby support group, giving hugs all 'round, weeping on one another's shoulders, drinking dime store coffee from plastic folding chairs drawn up in a circle in a high school gymnasium or church conference room (think the weepy support groups from Fight Club). A club for soccer moms and yuppies who had gathered to pour forth their feelings and offer mutual support.

2. A whole bunch of strung out, emaciated tweens with long hair acting tough and "scene," while secretly internalizing a petulant wail for "Mommy!" A round-about of "thuglets" whose juvie parole officer or strict parental unit had insisted they attend as a condition for their rehabilitation, with perhaps a dash of genuinely hardcore people who would promptly settle into the Alpha position. Think the cast from Dangerous Minds.

I know I fall into neither categorization. I've got tribal tattoos running from ankle to shoulder, but which aren't visible if I'm wearing so much as jeans and a t-shirt (bad for Corporate America otherwise). I have three black belts, and I've never lost a "real" fight, though I've been in them. I've run with every crowd from Wa Ching (Chinese mafia) to US Marines, and spent nights in alley dives and penthouse apartments. I'm better read and, I like to think, better spoken than most lit. professors, and have gone through college with a 4.0 for a science degree. I have a real job (I've worked for major motion picture studios, telco giants, and international automotive firms), and I've never stolen or pawned to support my habit.

Subsequently, I expected a Vini Vidi Vici type response to NA. Wow, was I wrong.

I arrived at the website-designated address, which boasted not a single sign that I was in the right place. Just a rather spartan "Amity" picked out in white riverstone on a hillside. I wandered down the path, in my designer jeans and leather jacket, turned the bend, and found myself in an almost theatrically-staged prison yard. No other term describes it. Enormous men, most shaved bald with facial hair, almost to a man 250lbs+ and tattooed from crown of the head to ankle, lifted weights on a free weight set, played poker on a picnic table, smoked cigarettes and less-than-politely play-boxed one another.

I somewhat cautiously approached a man who looked like he could become very violent, very quickly, and asked if I'd found the NA meeting. Yes, I was informed, it began in 10 minutes. This was not what I'd expected at all; the last thing I'd anticipated was that I'D be the namby-pamby.

The meeting began with the lot filing into a "classroom" with posters on the wall about "Lifers" and boasting mottos like, "Stay Clean and Stay Out!" Then, I was startled into silence by the vista of two enormous men, both looking like poster boys for the Mexican Mafia and the Skinhead divisions of prison gangs, approach and give each other a huge, no-holds-barred sloppy hug. Not the "I'm a guy but NOT a gay guy hug-with-one-arm-while-hips-stay-36-inches-apart", but a real, brotherly hug. It continued in this vein.

This was a program for folks in and out of jail, who'd recognized they had to kick their habits to restart their lives. They worked menial jobs at this ranch, lived there, and attended workshops and mutual support counseling. ALL of them were old NA hands, but were vehemently serious about the program. Though they were flabbergasted that I'd come voluntarily, they were almost disturbingly supportive. These are people forced into a "program", but who realize how lucky they are to get assigned THIS program.

Needless to say, I stayed the whole meeting. I met some good people. I don't think that this is the ONLY meeting I should attend... too different from me. Conversely, seeing people who had lost literally everything to their addictions, who genuinely believed that their very survival at this moment stems from this group, puts things in a kind of focus that my normal, rose-tinted world doesn't possess. When I left, I matched the current total collected donations (a whopping 18 dollars - from 60 people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs), took my pats on the back, and promised to see them again next Wednesday. I left with this disturbing sense that it would be somehow inexcusable to falter, to let these hardened convicts down.

Maybe I need to find the namby-pamby church support group too. Maybe building a support system spanning both ends of the spectrum will be more effective than finding similar cynical, over-analytical personalities to mine. I'm not sure yet.

I AM sure however, that in a life filled with very unusual experiences, this was one of the most moving. A dingy, underfunded, NPO turn-around ranch for people willing to give up everything for a chance to start over, despite the obstacles they face.

Jordan
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18 Comments Post a Comment
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Avatar_f_tn
I loved reading your account from your first NA experience. You definitely have a way with expressing yourself in writing, maybe you could write a book about your life someday, you surely have the gift of bringing the written word to life.

I could envision exactly what you were describing and I could imagine the look on your face as these hardened felons expressed the most ironic gentleness to each other. *smiles* I think going to many different meetings is a great idea - and like someone told me - look for the similiarities not the differences. That being said, you'll know when you find "your" group. I had wandered around to a few in my area and fittingly enough settled on the one closest to my house. Not because it's convenient (thats just a bonus) but because it just felt right.

Your story was funny and touching and I'm awaiting the next account from your next NA experience :) By the way, how are you feeling?
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222369_tn?1274478235
You're making a common mistake with your meetings. You saw every difference you could. Not the similarities. If you're an addict like me, then you're the same drug fiend that those people were. It takes these meetings to remind me of that.
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Avatar_f_tn
Lol, I believe Ga Guy was that "someone" who told me to look for the similarities. Listen to him and you'll see its true. From the little old lady who double doctors to feed her addiction right to the hardened felons who held up the local grocery store to feed theirs and everyone in between, we all have the same disease.
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Avatar_m_tn
Thanks for the feedback!

I'll try to address each point:

The almost-tenderness expressed by these hulking, dangerous-looking men was actually one of the things that removed some of my discomfort. It's not that I'm looking for a hug, but rather the fact that these guys are treating this SO seriously that while Fred there may have tried to shiv me inside last month, *that's just not cool here*.

I fully intend on returning to this group, just also finding another, less, well, hardcore as well. There's something deep-seated and fundamental about participating in something that "real," and it's hard for me to consider cheating/relapsing when faced with these guys. Like I said, it seems almost wrong, like kicking a puppy (albeit a 400lb rottweiler), about letting these fellows down.

As for me, I feel like hell slightly warmed over, finely minced, and served on those little squares of toast. I can safely start the buprenorphine this afternoon, but I'm gonna tough it out until tomorrow morning if I can.

It's ironic, in a room full of jailhouse druggies, I'M the only one shivering with the sweats in full WD. When I said I'd been clean since Sunday, I had someone who would have made a linebacker cross the street rather than pass ask if he could get me a chamomile tea. Have you ever heard a 350lb black guy with more piercings than digits say "chamomile"? Very, very weird experience. But good. Don't get me wrong: very good. Just... odd.
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Avatar_m_tn
GA, no, you're missing my point:

It's BECAUSE of the similarities that this was so poignant. The fact that my BACKGROUND is so different, but I find myself in the EXACT SAME PLACE. It's kind of like the idea of sending your misbehaving kid to prison to "scare them straight".

I've BEEN misbehaving. This is the end of that road. These are folks who don't care that I didn't traverse the full road, but are being infinitely supporting and accepting.

It's not that I'm focusing on the differences: it's that despite the apparent differences, I found a sense of acceptance that my preconceptions hadn't allowed for.
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725350_tn?1318684068
Yeah, we are a group of people that would ordinarily not mix, but are brought together by the principles of the program and the desire to stay clean. It's hard to lay prejudice aside when interacting in these group settings, but as you seem to have experienced, it's easy to be surpised by the conviction of others. What's really cool about groups like the one you visited is the fact that some addicts went sooo far down but were still able to find their way back up.

I've found that I'm very comfortable in AA meetings, as well. There is a group very close to my home that is made up of mostly 20-40 year old white collar professionals. I identify very well with the people in this group and because of our similarities, it is sometimes easier to make normal conversation with them.

It may take some time to find the group you feel the most comfortable with, but open mindedness is key. Hang in there, it's great to see someone new in sobriety to be taking the necessary steps to fully begin recovery. Good Luck!
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Avatar_m_tn
I intend on seeking out a group similar to the one you just described, but I think there's something to be able to take away from the one I went to last night as well. I do think that finding a 20-40 WCP group would fit me better, as I'm a 30 year-old computer programmer, but by that same token, I don't think that it's possible to find a comparable group when faced with the extremes I observed last night.

As you say, some of them have fallen SO far, and yet, they seem to be doing better than I am right now. It's that, really, that makes me like and respect that group so much. Who am I, someone who has plenty to live for, with a good job, a nice home, a loving woman, who am I to fall down in the face of these men who have none of those things, but through sheer willpower are pulling themselves out of this hole by their bootlaces, by main strength alone. I cannot imagine facing disappointment in their eyes by falling off the wagon.

I dunno. One of my degrees is Psychology. I've never been able to visit a psychologist; I can't take us seriously. It's like if you understand how hypnosis works, you're immune. I can read the questions and redirect. Part of me feared that's what I would do in a NA meeting, unconsciously albeit, but still. I can't find a way to remain aloof, or to remain detached in the face of the men I met last night. I can't rationalize NOT taking them seriously.
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230262_tn?1316649534
I too love your account of your meeting! I've only been to a couple meetings myself and will be attending many more. I just started my WD, took my last dose last night. Im a long time vicodin addict who has replapsed many times. The last two times I had almost a year clean in between relapses. Im going in for the long run this time. ANyways, I just wanted to say Welcome to the forum, as I see you are new here. Im an oldie here on the board but havent posted in a month or so due to my last relapse. I plan on being around a lot more again now. Hope you stick around here as well.
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Avatar_m_tn
Thanks for the welcome trouble!

I've never attended an NA meeting before, but I assuredly will again. The highest praise I can sing for this one is simply that I can see it providing very clear and firm incentive to not relapse and to stay the course. It may not be the best one I can find for getting to the root problem, identifying triggers and all that, but I can assuredly say that from a motivational standpoint it's second to none.

-J-
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495284_tn?1333897642
I would feel right at home at this meeting.........the knowledge and experience those men bring to the table would be so uplifting to me.  Congrats to everyone of them for turning such a dark period of their life into something wonderful, their sobriety~~~~~sara
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Avatar_m_tn
I think that's an excellent way of putting it. It's hard to feel down on yourself when faced with guys who have that much real world experience. Moreover, the fact that they've had such hardcore times of it means the advice they give is something truly tangible to really take to heart.

Even though some of the guys there were only taking their 30-day token, they were met with the same cheerful support and encouragement as the guys on their 6th year. It's incongruous to hear such gracious and uplifting words from these folks, but you could tell they were from the heart.

Even for me, without their experiences, getting my first "Just for Today" token, quietly sitting in the back shivering and sweating. I still felt more camaraderie amongst their number than I thought possible.

I hope I can contribute as much to them as they already have to me.
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Avatar_f_tn
Jordan~  That group of men will easily be some of the finest you've ever met...It's great you were able to go...Next time candles,maybe?

Vicki xo
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1218318_tn?1266812201
I'm in both AA and NA. Great that you had a good first meeting experience! One of the most important missions of our meetings is to carry the message to someone brand new.

I was sharing with a good friend this morning about meetings. At our home town meetings we pretty much listen to others, and then share our experience strength and hopes. At most meetings we try to share what's GOOD about today, and what's good about being clean and sober. How we're enjoying our sobriety.  This is for the new people who come in, just like you Jordan. And as you attend, you never know if someone at your table is just out of a treatment center, or have used in the past 24 hours. They need to want what we have going in our lives. They need to see and hear something they can look forward to by staying sober and clean. So, in turn, you can help others also. Just by walking in the door clean and sober.

Today's thought for today out of my 24 Hour a Day AA book somewhat pertains to this post on meetings:

"If we get up in a meeting and tell something about ourselves in order to help another person, we feel a whole lot better. It's the old law of the more you give the more you get. Witnessing and confession are part of keeping sober. You never know when you may help somebody. Helping others is one of the best ways to stay sober yourself. And the satisfaction you get out of helping a fellow human being is one of the finest experiences you can have. -Am I helping somebody?"
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Avatar_m_tn
Vicki:

Maybe so. Definitely not what I expected, but definitely more than I would have given credit to at first glance. Says something about book-judging as well.

Addict63:
This is so massive a group (there were 60-some people in there) that the cast majority didn't speak at all. I gave my name and addiction, and was asked to the front to receive my "Just For Today" token and a hug from a man who I would have pegged as a chapter leader for the Hell's Angels.

Many did speak, and I think that was far more valuable to me than had I done so myself, not least because I'm less than articulate right now in my current WD-ing state. Even typing I feel like I have a blanket wrapped round my brain. Hearing the couple dozen we did have time for though, and hearing how much farther down the road they are than I, gave me a lot of hope. It's easier to believe you can recover yourself when you see someone who's had much farther to go to recover already farther along the path to recovery than yourself.
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617347_tn?1331296681
A rather symbolic and prized day for you, Jordan.

it seems to me that you've been given the most beautiful present for a " cynical over-analytical personality" in his very first Na meeting. Do you say in english an "indelible print" in your soul ..., a forever print in your soul, one you'll never forget, i'm sure ...and thank you because they have made an impression in mine too :)

Btw, you couldn't have asked for more.

besides, your narration and tempo is great and thank you for sharing your experience with us , you've made me laugh and cry too. welcome here, Jordan :)
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