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.
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.
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.
I intend on seeking out a group similar to myself, 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.
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. I've never been able to visit a psychologist; I can't take it 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.
Oh no! Norco! No no no!