A desire to stop using
One point that was made clear to me from the beginning of my recovery in Narcotics Anonymous was that the only requirement for my membership was a desire to stop using. I was told that no one had the right to determine my desire. I was new and had certain ideas about what that desire looked like. I was willing to admit that drugs were a problem, but I also planned to start drinking alcohol again after I had a year clean. I focused on the differences between my drinking and others so that I could hold on to that reservation for months. In time I came to focus on our similarities in the Fellowship of NA and this helped as I worked through the steps and traditions. As the years have gone by my desire to stop using has changed and sometimes wains which invites complacency into my recovery. There is a feeling of gratitude sometimes that breeds contempt of others in me. I’ve learned that this is hubris; A sense of arrogance and foolish pride. I wonder if this is true for all addicts, and I wonder if my desire to stop using is as strong today as when I first arrived.
The foundation of all twelve step programs started in 1935 with the creation of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Later those members understood that they needed to work together as a fellowship in order to survive and from that desire arose the 12 traditions. This became the first successful program of recovery from the disease of alcoholism. (“The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions”, Published 1952, 1953, 1981 by the A. A. Grapevine Inc and Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing)
Tradition 3 - Our membership ought to include all who suffer alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation. (The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.)
Drug addicts found limited success in AA. Some early members of NA started their journey in AA but were able to adapt the program into Narcotics Anonymous, which started in 1953. There are glaring differences between the two programs in terms of philosophy. Step 1 for AA is powerlessness over a substance, but in NA they say they are powerless over addiction. Many a newcomer to the NA program focuses on a desire to stop using a single substance or perhaps all drugs. Early on in recovery I wanted to focus on the differences between myself and others so I could continue using behaviors that I was comfortable with. By the end of my first year I was able to surrender all substance abuse without ever having used. I decided that I could not risk unleashing my demons by abusing substances again and sought help from my higher power. That first-year celebration was bittersweet as I was starting to realize there was an ocean of addictions to contend with.
Slowly over time my desire to stop using was replaced by a desire to carry the message. I embraced the idea that service efforts and the lifestyle that I lived would be attractive to newcomers. As a group we chanted; (Narcotics Anonymous Grey Book, ‘Tradition 5’ published 1983) “That an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.” Losing the desire to use became a dangerous place to live. I found I had to return to old patterns of thinking and that my life was somehow measured in the quality of my experiences. I focused on my peer group and the daily drama that surrounded us. I returned to using, but this time it wasn’t drugs, but many of the things that could be abused. I used Narcotics Anonymous as a social club and tried to develop relationships with people who were as sick as I was. My sponsor over a decade ago warned me about this behavior. Narcotics Anonymous is not a social club. NA is a program of recovery from the disease of addiction. Our involvement is to meet regularly to help each other and to carry a message to the still suffering addict. When I lose awareness of the disease then I have lost my desire to stop using. When I lose the desire then my addiction takes over again. The cycle of abuse will spiral out of control and some members will relapse back to active addiction to drugs or simply become self-obsessed.
Today I have many friends in and out of the fellowship. My service commitments are balanced with both fellowship and anything else that my higher power puts in my life. I avoid the toxic cliques that form in recovery that enable members to live in addiction to self. My desire to stop using today comes from the application of spiritual principles in all my affairs. I am humbled by my addiction daily and share my experiences with others. That humility connects me to others and the newcomers that grow our fellowship increases all of our freedom from using each day.