Around the 6- or 7-year mark of my involvement with Narcotics Anonymous a terrible thing happened when my best friend made the decision to move back to eastern Canada and be closer to her family and children. We had become close friends and even though we were both married, and we were of the opposite sex, I trusted her more than I had ever trusted anyone outside of my family, apart from my sponsor. I was proud of the role I had played in a difficult time in her life, that culminated with her decision to return to her roots back east. She tried to maintain a relationship with me, but I lacked the skills to understand how we could remain friends over a distance. Perhaps I felt betrayed, that somehow, on a deep level she had abandoned me. My recovery had started in a small southern town and I struggled with personal relationships and being a part of. I understood that I was the problem but after so many years I could not create the trust required to get past my shortcomings and character defects.
Soon after she left, I made more trips north to a larger town, as I lived on the border between two fellowships. In my first couple of years of recovery, I was invited by a friend I knew online, another woman oddly enough, and I remember attending a Sunday night meeting of over 200 members in the north. It took my breath away to witness so many members at a regular meeting. My previous experience with big meetings in the south was when someone took a cake and perhaps 30 or 40 members would attend but that was rare. I knew the fellowship to the north had shrunk to 12-15 groups, declining attendance, and less than half of them supported the area meeting. Many area positions were empty and struggled for support, including my favorite -Public Relations. I made the decision to travel north more regularly, since I worked in that community anyway. I started fresh with new people, hoped to learn some social skills, and maybe manifest the vision of who I could be might more effectively carry a message. I thought I was becoming part of the solution, however, I realize now I was simply becoming part of the problem.
For quite a few years I supported the northern fellowship. I was active in my new home group and, I tried to find people to trust and form friendships. I have always believed in service and actively participating in service was beneficial to my terrible bouts of self-loathing and gave me a small measure of relief from chronic pain. Even though I held the chair position at area for a year, I was frustrated with our efforts as a service body and the lack of support. At one point, I couldn’t find a single person to help deliver meeting lists for a 6-month period while I was the meeting list coordinator. Stresses at work and the failing support of my peers caused me to collapse into a deep depression with terrible anxiety attacks. My chronic pain flared to new levels of discomfort. I returned to the south after my job ended and rejoined the fellowship that I had left several years before. At the lowest point in my recovery, I came back to find an unexpected surprise awaited me; the south was flourishing and I was embraced as a brother returning home, and not the outcast status I had experienced in the north.
I returned to counselling and maintained a relationship with a single trusted friend who had recently moved away. It was his friendship and patience that taught me that relationships are possible with remote friends, and shortly after my dear friend in Eastern Canada, a woman with many decades of clean time returned to my life. I tried to deliver meeting lists in the north as an amends to the addicts who perished while I failed in my responsibilities, but I was not allowed. I printed my own meeting lists and was ordered to stop by the very people I trusted with my life who had betrayed me. During a counselling session we talked about an issue that has plagued me since I was young. Every counsellor I see has identified that I seek out people who are incapable of supporting me in a loving and healthy manner. This counsellor asked me why I cared so much about people who didn’t care about me. At that moment I came to understand; I lacked social skills and trusted people who I thought were kind, never fully understanding their intentions.
Today, I still struggle with trust issues, and new friends encouraged me to replace trust with healthy boundaries. Spiritual principles I learned in the steps become the healthy boundaries I strive to maintain. Those spiritual principles also create an atmosphere of recovery and combined with selfless service make possible the unity we desperately need for our survival if we are to believe in Tradition 1.
My new insights have allowed me to create new healthy friendships and I write about my experience, strengths and hopes to a global Fellowship of recovering addicts in Narcotics Anonymous. Occasionally I return to the north, although I feel I have few friendships there and lack the desire to repair them. I recently reviewed the RCM report to regional and saw that little had changed. Only 5 out of 12 GSR’s attend area, PR is almost not functioning, and many positions are open or held by the same people that was there when I first started attending. I’ve learned that strong, inclusive, and healthy service structures are possible by applying spiritual principles. A healthy service body has high turnover. By focusing on our primary purpose, with open communication and dedication to spiritual principles I’ve come to understand that the unity we seek is critical to our personal recovery. When the very people we oppose feel welcome and differences are resolved in a healthy manner, the atmosphere of recovery is maintained in our groups and it translates into strong service structures.
When we first arrived in Narcotics Anonymous, we likely didn’t understand that we were the most important people at the meeting. The efforts of the group are to carry a message and create an atmosphere of recovery, but those facts are likely lost on us in the beginning. I know that my initial reaction to NA, my opinions about members, and my beliefs in the message I heard would have kept me away if not for the love expressed by the recovering people in the Fellowship. We really do try and love newcomers until they can love themselves, or we should if we are to be successful. Individuals and groups outside the fellowship end up focused on self-seeking ways and self-obsession, which withers away the very unity we desperately need. Across North America there seems to be great struggles with unity in many areas.
Choosing to be outside the decision of the group is difficult and made worse when we are subjected to ridicule and abuse. Those who find themselves in the minority can feel marginalized, ostracized and alone. A critical concept that we need to consider is that the strength of unity is in the minority, not the majority. I’m an addict and I live with this disease every day. I frame every thought, every decision and every outcome with self-obsession, which is the core of my disease. It seemed impossible for me to escape the idea that losing even a single point of contention will somehow result in a better outcome, or worse, that I should suffer some loss. Many of us are wired to succeed these days, not just addicts. We are constantly being sold on what success looks like and that might contribute to the spread of the disease of addiction. Look this way, feel this way, or behave a certain way are standards that can be imposed on us early on by our parents, peers and society. What success I can achieve for myself is limited. I can work out at a gym, eat healthy, and still not overcome physical and hereditarian factors. I can travel or dedicate myself to wealth, and experience tremendous success in many areas of my life, but there are limits. Once you are the richest man in the world, the taste of greater wealth must lose some appeal. We all must face aging and death eventually and our greatest achievements for self often decline and end with our decline. What is not limited is the capacity to help others.
In recovery from addiction, we learn when we adapt the principles of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness into our lives. It’s the foundation of change. Regardless of our personal belief or stand on any point, the simple idea of listening and allowing others the same rights is paramount to our success as we move from isolation to unity with others. Unity, without strong purpose is a fad, or trend that loses strength with the winds of time. It almost seems if the most unobtainable goals create the strongest unity. There are no bounds to restrict our efforts. Perhaps God is nothing more than that limitless capacity for selfless service. Working with others will magnify what we can achieve. The sum is greater than the total of the individual parts, and what we achieve can transcend our deaths or provide a far richer experience than anything we can achieve alone.
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