The virus and the disease
In 2002 my life hit bottom. I did not understand at the time what that meant because I was in denial about so many things. My life up until that point was a series of highs and lows. Sometimes things were good for what felt like the wrong reasons, and sometimes life was bad despite my best efforts to do the right things. There had been very little connection between the array of experiences that made up life. Only recently did I learn a term called ‘dysphoria’ which refers ‘to a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life’ according to the Oxford dictionary. I would say that much of the time between highs and lows was experienced in a state of dysphoria. Drug use was often a way of trying to control how I felt. I went to my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting with low expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. I did ask someone to go for coffee and they were nice enough to oblige me. Each meeting after that was a series of revelations about a new way to live. For a time, my new addiction became recovery. I found old feelings which had often been masked by addiction with the worst being anxiety. MSN chat rooms were exploding with activity in 2002 and there were thousands of forums on addiction. My comfort with technology eased the transition from my old life to this new one. Every room had a different take on recovery with some working a broad spectrum of fellowships. It was as easy to get banned from a room as it was to get embraced by another. I spent hours every day online talking about the 12 steps and 12 traditions that make up so many ‘Anonymous’ fellowships. Groups of us would engage is deep discussions about spirituality which seemed to be the common solution to a life ruled by the disease of self-obsession that many addicts faced. Over time I became more comfortable with regular meetings in public and the chat rooms seemed to lose popularity as quickly as it arose. The messages of recovery remained consistent for me as I moved from one environment to another. I often wondered how this online format appeared just when I needed it. The paths we all walk in recovery are as varied as the paths we take to destruction but there is a common thread that I learned to embrace once I accepted that I was an addict. Members would always remind me that my primary purpose is to carry a message to the still suffering addict with everyone who collectively made up the Fellowship of NA. My thoughts were often drawn back to those newcomers who found hope in the digital rooms and how that avenue of support was largely gone. I focused my efforts to help others where I was with those who wanted to work together.
Fast forward to 2020 and the reality of a Fellowship immersed in a global pandemic. I have been in awe by the response of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship to this COVID 19 virus. Many of the seasoned veterans of the virtual Narcotics Anonymous fellowship have freely given of their time and energies to assist other members with the transition. Some members have been under tremendous strain to assist the multitude of requests to transition to a new virtual reality. Within weeks it seems like much of the Fellowship has transitioned from face to face meetings to utilizing the array of conferencing technologies including Zoom, Bluejeans, Skype and more. Members are helping newcomers and other members find virtual meetings and get connected. Members are even meeting in public places while maintaining social distancing just to support each other’s recovery. I’ve been offered hugs by members willing to risk their lives.
Narcotics Anonymous, Grey Book, Step 12, Page 45
By this time most of us have come to realize that the only way we can keep what was given to us is by sharing this new gift of life with the still-suffering addict. This is our best insurance against relapse to the torturous existence of using.
The changes to our services have not affected all groups equally. Some groups have adapted their service structures quickly with little disruption. Some members are learning for the first time of the tremendous efforts of others who have long used online resources to not just support members, but carry the message to newcomers, those who are incarcerated or in addiction treatment centers. For decades these resources have been ignored by many service bodies, including the Narcotics Anonymous World Service (NAWS) office who will still not register or recognize virtual groups which is clearly in violation with the principles I learned and believe in. NAWS and other service bodies at all levels, who have survived off the profits of conventions and literature sales find themselves struggling to justify their expenses and many will be forced to make substantial cuts in the months ahead. There are service bodies who offer little or no information for newcomers and members in isolation to attend meetings virtually.
Recently I attended an online meeting of about 30 members. One young lady shared that she was struggling with detoxing and this was only her third meeting ever. Her entire recovery to that point was virtual. It’s possible that she will not experience a face to face meeting for months. I wept openly as I realized it wasn’t single church basement light up by compassion but 30 rooms across the globe. Everyone’s faces glowed with joy. Love multiplied is a powerful force. Members routinely share how this pandemic has ignited their passion for recovery and a desire to be part of. I have observed that we are all talking openly on a global scale about what works and what isn’t. Addicts are sharing their success stories and frank discussions about our problems as a Fellowship. I truly believe with all my heart that the virus and the disease will combine and allow us to cast off the useless and embrace a global effort. Narcotics Anonymous has never been better from my perspective. Strong forces are being forged in the fire of a global pandemic.