Humans name things
We call this: blue
We call this a circle: ο
That is how we identify and distinguish things. We probably began with basic things like foods, colors, and names. It is reasonable to believe we advanced from there. Today we have names for everything. We put things in a box as a shorthand way of understanding things. This is our way of understanding complex things and making sense out of the world.
One of these complex “things” is the subject of this writing, addiction. There are an estimated 23.5 million Americans suffering from addiction. That is out of the total estimated population of 240 million adults. This equates to about 10% of the American population.
Not only does it occur enough to label, it’s powerful, significant and destructive enough to describe in many ways. It is said that Eskimos have 50 words for snow. Snow must be a very significant part of there existence to have that many characterizations. Like the Eskimos with snow, Americans have many characterizations of addiction.
One such characterization of addiction is the idea of “The Disease of Addiction” shared by members of Narcotics Anonymous. NA is a fellowship that meets regularly to help each other stay “clean”. Narcotics Anonymous began with 1 meeting in 1953 and has grown to over 67,000 meetings weekly in 139 countries. NA was born from Alcoholics Anonymous which was was the first 12-step program. Through it many with drug and drinking problems found sobriety. The Fourth Tradition gives each AA group the autonomy to include or exclude non-alcoholic addicts from “closed” meetings – where only those with an expressed desire to quit drinking may attend. At “open” AA meetings, non-alcoholics are welcome. In 1953 Narcotics Anonymous, was founded (mostly) from members of AA to address the individuals seeking recovery from substances beyond just alcohol. The founding members debated and established the 12 steps and 12 traditions of NA borrowing much from AA. Differing from its predecessors, NA formed a fellowship to help addicts stay clean from any mind altering, mood altering substance. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using or stay clean. The purpose of this fellowship is to offer recovery from the effects of addiction through working a twelve step program. NA offers an ongoing support network for addicts who suffer from “the disease of addiction”. It is carefully noted here on their PR webpage that the name Narcotics Anonymous is not meant to imply a focus on any particular drug. Furthermore, NA makes no distinction between drugs and alcohol. According to the philosophy of the NA program, most addicts did not realize they had a problem with drugs until they had none left (source Wikipedia).
This was me. I did not think of myself as an addict. At all! It wasn’t until I tried to stay clean that I realized that there was something inside of me compelling me to “use”. This something is what we call the “Disease of Addiction”. I put the word “use” in quotes, because somewhere along the path of recovery, it became apparent for me that “using” wasn’t just about drugs.
I opine that “using” is anything that can change the way I feel. “Using” can be using a powerful narcotic like heroin or cocaine or a more socially acceptable substance like marijuana or alcohol. We can use behaviors like gambling and sex or strong emotions like anger or pain. Some can be said to be workaholics and in our modern times, we can be addicted to screen time.
When I seek a rush of endorphins, serotonin or dopamine, I am using. When I can’t control my using and it leads to unmanageability in my life, I am an addict. Define control and unmanagebility and further define using and addict you ask? That is subjective. This is a personal decision that I have to make when I’ve suffered enough and am ready for something different. I turned to NA to seek a different way of life. I sought help before I lost as much as others did. I, like many others seeking recovery in the program, wasn’t living under a bridge with a needle in my arm. I held job, was a (somewhat) respectable member of society and was a (hopefully) good parent to my son. When I felt like these things were in jeopardy, I sought help. I wasn’t prepared to lose any more than I had already lost. What I had lost was an important relationship, the ability to help my son through a difficult time, my health, and my ability to manage my life. More succinctly, my ability to discontinue “using” despite all the negative consequences.
Truth be told, my end was much more dramatic than this (or at least in my head it was), but it is beyond the scope of this writing to go in to those details.
I came to understand that this is the very foundation of the program of NA. Step 1 reads “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” After processing this thoroughly with my sponsor, I am ready for the second step.
Step 2: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This was difficult for a life long atheist like me to get with. Very difficult at first. I used to argue with believers about how ridiculous the notion of God was. I was in really bad shape when I showed up at NA. Very very low, very defeated. It was said that I had “the gift of desperation”. I got angry when I was told this was a gift to be grateful for. I wasn’t grateful for much, if anything, initially. I know I was grateful for my son, but that’s about it. He really seemed like the exception to just about every rule having to do with this illness of mine. My love for him was the only thing that broke the darkness. Honestly, I didn’t even want to go on living, but I knew I had to for my son. His mother wasn’t as fortunate as I and the disease took her before his second birthday. The disease is progressive, incurable and fatal. All we have is this day, a daily reprieve from the insidious monster that is the disease of addiction. We really rely on each other to overcome the temptations to go back to using. There is strength in numbers. There is power in the fellowship. In some sort of primitive way, there seemed to be some sort of pack mentality influencing me to run with the pack. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I heard an episode of Radiolab called Emergence.
This episode really changed my life. It opened me up to something bigger than myself. Something in between science and the mystical. Something that could even be holy. Part of the episode was dedicated to a book written by James Surowiecki called The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The book is about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. The book presents numerous case studies and anecdotes to illustrate its argument, and touches on several fields, primarily economics and psychology. The opening anecdote relates to Sir Francis Galton‘s surprise that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox’s true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members). The book relates to diverse collections of independently deciding individuals, rather than crowd psychology as traditionally understood. Its central thesis, that a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts, draws many parallels with statistical sampling.
This episode also discussed occurrences in nature that seemed beyond human explanation. Magical, mystical actions by ants and firefly’s that were beyond human understanding. Outright amazing and unexplainable instincts by these animals governing amazing behavior.
“What is going on he asks? Order materializes out of nothing.How can order come out of disorder? This is the big mystery of science. Today on Radiolab we we will step away from the individual and find mystery, beauty and order in the group. This is a science called emergence.”
I was at a point in my life where I was ready to listen. I needed something beyond me. I was open-minded, willing and ready to get honest. Ready to believe in the existence of a power greater than myself that could restore me to sanity.
Step 3: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Now that I was okay with the notion that I wasn’t the only force governing the universe, or the only force that mattered, it was time for me to be open to this force governing my life. God’s will, to me, seemed pretty easy. It seemed pretty easy to know right from wrong. To know the right thing to do. The right thing for the right reason. I always felt like there was something “pointing me North”, keeping me from going too far…maybe even keeping me safe. It felt good to have some direction. To have a set of spiritual principles to live by. Sort of like how Dexter found peace in living by his moral code that his father instilled in him despite the fact that he was a serial killer. I wasn’t a serial killer, but I had done a lot or wrongs. I had a tremendous wake of destruction behind me. I had hurt a lot of people. I was beginning to have feeling and with these feelings came a conscience. I was no longer able to use powerful chemicals to stay cold and disconnected. I was beginning to care about more than myself. Using drugs made me consumed with myself. I was being taught to get out of myself and help others. Before I could help others I needed to clear up some of my bad karma. I was ready for Step 4.
Step 4: “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” There was an elephant in the room. It was big and not so easy to look past anymore. I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I was very ashamed and had a lot of guilt about it. Why was I this way. I surely didn’t want anyone to know the sorted details. I did the best I could writing it down and telling my sponsor. I suffered a lot of dread and it took a long time to get through these two steps. The other step being Step 5: “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” For me both of these steps were really done together. Meaning they had much to do with the other and when I was done with one I was done with both. I will say this, I felt tremendous relief having overcome this hurdle. I got relief from the shame, pain and guilt associated with most of who I’d become. It was worth it. I had come too far to turn back now. I knew that there was nothing left behind me to go back to. I had too much awareness now to go back to that old life. I couldn’t ever be comfortable in that space again knowing what I know now. Time to keep going on to step 6.
Step 6: “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Now that I was crystal clear on my defects…and VERY ready for them to be gone. I wrote and wrote. When I was finished my sponsor asked me if I knew what the 7 deadly sins were. He had me look them up and label each one of the character defects I listed according to which of the 7 deadly sins they equated to. I did this adding ignorance as the 8th. While processing the revised list, he asked me if the list was really so long and overwhelming after all. I answered “no”.
Step 7: “We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” I learned the meaning of the word humble by working this step. I thought humble meant something different going in to this step. My sponsor explained that humility wasn’t being up here or down here, that it is knowing your place in the world. One of the questions in Step 1 of the Step Working Guide asks “Do I believe that I’m a monster who has poisoned the whole world with my addiction? Do I believe that my addiction is utterly inconsequential to the larger society around me? Or something in between?”. The something in between is humility. Occupying that space, I ask the God of my understanding to remove my shortcomings.
Step 8: “We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Holy shit this was uncomfortable. I would write and write and put the pad down and memories would pop up. It was never-ending! Actually this all occurred in about 1 night, but I like to over dramatize it. That is one of my character defects, living in drama and chaos. There was one name on this list that was at the very top. She was the reason I looked forward to getting to this point. With all of my being I wanted to apologize to her. Apologize for not being capable of loving her. Apologize for interfering with her life the way I had. Apologize for hurting her. I cared for her so deeply and thought so much of her but was unfortunately not well enough to be what she deserved. I knew deep down that she would be better off without me. I also knew I didn’t have the ability to end it. My solution ended up being using heavily until it came to a brutal end…but I couldn’t feel it…and I’m so sorry she had to.
Step 9: “We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” What?? Except what? You mean that I can’t make amends to her because it may hurt her by stirring up the past? Are you sure? Maybe, but? As with this amends, there were many that I didn’t understand. I had to make amends to some people that I was sure I wouldn’t have to face and vice versa. Some I got to write a letter to (that I would never send). This step was ultimately for my benefit, but I couldn’t do any more harm in the process. Towards the end of working step 9, I have to say that I was completely prepared to come face to face with any one I’d wronged, own up to my side, and amend appropriately. This put me at peace with my past, a certain subconscious peace. The kind of peace that wasn’t interrupted when I saw something having to do with the past. I didn’t realize this all at the time, but have come to understand it through time. More has been revealed. Wow, I was so unaware of how much my actions were affected by my subconscious. I no longer had to run from my fears. I had respectfully atoned for it all to the best of my ability and could rest comfortably in my own skin (to some degree).
Step 10: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” My sponsor described this as the wheel that keeps my recovery on the road and out of the gutter. A daily process that keeps my side of the street clean. All of the questions on my Daily Personal Inventory are there to remind me of something. To keep me doing what I need to do to take care of myself. To keep me out of trouble. To keep me out of myself and engaged in the recovery process and be of service to others. I am working on the self discipline to do it everyday like I should. This is something I struggle with. I am still trying to be a responsible grown up. I tend to forget about things like this.
Did you ever get one of those cheap remote control cars for Christmas? You try to drive it straight, but it cants off to one side or the other. Underneath there is a little wheel alignment adjustment thing. Step 10 for me is my alignment tool.
Step 11 “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” This is another step that I really looked forward to getting to. Me and meditation go way back. I tried to consistently meditate for the last decade. I always turn to it when I need it…and it is always there for me. Early in my recovery, my sponsor asked me the most profound question I’ve ever processed. I was acting out in some way and he stopped me and asked “Do you want to get better?” Holy shit, I do, but I guess my actions aren’t in alignment with my recovery. This is the final question on my step 10 daily personal inventory. Do you want to get better?
I am just beginning step 11 now. I feel like it will give me the permission I need to meditate and pray daily. To nurture myself by meditating and to nurture my relationship with God. To maintain my spiritual condition.