‘The astonishing power of example’ by Peapod

P1010948This blog appeared on WITR in April 2009.

‘Astonishment. That’s what I felt the first time I was taken to a mutual aid group meeting.

I was in treatment at the time in a residential centre. I was also neck deep in trouble. I had lost my job through my using. As part of the fallout from my own million megaton addiction detonation, I’d caused someone else to lose their job. The police were on my tail and I was massively in debt.

I didn’t particularly want to be in treatment, but I’d run out of alternatives. As the detox began to bite (and my god, the teeth were sharp), the permanent fog in my head began to clear. This was not a good thing.

That fog had been effectively obscuring reality for such a long time. Reality was not pretty. I had moved so far from my own values and was behaving in ways that were so despicable that I couldn’t sit comfortably with myself. I had been so far enmeshed in the protective cage of denial that when it began to crash down around me, I was riven with shame and guilt.

Then they took me to a meeting.

I sat in the room with a bunch of recovering addicts, some of whom hadn’t used for years, and I was astonished. For one thing, I had never seen such a thing before: addicts who weren’t using!

And secondly, they had the same stories as me. Different details, but the same trajectory, the same feelings, the same results. As I sat in packed rooms looking round at the faces of others, I couldn’t help thinking; why is this such a secret? Why did nobody tell me about this?

And they were getting well. They were talking and thinking in ways that were alien to me, but that I found attractive. I couldn’t put a name to what I felt in those rooms those first few meetings, but I can today. It was hope. And hope was something that I thought had packed its bags, shoved its knapsack on its back and left home years before.

People reached out to help me. They gave me telephone numbers to call. They arranged to meet for coffee. They shared their own stories with me in ways that moved me deeply. They wanted to pass on what they had.

That infectious hope, the attractive example of others and the evidence of my own eyes, as I sat in rooms night after night, packed with recovering people, grew in me too. I kept coming back to meetings, to Narcotics Anonymous, to Cocaine Anonymous and to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

I’ve not had to drink or use drugs since. And now I pass on the recovery message to others at meetings in the same way that it was passed onto me.

I can’t get away from the feeling that recovery came to me as a gift, freely given from the experience of others. It’s an odd sort of gift. One you can only keep by giving it away.

Astonishing.’

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