The Crescent and the Needle: The Remarkable Rise of NA in Iran

8561803This blog contains an excerpt of a remarkable story published in the magazine The Fix. It is the Story of how an approach developed in a Western culture – Narcotic Anonymous – to help people recover from narcotic addiction – has had remarkable success in another culture.

‘As of 2012 there were 61,800 Narcotics Anonymous meetings worldwide. 27,650 in the USA and 15,955 in the rest of the world, except for Iran. There are 18,195 weekly NA meetings in Iran where Narcotics Anonymous was voted the top NGO by the government.’

Here is another excerpt from this fascinating article:

‘Rebecca had experience being in tough situations at 3 AM in the morning. In the thick of her heroin addiction, she had been in jeopardy countless times. As the Assistant Executive Director of the Narcotics Anonymous World Services Office, she had traveled all over the world. She had led workshops for emerging NA fellowships in many Third World countries.

Still, nothing had prepared her for standing in line at customs at the Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport in 2006.

Standing next to NA Board Member Tom M. from Hawaii, Rebecca leaned on her old friend for reassurance. As a six-foot-tall blond woman with a poorly-tied impromptu veil, she knew she stood out; an American in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although Tom reassured her that everything would be all right, Rebecca kept thinking of the tabloid reports about Iran in the American media. She came of age during the Iranian hostage crisis. Night after night, the images of bound and blindfolded hostages on Ted Koppel’s Nightline had been downright terrifying.

After passing through customs, Rebecca and Tom were greeted by Siamak, the office manager of NA World Services Iran, and several other enthusiastic Iranian NA members. She was surprised they had stayed up so late.

Rebecca felt her fears evaporating as she was met with smiles and respectful embraces. They got their luggage and headed into the city. “Tehran is huge,” Tom wrote in his Iran Diaries, “The city at 3:00 AM was still bustling.”

After a quick bite to eat, they wondered if they could take a rest. Siamak let them know that wouldn’t be possible until later because there was so much to do and see. There were people to meet and things to accomplish. Most importantly, the fellowship had set up a Narcotics Anonymous meeting where they would share their stories through translators.

With so many NA members wanting to attend, the fellowship had rented out a local sports arena. When Rebecca and Tom heard this, they looked at each other, a bit confounded. Rebecca thought, “I mean, a sports arena? How many people will be there?”

When they arrived at the Arena in mid-afternoon on a workday, the car had to navigate through a maze of parked vehicles to reach the back entrance. Ushered down the kind of hallway where one usually only sees professional athletes, rock stars and security guards, Tom could hear the roar getting louder and louder. In the Iran Diaries, he described the experience of entering the arena:

“…the members all started clapping and then chanting as they clapped. You know why they are clapping and you know exactly who you represent. I thought holy shit, this is off the charts. Rebecca says to me, ‘What did we ever do to deserve this experience?’ I said we shot a lot of dope, that’s all, and beyond that we have just showed up like any other member.”

Over 24,000 Iranians in recovery greeted the NA World Services representatives in celebration. But it wasn’t Tom and Rebecca they were cheering; it was NA itself. Coming from the United States, they represented the birthplace of Narcotics Anonymous, a program that had saved so many lives and become such a force for good in Iran.

All of Rebecca’s fears of going to a fundamentalist country as an American citizen evaporated as the tradition of Persian hospitality, the passionate belief of the Iranian NA members and a truly universal celebration of recovery became the zeitgeist of the moment.

Tears came to her eyes as she looked up to see banners hanging in the arena with the traditional recovery proverb written in English specifically for them, “Just For Today.”

Tom described the power of the moment when he wrote, “There were several rows of women in the back of the room. Becky shared as a woman with 27 years clean. You can imagine the impact that had. When we spoke and said how long we were clean they all chanted out something in Farsi that I later found out meant, ‘and may nothing ever take it from you.’”

May nothing ever take it from you because recovery from the depth of addiction is a blessing and a miracle all over the world. It doesn’t matter the name of the country or the tenor of the politics. But the looming question is how did this happen? How did Narcotics Anonymous become so successful in Iran?’

You must read the whole of this fascinating article.