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Narcotics Anonymous: Q&A

12 steps, 12 traditions, millions of lives changed

When Nicole from Portland went to her first Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting, the message she heard was, “The lie that people can’t recover is dead.”

What she saw and heard was hope. And confidence. And 12 steps that have worked for millions of people all over the world.

Those 12 steps worked for her in the beginning, when she went to a meeting almost every day, and they still work for her today, 9½ years into recovery.

In this Q&A, Nicole and two other members of the NA community in Maine—Brendan, who has been in recovery 6½ years, and Jamie, who has been in recovery 9 years—reflect on commonly asked questions about NA.

Who is NA for? Is it just for people addicted to narcotics?

Jamie: It’s for anyone who suffers from the disease of addiction and any substance that has altered your way of living.

Why does NA work for you?

Brendan: When I get to go to a meeting, I’m not alone and I get to be with my people. Talking. Laughter. Hugs. Going out to eat afterwards. Going to meetings is 100% my social life.

Why is it anonymous?

Nicole: It doesn’t matter who I am, it matters that this program can work. And it takes the pressure off people in recovery to be perfect.

Why does talking help?

Brendan: I needed to have people who have been through the same stuff and who understand. It gets me to be honest and share about what’s really going on with me, good or bad. And people are there to help me heal.

How is NA different from AA?

Nicole: NA was derived from AA in 1953. Our 12 steps are very similar, except that rather than being “powerless over alcohol,” we’re “powerless over the disease of addiction.” Also, we talk about a Higher Power that is caring and greater than you while AA uses the more specific word “God.”

What are the 12 steps?

Brendan: They’re a guideline to better yourself. The steps are there to help you change and find a new way of life. For me, the steps are freedom from everything going on in my head.

Do you ever finish the steps?

Nicole: Not really. Whether you attach a number to them or not, you use them in your life every day. In any given day, for example, I can determine something that I’m powerless over; I can build up hope; I can work an inventory about it and talk about it with my sponsor; I can look for my part in it; and I can bring it back to God. And so on. They’re tools for living.

Do I need to believe in God?

Jamie. No. But we talk about a Higher Power. I’m not attached to any particular religion, but I’m attached to the spiritual piece. What helped me was to think about when the sun goes down in the evening and comes up in the morning. I don’t do that. You don’t do that. Something greater is doing that. The tides of the ocean going in and out, there’s not a human force doing that. Something greater is doing that. That’s how I began to understand that there’s something greater in the universe that works in our favor.

How has NA shifted your thinking?

Nicole: We talk about addiction as being an obsession and compulsion in the brain—that the addiction isn’t about drugs. I’m an addict, which means that I have an obsessive and compulsive way of thinking. And I had a spiritual void, or an emptiness inside, that I was trying to fill.

What if I relapse?

Brendan: You come back. I started 12 years ago, and I got clean for 6½ years my first try. And then I got away from the program, complacency kicked in, and I didn’t think I needed a sponsor anymore. I ran into a drug dealer at a grocery store. I took what he had and I relapsed. About a month later I reconnected with the NA community.

Isn’t talking about personal stuff kind of uncomfortable?

Jamie: I would not be alive if not for NA. Life is about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable all the time. And then it doesn’t feel so uncomfortable after a while. It’s life changing to let people into your life and hear how they got closer to a Higher Power. Because, if we already knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t end up in institutions and dying.

Can I do a meeting online?

Brendan: Yes! I was big into Zoom and did a lot of internationals. I went to Guam, Spain, Brazil and even spoke at a New Zealand meeting once. And I did all my local meetings on Zoom [during shutdown].

What’s the relationship like between a sponsor and sponsee?

Jamie: I love that my sponsor says that she doesn’t walk in front of me or behind me, she walks beside me. And, even though she has many more years [in recovery] than I do, she’s always walking beside me on the same path.

What advice would you give to someone new to NA?

Brendan: Stick it out. When you first come in, your emotions are all over the place and you’re raw. Stick it out and don’t leave until a miracle happens. Hold onto your seat, as they say, white knuckle it, and don’t give up until you find hope and find your people.

How do I find a meeting?

The website couldn’t be simpler: na.org.

There’s also an NA Meeting Search app available through the App Store.

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