Early Recovery: what does it mean? It used to be the first few hours, then days, weeks, months, then years. Then I got a decade clean, and at the time of writing have over 19 years clean. 19 years away from the terrifying, insistent, and seemingly unchallengeable internal ‘law’ that I could not stop using drugs. Attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings changed all that.
So, like everything else, Early Recovery has no inherent meaning at all; only the one that I ascribe to it. For me now, it’s anything that happened prior to now.
I found myself in a crusty dark room in London’s well-heeled East Finchley area on a warm summer night. Monday, 30th of June, 2003. I was only there because I felt broken and knew I couldn’t fix it. It was my first Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting.
I didn’t like it one bit. All God and green tea and full of people who took the wrong drugs, I told myself this wasn’t for me. Alcohol is a drug? Complete abstinence? That’s a bit extreme! At the end of the meeting, a guy called Jim asked me if I enjoyed the meeting. The truth was, I hated the place but, “Really good, yeah, gave me some things to think about” was the lie that fell out of my mouth.
“A couple of us go for coffee after if you’re up for it?” he inquired. I thought “You can shove yourself and your coffee where the sun doesn’t shine”. Yet the words “Yeah great!” spilled out as if spoken by a ghost within me.
That night was the beginning of my love affair with NA. A sudden shift had occurred. From ‘Never going back there’, to ‘Can’t wait for the next meeting. Like most affairs, the line between love and hate is hard to define but we know it when we feel it. I took up the suggestion to try to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, something that I first thought entirely preposterous had now become desirable.
My shattered self started to remember itself through the heartfelt narratives of others. I knitted these stories together and made a warm blanket out of them. I was part of something and that something was greater than the small yet demanding self in me that just wanted to use drugs, that just wanted to feel OK. Using drugs had seemed like a legitimate method to achieve this and appeared to ‘work’ for quite a long time. My using was not always chaotic and calamitous. In fact, there was a lot of fun and frolics along the way. But the last few years were anything but fun. Isolation, Depression and Hopeless became my constant and loyal best friends. Maybe they loved me so much that they drove me into the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous.
For a long time, I figured that recovery would look like a slow but steady increase in my feelings of well-being, circumstances, and attainment of wisdom. It has not felt like that at all. I have had long periods of being convinced that my return to sanity has got stuck in reverse. Being honest during these times can be the most difficult thing. Yet if I value honesty above how I want to be perceived, I give myself and others half a chance to be real, and two halves can make me whole again. Not always top of the world, but enough.
The stories we tell each other can be the ties that bind us together, yet we must remain aware that when used unskillfully, such as the times when we are solely seeking praise, merit, or sympathy, the same ties can become the shackles that imprison us. We will fall, and these temptations will come our way. It is during these times that the sooner we find the courage to be honest, the sooner we will find ourselves facing the right way and feeling right sized.
Wisdom does not often accrue in a regular, linear, or merit-logical sequence or scale. It has taken me years sometimes to taste the wisdom in seemingly small events that I could not discern at the time of their occurrence.
Chiang Mai has become my home. We are blessed to have a vibrant, thriving community holding Narcotics Anonymous meetings at least once every day of the week.