Are Twelve Steppers Really That Judgemental or Just Plain Frustrated?
I must admit that I’ve been doing this recovery thing for eighteen years, and while I had a several year hiatus from the rooms of twelve step meetings, I never stopped working on my spiritual, emotional, and mental growth and the relationship with my higher power. I’d venture to say that I’ve been to close to 1500 meetings in my life. I’ve also spoken at treatment centers, recovery housing, jails, institutions, drug courts, and addiction events, as well as written a book, and several blogs and columns. However, it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I spoke in front of my very first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I was nervous. I was more than nervous. Although, I’m far from a polished speaker, I’ve literally spoken before or after celebrities, or spoke in front of hundreds and hundreds of people, but was never as nervous as I was speaking at an NA meeting.
The reason for this wasn’t because of my lack of content to share, or feeling like I had something to offer. Moreover, it was because of my general experience with members of the Narcotics Anonymous Community. In general I’ve always felt like this is the most judgmental and critical community out there. If you do not do things exactly like a person does in there, then you are wrong and might as well be using. I’ve listened to the gossip and watched the negative talk. If I didn’t come around the rooms for any period of time during my sobriety, I would return only to hear I relapsed or have people stare into my eyes looking with hope for signs that I was high. When I explained that I was still sober and had a life outside of NA, I was given doubtful glares, and met with disbelief. Most false stories that I have heard about myself have generated from the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous.
Is this not to be expected though? Is this not a program of broken people struggling to fix themselves? The rooms of both NA and AA are filled with societies biggest derelicts, but also societies biggest warriors. Everyone is at different stages of self re-construction.
I have met some of the most beautiful, most forgiving, understanding and spiritually advanced people in the rooms as well. Again, everyone is at a different level of our journey. My fiancé, who is a normal non-addict, says to me after meeting so many people from the rooms “What is it that they teach there? I want some. I’ve never met so many deep, spiritually advanced people in my life.”
Just like anything else in life, it is your reaction to things that happen to you that matters the most. Are you going to compare out and dwell on the negative people who are broken just like you? Or are you going to dwell on the positive spiritually advanced people? Are you turning your back on anyone willing to give you constructive advice and claiming it is insulting, when in essence it is really meant to help? Or are you accepting of critique from people further in the process than you because you are willing to grow?
There are two types of people in this world, and the type that you are depends on how you respond to stimulus. If someone calls a person weak, for instance, there are those who will work hard to build their strength and prove that person wrong. There are the others who will cry that that person called them weak and wallow in self pity thus proving that person right all along. I’m NOT by any means strong, I’m a coward by nature, but I’ve made a decision to become a warrior and to prove anyone wrong who points out a weakness within me. I am thankful then, that they have motivated me from my weakness by pointing it out. They have helped me grow, and I can only hope that their reason for pointing it out comes from a place of purity, otherwise they are the ones falling into weakness. Either way, their motivation for pointing out my flaw is not my concern, it is only my concern to work on addressing my flaw.
Which brings me to this. There is a seemingly never-ending battle between people in the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous and people who take or advocate for MAT (Medically Assisted Treatment, methadone, suboxone, etc). I almost can’t go a single day without seeing the battle play out in one of the recovery groups on social media. Are the members of Narcotics Anonymous being judgmental and shunning people away or is it something else?
Imagine this. Theres a huge group of people that have trained to be professional swimmers. They’ve been training long and to be able to stay out in the ocean for lengthy periods of time. learning how to dive, swim and float on their own is hard enough, but for extremely long distances and durations takes tons of discipline and hard work. It is a constant work in progress to continue to keep the body and mind conditioned for this task, but the freedom of being out in the open sea and ability to float, dive and swim wherever on their own freewill is worth all of the training they endure. They are the professional swimmers.
Now suddenly, there has been a surge of people entering out into the sea with them. These new people have floaties on their wrists and ankles. They don’t have to put forth any effort to be out in the water with the professionals. They float carelessly by without needing to train and condition their minds, bodies and spirits. The floaties keep them from drowning with no effort on their part. The professionals welcome these new floaters into the pack because the waters are dangerous and it’s better to stay together. The professionals are jealous at one point because the floaters get to enjoy the same waters without the effort and training that the professionals endure, but then they realize that these new floaters don’t get to enjoy the freedom of swimming, diving and floating without being constrained by these float devices. The professionals welcome the floaters into the group and want to teach them how to swim without the floats. They want them to experience the freedom of real swimming, they want them to grow in their training, to have a well conditioned body, mind and spirit. Some of the floaters agree and eventually ease off of using their float devices.
However other floaters refuse, and say they are already professionals, they don’t need help. They will stay on the floaties for the rest of their life because they feel safer there and don’t want the real freedom of life on the ocean. The professionals are offended. “How can they be professionals when we’ve trained so hard for so long, night and day, and are a constant work in progress and yet these people just slapped floats on their ankles and wrists and call themselves professionals just like us? If they take off their floats they will surely drown, even if its just for a day. They can’t dive and swim through the harsh waves of life like us? They can’t be professionals, how dare them call themselves professionals like us?”
Thus, the argument ensues. Some of the floaters commit to training to live free but many run away from the ocean screaming because they weren’t allowed to call themselves professionals. They were accepted among the swimmers, they just were not called “professionals” by the “professionals” and that in itself was enough for them to give up altogether.
So is this in fact, a case of judgement, or a case of frustration? In my experience, the general consensus in the rooms of recovery is that the majority of people are willing to bend over backwards to help anybody reach a new, free way of life if they are willing to take it. In my personal experience the rooms are welcoming of anyone on MAT or even anyone under the influence of illicit drugs, and will be patient with them trying to find the better life that they deserve. It is only when those on MAT claim to be on the same path as those who have dug deep and put in the groundwork that a real argument ensues.
I speak in generalities here, but most people hop on MAT and stay on maintenance to avoid digging deep and working on the issues that led them to using in the first place. It IS a life saver but it is only a temporary band-aid. It frustrates those who have worked on their recovery to see those who haven’t claim that they are. Most of the time when they speak out against it, it is to hopefully inspire and push that person towards change. If that person uses that as an excuse to run away, then that is proof that they were never really open or willing to change in the first place.