My Experiences with NA and AA

by Amy Cortney
September 16, 2000

I, like others, found freedom from active addiction after trying literally everything that is available to addicts, (other than some of the more obscure modalities that I didn’t find yet). After trying so many different methods to get and stay clean, I have found that Methadone Maintenance is the best method, by far. This is not to say that others may find that other treatment methods work more. I have always felt that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and it’s better to leave well enough alone.

However, when I see that some people trained in treating the disease of addiction and even other recovering people may be harming addicts by not leaving well enough alone by forcing their own beliefs, I can’t help but cry foul.

The 12 steps are personal in nature and should be perceived as such. I feel that if one does go through these steps diligently, he or she may actually see change in their life. That is not to say that these steps are full proof. I mean, what criteria determines when one is finished a step and can move on to the next? Whatever the reasoning, I think they are subjective and can mean different things to different people. The whole idea of the twelfth step, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and practice these principles in all our affairs,” leaves me assuming that NA is a program based on promotion.

It assumes that not only did the person awaken spiritually but now he or she must become a recruiter. I like to think this way, “Having fully had your principles crammed down our throats, we are now thoroughly brainwashed and will recruit as many lost sheep as we can and continue to shove our spiritual ideas about God as far up their asses as they will go.”

I have always felt that if it works for you, live it, enjoy it. I think everyone can see that an addict who finds recovery is a miracle in itself. I will never judge a person for believing in whatever vehicle brought them to recovery. What I do judge is the entire “recruitment” process and the assumption that if others don’t follow the same path, their path must be wrong.

I have had debates with people, especially when I was new to recovery, that left me feeling like I was making the wrong decisions for myself. No matter how much I explained that Methadone was a positive force in my life, several more militant members of certain 12 step fellowships attempted to make me feel that since I didn’t agree with their way of thinking, I wasn’t ready to recover. I am grateful now that I had enough sense to not allow that line of thinking to damage what I had worked so hard for.

It was obvious to me. When I was in NA, I couldn’t stop using. When I stabilized on a proper dose of Methadone, I finally stopped. Also, when I did stop, it wasn’t the usual white knuckle abstinence that I had come to know while incarcerated. I actually felt normal. I felt like a human being again, something that I had not felt in an awfully long time.

I feel I need to qualify myself a bit. I did have a substantial amount of time clean in NA. When I was about 14 years old, my family caught me smoking pot and doing coke and acid. The way they chose to deal with the situation was to toss me in one of those country club type rehab centers for wayward teens.

From the first day I entered the rehab, I was bombarded with the whole 12 step philosophy. Usually the people who came to speak to us were in AA and I could not have felt more different from them if I tried. I just could not relate to the 60 year old man who lost his job from slugging down too many Martinis. Nor could I relate to the 50 year old woman who drank too many white wine spritzers at her weekly bridge game. My counselors told me to try to identify rather than compare. They told me to try to identify with the FEELINGS, not the war stories. they also told me to just substitute the word “drugs” with the word “alcohol” in the steps. That was all way too complicated for me. At the time, I needed things to be real cut and dried and this whole process did not appear to be all that simple.

I got out of rehab and attended NA meetings on my own. I had a much easier time relating to the people there. I met a group of people whom I felt really comfortable with and we got together on the weekends and after meetings for coffee. I was my home group’s Group Service Representative and attended all the Area Service Committee meetings.

Through all of it, I finally felt like I was a part of something wonderful. My recovery was secondary to the social aspect of the program. I liked the dances and the conventions and though I continued to use occasionally, I raised my hand and took my key-chains with pride. I didn’t want to tell them that I still used from time to time because I thought I would lose all the wonderful friends that I came to rely on so much. Needless to say, I drifted away because the program started to interfere with my real life.

I discovered heroin after that and the rest is really history. I think my addiction started “for real” then. Through various circumstances, I entered a Methadone Maintenance program. At the suggestion of my counselors, I decided to try to incorporate NA meetings into my treatment program feeling that I could only benefit from the added support. I went back to NA hoping that I would, once again, find that feeling of community and unconditional love that I had known in the past. I was, in fact, greeted warmly by the friends I had made and they welcomed me back into the fold as if I had never left. They told me to keep coming back, to raise my hand and share and get a sponsor and a homegroup.

I took their suggestions and raised my hand at the very next meeting. I opened myself up to them then and poured my heart out. I told them all everything that I had been through since they had seen me last and they all seemed so willing to help and lend a hand in my very new recovery process.

What happened next still tends to bother me even now after so much time has gone by and I have long since gotten over it. I was very open about the fact that I was on the MMT program. First, I told people after the meetings when the conversation was more casual and not as structured. Immediately, I was told that it was in my best interest to never share that I was on MMT in the actual meeting. People told me that I should keep that a secret for I could be met with a lot of criticism. That made me angry. I was always taught that anyone could share anything they wanted at an NA meeting. The ONLY thing that they ask is to keep who your connections were to yourself. Other than that, I have never heard anyone tell anyone to censor themselves. That, in itself, goes against everything NA stands for.

So, I shared in the meeting that I was on MMT and that I had no intention of detoxing off of it. The rest of the meeting was completely devoted to what I had shared. I was told to refer to Bulletin 29 from World Service that clearly states that although anyone is welcome at an NA meeting, only those who are totally abstinent from all drugs, including Methadone, are welcome to share. I was dumbfounded and totally bewildered. When I was told not to tell anyone I was on MMT, I had no idea what I was in for. I was made to feel that my clean time was not “real” clean time. All of a sudden, the program that I always thought I was a member of was telling me that although I am still a member, I cannot enjoy the benefits of that membership. In other words, I was a member in name only.

I couldn’t speak at a meeting, nor was I supposed to sponsor anyone nor was I supposed to hold any service position within the fellowship. All because I was on a life saving medication that I needed in order to live a healthy and normal life. I wondered if people on Insulin or Tegretol were held under the same scrutiny. What was next? Perhaps addicts who were on medication for depression or anxiety would not be permitted to share? My counselor suggested that I just wasn’t attending the “right” meetings and that I just needed to find the ones that accepted people on MMT. There was no way I was going to search for the “good” meetings. I didn’t think that I should have to travel out of my area and attend meetings that were inconvenient simply to find tolerance. Needless to say, to this day, I have never again attended another NA meeting.

I now hold the belief that NA may be helpful to some addicts. Though, NOT FOR THIS ADDICT. Everyone has the right to make an educated decision about how they choose to recover. The counselors and social workers who still force or greatly suggest that their MMT patients attend NA meetings need to be educated about what truly works best for us. How can they tell us to attend a program that when we go, we are told that we can’t participate?

Isn’t that defeating the purpose and a waste of our time? I will never again allow anyone to decide what is best for me. Nor will I ever allow someone to tell me that I’m not clean. I have not put a needle in my arm in a year and a half and I am proud of that achievement. I now wear my CLEAN TIME like a badge of honor and I defy anyone to tell me I don’t deserve it. I still believe that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Though, now I firmly believe that if it is broken it is my responsibility and my right to fix it.

Even though I came out of my experience a little bit more sure of myself and a lot smarter, I can’t help but think of the other addicts who find themselves in the same position everyday. I think about that addict who just got onto Methadone and at the coaxing of his or her counselor, attends an NA meeting only to be met with total disdain and negativity. I was lucky that I simply chose to no longer attend. Perhaps another addict will decide to go out and use because he or she was so angry at how they were treated. Maybe that same person will choose to go off the MMT program so that they can feel like they are doing the right thing in the eyes of their peers in NA.

Is that serving an addict seeking recovery? If anything, I think that would lead an addict farther away from recovery. In a perfect world, some of the more arrogant people in our subculture would allow others to find their own way and not assume that it is their way or the highway. Though I still believe that MMT is the best treatment for an opiate addicted person, I would never fault someone for doing it another way. Our ultimate goal is freedom from active addiction. ANY addict that gets there, in ANY way he or she can, is truly a miracle.

-Amy Cortney