Progress, not perfection
Narcotics Anonymous at the Alano Club
“Which are you looking for, AA or NA? We’ve got AA over here, and NA over here,” said the helpful man on the couch as I wandered through the Alano Club. The Alcoholics Anonymous meeting center, at 1640 Prater Way in Sparks, is large and smoky, and quite busy for a day after a holiday, but then addiction doesn’t care what day it is.
I followed his gesture to a cafeteria-styled room with fewer couches and more chairs and tables. The building felt like a converted business. For the 8:30 p.m. Monday meeting, there were small knots of people sitting around the perimeter, three at the front of the room at what I took to be the leadership table. Folks chatted easily across the room. The walls had the various Alcoholics Anonymous slogans on them “Easy does it,” “But by the grace of God,” and “First things first.” There was one section of tables with “no smoking” signs, the rest had ash trays. Someone had purchased a dozen glazed doughnuts. At the front-right was a small kitchen area.
I’d never been to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting before, but I knew it was based on the AA system of 12 steps. I’d heard that I could expect even more heartrending tales of degradation, that drugs can take a person down further than alcohol, but you know how people talk. That did not turn out to be my experience.
I’m not all that familiar with 12-step programs, although I’ve attended a few meetings over the years. This one began with the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” It was followed by “How it works,” which includes the 12 steps. (The AA how-it-works can be found at www.step12.com/aa-how-it-works.html. Excuse my ignorance, but I think the main difference between the AA and the NA versions is the words “our addictions” are substituted for the word “alcohol,” and “addict” for the word “alcoholic.”) “How it works” was followed by a reading of the “12 Traditions,” which can be found at na12.org/index.php/en/12-traditions.html.
One person with some time clean and sober began the sharing with his own story: “I started using [alcohol] at 12. My justifying started right away.” He didn’t begin using drugs until he tried hash in Germany while in the Army. From then on, his addiction increased one step at a time. “All them things I swore I would never do … I believed it until I did them.”
One particular thing he said struck home to me, in light of this week’s cover story. He was talking about the effects of alcohol in his addiction, and he made the point that alcohol, even though many people try to distinguish it from other substances, is a drug. In other words, just because it’s legal, does not make it less of an intoxicant, or any less dangerous in any way. “Any time in my life I wasn’t drinking, it’s because I was doing something else.”
He told another story that I found charming, in which he compared God to a baby pigeon: “Have you ever seen a pigeon? I’ve seen millions of pigeons. Have you ever seen a baby one? I have never seen a baby pigeon. God’s like that.”
He made the topic of the day “acceptance,” and many of the 19 people in attendance spoke, telling their stories and engaging in the therapy of people who’ve been down similar rough roads sharing their experiences. The meeting ended one hour after it began with a recitation of the third step prayer.
I found this meeting of the Narcotics Anonymous group, “Hope in the hood,” friendly but not intrusive, down to earth, and very focused on the reasons people attended: Not necessarily freedom from addiction, but the freedom to choose to be clean and sober on that day.