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Success stories

serenity in the heart

I am a gratefully recovering addict who, thanks to NA and the grace of God, recently celebrated twenty-five years clean...and I live with two mental illnesses, major depression and schizophrenia. Despite this, I am blessed with a very fulfilling life. I've noticed that many people who don't have trouble admitting that they are addicts don't have the ability to admit that they have mental health problems. There are different stigmas associated with addiction and mental illness. I understand the fear of admitting something uncomfortable. As an NA member, I had to face all of my fears when I admitted in the First Step that I was powerless over my addiction. Later in my recovery, I learned that mental illness is not something to hide or belittle. I have to be honest about them, inside and outside of NA. Fortunately, there are many avenues of recovery in NA. I hope my story will be a ray of hope for those who must live with long-term and debilitating illnesses in their recovery.

My first memories are of swearing and screaming and frequent visits to the hospital. I behaved differently from "normal" children and was classified as mentally retarded and hyperactive. Accordingly, I was given the usual upbringing for "special" children: social isolation, close observation, and a low-stimulus environment. In elementary school, I was cared for half a day in special teaching units. Still, by the time I was seven, I read through an entire encyclopedia in three weeks, as well as numerous other adult books. So it was suddenly decided that I wasn't mentally retarded after all, just particularly hyperactive. Because of my seizures, I was still not allowed to have friends or attend events. In my isolation I developed a fantasy life.

It was around this time that I took drugs for the first time and the sense of alienation went away. Drugs made me feel like I belonged somewhere, if only to another fantasy. I smoked weed and abused my prescribed medications to deal with my alcoholic family and difficult social life. Because I didn't have any friends at school, I constantly felt like there was "them" and "me," the abnormal child. At twelve I ran away from home and began a phase of life on the streets and in communes. I had my first overdose when I was fourteen. Later, I carried out an armed robbery at a kiosk for a matchbox. I knew I was crazy, but the drugs made it bearable.

By the time I was fifteen, the good times were gone. As a side effect of my drug addiction, I slept in dumpsters, sat freezing in garages, was constantly hungry, and self-injured. I drifted from one group to the next, constantly feeling different from other people. I felt like an alien on earth.

I would have liked to have a girlfriend and looked for friendship in psychiatric wards and treatment centers, but no girl wanted anything to do with me. I certainly wasn't the nice young man next door. I wanted to be loved, but I tried to convince myself that when I'm on drugs, love is superfluous. Finally, I met a girl at a rock concert. I used my homelessness as an excuse to move in with her family, stole from her parents and we left. During that time, I overdosed every few weeks. When I ended up in the hospital again, she left me. I felt like there was a curse on me and tried various ways to kill myself. Eventually I fell into a coma after an overdose. In the hospital they didn't know who I was. I had no papers. I was found dying somewhere on the street. The doctors later told me that you usually don't wake up from a coma like this. Nobody had visited me. I didn't matter to anyone. The total inner emptiness of the addiction hit me with full force. There was absolutely nothing in my life. I couldn't even remember my name.

At the deepest point of my hopelessness, I experienced grace: I was able to realize that if I do what I can to stay clean, I don't have to feel this way anymore. I went to AA and met the only other NA member in my area. When he explained NA recovery to me, the penny dropped. Nothing had worked before, no matter how serious I was. Was it possible that I just hadn't met the people who could really understand me? We set up a meeting together. Through his example, I learned the rewards of putting my heart and soul into my recovery and NA. We drove hundreds of miles to support addicts in other places. I wrote intensely in the steps and lived and thought of nothing but recovery. I had an unshakable belief in Narcotics Anonymous. I firmly believed that following the path of recovery would make me a better person. By the time I was ninety days clean, I had already opened several meetings and was sponsoring newer members.

Miracles happened. The spiritual awakening described in Step Twelve has manifested itself in my life. I in wusswhat it means to be spiritually awake, and I could too live. Not only did I stay clean, I lost the desire to do drugs or act like an addict. Addictive behaviors were just as gross and spiritually empty as using drugs. Having never worked before, I managed to get and keep a job at a treatment facility. I started out as a therapeutic counselor and was soon promoted to administrator. I have served inside and outside of NA. God has endowed me with leadership qualities and a willingness to serve in love. I went to ninety meetings in ninety days, over and over again. In this way I learned consistency and was able to discover and develop my skills, not only for the community but also in professional life. Daily prayer and meditation brought balance to my life. I was able to express strong beliefs to others in a gentle manner. For the first time I experienced love, the kind of love for other people that comes from stillness in the heart.

When I was eight years clean, I had a life that at best I could have dreamed of. Of course, I didn't do this alone: ​​I had all the benefits of recovery in NA: a Higher Power, the experiences of my NA friends, and the power of their recovery. Thanks to years of prayer and meditation, I have had a deep conscious connection to God and the awareness that I am helping my Higher Power to fulfill my will in my life. I had earned the respect of my NA friends and those outside of NA. I had even made a friend, a wonderful woman who was clean in NA. I lebt in my life instead of just surviving.

But then my life changed. In the years that followed I experienced many dark days. My wife stopped attending NA, started screwing around, and eventually relapsed. I quit my job. Amid all this uncertainty, I was still being asked to work on NA service projects. Often my first thought in the morning was, "I can't do this, I want to die." But I continued to attend meetings, thinking that was normal for someone who has lost so much. In the meetings, other NA members shared how they had endured and survived extreme emotional pain. I decided to just sit it out. But it kept getting weirder.

The depression didn't go away. She got worse. I heard voices and saw people who weren't there. I in wussthat I wasn't doing drugs, but I was having hallucinations. In less than a year, I lost my six-bedroom apartment and became homeless. I couldn't keep even the simplest of jobs. I had to donate blood to have money for food. I sat in a chair for days, doing nothing, feeling nothing. In meetings, I struggled for words when I wanted to share what was happening to me. I slept on the sofa or on the floor with other NA members.

Several NA members affectionately addressed the fact that I wasn't "myself" and insisted that I see a psychiatrist. Because of my childhood experiences, I shied away from it. Then they took me to the hospital. The doctors said I was severely depressed and schizophrenic and gave me medication. But I refused to take the medication because I didn't want anything mind-altering in me. Besides, I had been "healthy" for nine years in recovery. I became more and more apathetic. The horrifying emptiness that had brought me to my rock bottom in my addiction... was back. Again I felt alienated, hopeless, useless and worthless. But now I didn't do drugs.

Doctor after doctor told me that I had a mental illness, that this illness would limit me and that I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. I experienced this as a defeat and it was even worse than when I admitted to being an addict. How did I deserve this? Why did God allow this to happen to me? Hadn't I lived according to the spiritual principles? Hadn't I done everything that NA is supposed to do? Don't good people deserve a good life? Even more frightening was my uncertainty about the future. For addiction, NA is a way that works to escape the hell of using drugs. But what kind of "recovery" is there for mental illness? How would I live the rest of my life...clean...with the many limitations that mental illness brings? I couldn't hide my problems and there was no solution in sight. I felt that my life was completely destroyed. And how should I relate to the community?

My confusion was also reflected in the reactions of others. Some told me I wasn't clean because I was on medication. The same people who begged me to seek psychiatric help accused me of improperly receiving my disability benefits. Others have attributed my mental health issues to "too much service work" or "never done an honest Fourth Step." Many of my sponsees decided to stop working the steps with me. Other NA members claimed I was faking my illness. Luckily my sponsor was always there for me and he was very loving. Other NA members have also consistently encouraged me and reminded me that NA is not just about people, it's about principles. There were times when I could feel the Higher Power in my life reminding me that I am loved whether I have a mental illness or not. Despite all the pain, the community carried me through this tremendously difficult time with their wisdom and care.

Some of the deepest wisdom in my recovery has come from ignorance. The first two years of living clean with my mental illness taught me a valuable lesson: While mental illness is an issue outside of NA, how I deal with it in my personal recovery, it is very much an internal issue. My daily Tenth and Eleventh Step inventory has been instrumental in helping me understand where my recovery ends and where my mental illness begins. I have to make this distinction to stay clean. I've learned that difficulties with my recovery have never brought me to the hospital, and that addicts are not psychologists or psychiatrists unless they have an appropriate PhD. When I first started clean, I had to learn how to explain addiction to people who didn't have problems with drugs, while also understanding addiction for myself. This was only possible by working the steps and learning what addiction and recovery is really about. Now I had to explain mental illness to NA members who had very misguided ideas about it. To understand my mental illness and learn how to live clean with it, I had to rely on the steps.

It's always hard to accept the loss that my mental illness brings. Once I was in a closed psychiatric ward and some NA members held an H&I meeting—but I wasn't allowed to attend because I wasn't considered stable enough. The only thing that kept me from an NA meeting and a sixteen-year medal was a locked door. This is a very tangible image of living in recovery with a serious illness: the long-term illness closes my access to other options. In dealing with this, I need spiritual maturity so that I can enjoy emotional stability.

I cannot compare myself to other NA members. In the sixteen years I've lived with mental illness, I've never been in a relationship, rarely worked, and sometimes lived in abject poverty. I've been hospitalized countless times and been stuck at home paralyzed for days, weeks, and months. There were long periods when I just barely made it to meetings and there were times when I couldn't even make it. When I'm in a difficult phase, I can't even pray or meditate. I can work the steps until I turn blue, but my mental illness won't go away. When I feel like there's no more hope, it's hard to reach out to others. But I'm constantly reminded that I don't have to go through this alone.

Understanding why some days are better than others is a bit like trying to figure out why you caught a cold last week and not this week. There are no guarantees in recovery from addiction except that if I live clean I will stay clean. When I work the steps, I don't follow a plan: I've learned that the plan comes as I move forward in my recovery. That's why it's so important for me to keep working the steps - so that more can be revealed. The same goes for mental illness. Drugs are no guarantee that I'll feel better. Treatment is a good tool, but my illness doesn't go away from understanding. I have learned to apply the one tools to my mental illness and the NA principles to my addiction.

NA traditions say we should put principles before people. But what comes before the principles? What gives an addict the strength and courage to live the principles when recovery doesn't make sense? What's the point of staying clean if you can't find joy in recovery? I believe that the loving God described in Tradition Two shows up in our group conscience as well as in our service work, our sense of community, in our work and in our play - that this is the same God who gives me the power to recover so I can live the principles. Considering that I have to face a serious medical condition every day and still be able to stay clean day in and day out, that's an incredible miracle! From a spiritual perspective, I experience real grace. I don't always feel that, but she's always there. Many times I could have died while taking drugs. Now I live with another disease that is just as painful and just as life threatening. I know many people inside and outside of NA who have taken their own lives because of mental illness. I won't be one of them. It's not an easy road, but I know I'm alive because NA gave me a clean life. Recovery allows me to appreciate the moments when I have serenity in my heart and to be thankful for the miracles, big and small, happening all around me.


Story from: Basic Text 6th Edition, Copright Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Chatsworth, California

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