Ad­dicts help­ing ad­dicts

Weekly Nar­cotics Anony­mous meet­ing be­ing of­fered at Burin hospi­tal

The Southern Gazette - - NEWS - BY PAUL HER­RIDGE THE SOUTH­ERN GAZETTE

Stacey John­son (not her real name) was in her mid-20s when she de­cided to at­tend a Nar­cotics Anony­mous meet­ing for the first time.

“I re­mem­ber ex­actly what I was wear­ing, and I re­mem­ber ex­actly where I sat, and I was just wait­ing, try­ing to find the dif­fer­ences, any rea­son for me not to feel like I was part of this group,” she told The South­ern Gazette last week.

She stuck around for about two months but said ul­ti­mately she “just wasn’t sick enough.”

In keep­ing with the tra­di­tions of NA, The Gazette has granted anonymity to Ms. John­son, a cur­rent res­i­dent of the Burin Penin­sula, to tell her story.

Now in her mid-30s, Ms. John­son, who also has an anx­i­ety dis­or­der which has com­pounded her prob­lems, has been sober for the last five years.

Grow­ing up in Labrador, Ms. John­son said she be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with al­co­hol and drugs – acid, hashish, mar­i­juana, Ri­talin – at age 14.

By 17, it had pro­gressed to the stage where she was drink­ing and tak­ing drugs most ev­ery weekend. At 21 and liv­ing in Cal­gary, A.B., she smoked crack for the first time.

“Hav­ing an anx­i­ety dis­or­der and find­ing some­thing that re­lieves that anx­i­ety, even if it’s just for a minute, was very en­tic­ing to me,” she said of us­ing the drug.

Ms. John­son moved on to crack from co­caine. She was con­cerned that her co­caine use was caus­ing prob­lems with her teeth. Crack, a smok­able form of the drug with a more in­tense but shorter high, was a way around those fears, she thought.

With her dual di­ag­no­sis, Ms. John­son said there were times when her men­tal health was well and she boozed and used drugs. Other times she was un­well and was afraid to drink and use. There were also oc­ca­sions when she was men­tally un­sta­ble and self-med­i­cated with al­co­hol and drugs.

Ms. John­son said her drink­ing and drug use lead her to do things she nor­mally would never have done and that reg­u­larly put her in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions.

“For me, it was easy to fly un­der the radar with drink­ing, be­cause I sur­rounded my­self with like people, and no mat­ter where I moved to I could find a ‘ fam­ily’ in a bar,” she said, not­ing she would of­ten ini­tially down six shoot­ers so as to bring her anx­i­ety down to a level to have a con­ver­sa­tion.

In her late 20s, on the wrong com­bi­na­tion of med­i­ca­tions for her anx­i­ety and sick, she found drink­ing to fi­nally be too much. She couldn’t hang out at the bar be­cause she could tell people knew some­thing was up.

Two years af­ter at­tend­ing her first Nar­cotics Anony­mous meet­ing, she de­cided to give so­bri­ety an­other try in 2009. She started at­tend­ing meet­ings again – ini­tially Al­co­holics Anony­mous. Ms. John­son said no one should have to suf­fer with men­tal health, but for her, it put her on a path to re­cov­ery.

“I didn’t get sober for me. I stayed sober for me. I got sober to get help with my men­tal health so that I could go back to do­ing what I was do­ing,” she said.

“I had to get sick for a re­ally long time be­fore I was able to sub­mit and say, ‘Okay, this is what I am. This is what I need.’”

Ms. John­son moved to the Burin Penin­sula two years ago. There were no lo­cal Nar­cotics Anony­mous meet­ings. There is an Al­co­holics Anony­mous meet­ing, but she didn’t go.

Dur­ing a visit back to Cal­gary, she started reg­u­larly at­tend­ing meet­ings again. When she came back to the Burin Penin­sula, Ms. John­son felt a need to con­tinue.

Nar­cotics Anony­mous is where the truth is spo­ken, she said.

“It gets in your brain and some­thing hap­pens. It’s con­sid­ered a spir­i­tual awak­en­ing for some, but over time you look back and it’s like, ‘I’ve changed!’ Al­most like I changed back to the per­son I was sup­posed to be be­fore I started screw­ing around with ev­ery­thing.”

Out of her de­sire to con­tinue at­tend­ing NA and help oth­ers, Ms. John­son has be­gun or­ga­niz­ing a meet­ing each Satur­day in the ed­u­ca­tion room at the Burin Penin­sula Health Care Cen­tre.

Be­cause it’s in the be­gin­ning stages, the meet­ing is open to fam­ily mem­bers and friends. That could change, she said, if the group ex­pands and mem­bers want a closed meet­ing. So far at­ten­dance for the first two meet­ings has been sparse, she noted.

“The way I feel right now is, if we can ben­e­fit any­body, then so be it.”

Ms. John­son said a friend in Al­co­holics Anony­mous has agreed to sit with her for the first two months, but she’s will­ing to go on longer.

“For me, this is a labour of love, but I also know that you can­not carry the ad­dict. You can only carry the mes­sage. I’ll sit there un­til I feel it’s time to give up.”

Ms. John­son sug­gested Nar­cotics Anony­mous is one ad­dict help­ing an­other.

“An ad­dict is not a bad per­son try­ing to get good. We are sick people try­ing to get well to­gether,” she said.

“We get it. We un­der­stand. We know where you’ve been be­cause we’ve been there, and we know where you’re go­ing be­cause we’ve been there, too.”

pher­[email protected]­erngazette.ca

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