Addicts helping addicts
Weekly Narcotics Anonymous meeting being offered at Burin hospital
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.”