“Hi. My name is Max,” I state flatly. “Hi Max,” responds a cheerful chorus of voices seated in the crooked oval formed by our metal fold up seats. Every Narcotics Anonymous (or NA) meeting starts this way. You sit down with a group of anonymous junkies. Anonymity is supposed to mean that we are strangers to each other, only we aren’t really strangers. The community of drug addicts is a pretty close knit neighborhood and you tend to know your neighbors well. Every year with every epidemic from meth to heroine that neighborhood gets bigger. It’s funny though, the size of the NA groups never changes.
I stare at the floor while I begin my burning desire to share, as they say in NA speak. “Today is my 90th day clean. I did a 90/90!!!” I say with a false enthusiasm meant to make everyone feel that I really care about all this. A 90/90 is an NA term that means Ninety days and Ninety meetings. The group congratulates me with clapping. It feels weird to have people clap for me. Not because I am lying about being sober. I just was never good at anything except using drugs. My face gets red and I squirm a little in my seat from the attention. Or maybe from the truth.
They say it’s hard for an addict to lie to another addict. We are so good at lying. But I manage to fool them all. I have them eating out of my hand every meeting. My sponsor, John, suggested the 90/90. He is sitting to my right. I don’t look at him. I don’t want to make eye contact. John can see right through me. When he begins to talk, his voice is unmistakable. It’s like a combination of Yoda and Johnny Cash. “Ready for the next phase,” he says.
John has been sober for 15 years. He was a hard core junkie back in the 1980’s. He was in jail for years after he was caught selling a large amount of cocaine. He said he hasn’t used drugs in 30 years. When he first explained this to me, I realized there was a math problem involved. 30 years of no drug use = 15 years sober. When I asked John he said that he was in jail for 15 years first. He said he was clean, but sober isn’t the same. He said that sober is a choice and forced abstinence doesn’t count. John is a lot like a cowboy because he rides a high horse.
But today I am 90 days into the program. I have 90 NA meetings, and I will get my 3 month chip from NA. You get chips that say NA and how long you were clean. Sometimes they look like tokens, but we use keychain fobs. I have a ring of them. 1 day, 30 days and now I get to add a 90 day chip fob. The chips remind you how far you have come. I asked John once, if you relapse do they make you give the key chain chip back. He looked at me, then the floor and then stared into space. Then he said, “they don’t have to." I was confused. He always smiles at my confusion. It really pisses me off too. I can see the disrespect in his smiles. Smug and arrogant. I tell myself that I am never giving my chip back. I was here every night for 90 days to get it. That’s a lot of group sharing and stale coffee. I earned those chips.
John hands me my 90 days chip in a very unceremonious way. Like he was handing me a stick of gum. No announcement or clapping. Then he sits up straight and strokes his beard before speaking. “Time to do another 90/90!” John says. WHAT THE HELL!!! I am not sure if I said this out loud or in my head. But I decide to be sure and say, “WHAT THE HELL JOHN!!! I JUST DID 90/90!” I am both angry and confused. John looks at me calmly, “A 90/90 is about making recovery part of your daily routine. If you have done that then doing a 90/90 would feel normal. If putting your sobriety first is frustrating, then you haven’t come to the spiritual awakening that you need to stop doing meetings daily.” John sits back and crosses his arms. He gives me that look. Like I was supposed to know the answer ahead of time. Arrogant jerk! My face is red and my head is pounding. Little veins pop out of my forehead. I take a breath before speaking. I use the time to sharpen my sarcasm. “So you’re saying I have to do these meetings until Jesus appears and says I can stop?” I say with a wry smile. I think I am funny as I fail to notice no one else gets my humor. Sarcasm is anger trying to imitate funny. John doesn’t take the bait. He ignores my tone and answers the questions as if I had asked it with sincerity. “A spiritual awakening isn’t a time when angels show up blowing trumpets in your face. It’s real and simple. It’s real simple, you realize some simple truth about yourself that you didn’t realize before.” John says in his calm voice. Everyone around me seems to get it or at least pretend they do. I still don’t get it. “This whole program is a load of..........!” I proclaim. I am so angry at that moment that all my false serenity falls away, and I begin a tirade of vulgarity. No one says anything though. No one argues back, no one calls me on my behavior.
After a full minute or two of full scale swearing another group member named Jeannie speaks up. She is a blonde, gum-chewing city girl with pink lipstick and a Demin jacket that lost a battle with a Bedazzler. Jeannie says something I won’t ever forget “Thanks for sharing, Hon”. She thanked me for that! I feel upside down, like I don’t know what is going on. This meeting is not what I planned. Jeannie looks at me with empathy and warm eyes and says, “Nothing changes if nothing changes. You are here because of your choices and your schemes. As long as you take the short cuts you will always wind up right back here, Hon”.
It takes a few seconds after Jeannie speaks for it to hit me. They know. They all know, and they always did. They never believed anything I said. Why should they. I lie just like they do. I thought I was so clever and smooth. I thought I played all of them. I thought I scammed this whole program. All the while they were watching me spin my lies and they waited patiently for this moment. They didn’t have to confront me or anything. They just watched me melt down over the weight of my own deceit. It’s like they set a trap or maybe I set it and they watched me hang myself. I feel exhausted. My body gets heavy and I have no energy. I slouch down into my chair. I wonder if this is what they mean by being sick and tired of being sick and tired?
I stare blankly at the floor. Then for reasons I barely understand I toss my key ring of chips onto the floor in the center of the circle. I fold my arms and I sprawl my legs out. I am angry and tired, and I am showing it. But I am not sure who or what I am angry at anymore. I consider my options. I plan a million schemes in that millisecond. But they all lead back to another night like this one. So, I do the only thing that comes to mind. Nothing changes if nothing changes. So, I make a change in my strategy. I chose the only course of action I haven’t tried yet. I tell the truth or as much of it as I can admit right now. I begin to speak, “My name is Max. I am an addict. I used before coming here.” A chorus of voices, strangely still cheerful, responds, “Hi Max....”