When I was speaking the other night, the son of a former ship’s captain who I served under in the navy just happened to be there. This weekend, we’re heading up to Philly to celebrate my friend George’s recent 40th anniversary in recovery. George got clean when he was 17, and carried a message to me when he was 20, 37 years ago. I’ve been clean ever since. That’s something worth celebrating!
We decided to spend a night or two up there, instead of driving up and back in one day. Those whirlwind kind of trips just kill me, anymore. I’m learning to pace myself more.
We originally were planning to go up last night, but since it had gotten so god-awful cold yesterday, and we were both bushed from long days at work, we decided to just go up today, instead. We’ll stay over tonight, then head back home tomorrow.
We looked around at different hotels in the area — the usual ones we stay at when we go up there were booked up. We found a room with a reasonable rate at the Sheraton Bucks County Hotel, so we booked it.
This morning, I was checking the Facebook group that was set up for George’s party, and there were pictures of a bunch of the crew of oldtimers that we’re expecting to see at George’s party, taken yesterday, at the same hotel we’re staying at. Then I found out that there’s an N.A. convention happening at that same hotel this weekend. Who knew?
So, we’re apparently going to be running into people we know both at George’s party, and at the hotel. While I don’t really feel like I belong in N.A. anymore — I haven’t since they kicked my home group out in 1984 — I still have a lot of old friends there, and it’s always great seeing them again. I saw that one guy is there who I haven’t seen since 1991, when a mutual friend had died (Larry North), and we both went to his funeral here in D.C.
Bo was one of the ones who spear-headed the effort to write a basic text of recovery for N.A. I met Bo when I celebrated 90 days clean, at the First East Convention of N.A. in June of 1980. Our home group in Hulmeville, Pa, had already been working on writing N.A. 12 Steps and Traditions, and Bo was working on writing the rest of the book. We got together, and I stayed plugged into the N.A. Literature movement for the next 4 years. Seriously plugged into it, along with my friend George.
George would go to the literature conferences, then come back with work to be typed up, and together we started the Bristol and Philadelphia Literature Committees, both of which did extensive work in the development, and final editing work, of the N.A. Basic Text. We hosted the 7th and final World Literature Committee, for developing the stories to be included in the back of the first edition, at our house in Ivyland, Pa.
I was nominated and elected as the Vice Chair of N.A. World Lit at that conference. I was 2 months shy of 2 years clean, at that point — but was certainly not shy to N.A. service work. Thanks in large part to George, I had been heavily involved in it from the day I returned from my last relapse. George got me involved.
Before my first anniversary, I was the Philadelphia Area Public Affairs Chair, and had started and edited an N.A. Newsletter, the Clean Sheet, for the Philadelphia Area of N.A. We lived, ate and breathed N.A. service. For me, it was what was keeping me clean. I couldn’t get a foothold on the 12 Steps. I couldn’t find anyone who had been through them, that could take me through them.
So, instead, I helped to write N.A.’s version of them. Some would say I put the cart before the horse, but I would say they could suck on it— I did what I had to do to stay clean.
When I found a group that had some real recovery, I latched on, and didn’t let go until I got it, too. Then my group got kicked out of N.A. for using the AA Big Book. How ironic was that?
But, I didn’t care. Just like Robert E. Lee stuck with his state when it seceded from the Union, I stuck with my home group when it got cut loose from N.A. We became Addicts Anonymous. Alas, like the South, it didn’t remain effective beyond the first several years. They failed to follow any sort of traditions, and devolved into the cult I had been warned they were in the first place.
I eventually left all 12 Step programs, and just lived my life. I continued to apply the 12 Steps that I had learned at that group, and that sustained me for the next 25 years. Life was good.
But, a deep yearning to get back into 12 step work put me on a search for where I belonged. My search took me through tours of Addicts Anonymous, another outfit called All Addicts Anonymous, N.A., and finally, back to where I started — A.A. There, I finally felt like I was home. That’s where I belonged. It only took me 35 years to find it.
Whenever I go back to one of these N.A. functions, a part of me feels like an outlaw invading enemy territory. I’m not, and they don’t treat me like that. They always welcome me back with open arms, like they always did, from the very first meeting I ever went to. I just know I don’t belong there, but I still have some friends that I love there, and so I go.
I still remember the time that I walked away from N.A., even before I found that pseudo-N.A. meeting that used the AA big book. I had lived with a friend in Maryland, Billy Z., who I am still good friends with today. I was moving out of his basement, back home to my parents, just until I got on my feet and could move out on my own, again.
I had a lot of heavy furniture down there in Billy’s basement. My 66 year old father came down in a van to help me move my stuff out of there. There was a houseful of N.A. members, just hanging out in Billy’s living room, all of whom came up to hug me when I got there. Not one of them even offered to help me and my old dad as we moved all of that heavy furniture out of Billy’s basement, up a treacherous cellar stairway, then all the way around to the front driveway and into Dad’s van. We made a lot of trips, back and forth.
Driving home, up I-95, Dad shook his head and laughed, saying, “I’ve never seen the likes of that. All these friends, quick with the hugs, but not a one of them would offer to help you and your old Dad cart all of that furniture out. I’ve never seen that before.”
I had. That’s one of the reasons I had decided to leave N.A. A lot of hugs — but not really all that much help. It wasn’t until I found that renegade group that used the AA Big Book, that I finally found the help I really needed. That has continued to sustain me, ever since.