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  • When I got out of the Navy in 1977, I had a full-blown addiction. Despite my best-laid plans, it didn’t take long, about 3 months, before I reached a point that I just couldn’t go on. So, I stopped. I soon discovered that I couldn’t go on with life without the drugs and the booze, either. This was devestating to me. For years, I’d had the Navy to blame for my problems; now, I only had myself to blame. I just could not reconcile this problem. I tried crawling into a shell and just waiting it out. I wanted to just quit and get back to normal, whatever that was.

    I soon grew suicidally depressed, and wanted only to die for several months. I wasn’t getting high or drinking, but I was clueless about how to live without these things. I slept as much as I could, lived in front of a TV, and just wandered aimlessly around Center City Philadelphia during the days, trying to figure out how to put myself out of my misery. I had no desire to go on, either with or without drugs or alcohol.

    Once I’d exhausted all attempts to end it all – head in the gas oven a few times, about 10 walking trips across the Ben Franklin Bridge wanting to not make it to the other side – I finally convinced myself that I lacked the courage for even that. I was completely worthless.

    I was drawn to a trial being conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the VA Hospital for treating clinical depression. I went into the hospital with little hope, but figured I had nothing to lose at that point. This program did help me to get on my feet and to want to live again. But, it was also when I began my own pilot program of limited drug use.

    I dabbled with AA during this time, as I was committed to staying away from alcohol, convinced that had been my main problem. The meetings were nice, but I really didn’t get the point of them. I continued the occasional “social use” of drugs, just enough to take the edge off and to keep me functioning. This worked for awhile.

    An accidental overdose produced an out-of-body experience which, I later realized, was me nearly checking out. I liked it. But, my best friend brought me back from wherever I was – he came there and brought me back. That’s the best way I can explain what happened. He pulled me back. A week later, he died of pneumonia. He’d been battling Hodgkin’s Disease, and the pneumonia just did him in.

    I spent the rest of that winter trying to figure it all out – life, death, why him and not me? – I went deep inside searching for answers. I was working 60 – 80 hours a week, then would come home and get high, and look for answers. One night I picked up the AA Big Book sitting there, and for the first time, it totally resonated with me. The words just rang so true, and I felt like I had found the answer to my issues. But, when I went back to AA meetings, I couldn’t find that same sense of an answer there. I kept looking. I eventually wound up in an N.A. meeting, and that felt closer to right. So I kept going back there.

    They were big into going to meetings, so I went to meetings. There were only 8 meetings in all of Eastern Pennsylvania, but I drove all over getting to them all. They needed a lot of help keeping the program running, so I got involved. I completely immersed myself into it. They were just starting to put together their own “Big Book”, a Basic Text on Recovery, and I jumped in and got involved with that effort. During my first year in NA, it grew from those 8 meetings to 81, just in the Philadelphia area. This explosion was happening everywhere. There was a lot of great energy there.

    The next 4 years were total immersion in that program. Meetings. Conventions. Conferences. Literature work. We got the book published. The growth then really took off worldwide. I got to be very well known, and identified as one of the “literature” people, a kind of a cult within a cult. All I knew was that it was keeping me “clean”, and I was alive. But it was a crazy, unsettling existence. I couldn’t find peace, and I couldn’t find my own moral center. I went through 17 jobs in those 4 years. I just couldn’t stay in one place for very long. Relationships were, literally, all over the map. I was a real mess. Everyone just kept saying, “don’t pick up (a drug or drink), and go to a meeting”. I kept doing that, but I was not well, and I knew it. It was all killing me. Yet, I was supposed to be one of the ones who had it together. I had this whole reputation thing now, which was even crazier.

    I had a moment of clarity on a train in New Jersey where I had the devastating realization that nothing had changed, despite all of my efforts, despite 4 years being clean and sober. It was one of my worst moments ever. I didn’t know where I was going to get off the train, what town, what I was going to do next. Then, events just seemed to take over. I wound up with a group of people who I had known, but not well. They had an NA meeting, but they used the AA Big Book. It was like “Bizarro” world of where I’d previously been.

    I had avoided this meeting, because it had this huge reputation everywhere as being a “Cult” meeting. I tried to stay away, but something kept drawing me back there. The people there were leading “normal” lives. They didn’t preach the need to go to meetings everyday, and use a bunch of slogans. They talked about getting well, through applying the principles those early AA-ers had applied and captured in their Big Book, and then returning to live their lives. And that's exactly what they were doing. They struck me as being a lot more real than all those “mainstream” meetings.

    So, I eventually embraced this “cult” group, and before long, I found myself doing better than I ever had, and getting back, or really, getting for the first time to, a semblance of a normal life. I stayed involved with that group for awhile, and then I just went on and lived my life.

    This “Cult” gave me a life I’d never known. It was sustainable. That was 1984, and whatever it was I got there, it has continued to work for me ever since.
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