Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Being A Predecessor

Last night, I went to the less-attended of the two Monday night meetings the fellowship holds. It's a sign of relative health in the fellowship when a meeting can have 30 people at it and be the smaller, probably by a factor of three, of the two being held. It's held relatively close to the halfway house, and tends to draw a large part of its crowd from there. But I looked around the room about ten minutes after the meeting started, and realized that there were only three of us there that had even a year clean. And that I was the most senior member in the room, by a fairly large margin.
It's not the first time that's happened. I do remember, very vividly, the first time when I was the guy with the most time in the room; I had nine years clean at the time. It was the noon meeting, and for some reason Don C. wasn't there that day, and I looked around and realized that every single person in the room had gotten clean after I had, and I thought to myself, "Damn, did you ever think you'd be here this long?" Well, here we are, nine years after that, and I can't not imagine being here; recovery has become so integral a part of my life that I really can't conceive of an existence without being a part of the community.
And one of the good and bad things, at the same time, is that this community continually renews itself. It's a fact of life that people come and go. Obviously, many relapse, and are gone for periods of time or don't come back at all. As I am living proof, getting clean does not have a Fountain of Youth effect; we all age, just as the rest of the human population on this earth does. I was just talking to my friend Wil about this the other day. He's been around almost as long as I have, and when we first became friendly, Sabrina was a toddler and he was single and loving it; we were two of the more enthusiastic and regular players in the old Sunday softball league, and we were young enough that it didn't physically tax us to the point where we were paying for it for three days afterward. Now I've got one kid through college, another in college, and Sabrina is a senior in high school. He has four kids and has been with the same woman for a decade now. Both of us are considerably bulkier than we were fifteen years ago. And as I was talking to him, I got to thinking about a lot of the old crowd that used to be a part of our then-home group--those that are still around have aged and are starting to have age-related health issues; a couple of us are no longer breathing; and I haven't seen a number of people I used to see four and five times a week at that time in years.
I thought about that last night, too, that out of the thirty people there, it's very likely that half of them won't be around this time next year, and that if three of the 27 there that didn't have a year are around five years from now, it would be unusual. A metaphor often used is that recovery (or life, for that matter) is a journey. For me, I started thinking of it as a climb up a mountain many years ago, and the higher one goes, the less company one has. One of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog concerned how many people had fallen by the wayside in a decade, and in the seven years since, a few more have been added to that list.
And at some point in the last decade or so, I began to comprehend what it truly means to carry a message. You can't carry words; it's actions that define the message carried. The message is many-faceted. It's showing up even after staying clean is no longer a daily struggle--to give those still struggling with keeping it down hope that an existence is possible that isn't dominated by thoughts of getting high. It's sharing responsibly when we do talk in meetings--trying to stay on point, trying to share positively, trying to show how principles and steps work in practical terms rather than just mouthing cliches. It's showing people that the suggested guidelines are things that we that have been there for a while hold ourselves to--not getting up and going outside twice or three times during the meeting, staying within shouting distance of five minutes when we do talk, not crosstalking or otherwise behaving rudely, following the meeting place's rules about vaping, showing up on time, not spending the meeting scrolling through every app on your phone (well, we all have things we need to work on, and that's probably the biggest consistent failing of mine in the actual meetings). All of us fall short at times, and all of us have life on life's terms intervene at times, but there is nothing wrong with aiming high.
In fact, it's necessary to make progress.
Children are a fact of life in Narcotics Anonymous, just like they are in all other cross-sections of society. And even a cursory look at child-raising tells us that children learn by example and imitation more than they learn in any other fashion. One of those things that became blindingly obvious to me, once someone else pointed it out years ago, is that this is how adults learn best, too. All of the people in the room yesterday were legally adults, even if many were in their twenties and early thirties. But of those that had not been around for very long, all of them are in need of positive guidance, of needing to see good examples in action, of having to be shown (not just talked to) about what the new way of life that a functional recovery program really means in practice. And when I am one of the few experienced members present at a particular meeting, it's even more imperative that I do so. Working nights means that I make the noon meeting, another one that doesn't draw many experienced members, a lot, and much of what I have just said applies to attending that meeting, too.
We have a responsibility as predecessors to show that the program works. We're not obligated to sugarcoat stuff, or present only a sanitized version of our lives, or to pretend that we don't have our own issues. But we do have a responsibility to nurture hope, to accentuate the positive, to show those desperately seeking a source of hope for their own future that it is possible to put nightmares behind us firmly and more or less permanently, a day at a time.
That change is possible. That we can learn, practice, and apply the principles and guidelines of a new way of life. And part of that carries over to when the meeting ends, too. We have obligations to not be hypocrites, to honestly do our best to follow the words that we speak during the meeting. I've become much better at this over the past several years, and the reason why isn't all that magical to see. It's that I started returning to the basics of the process--working with a sponsor, taking on a few commitments, praying regularly, and making conscious decisions to apply principles and not do things I knew were not consistent with recovery. This post has gone on long enough, but one thing I was very conscious of last night was that several of the men there have asked me, over the past few months, questions about recovery and some of the roadblocks faced, and I talked with them honestly and at length. There were several women there that I've had some contact with, too--and I haven't hit on any of them, haven't tried to take advantage of them, and have demonstrated that it is possible for a man to stay committed to a relationship (because I do share about it sometimes) even when the partner is in an institution and I can probably get away with not being committed. And part of the responsibility of being a predecessor is not only talking the talk in the meetings, but walking the walk outside it. It's about setting an example, and showing people still trying to find their way that there are people that--fall less short, let's say, on a regular basis, than many of the others there.
I realized a long time ago that, whether we like it or not, those of us with substantial clean time are viewed differently by those new to the process. For someone like me, year nineteen clean isn't all that much different on many levels than, say, year eleven was--but for someone that is struggling mightily to get to six months, however many years we have seems like an unimaginably long time, and of course we are looked up to and put on a bit of a pedestal because of it. We remain human beings even with a lot of time, but the thing is that we can always strive to do better, and we can't let our admitted fallibility serve as an excuse to justify behavior that we know we should not be indulging in. And it took me some time to realize that we as predecessors don't lose respect from newcomers for being fallible--but rather when we deny that we are, when we make excuses for what we do, when we act in hypocritical fashion--in short, when there is a substantial gap between talk and walk.
We gain a lot of freedom in recovery. But as is true in all other walks of life, with that freedom comes a great deal of responsibility to use it wisely and productively. And to not use it, in the case of those of us who have granted freedom from active addiction, to keep nibbling at the edges of our disease, to play with fire, to indulge our selfish and less savory defects of character. All of us learn by example, and those of us capable of setting a good one should do so. It's as simple as that.

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