Date: Sep 18th, 2006 5:48:42 pm - Subscribe
I decided to attend a local meeting of Narcotics Anonymous for this observation. This experience reaffirmed everything that I have been reading about and know that I need to be aware of in my interactions with all people. I worked as Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor for eight years before I began teaching, so I am aware of how the Twelve Step of Narcotics Anonymous works and have attended self-help meetings with the adolescents that I worked with; but this was the first time that I attended a community meeting under the capacity of an observer and my observations and thoughts were definitely different.
I arrive at the meeting about ten minutes early. An older gentleman is there making coffee and setting up some folding chairs around the room. He asks me if I am new to the program. I briefly explain my situation to him and he says that’s good, that I need to pay attention to the twelve traditions when they are read at the beginning of the meeting, and that I should let everyone know why I am here.
As I sit waiting for more people to arrive I scan the room. The walls are lined with motivational posters, two huge posters have the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous we on one wall. A few more people arrive and introduce themselves by first name only. I later found out that anonymity is key, that’s why everyone is known by their first name only. Everyone keeps asking me how long I had been clean. The closer it gets to 8pm the more people I see arrive, but they haven’t come into the building. This is a smoke free meeting and they are “getting their nicotine” before the meeting. Sure enough, right at 8 o’clock everyone herds in and takes a seat at the table.
The gentleman chairing the meeting (John) hands certain people paper that contain the different parts of the beginning ceremony. John is dressed in a large baggy sweat suit with a “doo rag” on his head. He has four gold teeth. Not the type of guy that would stop and ask for directions anywhere. I take note of all the people in the room; there are ten men, four women, and two toddlers. I later learn that the small children belong to the man chairing the meeting. He and his wife are both in recovery from alcohol and drug use. One man (Sam) continually gets up to get a cup of coffee and fills everyone else’s cup. He is nervous and can not sit still very long. Another man (Luis) is covered in tattoos and is dressed in the attire of a local motorcycle gang. Next to Luis is a man dressed in clean pressed semi-casual attire. He (Dan) is well groomed and looks like someone that could work at a bank. One of the women appears to not want o be here and constantly shifts around in her chair and stares off into space. Another woman (Janice) has the look of a woman ready to wrestle the Devil and has one inch long blood red nails ready for the battle. Her clothes are extremely tight and revealing.
After all the formalities are over the topic of “gratitude” is chosen for discussion by all. The chairman speaks first. John discusses his inability to find anything to be grateful for the first 30 days that he was sober. John was the epitome of poverty; he was in treatment, CPS had custody of his children, he had no job, no family support, and his wife was still out in the streets using drugs. John states that he was told to be grateful for what he did have; he was alive, not in jail, healthy, able to work, and had the possibility of getting his children back. It took a mean counselor telling him to get off of his “pity pot” and do something about it. John was able to take the one resource he had, the treatment program, and begin building. John’s casual-register discourse pattern allows you to empathize with him. John is now drug free for fifteen months, considers himself blessed, and is very grateful for all he has on a daily basis.
Luis speaks next and discusses some problems that he is having with his job. He states that he came in frustrated and ready to either drink a beer and/or beat up his boss. Hearing John speak he had changed his mind and is now grateful that he has a job to gripe about. I later learn that Luis has been drug free for five years, is attending college, and is a member of a Christian motorcycle club where he chairs the annual “Toys for Tots” campaign. I imagine how Luis would be treated in a public high school today. Would be in advance classes? Would he be monitored so closely that he would end up in an alternative discipline setting after just a few days? Would he even be allowed in school? It saddens me to think that Luis probably wouldn’t even be given a chance to try advanced classes simply based on the way he looks.
Dan is the next to speak. He has been drug free for 90 days. He works as a car salesman and lives in an extended stay hotel. Dan struggles with wanting his previous life back. Through his drug use he has lost his wife and son. Dan is negative about his ability to stay drug free and getting his “old life” back. When Dan speaks I have trouble seeing him going to a drug dealer’s house trading his wedding ring for cocaine. Even though Dan looks more successful than everyone else in the room he is one of the least. The only resources that I see Dan possessing right now are physical, mental, and knowledge of hidden rules of poverty and middle class. Dan’s use of the formal-register of discourse pattern does not mask his pain. What frustrates me about Dan is the fact the he would be treated the best of all the others if they were in high school today. Would he be allowed to excel in our school system because he is a nice looking, well put together, European American?
Janice speaks next; she has been out of prison for three days, is living with her mother and must come to these meetings as a term of her parole. She began working her road to recovery in prison. She was in prison for eighteen months on drug and prostitution charges. She flat out states that she is having trouble being grateful. But she also reminds herself that “It is hard to be grateful when you are hateful.” Under the rough exterior is a gentle woman crying out to live a healthy life. Some thing I believe that I take for granted at times.
All Sam has to say is that he had been in treatment two days; he has the shakes from withdrawing from heroin, and is grateful that he was not dead or in jail. Sam’s lack of speaking makes me focus on him for a short time. I wonder what makes Sam the person he is. I then think of what “labels” our education system would put on him. I believe Sam would be pigeon-holed as a special education, high-risk for drop-out, emotionally disturbed nobody.
And the children quietly played on the floor with colors and books while all this went on.
I came from this experience much more grateful for all the things that I have in my life. I am one that can get whiny about things if I get a little too tired or overwhelmed. Since this experience, I whine no more! I saw many different levels of poverty and it became clearer that poverty is not about how much money you have, but it’s about how much of the other seven resources you have. After the meeting I talked with John about Payne’s definition of poverty being “the extent to which an individual does without resources,” and he agrees with the necessity of having all the other resources. John says that he knows poverty, and he is glad that he is not anywhere near as poor as he once was. He continues to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings to get his spiritual needs met, have a good support system, and building important relationships and have positive role models.
I also noticed many hidden rules among this group. Even though not one particular person had much money, most were able to give to help support the program. Someone noticed Sam asking for a cigarette and gave him an entire pack. When Banks discusses how, “groups possess a continuity that transcends the lives of individuals,” I could see the importance of this group in the success of its members. This group allows them to believe, feel and do. As an educator, working with a parent or student in recovery, it would be necessary to understand where they were coming from so that I could understand their behaviors and not jump to any irrational conclusions. If I had seen any of these individuals at any other place, I might not even make eye contact; but here I was able to see the damaging effects of stereotyping. I believe that I am the one that came away a better person form this experience.
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