My name is Mercedes, and I am not an addict.
If I was, I am not certain I would tell you.
Would you judge me? Highly likely.
Would you judge my family? Likely.
Would you make assumptions about my age, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status? Probably automatically.
Would you question my contributions to society and my ability to make a difference in the world? I’m sure.
I say this, because I would do the same. I have done the same…more times than I’d like to admit.
Very recently, some of these biases and stereotypes were challenged in ways I never thought were possible. I want to say I let them go so willingly in search for freedom, but really, they were ripped away from me so beautifully.
It was exactly what I needed. A slap in the face to prove to me that even I, someone who prides herself on being understanding, still have many more miles to travel on my journey of self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
I am forever blessed for those 60 minutes.
A few weeks ago, I went to an NA meeting with a group of friends for a class. I am a masters level student enrolled in a counseling graduate program. I thought I knew a lot about empathy, connection and unconditional acceptance, until a group of addicts taught me some of the greatest lessons of all.
- The energy in spaces of healing will humble you. I was greeted and embraced with incredible warmth. The room felt safer than many of the places I wish were more inviting and accepting. How can we make the spaces in our lives safer for others?
- We can all be kinder—much, much kinder to each other. The individuals at the meeting were kinder to each other than most humans are on a daily basis. Three men gave up their opportunities to speak so that one man could have his voice heard. Not because they didn’t have anything to say, but because they knew that the other man had something burning in his heart. What if we let others show us their hearts more?
- We are much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I consider myself quite courageous and resilient, but the courage I witnessed that night moved me to tears. I cried. And cried. And cried…. How do we give ourselves more credit for our strengths and even our weaknesses?
- Pain, hurt and triumph do not discriminate. The participants came from everywhere: different backgrounds, social classes, age groups, religious associations, sexes, etc.… There were college-aged students much like myself living seemingly normal lives, but every day they battle with substances, and are often crippled by fear of relapse. What would happen if we discussed this pain and this fear more?
- Active listening creates opportunities for connection and growth. These people listened. Truly listened. Few of us actually engage in active listening throughout the day. What if we actually cared about what others were telling us, and did not spend most of our time in conversations formulating our responses?
- We can all use a little more recognition. At the end of the meeting, members can grab a key tag symbolizing the period of time they have been sober. One older gentleman ran up to grab a yellow key tag for being sober 30 days. The room erupted in applause. The facilitators hugged him tightly. He was in the limelight—quite rightfully so. A younger participant grabbed the white key tag as a way of surrendering to NA. The party began again. It was his first time there. The commitment he made in that moment touched me profoundly. What if we embraced someone every time they dared to be vulnerable?
We all struggle. I sure do, but I used to judge drug users, because they struggled differently.
Bravery is bravery. It can be found in the little girl who learned to ride a bicycle yesterday, that first-time mother, the veteran trying to re-acclimate to civilian life, or that recently divorced man using drugs to get him through the next day in his painful reality.
I am forever changed by this experience.
Regardless of who you are, what you look like, or what tares you down; I encourage you to visit a Narcotics Anonymous open meeting at one point in your life.
Before you judge, assume, or dismiss, open up your heart and your soul. You may be quite surprised about what you discover.