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A NEW GENERATION FIGHTS ADDICTION
know that ad 'the night belongs to Michelob'?" asks
Marissa,* a 21-year-old gamine
in a chartreuse sweater, torn jeans, and cowboy boots. "All
my nights used to be like that." She stops in front
of a liquor store window plastered with holiday displays
about love, cheer, and tradition - amorous, glamorous couples
toasting; neighbours swapping scotch. "It's everywhere.
And the message is that drinking is fun, sexy, romantic."
met Marissa in front of St. Monica's church on East 79th
Street one Sunday before Christmas, when everyone else was
out shopping. She and her "sponsor," a vivacious
blonde named Tracy, were emerging from an Alcoholics Anonymous
meeting in the basement. The 79th Street Workshop is one
of the most popular meetings in the city. More than 100
well-heeled people congregate here on weekends at 12:30,
and many of them are very young. According to a 1986 AA
survey, 21 per cent of AA members are under 30; 38 percent-are
also addicted to drugs.
Marissa and Tracy, 26, used to be party girls. They were
good- looking and had money. They both had divorced parents,
went to private schools, and were using drugs and alcohol
by the time they were twelve years old. BY the time they
were sixteen, their lives revolved around getting high and
going to clubs. Marissa drank, did coke, and freebased;
Tracy free- based and did speedballs. She hung out with
a group of artists and actors, including the late John Belushi.
Her boyfriend was a doctor/dealer who eventually went to
prison. She bounced checks, stole money from her boss, and
ran up $50,000 in debts.
Now the nights at Area, Save the Robots, The World, and
Nell's are over. Marissa and Tracy don't go to clubs much
anymore. They go to meetings - Alcoholics Anonymous meetings,
Narcotics Anonymous meetings, Cocaine Anonymous meetings.
And so do most of their friends. "There are so many
people in recovery," says Tracy, "there's a joke
that when Dalton has its next class reunion, it's going
to be at Hazelden."
they're not kidding about cleaning up. Marissa's been sober
for eighteen months. Tracy's a three-and-a-half year veteran.
On New Year's Eve, Marissa and Tracy and several hundred
'other people went to a dance organized by Cocaine Anonymous
in a loft on West 17th Street. There was music and dancing,
but when the Times Square ball fell, everyone toasted with
soda. "The party was absolutely packed," says
year's movie version was Clean and Sober, starring Michael
Keaton. This year, it's The Boost, with James Woods and
Sean Young. In 1988, Margaux Hemingway admitted to alcoholism
on the cover of People; this year, it’s
of recovering addicts and some identifying details have
been changed, since anonymity is the founding principle
of A.A. and all other twelve-step programs
year, it's thirteen-year-old Drew Barrymore. "A.A.
has lost the image of unshaven bums," says Matthew,
a 28-year-old actor who's been attending meetings for eight
months." Everybody's in to it."
high is no longer hip," says Candy, a long-term pill
popper who's been sober for seventeen months. "Now
it's hip to be in recovery. The program is the best-kept
secret in Manhattan."
the rush to "the rooms," as members call the meetings?
Hipness has nothing to do with it; nobody hangs out in church
basements for fun. While alcoholism takes its toll over
the course of years, coke, free-basing, and crack are causing
people to bottom out within months. "It's very simple,"
says Paul, a 45-year-old real- estate broker with a large
investment firm, who became a born- again Christian when
he kicked his coke habit. "There's a line you cross
where it becomes impossible. It usually takes twenty years
with alcohol, ten to fifteen years with pot, five years
with snorting cocaine, six months for shooting it, and a
matter of weeks for crack."
is a much slower route to addiction," says Nancy Dombrowski,
a private therapist who is affiliated with the Alcoholism
Council of Greater New York. "But when you mix alcohol
with cocaine, you get there on the express train."
In the past four years, the number of CA groups nationwide
has gone from 169 to 1,043. In New York, the number of NA
groups has doubled to 266.
On the Friday before New Year's Eve, Marissa and Tracy are
at a an NA meeting in a church basement in the East Eighties,
where their friends Max is celebrating his fourth year of
sobriety or, as he prefers to call it, "being clean."
The 75 people are mostly under 40 and range from yuppies
to obvious junkies. Marissa runs up to Max and gives him
a stuffed dog. He gives her a big hug. One attractive couple
has brought a new baby.
is an anniversary meeting. The five speakers in the front
of the room have been sober anywhere from a year to nine
years. There's a chocolate cake to celebrate. A thin girl
dressed in black is passing out slices. People help themselves
to coffee from an urn in the back of the room. Others light
up cigarettes in the smoking section.
compare drug stories," cautions Candy, the pixyish
woman in the leopard-skin boots who is leading the meeting.
"Just relax and identify. One of the best things about
this program is the idea of a day at a time. Otherwise things
look so big. All these days add up. What you see tonight
are all these 'just for todays' adding up to one, four,
speakers - two women and three men, ranging in age from
24 to 40 - take turns. They introduce themselves as addicts
and say how long they've been clean. Everyone applauds,
and then their stories begin: burnout tales from hell that
all end up on a note of hope. This NA meeting seems raunchier
than the A.A. meetings, a little more out of control. The
word "death" comes up often. There's a sense of
mortality that isn't dispelled by the Georgette Klinger
bag passed around for donations. But there's also a feeling
of victory and solidarity here. It's like a locker room
full of athletes primed for the same goal: winning the game.
Max, 30, is one of the last to speak, "Hi, everybody.
I'm Max, and I'm an addict, and today is four years."
The room bursts into applause. Max's story is both banal
and sad. With a little editing, his narrative could be another
Bright Lights, Big City. Max, a middle- class kid from Long
Island, worked at a club in the city where drugs flowed
as freely as Rolling Rock. Max indulged with the best of
them. "Everyone at work did coke," he says."
"People were always giving it to me to get in free.
But I didn't know where to draw the line. I would end up
in court every three months because I hadn't paid my rent.
I had no phone or electricity. My girlfriend broke up with
me. One of the guys I worked with died. I remember people
used to leave NA stationary on my desk and it was like,
“How dare you think I have a problem?”
People laughed in recognition. "Then I hit rock bottom,
I was taking money from my family. I forged a check to my
father, who's an accountant. One day, I was sitting over
this drawing board. My nose was stuffed and caked from doing
blow, and then it started bleeding. It was like the beginning
of the end. The next night it was my birthday. I had an
eight of an ounce of coke, and I was with some girl whose
name I didn't even know. The next morning, I called my parents
and made them fly me down to Florida to get clean. My first
meeting was in Florida."
winds up his story: "I always felt less than other
people; I never felt like I fit in. I've learned how to
be human in four years of recovery. I didn't do this alone.
My recovery is about people; we have unity here. That's
how all the healing is done. Now I have a beautiful midtown
office. I laugh about it sometimes.
the meeting ends, people join hands and recite a prayer:
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change, the courage to change the things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference. Keep coming back; it works
if you work it." The ring breaks up, and people stand
around chatting, exchanging phone numbers.
key to the rooms," says Marissa, “is that there
are guidelines; there are rules. And there's unconditional
love. Nobody ever says, 'Don't come back,' No matter how
sick you are, no matter what you've done. No one leaves
you or abandons you. When I first started the program, I
used to think it was a cult thing. But it's not. It's just
a better way of living."
over Manhattan, there are similar meetings around the clock.
During lunch, midtown professionals flock to an A.A. group
called Foglifters, at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street. On Sunday
evenings, in a dimly lit, tiny room on Perry Street, there
is a smaller, more intimate meeting. Every midnight in a
building off Times Square, dozens of people climb the stairs
to a film noir-ish room with a tin ceiling and slow-moving
fan. At St. Bart's an Adult Children of Alcoholics group
fills a classroom decorated with elementary-school drawings.
And actors gravitate to the Studio Group at a church on
the Upper East Side.
meetings and their various spinoffs are based on a twelve-step
program that hasn't changed since it was created in 1935
by two "hopeless" drunks, Dr. Bob Smith and Bill
Wilson, who had a heart-to-heart talk about their mutual
problem. Wilson, a broker from New York who had made several
fortunes and lost them to alcohol, was in Akron, Ohio, on
business. He had been sober for three months, but when the
proxy takeover he had come to town for failed, he wanted
a drink. Wilson, who had been hospitalized for his last
binge, learned two important things: that alcoholism is
a disease, "an allergy of the body and an obsession
of the mind," and that relief would come only after
he surrendered himself to God. (Wilson and his wife were
members of the Oxford Group, an international organization
that practiced the faith of the early Christians.) He called
a local minister for advice, who in turn contacted a woman
from the local Oxford Group. She introduced him to Dr. Bob
Smith (known just as Dr. Bob), a surgeon who was also an
incorrigible alcoholic. What he and Wilson came up with
was powerful but simple: A.A. is based on both abstinence
and the concept that talking about their addiction with
fellow recovering alcoholics - real-life experts on the
problem - is a potent form of reciprocal therapy. As Dr.
Bob wrote about Wilson, "He was the first living human
being who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism
from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language."
By June 10, 1935, Dr. Bob was stone-cold sober. He and Wilson
began to spread the word, drunk by drunk. By 1939, the group
had developed a guidebook. A New Yorker writer came up with
the title Alcoholics Anonymous. Popularly referred to as
"the big book," it lists the twelve basic steps
It's these steps that give A.A. its "religious"
reputation. After admitting that they are powerless over
their problem and that their lives are unmanageable, alcoholics
are exhorted to believe in a "higher power" and
to turn their will to the care and direction of God.
But between the pious-sounding lines is a pragmatic program:
A.A. forces alcoholics to admit they have a problem and
provides them with a structural solution and support group.
Arnold Washton, who runs Washton Institute, an outpatient
rehab center for addicts says , "Twelve-step programs
help define the problem in a meaningful way and enforce
honesty with oneself and others. They maintain a focus on
realistic goals. And they provide the support of a community
of friends and peers with special understanding and empathy.
The rewards can be extraordinary."
Dr. Anne Geller, director of the Smithers Alcoholism Treatment
and Training Center, says, "Going to these groups also
gives people some activity to fill up the time when they
are struggling to come off an addiction. It fills the void."
program is free. The only requirement is a desire to stop
drinking and drugging. This is especially important for
those without insurance. Members are asked only to make
voluntary donations to help rent the rooms and pay for literature
many, however, A.A. still seems like some kind of religious
order. First, there are all the references to God, and then
there are the slogans. Talk to a member for more than fifteen
minutes and a lot of homilies inevitably pop up: "First
things first." "One day at a time." "Easy
does it." "Keep it simple." "You're
only as sick as your secrets." "One [drink] is
too much and a thousand isn't enough." “Progress,
not perfection." "Life on life's terms."
"God is good, orderly direction."
people are turned off by the "God part" that never
return for a second meeting. Others solve the problem by
thinking of this higher power as the collective strength
and wisdom of the people in the rooms. And then there are
those who become truly religious.
sponsor said, 'Get on your knees before you go to bed, and
talk things through,"' remembers Max. "And I said,
'Jewish guys don't get down on their knees.' He said, "Did
you ever get down on your knees to do a line of blow? I
said I would have gotten on my belly. I call the higher
power my spirit. There's nothing more spiritual than one
person helping another."
hesitate to talk about a higher power because I am a very
skeptical person to begin with, " says Matthew. "For
years, I thought of myself as an agnostic with no real ties
to any kind of organized religion. But as the Big Book says,
'The hoop A.A. asks you to jump through is plenty wide."
25, went from being agnostic to being fervently religious.
"I remember going to my first meeting and seeing all
these people that weren't religious fanatics. They weren't
nuts, they weren't losers. They were hip people," he
says. "They were happy, and they were talking about
incredible things. If you go to these meetings for a year
and you see somebody on their first day and then after six
months, that's proof."
Just having lived long enough to get into the rooms can
be proof of a higher power. "it wasn't hard for me
to make that leap," says Anne, a 31-year-old sales
representative. "Since I was fifteen, I can't tell
you how many times I've been in a car with a drunk driver,
and it always turned out okay."
people are people, and the sacred sometimes becomes the
profane. One step the founders didn't have in mind was the
"Thirteenth Step" - when a member who's been in
the program for a while picks up a newcomer. "A person
is so vulnerable when they first come in. To hit on someone
is just awful," says Paula. "Once a new girl raised
her hand and said she'd been clean 50 days, and I heard
this guy say, "Good. Get them while they are still
shaking.' This is not a social club. This is really a place
to get better. It's medicine."
admits, "there are a lot of people who develop relationships
in the rooms. But I'm sick enough on my own. The last thing
I need to do is to find someone who is a similar thinker.
Still, I know when I first came around, a pretty girl made
it easier. Everybody's motives aren't that pure. Some people
are looking for a lover. Some people are looking for a job."
remember people telling me that A.A. was 'in.' That it was
the new scene," says Marissa. "That's not what
it's about at all. Anyone who comes in thinking that loses
so much. It's not a sex club or a singles club of the eighties.
People are terrified of endangering the safety of the rooms.
And anyway, everybody knows, it's so incestuous."
There's an unwritten rule that members should avoid major
changes in their lives - including relationships - for the
first year of recovery. But the social aspects of the twelve-step
programs are important, especially since members are told
to try to avoid the "people, places, and things"
Associated with their habit. "These people are going
to have to eliminate large parts of their life-style,"
says Dr. Washton. "Having new people to socialize with
is very important."
have had to cut off so many people I used to see,"
says Dan, a cocaine addict who hasn't used the drug for
nine days. "I really need the people in A.A."
Some members even begin finding it difficult, if not impossible,
to deal with people outside the program. This can be a real
problem for non-members who have intimate relationships
33-year-old woman who recently separated from her husband
says, "A.A. kept him alive but stole him from me. You
expect problems to be solved, but they are replaced by a
whole new set of problems. The irony is that if I could
scrape him off the pavement when his heart was palpitating
and his face was gray and his tongue was hanging out, you
think I could deal with a healthy, sober person. But A.A.
became a rival in the marriage. If he doesn't go to a meeting,
he gets hypercritical, antsy, negative. He goes to a meeting
and comes floating out. It's almost like a fix. But I still
wouldn't trade his being in the program for anything in
the world, because I know without it he would be dead."
The meeting can also bring people together. Jim, 31, is
engaged to a woman he met in A.A., and he knows at least
six other couples who met through the program. Most people
find a healthy medium in handling relationships: The dealer
has to go; friends who aren't only drugging or drinking
pals can stay.
Until recently, drug addicts were not always welcome at
A.A. Max remembers "going to a meeting in Florida and
saying I was an addict and being asked not to share."
Says Candy, "Eight years ago, I was thrown out of an
A.A. meeting because I was a drug addict, and they said
I had no right to be there. You still hear some resentment."
But today, many young members identify themselves as cross-addicted:
Most cocaine users are also alcoholics. "My husband
used to say, 'I have a coke habit, not an alcohol problem.'
Then he'd drink," says one woman. "But as soon
as he had a drink, he'd lose control over his urge to do
coke. Then he'd disappear." Fellowships like A.A. recommend
complete abstinence from addictive substances. "Once
you start getting high, it brings you back to your drug
of choice," says one member.
Some addicts prefer meetings such as CA or NA, that focus
on their particular problem. Others are drawn to A.A. because
its members tend to have longer histories of sobriety than
those at the more recently founded fellowships. Many members
rotate among several types of meetings to get the support
members try to do 90 meetings in 90 days. They are encouraged
to call other members when they get cravings or urges, and
there's a sponsorship program that provides one-on-one guidance.
There are 1,800 A.A. meetings in Manhattan, varying in size
This 54-year-old form of free therapy may have become a
burgeoning subculture, but it's far from an instant panacea.
It means a lifetime of hard work. Members know they can
never drink or take drugs again: The "pink-cloud"
high most newcomers get when they enter the program soon
gives way to the realization that staying sober is just
the beginning. Working the twelve Steps means transforming
yourself. Like psychotherapy, it's a process that involves
peeling back layers of personality.
It's easy for an outsider to parody the program. Often,
it seems like a New Age Salvation Army or seventies-style
group therapy run amok. There are meetings that are overly
social, and some people become as addicted to the meetings
as they once were to a substance. Others take on the fervent
tone and jargon of the born-again.
That's because those who've gotten sober feel that they've
been saved. For many, private therapy didn't work; dividing
their stashes into cute little packets didn't work; rationing
drinks didn't work. The alternatives were a totally dysfunctional
life, or death.
a Tuesday evening, and the A.A. meeting in the basement
of a church on Park Avenue in the Sixties is bustling. The
crowd is a mostly upscale mix of about 60 men and women.
One woman seated in the front of the room has just finished
"qualifying," or telling her story. She's obviously
struck a chord. Hands shoot up all over the room. The first
person to share is a pretty blonde. "Hi, I'm Paula,
and I'm an addict and an alcoholic."
Paula," the room booms back.
everybody. I've seen you here a lot, but I never heard your
story before," she says to the attractive brunette
in her thirties who's just finished her own tale of drug
abuse, abusive relationships, arrest, recovery, and professional
success. "I really identified with you. I graduated
from an Ivy League school, and I'd be sitting in a crack
den saying, 'But I've got a Ph.D.,' and they'd be saying,
'Pass the pipe."'
meeting breaks up into small coed clusters. It's easy to
pick up on some flirtation among members. "Sure I go
to meetings when I have crushes on some of the guys , "
says Paula. "They say that whatever gets you here doesn't
matter. People do date people in the program. But there's
an old- timers' saying that there's a slip under every skirt.
It's true that most people slip up because of relationships
too early on. It takes the focus off yourself and your recovery."
week later, in her office, Paula tells a wild but typical
story. Paula, 32, works in the entertainment business. Posters
of celebrities cover the walls, and the conversation is
constantly interrupted by the phone and fax machine. Like
many in the program, Paula chain smokes. "Basically,
I'm a nice girl from the suburbs," she begins. "All
I can say is my whole life, I felt something was just off.
I always felt I was never good enough and you'll hear this
a lot from people in the program. From the minute I started
getting high and drinking, I knew that's how I wanted to
feel. They say that we have a disease, and the word is 'dis-ease,'
you know. I knew that when I drank and did drugs I felt
more comfortable. And if you go to enough meetings, you'll
hear every alcoholic and drug addict say this. But once
we take a drug or drink, it's like we have no stop button."
Paula did well in high school and went to college and then
to graduate school. She moved to New York when she was 24.
"I felt really lost, and that's when all the trouble
started," she says. "I began by doing little teeny
bits of coke. I felt so empty. And somebody turned me on
to free-basing. I did one hit, and I thought, this is what
normal people must feel like. I absolutely loved it. It
rapidly started ruining my life.“
She missed work and spent all her time hanging out with
a dealer. "He was a disgusting sleazeball hairdresser,"
she says. "And there was this whole scene of washing
your hair, cutting it, and free- basing and drinking champagne.
I hated him, but the minute you free- base, you love everybody.
Then there'd be these huge fights where he'd say everyone
was using him and smash the free-base pipe. And I'd say,
"I'm never going to come back.' But then the craving
was fired from one job after another but always managed
to scrounge up enough money for drugs. "I got money
from my parents. I didn't pay bills. I charged roommates
more rent than they should have been paying. I used money
I was supposed to pay my shrink with. And I got a new boyfriend,
another dealer. We were like little hustlers down at Washington
Square Park. By the end, we were cooking crack for rich
people. I stole from him constantly." By now, Paula
was a typical wreck.
weighed 95 pounds," she says. "My apartment was
full of mice. My eyes were bulging out. I looked like Don
Knotts. But I kept going. I was fired from my final job.
I was going to be thrown out of my apartment. I had no lights
or electricity. I would look outside, and it would always
be this beautiful sunny day. You'd miss work, and it would
be ten in the morning, and you'd want to die. You wish you
were anybody but who you were. That was the worst feeling.
Just hating yourself so much."
Paula's parents sent her to a rehab clinic, where she stayed
for five months. She moved back to New York and started
going to CA meetings. " In the beginning, the fellowship
of people is more important than the actual steps,"
she says. "I mean, all you really have to do is to
remember that you are powerless over drugs and alcohol.
But eventually the steps help you change. When it comes
down to it, if you remain the same person, you're going
to end up doing drugs and alcohol again. Basically, you're
a sick person getting better. They say that whatever age
you started drinking or drugging is when you really stopped
growing emotionally. I've heard the program called 'growing
up in public."' Paula has now been sober two and a
and Matthew are a rich, good- looking young couple. They
could be out on a date, but this Wednesday night, they are
at one of their favourite A.A. meetings, in a church in
the East Sixties. The elevator man is used to the activity
and cheerfully takes the hordes up and down. The members
are affluent, slinging their fur coats and leather jackets
over the folding chairs, stashing their briefcases and shopping
bags underneath. There are about 50 people in the room,
and only five could be called skid-row types. Sarah and
Matthew look perfectly at home.
an investment broker, has been sober two years; Matthew,
an actor, has been sober eight months. Both are trust-fund
kids who went to prep schools. But somehow, their upbringing
let them down. "Your enabled by your looks and your
money," says Sarah, 24, who looks like a little Amy
Irving. "But you are not given any foundation, any
building blocks for living."
grew up in a "very high-society, party atmosphere."
At ten, she was sampling the drinks she mixed for her parents.
Her parents were divorced when she was twelve, and her mother,
then in her late thirties, dated, partied, and hung out
with her three daughters, all of whom are now in A.A. "She
tried to play mother and best friend. I partied, drank,
and did coke with her a lot," Sarah says. Sarah and
her sisters were popular, athletic, seemingly together.
The truth wasn't quite so pretty.
It wasn't until Sarah's older brother tried to commit suicide
that anyone in the family was willing to take a closer look.
Sarah's father stopped "enabling" his children
with money. But Sarah continued to play the party girl.
"I still looked good. I had money in the bank and lived
in a beautiful apartment," she says. "I would
go on binges. Then I would try to go to meetings. Finally,
I was able to get sober for a year, but I didn't work the
first step at all..I didn't admit I was powerless over alcohol,
and I thought I could control my drinking. Then I drank
for three straight weeks, and I knew it was over. My life
was a mess."
By now, Sarah's two sisters were sober, and Sarah began
to take the program seriously. "Before, I didn't want
to meet any of the people in the program," she says.
"I thought I was different, better. This time, I embraced
it in a totally different way. I was so relieved. I felt
like this is where I belong. I'm an alcohol. I felt safe.
The program gives you the tools to learn to function in
the world, to learn to deal emotionally with things that
used to baffle you, because you used alcohol to deal with
emotions. It's a bridge back to life, but it's not life.“
Pot smoking brought Matthew to the meetings. "I got
through school on a combination of wit and charm,"
he says. "I thought it was a great joke to show up
in class high. After a while, I could barely function. When
I graduated, I wasn't getting any acting jobs. My life started
to fall apart."
Matthew went to a rehab center on the West Coast. When he
returned to the East Coast, he started going to meetings.
"I knew I had a problem with pot for a long time,"
he says. "But I thought A.A. was a group of weaklings.
The twelve steps are simple, not complicated, mystical,
or cultish in any way. I have new friends, a new girlfriend,
and my professional life has improved. I am hooking up with
an agent as a result of taking some action I never would
have taken if I weren't sober."
Saturday night CA meeting in an auditorium in a hospital
uptown is packed. Tonight the guy qualifying is a blue-collar
worker with the timing and delivery of a stand-up comic.
Before long, everyone is laughing at his descriptions of
life under the influence of coke: the hours he spent glued
to the window, convinced that his car was being stolen or
that the Feds were in the street. The times he ripped up
the carpet looking for coke. The way he terrorized the family
cat, or spent all his time in the bathroom pretending to
shower or to slug Pepto Bismol for his ulcer. His transparent
attempts to explain missing paychecks to his wife or get
credit from his dealer, who lived, conveniently, on the
say the difference between an addict and an alcoholic is
that the alcoholic will steal your money and the addict
will steal it and help you look for it," he says, remembering
how he rolled back his sleeve to show off his watch at the
first meeting so nobody would think he was an out- of-work
bum. He also remembers how his wife threatened to leave
him. He's now the proud father of a newborn daughter.
From the comments in the room, it's clear that he's touched
a lot of people. "I can't believe your growth,"
says one woman. "When I look at you, I see that I must
have grown, too."
Dan, a sweet-faced 26-year- old, looks very nervous. This
is his fourth meeting. His drinking and drug problem, which
started in high school, has escalated into a full-scale
coke and beer addiction. He used to consider himself a "literary
druggie." Now he can't even get through a day at the
small publishing house where he works without taking drug
and drink breaks.
An eight ball (three and a half grams of coke) barely lasts
him several days. Everything in his life is in jeopardy.
"the physical urges are hell." he says. "But
the program has given me a center, a way to get out all
the urges and talk about it. I don't have to isolate myself
or worry about shocking people. Recovery is subsuming my
life, in some ways, more than the drugs and alcohol. If
I didn't have the program to take me one day at a time,
I'd be overwhelmed. But the little applause you get makes
you come back." For Dan, the program is a slender thread
between his present and future that could snap at any minute.
are in the midst of an answered prayer," says Tommy,
29, who's just completed four months of recovery. "I
think the program is pretty miraculous. I see people who
would be just totally trashed become really decent members
of society." But the people in the rooms are only a
tiny fraction of addicts, and there are far more "slips"
than long-term recoveries.
Marissa's ex-boyfriend is still doing drugs. "He thinks
the program is full of s_ and that the people are fake.
How can someone just hug you and not even know you? He thinks
the people talk a lot of bull__ and they don't really feel
it. There are people who never grasp it, who miss something,
and it's sad. It just doesn't work for them. My ex has been
in and out of the rooms for six years. The program is not
for him right now. He needs something more."
an NA member who Max was sponsoring died. I'd wait for him
at St. Mark's Place and he wouldn't show up. He stopped
coming to meetings. He stopped calling me. I saw it coming,
but I couldn't see him dying. People die from this."
At some NA and CA meetings, a moment of silence is observed
for those still out there.
Marissa, for one, counts herself lucky. Eighteen months
ago she was a burned out v\club kid. Now she has a new apartment,
is back in school, and has started a line of greeting cards
that she says is being picked up by a major company. She's
got a life of her own. "When I first came in, I had
no sense of self," Marissa says. "I felt I was
a nonperson. For the first time, I'm honest with myself.
I don't have to hide. There are many people who go in and
out of these rooms for years and never make it. It's an
action program; nothing is delivered to you. If you don't
work, the program doesn't work for you."
NEW YORK, February 20, 1989)