Many of us arrive at our first NA meeting spiritually dead, emotionally crippled and in poor physical health. Overwhelmed by shame, guilt, self-hatred and the painful rewards of our self-centered lifestyle, we are relieved to find that we have a treatable disease. In NA, we have evolved a concept of the disease of addiction as arrived at by addicts recovering in NA. Our moral values, which we thought were long gone, can be revived by living in harmony with the principles found within the Twelve Steps and Traditions of NA.
One of the first and most important tools we are given in our struggle to overcome addiction is an understanding of the disease. A thorough grasp of this new-found reality has opened the door to recovery for countless addicts worldwide.
A phrase often quoted to newcomers is "we are not responsible for our disease but we are responsible for our recovery." This short statement aptly captures the essence of the disease concept. We are no longer victims of some mysterious or other-worldly force. Rather than remaining overwhelmed by negative emotion, we are given a set of simple guidelines that we can apply to begin a journey toward inner peace and over all recovery.
Clinging to any reservations we may have in accepting the fact that we have a disease called addiction is referred to as denial. Denial of our condition is nothing more than an invitation to further pain and confusion. Denial is the mind game that all addict play to avoid dealing with reality and the consequences of our using. Often times our life_styles have become quite bizarre, yet we remain convinced that everything is normal. Denial is a mental operation of rationalization and justification used to shield us from the pain of our current situation, or the much deeper pains from our distant past.
NA offers a solution to those who stubbornly embrace denial and who doubt the fact that this disease is the source of our unmanageable lives. Newcomers are encouraged to write the first step of the NA program. When faced with the black and white evidence of our dilemma, it is difficult to deny the fact that this disease is controlling our actions, settings us up for failure time and time again, and spoiling any hope of a meaningful life.
Having accepted our disease, we must be careful to realize that our addiction can be easily transferred to other destructive behaviors. We may substitute the symptom of drug use, with other destructive habits such as going to extremes in the areas of compulsive spending, over-eating and sexual acting out.
New members are especially susceptible this form of denial. Many will use almost anything in an attempt to fill the void and emotional emptiness left as a result of giving up our primary symptom of drug usage. Although applying the steps, going to meetings and using a sponsor does not offer the immediate gratification found in our old addictive lifestyle, it does offer the long term solutions we truly seek.
We know that addiction is a three-part illness. It is physical, mental and spiritual. There is no greater advantage to the addict seeking recovery than learning the disease concept of addiction. This has enabled hundreds of thousands of NA members to recover. The more we understand the direct connection between our pain and our disease, the less likely we are to allow ourselves to drift back into the patterns that precede relapse. We have to take care that symptoms of our disease such as; exerting power in powerless situations, credit taking, judgment of others, and reluctance to do our part do not gain control again. Pain does not cure our illness; it does however motivate us to seek solutions. The most solemn vows and the strongest will power offer only temporary solutions. In our experience, until an addict finds the sincere desire to stop using there is little hope for recovery. It is this desire that fuels our recovery. Without it, we are lost.
We have come to understand that we suffer from a disease called addiction. This disease tells us that we do not have a disease, and therefore our minds work against us. That is how it fools even the most intelligent people. If we cannot grasp the concept of addiction as an illness, as in a medical text book, we may think of it this way: The belief that this illness exists and is "treatable" will help us get results while denial of its existence will surely kill us. While we readily admitted to powerlessness over drugs in early recovery, most of us struggled with the concept of being powerless over our addiction. Our addiction exists with or without drugs. Even without drugs, the disease often shows up in compulsions such as; arrogance, gambling, compulsive spending, over_eating, lust and generally overdoing anything that makes us feel good.
Understanding that ours is not a moral problem usually comes as an enormous relief for those of us suffering from addiction's guilt and shame. Our new understanding lifts that heavy weight. Most of us thought we had a problem from which recovery was not possible. We do not know why we have this disease nor does it matter. What does matter is the solution for arresting its progression. We may pretend that everything is all right, but this pretense is only our denial at work. We understand from the beginning that NA does not offer a definitive solution for all problems. We are just addicts who have a disease and have found a way to live clean and productive lives. Addiction promised us a lot, gave us a little and took away everything. Today we are able to stay clean and achieve ongoing recovery by living the NA way of life.
One path that some take to recover from their various symptoms of addiction is to attack each of them one-by-one. We may believe that we are powerless over "cocaine" or powerless over "sex" etc. Many 12 Step fellowships have appeared in the past sixty-five years using this exact methodology. We in Narcotics Anonymous have another approach. The First Step of NA says, "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction . . ." NA focuses not on what we used but on our addictive personalities that forced us to use and abuse many things. Addiction creates the emptiness inside us that drives us to seek contentment in all the wrong places. This step asks us to surrender our self-loathing, destructive thinking and our negative behaviors. Then what? Upon closer examination, we have found that every harmful behavior we have ever exhibited exists because we do not love ourselves enough. We may deny this, but look at what we do to ourselves.
Expressing love opens the door for us to obtain true freedom. We learn how to love by working the Steps and the Traditions. We learn to apply the spiritual principles embodied in twenty-four simple suggestions. It takes time, repeated effort and a willingness to learn what real love is all about. Many addicts have said that working with others seemed to be the only thing that could get them through particularly tough times in their recovery. When we show concern for another, we manage to divert attention from ourselves and our compulsions. We identify with the feelings that many addicts share because we have been there and done that. As we learned to care for our fellow addict in NA, so too we slowly learn to care for ourselves.http://www.nawol.org/2012_ch2%20DISEASE.htm