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Advanced placement NA

Ron H, New Mexico, USA

For more recovery information,e-subscribe to The NA Way & other NAWS periodicals at www.na.org/subscribe

I’m feeling pretty rich today. I have spent most of my day so far heading out to the prison and sitting down with a sponsee for a couple of hours, talking through the glass, phone stuck to my ear. I had sponsored him as a newcomer and through an early relapse, and he had just celebrated three years when his past caught up with him and he ended up getting extradited back to California to do some time. After a couple of years, he got transferred back to this area for some more court proceedings. Now, instead of just phone calls and letters, it’s phone calls and visits. And he’s still clean. In fact, next Saturday he celebrates six years clean. And I have no doubt that in this relationship, I’m the one who has been given the greater gift. I’ve watched him progress since he was a newcomer, when I would regularly see his eyes glaze over as I started carrying on with what my friend Grant once called “advanced placement NA.” I would catch myself and bring it back to what he was ready for: Don’t use, go to meetings, get involved with the Fellowship, and just make a beginning; try to get a deeper grasp of the phrase “powerless over my addiction.” Do the next right thing. Stay in touch with me and don’t use. Even when your ass falls off, pick it up and take it to a meeting. I’ll meet you there. As they say in educational circles, his intelligence is more the kinesthetic type. That is, he’s a doer, an athlete, the guy organizing the activity and setting up the chairs, rather than an auditory learner like me, who wants to hear the theory and ponder all the aspects of it, turning the prism and chewing on the implications (a style that nearly killed me in early recovery as I spent my first two years getting a year clean). I realized this about him early on, so I encouraged him toward activities and H&I. He didn’t need much encouragement there. He resurrected a long-defunct NA softball league and became its organizer and coach. After he had a year, he came along with me to my weekly H&I commitment at a homeless men’s facility, and then when my year was up, he took it over. Getting speakers and showing up every week without fail was right up his alley. He was coming alive. We took stepwork slowly, concentrating instead on the doer stuff, the kinesthetic route, but as he began to mature in recovery, Step conversations and assignments started to hit home at a deeper level. Slowly he began to integrate elements of what Socrates called “the examined life” (and what NA calls working a program) into his life of meetings and softball and activities and H&I work. We got all the way through the Fifth Step, forging the kind of bond of trust and intimacy that this produces between men living this way of life and taking on this process for real. By then, of course, I knew his story, and I knew that this sort of interruption in his life might be coming. Then I got the call one day that the jig was up for him. What he had been avoiding had caught up with him. He was sitting in the backseat of a police car, with his cell phone somehow still on him, essentially saying goodbye, sure his life was over. Lockup. All I could do was encourage him to stay present with what he had gained in recovery. Hang in there. Let’s get in touch as soon as we can. But this is powerlessness. Surrender at its most wrenching.

Now it’s three years later, with maybe five more to go. Today’s conversation delved deeply into stepwork and spiritual awakening. We explored topics of mutual interest he could never have touched in those early days. His eyes were alive with fire and experience as we went deeper with this, showing the maturity of a man who knows not just how to act and do, but how to sit and be fully present. Let’s not exaggerate it; we’re all grappling with our humanity in the middle of it all, but Step Eleven was alive and well in him. The fruits of six years of recovery were evident in what had awakened inside him. We get where we get because we’re on the path we’re on. Sometimes we get to choose it; sometimes it chooses us in spite of ourselves. In my case, I got to choose today whether to be in that cage for a couple of hours. He didn’t get to choose that, but he does have the freedom to choose his path within his circumstances. He is where he is and who he is today because of the choices he’s making. I couldn’t be prouder of him as I watch him choose a deeper freedom every day, grateful for the gifts in his life. I realized I was looking at the man I hope to be—no matter the adversity, facing the hard stuff and going deeper, choosing the next level of freedom. I realized that if I want more of that, I had better act with more gusto and sit with more consistency and presence. Though the phrase had been used to tease me about my sometimes-heady style in recovery, today I got to see what “advanced placement NA” really looks like.

For more recovery information,e-subscribe to The NA Way & other NAWS periodicals at www.na.org/subscribe

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