Fighting addiction at Narcotics Anonymous

It’s Thursday evening at a house in Petralona. Around 20 people fill the place. The atmosphere is relaxed; those who haven’t met before make a point of introducing themselves. It is not immediately apparent that what unites all those present is an addiction to drugs. This is a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous (NA). The young people present belong to an NA voluntary self-help group who meet regularly to help each other stay off drugs. For some, drug abuse is an ongoing nightmare that they hope will end soon. Besides, that is the only prerequisite for participation in NA, the desire to quit. When Maria first started attending the meetings, she wanted more than anything to quit but doubted the effectiveness of the program. «I’d tried other programs – open, closed, everything – without success, so I was rather wary,» she told Kathimerini. «But when I went there and saw people like myself instead of the usual psychologists and experts, I liked it. I listened to them talking about their efforts to get off drugs, the difficulties they’d come up against, and it was like looking at myself in the mirror.» Maria, 27, started using drugs when she was 13: «The usual problems at home, my own problems. I ended up using heroin.» Now she has been clean for two-and-a-half years. «When I first went to NA, I was very angry. It was right after I’d relapsed. I heard the ones who’d been there longer talking about other things besides using drugs – their work, their interests – and I didn’t get it. Now I talk about everything too, the difficult things and the good things.» She keeps attending the meetings mainly to help young people who come. «I tell them what I went through, about when I thought it would never end. And yet it did come to an end.» Thanassis, 27, heard about NA from a friend: «I bumped into him in the street; we used to do drugs together in the past. He told me about the meetings but I felt disappointed. I didn’t think I’d solve the problem just by talking about it,» he told Kathimerini. That was one-and-a-half years ago; Thanassis has been clean ever since. «It sounds unlikely but it’s the truth. What kept me in NA was the love. I met ordinary people who could understand me. They didn’t do anything; they didn’t want anything from me. They simply accepted me.» Wasn’t it hard to kick the habit? «For me it was easier to stop using like that. Limits and prohibitions aren’t for me. I know myself. The freedom to choose what to do helped me.» Thanassis still feels like a new member of the program. «But I’m young. You have to realize that giving up drugs doesn’t mean anything. It’s the realization that you have to find another way of life, to learn to live differently.» Though he feels stronger than before («I experience moments I didn’t believe existed; I smile»), Thanassis still fears he might backslide. «No, I don’t feel sure of myself. My sickness is incurable. There is always a possibility that I’ll backslide. But what I try, like all of us, is to stay clean one day at a time. One day at a time, however, the time has passed.»

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