Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Violence in the rooms

As sad as it sounds, there is sometimes violence in our rooms. Yesterday some nutcase went into a Salt Lake shopping mall and killed a number of people. If these incidents happens in the general public, then NA and AA, like all 12-Step Fellowships because we are a microcosm of society, will experience violence, as well.

My first experience with violence was in Phoenix in the early 80s when I got clean. There was a man who attended NA who had many years clean and a terrible, explosive temper. He was married to a woman who was also in the program, although no one got to know her because he kept such a tight rein on her. (Hey, kids, this behavior is a red flag!) For anonymity, let's call him Hal.

Another man in the program, let's call him Rob (Rob's father sponsored about half of the men in NA when I got there and Rob was sponsored by Hal), developed a friendship with Hal's wife. Hal was totally a nutcase and I always gave him wide berth. He absolutely HATED the "in-group" in Phoenix NA and even went so far, one time, to develop a flow chart of all the positions in the area and region and show that most of them flowed back to one central person, whom he openly despised.

When I had about three years clean, I didn't understand what fear felt like in my body. When I used, I had no fear, so I was very disconnected from that feeling. I was sitting in a meeting and Hal was there and went on a hateful rant about how he hated this group of people surrounding the "in-group" and this one member in particular. His eyes were glazed over and frankly, I was terrified. It was the first time I can remember feeling what fear felt like in my body. I got up and left the meeting and went elsewhere to process my feelings and get away from this man.

About a year later and although I was living in California by that time, I learned that Rob had disappeared. The police investigation after interviewing about half of NA at the time led to Hal. Rob's body was never found, but blood traces from Rob's truck bed ended in his conviction for Rob's murder. Several NA members had to testify and were on a "death list" found by the police at Hal's home. He still sits in Arizona State Prison with a life sentence. Needless to say, things in Phoenix NA were pretty hysterical for awhile.

Suffice it to say, this is not the norm in NA. However, exceptions occur and when you mix mentally ill people on top of the usual mix of sober horsethieves, then we may have more problems than the norm. I've seen other instances of NA violence, most of them fistfights; dumping a full soft drink on a women's head at a dance; or other things that were quickly held in check by men restraining other men. The point remains that violence can erupt quickly over seemingly insignificant issues.

What can we do? First, address the topic in meetings and at your home group. If necessary, reword your format. State unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated. Throwing things is unacceptable. There's an old Czech saying about children that goes "First they play; then they cry."

Small things like open disrespect, crosstalk, approaching other members during sharing, or other covertly or overtly hostile acts, whether meant to be humorous or not, cannot be tolerated. It is the meeting chair's job to try to ensure behavior in meetings is appropriate and frankly, most of them aren't up to the task. If the chair can't tell a member who is loaded not to share or can't ask one who drones on and on to limit his or her share so others can talk, how do we expect them to curb potential potential violence?

Clearly, if this issue is rearing its head in your area and the group feels it cannot address it satisfactorily, the area or the region should form an ad-hoc group to help to address this issue. Short of that, if a person is asked to leave one meeting, he or she will simply go elsewhere with an agenda.

Next week I'm giving a kindergarten class a lesson on dog safety. The most important piece of advice I give children about dogs is that if they are afraid of any dog, walk slowly the other way and get away from that dog. The same is true of people who engender fear in us. We need to be aware of what our instincts are telling us and if we feel unsafe, it isn't our job to change the situation, confront the person or get involved unless someone is in critical danger. It's solely our job to protect ourselves. Go find another meeting then address the issue with your sponsor and your representatives at the group, area or region.

Clearly, though, we can't always approach people who are mentally ill. We all have people who love us, some have children who depend on us, parents who depend on us and all of us want to stay safe. So we can only do so much because hey, we've survived this far on grace, so let's not push our luck by feeling we have to save the meeting, the area, or the world.

Further, this is not just a problem in NA. As some of you who read my blog know, I just had this same problem in another Fellowship and it took me over a week to calm down, address the other person out of love and feel better about the situation. But first, it was one tough week.

Having said all that, I received a response back from NA World Service about this issue within a few hours of me requesting it.
Here is the response from NA World Services in its entirety.

Thanks for calling NA World Services. In response to your request we do have a standard response for the issue of violence in meetings that may be helpful.

We are contacted frequently regarding disruptive members, the issue of violence, and the threat of violence in NA meetings. Often times these situations can be complex and we are humbled by the challenge of offering practical suggestions and direction. With that said, when confronted with this behavior, we suggest the group consider the following thoughts.

As outlined in The Group Booklet, the NA group is responsible for maintaining an atmosphere of recovery for all addicts who seek it. And in the spirit of the First Tradition, our common welfare is paramount in all of our personal recovery efforts. That is to say, if a member is violent or threatening violence at an NA meeting, the safety of all addicts who attend that meeting is the primary consideration. In addressing this issue we have a number of different strategies to consider:

One option to consider is for the group to have as part of the recovery meeting, a discussion topic such as Atmosphere of Recovery, in the attempt to raise everyone’s awareness of the effect of our behavior in NA meetings.

The group may choose to discuss the situation in a group business meeting. An open and frank group discussion of the matter may bring things to light, which may help in finding some resolution.

The group may consider taking this problem to the area service committee meeting in the hope that discussion there may lead to an increased awareness of the problem and possible resolutions other groups have tried.

The group may consider the option of having one member discuss the situation with the disruptive individual. This will need to be done in a loving, caring way, tempering honesty with compassion and understanding. A few words of caution, we should be mindful not to put any individual at risk in the attempt to address the problem.

Another variation on that idea is for two or three of the group’s mature, stable members to meet the disruptive individual on his or her way into the meeting each time. These members can help the individual understand what is being asked of him or her, and that violent behavior is not acceptable. Again, tempering honesty with compassion and understanding will help here. Expect that this intervention will need to occur more than once or twice, but if a group continues to do this before each meeting, there is a better chance that the disruptive person will respect the needs of those attending the meeting.

Finally, if a member’s safety is threatened, the group may decide they need to call the police. The responsibility for that decision rests more with the individual acting or threatening to act violently, than it does with the group. An individual’s personal anonymity must be balanced with the welfare of the group. Calling law enforcement is appropriate when personal safety is at stake.

Again, these options are offered as points that may lead to solutions to a potentially complex situation. We encourage the group to discuss the situation, and consider all of the options. We wish you success in all of your recovery and service efforts. Please contact us if we can be of any further help.

Warm regards,

Steve Rusch
Fellowship Services Team Leader
NA World Services
818-773-9999 x173


SCoUt said...

Thank you, my Dawg, for sharing this with me. I knew you would have the E, S, and H I was looking for. I have some slight anonymity concerns so I will email you the rest.

vicariousrising said...

Excellent post. I was going to say that you and Scout should link your posts somehow, but I can see you've been in touch :)

This whole violence issue rocks me on so many levels, and I am glad to be able to read about how people are dealing with it before I have been involved in a problem with my meetings. I feel better being prepared waaaay in advance for this sort of thing, otherwise even a hint at violence in a meeting might scare me off.

Thank you so much,

lushgurl said...

I am so glad that I have never experienced this violence in my groups, although AA is where I call home, I never quite felt right in NA. not sure why, I am a drug addict too.
Walking away has become my primary goal when I have felt threatened any where.
Thank you for posting that others have this choice too, we all DESERVE to feel safe in recovery!

SCoUt said...

I have started some action. Check my bloggy.