Dominic, a small, balding man, explained in a tremulous voice how his vacation plans were falling apart because the money he needed had not come in the mail, and now he'd ruined a roll of film trying to load his new camera. "It's making me so depressed," he said.
Ben, a burly man in his forties, was near tears as he told how hard it was coping with the recent death of his brother. He'd gotten into a fight over some money with a man in a liquor store and had to resist punching the man.
Neither story seemed to describe a genuine trauma, but both drew sighs of recognition from about 90 men and women crowded into a circle in the basement of Twelfth Street Christian Church, 12th and S streets NW. Dominic, Ben and their audience are all recovering drug addicts and members of Narcotics Anonymous. For them, the smallest disruption in life can turn to tragedy, and the urge to use drugs.
"A person who eventually becomes a drug addict starts out with problems accepting himself. He can't cope," said Steve, a 37-year-old computer programmer and NA organizer who became addicted to heroin in college. "But there's strength in numbers. There's some kind of magic that happens when a bunch of drug addicts get together and share what's going on with them."
Drug treatment authorities, swamped by the rise in drug abuse, increasingly have referred addicts to NA. Modeled after the more widely known Alcoholics Anonymous, NA has seen a phenomenal growth. Only a few years ago, there were three weekly NA meetings in the Washington area. Today there are more than 120.
Addicts seek mutual support to make it through the day without getting high. New members are encouraged to attend every night for the first three months.
George, 39, a computer analyst for the D.C. government, said he became a heroin addict serving in the Army infantry in Vietnam. He spent several years in prison for peddling drugs. He then moved away from his wife and children, who lost their house because they couldn't pay the mortgage.
"I had seen what I thought worked for other people, and I just accepted the fact that I was an addict and this was the first time I had said it before," he said. "That's the thing that keeps me in touch with who I really am, and what I really am. It keeps me in touch with the pain that I've been going through."