As a child growing up in Paisley, Scotland, Jimmy K., widely recognized as the founder of Narcotics Anonymous, struck up an unusual friendship with a man named Mr. Crookshack:
“My very, very close friend was the town drunk. And he was a great guy, you know? He was so good to me in so many ways, and he was such a louse in so many others. He used to fall down the stairs and break himself open, break his head open, and blood would be running down two or three flights of stairs. When I was seven and a half, he fell down and I found him. I found him and went running in to get my mother. We got him into a hospital. I used to keep saying to her ‘When can we see Mr. Crookshack?’ and she said ‘Next week, next week’. This kept going on. Finally, I said ‘I have to see him’. So she took us up to a place called Crow Road. This was the nut house. And here he was sitting in a wheel chair, just staring straight ahead. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see me and wouldn’t talk to me. I said, ‘what’s wrong with him?’ She said ‘He drank too much and got hurt too much over the years’. I said, ‘When I grow up, I’m gonna help people like Mr. Crookshack’. I’ve never forgotten that. I had to become an alcoholic and addict to fulfill my destiny.”
Jimmy K. considered his family as close knit and happy. “My father was a comedian on the stage, a headliner. We had a lot of fun in our life. We had a lot of laughter, a lot of singing. I became a dancer when I was very very young.” Being on stage at such an early age influenced Jimmy’s lifelong desire for attention. “I always had to be up front. I had to be number one. I think maybe it’s still that way. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad or wrong, but I think it’s something I have to be careful of. Because, like so many people, my ego is pretty strong. I’ve got a lot of pride. I hate to be a loser because I felt that I was a failure for so many years.”
Though Jimmy K. came from a Catholic background, he struggled with his own beliefs. “When I was a kid, I never, never played hooky from school. I loved school because I could learn there, but I played hooky from church every chance I got. I couldn’t stand all that stuff they were telling me because I didn’t believe it.” Though he had rejected his Catholic upbringing, Jimmy K. went on to prep school in Pennsylvania to study for the ministry. There, he had his first experience with addiction. “Well, I lasted there for about three years. I couldn’t make it. I stole all the wine I could get my hands on. With seventeen alters down one side, you know, and three in the front, half the time there was barely enough wine for the priest to say Mass. And of course, you know the job I had. I worked in the Sacristy.”
After years of alcoholism and drug addiction, Jimmy K. attended his first Twelve Step Meeting. “I remember my first meeting. How afraid I was. I still case every place I walk into. I want to know where the nearest door is out and where the nearest window is. And I sit facing the door, ‘cause I want to get out in a hurry if anything happens. I’ve always been that way. I don’t turn my back to the door yet, you know? I guess that’s self-survival.”
Jimmy K. attended several meetings weekly and though he was sober, he had a hard time coping daily life. “I didn’t know how to change. I didn’t know how to have any affection for me as a person. I hated myself so much I’d look in the mirror and I’d spit in the mirror in the morning. This was even after I was clean and sober for a while. I didn’t know what to do. I went along like this staying clean, and I got a cake after one year. But I wasn’t sure if I could accept it or not because I didn’t know whether I’d been clean all the time. I said to a guy I knew, ‘I don’t think I can go up and get that cake’. He said, ‘Why not?’ And I said, ‘Because I don’t think I’ve been on the program for a year.’ He said, ‘Where have you been every night and sometimes during the day?’ I said, ‘I’ve been at meetings, two, three times a day. Fourteen meetings in a weekend, from Friday night to Monday evening.’ He said, ‘Well, would you come to a meeting if you were good and loaded’? I said, ‘Hell, no!’ And he said, ‘Then you got a year in!’ That was the basis that I took my cake.”
At these frequent meetings, Jimmy K. began working the program. “The steps are everything in my life today. I don’t have to consciously work them, but I have to work them. This program becomes such a part [of your life] after a while, that you work it naturally. When I first came around I had to work it because there was no other way to go. That’s where I was. Back then I was an abject failure in every department of life. And I mean that completely and fully. There was nothing left and I had to surrender, I had to give up.
“I tried to stay clean one day at a time and tried to help somebody else. You know, all the other Steps will fall into place. But I ran into a lot of trouble. I ran into trouble with my family. I couldn’t sit down and eat a meal with my family for two and a half years. I turned out emotionally ill, incomplete, ill-equipped to live. I could scarcely work, but I kept going to meetings. I kept talking to people. I kept going on Twelfth Step calls.
“I had more fear in me then than I had ever had previously. I was afraid to leave the house. I had nothing to depend on. I hadn’t found any kind of Higher Power that I could depend on. And I didn’t want what the religionists had been trying to give me all my life.”
Even after a year and a half of firm sobriety, Jimmy K. found himself falling deep into an incapacitating depression. “I’d reached this point where nothing was going to make any change in my life. I got so bad one time that I couldn’t get out of my bedroom, and I couldn’t talk. I sat there like a vegetable. I couldn’t open my mouth. My wife at the time came in and she said, ‘What’s wrong? You want a cup of coffee? You want a cigarette?’ And I sat for three days like that on the side of the bed. I couldn’t leave the house. I was terrified. There is this thing in the Twelve Steps where we seem to have some kind of experience that alters the inner workings. It alters us somewhere down deep so that we take a different course.
“Third day, I’m trying to go to sleep late at night in my own bedroom. I fell asleep for a little while and I woke up in complete and abject terror. I didn’t know what was wrong. I’d had many experiences like that at different times—night terrors—but this was different. I didn’t know what I was afraid of. I didn’t have any idea what was happening. And I couldn’t move, which was the worst part. I was actually immobile. Like a piece of wood laying there, and I couldn’t think. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t ask for help. And I saw a great big round glow of light ahead of me. It was like what hammered silver looks like. And there were two big posts on each side with a caduceus around them, and some steps. And if you think I was afraid before, you can imagine how afraid I was then. ‘Cause now I knew they were going to get me.
“And a voice out of nowhere said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Don’t be afraid? I couldn’t move! But as soon as it hit me, the impact hit me, I loosened up and I wasn’t afraid. The voice told me what to do. And I said, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t do that.’ And the voice then said something to me that told me just how deep this was that was talking to me, how deeply it knew me. Because it laughed and it said, ‘You shyster, you.’ And I knew exactly what it meant. In my whole life I’d never faced anything head on.
“The only thing I can tell you is that that voice is the Higher Power, the first Higher Power I’d ever really known. Somewhere deep inside me where I am connected to this universe, something came through. Part of the reason that there is this program was because I was told what to do.”
With his new found belief in a Higher Power, Jimmy K. went on to recover from his depression, co-found NA and begin what he considered a more manageable life. “I once heard that that SOB Kruschev was coming to Los Angeles. I got so incensed when I heard that, I went home and I said to my wife, ‘Tomorrow afternoon I’m coming home from work early. I want you to have some bags packed and we’re taking off. I won’t breathe the same smog as that SOB.’ So the result was anyway that we took off.
“It shows you the manageability that I had gotten into my life. I could cope with things and make decisions. It seemed a long, long ways away, in the background at that time, the First Step, when I’d had to admit I was powerless and that my life had become unmanageable.”
(All quotations above are from audio archives of Jimmy K.’s speeches)
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