I work for the Drug and Alcohol Team at a Public Prison in England. Much of my work is done with foreign national men awaiting deportation to their country of origin. Many of the men I work with have an excellent command of the English language. Others speak only a few words of English. There is a translation service called LanguageLine which we sometime use to communicate with our clients. Literature is an important part of the recovery process and I go to great lengths to provide the men with recovery literature in their own language. This is fairly straightforward for languages which use the Roman alphabet, more challenging with languages that do not.
I was recently searching for Narcotics Anonymous literature in Persian (Farsi). In the course of my search I learned (from williamwhitepapers.com) that NA was first introduced in Iran in 1990 and there are now more than 24,000 NA meetings in Iran—a third of all NA meetings worldwide. With the exception of the NA Basic Text, Iran consumes more NA literature than all other countries combined. The 2018 NA World Convention drew 24,000 participants; the most recent NA Convention in Iran drew 32,000 participants.
My search for Persian NA literature brought me to The NA Way Magazine, the International Journal of Narcotics Anonymous. It was there I read the following letter from an Iranian addict in recovery.
My name is Habib and I am an addict. Greetings to all the addicts at the Central Prison of Qazvin, and to all NA groups around the world. I am writing this letter as I pass the final moments of my life. I am very close to death. I wish to send a message to all fellow members: I got clean through a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in jail, and through attending these meetings, I stopped using drugs. I have become very close to God, I feel good, and I am at peace with myself and the world. I have accepted the will of God.
I’d like to ask you fellows to stay clean and be of service. Try to help other addicts stay clean physically, mentally, and spiritually. Please continue this path to save other addicts. I have nothing else to say. My name is Habib, and by dawn my life will end. I will be hanged for the crimes I committed, but I have been clean for 84 days beside you. I wish success for all addicts… members and non-members. God bless.
Habib, Qazvin, Iran
Reprinted from Payam Behboodi, Iran, Issue 6, Spring 2006
The above account, written by a brother in recovery in the final hours of his life, moved me so deeply that I immediately read it out to my colleagues who were present in the office. Afterwards, I spent several days reflecting on its contents before sending an email to the Iran Region of NA to express my solidarity with their movement. I was later contacted by a representative of the Farsi Speaking Groups Area Service Committee of NA in the UK which has been formed by Farsi Speaking Groups in London,
Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow. They had been sent my details by the Iran Region of NA! I continued reading more about the 12 Step movement in Iran and found an excellent article on SoberMap.com entitled ‘NA Iran: A Recovery Counter-Surge’.
In 2006, (the year of Habib’s execution and, coincidentally, the year that my own journey in recovery began) approximately 59% of Iran’s jail population was incarcerated for drug-related offenses. Of the 170,000 incarcerated Iranians, 32,000 were in jail for simply being addicts, while 68,000 were jailed for drug trafficking.
Reading various accounts of the exponential growth of NA in Iran brought to mind chunks of text contained in the forward to the second edition of the AA Big Book. Phrases such as ‘wholesale miracle’ and growing ‘by leaps and bounds’ evidently still ring as true today in the heart of Persia as they did back in 1955 when the forward to the second edition was first published. The following quote from the SoberMap article goes some way to unpacking the miracle.
The Steps and Principles of NA contain concepts consistent with existing beliefs in Iran. A deeply spiritual and socially cohesive culture combined with a vast need for recovery proved fertile soil for NA to take seed and blossom. Members tended it with remarkable dedication and passion. They had no secret recipe or formula; they simply followed NA’s Service Manual enthusiastically. Their commitment to service is impeccable. The success of NA Iran underscores the cross-cultural commonality of experience in addiction and recovery. Addicts share a bond that transcends culture. Addiction is a great equalizer. So is recovery.