Tradition 3 states that the only requirement for membership in Narcotics Anonymous is a desire to stop using. I was taught early on that, in an atmosphere of recovery, where addicts are free to come and go as they please, seems to lie the foundation for the success of this fellowship. Addicts make the decision to become a member; but how does that desire become a reality?
The Purist Movement and the Publication of the Basic Text.
My favorite edition of the Basic Text is the 2nd Edition (1), which had this to say;
“Desire is our only requirement…That only the desire to stop using is needed insures that no caste system will develop making one addict superior to another.”
This publication was the pinnacle of success for a Fellowship that was 29 years old. They wanted to avoid creating a Fellowship with a caste system; castes being “a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race.” With 1000 meetings approximately in existence, the call had gone out and a book was created and published by using an ‘open participation’ process where every addict with a desire had the opportunity to participate, create and approve the text. The experience and final product were tremendously popular. The ideas contained in it distilled the best of what the Fellowship had to offer.
Some seemed to be afraid of the ideas presented within the text and sought to subjugate the Fellowship by making changes. It can be a difficult step for some addicts to make the leap from ‘a desire to stop using drugs’ is equal to a ‘desire to manipulate and control’. In a Fellowship that promotes attraction, rather than promotion, some addicts might hold on to personal ideas about what recovery is supposed to look like; we may be equal, but we do not all value the same things equally. An addict freed from the slavery of addiction might choose material things and travel over another who wants a simple life of servitude at the local soup kitchen. A Purist movement was born and some adopted the ‘Anonymi’ name and slogan; “A world-wide NA Home Group designed to provide our trusted servants (whose service has sometimes isolated them from their local groups) with the love and understanding they need to survive.”
The Rift Grows
The World Literature Committee issued several letters to try and stop the World Service Office (WSO) from publishing the altered text. A power struggled ensued. Some of the addicts who were involved in the 360,000 manhours consumed to produce the 1982 Basic Text surrendered to this new caste that had emerged to guide the Fellowship. Some left to work with other like-minded individuals and groups to promote their own ideas of Fellowship. Rapid growth during this period provided a wide base of addicts who were unfamiliar with the traditions and WSO profits from literature sales allowed the emerging caste to promote themselves as NA. They eventually formed a Corporation called Narcotics Anonymous World Services (NAWS) in the early 1990’s. Some saw a caste system as beneficial to the future of this growing fellowship and this idea was promoted by new members. By 1987 the 4th edition of the Basic Text was published, without even a mention of the 1982 publication and the idea of a Fellowship free from castes was lost.
World Service Office, Inc., Published 1983. (2)
“Desire is our only requirement…With ‘…a desire to stop using’ as the only requirement for membership, one addict is never superior to another. “
The idea that we none of us is superior to another within the fellowship is the ideal promoted in words but not actions. The direction of the Fellowship by those who controlled the production of literature was at odds with the Basic Text that was published in 1982. Strong personalities and lifestyles defined the emerging castes. New addicts are embraced as equals but trying to cross boundaries in the cliques that form could prove difficult even as individuals grew personally. The caste system that still exists in the North American Fellowship put to an end the growth by 1990 and it has never recovered.
This was the Fellowship that I arrived in in 2002. Unity has been a struggle where I live because of the perceptions that exist. I struggled with a desire to use the Fellowship as a social club which it was never intended to be. The castes that exist are exclusive, and not inclusive. An early sponsor warned me of the dangers of using but I persisted because being part of a caste was the only recovery I could see. I had no desire to stop using until recently. Several years ago a member with more than a decade of clean time shared with me the idea of putting a ‘dream team’ together at the area level of service for the benefit of the local Fellowship. Warning bells started to go off, and I was able to escape without using drugs. This was the beginning of a desire to stop using for me, as I realized how toxic of a culture I was immersed in. I was fortunate to find other like-minded individuals because technology has created a global Fellowship.
Today I believe that in many places, maintaining the caste system is ahead of the primary purpose of carrying a message to the still suffering addict. Holding on to personal ideas of what works erodes the unity we desperately need with people who might see things differently. Today, my desire to stop using means that I work to put aside my self-obsession with the ideas that might be important to me but not others. Unity is critically important. We say, ‘Tell us what you want to do about your problem, and how can we help”. My problem is that I want everyone to know about Narcotics Anonymous and the possibility of a new life free from the obsession and compulsion of addiction. My problem is that I want to see presentations about NA at hospitals and universities. My problem is I want a wide, diverse fellowship where anyone is free to attend and explore new ideas in an atmosphere of recovery. My problem is my doctor’s office has no information on NA. My problem is that alone there is no NA but united with you I can accomplish more than I ever thought possible.
Line Numbered, Copyright ©1982 by C.A.R.E.N.A. Publishing Co. , Library of Congress Catalog No. 83-70346 ISBN 0-912075-00-7, Page 77, Third Tradition, 2nd paragraph
Thlrd Edition 1984. Fourth Edition 1987. library of Congress Catalog No. 83-70346, ISBN 0-912075-02-3, Page 74, Third Tradition, 2nd paragraph