My home group of Narcotics Anonymous formed in March of 2020 when the pandemic was beginning to become a very real and global situation. Many physical locations were closed to groups and most local meetings they offered were affected. It was fortunate that a well established and rich history of virtual groups existed. Members were able to draw from the experiences of those who had gone before and forged a path into this virtual realm. Based on this experience, we found an online platform that had worked for others. Many within the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous embraced this new technology and some geographical locations hardly skipped a beat in continuing to provide recovery to suffering addicts. There are many schools of thought on the application of the principle of autonomy as it relates to the Fellowship. Regardless of your opinions on this, the Fellowship has thrived in a new and exciting way as we adapted to the pandemic. All versions of the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text contain the same reference in Tradition 4.
The autonomy of our groups is necessary for our survival. A dictionary defines autonomous as “having the right or power of self-government…undertaken or carried on without outside control.” This means our groups are self-governing and are not subject to outside control. Every group has had to stand and grow on its own.1
The suffering addicts came in droves to this new way of carrying a message. Online participation increased a hundred-fold and then a hundred-fold again as the months progressed. Our home group quickly grew and added more meetings. We grew our membership list, collected a 7th tradition to be self-supporting and held regular business meetings. Unfortunately, our group was faced with a dilemma. For more than a decade online groups were not able to register with Narcotics Anonymous World Services and not recognized by many of the service structures that existed and supported the World Service Conference. None of these service bodies could produce policy or procedures about how groups were to be registered with NAWS and how that was applied only to physical meetings versus virtual meetings. We remained autonomous.
This was a mistake and should have been corrected years ago. It is very relevant today since many groups are now virtual. There might be more virtual groups than physical groups if they were able to register. Our group felt that we were a NA group, and we met regularly to help each other stay clean. It felt and behaved like the Narcotics Anonymous many of us were familiar with and our membership grew as we attracted members. When asked by newcomers, we would try and explain the situation as best we could, shrug and encourage them to keep coming back. Many did return and regularly. Newcomers found they were able to stay clean. We established policies and created an atmosphere of recovery. We were inclusive, even to members who felt that virtual meetings were not real meetings. New or old, members where just happy to be apart of something for an hour.
Our group flourished and our needs were small. We utilized our funds to promote our group, and www.virtual-na.org, where many of our newcomers came from. It seemed to me that we remained autonomous largely out of a lack of desire to join the controversy surrounding our existence as a group. Becoming part of a greater unity was not an easy path, and we had other challenges with so many people who were new to both technology and recovery. The tremendous warmth and compassion of the group was our priority. Old members and new members returned regularly as the pandemic surged across the planet. We wept together when people died, and we cried when milestones of clean time were recognized by those who attended regularly. Our Fellow’ship’ was floating high in a sea of tears, both from sadness and joy, that we had all shared together. The unity was breathtaking in both depth and diversity. Our screens rippled with the surging emotions of love and compassion. We felt rejuvenated with each meeting we attended.
Literature was another challenge for our group. Most of us who had participated for some time in NA had electronic copies of various pieces of literature. New people were encouraged to read, and some had found access to electronic copies of an array of recovery literature. Everyone was able to talk to members and visit various groups on a global scale so unity was powerful and was as diverse as the planet would allow. As chair of our group, I struggled with my personal opinions and the opinions of a diverse group. How do we proceed with such diversity? I liked this definition of autonomy on Kantian Moral Philosophy; “the capacity of an agent to act in accordance with objective morality rather than under the influence of desires.” The common good was my moral compass and our primary purpose was to carry a message to the still suffering addict.
We maintained a private electronic library of books for members but tried to not contribute to the very public conflict between groups and service bodies who wrestled with perceived copywrite infringements and a desire to carry the message. As we approached our one-year anniversary, a member brought up a motion to distribute hard copies of literature to members by using our available funds. Everyone thought this was a good idea and a committee was struck. We hoped to avoid the controversial issues that were so well known. I am not offended by someone who reads the 6th Edition of the Basic Text from NAWS, but my preference of reading the 2nd Edition seems to offend others outside our group. Our first idea was that one of our home group members from India would purchase literature from NAWS and ship that out to home group members but we were discouraged from proceeding down this path. I can only guess that this is because Literature purchased from NAWS India and shipped to North America is half the price of purchasing from NAWS here where I live. North American Service bodies like NAWS are struggling after depending on the profits of literature sales for decades. Those profits have evaporated into nothing now that local groups are temporarily closed.
I talked to my support group and friends about this situation. Some members wanted to offer their support and sent me a care package of literature. There are thousands of members who support the free distribution of literature worldwide. When the heavy package arrived, I was stunned by the generosity and kindness. The gift of literature meshed perfectly with our desire to freely pass on what had been given to us. Giving becomes a natural reaction when you experience the kindness of others. None of the contributors seemed to place conditions on their gift. Our group could continue to operate independently. We were not labelled as anything other than an NA group.
The Free Literature Movement are often labeled as purists, traditionalist, bitter and resentful. I guess it is normal to try and label the things we fear or worse, things that we want others to fear. For over a decade the virtual NA community has been labeled as ‘Not NA’ and survived off their own unity without being a part of. Recently, the Phillipines Region of Narcotics Anonymous registered the NA logo and trademarks in that country, at the direction of their groups, one would hope. I wonder if they were surprised to be sued by the NAWS Corporation. Will this affect their ability to be a part of NA, as a whole? Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, Tradition 12 says;
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.2
You cannot create fear without creating a label first, so be careful of those who create labels. The glory of our autonomy is that my home group can create labels for ourselves, and we are a Narcotics Anonymous group no matter what others say.