Primary Purpose

Primary Purpose | 12 Step Recovery

I started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings hosted by local groups in 2002. I decided on a group that I considered my primary group or ‘home group’ after about 3 months. I have always had a home group since that time. I go and support the regular business meeting of my home group, ensuring we have the funds and membership support to continue to function. I was taught that our primary purpose is to carry the message to the still suffering addict. I can listen and stay involved with matters that effect our group, and vote on any business that concerns our group. I understand better than ever that those early days were an opportunity to practice principles that I would need outside these rooms. I had to learn to communicate effectively with other people and have awareness of my disease and how it affected my thinking. I failed to realize how important practicing these spiritual principles were to all aspects of our lives and not just in the tightly knit recovery circles. Sometimes those circles are a noose that that kills addicts and stifle creative freedom. Strong personalities push past the principles we strive to apply. The difficulty today is separating the healthy from the unhealthy within myself and an awareness of that in others. How can we work together towards this common goal and what is the message we want to convey?


I remember once when I was in my first 5 years of attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, I had an experience that began to shape my ideas about Tradition 5. I was sitting, listening, when a member was asked to share. He loudly announced his name and added “proud to be clean and sober because of Jesus Christ, and Alcoholics Anonymous!”. He proceeded to share his experience, strength, and hope. I smoked cigarettes at the time, and in my outrage at this proclamation, I stood and went for a smoke, never to return to my seat that day. I thought to myself, filled with rage, “How could someone who’s familiar with our program make such a stupid statement?” I carried a resentment for some time as I worked thru the process of my feelings and my reactions. The one thing I could not get past was that by leaving, I was no longer carrying a message that day. I had stopped taking responsibility for my recovery. That was a responsibility I took seriously from having worked through the 12 steps. I hoped to someday develop the skills to do…what? Correct someone about their behaviors and beliefs? My resentments come from my expectations of others but as I embraced the program, I had growing expectations of what was possible when we work together. Shortly after that experience, I left and found a new group who carried a proper NA message and the members had considerable clean time. My hope was that I could develop the social skills needed to convey message of hope and the promise of freedom from active addiction.


This group was a failure and remained stagnant for years, dominated by strong personalities and no growth. I did not know at the time, but it was often referred to as the ‘Control Issues’ meeting of Narcotics Anonymous. I often mistake people who are nice as kind and my attempts to be a part of are often hampered by my mental health issues. I easily become a victim of the parasites that thrive in this disease of self-obsession. The worst part was that I lived in a fantasy world of thinking we are all working to a common goal, but I see now that is not true. I switched again to another group and found more success in a diverse group that was growing and popular with people who were new. Could the abundance of newcomers point to the answers I sought? I still saw members of this group who had little interest in anything that I considered important. Did they carry a message as well, and was it less important than mine? Am I wrong when I find myself working alone to what I see as a higher power’s purpose?

We meet regularly to help each other

I sought out people who were able to communicate, who were generous and giving of their time to learn more about selfless service. Free of the toxicity distilled in oppressive service structures, I connected with healthy people, new opportunities presented themselves to practicing the principles I held dear. I found I was able to grow in a healthy environment and became proud of my achievements. I learned to communicate and have healthy boundaries too. Selfless service does not need to be limited to the service structures we create in NA and sometimes the healthiest choice is to walk away.


One freedom that I hopefully will never surrender is from the burden of self-obsession. I learned that freedom in the steps and a motivation to carry the message to the still suffering addict will motivate me until I die. Tradition 5 says “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.”. today I strive to be a part of a group and fulfill my commitment to the steps in the application of this tradition. With that commitment, I find nothing is gained from oppression except the absence of unity. I seem to want to validate my recovery by enforcing what works for myself on others. I have come to accept that all manners of addicts, with many different ideas should be welcomed and included. “The wider the base, the higher the point of freedom” is stated in our literature, without mention of uniformity. Doesn’t freedom include the opportunity to be my true self?

This same idea seems to be true for all groups that make up the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous. In Iran, around 1995, a small group of students, addicts returning from California translated the literature and ideas they learned into a rapidly growing fellowship, independent of any outside influences. This fellowship started with a single group and now numbers in the thousands. In the United States, groups meet regularly, printing and distributing literature, including the main book of Narcotics Anonymous, The Basic Text. They believe in what they are doing. Some groups focus on historical literature studies and others are focused on what works in the environments they find themselves in. Some groups have no literature at all and focus on carrying a message to newcomers.

The possibilities are endless

Groups near treatment centers are full of members on Drug Replacement Therapy (or Medically Assisted Treatment) who are confused about terms like ‘complete abstinence’ and the relationship between NA and the treatment center they attend. How do we best carry a message in this environment? Would we accept a group called ‘The Verification Papers Group’ of Narcotics Anonymous, who meet nightly for 15 minutes to sign papers for suffering addicts who have no other desire than to fulfill this one requirement of their addiction. This imaginary group could be as critical to the success of the Fellowship as the group who host a closed meeting where verification papers are not signed. There is strength in our diversity and when a group fails, new ideas can take hold. The literature says;

In time, we may find ourselves with old ideas on the program. Our roots of recovery are important, but in ongoing recovery we need to constantly review our feelings and thinking if we are to stay fresh and in touch with the growth of N.A. as a whole. This freshness may well be the key to ongoing recovery. We are each others eyes and ears; when we do something wrong, our fellow recovering addicts help us help ourselves by showing us what we cannot see.

When a newcomer admits his powerlessness, he opens himself up to the Fellowship. We are responsible for making him feel loved and supported. We all remember the painful feelings of guilt, remorse, shame and self-loathing. We can share our experience that these feelings were gradually removed by working the program.[1]

There is a famous line that says ‘ignorance is bliss’ and that is probably true but for this addict it is deadly. When I am inclusive and experience the full range of human experiences, I will have to deal with a wide array of emotions including uncomfortable ones. “Complacency is the enemy of members with substantial clean time.” Healthy Fellowships thrive and grow both in the number of groups, the attendance at meetings as well the service structures created to support these groups. There is strength in our unity when we are inclusive, and the purity of our message is found in the individual group conscience, rather than the individuals themselves.

[1]: 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 182, Chapter 10, “More will be revealed”


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