“Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”
I first heard about Narcotics Anonymous while in the hospital from a chemical dependency worker who had been sent to assess me. I was given a Narcotics Anonymous meeting list and an information pamphlet titled ‘Am I an Addict’. I read that pamphlet several times before I finally attended my first meeting. I found those early meetings difficult due to my issues with social anxiety and my simmering contempt for everyone and everything. There was very little I found attractive about the program in the beginning. It felt like I had nowhere else to go. I was able to stick around because of the atmosphere of recovery created by members who made me feel a part of. I heard a very simple message from many who attended; “Our Steps and Traditions make recovery possible for any addict that seeks recovery. Narcotics Anonymous offers only one promise, the freedom from active addiction, and a new way of life.”
This was the foundation of my recovery. Tradition three states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using. I assumed, like I’m sure many do, that this was about drug use. My experiences have taught me differently. I see addiction as an incurable disease that can infest every aspect of my life. I do not want to live in fear of the disease. I choose a spiritual solution to the daily problem of living with this disease. I learned that the core of the disease is self-obsession, and my first thoughts are often wrong. With the help of others and awareness of my disease I have learned to be a part of society. I’m able to practice critical spiritual principles and share my experiences with a home group I attend regularly. Each day I awaken and draw on past experiences to forge ahead in my recovery. Each day I make a decision to stop using my defects of character but some days I am faced with challenges. I no longer see drugs as the problem, but my attitudes are. I have opinions about how things should be and that has inherent danger. (Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Grey Book, Step 12, line 120, pg. 64);
We try to avoid the arrogance of self-righteousness, because it is one of the deadliest forms of self-deception.
tradition Eleven says ‘attraction rather than promotion’ but sometimes I have felt like the opposite is true. Other members seem eager to share their opinions of the choices I was making or how the program works. I have come to accept that when I stop practicing the spiritual principles in some area of my life, I also seem to rely on my defects more. This could explain why members become critical of each other or overly zealous about explaining ‘how the program works’. Working together and overcoming differences is critical to our success.
In the same way that the Twelve Steps have helped me with my recovery, the Twelve Traditions has served my home group. Each home group in Narcotics Anonymous is independent; My belief is that our autonomy as a group is the same as the personal responsibility I take for my recovery. I no longer blame others for my problems, and the same attitude helps my group. Tradition One says that my personal recovery depends on the unity of NA and so my group takes on the responsibility of ensuring we conduct ourselves in a manner that will not affect other groups or NA, as a whole. I have found that by working together, in unity with others in my group, we grow as a Fellowship. As we grow, I can achieve a higher level of freedom from my addiction because I have more experiences to draw upon. I no longer must be right about everything or have my own way (Chapter 5, What can I do, Line 57, pg. 80);
These old ways have to go if we are to find new lives. We will successfully face the days to come if we take advantage of the help the program of Narcotics Anonymous has to offer. Help from one addict to another; help that says, “I had something like that happen to me and I tried so and so”. Not preaching or judging but sharing the experience, strength, and hope that comes to anyone who accepts our way of life. The willingness to try new ideas and possible solutions will help open the door to our recovery. One discovery leads to another, and soon we are established in a new way of life where people, places and things are kept in proper perspective. The old “all or nothing” point of view will no longer seem a useful idea.
I share my experience, strength, and hope in the practice of spiritual principles, not my mastery of them. For me it has become the practical application of humility. Chapter 7, \”recovery and relapse\”, Line 198, pg 126.
We hate to be wrong. It is hard to believe that now in our recovery somehow self-will leads us to make decisions based [on] manipulation, ego, lust or false pride but it happens . . . often. Remember we don\’t recover overnight.. When we realize that we have made a bad decision or bad judgment, we make an attempt to rationalize it. We become extreme in our self-righteous attempts to cover our tracks. We see all the places others go wrong and think that they caused the problem. As we prolong our admission of being wrong, we feel increasingly guilty. Living with guilt makes us more self-willed. We get sicker progressively. Eventually, we are shown that we must get honest or we will use again. By this time, it is hard to know why we feel bad.
It says, ‘it is hard to know why we feel bad’ and if I act upon my defects, I may not need to deal with my feelings at all. My old patterns of thinking return, and I rationalize, and use so I do not have to feel anything. I might never return to active addiction to drugs but dishonesty and self-deception can be their own drugs.
I am fortunate to volunteer on several non-profit boards committed to mental health and addictions support. One healthcare professional shared their concerns about sending clients to Narcotics Anonymous. Their only exposure to NA was the clients that frequented the office. Most clients they see never attend NA meetings. The efforts of the service structures for NA are often dedicated to a small segment of the population that end up in treatment. The professionals involved in addiction services often interact only with NA members who are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of relapse, treatment programs and mandated 12 step meeting attendance. About ten percent of those seeking help from addictions end up in some form of treatment in North America. Despite the small numbers who seek treatment for addictions, it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Many Narcotics Anonymous service structures can find themselves a part of the treatment industry rather than serving the groups or the suffering addicts looking for help. You regularly see treatment centers promoting the ’12 step model’ and the success stories on their websites honor long time recovery of members or staff who are holding up NA key tags. Members involved in treatment centers can send a mixed message by promoting their recovery and NA. the purity of the message of recovery in NA can be blurred. My anonymity can become a commodity as I start to promote and sell my clean time or opinions to others. Events promoted as Narcotics Anonymous routinely advertise so called ‘circuit speakers’ with big personalities and huge amounts of clean time.
Most treatment options available today are of a ‘self-help program’ in nature and the tools they learn is the experience they share at meetings. Groups can easily become exclusive rather than inclusive as members share their similar experiences. Narcotics Anonymous was built upon the autonomy of the groups and NA members would meet regularly to help each other stay clean; NA was a help others program and not a self-help program. Self-obsession was the core of the disease in the NA model of recovery, but that self-obsession has unfortunately become the core of the program in many places as the rooms become full of the experiences of people who found recovery in treatment. The purity of the NA message can easily be lost when I become focused on myself and my selfish desires.
I wonder if the only attraction we can offer in Narcotics Anonymous is the practice of humility. When we share personal achievements, no matter how noble our intentions, it can come across as pride. A convention or similar event might draw members eager to celebrate their recovery but what does the suffering addict sleeping in the street outside think about our gathering? I was not attracted by the success or affluence of others. I was not able to deal with my contempt for the success of others until I was well into my recovery and working the Steps in my life. I believe that humility is key to our success in attracting others. That humility is best expressed in the meetings our groups host or the intimate relationships I have been able to develop with others. It seems to me that any mention of NA for purposes other our primary purpose can potentially violate Tradition Eleven. Addicts need to know who we are and where we meet but seeking donations, promoting events or literature sales may detract from the purpose. (Chapter One, “Who is An Addict”, Line 300, pg, 14).
Due to our Fifth Tradition and Twelfth Step, our primary purpose in life is to stay clean by carrying the message to the addict who still suffers.
In Step Six I learned that I needed to become ready to have my higher power remove my defects of character. I have accepted I might have to live with defects, but I am now able to step past them as obstacles in my life. Step Seven has taught me to acknowledge that I am not perfect, and I will come up short sometimes, but humility opens me to go beyond the limitations of self and be a part of the whole. This knowledge has allowed me to step past some of the diseased service structures that no longer serve our Fellowship, and into a new world of service. By finding and working with others, I have a new world of experiences where I can practice spiritual principles. I attend my home group and share my experiences, the strength I found, and the hope for a new way to live. I can talk about my problems and seek guidance from others. As my home group grows, I find my freedom from self-obsession grows. Being a part of Narcotics Anonymous and the world around me has become attractive and I am eager for each new day. Some people will only every know me by my shortcomings and defects and this might prevent them from seeking help from Narcotics Anonymous. I need to be mindful of my recovery as my world grows. When I work to maintain my anonymity, it helps prevent me from becoming the voice for Narcotics Anonymous but sometimes we are the whole program to a single person. That person could be a suffering addict or someone who influences policies that can affect Narcotics Anonymous ability to grow. In those moments, I am at my best when I am humbled and share my experience, strength, and hope with another.