“N.A., as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”
By the 1970’s, Narcotics Anonymous had come of age and established itself as a proven program of recovery for those who suffered from the disease of addiction. Hundreds of addicts worked thousands of hours to complete a book that would be titled ‘The Basic Text’ and was published in the early 1980’s. Those members distilled the best of what the Fellowship had to offer. The book was wildly successful and likely helped fuel the growth from one thousand meetings in 1980 to ten thousand meetings by 1990. They text they produced included language that made clear two important ideas that members wanted to convey.
- Tradition 4, Groups are autonomous and service structures are not.
- Tradition 9, Service structures will never direct Groups, and are outside the Fellowship.
Some balked at this language and felt that the Fellowship would be in jeopardy if the ideas were included. Was Narcotics Anonymous simply a Fellowship of addicts joined together in groups exclusively or could they have a more structured entity?
A New Era
A small group of members fought for and succeeded in establishing service structures that were ‘of Narcotics Anonymous’ rather than ‘for Narcotics Anonymous’. This created a class system within the fellowship. It was now possible to be of service in Narcotics Anonymous outside of the Group level. A new era merged. Groups could join Areas, and Areas formed Regional Service Bodies, and Regionals met at World Service Conferences where the actions of the World Service Body would be directed. Everyone would work together to the common good of Narcotics Anonymous.
We Help Each Other Stay Clean
The idea that we ‘meet regularly to help each other stay clean’ instilled that service was critical to the success of those who sought help from NA. Narcotics Anonymous was not a self-help program but a Help Others program. I found that just showing up regularly was being of service to the fellowship. People genuinely cared and were happy to see me. People asked me to keep coming back, so coming back seemed to be of service to them, even if I lacked motivation to stick with it some days. It felt good to take on other responsibilities to a group and I believed that I was a part of NA.
Some members were only capable of service at the group level. The idea that we ought not be organized helped members remain a ‘part of’ as everyone worked together to the best of their abilities. Each of us came together with our unique gifts and humbling gaffes. We worked in unity and equality with no member being less than another. Our primary purpose as a group was to carry a message to the still suffering addict and help our home group members remain abstinent. Groups had the creative freedom to organize and complete anything that they believed fulfilled the primary purpose of the group if members believed they were acting within the principles defined by the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Vibrant, healthy, and growing groups seemed to be the result of this atmosphere of recovery that could be created by members. There is a great strength in diversity. In the Basic Text is an explanation of ‘our symbol’ and it states that the wider the base, the higher the point of freedom. This has always meant to me that the greatest freedom I require is from self-obsession which is best achieved by being part of a diverse group. The more diverse, the greater my freedom. Members of the group often repeated that self-obsession is the core of the disease. My success was tied to the bonds created within my home group.
Warnings within the Basic Text.
The Basic Text also included some warnings based on the experiences of early members. The writers talked about members who are self-seekers and consumed with their own desires. They also shared that some members remained abstinent, but dishonesty and self-deception prevented them from fully recovering. Diversity is not uniformity. These members can be a part of and prove to be good to the health of the members of the group. I need to learn healthy boundaries in my relationships with other home group members so I can function outside Narcotics Anonymous. I have slowly come to see my own struggles with both honesty and self-deception. Healthy boundaries were difficult to form for me as well. This last year during the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on my life as my home group is healthy and strong. I have never felt this level of freedom.
What Exists Today
Unfortunately, my experiences have now taught me that that a different set of skills is needed outside the group level in service to NA. People who are incapable of functioning outside of NA in society have found a home in the service structures since the Basic Text was modified. The worst examples of who we can be are evident in some of service efforts. In an ideal world, healthy members would emerge as leaders and trusted servants to fill our service positions. Unfortunately, in some cases, members operate with impunity and tyranny neither serving the groups or any higher power, protected by the class system that has been created. It is expected now that members and groups will abdicate their personal responsibilities to ‘NA as a whole’. There is a passionate cry from those in service that what you or your group is doing will ‘hurt unity’. The reality is that ‘NA as a hole’ has become a bottomless pit of demands for more money, control, and power over the Fellowship. There are many examples of members who have become entrenched in service, defending the disease of addiction that festers within their souls. Finding members to serve is difficult, the groups reluctantly show up if at all and that benefits the diseased who are never held accountable. Apathy and complacency become the norm. Our members die, never knowing that recovery is possible.
Practicing Principles in All Our Affairs
The easiest way to see this for yourself is to leave and join healthy service efforts outside of Narcotics Anonymous. The routinely weird and abusive behaviors seen are simply not tolerated in the outside world for organizations to remain healthy. Genuine and healthy people are in abundance. People meet regularly, everyone has a voice, phone calls are returned, emails are answered, and an abundance of volunteers are available. When you find an organization that is unhealthy, you leave and join other efforts. You are not chained to the toxicity that prevails in some service structures for NA. We truly are free to come and go as we please. The spiritual principles learned in the 12 steps and 12 traditions guide me; both in NA and outside as well. Our literature says that we practice these principles in all our affairs, so I would suggest being careful of the affairs you attend to. There is far more to be gained by practicing principles with healthy people than those who have not fully recovered from the disease of addiction evident in service for NA.
There are great opportunities to be of service to Narcotics Anonymous. If you find yourself in healthy service to Narcotics Anonymous, you are doubly blessed, and the blessing are reflected not just in your life but the lives of those around you. Prior to the pandemic, one third of the regions in the world were self-supporting and accounted for two thirds of the groups. This visible minority are beacons to what can be achieved if we can find unity. The virtual Fellowship has allowed us to talk to members and visit various groups on a scale that has never existed before. Like a flower unfolding its petals for the first time, the next few years will likely prove to be exciting times for those who truly believe recovery is possible in Narcotics Anonymous.