2. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
I heard when I first attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings that ‘a desire to stop using’ is the only requirement for membership. I had a lot of desires and using drugs was one of them. I was faced with the fact that my relationship with drugs was affecting every aspect of my life in a negative way. I was able to stay clean, but I was not always full of desire to remain that way. I toyed with the idea of feeding my desire to use but still return to the program regularly as a tool to manage my using. During the first year of recovery, I was able to abandon my ideas about controlled using and faced the fact that I was an addict. A commitment to surrender and abstinence became necessary if I was to remain free from drugs.
Blessings found in the Steps and Traditions
The years that followed were both a blessing and a burden. I had a hard time learning about processing my feelings after a history of suppressing them under a layer of drugs and addictive behaviors. NA talks about learning a new way to live from others who share their experience, strength, and hope. I found it very difficult to navigate because our Fellowship was small and each member was unique. This requirement of a desire to stop using dominated my thoughts. I found myself sitting in judgement of others for not seeing their poor behaviors as using. Judging others is a defect that I struggle with today. What I’m using was not always clear to me and sitting in judgement of others was and continues to be easier than looking at my own inventory. Life did improve as I attended NA and stayed clean. Success and material gain can be as addictive as any drug and being clean did improve my life but with a price. I struggled with contempt for myself and others as my life and the lives of those around me improved. My desire to help can also manifest as manipulation and control and seemed to be tied to what I believed success looked like. This is another form of using and not something I spot right away. These were painful lessons and sometimes I still fall back into old behaviors. I tried very hard to focus on my own life, my application of spiritual principles and the idea that I was practicing not mastering. I needed to forgive myself and build better boundaries. Reflection and a personal inventory have opened doors to the person I am. Prayer and meditation have opened doors to who I am supposed to be. As much as the Twelve Steps have taught me a new way to live, the Twelve Traditions have taught me how to have relationships with others.
Relationships with others is a critical aspect of recovery because addiction has often been called the disease of isolation. What has worked well for me in Narcotics Anonymous is the opportunities to connect and be a part of. My desire to use can cloud my judgements and affect my vision of reality. What I believe today is that the wider the base of support then the higher the point of freedom from self. Self-obsession is the core of the disease. This is a strong motivator to be inclusive and connect with others. I try very hard to put spiritual principles ahead of my personality and that seems to require a desire to stop using.
The Fellowships of Narcotics Anonymous
I have so desperately wanted to use the NA Fellowship as a social club and have always struggled to fit in. The literature says ’we meet regularly to help each other” but I see now that some only meet regularly to help themselves. Perhaps they have lost the desire to stop using. I have been guilty of this as well and self-obsession is never far from my thoughts. A sense of entitlement is a powerful drug to consume. Sometimes I have behaved in a way that I have sacrificed spiritual principles for personal gain of money, property, and prestige. I want to use my clean time as a way of gaining power over others. My perceptions of principles can be very different from another member. My assets and defects are all aspects of myself that I value and make me feel unique.
I believe that Narcotics Anonymous has never been a self-help program but a help others program. That would seem to be the source of the ‘we’ often used in the Steps and Traditions. Step Twelve says that ‘having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we practice these principles in all our affairs and carry a message to the still suffering addict’. The Twelve Steps are only half of the program of recovery in NA. The Twelve Traditions are an equally critical part and I have never found a way that they can be worked in isolation. I surrender myself to the program starting with Tradition one, putting the needs of the group ahead of my own desires. My actions, or the actions of my Group might seem to conflict with other groups or NA, as a whole but we know that no conflict can exist; (Grey Book, Tradition 2, page 111)
TRADITION TWO – For our Group purpose there is but one ultimate authority a loving God as He may express Himself in our Group conscience, our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.
There is one truth which helps guide us. True spiritual principles are never in conflict; they always complement each other. The true spiritual conscience of a group will never contradict any of our other spiritual principles. Whenever we are faced with a group decision, we first try to eliminate personalities, prejudices, and self-centeredness. Then we review our decisions to make sure they are not in violation of any of our Twelve Traditions. If we take another look at our decision and try to resolve it. This approach isn’t foolproof, but it has helped to prevent problems many times.
The Traditions protect my group from my desires and the worst of my defects. Autonomy protects groups from each other, and no group has power over another. The literature states; (All Basic Text Versions, “The Twelve Traditions”, Chapter 6)
It usually isn’t until we get involved with service that someone points out that “personal recovery depends on NA unity,” and that unity depends on how well we follow our Traditions. The Twelve Traditions of NA are not negotiable. They are the guidelines that keep our Fellowship alive and free.
A split emerges
When Narcotics Anonymous started to rapidly grow in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, the prevailing idea was that addicts were incurable but the NA Groups that formed started to make a difference. Many members met and the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous was created to aid others journey in finding recovery. They documented the idea that NA Groups were autonomous, and the service structures created were not NA. This simple ideal made sense because trusted servants and service bodies are accountable to the groups that created them and not capable of forming a Group Conscience defined by Tradition Two. Unfortunately, the Fellowship was well established at this point and the emerging service structures were full of strong opinions and ideas about what would and what would not work. The Basic Text was altered, and fundamental ideas were abandoned by a few members. Bob Stone, hired as the Executive Director of the World Service Office remarked in his book that he was surprised by the pettiness of the Board of Trustees. I’m not surprised as I have seen my own behaviors and recognize the disease in action in my own life. My desires can consume me even in long term recovery. Our Basic Text makes reference to ‘Self Seekers’ and ‘members with substantial clean time who’s dishonesty and self-deception prevent them from fully recovering’. Our service structures can attract the best and worst of what we have to offer. Anonymity can only be maintained at the group level and ineffective service structures will lose support of the groups if they are not served. Service structures require organization and identity in order to function. They require clean time and funds to function. The disease can live actively in pockets of spiritual infection and when the loss of group support happens, service structures will seek funds to fuel the disease from literature sales and conventions. Nothing seems to stop an addict who has lost the desire to stop using.
The Blessings from a Pandemic.
When the pandemic of 2019 hit the globe, the response of many addicts was to reach out and support members and attract newcomers by focusing on a new virtual platform. Many service structures had resisted the idea of virtual groups for decades, but some members had resisted the manipulation and control. The foundation of our survival as a fellowship was forged in those early efforts prior to the pandemic. As a result, the Fellowship that exists today is stronger and better informed. We do recover and thrive.
“My Years with Narcotics Anonymous” by Bob Stone Originally published and copyrighted in 1997 by Hulon Pendleton Publishing L.L.C. 0-9654591-0-1