I started with Narcotics Anonymous in 2002. Members of the Fellowship of NA would say that our primary purpose is to carry a message to the still suffering addict. In the beginning it was easy to connect my addiction to the suffering I felt. Like many people, I thought Narcotics Anonymous was about drug use, but Step One says we were powerless over our addiction, and our lives had become unmanageable. There is nothing about drug use in that statement. There are a lot of phrases in the literature. Many are repeated at meetings, but the repetition reminded me of why I was there. I had stopped using, I was losing the desire to use, and I was trying to learn a new way to live. I did not realize that this pattern would repeat itself over my entire recovery. I was encouraged to work with others because the ‘therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel’. I slowly came to understand how addiction had shaped my life. I listened to the experiences of others and became open to new ways of living. Working the 12 Steps into my life has given me new solutions. It revealed problems to overcome. I started to understand why I am worthy of the unconditional love offered when I first arrived. I was able to let go of the past and move forward with new tools. Applying the 12 Traditions helped me understand how to work with others. I found other areas of my life that benefited from the application of the principles learned in the Steps and Traditions. After attending regularly for almost two decades, I’m still working on understanding what my part is in the unity of purpose.
I like that the message that any addict can stop using, lose the desire to use and learn a new way to live. I see myself more clearly today than ever before, and the disease is still present. The road ahead seems to get steeper as I stick around this program. Literature development started early in the evolution of Narcotics Anonymous. As early as 1966, the Little White Book contained the following statements. These are still used today. Little White Book, ‘What is the Narcotics Anonymous program?’,
NA is a nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. We are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean.
And LWB, ‘Who is an Addict?’,
Our whole life and thinking is [was] centered in drugs in one form or another, the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. We use to live and live to use.
As the years passed and Narcotics Anonymous grew, service structures started to emerge. Some saw the need for a world board to service the growing number of groups and provide literature on a larger scale. The Board of Trustees in the 1980’s suggested many amendments to the literature including the change of ‘is centered’ to ‘was centered’. I believe this change and many other changes says a lot about the problems we face as a Fellowship and our struggles with unity of purpose. Perhaps the greatest danger is knowledge itself.
Literature development faces many challenges. A single word or phrase, taken out of context can alter someone’s ideas and perceptions. Some of the language in the literature has been used to justify the strong opinions of members. Narcotics Anonymous literature includes phrases like ‘completely abstinent’ or ‘fully recovered’. I have opinions about how things work in this program, and even about what other members need to do. Grey Book, Chapter Seven, ‘Recovery and Relapse’
Our knowledge of addiction is not enough to stop us from using.
I have been both surprised and dismayed by how I have returned to using over the years. I like to make people feel less than by using my intelligence. I used the 12 Traditions to enforce my ideas of what I thought was ‘right’ which denied others the experiences they might have needed. I desperately wanted to be a part of and connected but I used Narcotics Anonymous as a social club. It isn’t a surprise that the Fellowship is full of sick people. Our literature warns us about ‘Self Seekers’. I ended up being used. The literature also says that there are some members who ‘remain abstinent but who’s dishonesty and self deception prevent them from fully recovering’. Membership is guaranteed to those who claim a desire to stop, but we are all at different stages in our recovery. I see the disease active in my life today. It would seem to me that using addicts are attracted to other using addicts because it helps justify our behaviors. There is a sick satisfaction in looking at another long time member and acknowledging that someone just repeated a lie we might have used in the past ourselves. The nod and wink speaks to our shared diseased thinking. Using is rampant. I still struggle to spot the behaviors in others and have developed healthier boundaries. I understand why the original Fourth and Ninth Traditions specifically detailed the dangers of service structures being part of NA. Members can become important within a diseased service structure, using power, manipulation and control to feed their addiction. Women have used me to make their partner’s jealous, and men have used me to make their families think they were committed to recovery. I have seen myself use behaviors and justifying them. At any time, I can stop using by getting honest with myself, my Higher Power, My sponsor, my home group and eventually others. I have found myself powerless, time and time again, until I finally surrender. Recovery is then possible. I draw on the strength of newcomers who have started their process of recovery. Newcomers are vital to my recovery today. As the Fellowship grows my freedom from self-obsession increases by learning more about how addiction affects us all. Today, I believe our unity of purpose is best served by showing what I surrendered and not what I have gained. Daily surrender is attractive to others who are new to this way of life. Power, property and prestige can easily become the drugs of members who are not vigilant. When I take responsibility for my recovery, I free others of the burden of my using which creates an atmosphere of recovery where Fellowship growth is then possible.