Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

Why It Works: 12 Traditions

The Twelve Traditions of Narcotics 

"We keep what we have only with vigilance and just as freedom for the individual comes from the Twelve Steps so freedom for the groups springs from our Traditions. As long as the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that would tear us apart, all will be well."

Traditions and the word violation don't belong in the same sentence. A special love powers this Fellowship. When we feel hatred or tension, a quick look at the Traditions can sometimes identify the cause. Imposing one's will on another in the grip of a powerful emotion is likely to be faulty in some important regards. Screaming at a newcomer not familiar with our ways of doing things and our sometimes special word definitions may feel powerful, but we lose our atmosphere of recover along with our control. Best to pray. Spiritual strength is usually accompanied by a sense of calm. More than most people, we need to remind ourselves that God is the real worker of miracles here. At best, we are but instruments of our Higher Power. Seeing the Fellowship as the extension of some officialdom is a threat to our freedom. What we 'recover' is our potential to be a loving and caring human being. We put recovery and our spiritual needs first. We can tell if something is right or not by looking into our heart. Narcotics Anonymous is the spiritual moment that an addict discovers within themselves the strength to stay clean one more day. When we share this with even one other addict, we activate the spirit of Narcotics Anonymous. This moment is what we share together in recovery and it is the heart of our program.

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on NA unity.

2. 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.

3. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.

4. Each Group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting other Groups, or NA, as a whole.

5. Each Group has but one primary purpose - to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.

6. An NA Group ought never endorse, finance or lend the NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

7. Every NA Group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

8. Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our Service Centers may employ special workers.

9. NA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

10. NA has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

11. 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.

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.


Recovery is an adaptation we make to the reality of our addiction. Recovery has to be learned and doesn't come easily. To protect the groups, whose primary purpose is to carry our message, we have evolved certain customs and ways of doing things that satisfy both our individual need to deal with life on life's terms while carrying a spiritual message. To succeed as a Fellowship we seek to avoid the entanglements that plague countless organizations and structured programs. We keep it simple not because it is easy but because thatís what works best for the most people. The atmosphere of recovery is too important to leave to chance. Newer members have to learn how we invoke and maintain the caring yet sensible mood that prevails where the NA spirit is strong and attractive. Too often, where we have grown too fast, we have lost this special quality and our meetings and our message suffered. We learn again and again to put our recovery first, as members and as groups.

Traditions characterize a spiritually fit group of recovering addicts who find recovery in Narcotics Anonymous. When Traditions are violated, we have learned that fear has in some way gained a foothold. These fears justify wrongdoings. The only other possibility is simple ignorance. Violating traditions hurts the people involved. The fear makes it seem reasonable and proper for those doing the hurting to feel justified despite the evidence of their eyes and ears. This may be the essence of our insanity, an inability to believe our own witness. If other members are hurting or behaving badly, they need extra love. If we are the ones who care, we are the ones who must pray for the extra grace and opportunity to help them in their difficulty. Newcomers are watchful and they can catch flaws in old timers as quick as some of our NA scholars can spot a Tradition violation. "If it ain't practical, it ain't spiritual" is an old NA saying that shows how we deal with a good idea if it doesn't appear to be working. To retain a place in the NA program, everything spoken or written must prove its usefulness in the actual practice of recovery. If love and caring are in evidence on the surface, it may indicate love and caring below the surface. If hatred and anger are on the surface, we may need to pray or meditate. If we can't do this, itís a good sign that our spiritual condition is broken and must be regained before we can go on to anything else.

We do this by going to our sponsor and home group and admitting our need for help. We try to recall what we did as newcomers to get back in touch with the basics that worked for us before we knew what living clean was all about. As we recover from our obstinate opinions, we regain flexibility and spiritual balance. Solutions begin to appear and again we realize that we are once again safe in recovery. We need to instruct each other in the Traditions. Sometimes we tell the newcomers to only focus on the Steps. However, for someone who is suspicious of the program and uneducated in being a part of a functional group, learning about the Traditions also provides relief. Our Traditions give us information about our structure and explain the guidelines to principled behavior. We are careful to avoid using our knowledge of the Traditions as rules for others. We lead by example rather than authority. The usefulness of the Traditions is in learning to guide ourselves and make the right decision for the right reason. We can share our feelings and experiences with others without seeking to dominate or control. Because recovery is an inside job, the principles of the Traditions deal with the outside issues. They help us find ways to be useful as instruments of a loving God and avoid conflicts with others among ourselves.

Anonymity helps us look at the reality of a thing instead of the labels. So much in life comes to us promising one thing and delivering another. Authentic and real, life presents itself to us as it is. The trick is in being of sound mind and being able to believe the evidence of our senses. Since we are anonymous, we go by self-evident truth rather and authoritative truth. It is what happens and not just who did it. Traditions describe a reality. Awareness of this reality allows a group to relate to other groups effectively and maintain good relations within the group. When we say, "It's good enough" too often, we'll come up short in our Traditions. While Tradition violations may be hard to see at the time, the results are visible when a group becomes dispirited. When a group loses its spirit, no one feels like doing anything to help the group. Words are not kept. If you miss a meeting, you feel like, "So what..."

Due to the nature of our illness, we need special rules to underlie our meetings and services. These rules are implicit in our Traditions and enable the principles of our Steps to be applied more consistently. The first rule of recovery is to not allow ourselves to be divided by apparent differences against our many real similarities. We identify these similarities and let go of comparisons that would emphasize our differences. The second is to share what we feel from our higher power when considering or discussing what we do in NA. The third is to include the members of NA by open information and direct participation in any process having to do with NA. Personal commitment in these areas alone will eliminate many of the problems that seem insolvable once they get started. People feel left out, fear is generated, facts get distorted and soon we are at war with our brothers and sisters. We learn to treasure certain values. Among these values are:

1. Trust bonding addict to addict.

2. Loyalty: Acts of contribution and protection.

3. Submission to the Spiritual Life

4. Courage to Change

5. Caring and Sharing

6. Spiritual Humility

7. Courage to Try

8. Sincerity: Honest Intentions

9. Integrity: Honest Actions

10. Perseverance and Good Faith

11. Conscious Contact with our Higher Power

12. Living Clean

Vigilance is paying attention to what is going around you and accepting responsibility for your part in everything. This does not mean that, for example, if someone talks too long in a meeting, then you interrupt them immediately. Show a little compassion. Our rooms are full of people who used to talk too long. We may learn to pause and consider why it's such a big deal. Ask yourself questions, like: "Why do I care? What is he doing that annoys me, and what do I do that is like that? Do I feel I am a failure if someone in my proximity doesn't do well or as much as I expect of him or her? Do their shortcomings really reflect on the me or the group?" It is our experience that we have trouble accepting in others the aspects of our character that we are unwilling to accept or change for ourselves. Further, when we accept or change those aspects of our character, we will likely become detached or uninterested in those who display those aspects _ unless they want help or are sharing their experience with us (this is when fellowship outside the rooms comes in handy).

A member shares, "For example, my issue with gossip is not that it violates the last tradition; it is that I can't stand it when people try to con me or get the facts wrong. I hate it when people con me because I was such a con - and I was so good at it. When people don't do it well, I want to challenge them to one more round of 'The Game' so I can show them that I will win. Fact is, I lost the last few rounds...

"I also get very annoyed when people call me up to bitch at me for something I didn't do - and won't accept that someone lied to them about what happened or didn't have all the facts so that they jumped to the wrong conclusion. In my recovery, people stopped gossiping around me when I stopped judging other people and when I stopped talking with anyone but the person I was trying to learn about. I know that people still gossip about me, but it doesn't bother me. All of my friends know they can tell me about myself to my face or can disagree with me - because they have.

"I have learned along the way to say, 'I was wrong' and 'I don't know' and 'you'll have to ask him.' Anyone who is not involved in my life and anyone who bases what they think about me on the past is dealing with the disease - theirs and mine. I have changed. If they judge me without the facts or stay away because they are afraid to talk to me, they are limiting themselves - not me. I will continue to recover, grow and change in the atmosphere of love and acceptance that my home group gives me because of who I am, not in spite of who I am. Yet, the first step is that I have to accept who I am. I have to admit it, accept it, ask for help if I want to change it, and move on through life.

"A key thing here is that not all the things that people say and not all the things I have trouble accepting are 'defects,' 'shortcomings,' or 'bad.' I have had more trouble accepting that I am lovable than any other aspect of my existence. Similarly, I had a lot of trouble accepting that I have a good sense of humor; I am sweet. I still don't know what that means, but I've accepted it. I am attractive, and that I am an aggressive, powerful, intelligent, well-educated, well-bred woman.

"Most of those things have been pretty obvious to everyone I've ever known in my life, but, by the time I got clean, I was ready to club anyone who dared mention any of it. I was angry, serious (check Webster for the definition of 'sober'), scowling, dressed in drab clothes that would hide an evidence of gender, self-effacing and actively doing anything else that would convince any sane person to avoid trying to deal with me. The contradiction was obvious and off-putting.

"Fortunately, I found NA, where they recognized me as one of their own, and I found a way to change. For me, it wasn't enough to quit using. If I was going to be the same person, I would have kept using. It was the loneliness and the depression that drove me to change and recover, not the need to be acceptable to the courts or to my family. A major portion of my recovery has been based on being stubborn (read 'vigilant'). I kept coming back and kept working on myself. When people pissed me off or I couldn't deal with something in my life, I'd search the Basic Text for clues to the path of change. When people did things to hurt me (it wasn't all self-inflicted pain), I re-examined my role.

"For example, I learned to pay attention to what attracted me to men and realized that the key aspect of character that I found (past tense) attractive (read sexy) was street smarts: power, violence, and manipulation. If he could make me believe anything, then I would get involved because I thought 'you're special,' when directed to me, would always be a lie. Eventually, as I learned what about me was special, I became less interested in men who lie well and became more interested in men who share the interests and qualities I enjoy. Another aspect of vigilance has to do with the typical addict's difficulty with accepting the positive or productive. Normally, 'we keep what we have only with vigilance' is interpreted to mean that we must be cautious and wary, policing meetings, and service committees, and slapping the hands of those who stray outside the guidelines. A more positive interpretation is to find the meeting that is warm, loving, and where people are changing - and support their group.

"In my recovery, I have joined groups with the intent of 'saving' or fixing' by making sure the traditions are followed, getting only 'good' speakers, and drafting friends to attend by constantly reminding them of the meeting's lack of support. Those meetings didn't change much and neither did I. I found my Home Group when I'd missed the meeting, and two other addicts asked where I had been. They said they missed me. I decided to change my Home Group. When I told my old group, they complained because they had just spent money on my anniversary cake. Guilt, shame, blame, judging, manipulation, and moralizing didn't get us much when we were on the streets - it won't get us much in the rooms either.

"My 'new' Home Group consisted of me and one other addict who joined at about the same time. The people who had missed me relapsed and disappeared for a while. The two of us held every position, everything got done, and we didn't announce anything about lack of support during other meetings. We did invite sponsees to join our meeting. We did welcome newcomers and made sure they had phone numbers. We did make plenty of coffee and spent a lot of time outside the meeting sharing our recovery with each other and anyone else who wanted to join in. Anyone who bitched about how it 'should' be done was invited to accept responsibility for service in that vein, and we patiently (read quietly and gently) supported them as they learned or when they disappeared for a while. We did love and accept each other.

"Vigilance is as much about attraction, loving and caring, as it is about strength and persistence. Our Home Group one year later had about 15 members, with at least 8 present for any given group conscience. In my personal recovery, when I see someone who has something I want, the first things I do are introduce myself and tell them what I see. If they seem open to sharing what they have, then I ask for their phone number and when we might be able to spend some time. They may be defensive, if they haven't yet accepted their positive qualities.

"I ask direct questions and about specific things, like: How do you keep from acting out when you're so horny that you can't see straight? (Donít be around members of the opposite sex, be honest and share about it, accept that it's ok, get lots of hugs from everybody, look for other things that might be triggering me to act out with a 'fix'). I don't expect them to read my mind, explain to them everything I know and have done about the issue because if they have what I want, they'll know, and I'll bore them to tears. I don't argue with them. I don't get angry with them for being happy, joyous and free - or in a healthy relationship, or working a great job, or whatever.

"Another way to be vigilant is to read everything about NA that you can get your hands on - and read it again. I still often see things in the Basic Text that I didn't see before. And I may find some answers in a service manual or another addict's sharing in writing that I wasn't even aware I needed. In regard to personal issues, I check with my sponsor, read, and share at meetings. If that doesn't bring me peace, I write about it. THEN I start calling everyone and babbling. (Of course, I learned this from trying to do it in opposite order for a few years.)

"In service, I searched for answers to current service issues by studying the Traditions. Next, I ask for help from others who have gone before me, and try out what I've learned. Thing is, by then, I'm usually enthusiastic enough to have a lot of energy to the work, and I've attracted a few other addicts who want to help. I've learned that 'should' and 'could' mean it's not time or it's not necessary. 'It should be this way' or 'they could have' is blaming and judging. This is not vigilance rather it is blaming and judging. People do what they can and learn lessons by scraping their knees and elbows. They have to suffer if they want to suffer - trying to get in the middle of it means I'll probably suffer too. Yet, vigilance (and loving) means I will be watching, on the ready, and taking the first opportunity to help when they are ready to accept help."

We know that addicts will test our love and spiritual strength. We also know that many addicts who havenít reached the same level of desire will exercise their pain within our ranks. It is up to the members with the desire for recovery and the ability to admit the need for help to provide the strength and love required in order for the recovery process to work. It is easy to underestimate the experience and courage we have developed as a Fellowship. Many people think spiritual principles are just words on a page, meant to sound good without practical value or useful application. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth we share has withstood all the assaults the disease of addiction could throw at us. We learn three things:

1. Our learning is based on real experience, not great ideas that sound wonderful but don't seem to work well in real life.

2. Our Traditions are only useful when applied with a loving and caring attitude.

3. Loving, caring members use the 12 Traditions to help themselves understand what is loving and best for all concerned and behave accordingly.

While we come from all backgrounds, we have in common our pain, despair and hopelessness. What holds us together is our common desire for recovery. Narcotics Anonymous is the applied love, experience and hope of a Fellowship that has been succeeding against all odds while the disease of addiction rages and tears apart any who fall into fear, disbelief or manipulation. Our honesty is no luxury - it is a necessity. Those who abandon the Traditions, abandon themselves from the help that gives them a new life on a daily basis. Reality enforces the Traditions in terms of the way things are. Many come to get clean in NA. We have found a place for every addict with a sincere desire for recovery. Sometimes very damaged and disadvantaged addicts are able to achieve ongoing recovery while others better educated and smarter in ways are unable to make their surrender. There is no way for the program to work for us unless we want it to work. The openness of our hearts to change is controlled by our desire and others respond to our need on an instinctual level. They help provide whatever they can to help someone who is honest about their need, willing to try what works for others and is open-minded enough to listen to our message. We need all the help we can get. Usually our need for help is to deal with life as things begin to get better for us. We have become so good at dealing with disaster, we have to learn and relearn to accept and enjoy life when things get better. Many of us continue to create trouble in our lives long after the drugs are removed. These are the reasons we cannot drift of into a dream of normalcy and have to arrange to offset our fear and disbelief everyday.

Our emphasis on giving, service, and helping others allows us to move into new roles we may not be used to playing. It makes us open to change by giving us first hand experience of help roles and that makes it easier for us to accept help from others. When we give a lot, we are more open to receive. It is easier to believe there are no 'strings' attached to the help we receive in recovery when we realize we are giving selflessly. Our meetings are learning centers where we model what we have learned and practice being our real selves in the company of others who have our disease and will help us reach the goals we set for ourselves. To a great extent, our Traditions control the social and spiritual rules that govern group behavior in NA and make our special way of life possible. It is not that we are against individualism; we have learned that our individual breakthroughs need to be constantly shared and processed by our friends in recovery to maintain the spiritual support we need as we grow. Getting out of touch with reality cuts our lifeline. If we can pray and meditate, we can seek to be used as instruments and await the strength and guidance that always comes when we pray for it.


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Reprinted from the 
Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life, 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace,
The Spirit of NA 
or NA Twenty Plus

being edited on this site.

Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.

NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA


All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.