Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

Bitter Ends - New Beginnings

No work on how to live the NA way of life would be complete without something about how many of us reach the end of our journey in active addiction. In our history, we discover that the need for a fellowship of people, who could relate to each other in terms of addiction, first became known when addicts in jail were exposed to Alcoholics Anonymous. Being unable to understand or relate to the problems of these individuals in terms of addiction, the members of that Fellowship saw the need and encouraged other addicts to attend these meetings. Thus, NA first took root inside the walls of a prison hospital in Lexington Kentucky. Today, an estimated two-thirds of the prison population in America are serving time for drug related crimes. There is a large number of addicts in this population - some of whom will seek recovery if it is available.


"I lived under the 'System' for over twenty-five years of my life. From the time I was eighteen until the age of forty-three I was either in jail, prison, on parole or probation. Much of the time I was 'on the run. I never thought there would be any hope for a normal life.

"The first time I went to prison I was only eighteen. While I was there, I went to school to become a barber. That was a good career move for a 'convict.' It gave me a way to make spending money that I needed and it kept me from having to do any 'real work' like mowing grass or working in the fields. It also gave me the chance to get to know all the ‘key players’ inside the prison.

"Each time I went to prison after that the prison officials would see that I held a barber’s license and would put me to work in the prison Barbershop. This happened many times and I always took it for granted.

"The last time I was sent to prison something kind of different happened. All inmates going into the prison system in my state must go through a period of diagnostics and classification. This can take a period of eight to twelve weeks. While you are at the central intake facility, you are kept in lock down in an eight by ten cell for twenty-three hours a day.

"In order to get out of lock down, I 'volunteered' to be placed on a work detail. Once the prison officials looked at my record and saw that I was a master barber, they came up with a job for me. The Diagnostic Center is the state’s highest security prison. It is also where Death Row is located. My job was to be the barber for inmates on Death Row.

"Wanting to 'escape' lock down twenty-three hours a day, I agreed to take the job. I was one of only a handful of people who were ever allowed to come in physical contact with those inmates. Guards in G-House (death row) are rotated every six months to keep them from becoming personally involved with any of the inmates. Guards have a minimum amount of physical contact with them. This is simply for security reasons.

"Each day I would go through the procedures of clearing a maze of five different steel doors, barred gates, and metal detectors on my way to 'work.' Once inside I was locked in a very small 'shop' where the men would be brought out one at a time and locked inside the shop with me until I was finished giving them a haircut. There was not a guard in the room. I was left alone with them for as long as it took.

"This gave me a very unique opportunity. These guys were hungry for any kind of contact with anyone outside the cell-house and many just wanted to talk. Some had been there waiting to die in the state’s electric chair for over twenty years. Some were famous outlaws, others I had never heard of. Some would die there, others would have their sentences reduced to life in prison through the process of appeals. Either way they all knew that life as they had once known it was over.

"I remained there for five months. Each day I would go to work. Besides giving haircuts like any good barber, my job was to listen to my 'customers.' As I listened, one common theme seemed to come up repeatedly. Almost without exception, they told me about how they got loaded before they committed the crimes that ended them up in this place. Many of the stories started out exactly like so many of my own experiences of getting high, or just living the lifestyle. I heard stories of jealous rages, of anger and resentment, of greed and lust not so unlike those I hear in meetings and in 5th Steps. The only difference came when these people took acting out on these feelings to the next level. Most say they would have never been able to have gone to that level without being loaded. Not all, but most.

"This experience was a real wake-up call for me. I would like to think that I am not the kind of person who could ever do the things that would ever land me in a place like that, waiting to die for an act I had committed against another person. Yet, as I listened to these men, most of them never expected it to ever happen to them either. But for the Grace of God . . . I honestly think that this experience was a wake-up call from God for me.

"I had been in N.A. seven years before and had managed to stay clean for five years that time. Maybe it was time for me to think about getting clean again. I did two years in prison that time without using. On my first day ‘free,’ I got loaded. I stayed loaded for a couple of months. I knew that if I kept going that I would end back up in prison. I went to stay with an uncle and aunt who had stopped using four months before when their son had died from a snake bite. He raised rattlesnakes for the venom and was loaded one day while handling one. It bit him and he died at the hospital.

"My uncle was going to help me detox and help me get on my feet again. The first night I got real sick so he sent his wife to get me something. Before that night was over we were all loaded and the next day my uncle died from a stroke. I blamed myself for his death and went into an ever deeper depression. I rented a motel room and tried to kill myself with drugs for about two weeks. I would use until I passed out, wake up and do it again. I did not eat. I just felt hopeless.

"A friend showed up one day who knew I had once been in N.A. She asked me if I thought that it might help to go back. I did not think so but I knew it was just a matter of time until my parole officer found me and sent me back to prison. I knew one thing for sure, I did not want to have to detox in the county jail. So, I agreed to let my friend take me to a detox center. There, after a week or so, my counselor tried to contact my parole officer. We were told that he was going to be out of town for a few weeks. I knew that if I was released I would most likely just end up loaded again so I asked to be placed into the twenty-one day program. This was when I attended my first N.A. meeting after about eight years. It felt strange at first but soon I had the answers I needed. I knew that this was where my Higher Power had been leading me.

"That was almost four years ago (in 2001). Since that time, God has continued to put me in the places and around the people I need in my life in order to grow spiritually. A couple of weeks ago almost eight years of pending sentences against me were dropped. Today for the first time in my entire adult life, I am a ‘free’ man in every sense of the word. I have had to face many fears and make untold changes in my life since I came back to N.A. As a result, today I can give back to others the freedom I have found. I have a new life and just for today, I never have to be imprisoned by active addiction again. Thank you all!"

Within the confines of these facilities we soon discovered we were at last united with those like ourselves. This is not to say that all addicts end up in jails or institutions, or that all people in jails and institutions are addicts. However, a common theme among many of us once we reach the meetings of NA, is that many of us have experienced in some capacity, the powerlessness of society intervening into our lives and into our addiction. Many of us found that once we were "in the system" there were many others who were much like ourselves. They too felt alone and rejected. They too sought relief through self-medication to the point of obsession. They too had done many of the same things to survive that we had done.

In many cases these facilities became our classrooms. We learned how others had experienced the same situations we often had to confront and obtained the knowledge of how they survived. We seldom questioned the fact that the methods described to us by our new peers and mentors were most often the same methods that had put them there alongside us. They, like us, were under a system that we neither understood nor respected. We simply felt that for once in our lives, there were those who understood our plight and were able to offer explanations, if not answers. At last we belonged. In some cases we even felt justified in all our fear and deception. We had learned a new way to live and dishonesty had no place in it.

Throughout our literature we read of how many of us ended up in jail or sought help through medicine, religion and psychiatry. Our Basic Text tells us how our ends are always the same: jails, institutions and death. In this chapter we will look at how so many of us, while on this hopeless journey, found hope within the principles, meetings and the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous.

Many of us may be living through the wreckage of our past when we first come to N.A. Some may be incarcerated, or under some type of court ordered supervision such as probation or parole. Others may be in hospitals or treatment centers of some type. For others the death of a friend or loved_one who never found help might be the motivation to find a better way to live.

"When he had enough," a clean addict recalls, "I never went to jail while I was using. The only institution that I had been exposed to was when I once picked my brother up from one. You might say I was lucky enough to have had a friend who died from using. I remember at his wake, his sister explaining that his using was what killed him. I saw that I was going down the same path as my friend but at the time, I just did not seem to care.

"Today, it is a great feeling to be alive. My friend died so I didn't have to. I'm grateful for not going to jail. When I got clean, it was for me. I know that before I got clean, I was ready for death. I just did not know what to do. I still have to be reminded that jails, institutions and death are still out there - if I ever care to go back."

For many of us incarceration, or having our lives monitored or controlled by some agency, became our normal way of life. Jail has played a major role in the lives of many of our members. In one way or another, our relationship with the ‘system’ has always been one of reality. We soon learn that the NA way of life can give us back our freedom. Freedom not only from drugs but also from the power held over us by our disease. We learn that courts and government agencies are only a reflection of the powerlessness and unmanageability of our lives due to this disease. Many times these agencies may have even saved our lives by 'slowing us down' until we could find a new way to live inside the rooms of N.A.

Consider the following, "By the grace of God, I am not there. Three DUI’s over a one-month period did not wake me up. So, ten years later, with 20 felonies pending and headed for prison I decided to get clean. I had been trying to get clean but did not know how. I tried religion and psychiatry. I tried changing boyfriends and willpower but nothing worked.

"Then I found NA. I was at a very low point in my life. I surrendered. What I thought I would do was go to a mental institution for the rest of my life to avoid prison. I could not function in society. I could not hold a job. I could not take care of myself. I was on a real self-destructive road to nowhere.

"The place where I was had no NA so I switched psychiatrists to one that was 30 miles away. He sent me to treatment with a bunch of AA'ers a hundred miles away. They sent me to Atlanta to a halfway house (for long-term treatment). I had to convince the judge that addiction was a disease and sell him the recovery thing. I begged for probation and was on probation for the first five years of my recovery.

"I took the message into a lot of hospitals and jails (H&I work). It helped me with gratitude because 'but for the grace of God,' I would be there. Then I worked starting a treatment program inside a county jail.

"When I got clean, I was almost dead. I weighed 82 pounds and was suicidal toward the end of my addiction. I have been through hell. Death would have been a welcome relief. Recovery has given me a new life. Today, I have something to give. I found a new understanding of God and a new purpose in life. I have found meaning in spiritual principles. I feel whole on the inside. I am happy today. Just for today, I live in recovery - I am free."

We have written this chapter in order to share our experience, strength, and hope with others who find themselves living out the consequences of their active addiction while trying to practice the spiritual principles of N.A. As we learn to live these principles, we strive to become acceptable, responsible and productive members of the N.A. Society. In time, we can learn to seek the direction of a Higher Power through working the 12 Steps of N.A. As a result, in many of our lives, it becomes unnecessary for society to place or keep these restrictions on us. For many of us N.A. gave us our first true glimpse of freedom.

Another member adds, "The worst jail I have ever been in is the one I create in my own mind. During the readings at the workshop today, I dozed off. I do not necessarily recall l all of the early memories of my recovery, but I actually seemed to experience the feelings of that time. The sweet feelings that I felt after four or five months of detoxing, jonesing, and panic attacks. When I had just started to experience something very new and different - a passion for life.

"I laughed again for the first time in years. I felt love and gratitude. I was thankful for those in the Fellowship who gave to me, and they gave plenty. I felt truly happy for the first time in my life.

"Often in recovery, I lock myself back in my ' jail.' What’s so screwed up is that today I know better. The disease is cunning. I try often to force my will onto life's problems and situations. I often obsess on what is lacking in my life. I worry over how I need more and what I can do to obtain more. Soon, I find that I have imprisoned myself in worry and fear. Eventually this can lead to total a regression into my old thinking and behavior, unless I can find a way to surrender my self-centeredness.

"To live and enjoy life on life's terms is what NA teaches me. My disease wants me dead, but it will settle for my self-imposed incarceration. From there, I can still see the green fields of recovery but only through a barred hole. I laugh because it is insane. Especially since the key to unlock my 'prison' is as simple as living the steps of NA.

"I believe that the 11th Step is the one that I work the least. I know that if I don’t listen, I won't be able to hear God, in His way, tell me that I am okay. Prayer and Meditation is a daily awakening to the gifts in life for me. They are the ability to breath and walk, when I should be dead. They are the gift of laughter when all my mouth and lungs did was ingest chemicals. They give me friendship and love based on friendship and love rather than the misery that loves company.

"My experience proves that the disease is still here with me, it is in me, I don't have to be vigilant to stay clean, but I must be vigilant if I want to experience serenity and freedom. It helps when I work all the steps, including Step Eleven and Step Twelve."

Without a doubt, the one concept that causes most addicts problems early in our recovery is that of becoming rigorously honest. Who among us ever ended up in jail, prison or probation by practicing rigorous honesty? For most of us in active addiction, the word honesty was very much in our minds equal to the words 'self-destruction.' We believed that if we ever told the truth, we would be sure to suffer. Our lives were such that almost everything we did had to be kept a secret from someone and especially kept from anyone in authority. We stole, dealt drugs and cheated even our closest friends. We did whatever we had to do in order to survive. Deception was a way of life, an important part of our survival. It was our primary defense in what we viewed as a world full of deception. Without it, we could see no hope to survive at all.

We were people living in a society where we felt we would never belong. The power of labeling is great. We were identified and dealt with in terms of our active addiction. We knew that somehow we were different from the neighbors next door who would never speak to us as we passed them on the street or peeped at us through closed curtains. We lived in fear that everyone around us was out to get us in some way and the guilt of our method of survival drove us further away from others and deeper into isolation. The principle of anonymity in N.A. helps us escape these labels. We find that no matter what we have done in the past we are welcome inside the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous. We belong.

An addict shares: "It seems as though some feel that jails or institutions are a requirement or a great boost on the road to recovery. Some seem to use them as a boogey-man that can scare them straight. I went to jail but it was not the 'end of my road.' The six confinements in a mental institution did not get me there either.

"It was only in the privilege of talking to and sharing with other addicts that I got to the end of the road. I finally realized that I simply could not function, even in NA, without learning something different."

Before coming to NA, we could not make the connection between the drugs and lifestyle and how those things created the vicious cycle of pain and rejection we lived in. We could see no problem with living next door to a drug dealer and could not understand why others around us should be concerned with how we lived. Whether we had to prostitute or write bad checks, why should that concern someone in another part of town or an entirely different part of the world for that matter? It was our own business, and besides, society forced us into living in the lies - or so we believed.

Our fight to hold on to or to regain control of our lives led us to reject many of the values that society must maintain in order to function. Soon one door after another was closed to us - our friends, families and then even strangers started to reject us because of the pain that they feared we would bring to them. Soon, we found ourselves outcasts to some degree or another either in reality or imagined. In either case, for us this was life. We viewed rules of any kind simply as an obstacle to our own survival. Laws were only society's way to keep us down, to put us in our place. A way to keep us separated from the rest of the world. Our creed became laws were made to be broken - and break them we did. The place society had for us soon became jails and institutions, and for a few viewed as hopeless, death was deemed justifiable.

Our bottoms came at different stages. For some of us, our first brush with the law was enough. For others, it took years of prison, parole and probation. For some it took the death of a close friend or perhaps a relative. We were eventually moved to the understanding that the getting, using, and finding ways and means to get more, might well be connected to the fear and depression of being discovered for who and what we were. Through our obsession and compulsion to use we were in fact in the grips of what was described in meetings as the "disease of addiction." Maybe - just maybe - we were addicts.

A member shares: "I have been in treatment. I was lost, scared and confused. I did not know where my life was going so I went to treatment to save my job. I had gone to NA meetings in the past but I did not believe that I was an addict. In the treatment program I was in, they told me some cool things, but I never grasped the true meaning of addiction.

"I soon found myself in NA trying to stay clean. Today, I understand that treatment and recovery are two separate things. The treatment center I was in did not seem to understand the difference between NA and other 12 Step fellowships. The doctors stuck me in NA and other fellowships meetings. I found out through NA that I needed to know the difference.

"Now I have begun reaching out within NA in order to live. The people in NA have been showing me what it is like to make and keep a commitment. I have always failed at that, you know, saying things like, 'I'll never do that again.'

"At times I have been scared to open up and let people know when I feel scared or shaken. Then I go to a meeting and hear someone who is going through the same problem. I am grateful for life today. Well, most days. At times my disease still keeps me from doing things that I really want to do. Young and new to recovery, today I'm simply trying to learn about how to live life."

Some of us had already resigned ourselves to the idea of being addicts years before we sought help. We used our disease as an excuse to continue in the self-destructive behavior with which we had become so familiar. Sure, we were addicts. It made for a strong argument in court when we found ourselves facing the consequences of our actions. We would quickly tell anyone in authority that we were addicts so we could get special treatment. The one person to whom we could not admit the true nature of our disease, was ourself.

Others found the image of being an addict so repulsive that we were unable to imagine the term ever applying to us. An addict was a weak, dirty, disgusting excuse for a human being, someone we would never want to be. We needed to re-think the idea of what an addict was, a person with a treatable illness.

We may have rationalized that we were simply victims of life. We were born into bad luck and our only enjoyment was to be able to party away our problems. We weren't 'addicted' - we just enjoyed getting high. Besides, in our experience, that is what everyone did. Like them, we deserved to get high. That did not make us addicts and as soon as things got better, we would have to use so much. Who could blame us, considering all we had gone through?

While not funny in the humorous sense, it remains a curious fact that almost all of us fail to connect our pain and failure with our using. We think that we are just going through rough times. The problem stems from the fact that we can rationalize our using even after abundant evidence of our addiction. We can lose our money, friends, spouses, children, dogs, jobs and our self-esteem and still hold on to the idea that addiction is not the issue.

Many of us have managed, with the help of other NA members and a God of our understanding, to stop the insanity of repeating the patterns of our old behavior. For once we have a choice. No longer do we have to continue with the obsessive, compulsive behavior of addiction.


Inspiring Story of Carrying the Message behind Prison Bars

I knew a woman a named Leanne, she was larger than life and full of life. Enjoying her recovery. I lost touch with her for a years. The next thing I know, she and I found each other again. Coming home to NA from a relapse, she cried etc. and picked up another white tag. We lost touch again a few months latter. I got a letter from her she had sent a few letters trying to get my address correct.

Her parole was violated from the relapse back to addiction. We wrote back and forth for a few months and after finding out the procedure needed to get NA books into a Maximum Security State Prison, I sent her a Basic Text, It Works, and a Just For Today. She began to find her recovery once again. There was an AA meeting in the prison chapel run by the Chaplain. To my knowledge, there is no H and I allowed within the walls of this facility and Leanne went to the AA meeting asking for an NA meeting repeatedly.

She thought the Chaplain was hoping she would go away and forgets about NA but she did not and managed to get a meeting once a week in the Chapel. The meeting was removed from the Chapel. The prison administration said it was just a scheduling problem but latter Leanne shared that she always thought it was to see if the girls in the group would stick together. They did.

They began a meeting in the housing unit and requested more books from me, the only contact to NA they had on the outside. There were fifteen woman in the group and at $30.08 per girl for the needed literature would come out to $450.00. Where was I going to get that kind of money? As I already had a procedure I used to get Leanne’s books in to the prison, I set off to raise the needed funds. I began asking people to sponsor a woman in prison by buying or getting others to commit to buy three books per inmate. What was important here was to carry the message into the prison. The miracle was that just an NA member and his home group without having to go through the H and I committee, could carry the message so successfully inside the walls. Today the group has grown to four small meetings in different "housing units" and a once a week meeting with nearly 60 addicts in attendance.

We put together the form for what soft cover NA items we want to send to the prison, we mail it with the funds to the Regional Service Office which is a licensed retailer for our World Service Office and as such are allowed to directly mail books to inmates in prisons in this state. By ordering the books in bulk, we make a few extra dollars on saved shipping which allows us to send one more book. Today, I am still trying to drum up book sets for the woman and have plans to hold a contest to raise money for Basic Texts for the ladies. The first prize is a gold NA charm I wear around my neck.

We who have experienced recovery for a number of years are convinced that we tend to get here as our "luck" is running out. If we do not hold on to this chance, we may not get another. While NA will welcome us back, we may suffer from ego conflicts, incarceration, or catastrophic illness that prevents our return to a free and open way of life. Some people share in meetings that they are not afraid that their next usage will kill them - they are afraid that they will have to continue using, forced to live in the hell of active addiction.

For all addicts the drugs eventually stopped working. What then? Go on? Most of us had already reached jails or institutions at this point. Only two choices remained - either get better or die. We in the fellowship of NA choose life at some point. Yet, our choice at first seemed almost as hopeless as our addiction. At first, all we could do was try to find ways and means to not use. To try and stay clean for one day, or at times for just one hour or one minute. We could not imagine living without drugs and yet we instinctively knew how our lives with them would end. When your going nowhere any road will take you.




Some people who are referred to NA by the criminal justice system are addicts and some are not. Most of the time these individuals are court ordered to go to meetings and if they do not attend, they go to jail. The 3rd Tradition states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using, many of the people within this group do not have that desire. NA has long been aware that carrying our message to the addict who still suffers sometimes involves bringing it to those that without that desire.

There is a lie out there that using will improve your life and that it is okay to go along with the 'in crowd.’ In this program of attraction rather than promotion, we demonstrate how our lives today are filled with joy, excitement and purpose without the use of drugs. This is a reason that we have our Hospitals and Institutions (H&I) meetings inside hospitals, jails, and prisons. We know that those who attend these meetings are often required to go to them, do not really want to be there, and often have no desire to stop using. H&I meetings are thus tailored to meet the needs of this population.

In the last couple of decades, NA groups have had the challenge of masses of people coming into meetings from treatment centers. This is something that was not commonplace to the NA of the past. The people who did come in from treatment centers, by and large, were addicts. They had some education about the disease of addiction and recovery meetings. This is not the case with the criminal justice system-referred person of today. Having court ordered people in meetings is not something brand new to NA. What is new to us is the huge number of people now coming into meetings through lawyers, judges and probation officers who have little or no understanding of what NA is. We do not need to treat one addict differently from another because of how they get here. Many people who come into NA through the courts get the desire to stop using, stay around, become productive members of society, and become outstanding NA members. Our job as an NA members, through our groups, is to carry the message to the addicts who still suffer. That is the group’s primary purpose. Some people may be disruptive to the program or disrespectful towards our members or meeting places. In such cases, the trusted servants of the group need to deal with these occasional situations on an individual basis. Fortunately, experience shows that these situations are rare and that the spiritual atmosphere created by NA groups seems to repel threats from the outside, for the most part. We let people know that meetings are for those who want recovery - if you decide you want it, get a sponsor and work the steps - until then, just listen. We just need to do what we do - welcome newcomers, carry the message, and stay clean.


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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.