Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~


What is sex? The dictionary gives three definitions: 1) either of the two divisions of living things especially humans, male and female, 2) the physical things that make males and females different from each other, and 3) sexual activity. It is apparent that when we try to define, discuss or participate in ‘sex' that our character defects become exaggerated. When 'sex' becomes a drug to us, we lose the power of choice. We have no place to hide after we let another human being inside our lives. It is extremely important that we remain focused on our right to change. We no longer allow past events, shame, guilt, and behavior to stick to us anymore than we allow dirt to remain stuck to our skin. The recovery process helps us get clean and feel renewed. We may wish that the pain will just 'go away' but this may be impossible, especially in the beginning of the recovery process. We work for our recovery and what we do is real. We give, struggle and pay many prices - some that carry high interest rates or penalties.

We may find that the issue of lust often clouds our minds when we talk about sex in recovery. Lust, memories of abuse, resentments and fears can keep us from hearing the recovery that another addict tries to share. These also motivate us to judge the person who is sharing. While it is true that sex or romantic feelings can set us on a course of relapse, they aren’t the only ones. Until we get comfortable with ourselves, our sexuality and sexual preferences, we will continue to have trouble in relating to others. We may find ourselves with feelings that we can easily associate with past pain. We owe it to others as well as ourselves to project these fears and negative expectations on the current object of our affection. One way to fight this is by writing out what we know to be happening. The tool of writing allows us to choose actions that differ from what our life_limiting feelings are screaming at us to do.

Sex generates energy that can make us feel as though life is wonderful or horrible. It is easy for any issue relating to sex to place us in a cycle of extremes. There is a definite potential for us to feel the entire range of emotions and to take extreme actions that range from total abstinence to promiscuity. We have to learn to put our recovery first. If a time should ever come where we feel uncomfortable saying this to a sexual partner, we will be in jeopardy. NA members put their recovery first. The people we get involved with should know this from the beginning.

Sex requires energy and love. We sometimes mistake the energy that we feel for love. The Fellowship of NA includes members from various backgrounds, religious beliefs and personal preferences yet we care about all newcomers succeeding in recovery. We all know that the first year can be hell. Some try relationships including sex during early recovery. We warn against this only because of the confusion it can bring. We are not goody-goody at least most of us are not.

We caution our members to avoid 'mere sex’ that can lead us into situations that can jerk us into a sense of total despair and desolation. Being with someone involves more than the body. We begin to take on their aspects, their views, opinions, fears, joys and if we are not settled in ourselves, it is easy to get lost in the other person. This is especially true if the other person is not settled in their own right. It is not the 'good time' we wish to avoid, it is the confusion that can distract us from recovery and prevent us from learning this life-giving process.

Our experience shows us that we need to have a solid foundation in recovery before we become sexually involved with a new partner. Having that foundation increases the likelihood that these relationships can succeed. Some members have chosen to wait until they had a year clean before trying to have a sexual relationship. Others have committed to working the Steps first. Some have talked with their sponsors or other recovering addicts. These individuals know them well enough to give informed and honest responses. There is no hard and fast 'rule' on how to handle issues regarding sex. No matter which path we pick, we want to grow from experience, not fall by the wayside.

Being a member of NA does not give us the right to impose our moral values on others. Instead, membership gives us the opportunity to define our own 'moral beliefs' and to live in harmony with them. If we want intimacy, we may find sex is only getting in the way. Intimacy involves mutual dependence. Our fear of dependence on another can lead us to resume habit patterns, although we know that they will not work for us. We spend our time with people who tell us the truth and hang around long enough to hear what they are saying. We add names to the list of people with whom we can relate and spend time by working on having friendships. This allows us to be in a position to share and receive what we need to grow. We may continue to set ourselves up for betrayal but this does not undermine the strength of spiritual principles. It just means that we can 'mess up' if we are not full of care.

We learn that each effort helps us grow. If it is good, we can repeat it. If bad, we can avoid it in the future. We have to change our ways to change our results.

Rape, incest, abuse, lust, sexual tension and fear of other past problems may cause us not to trust others. It may help to remember that we do not all share the same life experiences or symptoms of addiction. We share a common bond of addiction. We will not apologize for our openness, for it plays a large part in our common welfare. We know that there are those who need recovery that have different sexual preference from ours. Why should they suffer the pain and terror of active addiction because of these differences? It is wonderful that they can find recovery in NA in spite of these differences. It is good that we look at similarities and not the things that could separate or divide us. We must each individually and as a member of the Fellowship remain open to the changes that will occur in others and ourselves during this process called recovery.

Many of us were confused about sex when we first came into NA. Love-making may have been such a part of our lifestyle while using that we may need to wait a while for the water to clear before taking stock of our feelings. Issues of sexual preference may further complicate and confuse us. By making friends with others, we secure allies who help us learn what we have missed so far. By talking with a sponsor or trusted friend, we find the desire for growth becoming so strong in us that we take the leap. Today, we can actually go up to someone and ask for help in these areas. Some of us have used words like, "I've always gotten into serious relationships and it occurred to me that I may be trying too hard. Would you be my friend? Can we talk and do a few things together? I'm not interested in a relationship right now."

Spiritual honesty is not a part of foreplay. Sharing with another human being on a deep personal level may awaken feelings of desire and intimacy that we associate only with those we love. It is easy to get confused and that is why we remain focused on recovery. Spiritual sharing does not mean that we give ourselves physically or that we abandon 'common sense.’ The purpose of sharing is to lower some barriers and open ourselves up to new ideas, feelings, and viewpoints. We gain from acquired memories because we do not have to live through everything to learn how to live. We seek the assistance of our Higher Power to do this in safety expecting that the person we are trusting will not exploit our vulnerability. If they let us down, it is usually more harmful to them than to us. We may want to make a special prayer of some sort before we open ourselves up completely.

Fear is often the great lie. It makes us incapable of clear thinking and prevents us from getting help. Shame keeps us chained long after the prison doors have opened. It is what we do to ourselves to cut us off from others for fear of repeating our mistakes. Yes, we have to be as sure as possible that we are on sound footing before we revisit some of the sites of our personal tragedies. It is ok to hold back until we are ready. The origins of our fear, shame or limitations usually resulted from a dysfunctional upbringing or developed during the course of active addiction. We examine these feelings in light of our present experience and resources. Guilt can be addressed directly through Steps Eight and Nine. We do not want to carry the burden of our pasts forever. While in active addiction we were so busy running through the maze of our lives that we had no time to take a careful look. If we do not stay focused on the present, we may subject ourselves to improperly assigned guilt and blame. Recovery grants us the right to be free.

As we become aware of feelings that we have suppressed and restrained for so long, we begin to get comfortable with them. They become our normal state of existence. We also become aware that others around us are going through this same process. We probably exchanged feelings with others only on a physical level and now the need for exchanges with others of an emotional and spiritual nature that we could not reach before is overwhelming. Honesty, trust and sincerity are principles that work well and are necessary in all areas of our lives. We learn that it may not always be best to get what we want or what we think we need. Praying about our wants and needs helps us get through the insanity of obsessing over another person or being overwhelmed by lust.

Our sexual behavior while in active addiction was mostly elaborate fantasies that we played out on an imaginary theater stage. We want more in life than the self-centered displays of personal power that we have settled for in the past. The desire to have sexual relations is fundamental drive in most humans and we are no different just because we are addicts. Sharing our emotions and feelings can easily intensify these desires and our disease can cause us to misinterpret this fact. Sexual activity is neither right nor wrong. However, if we use manipulation, deceit and exploitation to get sex then we are wrong. The one on the receiving end hurts now but the one doing the exploiting always hurts later.

Old timers in the Fellowship are just as vulnerable to acting inappropriately on these desires as newcomers are although they fall prey less frequently. Relationships between newcomers and older members can be especially dangerous in this regard. There is no excuse for older and newer members to avoid each other entirely. That would go against the WE concept upon which NA is built. We all need to have our vulnerability, confusion, and loneliness treated in a spiritual way rather than as a sexual come-on. We should be careful not to judge one innocent and the other guilty. We must love and try to help both. Most of us have had the painful experience of playing God. Today, we try to respect the feelings of everyone that wants the NA way of life, especially if their process of recovery seems different from ours.

Many of our feelings are instinctively correct even when new to recovery. What takes time is gaining the ability to interpret these feelings and acting properly to get what we want. Generally, if we feel cornered or threatened, we talk about how we feel with others that we trust to see what they think. Recovery is a contact sport but this does not necessarily mean physical contact. An understanding of this will reduce our tendency to see things that are not there or do not mean what we think they do. This will save everyone the trouble of over_reacting and choosing the avoidance patterns that are no longer necessary. When we see and hear clearly, we truly begin to experience what we feel and are no longer deluded into thinking it is something else. Our lives reflect reality.

Addiction makes us cover our motives and feelings up with clouds of confusion. This is one of the reasons that we suggest to newcomers that they avoid sexual relationships until they have some time clean. There are as many opinions on this topic as there are members of NA and any reader of this material will surely have their own. We as a Fellowship, attempt to not moralize or judge someone because their opinion differs from our own. We see that great harm happens in the name of recovery when we give advice if we really do not know what that person went or is going through.

The objective of the NA society is to encourage one another to be a whole and healthy human being. We learn to allow women to be feminine and attractive as well as allowing men to be handsome, courtly and charming if they so choose. Likewise, we learn that women can be strong and assertive while men can be gentle and loving. In other words, we all get to be human and can express our emotions in a way that is appropriate to the situation or demands of the moment. We want to create a safe environment for freedom and not another place that advocates conformity with severe social punishment for offenders. When we find ourselves dressing provocatively in the attempt to dazzle and confuse, we may want to stop and think it over. If we decide to go ahead, we have not lost a thing and certainly have not lost recovery. If we spot an area of or a moment of concern, we can pass on the opportunity. We must remember that when we influence or distract someone else in harmful ways, we will always pay the price. Sometimes this cost seems to be too high and we can refuse to participate. We are our own worst witnesses, judges and executioners so we must maintain our connection with other addicts in order to have a better view of reality.

There is a story of a scientific experiment about a group of lab rats placed in a maze that had three separate and distinct sections. At either end of this maze were one_way entrances that were defendable. There were many rooms behind each entrance, but there was only one way in and one way out. Food could be stored in one room, babies tended in another, and adults could sleep in yet another room. The rats that inhabited the areas at either end of the maze developed into communities made up of individual families. The rat families ate, reproduced and went about life in an orderly manner.

The indefensible territory in the middle of the maze was another matter entirely. The rats that lived here could not go into the secure territories. They were unable to store food and they were always hungry. They ate all they could, even each other. They could have sexual intercourse as rats do but couldn’t produce babies, not for long anyway. They had no safe place to hide in and they couldn’t find one. It was exciting to live in this area because it was dangerous although it was impossible to build anything secure.

Occasionally, some of the females wandered away from the secure territories and experienced what can only be called 'rat rape.' Some were lucky enough to make it back to the territory. Sometimes, because of the sexual activity even if it was not a free choice, these females experienced banishment. Most young males and some females experienced banishment from the secure territories just because they matured and became sexually active.

This brief description may help us to picture what happened to us. We begin to understand that there are rules for families with defendable boundaries and that bonding is possible. Outside of the defendable boundaries is chaos, which is stimulating but provides no lasting reward. The way we lived in active addiction was similar to the way that even animals live when they cannot assure themselves of the necessities of life. We all need and deserve a territory we can defend. Look closely and you will see it is built into our legal system.

Another point of confusion is that there are different sets of rules for people who are in relationships and people who are bachelors. Bachelors are without someone to build and maintain a territory. This is not a value judgment, just an observation. This does not mean they are bad or unworthy. Pair bonding is just another part of life. Some people choose to life outside of a pair bond. What is important is that one of the things we tend to do as people new to 'civilization' is to judge harshly those who do not conform to our ideas of what is proper and what is not. Bachelors have a different set of rules. Pair bonded people do not cheat on one another, do not side against their partner and protect one another rigorously. You can not be monogamous and run around on your mate. If they do not, they have no bond. They have a set of behavior and conduct different from bachelors. It is very important for a community to understand, help and support its people as human beings, each going through his or her set of changes.

It is another way of looking at active addiction. In recovery, we notice that some of the rules seem to change and this is probably real. We change our ideas of the things that we want, discover what is possible for us to do or have, and most importantly we learn to accept who we are.

An addict, whether male or female, in active addiction is forced to play by rules not of their making. They must do so in order to survive. In recovery, we judge ourselves harshly and tend to forget that if we were sick in some areas, we were probably sick in all. By learning to be gentle, we find those with whom we can share our pain. Praying to an all-powerful and loving God for help in finding ways to become healthier gives us the hope of real and lasting growth. We only have to look around the Fellowship to know the pain we have all come through. We learn that the blessings of recovery are ours if we only have the desire and the willingness to do the footwork that is necessary to receive them.

Whether to have sexual relationships is a major decision in these times because of the extreme health problems that can occur. The risk of pregnancy or venereal disease used to be the worst things that could happen because of sexual activity. Today we have AIDS, Hepatitis B and Herpes to name a few that are incurable and potentially fatal. More than ever, we need to be careful. The disease of addiction will use any method at its disposal to kill us. Our only protection is in this awareness and the commitment to practice safe sexual habits. These methods range from abstinence to the use of condoms. The choice belongs to each one of us. It comforts us when we remember that our life energy is not limitless and that people have always had the task of being careful about their mental, spiritual and physical health.

Spirituality and intimacy are synonymous in our striving to be real, honest, sincere and loving towards each other. Our spiritual beliefs and practices increase immensely when we become intimate with another. We may feel challenged by others because it seems to be human nature to be defensive in order to protect our territory. If we are not so defensive, others may perceive us as being vulnerable and weak. We weather these storms and grow from our suffering. We flourish in the atmosphere of love, intimacy and nurturing as a flower flourishes from rain, sunshine and fertilizer. This support gives us the strength that is necessary in order for us to survive the tough times. Periodic, meaningful, safe and natural are recovery terms that we apply to sex rather than the terms of addiction: compulsive, placating, impulsive and dishonest. When a person shares intimate details about their life that could be embarrassing or harmful, we must keep it in trust amongst ourselves and within the Fellowship. Active addiction forces all of us to say and do things that make us feel guilty and ashamed. Recovery is the choice to change with the help of others and the commitment to enjoy a better life.


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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.