Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

Gender and the Message

One of the amazing things about the experiences shared in recovery is that we have survived. We will experience them ourselves, eventually if we do not find a way out. These experiences do not need any explanation. Living and enjoying life is the essence of life and we pursue happiness in recovery. In our recovery literature, we read what others share on topics of mutual interest. Acquired memories give us a new way to learn. The feeling that others care reinforces our desire for recovery and encourages us to reach for things that weren't possible not so long ago. One thing that we have learned is that the message of recovery in Narcotics Anonymous doesn't have a gender. People are people and no one group of people has a corner on suffering. In our isolation, we are unable to see very far beyond ourselves and our identity group gets smaller. Feelings don't have a gender nor do they have gender specific behaviors.

Although some of us have to overcome a dysfunctional up_bringing, we must remember that each of us has our own painful reality to deal with. The experience we share may or may not apply to another's situation. Being a good listener is important here. We may differ in details yet the pain is the same. It may take time and work for us to trust any member of a person of the abuser's sex. Our own issues may keep us from hearing the recovery another addict shares, simply because of his or her gender. These issues can cause us to have a gender specific prejudice.

As we attend NA meetings, we learn that this is a 'WE' Program and includes both men and women. To feel that we have to live as though it was "them against us," confines us. In time, as we work the program, we develop a point of view that allows us to live life as free human beings amongst all other human beings. There is no way to win the ‘war of the sexes’ by fighting. The suffering that one experiences from the other side losing does not bring any peace and joy. Stereotyping is one of the things that fueled the lie, :"Once as addict, always an addict." Just because a person is a man or a woman does not mean the abuse is likely to recur. The point is that we need to be gentler when it comes to judging each other and helping each other. Let us all remember that love and nurturing, as well as anger and violence, can exist within any individual. We addicts are capable of the entire spectrum.

Communication between the sexes, especially among addicts, is even more awkward than conversations between non-addicts. Other problems, whether our own or another's, such as mistaken identity, defensiveness, past painful experiences, etc., all make for difficulties in this crucial area of recovery. Out of the confusion that has dominated our lives, we begin to learn how to live. Many of us have special insight not only into our lives but also into our interpersonal relationships with others. Working the 4th Step, we find assets among what we thought were liabilities and this affirms our sense of identity. No longer do we feel that we are at the mercy of the forces that surround us. Our self-acceptance, as well as the freedom from the ego-induced fears, grows as we get over our self-centeredness. Finally, we reach a point in recovery where we are no longer limited to the scope of our personal power in seeking direction for our lives. Something greater is caring for us. Basking in this freedom, we find ourselves at a deeper level of acceptance about our strengths and weaknesses. We reach out and discover many things about the world around us. Not only are we able to come out of the closet of our fear-induced isolation, we are able to go back and clean out the closet! Everyone has a closet. When we become receptive to the forces of life around us, we can give and receive more freely. We have much revealed to us that we couldn't see or make sense of before. This is what being clean is all about. By helping others, we get help. When we share the truths that we discover with others, we increase our understanding as well as opening new doors for ourselves. Our sharing goes far beyond simple conversation. We demonstrate our love for one another and teach others that ask for help what we have learned.

We measure intimacy between people in terms of trust and shared experiences. A test of our motives and honesty is whether we act the same towards or treat a person the same as we would our same_sex best friend in a similar opportunity. Respect for others' feelings and privacy is the building block of having successful, intimate relationships. In recovery, we learn that intimate relationships are possible for us no matter the gender of the other person. Intimacy is a ‘fact of life’ and we will face it during our recovery. We emphasize that if we are sincere in your desire and put our recovery first, chances are that we will come through the tension and strain of any relationship, clean. It's when we put other things first that we seem to get in the most trouble. Our disease can make it seem as if a person, place, or thing got us loaded yet we all know that's a lie. We must take care not to drift into this justification mode lest we are sucked under and drown in the whirlpool of addiction. The presence of our desire for recovery makes us members of this Fellowship from the first moment that we commit to living the NA way of life. We cease to be members when we lose this desire, no matter whether we use or not. Some of our members have experienced a non-chemical relapse and have awakened the next day feeling like they had a physical hangover. Spiritual relapse is sometimes our last warning that something is terribly wrong with the way we are working the Program. It can be a strong motivator for us to renew our commitment to recovery.

One of the benefits that comes from going to many meetings. is that we learn not to practice our natural yet diseased ability to label the people, places, and things in our daily lives. Part of the damage done through active addiction is that we forget what everyday life is like and that everyone else feels the same things that we do. We spend a lot of time over-reacting or under-reacting to situations that need a response from us. It takes time to get it right. It is hard to overcome the social conditioning that we get from the wide range of advice-sellers and professional advice-givers. In the end, we realize that it's our responsibility to live our lives. We cannot blame our problems on others once we begin to take personal responsibility for our lives. Many of us struggle with obsessive thoughts of continuing to blame others and we can easily alienate ourselves as part of our addiction's general isolation.

It is a clearly recognizable part of our disability to respond without thinking. For instance, many of us do not even know what it means to date or have a casual relationship. In a similar fashion, many of us do not know what it is like to depend on others without being constantly let down. Much of recovery is discovery - and it is this inquisitive attitude that enables us to do things differently in order to experience the variations that life offers. Some of us had the ‘couples’ mentality so deeply instilled in us that having friends without sex was impossible. With a ‘couples’ mentality we view every encounter as a potential marriage or relationship. We have to approach other people carefully to actually understand and experience what the other person is saying or doing. We find life between estrangement and total intimacy. So much of our lives are lived in the fear of the recurrence of past pain. We spend so much time with our guard up that we can't see what's happening today! We carry our pasts into our present and our childhood is with us forever.

Society as a whole is like the ocean, with all kinds of life in it. We seek to feel that we have a protected place for our recovery. We do not knowingly swim with sharks or unquestionably accept everything just because it comes from the greater culture. We share with one another the freedom to determine what our way of life will be from day to day. If we did not stress this freedom, we would be ignoring the sensitivities that our members have because of painful experiences from their active addiction. It is safe to say that we suffer from a family disease. Some of the abuse we survived and learned as children will continue to make us overly sensitive today. Addicts who were victimized may feel more alarm than necessary, until they get used to their new state of existence in recovery. Others who were taught to hide their emotions suffer in many of the same ways. Those of us reared in dictatorial households have a similar problem as to those who automatically feel inferior to others. It is difficult to recognize the similarities because it is so easy to see the differences. In general, we regard everything that happens in recovery as something we need to know about. Usually, we need more than one response to the situations that arise during the process of recovery. Social standards may or may not have a place in this and that is for each of us to determine. This is not to say that we act crazily or wildly. Most of us are rather calm in recovery except in situations that can arouse great pain or fear in us. Recovery helps us settle down to living life on life's terms but we must constantly move towards this goal.

Most of our members seek sponsors of the same sex. They feel that this allows them to have a sponsor who identifies with them as a man or as a woman without the necessity for explanations that might arise between men and women. Reflecting on the great variety of our members, there are those who have to find a person who suits them regardless of what others may think. Sincerity speaks for itself in spite of the fact that our members sometimes live beyond established norms.

An addict shared: "I was so eager and anxious to learn new things to do when I first got clean. I had the impatience that newcomers seem especially susceptible to catching. I began to see all the things wrong and wanted to fix them all immediately. Only one other female went to NA meetings in my hometown so I asked her to be my sponsor. She agreed and when I asked her what to do first and was told to get material other than NA, I quickly thanked her and told her, "Thanks." I went into a depression because I felt like all the hope that I found in the rooms was lost.

"Thank you God for the men and women in recovery who only care whether another addict stays clean or not. I've had five sponsors, two males and three females. I learned valuable lessons from each, and each will forever occupy that special place in my heart. I used to hear others share about meeting the first person with whom they could so closely identify. The most shocking revelation is that I'm a middle-aged grandmother and my ‘mirror-image’ has turned out to be a twenty year old ‘gentleman.’ He is wonderful and it's most amazing that everything he says is ‘me.’

"These are the gifts that my Higher Power gives me, every day that I choose to stay clean and try to live the NA way of life. Early recovery takes place in the midst of pain and confusion. We need to find a balance between what we hear that makes sense to us and what feels right. If it feels right but makes no sense and doesn't work, we can make changes to get better results. If something seems to make sense yet fails to satisfy our need for a spiritual feeling, we will eventually abandon those efforts that conflict with our internal guidance systems. As we begin to accept others into our lives, we try to respect their feelings and living requirements. We do this even if their way of moving towards recovery is different from ours."

We do not apologize for our openness. It plays a big part in our common welfare. Gender confusion is a reality of the world in which we live. Some of us need to learn how the opposite sex works in order to learn that they are not so different. This is how we begin to identify with persons of that gender. Many of our members suffer confusion about gender issues. We must learn not to isolate from another addict simply because of their gender.

It is a good thing that we look at our similarities and not the things that would separate or divide us. The idea is to encourage each other to be whole, healthy human being. We can be gentle and loving while being strong and assertive. In other words, we can all be human and express our emotions in a way that matches our true personalities and meets the situation or demands of the moment. We want our Fellowship to be a safe environment and not another place with severe social pressures and punishments for non_conforming offenders.

We will experience many types of relationships. Our relationships are usually one of two types, and give us the opportunity to ask questions and experience different types and degrees of closeness. Small ‘r’ relationships include friends in our home groups, our local Fellowship, our sponsor, family and co-workers. We enjoy giving special attention and support without reservation or expectations to the special people in our lives. Large ‘R’ relationships are the exclusive loving of a specific individual where the sharing of life becomes a commitment to the other person. These relationships affect our health, our finances and our overall well-being. Coming from dysfunctional family situations, we may have to learn these lessons by study or counseling. Your meaningful relationship is at risk if you assume you know what you are doing! If the other person has family or financial obligations, these become ours as well. We need to know a person's background if we are contemplating a serious relationship. If the other person has health problems, we accept them as our own. In today's world, that means STD and HIV along with others are possible even if the the other person doesn't know it!. "When is the last time you had a physical?" is a nice way to start.... What we do becomes the proper business of the other. It is hard for the freedom of spirit and action to survive the demands placed on individuals by the demands of a ‘Relationship’ in early recovery. First things first. We aren't moralizing because we know how hard our emotions can be on us, and we have to protect our fragile desire to live better lives against the intense battering of these emotional issues. When we do get in a relationship, there is a dance going on between our desire for recovery and our desire to get lost in the love of the other person.

"Viva le difference!" say the French and we agree with them. It is our similarities that give us things in common, but it is our differences that make it interesting. The physical differences between men and women are a fact of biology. They can also hinder us in developing close relations or friendships with members of the opposite sex. Some suffer with the confusion of determining their sexual preferences as well as the inability to trust neither male nor female. Those unaccustomed to these differences need to spend a little extra time with their sponsor or friends of the opposite sex to gain information they may not have learned from their families as children or growing up. People with our disorder are entirely capable of the most glaring deficiencies when it comes to basic information. We develop a questioning mind, keep it open, feed it new ideas, and watch it grow. We can compare ourselves out of having close associations with other people regardless of their gender, and we can disqualify ourselves by selecting and obsessing on the points of conflict and differences. While we may never resolve all of our issues, we can still enjoy members of the opposite sex. The growth that we gain in dealing with other human beings is phenomenal.


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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.