Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~


This chapter is not an employment manual. We have no specific suggestions on "how to get and keep a job." It is a collection of shared experience by addicts on a subject that consumes a large quantity of time in our lives. Our occupations vary widely so there is no ‘cookie cutter’ method of practicing recovery that applies to everyone in all situations. We utilize a system of principles centered on honesty, openness and willingness to try. These three will go a long way on most workdays! Our goal is to get the most out of life and be the best we can be at whatever we choose to do. We have found that whether we wear white collars, blue collars, or no collars at all, our jobs, and our lives are more meaningful and enjoyable as we grow spiritually. We practice the spiritual principles that we learn in recovery on the job. Many of us were unemployed or unemployable when we got clean and we soon realized that our old ways of supporting ourselves wouldn't work in this new way of life. A life of crime or using others to get by just wouldn't fit into a program based on spiritual principles. For the first time in quite a while, we may have found ourselves looking for a job.

Applying the principle of the Seventh Tradition to our personal recovery and being fully self-supporting often raises our self-esteem and generates enthusiasm. However, some of us quickly found that we had to do more work. Our disease made it easy for us to give ourselves an unrealistic picture of what we could or could not do. It seemed that we were fluctuating to the opposite ends of the spectrum and had no hope of finding the middle ground. Either we thought we should run the business or we felt we weren't qualified for the simplest entry-level job. After we write and talk with our sponsors and other members of NA, we began to get a more accurate perspective. We learn and accept our value as a marketable resource. Many of us have struggled with the question, "When is the right time to leave my job or change careers?" Most of us have heard the suggestion, "Don't make any major changes early in recovery." This advice, usually given to newcomers, will help us focus on the changes going on inside of us rather than us causing changes on the outside and focusing on that. As we work through the Steps and practice total abstinence, our wants and needs change. These changes seem to come so rapidly that what we think we need today may be different in just a short time. We learn that what we ‘think we need’ may not necessarily be ‘what we need.’

Our working lives improve when we grow in recovery. ‘Work’ consumes a great deal of our time. Our work becomes something enjoyable when we apply the principle of service to it. As we give to our jobs, we gain proportionally to our efforts. As we become more proficient and skillful, we can enjoy a high level of satisfaction in our work place. This can foster pride and arrogance. It is just our place in the pecking order changes. We learn the 'cure' is the same gentleness and forebearence shown to us by others.

Our program teaches us to live ‘in the moment’ and sometimes we must take our work ‘just for the moment.’ Looking at the ‘big picture’ can sometimes be overwhelming, so we break it down into manageable pieces. This is very similar to the concept of not using just for today. Some of us take jobs in fields that are totally alien to us. We may be frightened and this can turn into a paralysis that keeps us from learning our job. The principle of trust can help us here. We found that in our work, we were not as bad or worthless as we thought, nor as perfect as we pretended to be. Our true self-worth comes from knowing that our future is looking brighter. Our futures look brighter because we take the appropriate steps to better our lives today. We learn that our Higher Power's guidance is always available to us through the 11th Step. Surrender is the key to recovery in any area where we want or need improvement. We must admit our need for help before any change is possible.

Our defense mechanisms are so strong that we tend to defeat any attempts that others make to help raise us above our present level of acceptance. Criticism seems threatening and final. Criticism can be a step towards increased awareness and control of our lives and the things that make us happy. We accept personal responsibility for the level of income and performance that we currently enjoy in this life. No business in the world can survive without reliable workers who show up and do a good job. Being clean gives us an advantage in the workplace.

Does this mean that we should never try anything new? Of course not! We know from experience that our disease makes us think that it is the things outside of us that are the problem and not our attitude. We have found that ‘practicing patience’ has a way of sifting out the perceived problems from the real ones. Almost always, our present concerns will melt away in time. When we tried changing our thinking before changing our place of employment, we discovered that we have the capacity to make decisions. "Should I stay or move on?" is a question we occasionally asked ourselves. We seemed to decide this question based more on positive spiritual principles than on negative self-centeredness. As we stay clean, many of us find new opportunities from which we can choose. Stay on a job at least two years. These positive chances are acknowledgments of our Higher Power's ‘good will’ presenting itself at the correct moment. We should not be afraid to accept a challenge that feels ‘spiritually right.’ One rule of thumb that some addicts use to assist them in making changes is: If we are moving toward something good instead of running from something bad, the likelihood of a positive outcome is greatly increased. We often hear around the meetings that members are doing old things with new attitudes. One of those ‘things’ that we can do with a new attitude is our job.

One addict shared his experience at gaining a new look at an old situation: "I worked in a factory as a machinist and I'd performed this work for many years before getting clean. After a short time in recovery, I began to think that life should offer me a lot more than the drudgery of running the same machine every day. I wanted something different and I wanted to feel useful so I talked to my sponsor about it. He worked in a different factory doing work that seemed even less interesting than my job. He milled the heads of hammers squarely. I asked him, ‘How do you feel good about doing the same job every day? Don't you think God has something better in store for us?’

"He said, ‘we're working with God substance, whether we're dealing with other people or materials. I try to be aware that whatever I'm doing, I'm in the presence of my Higher Power and that's what gives me the ability to mold something seemingly worthless into something useful. If we put love first, it will show us a way to work with materials and people. A soul satisfaction takes place when we're practicing this attitude. Another thing I do is picture the people that will be using my hammers and all the good that will come from it. They will be building homes, toys for children and many other things that will bring joy to others. I try to experience that joy as I'm working and I get a greater feeling of serving others.’

"'That's good for you,’ I told him, ‘but I build the gearboxes that go on F-16 fighter planes. Am I suppose to picture them dropping bombs on somebody?’ Patiently my sponsor answered, ‘No, but you can send your love to the pilot and crew. You know they will be safe because of your fine craftsmanship. As you finish each one, you need to say a prayer that it will never have to harm anyone.’

"Moreover, that's exactly what I did for the next three years. Then a different job became available to me and I went on to do something different. I still try to practice love in all my labors. I find that not only does the day go smoother, but the quality of my work is better and people enjoy working with me more today."

When we first came to Narcotics Anonymous, ‘gainful employment’ may have been unattainable in our daily lives as finding the fabled Lost City of Atlantis. Many of us had been unemployed or ‘unemployable’ for as long as we could remember. For others, our employment record paralleled our drug use because we could pull things together for a little while. We were productive on a job but soon the drugs would take precedence over going to work every day and doing a good job. We would quit, before the axe fell, or found ourselves fired. For some of us, our jobs provided the last ammunition in our fight to retain our denial and avoid the First Step. We might say, "Yes, I'm all alone! My family and friends will not speak to me. My health is bad but I don't have a drug problem because I go to work every day!" Sometimes our performance level is limited by reality or in our minds by past deeds or actions that make us feel ashamed or unable to move forward in that area.

We find it is generally cheaper to make amends than to be permanently limited in some area of our lives, like employment. No matter what our employment status in early recovery, chances are that some big changes had to happen shortly after we got clean. Even after years in NA, we find that employment provides unique opportunities and challenges in which we can work the Program. One challenge we may face is that, for the most part, we can choose our friends but not our co-workers. It is possible that for eight or more hours a day we are expected to interact with people who probably know nothing about Twelve step recovery and do not care to know about it. Our work environments run the gamut from a very positive and enjoyable place to an atmosphere that is as bad as any place that we frequented during our using. We must deal with racism, sexism, dishonesty, gossip, intimidation, hatred, and more. We can not always remove ourselves from the situation by leaving work. Abstinence, simply not doing, is not a viable option in this area of life for most of us.

At times, it helps to remember that we are responsible for our own behavior wherever we are. It is often tempting to ‘go along with the crowd’ for acceptance when someone exhibits negative behavior in our presence. We need to ask ourselves, "If I were sitting in my home group, how would I react to this situation." Answers to questions like this one keep us doing the right thing. We say a silent prayer for help and guidance in whatever action we take. By re-evaluating our ideas and thinking things through, we begin to enjoy the real benefits of recovery. This is why our program involves so much discussion and personal interaction both privately and in meetings. We can rewrite our roles in life in order to suit ourselves and our Higher Power. We do not feel so trapped by our minds and egos that we cannot try something out on a limited basis to see if it works. We do this with the total freedom to change our minds if we are not pleased with the results. Life is becoming an adventure again. Doing our jobs with the same humility and selfless love that we put into carrying the message to the addict still suffering is self-affirming. It seems impossible but many of us experience this and choose to make it a regular practice in our recovery. Why should we cheat ourselves of the gratitude that comes from unconditionally doing ‘good’ for someone else? Why should we express unconditional love only while serving Narcotics Anonymous when our Twelfth Step says to ‘practice these principles in all our affairs’? Many of us use a ‘workplace Tenth Step’ to keep our program on track throughout the day. Some questions we might ask ourselves are:

· What good is coming from my labor and who am I serving?

· Am I expressing love as I perform my job?

· Does my ‘on the job’ behavior demonstrate humility and loving service?

· Did I approach this task with the same enthusiasm that I show for NA service?

· Did I tell someone I work with (for) how valuable their contributions are today?

· Am I doing all I can to create and maintain an atmosphere of recovery in the workplace?

· If I were the customer/employer, would I want fifty more people just like me working here?

· What are my motives for doing my best at this job (e.g. to get a raise, promotion, recognition, or serving others)?

· Which motive elevates me to my highest spiritual good?

· If I am ‘being of service’ for the right reasons, do I believe that ‘good’ will come to me without my having to manipulate the outcome?

We also try out the principles that we have heard so much about. While we can only work with the principles that we are personally ready for and open to, anything we learn benefits us. This is a healthy sort of ‘trial and error.’ Clean, we do not have to fear failure as much. In active addiction, we viewed any weakness or admission of fault as an end to us since we lived in such a hostile environment. As members of Narcotics Anonymous, we enjoy the help and affection of others. We feel as if we are merely confused members of a caring and loving great family. When we find we are at fault, we can replace the lengthy and troublesome process of getting out of trouble with a simple admission of fault and a willingness to make amends. Usually, the amends is sufficient and no further action on our part is called for.

Many of us have found that with a little practice and effort we can communicate spiritual principles to co-workers without using ‘program language.’ Admitting fault or thanking someone in front of others is a good example of "Praise in public, criticize in private." There are many ways we can advertise our openness to improvement to others. In some job situations, talking too much is a bad idea. We learn to 'tune in' to the people around us before shooting off our mouths. People observe how we behave and react; but more importantly, they listen to what we say. Exhibiting patience in a stressful situation, showing kindness when confronted by someone's anger, praising another's attributes instead of gossiping, and being truthful in our dealings with everyone go a long way to create a program of ‘attraction rather than promotion.’ It is easy to fall into feeling ‘holier than thou’ and getting on a soap-box to preach about all that we have learned about spiritual principles since coming to Narcotics Anonymous. Those of us who have practiced this behavior soon found that we ‘turned-off’ far more people than we reached. Thank God that we recalled the spiritual principle embodied in the Eleventh Step and refocused to set things right. Our faith in the power of a loving and caring God to take care of us helps us avoid defensiveness or aggression.

When we first got clean one of two things was true: either we had a job or we did not. Sometimes, we take a job simply because it is the first one offered and we feel unemployable. We commit to try to perform to the best of our ability. By doing this, the feeling of self-worth starts to become evident. This is one spoke in the wheel of recovery. Those of us who come into recovery still working often find that damage from old using behavior needs correcting. We work our Steps in order and do not recommend rushing forward and making amends until we reach the Ninth Step. This is because some of the changes we need to go through will give us some basic changes so that our amends will be both honest and not create more harm and disorder. In plain language, we do not want to get you fired or held accountable for things you did not do. So, take it easy. Stay clean, help others, take your time.

When we reach the Ninth Step, a direct amends to our employer, co-workers, and in some cases, customers, is in order. Saying "I'm sorry" is meaningless unless we have stopped doing the harm. We begin changing the negative behaviors that created the need for amends by applying positive spiritual principles and action to our daily work life. We work hard at being dependable. We come to work every day, we show up on time, complete projects when we said we would, and take responsibility for our mistakes/shortcomings rather than trying to hide them or blame someone else. In short, we begin to do an old job with a new attitude. In time, people who resented us the most come to value our contribution and enjoy working with us.

Many of us languish needlessly just to remain near remedies that we still cannot quite reach. This may allow us to restructure our lives with this relief in sight and without the demands of ‘moving on’ that may overwhelm us at times. However, we have the obligation to assist others whenever, wherever, and however. We must meet this obligation if we expect to maintain recovery that is worth passing on to those in need. This commitment exerts a steady pressure on us that keeps what we practice close to what we recommend to others. We addicts easily drift without using this mechanism for giving ourselves reality checks. Our best fantasies nearly killed us. We do not recommend giving unwanted advice. We define readiness as ‘not just needing help but as asking for help sincerely.’ Caring and exerting our energy to help others is the value of our recovery in ‘social terms.’ This strengthens us and cancels out the bad feelings we can not get rid of any other way. For many of us, our place of employment was another ‘playground’ when we were using. We may have had ‘using friends’ on the job that pose a potential threat to our newly found recovery. The answer to this problem varies from addict to addict. Some of us had to leave in order to maintain something more precious than working, staying clean. Many of us though continued in our jobs by simply changing our thinking patterns instead of leaving our place of employment.

As one addict shared: "I got clean by going through an inpatient treatment center. One of my biggest fears about getting out was returning to work. I wondered how everyone was going to treat me. I was worried about ‘what would they think’ and ‘would they talk to me.’ After returning to work, I found that almost everyone was happy to see me come back clean and offered words of encouragement. When I thought about it later, I realized they were probably delighted that I was clean because they wouldn't have to put up with some of the antics that I used to pull during my active addiction!

"Even most of my using friends backed off when I told them that I was serious about staying clean. I did have a run in with one guy I used with the most. He would try to convince me that I didn't have a problem and even offered to ‘buy me one.’ I realized that ‘my being clean’ was a threat to him. He knew that he used like I had used and if I had the disease of addiction that probably meant that he was an addict too. I just continued to associate with the people at work who didn't use, prayed and talked regularly with addicts in recovery to reaffirm my decision to stay clean. In time, even my old friend accepted my recovery and changed his attitude toward me. As a matter of fact, almost two years later he surrendered to the First Step and came into recovery."

Passing on what we have found to be true in recovery is the key. It allows us to benefit from our human associations in a way we never thought possible. Many of us found this impossible until we found these answers are true for us, in terms of our own successful experience. Is it easy? Does it always work? Will some people come to the program seeking things other than recovery? No, it is not always easy. It works for us proportionally to how much we work it. Not everyone comes to the rooms for recovery. Fears such as these can rule us if we forget the spiritual laws that seemed so vivid to us in the beginning. There is a law of nature that says, "We get what we give, we keep what we let go of and that what we send out always comes back to us." The disturbance caused by our addiction makes it hard for us to see the connection of the using to our pain. We need to avoid games that might allow our disease to screen our real agendas for personal fame and glory! Hey, we can relate to that form of insanity quite readily. Let's just look at this logically. Some of us think that we are smarter than the rest and that when we take charge of things, it is for the betterment of all. These unfortunates must then pretend to surrender, pretend to have faith in a loving God and pretend to stop hurting. We pray that this pretense will end before a relapse occurs.

Passing on what we have learned about employment is important for other recovering addicts. We all know the pain of insecurity that financial insufficiency brings. We empower our fear by disallowing any discussion of our financial needs and concerns. Some of us believe, fervently and erroneously, that we must give away money so that we can receive more. There will always be ways to make money quickly however, self-sabotage seems to exact a terrible toll that we are not willing to pay today. We may self-destruct by placing a low value on the things that we can do easily, especially if others can not do them at all. It seems we are experts at being too hard on ourselves. If we feel dissatisfied with our performance at work, we may need to review our abilities and apply a little gratitude for the talents that we have failed to treasure. It is possible that the answers we seek are close and we only need a little more strength and courage from praying to awaken ourselves.

Another area of employment that creates a conflict for some NA members when starting a new job is whether to break our anonymity about being a recovering addict. Certainly, we should fully inform our doctors, dentists and other medical people treating us for injury or illness, but is this rule true for employers? What about telling our customers or co-workers? As members of a program with more members reaching longer periods of total abstinence, we enjoy a good track record as employees who no longer have a drug problem, just for today. If we put ‘no’ on the form, we might get the job, only to be fired for lying later on, without notice. If we put ‘yes’ on the form, we may benefit from the recognition that some companies have that recovery does in fact take place. Some companies already have clean addicts on their payrolls. As time goes by, perhaps new answers will come clear to us on these issues. Certainly, if we lie on the form and relapse later, our disease will begin tearing up our lives again. So, there is no escape from the reality of our addiction. Companies may not understand ‘addiction’ as a disease requiring ongoing effort and care to recover, but they do understand ‘total abstinence’ phrases like: "I don't use drugs."

Unfortunately, no single answer applies to everyone in every situation. Listening to that inner voice of guidance has probably been the best advice that any of us has received. One thing is true, that while we shouldn't have to suffer discrimination because we are in recovery, neither should we expect special treatment because we are addicts. Some members say, that as a general rule of thumb, "I don't bring up the subject but if asked, I tell the truth." The time proven problem with spiritual principles is that they will not seem to work, at all or as well as, the ways of the world in meeting our needs. Each of us seems to go through ongoing battles to practice the principles. We continue to fear failure, pain, or other negative results. This disease plants the idea that we can not afford to be open, honest and plain deep inside of us. Spiritual principles help us obtain things that are more valuable than the worth of worldly goods. Sometimes these things seem unreal when compared to food, shelter, and clothing. It may help to realize that spiritual principles bring us a sense of peace, clarity of mind and the ability to achieve the personal goals that we set for ourselves. We have probably set goals in the past yet it seemed as if something deflected us, often just as the goal seemed to be within our reach.

Certain characteristics kept us alive during a time when we could not do any better. The ‘secret’ of recovery is to pay attention, go slowly, attend to the spirit and learn how to recognize other spiritual players in the game of life. We must love as well as avoid becoming subject to those who have not learned these lessons yet. Clean addicts enjoy an advantage in life just from being clean. As addicts, we come to terms with how isolation cuts us off from the strengths that we would otherwise get from our close companions or coworkers. Plainly and simply, we all have one or several areas of need, many talents, as well as a few real strengths. As long as we can access what we need in other spiritually principled people, God meets our needs.

As we grow spiritually, our ideas of what's important changes. We are better able to work without the intense drive of desperation. ‘Giving selfless service’ is a principle which, when practiced, brings us spiritual growth. Most of our lives were lived in the pursuit of the things about which the Sixth Tradition warns us. Money, property and prestige will divert us from our primary purpose: ‘staying clean and carrying the message.’

Today, we choose to focus on our purpose by expressing love through service in all that we do. Many of us have found because of this commitment that all the things we pursued so vigorously yet could not get enough of are available in abundance through practicing spiritual principles. By concentrating on the good that we could do with every act, we gain recognition from others, received monetary compensation, and gained the awareness of a closer conscious contact with our Higher Power. We have learned from experience that whatever we choose to do, when we put God first, ‘good’ will result. We need reminding that we do not have to be the beneficiaries of these actions. Our Higher Power goes with us wherever we are and meets all our needs.

We try to look for the best in ourselves and others today. We have found that when we express love in all the things that we do, that same love comes back to us in countless ways. We strive to remain open to God-inspired ideas from others by maintaining a closer conscious contact with our Higher Power. We have come to expect as well as experience miracles every day that we stay clean. We no longer see ourselves as merely a worker or a businessperson. We are visionaries who plan what we need to do each day in order to make the vision a reality. It does not matter whether we are the president of a huge corporation or a minor employee of a small company, we can see ourselves as a success.

In Narcotics Anonymous, we do not measure our recovery progress by how much we have acquired or accomplished but by how much we have overcome thus far. An intuitive faith develops within each of us. As we begin to believe that if we are doing our part in our Higher Power's plan, we are in the right place and even greater things will come our way tomorrow.

Sharing our feelings with our new boss may seem risky but this vulnerability can clear the way to having an open and honest relationship. This practice can bear fruit during our employment. Occasionally, we may have a negative experience. However, reaching out for the help of others is usually the first steps on the road back to sanity and reason. We continue to do our best and are usually mildly surprised to find ourselves feeling more competent. Soon we begin to feel quite able and adept. We may find ourselves thinking about moving on to other more challenging projects or positions. We step out in spite of the remaining fear and take the challenge of working in a new position.

We can responsibly leave one job in order to move to another while remaining on good terms with our previous employer. Then the process starts all over again. The world is searching yet going bankrupt trying to find people who will give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Being clean provides us with an automatic advantage over some of our co-workers. Our spiritual growth helps us to accept these new advantages without feeling superior to others. Practicing spiritual principles in the workplace is part of the process that allows us to take our rightful place in the world.


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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.