Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~


Changing from a taker to a giver is one of the most dramatic personality changes that can occur in someone's life. There are two basic questions in the minds of our members: have these people really been where I've been and do they really care about me. The magic in Narcotics Anonymous is that these two questions are true. There may be some who hide out in NA or are court ordered non-addicts but no one would mistake them for NA members. They show no desire for recovery. You become a member when you say your are - but you must say it in word and deed. It serves no one to soft pedal this important distinction. It has been said that we don't need everybody to love us, just one person will do for starters. Any addict seeking recovery can find at least that one in NA. But it may be important to remember that service is also an area of personal growth. While services are the primary result of our efforts to help others know NA exists and find a meeting, services also provided an important area of personal growth. We learn, practice and become effective in group settings in ways that would not be possible without service.

Service is the one of the most essential parts of staying clean in Narcotics Anonymous. In the past, helping professionals over hundreds of years of studying addicts, came up with two basic concepts or truths. First was that addicts had big ego's which needed deflating and second was that if they could get them to help others to get and stay clean, they had the best chances of success. Thus formulated what we kindly refer to in NA as Torture Chambers or T.C.s (Therapeutic Communities). Addicts were ridiculed and shamed to break down those monumental egos through ritualistic behavior modification. If you were vain, you were made to wear a mirror on your neck, if you were acting childish; you spent your days in diapers. Today we realize that the addict’s ego will be broken by his own drug use and not any form of shaming or manipulation. We let their bottom be of there own making and if they are not there yet, we allow them the time and self-will to get there. The second part of treatment was the idea of one addict helping another, which of course in NA we say is without parallel. The ideas that early therapeutic communities and NA alike have come to understand is that the value is not only in the newcomer getting better by easily identifying with the oldtimer, but conversely and most importantly, the old timer stays clean by actively helping newcomers. This spiritual truth transcends all addictive peoples. If you live in the problem, the problem increases and if you live in the answer, the problem goes away! It is very hard, if not impossible, to come from a place of helping others get off drugs and then go directly to the dope house to cop dope.

When we talk about service in Narcotics Anonymous, we often conjure up visions of service committees huddled in a room arguing over the finer points of Roberts Rules of Order, or maybe a committee working on a convention for the Region. Service work in NA has many levels and most of them need you and me to ensure that they are not omitted and addicts die.

Someone once asked; "What's the opposite of love?" Everyone in the room yelled out "Hate!" The speaker replied; "Nope! Hate is a strong emotion, just like love. The opposite of love is indifference!" Conversely, love means paying attention to others, taking time to listen and to care about their needs. For isn't our time, the only thing we truly have to give. To stop and give someone our full attention is the purest form of love and the true meaning of selfless service. It is easy to talk the good talk but it takes giving up a little piece of our egos to stop and listen to that newcomer who is mumbling at the end of the meeting, when what we really want to do is be surrounded by those who were moved by our speech during the meeting.

Love is the heart of all service in NA. We have all heard the newcomer say, "I don't have much clean time, how can I be of service." Listen. We have learned that if you listen to someone long enough, you can be with them the moment when they will hear themselves. Most people just need to vent their feelings by sharing them with another. They do not need counseling, therapy or 12 Step advice. They just need to share. So, anyone who is practicing love, not indifference, will be able to help another addict, simply by taking time to actively listen to what he or she has to say. Active listening is a skill well worth learning and practicing because we will need it to communicate with everyone that we contact. Not just NA members but our wives, husbands, children, bosses, etc. Narcotics Anonymous is an awakening of the spirit and part of this awakening comes from losing our self-centeredness and learning that everyone has something to offer us. Why, because God can and does speak to us through other people. Our journey is to become one with God's will and it is through this form of service called actively listening, that we hone our skills and learning knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.

How do we actively listen to others? The easiest and most effective way to be a good listener is to clear out all the crap that is in your head to start with. That is what keeps us from being in the here and now and living in the moment. We do this by, you guessed it, working the NA 12 Steps of recovery. When we write things down on paper, we get them out of our own heads, which leaves room for new information, get it. So, we begin by putting our thoughts and feelings down on paper to free our minds for new positive input. This does not mean that we can not listen to the suffering addict prior to Step work; it just means we will be more effective once we have done some writing and sharing with our sponsors.

Anyone can listen. Just try to put yourself in the other members’ shoes and know how you would feel if you were pouring your heart out to someone and they kept looking at their watch or the floor. Looking a member in the eye will give them the knowledge that someone truly cares what they have to say. For most of us, our childhoods were not filled with a lot of caring souls.

For most, we grew up in addictive households were the grown ups were not emotionally present. A lot of us gravitated toward gangs or friends that were emotionally unavailable and as we grew up, ether prior to our in recovery, we tended to pick partners that could not be there for us like we thought they should be. Without various elements like loving parents, stability, and various factors that knocked us off balance, we often defaulted into doing the best we could and that best was severely lacking in many respects. Yet we were relegated to sub-ordinate roles and pushed aside by a society that could not understand our situation. Illegalities, violence, stealing and various anti-social attitudes compounded whatever was wrong with us into something worse.

One of the greatest gifts ever given to us is to find one person, a sponsor, who will actively listen and take part in our lives. As sponsors, we have a great trust placed on us to be non-judgmental, as most addicts have judged themselves harsher than any critic ever could. Relying on spiritual principles instead of personalities takes practice. It helps to have a guide to living spiritual principles and that is what a sponsor does for us. The healing starts when we see the newcomer, not as what he/she is, but what they could be. It is our vision of seeing them clean and picking_up many chips that often sustains those who have no vision themselves but failure. That is one of the truly magical gifts that God has given us, the ability to see hope when there should be none, success were only failure has dwelt and recovery were the disease has been running rampant for decades. This vision of hope can and does make all the difference to the still suffering addict. From the beginning, our sponsors and members with time on the program suggest that we become actively involved with service, if we are to stay clean. The suggestions for newcomers range from; getting a home group, emptying ashtrays, help setting up and breaking down the meeting place, making coffee, to greeting people as they come in the door. If we think of NA as a circle, then it is easy to see that if we can stay on the edge, near what is outside of NA, sitting in the back of the room, coming in late, leaving early, it will be easy to fall outside the circle. But, if we come early, lend a hand in setting up, become active in even small ways, then we are inside NA and no longer on the edge. This also helps us to feel a part of, rather than a part from. It also strengthens our commitment because we feel that we belong here and that it is no longer your fellowship, your meetings, but our fellowship and our meeting!

This stage of not feeling like we fit out there and yet not feeling like we fit in inside NA is a very dangerous and crucial place in our recovery. This is where the disease will often manifest symptoms of loneliness and isolation, a longing for our old playgrounds and playmates to ease the feelings of discomfort. Feelings are not facts; they are just feelings and the best way we have learned to get past them quickest and with the least amount of pain, is to be of service at the group level. By doing a few simple tasks, like greeting others, making coffee, etc. We quickly begin to meet others and learn their names. We also are viewed by others as a winner! Someone who is here for the long haul and not just a taker who will come for a short time and then go back out. Part of service on the group level that is hardly mentioned is group etiquette. "Is there such a thing?" you ask, "Hell yes!" Often we learn through sponsorship about such things but this is a great venue to talk about it up front and out in the open. Of course, the rule of thumb with etiquette is that its usually the polite things that make the most sense and are the most helpful in our recovery.

Come early and stay late. Yes we have all heard about being fashionably late to a party but this isn't a party, this is life or and death. Coming early gives us opportunities to meet other members for possibly finding a good sponsor. It says to stick with the winners! Well, winners come early to be of service for there own recovery. Winners are the people who make the announcements in the meetings. Winners are the ones who actively give out there phone numbers, who reach out to the newcomer standing alone by the literature rack. It is a good clue that if someone is at a meeting and they are looking over the meeting schedule, it is for only one of two reasons. Either (a)A. they are a newcomer, which means anyone can reach out to them, or (b)B. they are from out of town and anyone can let them feel welcome by saying hello and letting them know were and when the local meetings are held. Being polite and reaching out to a stranger is always a win/win situation.

Reaching out to out-of-towners can be the most rewarding thing you have ever done in your recovery. Face it; listening to the same people saying the same things can get boring, new faces means new ideas and new perspectives on recovery. Pick their brains for this new input. If they are recovering and on the road, chances are that, they have been clean a while. They may be on the road a lot and can give you neat insights into what other NA communities are doing around the country and around the world. Do not get stuck in the rut of only talking to one click of NA members, your recovery can suffer greatly and you can miss the opportunity to have some very rewarding experiences. You never know when that person that just walked through the door might be your next sponsor. Take a risk and reach out, they are feeling vulnerable because they are out of their element. Put yourself in there shoes, wouldn't you want someone to greet you when you went to a strange new NA meeting out of your home town?

Showing up when the meeting has begun, in the middle of the readings, is distracting to the group and the newcomer who might be hearing them for the first time. It also sets a bad example to those who are not really surrendered and gives them an out when they see someone coming in late, they know they can do the same and no one will get on them for it, hey, why not just come near the end and get that paper signed, yes that is the ticket. NOT! Coming in late and smiling and waiving to all that you know is also rude and disruptive. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. You really need a meeting, your boyfriend just left you after being violent, I am sure you do not want Joe Popular bouncing in his seat and waving to his adoring fans while you are hanging onto the edge of your seat trying not to use that day,

Do we announce to the group an apology for being late? This is a good question, the answer is no. The group isn't responsible for your recovery, you are. Also, the group is there to serve the member, not the other way around. If the only requirement is a desire to stop using, then apologizing seems pointless, it isn't a requirement. It also gives a false message to the newcomer that someone here is in charge and that we need to be apologetic to our trusted servants. Polite maybe but apologetic, we think not. Unless it’s a gross misconduct that truly disrupts the message being carried. Of course, there are times when the best we can do is getting to part of a meeting and that is definitely okay.

However, dragging our feet and making needless delays so that we are late on a regular basis is not. Talk is cheap, as the old saying goes and in NA, amends means living in a way that it does not happen again. If this means leaving twenty minutes earlier than we are used to and maybe having to hang out with that newcomer before the meeting and helping set up, so be it. Could be one of the smartest moves you ever make in your recovery.

The opposite is true as well, stay late. It is easy to get sucked out in a whirlwind of ‘gotta have to’s’ in life. For many nights, this can be true, especially with jobs and families. However, our home groups need to be the exception to the rule. Anyone can organize their schedules to be free an extra half-hour for one night a week. This again is a powerful example to the newcomer of the importance we place in our lives for our home group. If we rush out the door as soon as the 'keep coming back' part of the closing prayer, what does that tell the newcomer about home group service? How would you feel if most of the members of your home group split as soon as the meeting ended, leaving one or two members to clean up after everyone? Sounds kind of dreary don’t you think? Sad to say, that it is more probably the norm, than the exception.

Staying late is a privilege. Now there's an interesting thought. "Service as a privilege not a chore". We feel pride in knowing that we have done something to keep the door to NA open for the still suffering addict and for ourselves as well. We fell honored that others trust us to see that the coffee will be ready, the literature will be out, the readings available, etc.

There is an old rule of thumb in NA - leave a place better than when you came to it. That means the meeting place but it also means the convention site, the picnic place or the NA campout site. It is our job as members to be sure that when people outside think of Narcotics Anonymous, they do not think, "Oh yea, that bunch of pigs, who would want to send someone to a group like that for help." We may be the only copy of the basic text that the non-addict sees and it will more than likely be through that one encounter that they make their decisions about sending someone to us for help. Can you see that a life may depend on you cleaning up after yourselves at an NA function out in the community?

Our answers are to be found in better spirituality, not in better political science. Those whose quest for recovery includes these things can find them here, if that is what they want or need. But it should be constantly brought up that there is much more to be found. Our disease does not look for a better program, full of happy, grateful, recovering addicts. It looks for loopholes, inequities, and defective people, poorly phrased motions and rigged elections.



Addiction will use anything to make NA not okay; anything to destroy what has been built up for us. We have gone the way before them and can share our experience. Whether we kept the faith through a burning desire for recovery or simply followed the advice to "Keep comin' back," we stayed clean and continued to grow. Almost everyday in some way our surrender, faith and hope have been tested. Many, many times we make mistakes and yet we are protected. We are grateful for the passing of the obsession to use, for the support that keeps us going and for the choice we have today. Undue emphasis on the business of NA can result in the kind of strain where it takes a lot of effort to do a little good. Our Fellowship has proved itself endlessly creative in finding ways around the games of those who would seek to control us.

An experienced member shares, "When I was doing research on the F.I.P.T. (Fellowship Intellectual Properties Trust) and the ‘birth and growth’ of the WSO, BOT, etc., I could not help but compare it to the way the administrative side of the fire department worked against the fire fighting side.

"The WSO was the Fire Department Administration. The fellowship was the fire fighters. The administration would make decisions and then give us, the fire fighters, little or no time to look them over and vote on them. The administration would not listen to our objections or input to any of their edicts. They refused to listen to how they were endangering our lives on the fire front. They were old timers who had forgotten where they came from. They refused to see that we not only had to upgrade our equipment and techniques, but that society had changed. We would be shot at, have knives pulled on us and all the other sick actions and reactions of angry people. The administrations refusal to accept this greatly endangered our lives, worse then the burning buildings did. This was insanity full blown.

"I see the same insanity in what is going on in the fellowship today. The WSO has been making decisions without any or very little input from the fellowship. They have violated our Traditions just as the Fire Department Administration violated our bylaws. This has endangered our recovery, our way of life.

"Being able to see that insanity, control and manipulation goes on in two totally different ‘organizations’ was a powerful awakening for me. In the fire department, I was basically powerless over the ‘good old boys.’ In recovery, I can either accept it as is and complain about it, or I can be spiritual and try to change it with the help and support of others. The feelings that were awakened in me were at times, overwhelming, At seeing how the WSO had manipulated us and continues to try to rule the fellowship, I became fearful and angry. I felt like the proverbial trapped animal that was trying to decide whether to react with ‘fight or flight.’

"Part of me was thinking, ‘who am I to buck the WSO? I only have fourteen months clean.’ Part was thinking, ‘Oh well, there are others in the fellowship who can handle this.’ Part was thinking, ‘this is just like my right to vote: if I don't vote, I have no right to complain about the way the government works.’ I have a given right, along with my fellow recovering addicts to vote on how NA literature is to be done, on what the WSO can or cannot do.

"My fears of being manipulated and used in recovery were based on my feelings of NA no longer being a safe haven. Once again, I felt threatened. This fear then turned into anger, deep-seated anger. Not ‘good anger,’ that was very frightening to me. At first, I was confused and wandering in my recovery. I shared about it and it was suggested to pray. I did. My higher power turned my anger to resolve. Resolve to experience dysfunction both in and out of this fellowship. Resolve to share my hope of seeking a spiritual solution that would or could pull the fellowship together in unity instead of being a catalyst that could divide and tear our fellowship apart.

"I love this fellowship. I love what NA has given me - a way of life. I cherish this new life and wish to see it continue to be nurtured and grow in the unconditional love and acceptance of the fellowship of NA. I wish to be an active, positive participant of fellow-shipping and recovery; not someone who is going to let the fears and other negative feelings tear me away from the fellowship."

This should provide comfort for some and guidance for others. The answer is not in bureaucracy. It is in the will of a loving God. There are reasons why we involved so many people in our decisions. Parts of this well may be revealed to each of us, so we have to share. This is not the kind of Fellowship where we follow orders. It is our business to know why we do things as much as what we do in different cases. It takes a steady diet of information covering broad outlines and detailed aspects of our way of life to continually find the common denominators that bind us together spiritually. We have to fit the pieces together to see the picture in the puzzle. If you feel at any point that your recovery is threatened by your service involvement, run to your sponsor and if the problem can not be resolved, resign and get back to basics. In Narcotics Anonymous, we see a steady stream of movements. Understandably these spiritual principles takes away some of the fears that force some members to become zealots. There are enough loving, caring, experienced members to make the thorniest problems solvable in time. Just so long as we stick together, extend ourselves for the newcomer and maintain our spiritual condition, nothing can break our circle.

Somewhere, someone cares about the problem that is troubling you and has some positive solutions to offer from their personal experience. Do not isolate or let yourself feel that no one cares. While some problems will be solved easier than others, try to bear in mind that this is our Fellowship and if we have problems, it is because our growth constantly brings our members into areas where they have little or no positive experience and conflicts are inevitable. Whatever the matter is, we do care and we are trying to make it better for everyone. We just have a few more addicts than we used to and that means we have to consider a few more personalities.

We will get good at either explaining how what happened has neither the effect nor the implication that bothers you until you are fully and completely satisfied. Hope, for the sake of NA that you had it wrong and once it was explained your sense of outrage goes away. Now, what if the members whose council you seek agree with you and explain exactly what it is that bothers you so that you know you're not alone. That efforts towards a remedy are either initiated or the matter is brought to the attention of others who share your concerns and the remedy of the problem you experienced will be covered over a broader portion of the Fellowship. There is really no alternative to the approach outlined above. There may be a few eternal problems that will never go away but they will likely have some positive function to offset the trouble they put us to from time to time.

If you see or know of a disorder, you should take several steps. First, calm down. There is hardly any area of interpersonal trust that has not been violated. The Spirit of Recovery has survived. There is probably no type of structural violation that hasn't been explored more than once. Narcotics Anonymous survives. Any impropriety, any exploitation and any particular thing that upsets your sense of moral correctness: it has all been done and we have survived. So lighten up a little so you can think clearly. If possible, speaking to the concern at the instant it is perceived can be corrective. If there is resistance or you are treated poorly or told to shut up, bide your time. Write out in detail what your concerns are and take them to your sponsor.

Whenever people get involved with one another on an ongoing basis, they become subject to generalizations that apply to all groups. Certain aspects of our NA way of life are like social movements. It is interesting to see the movement of ideas and the effects these ideas have on people in a similar way.

First, one or more people discover something wrong, something that has to be changed, improved or dealt with to satisfy a need. These people are called zealots. They will work for little or nothing, are capable of great effort and play the crucial role of initiating action.

Second, if the zealots are successful, they attract the popular interest of others who see the need and agree something ought to be done. Various proposals as to what ought to be done are presented and discussed. This is the popular stage and leaders are likely to be prophets or reformers.

Third, one of the proposals discussed in the earlier stages gains popular support and must then be formalized to gain the support needed to address the need or deal with the issue of concern. A president is typical of the leadership required for this phase of a social movement.

Fourth, if the first three phases are successful, the formalized proposal becomes institutionalized. Funding, staffing and interaction with other organizations must be worked out. A new bureau is formed and lines of support are formalized. Leadership is likely to be an executive director and while some of the early energy is gone, the original needs are to some extent, being met.

This may be a good place to remind ourselves that all problems yield to gentleness and kindness. No lasting progress is based on manipulation or coercion or unknowing or unwilling addicts. We always find out. Then, with the help of a loving God, we set matters to rest and go our way in peace.

There is a distinct example that may provide an interesting topic of discussion. Voting when uninformed or unsure of our feelings on the issues before us is not spiritual, it is lazy. It postpones a solution while creating new disorders. People can not agree in reality unless they have a common understanding and a good feeling inside. Remember, NA is a spiritual fellowship and not a for profit organization. We have to stick to the principles that work for a fellowship like ours. Quoting from a book called Bureaucracy, "In bureaucracies of a profit making or financial nature, individual opinion is sacrificed in favor of efficiency. In bureaucracies of a spiritual or religious nature, efficiency is sacrificed in favor of individual opinion." When assemblies vote, participants can vote for the motion, against the motion or abstain from voting. Does this seem simple to you? The voting on the clear yeses and noes is in itself deceptive. If we are agreed on using voting as a means of deciding issues, what occurs if there is an overwhelming majority of voting participants who are in favor of a motion yet share in common a lack of understanding the question. Or they may be ignorant of some key point that would switch their position totally. What is the value of a vote in these cases?

For those new to the questions posed above, we could continue with a successful, textbook style presentation that would satisfy the job of presenting the point in clear unmistakable terms. By doing this, we would lend creditability to the notion that voting is the answer. Our Traditions tell us, in a clear definite way, that our Ultimate Authority may express itself in group conscience. This may seem to lack the force and clarity of voting but it is group conscience that will carry in the end. This is because a group may pass a motion, unaware of certain elements and the motion may be considered to be in force. As soon as members become aware of the error, they are usually free to change their mind or discontinue their support, claiming rightfully that the effect of the motion was not considered possible, or likely when they voted. This observation makes it a wonder that we ever agree on anything or what is more important, that we are effective instruments of the loving God that we reach through the Twelve Steps. As with other aspects of the NA program, this appears to be more confusing than it is in practice.

Second Tradition in mind, to effectively serve in this Fellowship, we have to consider these questions on one hand and develop a feel for getting good things done on the other. Another study topic that comes up among students of politics and religion, is the difference between objective and subjective questions. Such topics may help us understand what other people are saying or getting upset about. Our base line in NA is just to relate effectively enough to get some help for some addict who is hurting and would get the help we offer if it is available in their area at the time that they need it. If the help line is working, they will call. If a meeting is listed on the schedule, they will come. If they can make contact with the NA recovery process, they will be able to stop using and start living. This, we hopefully will remember, is what it is all about.

We have been forced to consider such questions as the price of growing. When we get pressure on us and demands for action exceed general knowledge, problems are inevitable. The goal before us, many of us believe, is to make the written structure accord with the wishes and reasonable expectation of our newcomers. Financial accountability should be clear and up front. Questions under consideration require adequate information in a useful form to equip the member who may lack specific knowledge on key subjects. Many times, we have to rough it or make mistakes before we can get it right. The answer is never money.

Now, do abstentions count yes or no? Or do they count nothing? Do they count on ordinary motions and not on motions of substance? Or is it the reverse? Do voting participants have a right to refrain from voting? In the case of representatives, do they serve those they represent well by voting yes or no without regard for the express - sometimes ‘voted’ - will of those they represent? Suppose their vote is going to count for or against the question regardless of their wish to abstain. In other words, by not voting, they may under the rules of order agreed to by the assembly, they in effect vote yes..

Service is not about control. It is about helping others with the strength and guidance of a loving God. Control is a tool of management systems and may work very well in corporate settings. Narcotics Anonymous is a spiritual Fellowship, not a management system. This is why it is important to keep our services simple and direct. It is easy to get caught up in the seriousness with which we take ourselves. Chairs and participants should take time to lighten up if committee works becomes locked up with emotions and personal concerns. Likewise, we may need to tighten up if we get too loose and carefree. Balance is the key. Spending time and money to set up management systems that ‘promise’ to help at some future date might best be left off. ‘More will be repealed’ is a phrase that might help some find comfort in the machinations of group conscience by unskilled or inexperienced service workers who have not yet realized the nature of the people they seek to govern. How would such culprits enforce their sanctions against a tribe of gypsies? Addicts are peculiar people and while we may appear to be asleep, we have ways of watching. Still, this is not to condone or permit such disruptions. Enormous energy may be required to set a simple matter straight.

Working together in an atmosphere of love, we share our troubles and the solutions. There may be times in our recovery when we feel our character defects have the upper hand over the spiritual principles we desire to live by today. At these times, we take a few seconds out to ask our higher power to help us deal with what we are faced with spiritually. With the guidance of our higher power, we may have the opportunity to postpone dealing with situations until we can do so spiritually. Ego is the real issue behind all contentions and appearances. We view issues in terms that favor those we ‘like’ and leave out those we either dislike or simply do not know. While you will sooner or later hear someone actually say, "Don't give me that God stuff!" Do not settle for that. The ‘God stuff’ guides and provides for all we need in recovery.

When members gather to act in the name of Narcotics Anonymous, they place themselves in a special position. If they are surrendered and sincere, the spirit of desire for recovery will enable them to do their work as part of our group will. If they have not learned the lessons of the Third Step, they will experience difficulty and lack strength and guidance. Even with great resources, they will fail. The first lesson of service should be that God works the miracles not us. The instant we begin to take personal credit for God's miracles, forces are engaged to reduce divine intervention to the merely human level. The service structure sets the stage for some of these miracles, but can take no credit for the spiritual forces that are engaged and God does all the ‘real’ work. When we forget this and that the structure is merely an extension of the conscience of individual NA groups, the structure begins to take on a life of it's own and can set itself up finally as the enemy of the group.

Along with this lesson is the fact that all our service disorders trace back to the disease of addiction. Most, if not all, of our service conflicts involved members who are knowledgeable about NA recovery, our Twelve Steps and our Twelve Traditions. The sad thing is that in these conflicts, neither side will communicate with the other. Nor will they subject the basic areas of concern or disagreement to the creative spirit of open discussion. Personalities align with personalities and soon there is no room for that God Stuff. There is little members of goodwill can do on such occasions except tend the wounded and wait for the battles to die down.



One way we keep down our disorders is to hold "learning days." These are occasions where members can learn or re-learn the basic lessons that keep us free and effective. Speakers who have successful experience share on topics of interest such as chairing a meeting, chairing a service committee, the various things we can do to help a group as a treasurer or secretary. The lessons we have learned from the Twelve Traditions are gone into in detail. Social ineptitude is a requirement for most NA members, and so good manners and orderly behavior can be acquired without being put on the spot when the group is enjoying a presentation on how to be an effective group leader without reverting to 'old ways' to enforce conformance. A chairperson can seriously tire an assembly of addicts who come to serve NA and are forced to listen to someone demonstrate they have not read the service guides that apply to their service body by asking long winded questions. A good chair can politely interrupt and tell them to write out their questions and refer to the service guides for clarification. A learning day makes it ok to ask questions and get answers in a positive setting.



Our Society and Fellowship has faced disorders within our membership since addicts first began to get clean in NA. Many of our problems have to do with getting NA started somewhere. Today, we have the problem of surviving our bigness. It seems that when we are small, we are careful. When we are big, we get wasteful. We do not quite treasure each and every member with the same intensity many of us received when we were new. It is easy to be distracted by the competing demands of our daily personal life. Gossip and rumor may still provide a convenient way to appear informed without thinking. If we come to love those around us, we notice their pain hurts us. Betraying personal confidences, criticizing others, making ourselves look good by making those around us look bad; these are ways that fail to give us what we want. We may feel badly if we find ourselves doing any of these things but that is not the question we ask ourselves. What we ask ourselves is this: is this the best I can do? There comes a time when we can do better, and we get to go on then.

Our Second Tradition defines the roles we play in service. We lead by example, not by authority of our service position or our position in a power grid. In our spiritual service structure, we have no power grid. All are directly responsible to those we serve. We are elected to serve in these positions by those who feel we may be good roll models but their are not guarantees. The lure of money, property and prestige will always be there to tempt us into joining forces with those who see the world as surfaces because they are not yet able to compass the divine quality of our program Praying for the God of your understanding to remove your self-will and ego and give you the strength and guidance to do His footwork is the best start point for you to serve NA. Without conscious contact people can easily forget to be directly responsible to those they serve. They will attempt to lead by personal power, bluster, manipulation and methods of control.

The dream of love and kindness among addicts who have survived total hell only to wind up contending over useless issues and mental conflicts is how recovery ends for those of us who fall into that trap. We who have hurt enough renounce these things. True there are problems; there will always be problems. We will use these problems to work out creative, loving solutions, not ongoing political battles and never ending conflicts. WE CAN LEARN from our mistakes!

Wherever there are members of goodwill, there are no service disorders. Where there are members who are glad they are clean today, there are no problems. How are things doing today? Fine, everything seems to be in working order. Those who are at peace are finding peace. Those who are bound by power, property and prestige seem to be getting just those things. Those who remember where they came from are glad to be somewhere else now. The real power still rests in the care of our Ultimate Authority who may express itself in our group conscience. Be careful where you put your mind because the rest of you will surely follow.

We cannot do it without each other and one of our basic understandings is that we are each and every one of us, important. NA is not a business or a financial institution. We deal with these aspects of our existence because we must; yet our real focus remains on our gratitude and our practice of spiritual principles. Without these, even our abstinence wears thin. Spirituality is not an option for us. We must feel something good spiritually to survive the rigors forced on us by life and our disease. Certainly, NA has been much more successful than the various help agencies and medical approaches in making the clean life available and possible for the largest group of addicts ever to get clean together.

Sometimes addicts try to 'graduate' from recovery seeking to transpose their recovery experience into something trivial, insincere and flawed with human imperfection. All the countless hours of patient listening, caring, the meetings, the phone calls, and countless small acts of kindness seem to disappear from consideration. It is the members who love, keep coming back and practice the NA way of life who keep this Fellowship alive.

When too many new members get into service with too little clean time among them, complaints are heard about service burn out. This is not service but it’s opposite. When people say they are tired of the politics, they are not saying they are tired of loving, caring and giving. Something has gone terribly wrong and no one is courageous enough to do anything about it. It is taking instead of giving. It your service does not help recovery it isn't service. It is selfish and playing a role to gain personal attention. This is not giving but taking. Service is freely given and freely received. It was some members loving service that gave each of us hope in our early recovery. Only our selfishness would make our caring and sharing seem negative. If we no longer have the capacity to care, we should resign our office or let go of our committee commitments until we can regain our sense of serving. Members need to find the positive option at any given point and be able to step out on faith and do it!

It has been said, "There is nothing spiritual about service work." NA is constantly being reborn as new members get involved and form new groups. This steady influx of positive interest and enthusiasm has kept us growing as a Fellowship, offsetting many times outbreaks of personal contention and infighting. While combatants are preoccupied with their wounds, the newcomers are setting up house! Actually, the real disorders seem to be mainly at the world level and of those, mainly where business concerns attempt to override spiritual concerns. We can hope this settles down one day. When that day comes, we can delete these lines but until then, we hope to speak with loving clarity and precision about the necessity to keep the worldly concerns from dominating how members feel and how they express themselves in group conscience. The service functions tend to get done and with little recognition, many basic routines are carried out in a fine and exemplary manner. The more we appreciate our members in service, the more encouraged they are to serve us well.

Competitiveness can be interesting as long as members keep their eye on the ball and remember that God works the miracles in NA and that the best we can hope for is to be servants worthy of trust. To be effective we have to have enough understanding and agreement to have function. We do not have to agree totally on every question. We may have to be reminded at times that each of us has funny little prejudices and odd attitudes we picked up from somewhere as kids or young people out of the raw mix life threw at us before and during our active addiction.

One half dozen and six may have the same meaning but we better agree on which one to use so that we, and our listeners, will have some idea what we are talking about. Needless disagreement and useless argument is good for nothing. Apparently simple terms otherwise become a matter of philosophical debate if we do not emphasize the ties that bind us together over our differences. This can shut us down functionally if we are not careful. Anyone who has been in service five years of more should know what is being addressed here.

When our Area Service Committees find themselves struggling, many of us become distressed because we feel attached towards, and dependent upon, our service structure. By ‘struggling’ we mean an area service committee that cannot pay it bills, fill its trusted servants positions, conduct business, uphold the Traditions in all it affairs or be directly responsible to those it serves. This state of affairs often causes a ground swell of support among concerned members who want to save Area Service and prop it back up. Such attempts, however well intentioned, are equal to putting a band-aid on a severed limb - its not going to work. We find that, just like a relapse, the roots of the apparent symptom are linked to a history of disease. Group conscience is not what I think or you think, it is an approximation of what we all think on a given topic or issue. If we do not get down to it, our decisions and policies will wobble or be impossible to enforce. As a spiritual fellowship and non-profit organization, we tailor our means to suit our ends because we must feel good about what we are doing as we do it. This goodness counteracts some of the pain of our pasts. Helping others slips into the realm of impersonal altruism until we have someone screaming for help in our personal space, our car or our living room. Realizing we are all part of something that gives that help is the big deal and we surrender if we want to participate. This goes for the loftiest trusted servant to the lowliest elected representative.

One truth comes slowly. For decades, our Fellowship wallowed in the shallow water just off shore trying to avoid wetness before setting out for the other side of the river. To cross, either start swimming or take the boat! We have found the spirit of a loving God present in all our service meetings. The concept of addicts meeting together and sharing ideas without anyone being harmed is evidence of this loving God. We will not ever come up with the perfect system. Fortunately, we do not have to be perfect to live long, happy and useful lives! Service is a visible test of our surrender, faith and devotion. Nobody can mash our buttons like another addict.

Twelfth Step work does not always come easy. If we have disbelief intact, an inability to say we have made a decision to let our God care for our lives, our defects of character in working order and a reluctance to make amends, our ‘service’ may be limited. If we pattern ourselves after someone who has been in recovery long enough to know what to do and why, chances are we will feel the joy of giving right away. If not, we will almost certainly fall back into our patterns of hatred, jealousy, rivalry and insecurity. In other words, we will begin to act on our defects. This is not our fault. It is just the way the disease of addiction works in recovery to attempt to restore us to insanity.

A side effect of our rapid growth in certain areas has resulted in some cases where so many addicts get clean;clean, they water down the message and fail to grasp the continuity of giving that is embodied in what we call service. Where this happens, the activities involved in carrying our message can seem like a business to some and a power struggle to others. Of course, struggling for power is something we should deal with in our first step. Addiction really is a killing disease and it will always seek a way to make us feel worthless and hopeless.

It might help us if we understand that results are not all we are after in our service work. Sometimes the most important person who gets served is the trusted servant themselves. Are they not members? Do they not then need help in learning how to live clean? Does not service by its very nature create opportunities for us to grow that would not otherwise exist? Helping others validates the process. Fear has often justified falsification of minutes, prearranged elections, and resulted in incomplete or misleading reports. Group conscience processes are meant to filter out what does not work by putting in a position of control only people who care about NA and are not subject to the strains and pressures of conflicts of interest.

Some of us feel we are so imperfect and our flaws so deeply hidden and embedded that we can never achieve happiness and recovery at the same time. In this pain, our desperation causes us to sabotage our recovery and create hatred and disorder to justify what we want to do. It is understood that we addicts create clouds of confusion to cover up our games and separate agendas. It is helpful to remember that we can no more kill desire for recovery in another addict than other can make us have that desire in the first place. So, it is a waste of time to savage NA. The deep wells of our love and gratitude will endure. We will be here to welcome you back when your sad cycle brings you our way again. This passage is not directed at the newcomer. It is for the unfaithful with clean time that choose to waste it, forgetting their own hard won lessons.



When members feel they cannot be honest about difficulties within their committees, simple problems can get really bad. When we can not talk about certain problems or talk with someone who has successfully dealt with the problems we are facing, we can really feel stumped. Some of our most devoted members can fall away from the Fellowship putting their terrific energy into fighting their fellows or leaving NA. God! This is unacceptable. We are all such miracles. We should be able to sit around and disagree all we want to with the understanding that when the talking is done, we really love and need each other. The shock of a real or imagined service disorder arouses deep resentment and anger when it comes. We all live under certain assumptions. One person put it this way: all can prescribe what all should do, but no one has a right to demand that another shall do what he does not do himself. When we feel this has been violated within our Fellowship or its structure, our very surrender is a stake. Many members use this sort of thing as an excuse to get loaded. We have to remind ourselves that the getting loaded part may be working to produce the perceived wrong doing the same as it does to produce physical pain if it thinks it can get dope that way.

In fact, have not we all had enough emotional pain relating to unfairness and inequity in the world to be just a little tougher? Can we afford to let another's wrongdoing threaten our lives through relapse? We are better able to help each other find solutions based on personal experience than ever before in our history. Often we only see our faults and problems in retrospect. Are we enabling another by accepting the problems as is or are we allowing them to grow through the problem? Service disorders can and do affect NA as a whole. When are we operating on self_will and when are we operating on spiritual guidance. The answer is often apparent.

Isolation is such a strong part of our addiction; we have much to learn about true self-government. Almost every one ofor us has deep distrust of what other people will do to us if we drop our guards. This fear and distrust can make for funny problems when we get together to do some of our committee work. In general, as long as the service is very straight forward, there is little trouble. The more complex projects require time and something spiritual, yet close to management technique. The trouble comes when some of us actually try to apply real management techniques to their fellow members. It is easy to do and can even seem justified in terms of results.



Do we as NA members have the right to meet in the name of NA and yet avoid contact with the 'service structure' of NA? If you think of NA as a set of principles, it is easy to answer this question. If you think NA is a corporation based in California, it may be harder. If these groups do not contribute funds to the service structure that would go to pay for services performed by the corporation, non-payment for services issued becomes an issue. On the other hand, if there were perceived abuses within the system, then withholding funds would be a way of showing displeasure with the system. In terms of their belief, to contribute to a system that goes against the basic beliefs and purposes of NA would be contrary to the 5th Tradition and 7th Tradition of the group. While we can leave the answers to these questions to others, we can at least acknowledge the questions exist.

One of the proofs of the spiritual validity of a meeting is shown when a group exists over a period of time. Members will not attend a meeting for long unless their spiritual needs are being met. Examination of some of the groups in existence may prove useful.



The following essays need to be read as written. These offerings may provide support and guidance for members whose feelings involve issues and real concerns to our Fellowship. We are growing upward, outward and inward - all at the same time. We need to recognize conflicts of interest and personality clashes and deal with them effectively since they cannot be avoided. It should be emphasized that we are using principles to deal with life on life's terms. Service disorders have to do with the insanity of our disease. Our recovery process must generate the answers.



Can NA leadership skills be taught? Our leaders are but trusted servants, directly responsible to those they serve so how do we train people to exercise kind, caring and effective leadership? This is a question/problem that seems very prevalent in NA - there is often a core of concerned, hard-working NA members in a community, but they have trouble recruiting others into service. They are very good at doing things themselves, but they are not very effective at recruiting others to help. This greatly limits their ability to carry the message!

Experienced NA people do not always pass on their service experience. Many have had the chance to make mistakes and learn from others. There are many, many people with talent and energy in NA, but they'll stay out of service unless they are approached in a certain way. By the way, this is exactly the way I like to be treated, too!

We’ve all seen the committee chairperson who ‘knows’ the right way to do things, and then complains that they can not get any helpers. It is like an obsession - these leaders who see exactly how the 'finished product' should look, and then try to use people as tools to carry out their vision. This rigidness clouds people's minds.

Take your average NA member, elected as H&I chair. The first thing he does is to call a committee meeting. He gets a few people, sure, but not many. The chair uses the meeting to start talking about the needs and problems of the hospitals and treatment centers in the area and how there are one or two faltering H&I meetings. Some issues are discussed, and maybe there's even a vote. Mainly, though, there's talk about getting more people involved! Next meeting, same thing . . . the chairperson gets frustrated. He ‘knows’ what should be done in those hospitals and other places, but no one seems to want to help! Puzzled and disheartened, he tries to do all of the area's H&I meetings himself, with maybe one or two helpers. He gets very tired, and can not understand why other NA members will not lift a finger to help!

Please consider a completely different approach: take the H&I committee and figure out what the overall goal is. Do we want to give every treatment center patient an introduction to NA once during their stay? Do we want to give all patients a weekly NA meeting? Is it enough to make literature available, without actual meetings? We have to have a rough idea of ‘where’ we are going! This becomes the ‘goal’ of the whole committee. It is discussed among the few people who come to the first few committee meetings.

The committee's overall goal must be concrete and definite - so that success or failure can be measured - but nothing should be said about ‘how’ the goal should be accomplished. Methods will be decided by each committee member.

- Divide the Work -

After the committee's main goal is agreed on, then it is divided up into lots of smaller goals. Each of these goals will equal one service position. One goal could be to introduce patients at the local St. Mary's Treatment Center to NA at least once during their four weeks there. Or, another goal could be to give any willing patient at the Central Treatment Center a ride to the Wednesday night NA meeting . . .When, say fifteen of these goals have been identified, the recruiting begins. That is one of the main jobs of a committee chair - recruiting! The other is supporting and encouraging the other committee members. A good chairperson does not get bogged down in the details, but instead works on finding good people, agreeing on the goals of their position and then turning them loose with full support. He/she monitors everything by talking in a friendly way with people, and offering them help (in the form of more money or more people). A good chairperson lets others take care of the details and decisions.

When recruiting people, the chairperson should always have a job in mind. "Tom, would you be willing to be IN CHARGE of bringing an NA experience to the patients at St. Mary's? You'd be FREE to do the job ANY WAY YOU WANT." Tom hesitates, and says, "Well, I dunno." At this point, the committee chair says, "Thanks for not saying No right away! Please take a week and think about it - you would be completely IN CHARGE of NA at St. Mary's - I'd support whatever you decided to do there. I'll talk to you again in a week and see what you think."

Recruiting like this is easy. Visiting meetings all over town, approaching active NA people. Of course, many people have been burned by NA committee work and say ‘NO’ to more service. But there is a ‘strong’ attraction to being IN CHARGE of something - the chance for a person to put his or her personal stamp on a project! Eventually, you'll find people who'll say, "Yes" and that is when the challenge ‘really’ starts. That is also when "in charge" needs to be explained as using spiritual principles to accomplish the goal - otherwise we create a tyrant.

The challenge is letting people do things ‘their’ way in accordance with the suggestions of service, instead of the way you ‘know’ is right! Yes, you have experience and do not want other to make the same mistakes you did. Yes, NA's reputation must be protected and we shouldn't waste a lot of time, money and energy. But it is like the difference between babysitting and adoption.

If you give your baby to a ‘babysitter’, you expect that person to follow your plans and procedures - you have the right to give them suggestions and directions. "No! Hold the baby's head more carefully. That's it." In contrast, if you give your baby up for adoption, you loose any right to give directions. In fact, it is not your baby at all anymore!


_ No Babysitting –_

Some committee chairs in NA seem to expect other committee members to ‘baby-sit’ part of the chair's big plan. Naturally, no one's got the time to ‘baby-sit’ someone else's baby for free - they are busy with their own lives and recovery. That is where I feel like I have discovered nuclear energy - the key is letting people completely ‘adopt’ parts of a big project. The word ‘adopt’ is appropriate, because the committee chair must avoid ANY discussion of ‘how’ another committee member is doing their job. Just as you wouldn't criticize another parent for the way she is raising her child, an NA chair shouldn't criticize or ‘even comment on’ how another person chooses to handle his part of the big project. That baby's been adopted and the chairperson has just got to live with that person's ‘parenting’ style!

If you're a committee chair, your new committee members will test you on this right away. They'll look at your eyes and say, ‘I was thinking of having a purple watermelon punch as the main beverage for the convention. What do you think of that?" It is so easy to answer, "That is interesting. Are you going to have Coke too? I think a lot of people like Coke: Wrong! That person was just ‘testing’ whether they were a babysitter or a parent. The chairperson's comment showed that the convention refreshment person was we just babysitting, because the chair showed that she had a definite idea about how the refreshment job should be done.

The ‘correct answer’ is to say, "Tom, I trust your judgment. Whatever you want to do is OK with me! Uh, if you think you're going to make a decision that will be controversial, you might want to bounce it off some other experienced NA members, but in the end, I'll support whatever you decide to do!" Yes, this is a long speech but it works! Notice, there's no mention of the crazy purple watermelon punch at all - a good chairperson refuses to mess with details.

If all of this seems easy, it is ‘not’! The first time someone in your Public Information Committee asks you, "I was thinking of giving anas interview about NA to the local newspaper, what do you think?" you will not be able to resist commenting. When you see their face after you give your ideas though, their expression will say, "Hell! I'm just a babysitter after all!" It is not too late to apologize though and say, "Hey, don't listen to me - I trust whatever you decide about newspaper stuff." With time, you'll get the hang of expressing this kind of trust, and people will light up! People are happy to get involved in NA service when they are given clear goals and then turned loose to achieve those goals with creativity and intelligence. No second-guessing from the chairperson. No looking over their shoulder and commenting on how things should be done. When people experience this kind of responsibility, trust and freedom, they do not go wild - actually, they become ‘very’ careful in their decisions. Group conscience speaks through them. Now, it is ‘their’ reputation on the line! Their pride will not let them fail!

It should be mentioned that there is always the rare case where a committee member completely stops doing his job. It is like a parent who neglects his child - if some friendly questions like, "Is everything all right? Do you need some help?" from the chair does not resolve the problem, then that part of the project can be ‘gently’ handed over to someone else. This kind of service work is never boring!

One of our members with long clean time shares, "I have lived clean through several difficult periods within NA in service and in recovery. For those of you who have learned spiritual principles to live life clean and pursue recovery, I am posting things that have helped me in hopes they will help others.

- Pray a lot.

- Do not speak ill of others.

- Be as nice as you can to people.

- Be firm and correct in your actions.

- Help correct errors within your system.

- Be open to the comments and criticisms of others.

- Practice the law of three: what you do comes back three times.

- Don’t speak or act when in the grip of powerful emotions or anger.

- Trust your Higher Power to take care of things you are powerless over. - If in emotional pain, retreat to a safe place and contemplate all you have to be grateful for...



A member painfully shares, "Recently my first sponsor resurfaced, he has been out in the "real world" for about three years now. I have had a lot of negative responses to some of his choices thus far and was not very happy to have him reappear to say the least. Last week, he called at a very inopportune time but God gave me the insight that he is lonely and he's reaching out to this Fellowship through me. I recalled some of the things that he taught me when I first got clean and I felt really ashamed that I had become very judgmental of his choices.

"Mostly I recalled how he had sat down with me and gave me examples of situations and asked if these violated anywhich, if any, of our Traditions and if any where violated, asked methere was a violation - what was the best way to deal with it. I specifically recall the example he gave me on the Sixth Tradition. It went: A member shares that after being clean some months that their spouse still didn't seem to trust them and this was an intolerable situation. They didn't know whether to stay or go. My sponsor posed: I share, "You know, you should call Dr. John Doe. He's real good and fairly cheap." Then he asked what, if anything, I should do if I was chairing the meeting. He also gave me: I share, "I had a similar experience and I had to seek help beyond the Fellowship. Get with me after the meeting and we'll discuss it further." The God that I live with has a terrific sense of humor and I was placed in exactly this situation in an actual meeting and had to interrupt the sharing and direct the meeting back to recovery (with the offender being a family member, no less. It allowed me to be able to see that this works - not only in the rooms but everywhere I go. He taught me the ‘rules’ of this Fellowship and along with that, he enabled me to be able to do service.

"I see so many people who seem to think that our Traditions are not important to us as individuals and that you'll get it eventually. I know of nothing that I have ever been involved with that didn't REQUIRE learning the ‘rules.’ The Traditions are the ‘rules’ in this thing called Narcotics Anonymous within the rooms and outside the rooms. It is only through understanding and application that they work.

"I was overwhelmed last weekend, during a conversation with my ex-sponsor, by gratitude for his taking the time to instruct me in the Traditions - giving me a basic understanding and sharing examples of how to apply them before he allowed me to get into service. Yes, that is the right word. I wanted to get involved and chair a meeting, he said, "Not until I am sure that you understand the Traditions." He allowed me to get into service. The chairperson of a meeting is a servant of our Fellowship - what a concept and what a responsibility. How do you meet the responsibility of chairing a meeting and ensuring that the meeting maintains an atmosphere of recovery if you haven't learned the Traditions and their practical applications?

"This knowledge is the most valuable tool that I own when I get involved in service in any form, at any level, anywhere I go - within this Fellowship and in the ‘real’ world as well.

"Thank you again, ex-sponsor, friend and still-suffering addict. I love you."


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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.