Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~


Learning to trust is an ability that does not develop overnight. We have learned to trust from relationships with our personal self, our Higher Power, our sponsor and other clean addicts in NA. As our faith in a power greater than ourselves increases so does our ability to trust. We work the Steps with our sponsor and we have gained trust and faith in them as human beings willing to help us and not judge us. Having established a relationship with a Higher Power and a sponsor helps us to begin having a relationship with ourselves. We eventually trust God enough to turn over our wills and our lives to divine care. This decision, along with our surrender and new belief, opens many doors for us.

When we trust our feelings and actions, we then learn to trust others but choosing trustworthy individuals may still be a problem for some time. We have to learn discretion in choosing trustworthy individuals. As we surrender, we learn to trust. Unconditional love is experienced when an NA member helps us, expecting nothing in return. We do not trust just anyone, especially our old playmates. NA members prove themselves trustworthy as we get to know them. There is a special bond which forms as our identification with others like ourselves becomes complete. We have to learn not betray them along with learning not to betray ourselves. Of course, as self-destruction and isolation characterize our disease, we have to grow more trustworthy through working the steps. We come to trust God as our understanding grows. So, much of our mistrust is based in fear of the unknown. As we learn, we grow in all areas. No part is separate from the whole. We learn how changing a part of the whole makes a difference to the whole thing.

Many of us did not trust others simply because we did not trust ourselves. We could never tell for sure what we would do! Our addiction prostituted our wills, desires and values. We lose what we abuse. There are several levels of trust. We earn trust, gain trust and sometimes expect trust. For us an addict, feeling worthy of trust comes from living with spiritual principles. All of the spiritual principles of NA are equally important. People respond to us in a more positive manner today. We check our personal motives in our conscience in order to determine whether we are living in recovery or addiction. Are we open to the problem or the solution? While some learn trust from a sponsor and others close to us in the Fellowship of NA, we all receive guidance and instruction from someone. We share and grow in the process. Listening to others share in meetings opens us up to new experience and when the things we learn work, our capacity to trust increases.

We wonder what happens to our secrets when another member gets loaded. Will they lash out and try to cause us problems? Usually not is the answer. Not because of any virtue, it is just that active addiction makes planning hard. We forget how our isolation and insanity makes us unpredictable. Do not let your imagination control what your think or act upon. Certainly defensive moves can trigger unwanted effects, so don't draw attention to yourself. For some reason, we are also poor predictors of what other people will do. Our ultimate faith and trust must be with a power greater than ourselves. We trust that a loving God will work things out, just like when we were new and at our lowest point. .

Trust has to do with the commitment of being true to one another. Our need for help is intense because growth in recovery moves us into areas of life where we lack personal experience and self-confidence. Often we try to live by what we saw on TV or heard from another person instead of talking with our sponsors or other members. This is where some of our mistakes come from. We have to stay close to someone, either a sponsor or friend, who can help us if we have trouble or are prone to make mistakes. Three answers will come up frequently when we don’t know what to do: honesty, open-mindedness and the willingness to try. These spiritual principles tell us what to do in all kinds of situations where we feel threatened and want to be dishonest, narrow-minded and don’t really even want to try! The important thing is that we keep trying and asking for help until we begin to succeed. We will succeed if we keep trying, in almost every case. This means that even when we think we have failed, we should keep trying. This is where spiritual courage is necessary. Just believing God will take care of us makes a change for the better right away.

"If at first we don't succeed, we try, try and try again." We check with our sponsor and friends to find out if we are getting off-track. It may be that we just need to give it a little more time. Trust is the key to doing many of these things. Unless our belief system includes the idea that a loving, all powerful God is looking out for our well being, letting our guard down may seem foolish. When we replace our defect of fearfully hiding the truth with a dependence on the Spirit, we can expect some changes.

Many addicts tend to barter minimal good behavior with their 'enablers' to get their approval and support. Sometimes we use 'strategic disability' and pretend to need help. There will always be opportunities for us to manipulate people but as we grow in conscience, we notice how this makes us feel. This guilt game takes over our life. Manipulating others causes us to feel guilt. This guilt makes it hard for us to find someone who comes across as trustworthy. Many, if not all, of us played variations of this game during active addiction. It is the habitual dishonesty that causes many of the problems. Principles eventually replace this manipulation. Then, we can go forward in life without harming others. We still get what we need, we just earn it instead of taking it from others. The games we played in active addiction taught us not to trust people. When we are sneaky, the whole world seems corrupt. So, we have to learn to trust again. How can we reach tomorrow’s blessings if we are stuck in yesterday's games?

For many of us, learning to trust started by sharing with a few select members and then only small bits at a time. One of the most important of these few select members was a sponsor. The more we share and let our guards down, the more we found that other addicts understood and could relate to us. The more we are willing to share, the more a part of NA we feel and our trust grows proportionately. Another aspect of trust is to trust the NA way of life as well as our Higher Power's Will for us. Things may not always go the way we want because God can say no or show us another way. Life seems to go better when we can trust God's Will for us and we just show up to do our part. Sometimes we learn a lot about trust by taking a service position in our home group. Simple things like emptying ashtrays, making coffee, and setting up for a meeting help us get off to a good start. Being able to share our feelings without having to keep our guards up helps the old life drop away and makes room for the new!

From living a non-caring and non-feeling life to having someone tell us, "Yeah, that happened to me also," or "I love you and it's going to be OK", is quite a change. One of the great advantages in our newfound freedom is the ability to experience intimacy with others. We were people who used to manipulate others but we can grow into someone who is trustworthy. It is 'risky business' to trust others but it is certainly better than never trusting again. Trust is an accurate indicator of our renewed health and recovery. We have to trust ourselves before we can trust someone else. We may want to take a simple look now and then to make sure the response we are getting matches up with the signals that we put out. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate the situation honestly. Honesty works because it eliminates confusion and if there is a price, we pay it. By doing this, we learn not to take things we don’t want to pay for.

Some of us deliberately study our facial expressions and body language for this purpose. We have picked up habits, traits, or mannerisms that are offensive to other people and they protected our isolation in active addiction. We are mostly unaware of these habits. Self-examination turns up some things we can do without! Distance making behavior is a real factor we need to acknowledge. At some point of time in recovery when we want more people in our lives, we can change the way we do things. Feeling forced to play the role of 'victim or victimizer' is an example of this. We become trustworthy and we grow in our ability to trust others. We can find many more choices today. We are freer. Going to extremes eats up a lot of our energy and gives us very little comfort or clarity. When we stop depending on crises to keep others from getting too close to us, we experience changes for the better. We have more time and money to do what we want.

Our common welfare depends on our capacity and willingness to love and support one another. We are never alone. We get scared and may do stupid things yet we learn to make amends and look for ways to get over our pain and distrust. Trust is a tool for living. Without this tool, we will not be able to interact with other people in healthy ways. The all-or-nothing approach to living hinders personal progress. We don't have to trust people who are not trustworthy. We don't have to place our recovery in jeopardy in order to demonstrate trust. Do no hang out with people who are still using or relapsing. Let someone else help them. We all need people that are on our side and will not betray us, no matter what. Scarred is a word that looks like scared. Our scars are pictures drawn in our flesh and on our souls by the pain that we have survived. The scars on our emotional self are visible in our actions and reactions to others. It is a sad fact that the pain of an unusually hellish moment will stay with us until we 'face it.' It causes us to use 'pain avoidance' to prevent a situation that would, at best, be difficult to duplicate even if we tried. Realistically, we can process what happened and what we need to stay away from to avoid this type of repetition. We get on with our lives, rather than feeling permanently crippled by our past pain. We may even be aware that some of our avoidance is foolish but just act out of instinct until we can think things through. Well, this is your clean time, go ahead and think things through so you can live better.

Trust is required if we are to participate in the processes of healthy living. We have rediscovered long dead dreams in the 'springtime' of recovery that only the clean know about. We trust those with whom we share. Addiction is dream death. We need humane support in order to let our issues surface. We can then haul them into full view. The aspects of our mental and spiritual existence that were drowning in active addiction can flourish in the light of recovery.

Personal service goes far beyond helping us learn how to stay clean. It revives the things we wanted to do when we grew up but did not get a chance to develop because our addiction intervened and sucked up all of our energy. Recovery is actually a 'coming out' of our spiritual nature. When we discover something spiritually important to us, we have to share it or express it in some way with someone who will affirm the reality of our experience. Otherwise, we might stay where we are at and find it impossible to do more than stir the kettle of character traits without having the ability to throw out spoilage and add some new stuff. Personal service is the acknowledgment of our spirituality starting with our first surrender and going forward with us into this new life. Others give us their personal service until we learn how to do it for others.

We acknowledge the real person in another human being. We recognize a little of ourselves in them and a little of them in us. We know that this inner person could not control what happened when they were loaded - they were powerless. We have to be able to separate what we did while using from who we are in order to regain hope and trust for ourselves. The major trouble generally goes away almost as soon as we stop using but the refinement of recovery takes a lifetime.

From this point, recovery becomes straightforward and sensible. Why we use and how we lose the obsession may seem to be mysterious but recovery shows and speaks for itself. Our inner being surfaces more frequently and once free it begins to dominate our thinking and behavior. Our fellow recovering addicts accept in us what they have learned to accept in themselves. We know that we are different people clean and that the laws, which we were up against while we were loaded, are no longer a problem. It is humorous to watch someone who was a burglar in active addiction complain about someone else stealing their toothpaste. They get so indignant!

Life on the surface can be much different than it seems. As our ability to come out and share our real self with others increases, we expand the circle of friends with whom we can exchange trust safely. We see exactly how we replenish or deplete our own resources. Helping others helps us. We find that we often find ourselves helping others with exactly the things that caused us problems in the past. Trust is what we need to support us in our effort to obtain a personality change. We need others who have no ulterior motives to provide the references that we need so that we can tell fact from fantasy - the real from the unreal. Learning to trust others is simply part of the process of learning to trust ourselves.

Many times getting clean leaves us feeling wounded and it takes time for these wounds to heal. In the meantime, we must trust something so why not the Program of Narcotics Anonymous. Since it worked for so many addicts that came before us, we know that it can work for us. In the beginning, we heard that we have to share to stay clean and we trust this even if we share out of a sense of desperation. We fear that we may return to our old way of life. Nonetheless, we begin to trust the things that we were told when we were newcomers enough to try them. Our trust increases after we stay clean for a while. This is partially due to placing a degree of blind trust in a Higher Power long before we became convinced that the Program would work for us. This foxhole desperation can grow into conscious contact with a Higher Power of our choosing.


The ‘disease is between our ears.’ This is a powerful phrase for pointing out and reminding each of us that our spiritual condition is our responsibility. It is one thing no one can do for us. Gossip is a damaging social action. It differs from 'group consciousness' in that it plays up someone's difficulty, error or vulnerability in a negative way. In the recovery context, it can also be like a person who is sick, showing he or she is running a fever because their skin is hot. The "temperature" is a sign they are sick. It can affect our Fifth Tradition in recovery meetings. If a new person hears gossip about others, how long will it take them to become the topic, especially if they have some awful experience to share? It goes against anonymity. A program that specializes in taking in some of the world’s sickest people also takes in some of the world's most sickening people. We tend to persuade others to take our side or viewpoint in things. We need healthy support. An insightful member can hear someone gossiping and get with the person to help them process what they are hearing. This has to be done with care.

One member shares, "One time a newcomer was going over a group problem with me. The group was very upset about a particular member talking out of turn, being slightly disruptive and so forth. I assumed the problem was that he didn't know yet about certain things having to do with the background of the individual he was so offended by. I mentioned that our disease runs in families and that the facial features of the person seemed very like some pictures I had seen recently of persons who were born of parents who were in active alcohol addiction. The slightly distorted features, reduced mental functions, etc. The point of my story is that I might have done better leaving well enough alone. The kid who had been complaining felt so badly about attacking someone disabled like that, he may never have come back. This is one of those rotten little lessons that never come again close enough to recognize and do better. Mentioning it here may be the only time I get to communicate it.

"So, a lot of times for me, I try to look inside, beyond the surfaces, for what is really going on. One of the things I got from the Dune books by Frank Herbert was the idea that the health of a society can be judged by how it treats its dissenters. For me the idea became that a healthy society doesn't need to retaliate against dissension because it is secure in its foundation and doesn't have to react out of fear."

In a society of recovering addicts, we will always have those who challenge and oppose. It is part of the deal. Sometimes they will be right and we will be unable to hear them in time to do any good. But hopefully by surrendering and being open, we will do better. One of the things about this work that I love very much and feel very devoted to, is the way we can reveal - through time - where we are really coming from.

Group consciousness functions by exchanging information and everyone gets to do this. The difference between group conscience and gossip is that group conscience is concerned with helping someone. Gossip only hurts. It causes distrust in others and rebounds on the gossip as well. We get back what we put out. Like a super, global family, we pray for wisdom to flow from a loving God centered mental and spiritual state out from the people who have it, through the people who need it, to reach the people who have never thought of it - for the good of us all.

Much of it comes down to processing things that come up in our daily lives. Something that is considered known, may have been gotten wrong but is so specific that the error means nothing for a considerable time until an occasion to apply it comes along and it fails to work. We need to be able to constantly listen and review what we think we know to catch flaws before they do harm. It usually costs nothing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. It hurts so badly when others expect only bad things of us. It feel really good to know others will back us up, even when we make mistakes. It helps us do better. Some of the things we hear have to be mixed with a ‘grain of salt’ to keep us from jumping to conclusions that may be erroneous or unfair. Judging others on our own experience can really create a lot of problems. Suppose we hear about a love affair. If we are happy in a relationship, we may have a somewhat tolerant, love and let love attitude. If we are frustrated and miserable, someone doing what we secretly want to do can arouse all the wrath of an Old Testament prophet. Recovering drug addicts are wondrously quixotic in this regard.

A former member of the World Service Board of Trustees shared, "At one of the world conventions I got to attend, a married woman was caught in bed with a man. Both were young and good looking. The woman was accusing the man of rape. Before it had gone too far, the person who came in on the lovers ‘in the act’ told me that the woman was on top and nothing visible was holding her in place. She didn't seem like someone being forced. Now the small circle of us recovering addicts who were informed on all this and in something of a position to make a call as to whether it be taken seriously or not were a little protective and bloodthirsty. What kind of animal would assault one of our sweet, sexy, attractive and outgoing little ladies! It was a trip. After the lady shared her impressions of what she had observed, I let out enough to eliminate the legal threats and let the people deal with their foolishness in a more contained manner. I always wished I had been able to console and make sure the guy was ok. In retrospect, it seems he was more likely the one who was ‘taken in’ by the situation and his main defect was in not being able to say ‘no’ to a beautiful woman who was open to his attentions. I hope they both are still clean.

"While there can be no doubt that the damaging effects of irresponsible gossip will continue to exist, there is one more thing to consider: life is different in recovery. I had a member on my couch for a while. He was from the Miami Fellowship and very hotheaded. But he was also very street wise. One time I was sharing my inability to understand what the hell was going on in a particular situation and he cocked his head and looked at me. He liked me and seemed to look up to me in many ways. He said, 'Don't you get it? Dope fiends cover their games with clouds of confusion.' Since that moment, much has become clear to me."

There is a widespread belief that we get back what we give out, so gaining trust is largely a matter of giving trust by being trustworthy. If others suspect our motives, don't know us or have been burnt by us in the past, we just might as well accept it. After all, if someone steals our TV, do we let them stay on the couch? Like everything else, we will get more trust when we can handle more trust. God doesn't burden us with opportunities to get into more trouble. Like many other things, when we don't need it, we can have it. When we don't need to be watched, the attention of others will be redirected to those who do. Trust and trustworthiness are one measure of personal growth.



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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.