Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2008 Form ~

How It Works: 12 Steps

Step Twelve

"Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to
addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs."


"What a promise! What a gift! My spirit is awakened from the deep sleep that it had been mired in all these years! I am able to recover my true nature as a spiritual being as a result of practicing these spiritual principles in my daily life. If I am successful in practicing spiritual principles in every aspect of my life, as the Tradition put it in 'all our affairs,' then every person that God puts in my life will automatically be influenced and benefit from the message that I carry." from an NA member.

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of working these Steps, we may find our lives changing in matters of personal conduct. We may discover that instead of concentrating our efforts in lost causes, we are now mainly focused on being available to the still suffering addict by freely giving that which was freely given to us: experience, strength and hope. As we grow into our long delayed adulthood, we learn to see that our needs are met. We acquire the skills of supporting ourselves, providing for the needs of others dependent on us, our health, and all our social interactions in a way that does not harm others. It is part of our awakening that we get to do this. Spiritual growth can seem non-sensical to someone grounded in fear, pain and guilt. But real spirit comes from learning how to live in a way that brings out the good stuff without all those nasty side-effects. 'Spirit' is another name for the good stuff.

Spiritual achievement has a plain side. If all spirituality was good for was peak experiences, that would be a severe limitation on the broad range of human needs and occupations. Spiritual laws apply to the valleys and depths as much as the hills and mountain tops. It is because they key into a reality that is ever present and every where. It is never 'not there.' Our passions, our moods and our preferences allow us to focus but they also blind us to other parts of what is there, right before us. The extremity of our willingness, usually inspired by great pain, makes us able to see beyond the present pain brought on by our poor choices. There is random calamity in the world and we acknowledge that. But we have no power over calamity. We have terrific power over our individual, personal lives. When we totally surrender and learn to live better, it is we who immediately feel the relief. The calamity will have to go on without us.

We have all experienced at one time or another the simplicity of spirituality in action and wondered why it couldn't always be that way. What is it that happens that spoils a beautiful day? We are sitting in the park, in the sunshine, listening to the songs of birds, thinking how beautiful that they should find such sounds with their small beaks and lungs, to express the joy and excitement of their small moments. Suddenly we think of someone who has wronged us. A cloud appears, just over our heads. We begin to plan some revenge or hatefulness to the person who has wronged us. Now there is lightning and thunder. We decide who we will go see and tell a certain version of how we have been wronged and get that person fired or in trouble with their mate. Now the storm is in full flood. Where did the birds song go?

Recovery may be similar to just growing up. Principles can seem irrelevant. When we are in pain, principles can seem intellectual. We may need to hurt a lot more before we come into focus. One who has absorbed spiritual honesty or comprehended hope can use a range of spiritual principles to avoid painful traps or deal with unanticipated problems. As recovering addicts, we learn that each of us has a grace period in which we can learn about spiritual principles through working our Twelve Steps. This is where we get our strength. We need to take seriously all that we have learned especially when there is no crisis. Read, read, read. Go to meetings and bring up topics you would like to hear discussed. Spiritual principles will always help us in unexpected ways far beyond the energy and time it takes to learn them. These principles are what our surrender to our need for help and our desire for recovery open us to learn. They are the building blocks of our new life. When we hurt today, we can trace that pain to its source and eliminate it. Poor thinking and erroneous conclusions lodge in our lives like a bit of food stuck in our throats. We won't feel right until we can get it down. Relaxing, taking deep breaths may help. Someone squeezing our chest and helping us expel the food may help. We have to get help.

Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the basis of other principles that affect our spirit or connection with our Higher Power. We may need to practice contrition and supplication rather than our strong, domineering personalities. A great many of us are absolute wimps and need to counter-balance this side of our nature with more aggressive abilities so we can access courage or the ability to take up for ourselves and others who need our help. We have to learn when to step in and when to step back. Where we find ourselves lacking in the ability to be tolerant, we should look at it as a real disability. We're hurting and missing out on something if we are not complete characters with the usual array of traits and potentials other people have at their disposal. These characteristics are things that we can change. We can practice applying principles as if we were lifting emotional weights. We can work out to develop our emotional muscles. Selfless service can be being the anonymous voice on the other end of the phone. Anyone who thinks they know it all is cruising for a bruising.

Helping others sets us free several ways. While we accumulate the beneficial effects within, we are also meeting our indebtedness to others. All this is a polite way of saying that the help we've received from others shouldn't enslave us and the help we give to others shouldn't enslave them. Sorrow and embarrassment require respect from someone who would help without adding insult to injury. It's essential for us to remember that unsolicited help is most frequently mistaken for insult by the person receiving the help. The individual feels, "They think they are so smart. They think they're so hot! Even though they are helping me, they are making fun of me while I am down. I'm going to get them back! Wait till I get on my feet!" This is one reason we wait until someone really asks us for help! Is it any wonder that often they retaliate and feel totally justified in doing so?

This is true especially if our belief system and the values which we live by tell us that a perceived deficiency in ourselves gives us the right to move ourselves upward by bringing the other person down. This is reasonable in a certain primitive sense. Most people notice that this approach leads to various troubles that reduce not only the quality of their lives but also the doors open to them. This, unfortunately, is the big stumbling block for a certain number of professionals and religious people. They get paid for being in the know. Protecting their ascendancy is protecting their livelihood. Our needs and our need for personal growth transcend what they have to offer. We remain alert to the watchfulness in our newcomers. They have been many places and most often are underestimated and mistreated, like being a newcomer is a deficiency. Helping them requires demonstrating a certain good sense and exercising proper caution. Don't let the drowning swimmer pull you down. Hand them a life jacket, let them realize they are not going to drown and when they settle down, help them to shore.

We don't discourage our members from helping others - that would be absurd. But don't let them take on the problems of others so that they get drawn into trouble again. We do not send our members on Twelve Step calls by themselves. The presence of one or more experienced members brings the program into play and keeps the disease from taking over. We acknowledge that some benefits of recovery require time, effort, and practice on our part. We utilize a system of procedures and policies within our Twelve Traditions to avoid all but the worst problems. Some will occur again and again, all will yield eventually as long as we contribute our presence and our new way of thinking and doing.

We must learn to distinguish between pain-motivated changes and the desire for recovery so that we can more effectively carry the message. Many addicts come to us in pain, start to feel better, and then, wander off. Only those with desire will find recovery. This is not our choice but others will try to make it seem so. It is natural for people to try to justify themselves. After all, if they need to correct themselves, they may be put to some trouble. It is also natural for us to take up for the magnificence and wonder of our recovery. That we are who we are and able to again enjoy the benefits and happiness of a healthy life without falling into habits of squander and ruin is a miracle. Freedom from addiction is freedom from obsession and compulsion and goes way beyond not using drugs. It is not our place to set others straight. Let us proceed in our way quietly and be grateful. All addicts have moved towards a lifestyle that exploits personal pain as one strategy to get an edge or leverage on others. Recovering addicts are different simply because we admit and gradually come to terms with our pain in the course of our recovery. Helping others discover this method, we have to look unceasingly for those with desire and clear minds and hearts. The disease will find a way to hurt us and make us suffer, even if we're "in the right!" If addiction played fair, recovery would be a far different process and addicts might have begun to get clean a long time ago. We know this is not the case and have had to deal at close quarters with the worse sort of backbiting, ingratitude and wrongdoing. It can feel strange to be the exploited instead of the exploiter. With practice, we can take up for ourselves without having to attack our attackers.

One addict recalls a session with a sponsee, "I suggested that he go over his understanding of the body and the mind, listing the ways in which they are similar and the ways they are different. Look at how parts of the mind and body might equate with one another. Such as the mind has intellect where the body has hands. Each can grasp and examine subjects, looking at the same object from different directions to get a picture or understanding. Next, look at the mind in comparison to the spirit. Study how the mind takes in the physical perceptions of emanations or vibrations and makes them ‘real’ to us like sight or sound. Think about how the spirit perceives reality in ways beyond the mind and body. What IS intuition?" Non_addicts do not tend to talk this way and sometimes we upset them in our quest for growth. But after all, we are addicts. And if it is good we naturally want as much as we can get! Intuition is knowing without words.

Spiritual power is toxic to the disease of addiction. To practice our spirituality in the presence of someone who is spiritually starved, is very similar to a person who has great wealth spending time with a poor person. The tendency to talk too much, appear to have all the answers and lord it over the impoverished is harmful and offensive. People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know. Over time, bit by bit, the habits of thrift, eliminating unwonted expenses and being firm about getting paid, pay off. Just the same way, a person new to the life of the spirit has to take plenty of time to learn the new ways of meeting their needs and taking care of their personal affairs. Much of life is just the situation we are in at the time. Disaster happens to everyone. Addicts are certainly no exception. It is our ability to cope that is damaged by our addiction so that it is harder for us to get real and face our problems. We are used to poor substitutes for reality. But clean, life can become our friend again. Being gentle, taking time, remembering how it was for us in the beginning, we practice patience, humility and tolerance and - we never get enough practice...

Prayer and meditation might be like sending and receiving. We ask for knowledge of God's will and the ability to know that will. Also, and more importantly, prayer might be a way to get in the mood to meditate, express gratitude or process what we learn after meditation. Meditation might be a state where we find ourselves between this world and the world of God. It might be like looking through a porthole into our interior to see the dominant themes and stare at our internal life. Then, we might be able to move our focal point into the midst of what we have otherwise been looking at so that we are inside and can reach out and make changes.

One of the most astounding notions to surface in the last few years is going back to explore and re-experience our childhoods or earlier lives and to take the full power, love, courage, and understanding we presently have with us. By vividly experiencing memories of past pain, we may draw different conclusions and effect different outcomes, especially in the life we are yet to live in the future. This may take the sting our of past pain and eliminate the event as an injury from our futures. All this and with God's help, we can pray for extra strength and guidance to make our inward journey and if necessary go back in with friends to deal with problem areas we have trouble resolving by ourselves. This kind of intense reality alteration with the help of an all-loving, all-powerful creator can take personality change to a new level of importance in our recovery.

In our personal recovery experiences, honesty is a process of seeking the truth about our self-destructive thinking patterns. Our disease knows it works and sometimes we do not want what works until we hurt bad enough. Pain is a motivator and is responsible for much of our growth as we go through this process moving towards self-acceptance. Honesty is probably one of the most deep-rooted and personal tools in recovery. Without basic honesty, all of the structure of our personal growth is not taking a firm hold on a good foundation. Some of us feel that honesty is deep change from the very beginning. We have a desire to change and as time passes, the desire to change seems to be not quite enough. Then the ‘honest’ desire to change takes hold. Then, we realize that we have to be honest in every aspect of our lives. A member shared, "My lying, cheating, and stealing kept me looking over my shoulder. In recovery, lying, cheating and stealing will still keep me looking over my shoulder. I have no growth or no real recovery if I am not being honest. I am only a junkie without drugs."

To be effective in carrying our message, we all become 'the oldtimers' as a result of clean time and service experience. One of the important areas to understand has to do with the Second Tradition. We all run the danger of setting ourselves up as 'leaders' in the roles thrust upon us by other group members with the best of intentions. None of us know it all. "There are no big shots or little shots in NA, one shot and we're all shot." If group conscience participation is taken away from our members, they are cut off from seeing to the business of NA. While they always have the final say - they can just walk away - it is not ok to make membership a disposable item by our service structure.

Many times in the past members have made up reasons to break the rules written out in our service guides - reading them as suggested when they didn't find their direction suitable to their preferences. This has happened most often as the result of a period of sharp increase in membership where those who know the 'NA way' are relatively few in number and the numerical majority is both new and uninformed as to our history, our methods and our 12 Traditions. In this state, they will vote almost anything they are told to support. Unspiritual structural changes and the intrusion of business concerns into our spiritual Fellowship has caused many members to pull away from NA or stay away from service. There is no escaping what has happened or to get away from the realities unpleasant though they may be. We either learn from our mistakes or look up one day and realize that the power derived from group conscience process is essential to our recovery. Part of Step Twelve is being a peace maker and a bridge builder for those who do not know the NA way of life as well as we know it. If you take out spiritual principles in hopes of building a more efficient service body, you have missed the whole point.

Efficiency at the expense of our atmosphere of service and recovery is counterproductive. The illusion that we can orchestrate group voting to suit our version of what should be or how to do things is short sighted. Once the members involved realize they have been duped, they no longer want to support the NA program or its many activities. Being clean is more than not taking habit forming drugs. Being clean is about living so as to avoid pain and experience joy without harm to others. Leaving people out and using unscrupulous tactics to get your way are not effective in a spiritual fellowship. Efficiency is sacrificed in favor of individual opinion in a spiritual fellowship. This is because there is no hold on people beyond their desire to stay clean and help others. If they see their 'leaders' making a mockery of the guidelines, Traditions or methods of openness and inclusion, they can just leave. This not a victory for anyone and an injury to all concerned. They are not employees or incarcerated. They are free human beings seeking help with their addiction. It is not just a few things dependent on their volition. Every thing is dependent on their volition.

Group conscience is the end result of a group of people taking the time to become informed on a subject by study and discussion and taking a simple vote. If the vote is a tie or evenly divided it is a sign that they group has not had sufficient time to study the question at hand. Because all people have deeply set opinions and ideas of how things should be and they will respond if properly approached. A heavy hand or abrasive attitude will defeat the process where human qualities and sensitivity are called for. This is not a fault of the system. People don't throw away their computers just because it is hard to learn how to use them. They take time and study the programs and hardware needed to do the job they have in mind.

NA is not a business or a marketing group. Our primary service is not selling literature. It is people in recovery taking time with people who need recovery. Putting book sales ahead of caring and sharing is just bad business because it ignores the realities of our situation. Our caring has to be real to really work!

Gratitude stems from the fact that today we can calmly appreciate our lives. There is nothing that guarantees and enlarges recovery like helping another addict. At those times when nothing else really seems to work, and we are ready to give up again, a suffering addict comes to us for help. It is like magic, as we give of ourselves, we get out of ourselves. We become a conduit for the healing power of God working through us and as this happens, we heal too. Carrying a message of recovery may teach us objectivity. From the general truths, we find specific application.

We are not the authors of the principles of recovery, just the couriers. We take a gift from God and translate it into language that a hurting newcomer can relate to from the start. The newcomer might not know how to pray or what to pray for, but he or she seeks our help. We are the answer to their unuttered prayer. If he or she but knew what to ask for, they would ask for someone who knew exactly how they felt, to explain how we had managed to deal with their problem, survive, and prevail. Carrying the message implies the egoless, willingness to let God use us as a tool. This takes nothing away from us personally but our limitations and our short-sightedness. We see God's will live in all things through carrying the message. We lose our fascination with old problems and become fascinated with what is possible from here on out!


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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.