Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

Why It Works12 Traditions

"Our common welfare should come first;
 personal recovery depends on NA unity."

Common welfare is what we share in common. Our NA commonality of purpose and spirit gives us the positive lift and attitude that won't say "no" when an addict is asking for help. Being part of something is very important. Active addiction made us different and robbed us of our identification with our fellow human beings. Being accepted as we are makes us feel welcome. The common welfare we are all striving for is the ability to stay clean, just for today, and this unites us all in our common good. We are vigilant to remind our new members that they are in the right place. We can be an example to others by applying the principles of the Twelve Steps in our personal lives and living in recovery.

Throughout the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous, each member is but a small part of a much greater whole. NA must continue to live, for without the recovery born of this Fellowship, many of us would surely face the alternatives of jails, institutions, dereliction, and death. It is in the spirit of unity that we are offered freedom from active addiction by collectively practicing the principles of NA=s Twelve Steps in our daily lives. Our meetings, and our groups, are the forum by which one addict works with another, freely giving what was so freely given to us.

The spirit of unity is born through identification and empathy. Identification is conscious awareness of our common thoughts, feelings, and problems. Identification is our initial connection with NA. Empathy - the emotional insight and spiritual bonding - compliments that connection. They become our primary vehicles of communication where words leave off, this is our language. It is with this language that a member can suddenly stop sharing in a meeting, begin to shed tears or choke up, and as the room grows quite, words no longer need be used. In this environment of unique love and concern, our message is still being carried and understood by all members present. Part of the proof of this is when non_members are present and later say they didn=t >get it.

One member shares, "The willingness to work this tradition comes as a direct result of the spiritual awakening that I experienced by working and applying the 12 Steps to my life, on a daily basis, to the best of my ability. Previously, I had read most of the Traditions and have attended a few Tradition meetings. Nevertheless, I could not understand what purpose the Traditions would serve, other than some basic guidelines that would at least keep the chaos to a reasonable level so that a regular calendar of area NA events would be possible.

"I could not comprehend the concept of common welfare or unity initially because I could not see past my own personal agenda. My experiences with other 12 step fellowships had been negative. When I began to see and feel what recovery was like in NA, I would hear people speak and share at meetings and say things that where contradictory to the way I worked my program and they were just wrong misinformed people. I would get very upset and I would think of ways to be even more outrageous than they were. I would go to a meeting only to feel alone and different from most or all of the people in the meeting, I felt isolated and unique in some meetings. I sensed that this was a dangerous state of mind. I made a conscience effort to focus on the similarities rather than the differences and that diversity can be our strength. However, lives do hang in the balance.

"My primary purpose is to stay clean and increase the quality of my life, mentally, physically and spiritually to be happy, joyous and free. I can only keep what I have by giving it away and I cannot give it to myself. Therefore, without the group and its members I am doomed. The groups support NA as a whole. I can well understand why a worldwide fellowship is vital to the individual memberís survival. I have attended meetings in other countries and in other states and did not feel alone. NA was there and I was welcomed. I can go anywhere in the world and I have nothing to fear.

"We suffer from a common affliction. More importantly, we have found a common solution; NA. If we truly believe in NA and that our personal recoveries depend on NA, then NA must survive. A spirit of unity on a foundation of goodwill should guide the individual members in their personal conduct, as well as exercising their point of view at the group level or any other NA service position, see past their own personal objectives, and consider the affects on the group and NA as a whole.

"I apply this Tradition by slowing down in the moment and ask myself is what you are about to say in the spirit of unity and on a foundation of goodwill? Is what I am about to say intended to polarize the group and cause people to take sides? On the other hand, am I just trying to make some one that I do not like or disagree with look stupid? Am I considering the addict that has yet to walk through the door here or on the other side of the world? What would someone think if it was their first meeting? Would that person feel unconditional love in spite of whom they are? If I contemplate these questions carefully before I speak or interact with others, my part in NA unity and our common welfare will be preserved."

Sometimes an atmosphere of dissention prevails in our groups over an atmosphere of recovery. While this sad truth cannot be denied, obviously it is not what produces our common welfare. It is an instance of people being people instead of members showing gratitude. Unity, group purpose, is the idea of 'we feel' as opposed to 'I feel'; 'we want' as opposed to 'I want.' For many of us this subjugation of our personal wants is frightening. Certainly, for those of us who have suffered greatly at the hands of others, this may be too much to ask, at least until working the Twelve Steps grants us the freedom to participate. It is frightening to be a part of something we cannot control or manipulate. It may take a while to get the idea that God is in control. This is not a theory, but the experience we hold in common. Surrender doesn't require a loss of individuality. The results are found in the furthering of our group purpose and that is simply carrying our message that we do recover.

There are times when we may disagree with a group conscience decision and we may have to surrender to the majority. We can still feel unified with the whole as long as we don't let issues divide us. It is every memberís duty to support the groupís conscience. We may present our concerns and ask the chair to recall the vote but in the end, group conscience is to be respected.

In Narcotics Anonymous, individual welfare is held nearly as important as our common welfare. Though our common welfare comes first, we continue to enhance our individual welfare by offering each member as much dignity and respect as any other. Unity comes from understanding and maintaining a similar sense of surrender and humility. This ideal is found when we place ourselves rightly in respect to God and the people around us, thereby creating a Fellowship. The word Fellowship, by its very nature, implies a body of equals, none of any greater or lesser value in NA. This equality may be the key to our unity. We donít like bosses, especially when they have done nothing to earn or maintain our respect. We have found that the spirit of recovery resides equally in all who can share their pain and desire for recovery.

Each member, by their own conscience, will bears both the burden of labor and enjoy the fruit of harvest. We have no rulers, governors, or managers; no member can be punished or expelled. A group of members is neither greater than the individual, nor is any individual member greater than a group. This concept is complimented by the simplicity of having only one membership requirement. Our Ninth Tradition protects us from having rules for conformity. Sharing our pain and desire for recovery is what makes us surrender - and surrender makes us members. Tradition Two removes the threat of appointing people who rule by title to enforce such rules. Our leaders lead by example. Our unity is simply maintained from the understanding and application of all Twelve Traditions, here each tradition compliments the others.

Individuals are strengthened by the answers they find in NA to their living problems. The support exchanged with other addicts in recovery supplies just what is needed, when it is needed, if we have lowered our defenses, specifically admitted our need for help and allowed ourselves to become part of NA. Many of our answers seem to come 'right on schedule.'

Our common welfare depends on NA and group unity. So often when people let personalities and opinions get in the way we stray away from our primary purpose. Many say, "It hurts when I see people attend their home groups and not have the commitment to fill trusted servant positions." It is very important that the groups stick together and stay focused on our primary purpose. We cannot keep what we have unless we give it away.

When a newcomer walks into a meeting, it is confusing enough as it is. Recovery is not an option to be found elsewhere for addicts who qualify for NA! It is of the utmost importance that the group maintain an atmosphere of recovery. We need to be committed to the program that saved our life and continues to help us live clean. It is imperative that the newcomers see this. We all need to remember that we are the same and our common welfare comes first. We cannot carry the mess, but we can carry the message. No addict need suffer any longer and a newcomer should feel welcome at their very first meeting.

Generally, compliance or noncompliance with any principle in NA is left to the conscience of the individual, as influenced by his or her understanding of God's Will. Major disruption or causing harm to fellow members is not allowed. With this in mind, we are free to practice acceptance, patience, and tolerance towards one another. The unity called for in our First Tradition can be threatened when our principles are compromised by fear of diversity. Our diversity is our strength, the broader our base, the higher our point of freedom. Because of the nature of our disease, we are vigilant to keep our meetings safe for addicts seeking recovery. Each group has its own conscience.

Many times it will seem like all the members in the world stand on two or more clearly separate sides. If you're aware of something like this happening, you can serve by seeking out the third and fourth sides to the argument. Coming from isolation imposed by addiction, we may not realize that many people get steam rolled by powerful personalities, even if they have knowledge and experience that would help in a given situation. They may never get to share and hold back from sheer politeness. There are always more than two sides to a question and if internal tension and strife is too much for the member, he or she may have to find other members with common interests to work their Twelfth Step. We learn to look for the alternative viewpoints when seeking a solution or resolution of a group problem.

The Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous, as implemented in the lives of each of our members, are often viewed as his or her personal recovery. Our spiritual connection with each otherís personal recovery creates one of the strongest ties that binds us together as a spiritual fellowship. Eventually, every member who has suffered the horrors of addiction understands the need for and importance of finding and developing a spiritual way of life. As this awakening of the spirit occurs and flourishes, it is reflected in our unity. As we apply the Twelve Steps in our lives as a design for living, we open the doorway to humility. Our need for false pride and ego is replaced by skill and ability.

The concept of group unity plays an important role in the 1st Tradition. The value of strength in numbers is evident throughout NA. Support among addicts helps us to better understand that some individuality can be detrimental to our recovery. Although we may be destructive independently, we are able to gather strength and healing from cooperation. Isolation for addicts leads to dissension, as we separate ourselves from our group, we are actually weakening the group and hurting ourselves at the same time. Each member of our fellowship has something to offer; as he/she separates, one less offering has been eliminated. This cannot destroy the group effort, but it does nothing to add strength. From strength in group unity, we gain momentum, building stronger foundation to lean on in times of need. For newcomers, this is important. Becoming a part of a group effort brings addicts out of their shell, while at the same time, raising the possibility of adding positive support to the fellowship of NA.

Surrendering to our false belief of self-sufficiency, we begin to recognize that we need people. We need each other in order to grow. After a period, we see that "dueling egos" and disunity damages us emotionally and spiritually. Surrendering to the WE of group conscience enables us to become more unified. Unity not only assists the group to become more functional, it assists the member to grow. If personal recovery depends on NA unity, then NA unity must depend on personal recovery. This is why members feel, "I am hopeless every time my disease drives me into self-centeredness. I suffer alone in my own mind. The awareness of the need for my efforts to be based on the common welfare always brings me out of self and out of pain." Surrendering me to NA is a process that underlies all my work in the steps and traditions.

"I can not count on anyone. I am alone. I must do it myself." This is what our disease tells us. WRONG! By daily practicing dependence, our trust, faith and hope grow within us and become a part of our personality. Then we can freely give these things to those who reach out to us. Addicts are plagued with communication disabilities. What we may think of as the `good of all' may be true within certain bounds yet untrue in a larger context. In recovery, we constantly double check our thinking and update our inventories."

Tradition One asks us to overlook the differences that may divide us and focus on our common identity as unified and equal members of a greater whole. It is through this commonality that one learns that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each part has its own uniqueness, a difference necessary to fit exactly where God had intended it, just for today.

What we share is what others have gathered to help us meet our needs. It is not `ours' in the possessive sense, only ours in the sense we can access it by remaining humble and respectful to those who came before us and interested and helpful to those who replace us as the most important people as we grow into being those who can help. Intriguing stories of how members pick up unexpected benefits without seeking them or even thinking of personal gain abound in our Fellowship. Other stories tell a different tale of wonder. If we slip back into selfishness and calculate our surrender so we don't lose touch with our old ways, we can stay sick a long time. Insanity in terms of the first tradition is thinking we own what we have been freely given. We are custodians with the special added attraction of being able to increase what we receive so that others can receive until they discover the strength to give.

Any organization exists to provide something important for its members. Without our people, we would have nothing to do. While we do all we can to keep the program truthful and attractive, we have to provide sufficient guidance to insure the spiritual integrity of our way of life. It is hard to remember that there are addicts hurting beside us and behind us as well as ahead of us. It is time we go slowly and take the time necessary to express our real caring and sharing. Sometimes prayer just gives us the power to slow down.

Sometimes the Fellowship is sidetracked by rhetoric and misleading information. Our disease seems to inspire this sort of thing. Responding with counter accusations would only serve to further confuse matters. Going slow and trying to do God's will on a daily basis will always win out in the end. Short cuts and trickery will never get us what we want: A clean life, free from the obsessions and compulsions of active addiction in any form it may take. Being real and honest about this is how we find our way through the temptations and illusions of daily life.

As long as choices are made by a well-informed group, all is well. How often is this the case? Are we not often too biased towards doing things our way, to allow for contrary views? Many definitions of the word political are functional having to do with group processes. The definition that applies to dysfunction relates to partisan politics, where competition becomes more important than contribution to the general welfare. How do we insure communication does not break down between groups and other service entities? The answer is we do not, cannot, assure this without installing the machinery of government and that would destroy our spiritual unity forever. Instead, we do what we can to spread goodwill and sensibility among the members with whom we come in contact and stay clean ourselves.

We must be courageous in presenting ideas that may appear to not be acceptable or popular. We might have the perception that clears up or unifies everyone else's thoughts. Different is not wrong. Different is just different. Acceptance of what our courage generates comes next.

If our strength is in our diversity, it is crucial to avoid any illusion of sameness. Addicts are and always will be enormously creative in their many approaches to getting what they really want. No one style of recovery is correct. We need our philosophers and our anti-intellectual. We need our socially flamboyant members and our staid conservatives. Most importantly, we need you.

The Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is a society, or culture, like few others in the world today. There are no masters or rulers demanding obedience, only leaders and servants inviting respect. Though some are organized by economic, or geographic boundaries; ours is based on the actions we take today. NA is made up of people with a common problem - addiction, and a common solution - The Twelve Steps. Unlike the members of other societies, NA members need no human authority to maintain order; the punishment we would give ourselves through a relapse is far greater than any government could ever administer. Each member will eventually begin living the principles necessary to ensure their daily reprieve.

Our common welfare hinges not so much on our ability to impose uniformity as it does with every individual memberís willingness to surrender any defect standing in the way of unconditional love and acceptance of our fellows. Unity is love, family, and the NA way of life. Working together to love one another, we have a better chance at helping the next suffering addict stop using, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.


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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.