Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~

Why It Works12 Traditions


"For our Group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God 
as He may express Himself in our group conscience; 
our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern."

Each of us has been, because of our common malady, unable to govern ourselves. Our un-manageability has become apparent, not only to others, but to ourselves as well. This is often understood as a First Step toward recovery for the individual and initial point of unity for our fellowship; each person must first realize his or her powerlessness and un-manageability. We seek to do what we have committed to as well as we can with the freedom to ask for help. Neither we, nor any form of society with which we associated, could control our insatiable desire to use drugs and abuse our surroundings. Family, friends, governments, and institutions, none of which had any long lasting success with controlling or disciplining us addicts. Through being controlled by others, our need for self-government seems further evident. We are people who have grown very sensitive to authority.

It has been our experience, though we cannot be governed, we can be led or inspired toward what feels right in our hearts. This feeling of rightness or goodness is what many of us associate with the spiritual awakening we begin to experience in the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous. It is in this context that the concept of our Second Tradition becomes more obvious. Our only real Authority rests with God, as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Both power drivers and rebels can better work together in this context to carry our message, since neither is expending their energy foolishly fighting amongst the other.

Dope addicts are funny people. While many of us claim to hate authority figures. It is with some surprise that we find out that we actually are rather quick to give ourselves over to authority without thinking about it. Because we are not in charge, we believe we have no responsibility. In active addiction, our dealers were authorities along with various representatives of the organized world like cops, judges and doctors. We feel a need for freedom that we don't associate with illness or addiction. This is responsible freedom. We are unable to cope with every day reality and the ordinary demands of life may slide beyond our reach. Authorities are the ones we associate with the word "no."

"I do not know where the courage comes from most of the time, but today I find that I am a leader in NA. It takes courage to lead. It feels great for me to be so passionately involved in something that regardless of consequences, I will stand up and speak about an unpopular or controversial position. At the other end, I am able to carry and speak pro to a group conscience decision that I disagree with personally as long as it doesn't force me to act against my basic principles or beliefs. I am able to get myself out of the way and become an instrument that carries a group's conscience in a way that engenders humility and selflessness in my personality."

The simple fact is, most of us believe in the Twelve suggested Steps as a design for living clean. Many of us began this process because we had to, but later continued because we wanted what this way of life began offering us. Just as the individual conformed to what felt right in their lives, the group often follows a similar path as expressed in its conscience. Group conscience holds no rigid shape; it is flexible, shaped by the ever growing and changing conscience of its members.

Free members of a voluntary nonresidential self-help organization like Narcotics Anonymous are ungovernable in any conventional sense. The techniques that may prove effective in government or business will quickly turn off a person who is only doing something because they feel it is right in their heart. It has to do with sanctions. Sanctions are rewards or punishments. Do some things, you are rewarded. Do others, you are punished. In NA, we do what we want to because we care. If someone starts yelling, bossing or criticizing us openly, as volunteers we are totally free to drop our tools in place and walk away with a clear conscience.

Many of our trusted servants forget this simple fact and get drawn into exploring their fantasies of what administrators and representatives do. Instead of learning how a spiritual Fellowship works, they try to impose their idea of order and they proper way to do things, assuming that those who have gone before have not done their home work. This may be so but there is no way to make it better without study, discussion and reflection. If we believe with all our hearts that all politicians are crooked and that the roles we play in service are political due to the titles we use to describe them, we will eventually become crooked. After all that is what politicians do and justify their actions as somehow necessary because the average person is too simple to understand. This is what we call a self-fulfilling prophesy. God seems to run the universe by making reality fit in with what a person expects to happen or see in a given situation. It is when we step out on faith that the boundaries we have been artificially setting for ourselves disappear. The role our choice of belief plays is incredible. Why didn't someone tell us! If boundaries are set by our own personal beliefs, we will want to carefully reset those boundaries so we can have more fun and get more positive results. Recovery is not a concentration camp!

This is a good time to take our inventory and replace our old ideas with something better. We cannot get better if our beliefs are negative or unworkable. If we don't set higher standards for ourselves than normal people, we would be better off being normal and not aspiring to do anything better. What happens is a few people populate our service structure, we have a growing number of members who are just watching. Many of these members with experience pray and meditate on how we can solve some of our problems of self-government. One thing many members agree on is that NA processes should always be democratic in nature and that members should be consulted on things that affect them. It is an old addict game to lay off our problems on some one else. In NA, we are responsible for our own recovery and our service boards and committees are directly responsible to us. Group Conscience is how we run things in NA. It may be hard to see during a difficult period, but sometimes we have to let others run their course before they will be open to solutions. Personal experiences vary and few claim any knowledge or experience at running a spiritual Fellowship. It would seem that God, in some fashion as miraculous as our personal recovery, is constantly in charge and running things. Just when we think "This is it!", God pulls a fast one and things turn out differently than we had planned. We are human and we can only seek strength and guidance from a divine source.

In our service structure, we try to make some allowance for our members to have a basic conflict between two extremes: 1) needing someone to tell us what to do and 2) wanting to do things our own way, in our own time! Despite the tallness of this order, we have worked out what we call our service structure and certain procedures that seem to work for us most of the time. When there is difficulty, we all have the choice of staying and helping or backing off and letting nonparticipation simplify things for us. Our leaders are simply the members who try to respond to our needs. We listen to some who may have the answers that stand up for the moment and only a few will stand against the test of time. We don't suggest a group inventory unless a majority of members involved are well beyond their own 4th Step inventory.

A group conscience works best when the spirit of a loving God is invited into each decision making process. A simple group prayer coupled with a period of meditation can offer previously unforeseen guidance or even tranquility in the midst of chaos. Mindful of our individual surrender, we are more often agreeable and open to what concerns other surrendered members of NA. The process of a group conscience can vary widely depending on the circumstance. There can be evidence of a conscience consistently apparent during a meeting, or as a regularly scheduled, organized consultation of its members, most often held before or after the meeting it represents. Although some groups find business discussions happening during meeting time, most members rather the meeting time be focused on carrying our message and furthering our primary purpose. Most business meetings take place immediately after a recovery meeting to deal with group business.

However, the only thing a meeting needs is two or more addicts, a message of hope, and a place to gather; opportunities of service begin to present themselves as a group grows. Positions of trust are established to fulfill these opportunities; leaders, secretaries, treasures, and other representatives are elected to serve so that stability can be accomplished and an atmosphere of recovery can be established or maintained. For a group to survive it must stand the test of time; nothing so much ensures this success so much as the quality and integrity of our servants. A working knowledge of our Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and regular meeting attendance, coupled with a willingness and desire to serve are qualities for both selecting and holding these positions of service.

These are only positions of service, entrusted to those whose duty is only to serve. A groupís servants derive no real authority from such positions; their responsibility is primarily to perform the day-to-day chores of the group. Even in attempts to preserve or cultivate an atmosphere of recovery, this Tradition strictly limits the ability of any trusted servant to decide, dictate, rule, or censor the individual member. We must always remember that membership, in itself, ought forever be the highest position attainable in Narcotics Anonymous. All else stems from surrender and our desire for recovery.

Lest we become victims of our own incomplete learning experiences, we should try to focus on the primary purpose of our groups when we are talking about leadership and trusted servants. Our purpose in carrying our message to the still suffering addict is direct and to the point. If our group purpose is kept in mind, it will ground out some of our excesses. Most of the stuff that concerns us in NA is very simple, rather like baking a cake. It is important to have certain ingredients and certain utensils on hand with a ready oven and some sort of timer before we begin. While these points are simple, they are not dispensable. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we are going to do something, or who is going to do it, that nothing gets done!

Policy: what and how

There are two sorts of questions to be decided at any given point: what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. 'What'  is like are we going to have a help line or take a panel of recovering addicts into a jail. Members directly involved must be prepared to spend time and group money to do what is needed and their vote is how we assess their willingness to support a group undertaking. 'How' we do things concerns our procedures. Sometimes we have to create a service board or committee to get a service performed on a regular basis. Ad hoc committees are formed for temporary tasks and disband when that task is completed or no longer required.

If we feel we have to lie, manipulate, or knowingly deceive, we need to back up to our 1st Step. Dishonesty is a form of powerlessness which comes from a lack of contact with a loving Higher Power. What conflict exists between unity and group conscience? Some members have thought that an individuals' conscience has to be compromised for the sake of unity. Unity can become a double-edged sword if it requires deception or misrepresentation of facts to get a motion carried.

Worldly concerns about money, property and prestige will always appear imperative, immediate and definite. Spiritual matters, principles and values will often appear as flimsy or unreal to those caught up in the heat of the moment. Only by stepping past the illusions of 'us and them', 'money', and justified deceit, do we get to discover what's really important. In NA we sometimes do foolish things through habit or mental laziness. Inner calm helps us see through the haze of appearances to the heart of things. Our conscience can be our best guide if we quietly consult it without predeterming the outcome. We discover there is frequently a big difference between what we are willing to go along with and what we honestly feel when we think about it. By using the conscious contact that works so well in the rest of our lives, our groups can rise to the level of spiritual principles. When we abandon spiritual principles and fall back on ordinary law, kangaroo courts or mob mentality, we are no longer spiritual.

The Twelve Steps as well as our Twelve Traditions consist of the unification of spiritual principles; this is the essence of Narcotics Anonymous. With this in mind, spiritual interpretations of our Steps or Traditions will always compliment one another. Moreover, the true spiritual conscience of a group will never run in conflict the spiritual principles of our Steps or Traditions. If conflict appears, it is best to stop and study the issue or concern more before going forward. When too many items get swept under the rug, the carpet gets lumpy.

While individuals have a tremendous freedom to follow the God of their understanding, certain spiritual terms stand on very common ground. We are patient, tolerant, humble, grateful and other things that reflect interior progress. If we find our minds telling us to go one way and our spirits urging us to give our attention to something else, we learn to pay attention to the spirit. Only by giving our very best can we expect results beyond what simple thinking can give us and the best that comes from God..

A sense of devotion to God's Will gives our groups the power that allows them to carry our message. Where that power fails, we go inward to renew our spiritual resources. Acts of desperation, justified wrongdoing and harsh treatment of individual members is never sanctioned in real Narcotics Anonymous. These things only occur where our members are inexperienced and are unaware of what had been learned by those who have gone before. A loving God is our only Ultimate Authority and is expressed in the conscience of our groups. It is not like "Do God's will or else!" It is more like do God's will or limp along as best you can...

We ask questions when participating in group conscience. We pin down members presenting important motions and try to get all the information we can. On serious matters, like departing from guidelines, we take time to talk over the item with our sponsors, group members, friends and pray for guidance. We may come up with additional questions. When all is said and done, we take a few breaths; make a decision and surrender the outcome to our HP. Quite often there are several good paths forward and all a person or group has to do is move forward. Other times, we miss the boat and have to back up to a faulty decision before we can take a new direction.

For the first time in many of our lives, we have become willing to try something other than our own way. We have been inspired by the joy, happiness and freedom of members who have come before us. Along with this inspiration comes hope that we can also begin to recover. We have no official leaders, but all of us may lead a newcomer to our way of life by the power of example and being available to lend a helping hand. When we allow God's will to be expressed through us, our own recovery becomes stronger.

We addicts can make anything hard. This Tradition serves to remind us that when it is all said and done, the final say must accord with our inner connection with a higher power we call `conscious contact.' This is our protection against the games of manipulation and control that we all slip into from time to time. Our perfection is in our desire for improvement with spiritual help and guidance. We never arrive at a point of perfection where no further improvement is possible. It is the struggle that makes life meaningful. We can not afford to rest secure in our observations and opinions without concern for the feelings of our Fellow members. Being right should not condemn us to isolation. Again and again we will be forced to realize that we can only seek to do our part well and help the others when opportunities present themselves.

If you are an addict who has recently begun to live without using drugs, your feelings are coming back. It may hurt our faces to smile and make facial expressions. Some feelings are pleasant and others unpleasant. We have an internal guidance system that works when we are clean. As we become more accustomed to being able to trust our instincts and perceptions again, we use our feelings add depth and dimension to what our eyes see and our ears hear. We begin to assemble what can only be called an inner knowledge or certainty about what is right and what is wrong. The Twelve Steps of recovery are in tune with this reality and that is why we have to spend so much time talking and listening among other recovering addicts. We can literally hear what rings true and what doesn't. Many times something we have been doing will first seem faulty when shared by another addict. As we examine these things more, we are encouraged to pick out the things that have no place in our new lives. As we grow, our inner knowledge comes out in many forms and one of these forms is the group conscience that we use to guide our groups and service structure.

Surrender to group conscience begins with anonymity. When we ask ourselves the question, "What is right?" instead of, "Who is right?" we begin to remove the personality issues from group conscience. Many times groups who experience disunity through personality conflicts when an uniformed group conscience is manipulated by an individual personality. It is very difficult for us to surrender to a loving God if we do not carry an informed conscience. We trust our servants in this capacity. If they are faithful, they will experience great joy. If not, they will simply persist in the idea that recovery and service don't really produce results. When we gather as recovering addicts and pray for the knowledge of God's will, it changes what is possible and what is going to happen. Our conscience becomes directed by a loving God.

We depend on our loving God to carry us when uninformed consciences begin to disunity us. Gut feelings may not lead to real solutions that can replace the games of anger and manipulation. We practice holding fast to the basic principles and values we learned as new members. We continue with vigilance to stay honest, open-minded and willing to surrender to our loving God. Many of our long time members have had to suffer during times when our service structure became overwhelmed by business concerns but they stayed clean.

Often without meaning to, our trusted servants relax their learned roles as spiritual servants. They forget they are carrying out a role not available in the outside world. It is easy to drift into the mind set that allows us to think that the spiritual is unreal and that our Fellowship has gotten 'so big' that we have to tighten up and do things the way they are done in business, religion, medicine, the military and government. We may forget that all these methods

We are not saints and it takes some courage for most of us to share spiritually. Expressions of a spiritual nature bear a special meaning and we will not share these things in hostile or intimidating circumstances unless we have the experience or support to do so. When adverse conditions prevail, all we have to do is wait and stay together. Time, courage, and sincerity will heal the worst of wounds.

One addict shares: "I had to have my own personal experiences with a loving God as the ultimate authority in my own life. I needed a full range of experiences over an extended period of time. Most of the time it is only after reflecting on my reactions to a specific situation that I may uncover my true motives. Whether they are positive or negative motives. I needed to see the type of fruit that grows from the seeds of self righteousness and from the type of fruit that grows from the seeds of selflessness. This Tradition warns me that if I violate any of our Traditions I will meet with a disaster when I am selfish or self righteous.

"Only when I could see beyond my initial reactions and motives could I get to the exact nature and operate in a true spirit of unity, considering the greater good or higher purpose, as well as the fact that I may not be right.

"I cannot focus on my personal opinion, a personís perceived status, number of tapes or my feelings about the individual or individuals. We are equal in NA. What I can do is be an active participant in my home group. And listen for a loving God expressing himself, forming a group conscience. Just what is conscience? It is my internal spiritual compass or innate sense of right and wrong. My reliance on a loving God and the ability to put this reliance into action is how I arrive at acceptance of a situation. Sometimes I think I may know better than God. NA and its groups are in the care of God.

"At times, I can clearly see that God is not expressing himself in our group conscience. It is easy for me to trust God when things are going the way I think they should. Based on my own personal experience, the true test of faith and trust is the ability to maintain spiritual principles in the darkest part of the night, when there is no light on the horizon.

"An individual or a group of people do not have the spiritual right to violate any of our Traditions by using their time (time abstinent) or popularity to influence the group conscience in a way that would divert the group, service board or committee from its primary purpose. And then hang their nonsense on God. There is a vast difference between a simple majority and God expressing himself in the form of group conscience. In any case, unity guides me so that I do not make attempts to polarize the group and to trust that a loving God will prevail.

"Our leaders are trusted servants which to me implies that our leaders are trust worthy. Addicts by nature are not trust worthy people. Therefore the leaders that this tradition is referring to must have undergone a fundamental transformation by working and practicing the 12 steps. No matter what is done or undone our leaders are giving their time and effort. Even if I sometimes disagree with the results I am grateful for our leaders, service boards and committees. The 2nd tradition reminds me to work the 12th step and highlights steps 3 & 11.

"I do my best to be supportive and encourage our leaders; as they are people just like me, trying to do the best they can with what they have or are working on. I am part of the solution today; not part of the problem. I continue to work steps, practice spiritual principles, make new mistakes and change. I love and guide the people I sponsor through the 12 steps in the same basic way I was, which is really all I have to give."

To underscore that those who act on behalf of our groups play a special role in a special way, we call them 'trusted servants.' Obviously, not all our members expected to serve in this way are able to fulfill the groupís expectations. Worse, some feel they must be more forceful than a mere servant could be. The nature of appearances versus deeper meanings makes it inevitable that conflicts will occur. Staying true to your spirit and close to those you serve will see you through. It is perfectly correct to resign if you cannot fulfill group conscience. Indeed, sometimes, this is the best way to remind a group that has fallen into feeling `powerful' in the diseased sense. If you are sincere, you will be guided to your next thing. If the circle you have been serving in falls away from its spiritual underpinnings, you will benefit from moving on to another, better formed circle.

The idea of group conscience is that where members are considering something that will affect them, they have a right to gather relevant facts and voice themselves before any action can be binding on them. This is particularly true since no action can be enforced against the will of our groups. There will be times when immature leadership or trusted servants required to act with insufficient information will make poor decisions. Our disease magnifies the likelihood of these problems. It is terrifically important that we develop our capacity for patience, forgiveness and tolerance if we aspire to serve NA. In NA, we have survived the worst kinds of abuses and yet we flourish. The good comes from the loving and caring.

A member shared, "God was there but he was not involved in my life. Then I experienced Tradition Two and I knew God was in my life because he was in the group and I was in the group."

A group conscience is not a democracy, yet it does utilize democratic principles of openness, the right to question and the principle of inclusion. We can function within NA and receive the benefits that come from membership. To reach a group conscience, each individual must be open, honest and willing. Each must become aware, that is, informed about the facts and sensitive to the movement of the Spirit that is our Higher Power.

Another member shared: "In a home group, decisions make themselves and directions unfold as, simultaneously, a few or several of us begin to do things in a new way. An example is in saying the Serenity Prayer before our group conscience meeting: our group, to a person, began to use the "we" version. This was not discussed, it was observed after the fact. Another example is that none of the Home Group members chose to "celebrate" their anniversary by calling on "special" members who have helped them in recovery or important family members during a meeting. While we celebrate our anniversary on or soon after our clean date, our anniversary meeting is little different from other meetings held throughout the year. We celebrate with fellowship after the meeting. Our group conscience dictates that we remember our primary purpose every day of the year."

Our servants are trusted, trustworthy and service-oriented. They serve our trust. Trusting them means that we ask questions because we are curious and interested, not because we are suspicious and critical. We cannot become informed simply by listening. We cannot support what we don't understand or know about. Our servants are gently guided by other more experienced members, group conscience and principles. No one member will accept responsibility for decisions on behalf of the group. Each member accepts responsibility for the decisions made within group conscience and for the actions of our trusted servants. Trusted servants have to be responsible to the group. Some dictionary definitions of 'service' are: to comply, to be of use, to benefit, to make ready, to wait on, to furnish or supply, to treat or act toward in a specified way.

We cannot afford to be apart from the whole of NA, or we will be in danger of letting our disease get a foothold. We need to "identify in" wherever we can. Because of this, the people who take on responsibilities cannot be merely servants, nor can they be trusted governors. They must be trusted servants. As gently and loving as we can, we tell them what we want done and they do it. They may advise us according to their experience or perspective, but the final choice belongs to the group. No individual tells our group what to do and no individual is left alone to make a choice for us. In part, to govern means to control, to direct, to influence, to determine, to punish and to restrain.

Our Higher Power is limitless in love, power and creativity. To subject the possibilities of our recovery to rigid rules and regulations would only serve to cut us short of the reality. In the nineteen seventies, there were only a few hundred NA meetings. In the early eighties, the Basic Text was published, and in many states and major cities, the first meetings were started. Before the Basic Text these meetings would fail if a few key members relapsed. After the Basic Text, the group grew strong because they had a written source of encouragement and guidance. Since then, thousands of addicts have overcome the slavery of active addiction. This was all done by group conscience without management or control beyond our service procedures as embodied in the NA Tree and the NA 12 Traditions. To allow any one of us the authority to define or regulate our recovery seems an absurd notion in the face of the kind of cultural revolution our lives in recovery represent.

Never in the history of man have addicts seen what we live on a daily basis. Addicts were written off as hopeless derelicts and died painful, lonely, slow deaths. Today, we live, thrive, change, grow and prosper. In the past, addicts were considered dangerous and were not allowed to congregate. Weekly, our meetings gather to celebrate our newfound family in a spirit of love and support. In this perspective, it seems simple to trust the creative action of the Spirit to continue to guide us as a group. As our Higher Power guides us through the Steps to a spiritual awakening, our Group Conscience guides our group towards growth, recovery and mutual prosperity. Together we do what we could not do alone.

Part of our experience in NA is to watch groups come and go in our area. New members are very creative and strong willed, and often see a need for a new meeting time or place. It has been our observation that those meetings which were started with spiritual willingness have thrived. Those started in self-will have folded. The power of willingness and love is insurmountable. In our personal recovery, we have learned that once we surrender and become willing, the doing seems effortless. Often the biggest struggle is in becoming willing. And once we are willing, things seem to just "fall into place." With our groups, then, we need to become willing and God-centered. The rest will "fall in place" as our Higher Power takes care of the details we fail to even see. And God will easily solve problems we think are too big for us: a new member moves into the area highly qualified, experienced in performing the service we require; a coffee pot is donated...

How does Group Conscience benefit the individual member? When we share our ideas, problems or thoughts with others, we gain a different perspective. Sharing with addicts who care about our welfare allows them to care about us. When we go to a meeting, talk about something that is bothering us and listen to the experience of other members, we are taking a Group Conscience. As each NA member shares experience, strength and hope on that topic, a loving God speaks to us through the collective message. We often leave such a meeting with the answer to our problem, yet it was not just one person who told us what we needed to hear. Instead, the shared experience of everyone provides our best solutions.

The principle of Tradition Two tells us to treat others in a loving manner. That's how a loving God can speak through us. As one member puts it, "When I talk to others I do so as if I'm speaking to God and when I listen to them, I listen as though God were speaking through them. This is practicing the Second Tradition."

What about being a trusted servant? Tradition Two teaches the principle of selfless service. It is one thing to do good deeds for the purpose of gaining power or recognition, but that is not our goal. Performing humble service for the good of others brings spiritual rewards. When we strive to be of service to others in all that we do, our lives are enriched. We now have a noble purpose and we pursue it with vigor. By focusing on helping others, we are in fact helping ourselves. We are keeping the miracle of recovery alive by giving it away.

Tradition Two defines an ultimate authority for us. We no longer have to assume that awesome responsibility. Being "boss of the world" and "master of all we see" is not only impossible, it is dangerous for recovering addicts. It is a short journey from inflated, self-important thinking to relapse. Through an active 11th Step, we are reminded that we function better as our Higher Power's trusted servant than as a Higher Power.


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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.