Traditions War: a pathway to peace

Chapter 1
Early History of NA

There is an early mention of a 12 Step program for addicts similar to Alcoholics Anonymous in the Summer School for Alcohol and Drugs at Yale in 1948. The question was put to a speaker name William W. We can easily suppose this is Bill Wilson, though investigation may show another person. It is still an early mention and while William’s response is evasive, it doesn’t deny the question.

 A person subject to chronic relapse named Daniel Carlson went to Lexington, Kentucky to cut his dope habit one more time and got clean. It may have been a miracle or simply the accumulation of efforts by different people over time. Another man left Montgomery, Alabama and went up to Lexington with the 12 Steps of AA under his arm. His name was Houston Sewell. He helped start the Narco group.  There was a newsletter circulated in the Fed system – the Key. Meetings also took place in Angola, the big prison system in Louisiana and in Dallas Texas. While many addicts used the system to lower their habits to more manageable levels, it is obvious that our roots trace back to these early efforts.

 In New York, where Danny lived when he wasn’t in Lexington, a up and coming lady in the Salvation Army named Dorothy Berry rose in rank to Brigadier General. Her work earns her mention in our early history. She encouraged and provided meeting space for NA meetings in their facilities. Father Dan Egan also worked, primarily among prostitutes and addicts and also earns mention. An NA member in South Florida in 1982 is quoted as giving an NA member named Charlie McGee credit for coming up with our name, Narcotics Anonymous. Time will tell us more as our work deepens what is known of our history. One thing, regardless of details, we are grateful to them all for what they did led to our recovery today.

 West Coast: Sun Valley beginnings, minutes of meeting in July, 1953 show that by October, there was no one left holding their original positions. Remember, the group wanted to be AA/NA and when it came down that AA would not violate their Traditions, it probably offended the original group members. Some members must have met because the legend credits NA as beginning on the West Coast in 1953. We have no idea what the meetings were like but like their counterparts back East, they must have lacked a key ingredient. One member expresses the idea that they started “groups” rather than taking the role of starting a Fellowship. That is why there was no literature. The Little White Booklet was like a small sailboat on the sea of addiction in the fifties, sixties and the early seventies.

 The Twelve Traditions were approved by the Fellowship of AA at the St. Louis General Service Conference in 1955. This singular point well illustrates just how new the organizational aspects of 12 Step Fellowships were evolving. When I got clean, I was told that efforts to begin NA in the forties died out because they did not follow the Twelve Traditions. While it is true that the principles that lie within the framework of the Traditions were violated and problems thus generated did stop  the meetings in several instances, they could not violate something not yet approved.

 One of our earliest members was Daniel Carlson, a hopeless relapser who came back to Lexington to clean up one more time. This time he made it. His is the primary name associated with NA beginnings in the Eastern United States.


   Jimmy Kinnon 
clean date: Feb 2, 1950, died July 9, 1985

Jimmy K's 20th Anniversary Talk (excerpted)

CHAIRMAN BOB B. Introduction (excerpts)

The 20th Anniversary is, I think, a good occasion for me in terms of, I was not around for the 20 years because I was still playing crazy. But about 15 years ago, when I did come around I met some people that something happened in the process. And it wasn't to happen for another three years before I was to get clean at the insistence of the state. And then to find out that I could cone out after a couple of years and to stay clean over a period of over ten ears. It wouldn't have been possible if there wasn't people like the people in this room that kind of insisted, kind of pushed, kind of bad rapped me, they kind of held me up. They gave me all the things that were necessary, the things that I needed. And at the same time, one person that I became very close to, at that time, stayed in close touch with me over the years, giving me some confidence in terms that I could do it if would only try. And we've been through many trials of error in my growing up. And at the same time, we've shared a lot of heartaches and pleasures also. I'm going to let him tell you his own story in terms of what happened.

At this time, I've been going through papers our offices and things have been in trunks of cars and back of garages in cardboard boxes, in old filing cases, and what have you. And many of these things that we keep as momentous as to times gone by. And one of these momentous that I've kept over a period of years is an original set of By Laws that were adopted in 1953. (The text of these By Laws can be found beginning on page 2 of this work.) August the 17th, which was yesterday today is like a year (20 years) and one day. This set of guides that were set down in order to determine, to run, or to govern NA as a whole some particular guides. There have been many, many additions and changes since then. But at this time I thought it would be appropriate that I put these here By Laws in some kind of archives for safe keeping. And who better is there to give this to and put it in safe keeping, but the person who helped put it together, kind of shepherded it around, kept us all tied in some manner together. And I put them in a binder so that he can probably put them away with the rest of his treasures as a remembrance of say oh, that's where it started and this is how it is today. And I would like to, at this time, to introduce and present this here set of By Laws as a token of safe keeping and a token of whatever I can't don't even know the words to express it to Jimmy K., one of the founders of NA; and one of the people who has been a mainstay; and one that keeps it together and has kept it together through many of the years that it has been around. So, this is the By Laws, an original set, and I'm going to give these here to Jimmy. And at this time Jimmy probably can give a little more background and highlight as to where it came from, what happened, and what's happening right now. I'm gonna turn it over to Jimmy K.

My name's Jimmy Kinnon, I'm an addict and an alcoholic. (Text of Jimmy's talk is complete.) I've been on the verge of tears for about one hour here and that almost did it. But I'm not ashamed of tears anymore, providing they're the kind that are said for something that's worthwhile. That just about wiped by, brain clean, I can't even remember what I was going to say now. However; in our fellowship, at any time, our main purpose has to be always foremost in our lives; whether we're socializing with each other in our individual homes, or whether we're at a gathering of this kind, particularly this kind. What I have to remember, personally, that I'm here, and possibly all of you are here because of people who'll never be here. The newcomer is the life blood of this organization, always has been, always will be.

Bob pointed out a few people who are here tonight and some people who couldn't make it tonight. Those people we call "Trusted Servants" of Narcotics Anonymous. Mostly, anyone who takes a position or any kind of leader (whether it's Chairman of a Group, Representative of a Group, GSO Representative, Trustee, or anything else regarding this organization) just lets himself in for a lot of work, a lot of criticism, and a lot of those things that go on. But you see, we have to grow, and our shoulders get broad enough to carry these things because the life that is given to us makes everything worthwhile. If it wasn't meaningful and worthwhile, I wouldn't be here tonight. If this program didn't lift me higher carry me further and make me feel better than anything else ever did in my life, I wouldn't be here. That's for damn sure?

I sit up here in this chair, I've always admired these chars but never thought I'd sit in one. I say "Yea Gods?" shades of Peter Lorie, you know, where's the fat man? But, first things first they tell us. You know, this is a part of a dream come true; and a dream envisions great changes but progress demands many small actions. A dream doesn't come true because of one group of people, or one man, or two men, or three men. It comes true because a lot of people work at it, because a lot of people put effort into it, because a lot of people buy the idea and carry it forward. That's one of the reasons we're here.

Most of you have noticed that there are a few pictures over there on that easel. These are some of the pictures of the beginnings. we started long before NA was a reality, even in name. we grew out of a need and we found those of us who were members had come into AA and found we could recover. In AA we found out that many addicts were still going down the road of degradation and death. And we thought it was right that we should try to do something. But, you know, we're funny people, the more we try to do things together, the more we fight each other and the more we tear each other apart, tear down the very thing we try to build. And that's been the history, up until a few short years ago, of Narcotics Anonymous. We tore down as fast as we built. That's the kind of people we are and we must recognize that to recover. All of us must know the nature of the illness, the nature of the illness, the nature of the addict, and the nature of recovery. All these things are necessary to grow, and to live, and to change. And we started from resentments, resentments made us grow.

Before NA there was HFD, Habit Forming Drug Groups. These were hidden, these were one or two or three people meeting in apartments, here and there. Nobody knew where they were, they demanded certain things, and were dominated by one or two persons. You know, you and I don't go for authority, we don't like authority. A few of the people I met down an skid row years ago from East LA formed another group known as Addicts Anonymous. They infringed on the AA name and they died very quickly because they too were dominated by one man. So, we found out very early, and our experience has taught us that we can have no bosses, no big shots in Narcotics Anonymous.

For awhile after we formed A lot of things happened that I'm not going into tonight but due to some things that happened and due to the nature of the addict, the nature of our illness, some people were put ii a position where they became the leaders again, the Great White Father You know, we can't have a Great White Father or a Bib Momma, you know, it doesn't work in this organization. And NA died once more, and the friends of ours in AA helped to pick us up and said "Don't let it bother you". These were the real friends we had in the beginning; members of AA who believed in us, members of AA had themselves a dual problem at that time and recognized that they came and helped us get started again. But again and again this happened in this organization. One person would try to dominate the whole movement. And every time it happened we began to die. Because the Traditions go down the drain when we try this. And one of the first things that we said when we met as a group in that house, #1 up there, where we formed those By Laws that Bob was talking about; where we sat together trying to iron out some things we wanted to do. We came down to very simple ideas. Number one, that we believed that this program of 12 Steps would work for addicts as well as for alcoholics. Two, that the Traditions must be followed if we were to grow, and grow as a fellowship that could stand on its own feet aside from and away from AA. We could take our own place as a fellowship, and not be dominated by or affiliated with anything or anybody else. And we said we would keep a place open for at least two years, and if in two years one or two addicts showed that this program could work for them, we would have felt that it had been worthwhile.

That fundamentally, was what we started with. But we argued about it for about six weeks before we put those By Laws on paper, and then we didn't want the By Laws. The sooner I figured we could get rid of the By Laws, the better off weld be. Because the policies of the Traditions are enough to guide us in what we have to do. The Traditions will save us from ourselves. And this is what is so necessary for a fellowship like ours. This is life, the other way is death as we know it. But how hard and how difficult it is not to go back. How difficult?

The first big order of business we had when we got together was the name. I was the first Chairman of what we then called ah - nothing. AANA, that's what it was called and I said "You simply can't do that ". You made me your chairman, we're gonna have to find another name, we can' t call Ourselves AANA or NAAA. And the committee who voted me the Chairman immediately vetoed what I said . Right , that's a good way to start. They vetoed everything I said the first night, so I thought I was off to a pretty good start. I wasn't going to get away with any horse shit from these people. They were going to find out what was right to do . And so the first order of business was to contact Anonymous to find out if we could use their name.; and found out that you couldn't do it. So I got the satisfaction, at least, of being right on the first thing that they vetoed. That made me feel a little better, you know, because I got news for you, I get my own way most of the time. I know you recognize that because so do you. That's the kind of people we are. But we had a lot of trouble when we got together; because I'm just like you are and you're just like I am. You're going to have to show me that what you say is going to work or I ain't going to go along. And thank God we are like that. I think that is what makes this program work eventually.

It was very hard to find a place to meet; after we got together and agreed what we were going to do. You couldn't find a hall to meet in. Nobody would allow us in. They didn't trust us in any way, shape or form. And it's pretty sad when you go from one place to another after you've got something real good going and nobody will let you use their hall. You know? Eventually, we did find a Salvation Army hall and they allowed us to use it for five dollars a month. You know, that's pretty good, but there were no facilities there. There was one little with a hand basin and a bowl in there, and that was it. There was no kitchen, so we had to go out and buy a little electric stove and some coffee pots, some cups which I still have at home. I found them just this week. I've had them all these years. We used to give them to each other because this week you might meet at my place, which is the second picture up there, and next week we might meet at your place. So you took the cups with you so everybody would have a cup to get their coffee in. You know, not many of us had more than a couple of cups in our houses then. In fact, not many of us were working. But that's the way it was. I still have those things.

"I got news for you, the Sunland Lumber Company is now defunct, but we're still living. The Salvation Army hall is still there - there are 2 pictures if it up on the top line - it is now a Spanish church. Some of the other pictures up there are where we had some of our "Rabbit Meetings". We called them "Rabbit Meetings" then because we never knew where we were going to meet. If there were 5 or 6 of us at a meeting tonight we decided then whose apartment or whose house we'd have the meeting in next week. And you would take the cups and sugar bowls and the format with you, you know, and then we'd meet at your place next week.

It wasn't that we who were getting into the program then were so afraid of the law but the newcomers were scared to death. I made a sign and we put it outside of the front door of the church there (about twice the size of this - three times the size of that) that said NA Meeting tonight at 8:30. And then we opened the door for business and we'd get about a dozen alcoholics in there who came to help us. And then a car would pull down around the comer slowly and they'd look at the sign and then they'd split. Nobody trusted nobody - you know they thought it was staked out. They wouldn't believe us when we told them there was no surveillance. And we weren't just too sure in the beginning ourselves."

"Because as a group we decided we were going to get right with the law at least and we went down to the Narcotics Division. And we told them, we didn't ask them, we told them we were going to have a meeting of addicts. And they raised their eyebrows a little bit when we first mentioned it. But there were 5 of us down there. A Miller, I forget if he was a Lieutenant or a Captain then, he listened and he said: "It's about time something like this happened, I've been trying to help addicts for years and with no success; I can't help anybody". And so he called in a lieutenant to listen in on our conversation and see what he thought. And he was a hard-nosed, old style, hope-to-die cop who knew for sure (who knew for sure) that none of us could recover, you know. And he listened and Miller was saying: "I like that idea", "I'll go along with that idea", "I buy what you have to say", "I'll do everything I can to help you". All the way down the line he was all for us. He kept his word, by the way. And he said to this lieutenant "what do you think?" (lieutenant): "Ain't gonna work, once a Junkie always a Junkie, you know that, God Damit. There's never any of them gonna get any better. I don't care what you say, I don't care what these people say, it ain't gonna work." So he looked back at us and I didn't know what the Hell to say, you know I'm only one of the group. I looked at Doris and she didn't know what to say. And Frank didn't know what to say. And old Pat, who was sitting back there with his mouth shut all this time and never opened his mouth says: "Lieutenant, my name is so-and-so, I was born and raised in such-and-such a place, I got arrested the first time for such-and-such a thing, and I was sentenced such-and -such a time for so many years; and starting there I want you to go back and check my record all the way through. I've been in every God Damned Federal Pen., except Danamora, in the country. I'm the last of the Petermen, and I haven't had a bit of Junk for 18 years. I haven't been in Jail for 18 years; and this program works for me. Now you look it up and prove it to yourself because I was never out of jail from the time I was a kid until the time I found this program." And the guy didn't know what to say. Pat said: "Now I mean it, check it out."

Whether the guy ever checked it out, I don't know; but I know that the police department and the Narcotics Division kept their word to us. And they never staked us out , they never busted us in any way, shape, or form - never rousted us coming or going to meetings. And so, we in turn kept our word, we policed ourselves and we followed the Traditions as best we knew how. And this is what has made us basically begin to grow in the past 12 years."

Early Problems


When the July planning sessions resulted in the October meeting, almost everyone on the list of signees from what are reputed to be the original minutes of NA has backed off.

 Over the years, perhaps for excellent reasons, Jimmy Kinnon and Sy Melas had disagreements. Sy was fond of citing the way things were done on the East Coast and Jimmy was quick to point out the 12 Traditions said this and that. Once a check came to the NA address for a $100 honorarium for Sy speaking at a hospital. Things like that created some of the early problems through the 1950’s. Please bear in mind that the 12 Traditions of AA were not adopted at the General Service Conference until 1955, so they were new.

 Meetings stopped for several months in 1959. It was no ones fault; everyone thought someone else was covering the meeting. The members weren’t going bowling or fishing, they were likely off to a convention or going to other meetings. Responsibility just hadn’t become an item on our NA agenda. What changed things was the NA Tree and the commitments made by members of the Board of Trustees. Notably, Jack Waley made a joke at one of the early anniversaries by telling the group they had better be committed to NA, otherwise they were being ripped off for the price of the rubber chicken at the World Convention. Jack was probably the first NA to make a point of being loyal to NA. If he sponsored you and you got loaded, he would tell you, “Bring me a year. You let me down, let yourself down too.” He deserves a permanent place in our Fellowships memory. [look for more material on tape from 20th anniversary tape.]

 Narcotics Anonymous was built by spirited, loving, grateful addicts who got caught up in the dream of a world wide fellowship of clean addicts working the 12 Steps of NA and helping others. That dream still exists. It must be understood that the vision comes before the reality here. The dreamers have to see it as possible and work against all opposition to bring it into reality. The opposition may ridicule, sabotage and show contempt for them in the beginning. But thank God, they made it and what we share is their dream of our recovery come true.

 Steeped in selflessness, they sought no position at WSO. This was one factor that helped create the separation between volunteers and paid staff.  The very experienced and informed NA members would always speak up when something inappropriate of violation of our structure came up. This may have helped create the idea that they were just radical and liked to complain. The growth of a gap between these experienced and informed members widened until Bob Stone saw them only as ‘vocal' and in the ‘minority.' I would suppose every organization has its followers who apply themselves more than the average member and are vocal about it. Actually, they thought they were not being vocal enough and experienced confusion and embarrassment when rebuffed by WSO personnel - Bob Stone or anyone else employed there. Their first thought was that they had it wrong and rechecked the written, approved structure and other facts. When they found themselves correct, they would really become vocal, minority or not. And when they were treated like traitors and malcontents, it was like plunging a dagger into their heart. Not usually over the issue but in the face of betrayal by a service arm and not being supported by their Fellow members. Now, here is a virus that can poison an entire Fellowship, given time. 

 Bob Stone spoke while explaining the 4th Edition debacle at the WSC about the blindness that affects people at WSO. That because of who was voicing concern, he would pay attention or ignore.  This labeling led to tagging members as “good” and “bad.” That no one in a position to help saw this is a real shame. Many good members went down over this. They got loaded, lost their dreams and died. Many, many others are still in meetings today still dazed and confused about what happened and what went wrong. This is what we mean when we call them wounded. They deserve to have their dreams back. They earned them!


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Reprinted from the 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace
2003 Form

Copyright © December 2001
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.

Last update January 12, 2006