Traditions War: a pathway to peace

Chapter 2
How Service took its Form

It took us a long time to realize that some of these early meetings had nothing to do with founding a Fellowship. They were courageous efforts to create someplace where addicting seeking 12 Step recovery could go. It was later that our efforts to create the things it takes to make a Fellowship, things like the WSO, the Basic Text and the many members who people our service structure world-wide. When things went wrong, we left a trail of broken hearted NA lovers. It is hard for us to buy into a dream and that is all NA was back then.

Greg P. got clean in 1970 with around twenty known NA meetings in the world. Greg went to all of them in Southern Cal. He had a business suit and a job that left him with time on his hands in an office. His recovery story went in the Little White Book as “I was Different.” He became ardently involved from the beginning. Jimmy K was his sponsor and during some periods of illness, Jimmy was cared for at Greg’s home in North Hollywood, California.  Greg often made thoughtful statements. NA came into existence by members making a commitment to NA as their recovery program. Greg commented, “It takes a certain brand of insanity to bet your life on something that doesn’t exist.”

With his special gifts, Greg thrived on the atmosphere at WSO and when he was two years clean, he began work on a service structure. He was on the Board of Trustees (WSB) and it galled him that we had no structure. He consulted not only the AA service structure but also the Magna Carta and other documents and wrote a simple structure that won the support of the Board of Trustees in 1975. This manual was called the NA Tree. So in 1976, the 1st World Service Conference (WSC) was held (what city?) with little done due to the youth of the Fellowship at the time. There were around 200 meetings in the world. Over a two year period between 1973 and 1975, he wrote the seminal service structure that began it all for expansion of the NA dream into a positive reality. The structure called for meetings of group representatives at area meetings. Also, area reps would go to a regional committee which in its turn would send representatives to a world service conference. The world service office would provide primary services all years long under the direction of the Board of Trustees. The NA Tree is included in its entirety in the appendix of this book.

Vigorous efforts in Lexington and other cities cannot be denied. It may not have been time for NA back then. The total fear and negative characterization of addicts shifted a great deal in the 1960’s and 1970’s. While some say Daniel Carlson had the idea that some famous person would get clean in NA and herald in a new period of growth and recognition, that never happened. There has to have been some commitment and service for NA to even exist back then. The idea of addicts sharing and caring for one another along with surrender, faith and inventory has to have been potent weapons for recovery. We have no writings from back then, so let’s wait until some show up and avoid the errors of speculation. The spiritual factor seems to be as long as addicts gather for purposes of recovery, recovery takes place. The act of coming together with recovery in mind seems to generate the elements needed out of thin air, if necessary. For that day, and any other days the actions are repeated, the recovery will likely take place. This we know from our own experience. Recovery since 1970 is pretty well known with several living witnesses. [get exerpts from the Key to present samples of the language and feeling of recovery coming out of Lexington in Kentucky, Angola in Louisiana and possibly another Federal facility in Texas. - ]

In July of 1953, Jimmy Kinnon along with others got together in Los Angeles to form a self-help group for addicts. The original name proposed by the group was AA/NA. Jimmy noted that AA would not let them use their name. The AA General Service Office in New York was contacted to get permission to use the name. Permission was denied and the group became Narcotics Anonymous. They also very generously encouraged us to adapt the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions to our needs. Jimmy is described as showing up for meetings with only one or two addicts present for long periods of time. While one or both could be nodding out from their fix, he kept coming back. Through the fifties, sixties and especially the seventies, he was constantly involved in some way.

In the 1970's, a office was established with the general support of the Parent Service Board, the fore runner of the NA World Service Board of Trustees (WSB). We had no written service structure but we had the building blocks. We have tapes of the 20th and 21st Anniversary of NA with Jimmy Kinnon speaking. He is vibrant and forceful in his spirit and delivery and no other man or woman speaks with his authority and commitment to NA.

Insert Transcript of Jimmy’s 20th Anniversary tape:

His kitchen table was the site of many, many late night discussions and brain storming sessions. The Office became the NA World Service Office (WSO). 

The NA World Convention also started in 1971 and during the time it was an annual event, you could tell the Convention by the year.

In 1977 another attempt was made during the WCNA in San Francisco. Only one RSR showed up, the one from Southern California. The RSR from the only other existing region in Northern California couldn’t come and again little was accomplished. By 1978, Greg was Chairman of the Board of Trustees and he went into the WSC with a list of enabling motions that transformed the WSC from an idea in the NA Tree to a reality. Members from Northern and Southern California were there along with members from Georgia [list other states here]. Excitement built as more and more members picked up on the air of joy and freedom permeated the small, growing Fellowship.

The World Convention had moved from San Francisco in 1977 to Houston, Texas in 1978. Three hundred addicts showed up, about a hundred from California. Californian members made a stupendous effort to carry the message to members from the Mid-West and the East Coast. East Coast included the deep South. While the community in Houston worked heroically to put on the convention, growth was slow in Texas, but a solid Fellowship took root and many of the same members are clean today!            

In 1979, a large group of fifty or so members showed up from around the country for the WSC in Southern California. These members represented, usually by state, the new areas where NA was growing. They were full of questions, ideas and energy to help. 

 The 1979 World Convention was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Members came from Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, the Carolinas, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania - just everywhere! Bo S. and Pat L. were co-chairs of the Convention Committee. Bo called out West asking for guidelines and help with the job of chairing NA’s biggest convention. There was none to be had from WSO, the WSB or the past conventions in Houston 1978 and San Francisco in 1977. So, flyers were printed, arrangements made with the Sheraton Biltmore on West Peachtree and the convention attracted members from all over the Eastern states with a over a hundred from the West Coast. It was becoming evident that ingenuity and tact were required to do NA service because there simply were no resources to guide our people. “Keep it Simple - Make it Fun” was a slogan on many NA Flyers along with “No Addict Turned Away.” Being a young Fellowship, everyone knew one another, usually from the beginning of their recovery. It made us close and we had the bonds of our pain and desire for recovery. The learning experiences getting clean and learning the NA way of life gave us an unusual degree of unity.


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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