Traditions War: a pathway to peace

Chapter 5
The Growth through Our Book

“There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”

As they worked on writing the Basic Text, NA members from all over the country became evermore informed about NA recovery, Steps and Traditions. Indeed, they became the most informed members in our history. Even members who were unable to attend one of the seven Literature Conferences became informed. The reading and discussions allowed members to share, ask questions, correct mis-impressions and get our NA message straight out of a book. And they stayed clean. And they carried our message to the world. Meetings started and recovery took root in places all over the United States, Europe and even faraway India, where the heroin traffic resulting from the Afgan War was wreaking havoc where drugs had been mostly a religious observance and not a health problem. Heroin addicts sprouted up everywhere and NA was quick to follow. As a direct result of the members writing the basic message of recovery down on paper in a form that most members could agree on, NA became a world-wide fellowship.

Following our Twelve Traditions and our general impulse to include rather than exclude, we developed our service structure using a volunteer system that endures to this day. No one was trained, well almost no one. And the services were heroic. A fledling Public Information committee in South Florida pasted up thousands of stickers saying “Drug Problem? – Call NA at this phone number.”  They did this on a Friday night and Monday morning the telephone company called them and told them they were having a problem with the stickers, not the drugs, and would we please remove them from the thousands of pay phones all over Dade County! Members in Cleveland, Ohio put up billboards. Flyers went up in clinics and laundromats.  These service volunteers have never been properly applauded for their heroic efforts which continue to this day.

As the business operations in California continued to grow, they forgot that the membership wrote the book. As days went by, more and more memory was being lost. New employees were concerned with day to day activities and when they heard about this happening or a persons name, it was from a co-worker or their boss. A Corporate mind set began to set in and replace the intuitive, loving, caring spirit of service. As weeks became months and months passed into years, the Fellowship continued to grow and know about its history and what had taken place – there were numerous witnesses and participants who loved to talk. There were writings. But over time, there was one view coming out of the Office and another out in the Fellowship.  

This corporate mind set grew as the WSO spread its influence into the burgeoning Fellowship. There is an inevitable air of being ‘in the know’ when you’re involved with a primary service center. Unfortunately, our primary service center was being revamped into our primary business office. WSO began to style itself as a publishing company and expenditures directed towards the creation of new books and publications we justified by the return potential rather than the good they did for people. Try not to allow your mind to slip into the ‘good and bad’ mode. These things were bound to happen and would have happened in one form or another under any conceivable administration. Call it growth changes or learning curve if that helps you understand. We are not blame assessors. At best we describe what happened so you - the members - can be better informed and make better choices relating to our future as a spiritual Fellowship and enjoy more peace of mind as you go about your recovery and service.

As the Fellowship grew in hundreds of thousands of new members, naturally WSO grew more and more perplexed about our policies and nervous about eventualities like the members voting to do things that would limit or damage WSO’s ability to function. We all know what one crazy addict can do, how about two hundred and fifty thousand voting members with less than a year clean?  Who knows what “if... then...” propositions flourished among WSO personnel during these years. I imagine that if you were part of that group and came up with one more terrible senario, it got repeated and encouraged others to think of something even more hideous and implausible. There was a line altered during the WSO’s edit of the Basic Text. The original said, “The mind will of course wander.” This is taken form old spiritual writings and alludes to the simple task of learning to drag the mind back to the place you have chosen for it. It was altered to read, “The mind will wander off course.” Does this constitute an improvement to your mind?  I heard that whoever came up with the alteration was praised and that the brilliant edit was whispered up and down the halls of WSO the rest of that day. So much for blaming the 4th Edition debacle on the Literature Committee.


Some thoughts on the

History of the Purist Movement

in NA by a founding member. 

The Purist Movement official got it's name from a small news letter written by a guy named Jimmy D from New Jersey.  He took the logo from my t-shirt, which was a bid shirt for WCNA 15 for Virginia.. "BRING THE WORLD TO THE BEACH!", we lost to DC of course, who's slogan was about unifying the divide between inner city blacks and the suburban whites.  The t-shirt was black with a bright blue outline of the globe. 

But the story starts long before that.  In the early days of the Literature movement to write a book by addicts for addicts, there was a member named Jim M from Ohio who showed  up at one of the first Lit conferences.  Jim was a very intelligent guy and one of  the first things he noticed was that hardly a single person attending identified themselves the same way.  Hi my names Sue and I'm a dope fiend, my name's Bob and I'm a drunk and a junky, my name's Bill and I'm a drug addict.. and so on.  Jim was the guy who questioned folks about getting the words right.  Meaning, that we needed to come up with a language that fit all addicts no matter what their drug of choice might be.  This is probably were the original seeds of the purist movement were first formulated and they didn't even know that was what they were doing.  It just made sense that using the term clean, would cover any substance, where sober only spoke of alcohol, or that calling ourselves addicts would strengthen our unity, rather than dividing us by our drugs, which we were no longer doing... ie: drunk and junky, boozer and user, slimy dope fiend.  The term addict fit everyone equally weather your drug of choice was alcohol or heroin, or marijuana.  It also leveled the playing field with no group of users being any better or worse than another.  

The members of these literature conferences were becoming enlightened as to this new vision and another one that was talked about outside the working sessions.  That one was about only attending NA for your recovery.  Back then and even into the early 1980's, that was a very foreign idea.  We had all gotten clean in AA meetings and had started a small handful of meeting in our areas or towns.  Hardly enough to recover in, but a place were we could go once a week or so and feel free to talk about our drug usage.  Our foundation and our recovery was in AA and we felt safe in their years of experience.  NA was that other meeting that we could go to once a week and talk about drugs.  Recovery in NA was just a dream for most of us.  Yea, man, that would be cool to have NA every night.. some day.. .
Something that the key players in the Lit movement understood was that you had to bet your life on NA or no one else would! They began to become adament about this stand and would leave these Lit conferences and NA conventions where they met up with each other to get pumped up.. then would go back to their small NA communities and with excitement they had gained by being around other like minded folks, would push the new message of one disease and one program to all the poor unsuspecting drunks and junkies back home.  The results were mixed of course.  One member said to my wife, well if it was so good back there in Georgia, why don't you go the hell back there!  Many were intimidated and saw this new movement as a clear loss of power, as they had been ruling the roost for many years now.  NA was more like counseling sessions with powerful personalities at the helm.  I know, I was one just like that.

Back then, they came up with the name S.W.A.T which stood for Service Workers Attack Team!  This was really the first organized, named purist group.  They even made up t-shirts for you collector types.  In discussions with the spiritual leader of the literature movement, Greg Pierce (deceased), several of the members he sponsored wanted to come up with a name and purpose other than SWAT.  The discussion came around to a simple card and a simple name and a simple purpose.  Greg said to me; "You don't wanna know what it started as.. smile!"  I guess he toned it down a bit.  It was called Anonymi, and it was simply a printed blue calling card that said: (I apologise, I can't find mine so I will do as best I can, and hope someone will edit it correctly)  "A worldwide NA home group who's trusted servants gather to gain the love and support they need to continue carrying the message in their home groups and areas.  It's primary purpose is to disband."


Think about that, an NA home group who's primary purpose it to "DISBAND".  The idea was that by getting this new information and becoming enlightened to a new view of NA, you would go back home and often times be met with scorn or worse by some members.  You would met up with other Anonymi members at NA conventions and re-charge your batteries to go back into the fray.  I was given my card by my sponsor Joe P from Memphis, Tennessee who was one of the 4 key players in the literature movement.  Greg referred to Joseph as the "Sgt Bilko" of NA.  Joseph wasn't a writer per se, but he could get stuff.  Joseph would show up at a lit conference with dozens of copying machines and Greg would say: "Joseph were did you get these? Wow!"  And Joseph would say; "Don't ask!".  Joseph was treasurer for World Lit as the Basic Text was being written and without his tireless and self less service, this project would have probably taken many years, instead of the 2 that it did take to write.  We as a fellowship owe him a huge debt of gratitude.  His efforts to put together the lit conference at Memphis State University and his tireless efforts to stay on the job even after the week long conference, assured us that the Grey review form of the text went out to all the addicts that they had addresses for.

The idea of an NA home group who's primary purpose was to disband, stood on the foundation that some day NA would be a strong vibrant fellowship.  That most all addicts would identify themselves as that.  Folks would get and stay clean in NA and have no need to go to another fellowship for support.  That us isolated members who were out their fighting for these things, would not be out their but simply a part of a world wide Narcotics Anonymous clean whole fellowship.  Today that dream is a reality for those of us who not so long ago could only hope and pray for... snif snif.

So the purist movement was actually made up mostly of sons and daughters of Anonymi and SWAT.  With a few original members in the mix.  The seeds of the movement were firmly planted at a late night rap session in Washington, DC prior to WCNA 14 Miracles Happen in Chicago Sept, 1984.  It was during this year that DC had a fund raiser for their bid committee.  The cool thing about NA was that all the opposing bid committees showed up to support them, Virginia, Pennsylvania etc.  They were so moved by this, as their turn out from the local fellowship was a bit weak and our coming to support them made the event a success.

Late night Saturday, a bunch of us Anonymi's/Convention/Service friends were gathered in a room at Georgetown University were the event was being held.  We jokingly began talking about the do's and don'ts of being a purist.  The word had been floating around for a few months by now.  It came out of an article that the guy Jim M from Ohio had written for an early NA way magazine entitled "The unfolding of the fellowship".  It asked "what about those folks that only go to NA meetings for their recovery and identify themselves simply as addicts.. are these folks radicals?  No they are merely purists". 

In our late night talk session, we came up with 24 do's and don’ts to be a purist.  Some was for fun, some we truly believed in our hearts was the right thing and the only true future for NA.  We had made our stand in Narcotics Anonymous and we were fearful that it might not become what we needed it to be to recover.  We could no longer feel comfortable in meetings that were filled with confusing languages of recovery and mixed messages and quotes from AA literature... of course we could, we all had for the most part gotten clean in AA, but you know how the old saying goes" "there's nothing worse than a convert!"  For it's usually the converts that are the loudest and strongest on a cause.  We had for the most part, all been clean and sober just a few months or years ago. 

We had made our stand, we had bet our lives on NA and we were damned determined to see this work.  Sadly we were a bit too determined and very forceful in our approach to NA language and the use of it in our NA meetings.  We often would confront poor newcomers in the middle of the meeting, "it's clean, not sober!"  Our text is basic, it's not big!..  Sober stands for short of being entirely ready!  If you call your self and addict and an alcoholic, then put 2.00 in the basic as your treating 2 diseases!  And so on...

A friend of mine in England put it so well.  He said: "We are the children of Alcoholics Anonymous.  When I was a kid and I got to 16 years old, you couldn't tell me anything, I knew the right way, you were wrong.. and I was angry.  As I grew up, I got married and now I am an adult with my own family and I have a much different relationship with my parents, we are more like equals."  Narcotics Anonymous had to go through it's growing up phase.  It had to break the apron strings to AA and stand on it's own two feet.  Sadly we did it with the hostility of a teenager, rather than the maturity that we do today.  Today it's so simple just to read an identity statement at the beginning of the meeting and let folks know what we do here in NA and ask them for the cooperation in this simple yet important matter.  But that was then and this is now. 

Jimmy D was at that meeting that night and felt inspired to go home and create.  He came up with a simple purple bandana and a folded up little newsletter called the Purist News volume 1, number 1.  Jimmy says he had the bandana at Chicago.  I know that the Newsletter was distributed at the 6th East Coast Convention held at Towson State University, Towson, Maryland in June of 1985, just prior to the World which was being held right next door in DC in September, 1985.  Jimmy gave me a copy of the Purist News and like the rest of the gang, I went home and copied it like mad!  It became our manifesto.  It was the first thing in written form that spelled out what it was we that had become imbedded in our heats and minds for a long time now.

I took a big stack with me to the 2nd European Service Conference in England a few months latter.  The host committee had a meeting on the pamphlet that I had put out on the table with convention flyers.  They asked me if I would come speak to them about it, but I declined.. I was a bit of a chicken.. brack!  They voted that it was neat stuff but not appropriate on the table at the convention.  They were right but I had gotten the word out, any way I could... tee hee.  A few months latter, as I sat in a World International Committee meeting in California at the WSC, I was invited into a room for discussion.  There was a long table of 14 World Level big shots and Bob Stone the then Manager of the World Service Office.  Bob and I were on good speaking terms, having crossed paths at several events and our interactions were always pleasant and friendly.  Bob started talking in a round about manner about how being at the central site of NA, he had to deal with all manner of things that come up, and then he whips

out a copy of the purist news and forcefully tells me this showed up on the tables at a meeting in Denmark or Holland.. I thought to myself, cool!  Bob wanted to know all about this movement and how organized it was etc... I withered under Bob's attack... man, Bob, it's just a cool pamphlet that a bunch of us made copies and passed out.  I put some out at ECCNA in London and it must have made it's way to that group.  Sorry.   It was interesting that they needed 14 people to confront one member on this daring issue.. not!  The reality was that they were trying to put a finger on a feeling and they couldn't.  For it wasn't in a piece of paper, it wasn't in a few members who were vocal.. it was an idea who's time had come and their was no way for a small handful at the center of power to stop it from happening.  It's time had come, and some of us were just a few steps ahead.  Not that they disagreed with what we were doing, most every trusted servant at the World Level were pure NA members by now.  Okay a few old timer Californians were still going to always be clean and sober.  They just differed in how it could come to pass.

They got their chance to heal this area of our fellowship and did a stellar job.  George H and Lea G of Florida along with others at the center of power spear headed a movement to re-write the little white book and take out the denial an endorsements of the outside enterprise AA, which we had been reading in meetings every night.  The White book used to state"  We are deeply grateful to the AA fellowship for pointing the way for us to a new way of life".  This is a great truth and it was moved to the front of our Basic Text but it was in-appropriate to be read in a meeting each night, along with a tradition that tells us not to endorse finance or lend the NA name to outside enterprises.  The task was given to the Board of Trustees to come up with a new version and they did an excellent job.  The gave us the readings we have today, and explained why each change was necessary.  It was overwhelmingly approved at the conference that year.  This solidified us as a one disease, one program fellowship.  Thanks Guys!

The Purist movement begins to splinter.  During the next few short years, the folks at NA Central started utilizing the funds that were being generated by the growing sales of literature to an ever growing NA fellowship.  They traveled a lot to carry the message around the world.  The group of folks I was in, which Bob Stone fondly referred to in his book as "The Vocal Minority" was becoming more and more ostracized from power in NA and more and more angered by what they saw as an inner circle of addicts with NA credit cards using fellowship funds for personal enrichment.

It's an interesting thought that we were labeled the vocal minority, when in fact we were in touch with a vast group of members across the entire fellowship.  So we were hardly a minority.  Our voices, loud yes, were being stiffled at the World Level by a centralization of power in the hands of a smaller and smaller few.  These were the ones who had their hands on all the methods of communication to the fellowship, they seemed to answer only to themselves.. so in reality, it was more likely that they were the true vocal minority.. ya think?

It came to a head in a discussion at my kitchen table with my NA mentor, Larry North (deceased).  Larry was a fisty old Irishman who brought the message of NA to me in 1982 when we were first starting our little NA meeting in the mountains of Virginia.  Larry had some 9 years back then and was involved in the literature movement, the area, the region and the world.  We lovingly called him the old man.  He knew everything there was to know about service and the traditions, he was the king of tradition troopers. He also loved newcomers like nobody’s business.  He took you under his wing and showed you all the ropes and then some. Larry took me everywhere, we were like 2 peas in a pod for many, many, many years.

Larry was an accountant by trade and a damn good one.  He handled accounting for large companies and could run numbers on an adding machine like nothing you have ever seen.  As we sat in my kitchen one evening, Larry said;  "The ultimate authority is not a loving God... the ultimate authority is the purse strings.. it's the money!"  He was referring to dealing with what he saw as the abuses of World NA.  We control them by the fund flow from the sales of literature.  How do we do that, I asked?  Simple, you see it only cost about 2.00 to make a Basic Text, and the rest of the money goes to feed the WSO.  We can make a Basic Text in paperback that can be copied on a copying machine for about a buck or less.  We give them away free or at very little cost.  In this way we kill two birds with one stone.  The first being that the Basic Text should be a lot less expensive so it can be freely given to newcomers, and the 2nd is that for everyone of those text that we give free, that is a lot less money in the hands of the World Gang!  And so arose the idea for a baby blue bootleg copy of the Basic Text. 

The idea was to put items back into the Basic Text that had been taken out without group conscience of the fellowship, and to distribute them at cost or free.  Most importantly of these edited items was 2 sentences that had been taken out of the text before it even had come to print.  Upon reviewing the material in the approval form of the Basic Text, then manager of WSO, Jimmy Kinnon (our founder), had taken exception to 2 lines in the traditions.  He believed that they were in violation/conflict with the traditions and wanted to remove them.  He knew that if he sent them back to the fellowship for discussion it would be another year before our book was published.  He chose a second course of action and had a group conscience of The Board of Trustees Chair, the Office Board Chair, the Conference Chair and they all agreed to allow him to take out the following lines and print the Basic Text as amended.... in the 2nd and 4th traditions....  it was written "what about our service boards, our committees, are these things NA.  No, they are not NA, they are services that a group may or may not choose to utilize.  And another line stated: "a service committee cannot decide, rule, dictate or censor".  Well this service body decided, ruled and dictated to censor those 2 lines.  Of course at the time, the literature folks were furious.  The fellowship had studied every word and prayed over their decisions to vote on the book as it was.  This flagrant violation of group conscience was wholly unacceptable to them.  This one action created a rift in the fellowship that is still not completely healed to this day.

Some members in Miami, who more than likely took their cue from Larry North, printed up the first copies of the Baby Blue and began distributing them in large numbers.  In the North, my friend Greatful Dave took the ball and ran hard and long with it as well. Copies started showing up in all manner of colors.  The Georgia Peach, The Resentment Red from England, Pink, Beige and several variations of blue.  There is even a site on the internet that shows all known copies.

This is were the movement starts to splinter.  This is were I took my ball and went home.  I had been actively working steps for a while now and had given up my need to fight.  I didn't have it in my heart to do something that would damage NA as a whole, even if I disagreed in my heart with what folks were doing.  I had learned that those extra dollars from the sale of NA literature do a lot more than just provide travel and lodging for World Level Trusted servants.  The money goes to translate the literature into foreign languages, to help our World PI efforts, our World H and I efforts, to make NA available anywhere on the planet.  I knew there was no way to take money out of one part of NA without hurting addicts in some other part of NA.  Dave grabbed me outside a workshop in Memphis on the Basic Text issue and said come on, we need you in here.  You got me started on this thing.  I said; Dave I'm sorry I'm just not there anymore.  I tried to point out to him that the very people he was antagonizing over this issue were the folks he would need to be their for him when his AIDS got worse.  He told me he had been prayed over and that he hadn't felt ill since. That was the last time I saw my friend Dave.

He had decided to force the issue to court.  This was his plan all along.  It was a loose, loose situation for the World Service Office in that they would never come out a winner by taking a concerned NA member to court over the literature.  It was actually a pretty brilliant idea.  It all came to a head in a court room in Pennsylvania and a very wise Judge.  The Judge first looked at them and said what are you guys doing here?  I spent every day dealing with addicts that don't have the answer and you guys do!  He motioned, after much back and forth, that if Dave would agree to stop printing and selling Baby Blues, that the World Service Office would put a motion into the conference agenda to have a worldwide vote of every individual NA home group as to which Basic Text they wanted.  By now there had been 5 printings with the 4th edition being an editors nightmare and having lost pages due to inaccurate transcribers at WSO and not doing sufficient final proof reading.  The 5th Edition apparently still hadn't corrected all the missed sections. The Office managed to stall and delay, and Grateful Dave's Aids finally progressed and he passed away.  Along with him went the court case.  There are those who still talk about taking up arms and getting the case re-examined. It is easy to say with forebearance that all members involved did what they did with the good of NA in their hearts. Nevertheless, we have to learn from our mistakes and one of the key problems has been conflict of interest. No one should be voting or in a position to control the outcomes of important Fellowship decisions who  is on the payroll of WSO or any of its subsidiaries.

I had moved around a few times and about a year ago, I was driving back to my home in Montgomery, Alabama.  We had an NA club house with meetings twice a day.  All the members only went to NA and all identified themselves as addicts.  I was coming down the highway from Birmingham and it dawned on me that I couldn't remember the name of that group, what was it anonysomething... that we had all belonged to back then.. oh yes, ANONYMI.

Apparently it had disbanded, as it was no longer needed. 

In loving service,


Hit Counter hits in 2004!


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