Clean time

By rebelsmed 09/13/18
Narcotics Anonymous, addiction, recovery

Discussions about being clean and living clean in Narcotics Anonymous can create hope in addicts seeking recovery, but can also create high levels of tension depending on who is talking, who is listening, and the specifics of the conversation.  This is a program where we emphasize the understanding that each day in recovery is a gift; a miracle that only comes about because of the grace of a higher power. Our literature emphasizes that “addiction is a disease which involves more than simple drug use.” (Basic Text, chapter 1, “Who is an Addict?”, Version 2 and 3, page 6, or Page 30 of Version 6, the latest edition) If addiction is more than drug use, what are we focusing on when we discuss clean time?

Clean time has been a struggle for me since I first entered the rooms of NA. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have remained clean since I entered the rooms in 2002, but having said that, what am I clean from? Having completed a set of Steps in my recovery I can now see when my behaviors are not in line with the will of my higher power. I achieve this with the help of a sponsor, my support group and most importantly, my commitment to a home group.  My understanding is that this is the ‘We’ referred to in the 12 Steps. 

NA is a nonprofit Fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. We are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. This is a program of complete abstinence from all drugs. There is only one requirement for membership, the desire to stop using. We suggest that you keep an open mind and give yourself a break. Our program is a set of principles written so simply that we can follow them in our daily lives. The most important thing about them is that they work. (Basic Text, chapter 1, “What is the Narcotics Anonymous Program?”, Version 2 or 3, page 9, or Page 36 of Version 6, the latest edition)

The above quote mentions two aspects related to being clean; first, that the only requirement is a desire to stop using, and second, that this is a program of complete abstinence from all drugs. Anyone with a desire can become a member, and what we work to achieve is complete abstinence from all drugs.  In the Alcoholics Anonymous program, the first part of Step 1 says the ‘alcoholic is powerless over alcohol’, and by focusing on a substance, the significance of clean time becomes a powerful marker in an alcoholics sobriety. In NA, we say in the first part of Step 1 that ‘we are powerless over addiction’; however, substances are not mentioned as the substance is but a symptom of the disease of addiction.  As addicts, we can become addicted to anything, so identifying only one substance comes woefully short of the problem. Clean time is difficult to measure when you have no clear starting point.  The literature in NA is powerful; It contains valuable information from our experiences as addicts.  “We offer only a proven plan for daily recovery” and “Our purpose is to remain clean, just for today, and to carry the message of recovery.” (Basic Text, “Introduction”, Version 2 or 3, page 5, or Page 26 of Version 6, the latest edition).

In both cases, the writers of the original N.A. literature acknowledged that our recovery was a daily reprieve for we cannot look beyond 24 hours; we must be in the ‘now’.   My first sponsor taught me that the most natural thing for an addict to do is to use. It alters perceptions and attitudes when you live daily as someone with the terminal illness of addiction.  In this atmosphere of recovery, in the rooms of N.A., we are taught that each day we are clean is only because of the grace of our higher power, and through the therapeutic value of one addict helping another.  Our traditions teach us that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using, which requires we consider each day what we are using. For newcomers the obvious choice is drugs, but as we progress in our recovery we come to recognize that we use people, places, and things as well. 

There are benefits to clean time. We can complete a set of Steps, live by spiritual principles, and carry a message to another addict seeking recovery when we are able to stick around for more than a day. Our focus is on living in recovery daily.  Clean time is a consideration when looking at being of service. Clearly a person with only a day clean is going to have a difficult time acting as a trusted servant of the fellowship.  Even our original literature pointed to the fact that those in service are not N.A., but acting as servants for N.A.

What about our service committees, our offices, activities, and all the other things that go on in N.A.?” The answer is that these things are not N.A. They are services we utilize to help us in our recovery and to further the primary purpose of our groups. Narcotics Anonymous is a Fellowship of men and women; addicts’ meeting in groups and using a given set of spiritual principles to find freedom from addiction and a new way to live. All else is not N.A. (Basic Text, “Tradition 4”, Version 2 or 3, page 34, NOTE: This paragraph was altered by the NAWS Corporation in later versions without fellowship approval).

By looking at our service structures as outside issues, we maintain an atmosphere of recovery in our groups. No member is any better or worse than another, and old-timers are created when a person attends their second meeting. Each of us lives daily with the same disease we arrived with, and we each benefit from sharing our recovery daily.  Members who can put some days clean together learn that giving back in service to others gets us out of ourselves and focused on the needs of others. The basic text warns about the dangers of members who remain clean for some time but who don’t give back selflessly.  

However, many will become the role models for newcomers to follow while the self-seeking soon find they are on the outside, causing dissension and eventually disaster to themselves. Many of them change; they learn we can only be governed by a loving God as expressed in our group conscience. (Basic Text, “Tradition 2”, page 34 of Version 2 or 3 and page 64 of 6th Edition, published 2008),


Celebrating sobriety in AA and measuring years sober has unfortunately influenced our fellowship. We strive to feed our egos by holding conventions and events that become focused on celebrating our achievements rather than carrying a message.  As Narcotics Anonymous matures, the danger is that we may become focused on ‘self-seeking’ and self-congratulatory behaviors, when we must consider we can only keep what we have by giving it away to the newcomers. Our Basic Text only references clean time three times, and this quote gives a warning about losing sight of our primary purpose.

“We can never fully recover, no matter how long we stay clean. Complacency is the enemy of members with substantial clean time. If we remain complacent for long, the recovery process ceases. The disease will manifest apparent symptoms in us.” (Basic Text, “Chapter 7 – Recovery and Relapse”, page 42 of Version 2 or 3 and page 111 of 6th Edition, published 2008),

Self-obsession is the core of our disease and lies at the root of many of the symptoms that manifest in our lives as we live the program of Narcotics Anonymous. “We must relearn many things that we have forgotten and develop a new approach to life if we are to survive. This is what Narcotics Anonymous is all about. It is about people who care about desperate, dying addicts and who can, in time, teach them how to live without drugs.” (Basic Text, “Chapter 7 – Recovery and Relapse”, page 42 of Version 2 or 3 and page 111 of 6th Edition, published 2008)

Many members will find that living a new way of life opens the doors to many opportunities.  We often find as we recover financially, emotionally, and spiritually that our lives improve. Newcomers experience the benefits of making decisions without the influence of drugs or acting out on addictive compulsion. Our commitment to a home group, striving to attract new members, and applying the spiritual principles in our dealings with others is the Narcotics Anonymous program.  “As long as we maintain an attitude of thankful(ness) for being clean, we find it is easier to remain clean. The best way to express gratitude is by carrying the message of our experience, strength and hope to the still-suffering addict. We are ready to work with any suffering addict.” (Basic Text , “Chapter 7 – Recovery and Relapse”, page 42 of Version 2 or 3 and page 113 of 6th Edition, published 2008)

Narcotics Anonymous grows because of the work we do to help others. Little of what we do to help ourselves will affect that growth, other than continuing to work our own program of recovery.  Recovery events, fellowship services, and socializing with our recovery friends can create positive personal feelings but do little to promote Narcotics Anonymous and should all be considered outside issues.  Living clean is simply the sacrifices we make to create a positive experience for the world around us. You and I might be the only example of living the N.A. way that a suffering addict experiences today, and that is true gratitude expressed as a virtue and that becomes the grace of a higher power for another. We never know when our words or actions may help another addict.  These moments are fleeting in nature; It is the reason our true purpose in NA is to carry a message.  When we help others, we ensure our own growth and personal recovery.

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