The illusion of unity is something we often live with in our lives. If you can get an idea under the umbrella of unity, then it is as good as approved. When I was young I believed unity was what brought us together when something was right: The world united against the Nazi regime in World War Two. Problems with the bully on the school field? Everyone stand up against the bully and united we will persevere. From an early age we are taught about the power of unity. Unity is not easy to achieve and is not always influential. for instance, a clear majority of NRA (National Rifle Association) members support background checks when purchasing a gun, but the NRA as an organization does not, so the concept of unity can be corrupted as well. What defines unity and for what purpose does it exist?
Most 12-step programs adapt some version of the 12 traditions in their groups. The twelve steps are designed to help the individual, and the traditions guide the groups. Tradition 1 states that ‘Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on N.A. unity’. Unity in purpose was what I believed to be the basis of our recovery. United as brothers and sisters we worked to promote our fellowship as a solution to the horrors of living a life in active addiction. In fact, the group of addicts in Narcotics Anonymous who meet regularly where you live or work are driven in unity by a primary purpose; “to carry the message of recovery to the addict who still suffers.” Groups are the basis of our recovery in 12-step programs. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs all follow this simple formula for success and each group defines unity in a unique way. The success we seek is not our personal success, but the success of the group, driven ultimately by our united purpose.
In a simple world, that would be the end of the story, but the reality is far from this ideal. Unity is like a gentle flame that must be tended constantly with the right balance of elements. Over the years I’ve seen 12 step groups come together in unity and begin to flourish as new people joined the group. These groups are like candles in the night, and when newcomers arrive broken and afraid, they are hugged into an atmosphere of recovery they never thought had ever existed before. A delightful perfect storm that can save lives and can have far reaching and long-lasting repercussions. Unity can be found in the reading ‘What is the Narcotics Anonymous Program?’ (referenced from Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, various versions).
‘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.’
When I first arrived at the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous in 2002, with only a desire to stop using, I became a member. The rest of the process of step work, sponsorship, and service were choices I made. I heard of this growing cancer of discontent and listened carefully. We were already starting to see the results of a split within the fellowship by the time I arrived, and some talked of the ‘Club NA’ mentality of service. The phrase came from the old Club Med commercials, with these people meeting up all over the world celebrating at a resort. Thousands of dollars were collected and used to fund all levels of service, with little reaching the bottom, NAWS (Narcotics Anonymous World Services). Much of what is passed on to the service structure is used for travel. In fact, NAWS mostly survives off the profits of literature sale- with less than 25% of its funding coming from the fellowship; Compared to AA which is around 80% self-supporting. I wondered what was going on within the Fellowship of NA. Why were these percentages so vastly different?
In 1991, The World Service Office (WSO) of Narcotics Anonymous and an individual, David Moorhead, reached an agreement in principle regarding the production and distribution of Narcotics Anonymous Literature. “Grateful Dave”, as many knew him, was producing a copy of Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text that he felt best represented the group conscience of the Fellowship. It was a belief shared by many, and people have come to refer to this book as the ‘Baby Blue’. It is still available today but not through official channels. The WSO wanted to put an end to this to avoid a long court battle and entered into an agreement. The judge who was to hear the case encouraged all the parties to resolve this without a prolonged legal battle. The WSO failed to fulfill their end of the agreement and unfortunately, Dave Moorhead passed away before the matter could be pursued in court. This long-standing battle continues today. As recently as 2015, Narcotics Anonymous World Services, which is the administrative body of the WSO, issued a bulletin called ‘Group Conscience and NA Literature’ outlining the WSO position and concerns.
The essential core of the battle is between the relationship of the service structure and the fellowship that it serves. 12 step programs use the steps to build the foundation of recovery for the individual, and the groups use the 12 traditions to establish the foundation of recovery of the Fellowship. The original versions of the Narcotics Anonymous traditions in early literature contained phrases in Tradition 4 and 9 that clearly set boundaries about what was Narcotics Anonymous. Those phrases specifically detailed that the service structures created to serve the fellowship were NOT Narcotics Anonymous and ensured that our service bodies would never dictate to the fellowship.
Unfortunately, after almost 30 years, NAWS has failed to resolve this matter. Free literature, specifically the Baby Blue, is available online for no cost. In the bulletin issued by NAWS, called ‘Group Conscience and NA Literature’, there are three points, quoted below, made with significant errors in logic;
1. ‘It goes against group conscience. The fellowship has decided on these issues repeatedly,…’
It is not ‘the fellowship’ that decided this, but simply it is ‘a fellowship’. Records are sparse, and support for changes since the split are questionable. There has been little effort to document a group by group accounting of opinion on the matter and was the 3rd point in the agreement reached with the WSO and Moorhead.
2. “It’s illegal. The unauthorized reproduction of NA literature is a violation of copyright law…”
Our legal system is designed to determine what is illegal and what isn’t. The World Service Office tried this approach in the 1990’s and were encouraged to sign an agreement, ending the dispute and restoring unity. NAWS does not determine what is illegal and it currently controls the intellectual property rights. It is well within their rights to enforce it, as it is the Fellowship’s right to assign control to another service body. NA operates under an inverted support structure whereby the groups are in control all aspects of service, including intellectual property rights.
3. ‘It doesn’t make sense. On top of everything else, the portions of the Fourth and Ninth Traditions reinserted into the text of the booklets that are being distributed don’t reflect most members’ understanding of NA service. The Fourth Tradition essay says of service committees, offices, and activities, “these things are not N.A.” The Ninth Tradition essay says that service boards or committees “are not a part of Narcotics Anonymous.” That doesn’t even make sense, does it? Are the funds from your area dance an outside donation? Is your local H&I committee somehow not a part of NA?.’
It makes perfect sense. That’s the basis of the split within the Fellowship because of this fundamental difference of opinion. Interpretation of the spiritual principles of the traditions is what we talk about in our groups and NA Service; which is only the service done at a group level. Members who willing participate in higher levels of service should understand clearly that they are ‘trusted servants’ of the fellowship. “We ought not be organized” is a phrase used in Tradition 9 applies to our group service in NA and isn’t for NAWS and the WSO in completing responsibilities assigned to it.
The solution is slipping through the hands of the current service structure. Unity is so easy to create but it is fragile when we put personalities ahead of principles. One solution is to simply follow through on the original agreement, and let ‘The Fellowship’ decide. Unfortunately, history has taught us well as other organizations have had their struggles with unity. The rift will likely continue to grow and soon we could have multiple Narcotics Anonymous meetings in larger centers, like the Christian fellowship do with multiple denominations (Anglican, Protestant, Lutheran, etc.). My belief is that for the first time in Man’s entire history a simple way has been proving itself in the lives of many addicts…the Fellowship will continue to meet in local churches, community halls, and any place where recovering addicts are welcome to congregate. While NAWS, the WSO, and Baby Blue followers struggled in North America with issues of unity through the 1990’s, the NA Fellowship in Iran exploded to life and represents a significant portion of the fellowship today. It would be good to see some translation of Iranian NA literature to English, so we can all learn a lesson in unity.
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