Groups are who we are

By rebelsmed 05/29/19
Narcotics Anonymous, addiction, recovery

It seems impossible to describe in words what Narcotics Anonymous is without trying to express some intangible qualities that defy explanation. The sound of rain falling or the touch of sun upon your face can be difficult to capture with words. Narcotics Anonymous came into my life at the worst possible moment and saved my life. It would be difficult to not look at the dangling root that saved you from a deadly fall without some irreverence. Some of the early literature I read failed to capture that gnarled root in words.  1966 Little White Book saying “There are no musts in N.A. but we suggest that you keep an open mind and give yourself a break.”, but also saying  “To improve ourselves takes effort and since there is no way in the world to graft a new idea on a closed mind, an opening must be made somehow.” Saying one thing and doing another seemed rampant from my perspective not just in the literature, but from those who attended.  One of the most difficult concepts for me to learn was the difference between meetings and groups and what impact being a member had on my recovery. Unfortunately, Narcotics Anonymous did not come with a glossary of terms.

Early on we are told that we should attend meetings regularly and that the only requirement for membership is a desire. You might ask yourself; “So when am I am member?” and be told that you’re a member when you say you’re a member. That response did confuse me because it was too vague. The first 30 years of Narcotics Anonymous was an exciting time as the Fellowship went from one meeting to a thousand meetings. Everyone who stayed involved seemed to be motivated to help other addicts. The first versions of the Basic Text published in early 1980’s included this phrase (Grey Book, Chapter 4, step 12) “Even a member with one day in the N.A. Fellowship can carry the message that this Program works.” Perhaps membership begins when we start to carry a message. Many of the idea’s individuals share at meetings become a source of strength for others and perhaps that is the basis of membership.  

The literature was in demand as individuals started groups across the United States and in a few other countries. Early members sought to be heard in the literature and the first version of the Basic Text was created in an open-participatory style where anyone could attend, and everyone present had to agree to the content. The creation of a book was truly a miracle and fueled growth but also controversy.  A greater miracle was that the book was approved by the groups at all.  Long time members seemed reluctant to separate what worked for them from what might work for others. I understand because contempt is never far away in my mind. I do not always acknowledge the Grace of the God (of my understanding) as the reason I am clean today. Why would I expect anything different for other members than to experience grace? I found it easier to be critical than to have empathy and compassion early on.

As the literature evolved, so did the fellowship. This line was added in later versions of the Basic Text (Version 3, Chapter two) “We are fully self-supporting through voluntary contributions from our members.”  I understood that the only requirement for members is a desire to stop using but does membership only come when we are freely giving of our time? I struggled with this because some members appeared to contribute little or nothing. Voluntary contributions made sense at a group level but service structures needed to be accountable and required more organization which would involve taking on financial obligations beyond what members should be expected to donate.  Some lines of the Early Basic Text were lost in later versions but seem relevant today. (The Grey Book, review edition, published in 1981, Chapter one) “Ours is a proven program of recovery. We have no choice but to help one another, for the assurance and strength of our own recovery lies in the helping of other addicts.” What I expected this passage to say was ‘other members’ but receiving help was not limited to members, but all addicts. This would compliment our primary purpose which is (Grey book, Chapter one) “Due to our Fifth Tradition and Twelfth Step, our primary purpose in life is to stay clean by carrying the message to the addict who still suffers.” It would seem to me that all members are addicts, but are all addicts members if they have a desire? I would say not, because a suffering addict with a desire may not know we exist or even care to try our ‘new way of life.’ (Grey book, chapter 4, tradition 4);

Each group has had to grow on its own and stand on its own two feet. One might ask: Is this really true, are we truly autonomous, what about our service committees, our offices, our activities, our hotlines, and all the other things that go on in N.A.? The answer, of course, is that these things are not N.A. They are services that we can 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 together 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. Those other things we mentioned are the result of members caring enough to reach out and offer their help and experience so that our road may be easier. Whether or not we choose to utilize these services· for the benefit of a group is up to us, they are not thrust down our throats.


It would seem meetings are what members do and groups are who we are. We create an atmosphere of recovery and carry a message in our meetings to the still suffering addicts. We advertise our meetings to the public. Becoming a member of NA involves more than just attending. We meet regularly in our groups to support other members. We work the steps to better understand ourselves so we can support others. We support a group so we can apply the traditions in our relationships with other group members. All of this allows us to practice spiritual principles first in NA, and then in the rest of society.


(White book [1966] and all versions of the Basic Text, Our Symbol, Preface)


“The greater the base, as we grow in unity in numbers and in fellowship, the broader the sides and the hlgher the point of freedom. Probably the last to be lost to freedom will be the stigma of being an addict.”


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