The journey from self-obsession to God expression
Recently I was watching a TEDtalk titled “Fighting injustice with art and empathy” by Yana Buhrer Tavanier. She made a statement that profoundly altered my idea of unity. Her claim was that the opposite of unity is not uniformity but oppression. I wrestled with this idea often over the next few weeks and discussed it with my friends and support group. How did this concept fit into my behaviors as a member of Narcotics Anonymous and what were my experiences with others? I remember when I was first in the program I would get upset every time a member would identify themselves as ‘clean and sober.’ Early on I had been encouraged to identify myself as an ‘addict’, I was ‘clean’ and this simple idea would best carry a message to other addicts. I came to realize that there was a lot more to be gained by the application of spiritual principles in these matters than an angry finger poke to the chest of said members. My behaviors were about oppressing others even if my motives were pure. The Grey Book of Narcotics Anonymous (Step 11, Page 43) says;
When we first come to the Program, we usually express a lot of things which seem to be important wants and needs. As we grow spiritually and find out about a Power greater than ourselves, we begin to realize that as long as our spiritual needs are truly met, our living problems are reduced to a point of comfort. When we forget where our real strength lies, we quickly become subject to the same patterns of thinking and action that got us to the Program in the first place.
In Narcotics Anonymous I’ve heard the saying ‘doing the right thing for the right reason is never wrong’. I wonder if that includes this idea of enforcing the fundamental spiritual principles of the program. Do I have the right to impose my will on others?
A few years ago, my job had ended in a wrongful termination and my support group had eroded. I was sitting in my addiction counselor’s office rebuilding my fragile ego. We were talking about how I was being ordered to stop printing and distributing meeting lists for Narcotics Anonymous. I showed him the text from another member of NA and we both sat in silent reflection for a moment. He seemed puzzled by my confusion and I guess so was I. I was on the receiving end of oppression and I had no tools to deal with it. He suggested that his office had four full time addiction counselors and he had never had anyone ask if they could put meeting lists out. I asked if he was willing and he looked even more puzzled then answered “of course”. I handed him a stack of a hundred that I printed and paid for myself. It would seem to me that if addiction is self-obsession, then the natural path out is in thinking more of others than yourself. I was not working alone in this when I talked to other members worldwide. The application of the principles learned in the 12 traditions allowed me to work with other members in a home group, but they must be willing. As a member of NA, I have embraced the primary purpose of carrying a message to the still suffering addict and I personally see no better method than the distribution of accurate meeting lists to as many places as possible but that seemed to put me in opposition to others. I was taught that my efforts to carry the message of hope to the still suffering addict was aligned with the primary purpose of Narcotics Anonymous groups. (Grey book, tradition 4, page 100)
Each group does have complete freedom, except when their actions affect other groups or N.A. as a whole. Like group conscience, autonomy can be a two-edged sword. Group autonomy has been used to justify the violation of the Traditions. If a contradiction exists, we have slipped away from our principles. If we check to make sure that our actions are clearly within the bounds of our Traditions; if we do not dictate to other groups, or force anything upon them; and if we consider the consequences of our action ahead of time, then all will be well.
Groups vary in how they deliver the message of hope to the suffering addict. Some sign court attendance papers, and others refuse. One group might allow people on drug replacement therapies, like Suboxone to share, others ask them to sit quietly and listen. When my spiritual needs are not met, and I am not comfortable with the group, I can leave, start my own group or join another. My experience has shown me that groups dominated by oppressive members tend to stagnate or die out and close. Being inclusive is much more powerful in my experience. When our intentions as a group are pure, the group seems to flourish and grow. I believe this is the idea of autonomy. In the same way that my spiritual needs are primary to my survival, then so is the spiritual needs of my group. What happens when my group works with other groups and conflict was to arise? (Grey book, tradition 9, page 110)
N.A. as such ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”
Without this Tradition, our Fellowship would be in opposition to spiritual principles. A loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience is our ultimate authority.
I have struggled many times in my journey. I have a new way to live thru the practical application of the spiritual principles learned in the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Narcotics Anonymous. Sometimes there seemed to be dead ends when I practice spiritual principles in all my affairs. What I found is that the world unfolds with little concern for my desires. My wants can be just another layer of self-obsession I hold on to. Perhaps the same can hold true for groups. That may be why Narcotics Anonymous is a Fellowship of members who meet regularly in groups. No individual is less than another. The same holds true for groups it would seem. Organization of any sort may interfere with the expression of God. Service bodies clearly need to be organized to be effective and are not accountable to God, but to the groups they serve and therefore not part of NA.
Groups may choose to participate or not with any service structures according to tradition 4 and 9. Some groups have operated independently and may form local service bodies that service the needs of the groups. In the 1990’s, The Narcotics Anonymous World Service corporation created the Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust on behalf of some groups with the intention of protecting the copyrights of Narcotics Anonymous. Other groups ignored the trust, the governance of the NAWS Corporation and continued to operate independently. The ability and right of the NAWS Corporation to manage the trust has been called into question by the Autonomous Region of Narcotics Anonymous who have launched a petition in the state of California where the trust is held. You can read more about the nature of the petition here. The oppression of others really does affect unity and this petition to the court will offer real hope to those groups who see service bodies in a different way.