Written by addicts, for addicts.

By rebelsmed 08/17/18
Narcotics Anonymous, addiction, recovery

From the ashes of early attempts to develop a 12-Step program for addicts, Narcotics Anonymous arose in the 1950’s and survived by adapting what had worked for Alcoholics Anonymous and alcoholics.  Narcotics Anonymous grew in a similar manner, but the focus was on the disease of addiction, with less emphasis on the substances that were habit forming.  What had worked for alcoholics might work for addicts was the theory; that proved true.  Self-obsession was believed to be the core of the disease of addiction and Narcotics Anonymous was not solely founded as a self-help program, but more of a help-others program. Ultimately, recovery in NA is about what we do for others and not about our own lives.  Understand that as addicts, we all look out for number one, but we can only keep what we have by giving it away.  To stay clean, addicts who have worked the 12 Steps need to help others to maintain their recovery and continue to grow spiritually.   The interesting twist is that you cannot help someone unless they are willing, so helping is presented as selfless service or simply ‘being of service’. The NA fellowship started to grow with more and more meetings worldwide. Many groups were quick to see the need for literature.  Early literature was created by collaboration from many groups in NA. Some early literature was stolen from AA and adapted to suit the needs of this growing fellowship, however it is no longer used.  Eventually the desire for literature resulted in the creation of some critical texts that came about from conferences of addicts working selflessly together for the benefit of the entire fellowship. During these World Literature Conferences addicts were working in groups to create original literature, and the results were distributed to as many groups as possible to get approval and feedback. Early literature was distributed widely and was accepted and welcomed.  Many believe that the literature created early on was powerful because it was written by addicts for addicts.  Even today, from the Narcotics Anonymous website (See https://www.na.org/?ID=literature) they state that recovery literature is “…written by members, [and] our literature offers identification and a message of hope to the still-suffering addict. Recovery literature is an invaluable source of help for members, potential members, and those who want to help addicts.”

Unfortunately, a split in the fellowship came about as some wanted the literature to evolve and improvements were sought. Others believed professional editing was required to carry the message better, but critical concepts were altered without fellowship approval in the 1980’s.  In the previous post called, Narcotics Anonymous, The NAWS (Narcotics Anonymous World Services) Corporation and the Future of a Fellowship, we learned about the efforts of Grateful Dave, who represented a group and their efforts to go to court to maintain the purity of the message that was fellowship approved.  Many supported this work and some members felt forced to abandon NAWS (Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc), and the service structures that supported it and pursue alternatives. A ‘Purist’ movement was born that sought to distance itself from what they believed was an increasingly toxic service structure that supported the NAWS corporation.  In earlier versions of the basic text used by members, the unity was referred to as a Fellowship with a capital ‘F’ to signify the whole, but sadly that has not existed since the split.

Those who supported NAWS brought about changes to the service structure which allowed for the creation of literature outside the Fellowship (not approved by all the groups in NA).  The report from Bryce Sullivan, who was Chair of the World Service Committee (WSC) Literature Committee in 1991 belies the point. The World Service Committee (which became NAWS) was creating a daily book for meditation, which eventually became called the Just For Today daily meditation book for addicts in NA.

The process we have used for the daily book has been effective because it has used fellowship input, a working group of the WSCLC (Note: WSC or NAWS Literature Committee), and the assistance of WSO (Note: World Service Office, managed by NAWS) staff for writing and editing. Although we had hoped to increase our efforts on this project, we have temporarily put it "on hold." Unfortunately, we have had to suspend work because of the WSO staff reductions and the reassignment of the project editor.

Today, the profits of literature sales were used to develop new literature and fund travel for a select few who protect and promote the NAWS corporation. The NAWS Corporation is seeking to protect its ownership of the Narcotics Anonymous brand with the creation of a ‘Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust’ agreement that ensures the NAWS corporation controls the production of literature thereby ensuring its financial viability.  The process of drafting this agreement started in 1993 and was done by the NAWS Corporation, then adopted by those groups who supported the NAWS Corporation. Those who no longer supported NAWS looked to alternative service structures or worked independently, believing the agreement was unenforceable. The internet has made access to literature easily available and free to distribute, crippling a service structure that is reliant on profits from literature sales.

During this time, a small group of recovering addicts returned to their homes in Iran from the USA in the early 1990’s. They saw the need to live as recovering addicts by seeking to carry a message to other addicts in Iran.  Any literature they had was written in English, and not in Persian, the language used in Iran. They started meetings, and efforts began to translate the texts, and by the year 2000 several important texts were translated. The NAWS Corporation became aware of this emerging fellowship in 2000 and a single translation project was reported in the 2000 Annual Report published by the NAWS Corporation with little information on this growing fellowship or the extent of their translation efforts.  Two critically important points to note were the ability of a small group of addicts to carry the message of Narcotics Anonymous independently of any existing service structure and the ability to produce literature locally.  It wasn’t until the 2005 Annual Report, five years later, that NAWS formally recognized that the Iranian fellowship was a significant part of the worldwide Fellowship, which is now the second largest, after the United States.

Abandoning the process used to create the original literature planted a seed of contempt within the NAWS corporation.   Rather than focusing on being of service to the Fellowship (as a whole), the changes allowed the NAWS Corporation and their supporters to operate independently as if they were the whole ‘fellowship’.  It no longer mattered how many groups there were as they only sought consensus with those who supported the Corporation and the service structures.  Since 2007, the NAWS Annual Reports no longer list the number of groups worldwide and consensus-based decision making has replaced group conscience at an alarming rate at all levels of service. Consensus-based decision making allows a group of individuals to make decisions for the whole, while a group conscience requires as many groups as possible to participate in the decisions that affect the whole.   The existing service structures are no longer responsive to the needs of the groups, and fellowship support is significantly less for the service structures that support NA than what Alcoholics experiences with their membership. 

Other members of NA are also working to carry the message of Narcotics Anonymous outside the regular channels of service. Some promote the Fellowship by printing and distributing early versions of the Basic Text in the US and abroad.  Some members are actively working to assist emerging fellowships in remote areas with translation of what some consider the ‘true’ versions (group-conscious) of the literature. The Anonymi Foundation is one of those entities and gaining ground as an alternative service structure to NAWS. The Anonymi Foundation was formed by some groups to regain control of the literature (written by addicts and approved by the groups). Some groups also act independently of the service structures that support NAWS. NAWS has begun to ask for removal of these groups from meeting lists distributed to the public.  Even ardent supporters of NAWS are shocked by this and question what appears to be a direct violation of the very traditions that govern the entire NA fellowship.  In fact, this concern was raised in a 1988 Select Committee on Service Structure report that reported to the World Service Conference;

"For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority--a loving God as he may express himself in our group conscience." (Note: Tradition 2 of the 12 Traditions) The first part of this Tradition recognizes that ultimately, the authority and responsibility for all services is in the hands of the group conscience as expressed in the N.A. groups. This is accomplished in several ways. The service structure is dependent upon the support of the groups, both financially (fund flow) and with the selection of trusted servants. Without that support it cannot and will not function. Secondly, ultimate authority is expressed by the acceptance or rejection of any decision made by a service board or committee. Group autonomy gives each group the right to accept or reject any decision made in its behalf, even if that decision is otherwise supported or rejected by the vast majority of other N.A. groups.


Fortunately, the fact that NA Groups worldwide operate independently of any service structure has allowed the fellowship to grow significantly, as was shown in Iran and is now seen in other areas of the world.

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