7- 12 Traditions
The 12 Traditions are the guiding principles that keep anonymous Fellowships united in their primary purpose. Knowledge of these Traditions can help you understand why and how these Fellowships are organized.
- 12 Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous
- Principles of 12 Traditions
The 12 Traditions provide the guidelines that protect and unite the Fellowship. They were originally published by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1946, following years of sometimes bitter conflicts that threatened the survival of the Fellowship. The disputes among early members revolved around who could be a member, group autonomy, and singleness of purpose, endorsement of other enterprises, professionalism, public controversy, and anonymity. A.A. cofounder Bill W. realized that in order for A.A. to survive it had to set down bylaws to resolve conflicts. The 12 Traditions helped address disputes in the Fellowship, enabling it to survive and grow.
12 Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous
Below are descriptions of the 12 Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous as way of example to help you understand the purpose and the objective of each Tradition in relation to the Fellowship as a whole.
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon NA unity.
- First and foremost the Fellowship must ensure its own survival, and Tradition One spells out this primary goal. If the Fellowship fails, then it won’t be there to help anyone recover. So Tradition One makes clear that our recovery depends on keeping the Fellowship safe. The truth is that seldom has any one of us been able to recover without the support of the Fellowship. “The group must survive or the individual will not.”
- This doesn’t mean that individuals don’t count. If anything, 12 Step Fellowships value and respect its members to the utmost. As members, we have a right and a voice in every decision. We are all valued as individuals and free to proceed in our recovery without rules or conditions. No one in the Fellowship has the authority to punish or expel us.
- The principle of Tradition One is also aimed at keeping oversized personalities in check. Pride, ego, and self-entitlement can be destructive in any organization, and could prove fatal in a Fellowship. This Tradition aims to head off grabs for wealth, power, and prestige among members. The result is that individual members learn to put personal differences aside for the sake of keeping the priority on the unity of the Fellowship as a whole.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The aim of Tradition Two is to set up the foundation of the Fellowship, the basic way in which it works. In the Fellowship if there is a decision to be made concerning the group, it is thoroughly discussed before being voted on. Everyone gets a chance to speak and then a vote is taken and what that vote decides is called the “group conscience”. This principle of a group conscious is believed to be what our loving God wishes to express, which is whatever is in the best interest of the group. Conflicts are dealt with through this process, for once all voices have been heard and a group conscience taken, the matter is closed. Through this voting system, every member gets the chance to express themselves, and no one member has more authority over another.
- The principle behind an “ultimate authority” promotes equality among members and creates a democratic and open-to-all structure. There is no member better or worse than another in the Fellowship. No matter what our background, education, or professional expertise; regardless of how long clean we are, our religion, culture, or political affiliation, once we enter the Fellowship we are regarded simply as an addict in recovery. In this way, the Fellowship reaches out to all who would seek its support and provides us with a sense of belonging.
- This Tradition has sometimes been mistakenly taken to mean, “we have no leaders.” In fact, though, to function the group requires that members – on a voluntarily and rotating basis – step into roles of leadership. The main point is that these members have no authority over the rest of the group. Whether they are the group’s representative to the area or district, or the secretary or treasurer, they have been entrusted with the responsibility to serve the group, but not make decisions for it. Groups clearly have other “leaders” also. There are those who, by sharing their wisdom and strength in the meetings, are quietly recognized by the group as “spiritual leaders.” There are those members who are so well founded in the principles and traditions of the program that the group turns to them when questions arise involving possible violations of those principles and traditions. These too are leaders, but they also do not govern.
3. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.
- Tradition Three constitutes the one criterion for joining the Fellowship. It makes clear that each of us is ultimately responsible for ourselves. We each decide if we are a member of the Fellowship simply by our “desire” to stop our addiction. Through this we take responsibility for our disease and our recovery.
- When Tradition Three was first written it referred to “an honest” desire to stop drinking. This led to controversy, though, since it was clear to some that by stipulating that the desire had to be “honest”, other members could judge who can or cannot join the Fellowship. Realizing the danger of this in that it may have prevented those who are sick and want to recover from joining the Fellowship, the word honest was taken out to eradicate the possibility of anyone acting as a judge, juror, or excutionaire.
- The Third Tradition also protects our Fellowship from outside influences in that it belongs solely to addicts with a desire to stop their addiction. In this way the primary purpose of the Fellowship is maintained and avoids getting diluted or influenced by people or groups with non-addiction related issues.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or NA as a whole.
- Tradition Four aims to keep the structure of the Fellowship loose and non-restrictive to enable members to run their local meeting as they see fit. Any two or three addicts can call themselves a Fellowship group so long as they gather together for the purposes of recovery with the 12 Steps and abide by the 12 Traditions. Each 12 Step group has complete freedom to manage its affaires exactly as it pleases so long as it does not threaten the Fellowship as a whole. For example, a group can decide the program content of its meetings and the topics that will be discussed. The group can decide if the meeting will be opened or closed and when and where the meeting will be held. Each group can decide to change its meeting format and it has complete authority to spend its funds as it sees fit. The group can also decide how it wishes to open and close its meetings. In this respect, all groups are autonomous in the running of their internal affairs. It is entirely up to the membership of that individual group.
- However, the second part of this Tradition, “except in matters affecting other groups or (Fellowship) as a whole”, sets a condition on the autonomous nature of individual groups. If a group were to set a policy whereby it admitted only Muslims as members, for instance, then it would be affecting the Fellowship, as a whole for it would not be acting on principles of non-discrimination. Or if it invited treatment professionals to speak at a meeting or promoted a specific medical treatment or medication or the latest therapy techniques, that group would be in violation of the Traditions and in danger of doing harm to the Fellowship as a whole for it would be moving away from its primary purpose of carrying the “message” – the solution for suffering addicts via the 12 Step. By the same token, each group is autonomous, but this does not mean an individual group has the authority to, for example, rewrite the Steps or Traditions, or to create its own literature. Nor should groups use the meeting for profit making purposes.
- Tradition Four also grants freedom to individual groups to exercise their right to be wrong. In other words, groups can have their own experiences, learn from them and move on. There is no right or wrong way to hold a meeting, and so long as they do not stray too far from the primary purpose and Traditions, they can do what they wish. It is this principle of flexibility that makes each meeting different from another, allowing us to experience different flavors, atmospheres and individuals in different meetings. We therefore enjoy choices as to which meeting we wish to attend and have the option of different types of meetings.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the addict who still suffers.
- The very essence of all Fellowships lies in preserving this Tradition. We are all gathered together for one reason only: to carry the message of recovery through the 12 Steps to all those who are suffering. As addicts who have found the solution to recover through the 12 Step, we have a unique gift that gives us an incredible opportunity to share it with suffering addicts. This is primarily what all Fellowships are about. Suffering from the disease of addiction and finding a way to recover sets us apart from normal people. Our experience can be a powerful tool in helping others recover. We use the forum of our Fellowship purely for this one primary purpose.
- The aim of Tradition Five is to keep our groups focused on this one primary purpose and prevents meetings from becoming anything but places for recovery from addiction. We don’t use our meetings for social purposes, places to find a job, a lover, or places for us to exercise power, prestige, or control — all the things that can lead to the group’s downfall. When we are focused on carrying the message, we are united in our aim to recover regardless of our many opinions or conflicts. We are reminded we are here for our survival. When our primary purpose is carrying the message of recovery, then it becomes irrelevant who we are outside the meetings. We may be qualified members of society, doctors, solicitors or clergymen, but in the Fellowship, we are only addicts trying to carry the message of recovery.
- The practise of Tradition Five keeps us focused on our primary purpose and deters us from getting entangled in other issues. Meetings are not places to promote or argue our politics or preach our religion, etc. Nor are we there to convince a suffering addict of the possibility of recovery on any other basis but the 12 Steps. We recognize why we have joined the Fellowship, put aside our knowledge, education, or qualifications — or whatever criteria we may have in the world outside — and join each other in carrying the message as addicts in recovery who have beaten our disease.
6. An NA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Tradition Six sets the guidelines that help keep our Fellowship from getting diluted, affected or influenced by other agencies. In practicing this Tradition, we preserve our unity and singleness of purpose of carrying the message of recovery to suffering addicts.
- Tradition Six came about as a result of early A.A. members’ dreams of expanding their message of recovery outside the Fellowship. They approached men of religion, politics, medicine, and law to spread the word of their new discovery, with the ultimate hope of transforming the world. These early members set off getting involved in other organizations, spending time promoting their views to hospitals, politicians, and so on. Soon they discovered that the Fellowship itself was at peril, with its member more interested in finding status and power and financial gain as opposed to adhering to the primary purpose. The result was they were in danger of losing the Fellowship itself. Through these bitter experiences they realized that in order for the Fellowship to survive it couldn’t be in any way connected or related to any outside agencies. No matter how good a member’s intentions may be, they should not use the Fellowship for any other purpose but to help suffering addicts.
- Yet Tradition Six applies to the Fellowship as a whole — not to individual addicts in recovery, who can do whatever they please, so long as they don’t name or affiliate their work with their Fellowship. Some of us may be employed by treatment facilitates and we can use our experience as addicts in recovery to benefit others. But it is important to distinguish between our work, our outside world, and our Fellowship.
7. Every NA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- When we first come into the program, we learn that we are responsible to do the work necessary to recover from our addiction. The first part of Tradition Seven in a way extends this principle to the group. Each group is responsible for its own upkeep, such as paying for rent, literature, tea or coffee, etc. In addition, Tradition Seven helps with our own growth towards a healthy life as individuals and as a group. When we were active in our addiction, we constantly borrowed money from others, expected others to pay for us, or stole from them. If we don’t take responsibility for our disease we cannot recover, and if our group cannot meet its responsibility and expenses then it may be best not to be there. In a way this Tradition reminds each member of the group that each is responsible for their group, that they need to — if they can — contribute to its running. Many of us have regained our lives and are now living prosperously. Contributing to the functioning of our group is in a way extending to our group the self-responsibility we assumed when we came into the program.
- The second part of Tradition Seven – declining outside contributions — came about yet again as a result of the hard experience of early members. They realized that once they accepted outside contributions, the Fellowship would become affiliated with the donor, which would open the door to exploitation of the Fellowship.
- But the fact is our Fellowships need money to carry the message. From our groups for running meetings, to our areas and committees to carry the message, to bringing meetings to hospitals, publication of flyers, telephone helplines, etc. These costs have to be met if we are to preserve our primary message of carrying the message to the addict that still suffers. So how do we go about this? To keep our Fellowship financially independent, we have to realize there is a right way to go about this, and that right way is the money we place anonymously in the pot at our meetings.
- The principle of Tradition Seven — declining outside contributions — aligns with the principles of poverty, which the Fellowship adheres to for two reasons. First, if the Fellowship gets rich through outside contributions, there is little chance of promoting self-responsibility. Members would think it rich and not feel the need to contribute. Second, wealth would bring with it conflicts over ownership and status. Having trustees or treasurers with money would inevitably make them feel more powerful and more important than other members. The less money involved, the less need for control, and the more time on our primary purpose.
8. Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- Tradition Eight is based on the spiritual principle of “free we have received, freely give.” If our Fellowships were to be professional entities, then issues such as money, control, and power would come into play, which would ultimately divert us from our primary purpose. The 12 Steps are a spiritual program for recovery that is free to anyone with a desire to stop their addiction. They originally came about as a result of the experiences of a couple of addicts who freely helped each other in order to stay clean themselves. Tradition Eight is the guideline that endeavors to keep the same principle active today – which is for meetings to be non-professional places where we can freely help each other recover with no other motive but to help ourselves. Experience has shown that if 12th Step work is carried on any basis other than this principle then it does not work. Say for example that we approach a newcomer as a professional with authority, or with an angle to gain money from them. The result will most probably be negative. So in order for our Fellowship to stay true to its primary purpose, it has to remain non-professional and not profit making or in any way financially based.
- There is a distinction between being non-professional in the Fellowship and our members carrying out professional work to help suffering addicts recover. There are many of us who have found an incredible new life through this program and now have a special gift, which we have made into a profession to help others. This does not violate Tradition Eight, for as individuals we can do whatever we want with our life in recovery. But we need to be mindful our Fellowship’s Traditions and not violate anonymity.
- Tradition Eight states we are to remain non-professional, but for our primary purpose to be carried out outside the scope of individual groups — especially in view of how Fellowships have expanded — then special workers are required. Such paid employees will be involved in activities such as publishing and mailing out literature, answering helplines, administration work, and so on. This activity is essential in keeping the day-to-day activities of the Fellowship going. In keeping with self-support as spelled out in Tradition 7, money to support such work is paid through group contributions.
9. NA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- In the real world businesses and other groups are “organized.” There is a hierarchy of authority established so that some members of the organization can “direct” the actions of others. But Tradition Nine sets the guideline that no one in the Fellowship has this kind of authority, regardless of his or her length of clean time. We are a Fellowship of equals in which the group as a whole makes decisions. This Tradition helps create an atmosphere of democracy, one in which we are all of equal value and so feel encouraged to join and belong. With it comes a therapeutic advantage, for as addicts we have usually felt like outcasts, shunned by our community. But when we join the Fellowship, which readily accepts us and wants us to be an active participant, then our tendency to isolate disappears and our sense of self-esteem and value increases.
- From a structural point of view, Tradition Nine helps define what “organized” means in the context of Fellowships. The reality is that every society, nation, or government has to have some sort of hierarchy of power. This is not the case with Fellowships, as no one has any authority or power. There is nobody ruling us or anybody for us to obey. Experience has shown that it is the lack of organization that has enabled Fellowships to be attractive and welcoming to us addicts.
- Yet Tradition Nine states we are organized in such a way that our primary purpose can be carried out effectively. For example, we have service committees whose primary roles are to reach anyone who wants recovery beyond the scope of a meeting, such as hospitals and institutions (H&I), public information (PI), helpline, etc. We have a hierarchy often referred to as the upside down triangle, whereby everyone’s voice can be heard — from group to area, to region, and the world. Yet this way of organization does not allow for any member to have authority or power over others or the group. We all work in the spirit of service for free and are considered as trusted servants. Even our Fellowship trustees are referred to as caretakers and expediters.
10. Narcotics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Tradition 10 is the guideline that aims to prevent our Fellowship from getting diverted from its primary purpose. It prevents Fellowships from getting involved in such matters as politics, religion, medicine, and so on. Experience shows the Fellowship cannot afford to get involved in discussions or arguments that may ultimately divert us from our own recovery and survival. We are addicts gathered together for one purpose only, which is to help each other recover through working the 12 Steps, a great achievement in itself and a matter of life and death for many of us. We are too busy learning how to live a new life. We have neither the energy nor the time for — nor can we afford to get involved in — discussions or arguments that may divert us from our own recovery and survival.
- The Fellowship must avoid getting drawn into public controversy. For the Fellowship to be involved in — or even express an opinion about — anything but “carrying the message”, then it has opened the doors to outside influences, and to controversy. Simply put, a Fellowship cannot take sides in any issue that falls outside its primary purpose. To do otherwise is to invite divisions along the lines of politics and religion, for instance. For example, we may get politicians coming into our groups preaching about their principles, or doctors telling us which treatment is best for all of us, or religious people preaching how we should best live our lives. Imagine, soon we would be at each other’s throats — or racing off to get high again! Tradition 10 ties in with the slogan of “Keep it simple”, a principle suggested to us when we came though the doors, and one that has helped us greatly in our recovery process. As addicts, we lived complicated lives, fighting everyone and anything. When we keep our recovery simple by “having no opinion on outside issues”, we can leave each other alone, and give the respect each one of us deserves to journey in our own recovery. We do not judge each other. We don’t say to our fellow members: you’re not clean because you are smoking, or your family is in a mess, or you’re not working the program, or you are on antidepressants and your recovery doesn’t count. All such opinions have no place in our group. They are none of our business, and expressing such hurtful opinions may prevent another from seeking this program or lead some of us to relapse.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
- Tradition Eleven can be broken down into two parts, the first referring to our public relations policy, which, simply put, means we do not need to promote our Fellowship, and we don’t need to sell our program to anyone. As addicts in recovery, our living examples of where we were and where we are today is a powerful attraction for suffering addicts to seek our way of recovery. When others see how our lives have changed, and how we are mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy, this acts as a powerful attraction for them to want this program. There is no need for promotion.
- The second part of this Tradition sets the guideline on how we as members of Fellowships should present ourselves to the outside world — especially at the level of any kind of media. It’s a Tradition that aims to protect and keep our Fellowship safe. If we have found recovery through a 12 Step Fellowship, then we are asked not to reveal that fact at a public level outside the confines of the Fellowship. If we do so, we are ultimately pretending as if one person represents the whole Fellowship, which runs counter to its core principles that are based on spirituality and away from self-centeredness. This is to avoid possible confusion in the minds of the public, who might get the false impression that the person identifying himself as a member of this or that Fellowship is a representative of that Fellowship. One danger in such a situation would arise if that person relapses, thus reflecting badly on the Fellowship as a whole.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
- Tradition Twelve is the foundation that keeps us grounded and reminds us why we are in the Fellowship. Whereas the principle of anonymity in Tradition Eleven is aimed at the level of media so that individual member does not endanger the Fellowship as a whole, here the guideline on anonymity refers to how we ought to live within our Fellowship. By keeping our personal anonymity at all levels of participation in our Fellowships, we are ultimately sacrificing the “self” for the greater good of our Fellowship. The message we are carrying takes precedence over the person carrying it. We do this in part by going on a first name basis in meetings and when doing 12th Step work. The practice of this Tradition helps place the principles of our Fellowship above individual personalities. It serves to keep our egos at bay. By practicing anonymity, we credit the Fellowship for our success in recovering, rather than taking the credit ourselves. It is the guideline that denies our self-seeking and grandiosity. Anonymity is also a safeguard for us members. Though we have come a long way from the days when we were shunned, it is still up to each of us whether we want to tell anyone outside the meeting that we are a member of a 12 Step Fellowship. This guideline is a great reassurance to those just coming into the Fellowship.
- In addition, respecting another’s anonymity has the potential to prevent a relapse. There have been occasions when a member relapsed because their anonymity was broken outside the meeting, with the result that their work colleagues or family found out they were addicts.
- We need to feel safe in our Fellowship, and practicing this principle not only values our personal choices and decisions but also maintains the integrality of our Fellowship. For example, if someone shares a secret at a meeting or a sponsee relates something meant for our ears only — and we break their confidence, think of the consequences. What will happen to that person? Where would our Fellowship be if this were common practice? The importance of respecting each other’s anonymity is reflected at each meeting when the secretary announces to the group “What you hear here let it stay here; gossip may lead to relapse, and relapse may lead to death.”
Principles of 12 Traditions
It is important for us addicts in recovery to observe the 12 Traditions. These guidelines ensure the survival and growth of our Fellowship and our personal recovery. We have to remind ourselves of how our Fellowship saved our life and respect what it is asking us to observe so as not to endanger it.