Completely Realistic
by Cliff Walker
A conscripted but loyal Narcotics Anonymous member examines proposed new literature which has been circulated for comment by NA members. These comments are the result of what the NA member saw as a bastardization of NA's historic openness to people who do not believe in any god.

This piece was published in the Oregon state-wide NA newsletter, Recovery Review, and submitted to the Narcotics Anonymous Literature Committee. The proposed text upon which these comments are based never made it into the final draft of the book, It Works: How and Why.

The author had yet to discover Rational Recovery at the time of this writing.

Completely Realistic

The following was submitted as input for It Works: How and Why. It exemplifies many of the problems I see in the Steps portion of the draft.
Here, you distort the meaning of this Basic Text passage and use it as a manipulative tool to persuade the reader toward belief in a higher power. The passage from "How it Works" talks about a scope of spiritual principles that encompasses much more than just a belief in God (though we certainly find belief and faith within the realm of spiritual principles).

Faith, like the admission in Step One, needs to come naturally. We should never steer the reader toward an admission of drug addiction or toward a belief in God. We can only set an example: "For anyone who wants our way of life, we share experience, strength, and hope instead of preaching and judging" (Basic Text, page 56).

If anything, this passage from "How it Works" reassures me that we offer a realistic and attainable plan for recovery from drug addiction, free from any dependence on the supernatural to accomplish this goal. Please read the passage very carefully -- in context -- and see if you find anything at all about God:
At my first NA meeting, they handed me a printed sheet that said "How It Works." Others recited from similar sheets and I tried to follow along with them on mine, but I kept losing my place! I snapped awake as a woman asked me to read "How It Works" aloud. As much of a basket case as I've ever seen at any meeting, I still had no intention of believing in God or working the Twelve Steps. Six of the steps refer to God.

I began to read the card. When I got to the warning against "indifference or intolerance toward spiritual principles," my heart dropped. Hope for recovery vanished. That word spiritual conjures up images of bubbly cauldrons, snake charmers, faith healers, and glassy-eyed converts. I knew at once that I would have serious problems in NA; no way can I stomach such nonsense. Never again do I want to be told, "The reason you aren't healed, brother, is because you just don't have any faith! You just have to believe!"

The card went on to say, "Three of these [spiritual principles] that are indispensable are honesty, open-mindedness and willingness." You mean you call honesty a spiritual principle? Open-mindedness? Willingness? What happened to that unattainable faith in God I keep hearing about in connection with spirituality? Even in my fog I could see NA as practical, not spooky and inaccessible. I went to three meetings the next day and missed one day over the following two years.

I would never have come back had they said things like, "There is one thing more than anything else that will defeat us in our recovery; this is an attitude of indifference or intolerance toward spiritual principles.... If we want to stay clean, we cannot let an unwillingness to believe in a Higher Power be a barrier in our recovery." It just doesn't get any more manipulative than this.

I need to plead with you to reconsider this paragraph. Part of my recovery involves giving back what others so freely gave to me; and giving, in the first place, what no one ever gave to me (things that I sure could have used back then). The neutrality of our Fellowship, especially on religious matters, means more to me than any other aspect of Narcotics Anonymous. Our neutrality means I can feel at home here. Our neutrality means no one has any justification for treating me as an oddball or an outcast -- not even for my views of higher power. No one can open up a copy of It Works or the Basic Text and demonstrate that my religious beliefs contradict the NA program.

(Can they?)

When we promote the model of a so-called loving God who cares about us as long as we grovel before Him, I yell! If we ever use manipulative scare tactics to bring about a belief in God, I walk!! That would contradict our own spiritual principles and I could no longer support the Narcotics Anonymous Program. "The right to a God of your understanding is total and without any catches. Because of this right, it is necessary to be honest about our belief if we are to grow spiritually" (Basic Text, page 25 [emphasis added]). Even this crucial passage misses the point entirely. The wording presupposes "a God," thereby restricting us from any other understanding of higher power.

Just this evening (February 4, 1992), an NA member of eight years explained to me (in no uncertain terms) that I can work Step Two without believing in God, but I must believe in God Himself in order to work Step Three. You'd better believe I offered no response to him. I need all the friends I can get in the Portland NA Fellowship. I try to stay very quiet at NA functions.

I don't know what to say about the "God" and "Him" parts. I do know, from firsthand experience, how it feels when a significant portion of the NA community shuns someone as an outcast for having different religious beliefs. This explains why I go home every night, sit down at my typewriter, and plead with the Literature Committee to tone down their assertions that we all must believe in God in order to work the program. I want others like me (not to mention myself) to feel safe, welcome, and at home in NA.
February 15, 1992