Diversity Holds the Key to Unity
by Cliff Walker
Published in The NA Way, the worldwide magazine of
the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship, in May, 1993
|(Introductory Note: A hard-working, loyal Narcotics Anonymous member
begins to lose hope of ever finding the serenity and acceptance so
enthusiastically and confidently promised to people who "have a desire
to stop using."|
He eventually decides that he must look to himself (and only to himself) for self-acceptance and must work very hard, on his own and exclusively under his own power, to learn much-needed coping skills.
Before leaving NA, however (after having worked very hard in the Program for several years), he makes a last-ditch effort to express his understanding of the NA ideals; which, he seems to conclude, can never be found by working the principles of the Steps -- at least as those Steps are traditionally presented in meetings and in the body of NA literature.)
Diversity Holds the Key to Unity
When NA members throughout the world gathered on World Unity Day to join hands and pray, I found something else to do. (This activity took place during our Toronto World Convention.) While I hope people enjoyed the occasion, I don't think an event centered on prayer should be named "World Unity Day." When we gather to promote unity, we need to see that all members will want to join us -- not just those in the majority. Perhaps we should look at how we encourage unity.
NA works because together we can do what we could never do alone. The principle of unity makes the NA program -- and our most important recovery resource, the NA member -- available to any drug addict who wants help. Social activities and service work opportunities give our members the chance learn and grow. Unity is not as crucial to individual relationships as it is to the things we do together as a fellowship.
Unity does not mean the absence of controversy, although an understanding of controversy plays an important part in our quest for unity. Whenever we do something unusual, we risk appearing controversial. When this happens, we need to look at our motives and our actions. Controversy is usually a matter of appearance because controversy is mostly in the mind -- mostly in the way people see things. This does not stop controversy from taking a fierce toll on our fellowship.
Unity is not uniformity, either. When people "agree on absolutely everything, chances are that only one person is doing the thinking" (Just for Today, page 272). If someone is different from the rest, we cannot expect that person to "just surrender" or to "look only at the similarities." We make room for you no matter what we think about your recovery. When we unite against our [*] drug addiction, we shouldn't need to have anything else in common.
Like most people, I like to think I am trying my best. I haven't had an easy time in NA, however, because I do not believe in God. Sometimes I appear divisive because my religious beliefs contradict the program. I cannot work all the steps because I do not pray. (Why pray if no God listens?) I need to reinterpret much of the NA philosophy for it to make sense to me. Sometimes it's a struggle just to keep coming back. I want, more than anything in NA, to be welcome and still be myself.
The benefits of NA membership include the right to practice every aspect of the NA program. That didn't seem important until I made some painful sacrifices to keep the peace. I've had to pass up many opportunities in NA, including several service positions. Occasionally, in our zeal to protect the common welfare, we shield ourselves from NA members who do not have what we call "good recovery." We probably could find sensible reasons to reject everyone if we looked hard enough. And it can't be very hard to think of valid arguments to write me off entirely. I'm just too far out of step.
When I feel I've been left out, I cannot remain silent. At times like this I am not trying to be controversial; I'm just trying to fit in. When people console me by saying it doesn't matter what others think, they are not being realistic. If I remain isolated -- alone in a crowded meeting or social function -- I might as well go home and try to stay clean on my own.
I don't think I'm closed-minded for refusing to believe in God. Twelve years ago, I was so desperate to quit using that I joined a religious cult. After three years of intense religious training I realized I was in the wrong place. It took years of hard work to deprogram myself from the religious indoctrination. This ordeal did more damage to me than fourteen years of active addiction.
Four years after leaving the cult I was back on drugs like never before. I sought help several times but never liked NA's emphasis on divine intervention. There just had to be a way to get clean without God. Finally, I told a drug counselor what I thought about God, religion, and the Twelve Steps. He asked, "Have you tried a meeting recently?" No, I hadn't. I went to a meeting and saw that God is not the topic of every conversation. I knew I probably could stay quiet about my beliefs without drawing much attention.
For over a year, I played this game in NA, keeping my beliefs to myself and just trying to fit in. Later, I continued my deceptive pattern out of loyalty to NA, knowing it contradicted the principle of honesty. As I began to mature, I had to start being truthful; the need for honesty outweighed my desire to fit in. For openly expressing my approach to the program, I got some vicious opposition.
I finally decided to stay out of the closing prayer circle. Avoiding the prayers can quiet the physical trembling I feel when they pray in our meetings. People still urge me to join the prayer anyway, "for the sake of unity." Others believe I am making an editorial comment of some sort. I think most people accept that I have carefully considered my actions and intentions. In many ways, though, I still feel like I'm on the outside.
My experiences trying to get along in NA have given me a profound sense of tolerance toward others. If I look for reasons why you should leave, I might find just the right reason for me to leave. When we set standards for the "correct" beliefs, language, or behavior, we don't give people the freedom to do their own growing. Also, we don't give the NA program much credit for its ability to change people. Ultimately, we deny ourselves the chance to learn something that may someday save a life. That is a steep price to pay for what turns out to be false unity.
I don't feel right about World Unity Day -- an NA-sponsored event that has prayer as its central activity. Prayer is a religious rite that degrades my religious beliefs and experience. Where, then, is unity? With World Unity Day, the NA Fellowship has again left me standing on the outside. If we want unity, we can start by identifying ways we inadvertently leave addicts out of the picture. Make room for everyone with activities anyone can enjoy. We must accept, respect, and be sensitive to the diversity that walks through our doors each day.
Copyright ©1993 by Cliff Walker, used with permission of both Cliff Walker and The NA Way; rights to distribute are granted only per the current guidelines for distribution required by The NA Way, and only for noncommercial purposes, per Cliff Walker, regardless of what The NA Way has to say about that matter!