The Basic Text and Step One

Contributor: Richard Anderson, author “From Darkness to Light: A Primer for Recovery

stressed mid adult man biting fingernailsAny 12 step fellowship has its foundation in the first step. The fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is no different in that respect. There are, however, some very fundamental differences between the ways in which the first step of NA is understood versus that of any other fellowship I am aware of.

The first step of Narcotics Anonymous states “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” At first glance this may seem rather generic in its form, but its simplicity belies its deeper meaning.

We are provided many examples of the meaning of powerlessness over addiction and the meanings of addiction and recovery in the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous. While a deep study of these meanings is undertaken in the recovery workbook “From Darkness to Light: A Primer for Recovery”, we can examine some of the highlights here.

The Impact of the NA Basic Text

To really understand the legitimacy of the NA Basic text as a source of understanding of addiction and recovery we need to consider the source of the information contained in the Basic Text and its impact on addicts in general. The text wasn’t written by a professional writer, or some hyper-intelligent addict putting their single-minded thoughts to paper.

No, it was written be many addicts. The information for the book came as a result of literally hundreds of addicts sending their thoughts to the World Service Office of NA. These thoughts, sometimes written on stationary, sometimes written on things like pieces of paper bags were consolidated and sorted by committees of addicts in recovery.

Each contribution was presented to committees and together these addicts asked themselves if these thoughts were true for all or most addicts. If the contributions met these criteria, they were formed into groups of documents that later served as the foundation for the chapters of the Basic Text. Thus, when addicts read this book they can readily identify with the thoughts found therein.

The Nature of Addiction

hand-66631_640The chapter of the Basic Text that discusses the first step has some very meaningful things to say about the nature of addiction. It states that “Powerlessness means using drugs against our will.” This is easy for most addicts to understand.

Most of us have experienced the phenomenon of using even when we really didn’t want to use. We have agonized over this behavior, often asking ourselves “why?”

We asked ourselves why we were using when we didn’t want to, why did I ever do this or that, why did I debase myself in that way, why do I always hurt the people I least want to hurt, why do I always end up in so much trouble, why can’t I seem to get it together, etc.

Using Does Not Occur in a Vacuum

If we can agree that powerlessness means using against our will, it is a small step to understand that using does not occur in a vacuum.

In other words, there are certain things we have to do to perpetuate or continue our using. The using and the behaviors necessary to continue using are inextricably intertwined. They go hand in hand in much the same way as breathing is to life.

The Roles of Obsession and Compulsion

iphone-388387_640The Text talks about two things that make up true addiction: Obsession and compulsion. It states that obsession is “that fixed idea that takes us back time and time again to our particular drug, or some substitute, to recapture the ease and comfort we once knew.” It is the obsessive nature of addiction that is common to addicts and is certainly not limited to drugs.

Any manor of behaviors can be substituted here. This is why this passage mentions “or some substitute”. We can substitute gambling, sexual promiscuity, compulsive shopping, overeating, undereating, exercise, collections…the list is literally endless. What are we substituting for?

Well, on the surface we might say we are substituting things for the drugs, or that we are substituting one “addiction” for another, but this really misses the point. What we are truly substituting for is recovery. Neither are there multiple different addictions. There is the disease of addiction and there are various different ways in which that disease manifests itself. This is an important point.

The Grip of a Destructive Power

The Basic Text further points out that compulsion means: “Once having started the process with one fix, one pill, or one drink we cannot stop through our own power of will. Because of our physical sensitivity to drugs, we are completely in the grip of a destructive power greater than ourselves.

This helps to answer the “Why?” question that haunted us for so much of our lives. We are in the grip of a destructive power greater than ourselves. We simply had no choice. Yes powerlessness means using against our will, but it also means acting against our will.

Standing the Test of Time

corridor-536414_640Across the US, and today all over the world, this book is saving and changing lives of addicts. Millions of addicts across the world have derived great benefit from the recovery found in the Basic Text. For many decades now, the NA Basic text has stood the test of time. It is an epic document not to be taken lightly.

Having said that, the Text can be a bit difficult to comprehend in its entirety and depth. Addicts sometimes read the Text for years before suddenly coming to an epiphany about what they have been reading; suddenly experiencing a revelatory moment about what this or that really means coupled with a wish that they had understood this information sooner.

Thus, the Recovery workbook was written in an effort to make such understanding available from the beginning.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you utilized the Basic Text in your recovery? What tools have helped you with understanding it and what impact has it had on your recovery?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 31st, 2015
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