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  • Just as we were getting settled into our apartment in South Philly, our friends Breen and Sherri announced that they were planning to move back up to Philadelphia from their place in Maryland. We invited them to move in with us, since we had an extra bedroom in our apartment, until they found their own place. They planned to move in at the end of the month. I had been Breen’s sponsor back when I was living in Maryland, and really had had no idea what I was supposed to do as his sponsor at the time, and Sherri had been Kathy’s sponsor when she was in Philadelphia before. We had all become good friends after Kathy and I had gotten together. We used to go down to Maryland for weekends with them, when we were first together.

    Everything was going so well with the South Philly Group. It was one of the most amazing times I’ve ever had in my 35 years being around 12 Step programs. Newcomers came all the time, and the group was in a great position to help them. Everything just seemed to work out well. We knew each other well, so we always seemed to know intutitively who would be the best person to sponsor a new guy. I often tended to get the ones who had issues with prescribed medication, since I had been diagnosed as Manic Depressive at one time, and had grappled with the issue of taking Lithium. I also tended to get the “head cases”, since I had definitely been one of them! It was tremendous experience, being a part of this group and this community that just worked so well together to provide an atmosphere of recovery for addicts who were still suffering.

    Then things started to change - the inevitable finally happened. The N.A. Area Services committee, which Kathy was the group’s representative to, had a discussion at their monthly meeting about the South Philly group. The issue was that member’s talked in the meeting about how the AA Big Book had helped them in their recovery. The group conformed with tradition and did not bring the Big Book into the meeting itself, but people were trying to “purify” N.A., and disassociate the organization completely from A.A. This was pretty hard to do, since it had sprung out of A.A. in the first place, where the 12 Steps were first developed, and had used the AA literature for its first 28 years of existence. But, like a teenager who has to go through a rebellion phase with their parents in order to get out and stand on their own, N.A. as an organization was trying to learn to stand on its own, now that it had its own literature – which, ironically, I had played a significant role in developing.

    The way the traditions had originally been written, both in AA and when we wrote them for N.A., it was clear that the Service Structure of the organization existed solely to serve the Group’s needs, and was not there to dictate to the groups in any way. Groups were to be autonomous, free to run themselves however they best saw fit in order to serve the newcomers. However, a wording change that had occurred in the N.A. book between the time we had completed writing and editing it, and it getting to the printer to be printed and published, changed the nature of several of the traditions, including the one that ensured Group autonomy and established the role of the service structure. This change allowed the Area Services to do what it was about to do. Many years later, as the History of N.A. was compiled, this would be referred to as the “tradition wars”, and the South Philly group would be noted as the first victims of said wars.
  • All I knew at the time was, that N.A. literature had not been helpful to me in finding recovery, myself, and this group, which used the A.A. Big Book to help people experience the Steps and recovery, was seen as a renegade group and the N.A. Purists wanted us gone. So, none of this came as a surprise to me. It was Veterans Day, the day before my Birthday, and I was enjoying a quiet night at home while Kathy had gone to the Area Services meeting. At one point, in the debate that occurred there, one of our members, Al, who was also serving as the Vice Chair of the Area Services committee, asked the question, “So, are you saying that, as an N.A. member, I can’t mention that my sponsors used the AA Big Book when they took me through the steps?” The committee’s response was, yes, you can’t refer to the AA Big Book when you share your experience. At that, Al simply said, “In that case, I don’t belong in N.A. I’ll have to resign”, and he stood up and left. The committee voted to censure the South Philly group from talking about outside literature in their meeting, or they would be removed from the N.A. Meeting list.

    Everyone from the group who was there met after the meeting, and Kathy called me to say what was going on. The person who had started the South Philly group, one of my sponsors, Andy, was having the hardest time accepting the inevitable. It was time to go. We no longer belonged in N.A., and it had just become official. It was time to start being what we actually were – Addicts Anonymous. I told Kathy as much on the phone, and she said that’s the same conclusion the others had come to. Andy eventually agreed with the rest of the group, after a great amount of resistance.

    The next night was when it got really interesting. We initially thought we would just continue to meet where we’d normally met as an N.A. meeting, at the Dickson House, only we would just no longer call ourselves an N.A. Group. We would continue to do what we do, work with newcomers and help others to find recovery.

    But, it wouldn’t be that simple. Word had spread pretty quickly throughout the group what had happened, and everyone showed up for the meeting, a huge crowd, well over 100 people. A number of people, unaware of what had happened and why, wanted to continue meeting as an N.A. meeting. Many of them saw it as something that Andy had cooked up, and didn’t want to follow him out of N.A. They had no idea that Andy was one of the ones who had to be convinced that it was time to go. It was decided that, as long as at least one member wanted to continue meeting in that location as an N.A. meeting, we had to let them. So, while they had the N.A. meeting in the usual place, on the first floor of the facility, we held the meeting of the “new” group upstairs. The issue wound up splitting the group up, and in my opinion, it would never quite get back to what it was before that night. What had been a spiritual oasis got turned into a political battleground. It was really kind of sad to witness, and to be a part of. There didn’t seem to be anything one could do to bring it all back together.
  • Everyone who had agreed to leave N.A., and many who had no idea what was going on, or why, moved over to the Oregon Diner after the meeting, and there we spent many hours talking about what was going on, and what we would do from there. There was a tremendous sense of freedom, and of history happening, and a sense that we could truly be what we were, now, and could choose not to limit ourselves. There was extensive discussions about - why not be open to all who suffer – from any kind of problem, not just drug or alcohol addiction? Let it be open to all forms of addiction or problems that people encounter, for which the 12 Steps could be the answer to? The thought of this was thrilling to my very soul. But, the Group Conscience went the other way, and decided that we would limit ourselves to being for recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, only. From that point forward, I would always feel like the group had settled, instead of being all that it could have been. This limiting of itself would be one of the factors that would eventually lead to my going my own way, when I no longer felt the group was effective, even at its chosen limited mission.

    It all came as a major upheaval in our lives. Everything had changed, overnight. Group members chose sides, some staying with N.A., others going to what some called Addicts Anonymous, and others called, simply, a group of addicts who found recovery through the principles of the Big Book of AA. There was a reluctance to get hung up on what we called ourselves. I thought we had to write something down, some type of a statement about who and what we were, but nobody else seemed very invested in doing that, and I also didn’t want to go back to my insane N.A. Literature days, so I didn’t push the issue.

    Leave it to a bunch of addicts to screw up a good thing! To complicate matters for Kathy and I, our friends Breen and Sherri decided to stay with the N.A. Group, and this all went down right before they moved in with us. So, things in the apartment were a bit awkard, as a result. We chose not to discuss the whole issue, and just respect each others's decision, but it was most uncomfortable, and put a great deal of strain on both our friendships with them, and on our living situation. The friendship survived intact - fortunately, they eventually found their own place and moved out a couple months later.
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