Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Humility and Naked Kings

There is a short story written by Hans Christian Andersen entitled “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In this tale, two weavers promise to produce a suit of fine clothing for the emperor. They promise a suit that is so fine, in fact, that only the most sophisticated of people will even be able to see these clothes.

The emperor gets caught up in the opportunity to show his kingdom just how special he is. Oh the glory of having an outfit that only society’s best and most noble will be able to see. Oh how wonderful to show off his wealth and sophistication. Let’s have a parade!

So he does. The emperor, goes out in public for the first time, showing off his new garments to his adoring subjects.

Just one problem. As the weavers help him don his new clothing, the emperor realizes that he cannot see them. No noble colors. No fancy weaves. Not even a thread.

All the while, the weavers go on and on about how wonderful the emperor looks. Oh how majestic Sire! Your subjects shall surely know you are noble when they see you in these fine clothes.

Not wanting to admit his own lack of sophistication, the emperor goes along with the story his weavers are spinning. Before long, he too is caught up in just how magnificent these new clothes are.

The crowd of loyal subjects waits not so patiently to see their emperor in his new clothing. They’ve heard rumors. They’ve been told to expect something so fine that only the most noble of them will be able to see and appreciate its splendor.

When the naked emperor comes out among the people, there is shock initially. Like their emperor, none of the subjects can see his new clothes. They are embarrassed to see the emperor naked, but worse, they are embarrassed that they cannot see his new finery.

Not wanting to be exposed for a lack of sophistication, the subjects begin to lavish the emperor with praise. Compliments are flying as the emperor parades before his subjects. His ego is being so encouraged that he can almost see fine clothing covering his body. He believes the lie.

Then it happens. A young lad in the crowd breaks the news. In his innocence, the young boy asks the question that should be on everyone’s mind. Why is the emperor naked?

Bedlam follows as everyone is suddenly faced with not only the rouse of the weavers, but also the vanity of the emperor and all who wanted so badly to be able to see the new clothes.

The trouble with being an emperor is that no one will tell you when you are wrong. Motivated by a combination of fear and lust for power, the people surrounding emperors and kings quickly learn to say yes to everything the emperor says. Soon, the emperor loses sight of his own faults, having plenty of people willing to co-sign his every word or deed.

Sadly, in the Narcotics Anonymous program we have our fair share of emperors. Rather than garments so fine that no one can see them, these emperors have endless chains of key tags, boasting their multiple years of clean time. They have subjects too. Loyal groupies who follow them around, building them up.

These emperors have convinced themselves and others that they hold some esoteric knowledge. Some secret to recovery that makes them superior. Some garment that is too refined for the common addict.

I am surely stepping on toes here, so it is only fair to point out that I once aspired to become an NA emperor. I thought that NA could surely benefit from someone with my experience, education, and charm. It’s obvious, isn’t it? NA needs members like me to show others how it’s done.

Yeah, right Kent…

These haughty aspirations were quickly squashed. I began to see that my ego was holding me back in my recovery. My sharing in meetings began to be influenced by what I thought would make me look good rather than the truth. Yes, I could lay it on thick, but deep down, I knew I was naked.

Eventually, I began letting go of those aspirations. I stopped trying to become an emperor, and began applying humility. A big part of the process came when I became able to see the Narcotics Anonymous program as a means to an end, rather than as an end unto itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I value our fellowship and my relationships with other recovering addicts. I am indebted to the program and those who came before me, making my personal recovery possible.

However, all of that pales in comparison to the new way of life promised in the message of NA. It pales in comparison to being a good husband. A kind and loving father. A faithful and successful employee. A genuine friend.

Yes, I have found a new way to live. With it, I have found the ability to enjoy being just another recovering addict. Practicing spiritual principles in all my affairs helps me to see areas in my life where I am still naked. It also makes those around me feel free to point out times when I am wrong. Humility helps me stay clean, just for today.

Have a remarkable day!


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