I opened the local paper the other day and read an article by one of the reporters about celebrating his 30th year in sobriety. This fellow is a well known columnist and author of a couple of books. I knew that he was in recovery because he had written about it before. While I understand the message, I immediately thought about Tradition 11.
I believe that the reporter's intent was to do no harm. Yet, the article could just as easily have been written in an anonymous fashion, thereby leaving ego out of it. I am not a member of AA but read the AA books and pamphlets. I pulled out the one on Understanding Anonymity and read:
"As public awareness concerning alcoholism increased, the stigma decreased, and soon some A. A. members began to publicly acknowledge their affiliation in the media. One of the first to do so was a famous ballplayer whose comeback was so spectacular that newspapers lavished attention on his successful struggle against alcohol. Believing that he could help A.A. by revealing his membership, he discussed it openly. Even the founders of A. A. approved his actions simply because they had not yet experienced the costs of such publicity.
Then other members decided to break their anonymity in the media — some motivated by good will, others by personal gain. Some members devised schemes to tie in their A.A. affiliation with all sorts of business enterprises, insurance, sales, drying-out farms, even a temperance magazine, to name a few. It did not take long for those at A.A. headquarters to realize that overzealous and self-serving anonymity breakers could quickly jeopardize the Fellowship’s hard-won reputation. And they saw that if one person was made an exception, other exceptions would inevitably follow. To assure the unity, effectiveness, and welfare of A.A., anonymity had to be universal. It was the guardian of all that A.A. stood for.
In stressing the equality of all A.A. members — and unity in the common bond of their recovery from alcoholism — anonymity serves as the spiritual foundation of the Fellowship. Back in 1946, Bill W., our co-founder, wrote: “The word ‘anonymous’ has for us an immense spiritual significance. Subtly but powerfully, it reminds us that we are always to place principles before personalities; that we have renounced personal glorification in public; that our movement not only preaches but actually practices a true humility.”
I am glad to have read this pamphlet again. It applies as well to Al-Anon where our anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our principles. A member broke my wife's anonymity, not realizing what a breach of trust that was. And many think that the traditions were simply there when the fellowship first began but aren't important anymore. In the age of internet and TV where celebrities shout their affiliation with AA and rehabs are de rigueur, anonymity seems to be something that is broken on a regular basis. One person said that "these are like driving 5 mph over the posted speed limit. Everyone does it and it doesn't hurt anyone." I don't agree with that at all. To break anonymity in the media, in the name of helping others, is undermining the fellowship with ego being front and center.
Here is more on this topic from Al-Anon:
Why is anonymity so often a topic at meetings? We guard the anonymity of all Al-Anon/Alateen and AA members. This means not revealing to anyone what we hear or whom we see at meetings, not to our relatives, friends or other Al-Anon/Alateen members. Our free expression – so important to our recovery – rests on our sense of security, knowing that what we share at our meetings will be held in strict confidence. While each member has the right of decision regarding personal anonymity within the fellowship, the use of first-names-only reminds us that we are equals in Al-Anon. This
keeps us humble and enables us to develop spiritually. From page 5 of Al-Anon Spoken Here (Pamphlet 53)
Anonymity. The experience of our groups suggests that the principle of anonymity – summed up in Tradition Twelve as “the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions” – has three elements: There is anonymity as it applies outside Al-Anon, governing our contacts with non-members and organizations; anonymity within the fellowship; and anonymity as it contributes to our personal growth. From page 83 of the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual
Anonymity in Al-Anon is a sacred trust, basic to our fellowship and its survival. The principal of anonymity is essential for the newcomers to assure the confidentiality of their identity and all that is shared at the meetings, and with other members. From page 50 of the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual
Anonymity Within Al-Anon. Members uses their full names within the fellowship when they wish. The degree of anonymity a member chooses (first name, pseudonym, or full name) is not subject to criticism. Each member has the right to decide . . . Anonymity goes well beyond mere names. All of us need to feel secure in the knowledge that nothing seen or heard at a meeting will be revealed. We feel free to express ourselves among our fellow Al-Anons because we can be sure that what we say will be held in confidence. From page 83 of the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual
Anonymity Within Al-Anon: Dual Members. “I am a member of another anonymous program. Recently I was asked not to discuss it at our Al-Anon/Alateen meetings. Why?”
Our meeting discussions do not include any other program or fellowship. When we talk about our experiences of becoming sober, drug-free, or how we stopped overeating or gambling, we take away from the Al-Anon focus. In Al-Anon, we focus on our common experience – having been affected by someone else’s alcoholism – and our recovery by giving and receiving mutual aid based only on that common experience. Those of us who are members of other anonymous programs avoid openly revealing this at meetings, concentrating instead on the Al-Anon approach to the family illness of alcoholism. From page 8 of Al-Anon Spoken Here (Pamphlet 53)
Anonymity Within Al-Anon: Professionals. “As a psychotherapist – and an Al-Anon member – I feel that my professional experience can enrich our group’s discussion. Why have I been discouraged from sharing my knowledge at meetings?”
Those of us in the helping professions may be especially sensitive to the pain of others. We may sense the pain of fellow Al-Anon members and wish to share the benefits of our professional expertise. In Al-Anon, however, we meet and share as equals: no one is an expert. Our success comes from maintaining a nonprofessional approach, and from adhering to the principal of anonymity. We all have something to give and something to take from our meetings regardless of our educational, social or professional backgrounds. From page 8 of Al-Anon Spoken Here (Pamphlet 53)
Anonymity Outside Al-Anon. Tradition Eleven gives a specific guideline: “We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV and films.” This gives potential members confidence that their identity will not be revealed when they join Al-Anon. Also, personal anonymity at the public level guards the fellowship from the Al- Anon/Alateen member who may be tempted to seek public recognition . . . From page 83 of the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual
I am thankful that these programs have in place principles to protect those who attend. Maybe the message will get through to those who need a reminder.