Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Press, radio, TV and films

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. 


  1. I agree - anonymity is vital on so many levels. We need guard against promotion for personal gain, even if that gain is "only" the stroking of one's ego.
    12-Step has the power it does precisely because it isn't associated with any one or few persons. We live in an age in which we regularly see famous people as spokespersons for companies, and we can begin to associate the company with that person. 12-Step needs to remain apart from this.
    Excellent post, thanks so much, Syd!

  2. Syd,
    Great post! I know my fellow AA members by first name only. I don't know what they do for a living, what they drive etc. and I don't care. These people mean the world to me, and protecting their anonymity is a priority. Any exploitation of this is harmful....

  3. that sucks about what happened to your wife..i do think it has its purpose in remaining can easily be twisted...

  4. I know that I DO NOT feel free to share certain aspects of my relationship at the Al Anon meetings that I attend. Most of the people there know both of us.

  5. Yes great post. Anonymity is super super important. Very sorry that someone breached your wife's privacy regarding her alcoholism.
    Because this tradition is so commonly misunderstood by 12 step members, I am VERY !!!! clear about my leaving no ! trace of my ID linked to my status as an alcoholic 'at the level of press radio and films' in my dealings with AA members. ie any publiclly accessible media, including my blog as it is publicly accessible.

    I may have mentioned this already, but I knew a very nice man in recovery whose professional reputation was ruined by an embittered male newcomer. The embittered newcomer resented this members attempts to intervene in his prowling AA meetings for vulnerable women to 13th step. In retaliation he disclosed his alcoholism in a way that proved fatal both to his standing as a professional and, a few years later fatal to the AA member himself.
    In debt from loss of income due to loss of professional standing, and with tragic life events compounded by sickness, he died a few years later. He had found it impossible to stay in work and pay his bills, other issues of sickness and life events made him worse and he relapsed and could not stop drinking. Very very sad. I liked him a lot.

    That is just one story. I have many more. Just as bad.
    So, needless to say, I am very !!!!!! strong on the anonymity principle. If a person chooses to work as an alcohol counsellor, or alcohol author, then they lose less by such disclosures, but in the UK such disclosures at a public level are very unwise for most forms of employment.

    Regardless of all these issues, it is incredibly rude and a breach of trust to disclose a confidence, or advertise the contents of a one to one conversation to third parties. If not rude, extremely heedless and inconsiderate. If in doubt, just ask permission from the person whose AA membership you want to advertise! Easy!

    And if none of those factors apply, you have to question why the person breaking their own anonymity has chosen to do so in a way that mentions their name. Why the ? name? Why not just talk about the alcoholism in great detail and make reference to their standing in society without mentioning their precise identity? Ego. An ego massaging proposition usually.

    I love privacy. Anonymity at a public level enables me to speak more freely with less pride to interfere with the stream of consciousness.
    Oh well. All I know is that I make sure others understand why I insist upon keeping my disclosures about my alcoholism and my identity separate at a publicly accessible level. It seems to be understood as people do not break my anonymity. Very sorry about your wife, I hope the message gets through to any other potentially heedless 12 step members in future.

  6. Very well put, Syd. There was a beautifully written piece in the NYT Magazine over the weekend where the author broke her anonymity. A few commenters pointed out the 11th tradition (gently and not-so-gently) in the comments.

  7. This is a great post... I can't recall a CoDA meeting in which we discussed the importance of anonymity. I brought it up at a meeting once when a good friend of mine (who had come to the meeting only twice to check it out) was approached in public by someone else from the meeting. My friend was with her daughter and was not happy at all when this strange man approached her and she had to explain to her daughter who he was.

    It can get very complicated.

    Another friend of mine is a middle school teacher, who attends AA meetings. One of her former students, who was about 16 by this time, saw her at a meeting and then "outed" her to the students younger siblings who still attended the school where my friend teaches.

    These are the exact kinds of things I was concerned about and the reason I drive an hour to my meetings, twice a week. My husband is prominant in our town and I did not want to run into people he works with or for at a meeting.

    That said, I would now go to a meeting anywhere... I don't care who knows I go to CoDA anymore. It's changed my life and I am happy to tell anyone who'll listen.

  8. the steps save us from ourselves, the traditions save the fellowship from its members...

    nice read, and ever so important!

  9. thanks for sharing this, Syd. I found my voice in the rooms of AA and Al-Anon and that reporter is hearing it via an email from me. (saying what I mean without saying it mean, of coarse.) Blessings to you.

  10. I agree -- and that concern should now include electronic media and social networking sites as well.

  11. the anonymity bit has always puzzled me, now no longer. thank you, syd!

  12. we are focusing on this subject in my fellowship as well. while it says 'anonymity at the level or press, radio and films' some members do not regard the internet at all. i look on facebook and there are several members who post the NA symbol on their website and any friends that they may have are instantly affiliated. i myself am guilty of posting 'recovery friends' pictures, in fact i am about to delete that now.

    while myself, i am a proud member and i do not have a worry about breaking my own anonymity i am mortified at the fact that i have broken others.

    what is worse is these other websites like 'in the rooms' and the like, while i have not been on many, the one i mentioned is very much a haven for members of the fellowships and is used and i think misused.

    i am grateful for the awareness of this as media, i too, like your wife had my anonymity blown. it was done in a hateful manner at a business meeting and what i had shared in a women's meeting was used in a derogatory fashion in a business meeting. i am still working through the pain and it has been a couple of years.

    that was my focus when it came to breaking anonymity, not to take what we share in meetings out of the rooms. i know the pain that causes. this internet deal is different, and it is the same. it can still hurt members and the fellowship as a whole.

  13. And I think the internet as well as those four places.

  14. Important topic. I remember when another celebrity wrote about his membership in AA. There are reasons as you stated why this is important to our fellowship.

  15. When I sat in a Round Up years ago.I was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people who found support in rooms all over the world - because they knew they could be safe.Accepted.
    And supported-by the principles.Wonderful post as always,Syd.Thank you so much for sharing as much as you do via your blog.I am certain you have touched many more lives than just those who leave you comments ;)


  16. This is a great post, and I heard in an AA meeting once that Tradition 11 protects the alcoholic from the alcoholic actions! I loved that, and it's true, I can't stand it when people talk about their sobriety only to run out and get drunk or use again...then AA is looked at as failing...:-(

    Nonetheless I do imagine he didn't mean harm in it, and as with Roger Ebert, it really comes down to why we do what we do and how we do it...again I am reminded that we are a WE not and I!

    Thanks for the post Syd.

  17. Syd... In commenting on this post I found myself writing at such length that I replied in a blog post of my own...

    I hope you will visit and let me know what you think.

    One postscript, apropos of one of your commenters, is that I was taught that intention counts for a lot in recovery. I believe he meant well. ... That said, I know I can still do a lot of harm without meaning to. --G

  18. I wonder about this all the time when I see and hear people speak in the media about recovery. I know it's not what they should be doing and it worries me.


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