It seems contradictory that a support group encourages its members to stay anonymous. After all, who wouldn’t want to share their success story after winning their addiction battle? The principle of anonymity is deep-rooted in Alcoholics Anonymous founding practices. But today, many in recovery are breaking anonymity in AA and outside of meetings as well.
The Core of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous offers self-help groups that provide a safe and supporting environment for alcoholics in recovery. From its humble beginnings in 1935, anonymity within and outside of the meetings has been part of the founding principles. The idea is to protect both the individuals and groups from potential discrimination. After all, members are encouraged to share personal matters that they don’t want to be known elsewhere. As a result, ensuring that everyone understands the importance of not breaking anonymity is critical for the group’s success.
AA believes anonymity helps prevent strong personalities and maintain the right levels of confidence among its members. Many argue it was this anonymous security blanket that contributed to the program’s success and long history.
What’s Tradition 11?
One of the most important guiding principles of AA is anonymity, being present in at least three of their 12 traditions. In particular, tradition 11 says, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film.”
But the praise for anonymity doesn’t stop there. Its twelve traditions also include verbiage that says things like, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” As a result, addicts feel comfortable knowing what they share during an alcoholic’s anonymous meeting will not be discussed elsewhere.
Levels of Anonymity
For AA, the concept of anonymity isn’t black and white. It has various levels and layers that should guide how its members think about the practice. Generally, this concept was to protect its members from the social stigma of alcoholism, which was intense in the early 1930s. The stigma was especially evident for women and young people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.
AA touted anonymity as one of its most significant gifts for those struggling with alcohol abuse. With person-to-person anonymity, newcomers could feel a supportive and protective atmosphere designed to promote openness and transparency. This feeling of trust often provides relief to many addicts who suffer from addiction in silence for many years, before embarking upon drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
The AA organization, or the Fellowship, was top-rated in the press. Articles about the program were in magazines and newspapers all over the country. However, as people began breaking anonymity for personal gains, the organization increased its levels to safeguard its reputation. To assure the unity and effectiveness, AA ruled that anonymity had to be universal.
However, in recent years, with social media and the digital era, controlling anonymity became more challenging. While they don’t stop members from sharing their own stories, they plead that members consider others in the group. Nowadays, AA even has set guidelines to talk about anonymity in the digital world.
Why AA Promotes Anonymity?
Most people forget that the Fellowship is over 80 years old, and although many practices have evolved, its core principles remain the same. The 12 steps are rooted in spiritual guidance, and anonymity is part of that.
- It shields people from the social stigma attached to being a recovering alcoholic.
- People feel more secure to attend meetings if they know they won’t be identified.
- Anonymity can encourage humility and break down leading personalities.
- It protects the organization and different groups from the actions of rogue members.
- Anonymity prevents any alignment with political, religious, or social causes.
- People feel confident enough to be transparent and genuinely share their struggles.
Most AA meetings start with, “What you see here, what you hear here when you leave here, let it say here.” Having this mantra is what helps everyone feel safe, supported, and confident.
Other Facts about Anonymity in AA
It’s important to know that AA doesn’t force anyone to follow any level of anonymity. Instead, they encourage members to choose whatever standards they wish, and most members respect these practices. Here are some other facts:
- Members generally think it’s unwise to break the anonymity of a fellow AA member even after their death. However, they recognize the final decision rests within their family members.
- Members may disclose their identity and self-identify as recovering alcoholics in radio, TV, and online interviews without violation of the traditions. In this case, they can reveal their alcoholism recovery status, but not their AA membership.
- The only way members can speak as AA members is if their names or faces are not revealed. Even then, they’re speaking as individual members, not for AA as an organization.
Anonymity is so vital for AA; they have many pamphlets and other materials that explain the value of the traditions and how to preserve anonymity.
Why People Are Breaking Anonymity?
Fast forward to today, and you probably know more than one person who’s a proud member of AA. People everywhere are documenting their experience with alcohol abuse recovery and proudly breaking anonymity. After all, just because an organization has its principles doesn’t mean it is right for everyone.
Times Are Changing
The book about the twelve principles is from over 80 years ago. Back then, social media and the Internet were not even thoughts. The stigma of alcoholism and recovery was harsh in that era, whereas today, people are more accepting and supportive.
Braking Anonymity is a Personal Choice
Those who choose to break anonymity do so by telling their stories, not others. Everyone has the right to share their stories and be as open or closed about their hurdles as their wish. Of course, all while respecting everyone else’s privacy.
It Helps People in Their Sobriety
Generally, it takes time and courage to say the words “I’m sober.” However, sharing stories of experience, strength, and hope will help others in recovery and active addiction. When people become open about their sobriety, they have more people to hold them accountable. Additionally, it could also help other people struggling with addiction to understand that they’re not alone.
People Feel a Sense of Proudness
When those in recovery share their story, it gives them a sense of accomplishment. So long are the days that alcoholism recovery was all about stigma; today, most people celebrate it and admire someone’s progress.
Whether anonymity still maintains a space in substance abuse recovery is yet to be seen. Today, anyone in addiction treatment can trust in their power to remain anonymous or share their story. Those carrying the message of recovery to those struggling with addiction can help save someone from the deep waters of substance abuse. If you or someone you know is a recovering addict or alcoholic, the choice to break anonymity is only yours.