Did He Break a Tradition?
Earlier this month, the Huffington Post published an essay by a recovering alcoholic. In this moving piece of writing, the author talks about his personal journey to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. He also touches on the lessons he’s learned through his eighteen years of sobriety.
Sounds awesome, right? Well it is! The essay’s an announcement of experience, strength, and hope. It’s a beacon of truth that we can all recover! Until, of course, you consider the fact that the author violated a cardinal tradition.
I’m talking about the eleventh tradition, which states “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions).
Let’s examine both angles and see if we can fully unpack what’s really going on in this essay.
Experience, Strength & Hope
First things first, the author (who I’ve chosen not to name) wrote a beautiful meditation on what the road to recovery is like. He touches on the insidious and destructive nature of alcoholism in a way we can all relate to.
He writes passages like, “Every alcoholic is an unwitting player acting out his or her part not in a tragic comedy, but in a comic tragedy,” and “From the first drink to my last alcoholic binge, I was chasing a solution that never quite worked.”
A solution that never quite worked! That’s a wonderful way to describe what drugs and alcohol do for us addicts and alcoholics.
Finally, the author attends a meeting and finds some hope. The rest of the essay is a reflection on his eighteen plus years of sobriety. As I mentioned above, it serves as a beacon of hope for the still sick and suffering alcoholic. It’s a cut and dry message that not only is sobriety possible, but it’s within the grasp of everyone.
That’s a priceless message. It’s certainly what I try to convey in my articles here. To offer hope to those who have none, to try and help a lost soul, is the primary purpose of AA. It’s the first thing that recovering alcoholics think about in the morning and the last thought before their heads hit the pillow.
So, it could be argued that the author was really carrying a message of hope, sobriety, and serenity. It could also be argued that he violated one of the most important traditions. In fact, that very argument has been unfolding in a small portion of the recovery community.
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Before I get into the controversy this essay’s stirred up, let’s look at why the eleventh tradition is around to begin with.
The eleventh tradition, and anonymity in AA, has little to nothing to do with individual alcoholics. Many people think it exists to save men and women from disclosing a potentially embarrassing part of their life to friends, family, and coworkers. This simply isn’t the case.
Rather, the eleventh tradition exists to protect AA itself. It’s a way for Alcoholics Anonymous to avoid being torn down in the media via an unreliable spokesperson. It’s a way to avoid any one member gaining influence, ego, and fame. It’s a way for a society of recovering individuals to protect the very house they found shelter in.
So, when someone breaks this tradition, well, members of AA are usually pretty upset. Understandably so! When someone breaks their personal anonymity in the media, they open AA to attack and misinformation.
Here we reach the center of this recent recovery controversy. Is the author of the Huffington Post essay doing his job as a member of AA or is he disregarding the policies that govern his fellowship? Why didn’t he write in general terms, saying things like “twelve-step fellowships” and “the rooms of recovery?” Why did he explicitly attach a name, face, and personality to Alcoholics Anonymous?
Ultimately, these questions don’t have one answer. It’d be nice if they did, but, as with most aspects of recovery, they don’t. The answer is different for each individual. Some will view the author as a hero, offering hope to those struggling with chemicals. Others will view him as a villain, someone who unwittingly jeopardized the very group he claims to love.
What do you think? Let us know on social media!