How do you feel about Anonymity in AA?



This was the topic of the meeting Monday night.  The moderator chose it.  He is from Canada, and he had printed the story of Rob Ford’s return from rehab.  He is running again for Mayor of Toronto, and has stated that he can’t promise he will stay sober.   He is quoted as saying, “I’m taking it one day at a time, I did not drink yesterday, I haven’t drunk today.”    Is that an abstract reference to AA?

Bill Wilson refused an honorary degree from Yale because he did not want to break his anonymity.  He is quoted as saying, “If I don’t take this it will act as a terrific restraint on big shots and power seekers in Alcoholics Anonymous.”  

The eleventh tradition states that recovering alcoholics should,  “maintain personal anonymity at the level of press radio and film.”

Another principle of AA is service to others, you can’t keep your sobriety unless you give it away.

It is stated in AA literature,  “It is important that we remain anonymous,” the founders wrote in the preface to Alcoholics Anonymous, “ because we are too few, at present, to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication. Being mostly business or professional folk, we could not well carry on our occupations in such an event.”

But, in this age of instant information, 24 hour news cycles, and the pervasive presence of paparazzi, how does one maintain anonymity in recovery, and is it still important?   If it is, how do we give away what we have, and remain anonymous at the same time?

I spoke about the movie The Anonymous People, and, both of which are trying to “engage and mobilize the newly emerging constituency to transform public attitudes and policies affecting people seeking or in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Whether behind the scenes or on the front line, every recovery voice is needed.”  

Kristen Johnson, from the television show 3rd Rock from the Sun is a very vocal advocate of taking the stigma and anonymity out of recovery.  She believes that the shroud of anonymity keeps the negative stigma perpetuated about recovery.

Most of the group Monday evening did not agree with this theory.  A lot of the old timers kept quoting  “We are to place principles before personalities”.

I know that my fear of being recognized, or recognizing someone at an AA meeting kept me from going for the first 3 months of my sobriety.  I live in a small community where there is a local meeting.  I was afraid to go, but I knew if I had to drive any further, I would never go.

My fear was realized as I struggled to get through the door and sit down.  Across the table were two people that I had worked with the previous summer.  I was mortified.

That was then.  Today, I am less shy about my membership in the group, yet I still do not readily share the information.  I still feel embarrassed that I let this situation get so out of control.  That is my own shame that I will have to work through.

Recently we have seen headlines about Robin Williams,  Portia de Rossi and Zac Efron all attending rehab.  They are not afforded the cloak of anonymity due to their profession.

How do you all feel about anonymity in recovery, and specifically in AA?  Please discuss.




16 thoughts on “How do you feel about Anonymity in AA?

  1. From when I first decided I needed to get sober, I’ve realized part of my journey will be telling the people in my life. All the people in my life, not just my close friends and family. Thus far I haven’t told many because I want to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons and in the right way (not in a dramatic, attention hungry way). I’ve spent a lot of my life ashamed of who I am though, and wouldn’t be able to release the shame if I wasn’t open about it. I do also feel as a Director at my company and contributor in my community, my admitting to my addiction will help change the stereotypes that those in my life might hold about alcoholics.
    That said I respect anyone’s desire for anonymity and recognize I’m lucky to have communities (work, neighborhood, social) where while there might be some awkward moments and I could have some people opt to not spend time with me, overall my job, home, and closest relationships won’t be in jeopardy.

    • I rally like your approach. I hope to get there one day. I don’t hide it, I just don’t share it with everyone. I feel like it is my little garden and I have to make sure it is well rooted before I can begin to pick an choose who I want to let know.

  2. Kristen over at bye-bye beer had a great post on anonymity recently: I have posted on this as well:
    I tend to agree with the thrust of the anonymous people video that folks need to talk about being in recovery, as they do in blogs. I am less interested in someone promoting a particular flavor, like AA, or anything else – although I have noted I am a good bit less anonymous on this point too than I had been in the past.
    I see a distinction in the Bill Wilson honorary doctorate – that says “gee aren’t I wonderful” and he rightly refused. I think it is quite a bit different to be sharing experience strength and hope.

    • It is different to share what you have learned but it does take away the anonymity. That being said the more people that talk about it, the more the stigma lifts, or at least I hope it does. Thanks for the links.

  3. I assume every addiction starts as a love story. After a while the old saying “Love and hate lives close together” becomes the truth. Then you start fighting it! Thank you….I enjoyed reading your blog and will continue to do so. Nothing beats a good “read” with a cup of coffee in the morning 🙂 Thank you for letting me follow!

  4. I believe it is up to the individual whether they want to share or remain anonymous. This is very personal and no one’s bees wax if you don’t feel like sharing your name. I also believe many many folks have issues with alcohol that never receive help due to social stigmas concerning alcoholism. I am honest with people about why I stopped drinking, but I’m not blasting it on my facebook.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t blasted anything highly personal on my facebook, which IMHO has become a place of the “over share”.
      I took a crap today and it was big….42 likes! Meh.

      • Lololololol! Facebook is great in some respects but it is a skewed look at life, everybody post their best pics and general wonderfulness….barf. There is even something called facebook depression… you get it from looking at everbody else’s glitter n rainbows and then feel bad about your life….dumb!:-)

  5. I have been very open with family, friends, co-workers about my disease and my progress in recovery including my time in rehab and attendance at AA meetings. I have no doubt that this has helped strengthen my own recovery and has allowed others an opening to talk about what it brings up for them or thier families. The more we share the stronger we can be. Having said that, I have never outed any other person that I have met, shared with or talked to in those rooms. That is their choice to make, their own story to tell in their own way, place, and time.
    If Bill Wilson were to be honored in such a way now, I’d hope that he would accept and say that it wouldn’t have been possble without his sobriety and the support and direction that other members of AA have provided in his life. That would open some minds and many doors for a lot of people.

    • I couldn’t agree more with the Bill Wilson comment. Things were so different then, people were more refined, yet still so judgmental. It would be great if there was a general understanding that this is a process. Sometimes we relapse, but it does not represent failure anymore than when a cancer patient in remission grows cancer cells again. I wish the perception was the same, and it wasn’t viewed by so many as a “choice” that we have made.

  6. it should be up to the individual. If I choose, I can share MY story because it’s mine to share but I would never talk about another member because it’s not my story to tell.

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