Challenging my AA: Anonymity … or lack thereof

Is anonymity a fading principle?

Social media is a volountary thing… nobody forces us.  Linking to other AA members is to me, a buyer-beware decision.

But even before social media, is the second A in AA losing ground?  Our 12th Tradition (long form) reads:

“And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.”

In my community, personal anonymity is not practiced very strictly.  I live in a suburb of approximately 75,000 people.  We have many large, “open” AA meetings which means anyone can attend.  One need not be a member of the group or AA to be there.  Observers and visitors are welcome.

My understanding is that AA did not start this way.  In addition, at the time of early AA, there was far greater stigma to being an alcoholic, partly because of the moral climate of the day, and partly because there was no known method or treatment to so much as even arrest the condition, so fear of alcoholism would have been greater.

Furthermore, employment standards probably allowed an employer to terminate an employee on suspicion of being an alcoholic.  So again, the stigma was high.

So early meetings were more secretive.  Held in homes, and reportedly, closed.  In these closed meetings, attendees could be free to be honest about what they were dealing with.  Attendance was more of a privilege so anonymity-busting carried a higher price.  What if one got banned from a meeting?  It could have been a death sentence.

Fast forward to today.  What if one compromised the anonymity of another and got asked to leave a meeting?  There is probably several others as alternatives.

And of course, back to my earlier subject of social media.  Again, it is up to us as members first to protect our own anonymity.  If we don’t, and get outed, it is our own fault.  I have been outed by others making comments on my Facebook status, or publicly putting me on invite lists for events at the local recovery club.

And with technology today, we have no assurance that pictures or videos of us aren’t being taken and distributed.  I was at a cake meeting last night when a family member of the birthday boy stands up and takes a picture of the meeting!  Now this was naivety on his part completely and he immediately got spoken to.  But can you imagine someone with a camera taking a pic of 100 alcoholics in a room?  You could hear the gasps.

So I am kinda all over the map on this one, but I welcome some discussion.

  • Is the principle of anonymity fading?
  • Is it as important as it once was?
  • What to you is its value?

Ciao.

Chaz

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About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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18 Responses to Challenging my AA: Anonymity … or lack thereof

  1. interesting question. I agree that anonymity is treated looser today than it used to be.

  2. Debbie says:

    I’m mostly here to learn and listen and support you. 🙂 What this makes me think of is, do we as a society see anonymity as a bad thing? An unnecessary thing? An undesired thing? Just thinking out loud! God bless you as you take a closer look and ponder!

    • Chaz says:

      No problem Debbie…. I welcome input from outside of our program. Our perspectives inside can become insular.

      Society may see it as a bad thing which could taint our belief in its value. All I can say for sure is that if anonymity is dissolved, people cannot be as free to be truthful…. and truth is what sets us free. So it would be a real setback to lose it.

  3. Debby says:

    I see both sides too. We do not give out names if calls come to our front desk asking for one of the residents. We will not confirm them being in the program. I’m glad for that.

    On the other hand, we have a Facebook group page for Alumni and current residents and family and many of the men will post on here. Mostly, they post encouraging words, etc. Of course none of this is AA-sponsored/connected. I do believe the stigma isn’t as severe today and I think that’s a good thing. Sure helps getting through step 1.

    • Chaz says:

      Thanks Debby. The recovery program I was in years ago was somewhat similar in that it did publish our first names and pictures on their promotional and support material.

      In a very narrow context, this made some sense. Bigger picture though it frankly was not fair to those who took time and finances out of their lives to deal with what they had to deal with…. and to be in some cases made into a public spectacle or used as heart-wrenching or tear-jerking propaganda for financial support…. which this particular organization did often.

      I objected to my name (which is somewhat unique and therefore identifiable) and face being publicized. They stopped. I appreciated that.

      Anonymity is a practice that allows tremendous freedom to reach and deal with difficult truths. I think it is wise to protect in recovery environments.

      What is your program’s position on anonymity? If someone does not want their picture taken or posted, what do you do?

      • Debby says:

        I tell them if they don’t want their photo take or posted to “get out of the shot” 😉 We’re required to have releases signed for any photo’s taken and we’ve had a few, very few, to not want them and we must respect that. Actually, I’m more surprised at how many don’t mind. Every month I post the photo’s of awards night on the bulletin board for the men to take any they want. Many send these photo’s home to family. I know that’s different from what you’re talking about but so many are proud of having any recovery time they don’t sharing it more publicly. It’s a very small group that would see them on Facebook. And a group where membership is controlled.

        • Chaz says:

          Thanks Debby…. so your residents do then have the option if they do not want their pic publicized, it wont be? I just think that is a courtesy I would appreciate if I were there …. or in fact did, when I was in residential treatment.

          Glad to hear you honour your clients feelings around this matter.

  4. Anonymity is a highly guarded secret for people in early sobriety. I’ve seen the “OMG what if someone I know sees me in a meeting.” We’ve seen – here – that many folks with double digit time, use both first and last names in meetings. and for them that is comfortable. It is not such a worry for them, my sponsor is of that thought. He is very open in meetings and we respect the anonymity of people who come to our meeting or those we see in other meetings. Anonymity seems less a concern the longer people are sober here. But newcomers are high on that anonymous list. And we should respect that.

    The dawn of social media has brought with it challenges. Most of my facebook friends are sober and we speak openly amongst ourselves, we use the “friends of bill” verbage when communicating in open community, but in private we talk to each other openly.

    I belong to Sober Blog directory. And across my platforms people know I am sober. I write about sobriety and meetings, but I make it a point to leave out names and I often pseudonym them or give them nicknames because more friends locally are reading my blog. i am not too concerned that people know I am in recovery. I basically have put it out there on the blog and that is my choice. I don’t have to hide parts of me from the public, because that comes with the territory of writing to my reading community.

    Bill speaks about anonymity many times in both Stories from the Heart and in the Big Book. He spends a great deal of time talking about tradition 12. You also have to take into consideration that the book was penned in the 30’s and 40’s and times were much different. Always respect the anonymity of those in the meetings, all our meetings state that in the preamble. And there are placards on all the tables as well. I’ve not witnessed people taking photos of “full member meetings,” like you wrote about above. However, if you pick up any grapevine today – they publish photos of empty meeting rooms from all over the world.

    Anonymity is a tenant of the program. How you personally interpret that tradition is totally up to you. If that is an issue for you, then you should bring it up at a meeting or with your sponsor. He seems to be a traditionalist so he is very aware of the 12th tradition.

    If I help another sober person not take a drink by writing on my blog, then so be it. There are other things that worry me more than telling someone that I am in recovery. I’ve had the odd anti-recovery attack from a certain website that I had to shut down the blog and move it to a new server and domain because of the vitriol I got from people who tore my blog to shreds. That, I think is the only worry I have about the blog, that that would happen again.

    I’d never break anyone’s anonymity purposely. i walk a fine line with the blog and social media.
    Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

    Who you see here – what you say here – when you leave here – let it stay here … so they say.

    Jeremy

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Jeremy…. thanks as always.

      We too have longtimers who use both first and last names. I agree, with increased sober time there tends to be less importance on anonymity. I know people know about me and I know people will find out about me at some point. Yet, I still keep it close the vest and prefer to be the one to make my own disclosures.

      Similarly, I ferociously guard the anonymity of others, especially newcomers. I keep in mind how I started in the program using an assumed name because mine was too easiliy identifiable. Had I not been able to enter the rooms and participate anonymously, I dont know that I ever would have. So for me it was essential. I try to offer the same.

      Sounds like some solid AA recovery in your city. So glad to hear it.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  5. Caddo Veil says:

    Hi Nephew! I feel that, if anonymity allows people to be truthful–and thereby gain freedom–it’s definitely a good thing. In our current high-tech society, and the climate of violence and crime which necessitate a protective position of “eyes everywhere”, the concepts of privacy and anonymity are becoming a mere illusion. It’s terribly unfortunate–and for the most part, the responsibility lies on the individual to use caution, i.e. social media, Internet. Progress comes with both blessings and burdens. I hope I’m not rambling tonight. God bless you and the family–love, Auntie Caddo

    • Chaz says:

      Thanks Auntie Caddo….. you are not rambling at all! I can hardly keep my replies to 3 paragraphs so no need to edit for brevity here 🙂

      The freedom anonymity provides is exactly what I am talking about. Which is one reason confidentiality exists between client and lawyer, patient and doctor, and confessor and priest.

      Even the laws recognize the importance of total openness in these settings. I think just as important in alcohol recovery. Most of us get up to some nasty stuff that we need to be able to lay out in the open for at least one other person to help us deal with.

      Thanks again for all of your support and comments.

      Chaz

  6. Heidi says:

    Chaz– I’m just lost about the whole topic. Won’t hear me saying that again for a while, I suppose. This is one that I just don’t have a grasp on.

    I waffle on my own anonymity, not really seeing how it could make a bit of difference who knows… yet since I’m not perfect, when I fall it will reflect on not only AA, but my family and my support people… still… I feel OK having anyone know that I’m an alcoholic. On the other hand, I’ve avoided all social media connections in this arena.

    As far as protecting other people’s anonymity, I’m really careful to do so. I don’t think outing an AA member is an option. I respect the traditions but I don’t know how to work this one into my life yet.

    I’m so glad you wrote about it.

    • Chaz says:

      In some circumstances, anonymity is simply not possible. For instance if your family is very open about the issue…. even if it is you they are open about and dont recognize the value of anonymity, maybe you didnt get much of a chance to experience it.

      If you choose not to be anonymous, it is entirely a personal decision. The traditions however do reference keeping personal anonymity at level of press, radio and films. To me, this is a courtesy to those around us who may have their anonymity blown by being associated with us as a known alcoholic.

      If its not an issue for you, no need to make it one.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Ciao.
      Chaz

  7. Julia says:

    Chaz,
    I must apologize for not fully comprehending this subject (Lack of anonymity). In that phrase alone, being “Lack of anonymity”, is that in essence, “short or deprived of privacy”? I ask this because I am in college and this was one of our class discussions. The question being “Is The Lack of Anonylity a problem? To answer the question, every one started discussing all the good things about keeping identity secret/private (online). What exactly IS Lack of Anonymity, if I may be so bold as to ask? Thanks hun, and God Bless You!

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Julia…. the context of anonymity in my post references membership in Alcoholic Anonymous. Lack of anonymity is what we often refer to as ‘anonymity-busting’ which means breaking the anonymity of a member of an AA group or in an AA meeting.

      A foundational principle and practice of AA is that we remain anonymous. AA began in the 1930’s when there vitually no effective treatments for chronic alcoholism. Alcoholism was also widely viewed as a moral weakness and carried a stigma accordingly.

      When the fellowship started, meetings were often secret and the identities of those in attendance remained anonymous so they did not have to worry about facing consequences of their alcoholism being known. It also gave them freedom to disclose the nature of their wrongs and struggles without judgment or consequence. This allowed many to deal with the underlying problems and find and maintain sobriety. Virtually all of the early AA members were chronic alcoholics whose drinking was completely beyond their own control and causing devastation to them and their families.

      So the value of anonymity has been extremely high in AA. More recently, especially with social media and the web, anonymity has faded somewhat. In my community, it has faded a lot. Yet, the very name, “Alcoholic Anonymous” makes it pretty clear that we are anonymous.

      My post was intended to examine and discuss the waining anonymity in our fellowship and question if is still a valued component of our program. I believe it is and should be maintained and respected. Anonymity allows us to be candid such that we can be honest about what is going on for us in and in us. If we can’t be honest about the nature of our problem, we will never deal with it and never stay sober. I seldom speak in absolutes but of this one I am convinced. At least for myself and other alcoholics of my type.

      Anonymity was a key component to finding sobriety and maintaining it for 7 years after many other methods failed. So I am sure you can see why I am concerned about a lack of anonymity in AA.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully my reply helps.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  8. J Holmes says:

    Just my personal perspective: I think that in general there is less respect for anonymity today. A partial cause (at least) may be the craze for corporations and government entities to know everything about us. The second factor would be our willingness to give it all to them.

    Look at the questionnaires that schools send home with children. I tossed them in the trash years ago when my kids brought them home. “Warranty” cards? Why do they have a right to know your employer, your income, your marital status etc etc?

    Nowadays I enjoy a great hobby. I fill in all information requests in the most colorful ways imaginable.

    If any of us wants any privacy we have to take it and keep it.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi J Holmes…. thanks for your reply.

      Yes, it truly is a less anonymous world overall. And we have done our part in giving our information away. We’ve, in many cases asked for it, but at the very least have gone along with it.

      Seems many of us want others to know about us.

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