anonymity – a meditation



11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films and TV. We need guard with special care the anonymity of all AA members.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Al-Anon Traditions

I have spent some time thinking about anonymity. What is it? What does it mean for me? What does it mean for this podcast? How can I tell my story and maintain appropriate anonymity? Recently, I attended a screening of the new documentary, The Anonymous People, which encourages us to speak out in support of recovery, to work to remove the stigma of the disease of addiction. It raises some questions. How can we speak out while hiding our identity? Does feeling that we need to keep our recovery secret just perpetuate the stigma and shame?  What is important about anonymity?

For me, there are four important aspects of anonymity as captured in Traditions 11 and 12.

First, I believe strongly that my anonymity is mine to protect or unveil. I can control what I reveal and what I hide. I can decide to be fully open about who I am, what I do, where I live, or I can decide that it is none of your business and not reveal any of it.

However, tradition 11 asks us to not put ourselves forward as representatives or spokespeople for our recovery program. No one person can represent the program. If I were to say, “I am the true voice of the program,” and you decided you didn't like me, you might also reject the good of the program. Or, if you took my word as gospel, my experience might not be right for you, and you wouldn't find the help you need. Thus, in this podcast, I remain as anonymous as possible, trying to share my experience, strength, and hope, and nothing more.

Tradition 11 also asks us to protect the identity of any members of AA that we might know. In fact, just as I can control what I reveal, I believe that it is your decision and responsibility to decide what you might reveal or hide about yourself, and that I must defer to you in those decisions.

Tradition 12 tells me that it is important that what I share in meetings comes from my own experience, that I share from that experience, and that I do not put myself forward as any sort of authority. If, for example, I was a therapist, I should not use that as a basis for recommending any solution or course of action. I say only “this is what I experienced”, “this is what I did”, and “this is what happened.” In that way, I share from principles and not from my own person.

From this, I conclude that Al-Anon does not require me to be silent about my recovery. It only requires that I do not reveal things I learned about other people in the program, and that I do not put myself forward as any sort of representative or authority about the program. I am free to share my experience, my strength, and my hope, within those boundaries.

At least, that's my opinion.

A meditation for September 25, 2013.

2 comments on “anonymity – a meditation

  1. Beth G says:

    Were it not for the assurance of anonymity (which I somehow knew, even knowing nothing else) I would have never found the courage to walk into that first meeting, or to try out my voice as I gradually reclaimed it as mine, previously lost to me for so long. After having been brought to my knees by this cunning, baffling disease, I was free to try to stand up on my baby fawn legs in the rooms only because I was indeed safe there. NO ONE would tell. After being in the program long enough to look back and consider what anonymity does for me, i see that taking ownership of what I revealed was great early practice with setting boundaries. I also like rules, and being very trusting, felt very comfortable that everyone in the group would “follow the rules”. This really helped me relax and start to share. My alcoholic was also a scary rage-o-holic, so I was attending meetings in secret at first. When I finally brought it up I was famously told to find a twelve step program how not to be a bitch. Oh drama, my old friend. Anyway.. Flash forward. I guess the question of how we reduce the stigma of alcoholism and shed light on the family disease we all know so much about is to TALK about it, refuse to sweep feelings under the rug, and exhibit well behavior, all without revealing anything about anyone. We only talk about ourselves, and what changed attitudes have done for us. The healthy lives we lead equals attraction attraction attraction. Spencer, you hit the nail on the head here. Thanks for the topic, and for protecting my anonymity.

    1. spencer says:

      Beth, your experience underscores the importance of personal anonymity in the program, and its requirement on ME (because the only things I can control are my actions and attitudes) to preserve and protect your anonymity by letting you be in control of what you reveal or don’t reveal about yourself.

      In my case, I did not need to hide my attendance from anyone in my family. But I did hide it from just about everyone else in my life, partly because of the shame and stigma, and partly to protect the anonymity of my loved one. I have since come to realize that I can say “I am in recovery from the effects of someone else’s drinking on my life” without having to reveal just who that person is! I am starting (after more than a decade) to be more open about my participation in the program, although I don’t “blab” it to everyone I meet, because it’s not relevant, just as I wouldn’t tell everyone “I have cancer” or “I have diabetes” when that information was not relevant to our interaction. I still internalize the societal stigma around addiction and still feel a little shame when I am open, but I am not letting that stop me from being open.

      The film has raised for me the question of moving from personal openness to advocacy as an ally. That question is new to me, and I’m not sure yet how I might act based on the answers that I find for myself.

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