Anonymity Works

Recent pandemic press on AA is naming people along with their photos. This violates AA’s tradition of anonymity and undermines AA’s purpose: helping alcoholics achieve sobriety.

Has the stigma of being a recovering alcoholic (or drug addict for that matter) been reduced enough in society that traditional AA anonymity is passe? Have years of widespread press coverage of AA and recovery, especially in regards to the recent pandemic, mean the end of one of AA’s founding principles?

A common refrain at meetings goes, “We think not.”

A member of Uptown House, who has been sober for years, objects as well. This person recently sent me an article from a Twin Cities’ daily newspaper on the difficulty of recovery in the covid ‘social distancing’ era and it included the full names and photos of people in recovery.

Here is what the member wrote: “I was appalled at the blatant disregard for our tradition of anonymity. There are SO MANY articles out right now, which is good and bad. Also, the fact that (another) article sort of clumped us (Uptown House) in with a treatment center made a lot of members frustrated.”

(The second sentence violates AA’s 6th Tradition: An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.)

But the tradition of anonymity, which after all is in our very name, is what concerns this member most (and many others).

The AA 12 Traditions, rules that govern AA and the conduct of its members, have served us well, keeping AA going and growing since the 1930s. The 11th Tradition 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.”

 The 12th Traditions states: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

These traditions emphasize the importance of anonymity so that no one member can have too much influence on the group. Many groups have disintegrated due to internal squabbles and bad publicity.

These Traditions help lessen any power struggles within groups. Anonymity has also helped protect the organization from any member bad behavior. Not having a spokesperson means AA is able to pretty much stay out of the limelight (the pandemic being a recent exception). The limelight, by the way, can compete with the real purpose of AA in a person’s life and cause them to relapse.

Anonymity also protects people who don’t want to proclaim his/her affliction and membership in AA.  Maybe someone isn’t sure they are an alcoholic or isn’t and anonymity protects their identity. In my experience, there are people (some of them practicing alcoholics themselves) and businesses with big drinking cultures that discriminate against alcoholics. 

If the word on the street says AA is not anonymous anymore, many folks will not come, and we know how that can end up: “jails, institutions and death.”

You’ll never see my last name on these stories and you’ll never hear me mention my last name in meetings. Staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety is reward enough for me.





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