The recent surge in social media discussions about anonymity and recovery advocacy (see here andhere for examples) have triggered increased email inquiries about my thoughts as a recovery historian on these discussions. Some have pointedly asked which side I am on, as if an anonymity war had been launched forcing one to choose one camp or the other. If there is such an emerging split, I find myself challenging all who frame this issue as a war. I challenge recovery advocates who feel anonymity is a musty, outdated concept that has lost all value in the 21st century, and I challenge those in 12-Step fellowships who suggest that public disclosure of one’s recovery status is a breach of 12-Step Traditions. Here are selected excerpts from what I have written on this topic over the past 15 years.
A.A.’s predecessors had been wounded by leaders and members who either used visibility as a springboard for financial profit or whose public downfall brought discredit to the organization. A.A. avoided both of these pitfalls by declaring that no one with a name (at least a full name) could speak for A.A. Anonymity, while practiced as a spiritual exercise, also protected A.A. as an organization and brought many individuals into recovery who saw in anonymity a shroud of protection from the injury that can result from one’s being linked to a socially stigmatized condition. (2001)
Radical recovery is not an invitation to violate the anonymity traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other twelve-step fellowships. It is an invitation for some individuals and family members in twelve-step recovery and those from other pathways of recovery to talk publicly about their recovery status without reference to the means by which that recovery was achieved, e.g., without specific references to AA/NA affiliation at the level of press. It is an invitation for people to become a messenger of recovery apart from their particular identities as members of AA, NA, CA, WFS, WFS, SOS, LSR, or other recovery societies. (2004)
Anonymity served many practical functions in the early decades of AA, and quite animated discussions continue on the extent to which these functions continue or do not need to continue in the twenty-first century. Three such practicalities were most prominent. First, anonymity at the level of press (and the cultural etiquette of not using last names within meetings and admonitions of “who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here”) helped attract and protect the identities of alcoholics whose affiliation with AA, if publicly known, could cause harm to them or other parties. Second, anonymity at the level of press protected AA from public damage to its reputation that could occur if a publicly identified AA member or leader experienced a resumption of destructive drinking and related mayhem. The principle of anonymity and the practice of leadership rotation also helped AA avoid the organizational pitfalls of charismatic leadership and a centralized hierarchy that publicly personified AA. That function was particularly significant at an organizational level within a fellowship that defined the central problem of its members in terms of “self-centeredness,” “self-will run riot” and “playing God.” An argument could be made that the social stigma attached to alcoholism has declined in recent decades, making the first two functions less vital, although I don’t think this same argument could be made in such 12-Step groups as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, and other 12-Step groups for persons addicted primarily to illicit drugs. (2013) Read more…