Anonymity in AA and the Age of the Internet

anonymity in AA
anonymity in AA

"Anonymity" DUN DUN DUN .. cue the creepy, scary, accusatory music. This wasn't my original topic I had planned to write about this week, but that changed when my 2 Year Sober article was published on the Huffington Post on Monday.

I'm not new to derogatory comments and people who don't agree with me. I learned after the first time my article went viral it's not a good idea to read all the comments. Instead I enjoy the positive emails and messages I receive, while ignoring the negative. After Huffington Post published my article on Monday and shared it on their Facebook page, I got the usual uptick in traffic, email, and messages. One thing was different though. To my surprise, I got about 10 messages from AA-goers who were clearly not happy with me. Apparently my candid mention of "Alcoholics Anonymous" and what its taught me in my 2 year article did not sit well with them. They did not hesitate to tell me their thoughts. Here are a few of the messages:

The thing that disturbs me the most about these messages is a lot of them are backhanded compliments. "Way to go! but stop saying AA." Right. Anyway, I reread the 11th Tradition of AA and spoke with my sponsor. The last thing I want to do is offend people. In short, Tradition 11 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 way I understand it, this tradition, and really all of the traditions of AA, can be interpreted in many different ways, kind of like with the text of the bible. What I get from it is that there are 3 main parts:

1. Anonymity of the group. Keeping what you hear and who you see in meetings to yourself.

2. Anonymity at the level of press. This means you are not to identify yourself as a member of AA (which I did). They don't want members identifying themselves in the case of a relapse, or if a person returns to drinking. The fear is that they'll say the program doesn't work.

3. A policy of attraction rather than promotion. This means they don't want people out promoting the program of AA, but rather wait to show people how it works when they come to see it for themselves.

I understand why these principles came into play in the 1930's when AA was founded. I definitely understand why it's not recommended to out anyone you've seen in a meeting or what you've heard. The other parts I just don't understand. We're in the 21st century and the age of the internet and social media. I believe these strict traditions of anonymity are not only not realistic, they aren't healthy.

Anonymity protects, but it also hides. Secrets keep us sick right? Anonymity was invented in part to shield alcoholics from stigma. Normies and outsiders judging us, not giving us jobs, or other discrimination. Anonymity perpetuates this stigma. Just like in the gay community, coming out of the addiction closet is critical to ending stereotypes and negative stigma. I've said it once and I'll say it again, addiction and alcoholism do not discriminate. They affect all people regardless of socioeconomic status, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or any other factors. AA and all recovery programs are full of doctors, government officials, minimum wage workers, rich and poor. Maybe if they all came out, the stigma that still exists today would melt away. In fact, the last few jobs I've gotten I was able to get because of my honesty about being an alcoholic and writing about it online. It has literally given me employment.

We are in the middle of a public health crisis when it comes to educating, understanding, and treating addiction. Anonymity is contributing to the public's confusion and prejudice. Many people are still convinced addiction is a moral problem. For a critical health issue that is so prominent in the public eye, it doesn't make sense for its solution to be so secret.

This brings me to the AA principle of passing on the message. How can you truthfully pass on a message when you can't identify yourself? Or in my case, I outed myself before becoming a member of AA. I was sober for 17 months before ever attending AA and I already had my blog at that time and I was already not anonymous. The whole mission behind my blog is to share my story with the world and for people to know there is a way to live a fun, sober, and healthy life. I feel like I have to identify when I am referring to AA and when I'm not, because I have tried other paths to recovery and sobriety and people need to know what works for me and what doesn't.

I have to be honest, rules and authority have never been my strong suit. When I do something, I give it my all. I am open, honest, and truthful and I won't lie about which programs I've tried and haven't tried. I refuse to be secretive. I spent the last many years of my life, lying to myself, trying to convince myself I wasn't an alcoholic, and suffering in silence. Now, I make it my life's work to live my truth and encourage others to do the same. You aren't truly free until you're able to live your truth with no strings attached.

When doing research on anonymity, I came across a wonderful article on The Fix that tells a lot about Bill Wilson and his struggle with anonymity. Even the infamous Bill W. outed himself when raising money for the National Council for Drug and Alcohol Dependency and again every time he entered hospitals looking for new patients for AA.

For an organization that doesn't want to be called a cult, AA sure seems like a secret society with a lot of rules. I've been to many AA meetings now and I know that the steps and guidelines of AA are merely suggestions, not rules, despite a plethora of internet trolls believing and feeling the need to tell me otherwise. I won't be shamed or scared into believing that because I'm not anonymous and I share what I've learned in AA, that the organization will somehow cease to exist, or if I ever relapse, people will think it's an excuse to blame the program. That's crazy talk and the latter is a dangerous addiction rumor to spread. So far, the opposite has been true. People message me every day, telling me that I have played a role in saving their lives.

As usual I will forge my own path. Despite these negative comments I've received from AA internet trolls, I will not base my views of the organization on these comments alone. They can't take away the love, acceptance, fellowship and tools AA has given me. Based on what I have learned in the fellowship, I know their behavior is not in line with the principles AA teaches on how to live your life. 23 million Americans suffer from addiction and only about 10% of them receive the help they need. 10%! Many people are too scared to attend AA, or misunderstand it, because those in AA don't speak out about what goes on there, how treatment works, or what happens when someone recovers in AA.

Those in recovery, I encourage you to spread the message of hope, strength, and love in hopes of changing a life today instead of worrying about an out of date tradition. I'll continue on my path of telling the world what worked for me and if I can inspire only one other person, it will have all been worth it.