A journey to embrace, explore, and honor the Freedom and Power inherent in active recovery.

No more shame...

No more shackles....

No more secrets.

The path--and the Power--are within. Be Free.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What Does 'Anonymity' Really Mean, Anyway?

WHAT DOES 'ANONYMITY' REALLY MEAN, ANYWAY?**********************************************

11.) Our public relations policy is based on attraction 

rather than promotion; we need always maintain 
personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and 
12.) Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our 

Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
What is the significance of the 11th and 12th traditions? 

How are they related?

world outside the rooms. It relates to how we talk to one another, and not sharing each others' personal
information even within the 'safety' of the AA circle.

With the autonomous nature of the individual groups, 

it can be easy for differing focuses to get diverted
from the main focus. In time, it's possible to forget

that there are parameters, standards, and principles
we must be guided by.

Here in the South, some cultural norms (like getting
 into a stranger's business, talking about people
behind their back, or asking a newcomer intimate
details,) are all taken for granted as part of local
custom. They are, however, very non-AA 
in nature, and detrimental to group cohesiveness.

I have watched AA members in a very public place 

talk endlessly about the personal business of people not
present. They speak loudly and with abandon in mixed 

company about "This person's struggle to stay sober" 
and "That  person's slips and trials" in a public place.

This is problematic on several levels. First off, we are 
not to be discussing anyone outside the meeting in 
any fashion-- not even as casual gossip because we're 
amongst mutual friends, and not even with that person's 
'interest' at heart. This is gossip, pure and simple, and 
it goes against the tradition of anonymity.

Secondly, while we may feel we have a right to decide
how public  we are with AA, we do not live in a vacuum.
We are seen in the presence of others and we are a
reflection of them, particularly in small towns where
everyone knows everyone.

But even in a large town, lack of anonymity can destroy 

with a 'simple' discussion. I knew someone in Tampa who 
talked about a member's business in public and was 
overheard by family members of that person; they pieced 
it together through the detailed accounting of circumstance. 
It got back to the member!

doesn't matter if the person you're speaking with 
is normally at the meetings, anyway.
It doesn't matter if you 'think' no one can overhear.
It doesn't matter if you assume everyone knows anyway.
Anonymity serves a purpose.

Even casual, conversational sharing can cross the line. 

I have been as guilty as anyone of telling the personal 
updates of one member to another member. I can 
justify all day long saying that the person I'm speaking 
to is trustworthy and they're 'only' one person, but if 
a principle is sound then it must be applied universally.

This is an area where I must improve. If a member has 
a private conversation with me, it is the same as a 
meeting. That information should be treated as 'privileged 
and confidential', and should go no further. The contents 
of a meeting are to stay in the meeting, not to be critiqued 
outside the door.

condemning way that builds acrimony among members.

There has begun a thuggish movement in AA where
cliques decide what behavior is 'strange' or
'unwelcome.' All are welcome at AA as long as they have a desire to stop drinking.
From the long form of the 12 Traditions;

11.) Our relations with the general public should be 

characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A.
ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names 

and pictures as A.A. members ought not be
broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public 

relations should be guided by the principle of attraction
rather than promotion. There is never need to praise 
ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.


I have heard people in the rooms speak at length about 
old members or those who have who have 'gone back 
out.' They reveal to newcomers the full names, 
descriptions, personal stories, and place of business of 
said former (or present) members! "Oh, do you know 
so-and-so (full name inserted)? She comes to our group!" 
This is insanity!

Perhaps you don't engage in these behaviors, but you 

remain silently complicit.
When such discussions take place, it is within our ability 

to move away, to change the topic of conversation, 
or to directly confront another member. We can simply 
state "I don't wish to discuss someone who isn't here" 
or "I don't think that kind of talk is good for the rooms." 
We all bear responsibility.

Actions such as asking a member what church they 

attend, where they work, what Step they are on, who
their sponsor is, or if they believe in God are all out-

landishly unacceptable broaches of protocol. There 
has come to be an emphasis on like-minded thinking 
in the rooms, and that is not the purpose of AA.

There is only one thing members need to have in
common; a desire to stop drinking. It is unnecessary that
we agree on anything else, including a method of recovery, 
type of Higher Power, a belief in a Higher Power,
or even an adherence to the 12 Step suggested model.

There are many applications of anonymity; facebook 

correspondence, how we address members in public
settings, photography at meetings and events, and 

more. We must ever be mindful that our path may not
be the same as others', and our personal needs do not 

dictate how AA is run. We must respect anonymity!

Our primary goal is to help other alcoholics, anytime, 
anywhere.  Anything that dilutes this message, or makes 
us less capable of delivering it with equal enthusiasm, is 
bad for AA.
Personally, I have come to feel that AA members should 

not associate on facebook, at least not if openly
acknowledging group involvement. If they want to send 

personal e-mails with specific people they are more than 
capable. Social networks become a cheer-leading grounds 
for AA, where anonymity is easily overlooked when the 
impact of a simple post's ramifications are not considered.

We all share far more differences than similarities; it is an 
unfortunate aspect of human nature that we are more 
likely to  compare and contrast than to relate. The more 
enmeshed we become in one another's detailed personal
lives, the less likely cohesion becomes.
There is a standard of responsibility that needs to be 

maintained, and it is not limited to actions in the rooms.

I had an incident earlier this year--I e-mailed a member 
about a personal situation, and within an hour my private 
business had swelled up into a text-messaging firestorm 
and escalated into a public local AA controversy. We 
must govern ourselves with dignity and mutual respect, 
regardless of the forum. Basic communication skills and 
directness can avoid a great deal of the sophomoric 

From the long form of the 12 Traditions

"12.) 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."

Despite practices to the contrary, AA is not a social club. 

It is not an extension of high school where cliques should 
flourish at the expense of inclusiveness, nor a chance to 
outshine one another for popularity and who can be the 
'best at' AA. It's also not the place to try and trump one 
another in a loud and overbearing promotion of personal 
religion. It's time for some ego checks.

the integrity and future of the program depend on and demand it. Individuals depend on it. We
have become careless in allowing personalities to dictate 

actions in the rooms; the standard of how to behave is not
 in question.

Each time we speak of another 
person's personal despair and desperation out of turn, we 
are making decisions that can affect the safety, serenity, 
sanity, and sobriety or another human being. We are 
choosing to play God, and risking lives.

"What you see here, what is said here,

when you leave here, let it stay here."

This is not just a meaningless catchy slogan.
It is a meaningful declaration to protect the
privacy and well-being of our members.      
AA's welfare is pervasive in the traditions, and each is 

interrelated. All traditions uphold the necessity of anonymity;
When old timers tell newcomers to "take the cotton out of 

their ears and stick it in their mouths", it is a dangerous 
game of chance. How does intolerance and bullying relate 
to recovery? Newcomers may have a desperate need to 
speak, to voice their pain and troubles. There is no 
'acceptable' mode of sharing in a meeting; the meeting 
exists to serve the needs of the members. Humiliating 
and berating people publicly to seem tough is not conducive 
to recovery. Acting ignorantly because "That's how I was 
done when I came in" is even less of an excuse. Everyone 
has a place at the table. Silencing the voice of a suffering 
alcoholic is no one's place.
Also, when we mix AA with social networking, we expose 

ourselves to the outside issues of 'personalities' that are 
intentionally kept out of meetings. ("We share in a  
general way...") Too much personal information clouds 
the issue of acceptance of one another. Some issues like 
politics, religion, sex lives, and more are hot button issues.
What if an alcoholic who wishes to attend meetings 

chooses not to do so because he hears current
members discussing another member's personal 

business in public, being very glib and open about 
their AA involvement? Of course they would rightfully 
fear that their privacy would not be protected.
We cannot overlook the inappropriateness of these 

actions simply because we have become accustomed to things being done this way.
Some practices are not just a direct conflict to 

anonymity, they are bad manners in any circumstance.
We don't philosophize about a member's viewpoint. 

Your opinion of a speaker's merits or a chairperson's
job has no business being bandied about like school 

girls tearing apart a new classmate. Waiting until you
get home to e-mail, phone, or text your negative 

remarks does not make it better or less defective 
because it is secretive. STOP gossiping; it is under-
mining the integrity and morale of our fellowships.

Who did or didn't attend a meeting, what was said, 

who's been drinking; none of that information is
anyone's business. The exception to this is if something 

that a fellow member has done or said is affecting
your sobriety. Then it is appropriate to speak to them

directly, or take the matter to a sponsor or key person 
to address it and seek help. Bad-mouthing another 
member is not the answer.

If you would speak so disparagingly about one person, 

why would someone else trust you to not do the same 
to them? Issues with a member are a chance to grow 
they need to be addressed in private, not in a
The issue is not cautiousness; it is strictly adhering 

to the traditions. Just as we must not drink, no matter
what, we must adhere to the hard-fought and hard-won 

traditions and principles, no matter what. We are not 
gods; we do not always understand the purpose and 
intricacies of all the standards of the program. But
there are reasons for them, and there are lives at stake.

It doesn't matter if 'only' first names are used. It
It gets easy to become relaxed about the importance 

and strengths of our traditions.
We can become distracted by the social element of 

being involved in the camaraderie of the fellowship. 
But there are several areas where members have 
become dangerously lax in their handling of the 11th 
and 12th traditions.

Anonymity does not simply refer to keeping safe the 

identity of ourselves and our fellows when in the
"Principles before personalities" is crucial; we must not let 

our dislike or lack of understanding of a member influence either their sobriety or ours. We put differences to the side.
But this also means putting aside seemingly harmless 

matters of personality, like casual 'good-natured' gossiping 
about other members. They can be just as harmful as a slur 
or a personal attack.

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