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.

What does AA really say?

Since it gets lost in translation, here's
some info on what AA really says about the FOUNDATION of their
organization; Anonymity, as it is manifest
through the 12 Traditions.

The dictionary defines 'anonymous' as
1 : not named or identified
2 : of unknown authorship or origin
3 : lacking individuality, distinction, or recognizability

(Anonymity is that quality of being anonymous.)
Anonymity truly is at the core of the program.
There was a time I could not comprehend
the profoundness of that statement, but today
it's as clear as a bell.

Here's a quick overview of how anonymity reverberates through
all of the 12 Traditions!
 1.) Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery
depends upon A.A.

    *"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." The only way for
the adage to be true is if there are not too many squeaky wheels
drawing attention. We are not the military; we do not have 'acceptable
losses'. We are a spiritual program; so long as one suffers, we all
suffer. We make decisions for the good of all, not simply the majority
who speak loudest.
2.) For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority--
a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
     *Egotism has become a way of life in AA and questioned little in
some circles. There needs to be rotating leadership. Leadership is
based on being of service, not getting a spotlight. Motives and intentions
need to be constantly kept in check. It is the good of the individual,
not the promotion of a personal agenda, that should be at the heart of all
decisions affecting a group or meeting, from the standpoint of chairing or
3.) The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop
     *This is key. We do not have police. We are not to be concerned
about a person's clothing, hygiene, sobriety status, meeting attendance,
race, sexuality, finances, community status, what time they arrive, how
much/little they speak, what they say, or anything else. They are
required only to desire help, which is implied by their attendance.
     No one is required to answer questions, verbalize their affliction, claim
to be an alcoholic, adhere to group notions of 'acceptable wording', or
anything else the AA police feel emboldened to demand. Meetings are
open to all people in need at all times. No exceptions. It is also not a
group's place to determine that an individual is unwelcome due to
'outside issues.' People with handicaps, mental illnesses, and emotional
problems are welcome; accepting them is the job of the people who
take issue with their presence.

4.) Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting
other groups or A.A. as a whole.
     *This is tricky. Some interpret this to mean "We can do as we wish"
and run with it, going directly against certain principles and traditions.
Who decides what 'AA as a whole' is? If you run a group that promotes
a religious overtone (against AA principles), you are autonomous.
But if one member feels uncomfortable in said environment and their
sobriety is affected, that person is very much the whole of AA. In a
situation like this, whose needs win out? The dictate of the original intent
of AA, that our responsibility is to provide service any time, any where,
wins out over particular group dynamics.
5.) Each group has but one primary purpose-to carry its message
to the alcoholic who still suffers.
      *Period. No arguments. All the in-fighting, debates, power struggles,
policy woes, confusion about traditions and purpose, petty grievances,
personality quirks, gossip, character assassination, and other rabble-rousing
that go on is drama not sanctioned nor in the spirit of AA; this is a
SERVICE organization. Service to others, and self.
      There is a balance to be held between anonymity and a demand of
homogenized group think. We do not exist to tell people how to think
or give advice; despite members getting into this habit, that is not the
purpose of the organization. Using a specific prayer or specific HP
reference dilutes the inclusiveness of the message, and goes against the
intentionally inclusive verbiage of the Big Book. Generalities aid and
relate anonymity. 
Specific religious views distort compatibility.
6.) 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.
     *Mixed messages, diverted energies, confusing loyalties, politics,
and personalities all lead to disaster. We do have but one purpose;
helping the still suffering alcoholic both in and out of the rooms. All
else is bluster and illusion. There have been many unnecessary
enhancements regarding AA's function made by the self-serving
among us. We are all still sick people, no matter the amount of
recovery time. The most sober member in a room is whomever
woke up earliest this morning.
7.) Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining
outside contributions.
     *Anyone who has lived long enough knows that you can't get
something for nothing, and every gift has a string attached. Washington
lobbyists are a good example that when you receive money from someone,
 they have a vested interest in receiving a return. So long as we steer
clear of being public or funded, our anonymity allows us freedom.
8.) Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional,
but our service centers may employ special workers.
      *Because AA has a relaxed format and never tells members how
or what to think, there are no professionals utilized since they would
maintain a different standard and point of view. Autonomy and anonymity
prevent conflicting messages and sources of information.
9.) A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create
service boards or committee directly responsible to those they serve.
     *Notice that the committee is not a higher entity; there is no hierarchy
within the group. The ultimate determining factor for group decisions is
that of the members of the group. That means all the members of the group,
and the alcoholics who have yet to come in the door. Leadership is a
privilege, not a right. There is indeed a sacred trust involved.
We do not know for a certainty what is 'right' for someone else; if we
begin to imagine otherwise, then the sickness is upon us.

10.) Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues;
hence the A.A. name  ought never be drawn into public controversy.
     *We do not attach judgments to external matters so that the issue of
recovery is not clouded.  When we declare our politics, our religion, our
prejudices in or out of the group, we become ego-based and develop a
non-recovery identity. Conflict causes us to lose the camaraderie that
anonymity provides. Foul language, discussing exclusive invitations in
front of other members, racist and defamatory language, and even bragging
excessively are all means by which we bring in non-program matters and
splinter the morale of the group.

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 films.
     *When the message of AA gets wrapped up in the life, identity and
personality of particular persons, then the message becomes about the
individual and their specific story.  The focus is removed from AA, the
12 Steps, and recovery. If a particular person is identified as being
'representative' of AA, then anyone that finds said person unappealing
will have an idea that AA is not for them. By detaching from our personal
 interests, we maintain anonymity and uphold a more attractive generalized

12.) Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions,
ever reminding us to  place principles before personalities.
       * Only when we remove ego from the equation can the influence

and importance  of the basic spirit of AA shine. If we are pushing our
personal story or our take on AA, we are losing track of the group's
purpose; to help people find their own way, which may not mirror
our own. Do we believe that a Higher Power is whatever source
someone needs it to be, or do we casually insult another person's

Do we allow  people their opinions, or do we show disgust when

they share? Do we use restraint and tolerance to suppress our personal
thoughts on people, or do we make a show of our grandness by
'sharing' in such a way to show our discontent and  contempt? 
Do we find that we want to have the last word?  

Anonymity is significant because it is the ultimate recognition that
self-involvement kills. It used to be that self-centeredness led to

our demise. Now, we are in a situation where self-involvement
(refusing to see the value of different  perspectives) can kill
others. Words wound, and we have an awesome responsibility
before us.

Pragmatism Vs. Faith

The faith thing is what leaves me cold. Basically, it says
"I'm here. Whatever happens, happens... and then I'll apply
some assumed meaning to it to suit my ego or self-hate,
depending on whether it's a Blessing or a Curse."

I need facts. I need legitimate, grounded stuff I can look
to...not just "Fall back and trust you'll be caught"
like I've been told so many times. Damn--I need help
learning how to talk to humans. I need to know how to
find a job. I need to know how to fix a flat tire. I don't
need to learn to be a wallflower and leave things to chance!

You know what happens when you 'cease fighting'?
You give up on life. You get run over by everyone and
everything. You accept victim-hood and allow mediocrity.
I don't believe in fairy tales; I have to grow up.

The ability to fix self is within me, when my crazy thinking gets put
aside long enough to recognize it. Like all religions, AA proper
can't work unless it makes you dependent on it; so how else
can they do that unless they tell you that:

1) You can't do it without our take on things
2) You're forever in need of coming back
3) You're a worthless schlep who needs to be humbled and
told to think like the rest of us.

Too harsh, for some, I'm sure. Don't misunderstand; I love
some people in the program for what they  has done for me,

but it has been a
battle to separate "What I like" from "The Rest" ...But I will
always be grateful to the program, the principles, and the
people for the portion of fellowship that was provided.

I'm also grateful for the invaluable lesson of having acceptance

and love withheld when I refused to follow the dictates of the 
group, allowing me insight into the universal truth of mob rule.
 People love you when it is convenient and you have something 
to offer them. When you cease reflecting the appropriate idea
or image back at them, when you make them uncomfortable, 
you get the boot. 

We're all on our own. I really needed that driven home in order 
to strike out on my own and become a stronger person.
NOT powerless. I CHOSE to be powerless.
I am

What IS a 'Higher Power' anyway?

A Higher Power...what is it anyway?
And why does it have to be referred to as 'god'
when that word has such negative connotations for
so many?
It is not--nor does it HAVE to be --named 'God.'

(In fact, just as a reminder, one need not subscribe
to the 12 Steps in any capacity in order to attend
the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. That pre-
sumptuous, misinformed position is but one of many
bastardizations of the true traditions of the group.)

Interconnectedness of all things in the Universe; people,
plants, the world......being connected and feeling deep within
a sense of that energy.

There is energy in the world, and we are all--I believe--
supposed to be
connected to it!

When we are not...through isolation, hate, negativity,

self-abuse, violence, etc...we feel the depth of our despair.

I don't know if alcoholism comes first and then the

frustration....or if we are first frustrated and then turn
to alcohol for 'support' or escape. I think it can be either;
doesn't really matter in the scheme of things.

But I feel that whether we call the Force that is

existing--that we all comprise--by any name, it is the
same concept. Human capability, the Universe, collective
consciousness, god, the Great Spirit, Buddha, God, Shiva,
 intellect, souls, Love...whatever you want to call it, it is
in essence all the same thing. What matters a name?

To assume a place in the world as 'less than' is to
curse one's self. To assume and accept and promote
an outlook of guilt and shame is to further the every
hurts that led most of us to take up drinking in the
first place.

I know of no one who was well-adjusted and decided
to start 'drinking to excess' out of boredom. Every
drunk I have ever known was a deeply conflicted
person with pain they wanted to subside.

How can constant reminders of being a 'failure' and 'not
measuring up' improve that fatalistic self-view if the only
reason we are deemed 'worthwhile' is by an outside
paternalistic force we can't control?

Seems the same as embodying alcohol with the ability
to control us; always an external power running our lives.
No personal responsibility.

Thinking About A Drink?

Hang in there.

People lose their jobs, and they need not drink.
People get bad news regarding health, and they need not drink.
People lose their houses in fires, and they need not drink.
People lose children and spouses and parents, and need not drink.

I am not saying this to make light of legitimate concerns and fears;
they are yours and they are valid. You alone can appreciate the
depth of your own feelings. But at the end of the day, after you have
expressed them and felt them and seen what there is to see.....
the decision is truly simple. Is a drink going to help anything?
Will it change anything?

Of course not, so we take the bitter pill and we move to accepting it.

My reason for believing differently in a HP is that I don't believe
in prayer as a "get what you ask for" sort of deal. I find it offensive
that people think that life's events are judgment based;"good things
happen when you're good, bad things happen when you're bad."
"Some of us are 'chosen' and others are not as blessed."
"Well being is dependent on random mercy and grace."

This is life; Shit happens. It's how you react to it where principles
and character come into play!

And yes, making good choices now can have a huge impact on what
kind of life you continue to have; EVEN in a 'worst case' scenario.

We are not promised anything in this world; all that we have here
is gravy. We can get dependent on a lack of misfortune, so that
when it does occur we look at it as a 'bad' thing, but that is simply
a part of this journey. Worry produces nothing good. Regret, anger,
despair all cause a life that COULD be lived fully and happily to be
watered down.

We cannot be a victim of circumstance, no matter what the
circumstance is. Happiness is CHOICE, not chance.......
and we can be miserable millionaires or positive paupers; we hold
the power in our heads and hearts......

And it's work. Hard, long work in progress. Don't let the bullshit people
spread about how 'wonderful their lives are' fool you. Don't let the smiles
and kissy-poo make you feel left out. We're all on the shit-treadmill and
we're all struggling to keep afloat. You are not alone.

I wish you strength, love, courage, and serenity in the days to come.

You are not alone.

A Plea to Active Members of 12 Step groups

Please stop giving out phone numbers and telling people
you are available to them when you don't answer your
phone, return calls, or go through moods where you pick
and choose who you feel like talking to.

Please stop promoting your chosen way of life as the only
way, and trying to convince others that alternate methods
are dangerous or unproductive or delusional.

Please stop telling people to hide and suppress their
sexual orientation in meetings. One's identity is none
of your business, and your discomfort with it has no
place in the rooms (or advice related to the rooms.)

Please stop giving medical advice and psychological
advice, even if you should happen to be a trained
physician or psychologist. You are not equipped to
determine whether or not meds are required for
someone, or what they may legitimately suffer from.

Please don't make grandiose promises or generalized
hyperbolic exaggerations about the merits of the program.
These are in fact the very things that cause people
to become so disillusioned and hurt by the meetings,
the program, and the people.

Please don't 'drop' people when you decide they
aren't going to think like you. A dissident opinion is
still attached to a real and valid human being, even if
you refuse to see it. When you offer the moon--and
all your precious time--to someone when you think
you can sway them, and act as though they have the
plague when you discover otherwise, it hurts.

Review your intentions for what you're doing, please.