It’s not a secret that I am in no way anonymous about my addiction, my recovery, and the programs and techniques that have helped me stay sober for the last 2.5 years. I spent a small amount of time “anonymous” in my first few months sober because I was ashamed, embarrassed, lost, and thought the need to be sober shouldn’t be shared because it was my fault and my weakness. Slowly, at about 7 and 8 months sober I made a few social media posts that eluded to the fact that I had gone an extended period of time without alcohol. These posts made no mention of addiction, alcoholism, or a program of any kind. At that point in my recovery I knew nothing about the rules of anonymity and the 12 steps. I didn’t walk into the rooms until I was 1.5 years sober. At that point, I had already outed myself on my blog about being sober and quitting alcohol.
My one year without alcohol post went completely viral and so, there was no turning back on the anonymity front. When I became a member of a 12 step fellowship I was disappointed to find out that there were rules about disclosing the fact that you are a member. There’s no arguing that these traditions run deep, but I don’t think they all necessarily make sense. To me it’s a little silly in some respects and there are certain reasons I’ve heard people in the rooms give for anonymity that make no sense at all. Here are a few.
1. “Someone might see me as a member and use that as a reason to not walk through the doors of AA.”
I always think this means someone who hates me will see that I am a member and say, “Oh hell no, if Kelly goes to AA I’m not going!” This way of thinking is just ridiculous. I guess this phrase also means that if you exhibit yourself as a member of the fellowship and act a fool, it will drive people away or encourage them not to try AA. The true irony is there are millions of sick and suffering alcoholics currently in active addiction who either know nothing about 12 step programs, don’t understand how to get to or access a meeting, or don’t think it’s for them, and I believe this has a lot to do with anonymity. Using this excuse to make the program unavailable, it doesn’t make it easier for people to walk in.
2. “If I relapse and people know I’m a member of AA, they will say the program doesn’t work.”
What? No really, what? AA has been in existence since 1935 when Bill and Bob had their first unofficial meeting in Akron, Ohio. Since then, it has grown in leaps and bounds and last year had a global conference in Atlanta that had over 60,000 people in attendance. There is absolutely no doubt that the 12 step fellowship helps people get and stay sober every day. It’s even the go-to recovery path for addiction treatment centers across the U.S. If you relapse and people find out you were in AA, no one is going to say the program doesn’t work. Additionally, this thought process is giving relapse a bad name. No one should be shamed for relapsing. It is a part of the disease of addiction.
3. “Anonymity protects myself from my ego.”
A big part of the philosophy of AA includes deflation of the ego, which is believed to be part of the cure for addictive behaviors. When the ego-based sense of self is cleared out, self-forgiveness and evolution can begin. It’s often heard in the rooms that in order to get well you must dismantle your previous identification with your ego. I agree that alcoholism is a disease of self-centeredness, but I’m not sure where anonymity comes into play here. I’ve heard and read that anonymity is somehow supposed to protect us from our ego. I think they mean being anonymous keeps you from having an inflated sense or self. To me, any person can have an inflated ego, alcoholic or not. I’m not sure how someone bragging about being in AA, or even just speaking about it in general terms, deflates their ego. Yes, the steps and the program can help with deflating the ego, but remaining anonymous isn’t a qualification for a deflated ego.
4. “In order to practice genuine humility I must be anonymous.”
This one really grinds my gears. Being humble and being anonymous are not mutually exclusive. You can practice genuine humility and not be anonymous. You can also be anonymous and not be humble at all. I’ve learned a lot about humility in my recovery and especially in the 12 step fellowship. I just think it’s absolutely insane to suggest that one cannot be humble unless anonymous. It’s completely false and suggests that those who are not anonymous (me) can’t practice the genuine humility we’ve grown to know and love. It suggests that because we’ve chose to be public about our struggles with addiction and possibly our membership, we automatically believe we’re better than others, once again this is a false claim.
5. “This is a program of attraction rather than promotion.”
What a shame. If you ask me, AA should be a program of promotion because alcoholism is killing people every day and some unfortunate people will never get the help they need because they have no clue AA even exists. Even if they do, they probably don’t know where to go or what to expect (I didn’t and it stopped me from going for a long time.) What about the people that bend the rules? They talk about recovery and sobriety, but never mention 12 step membership, or they call it 12 step instead of AA. This is silly! I should know, I do it. Come on. We change the words around a little and it’s ok? It also boils down to what you believe promotion is. I didn’t share about my sobriety until I was one year sober and after seeing the huge impact (emails, messages, website traffic, tweets, etc.) I made by just sharing my feelings, I began to understand the dire necessity this world has for recovery. Just being honest and sharing your story and how you got where you did can literally save lives.
If AA and their evangelists spent as much time extending their hand to help, accepting everyone with love, regardless of their anonymity, and even promoting (gasp!) the wonderful way of life they’ve found and love so dearly, instead of criticizing those of us who choose to speak out, we would be able to help millions more who feel they have no way out of this crippling disease.