On Anonymity

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in recovery. Or you might be among the very small handful of friends who read my personal blog and follow this one as well. I decided to keep them separate because the longer I’ve been in recovery, the more I keep hearing the word anonymity and feeling vaguely troubled by it.

Last week I attended a meeting focused on Tradition 12.

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

A newcomer said he hadn’t known what the word anonymity meant until he’d heard enough to put it into context. We all passed around The Twelve Steps and Traditions and read a paragraph or two out loud on Tradition 12 . I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time paying attention to anything read out loud from a book. When combined with the mounting anxiety of seeing that book inch closer and closer to my turn to read out loud, I pretty much tuned it all out. Still, I’m certain the book didn’t mention the subject I was interested since Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the Internet in 1952.

Am I allowed to say any of these things here? Should I mention I was at a meeting? Can I paraphrase what others say at meetings as long as I don’t mention names or locations? Should I still be making bad Al Gore jokes?

I honestly don’t know! I listened keenly at the meeting and didn’t share at all for fear of what might come out of my mouth. I don’t talk about blogging at meetings for fear of how it could be misinterpreted. I certainly don’t do this for fame or fortune. I write here because it feels good to share my experiences and connect with others. I read recovery blogs because I learn things that help me or make me think Wow, I know exactly what that feels like. 

Isn’t that why we attend meetings, to feel less alone? Just like The Grapevine is like a meeting in your pocket, recovery blogs feel like  virtual meetings. Because of my responsibilities at home and work, I typically get to two meetings a week. This is not a complaint because it works for me, but I get a lot out of the support I find here. I’m not a phone call kind of person. I’m shy and introverted at meetings. Simply put, blogging is easier. But is it also wrong on some level?

At the meeting last week, no one touched on online anonymity. The meeting chair shared that he doesn’t advertise his membership, like, ever. He said remote family and friends come to him instead, which shows that someone out there knows he’s sober. His point was that he lives by the principle of attraction, not promotion, which Bill and the founders long ago decided would be best. Does blogging somehow betray that?

What are your thoughts on anonymity? If you blog about recovery, do you struggle with what or how much to share? Do other 12-step members know you blog? If so, have you ever been challenged about what you write? Are we somehow posing a threat to a simple organization that continues to save countless lives or am I simply being neurotic, yet again?

I’m sincerely curious how those with more experience handle what feels like a landmine, no matter how good my intentions are.

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15 thoughts on “On Anonymity

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  1. This has been a topic of interest recently in more places than one…

    So I do blog about recovery. I used to be concious about my anonymity on that and have a “handle” that I’m still known by in the blogsphere as a result. However then others things happened and the blog wasn’t totally about recovery – it was never meant to be. I did have two blogs briefly then deleted one have just my blog and talk about my life on it. Now to me I’m not going onto anything by invitation and saying this or that about AA I blog about my life, my life includes AA. Eric Clapton talks about AA a lot in his autobiography, he is in recovery and in the fellowship. Other “celebs” do the same Gary Oldman, Glen Hughes, Ozzy Osbourne (although he doesn’t attend meetings but does have a sponsor and follows a programme of sorts)…

    Here is the rub for me on this… attraction not promotion… okay I get that sort of… “help others to achieve sobriety”… okay but how will others know about AA and that it can work if you don’t say about it? I’m very open about my sobriety – for me it is partly a safety mechanism if people around me know about my old issues then I can’t bullshit if I was ever tempted to pick up a drink around them. Also this is me now this is who I am – if that doesn’t fit with people fine, but I don’t want to go around living a lie – even if it is a lie by omission if you see what I mean.

    That is me and my thoughts on it – I am in recovery, very happy to be so, I am because of the 12step programme and AA I’m happy to tell people that in the hope that by doing so someone may come to the programme and save themselves. I have at least two examples people who now are in recovery because I was open about mine – surely that is a good thing… I do however respect others to feel however they do

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    1. This is how I feel about it too, so I’m very excited to hear your thoughts. Recovery is a big part of my life, and I hope sharing about it might help others. Surely that *is* a good thing. Thanks for weighing in, Graham. Also, I didn’t know Gary Oldman is in recovery. He’s one of my favorite actors. Ozzy is just, well, Ozzy.

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      1. Hi — I was pondering on anonymity still and looked in a pamphlet produced by AA in the UK – there is a USA version at…

        Note the bit that says “In our personal relationships with non-alcoholics – and with those we think might have a problem with alcohol – we may feel free to say that we are recovering alcoholics (without divulging the names of other AA members), although discretion is recommended. Here our openness may help to carry the message”

        I like that… like that a lot… although I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the celebs above… sorry guys

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  2. It takes time time to feel a comfort level with these concepts. Did you ever throw clay? There is a big mound on the wheel. At first it is very uneven and lumpy. The wheel spins and the mound seems so out of control that you think it will fly off the wheel. You sink your hands into the out of balance mound and gradually shape it with the heels of your hands. Eventually it becomes perfectly balanced as it spins quickly on the wheel. The mound is now perfectly round and glides by your hands as you work it with your fingers into a beautiful symetric bowl or plate. Uncomfortable concepts like anonymity, higher power, detachment etc work the same way. After time, work and some gentle friction they become very smooth and balanced.

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    1. I like this analogy for its simplicity and for the hope it gives, even though the most I made on a wheel was a sad-looking ashtray for my parents who did not smoke 😉 Just last night I was talking with another newcomer about how we keep hearing these same concepts that feel abstract in early recovery, but they come from people who were once in our shoes. It clicked in way it never had before. Times does take time afterall.

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  3. I was thinking about this the other day because of the Cheever bio of Wilson — and many folks have lobbed some criticism at her for seeking success with the book, and I wondered about that. However, since I believe in the role of writers in society so much, I have to take “real life” stance on this and side with Cheever. Write to show ourselves ourselves. Write to tell the truth.

    The meeting I was at everyone spoke about how nothing leaves the rooms, and I kinda thought well crap, because I knew I would talk about it. One of the keywords I heard however was “will not engage in gossip” – and I think that’s the difference. When you’re gossiping, you’re talking about someone else. But as long as the focus is on oneself, just as it is in the meetings, I don’t see a problem.

    My other thought is that the Internet and outside books such as Cheever’s allow for questioning and thoughtfulness of the AA material — to work on it only in the rooms, only under the approved terms — walks a dangerous line of dogma and indoctrination. Oh man, am I gonna be banned to the circle of shame for saying that?

    ps – I’m using a different email address you wouldn’t recognize here because of anonymity of all things (the other email makes my gravatar pop up) but I think you can guess the initials

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    1. AA guidelines are just that, so I always wonder about those who get so frustrated when someone questions the traditions. But I totally get their point. The program has worked just fine as is. The right of the group comes before that of the individual. What I’ve also heard more than once is when well-intentioned, self-appointed spokespeople relapse, it reflects poorly on the organization. There’s also talk of anonymity keeping people humble, but honestly I don’t get that part. But I’m not a big shot to begin with.

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  4. Although I respect the idea of anonymity in meetings and expect that rule to be followed if I ever get myself to a meeting…if people like you did not share as much as you do in online forums such as this, I would be lost, clueless. The things that I’ve learned from blogs and the “online forums” that focus on sobriety help me. I know they are not a substitute for face to face interaction of “the rooms” but I glean enough to start asking myself the right questions and if that keeps me from picking up a drink today, then that’s a good thing.

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    1. I love your comment because I feel this way too. The meetings and a local sober support network helps anchor me, but I do find a lot of great information and support online too. I like hearing what works for others…thank you so much for sharing 🙂

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  5. I’m so glad I came by, GREAT discussion you have here… I’ve caught myself getting worried over my blogging life vs my “face-time” life in AA. I was taught that the 12 Steps save us from Alcoholism/Addiction and the 12 Traditions save AA from it’s individual members.

    I don’t share my last name online because to me, it doesn’t matter that folks know my name. I do share that I am in AA because I am confident enough in my program that I know I will always do my best to represent AA honestly and appropriately (and therefore not drive a newcomer away from the program). I don’t tell my local friends about my blog because I have shared details about myself online that I wouldn’t want friends to read. Becuase the internet is anonymous by its nature I feel ok to share some things I might not share in person.

    AA stresses anonymity for several reasons. First of all its a comfort thing. It helps many of us to just be there and not be concerned with who know we’re here. Secondly, there are some people in AA who would stand to lose a lot if people knew of their situation. Thirdly, AA is a program of principles and its not supposed to be about the personalities (er, EGO’s). As alcoholics, we all seem to do better when we focus less upon ourselves, and more upon the principles. I do share my full name at meetings, but I don’t “market myself” outside the rooms.

    Blogging is a HUGE part of my program, along with meetings, prayer and AA friends. Its a mix, a balance. I know that for me, I’d struggle if I never went to a meeting in person. If I stopped blogging recovery entirely, I’d feel that I was missing a key component. Plus, I’ve made some good friends blogging and have even met a couple face to face while traveling. I have drawn much strength from my blogging friends.

    I think its really important for us to check our motives for doing something. So when you ask if its “wrong” to blog recovery, check your motives honestly. You’ll get your answer.

    GREAT questions 🙂

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  6. Thank you for bringing this up. In the program part of recovery at a certain point Is to help people who want help getting clean or sober. Got it. Makes sense. If I had not had friends get so much out of the program I would not have been drawn to it, duh

    Their stories of Old Timers were inspiring, I wanted to be an Old Timer one day. (20 years. Maybe I am an old timer? Still find solace and strength in the twelve steps)

    I think we have to tell some of the stories. That does not mean we give up names. I think I do honor the anonymity clause. I think I do spread the word IF someone is interested.

    Great post. I Love your blog.

    Peace, Jen

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  7. I have just started a recovery blog and got hit by my sponsor because I shared a sentance from someone else’s story that caused me to have a “revelation”. I shared a sentence from someone else’s story, no name, as a frame of context because it made me think of a broader theme. I blogged about it and didn’t feel like I had done wrong. There was no name or specifics, other than what lead me to think about what I had for my post that night, When I say I am new, I am only like 3 weeks into this. There is that initial gut response I still have when my sponsor advises I did something I shouldn’t have, the “I know better” thing and I want to just pass it off. But I also know when I have that reaction I really need to look at what I did. So I went online trying to find something to refer to and I found you guys! I appreciate the discussion and am really not sure if what I did is wrong or not, but thanks for bringing up the topic.

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    1. It’s a grey area and you’ll get different opinions from different people. But I like what you say about looking at your motive. And in the early days especially, a sponsor is such a great guide. I’m glad you found this post and I look forward to following your blog!

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