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Understanding and Overcoming Anonymity in Addiction Recovery

Understanding and Overcoming Anonymity in Addiction Recovery

May 14, 2014
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Anonymous (adj.)
– (of a person) not identified by name; of unknown name
– Having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features, unremarkable or impersonal

Anonymity (noun)
The condition of being anonymous
– Lack of outstanding, individual, or unusual features; impersonality

Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition 12

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities” (Short form)

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. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.” (Long form)

Somewhere along the line, from the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous on June 10, 1935 to today, the principle of anonymity has become confused, convoluted and has started to become a disservice to both people in recovery from addiction, the recovery community as a whole, and any person and their loved ones seeking help from drug or alcohol addiction.

It seems that when most people in recovery talk about “anonymity” they are referring to the Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous definition of anonymity, how those Twelve Step fellowships define the spiritual principle of anonymity. And it seems because of this, most people in recovery take the stance that “I can’t talk about my recovery” or that recovery shouldn’t be spoken about at all.

Whether it’s due to misinformation, ignorance or poor direction from sponsors and group members within Twelve Step fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, the principle of anonymity has become like a blanket thrown over everything that anyone that is in recovery does, shrouding their recovery from prying eyes or interested parties. Perhaps many people in recovery still feel shame and guilt surrounding their addictions, perhaps they feel they will be judged or persecuted due to their identification as an “addict”, an “alcoholic” or a “person in recovery”.

This is unfortunate and this horrendous misinterpretation of what anonymity is has furthered the stigma associated with addiction and made it more difficult for people and families still suffering to find the help that they desperately need. Fortunately there are organizations such as Young People in Recovery (www.youngpeopleinrecovery.org) and Shatterproof (www.shatterproof.org) as well as well-known celebrities like Matthew Perry, athletes like Chris Herren and politicians like new Boston Mayor Marty Walsh that are standing on the frontlines and speaking out about their own recovery from addiction. This action is aiding in breaking the stigma associated with what it is to be an addict as well as an addict in recovery. Another great platform is the recent movie “The Anonymous People”, a documentary film about the “over 23 million Americans living in recovery from addiction” (www.manyfaces1voice.org)

However, for the everyday person that may be living in recovery in the rooms of one of the many 12 Step fellowships, please understand what the Traditions of your respective fellowship is saying related to anonymity. First, this principle is dealing with a personal connection to AA or NA or any of the fellowships. It is saying that no one should identify AS A MEMBER OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS OR ANY OTHER FELLOWSHIP AT THE LEVEL OF PRESS, RADIO OR FILMS (Tradition 11). It says nothing about hiding personal recovery on other levels, such as personal interactions. Also, this is ONLY speaking about at the level of press, radio and films. Therefore, speaking out about one’s personal recovery but leaving out a personal affiliation with a particular 12 Step fellowship at the level or press, radio and film is absolutely acceptable related to the Twelve Traditions of any fellowship.

Additionally, the spiritual principle of anonymity within the fellowships is dealing with the principle of humility. The purpose of anonymity is that so no one member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or any other Twelve Step fellowship feels the need through ego to go out to the world and shout through the media about how well they are doing and that everyone needs to recognize how great AA or NA is and how much good it does for people. This principle of anonymity is designed so that the addict or alcoholic offers their ego to the Fellowship, saying that “I am part of the whole”, so that no one person or people can affect AA or NA as a whole. It demonstrates that AA and NA were doing fine before any one particular person got there and that AA and NA do not need to be spoken for by any one person. This goes along with the spiritual principle of trust, in that no one would break another’s anonymity. The truth is, let’s say after many years of a horrific addiction where many people were hurt by his actions, John Smith joins Narcotics Anonymous and gets clean and sober. All of a sudden at a couple months sober, John Smith’s ego returns and he wants to tell everyone how well he is doing, going on local television and doing interviews to promote he’s a member of Narcotics Anonymous and that NA helped him to overcome his addiction. His motives are pure: He wants to let everyone know how great NA is and how well it helped him. However, as many seem to do, John Smith after a little bit of time fails to live by the spiritual principles that NA outlines in the Twelve Steps and eventually relapses, stealing from his parents, killing a person in a drunk driving accident and eventually going to jail. People that saw John Smith’s interviews on TV or in the paper will say to themselves “Oh, so everything John Smith said about Narcotics Anonymous was a lie, NA doesn’t work and this is all bullshit. I knew all these drug addicts were no good.” John Smith’s breaking the spiritual principle of anonymity, and aligning himself as a self-proclaimed spokesperson in the media for NA would cause harm to both Narcotics Anonymous as well as anyone that heard what he said in the press. The inevitable outcome is that, although needing help for an addiction, most people having heard or seen John Smith talk about being a member of NA would then never go to NA because what they believe NA to be based on John Smith. Breaking the spiritual principle of anonymity can cause harm to many people in a chain reaction of events just like this.

However, the spiritual principle of anonymity is ONLY WHEN DISCUSSING A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH A TWELVE STEP FELLOWSHIP. As for personal recovery, hiding in the shadows and being ashamed to admit personal recovery from addiction not only is unhealthy related to someone’s personal recovery but also does nothing to help those still suffering. Dr. Bob Smith, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous spoke about keeping personal recovery to oneself and the harm it can do in aiding others to recovery: “The AA who hides his identity from his fellow AA by using only a given name violates the Tradition just as much as the AA who permits his name to appear in the press in connection with matters pertaining to AA.” What does this mean? That hiding personal recovery can be just as bad as proclaiming to the national media about one’s affiliation with AA.

Movements like YPR and Shatterproof and The Anonymous People documentary are changing the landscape of recovery. According to the film, 23 million Americans live in recovery from addiction. This does not mean hiding out in church basements, whispering about recovery. This does not mean feeling ashamed about telling people who are not in recovery about our own personal recovery. Doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, actors, musicians, business owners, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, employers and employees, old, young, black, white, straight, gay, old and young. There are people in recovery in all walks of life, in all socioeconomic classes, in all races, colors and religions. If these people do not speak out about their own personal recovery, how will anyone still suffering know that recovery is possible?

It is the personal responsibility of those of us in recovery from addiction to talk about that recovery, to act as hope for those who believe they are hopeless, to shine a light on what recovery looks like for those people that don’t know. To influence communities and politics and social change because many people still believe that an addict is a homeless person living under a bridge and that recovery means standing in a methadone clinic. Or they believe that recovery rarely happens. There are reported 23 million people in America that offer a different story, a better story and that story should be told to those who don’t know. That story should be told to those that need to know because without hearing it, they may never find the recovery they seek.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug and alcohol addiction and needs treatment please call us for help. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive addiction treatment in the area. If we aren’t the best fit, we will work with you to find a treatment center that fits your needs. Please call us at (410) 773-0500 or email info@marylandaddictionrecovery.com. For more information on all of our alcohol and addiction treatment services and resources, please visit the web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.