Anonymity — or not?

Those of us who work in or write about recovery (or both) tread a fairly narrow path when it comes to the issue of anonymity.

On the one hand, most of us want to adhere to the traditions of any fellowships to which we may belong, and anonymity is a basic tenet of most of those.  On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to remain anonymous “at the level of press, radio and film” while doing a conscientious job of telling people what recovery is all about.  How, for example, is one to discuss questions, provide insight and so forth into the 12-Step programs without admitting — at least tacitly — that they are or have been members?  How is one to discuss the benefits of the steps, or sponsorship, or how those programs help the recovery process if they have to pretend that all they know about them is simply hearsay?

The same is true, in a somewhat broader sense, of recovering addicts in general.  When the fire of recovery is burning in your gut, how do you carry the message without admitting — even eulogizing — membership in the very program that is helping you to recover your life?

Then there is the issue of anonymity itself: am I violating the tradition by simply saying I attend a recovery program, or only if I name the specific program?  (Answer “b” is the correct one.)  Do I violate your anonymity by saying I saw you at a meeting, or must I specify what kind of meeting?  There are myriad variations on those themes.

Eventually all recovering people reach their own accommodation with these issues.  My own is to not mention specific programs.  I simply don't believe I can do my job or support other alcoholics and addicts properly without skating that close to the edge.  I've tried, and I was unsuccessful.

Currently, many people in recovery are questioning the wisdom of anonymity in general.  Their positions vary, but many knowledgeable, thoughtful people believe it is no longer really necessary, since addiction (and I include alcoholism whenever I use the word “addiction”) no longer holds the stigma that it did 75 years ago when the first 12-step fellowship was founded.  Others believe that, realistically, very few of us actually have anonymity anyway.  Still others think that AA, NA and the 150-plus other “anonymous” fellowships are shirking their duty to people who have not yet found recovery by not allowing their affiliation and their success to serve as good examples and inspiration.

I have my own opinions on these matters, but I prefer to keep them to myself on this blog.  It is not my intention to attempt to foist my ideas on others — at least not here.  I do, however, recommend this excellent article in the New York Times, which discusses the issues and presents the opinions of prominent recovering people.

If you would like to chime in with comments, please feel free.  And however you feel about this issue…

Keep on keepin' on.