12 Steps

On Anonymity in Recovery

Submitted by Bill: I was at a 12 step meeting a few days ago where one of the participants’ remarks showed that he had no real idea of what anonymity meant, or the reasons for it.  So I thought I’d weigh in with a few ideas on the subject.

I tell people that I have no anonymity; that I drank and drugged publicly and I consider it a privilege to recover publicly.  Despite that, however, I do not advertise my membership in a particular 12-step program.  I often mention attending meetings, in my writing and elsewhere, but not which meetings.  I speak knowledgeably about AA, NA, and other fellowships, but I don't talk about membership.  I have what I believe are good reasons for that, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you.

As I see it, there are two basic reasons for anonymity in a program of recovery: protection of the recovering alcoholic/addict, and protection of the program itself.

First of all, if we wanted to tell people we were members of AA, that would be our business, and ours only, provided that we did it on a personal level.  We might do so when speaking to people one-on-one, or in small groups under conditions where privacy can be presumed, because friendships are enhanced by such honesty under most conditions.  Then, too, that revelation might raise opportunities to bring the 12th Step into play.

Another area where we need to be careful is in speaking to outside groups.  We need to be sure that we're not thought to be speaking for a particular fellowship.  If we set ourselves up as some sort of recovering guru, how is the program going to look if, six months from now, one of those folks sees us passed out behind a dumpster, or in the ER being treated for an overdose?

Could happen.  If you don't think it could, speak to your sponsor.

There are excellent reasons, however, for us not breaking  your anonymity.  You might be hindered in your employment if word got out.  You might be an airline pilot with 20 years clean and sober who had neglected to tell the FAA about her problem — required by law — and lose your livelihood due to our big mouth.  It could simply be an issue that you find embarrassing.  It's no one else's business.  Our business is to keep what we have learned about others in the rooms to ourselves, period.  (Whether or not the airline pilot is behaving ethically in that situation is not the issue; it's our behavior we're discussing — and that is not a hypothetical example.)

The last, and perhaps best, reason that I can think of for sticking with the tradition of anonymity is humility.  It makes me just “another bozo on the bus.”  If I'm going try to be a guru, it's going to have to be on my own merits, not those of the program.  That's good for me and for the program, because my opinions often vary somewhat from more traditional positions.   When they do, I need to take the credit — and the criticism.

Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts about the issue, and I'm only speaking for myself.  Your mileage may vary.

It’s Okay Not To Feel Okay

We addicts are delicate folks. Things that other people shrug off hit us deep in the gut and stay there. Discomforts that other people find annoying are major issues. An off-the-cuff remark becomes a long-term resentment, minor aches and pains a medical catastrophe, and heaven help us if we have real issues to deal with!

We were people who didn't know that it’s okay not to feel okay, and we knew just what to do about it. We chased okay around casinos, crack houses, malls and singles bars, shooting galleries, sleazy hotels and online porn sites, and into and out the other side of all sorts of jackpots. We messed up our lives and those of bystanders (innocent and not-so-innocent), and we finally reached a point that the alcohol, other drugs, sex, shopping, football pools and what have you no longer did it for us. In the end, we were unable to believe that we were okay, even for a few minutes, no matter what we did.

That’s what got us into recovery: the realization, momentary though it may have been, that if we didn’t get clean and sober we had no chance of feeling okay, ever again.

Then we discovered that early recovery is, to a considerable degree, a lot of not feeling okay. We had to deal with the aspects of day to day living without the cushion of alcohol, drugs and other feel-good behavior. Accustomed to easy, quick answers to troubled feelings, and to easy obliteration of them when we couldn’t find the answers, we found ourselves bewildered when things in our lives didn’t get better right away. Personalities used to popping a pill, downing a couple of beers, hitting the slots or the mall or the back streets suddenly had to face real feelings, and life on life’s terms. At one time or another in early recovery, every single one of us thought that sucked.

But if we stuck with our programs of recovery, we got over it. We came to understand that the changes we made in our view of the world and others by our use of artificial ways of coping with feelings had caused, or were the results of, personalities that needed readjustment. It eventually got through our addled senses that we couldn’t expect bodies — especially our brains — that had been changed by the presence of those artificial ways of coping to get back to normal right away, either. It finally occurred to us that the days of buying answers were over, and that we needed to learn how to live a new way of life without covering up emotions artificially. We took suggestions, and we learned to work through the things that we used to use over. Slowly, we learned how to live without using, and to enjoy it.

Those of us who made those changes in our worldview, who learned that it’s a normal part of being a human not to feel okay sometimes, stayed clean. We learned that it's okay not to feel okay.  We found that feeling okay only part of the time worked just fine for us, because gradually the problems that we were trying to solve with drugs, booze and other behavior just seemed to sort of fade away — and that, sometimes, we were just plain happy, often for no particular reason.

The folks who were afraid to do the work…well, we don’t see them around much any more. And every single one of us thinks that sucks.

A Brief Outline Of The 12 Steps — Step 8

This is the eighth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend. There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

Photo (C) Sunrise Detox

The purpose of a recovery program is not to sober us up. That comes first. The purpose of the program is to help us stay clean and sober, and to become functioning members of society again.

In order to do that, we need to clean up what program folks refer to as “the wreckage of the past.” Shame is one of the big causes of relapse, and one of the big causes of shame is the knowledge that we did things that hurt other people. We may have hurt them emotionally, physically, economically, socially, or in combination. We may have done those things on purpose, or without realizing. Maybe we didn’t see our faults at the time, or maybe we just didn’t care — or maybe we simply couldn’t force ourselves to look at them. It is practically impossible to get rid of that feeling of being a bad person with those things hanging over our heads. The drugs helped, and there is great danger that we might seek that escape again.

The most important thing that we need to remember when contemplating Step 8 is that it is only a list. The idea of amends, once so overwhelming, becomes far more manageable when reduced to the size of a sheet or two of paper. And when we take the time to write things down, the unseen becomes seen.

We need to be honest when we make our lists. We don’t say, “Well, I did (whatever), but Joe did (whatever) to me, so I don’t owe him amends. That’s self-serving hogwash. We look at our part in the matter, and write down what we did. We take responsibility for our own actions and words. Joe’s actions and words are Joe’s problem, not ours. This process becomes easier if we remember that it is all we have to do right now. All we have to do is write. We will take action later, but right now is a time for reflection and self-honesty.

REDIR 12 Step Program Bashers (and others) Take Note

 

DigitalZen Photo

I’ve been doing some research into non-12 Step recovery strategies for an article I’m writing. In the process, I’ve run across several sites that seem to be devoted to trashing one or another program.

It seems to me that this is not a good thing. Without getting into the pros and cons of specific recovery paths, I believe it is reasonable to assume that they are working for someone, or else they would not survive. Therefore, with the possible exception of true cults, they are most likely doing some good for some people.

This is how I see it: given the variety of possible ways that recovery, the recovery process, and even what constitutes recovery can be perceived, what right does anyone have to trash a program and reduce the faith of the people it is helping?

What arrogance! How immoral!

I’ve been around recovery for a number of years. I understand the program now. I understand certain things about how it works, and I understand why those for whom it has worked are concerned (not to say superstitious) about making changes. I don’t necessarily agree with some of their points of view, but I understand them.

That was not always the case. Early on, I could have been discouraged. If I had been exposed to people who, for one reason or another, believed the 12 Step programs are cults, or religious organizations, or artifacts of the devil, or whatever the fashionable objection might have been in 1989, I might have been discouraged from attending those meetings. A different program might not have worked as well for me, although it might easily have been perfectly suited to the next guy.

I take little credit for the years I have been clean and sober. I know that the 12 Step programs are the reason I was able to make it this far. I don’t know if another path would have worked for me. In that case, I would be dead now. Bottom line.

So if AA did not work for me, or NA, or Rational Recovery, or the Buddhist Recovery Network or whatever, that does not give me the right to destroy someone else’s faith in their program. To even imagine that a person would be so crass as to do so intentionally is to examine one of the prime characteristics of un-recovered people: the conviction that black is black, white is white, and that they know the way things ought to be.

I suggest that they might want to call their sponsors, and have a cup of coffee and a long talk.

REDIR Program Bashers (12-step and otherwise) Take Note

 

DigitalZen Photo

I’ve been doing some research into non-12 Step recovery strategies for an article I’m writing. In the process, I’ve run across several sites that seem to be devoted to trashing one or another program.

It seems to me that this is not a good thing. Without getting into the pros and cons of specific recovery paths, I believe it is reasonable to assume that they are working for someone, or else they would not survive. Therefore, with the possible exception of true cults, they are most likely doing some good for some people.

This is how I see it: given the variety of possible ways that recovery, the recovery process, and even what constitutes recovery can be perceived, what right does anyone have to trash a program and reduce the faith of the people it is helping?

I’ve been around recovery for a number of years. I understand the program now. I understand certain things about how it works, and I understand why those for whom it has worked are concerned (not to say superstitious) about making changes. I don’t necessarily agree with some of their points of view, but I understand them.

That was not always the case. Early on, I could have been discouraged. If I had been exposed to people who, for one reason or another, believed the 12 Step programs are cults, or religious organizations, or artifacts of the devil, or whatever the fashionable objection might have been in 1989, I might have been discouraged from attending those meetings. A different program might not have worked as well for me, although it might easily have been perfectly suited to the next guy.

I take little credit for the years I have been clean and sober. I know that the 12 Step programs are the reason I was able to make it this far. I don’t know if another path would have worked for me. In that case, I would be dead now. Bottom line.

So if AA did not work for me, or NA, or Rational Recovery, or the Buddhist Recovery Network or whatever, that does not give me the right to destroy someone else’s faith in their program. To even imagine that a person would be so crass as to do so intentionally is to examine one of the prime characteristics of un-recovered people: the conviction that black is black, white is white, and that they know the way things ought to be.

I suggest that they might want to call their sponsors, and have a cup of coffee and a long talk.

I don’t feel that (AA or NA) works for me; any suggestions?

ADDICTION AND RECOVERY (c) Bill W. 2011

Q. I don't that feel (AA or NA) works for me; any suggestions?

Rather than answering the question directly, let me ask you a few questions. You only have to answer them for yourself. What your reply to me might be is completely immaterial.

1.   Did you go to a meeting every day, or did you find excuses to stay away?
2.   Did you talk to people, or did you arrive late and leave early, avoiding contact?
3.   Did you sit up front and pay attention, or did you sit in the back and keep track of all the things in the meeting that you didn’t approve of?
4.   Did you share — at least your name — or did you keep quiet and try to look cool so people wouldn’t know you were a newcomer?
5.   Did you get a Big Book or Basic Text (and read it)?
6.   Did you get a sponsor?
7.   Did you talk to your sponsor and get to know him or her?
8.   Did you do any work on the Steps?
9.   Did you become involved with service: putting away chairs, making coffee, cleaning up, greeting people (especially other newcomers) to make them feel at home?
10.  Did you get to know people who would include you in their activities outside of meetings, like going for coffee, picnics, and the many other things that program people to do have fun?
11.  Did you keep coming back, even when you didn’t feel like it?
12.  Did you want to believe the group could help, or did you look for things that were wrong with it — things to be offended by; reasons to disapprove?

The program won’t work for you — unless you work for it.  If you’ll think about your answers, you’ll discover the suggestions.

 

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.