Keep Celebrity Worship Out of AA (And the other groups)

I have been sighted coming and going from thousands of AA meetings. The difference…is that nobody knows who I am and nobody cares. This has been very much to my advantage.

I”ve written about this before, and will again.  No one is more aware of this problem than people who work in treatment centers — except, of course, for the victims of the publicity themselves.  We see well-known faces come and go quite often. When we see them again, we have to wonder how much of their relapse was due to being hounded by people who can't mind their own business. Personally, I wonder just how much effect the lack of consideration from other recovering people might have. Do we give celebreties the same shot at sobriety in the rooms as we would anyone else, and how do we think we'd feel if the shoe was on the other foot?

A good article that should make us all think.

Read more: Keep Celebrity Worship Out of AA

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.


What About Confidentiality and Anonymity?

We speak of “confidentiality” in detox and treatment, and “anonymity” in some of the recovery groups, such as AA, NA, Overeaters Anonymous, and so forth.  What does all of this stuff mean, and why should we care about it?

Well, let's handle confidentiality first, because many of its principles apply to anonymity as well.

Confidentiality in drug and alcohol treatment is guaranteed specifically by Federal law.  We have to keep your information confidential or we can lose our license to operate, draw some humongous fines and, depending on the circumstances, someone could even go to jail.  There are laws specific to mental health services, and also general statutes that cover all health care issues.  Pretty ironclad, the Federal requirements — and there are State laws as well.

Then there is the common sense factor.  If you knew that people would be blabbing all over about your being in detox or other treatment, and that the issues and information that you share with us here could be spread around to haunt you later, how likely would you be to seek help? Quite a few folks would wait too long to do so, and some of them would die.  That's a pretty grave responsibility.  Quite apart from the effect it would have on our business here, we have an ethical obligation to you.  We can't discharge it unless you trust us.  It's that simple.

Anonymity is the rule in the recovery and support groups that you will (we hope) choose to attend after detox and treatment.  Would you walk into a 12–Step meeting if you knew that someone would be telling all their friends about it an hour later?  Some of us (I was among them) figure it doesn't matter, since our drinking and drugging was pretty common knowledge anyway.  But if you want anonymity, you've got it.  The only person who is at all likely to divulge it is you, and the time and place and people involved have to be your choice as well.

There's also the issue of anonymity as it applies to the program itself.  It keeps folks from getting too big a head.  I can go lecture about alcoholism and addiction all I please, to whomever I please.  I can even get paid for it.  But I cannot represent myself as a member of an “anonymous” group, at least by name, when I do it. I can't be “Mister AA,” or “Mister Pill Addicts Anonymous.”  I'm going to be repudiated by those organizations the minute I try.  “He doesn't speak for us.  We have no opinions on issues outside the fellowship.”

Then too, what if “Mister AA” were to be taken drunk, after publicly proclaiming his membership?  How many folks would take that as an excuse to say, “See…told you that crap doesn't work!  Gimme another beer!”  Again, people who need the program could, through having their own denial fed, end up dead because of my ego.

There are other good reasons for confidentiality and anonymity, but these are the high points.   More here.