I recently got an email from a reader asking about anonymity. It’s such an important topic to me, and it’s one I’ve wrestled with a lot. I decided not only to write a post about it, but to add it as a permanent page on my blog menu.
Most recovery programs embrace a tradition of anonymity, meaning that we don’t disclose the identities of our members. This makes meetings a safe place for folks who, for personal or professional reasons, don’t want their issues with addiction or presence in recovery to be public knowledge.
Anonymity works on pretty simple guidelines, best expressed in a sign you find in many meetings: “Who you see hear, what you hear here, let it stay here.” That means, for example, when you run into a friend in recovery at the grocery store, you don’t call out, “Hey, Tricia! Are you going to be Sexaholics Anonymous tonight?”
In recent years, anonymity has become a hot button issue for some in recovery. (For more, read Susan Cheever’s article in the Fix). With the advent of social media, plenty of folks worry that anonymity is not being taken seriously enough. They complain that people aren’t vigilant about what they post online, including photos of recovery events.
Others see things differently. They wonder if anonymity isn’t an idea whose time is over. They’re proud to belong to a particular program and they don’t mind if the world knows. They suggest that strict anonymity reinforces the idea that we should feel ashamed, and perpetuates the social stigma of addiction.
I think both sides make good points. In many parts of society, revealing an addiction can cause negative personal and professional repercussions. For this reason alone, one should never break another person’s anonymity without their explicit permission.
Most agree, though, that breaking one’s own anonymity on a personal level should be up to the individual. If I want my hairdresser to know me better, including my experience in recovery, that’s up to me.
Things get more complicated when you move to the public level—press, radio, film, books, or online. Now the main purpose of anonymity is to protect the reputations of the organizations themselves. The big idea here is that no single person can or should speak for the group, lest that person’s statements or behavior at some point reflect negatively on the community.
Understandably, most recovery groups don’t want individuals profiting financially or otherwise from their association with a particular program. This tradition of anonymity at the public level is why I don’t ever identify myself as a member of any specific group on this blog. And it’s why I hope that you’ll refrain from publicly associating my name with any particular organization.
That said, I don’t feel obliged to go to great lengths to hide or disguise the nature of my recovery community. I’m not bothered if you can figure out which group I probably attend. And in an email or conversation, if you want to know more, I’m more than glad to get specific. Why would I keep secret the name of the program that saved my life, especially from the very people it might help?
Occasionally, you’ll notice that I reference specific groups, such as I did in the post, “Pick a Chair: AA or Celebrate Recovery?” Or, I might quote others on a particular group, such as I did in the post, “Grace on Tap: Phil Yancey on AA.” Talking about a group isn’t the same as identifying oneself as a member of that group.
Because I care about this tradition, I want to honor anonymity throughout my blog. So, if you comment using your full name and photo, please don’t identify yourself as a member of any specific group. If your comment is anonymous, though, fire away! Such conversations can be helpful and informative.
I hope I’ve answered more questions than I’ve raised here. I have a feeling you’ll let me know.
P.S. I wrote a somewhat related post last December: Why I Call Myself a Christian Drunk.