When you think about alcohol addiction treatment and recovery, one of the first things that likely comes to mind is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It has been a fundamental ideology of addiction recovery since the late 1930s. One of the tenets of AA (and now numerous other “anonymous” 12-step programs) is anonymity. It is discussed in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and AA’s Twelve Traditions and is a guiding principle in the program.
The Purpose of Anonymity in Recovery
In the AA program, the purpose of anonymity is intended to do the following:
To protect AA members’ privacy. This is why there are no records or last names used in 12-step meetings. The idea is that by remaining anonymous, members will feel more comfortable in sharing their stories in meetings and opening up about their difficult and very personal struggles. Also, so that members can feel protected that their workplace won’t find out about their attendance at 12-step meetings if they feel so inclined
To protect the integrity of 12-step programs. Members of 12-step programs should never become spokespeople, at the level of press, radio, T.V., films and the Internet for their different fellowship programs and they should not connect their success in sobriety to the 12-step program. Successes and failures belong to the individual members and it should remain that way so that the growth and survival of the 12-step program can be ensured.
To keep the playing field equal. All members are equal regardless of gender, status, wealth, occupation, or length of sobriety. This fosters a nonjudgmental environment.
Is the Concept of Anonymity Outdated?
Very few people in recovery would dispute the importance of the above principles, but many are finding that meticulously maintaining them has limitations. Some people feel they have to be intentionally vague when talking with others about recovery. Still others believe that anonymity is outdated and that it does a disservice to people in recovery.
There is clearly a misinterpretation of the tenets of anonymity in recovery, especially with the evolution of the World Wide Web. While no one advocates revealing information about others, many are seeing the benefits of revealing and talking about their own recovery and how they got sober – even when it involves participation in 12-step groups. This is all very acceptable as long as they refrain from identifying and connecting themselves with a specific 12-step group in the various media. The fact that there is a lot of evidence of this online when you read recovery blogs and social media posts does not make it okay. Recovery is everywhere, and that doesn’t seem like a bad thing as long as the specific 12-step fellowship program is promoted and not the individual member.
The shift in thinking about keeping one’s recovery a secret, making polite excuses about why he or she cannot have a glass of wine at a dinner party, is being welcomed by many. Celebrities, politicians, and other public figures are becoming increasingly open about their struggles with drugs or alcohol. People are writing recovery memoirs and there are more plotlines on television and in the movies involving addiction and recovery.
Many believe that these inroads that are being made are the only way to effectively reduce the stigma of addiction and make recovery more mainstream and socially acceptable.
Beating the Stigma with Awareness
Despite the increasing openness of recovering addicts and alcoholics, there is still stigma associated with drug use and addiction. Even though it is widely accepted in the medical community that addiction is a brain disease that is treatable, many still view it as a moral failing or character flaw. That is one reason that many people who are new to recovery choose to keep their recovery under wraps.
Proponents of breaking the stigma of addiction believe that one way to do it is by increasing awareness and sharing their stories – that the reality of addiction must be seen. Their thinking is that by showing that addiction isn’t limited to the stereotypical skid row bum, but instead that it can affect anyone, the stigma will be reduced and more people will seek and receive treatment.
Of course, discussing the very personal nature of addiction and recovery can be difficult for some people. Those who choose to do so often believe that because they have lived through addiction and all of its negative consequences and destructive behaviors, that telling their stories of recovery pales in comparison to their stories of active addiction.
Be Proud of Your Recovery
Seeking treatment for addiction and living sober and in recovery is something to be proud of. It’s an accomplishment that not every person in active addiction is able to reach. The more addicts in recovery talk about their experiences, what has helped them, and what’s working for them, the better others who are walking in their shoes will be able to approach their own difficulties.
That doesn’t mean that being open about recovery is right for everyone, but for those who choose to share their experience, strength, and hope outside of the rooms of AA, it is something that should be worn as a badge of courage.
Those who are open in recovery often site helping other problem drinkers or drug abusers as one of the biggest reasons for telling their stories. One of the principles of AA is that it is a program of one alcoholic helping another. Those who choose to go public about their recovery are doing that – but on a larger scale, but it remains a very slippery slope.
Coming Out as a Recovering Alcoholic or Drug Addict
The decision about whether to talk about your recovery or keep it hidden is a choice that only you can make – it is a deeply personal decision. The rewards for doing so can be well worth any discomfort you may feel in doing so in the beginning. But there is still a high level of stigma attached to drug and alcohol addiction, so you can be sure that you will encounter people who are stuck in old perceptions and generalizations about addiction. They may say or behave in ways that make you wish you had kept quiet.
Whatever you decide, the recovery community will support you either way. The goal is not to shout about recovery from every rooftop. Instead, it is simply about doing what is best for your own sobriety, and walking the walk on the road to long lasting recovery.
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