Hiding in Plain Sight

*I don’t speak for AA*

I attended a Grapevine writing workshop in Tucson two weekends ago – the area GVR told me about it and I figured it was the least I could do as the GVR for the home group. They wanted people there who had been published in the Grapevine to share their experience with that entire process. I met five other published authors there and we all brought copies of our stories to share with the workshop. There were funny stories, tragic stories and ones that taught valuable lessons about growth. The panelists were asked to share one of their stories with the group and how that all worked – all of us did so and were met with approval until the last person shared….

Instead of reading her story and sharing on it she opted to step on a soapbox regarding anonymity. She let us know her feelings on the dangers of being too open on Facebook, too open in general and her fears about the future of AA. Sadly – most of the questions from the workshop then went to that topic instead of writing and sharing experience, strength and hope.

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Dayton, OH. AA Members – 1942 Members donned masks to protect their anonymity

I’ve never been very anonymous in regards to being in AA – it was widely known that I was a drunk, I figured when I stopped and started to act differently they’d figure out something changed and if they asked of course I said I was in AA. I’m not now and have never been a celebrity or politician and have no motives for making AA more than it is.

In the beginning of AA there were some famous anonymity breaks and a few of those people then went out and had flashy relapses and made the fellowship look bad – at the time we were probably less than 50,000 members strong and it was feared we would crumble. Even Bill W got to be too big for his britches and had to be reigned in by humble Dr. Bob on more than one occasion. We also had the experience of the Washingtonians – long before AA a group that got together to get over drinking, but they then got involved in all sorts of other things including endorsing politicians and causes.

When AA was young we had the press on our side – the stories published about us were positive beacons of hope for the still suffering alcoholic and their families. The Saturday Evening Post, Readers Digest, the Plain Dealer, Liberty Magazine, Harpers… we were making the rounds and people wanted to know more about us for themselves or for their family members. The above picture is how some members protected their identities for a news article.

In 1976 Dick Van Dyke, Buzz Aldrin, Gary Moore and 50 odd other celebrities came out to the national press as alcoholics – with the blessing of Bill W and AA World Services. They did this to help fight the stigma of alcoholism and let folks know that there was a better way. It was well done and was hoped to help many struggling addicts out there to seek a solution. AA didn’t fall apart and we weren’t beset with extra problems.

The press was our friend still back then.

Robert Downey Jr (a.k.a. Iron Man) made the papers famously when he was getting arrested, drinking and getting in trouble and the press ate it up – but they speak little of the changed man and how he got there and Robert’s not speaking openly about it. The press has numerous times followed the storied life of Lindsay Lohan and her revolving door approach to AA. They’ve followed Elizabeth Vargas as they checked in to rehab, left early and had to check back in … this is what passes for news these days. In 2007 a Washington DC AA group made the cover of Newsweek with its cult like practices – it was rather disturbing and shook up local group there, many churches asked groups not affiliated with that group to leave there long-established meeting spaces. That’s the kind of press we get now (or the posthumous articles when a circuit speaker passes away).

In 2014 the estimated membership of AA members is estimated at 2,38,141. I think that’s low, but it’s based on surveys sent to the groups, so it could be accurate. There are over 200 different 12 step programs based on the AA 12 step program – they deal with everything from heroin to emotions all of them base their programs on the 12 steps and may or may not have their own literature and traditions.

A recent documentary – the Anonymous People – shows how anonymity is today and those people in programs who want to change how it’s done. I liked many things about that documentary and agree with many parts of it. There is a line early on where a medical professional says that members are “ashamed” of being alcoholics, drug addicts or what have you… and that comment didn’t sit well. Many of the reviews I’ve read discount the entire movie based on that comment… but I looked further into the movie and didn’t judge based on that one line (sometimes we can be sensitive). They’re about keeping with the traditions and not “identifying as a member” but instead identifying as a “person in long-term recovery” to help further educate, fund and treat the growing number of people who are seeking a solution. This movement is not associated or affiliated with any of the 12 step groups that I know of.

On Facebook (and other sites) I’m friends with many different types of people and I’m open about my whole life. I don’t accept invitations from people I don’t know (though those scantily clad women from Bosnia are tempting) and I’m alright if someone ‘likes” my post on celebration of my anniversary. I find it no different from when someone comes up to me at my car and talks about the circle and triangle and expresses how their family member got better in the program. I do know people who befriend people on social media sites that do so only for extra game invites and the like – but I’m a little more choosy. As a result of recovery oriented hashtags I’ve connected with many members across the planet and my network of recovery friends has grown significantly – I like that.

AA talks about the importance of honesty, conquering fear, being willing to help others… but please hide your identity, be afraid, please don’t share publicly… seems a conundrum to me. AA’s 11th tradition is “public relations policy” not “individual relations policy”. If you fear being outed or associated with a 12 step program – well to me that seems pretty weird – then adjusting your security settings on social media sites should help – but be wary and don’t “like” recovery things, it might associate you with them.

AA has internet guidelines they’ve posted recently, I should probably read them some day in their entirety, but the link is there if you’re interested. I’m all about not saying my first and last name and “I’m a member of Alcoholics Anonymous” in press (like people who get paid to publish articles) radio and tv… that’s about as anonymous as I get.

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