Alcoholics Anonymous is community based self-help group where alcoholics come together to help each other. From the early days of this movement the concept of anonymity was important. This is not only to protect the individual but also the group as a whole. In the meetings the members will discuss personal matters that they may not wish to be known outside the rooms. Anonymity also prevents strong personalities from dominating the movement in order to seek personal glory. It is unlikely that this organization could have survived if it wasn’t for anonymity principle.
The 12 Traditions are the guiding principles of AA. The last 3 of these traditions brush upon the importance of anonymity in the organization:
* Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
* Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
* Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
There are a number of reasons why anonymity is needed in Alcoholics Anonymous including:
* There is a bit of a social stigma attached to being a recovering alcoholic. Some individuals are happy to share their past history with everyone, but others are more reticent about this. This is because admitting their alcoholism could cause problems in their life; people might treat them differently because of it. The principle of anonymity means that they can benefit from the group without having to admit this information publically.
* People would be less likely to turn to AA for help if they believed they would be identified, or if there was any type of attendance record kept.
* At most AA meetings they will read the following warning: what you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here. This is to remind members not to repeat anything they have heard in the meetings. Those who speak or share at the meetings will disclose personal information that they may not want to become common knowledge. If such information were to be divulged outside of the rooms it could embarrass them or even have legal ramifications.
* Anonymity can encourage humility
* If people are identified as members of AA they will be viewed by members of the public as representatives of the group. Should they behave badly then this will reflect badly on the group as a whole. Therefore anonymity should make it harder for individuals to bring the whole group into disrepute.
* Anonymity prevents individual members from aligning the organization with any political, religious, or social cause. By having no opinion on outside issues, the group is made more appealing to a greater number of people. It also means that they are less likely to be dragged into any controversies. No member acts as spokesperson for the group. The preamble of AA states:
> A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
* Some people have strong personalities and a strong need for fame. Such individuals could use AA as a promotional tool for themselves. Anonymity prevents this from occurring.
Most members of AA will break anonymity on at least some level, but still remain within the spirit of the principle. It is acceptable that the individual tells family and friends that they are a member of the organization. It is also necessary for them to admit their affiliation if they are trying to help an acquaintance who is struggling with addiction. There are other instances where breaking anonymity is more dubious:
* There are a number of celebrities who openly admit that they are members of the AA. The worry is that such people may be viewed as representatives of the group. If they should relapse it will also damage the reputation of AA.
* It is never acceptable to break the anonymity of another individual who is a member of AA. This can happen with just a slip of the tongue. Members need to be careful when they meet outside the group so as not to raise questions of how they know each other. This is why some members will ignore other members outside of the group unless they feel it is safe to communicate.
* One of the biggest concerns about anonymity is when members attempt to speak for the group at a media level.
Anonymity is a noble principle but it is impossible to completely protect the identity of members. Some even claim that anonymity is a collective fiction. Most cities will have open meetings where any member of the public can walk in to observe. Even at closed meetings there can be members who are prepared to break the tradition of anonymity. Most people who go to an AA meeting will relapse, and alcohol is renowned for its ability to loosen tongues.
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