What exactly is Anonymity?

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As most people know, AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous. NA is Narcotics Anonymous, CA is Cocaine Anonymous, GA is Gamblers Anonymous, and so on. What stands out in each of these fellowships? The A, which stands for “Anonymous.” Regardless of whichever addiction ails them, members of a 12-step program are asked to remain anonymous. This principle is more than just a preference; it is one of the foundation stones of recovery.

Anonymity and recovery go hand in hand for a number of reasons. Underlying all of them is the truism that a group succeeds where an individual does not. Attempts to get and stay clean alone most often fail; that is why 12-step fellowships started in the first place. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain a fellowship’s unity and harmony. For reasons that shall be explained, anonymity allows addicts to recover together rather than alone.

On the one hand, anonymity is a protection against bad publicity. Imagine you’re the CEO of a major corporation who’s just obtained a celebrity endorsement. For a while, things go great. He’s on your commercials and his face is on your product. A few weeks later, he’s caught up in a huge scandal. Cameras follow him everywhere. Every news ticker carries his name and what he’s accused of. As CEO of your company, how do you expect these circumstances to impact you?

The consequences will be bad, of course. Your affiliation with this person implies an affiliation with his wrongdoings. This is exactly what 12-step programs seek to avoid. Suppose that celebrity had publicly announced member in AA. Now, in the midst of a scandal, AA shares his bad image. Suppose this celebrity relapses. People who see him on TV or might think, “He was a member of a 12-step program, but now he’s lit up again.” They draw the conclusion, “The twelve steps must not work.”

It goes without saying that nobody is perfect and that everybody makes mistakes. Yet, sobriety is too important to let the mistakes of one person jeopardize the well being of so many others. Remember that addicts are hardly the only ones who suffer; many other people get caught in the crosshairs. The same is true for recovery; families, friends, employers, and acquaintances feel the ripple effects of the 12 Steps. It would be a tremendous shame if one incident prevented countless other success stories.

Let’s revisit the same aforementioned celebrity. Suppose he doesn’t get caught up in a scandal; he stays out of the limelight, works the steps, and lives a better life. Does anonymity still serve a function? Indeed, it does. For one thing, anonymity is an exercise in humility. Most addicts and alcoholics come into recovery with major egos, causing personalities to clash and threatening unity. Anonymity teaches us to abandon our egos. No matter who we were in previous lives, we are all drunks and druggies in this room. Anonymity reminds us that it doesn’t matter how much money we’ve made or what car we drove. It doesn’t matter what God we worshipped or what politician we voted for. We are unified because we all ended up at the bottom of the barrel.

Anonymity makes recovery possible. Without anonymity, groups lose sight of their primary purpose, which is to help others recover. They might get caught up in outside activities or internal bickering. These shake the ties that bind us, without which we struggle through sobriety by ourselves.

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