02 October 2007

Online anonymity

The initial post

I was inspired to write about this topic by a post at AllMyAffairs titled Online anonymity. The author quotes Bill Moyers:

Bill Moyers wrote a book called Broken1, where his 12 step membership is publicized. He states

"Not talking about my program of recovery would be like a marathon runner not talking about training. Although I'm breaking my anonymity, I protect the anonymity and confidentiality of others in the program. This is everybody's story: the still-suffering alcoholic, recovering people and families, and, hopefully, those who don't have a clue about my disease. I wrote this book to help smash the stigma of addiction and carry the message."

The author then goes on to describe what the anonymity guidelines will be on the AllMyAffairs website—"first name, last initial.... pictures, images of anything and everything are encouraged"—and concludes "Though individual thoughts and reiterations of group thoughts are what drive recovery, the individual is far less important than the whole."

My response

Here's the comment I made on this post:

Just because he's Bill Moyers doesn't mean he's right. I'm a great admirer of his, yet if you real all the literature on the subject, the reasons for not doing what he did are clearly spelled out.

The 11th Tradition specifically mentions "press, radio and film" but Bill W., in his article "Why Alcoholics Anonymous is Anonymous" adds TV (printed in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 286—I trust you've read it lately). Also the Anonymity statement used by GSO at their events—world conventions, Forums, etc.—and printed on p. 13 in the pamphlet Speaking at non-A.A. meetings adds a reference to new media: "Thus we respectfully ask that no A.A. speaker—or, indeed, any A.A. member—be identified by full name in published or broadcast reports of our meetings, including reports on new media technologies such as the Internet."

Of course, just because they're Bill W. and GSO doesn't make them right either. But these Conference-approved items are under constant review by alcoholics all over the world and if there were a serious issue, you can be sure it would come to the General Service Conference.

I just don't get Mr Moyers's analogy to the marathon runner. My daughter Painter and my son-in-law Revson are both occasional marathon runners. I sometimes get to hear a little about their training and maybe even a little about some of their friends' training. But when Robert K. Cheruiyot of Kenya won the 111th Boston Marathon, did we hear anyone report on or talk about his training? No. Trying Googling for news stories that refer to both Robert K. Cheruiyot and training. If you do and look at the stories, it's actually quite remarkable how little is said about training. And as of this date, nothing at all about his training, let alone anything substantive.

Mr Moyers says he wants to "smash the stigma of addiction and carry the message." I agree there are times when it's appropriate to break my anonymity. I just don't agree those times include in the press, on radio, film, television or the Internet. If no one knows that I'm in the program, how can they come to me for help, whether for themselves or for someone they care about? I'm unusual, at least around here, for using my full name at every A.A. event that is not being recorded or broadcast—from my home group to the 2005 International Convention in Toronto. I do it so people who need to can figure out how to get in touch with me. But they're already in the rooms and can make their own reasoned judgments based on everything they see, not just on what happens to me. My family and my close friends know I'm in A.A., as do some of my not too close friends. In each case where I consider breaking my anonymity I try to honestly examine my motives: am I about to do so for reasons of ego? or for reasons of trying to practice the 12th step?

The author of the AllMyAffairs post points out that "the individual is far less important than the whole." That's true; there's a whole Tradition devoted to the idea. I think it's very important though to look at all the Traditions, see which are applicable to a given situation and then make a decision. In this particular case, there's another whole Tradition that directly addresses the issue and, it seems clear to me, comes down on the side of maintaining our online anonymity.

Maintaining my anonymity is important to me because it helps keep me right-sized. Believe me, there's little that's more appealing to me than the idea of becoming a world-famous recovered alcoholic. It's important to A.A. because if I were that reknowned and for some reason did pick up a drink, those who knew about my recovery and membership in A.A. would say, "See? It doesn't work."

Ultimately Mr Moyers and AllMyAffairs make their own decisions about anonymity. That's as it should be. I have no designs on how anyone practices their program. It's one of the beautiful things about A.A.: I can express my opinions, but no one has to care that I'm giving them or listen to them, let alone agree with them or be in accord with them. We will continue to debate anonymity in all its forms as long as A.A. exists. And that's healthy.

1 Read more about this book—including the fact that the decision to break his anonymity is a very recent one for Mr Moyers—or follow the link to buy it here.


sharonsjourney said...

I like Bill Moyers alot, but he did a no no.

Ginnie said...

It's so nice to have a new person comment on my blog. Thanks. I've been trudging the well known highway since 1989 and I like your common sense approach very much.
When I decided to blog I figured it might help someone else to see how it was for me...but I try to keep it low key and gentle...the hard core stuff I keep for my Sponsor. I will visit you often.

Anybeth said...

I don't get it, how is William Cope Moyers (Bill Moyer's son)doing a bad thing talking about his recovery? Augusten Burroughs (Dry)wrote about it, and so did Caroline Knapp (Drinking: A Love Story). Is it because his father is famous?
As long as he isn't "outing" other members, it's sort of his own choice, isn't it?

Namenlosen Trinker said...


It's a "bad thing" because it violates our 11th Tradition: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, ratio, and films [emphasis added].

Yes, it's his own choice, because there are no A.A. police to come after him, but in my opinion I think he's making a big mistake. Even if he is the perfect poster child for A.A., he makes it easier for the rest of us to also break our own anonymity, and most of us alcoholics don't necessarily make the best walking, talking examples of what A.A. is all about. We try, but we often fail, because we're only human.

Katia said...

Thank you for the compliment. I must say the same about yours. I added you to my blog roll!

I think way too much. It makes things harder for me than they should be. I think things to death!

Anyway - have a great weekend. I am off!

Kathy Lynne said...

So are you saying that a person can't talk about the fact that he is in recovery at all or just that AA is what got him out. If the latter check out Craig Fergeson's monologue on you tube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bbaRyDLMvA. Is what he said a problem?

Namenlosen Trinker said...

Kathy Lynne,

I started to respond with a comment, but it got so long I decided to make my response a blog post. I hope you read it.

Piglet said...

great post and great points you've made. i struggled with that when i began my blog until i found a comfy place, where i now reside online.

i too love bill and am watching him NOW. and reading your blog all at the same time! i've got talent, i tell you.

i have suspected him but never knew for sure.

Byron W. said...

Good posts (both the original and the follow-up). I think there is a fundamental problem, with the idea that, "It's important to A.A. because if I were that reknowned and for some reason did pick up a drink, those who knew about my recovery and membership in A.A. would say, "See? It doesn't work.""

I've never looked at it this way before tonight, but doesn't there seem to be something both cryptic and arrogant about it. (I have spent the last few years believing exactly the opposite of what I am saying now.)

Who is an AA member to say that another member cannot express personal facts about his recovery? Either the "anonymity breaker" relapses or stays sober. What do members care about what outsiders say about the success or failings of the program?

Of course, the counterargument there is helping the newcomer. We don't want to turn off the newcomer. --> This line of thinking is old and no longer relevant. Companies that try to hide things from customers are dying. Why should an organization like AA be any different?

Stigma and public perceptions need not be worried about. The truth, in this society, will come out no matter what.

As far as being right-sized, I completely agree. It is my goal, with AllMyAffairs.com to drive donations to recovery causes and make enough of a living to be able to take the time from my life that such an effort requires. I have no interest in "exposing who I am," nor will there be some Paul Harvey moment down the road where anyone will know it is me.