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."
Here's the comment I made on this post:
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.