I hear people talking about anonymity in the strangest way. I have heard the phrase “He/she broke my anonymity”. What the hell are you people talking about? How do you have anonymity and why do you need it? Were you anonymous when you were drinking? Really? When you were dancing on the table, swinging your shirt over your head singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun!” were you really anonymous? Are you embarrassed by the fact that you’re not drinking now? Is that why you don’t want anyone to know? What passes for cognitive activity in your world?
When I came into A.A. they told me quite explicitly “The 12 steps are designed to save drunks like you from alcoholism. The 12 traditions are designed to save Alcoholics Anonymous from Drunks like you.” With this new-found knowledge I looked at the 12 steps and didn’t see anonymity even once. There’s my first clue it isn’t for my benefit. I looked at the traditions and damned if I didn’t see it twice. There’s an indication it might be for the benefit of A.A.
Because I don’t need it but A.A. does.
I remember my first meeting. I smeared mud on my license plate so that the cops that (I imagined) were cruising the parking lot wouldn’t know who I was. I mean, really, if you had a “Serial Killers Anonymous” or a “Child Molesters Anonymous” cops would probably be interested in who the hell was going there, right? It only follows that they’re keeping tabs on the drunks, too. I did not need that. Hell, in the past 6 weeks alone I’d been busted for Drinking in Public, Open Container, Driving Under the Influence, Drunk and Disorderly, Disorderly Conduct, Public Intoxication and Destruction of Public Property (urinating on a Police car). That was all just plain dumb luck. Imagine if the cops found out I had a drinking problem! Then they’d REALLY be looking for me!
So when you say you’re worried about people finding out you’re an alcoholic, I understand. And it makes sense. If you’re in your first 90 days. If you’re still worried about it after that it’s because you’re a moron.
I was about 3 months sober and I went to Orient Road Jail and told the officer at the information desk “I’m here to chair a …” (look both ways for eavesdropper, whisper) “an A.A. meeting…” He bellows “A.A.!!! Great!!! Just fill out this form… Last name first, first name last, FULL middle name… We need your Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Drivers License Number… Smile for the camera!!! CLICK!”
I thought: “These sonsabitches don’t know Nothin’ about Anonymity!”
And it was immediately replaced by the thought : “You don’t need it. You’re no longer part of the problem. You’re part of the solution.” And since that day I have used my first and last name in meetings.
It was said most succinctly by a newcomer. If I remembered his name I would use it. He was a clean-cut guy, sat ramrod straight with his hands folded in front of himself the whole meeting. At the end, when they were handing out the chips he picked up a 2 year medallion. “How many and how’d you do it?”
“My name is ” (said first and last name) “And I’m an alcoholic. I’m a Captain in the U.S. Navy and I pilot a nuclear submarine…” This old grizzled Vietnam vet with 20 (count ’em, 20) years of sobriety interrupted him: “No! No! Don’t tell anyone that! It could get back to your superior officers and affect your career!”
The (relative) Newcomer looked at him like he had 6 eyes and said “Funny thing! My superior officers knew I was an alcoholic before I did. They sent me to treatment and asked me to go to A.A. They told me it would most certainly affect my career… for the better! They’re kind of glad a guy who has the codes to launch nuclear missles is not drinking and trying to live by spiritual principles. They’ve had 200 years of drunken sailors. They wish everyone was in A.A.”
No Shit. Why should someone with 20 years in the program have to be told this?
I don’t need anonymity, because I have nothing to fear from people knowing I’m in A.A. I will never lose a job or fail to get one because I’m not drinking. I will never get arrested for going to meetings. My wife will never divorce me and a judge won’t take away my custody of my kids because I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous. Those were (possible) repercussions from drinking and other crazy behavior, NOT from my association with A.A.
But still people introduce themselves with just their first name in A.A. meetings. What the hell is that all about? Where do you get that crap? Does ALL of your information about A.A. come from having watched “My Name is Bill W.” once? Shit. If it wasn’t for Facebook I wouldn’t know the last name of my 50 closest friends!
(In my home group there’s 6 Steves: “Tall Steve”, “Short Steve”, “4-eyed Steve”, “Newcomer” Steve [who has 5 years], “Steve D.” and “Shut-the-Fuck-Up-Steve” [swear to God! he used to come into a meeting twice a week, pick up a white chip and want to tell us how many and how he’d done it. His sponsor would say… well, you can figure that out.])
Let’s see what A.A. says about that!
In the pamphlet “Understanding Anonymity” (there’s a concept! if you don’t understanding anonymity in A.A., read an A.A. pamphlet entitled “Understanding Anonymity”! it’s a reach, but let’s try it!)
“…Experience suggests that A.A. members:
When speaking as A.A. members at non-A.A. meetings, usually use first names only…
…Use last names within the Fellowship, especially for elections of group officers and other service jobs”
We’re supposed to trust the treasurer with our money, but he can’t trust us with his last name? How would that work out if he absconded? “… well, officer, he has about $3000 of our money. His name is John. I don’t know his last name or where he works or lives, but he’s about this tall. Does that help?”
It is true that the pamphlet also says “Respect the right of other members to maintain their own anonymity at whatever levels they wish” but it’s just kidding. It’s put there to make you feel good about yourself, even though you make choices without putting in one iota of thought. That’s not my job. My (self-appointed) job is to show you the unvarnished truth, including the truth that most of you don’t spend enough time thinking about the very organization that keeps your dumb ass alive. Get with it. It’s no joke.
So why Anonymity, if I never need to be embarrassed about my membership in A.A.? Because A.A. is embarrassed of me. I’m not always a shining example of A.A.
When I was 4 1/2 years stark raving sober, and that guy cut me off on the highway? Yeah! And I chased him 5 miles down the road, weaving in and out of traffic, riding his bumper, flipping him the bird? Well, when I finally pulled in front of him and crammed on my brakes (purely for educational purposes, so he’d know how it felt) and he saw my “Easy Does It” bumper sticker it didn’t do A.A. a bit of good. He probably thought “If that’s how A.A. teaches people how to act, I don’t think it’s a very good organization!”
Or Eddie van Halen. One month he’s bragging in “Guitar Player” magazine how he’s been sober for 5 years thanks to A.A., then the next month he gets drunk and beats the shit out of Valerie Bertinelli (who every guy who was pubescent in the late “70s had a crush on!). Didn’t say a lot about how well A.A. works.
You see, A.A. doesn’t want me to tell people that I’m a member because I’m not perfect. My personality isn’t perfect. But there’s something that is: The principles behind the steps.
11) Spiritual Awareness
These things are perfect. If someone asks you what A.A. is, don’t point to me or yourself or your sponsor. Point to these.
The 11th tradition of A.A. states: “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.”
The 12th tradition of A.A. states: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”