Commentary: Does Anonymity Fit Into Recovery in the Social Media Era?

The 11th Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous 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.”

How does anonymity fit into present day recovery in the era of social networks?

When I first came to recovery, my anonymity was critical to me. I was full of shame. Coming from a very prominent family, and not sure that I’d be able to maintain any continued success at abstinence, I wanted to keep my last name and any information about my background a secret. Today, with almost 29 years of recovery under my belt, I have no secrets. I’m no longer filled with shame about my past. I have done my best to put my past behind me, and I know that my story has helped many find themselves “in the rooms.” But what about that 11th Tradition and how does it fit into my recovery life today?

In the name of transparency and full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m one of the co-founders of InTheRooms.com, which is the largest and fastest growing social network for the global recovery community. We’ve been described as a “Facebook for Recovery.” Because we operate on the Internet, there are those that will always bring up this topic of anonymity and perceived tradition violations.

When Dr. Bob and Bill W. addressed the important issue of anonymity back in 1935, it was with the intent that NO ONE PERSON was to act as a role model for any particular fellowship. The reason for that is easy to understand. If that person relapsed then it said to others that that particular fellowship simply doesn’t work.

Additionally, back in the 30s there was a deep-seated societal stigma against addiction and alcoholism. It was viewed as more of a moral weakness, rather than a disease. Most of us now know someone in recovery today. They might be one of our neighbors, our co-workers, our doctors or our family members. The stigma is starting to fade LARGELY because we now know the efficacy of 12-step recovery because SOMEONE wasn’t totally anonymous!

Take a look at Facebook today and you’ll see many people discussing their sobriety in their status updates. They have their first AND last name there for all to see, but most importantly, they often mention the 12-step fellowship that they belong to. Isn’t that a clear violation of the 11th Tradition?

Faces and Voices, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group has recently suggested that we no longer describe ourselves as “addicts” or “alcoholics,” but simply state that we are people in “long-term recovery” not mentioning the particular fellowship that we attend. To me, that bypasses the potential 11th Tradition pitfalls while still letting people know that we’re PROUD of our recovery.

Through the proliferation of online social networks, recovery is now accessible to everyone, regardless of where you live as long as there’s a computer and a connection to the Internet. Support is only a couple of clicks away even in the middle of the night! Is anonymity being compromised in order to help others in need? Shouldn’t it be if there’s a potential to shape or save lives? Should there be a change in the wording of the 11th Tradition?

Today, I’m a respectable, functioning member of society. I am married to a woman I met in recovery that now has over 25 years of long-term recovery. We have been married for 23 years and have two wonderful, well-adjusted children ages 20 and 22 years old whom have NEVER seen us pick up a drug or drink. My wife is a preschool teacher, and I am the Chief Operating Officer of InTheRooms.com. I have served as a coach for both soccer and little league, not to mention being an elected official in my local community. I would have given anything to know, while I was sitting there 29 years ago with a needle in my arm, that these things were all possible.

Today we have the potential to give “the gift of HOPE” to those that are still struggling with their addiction, but in order to do so, I believe that we must take a risk and break our own anonymity. I further believe that we need to do so responsibly, using similar guidelines presented by Faces and Voices. NOT doing so only helps to perpetuate the myth that alcoholics and addicts simply do not recover. We know today that the lie is dead, we DO recover!

Ken Pomerance
COO,
InTheRooms.com

25 Responses to Commentary: Does Anonymity Fit Into Recovery in the Social Media Era?

  1. John French | September 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Well written article, but it fails to mention two words — ego and humility. These, I think, are both key to the concept of anonymity, and the overriding concern regarding minimizing the role of self in proselytizing the Twelve Steps. For the most part, I think I can lead the kind of life I lead without identifying the source of my way. To me, identifying myself as a member of AA is not as important as living the life it teaches.

    • Cynthia Alcoholic | October 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      I mean beautiful and right on to the those that agree with the ego and humility issue. LIving life without having to say where its from. I agree with Tradition 11; not in exposing ourselves thru social media…it will always be a “one day at a time” issue, I know of people with over 30 years go out and have a difficult time coming back.

    • John B French | October 6, 2011 at 10:16 am

      I completely agree and by the way wanted to tell you I happen to love your name!!

  2. Richard Kite | September 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Our public relations policy is based on attraction RATHER THAN PROMOTION. . . The 11th tradition has little to do with secrecy and shame, but with keeping us from saying “look at me!” It is possible to reach out to others without promoting yourself — read your blog.
    Anonymous for 34 years

  3. Wendy Beck | September 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    This is taken from a Recovery Month Event brochure that I coordinated. The 2007 Recovery Expo.
    To Tell or Not To Tell
    That is the Question

    Personally, I tell. Would I apologize for having Cancer or Diabetes or Asthma? If I had to leave work for chemo would I expect to be fired? People say—aren’t you embarrassed to admit that you are a person in recovery? I’m more embarrassed about what I did when I was still active in my addiction. I have spent years cleaning up my life, searching for ways to be a better member of society, for ways to help others, to hold my shoulders back and my head up and to be able to look you in the eye. I should be embarrassed? I should be stigmatized? I am proud to have lived this long. I am humbled that God has allowed me to do so and that people like the ones who will attend this Expo are here to help me and you!

  4. Patty Holloran | September 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I have been in recovery for 15 years–one day at a time. I have been very open about my recovery since just after my first anniversary. i have written a book, “Impaired: A Nurse’s Story of Addiction and Recovery.” (2009 Kaplan). I think that those who choose to should not be afraid to speak out about their recoveries. It is an individual choice. I think the 11th tradition’s language should be tweeked.

    • Carlos | October 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm

      It just seem to me that the 12 Step program has become anything but anonymous, there are all kinds of pressure for people to be open about their lives and I personally like my privacy and have had to place a number of HIPAA complains against treatment facilities that have gone over board and cross the line against patients’ privacy because they feel that they all patients should be like them. The staff feels that they need to force things on patients, and like always it is not their lives it is the patients’ lives. I can tell about the rest of the country but in my region, Twelve Step Treatment Staff seem to be about the most unethical professionals I have yet to find. Frequently make grandeur claims about their abilities and keeps promoting that patients tell on other patients, which destroys that sense of trust needed in the helping professions. Twelve Step Treatment staff would do well to read and re read the code of ethics of their own perspective professions, and to find out actually case records of violations. I think we do well to do some self refection and not make ourselves right automatically, but to look an honest close look about what is going one. I am pesonally very disappointed about how the movement is going. If it wasn’t for a group of individuals I can speak with I would have left the program long ago.

  5. Steve Castleman | September 27, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions states that a member’s name and story “had to be confidential if he wished.” But the extent of anonymity, like the entire program (a “suggested program of recovery” and not a “required” one), remains an individual decision. There are some areas of the country where stigma still abounds, while other areas are more accepting that addiction is a disease. The more the general public understands that addiction is a treatable disease rather than a moral failing, the less stigma there will be and the easier it will be for addicts in recovery to shed their anonymity. So let’s focus on increasing awareness that addiction is a disease.

  6. Thomas Gillis | September 28, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I have come out of the closet “publicly” and am getting lots of sh… from family members who feel it hurts their rep, as I am also an Adult Child of Alcoholic Parents. I believe those of us who have made it out of the world of addiction and found some form of recovery ( 27 yrs ) have some responsibility to try and help those still suffering from the disease of Alcoholism. Not just the users, but the family members suffering right along with the users and all the people that they effect. Alcoholism is a family disease and a social disease. Everyone suffers when there is an Alcoholic or Addict in the family circle. Being public about your recovery shows you have nothing to hide, feel little or no shame, realize that you never asked to be an Alcoholic, or Addict, that it runs in the genetic pool of your family and you were the lucky one to get the genetic predisposition and if you have the gene and start drinking for what ever reason, family influences or peer presure you are going to end up – “in the rooms” – AND that is if you are LUCKY! I have seen two of the closest people in my life die due to Alcoholism. It is not to be taken lightly. Alcoholism, it is a Life and Death disease and needs to be recognized as such. – Thomas Gillis

  7. SugarfreeNJ | September 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    My addiction was a secret my family hid my recovery has been the same. My dirty little secret, I still carry the guilt, but maintain sobriety because I’m proud of me, even if noone else was. I still occasionally go to a meeting and encourage. Everyone to stick and stay. I am now almost 4 yrs clean, God Bless NA and the people who helped me.

  8. John Winslow | September 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I don’t think it has to be an “either/or” issue. I believe there is a way to both support the “Break the Stigma/Offer Hope” message of Faces & Voices of Recovery while still protecting, respecting, and maintaining the 12-Step Tradition of Anonymity. In public situations, I welcome the opportunity to present myself as a “person in long-term recovery” (35+ years). Otherwise, I’m either John W. or find other means to completely avoid breaking the tradition of anonymity- both out of respect for and protection of 12-Step organizations, as well as to protect my OWN recovery from an over-blown ego or loss of spiritual perspective.

  9. Dan H | September 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    While your idea appears innocuous and even laudible, I see it differently. By losing our association with a fellowship, we create the perception that online recovery via social media may be sufficient in and of itself…that no commitment to a recovery fellowship is necessary. I cannot in good conscience subscribe to that idea. I am good with protecting my personal anonymity, but in recovery discussions where the respect of anonymity is already tacitly agreed upon, I will honor what my fellowship has given me.

    • Anonymous | September 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm

      PS>> Good job.

  10. Anonymous | September 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I am open to those who will benefit personally, and I don’t really care who knows, I just try to keep it low. It’s not about me, and the founders and the 12&12 outline good and valid reasons for the 11th T in a manner I fully and completely understand. Then again, live and let live, so please do as you see fit, after appropriate consideration and consultation. Lastly, the author is a founder of a website that could potentially make him wealthy famous and important and possibly cloud one’s judgment. I’ll leave that up to him. I dropped off the site the week I got on when I saw whole names being used. I’ll place my chips with Bill and stick with conservative tradition. Please remember: if you can’t serve as an example, you may serve as a warning. Maybe both. All the 11th T states is I don’t announce myself — identifiably — as a member. If I use my whole name, I don’t name the program by name.
    Maybe I understand how to help the most people now.

  11. Shaun Campbell | September 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I think the history of how anonymity came to be in the Twelve Steps in understanding the intent and purpose of this tradition. Folks, in my opinion are getting hung up on the “letter of the law”, without regard to the intent behind the prescription of anonymity. (Some, quite frankly, aren’t even beyond being “hooked on phonics” and are even misreading the explicit wording of the Eleventh Tradition.

    I see nothing wrong with my personal choice, in meetings, or elsewhere to say that “I am Shaun Campbell, and I don’t want to drink and drug anymore.”. Freeing myself of anonymity frees me from feeling stigmatized by the disease and holds me accountable in society that I will do my very best every breath of today to make choices that will keep me from drinking and drugging.

    Now, that said, I don’t have any interest in approaching media outlets to tell them my story with the Twelve Steps. (They wouldn’t be so interested in me being intellectually honest in disclosing that the Twelve Steps have worked only marginally, at best, for me and 8 to 9 out of every other 10 who try so hard to get this program to work perfectly for us.)

    Let’s hold back from dangerous self-promotion and aggrandizement at the levels of most public discourse, but let’s not shame ourselves or play into our temptations to be intellectually dishonest by hiding under pseudonyms and the like.

  12. anonymous | October 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

    I believe many people in the business of recovery have difficulty maintaining humilty as the underlying princple of recovery. I have long term recovery 29 years. I believe the traditions of recovery are in stone and need to be respected. Not rationalized in the guise of helping others. Attraction rather than promotion. I am happy joyous and free today. But for the Grace of G-d go I.

  13. billinsandiego | October 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    You missed the main theme of the 11th Tradition – humility. Shame may play a role to a certain extent, but the discussion regarding Tradition 11 is primarily its role in maintaining an individuals proper sense of self. Further, as long as “the disease of alcoholism” kills innocent people on the highway, abuses spouses and children, and endangers fellow workers, it will always have a stigma. Too many of those in recovery tend to live in an ivory tower and forget how alcoholism looks like to the average person – and its not all sober and spiritual.

  14. Carlos | October 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    The 11th Tradition is the most violated tradition of AA/A when the courts and other civil authorities demand persons to attend AA not only are they going in with a lot of vulnerability, but they are also do not know what they are getting into. When the tradition says it is a program of attraction not promotion and not only civil authorities and but even the treatment facilities most persons go to are FORCE to attend the 12 Step meeting it is also violated. Not only the 11th Tradition but the 6 that says that AA will not lend the AA name to any outside enterprise or related facilities and I see treatment facilities claiming to be a fraction of AA and/or that treatment and AA is the same thing it is also violated. Why does it seem like I am the only person that knows how to read. Then there is the 8th Tradition that says that AA will never be professionals. Yet when one goes to treatment seem like one encounter many AA member who are professionals who present themselves as AA gurus and presents themselves as representing AA. I am quite disappointed that no one seems to want to talk about it, they brush it under the rug and we continuo to sign logs for the courts and treatment facilities continuo to force patients to attend meetings and in fact most of what is talked about in “treatment” is AA and NA lingo and dogma. We do say that it is a disease of denial, or is it that we just want to go along while our integrity suffers. We might just be in a crisis of honesty and might well be oblivious to the facts.

    • billinsandiego | October 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      Carlos; Thanks. I have been concerned about this for years. I have led meetings where I say, at the beginning, “if anyone is here because they are REQUIRED to be here and need to have a signed card, bring them forward now to be initialed and if you want to leave, you absolutely may – we take no hostages here.”

  15. John F | October 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Others have discussed this better than I, especially on the subject of the Eleventh Tradition having nothing to do with shame and everything to do with humility. But you did ask a good question: Should the wording of the Tradition be changed?

    I think it should, and in the spirit of Keep It Simple, it should reflect the *actual practice* of the 12-Step Fellowships today. AA, for instance, speaks of the necessity of anonymity on the Internet, yet the Tradition says nothing about that, only about “the level of press, radio and films.”

    Television, anyone? Well, some of the Fellowships mention that. But why make it depend on keeping a technology list current? As I said, Keep It Simple: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of the mass media.”

    Be as open as you want one-on-one, or in a face-to-face group. At the mass level, including the Net, stay anonymous. If you want to identify yourself, say you’re in recovery, not in a particular program. Simple.

    • Brad | October 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      I agree with you, John. There is a big difference between saying “I’m a recovering alcoholic” and “I’m a member of Alcoholics Anonymous”. There’s also a big difference between disclosing membership in AA in a private setting and doing it in a public gathering or mass media. Perhaps the same thing applies with social media, with a distinction between what I post on my Facebook page for only my friends to see and what I post for everyone to see.

  16. M | October 10, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    This article suggests that all who recover do so in AA, NA and the other spiritual fellowships which incorporate the concept of anonymity. Those of us who utilize other pathways do not have this restriction and don’t need to worry about it. Then again, we don’t necessarily view ourselves as being in endless “recovery”, either.

  17. Tracie | October 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Thank you for your message. I am struggling to maintain the important traditions of AA, while working in health care, where stigma is rampent. I support the use of the term “long term recovery”. I have already bumped into an AA member with concerns about my support of Faces and Voices. I chose not to speak to this person – at this point she is a “whirling dervish” in my mind – tho I believe she is sincere. I’m just gonna let her whirl for a while and pray I sometime soon can have a conversation with her.

  18. Felix Recovering Addict | October 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    My understanding of the 11th tradition is that, as you said, members can relapse and that anonymity should be preserved not out of guilt or shame but in order to protect our fraternity!

    There is a time and place to tell other that our programs works and it is in the rooms, at conventions, in hospitals and institutions and through our public information commity. Speaking of which, the public information commity is the way to reach out to the rest of the society while still being anonymous!

    Of course on a one-person basis, I’m glad to share that I am a recovering addict, especially if it can help someone. Although, I do understand something, if somebody goes public about his affiliation to a fraternity and then relapses and say, goes on a rampage in a local school killing youngsters (could happen), that would cause great harm to the fellowship, that’s undeniable.

    Maybe that same person could have helped a few addicts feel hope before committing a crime but for certain, once the public opinion is compromised, that same man now caused a LOT of addicts to believe that it’s no use to go in a fraternity.

    Personally, my first encounter with the 12 steps was with a man that came to my school to share about his recovery when I was 13 and later, at 26, I remembered that and got inside a room when I realized that I couldn’t stop using all by myself. Oddly enough, I went to one fraternity and not another because I knew someone from another fellowship and didn’t approve of his actions and believed, at that time, that I had a better chance of recovery the fraternity which I am now a member.

    What I mean to say is that sometimes we want to help others but we might actually be causing more harm to our fellowship. Remember that the first tradition is that “Our common welfare should come first, personnal recovery depends on [our] unity”.

    This applies to anonymity also, by going public, an addict can cause harm to our common welfare, it’s as simple as that!

    I hope my english was understandable… It’s not my mother toungue.

    I am a recovering addict, my name is Felix

  19. Rita Brasher | April 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    It’s my opinion that it is up to the individual as to whether or not their anonymity is broken. I have no problem sharing my story of recovery in the general public, but it is not my place to share someone else’s.

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