Kristen over at Bye-Bye Beer recommended to me the documentary The Anonymous People. The film which streams on Netflix has some fantastic insights and certainly clarified some of my thinking on the concept of anonymity. A basic point I got out of the documentary is that folks in recovery are too often anonymous for fear of having their addiction found out by others with possible negative consequences. As a result of this fear, those still actively practicing their addictions do not have the benefit of knowing about the millions of recovery stories that are out there. The film got me to thinking about my recovery and anonymity over the years. Here are some thoughts:
- The Twelfth Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous goes “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” In AA’s publication The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the four-page (pp. 184-187) discussion of the Twelfth Tradition suggests anonymity is based in a need for humility. Anonymity also prevents gossip and an addict’s fear of reprisal, such as loss of job, etc. Anonymity also assures not having a myriad of voices speaking for AA in what could be construed as official policy. That all can make sense to me in terms of formal association or representation of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- I tend to be reasonably transparent about recovery in my day-to-day existence. For example, often in my advising of college students, some with checkered pasts, I raise that during my first go at college in the 1970s, I accumulated 43 credit hours and an 0.7 GPA. When I quit drinking 15 years later and went back to school, I maintained a 4.0 through my PhD program. The lesson being that we all screw-up and that redemption is possible. This truth-telling has been very helpful to some of my students and me as well. I enjoy being able to give back. Last year I posted about a memorable example of how this worked with one of my former students. I have also had the opportunity to speak from the pulpit to several hundred on Recovery Sunday services in the past.
- But when I started this blog about one year ago, I felt the need to be anonymous, going so far as to blur my face in post photos. Why? At this point, I am pretty hard-pressed to come up with a compelling reason. With family and friends my recovery is completely a non-issue. I am certain I have some allegiance to the AA tradition, though I don’t consider myself an AA representative and am always very clear on this point. I suppose my biggest reason for anonymity when starting this blog was not wanting to mix my career and recovery blogs. Therefore, my profile on this blog is pretty anonymous, but I realize too that given the way WordPress works with multiple blogs out of a single account, it’s not really that difficult to tie blogs together. (Here is my nonanonymous about file on my other blog by the way.)
- But the biggest point I got out of The Anonymous People film is that by being anonymous, the millions still actively in addiction do not have the benefit of the experience, strength, and hope of the millions of folks in recovery – beyond those seen in the rooms of 12-Step programs, high-profile celebrities and so forth. The film makes the point that if addiction is truly a disease, as determined by the American Medical Association, where are the walk-a-thons etc. for recovery like those associated with other diseases such as cancer, ms, cf, etc. etc.? Where are the voices of the millions of recovery survivors? They are restricted to anonymous recovery meetings. Also, that relative silence allows a ready platform for anyone who wishes to trash a range of recovery efforts to make a buck. For example see the Q and A at the Fix with Dr. Lance Dodes, which reeks of anti-AA and general recovery conspiracy theory and to me is about as convincing as the existence of Sasquatch, Area 51 UFO landings, or a flat earth. But the problem is that ramblings about extraterrestrials and the like, to my knowledge, do not result in the suicides, family dysfunction, self-loathing, and wasted lives as in the case of substance abuse.
The Anonymous People makes a compelling argument for not being anonymous in recovery. So, my name is Robert Connolly and I am in long-term recovery. I say that also not being certain what “long-term recovery” means – but at 29 years, I know I qualify. I say that also recognizing that anonymity is a personal decision that must be weighed by each individual. The Anonymous People film showed me that in my case, there is really is no compelling reason that I remain anonymous.