I’m out publicly. I’m out with being epileptic, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a recovering sex addict and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. How can AA be a program of attraction if nobody knows you’re in it? Don’t you think more people might give 12-step a chance if they knew, for instance, that their favorite movie star was an active member?
Let me be clear: I don’t break other people’s anonymity. I don’t share what I hear in meetings nor who I see there (although I have been the victim of such breaches). I get that if you work for a finance company or a childcare agency and nobody knows you’re in recovery, you might not want to drink your morning coffee out of your “First Things First” mug, or have somebody like me say, “Hey man, see you at the 6 pm meeting!”
But when did getting sober become something to be ashamed of? The more people come out about their struggle with addiction and sobriety, the more quickly we might destroy the stigma. If addiction is truly a disease, where’s the embarrassment? Getting sober is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve done — over and over again.
When did AA become some secret society, like the Freemasons or Yale’s Skull and Bones? Sure, the history of AA has been all about anonymity (it’s built into the name), but now that there are TV shows and magazines about recovery, and treatment centers and sober living houses are booming, is it still necessary? I realize that as a professional writer who specializes largely in recovery I’m in a privileged position, free to wave (or burn) the AA banner as I like without jeopardizing my career or most of my life (if anything, it enhances my work). But even in that position, there’s no safety. For some Big Book thumpers, I’m not AA enough; and for the anti-12-steppers, I’m too AA. I can’t win.
And I don’t care. The common retort as to why it’s important to keep your anonymity at the level of press, radio and film (versus within your private life) is that if you relapse, then it looks like AA doesn’t work. But AA does not work for everybody. It is not the only way to get sober. It’s the way that works for me because, without the camaraderie of the program, I’m more alone than Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” and without the program’s spiritual principles to guide my behavior, I’m potentially a selfish homicidal maniac who’d make Robert Durst look like a nice guy. And even with AA, I have relapsed. Does that make AA look like it doesn’t work? Or does it make me look like maybe I have a really bad case of alcoholism that’s complicated by mental illness? And perhaps in relapsing I also hadn’t hit my bottom yet.
Anonymity is also considered by AA to have “spiritual significance,” in that it discourages people from vying for recognition, power or profit connected to the program. I do not claim to be a representative of AA. I’m not interested in being queen of the drunks. I think caring too much what people in AA think of you is as dangerous as caring whether people know that you’re in the program at all.
And who are we fooling? We know that anybody who says they’re in “recovery” is almost certainly in a 12-step fellowship. All they need to do is drop the word “serenity” or “acceptance” or “amends” and we know, beyond a doubt, that they’re a “friend of Bill. W.”
Photo by Wendy Hall