It's Anonymous For a Reason!
Anonymity on the public level is something else again. During the week I was roughing out this essay, a television personality was splashed across the cover of some supermarket tabloid, crowing about his newfound, and I would wager, fragile sobriety. Out of the headlines recently and pining for the limelight, this Hollywood cheese ball was angling for some much-needed publicity, and if that required him to employ the program and forego the second A in its name in the service of himself, so what?
The usual canard is that this revelation is going to propel some previously fence-sitting drunk into getting help. The actor’s confession is going to succeed in getting somebody sober where no-doubt several of the drunkard’s intimates (not to mention folks with ordinary AA experience) have failed? I don’t think so.
As a guy who expects a standing ovation for bringing home a quart of milk, I know what I'm talking about.
Those who defend that point of view likely have little experience doing things they don’t receive immediate recognition for. Besides, if they don’t take note of their own good deeds, who will? It’s true that anonymity will not provide the cheap high of instant gratification, which is something alcoholics remain addicted to long after we quit drinking. And please, don’t let's think this hapless celebrity is going to harm AA if and when he drinks again. He is the person—unknowingly—who is suffering the most, by denying himself one of the true graces of the program. The satisfaction that true and sustained anonymity provides approaches the sublime.
As a guy who expects a standing ovation for bringing home a quart of milk, I know what I'm talking about. During my drinking career, and for years after I got sober, when I wasn’t lying outright about my exploits, I was exaggerating my role in the stories I told about myself. I was the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral. Years of painful practice of Step 6 and Step 7 knocked much of that out of me. So did sponsorship and working with others. Still, the impulse dogs me.
I have been a writer my entire life. I have experienced some middling success, not nearly enough to meet my estimation of my talents, but I must admit to being pleased with my contributions to The Fix. Except Harry Healy is not my name. Restraining myself, I haven’t directed my other editors to the site, people I’ve worked closely with for years, just to let them know what I’m up to. The same goes for relatives who figure into the essays I’ve written, and writer friends I’d like to impress. I fell down on that account once, and I regret it. Aside from a couple editors here, nobody knows who I am. Guess what else? Nobody cares.
I revel in being the unseen hand. On the job, if I do the work of other people, I don’t tell them about it. If they’ve noticed, they haven’t said anything. I prefer it that way. I was bringing snacks to a meeting I sometimes attend, and I got a kick out of the fact that people didn’t know where the sweets were coming from, until my cover was blown and they started thanking me at the end of the meeting. It’s less fun for me now.
Whether any of this qualifies as altruism is a debate for those better equipped, intellectually, to conduct that argument. It makes no difference to me. Flying under the radar does make me feel good, and if it’s antithetical to most of the thinking that dominates popular culture, so much the better. If for no other reason than that, anonymity would be worth putting into practice. But I’m pursuing a greater ideal, cultivating my better angels to overcome this rank essence to glorify myself. The benefits are not merely philosophical.
Leaving myself out of the equation as much as possible has opened new roads into my AA program. I have a deeper understanding of Step 3, I’ve ramped up my 11th Step practice, and I’m more willing to try Step 6 on my failings, which if I’m honest, are many.
I’m anxious a lot of the time, but I don’t act reflexively out of fear the way I used to. I see myself as a tiny cog in a universe that seems to want to unfold in a certain direction, and I’m trying to get out of the way of that unfolding. I don’t dwell on my disappointments. I have plenty of them. Who doesn’t?
And I’ve become more forgiving of missteps like wanton breaches of anonymity. In a lot of cases, it’s simply inexperience and fear, a reaction to the avalanche of signifiers in contemporary society. My suggestion: seek anonymity as an end in itself. Watch what happens.