It's Anonymous For a Reason!

By Harry Healy 11/25/13

You take away the second word in Alcoholics Anonymous and what are you left with?

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Still considered to be the spiritual foundation of all the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, anonymity is a concept that is taking a beating both inside and outside of the organization. Misunderstood or not understood at all, this idea is under siege in today's social climate, where the pre-eminence of the self, the ego, the personality, has never been more exaggerated than it is today, and there are no signs it’s going back the other way any time soon.

Talent show-type TV programs trumpet mediocrity, celebrating some slight skill that’s half-baked before being rushed into the unloving spotlight of public exposure. The tendency of the contestants, when criticized, is to defend their greatness, after several million people just witnessed how they flopped. Their self-esteem is, to say the least, untarnished.

Overblown self-importance is nothing new in AA. In fact, it’s a common trait among alcoholics.

Sports at every level sing a song of the self. Watch a professional athlete perform a routine play, that is, execute the precise and often only action called for in a given situation. Observe as he points toward the sky, beats his chest like Tarzan, then kick-starts some inane jig, often while his team is getting killed. Antics like this, rare as they once were, would bring coaches barreling off the sidelines to drag the cretin from the field or the court. Obviously, that was another time.

Tragically few people have learned to spell or write, let alone think, but they advance powerful viewpoints based on emotion, and regardless if those opinions have been well formed, or formed at all, they will be aired. Peruse the comments following any article on the Internet. The writing in question will have been misconstrued and over-interpreted, but that will hardly interrupt the flow of radioactive reaction. Take a peek, for example, at the section that follows any controversial article on The Fix. I rest my case.

Alcoholics Anonymous, forever susceptible to the crosscurrents of contemporary life, is rife with the same phenomenon. Overblown self-importance is nothing new in AA. In fact, it’s a common trait among alcoholics. We’re desperate for recognition, and as that need becomes more widespread and even encouraged, we’re all in danger of being swept away with the tide.

AA is not a secret society. We are not unknown to one another, nor should we, or could we be. When reaching out to a potential candidate for AA sobriety, I tread lightly. I almost always say, “If you ever want to do anything about your drinking, let me know” and I leave it at that. If I’m asked point blank if I’m an AA member, I might answer yes, if I judge the knowledge to be useful to the person who’s asking. They’re usually just being nosy, so I stonewall them.

I wouldn’t bring up my sobriety in any kind of professional setting. I’m not going to talk about it on a job interview (“So, Mr. Healy, what are your interests outside of your career?”) and if I’m at dinner with people I don’t know well, or have no clue about my history as a sober drunk, I ask for sparkling water in place of the scotch I would’ve demanded at another time in my life. I don’t elaborate on why I’m not drinking. I picked up these common-sense pointers within about a year of landing in AA, and I’m stunned today when I hear members question the validity of those guidelines.

There's a passage in the Big Book about a businessman (there are many, actually) who has suffered a titanic fall and cannot right himself, in spite of receiving the priciest medical care available at the time. He starts practicing AA principles and is transformed. Readers are assured that "he is a free man. He can go anywhere on this earth where other free men may go without disaster, provided he remains willing to maintain a certain simple attitude."

I suspect anonymity is a main feature of this attitude. What he seems to have acquired is grace. He can't go around bragging—sobriety is not something he achieved—but he can't use his alcoholism as an excuse any more either. Sobriety and a circumspect approach about it have become a great leveler. He was sick, but now he's well, and there's a great deal of work to be done.

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