Search This Blog

Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Approaches to Anonymity

A controversial article in The New York Times and a thoughtful response on the Huffington Post highlight perhaps the most controversial issue in Alcoholics Anonymous since its founding - anonymity.

The Times article ("Challenging the Second 'A' in A.A.") is at once a  compendium and recital of the famous and would-be famous who have broken their anonymity at a very public level, as well as a calling-into-question of whether maintaining our "personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and film," as A.A.'s 11th Tradition suggests, is an anachronism in the "Information Age." While questioning the need for anonymity at a time when "Celebrity Rehab" is a prime-time reality show and the famous and merely notorious break their and others' anonymity routinely on venues like TMZ, the article wholly ignores the effect and potential effect that a public relapse might have on the alcoholic addict who is still in the throes of his or her addiction. And it is not as if this 'controversy' is new.

Going back in A.A. history, Bill W. recounts how, "(a)t one point, about a hundred of our Society were breaking anonymity at the public level. With perfectly good intent," he recalls, "these folks declared that the principle of anonymity was horse-and-buggy stuff, something appropriate to A.A. pioneering days." (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 182). The article in the Times, despite its innately controversial subject matter, in all reality breaks very little new ground. Rather, it just reframes an old debate that has dogged us since our early days.

The Huffington Post response, on the other hand, takes a much deeper (and helpful) look at the issue of anonymity, focusing more on the 12th Tradition ("Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."), than on maintaining or breaking one's anonymity "at the level of press, radio and film."

"You're not so much trying to establish your individuality as to let go of your sense of uniqueness," observes the Huffington Post contributor. "When we stop trying to stand out in this way, we are working from the premise that, as the 12-Step literature says, "Selfishness -- self-centeredness! That we think is the root of our troubles.""

"Dropping our last name and our sense of uniqueness," he notes, "is a way to counter this tendency of trying to be the most special person; of trying to control everything and everyone around us; of putting satisfaction of our own desires before the needs of those around us."

"Like many 12-Step ideas," he observes, "there is a brilliance in this one. Without exactly telling us why we are doing it, the tradition . . . guides us to an experience of letting go and an insight into our own suffering -- the suffering of self-centeredness."
"Make a list of all the roles you play," he suggests, "all your identities, whether it's work, family, friends, your talents, your personality traits, your emotional patterns, your addictive habits. Look at all the things that you call "I," like name, body, memories, plans, accomplishments, etc."

"Once you've got the list, go through it one-by-one and ask, "Is this permanent? Could it change? Does it belong to me? Do I control it?" Then ask yourself, "Does this ever cause me pain or discomfort? What would happen if I didn't believe this was 'me'? How can I stop clinging to this identity?""
This, it seems to me, is a far better approach, and one that is far more likely to result in our ideal of "attraction rather than promotion," than is idealistically breaking one's anonymity by seeking the spotlight to tout the miracle of A.A. when one is really only clean and sober today, just like the rest of us. . . . And it sure reduces the risk of a spectacular Sheen-ian meltdown and tirade against A.A. (or any of its sister organizations) if one does not try or succeed in adopting A.A.'s program and principles as a way of daily living.

No comments:

Post a Comment