Anonymity in 12-Step meetings has been a longstanding and foundational part of the program. AA’s founder, Bill Wilson, wrote extensively on the subject in the very first edition of the Big Book in 1939. Of the twelve traditions, two of them speak directly to the subject of anonymity. Tradition 11 states: “We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films,” which outlines the importance of not speaking to the press about specific elements of AA. Tradition 12 states, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” Let’s break down the concept of anonymity in the program.
Anonymity is a spiritual principle, as stated in the 12th tradition. When we put principles before personalities, we are able to disregard the messiness and judgment that can sometimes accompany human relationships. Anonymity is also important on a personal and public level. On a personal level, we can feel as if we’re in a safe space to share. We know that members of the group won’t speak about our experiences to others and we give them the same respect. Personal anonymity is part of why we only use first names in meetings and also why we refer to each other using only first names when we see each other in public.
On a public level (press, radio, TV, the Internet), anonymity is important as an equalizing force. For instance, exploiting one’s participation in AA and using it to stand out in the public sphere would be problematic.
There are exceptions to the anonymity rule and the definition of anonymity seems to be constantly evolving, especially in the digital age. For instance, some people believe that publicly declaring one’s involvement with AA, NA, or another program may not be harmful to the program or its anonymity. It’s also completely acceptable and common to share with your family members and loved ones that you’re involved in a 12-Step group. It’s important to use your own discretion when talking about the program, do your research, and consult with your sponsor.
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