AA, Anonymity, And The Digital Age: That Thing Bill W. Didn’t Write About
One of the first things I did while in treatment was post on Facebook and tell all of my acquaintances what was happening and why I was no longer drinking. I did so mostly because I was sick of hiding, sick of being ashamed of who I was and what I was going through. I did so for selfish reasons, because I knew it would take a weight off of my shoulders.
I never dreamed it would lift me up and make my sobriety so much more meaningful and genuine, but that is what happened. As I began to worry less about being vulnerable and judged, I began to share more pieces of my story. The result was overwhelming kindness and understanding. I am no longer anonymous. To be honest, if I were still anonymous I would probably have started drinking again. I truly believe I have stayed sober because of my choice to be open about my journey.
I bring this up now, over two years after breaking my anonymity, because I recently returned from a young people’s AA conference where I attended a panel titled, “Carrying the Message Online: A Digital Think Tank.” In other words, we spent the session discussing the age of the Internet and anonymity (or rather, lack thereof). To say I was shocked by the opinions expressed is an understatement—my mouth was literally hanging open at parts of the session. I am so used to my generation being the first to embrace technology. We’re all about Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Except, apparently, when it comes to sobriety.
To put it simply, I was largely disappointed by other young people’s inability to see the Internet as a powerful tool, as an incredible way to carry the message. I should stop and clarify here—I’m not saying that I think being vocal about sobriety is something everyone should do. It’s not. I know some people aren’t comfortable with that. My issue stemmed more with the fact that they seemed to look down upon those of us who do decide to share our stories, claiming that we are breaking Tradition 11, which states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”
To be honest, I couldn’t care less about breaking Tradition 11. Here’s why I’ve chosen (and continue to choose) to break my anonymity.
1. Times change. The founder of AA wrote the book in 1939. That’s 76 years ago, people. He didn’t know that wireless phones would be a thing, let alone the Internet, a forum where people can share and connect on a different level than ever before. No one can predict the future when they are writing in the present, but just because something is written doesn’t mean we still need to abide by it. The Bible wrote that adulteresses should be stoned to death. As far as I know, that is no longer practiced because times have CHANGED and it is no longer acceptable.
2. By telling my story I am only breaking MY OWN anonymity, no one else’s. This is what I think so many people fail to realize. If I were posting on social media and tagging friends from AA who wish to remain anonymous, that would be a whole other story. But I am not doing that, nor will I ever. My involvement in AA is mine to express, and I choose to do so. Under no conditions am I required to keep my own membership a secret. In fact, I feel that would be detrimental to my recovery.
3. I feel that Step 12 is more important than Tradition 11. I would choose carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers over keeping my involvement in AA a secret any day. If by sharing my own story I can help even one other person who is suffering with alcoholism, I feel it has been worth breaking tradition. In fact, this isn’t a hypothetical situation. I know there are people, people I have never physically met, who are sober today because of reading something I’ve written. They have told me so. I’m not stating this to brag or make it sound like I’m a hero. That’s not the point. The point is that if one person has a better life and is suffering less today because I chose to break anonymity, then I feel it has been more than worth it.
4. Being vocal about my journey keeps me sober and accountable. This may sound selfish but it’s the truth. Since so many people know about my sobriety and follow my journey, I’d have that many more people to explain myself to if I were to relapse. Knowing that people read what I write and draw strength from it is truly what keeps me sober. More so than AA, it’s the people I’ve crossed paths with through telling my story. They are the reason I do not pick up a drink. Had I chosen not to tell my story, I never would have crossed paths with them, and eventually would have probably picked up a drink again since I would have had so many less people caring about that action.
5. I am proud of my recovery. I am. It’s not something I wish to hide from anyone in my life, even strangers. In fact, recently on my first day at my new job, I told everyone I was sober. Guess what? No one cared. More than anything, they admired the fact that I was young and able to maintain sobriety. I’d rather be open about who I am than try to hide it for fear of being rejected. I am over two years sober, and I am damn proud of that. I always will be.
6. Recovery is about becoming comfortable with who I am. How would I ever be able to like the person I am if I’m always hiding the reason I’ve become that person? Sobriety and AA have made me a better, happier, kinder person and I feel the need to give credit where credit is due. I didn’t just wake up this way one day. I worked to become this person and it’s important to me that people know how I did it.