Erica C. (Delegate, Panel 67 Area 10 – Colorado)
(Presented at the A.A. South West Regional Forum, San Antonio October 2017)
The first time I met with my first sponsor to begin stepwork, I arrived fifteen minutes early at the restaurant where we agreed to meet because I wanted to get my first A+ in AA. I showed up with my brand new, hot-off-the-press 4th edition Big Book complete with blue and yellow dust jacket. After I ordered my coffee, I placed the book on the edge of the table in the hopes that the waitstaff and other customers might catch a gimps and see what a sorry state I was in. Poor little Erica, condemned to a life in Alcoholics Anonymous!
When my sponsor arrived, she took a look at the book, looked at me, and told me I needed to put a new cover on it – one that would conceal its title when I was out in public. Conveniently, the dust jacket is sheer white on the inside—I turned it inside out and wrapped my book in it while my new sponsor explained how anonymity was the spiritual foundation of all of our principles in AA. She said it would be unfortunate for me to break my anonymity as an AA member before I had had any experience in recovery to demonstrate AA principles to others. Moreover, I never had the right to break another member’s anonymity, including hers, which I had broken by implication when I showed off my Big Book to all of the patrons in the restaurant. Then she asked me to read the essays on Traditions 11 and 12 with a laser focus on the principle of humility and self-sacrifice.
As clueless as I had been that morning, I read those two essays in the evening and felt deeply that humility and self-sacrifice – the abandonment of personal distinction inside or outside of the fellowship as a function of my experience as an alcoholic – were practices that I sorely lacked. I was keenly aware of my desperate need for a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism. And through the guidance of this sponsor and our literature, I learned that one way to assure that I am practicing a genuine humility is to maintain my personal anonymity as an AA member at the public level, to be rigorous about practicing the principle of anonymity within the fellowship, and to continually avoid seeking personal distinction within AA. That is, Traditions 11 and 12 were there not to protect my privacy so much as they were there to protect AA from my own self-will, power-driving, and desire for special attention.
It is easy to think of anonymity simply as a matter of confidentiality. Our anonymity promise assures newcomers they can join the fellowship without exposure to public ridicule or the stigma associated with alcoholism. There is, however, another dimension of anonymity – the spirit of the principle itself. The spirit of anonymity focuses less on confidentiality and more on humility and self-sacrifice. This can be much trickier because of its subtlety and its demand that we each, as AA members, constantly examine our motives in the way that we relate to one another.
As our Big Book says, one way that we help each other is by disclosing our shortcomings, so that others might identify with us and therefore reflect on their own practices. So in the interest of disclosure, I will share a few ways that I have acted outside of the spirit of anonymity as an AA member. These are just for your consideration; if they don’t resonate for you, feel free to discard them.
First, I once shared a sobriety anniversary with my friends on Facebook to accumulate accolades all day long. Because my post was private, this act did not break the letter of anonymity. However, because my motive in posting the anniversary was a desire for praise and accolades for this milestone, I did act outside of the spirit of anonymity.
Second, I have put AA members on a pedestal and sought prestige by associating with people whom I deemed important in the fellowship. Again, this has nothing to do with confidentiality, but it reflects a lack of humility on my part as I seek to place others above myself or myself above others.
Third, I have told someone that I was in AA to elicit interest, intrigue, or sympathy. Because this was a personal disclosure, I did not break anonymity at the public level. However, my motives were not selfless, as I was seeking personal distinction as a function of my membership in AA.
Fourth, I have discussed my work and professional life with AA members to seem special. Again, this was a subtle attempt to set myself apart from my fellow AA members – to obtain special distinction within AA.
One of the advisory actions from the 67th General Service Conference is to add more discussion about the spirit of anonymity, humility, and self-sacrifice to the pamphlet “Understanding Anonymity.” Although sticking to the letter of anonymity is simple – we do not disclose our membership in AA at the public level – the humility and self-sacrifice involved in the spirit of anonymity provide potential for a lifetime of continuous spiritual growth – both for our individual members and for the fellowship as a whole. Thank you.