Anonymity – Another Look At Tradition 11

AnonymityOver at TheFix columnist Susan Cheever has an article titled AA Remains Deep in Denial About AnonymityIt’s worth a read I think because she examines why anonymity breaks can be a good thing.

Obviously, I agree with her. I published Powerfully Recovered! under my full name after much pacing because I didn’t want to hide my challenge to the fellowship behind the 11th Tradition. I’ve written about it in the book and here.

Tradition 11 reads:

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.

As Cheever says: “But people love rules, and many have grown to hold AA to a sacred standard.”

I’m not sure the sacred requires rules actually.

That sense of holding our 12 Step Programs to a sacred standard often results in people wanting more rules, more, perhaps, control.



We see the desire for regulation  in the story of Rule 62. And it happens today.

Back when AA was founded, there was a ton of shame associated with being a drunk. The old timers did have to be careful who knew they were attending ‘those meetings’ for fear of job loss if nothing worse.

It’s not the same today

It isn’t the same today, thank goodness. People are more likely to be congratulated when it’s found they are in a 12 Step Program than shunned.

It’s still possible for the press and the media to be mistaken about who speaks for a 12 Step group, but that doesn’t happen very often either.

In other words, two of the major reasons for anonymity are mostly gone.

It’s widely recognized that addiction is an illness which can go into remission with the application of the 12 Steps.

The biggest need for anonymity today is to help those in the public eye avoid problems with powerdrives and humility. I recognize the temptation to consider myself an expert with a large capital E just because I’ve written a book and a blog on the subject of addiction and recovery. Staying anonymous can help keep the ego right sized.

Change is already here

The reason I keep bringing up the possibility of a change in Tradition 11 is that in many ways the change has already happened – we just haven’t admitted it. Many people, like Susan Cheever and myself have for various reasons broken their anonymity, stayed sober and probably done way more good than harm.

Of course, AA’s General Service Office is at least asking if something should be changed in the eleventh tradition. In August of 2012 they sent out a request for sharing “regarding the effectiveness of the language of the Short Form of Tradition Eleven in addressing the needs of the Fellowship today.

Unfortunately the discussions I’ve found have centered on the idea of expanding Tradition 11 to include the internet or any other public media. I think that’s the wrong direction. We don’t need to fear anonymity breaks.



In Powerfully Recovered! I suggested that Tradition 11 be reworded along these lines:

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion. We need always protect the anonymity of others, even if we choose to break our own. (p. 127)

It seems to me this would be much closer to the truth as we have it today – much closer to reality, which is a good thing in my opinion.

What’s your opinion? Should we consider expanding the requirement as it’s stated in Tradition 11, “at the level of press, radio and film” to include new media? Or should we accept what’s really happening these days, and make the requirement voluntary? Feel free to take a pass at rewording it here.

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