The Principle of Anonymity – Some thoughts from the A.A. oldtimers

In the Forward to the First Edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it states:

“It is important that we remain anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication. Being mostly business or professional folk, we could not well carry on our occupations in such an event. We would like it understood that our alcoholic work is an avocation.

When writing or speaking publicly about alcoholism, we urge each of our Fellowship to omit his personal name, designating himself instead as “a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.” (pg. xiii, A.A. 4th Edition)

Tradition Eleven 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.” (Short Form)

“Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.” (Long Form)

Tradition Twelve states:

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” (Short Form)

“And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.” (Long Form)

What did the old timers think about anonymity?

On page 264-265 of “DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers” (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., New York 1980) it states:

“As far as anonymity was concerned, we knew who we were. It wasn’t only A.A., but our social life. All of our lives seemed to be spent together. We took people home with us to dry out. The Cleveland group had the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the members,” said Warren. “In fact, I remember Dr. Bob saying, ‘If I got up and gave my name as Dr. Bob S., people who needed help would have a hard time getting in touch with me.'”

Warren recalled, “He (Dr. Bob) said there were two ways to break the anonymity Tradition: (1) by giving your name at the public level of press or radio; (2) by being so anonymous that you can’t be reached by other drunks.”

In an article in the February 1969 Grapevine, D.S. of San Mateo, California, wrote that Dr. Bob commented on the Eleventh Tradition as follows:

“Since our Tradition on anonymity designates the exact level where the line should be held, it must be obvious to everyone who can read and understand the English language that to maintain anonymity at any other level is definitely a violation of this ‘Tradition’.

“The A.A. who hides his identity form his fellow A.A. by using only a given name violates the Tradition just as much as the A.A. who permits his name to appear in the press in connection with matters pertaining to A.A.

“The former is maintaining his anonymity above the level of press, radio, and films, and the latter is maintaining his anonymity below the level of press, radio, and films — whereas the Tradition states that we should maintain our anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”

Ernie G. of Toledo, commenting on what he saw to be an increase of anonymity within A.A. today as compared with the old days said, “I made a lead over to Jackson (Michigan) on night, and everybody’s coming up to me and saying, “i’m Joe,’ ‘I’m Pete.’ Then one of guys said, ‘Safe journey home. If you get into any trouble, give me buzz.’ Later, I said to the fellow who was with me, ‘You know, suppose we did get into trouble on the way home. How would we tell anyone in A.A.? We don’t know anyone’s last name.’ They get so doggone carried away with this anonymity that it gets to be a joke. I had a book (evidently, one of the small address books compiled by early members or their wives) with the first hundred names — first and last — telephone numbers, and where they lived.”

Dr. Bob’s views on anonymity remained clear in the recollections of Akron’s Joe P. (the Dartmouth grad). Though it was not the custom in the mid-1940’s to give A.A. talks to anyone except drunks, Joe noted, a few members formed an unofficial public information committee that started to speak to Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs throughout the state.

“Of course, we first had to get permission from Bob. He said you were not supposed to break your anonymity in the newspapers or on the radio, but he didn’t think we would ge anyplace if people didn’t know we belonged to A.A. He had the firm conviction that you should let yourself be known as A.A. member in the community, and he was always sure to tell you about it every time you met him.”

What are your thoughts and experiences with the anonymity prinicple? Do you let people outside the fellowship know you are member of A.A. or C.A. or N.A., S.L.A.A., etc.? Do you remain anonymous even amongst the fellowship? Ever had your anonymity broken? Let us know what you think.

7 thoughts on “The Principle of Anonymity – Some thoughts from the A.A. oldtimers

  1. I have always practiced anonymity at the level of press, radio, televison and the Internet.

    Inside the fellowship, when I work with another, I know their full name and phone number and they know my full name and phone so that when we need to reach one another, we can.

    Occasionally, when I speak at a meeting I like to talk about working with others. I believe it is the foundation stone in my recovery and I am always recruiting newcomers who want "a way out". Occasionally, someone will speak after I have spoken a make reference to Tradition Eleven, "Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us." I have thought about this and I like to refer to what the Big Book says:

    "Hence the two men set to work almost frantically upon alcoholics arriving in the ward of the Akron City Hospital." (p. xvii A.A. 4th Edition).

    "My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems."(p. 15 A.A. 4th Edition)

    "Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers (addicts), depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs." (p. 20, A.A. 4th Edition)

    "But if you are shaky you had better work with another alcoholic (addict) instead." (p. 102, A.A. 4th Edition)

  2. Anonymity is for others protection so I respect it.

    As for me:
    Scott Andrew Finan
    Alcoholic and pill addict.
    At your service 24-7.

  3. Hello, my name is barbara and I am an alcoholic living in the Italian part of Switzerland. Recently, we opened a new Big Book meeting, and the group conscience decided to make it an open meeting. However, we do state clearly that we are to share only on problems relating to alcoholism and the solution towards permanent sobriety. Our servants are strictly AA members, and so is the moderator, treasurer, etc. At the local Intergroup this new group received lot’s of criticism because of it being an open meeting. The members of the IG say that we are broaching the spiritual principles of anonymity towards the newcomer. They say that non alcoholics that could attend the meeting are not held to our anonymous principles, although we specifically state at the end meeting that all that has been discussed should remain within the confines of the meeting. As a result, the IG has decided not to have our meeting published in the official AA website, so nobody knows of our existence…We firmly wish to be useful to the community and feel we are not going against the principles of anonymity by having an open meeting. Of course, we will guide a suffering family member of an alcoholic to an Al-Anon member giving them telephone numbers and times of the Al-Anon meeting. Any thoughts on this?

  4. Read Traditions 4. It’s unfortunate that you’re in a group decided not to publish the meeting in their meeting list, but the point that has been raised is a very good one.

    In our group here in the states there are large number of Street people he frequent our meetings at 6:45 in the morning. We call it an open meeting and we ourselves I responsible for maintaining the traditions. We have had curiosity Seekers who might break our anonymity. That is not our concern. We are responsible to one another as group members to heed the 11th tradition and the 12th tradition and that anyone who walks into our meeting, whether alcoholic or not, should be accorded their anonymity. This is regardless of what they may say about us, that is the group members, when they leave

  5. It is a shame that anonymous has been so confused. It is not that we want to hide our identity so others will not know we are alcoholic. That is known as privacy and should be part of any group that discusses problems. We don’t want to have people in our group tell others about us (like gossip). But that is not the anonymous of A.A. anonymous means we are part of something greater than ourselves but of the group. We don’t take credit or publicize ourselves. Don’t let it get mixed up with privacy

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