Last week, I reopened the conversation about anonymity. For years now, I have written this blog, but then I took a few months off. When I came back, I received several inquiries and comments regarding my breaking of my anonymity. One AA informed me that behind my back there is a wave of AA disapproval. Another woman, in the nicest possible way, sent me a bunch of Internet links in case I was just ignorant.
So for the record, I would like to say I am neither belligerent, nor am I ignorant. Years and years ago, I read once in a book that people of faith often think atheists and agnostics do not really understand God, so if God were simply explained to them, the atheists and agnostics would come to believe. This book said nothing could be further from the truth- that because of the consequences of denying God is so heavy, atheists and agnostics actually think a lot about God.
That is how I feel about anonymity. To think that I have not thought about the lasting repercussions of breaking my anonymity is ridiculous. I understand on a visceral level the choice I have made and the consequences it has. I know some AAs disapprove. I know some members of my family disapprove. I know I am one Google search away from my employer, my professors, and even my students knowing I am an alcoholic. To think I do it because of my ego is literally one of the shallowest thoughts I have ever heard voiced. No one would put oneself on blast, under scrutiny from friends, family, normies, and AA alike for the sake of ego.
So, why, then, do I break my anonymity? I have chosen to break my anonymity not because anonymity as a tradition isn’t important; there is just something more important on the line. And it is the reason I think everyone should break his/her anonymity. I think it is the reason why you, the reader of this post, should break your anonymity.
Alcoholism and addiction is not well understood. One of the most honest lines in the Big Book is, “If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all things worthwhile in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment…” (18).
This line is true. But it’s true because we let it be true. We allow the misunderstanding because we do not correct it. We are co-conspirators in the narrative because we do not change the dialogue.
With no other disease do those affected by it stand in the shadows. No one would ever attack the character of one who suffers from ALS or Parkinson’s. If someone has cancer and talks about his or her disease, remedy, and course of treatment, no one would call them prideful. Do those with Alzheimer’s accuse each other of selfish motives when advocating for reform and research? And yet, we alcoholics do that all the time. Why? I do not understand why we are so combative with each other.
Eighty years ago, one hundred people got together. They didn’t know how the book would be received. They didn’t know if the their idea would work. And they chose to leave their names off it. Fifteen years later, the group, for entirely different reasons and reflecting their culture of the 1950s, voted on the eleventh tradition.
Now it is 2016. Society and culture has once again changed. If in this information age, we choose not to inform, I believe we are doing a massive disservice the next generations of alcoholics and addicts. Instead of people being able to reach out and ask for help the way that anyone who is sick can and should ask for help, we are going to continue to perpetuate the current societal misunderstandings Bill wrote about in 1939. In meetings I often hear, “We are not bad people getting good. We are sick people getting well.” Then why do we act as if we are bad in public?
“17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems…More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol…
- 88,000 deaths are annually attributed to excessive alcohol use
- Alcoholism is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation
I am an alcoholic, yes, but I am a sober alcoholic. That only happened because one day I was so beaten down that the stigma didn’t matter anymore. But I wonder how many people never get past the stigma and die as a consequence. I wonder what would happened if we if we lowered the threshold of shame. I wondered if people stopped whispering and instead talked openly, like we do about tobacco addiction, if we encouraged health rather than shaming weakness, if the entire discourse would not be changed.
I had a friend tell me that she thought about coming out to her church. Her stepfather inquired as to her motive, was it not to be the one token alcoholic in the bunch? Was she not motivated by pride? It pained me when she relayed this story. I love my friend, and I like and respect her stepfather. It makes me uncomfortable to disagree with him. But yes, exactly! Just because she is 1, doesn’t mean she is the only 1. I bet there another 5 or 10 or 200 others who also haven’t come out at that church. She isn’t “the 1.” She just might be the first 1.
And I hope she is. I hope we all are.
I believe in AA. I owe it my life. But I also owe it to the future to not walk in shame.
We can regain anonymity when we are just one in 17.6 million people openly engaging in the conversation about alcoholism. It is just when we are the 1 that people notice us.