Why You Should Break Your Anonymity Too

Anonymity NursingLast 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?

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence,

“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

17.6 Million.

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.

 

Breaking my Anonymity

In the past moAnonymity Accidentnth, I have had a couple of people email me asking me about my decision to break my anonymity. I want to address this issue. My thoughts have evolved over the past couple of years since I started this blog, but I felt like I needed to re-post the original blog as a point of reference. This original post was published on September 24, 2014. I would also like to add that if someone would like to write the post about why anonymity should be kept, I would greatly appreciate it. I had made this offer originally to the people who emailed me, but I never heard back from them. I hope someone will volunteer to do it. And without further ado…

I have been writing today’s post on and off again for the last week. It has been very difficult. I think the reason is that I am walking a fine line of between explanation and justification. I keep slipping into a defensive tone, like I am on guard against possible recriminations. So, with a deep breath, I am going to start over.

Today’s writing is the third in a series of posts. If you are just joining the conversation, you might want to look to the right hand side of the screen. It should show Post One, “How I became an Alcoholic” and Post Two, “What it’s like Now.” They will explain my backstory and my motivation for writing this little series.

So, this third part addresses the final question: Why I write so publicly about my alcoholism.

Let me start off by saying that I truly enjoy writing. I have always enjoyed voicing my thoughts on paper. In fact, I think I write more coherently than I speak. In my mind, my words are clean and precise, but when I speak, they come out in a jumble. When I get the chance to write, edit, rephrase, and yes, start over when I begin to sound defensive, I feel a lot calmer.

AA teaches me to be honest today. And I honestly do not care about if anyone knows I am a recovering alcoholic. Additionally, I am not supposed to live in fear. The only reason I could come up with for not proclaiming my alcoholism is fear of what other alcoholics would say. “What? Oh no!” you say. “Other alcoholics? You meant Normies.” No, no I did not. I’ve run that one over and over again in my own head. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I have never had anyone condemned my recovery to my face. Usually, people are quite nice and supportive. Maybe a little shocked, but encouraging none-the-less. Alcoholics, though, man, we can be ruthless. Alcoholics, by and large, are generally really intelligent people and we are not afraid to pass judgment and speak our minds. We are kinda a scary organization, to be quite honest. Thank gosh our main objective is staying sober and not world domination.

Okay, here are the main reasons I get for not proclaiming myself an alcoholic. 1) The second A of AA. Anonymity. I think it is a sticky widget. According to the preface of the Big Book, the reason for anonymity is simple. “It is important to stay anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication.” The amount of personal appeals I have received is zero. And I have plenty of time. 2) The Eleventh and Twelfth Traditions. Okay, you may have me here. I’ve read them a few times, and yet, I am still not clear on the ideas. But I know I am not promoting. I’ve said time and again, I speak for no one other than myself. 3) The idea that if an alcoholic is public and then relapses, the public will assume AA as an organization, and not the individual, is somehow to blame. I’ve never really gotten this argument either. Alcoholism and drug addiction are so life consuming that for a person to stop for even a week or a month is a huge accomplishment. To disregard this clean time as a blanket failure of AA is near sighted at best. Besides, I have never actually heard this said by a single Normie ever. It is always said to me by an AA speaking on behalf of society. Has anyone ever actually heard the news condemn AA when a celebrity has failed to maintain sobriety? I should YouTube it.

So, why I write about my alcoholism… (I cringe a little as I write this because I fear that some might find me morally grandstanding. That is not the case at all. I am a flawed individual. I own every part of that.) I think that publicly proclaiming my alcoholism is the morally right thing to do. That’s it. I write about my alcoholism because I think I should. Pure and simple.

“Alcoholic” is a very heavy label. Because alcoholism and drug addiction is so stigmatized in modern society (especially for women), most people keep their anonymity for fear of societal backlash. In fact, just today I had lunch with a friend who told me she is worried that if her boss knew she was an alcoholic, the boss would use that information against my friend. I absolutely get that. Not for a second do I judge my friend for her decision to maintain anonymity.

My personal feeling, though, regarding just me, is that if I truly believe that my alcoholism is genetically predisposed, which I do, then I should be no more ashamed or embarrassed by my disease than I am of my hair color or my skin tone. I am not responsible for my disease. With that said, I am 100% responsible for my recovery, what I do with my disease once I am diagnosed. If I choose to disregard my alcoholism and indulge in my obsession, I will no doubt commit ludicrous and outrageous acts, cut myself off from those who love me, lie, cheat, and steal. Then, I should absolutely be ashamed of my actions. But stopping, asking for help, living by a moral code and a set of principles, and proclaiming a belief in something holier and deeper than the material is not, nor should it be, shameful. The reality is, I do not think it is embarrassing that I am a recovered alcoholic. The embarrassing part is if I had never stopped.

I belong to a small minority that feels that by clinging to anonymity, we alcoholics help perpetuate the stigma of an alcoholic rather than the creating a new discourse about recovery. I remember a person saying in a meeting once, “I didn’t care about my anonymity when I was out there drinking.” That’s the language I understand. I have the luxury to be in a situation where I can proclaim my alcoholism, but even if I couldn’t, I probably still would. I think it is important. I write because I think I should. If I treat my disease as a source of embarrassment and shame, why in the world would I be surprised when others do the same?