If like me you spend a bit of time wandering around amongst Twitter’s #RecoveryPosse community, you will find vastly differing approaches to anonymity or the lack thereof. When I first joined Twitter and the Posse, my account was strictly anonymous. @SobrietyMatt’s avatar was a mat, literally, and my handle was some random one assigned to me by Twitter upon joining. My motivation for anonymity at the beginning was twofold:
- I had tried and failed to give up alcohol before and subconsciously thought I could always fail and start up again with a new account and no one would know!
- I didn’t want anyone that I knew in real life to find me and know my dirty little secret.
As time went on and I became more confident, the first reason no longer mattered to me, but the second prevented me from complete openness about who I was.
Over the following weeks I gradually became less anonymous; my avatar was even sometimes my entire face, these days a close up of my highly made up eyes only. I posted pictures of myself for various reasons, mostly to increase my followers with some sexy click bait*, but my full name remained anonymous.
Under this cloak of anonymity I spoke about my attendance at AA, being sure never to repeat what I had heard or who I had seen, but I made no secret that I attended, nor did I think for a minute that I should. The anonymity of the programme surely, was a matter of choice for each individual. Then, one day, after talking about AA, my lack of anonymity about attending was brought into question by another tweeter, who asked:
“Has your sponsor made you aware of Tradition 11?”
Being the person I am I first took offence at his comment and then pretended that I knew all about Tradition 11. In reality I had no idea and had to look it up. For those of you who don’t know it says:
“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.” – Alcoholics Anonymous
I was confused; “but I am telling people that I am in AA – what could be more attractive to them than that?”, I thought to myself.**
So now I was really pissed off, but also feeling like a naïve newbie who had broken some secret clan rules, but as I saw others in AA talking about their experiences and showing off their length of sobriety medals, I decided that I could relax and that the objector was just an old fuss pot that could be ignored.
Thereafter, I maintained this attitude –no full name, no more precise a location than my city and no reference to other people or places in my life. I did, however, continue to make reference to my attendance at AA. “I’m not ashamed” I told myself, and did not give it a second thought. About two weeks ago I started to have a serious think about this though after reading another comment from a fellow #RecoveryPosse tweeter. It went something like this (and I am paraphrasing):
I don’t reveal my identity because my attendance at AA might prevent someone who doesn’t like me from attending when they need to.
This was something that I had not considered, partly, of course, because my tiny mind could not compute that anyone would ever not like me that much. Yet, here was something that I could understand; I decided to imagine that a nameless arch-enemy (obviously fictional, I have no resentments today) was attending my local group and I asked myself “would it stop me going?” Probably, yes, is the honest answer. That being the case would probably suggest that we should not ever talk about attending AA regardless of whether or not our Twitter profiles are anonymous. After all, something we have said whilst on Twitter could cause someone using it to decide not to attend AA because they don’t like what we say or do on Twitter.
So, I guess the extent of our anonymity in AA is a matter of conscience for the individual, but what is AA’s view on it? In her article If You Break AA’s 11th Tradition, Expect an Email from Headquarters, Tracey Chabala discusses her experiences of openly talking about attending AA and says she received:
“an email reminding me to not use my full name when writing about the program.” An email that went on to say, “In addition, and perhaps less understood, our tradition of anonymity acts as a restraint on A.A. members, reminding us that we are a program of principles, not personalities, and that no individual A.A. member may presume to act as a spokesman or leader of our fellowship.”
Admittedly, Tracey appears to be ill at ease with AA and in particular with this attempt to curb her freedom of speech – after all, we might question how healthy it is for any organisation to remain unquestioned, unchallenged even, because of anonymity or any other reason. History has shown us what a mistake that can be. Nevertheless, I find myself, again, seeing sense in what AA are saying.
The beauty of AA is that it has no leadership, no hierarchy, which is unusual in our society and not readily understood. People tend to look for a leader or a spokesperson even if there is not one and of course this vacuum of leadership could be filled with those of us giving our opinions about how we should be in AA or sobriety more generally. Then what happens? This simple programme becomes complicated, it becomes more about how charismatic those unofficial leaders are and less about the actions and principles of the steps. Wisdom takes a back seat whilst the whole enterprise is driven by personality and ego.
I cannot say that I have reached any firm conclusion about my stance on AA and anonymity, particularly in relation to social media, but I am clear that it is worth reflection and ongoing discussion. What we do publicly can impact the actions of still-suffering alcoholics and I know all on #RecoveryPosse are there to support and encourage those in active addiction to find a solution to their problems. It is logical, therefore, that we work hard to maintain “principles over personalities” and to not forget to take it on the chin when we’re challenged on it.
** Please remember that my mind is as diseased as the next alcoholic.
© @SobrietyMatt 2020