I came from a family riddled with alcoholic drinkers. Many of them had the problem as bad as I did. I recall the first month, or so, after I got sober, still hanging out with them at our favorite watering hole, drinking ginger ale. I would slip out every night to go to the AA meeting at 8:30 and return two hours later without telling anyone where I was going.
I didn’t want anybody to know I was checking out the AA program. At the time, I didn’t want to face ridicule, and wasn’t sure it was going to work for me. If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t have put up with their mocking. You might say that I was protecting my anonymity at the time and didn’t even know it.
After thirty days of that, I didn’t care who knew about it because I believed I had found the answer. And I had! Soon after that, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops and try to sober up everyone around me.
You probably know how that turned out. As I dragged each of my five brothers to AA meetings, it seemed that each learned just enough to rationalize exactly why he was not an alcoholic. And they ridiculed me any way.
Later, two died of alcohol-related symptoms. And a third brother committed suicide. That was among the experiences that gave me hard-earned lessons about the respect for the principle of anonymity. Of the rest of my immediate family of ten, only one sister saw something in me that she liked and got sober in the program. She hasn’t had a drink in more than 48 years.
In AA meetings, we are exposed to discussions as newer members complain about someone breaking their anonymity, or the ones, like my former self, want to shout it from the rooftops. That will always be the case in AA, as it’s one of the symptoms of alcoholism.
We are failed idealists who need attention. But as we get more and more experience, we learn the true value of the spirit of anonymity. We can always come up with some noble reason for tooting our own horn, and we can dress it up in the altruistic motive of sacrificing one’s own anonymity to save someone’s life. In the long run, that sometimes destroys the chance of being a good example, and often turns out doing just the opposite — which I have personally witnessed.
Tradition Twelve talks of anonymity as, “the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
There is a difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. We, who have been diligent with the program, have been highly influenced by the spirit of what the founders of AA learned and introduced us to in the form of the 12 Steps and the 12 Tradition. They all come in the form of unselfishness of the spirit.
I have yet to find one prayer or principle in the two books we use as reference guides in AA that are of a material nature or a selfish motive. This tells me that the things I do, as the result of practicing the principles of the program, should be done unselfishly and without fanfare. So long as I need the attention that I always sought when looking for a “photo opportunity,” I’m following only the letter of the law, so to speak.
When I came to understand the spirit of anonymity, I was able to rein in my ego and my selfish motives. I try to be a good role model and do it quietly. It seems to work better that way.
By Rick R.