A N.Y. Times story explains how alcoholics are following some celebrities' lead and giving up their anonymity
When Alcoholics Anonymous started 76 years ago, movie stars didn’t regularly ship off to rehab, intervention as popular entertainment was a long way off, and people who drank too much weren’t called alcoholics, they were just drunks. Yet through seven-and-a-half decades of cataclysmic social change, AA has remained constant in its 12 guiding principles — including the big one, right there in the second part of its name. But as a New York Times story Sunday pondered: In the age of tell-all, is anonymity obsolete?
Writer David Colman is clear that he’s proud of his sobriety, and in writing about it for the Times, he’s equally aware that he has “more or less violated the first-name-only tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous… ‘We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.’” Colman just isn’t so sure about that “need” part. Noting the birth of the new recovery magazine the Fix and the rise of anonymity-flouting group photos on Facebook, Colman wonders if “anonymity is a concept that, even if it doesn’t feel a bit old-fashioned, can be self-defeating.”
AA has at times been compared unfavorably to the big gay closet, and there are parallel levels of disclosure to be worked through with both. There is, however, a huge difference between outing yourself and outing a group that has a written code of privacy. But they intersect in the crucial notion that everyone is entitled to a private life, and that no one’s personal beliefs or relationships should be dragged out into the world without consent. That’s just disrespectful. Recovery doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We are tangled up in each other’s lives. The person who chooses to sit silently in the back of the room as anonymously as possible is sitting next to the guy who brags at work about his one-year chip, who is next to the woman whose girlfriend has no idea how to tell their friends that they met at a meeting.
AA by extension brings people outside the program into its dogma — a contract the sober person’s inner circle may feel pushed into. I have a large number of friends and family in AA (that’s the beauty of being Irish Catholic) and while I’d never break a loved one’s anonymity, I have over the years had to issue a few reminders that it’s not my program and it’s not my set of rules to abide by or violate.
For some, the idea of being secretive about a group that says “you’re only as sick as your secrets” seems contradictory. But for plenty of men and women trying to get sober, the stigma of substance abuse remains a genuine concern. Not everyone has the freedom of an Eminem to write an album called “Recovery” and sport an AA triangle at the Grammys. Not everyone has the clout of Russell Brand, who has mirrored his famous bouts of excess and subsequent sobriety in “Get Him to the Greek” and “Arthur.” For others, there are profound social and career repercussions. If you’re a schoolteacher or a doctor, maybe you don’t want your colleagues and clients to know that a year ago, you were getting obliterated before work.
There are other compelling reasons for anonymity. The spiritual aspect of AA can be intensely meaningful — and seemingly pretty woo woo to outsiders not familiar with the program. Admitting sobriety can turn exhaustingly into defending it for some, when it’s easier to just say, “No thanks” to that offer of a beer. Susan Cheever is correct when she writes for the Fix that “Anonymity protects, but it also hides.” It’s kind of like the way a glass of wine can be an accompaniment to a meal or the beginning of a binge. It’s what you make of it.
The old-fashioned idea of anonymity doesn’t fit easily into the modern template. It’s messy and inconvenient and at times downright counterproductive. But while AA’s business model of having no official spokesperson and of attraction rather than promotion can make it seem more maddeningly shadowy than the Masons, it also assures that it won’t foist its own versions of Dr. Drew upon the world. It’s not for everybody, but you’ve got to give it props for its refusal to turn itself into TLC network, quick-fix shlock. As Colman admits, anonymity embodies the “often overlooked idea of humility.” And in an age of boundless self-disclosure and narcissism, it’s almost funny that not drinking doesn’t seem nearly as odd or outdated as not telling the world about not drinking.
More Related Stories
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- SAT's right answers are all wrong
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- Conservatives A-OK with closeted Boy Scouts
- Horrifying new trend: Posting rapes to Facebook
- Corporate greed is poisoning America -- literally
- The new geography of poverty
- Childhood ADHD linked to obesity in adulthood
- Obama to all-male university graduates: Be the best husband to "your boyfriend or partner"
- Chicago man breaks world record with 48-hour Ferris wheel ride
- I will never be able to afford Angelina Jolie's mastectomy
- GOP attorney general candidate tried to force women to report miscarriages to police
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- GOP actually bullies an anti-bullying bill
- Georgian police slow to react to mob violence at gay rights march
- 1 killed in Oklahoma tornado
- Thousands treated for sexual abuse-related injuries in military
- Punk, dance music and drugs
- My open relationship went awry
- New York's most persecuted subway artist?
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11