Stand on any check out line in any supermarket in the United States and you will pass through a gauntlet of celebrity gossip magazines. One of the prices of being a celebrity is losing the right to privacy. Famous people are photographed and gossiped about wherever thy go. Even when they are attempting to have a private moment, it rarely takes place because of their celebrity.
There is one place in the world where a movie star or famous comedienne or well known singer will have there anonymity respected. That place is in the rooms of AA, NA and OA. Many of us in the program have encountered a famous person attending a meeting. Although they might be a leading man or woman in a hit film with millions of adoring fans; in the rooms of the fellowship they are just another alcoholic or addict attempting to live one day at a time. The reason they feel comfortable enough to come to a meeting is because they know we will respect their anonymity. When we say, ” who you see here, what you hear here, let in stay here”, we are very serious about this sentiment. When we leave a meeting even if we saw our favorite actor or sports figure we keep it to ourselves.
Personal Reflection: Am I careful about protecting the anonymity of others?
Regardless of our fellowship, we respect the anonymity of others. Many people would not come to meetings if this weren’t the case. They want to keep their membership in the fellowship on a need to know basis. For them, public knowledge of their membership in the fellowship might jeopardize their career, personal relationships or standing in the community.
On the other hand, many of us are not concerned with others finding out about our alcohol, drug or food addiction. In fact, at times we are quite open about it. The majority of us break our anonymity when we feel that it might benefit someone who is not yet in our program. We “try to carry the message” to others who are still sick and suffering.
This is a wonderful service that is being performed when we do so. There is one proviso however. Once we have broken our anonymity, we have become a public representative of AA, NA, OA or any other fellowship we belong to. As such, our behavior and actions must reflect the highest ideals of the program. If we identify ourselves as being a program person and then act inappropriately, the repercussions can be quite serious. It might delay or even prevent someone from entering the fellowship. This can be a life or death decision which we have influenced.
Personal Reflection: Am I a good advertisement for my fellowship?
So you’re at a party or some type of social gathering. You’re holding a club soda with 2 slices of lemon or 2 stirrers sticking out of your glass like you always do. You make your drink unique looking so that you won’t by mistake reach for one that has alcohol in it. This has happened to many of us and we don’t want a repeat performance. You begin a conversation with the person standing next to you. Within a few minutes you feel very comfortable talking to them. We’ve all felt that sense of connection sometimes with people we have just met. Then, they say something that peaks our interest. Perhaps they will say, “one day a time”, or “easy does it” or some other slogan from the program. Now of course these days, many of these slogans have become part of our lexicon. You know you feel connected to the person and would like to find out if they’re in the program. At the same time, you want to ensure both your anonymity and theirs. We have a great way of doing that. We say, “are you a friend of Bill W? If they say “Bill who”, you’ve received your answer. If they say yes, you probably have even more to talk about.
Personal Reflection: How do you expand your sober network?
At the beginning of every meeting a “friend” is asked to read a short statement on anonymity. Part of the text notes that anonymity is a “spiritual foundation” of the program.
Early on, when we heard that anonymity was a concept that would be treated with the utmost respect, our minds were set at ease. Many of us had a lot of shame upon entering the program. We had done and said things which we deeply regretted. Part of our healing process was to be able to openly share about our past, as well as talk about the present and plans for the future. If we did not feel that we were in a safe place, many of us would have held back what was really going on in our lives. For an alcoholic or addict, a meeting is probably the only place that he or she can truly be themselves. That daily dose of honesty is only able to exist because of our respect for anonymity. We take this concept very seriously. When we meet someone from program in a social or a work setting, an outside observer might think we were meeting for the first time; though in actuality we have sat next to each other at a meeting for the past ten years.
Personal Reflection: How do you safeguard the anonymity of others?