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Understanding The Twelfth Tradition And Anonymity Of AA & NA

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Twelfth TraditionAlcoholics and addicts have remained anonymous for decades, but in today’s society, is it really necessary or should we be breaking our anonymity? Being an alcoholic or addict used to bring a sense of shame to the person afflicted with the disease (even before it was considered a disease) and to those closely affected, but as time has passed and with millions of people in recovery in the U.S. alone, do addicts and alcoholics need to hide the fact that they have the disease of addiction and have recovered? This is a strong debate in the recovery community and many who feel like their story could help others want to know how they can do it while also protecting the groups twelfth tradition, which states, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

Understanding The Twelfth Tradition

When we look at the founding 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), it touches upon the reasoning for anonymity of its members, the group, and why it’s important. Alcoholics Anonymous has no rules over its members, but does suggest traditions to help the program survive all types of personalities and circumstances.  There are two main reasons why AA requests that its members remain anonymous.

  • First is at a personal level to provide protection for not only the alcoholic or addict, but also for other members.
  • The second is at a public level to stress the importance of equality in the fellowship of all AA members by preventing those in the program who might otherwise exploit their AA affiliation to gain recognition, power, or any personal gain.

You see, it doesn’t just have to do with protecting members’ identities or members feeling ashamed, in fact many celebrate recovery; it has to do with protecting the entire organization making sure that the group remains spiritual above everything else. If people went around associating themselves with a particular 12-step group and either relapsed, or did not really work a program of recovery, or others just didn’t like them; it would reflect on the group as a whole.

This also affects tradition one: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity,” and will trickle down to affecting all other traditions. Breaking anonymity at a public level will ultimately affect the groups main purpose, tradition 5, which says “each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic (addict) who still suffers.” Many 12-step members are not ashamed of being an alcoholic or addict, they just follow a tradition that has kept the group growing and expanding to other fellowships since the 1930’s.

Breaking Your Anonymity Publicly

So if an addict or alcoholic is in recovery, they can’t say anything because of the twelfth tradition? Not necessarily so. Although many people favor 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), there are actually multiple ways people recover from addictions. Some choose religion, therapeutic methods, and various self-help groups as a means of recovery that don’t request anonymity.  A person saying at a public level, “I am an addict or alcoholic in long-term recovery” is very different than saying “I am an addict or alcoholic in the rooms of NA or AA.”

Protecting The Twelfth Tradition 

Sharing that one is an alcoholic or addict in recovery without associating themselves with any particular 12-step group may actually help others see that there are people recovering from the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. Of course it is up to the individual to decide whether to break their anonymity and admit that they are an addict and alcoholic. On the other hand, if more would share their recovery story in the public eye, it may help break the stigma associated with alcoholism and drug addiction in today’s society.

Movements like Recovery Month created by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration), or Films like The Anonymous People have been helping society better understand addiction, so more people are feeling comfortable coming out about their story. It shows that there are people in recovery that are not just junkies or drunks, they are your neighbors, family, friends; they are teachers, bankers, lawyers, and even doctors; they are just like anyone else. These voices who celebrate recovery openly may actually break the silence of drug addiction and alcoholism, and help others find their way into whatever program works for them. It may actually show society that yes, addiction is real and it is killing people, but recovery is real too – and there are millions staying clean and sober, living productive lives, and giving back.

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