Anonymity – a cornerstone of the AA program, which is steadfastly protected, unless breaking it will serve a greater purpose for an individual AA, or AA as a whole – in which case it is dropped like a bad habit.

Among the most important and revered traditions of AA is the practice of anonymity. To any reasonable person it should seem like a good idea, and on its surface, it is — but like with all things AA, they have taken this simple concept, bastardized its meaning, and nefariously use it in ways ranging from the exploitation of others for the greater good of the organization, to an excuse for absolving themselves of accountability. Like their other traditions, anonymity is used selectively, and only when it is of benefit to a member or the group; but it is quickly tossed aside when their AA affiliation will help them in some way. Take a look:

The Stated Purposes of Anonymity

There is, according AA, two primary purposes for anonymity. First, because there is a stigma attached to an alcoholic, which was more pronounced in the early days of AA. It makes sense that its members would want to remain anonymous, and it makes sense that the group would promote this idea. Without anonymity, many people not be willing to seek out help for their problem, and would likely not attend their first meeting. Anonymity provides a reasonable protection for those who need help, but do not want to be stigmatized. This is one of the purposes of anonymity within AA, and it is the understanding that the overwhelming majority of those with little knowledge of AA, has about the purpose of AA anonymity. It can be seen often at in the press, where news stories interview AAs with their faces blacked out, and newspaper articles change the names or do not identify individual members, in order to protect their privacy. Secondly, anonymity prevents those who might use their affiliation with AA for any personal gain. This is what AAs mean when they use the term “principles before personalities”. The second purpose is a way of maintaining humility, and of keeping the ego in check (because we all know nothing is more admirable than a public drunk).

All of this sounds great, but it is not reality. In reality, AA’s use of anonymity is a lot like their use of honesty. Here are some examples of how they use, or break, this concept to suit their purposes –

Breaking Anonymity as an Abuse Excuse

Take the case of William McKernan, a CPA and a thief, who recently pled guilty to seven felony counts, taking in close to $1.5 million dollars in ill-gotten goods; including stealing from a Little League. William M, who has not yet been sentenced, has professed how much he has turned his life around with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is not just common — it is standard practice.

Breaking Anonymity for Spin Control

This type of anonymity, or “Lohanonymity”, is common among celebrities and politicians. Anyone from Mel Gibson to Lindsay Lohan, who finds themselves in a public pickle, suddenly have their participation in Alcoholics Anonymous leaked to the press, as a way of showing that they are now serious about their sobriety. Mel Gibson, Martin Sheen (and Charlie Sheen, when he isn’t picking up hooker or beating his wife) and Robert Downy, Jr.; are but a few examples of celebrities who use AA participation as way to spin their image. Patrick Kennedy, who is currently writing a “sobriety memoir” called Coming Clean, has used AA to wiggle his way out responsibility more than once.

Using Anonymity to Push the Program in the Press

AAs are experts at subterfuge, and nowhere do they do it better than in the press. Whether it is to promote sanitized versions of AA history, like reviewing a play or movie about the life of Bill and Lois Wilson; or, to promote the good deeds of a sober living home or treatment facility, AAs inside of journalism will write puff pieces that paint AA as an effective, altruistic organization. These journalistic two-hatters never mention that they are members of AA or Al-Anon, nor are they expected to do so.

Using Anonymity to Push the Program in Judicial System

Often, the judges and prosecutors who allow offenders to get off, are brainwashed members of AA themselves. I personally know one Federal Judge, and more than one local judge, who are all active in AA, and use it as a sentencing tool; and I know of multiple prosecutors who are in AA, as well. Not long ago, we posted a story that quoted a judge in Wisconsin who, though he did not admit to being an AA, let it be known that he was part of the cult, when he allowed a felon to get off by stamping his ticket into AA. From the court transcript:

Judge Tim Doyle said that the defendant has been hesitant to admit to drug problems, but he should take his family’s advice and go through treatment.

“Well, Mr. Jeremy Huey, your father thinks that you need to get sober, stay sober-clean and sober-and he thinks that you can probably best accomplish that through a 12-step program because he’s involved in a 12-step program, and it has worked for him,” the judge said. “For what it’s worth, I’m about the same age as your dad-a little bit older, been sober about the same length of time-and I would vouch for everything your father has been telling you.”

Judges and prosecutors in AA are not obligated or expected to reveal the conflict of interest they have in sentencing people to a program to which they belong, whose stated objective is to perpetuate the program. They pretend (and likely believe) that they are doing what is in the best interest of the individual, and we pretend to believe that they are objective.

Using Anonymity as an Excuse for Negative Research and Statistics

How many times have you heard this?: “There is no way to effectively study AA, or to do an accurate survey, because all AAs are anonymous.”

Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous. To begin with, AAs do subject themselves to research and studies. Just not the ones that would prove or disprove AA is effective. There have been multiple studies by AA apologists like the Moos clowns that look at the effectiveness of continued AA participation for those who have been in the program for a period of time. For example, there are studies that show a correlation (Note the word “correlation” and not “cause”. AAs use this little trick to con people into believing that it is AA that keeps people sober. They avoid research on cause of drinking abstinence like the plague.) between AA attendance and abstinence. These people are knowingly a part of these studies. Secondly, the idea that a person’s name would be publicized, or that a list of a study’s participants would be disclosed, is absurd. Thousands of drugs and treatments are done every year, and the participants remain anonymous.

If AAs and the 12-step industry truly believed that it worked, they would participate in and conduct research – but they don’t, and they use anonymity as a lame excuse.

Using Anonymity to Protect Each Other From Accountability

I’ve heard the damndest things in AA meetings. Anything from adultery to murder – and everything in-between – is confessed in AA share sessions, and in conversations between two AAs. One of AA’s trite slogans – “You’re only as sick as your secrets” – only applies within the confines of AA. Confession is big part of any cult indoctrination, so it is encouraged and promoted. However, AAs are expected to open up and share things only with each other, and they are expected to keep what they hear in house. This is fine for moral failings and petty crime, but AAs take it to the extreme, and they become complicate in the confessed acts by protecting members who admit to some disturbing and criminal behavior. The same types of things that would get slack-jawed stares, and would send fellow members running to the police if they were confessed to in Toastmasters or the Rotary Club, are looked at as protected information in AA.

AA does not want to be considered a religion, and they want to be considered a “fellowship”, and not a treatment – but at the same time they ask for the same considerations given to clergy members and the medical profession. It is another example of special pleading, and of AA wanting to have it both ways.

  • joedrywall

    Ironic reading this today. I was channel surfing last night and there was a movie about Paris Hilton on. They did a scene of her in court and one of her conditions handed down by the judge was 3 months in AA. How could a celebrity keep this a secret if they wanted too?

  • Ben Franklin

    You do know that eating ice cream causes drownings. More people drown during the summer and more people eat ice cream in the summer therefore it is fact that eating ice cream causes people have watery deaths.

  • AndyM

    Like most people ( I would think) I assumed at first that anonymity was there to protect the individual's confidentiality. However, this is clearly not regarded as an important consideration if one reads aa "literature". The emphasis is all on the protection of aa and not at all on the welfare of the individual member. Anonymity is a smokescreen for the purpose of dodging accountability.

  • "Imagine McGowGod or Tony C holding your employment, child custody, or incarceration in thair hands."

    I do not want nightmares, thanks!!!!

  • tintop

    Forget those two. neither are worth the time.

  • Rick045

    AA could have taken a stand during the Midtown scandal and the fact that they chose not to shows how utterly meaningless those traditions actually are.

    They hid behind the excuse that "each group is autonomous", when they could just as well have said that the actions of those groups were indeed harming AA "as a whole".

    If those groups weren't dragging the AA name into outside controversy and harming AA as a whole in the process, it's hard to imagine what would. It's a matter of interpretation, and AA took the cowardly way out by remaining silent. Taking inventories and promptly admitting wrongs is for the chumps in the rooms, the organization itself is immune to such nonsense.

    This organization is so confident in their ability to continue to manipulate the media that they simply don't care. The arrogance is mind-boggling.

    The media that did report on those scandals is to be commended. They offer the only hope of ever changing anything.

  • I have heard that ice cream causes rape, too.

  • michael

    I had big problems with Anonymity in my time in AA and it was the main reason I left. Many members who have little life or healthy interests outside of the rooms are always gossiping and sticking their noses into other people’s business. I would not want people who I work with knowing about my past problems and this nearly came out because of a particularly stupid member who was obsessed by trying to find jobs for other members tried it with me. I already had a job and unlike him had always worked in spite of drinking etc.

    Another kind soul told my ex that I was going to AA even though I had never mentioned her at a meeting. My ex is in the public eye and is sometimes interviewed by the papers and so this caused me some unwanted distress at the time which I could have done without.

    These things don’t worry me now as a few years have passed but they were important at the time.

    I have seen stuff shared in the rooms by a friend being given to her ex husband who was
    violent shit and this was used against her by his divorce lawyer.

    I do not trust anybody in AA and would urge anybody who still attends meetings to be very careful what they share and who they talk to about personal details. Somebody who appears to be a great AA member and who quotes the big book etc can turn out to be a sad lonely close minded idiot who has no idea how to manage their life and is so used to sharing because it the only way they will get any attention. They are quite often the biggest gossips who have no idea about the damage that gossip and abusing the privacy of others can do. AA is the only place where public humiliation by sharing can earn the approval of the group and so they think they are helping you with their warped logic.

    Regards Mike

  • DeConstructor

    Should other organizations get the same free pass as far as not naming names?

    The Catholic church and the Boy Scouts have been in some hot water regarding the molestation of children- should those entities be given a free pass as far as not naming names, because they allegedly help so many people?

    I do not see much difference between a person of supposed authority molesting a child, and groups such as the MidTown Q Group, who used the systematic rape of young girls as “therapy”, preying on very vulnerable people.

    By the way the silence of corporate AA was deafening on that matter.

    Perhaps the only difference is that people do not get forced and coerced to participate in the Catholic church or the Bot Scouts, as the are routinely commanded to the AA faith by the courts etc.

    Because of the fact that AA is forcefully imposed on people by goverment agencies, I think the press has an OBLIGATION to name names. They also have an obligation to publish the names of judges, social workers etc. that routinely command people to participate and convert to the AA faith.

    People should be aware there are these zealots out there wielding the AA faith like a sword. When they call themselves “counselors” and claim medical credibility, they in fact have weaponized the practice of so-called “medicine”

    Imagine McGowGod or Tony C holding your employment, child custody, or incarceration in thair hands.

    The press also has an obligation to effectively investigate documentations of AA’s ineffectiveness, people being told to stop taking medications, the continuing suicides, and incredible number of rapes that occur.

    I have thought for years that the RICO laws should be used on the Catholic church, which knowingly moved predators into new locations to avoid prosecution and civil liablity. That is racketeering, as is the silence of predatory persons and groups that people are coerced into participation.

  • The latest AA Grapevine had some strange recommendations on internet anonymity.

    Here's a quote:

    "Calling a group "Alcoholics Anonymous" implies affiliation, despite disclaimers. If all of these internet groups were titled something like "Friends of Bill W." or "Alcoholics in Recovery," then we would be solving two problems at once: ending affiliation with AA and allowing members to not worry about breaking their anonymity at a public level by merely joining the group. Each individual would be responsible for maintaining his or her own anonymity in these groups in discussions, but they would no longer have to worry about their anonymity being broken just by joining the group."

    You really wouldn't break your anonymity by joining a group called "Friends of Bill W", or "Alcoholics In Recovery"?!!!???!?!? Recommendations like this make it clear that they're not out to protect the anonymity of their members so much as to avoid any official connection with anything, anyone, or any particular stance.

  • Steven, My theory is that the 12 Traditions are first and foremost a business model.

    Every single one of the traditions serves to absolve AA of accountability as an entity — much in the same way a multi-level marketing outfit does when it woos their independent contractors with lines like "You're in business For yourself, but not By yourself." It sounds very noble and empowering, but all it means is that the company will not take any responsibility for its representatives.

    For instance, say you sell Widgets as an independent contractor: you follow the plan, promote the products, uphold the Widget standards, go to meetings with other Widget sellers, etc. But, you cannot speak for Widgets, Inc. And you cannot do anything that would lead anyone to believe that you do.

    Anonymity is just another way for AA to protect itself from its own members — just another way to deny responsibility for what happens in meetings or among members. Widgets, Inc. will also tell members how to word their association with the company in order to make the connection clear without drawing a straight line from the rep to the company.

  • Mike

    @ftg: "Anonymity is just another way for AA to protect itself from its own members — just another way to deny responsibility for what happens in meetings or among members. "

    Arrrgggg! Ftg, you remind me of my days as a true believer. I actually used to say at tradition meetings that the traditions protect AA from its members, not vice-versa, as if this was something virtuous. My God, does this make me cringe when I think of it now.

  • tintop

    ftg, I agree.

    AA has arranged matters so that AA is not responsible, and cannot be held responsible to anyone for anything.

    To those enter AA: let the buyer beware.

  • SoberPJ

    I have said this before.. there actually is NO AA from a legal entity perspective. It can't be held accountable as an organization because it does not exist. AA is an amorphous blob.

    There are three legal entities around AA, but they are not legally AA –


    General Service Board of AA

    AA Grapevine

    This legal structure makes the whole anonymity thing even more ridiculous. People are claiming to be members of a non-existent entity and then demanding anonymity only when it benefits them.

    The name "Alcoholics Anonymous" is a registered trademark of, and copyrighted by, AAWS. Saying you are a member of AA is like being a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. Disney would own all the rights to the terms Mickey Mouse Club and support it, but you would have a hard time winning a lawsuit against the Mickey Mouse Club, because it is just a name and not a legal entity.

    Because "Alcoholics Anonymous" is legally only the name of a book, AA could best be described as a group that follows a book of the same name …. a book club. It is akin to being a member of a fellowship called "The Holy Bible" or "Gone with the Wind" or "Harry Potter". You can't sue the "The Holy Bible", "Gone with the Wind", "Harry Potter" or "Alcoholics Anonymous" because they are just names and not legal entities. I would love to see a professional legal assessment of this fellowship, complete with what gives its "members" the right to be anonymous and how that right is conveyed. If any one of us tried to to set up a "secret society" today that claimed anonymous members, I suspect the gubment would want to know about it.

  • lucy

    What AA says –

    Bill and Lois wanted to adopt a baby but couldn't, even years after he got sober, because he had been a notorious drunk. He thought being anonymous would change that problem for other drunks. Later, so many of the original "100" got drunk that he then wanted AAs to stay anonymous because he was afraid they would besmirch the AA name. Even later, it seemed to be okay to "break" one's anonymity but only to "help others."

    What I believe –

    Taking away someone's identity is one of the first steps in brainwashing. Telling a member that the fellowship is" more important" than him would be a second step. It goes with teaching him to learn total dependence on AA and AA members.

  • true believer

    I was just thinking about all the sober anonymous celebrities because of the Larry King Pacino interview and recalled how I never posted a comment about it here. Then I googled some names and ended up over at sober recovery where every single anonymous celebrity that belongs to AA is listed.

    What a double standard bait and switch piece of shit pseudo anonymity is. They need to change the tradition to “ Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, unless you are famous and it make us look good.

  • SoberPJ

    Well, how about a celebrity relapser list then? Let's start with almost everybody that has done the Dr Drew show.

  • tintop

    celebrity sobriety:

    so much for self respect and protecting your privacy.

    I noticed how SR got in on it. bad form

  • Mike

    @SobPJ: "Well, how about a celebrity relapser list then?"

    Yes, that would be nice. But then the steppists would no longer be able to cherry-pick their successes. What fun would that be?

  • Z

    @Lucy: "Taking away someone’s identity is one of the first steps in brainwashing."

    Yes, important point. What I remember being told is, essentially, that everything I knew was wrong and I was not who I was.

    If you listen to that with an open mind and agree to consider it for at least six weeks, then you need a program.

  • Z

    “Taking away someone’s identity is one of the first steps in brainwashing.”

    "Yes, important point. What I remember being told is, essentially, that everything I knew was wrong and I was not who I was.

    "If you listen to that with an open mind and agree to consider it for at least six weeks, then you start to need help.

    "***AND remember: it’s not what abusive people do to you that is important, it is what they get you to do to yourself. That is why it is so important that you get with the program and so on.***

    "So, once again, despite conciliatory remarks above re Reeducation, I still think it’s the steps and the theories justifying them that are so pernicious."

  • Z

    P.S. Apology for that last redundant comment — it was supposed to go into my personal notes, not onto this site again. Anyway, now that it's there: what I mean by "Reeducation" is 12 stepping plus a few related phenomena (e.g. 12 stepping in the Bible Belt, etc.).

  • true believer

    I remember going to meetings here in LA and seeing celebrities at the meetings. It was my first inkling of AA contradiction. One day a really big movie star spoke at the Friday meeting, I was impressed. Another big star came with him who I spoke with. It was an exciting opportunity for me to mix with folks I probably wouldn’t see outside my business (where I would occasionally meet stars because of the artistic nature of my product, a gift of the program you know). I remember how important it made me feel that I knew these people and thought my observation regarding “Anonymous Celebrity” was cute and funny. When I see a site like sober recovery listing the names of sober AA Celebrities it makes me cringe. It is a bad part of my nature. When I hear the names of AA F’ups listed I think it’s great and funny. AA and a few of its members betrayed me but this does not change the fact that there are some good people there who truly just want to help someone. AA was quite possibly my only option at the time I got sober. I could not think clearly, I was not mentally healthy enough to understand simple concepts. I had some brain damage and was very slow and peculiar. However, I was incapacitated and able to easily accept the principals of the AA program. Once I got better I learned about life at the groups expense; I practiced psychology, I had inappropriate conversations and personal relationships with people, I meddled in peoples lives, I grew a huge ego, I learned the fine art of manipulation and mind control, I used AA to get jobs, I gawked at women, I talked a lot of shit.

    Clearly AA has failed those who frequent this site, for that I am sorry because I was the problem. This site has helped me learn where I went wrong. I know it may be a loosing battle but I may have to return to AA to make a subtle living amends through eroding the falsehoods of the program with truth.

    If I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Z

    TB: Contradictions. I went wrong in a few ways, and it was due perhaps to school. I was already very used to parsing complex statements, so when I met the 12 steps I tried to parse them as though they were Plato. When they did not make sense, I assumed there was some mystery I had not understood yet. This strategy works academically: if you keep at it, eventually you do "get it." The problem is, that assumes there is something coherent there to "get" (when you Advance far enough; in the meantime you must have Faith that you are gathering Information which at some point will fall into a Pattern that you will Understand). But if there is really nothing to "get," and you think there must be, you end up with a Problem.

    Right now, it is the end of the semester and I am receiving papers and grading. Only the advanced undergraduates are fully themselves. The beginning undergraduates are grabbing at straws, and the graduate students aim to please. Only the advanced undergraduates seem to have some sort of point of view of their own, right or wrong, they don't care, from their point of view which is at least a point of view, they are grappling with material. This is of course the goal in life for everyone, but at present it seems that only advanced undergraduates and retired professors are able to attain it. The rest of us are acting like Steppers, assuming we are wrong and aiming to please in any way possible.

  • causeandeffect

    @ Z

    "when I met the 12 steps I tried to parse them as though they were Plato" is exactly it! The literature, written by a man who actually couldn't keep his story straight, gives the impression that there is some kind of deep, paradoxical, spiritual mystery and people spend their entire lives either ignoring the contradictions or trying to "get It". I have attended meetings that are sort of an elite group that have long term sobriety (probably because they don’t want to be faced with the high failure rate at other meetings) and read the 12&12. They talk and never ever seem to say anything at all. EVER!!!! And I thought I just wasn’t intelligent enough to understand. I think it’s a real talent to be able to speak authoritatively on a subject and never say anything. Not a talent I want though!

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