“Reassessing Anonymity in 12 Step Programs”

NPR’s Neal Conan interviews David Coleman and Marsha Linehan on Talk of the Nation. (Psst, NPR, here’s another reason to reassess anonymity.)

Many 12-step programs make a rule of preserving participants’ anonymity, but now some are challenging that policy. Opponents say 12-step programs have lost enough of their stigma for participants to be openly involved, while others insist on the value of privacy on the road to recovery.

Listen to the show, or read the transcript.

  • Border Collie Mix

    Interesting, he’s talking about outing himself to the public but a lot of AA people I know are only against public outing and will tell you that you have “fear” if you want to protect yourself personally from stigma. I have never been comfortable telling everyone I encounter that I am an alcoholic and never will be, I am a private person, but I’ve been called out by other AA people for just that stand. One thing I’ve learned through reading a lot of different opinions on the web is that AA helps continue the stigma of alcoholism for an individual forever, and the more a person gets into discussing their AA participation in their daily life, the weirder they look to folks outside AA, it sets you totally apart rather than making you a “worker among workers”. It doesn’t help one’s employment prospects to come off as a weirdo. I saw this personally at work, a guy ended up being lauded in an article in the newspaper for overcoming his alcoholism and my boss at the time said “that’s great, but with alcoholics you never know, they can just snap one day and be drunk again”, she had no idea about my drinking history and was a total gossip who I wouldn’t have trusted with anything despite what other AA people would have me do to myself out of “honesty”. For all the applause that seems to come with being a recovering alcoholic there is still that element of being cursed forever in others’ minds. I don’t need that.

  • Jonny Quest

    Border Collie Mix says: One thing I’ve learned through reading a lot of different opinions on the web is that AA helps continue the stigma of alcoholism for an individual forever, and the more a person gets into discussing their AA participation in their daily life, the weirder they look to folks outside AA, it sets you totally apart rather than making you a “worker among workers”.

    OH, that is so very true. I keep warning people never to say they are “an alcoholic” in public or that they are in AA to anyone except perhaps their husband/wife/SO, but fighting the serenity hornets who try to get “the alcoholic” to “confess/admit” their disease is not easy. Of course, these ASSHOLES know perfectly well why they want someone to “admit” that they are “an alcoholic.”

    @FTG: The “another reason” link is broken.

  • Steven Slate

    “that’s great, but with alcoholics you never know, they can just snap one day and be drunk again”

    This really gets me, because we’re constantly pummeled with the talking point that we need to accept the disease theory and have sympathy for people. When the disease theory can’t be logically proven, we always get the emotional argument that accepting it as a disease is the sympathetic, caring, thing to do which will have so many social benefits and that the disease theory will help everyone not to look down on addicts. Meanwhile, the real effect of this theory is that it teaches people things like your boss stated above: that addicts never change, and that they can snap in an instant and therefore aren’t to be trusted.

  • Disclosure

    The AA’s say that the reason for anonymity is humility, that and bad publicity from celebrity slip-ups. The truth is probably that anonymity is a cult characteristic. If no one knows you are in a cult they can’t interfere. Other than that I believe the werker among werker reference is more in tune to the Nazi work party mentality of the 30’s when the book was written. Add in some “attraction rather than promotion, he-he” and you have a solid foundation for the 13th step with the one in three STD infected AA members. Who could ask for anything more, it sure beats staying home to watch slip-o-vision!
    Disclosure,
    AA outcast,
    Still Sober,
    Still Alive.

  • Disclosure

    Am I supposed to take that interview seriously? How many times can a person say “you know” in a sentence? Either this guy is insincere and stuttering from self doubt or he has a serious speech impediment.

  • Lucy

    Years of being in AA had led me to automatically translate what an AA member says into what I think they would say, if they were honest. What I hear him saying is, “Remove all stigma from AA so that we can be held blameless for the acts we perpetrate when we drink and for our mood swings when we are sober because, honestly, we have a program which can save the world, if you ignore the fact that we got to AA by nearly drinking ourselves to death.

    And, regretfully, Border Collie Mic, the problem is that your boss’s reaction is to AA’s disease model – “an alcoholic can snap at any moment” because he is POWERLESS and takes no responsibility for his behavior- or because he knows a self-proclaimed member of AA who keeps getting drunk and blames it on his “disease/”

    The best way for an alcoholic to avoid the stigma is to stop drinking and learn to act like an adult. The alcoholic doesn’t need to credit AA in public for changing; he actually has to change.

    I heard no “change” in this interview, and it all sounds like more of the same AA crap.

  • Disclosure- I’m leaning to agree with you on this.
    after many years of drinking th eKool Aid I now think its all bullshit. I had been very uneasy the last 5 years when my husband would be proud of my “time ” and want to tell people. I would just freak out and say. I m not comfortable with people knowing Im in AA. Its not something to be proud of . I felt this before I uncovered the criminal rape stuff.

    even when I was 2 years sober and 20 years old a guy once introduced me to his neighbor as a friend from Aa that I had 2 years. I almost hit him. Just kidding. SO with that said when Celebrities began breaking their anonymity I was shocked and didnt understand why it was ok for Bill W to break it but not Richard Pryor. Oldtimers consoled me and feed me more lies.
    Some more drinking of the koolaid as I was such a good little Big Book and 12 & 12 book study girl. GAG!
    I think in todays world it’s no ones business. If you try to get life insurance they ask. Medical insurance they ask.
    I really agree that the whole secrecy thing has back fired and make the sick gaslighting predator money scams easy to keep secret.

    Someone is already writing a book that is not in AA and part of her book will expose some of this. It will be the begining of sane people speaking the truth. Hopefully some famous people who believe like we do will come forward eventually.
    I really am beginning to have the feeling the tide has turned.

  • Disclosure

    Holy CRAP massive,
    Don’t even remind me about the book studies!
    What an embarrassment it was trying to say the right thing. I remember how awkward it was when reading and sharing. Now I know why; because it is awkward to speak about that which I knew was wrong while needing the approval of my superiors. The last book study I went to ended badly. The brain washed victims in the hospital unit just didn’t understand how I could be talking against the cure that the hospital had served up to them.

    The tide has turned and the turd that carried AA to shore will shortly return it to the sea.