Understanding Anonymity

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation
of all our traditions, ever reminding us
to place principles before personalities.”
Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and
women who share their experience, strength and
hope with each other that they may solve their
common problem and help others to recover
from alcoholism.

• The only requirement for membership is a
desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or
fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting
through our own contributions.
• A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination,
politics, organization or institution; does not wish
to engage in any controversy; neither endorses
nor opposes any causes.
• Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help
other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our
Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles
before personalities.”
What is the purpose of anonymity in
Alcoholics Anonymous? Why is it often
referred to as the greatest single protection the
Fellowship has to assure its continued existence
and growth?
If we look at the history of A.A., from its beginning in 1935 until now, it is clear that anonymity serves two different yet equally vital functions:
• At the personal level, anonymity provides protection
for all members from identification as
alcoholics, a safeguard often of special importance
to newcomers.
• At the public level of press, radio, TV, films
and other media technologies such as the
Internet, anonymity stresses the equality in the
Fellowship of all members by putting the brake
on those who might otherwise exploit their A.A.
affiliation to achieve recognition, power, or personal
gain.
When using digital media, A.A. members are
responsible for their own anonymity and that of
others. When we post, text, or blog, we should
assume that we are publishing at the public
level. When we break our anonymity in these
forums, we may inadvertently break the anonymity
of others.
Anonymity on a
person-to-person basis
From its earliest days, A.A. has promised personal
anonymity to all who attend its meetings.
Because its founders and first members were
recovering alcoholics themselves, they knew
from their own experience how ashamed most
alcoholics are about their drinking, how fearful
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they are of public exposure. The social stigma
of alcoholism was great, and those early A.A.
members recognized that a firm assurance of
confidentiality was imperative if they were to succeed
in attracting and helping other alcoholics to
achieve sobriety.
Over the years, anonymity has proved one of
the greatest gifts that A.A. offers the suffering
alcoholic. Without it, many would never attend
their first meeting. Although the stigma has
lessened to some degree, most newcomers still
find admission of their alcoholism so painful that
it is possible only in a protected environment.
Anonymity is essential for this atmosphere of
trust and openness.
As valuable as privacy is to new members, it is
noteworthy that most of them are eager to share
the good news of their A.A. affiliation with their
families. Such a disclosure, however, is always
their own choice: A.A. as a whole seeks to ensure
that individual members stay as private and protected
as they wish, or as open as they wish,
about belonging to the Fellowship; but always
with the understanding that anonymity at the
level of the press, radio, TV, films and other
media technologies such as the Internet is crucial
to our continuing sobriety and growth — at both
the personal and group levels.
Anonymity at the public level
After its first few years of success, the Fellowship
attracted much favorable attention in the press.
Articles praising A.A. appeared in magazines and
newspapers across the country. With each new
article, the ranks of A.A. grew. In those days,
everyone still feared the consequences of public
disclosure; and so the first press coverage guarded
members’ anonymity for safety’s sake.
As public awareness concerning alcoholism
increased, the stigma decreased, and soon some
A.A. members began to publicly acknowledge
their affiliation in the media. One of the first to do
so was a famous ballplayer whose comeback was
so spectacular that newspapers lavished attention
on his successful struggle against alcohol.
Believing that he could help A.A. by revealing
his membership, he discussed it openly. Even
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the founders of A.A. approved his actions simply
because they had not yet experienced the costs of
such publicity.
Then other members decided to break their
anonymity in the media — some motivated by
good will, others by personal gain. Some members
devised schemes to tie in their A.A. affiliation
with all sorts of business enterprises, insurance,
sales, places known as “drying-out farms,”
even a temperance magazine, to name a few.
It did not take long for those at A.A. headquarters
to realize that overzealous and self-serving
anonymity breakers could quickly jeopardize the
Fellowship’s hard-won reputation. And they saw
that if one person was made an exception, other
exceptions would inevitably follow. To assure the
unity, effectiveness, and welfare of A.A., anonymity
had to be universal. It was the guardian of all
that A.A. stood for.
More recently, the arrival of new forms of
electronic communication such as social
networking offers fresh vehicles to carry the
A.A. message to the public. Modern communication
flows in ways that are high-tech, relatively
open ended and evolving quickly. Protecting anonymity,
is a major concern for A.A. members
who are accessing the Internet in ever-growing
numbers.
In stressing the equality of all A.A. members
— and unity in the common bond of their recovery
from alcoholism — anonymity serves as the
spiritual foundation of the Fellowship. Back in
1946, Bill W., our co-founder, wrote: “The word
‘anonymous’ has for us an immense spiritual
significance. Subtly but powerfully, it reminds us
that we are always to place principles before personalities;
that we have renounced personal glorification
in public; that our movement not only
preaches but actually practices a true humility.”
Some questions and answers
about anonymity
A.A. members as well as many people outside the
program are sometimes puzzled about how to put
the principle of anonymity into practice. Some of
the most frequently asked questions about both
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personal anonymity and anonymity at the public
level include:
Personal anonymity
Q. After I tell my loved ones about my A.A. membership,
should I ask them not to disclose this
information to anyone else?
A. This is entirely a personal matter, but it is usually
best for all concerned to let the A.A. member
decide who shall be told and when.
Q. If relatives, friends, and business associates
comment on my improved appearance and functioning
after I become sober, should I tell them
I’m in A.A.?
A. Members of the immediate family and close
friends are usually pleased to learn about an alcoholic’s
membership in A.A. As for business associates,
it might be best simply to say that you’ve
stopped drinking and postpone decision about
disclosing your membership until after you have
been in the Fellowship for several months.
Q. What should I do if I meet old acquaintances
at A.A. meetings?
A. You need not ask them to protect your anonymity;
they are there for the same, or similar,
reasons. They will generally respect your privacy
and you, in turn, should respect theirs.
Q. What should I tell my loved ones about protecting
the anonymity of the A.A. members they
may meet?
A. Explain that anonymity is extremely important
to A.A. members. Each A.A. member decides if
and when to share aspects of his or her recovery,
and with whom. Accordingly, it is hoped that family
members and other friends of A.A. members
protect the anonymity of their loved ones who are
in A.A., and that they protect the anonymity of
other A.A. members whom they may meet. This
includes not disclosing to others the fact that a
person is an A.A. member.
In addition, let loved ones know that when an
A.A. member dies, it is important not to identify
an A.A. sponsor or A.A. friends, as such, in the
obituary, in the media, or online.
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Q. What if I see public figures at a meeting?
A. Like everyone else, public figures should have
the protection of anonymity to the extent that
they desire it.
Q. I know that I should not reveal the names of
members that I hear in A.A. meetings, but what
about other personal information?
A. It is understood by A.A. members that personal
disclosures made in A.A. meetings are to
be treated as confidential. For example, if friends
outside the program are acquainted with some of
your A.A. friends and know of their membership,
you should be careful not to violate confidences
picked up at meetings, however harmless they
may appear at the time.
Q. Should I tell people who seem to have a drinking
problem about my A.A. affiliation?
A. This is a personal matter. However, the spirit
of the program is one of sharing and a recent
study of A.A. members shows that a high proportion
of them joined the Fellowship through
another member. Before reaching a decision
about such matters, most members find it helpful
to discuss them with sponsors or A.A. friends.
Q. Should I reveal my anonymity to my boss so
that I can attend early A.A. meetings regularly?
A. Asking for special favors because of A.A.
membership is not in the spirit of the anonymity
Traditions.
Anonymity in the digital age
Q. I maintain an Internet Web site and a personal
page on a social media site. I also belong to an
online meeting. At what level should I protect my
anonymity on the Internet?
A. Publicly accessible aspects of the Internet
such as Web sites featuring text, graphics, audio
and video can be considered the same as publishing
or broadcasting. Unless password-protected,
a Web site requires the same safeguards that we
use at the level of press, radio and film. Simply
put, this means that A.A.s do not identify themselves
as A.A. members using their full names
and/or full-face photos.
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Q. Should I be concerned about the anonymity of
others who view my sites?
A. When we use digital media, we are responsible
for our own anonymity and that of others.
When we post, text, or blog, we should assume
that we are publishing at the public level. When
we break our anonymity in these forums, we may
inadvertently break the anonymity of others.
For more information on anonymity online see
the A.A. Guideline on the Internet at www.aa.org,
and the October 2010 issue of AA Grapevine on
Preserving Anonymity in a Networked World.
Q. What if I appear as an A.A. member on TV, in
a film, or a Web cast, or allow my picture to be
used in a newspaper, magazine, or online publication
but do not give my full name? Is this considered
an anonymity break?
A. Yes, if full-face photographs and other easily
identifiable photos of A.A. members (who
are described as A.A. members) are published or
broadcast, even though their full names are not
given, these are considered anonymity breaks.
Q. I’ve heard a number of people, inside and
outside of A.A., say the well-known A.A. members
should be encouraged to announce their membership
to help promote the Fellowship. Why
does A.A. continue to maintain the Tradition of
anonymity for celebrities and other members?
A. Those Traditions developed out of the experience
of the early members. At first, they too
felt that well-known A.A. members could help
the Fellowship by breaking their anonymity. But
it soon became apparent that, if one anonymity
breaker stepped forward, others would follow; and
if members were to strive for public acclaim and
power, the spiritual unity so essential to the work
of helping fellow alcoholics would soon be lost.
Q. What about making or posting video recordings
of talks and meetings? Are these considered
to be anonymity breaks, since people are seen
full-face and clearly identify themselves as A.A.
members?
A. Realizing that anonymity is the spiritual foundation
of all our Traditions, it is recommended
that talks by A.A. members as members be given
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in person, rather than be video recorded in view
of the temptation of video recording to place personalities
before principles,” and thus encourage
the development of a “star” system in A.A. (As per
1980 General Service Conference resolution)
Facts about anonymity in A.A.
It is the A.A. member’s responsibility, and not
that of the media, to maintain our cherished
Tradition of anonymity.
• A.A. members generally think it unwise to
break the anonymity of the member even after
his or her death, but in each situation, the final
decision must rest with the family. A.A. members,
though, are in agreement that the anonymity of
still living A.A. members should be respected in
obituaries or in any type of printed remembrance
or death notice.
• A.A. members may disclose their identity and
speak as recovered alcoholics, giving radio, TV
and Internet interviews, without violating the
Traditions — so long as their A.A. membership is
not revealed.
• A.A. members may speak as A.A. members
only if their names or faces are not revealed. They
speak not for A.A. but as individual members.
Experience suggests that A.A. members:
• Respect the right of other members to maintain
their own anonymity at whatever levels they
wish.
• Are vigilant not to break their anonymity when
posting, texting, or blogging, and very careful not
to inadvertently break the anonymity of others.
• When speaking as A.A. members at non-A.A.
meetings, usually use first names only.
• Maintain personal anonymity in articles and
autobiographies.
• Avoid the use of titles such as “A.A. counselor”
when employed as professionals in the field of
alcoholism (the title “alcoholism counselor” is
preferred).
• Use last names within the Fellowship, especially
for election of group officers and other service jobs.
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For more information on anonymity, the
following pamphlets and other materials may be
helpful:
G.S.O.’s A.A. Web site: www.aa.org
“The Twelve Traditions Illustrated”
“A.A. Tradition — How It Developed”
“Speaking at Non-A.A. Meetings”
AA Grapevine, October 2010:
Preserving Anonymity in a Networked World.
A.A. Guidelines on Public Information
A.A. Guideline on the Internet
Public Information Workbook, which contains
information on how to handle TV, radio,
and newspaper interviews
Write: General Service Office
Box 459
Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10163
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THE TWELVE STEPS
OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that
our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than
ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our
lives over to the care of God as we understood
Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory
of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another
human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all
these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed,
and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would injure
them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and
when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to
improve our conscious contact with God, as we
understood Him, praying only for knowledge of
His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the
result of these steps, we tried to carry this message
to alcoholics, and to practice these principles
in all our affairs.
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TWELVE TRADITIONS
OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal
recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate
authority—a loving God as He may express
Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are
but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership
is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in
matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose—
to carry its message to the alcoholic who still
suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance,
or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or
outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property,
and prestige divert us from our primary
purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting,
declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever
non-professional, but our service centers may
employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized;
but we may create service boards or committees
directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on
outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never
be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on
attraction rather than promotion; we need always
maintain personal anonymity at the level of press,
radio, and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all
our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles
before personalities.