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Anonymity in Early Recovery

After a period of time in recovery, a balance can be struck in understanding when to divulge their recovery to others and how much information to give in various settings. This can be confusing for newly recovering addicts, who vacillate between yelling it from the rooftops and hiding it from everyone, lest they think less of them.

It is not unusual that they would be very excited and proud about their early recovery and abstinence and want to tell everyone they know that they have finally succeeded in overcoming their addiction. This is a very common response to early recovery for those who are experiencing it for the first time. The problem lies in the anonymity that is a vital part of the 12-step programs, which are all “anonymous.” Understanding the concept of what is meant by the phrase “anonymous” in the 12-step programs takes some time and awareness of the programs and how that works for all members.

The basic premise is that everyone is asked to keep their own membership in the 12-step programs to themselves when addressing public entities, such as the “press, radio, film, and television.” It also requests that members not divulge the membership or even attendance of others in the group outside the meetings. This has become a much bigger problem with the advent of celebrities of all types who do not adhere to the traditions of 12-step programs and speak freely in different media circles about their participation in 12-step groups.

It is perfectly understandable when a recovering addict wants to publicly declare their recovery. This is not a breach of anonymity. The issue of their participation, membership, or attendance in any specific 12-step program, however, is a breach of the anonymity of the group and a violation of the traditions that are designed to keep other members safe and to protect the unity and integrity of the group itself.

Because relapse is such a common part of the recovery process, it is seen that keeping one’s involvement with recovery private can be an asset to everyone. We have all read and seen the public displays of drunkenness and active addiction that can soon follow the equally public announcements of many people’s entry into treatment. It carries the message to the rest of the world that there is no such thing as long-term, ongoing abstinence. This is a matter that is confusing and misleading to those outside the recovery realm. That is why the principle of anonymity protects not only other members of the groups, but the people who are actually abusing anonymity themselves. It is hoped that the sense of pride that is felt in early recovery will propel the member through an ongoing process to remain in recovery. In doing so, they will begin to understand why there are safeguards to protect the group itself and its other members. Sponsors who understand the true nature of anonymity will be happy to guide those who do not yet understand how that works. And the group itself is a great place to celebrate the accomplishment of what can seem impossible to those who have not been able to attain long-term, ongoing recovery.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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