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5 Situations Where Anonymity Doesn't Work in Your Favor


Sober Recovery Expert Author

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In a weird situation that could only happen in recovery, many individuals go years—sometimes even decades—without knowing the last name of some of their closest friends. While nicknames do happen, the reality is that the anonymous nature of the program essentially discourages sharing and learning the last names of other members. It’s common to hear stories of long-standing friends in the program being at a loss for naming the other person’s full legal name, despite knowing the most intimate details of this person’s recovery and life. While anonymity has its place as one of the cornerstones of most recovery programs, here are five situations where having a little more information than a first name and last initial is helpful, if not essential.

1. Hospital Visits

If a friend from the program enters the hospital to receive treatment and you wish to deliver flowers or visit them in person, having a full name is essential. In certain cases, the hospitalization may cause the patient to either intentionally or unintentionally disconnect their phone, even further complicating matters. Although many receptionists are receptive to the notion that many program members are honest well-wishers who simply do not know the last name of the patient they wish to see, most regulations simply do not allow visitation attempts based on a first name and a general description of the person. Even just dropping off gifts, literature, cards or flowers is problematic because a first name is still insufficient to ensure delivery to the correct person.

Privacy in AA is important but there are times when having a last name can be extra helpful.

Helpful tip: Many long-standing members of the program frequently remark on this problem, and as such, make a point to mention their full name to close friends in the program. Ultimately, in terms of anonymity, it is perfectly acceptable to break your own anonymity inside the rooms but keep in mind it is never permissible to break the anonymity of another.

2. Incarcerations

Slips, relapses and sudden disappearances understandably cause concern among program members given the common outcomes of these facts of recovery. Especially for those recovering from alcohol and drug addictions, sudden disappearances coupled with common experiences among the rooms may require looking into corrections institutions to find your missing friend. While this process may be helped by online databases, the reality is that having only a first name is generally insufficient to aid in tracking down the whereabouts of your friend from the program. Moreover, if you yourself are in the unfortunate position of being incarcerated, reaching out to friends in the program without access to your mobile device can prove impossible as well.

Helpful Tip: The monthly AA periodical is called the “Grapevine” for a reason. Having a single contact person for yourself, or being the contact person for another, is essential for starting the dispersal of information through the grapevine of yours or another’s fellowship group. If you are willing to trust your sponsor with the most intimate details of your life before and during recovery, allowing them to know your full name should not be problematic.

3. Funerals

One of the truly remarkable benefits of the fellowship is support during difficult times, whether inside or outside the rooms. The outpouring of support is comparable to that of any other close-knit community or social organization. Anonymity, however, can make this support system immensely difficult to activate when it’s needed most. Having a full name and contact information is essential in situations like paying respects to a fellow program member who has passed or supporting this member and their loved ones when they’re grieving a personal loss.

Helpful Tip: Having multiple people in the program that you trust know your full name and perhaps the names of your closer family members is useful and rarely problematic. Consider it something like an emergency contact of sorts.

4. Dire Moments of Need

Addiction is 24/7 disease. No one can really say when cravings, uncertainty or unhealthy thoughts may arise. In this sense, finding someone in a pinch can prove problematic, especially if you cannot wait to see other program members until the next meeting. Understandably, the time between now and the next meeting may make or break your sobriety. If you do not have a phone number to several people in the program, or perhaps these individuals are unavailable, reaching out to other program members via social media is a reasonable next move. Until you realize that you do not know their last name.

Helpful Tip: Regardless of the time or place, intergroup phone lines are readily accessible via a quick Google search and staffed permanently by program members trained and well-equipped to talk anyone through a crisis in recovery.

5. Social Gatherings Outside the Rooms

Program members are a social bunch and members often want to host parties, barbeques or celebrations outside the rooms alongside their fellow program members. When faced with contacting a large number of program members, anonymity immediately becomes a major problem as mass invites via email, social media or mobile phones become nearly impossible without reliable and complete contact information for your fellow program friends. Needless to say, no large gathering in the program is going to happen on the spur of the moment unless good contact information is available for the bulk of your program friends.

Helpful Tip: Most home groups do circulate a directory of members that includes valid phone numbers and email addresses, with another safeguard including a confidential master list that includes full first and last names of members. Moreover, planning social gatherings well in advance allows the grapevine of the program to commence. While word of mouth isn’t the fastest route, it works reasonably well and serves to protect the anonymity of all those involved at the same time.

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