Anonymity Within Al-Anon/Alateen

Members use their full names within the fellowship when they wish. The degree of anonymity a member chooses (first name, pseudonym, or full name) is not subject to criticism. Each member has the right to decide. 

Regardless of our personal choice, we guard the anonymity of everyone else in the fellowship, Al-Anon/Alateen and A.A. This means not revealing to anyone—even to relatives, friends, and other members—whom we see and what we hear at a meeting. 

Anonymity goes well beyond mere names. All of us need to feel secure in the knowledge that nothing seen or heard at a meeting will be revealed. We feel free to express ourselves among our fellow Al-Anons because we can be sure that what we say will be held in confidence.

 2010-2013 Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual, 
Digest of Al-Anon and Alateen Policies, 
page 89

Anonymity in Our Personal Growth 

In Al-Anon/Alateen we share as equals, regardless of social, educational or financial position. Common sense in the use of anonymity provides freedom and the security each member is assured in Al-Anon/Alateen. Our spiritual growth has its roots in the principle of anonymity. Each member has the right of decision regarding personal anonymity within the fellowship, which we respect whether the member is attending meetings, not attending meetings, or deceased. 

 2010-2013 Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual, 
Digest of Al-Anon and Alateen Policies, 
page 91

I’ve been handing my serenity over to a long-timer with an understandable frustration. They are annoyed with the level of personal anonymity some people maintain. I understand that it’s not unusual to go to the hospital to visit someone and to be unable to do so due to not knowing their last name. I’ve heard this example a few times from a few different sources.

The argument provided against it is the Eleventh Tradition:

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV and films. We need guard with special care the anonymity of all AA members.

The argument goes that on a personal level, we don’t do anonymity, just at the public level. The argument goes on before and after meetings, and it goes on loudly.

Thing is, I worry that newcomers will hear this criticism and feel that they don’t get to have personal anonymity, or that if they do, they will be resented. I also have a concern about those who are not newcomers who may feel pressured to give more information about themselves than they want to. I sympathize with people who are not yet out of dangerous situations, where a breach of anonymity could result in a beating and therefore don’t want to give their names.

These pieces of guidance do not contradict each other. The Eleventh Tradition does not say we maintain personal anonymity only at the level of press, radio, TV, and films. It’s there to remind us that no matter how well we get, no matter how safe we feel, no matter how comfortable we are with breaking our anonymity on the personal level, we don’t get to be Miss or Mister Al-Anon. Here’s how it’s explained in the service manual:

The principle of anonymity acts as a restraint on members at the public level to assure that no one will use Al-Anon for profit, prestige, or power. This means that at the level of press, radio, films, TV, and the Internet, full names and faces of Al-Anon and Alateen members would not be used.  No Al-Anon member can speak as an authority on Al-Anon in the media.  No one’s story is more important than others.  We are a fellowship of equals and Al-Anon is a program of principles, not personalities.

  2010-2013 Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual, 

Al-Anon and Alateen Groups at Work, 

page 40

I do understand the frustration over not knowing people’s last names. It took me some time to learn that it’s okay, it’s not taboo or likely to cause offense, if I ask someone whether they would be willing to let me know their last name, if I explain why. Before I learned that, I was hyper-concerned. Part of the price of that is that I now don’t have names and addresses for people in my old home group, except for one person who broke her own anonymity when she mailed me an invitation. I miss those folks and it would be nice sometimes to send a card.

For my part, the way I see my anonymity is that my identity is mine to give, and mine alone. If you are someone I want visiting me in the hospital, I will make sure you know my last name – not necessarily for that purpose, but because we will be close enough by then for me to have revealed it already. It comes up in conversation or, like my Al-a-Pal, I send you invitations. I give business-style cards to people sometimes so that they have my phone number, and these have my full name on them. It’s part of my personal email address.

But there truly are some people, even people in Al-Anon, whom I do not want visits from in the hospital, and they will likely not have my last name. I don’t put my last name on signup sheets, phone lists, meeting minutes, or anything else for general consumption. I reveal my last name to individuals in whom I place a certain amount of trust. That is my right.

Now that I’m done with my rant, I need to look at why I’m handing my serenity over to this person, what to do or say about it, and how to let go the outcome. They are entitled to their opinion and free to express it, and I respect that. I also have an overpowering need to be right, thanks to my character defects, so I need to make sure that this isn’t all about that need. Examine my motives and put them in their proper place.

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