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.

The title is half in jest, because taking an inflexible right/wrong stance is one of my character defects and an aspect of being judgmental. Maybe it’s important to note that I am not making any character judgment of the people doing the things below. They’re as human as I, and Heaven knows I err and slip. I feel love and empathy for the people, even though I am not cool with what they are doing. I do reserve the right to speak up if I see something uncool going down.
So, anticipating possibly having a larger service role than in my last Area, I ordered the new service manual that just came out, and then I read it. This was a big surprise, not expecting the thing to be readable, much less engaging. I’d had some disquieting feelings about a couple of situations around my recovery; now they are thrown into sharp relief.
Doing it wrong #1: my sponsorship family. The service manual is very clear – we do not use materials that are not Al-Anon conference approved, and more specifically, we do not use AA literature. I’m deeply conflicted because I value highly the aspects of my recovery I gained in studying The Big Book and the AA 12&12 with my sponsor. But I also understand the reasons given for their not being conference approved. In fact, I’ve experienced some of the negative effects mentioned.
I don’t know yet what to say to my sponsor about this or when to say it. After a great deal of thought, though, I have come to decisions regarding the other aspects of this situation:
  1. I am committed to this course of study and will continue it myself, although my new local sponsor, whoever that turns out to be, will not likely be going there with me. I’m okay with that. I badly want to continue to learn the journey of the alcoholic through the AA program as much as I can, while I make my own journey using Conference Approved Literature too, which my sponsor also guided me to do.
  2. I will not use these resources when sponsoring others. Instead I will share my experience with them and suggest that if they decide to study the steps a second time after completing them with Conference Approved Literature, they might choose to try an AA self-study. And I will be happy to share my reasons for both decisions.
Doing it wrong #2: an exclusive meeting. The service manual says this about meetings with special focus:

Some relatives and friends of alcoholics find it easier to address their common problems in dealing with the effects of someone else’s drinking with those in similar life situations. These members have formed Al-Anon groups for men, women, parents, adult children of alcoholics, and gays and lesbians. The group may include this designation in its group name with the understanding that, as with all Al-Anon groups, membership remains open to anyone affected by someone else’s drinking. members of these groups are encouraged to attend other Al-Anon meetings as well.

Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual 2010-2013, page 32

It looks very clear to me that it’s not cool to exclude someone for not being in a specific situation.
This one meeting I’ve been to advertises itself as a “closed” meeting, which is most common for Al-Anon meetings, but what they bluntly explain “closed” to mean is that people not experiencing the same situation are not welcome. (The handbook defines a closed meeting as being for Al-Anon members only, members being defined as persons whose personal life is or has been deeply affected by close contact with a problem drinker. Open meetings are for anyone interested in Al-Anon.)
This really makes my spirit itch. Not only this, but when new people come to the meeting, they are looking for and are steered toward only meetings with this same focus. It’s as though other Al-Anon meetings are not even within consideration as a possibility.
I met a newcomer tonight who fell into this category, and they asked me about other meetings of this focus. I explained that I didn’t really know, but that I find many Al-Anon meetings quite helpful, especially as a significant portion of members experience our situation. This made the newcomer blink speechlessly a bit, as as though they considered Al-Anon to be some completely separate program. Veteran members of this meeting have expressed dismissal of the idea that meetings without this focus might pertain to us.
I don’t like the thought that people who need help are denied or self-selecting out based on whether they are affected by a special focus situation or not. I don’t like the idea of avoiding this meeting myself, as it’s one of only two “local” meetings I can get to at all (local in quotes because it takes more than 2 hours travel each way to get there). I’ve only been to this meeting twice, and the negative vibes of this issue have been far numbered by the positive vibes from the sharing and caring of the members.
So, as above, I do not know yet what I will say or when to say it. This I turn over to God until God drops a clue on me. I do not know when or if this group does business meetings or group conscience. I’ll keep coming back and will wait and see, continuing to mention Al-Anon and other Al-Anon meetings as the essential elements of my recovery that they are, and not treating this group as some kind of separate entity.