Since our Tradition on anonymity designates the exact level where the line should be held, it must be obvious to everyone who can read and understand the English language that to maintain anonymity at any other level is definitely a violation of this Tradition. The AA who hides his identity from his fellow AA by using only a given name violates the Tradition just as much as the AA who permits his name to appear in the press in connection with matters pertaining to AA.
– Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith (Co-Founder of 12 Step movement)
Personal anonymity is the act of withholding our names, faces or anything else which identifies us individually. Dr. Bob pointed out the very important word “at.” It is a word which indicates precision of location. The short form of this Tradition points out the entities of press, radio, film and TV. But the long form gives us the intent; employing personal anonymity when dealing with the general public with regard to our membership in a 12 Step fellowship. We should withhold anything personally identifying about us when we are dealing with people we don’t know, or don’t know well, around the subject of our recovery.
This does not mean that we are flippant on the subject of our membership around friends and family. We must take into consideration several issues before we divulge this personal information, even to people we trust. First and foremost is the effect it could have on others. We are all keenly aware that society’s view of sex addicts and sex addiction is somewhat skewed, inaccurate and full of prejudices. Discussion of the subject by “normal” folk often makes us the brunt of jokes. More than this, the serious discussion of this subject is embarrassing to most people. Most people are uncomfortable discussing the particulars of their sex lives or the sex lives of others on a personal level. This is why the Big Book advises us to reveal ourselves at the “proper time and place.” This is usually after we have consulted our respective sponsors.
We must also protect our employers. In this day and age of sexual harassment lawsuits, we could expose our employers to additional liability if the suing attorney discovers our employer knew of our addiction. It matters little whether the accusations are real or imagined; the company’s knowledge of our addiction can force them to settle when they should have fought.
Similarly we may wish to protect our loved ones. In our experience many newcomers are not serious about recovery when they first come to S.A.A. Many are serious about saving a relationship, a career, their reputation, or avoiding incarceration. In other words, they come to us with a sincere desire to manage the consequences of their behaviors. Sobriety, to them, is just a means to an end. They believe being active in our fellowship will curry favor with and thereby influence the decision of those who might dole out the outcome feared most. Such a person has not met the only requirement for membership: a desire (not just a want) to stop addictive sexual behaviors for good and for all. A good indicator of their desire to stop is if he or she gets a sponsor and starts working the Steps and following the sponsor’s direction in that endeavor. Newcomers who do not have the desire to recover may see our loved ones as targets. Perhaps our spouse is particularly attractive. Sometimes it is not a matter of attractiveness, but merely getting flirtatious attention from our spouse. It is entirely possible that the newcomer has issues with children. We most certainly want to protect our little ones. In such cases we may choose to remain anonymous with a newcomer who is not yet exhibiting a sincere desire to stop. With such folks we often choose to withhold information, like our personal address, place of employment, home phone and the like. However this is not an issue addressed by our 11th Tradition. We absolutely should not hide from each other once we have joined the fellowship within the Fellowship: the fellowship of the spirit. It’s entry requirements are simple.
Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of the past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. Alcoholics Anonymous, page 164
These exceptions aside, we must lose our fear of losing our anonymity. Eventually someone will find out. With such a person, we have a calm frank discussion, pointing out that we are no longer sex addicts, but recovered sex addicts. This fear is no different than any other. It will drive us back to our addiction unless we can surrender outcomes and results to our Higher Power. We can no longer allow fear to dominate us and make our decisions for us.
Now that we have clarified the issue of anonymity within the fellowship and with family and friends, we will now look at anonymity and the general public. We address this first by looking at the purpose of the Fellowship. We carry our message by attraction. We are here for those who really desire what we offer. The sex addict, who still suffers, desires what we have because not having it means death. It is not our job to convince anyone they are addicted to sex, that it is killing them, or that our solution is what they need. We are not on a membership drive. We are here for the real sex addict who is out of options. The disease itself is what convinces the newcomer that he or she has the same disease as us and he/she is out of time. His or her own experience through a process of elimination is what convinces the newcomer our solution is his/her only remaining option other than death in the addiction. The newcomer who can be successful is the one that needs no further convincing. He/She already knows that the situation is pressing and hopeless before we meet them. If we find ourselves in the convincing mode, we must realize we are playing God again, this time in the newcomer’s life instead of our own. We are not sales reps for the program, neither are we on a membership drive.
Once spiritually awakened, we have a real tendency to become over zealous. This approach can push more people away than it attracts. We have a tendency to try to convince the newcomer that he or she has our problem and our approach is the best bet. These tendencies show up not just within 12th Step calls but also when we speak with other members of the fellowship who are perhaps using a different solution. When we promote our approach to the Steps, we are by default insinuating that their approach is inadequate. Our egos can quickly grow out of control by our desire to rescue others in the fellowship from their “substandard step-work” and be their hero. Soon we begin to imagine statues and monuments erected in our honor. We begin to conjure images of an entire city being shut down to make way for our funeral procession. We start to see an entire nation taking a moment of silence in our honor. It is often humorous how quickly our egos can balloon out of control.
Through the history of 12 Step fellowships it has been demonstrated again and again. Our Higher Power does not like us to receive public attention for our recovery work. Again our egos are sensitive; they swell at the slightest attention. When the ego swells, the relationship with God diminishes. Before long the Power that kept us sober is gone and we give into temptation. So we avoid public attention for the sake of our own sobriety and to protect our fellowship. We as 12 Steppers know that the program never fails. When we slip and lose our sobriety, it is because we failed to work the program on some aspect or our life. However, this is not commonly known to the general public. Many interpret one member’s failure as a failure of the Program. How many desperate men and women will seek the final solution instead of ours because of this perception? So, we stay out of the public eye, letting the newcomer decide based on his/her personal need and not perception. As a fellowship we are here to say, “We were addicted to selfish sexual behavior. It was killing us. We found a way out that works for us. If you want what we have and are willing to do what we did, you might also experience what we have experienced.”
Of utmost concern in this Tradition is protecting the identity of our fellows. Every newcomer must have absolute confidence that coming to us for help will not result in public knowledge of his/her problem. Remembering always, exposing someone else as a member exposes us as well. This may mean the pretense of not knowing one another when in public. Sometimes we are caught unaware by a non-member third party. We may be asked by them, ¨How do you know him (her)?¨ These things do happen but not often. We simply say to such people, ¨We have mutual friends.¨ This is another reason that we are not flippant about our own membership. Every member must believe that he/she can trust any member to protect our identity with the general public. Every member must believe without doubt that he/she can discuss openly any topic with any other member and it will never be repeated to anyone without permission, even to other members of the fellowship, even the mere fact that he/she is a member of a 12 Step fellowship.
There is, of course, one exception. There are some subjects, if discussed, may put the listener in legal obligation. The primary of these subjects involves the abuse of children. Local laws on this subject vary considerably. But before hearing the confidences of another, we should appraise him or her of the potential consequences of confessing certain acts. The confessor should know that we will only share such things with the properly appointed authorities but never with the general public. We could advise such a person to tell these sensitive parts of their story to someone who can give them legal advice, someone who might (consult your local laws) be exempt from going to the authorities through legal privileges. Ultimately, we know that we must confess everything if we are to be free, despite any fear we have, no matter what the personal consequences may be.
Many also confuse anonymity with hiding from the public view. We are not a secret society. We have a duty to inform our community that there exists a fellowship of men and women who have found a solution to the problem sex addiction. The long form of the 11th Tradition uses a very clear qualifier regarding advertising: sensational. But this means more than just avoiding the use of marquis and search lights at our meeting location (neither should we employ barkers with bullhorns). We may, however, choose to put an ad in the local newspaper, but it should be small, modest and unassuming. We may do something similar with broadcast media, but the same principles should apply. We have often done this strategically by placing it in particular newspapers in the midst of ads that target people like us. We have, occasionally mailed letters to local helping professionals, legal professionals and those who are “of the cloth.” Some of us go into institutions where we believe we are likely to encounter a sex addict seeking a solution. There are many other methods that can be used, but none of them should tell the reader/listener/viewer what their problem is or what they should do about it. At best, we should briefly describe our problem in a way that will allow potential members to diagnose themselves and offer the idea that we have found a path which has provided us with freedom. Let the newcomer decide for him/herself.