Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Anonymity

A blogging friend just closed down her blog and started a new one, withholding a few previously-known details about her identity. Why? She got into a jam at work, because someone read some things on her blog they didn't like.

Some other blogging friends have received poison-pen comments from people identified only as "anonymous," without any links.

Still others have deleted posts or felt constrained to explain or apologize for posts, because a friend or loved one didn't like the post.

All the bloggers I'm talking about are in Alcoholics Anonymous. Anonymity is a big thing for us AA's, and I think it's completely misunderstood by many unfamiliar with the Fellowship.

When I first came to AA, I thought everyone was anonymous so no one else inside AA would know who we really are, and that we were supposed to keep our alcoholism a complete secret from everyone outside of AA. All very sneaky because we are so ashamed of our alcoholism. We are supposed to hide.

Boy, did I have it wrong!

Anonymity in AA has two purposes. First, it protects the confidentiality of what another alcoholic says to us. For instance, my sponsor is not supposed to stand up at a meeting and say, "Listen to what Phil told me about in his fifth step..." There is, however, nothing to stop me, if I choose, to stand up, give my full name, address, phone number and social security number, and share my entire fifth step. We respect others' anonymity; we choose whatever level of personal anonymity we want for ourselves.

The second purpose of anonymity is to prevent anyone from setting themselves up as public spokesmen for AA, at the level of "press, radio and film" (and this now includes television). This keeps any of us from using AA to pursue personal power, prestige and wealth; and keeps AA from being hijacked by a self-willed dry drunk.

There is nothing about shame, sneaking or hiding in our anonymity. It's about respect and humility.

The first blogger -- let's call her Mata Hari -- disclosed enough information about herself to be identifiable, but well within the AA tradition of anonymity. And she is very honest and forthright in her "sharing" -- it benefits many of us. Who knows how many people, a little worried about their drinking, have found their way to her blog, identified with her words, saw a kind heart in her picture, knows someone who once lived in her town, has a fondly-remembered great-aunt with her name? And thought, hmmmm, maybe I'll try going to an AA meeting.

Now, because someone with a little power over Mata Hari didn't "get" how important journalizing and sharing are, to her and her readers, she has to be a little less honest, a little more anonymous, a little more remote from her readers. Because something Mata Hari said rubbed the wrong way.

The poison-pen anonymous commenters are simply contemptible, in my opinion. Their anonymity is fearful, ashamed, sneaky and hiding. There is nothing resembling respect or humility in their anonymity.

I'm sad for the bloggers who have been forthright and honest in their words, and in identifying themselves to people close to them, and have those people not "get" what's going on and feel they have to delete posts or explain or apologize for them. It takes courage to put yourself out there, and hurts when you pay a price.

I've chosen to be fairly anonymous in my blog. I don't share many identifiable details and I have told hardly any friends about the blog. I admit this is primarily out of fear. I don't want anything to come back and bite me. I admire those of you who choose less anonymity than I have chosen, and it irks and saddens me that some of you have suffered for it. And the people who hide behind cowardly anonymity to attack and inflict pain make me angry.

13 Comments:

At 8/10/2005 08:10:00 PM, Anonymous Bodhi said...

G'day Phil - Just wanted to leave a quick comment to say that I enjoyed visiting your blog, congrats on your recovery and keep up the good work!

I came into my first meeting of AA at the age of 26, and a few months later finally got sober. That was the 15th July 1992, and one day at a time I have been sober and clean ever since.

Bodhi :-)
Sydney, Australia

 
At 8/10/2005 09:04:00 PM, Blogger dAAve said...

I have noticed a lot more hate the past couple of weeks towards those who are trying to save their lives.

That's sad, but that's the world in which we must live.

 
At 8/11/2005 05:04:00 AM, Blogger Andy said...

I have had problems at work with my blog... one time I blogged about feeling angry towards the baby because of lack of sleep and a coworker wanted to call Child Protective Services because she thought I would hurt my child! Nobody else who read that post had that reaction. Because of my political views on my blog I have had anonymous threats at work; I've been told that I should look for another job, that I am not welcome there.

Fortunately my immediate supervisor relies on me and he has taken steps to protect me.

Please note, I told nobody at work about my blog. One time I blogged from work and my IS department monitors the internet and nailed me. Another coworker found it through random chance and recognized the photo.

They are cowards. But I am a drunk, I am stubborn, my sponsor says I am okay so I just keep on blogging. I don't mention work often though and when I do it is very general.

 
At 8/11/2005 05:27:00 PM, Blogger One Drunk to Another said...

Mata hari here. My employer was not happy with how much I had on my blog that made me identifiable as an employee of where I work. Since was so honest, they were worried I would be seen by some less understanding as misrepresenting the image of the agency. I live in a small enough town that I guess it "could" be a problem.

Also, since I "vented" in one post, I was perceived as, in my supervisor's words, making a "veiled threat" toward another supervisor (she, on the other hand, thought it was funny).

It was really a situation that could have been much more overblown than it was. My employer was really very reasonable and I'm grateful for it. They didn't overreact. They simply asked me not to be identifiable as an employee of the agency. I thought the best route was to start over with a new blog that they couldn't find and not to tell any of them about it. That's why I'm now who I am and my blog is what it is.

I'm trying very hard to be mature about the whole thing, but the old radical protester in me is screaming to paint a sign and march somewhere. hee hee

Either way, Phil, I'm still going to be just as honest as I always was! Thanks for the moral support!!!

 
At 8/11/2005 07:02:00 PM, Blogger NMAMFQLMSH said...

I'm not saying a damn thing :X
Peace,
JJ

 
At 8/11/2005 11:21:00 PM, Blogger K said...

I can't believe all the troubles everyone's had. I guess it is human nature to want to get in other peoples business though. Sorry to hear others have to put such a damper on the blogging world.

One drunk to another, thanks for a good laugh. Although I've never "protested", I can almost identify with that.
"I'm trying very hard to be mature about the whole thing, but the old radical protester in me is screaming to paint a sign and march somewhere. hee hee"

 
At 8/12/2005 06:11:00 AM, Blogger recoveryroad said...

Excellent post!

non-anonymous Kenny

:-)

 
At 8/12/2005 07:49:00 PM, Blogger Grateful said...

Hi Phil (if that's really your name),
I love the way you explained your view on anonymity. Just a side thought...while it may be everyone's "right" to break their own anonymity, I feel it's my responsibility to only break it in service to another. The last thing I want to do is boast about how much time I have, act like a poster child of AA and fall out drunk the next day. It can happen. Especially when I begin to think it can't.
Keep Stepping and blogging,
"Grace"

 
At 8/12/2005 09:48:00 PM, Blogger soberInsanity said...

i am very honest in my blog. the only people who read it however, are online friends-in-recovery and a select few from my real-life network. i sometimes wonder, however, if it could ever be used against me if found by the "wrong person". its a sad thing to have to worry about. i hate to see people with such good things to say having to censor themselves. its rediculous, but sometimes, tragically, necessary. ill never understand it, though.

soberInsanity

 
At 8/14/2005 06:36:00 AM, Blogger Jane said...

anonymity is a HUGE issue for me.

coming from a small town, traditions get broken and word gets around. also, there are a lot of members who are completely comfortable letting people know they are in AA and will come up to me in the local coffee shops, etc. to ask how i'm getting along, or wonder where i've been. this has happened on several occassions when i have been with non-members, and let me tell you i had to do some fancy foot work to explain those situations.

also, please don't assume that just because someone is a member that they are also your friend. i have had my number passed around without my permission and been told in not so many words that i am spending too much time with the "wrong crowd" and should be sticking with women in recovery.

there are a lot of wonderful people in AA, but if you ask me once for my phone number or to go for coffee, and i politely decline, please stop asking.i have lots of friends and family that i don't see enough of as it is.

i don't want to sound like an arrogant ass, because i'm really not. but, this simple detail was a big motivator for keeping me away from AA.

 
At 8/16/2005 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Daniel K. said...

Good thoughts on anonymity, Phil.

Back in my B.S. (Before Sobriety) days when I first started attending meetings, I had a resentment toward a few people (including my original sponsor) who were intent upon integrating themselves into my life. I'd say, "Oh I can't meet for coffee, I'm meeting some friends at such and such a place to see a movie". Before I knew it, this person had showed up to the movie and informed everyone where we knew each other from.

Today I have many friends in AA and other fellowships, but I tend not to mix them with my outside-AA (etc.) friends. My life is rich and expansive enough that the separation isn't artificial, just intentional.

Daniel K.
My Own Experience

 
At 8/16/2005 01:22:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Good to see you, Daniel!

I sympathize with Daniel and Jane about fellow AA-ers compromising their anonymity against their wishes, and imposing themselves when and where they are not welcome. I agree that it not only violates the AA tradition of anonymity, but it's also just plain rude.

I remember, though, how concerned I was about my reputation when I was drinking, and how important it was that everyone see I had it going on -- even though as likely as not I had just soiled my underwear...

And I remember the typical conversation with friends and loved ones when I got up the nerve to reveal my deep, dark secret:

"I'm alcoholic."
"snort No shit."
"I stopped drinking."
"GOOD!"

I wasn't quite as "anonymous" an alcoholic as I deluded myself into believing. :)

 
At 8/20/2005 04:06:00 AM, Blogger LWS said...

This topic strikes to the core of my recovery.

My first time "in" AA, ten years or so ago, I completely misunderstood the concept of anonymity, as to how it would work for me. I say "for me", because it may not work that way for others. For me, anonymity meant: Trying to keep my problem completely under wraps. No one could know I went to AA. No one SHOULD know I went to AA.

This time, I am out. Completely. Do I walk up to someone I meet and say, "Hi, I'm an alcoholic." No, but if it comes up in conversation I'm not going to avoid the subject.

I started my blog for two reasons:
1) To make myself available to anyone, family, friends, strangers, who may have a problem or know others who have a problem.
2) To testify that it works.

I protect completely other alcoholics, and I avoid any details, vague or otherwise, about work. If I have a problem at work, buddy, the LAST place I'm going to put it is on my blog.

Anyway, that's my way. It's not everyone's way. But I would butt my nose in and say that blogging from work is not a good idea, and bitching about family or work online is not a good idea.

Love ya!

 

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