Several AA members sound off:
I wish Paul Carr every success in getting sober, and I don’t pretend to judge his method. But his understanding of anonymity is a little different than the one I have come to in 23 years in the program. (I got my "poker chip" this morning.) As I understand the concept, anonymity means (1) you don’t tell the world who you see or what you hear at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. You don’t blow others’ anonymity. However, many AAs find it helpful to disclose their situation to their bosses, their friends, their families and others who they feel need to know. And (2) we in AA may know a little or a lot about our fellows; that depends on how much each is willing to disclose.
But we know one at least thing about each other: that we have trouble with alcohol. That helps build a sense of unity in our common struggle. As the tradition says, principles before personalities. (The traditions say we DO stay anonymous at the level "of press, radio or film," however. That’s partly because a public relapse could reflect as much on AA as the individual.)
The original founders of AA in 1935 were definitely concerned about protecting their members identities, because of the attitudes of the time. Within a few years, anonymity took on a spiritual context for the members. I’ve been in AA since 1988 and anonymity keeps me from feeling like "I" beat this thing. It would be very easy for me to feel powerful regarding my alcoholism and that is the opposite of what AA teaches. Keeping my trap shut unless it’s necessary to help someone else or myself keeps me humble.
The AA aversion to leaders and spokespeople stems from AA's democratic, anarchic, and Christian roots. It's a leaderless organization. They have intuited that egotism is one of the character defects leading alcoholics to drink. "Self run riot" they call it. Self appointed spokespeople are the ones most likely to relapse. Individuals are encouraged to find selfless ways of helping other alcoholics.
I find an organization that eschews spokespeople and "big shots" to be refreshing. We all belong to hierarchical organizations (jobs, corporations, churches, schools etc.) where we are unconsciously ranked according to status. At AA meetings I've mingled with investment bankers, doctors, famous actors, as well as janitors, busboys, and HIV+ homeless people. As Charles Murray points out, there aren't many organizations left in America where class lines are ignored. And AA does a fabulous job in erasing those lines. Some people aren't comfortable with that (notice Carr's contemptuous dismissal of AA as that "roomful of strangers"). In any event, I think AA fills the role that used to be filled by groups like Kiwanis, Rotary, Knights of Columbus, etc.
Another veers from the rest:
Your post struck a deep chord with me; it has been just over 12 years since I last had a drink. I stopped without Alcoholics Anonymous because I don't believe in the whole disease paradigm – I at least don't believe that it is helpful to people who are trying to stop. I was heavily influenced by the book Rational Recovery, but I'm not writing in to plug any one book or program. Instead, I want to express how I believe secrecy ties into the disempowering tenets of AA.
For as much as AA encourages people to confront their mistakes and make amends to those they have harmed, the whole enterprise seems to me to encourage secrecy – as a larger part of encouraging dependence on AA itself. AA, with the exception of making a decision to come to a group (excepting those, of course, who come via judicial mandate) seems to be about giving up control. You must come to this group, you must believe in a higher power, you have a disease, that you are not in control of your own behavior … why on earth would you share that with the world?
Telling others, on the other hand, is about taking control for yourself. Honestly, I can't say I came right out and told a lot of people that I had stopped drinking. It was still a personal decision. And AA or not, lots of folks out there take a pretty negative view of it. So I pick my spots – but I'm the one doing the picking.