Monday, May 13, 2013

I'm Going There - On Breaking Anonymity

I am so moved by what I'm going to show you below, about this movement, that I can stay silent no longer.

I have tiptoed around this for years, now, about how to reach out and tell truths about alcoholism, drug addiction and recovery without stepping on the toes of recovery programs that have anonymity as a cornerstone to their program?

For five years now, many people have encouraged and supported what I do here, what we do at Crying Out Now and The Bubble Hour and Shining Strong. We don't preach about how to recover. We don't advocate for any one program.  We don't ask anyone to break their own anonymity who doesn't want to, or who can't for personal or professional reasons.

But do you know where I get the most criticism?  From the recovery community itself.

Breaking my own anonymity is a personal decision.  I have felt for a long time that staying silent is dangerous for the movement of recovery.   Not everyone needs to be - or should be - open.  BUT.  Those of us who can?  Or who want to?  We face a backlash from other recovering people.  I won't get into all the reasons why - I don't want anything I say here to be Google-able, which would put me in the cross hairs of violating one Anonymous organization's eleventh and twelfth traditions:  "our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films" (11th tradition) AND "we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility" (12th tradition).

There is also the 12th step:  "we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

I have spent years trying to reconcile these concepts.  How to carry the message to help suffering alcoholics while maintaining the anonymity requirements of the 11th tradition?  How to be out there telling my story - or the stories found on Crying Out Now and The Bubble Hour?

There is a reason the Anonymous organization is not mentioned on my blog.  We advise all guests on The Bubble Hour to not mention any specific program, if they can help it.  We tell everyone - and hold ourselves to the same standard - that we share OUR OWN experiences ONLY.  We do not tell anyone how to recover, or where to recover.  We share our own experience, strength and hope as persons in recovery.

I feel this mission falls squarely within the intent of the 11th tradition:  "our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion".  Where it gets iffy is the second half of this tradition: "we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films."

But if Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob- co-founders of the Anonymous program - could have envisioned the internet, how would they have felt about it?  Nobody really has the answer to this.  All we have is our perception of the intent behind these traditions. 

How are the stories told on our websites different from speaking from the podium at an open twelve step meeting where anyone - even non alcoholics - are welcome to attend?  At those meetings I'm sharing my name.  I'm showing my face.  I'm breaking my anonymity to people who aren't admitted members of the twelve step program.   And the only requirement for membership in the Anonymous program?  A desire to stop drinking.  Anyone who googles "do I have a problem with alcohol" is taking the first tentative step towards cultivating a desire to stop drinking.

Do you know the number one search phrase used when people find my blog?  "Help me, I can't stop drinking."

If some of us aren't able to tell our stories to offer hope to those still suffering - those who are searching online for help but who aren't ready or willing to go to a meeting - how on earth are we going to offer HOPE.  Because that's what this is all about.  HOPE.

If you're angry about this post, or the work we do, or puzzled, or confused about what this breaking anonymity thing is all about, PLEASE watch this video below (it's a Kickstarter campaign, but they have FAR exceeded their goal so I'm not asking for donations - unless you want to).  If you are a person struggling with shame or fear or doubt - PLEASE watch this.

Because this movement?  This is where I'm going.  I know not everyone will approve.  I'm not looking for approval. I'm looking for open, honest and non-personal discourse.

Will you comment with your thoughts?  This is not a mutual admiration society. I am not going to delete comments that don't go lock-step with my beliefs.  As long as it isn't insulting or personal against me or another commenter, it will stay up.

We can't cure something we can't even talk about.   So let's TALK.


  1. I have seen people in that program, usually Old Timers, get very upset and angry when someone breaks their anonymity in the press. They are generally holding on to the 'old' program. I recently attended a talk by someone who got sober in 1958. He said in his day, newcomers didn't share. You sat and listened and got told what to do. It was a harsher, more rigid program back then. It worked, for the time and that generation of people but I think we have to admit that times have changed. People act and think differently today than they did when the program was founded. Hell, we have WOMEN alcoholics now! Technology has also changed dramatically and the program needs to embrace all of that. I believe in the program, I attend the meetings, and I personally think that for me, it was the ONLY way I was going to get, and stay, sober. BUT I also believe that people in the program need to be a little more fluid in how they interact with others, each of us has our own way of working the program. The 'my way or the highway' approach isn't going to work for everyone. All of that to say I think you are doing a GOOD THING Ellie and I'm proud of you.

  2. As an adult child of alcoholic parents, both of whom died from alcohol-related causes, I say "more power to you."

    In our family, the thing that kept the system going--that kept two smart, once-beautiful people chained to a life of ever-worsening addiction, depression, and mutual craziness--was secrecy. It was the biggest rule in our family: don't tell anyone ANYTHING. Addiction feeds on secrecy, and anonymity is just another form of that.

    I can't help but think that if my parents had been able to step past the huge wall of secrecy that imprisoned them, they might have been alive now. And we might have had parents when we needed them.

    When I see people like you stepping into the light of truth and reality, I feel like maybe we stand a chance against addiction.


  3. While it's important to have the ability to be anonymous concerning our struggles with addiction, I agree that it's a contributing factor to the roadblock in front of so many who are considering sobriety. How do you ask for help or support without fear? Fear of judgement, fear of alienation, fear of negative consequences? While sobriety is seen in a positive light, there is a shadow of negativity behind it. When I share my "soberversary" happiness & pride with others who don't understand the struggle, I'm met with a confused sort of praise. As if they're saying to themselves, "I had no idea you have THAT problem." All I have to say is, I can't be confined to "THAT" ~ Whatever your own understanding of "THAT" is. I am a mother, a wife, a professional, a friend, a christian, so many other things, and an alcoholic. A while ago, I could have fallen squarely into "THAT" category, but now, I'm uncaged. My sobriety has freed me from all of those negative things, and if only our struggles weren't so "hush-hush" people would be more understanding and less judgemental. Maybe if our diverse voices are heard, maybe more people could relate, and not stigmatize who we are, what we struggle with, and where we're going. Ultimately, the goal would be to have addiction seen for what it is, a disease, and for it to be seen in a more clinical light rather than a character defect. Only when it is regarded this way, will people feel more welcome to fearlessly help themselves and compassionately help others.

  4. Thank you! I support and love what you are doing. I respect people's right to be anonymous, but in secrecy, there is shame. I wrote about my ex-husband's anonymity, and how it may prevent him from facing the truth of his alcoholism, and the price my children and I have paid for that. Here's the link.

  5. I believe the spirit and intent of those traditions is to prevent people from actively advertising a specific program, and probably more importantly refraining from promoting oneself as the "face" of said program. I do NOT believe the intent of those traditions was to silence us all from sharing our personal experiences. After all, the founders of that program publishes a BOOK with their PERSONAL stories in it. If the internet had been around back then, I believe they would have used it.

    I find what you and others who are breaking the barrier of shame and stigma by talking about addiction to be a wonderful thing! It's been a gift to me. And it pains me to no end to hear you've gotten flack about it. It actually makes me furious!

  6. To each their own path but for me I have always used my own name on all I have posted and on my blog. I am very proud of the fact that I was able to set down alcohol and I reach out to others who need or want help, hugs, encouragement, daily affirmations, a good talking-to, or a silent eye to eye exchange.

    People giving you shit ought to be ashamed of themselves and perhaps they are and taking it out on you. Ellie, stay the course, you are doing wonderful things for women worldwide who struggle with this insidious disease. Let the naysayers say what they want-you keep saying what needs to be said.

    Onward thru the frogs !~!

  7. Love this post, Ellie! Thank you for writing it.
    I do think there is room for both and it doesn't have to be a black and white issue. Anonymity still is necessary for some and can be the deciding factor in getting sober. It wasn't for me, but I know it was for some very important people in my life.
    But, I think, like you, we live in a different world now where we're calling shame out. We're seeing people that aren't afraid to face it head on and THAT is what will greatly help people suffering.
    I also think we're entering a new age of recovery and this is part of it. Back nearly 100 years ago when Bill W and Dr Bob founded the program, there were plenty of nay-sayers to them I'm sure. Telling them THEY were being too outspoken and the "all it takes is some willpower", etc. But, it's pretty clear what they did worked, no? I think it's the same here. There are THOUSANDS that feel the same way you do :)

  8. I like seeing some exposure of long-term recovery and the viability of the program to continue to be meaningful beyond the initial 'getting sober' phase. The people who are supporting you - I count myself among them. I think your heart and energy is wonderful and helpful. If one person is helped through what you do... it's worth it. I think many have been and will be helped by your efforts. I also think you get the principles and their importance. The people who are giving you grief - I respect them for their dedication to preserve the principles as they have learned or interpret them. Shoot, when something or someone saves your life, you tend to fight for it in whatever way makes sense to you. My first professional job (back in the early 80's) was directing a private non-profit addictions treatment program. I remember I became very defensive when I was verbally attacked by some old-timers in the program because I myself was not an alcoholic or an addict in recovery. They didn't think there was any way someone who wasn't a drunk himself could help an alcoholic. I felt self-righteous and indignant. After all, I had a Ph.D. I am grateful I hung in there long enough to earn some of their respect. Actually, it took years (and years) on both sides. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had a lot to learn from them as well. I have learned so much from the Anonymous programs and their philosophy has changed my life in many good ways. I thank God for you, I thank God for every "old-timer," I thank God for every one who has two or three days sobriety and the courage and fortitude to "keep coming back" slip after slip, and I thank God for the wisdom of Bill W and Dr. Bob.

  9. You know, I posted a picture of myself on my blog for the first time yesterday. I've slowly stopped worrying about keeping it anon. I think it is up to the individual completely. It is GOOD IMO to get the real faces of addiction out there! If you are comfortable letting people know you and your struggle, then you are more able to help others still stuck in the mire of addiction!

  10. I will protect your anonymity as best I can, but am free to share my own story with whomever I choose.

    That's how I deal with the 11th & 12th issues most of the time. I am so excited about this movement. It always strikes me as funny who many of Us were brazen drunks that never hid it, but then decided to be secretive of our recovery. I have been a part of the Anonymous organization for many years, and while I don't wear the triangle with the circle around it on my forehead, I am more than willing to share MY story with someone. I come "properly armed with the facts about myself" and lay it all out. No judgment. No condemnation. I hope that the more people talk about it, the more the stigma will be washed away.

    Thank you so much for sharing with us. Who knew I'd find another Sober Sister in BlogLand today? ;-)

  11. Thank you for all you do. I am open about my recovery. If I kept it a secret, it might prevent me from helping a person in need. I respect the program and would keep other people anonymous. I am not ashamed that I have an addiction and I am very proud to say I am in recovery! The documentary looks interesting and I am all for it. The more we speak up, the better. The stigma must go!

  12. Ive heard about this but don't know how to get involved do i?

  13. Ive heard about this but don't know how to get involved do i?

  14. It looks like it's going to be a great film! I'm excited to see it. xoxo

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  16. I went there too. Thank you.


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  18. awesome the 1st one instate of 2nd one, you can do 2nd one in your own risk. Google Play Not Downloading every android gadget. There are numbers of android market available like nice.