My Story About Anonymity

I came in fearful and trembling as a newcomer to SA. My first meeting didn’t really happen. I arrived fifteen minutes early and the door was still locked. So I sat in my car to wait and watched as one, two, three, four, five men arrived, one at a time. No women. I was too frightened to go in.

I went home and called Sal, the SA member who had invited me, and he gave me the group secretary’s phone number. I called Jim and told him of my failed attempt to attend the meeting. Jim encouraged me to come back.

So I tried again the next week, and this time made it inside. After I was already seated another newcomer walked in and sat down across the table from me. He looked strangely like a pastor in my church, except he was haggard and disheveled. I had never seen him like that. I was dismayed. I didn’t want anyone to know I had gone to such a meeting, particularly not a pastor in my church.

I thought about bolting for the door. And then I thought, “No, he’s already seen me. And it has taken so much effort to gain the courage to get here.” So I stayed, still trembling inside. As a few men shared their stories for the two newcomers, I knew I belonged, although I didn’t want to.

At the end of the meeting, God gave me some desperately needed reassurance. We stood up around the table, held hands, and recited the Lord’s Prayer together. As I listened to those male voices praying aloud, I suddenly knew that I was safe with these men. But I was troubled by the pastor’s presence.

I was doing 90 meetings in 90 days, and a day or two later I attended an AA Steps & Traditions meeting. They were on Tradition 11. An AA oldtimer was there, and she was asked to share. She stood up, introduced herself by first and last name, gave her length of AA sobriety, and said she had been privileged to know Dr. Bob and Bill W.

She said the tradition of anonymity is often misunderstood to mean AA members should be anonymous in their own group, but this was not the intention of AA’s founders. Then she read the following quote from Dr. Bob:

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.

The former is maintaining his anonymity above the level of press, radio, and films, and the latter is maintaining his anonymity below the level of press, radio, and films—whereas the Tradition states that we should maintain our anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers 264-265)

The oldtimer gave this example: If an AA member is hospitalized, and his AA friends go to visit him, how will the receptionist be able to direct them to “Bob’s” room? Dr. Bob and Bill envisioned, not a fellowship of strangers, but a fellowship of friends who know and support each other in ways unknown to the outside world.

I spoke with the oldtimer after the meeting. I left with a sense of relief and assurance that it was okay to stay in SA. It did not violate tradition that the pastor and I knew each other. But we were bound by tradition to guard each other’s anonymity outside SA. Either of us could have destroyed the other in our shared church context. Neither of us did.

I am grateful that our compassionate God gave me the courage I needed to come to SA. By His grace and strength, I am still here.

Dorene S., Washington, USA

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