On April 8th 2008 I wrote a blog about my first year of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous. I have written several posts about my progress since. As you can see in the comments, the response to the original post was both intensely critical and supportive related to my “violation” of the “The 11th tradition.
The 11th tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous states as follows:
“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.”
What does this mean in a nutshell? We (including me), in the program are encouraged not to speak or write in media of any form about the fact that we are in AA. We are asked to only talk about it with other members and those who approach us for help.
What is the rationale? The “powers” that be decided that to “promote yourself” as an AA member and then fail in your sobriety, you are putting the sobriety of others at risk. The logic being that the knowledge of a failure in the program will discourage those who want help from seeking it. Another being, it also gives critics the ammunition to say “see, it doesn’t work!”
Here is what I do know. Silence intensifies shame. Silence intensifies stigma. THAT causes people to not come forward for help. The thought that we do not own our own narrative and have the ability to express it freely is counter-productive to recovery. That is a current reality, not a dogma induced, speculative one. Alcoholics Anonymous is not a one size fits all paragraph-by-paragraph “Big Book” and written traditions mandate for recovery. Recovery is a complex, unique process for everyone. Even if the act of putting bottle to mouth is the same for us all. Some of us are physical addicts. Some, like me, are psychological addicts. The paths to the bottle are as many and varied as the paths to recovery.
Of course, the one constant is the desire to stop drinking. AA absolutely helped me do that. Not because I believe in every word of Big Book, the 11 traditions or any other mantra but because the group fellowship I participate in. The fellowship allows me express myself without fear of judgment. This led to me being able to deal with deep-seated childhood issues in other therapy that I drank in part to forget and to change what I saw in the mirror. Treating the cause, not just the behavior. My personal path to recovery and narrative that does not belong to anyone else.
An important part of my recovery path has been the release of pain through expressive writing and publicly talking about my journey. Expressing my journey through AA with brutal honestly and transparency. I don’t sugar coat it. I don’t lie or misrepresent where I have been or where I am in my recovery. That is how I move forward. That helps me stay in the present. Could I write and speak about it without mentioning AA? Sure. That however, for me personally, is not honesty. If being honest and writing about that breaches the 11th tradition and the expectations of what AA is supposed to be, so be it. I will always stay on my side of the street and never judge anyone in their recovery regardless of where it takes them. Both life and recovery is a learning process. People, whether they are in AA or not, should allowed to express their recovery in any manner they choose or not at all if they are not ready to do that. Recovery is a process.
I promise one thing. I will never out you. My story of recovery however, belongs to no- one but me. It’s time for AA to come into step with the current state of evidence-based recovery and not add to the deep shame so many feel in dealing with their addiction by discouraging free expression in recovery.
Woman signaling silence photo available from Shutterstock