Membership in Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) is currently growing at a rapid pace in the U.S. and abroad, with about a 20% increase in the number of weekly group meetings every year. SAA and other sex addiction support groups like it follow the AA model of self help support groups where the last names of the members are never mentioned and the members protect each other’s confidentiality. Some people in the addiction recovery community are questioning what they see as a harmful tradition of secrecy. I see very strong arguments on either side of this issue.
The “non-anonymous” movement
A new support network called “Addicts NOT Anonymous” was recently founded. It challenges the idea of anonymity based, says its founder, on the notion that “We may be addicts. We may have done some terrible things to get our drugs. But we are NOT nameless, faceless, anonymous nobodies.”
By shedding their anonymity the non-anonymous people argue that they gain self respect and accountability for their actions. They seem to see the whole traditional 12-step model as a rigid, ritualistic throwback.
Other opponents of anonymity argue that “We are in the midst of a public health crisis when it comes to understanding and treating addiction. AA’s principle of anonymity may only be contributing to general confusion and prejudice.”
Reasons in favor of sex addicts coming out of the closet
“Coming out,” whether on the part of alcoholics, drug addicts, homosexuals, rape victims or even undocumented workers, has historically had a number of beneficial effects.
- It allows people who were formerly shunned or seen as deviant to be seen in a more human light and integrated into society.
- Making the problems of the closeted group more public improves the prospects for research, understanding and effective treatment for those who need help.
- For sex addicts in particular, it is certainly true that greater public awareness and acceptance of sex addiction as a disease would greatly reduce the shame of those who struggle with it, and reduced shame would support healing.
- Being secretive about a large chunk of who we are is always unhealthy and going public would allow the sex addict to have a greater sense of integrity.
Reasons against sex addicts coming out of the closet
“Anonymous support groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous that are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous protect the identity of their members for some obvious reasons and some less obvious reasons.
- Sex addicts tend to isolate themselves in one way or another. It is part of their problem that they feel vulnerable and do not want to be known. They are therefore more willing to participate anonymously.
- Society is nowhere near ready to accept the sex addict next door in a non-judgmental spirit. Often sex addiction is seen as being the same as sex offending, child molesting and so on. This is antithetical to getting help and threatens the very livelihood of sex addicts, particularly if they are teachers.
- Most doctors and the majority of psychotherapists don’t have adequate training about sex addiction and couldn’t help pave the way for treatment.
- Part of the basis for addiction treatment is the need for the addict to connect with others and form supportive relationships. Anonymity provides a basis of equality, a leveling of people that takes out all considerations of differential power, success, and status. Everyone is equal because everyone’s outward ego identity is concealed.
This last point is the most important. In 12-step groups like SAA one of the basic tenets is: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
In creating a support group where people are “just people” not doctors, business executives, or janitors there is a greater possibility for people to see under the surface to the common humanity and common struggle. This makes for real connection, spiritual connection rather than just membership in an affinity group. The real connection with another person based on who we are on the inside is ultimately what makes change possible.