Anonymity Is Last in the 12 Traditions of AA

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A hallmark of 12-step recovery programs is the offer of anonymity to participants, but the principle goes much deeper than just not revealing last names. This is Tradition 12,  "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities."

To keep the focus on principles rather than personalities, personal anonymity should be maintained at all levels of participation in 12-step fellowship—in meetings, in 12th step work, and even in sponsorship.

Anonymity is maintained not so much for the protection of the individual as for the protection of the program. Reflections from those in a 12-step program provide a glimpse of the underlying principle of this tradition.

No Human Power

Maryann links the 12th Tradition to the words, "No human power could have relieved us from our alcoholism." She notes that no guru can prevent you from taking the first drink. People in Alcoholics Anonymous need to avoid placing their sponsor or counselor on a pedestal, only to see the inevitable fall. "This program is a 'we' thing for many reasons. Deifying a person not only harms the followers but the followed."

A Genuine Humility

Chuck notes that the long form of the 12th Tradition says that anonymity reminds the member to practice a genuine humility. When you walk into a meeting, you leave "what you are" at the door and walk in as "who you are." This translates into practices of not using honorifics. A judge isn't "Your Honor" at a meeting. A priest isn't "Father." All are equal, and all are just one drink away from being drunk.

"We practice this tradition for three reasons: so we can actually practice genuine humility, so we don't get too up ourselves (spoiled), and so that we can always keep our gratitude in mind," Chuck says.

There is no rich man or poor man, are all equals. How far you have gone with your education, or how successful you are in life has no bearing on what you can get from or what you can contribute to the program.

Mary notes, "We are all honors graduates from the University of Hard Knocks, sitting shoulder to shoulder."

Principles First

Tradition 12 means that the principles of the 12-step program should be put first, not anyone's personal opinion. Althea notes that it is tempting to deviate from the principles when someone you care about and respect is hurting. But in doing so, you let a little more of your principles slip away, and then the program loses a little more of its foundation.

"That's why we need to have that unconditional love for the principles—so we may love each other unconditionally. That love comes from taking the risks of resting on the principles rather than giving in and playing God. We don't give them the chance to grow in the truth of AA's wisdom; we allow them to create their own. It may appear to be helpful, but it is just as damaging and unloving to the individual as it is to AA on the whole."

Carrying the Message

By not using your last name, Lyn notes that the program isn't an anonymous individual program, but it is a "we" program. Rather than become the message, you are carrying the message. Otherwise, your sobriety is at risk, and so is AA as a whole.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.