By Benzion Twerski, Ph.D.
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. (Twelfth Tradition)
Prominently listed among the tools of a twelve step program and usually part of its name is the principle of anonymity. Many who enter the meeting rooms have trouble pronouncing the word ANONYMITY. Far more have no idea what is meant by the word, other than an otherwise unused part of one’s vocabulary. Because it is so critical to recovery from addictions, it must be understood. As with any other tool, it can serve the bearer well if used properly.
In active addiction, a universal experience is loneliness. The addict may well be together with other people and far from alone. However, the addict is lonely. One who is alone is physically isolated and not in the presence of others. Lonely refers to the experience of feeling no one cares and caring for no one. It is an emotional experience rather than a physical one. The addict’s emotional state is unbearable without the numbing effects of a drug. Often, the addict used the drug to facilitate belonging to a peer group. The loneliness of emotional isolation was treated with a chemical that only outwardly appeared to make things better.
The program tools are directed at the principal parts of the disease. Paradoxical as it may sound, the principle of anonymity is aimed at overcoming the loneliness that was characteristic during the days of addiction.
Anonymity is exercised in a number of ways. Preserving the confidentiality of a recovering person and respecting another’s privacy is part of anonymity. Refraining from public disclosure of one’s addiction and recovery is also considered anonymity. Introducing oneself at a meeting as “Hi, I’m (Joe) (Judith), and I am a recovering addict or alcoholic” is the regular implementation of this principle. This last one highlights the essence of the principle and the central role it plays in a healthy recovery program.
The most literal definition of anonymity is “without a name”. A name represents something a person could be called to distinguish him or her from someone else. When a name is said, it excludes other people, referring only to one person in particular. A name has as its primary purpose highlighting the differences between people. The addict who enters recovery has already served a sentence of loneliness, feeling apart from others, distinct, and disconnected. The focus on what exists in common with others is a healthy replacement for the addictive opposite. Identifying oneself as an “addict” or “alcoholic” serves to unify recovering people, by exposing what they have in common.
In other words, when dispensing with use of names one can achieve an identity. The name represents what makes one unique, and it was the terminal uniqueness that made getting sober so difficult. In anonymity, one sheds this, and retains a group name, alcoholic or addict, becoming similar to others, and not lonely anymore.
The human being is considered a social creature. While many animals live in herds or groups, none have the range of interactions and the emotional connections that are found in humans. Most all lower species of life mate and produce young. Some are even monogamous, remaining with one identified mate throughout life. However, to the best of our knowledge, there is no emotional attachment. Interacting with others at an emotional level is uniquely human.
Spirituality means many things. It means having a relationship to a Higher Power. The single most significant aspect of spirituality is fulfilling one’s potential as a human being. This involves interacting with others at a level that is above the social niceties, greetings, and politically correct lines of conversation that could be mimicked by computers. None of these forms of communication involve a caring person with feeling behind them, and thus cannot be considered spiritual.
By exercising anonymity, relating to others as peers, and doing so at an emotional level by identifying with someone else’s conflicts or challenges, one is connected to one’s spiritual foundation.