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Does Anonymity Fit into Recovery in the Social Media Era?

by Ken Pomerance
Chief Operating Officer

The 11th Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous states, “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.”

How does anonymity fit into present day recovery in the era of social networks?
When I first came to recovery, my anonymity was critical to me. I was full of shame. Coming from a very prominent family, and not sure that I’d be able to maintain any continued success at abstinence, I wanted to keep my last name and any information about my background a secret. Today, with almost 29 years of recovery under my belt, I have no secrets. I’m no longer filled with shame about my past. I have done my best to put my past behind me, and I know that my story has helped many find themselves “in the rooms.” But what about that 11th Tradition and how does it fit into my recovery life today?

In the name of transparency and full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m one of the co-founders of InTheRooms.com, which is the largest and fastest growing social network for the global recovery community. We’ve been described as a “Facebook for Recovery.” Because we operate on the Internet, there are those that will always bring up this topic of anonymity and perceived tradition violations.

When Dr. Bob and Bill W. addressed the important issue of anonymity back in 1935, it was with the intent that NO ONE PERSON was to act as a role model for any particular fellowship. The reason for that is easy to understand. If that person relapsed then it said to others that that particular fellowship simply doesn’t work.

Additionally, back in the 30s there was a deep-seated societal stigma against addiction and alcoholism. It was viewed as more of a moral weakness, rather than a disease. Most of us now know someone in recovery today. They might be one of our neighbors, our co-workers, our doctors or our family members. The stigma is starting to fade LARGELY because we now know the efficacy of 12-step recovery because SOMEONE wasn’t totally anonymous!

Take a look at Facebook today and you’ll see many people discussing their sobriety in their status updates. They have their first AND last name there for all to see, but most importantly, they often mention the 12-step fellowship that they belong to. Isn’t that a clear violation of the 11th Tradition?

Faces and Voices, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group has recently suggested that we no longer describe ourselves as “addicts” or “alcoholics,” but simply state that we are people in “long-term recovery” not mentioning the particular fellowship that we attend. To me, that bypasses the potential 11th Tradition pitfalls while still letting people know that we’re PROUD of our recovery.

Through the proliferation of online social networks, recovery is now accessible to everyone, regardless of where you live as long as there’s a computer and a connection to the Internet. Support is only a couple of clicks away even in the middle of the night! Is anonymity being compromised in order to help others in need? Shouldn’t it be if there’s a potential to shape or save lives? Should there be a change in the wording of the 11th Tradition?

Today, I’m a respectable, functioning member of society. I am married to a woman I met in recovery that now has over 25 years of long-term recovery. We have been married for 23 years and have two wonderful, well-adjusted children ages 20 and 22 years old whom have NEVER seen us pick up a drug or drink. My wife is a preschool teacher, and I am the Chief Operating Officer of InTheRooms.com. I have served as a coach for both soccer and little league, not to mention being an elected official in my local community. I would have given anything to know, while I was sitting there 29 years ago with a needle in my arm, that these things were all possible.

Today we have the potential to give “the gift of HOPE” to those that are still struggling with their addiction, but in order to do so, I believe that we must take a risk and break our own anonymity. I further believe that we need to do so responsibly, using similar guidelines presented by Faces and Voices. NOT doing so only helps to perpetuate the myth that alcoholics and addicts simply do not recover. We know today that the lie is dead, we DO recover!

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