Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The anonymity factor

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 184)

During the course of my study (as a non-A.A. member) of the phenomenon of the most successful treatment for alcoholism ever devised - Alcoholics Anonymous - I have long been curious about the “anonymity” factor. Why are these people so private about being sober now? Is it shame?

Well, it turns out that these sober alcoholics are well-acquainted with themselves. They are familiar with the effect a little notoriety can have on the often grandiose alcoholic mind. Too often it turns into a drink! Imagine that! Getting drunk on the glory of sobriety! Don’t laugh – stranger things have happened. But that is not all.

Why is anonymity important and how is it the “spiritual” foundation of all of A.A.’s traditions? This was a real puzzler until I looked into it a little. Bill Wilson’s discussion of anonymity in the 12 and 12’s text on the Twelfth Tradition links anonymity with humility. It says that “anonymity is real humility at work” (W., Bill. 1986, p. 187). The essay on Step 7 in that same work explains that, “the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.” Humility being a spiritual state of mind, it follows that anonymity (i.e. humility at work) would indeed be the spiritual foundation of all of A.A.’s Twelve Traditions (Wilson, 1986, pp. 70, 184). But is there more?

What else might be “spiritual” about this foundation of A.A. tradition?

It struck me (not all that long ago) that there is a method to God’s ‘madness’ here. When you think about it, it’s not too difficult to see that God him/herself is the ultimate Master of Anonymity. The Absolute anonymity role-model if you will. This is why there are so many atheists running around. Atheists tend to be evidence advocates and would soon be out of business if God were to show up with anything like compelling evidence of her/his Own existence. But God does not compel belief in him/her by breaking his/her Own anonymity at the public level.

In the text of Step Six, Bill Wilson suggests that one of the goals of A.A.’s program of spiritual practice is to grow in the “image and likeness” of the Creator. He writes:

“… any person capable of enough willingness and honesty to try repeatedly Step Six on all his [or her] faults--without any reservations whatever--has indeed come a long way spiritually, and is therefore entitled to be called a [person] who is sincerely trying to grow in the image and likeness of his [or her] own Creator.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 63)

This concept of a person growing in the image and likeness of the Creator can, of course, easily be found in spiritual traditions other than A.A. For example:

“Because altruism is the Creator’s nature, acquiring it equalizes our nature with His, and we begin to think like Him… In Kabbalah, this state is called “equivalence of form,” and this is the purpose of Creation.” (Laitman, 2006)

Since God is the Master of anonymity, one of the things that makes our practice of anonymity “spiritual” is that it is part of our effort to become more God-like. We grow in the image and likeness of our God when we do what we believe that God wants us to do and, also, what God does (e.g. practice anonymity).

The practice of anonymity is one of the manifestations of humility. Humility begins at Step One with the acknowledgement of personal powerlessness over alcohol and the resulting unmanageability of life. Throughout the 12 Steps, this basic acknowledgement is reiterated and implied as well as applied to other aspects of A.A. Stepwork.

One of the many beauties of the A.A. program is that it does not demand that anyone believe anything in particular regarding God. In fact there is only one demand the A.A. program places on its adherents and that is rigorous honesty (Wilson, 2001, pp. 58, 145). And, the only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol (Wilson, 1986, p. 139). An alcoholic is a member if he or she declares it and has that simple desire.

In a March 1946 A.A. Grapevine article, Bill W. summarizes his thoughts on anonymity as follows:

We ought not disclose ourselves to the general public…. Great modesty and humility are needed by every A.A. for his own permanent recovery. If these virtues are such vital needs to the individual, so must they be to A.A. as a whole.… Our public relations policy should mainly rest upon the principle of attraction and seldom, if ever, upon promotion.” (Wilson, 1946, italics his)

A.A.’s ‘anonymity’ is a vital ingredient in A.A.’s unity because it helps the individual members to continue to grow in the image and likeness of their own Creator. This helps A.A. as a whole to do so as well, and, thereby to stay connected to the power Source.

“… there is One who has all power….” (Wilson, 2001, p. 59)


Laitman, M. (2006). Kabbalah revealed: The ordinary person’s guide to a more peaceful life. Toronto, ON: Laitman Kabbalah Publishers.

Wilson, Bill. (March, 1946). Our anonymity is both inspiration and safety. AA Grapevine, 2(10), Retrieved January 5, 2010, from

Wilson, Bill. (1986). Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

Wilson, Bill. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1939)

Copyright © 2011 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved.

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1 comment:

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