Tradition Born of Our Anonymity
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., January 1946
the years that lie ahead the principle o anonymity will
undoubtedly become a part of our vital tradition. Even
today we sense its practical value. But more important
still, we are beginning to feel that the word "anonymous"
has for us an immense spiritual significance. Subtly but
powerfully it reminds us that we are always to place principles
before personalities; that we have renounced personal
glorification in public; that our movement not only preaches
but actually practices a true humility. That the practice
of anonymity in our public relations has already had a
profound effect upon us, and upon our millions of friends
in the outside world, there can hardly be doubt. Anonymity
is already a cornerstone of our public relations policy.
this idea first originated and subsequently took hold
of us is an interesting bit of AA history. In the years
before the publication of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous,"
we had no name. Nameless, formless, our essential principles
of recovery still under debate and test, we were just
a group of drinkers groping our way along hat we hoped
would be the road to freedom. Once we became sure that
our feet were set on the right track we decided upon a
hook in which we could tell other alcoholics the good
news. As the book took form we inscribed in it the essence
of our experience. It was the product of thousands of
hours of discussion. It truly represented the collective
voice, heart and conscience of those of us who had pioneered
the first four years of AA
the day of publication approached we racked our brains
to find a suitable name for the volume. We must have considered
at least two hundred titles. Thinking up titles and voting
upon them at meetings became one of our main activities.
A great welter of discussion and argument finally narrowed
our choice to a single pair of names. Should we call our
new book "The Way Out" or should we call it
"Alcoholics Anonymous"? That was the final question.
A last-minute vote was taken by the Akron and New York
Groups. By a narrow majority the verdict was for naming
our book "The Way Out." Just before we went
to print somebody suggested there might be other books
having the same title. One of our early lone members (dear
old Fitz M., who then lived in Washington) went over to
the Library of Congress to investigate. He found exactly
twelve books already titled "The Way Out." When
this information was passed around, we shivered at the
possibility of being the "Thirteenth Way Out."
So "Alcoholics Anonymous" became first choice.
That's how we got a name for our book of experience, a
name for our movement and, as we are now beginning to
see, a tradition of the greatest spiritual import. God
does move in mysterious ways His wonders to perform!
the hook "Alcoholics Anonymous" there are only
three references to the principle of anonymity. The foreword
of our first edition states: "Being mostly business
or professional folk some of us could not carry on our
occupations if known" and "When writing or speaking
publicly about alcoholism, we urge each of our Fellowship
to omit his personal name, designating himself instead
as 'a member of Alcoholics Anonymous,'" and then,
very earnestly we ask the press also to observe this request
for otherwise we shall be greatly handicapped."
the publication of "Alcoholics Anonymous" in
1939 hundreds of AA groups have been formed. Every one
of them asks these questions: "Just how anonymous
are we supposed to be?" and "After all, what
good is this principle of anonymity anyway?" To a
great extent each group has settled upon its own interpretation.
Naturally enough wide differences of opinion remain among
us. Just what our anonymity means and just how far it
ought to go are unsettled questions.
we no longer fear the stigma of alcoholism as we once
did, we still find individuals who are extremely sensitive
about their connection with us. A few come in under assumed
names. Others swear us to the deepest secrecy. They fear
their connection with Alcoholics Anonymous may ruin their
business or social position. At the other end of the scale
of opinion we have the individual who declares that anonymity
is a lot of childish nonsense. He feels it his bounden
duty to cry his membership in Alcoholics Anonymous from
the housetops. He points out that our AA Fellowship contains
people of renown, some of national importance. Why, he
asks, shouldn't we capitalize on their personal prestige
just as any other organization would?
between these extremes the shades of opinion are legion.
Some groups, especially newer ones, conduct themselves
like secret societies. They do not wish their activities
known even to friends. Nor do they propose to have preachers,
doctors, or even their wives at any of their meetings.
As for inviting in newspaper reporters - perish the thought!
groups feel that their communities should know all about
Alcoholics Anonymous. Though they print no names, they
do seize every opportunity to advertise the activities
of their group. They occasionally hold public or semipublic
meetings where AAs appear on the platform by name. Doctors,
clergymen and public officials are frequently invited
to speak at such gatherings. Here and there a few AAs
have dropped their anonymity completely. Their names,
pictures and personal activities have appeared in the
public print. As AAs they have sometimes signed their
names to articles telling of their membership.
while it is quite evident that most of us believe in anonymity,
our practice of the principle does vary a great deal.
And, indeed, we must realize that the future safety and
effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous may depend upon
vital question is. Just where shall we fix this point
where personalities fade out and anonymity begins?
a matter of fact, few of us are anonymous so far as our
daily contacts go. We have dropped anonymity at this level
because we think our friends and associates ought to know
about Alcoholics Anonymous and what it has done for us.
We also wish to lose the fear of admitting that we are
alcoholics. Though we earnestly request reporters not
to disclose our identities, we frequently speak before
semipublic gatherings under our right names. We wish to
impress audiences that our alcoholism is a sickness we
no longer fear to discuss before anyone. So far, so good.
however, we venture beyond this limit we shall surely
lose the principle of anonymity forever. If every AA felt
free to publish his own name, picture and story we would
soon be launched upon a vast orgy of personal publicity
which obviously could have no limit whatever. Isn't this
where, by the strongest kind of tradition, we must draw
Therefore, it should be the privilege of each AA to cloak
himself with as much personal anonymity as he desires.
His fellow AAs should respect his wishes and help guard
whatever status he wants to assume.
Conversely, the individual AA ought to respect the feeling
of his local group about anonymity. If members of his
group wish to be less conspicuous in their locality than
he does, he ought to go along with them unless they change
It ought to be a worldwide policy that no member of Alcoholics
Anonymous shall ever feel free to publish, in connection
with any AA activity, his name or picture in mediums of
public circulation. This would not, however, restrict
the use of his name in other public activities provided,
of course, he does not disclose his AA member-ship.
these suggestions, or variations of them, are to be adopted
as a general policy, every AA will want to know more about
our experience so far. He will surely wish to know how
most of our older members are thinking on the subject
of anonymity at the present time. It will be the purpose
of this piece to bring everybody up-to-date on our collective
I believe most of us would agree that the general idea
of anonymity is sound, because it encourages alcoholics
and the families of alcoholics to approach us for help.
Still fearful of being stigmatized, they regard our anonymity
as an assurance their problems will be kept confidential;
that the alcoholic skeleton in the family closet will
not wander in the streets.
the policy of anonymity is a protection to our cause.
It prevents our founders or leaders, so-called, from becoming
household names who might at any time get drunk and give
AA a black eye. No one need say that couldn't happen here.
almost every newspaper reporter who covers us complains,
at first, of the difficulty of writing his story without
names. But he quickly forgets this difficulty when he
realizes that here is a group of people who care nothing
for personal gain. Probably it is the first time in his
life he has ever reported an organization which wants
no personal publicity. Cynic though he may be, this obvious
sincerity instantly transforms him into a friend of AA
Therefore his piece is a friendly piece, never a routine
job. It is enthusiastic writing because the reporter feels
that way himself.
often ask how Alcoholics Anonymous has been able to secure
such an incredible amount of excellent publicity. The
answer seems to be that practically everyone who writes
about us be-comes an AA convert, sometimes a zealot. Is
not our policy of anonymity mainly responsible for this
why does the general public regard us so favorably? Is
it simply because we are bringing recovery to lots of
alcoholics? No, this can hardly be the whole story. However
impressed he may be by our recoveries, John Q. Public
is even more interested in our way of life. Weary of pressure
selling, spectacular promotion and shouting public characters,
he is refreshed by our quietness. modesty and anonymity.
It well may be that he feels a great spiritual power is
being generated on this account-that something new has
come into his own life.
anonymity has already done these things for us, we surely
ought to continue it as a general policy. So very valuable
to us now, it may become an incalculable asset for the
future. In a spiritual sense, anonymity amounts to the
renunciation of personal prestige as an instrument of
general policy. I am confident that we shall do well to
preserve this powerful principle; that we should resolve
never to let go of it.
what about its application? Since we advertise anonymity
to every newcomer, we ought, of course, to preserve a
new member's anonymity so long as he wishes it preserved-because,
when he read our publicity and came to us, we contracted
to do exactly that. And even if he wants to come in under
an assumed name, we should assure him he can. If he wishes
us to refrain from discussing his case with anyone, even
other AA members, we ought to respect that wish too. While
most newcomers do not care a rap who knows about their
alcoholism, there are others who care very much. Let us
guard them in every way until they get over that feeling.
comes the problem of the newcomer who wishes to drop his
anonymity too fast. He rushes to all his friends with
the glad news of AA If his group does not caution him
he may rush to a newspaper office or a microphone to tell
the wide world all about himself. He is also likely to
tell everyone the innermost details of his personal life,
soon to find that, in this respect, he has altogether
too much publicity! We ought to suggest to him that he
take things easy; that he first get on his own feet before
talking about AA to all and sundry; that no one thinks
of publicizing AA without being sure of the approval of
his own group.
there is the problem of group anonymity. Like the individual,
it is probable that the group ought to feel its way along
cautiously until it gains strength and experience. There
should not be too much haste to bring in outsiders or
to set up public meetings. Yet this early conservatism
can be overdone. Some groups go on, year after year, shunning
all publicity or any meetings except those for alcoholics
only. Such groups are apt to grow slowly. They become
stale because they are not taking in fresh blood fast
enough. In their anxiety to maintain secrecy they forget
their obligation to other alcoholics in their communities
who have not heard that AA has come to town. But this
unreasonable caution eventually breaks down. Little by
little some meetings are opened to families and close
friends. Clergymen and doctors may now and then be invited.
Finally the group enlists the aid of the local newspaper.
most places, but not all, it is customary for AAs to use
their own names when speaking before public or semipublic
gatherings. This is done to impress audiences that we
no longer fear the stigma of alcoholism. If, however,
newspaper reporters are present they are earnestly requested
not to use the names of any of the alcoholic speakers
on the program. This preserves the principle of anonymity
so far as the general public is concerned and at the same
time represents us as a group of alcoholics who no longer
fear to let our friends know that we have been very sick
practice then, the principle of anonymity seems to come
down to this: with one very important exception, the question
of how far each individual or group shall go in dropping
anonymity is left strictly to the individual or group
concerned. The exception is: that all groups or individuals,
when writing or speaking for publication as members of
Alcoholics Anonymous, feel bound never to disclose their
true names. It is at this point of publication that we
feel we should draw the line on anonymity. We ought not
disclose ourselves to the general public through the media
of the press, in pictures or on the radio.
who would drop their anonymity must reflect that they
may set a precedent which could eventually destroy a valuable
principle. We must never let any immediate advantage shake
us in our determination to keep intact such a really vital
modesty and humility are needed by every AA for his own
permanent recovery. If these virtues are such vital needs
to the individual, so must they be to AA as a whole. This
principle of anonymity before the general public can,
if we take it seriously enough, guarantee the Alcoholics
Anonymous movement these sterling attributes forever.
Our public relations policy should mainly rest upon the
principle of attraction and seldom, if ever, upon promotion.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., January 1946
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