Most Popular · Search:

Anonymity explained

Please explain the concept of anonymity. What does it mean to break anonymity? Does breaking anonymity mean telling someone outside the rooms (for example someone's employer) that so-and-so is drinking and/or in AA? A sponsee tells me that I broke her anonymity when I told my sponsor that she was drinking and lying to me.
This question actually addresses anonymity and confidentiality.

Anonymity is outlined in the Traditions to mean two things:

  -That in regard to our AA membership we should not use our last names outside the fellowship.

  -That we do not divulge to people outside the fellowship who else is an AA member. You can "break" someone's anonymity by telling an "outsider" who you met in a meeting. Everyone has a reasonable expectation that their membership in AA won't be divulged to folks outside of AA.

We are not anonymous with each other. Within AA, we are a fellowship - much like an extended family.

Here is an excerpt from the GSO website at http://www.aa.org:
Why Alcoholics Anonymous Is "Anonymous"
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of A.A. It disciplines the Fellowship to govern itself by principles rather than personalities. We are a society of peers. We strive to make known our program of recovery, not individuals who participate in the program. Anonymity in the public media is assurance to all A.A.s, especially to newcomers, that their A.A. membership will not be disclosed.

The sponsor/sponsee relationship is different.

There are those who feel that what they share with their sponsor should be treated with full confidentiality -- that whatever is shared between the two stays between the two. There are those who feel the sponsor relationship should be treated with the same level of confidentiality as you would expect with a priest, lawyer or doctor.

The Big Book is silent on this. "Sponsorship" is not a word to be found in the Big Book, though some say that everything after the first page of Chapter 7 - Working With Others is the sponsor's guidebook.

There are those who believe the sponsor's role is to help a newcomer have a spiritual awakening or a spiritual experience by working through the steps, nothing more, nothing less. This view suggests that sponsors are not and should not be considered to be advisers (medical, legal, financial, etc.), counselors (of any sort), or confidants because that is not their role.

By sharing something you learned, you may or may not have broken her confidentiality. It depends on what the parties believed about the relationship. If your disclosures were part of an effort to seek the advice of your sponsor - a more seasoned member of our fellowship, there are those who would commend your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Some people expect that what they share with a sponsor will go no further. Others may have no such expectation. Clearly stating the terms of the relationship in its early stages can go a long way to eliminating confusion and unwarranted assumptions.

There are no "rules" about what a sponsor can tell other people. The level of privacy and confidentiality you expect in a relationship with a sponsor needs to be spelled out clearly. This because there simply isn't a rule book a sponsor can refer to when trying to figure out what he can share but a wise sponsor will err on the side of caution when deciding what they should repeat.

For some things there is a reasonable expectation of confidentiality but those things come from typical societal customs/norms and not our principles of anonymity. An example of that could be you telling a sponsor you cheated on your wife - and he tells your wife. That "just is" something obviously spoken in confidence where one could have a reasonable expectation of privacy. What falls in that category will differ depending on the larger local culture.

It is always best to remind folks in AA what you want kept private - even for those things that are "obviously" confidential because many folks in AA have broken ideas of what is "normal."

There is an online pamphlet on understanding anonymity on the AA.org Web site at this link.

Do you think this answer is accurate?