People in sobriety maintain anonymity for several reasons. In the case of AA, members are encouraged to maintain anonymity for the sake of the program itself. If a person relapses, those who know them might blame the program rather than the individual. Others maintain anonymity out of fear. They do not wish others to judge them. Many also fear that breaking anonymity might lead to a loss of employment. If they are unemployed, they may fear that breaking anonymity would make it difficult to obtain a job in the first place. None of these reasons lacks merit; however, in some cases, breaking anonymity might actually do some good.
This isn’t to say that we should go around shouting about our addiction from the rooftops. We may wish to keep our recovery secret from those prone to gossip or harsh judgment. But we may wish to tell certain friends and family with whom we share a deep trust. This may include immediate family members, such as parents, spouses, siblings and children. It may also include close friends, people with whom we have been associated for years. Even certain colleagues, such as immediate supervisors, might deserve to know.
Below, we’ll cover three primary reasons that you may consider breaking anonymity with those you trust. These relate to our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves, and our relationship with our recovery. Naturally, the choice is yours whether you wish to break anonymity or not. No two situations are exactly the same, and you may feel that some of the discussion below does not apply to you. Nonetheless, you should consider the following when deciding the best course of action to take.
Improved Relationships with Others
Once we enter recovery, it becomes an important part of our lives. We may not define ourselves solely as an addict or alcoholic, nor should we. But we cannot deny that our lives in recovery bear little resemblance to our lives before. We become entirely new people. Others will notice this change, sometimes before we notice it themselves. They may wonder why we seem happier, more energetic. And while they don’t technically need an explanation in order to appreciate that we seem to have our lives more together, it certainly doesn’t hurt to let them in. They likely noticed our struggle with substance abuse whether we ever admitted it to them or not. Telling them about our efforts to change that part of our lives might give them some relief.
Additionally, most people understand the concept of anonymity. That said, many outsiders to AA don’t know about the reasons behind it. They do not know about the Twelfth Tradition and the importance of protecting the program. In their eyes, we simply maintain anonymity out of shame or disgrace. As such, they may feel honored to see our willingness to let them in on such a personal aspect of our lives. They will see it as an expression of our trust.
Breaking anonymity with friends and family members also allows us to act like ourselves around them. We can talk about our recovery openly. This turns them into allies, people we can lean on when we need support. Sponsors and other friends in AA or NA already fulfill this role, and we should continue making use of that. But every once in a while, it can be nice to discuss our recovery with someone outside of the program. This holds especially true if that “someone” happens to be a close family member or a beloved friend.
Furthermore, breaking anonymity might reveal a lot more about others than it does about ourselves. During active addiction, we sometimes become so wrapped up in ourselves that we fail to properly observe the lives of others. Certain friends or family members, unbeknownst to us, might know more about addiction and recovery than we realize. Not only do they become a part of our support network in this case, but we become a part of theirs. This often becomes true even with those who don’t personally know the struggle, as others will see us as more responsible. True, breaking anonymity may sometimes result in judgment. But more often than not, it will result in trust and respect.
Putting Less Burden on Ourselves
Above, we noted that some of our friends and family might feel relief at the news of our recovery. But no one will ever feel quite as much relief from hearing about it as we feel when telling them. Keeping such a big part of our lives shrouded in secrecy can takes its toll on a person. Imagine what your spouse would think if they saw you leaving the house for an hour every day without knowing why. They might not think you were having an affair, but they would definitely think you were keeping something from them. Your relationship would become strained, and your personal life would suffer for it. The ability to simply say “I’m going to a meeting” makes life easier on both of you.
Spousal relationships aren’t the only relationships that affect us. When we enter recovery, we learn three basic keystones to maintaining sobriety—honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. But how can we embrace an attribute such as honesty when it feels like we are lying to everyone we know? Those who truly care about honesty may feel at odds with themselves, resentful of their own secrecy. Not everyone will feel this way, but it is certainly not uncommon. Breaking anonymity, even just with a few people, may lift that weight from our shoulders.
There is a name for this weight that we must lift—guilt. We feel more than enough shame and guilt over our addiction that we shouldn’t deal with it in sobriety. Not only does guilt weigh us down, but it also complicates our sobriety. During addiction, it tends to result in a vicious cycle. We use, we feel guilty about it, and then we use again in an attempt to relieve us of our guilt. If we continue living our lives in shame after entering recovery, we risk turning back to our old solutions. This brings us to the last—and arguably most important—reason for breaking anonymity. Because in doing so, even if on a very limited basis, we may actually secure our recovery.
Lessening the Chance of Relapse
If people do not know about your sobriety, you give them no reason to respect it. This means that, when you attend a wedding or other social event, someone may offer you a drink. Naturally, it falls on you not to take it. By breaking your anonymity in this instance, you prevent exposure to temptation altogether. Others will respect your choice, and you will find yourself breathing a sigh of relief as you enjoy yourself without any social pressures that might put your recovery at risk. Of course, you really should avoid drinking events when possible. But on the rare occasion that you must attend one, you’ll feel better knowing that others will honor your sobriety.
Breaking anonymity also allows you to expand your support network. We mentioned this earlier, in the case of friends and family who might be in recovery themselves. Of course, this comes at a price. The more you wish to expand your support network, the more people you must let in. Some accomplish this by announcing their recovery on social media. If you wish to respect the Twelfth Tradition, you can simply do this without mentioning the program. Merely say that, after a run of bad decisions, you now live free of drugs and alcohol. Do not feel pressured to do this, however, if you feel you cannot trust everyone on your feed. This is a very personal decision, and not everyone will make it.
Another benefit related to that above is the chance to help others. When we learn of others in recovery, we become someone in whom they can confide. Someone who struggles with addiction, or has a family member with a similar issue, may turn to us for advice. In early recovery, we may not feel ready to give it. But as we grow and mature, we acquire a few tidbits here and there which might prove useful to others.
In some cases, you should definitely consider breaking anonymity. Anyone who lives with you or sees you particularly often outside of work should remain in the loop. This allows them to help you maintain some accountability. Not only will they refrain from pressuring you to drink or do drugs, but they will express their concern for you if they witness evidence of such behaviors. By maintaining accountability, we feel better about ourselves. We also raise the stakes, as we know that relapsing will hurt our relationships with those who know about our recovery.
Again, you should feel under no obligation to sacrifice your anonymity if you feel you cannot trust someone to respect it. When you do decide that breaking anonymity is appropriate, let others know that you aren’t comfortable with them divulging that information without your consent. This helps to prevent unfortunate circumstances in which someone close to you does something to hurt your trust in them. Breaking anonymity isn’t always the best course of action. But in some cases, it definitely pays off in the end. Learn to identify the most appropriate scenarios for breaking anonymity, and you can improve your sobriety quite a bit.