Alcoholics Not-So Anonymous

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

David Colman, contributing writer for The New York Times, reflects on the idea of anonymity and addiction in an age when more people are open about their recovery. He recently wrote about Alcoholics Anonymous in the New York Times.


David Colman

Comments [21]


What a great post on Alcoholics Anonymous! I myself have been sober now for over 16 years, One Day at a Time

Daniel D

Oct. 12 2013 09:55 PM
givesadamn from Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Anonymity has nothing to do with being ashamed of telling others you're an alcoholic!

Rather, anonymity helps create an environment where members, including the especially vulnerable newcomers, can feel safe that what they say in the rooms will not be used against them in their jobs, homes and social lives by those who don't understand recovery from alcoholism.

And just as important, it also ensures that no single personality can act as a spokesperson for all of A.A.

That David Coleman misses these two points so grossly is testament to the enduring need for the tradition of anonymity. If I were looking for help to stop drinking and I read his piece or listened to this program, I'd have one more reason not keep drinking. Compared to what I have come to understand about Alcoholics Anonymous in the past three and a half years, his version misrepresents the tradition of anonymity with some really bad reporting--blatant ignoring of the facts. It would be a shame for his version of A.A. to represent the program as a whole.

May. 15 2011 11:46 AM
givesadamn from Brooklyn

This writer is acting as though he is a spokesperson for A.A., when an important piece of the tradition of anonymity is that no *one* individual speaks for the program as a whole. David Coleman sounds like dry, un-recovered alcoholic who hasn't been to enough meetings to develop the concept of humility or discuss with his sponsor the wisdom of his actions.

May. 15 2011 11:17 AM
Mark Joseph Williams from Mendham, New Jersey

David Colman's (David C.) piece in SundayStyles, The New York Times, May 8, 2011, reminded me of a CD a woman friend gave me a few years ago after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting we had attended. It was a recording of an A.A. speaker's meeting in NYC marking the 1st Anniversary of the Kip Bay Group. The speaker was Bill Wilson (Bill W.), the co-founder of A.A. The day was November 16, 1950. Robert Smith (Dr. Bob), A.A's co-founder, died earlier that same day. Bill W. concluded his remarks (his share) saying, "on this night, after learning of Dr. Bob's passing, don't take everything about our program too literally; if there is one thing Bob would want from all of us is this: pass it on, go out, tell your story, help others who are suffering."

Mark Joseph Williams (Mark W.)
Mendham, New Jersey
May 14, 2011

May. 14 2011 03:39 PM
alanon member from brooklyn

I have been a member of Al-anon for over 3 years. The principle of "Anonymity" has helped me in my recovery in may many ways and the longer I participate in this program and study and practice the Steps and Traditions, the more I see the many meanings and applications of this principle in my 12-step program and recovery. NOT something that can be summed up concisely, or even always, intellectually. I just know that I treasure it in all it's forms for lots of reasons. Why challenge it?

May. 10 2011 11:24 PM
Laurie from NJ

Why is this show no longer available through iTunes? Please fix. Thank you.

May. 10 2011 05:12 PM

My god Massive what a post. First off the movies were made long after Bill died. So you would have to scream at others for that, secondly you are talking about the fellowship, not AA and its educational structure.
The judges and treatment centers need to get out of AA.
Leave Bill alone he died over 40 years ago, he has been dead longer then he was sober for crying out loud.
Anonymity must stay and for someone who has been affiliated w/AA for 35 years you should understand.

May. 10 2011 04:15 PM
massive from Los Angeles

Oh come on. AA is so full of it... with these silly traditions that were written in the 1950's. Principles over personalities. Does that include 13 stepping, rape, sponsor abuse, financial scams galore. This program has deteriorated to the most disgusting group of individuals in one place. GO ahead judges send more violent criminals to AA. Go ahead judges send more pedophiles to AA.
Anonymity after 36 years sober who cares. Dr Drew, Bill W had TWO MOVIES made about him. He thought he was a saint. SO it's okay for him to have two movies but Susan C. can't write a book. I don't like her but who cares. I want to see a book tell the real story about what is going on currently in AA. It makes me want to RUN LIKE THE WIND!

May. 10 2011 01:13 PM
Basia from Red Hook Brooklyn

Some really interesting comments here.

I'm aware that I am in a liberal NYC bubble in this, with the arts in particular as my milieu where no one bats an eyelid which 12 step prog you attend but I am also aware of the stigma that still exists. I just read some of the comments on a BBC forum I'm part of to be reminded of some of the neanderthal attitudes still out there.

The brazen posting of meetings on FB has filled me with horror, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I have to remember that a room full of sober egomaniacs is still a room full of egomaniacs.

I know for sure, listening to my family and friends in the UK, that some public figures coming out have helped people understand alcoholism as much as they've reinforced some people's entrenched prejudices, so I can't knock them if that's what they feel they want to do, as long as it doesn't break another's anonymity.

May. 10 2011 12:36 PM
Michael Casey from N.Y.


I had attended hundreds of meetings and came to conclusion that familiarity bred contempt.

AA is not so anonymous because some people "in the rooms" go beyond the singleness of purpose and become intrusive in other people's lives without letting the other member know about it.

I'll consult with a religious member within my community.

May. 10 2011 11:08 AM

MrD --

Good point. In Susan Cheever's case, she's made a literary career out of her and her father's alcoholism. These people have no shame and are way too self assured.

May. 10 2011 11:07 AM
RW from Brooklyn

This guy doesn't have a clue about this tradition of AA or any other 12 step program. It's not only about keeping your identity protected from other AAs or your participation in the program from the public or even about protecting the rep of AA from people who relapse. It's also about everyone entering those rooms on the same level. It's about creating an environment that feels safe for frightened addicts to enter. It's about preventing personalities from becoming gurus or speaking on behalf of the fellowship when speaking in public about their recovery. And finally it's about being able to say anything within the rooms and KNOW that it will not be repeated no matter what.

May. 10 2011 11:05 AM

Why do some people (David Colman, Susan Cheever, etc.) think they have so much wisdom that they can "fix" AA after 70 years? Not quite humility as I see it.

May. 10 2011 11:02 AM
Jennifer from NYC

I think posting photos of meetings, and breaking the anonymity of others, is immoral. I don't think AA should yield to the narcissism and no-holds-barred attitudes of today. It's arrogant - a cornerstone of addiction - to change rules to suit yourself.

May. 10 2011 11:01 AM
anonymous from NYC

David Coleman is missing the point today that he touched on at the end of his article. You, Jamie, hit it on the head in your introduction when you mentioned "pride" in recovery from alcoholism. Bill W. says in the AA 12 and 12, "pride cometh before the fall."
Anonymity is first and foremost, for this alcoholic, an ego deflating principle. Humility, the notion of being "right sized", is what keeps me sober. There is a subtle mental shift that can happen when the alcoholic is public and vocal about his or her recovery. The disease is 3 fold: mental, physical and spiritual. That has nothing to do with reaching out to the suffering alcoholic which we are indeed encouraged to do as stated in the AA Preamble.

May. 10 2011 10:59 AM

Why anonymity? Because being addicted to alcohol wasn't something you shared with the rest of the world years ago. Plus, and more importantly, anonymity allowed AA to do its work without being taken over by or being identified with any outside interest or interests.

I find this trend of showing personal scars to the community somewhat distasteful and pathetic. But I'm 50 so it's probably a generational thing. Stay well, all.

May. 10 2011 10:56 AM

Since we have accepted the idea and problem of addiction nowadays, and we have such an obesity problem, why is Overeaters Anonymous not more widely utilized? Or promoted? The obesity problem cannot be completely explained by lack of nutritional education. Many people overeat for emotional and psychological reasons. Seems like OA could really fill a need here.

May. 10 2011 10:55 AM
Annah P

IThe main point of anonymity according to Bill Wilson was to protect the alcoholic from themselves. When recovered alcoholics think they are above respecting the proven tradition of anonymity, or are promoting their personality over the basic principles of AA, they risk hurting the institution as a whole and aren't helping others they are only helping themselves.

May. 10 2011 10:53 AM
Jeb from Greenpoint

Anonymity provides a low barrier of entry. Addicts need a path of least resistance at the earliest stages of recovery. Over time, it's likely less important, but at the start it's often crucial. TO VICTORIA: Relapse is part of recovery almost 100% of the time. No program promises an addict won't relapse. The anonymity is to prevent stigma, not protect AA's good name.

May. 10 2011 10:47 AM
R. from Manhattan

You're missing the point - It's not about shame or your relationship with the world, it's about your own personal boundaries.

Keeping the anonymity strengthens you. If you can go to a meeting and hear a movie star speak, and leave that meeting and never tell anyone, you have sane, strong, healthy boundaries and more recovery.

It's between you and your Higher Power.

May. 10 2011 10:46 AM

the whole point of anonymity is to keep the name of AA respected. If someone tells the world that they are sober and then relapse what does that say about AA?

May. 10 2011 10:44 AM

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