What Happens in AA Stays in AA: Right?
First developed in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA exists as the very first support group approach for helping individuals overcome the effects of alcoholism in their lives. AA also developed the 12 Step program approach, which is used by the majority drug treatment programs.
Along with the 12 Step program, AA also operates according to 12 Traditions, two of which deal specifically with anonymity, according to Boston University. Traditions 11 and 12 address the role of anonymity and were put in place to protect AA members in different ways.
If you’ve attended AA, you’ve likely heard the statement, “what happens in AA, stays in AA,” which specifically speaks to the anonymity rule. While anonymity places an important role in supporting the overall purpose of AA, there are still situations where rules regarding anonymity may be bent or breached altogether.
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AA’s 12 Step Traditions
According to Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous act as guiding principles upon which the program is based. Traditions 11 and 12, which speak to anonymity, read as follows:
- Tradition 11 – “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”
- Tradition 12 – “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
In effect, these principles work to prevent any one person from using AA for his or her personal gain while protecting the overall purpose and integrity of the 12 Step approach.
Conditions Where Anonymity May Be Broken
On a practical level, there are instances where it’s acceptable to break the anonymity rule since each person does reserve the right to reveal his or her AA affiliation depending on the circumstances involved.
For instance, someone who just starts AA may well be proud of having taken this step in recovery. In this situation, it’s alright to tell family and friends if one so chooses.
Likewise, someone who’s trying help another person who’s struggling with alcoholism can reveal his or her AA activities, especially when offering to accompany this person to a meeting.
Anonymity Problems in AA
Anonymity problems in AA can arise in situations where the rules of the group conflict with the overall principles of the program.
Places where open meetings are help are open to the public, so anywhere is welcome to sit in and observe. Under these circumstances, there’s really no way to control what observers do and say once they leave the meeting.
Another situation that can compromise anonymity occurs whenever a member of the group relapses or starts drinking again. As one of alcohol’s main effects works to reduce a person’s inhibitions, there’s always a chance that a former group member makes mention of people from his or her AA group.
Ultimately, most AA participants make a genuine effort to abide by the anonymity rule out of respect for the program and the role it plays in their recovery.