Tuesday, June 22, 2010

‘What happens in group, stays in group’

Alcoholics Anonymous is reminding friends in the media to observe its longstanding tradition of anonymity for its members. I’d like to suggest, as delicately as possible, that 12-step clients must also remember that “What happens in group, stays in group.”

“The principle of anonymity is a basic tenet of our fellowship,” according to a recent letter from the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Those who are reluctant to seek our help may overcome their fear if they are confident that their anonymity will be respected.”

Preserving the anonymity of a person in recovery is a valid concern and it is one that I respect.

AA acknowledges that the public media has been a vital part of its effort to carry a message of hope and recovery. When 12-step groups submit press releases, they frequently provide a contact who is identified only by a first name and last initial, as in Bob S. or Alice F. I preserve this convention and I encourage my co-workers in the newsroom to likewise do the same.

But perhaps far more importantly, 12-step members must also respect each other’s privacy. They hold direct power over everyone in the group for preserving each other’s anonymity.

A woman approached me at a public gathering, stating that she remembered seeing me at a 12-step group and began telling me about all the other meetings that take place around the lake. She concluded by saying that she hoped to see me “in group.”

“What happens in group, stays in group.” This had been my understanding when giving publicity to Lake County 12-step groups, thanks to steady requests for ongoing cooperation from organizations like AA. I responded to the woman politely but was rather taken aback. She was suggesting, by her behavior, that preserving 12-step members' anonymity was not a rule but only a platitude that could be disregarded.

What I would have really liked to say, if I’d not been so surprised, was to bluntly reiterate, “What happens in group, stays in group.”

Keep in mind that if a person attends a 12-step recovery group, he or she may not want it known among the public at large. A person may not want it known that he or she is in recovery or is supporting a loved one who is. So please join me in observing the gravity of Alcoholics Anonymous’ request: please uphold 12-step groups' tradition of preserving anonymity for the people who seek assistance from these groups.

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