The 11th tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous states as follows:
“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.”
What does this mean in a nutshell? We in the program are asked not to speak or write in media of any form about the fact that we are in AA. We are asked to only talk about it with other members and those who approach us for help. While blogs and the internet were not around when the 11th tradition was conceived, I suspect that AA as an organization would take the position that they constitute “media”. What is the rationale behind this? The powers that be decided over 70 years ago that to “promote yourself” as an AA member and then fail in your sobriety, you are putting the sobriety of others at risk. The logic being that the knowledge of a failure in the program will discourage those who want help from seeking it. For example, I talk publicly about how great AA is on my blog. I then relapse, drive drunk and wipe out a family. Would knowledge that I had failed discourage others from seeking help? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone in AA really knows either. They are, in my opinion, regurgitating years of accepted dogma not founded in any accepted studies or statistical probabilities.
Alcoholics Anonymous is no stranger to celebrities and people of note “outing” themselves through the media.
Tatum O’Neal is a celebrity with a documented history of drug and alcohol struggles. On June 1, 2008, she was arrested for buying crack in Central Park. O’Neal was later photographed on her way to an AA Meeting. How do we know she was going there? When asked how she was doing she said, ” I am doing very well. I’m going to an AA meeting”
Lindsay Lohan is no stranger to insobriety. Who can forget her infamous alcohol detecting ankle monitor (see photo). In her case, Lindsay didn’t break the 11 tradition; her publicist did. She put out a press release that Lindsay was attending AA. It is a logical assumption this was at Lindsay’s direction.
Mel Gibson’s antisemitic drunken rant after a DUI stop will go down in the annals of “the stupid things drunks do.” His drinking issues have been long the subject of tabloid fodder. Mel must have read the 11th tradition. He has not publicly spoken of his attendance at his court ordered AA meetings. Mel suffered the Hollywood fate of being outed by every Hollywood rag and celebrity blog on the face of the earth. (I guess no one sent them copies of the 11th tradition.)
Fox News Anchor Mort Kondracke while not as well known as the above is very well known in the political Washington D.C Beltway. He is a well known newspaper columnist, Washington bureau chief, magazine editor. He was one of the original panelists on the syndicated McLaughlin Group and now co-host of Fox TV’s Beltway Boys. We also know that he was an attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. We know this because he outed himself in his bestselling book Saving Milly. In the book he states:
“That night I attended my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have not had a drink since” (Saving Milly, Love Politics and Parkinson’s Disease by Morton Kondracke, pg 65)
Actor Michael J. Fox in his autobiography Lucky Man, discusses his struggles with alcohol in a manner consistent with the 11th tradition, simply stating:
” I met my friend on that Monday and over the following days, months and years, she along with an ever widening circle of new friends, all of whom prefer to remain anonymous, showed me it was possible to live a life without alcohol” ( Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox, p. 162)
Britney Spears is no fan of the 11th tradition. Neither was her boyfriend at the time John Sundahl who, back in 2007, happily told the National Enquirer that he met Britney at an AA meeting in Los Angeles. You would think John was very up to speed on the 11th tradition since he allegedly was an “AA counselor”
Martin Sheen just recently “shredded” the 11th tradition when he gave an interview to AARP magazine discussing his own and his son Charlie Sheen’s struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. He talks openly and extensively about his involvement with AA. In the interview Martin states:
“……..and then he suggested that I join AA, and I did. I was astonished when I got into AA, because I didn’t know how spiritual the program was. I said, ‘You guys use the word God.’ ‘Oh, we do. If you believe it. If you don’t, then it’s a higher power”
Is it safe to say that AARP magazine has significantly higher readership than my blog? If you are to believe all the people touting the 11th tradition, Martin Sheen has single handedly doomed countless alcoholics to a life of drunkenness.
Then there is Brian Cuban. I am not on the same planet of notoriety as the above individuals. I am a simple “fame by last name” kind of guy. I’m not in movies or television. I don’t own a sports franchise. I write a blog. The only “A list” I am on is the list kept by my family, girlfriend, dog and cat. I have also made the personal choice to talk about to talk about my own Alcoholics Anonymous experiences on my blog. I am “breaking the rules” as many members of AA have told me. In reality the only “rule” in AA is that you have a desire to stop drinking if you attend a meeting. The rest of the rhetoric constitutes guidelines only. They are simple suggestions to be followed or not followed based on individual choice. Remaining anonymous is NOT a rule/requirement of membership in AA. While it is the exception rather than the rule, there are people who give their full names in AA meetings. In my personal experience, it drives the other members crazy who tend to view those people as having very large egos. They may or may not have large egos. I am not going to dissect a person’s motives and personality based on his (or her) giving a last name in a meeting. For all I know the act of that person giving his full name is the one thing that keeps him sober every day.
Many would argue that celebrities such as Tatum O’Neal and Lindsay Lohan are so new in sobriety as to not know any better than to talk about AA. As they learn the program they will learn to use restraint. This very well may be true based on whatever personal choice they make about their anonymity or lack thereof. We have not heard much from Lindsay since her initial proclamation about her involvement in the program. We do know that she relapsed after she made that announcement. We do not know what the statistics are on how many people decided not to seek help in AA because Lindsay Lohan relapsed.
For anyone who doubts this is a emotional and polarizing issue within the AA ranks, check out some of the comments I received in response to my blog, “My Year In Alcoholics Anonymous“
“Brian Cuban, as far as your inclusion of statements about your involvement with AA goes, you should shut your GD mouth. Have you no sense of responsibility to people in recovery, or to people who might one day need recovery at all? Try reading the book. It’s anonymous for good reason, so that people like you are not able to damage AA’s value.”
“………I do not know if I commend your use of AA as fodder for blog posts. The 10th(sic) Tradition of AA states “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” You are breaking the traditions for your own gain. You are intelligent, articulate, and thought provoking – and I encourage you to be so, but not on the back of AA. Furthermore, as a member of AA who only has 1 year sobriety, do you feel that you should be the represented voice of AA? I think your sponsor would disagree.”
These are some of the gentler comments. I welcome them all. I read them all. I never assume that I can not learn something from someone know matter how emotional the comment is or whether I agree with it.
I do agree with one aspect of the 11th tradition. It is certainly not appropriate to “out” others in the program. I have not and would never do that. Why would I not do that? I would not do it for the same reason I put no credibility in others who pretend to know what is in my best interests. Anonymity is a personal choice that should be respected on a personal level. It is no ones business but the individual’s how they want to work their AA program including expressing themselves with regards to that program. I am not answerable to “AA” as an organization or anyone in it. I am answerable on a personal level to my own conscience, the loved ones in my life and my two pets. I know from personal experience that it riles some AA members to no end that AA does not have the “cult like” rule of kicking out people who do not endorse the AA philosophy word for word. Hypocrites at their absolute best. I have no problem with their “riling”. Whatever keeps them sober and improves the quality of their life is a good thing in my book. Trying to impose your will on others is a bad thing in my book.
Why did I choose to out myself? What were my motives? Was it selfishness, ego, the seven deadly sins? This is the only explanation I will ever give. People can take it or leave it. It goes against everything I am as a person to accept any “dogma” or philosophy that endorses a static, non learning point of view.
I decided to get an opinion from the substance abuse arena. Winthrop W. Gilman, chairman of The Mychal Institute, had this to say:
“The eleventh step I believe is a great step and was written for the people who wanted personal protection from the shame associated with addiction. I think this shame is the biggest barrier to entry to treatment for any addicted person or their family. The shame associated addiction, and the misinterpreting of this tradition has done more to interfere and hinder the treatment of addiction than could ever be realized.
Requiring anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films is a dark age component, scripted early on as the founders were afraid that a vocal spokes person might have a slip and publicly show that AA dose not work.
This anonymity is a personal choice, and as educational and awareness programs have developed the 11th tradition has been breached by the daring. The results of these breaches, such as magazine articles, though far and few, have spontaneously created great advancements in the acceptance of treatment options.
The cloud of darkness found in the 11th tradition is embraced by ardent followers and not progressive thinkers. I do not know who updates these ground rules or when they do. I know that revisions and amendments are needed if we plan to attack the addiction problem in broad daylight.
To solve a problem it must be properly identified. Once this happens solutions become evident. We have the privilege to talk openly and show the world that we are in remission. We have the privilege to organize supporters and get proper medical attention. We have the ability to reverse the huge costs of addiction to our health care systems. We literally have the ability to change the world as this is a universal problem. Activism through education works. This past week Andrew Weber, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health stated, “In the past employers have led the way doing more for the people with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It is time for people to do the same for people with alcohol problems.”
Addiction related costs have destroyed our health care budgets, and we can with a grass roots approach do something about it. We have a politically hot potato in our hands. The 11th tradition has kept any effective effort to address these problems in the closet.”
Should I and others in AA keep our “GD” mouths shut? I will not but I understand the arguments of opinion, however outdated, for such a philosophy. It is a personal choice for me that will not be reversed unless someone shows me hard empirical evidence that people talking publicly about AA reduces its success rate or is instrumental in those with problems choosing not to enter the program. Many choose to simply take it all on faith. I think it is great if they want to do that and it helps them. I want to see the studies. If you can not produce this, then anything you have to say is only unsubstantiated opinion of which everyone is entitled including me.
©2008 Brian Cuban