Anonymous Alcoholics

Dean Esmay has a longish post on his, so far successful, efforts to stay sober without attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and, especially, the vitriol he’s been subjected to for saying AA isn’t for anyone. As someone who’s been sober for 38 years now–I drink alcohol virtually daily but drunkenness, vomiting, blackouts, and hangovers have never appealed to me–I’m no expert on this. Still, I from what I’ve gathered, AA wouldn’t be for me, either.

I’ve always found it amusing that the group has the word Anonymous prominently displayed in its name and yet the first step is to sit down in a room full of strangers and out yourself as an alcoholic. So much for anonymity! Sitting around with a bunch of people I don’t know and “sharing” my deepest “feelings” just isn’t my bag. And, like Dean, the idea that I’m helpless and unable to control my actions is something I actually find offensive.

AA has been phenomenally successful and helped a huge number of people over the years. But, certainly, it’s not for everyone.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jeremiah says:

    Who says you have to give your real name? Watch Fight Club.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, that’s certainly true. But you still have to go out in public and do this. Probably no big deal in, say, Manhattan. But there’s always the chance people you know will see you there. Plus, again, it’s the whole “sharing” thing.

  3. Dodd says:

    Well, that’s not the point. Within the group, self-identification is vital since, absent the willingness to openly admit that one has the problem, one cannot even so much as begin to recover from it. Because what’s said in meetings stays in meetings, people can say whatever they need to in one.

    The anonymity is for outside the group. When AA was first founded, in the rather more puritanical 30’s, the founders feared social ostracism and other ill effects if “just anyone” knew that members were alcoholics. Even though they were the ultimate cause of it, they had no way of predicting that a) 12 step programs would become a major social institution and b) that successful membership in AA (or NA or a few other “mainline” ones) would actually come to be seen by the broad public in a very positive light.

    So the tradition continues. I’ve been clean and sober for a decade, and my anonymity belongs to me and me alone. It is perfectly alright for me to say in public that I’m in AA but I am not at liberty to say that anyone else is. I’m pretty open about it but others aren’t as suits their temperment and beliefs about traditions.

  4. McGehee says:

    James, here’s the logic, boiled down:

    “I saw so-and-so at an AA meeting last week.”

    “Oh? What were you doing at an AA meeting?”