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Anonymous Synonymous

By William Moyers Modified: February 15, 2013 at 10:43 am •  Published: February 15, 2013

This is a debate I avoid because the opposing views are set in stone that I won't shift one way or the other. I jump in now only out of exasperated frustration.

    The other day, a woman handed me a draft copy of her memoirs. I'm overwhelmed with unsolicited manuscripts, paintings, poems and new-product pitches all the time, and most don't make it home with me, though I respect creativity flowing from deeply personal struggles. But this one I kept; maybe it was the look in her eyes when she implored me to sample her story. Also, the title intrigued me: "Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk." Christians can be among the "toughest" drunks because we're adept at wielding our faith like a sword of denial to keep the truth at bay to the bitter end. Then, if we're lucky and get sober, our struggle is to fit our faith into the hierarchy of our new world order. It's not easy. It does make for a good read.
    But in her book, I am stuck on the page before Page 1, the "Author's Note," which includes this: "Most recovery programs have a tradition of anonymity, since no single person can or should represent or speak for such a group. For that reason, I don't name the specific community that helps me to stay sober, and I hope you'll refrain from publicly associating my name or this story with any particular organization."
    Argh! Here "we" go again. And by "we," most of you know whom I mean. The same "we" who once hung alone in the isolation of our addiction now hang together in recovery but dare not tell the world, lest we lose the cloak of anonymity that wraps us in invisibility. Like the author of this book. With her disclaimer about the "tradition of anonymity," she reveals that she, too, is one of them -- one of millions of us who walk the 12 steps of that deliberately anonymous program we aren't supposed to tell you about in books or in newspaper columns or in Internet chat rooms or anywhere else in public.
    Imagine if this author had triumphed over breast cancer and the similarly afflicted reader, thirsty for details on the possibility of getting well and the inspiration that goes along with hope, opened the book, only to discover it didn't identify what worked. Heck, I'm even loath to name the author in this space, because she's all but asked me not to, even though I know exactly how and where she recovers. (Hint: Google knows her name.)
     A long time ago, I went public with my story. The first time was at a Rotary Club meeting in my hometown. I offered up the gritty details about the grip of addiction in my life and the lives of the people who love me. With equally intimate details, I revealed what it took to get well and what it takes to stay that way, too. It worked that day; many in that audience turned to me for help. I tell the same story today because I owe it to the people who don't know what else to do or how to do it.
    At the same time, I never speak for any 12-step program, even though where I work incorporates the steps into the essence of its treatment modality, which I'm not shy to tout as an effective way to get sober. And I never reveal anyone else who "walks the walk" of recovery, whether someone's been at it a week or a lifetime.
    Alcohol, gambling, narcotics or food -- there are anonymous programs for just about anyone who cannot stop the destruction of too much of anything that lifts us up before it takes us down. In their anonymity, these groups offer unwell people a safe portal through the shame and stigma that often get in the way of help. The tenet of anonymity also helps these groups steer clear of contentious public debate on everything from the war on drugs to health care reform. Thank goodness for anonymity. It keeps these groups thriving.
    But millions of us hardly cared about being drunk and stoned in public in our old days. Citing "anonymity" as the reason not to stand up and speak out now "outs" us anyway while leaving vague what it is that actually works for us and for those who need to see and hear us as we are today.
    William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs. His new book, "Now What? An Insider's Guide to Addiction and Recovery," has just been published. Please send your questions to William Moyers at To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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