Anonymity, referred to in Traditions Eleven and Twelve, is a tool that guarantees that we will place principles before personalities. The protection anonymity provides offers each of us freedom of expression and safeguards us from gossip. Anonymity assures us that only we, as individual OA members, have the right to make our membership known within our community. Anonymity at the level of press, radio, films and television means that we never allow our faces or last names to be used once we identify ourselves as OA members. This protects both the individual and the Fellowship.
Within the Fellowship, anonymity means that whatever we share with another OA member will be held in respect and confidence. What we hear at meetings should remain there. However, anonymity must not be used to limit our effectiveness within the Fellowship. It is not a break of anonymity to use our full names within our group or OA service bodies. Also, it is not a break of anonymity to enlist Twelfth-Step help for group members in trouble, provided we refrain from discussing specific personal information.
Another aspect of anonymity is that we are all equal in the Fellowship, whether we are newcomers or seasoned long-timers. And our outside status makes no difference in OA; we have no stars or VIPs. We come together simply as compulsive overeaters. (Pamphlet: Tools of Recovery, 2005)
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of this program. It teaches us to place principles above personality and to focus on the message, not the messenger. Plus, by practicing anonymity, it safeguards us from gossip and creates an environment where people can trust that what they say in the rooms will stay in the rooms.
Specifically, what anonymity means is that:
It is Ok for me to reveal for myself that I am in OA. However, even if I am comfortable revealing my membership to others, it does not mean that any other person may reveal that information to someone else. It means that if you know someone from program, and someone else asks you how you know that person, you do not say, ” from OA.” Make up any other answer or use a stock benign response: “… from the neighborhood, we have a friend in common, shopping at a common store, etc.”
Anonymity means that we do not reveal to others who else goes to any meeting that we attend. That includes telling our sponsors, our spouses or even our children. If someone asks you: “Who spoke at the meeting? Who was at the meeting?” The answer is: “To respond would be a violation of their anonymity. Please respect our tradition.”
A stock retort often heard is, “But that person is my friend; I am sure that she wouldn’t mind.” To that I say, “There is a difference between someone revealing something about herself or someone else sharing that information with a third party.” If seeking medical treatment, would you want your doctor to reveal to a mutual acquaintance what happened during your last visit? The answer is most likely not. Federal HIPPA regulations make revealing that information illegal. Your doctor could be heavily fined if she revealed personal information about one of her patients without permission. Program is where I go to take my medicine to treat my disease of compulsive overeating/food addiction. The same rules apply.
Even among ourselves, if we want to discuss what we heard at a meeting, we focus on the message or on the principle being discussed. We do not discuss the person. We do not say their name, or reveal any personal details, even if we were both present at the time.
We do not reveal information that we heard someone share at a meeting to someone who was not at that meeting. For example, if Dana heard Amy share at a meeting that she is putting in a new bathroom, Dana may not go to Jane (a third person who was not at the meeting) and say, “Did you know that Amy is putting in a new bathroom?” This is a violation of Amy’s anonymity. This has been taken even further when Jane then goes to Amy and says, “I heard that you are putting in a new bathroom.” If Amy wanted Jane to know that she was putting in a new bathroom, she would have told Jane herself. If that information was not something that Amy wanted to share with Jane, one can only imagine how violated Amy felt. In particular, how can one trust that one’s anonymity is safe, when she knows that the only place that she shared that information was at an OA meeting?
It also means that we must educate those outside of OA regarding the term “anonymity.” For example, if someone says, “Oh, my customer Suzy is in OA, too,” we need to explain that, “The ‘A’ in “OA” stands for ‘Anonymous.’ Overeaters Anonymous is a program that practices anonymity among its members. We do not reveal who is in program to others, even when they are in program, too.”
Yes, we can and gratefully do become friendly with people in program. On the other hand, anonymity means that when we make our outreach program calls, we need to focus on the principles of program and how they are working in our lives. (We do not necessarily need to first establish where each of you are from, and how you may or not be connected or related to someone). In addition, when leaving a phone message, we only say, “This is (name) from (city) calling to say ‘Hello.’” Nothing more.
Anonymity is about placing principles above personality and carrying the message to other compulsive overeaters. At the Big Book Awakening Study Group, we take our anonymity very seriously. Please adhere to the above guidelines so that our meeting will be a safe place for all of us. Guarding our anonymity will help us all achieve an ever higher level of recovery.
This is something that Cathy (A”H), Kayla and I wrote for our first Big Book Awakening Workshop.
With blessings for recovery and peace,