anonymous presence

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Tradition #12)

As one of my last assignments for the class I am taking on substance abuse, I explored the 12 Traditions that support the 12 Step programs for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc. These traditions are principles that describe the external environment required for any 12 Step program to exist and be successful. The 12 Steps are an internal process of personal spiritual growth and change for recovery to occur. The 12 Traditions are regarded as the rules and regulations, but they are also a set of spiritual principles that create a safe environment for the process of the 12 Steps to be shared.

Tradition 12 is saying that being unknown and ordinary is the breath of life for all the principles of the 12 Step programs and maintaining these principles is more important than any one person’s habits or behaviors. These words imply that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. They prevent any one person from taking over 12-Step groups.

Being anonymous is required. It protects each individual alone and collectively. By protecting the group, Tradition 12 guarantees the safety of all the principles. This does not mean that principles or other people are more important than an individual. Even while living among the many, each person must continue to put his or her own welfare first unless, by some tacit agreement, he or she has agreed to put others first. The men and women who go to war and fight battles and are willing to die to keep us safe come to mind. Yet, even then, soldiers are expected to take very good care of themselves so that they can be effective and keep their agreements.

This tradition says that the principles come before personality. Some people believe that if they cannot be their personality, then they are not being themselves. We are not our personalities. Our personalities are behaviors that reflect who we believe ourselves to be. We are all in charge of our behaviors. We select the behaviors that show the world who we are.

I thought about what it means to be anonymous. Synonyms include being nameless, unidentified, unknown, ordinary, indistinctive, everyday, unexceptional, and unmemorable. There is an element of safety in being nameless and ordinary. There is an element of loneliness in being unknown and unmemorable.

We can be nameless and still be known. I put my name aside. I set my personality along side of my name. Who am I when I have no name and no habitual behaviors to display myself before the world? Throughout my day, I am nameless and unknown at the grocery store, the post office, the gas station, and a dozen other brief encounters. I display behavior appropriate to the circumstances. At work, I am no longer nameless and I am known only to the extent that I reveal myself through my behaviors. Again, I choose the behaviors that represent how I want to be perceived in my work world. But, these are not therapeutic settings as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings are.

How can one remain anonymous in a therapeutic setting? My brief experience in attending 12-step program meetings gave me an insight that says being anonymous opens a door for exploring the individuality of the person who has been submerged under drugs or alcohol (or any other behavior that is an addiction).

It brings up the question we can all ask ourselves: who am I and how can I be in the world when I am not my name or my personality?

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass


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10 Responses to “anonymous presence”

  1. jeffstroud Says:


    Wonderful observation of the 12 Tradition’s of AA! Anonymous in recovery is in effect a safety tool, to protect the person, as well as the program itself. Being unknown is not the idea. In the meetings there is a statement that say, “what you hear here, let it stay here.” Creating a safe space to share where you been, what is going with you, and what you are planning to accomplish.
    If recovery was very anonymous we would not be writing about, you would not be allowed to enter the rooms to observe.
    In the beginning of AA one needed to be brought to a meeting by another recovering person. One did not just walk off the streets like they do now.

    I do like how you brought being anonymous to your daily life, yet I think if you bring presence to those activities, even without a name you may not any longer be anonymous! What do you think?

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Jeff – I think it is possible to be known by one’s presence without having to be named. As soon as we begin exhibiting a behavior, even if it is to be quiet, people will begin to know us. And, if we are bringing ourselves to life from our true presence, you are right: we will no longer be anonymous. During our class, several people suggested that everyone should apply the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions to their lives regardless of addiction status. They are just good principles to live by and examine ourselves. Codependency is a huge one for lots of people even if they don’t want to admit it.

  2. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    Thanks for the insight.
    I think there are too many unnamed People out there that suffer the less, especially family of the unnamed in dealing with addictions.

    On another note: Please keep my nephew John Paul Prokop in your thoughts and prayers. He is on a Navy Ship somewhere…communicating by e-mail once in a while.
    He was an A student in HS and then went into the Navy.:e is 21.He is having a tough time and his father, my brother has been fighting addictions all his life,and struggling with it


    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim — I will definitely keep John Paul in my thoughts. Let him know this the next time you communicate with him. I know he must be having second thoughts about whether he made the right decision. The navy at sea is a tough place to be, but let him know that he is doing the right thing for himself, to trust himself, and that nothing is forever. Being away from the environment of drug abuse is the best place for him to begin to break down the habitual nature and slippery places. For families of addicts, there is Al Anon, which I recommend strongly. The codependency is so ingrained in us that it is often not even visible until we start developing a definition and awareness of it.

  3. jeffstroud Says:


    There is a local guy here who has been offering 12 Steps for everyone for about 30 years. He found a 12 step center for counceling and meetings and lectures. I worked there for a time and believe I will begin my Reiki practice there very soon.

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Jeff — that is an inspirational bit of information — thanks for sharing with me. As I move closer to completing my counseling degree and beginning my clinicals, I want to incorporate the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions into my own practice. The best place to start would be with me. The closest addiction I can come to would be codependents anonymous (CODA). I’ve worked through a large part of it but know I could benefit from being with others as well.

  4. jeffstroud Says:


    I send my healing energy to John Paul as well. If he ask he will been given assistance if he has a problem/addiction.

    I am Love, Jeff

  5. Beat Alcoholism 101 Says:

    anonymous presence…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  6. holessence Says:

    Oh, oh, oh — this is, indeed, a thought-provoking post, Barbara. To be nameless. To have no label. [to simply be a channel for Divine Love]…

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — that’s what I am reaching for – a channel for Divine Love. This individuality we all claim is a part of that, but I know we get too caught up in who we are, being separate, and apart. There is a sort of comfort that I sense in being anonymous, yet knowing full well who I am.

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