When it comes to addiction recovery, one of the more appealing aspects of the 12-Step program is the focus by members on anonymity: the condition of (of a person) not being identified by name. Those who turn to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for support and guidance, are encouraged to introduce themselves by their first name only. If there are more than one person with the same first name, sometimes the first letter of one’s last name will be attached to the end (i.e. John T. or Amanda S.) to avoid confusion when referring to people.
Some of you may be wondering, ‘what’s with all the secrecy?’ A question that can be answered in multiple ways, all of which are good reasons for not disclosing one’s full identity. But, perhaps, the most important reason for avoiding self-disclosure among members is the newcomer. People who suffer from any form for mental illness, whether it be addiction or depression, have long been given pejorative labels and looked down upon by society. While we have come a long way in the United States regarding ending the stigma of mental health disorders, there are still those who would use another’s issues as ammunition.
Those who make the brave decision to seek help for alcoholism and/or drug abuse, need to be and feel like they are they are in an environment that will not cast judgement. That the things that they share will not be used against them at a later day by another. Even if you have zero-experience with substance abuse, you could probably imagine that a big part of the healing and the recovery process rests on honestly sharing aspects of one’s past that are extremely difficult to talk about (e.g. where they have been, what they have seen and the unsavory things they did while out there in active addiction). When it comes to the latter, there is hardly an addict or alcoholic who has not broken one or multiple laws.
As was mentioned earlier, honesty is vital to the recovery process. If a newcomer does not feel like he or she can share their life candidly without repercussions, it is unlikely that they will share at all. Or stick around long enough to experience the miracles of recovery. In a world where social stigma can destroy lives, confidentiality is of the utmost importance. While individuals are free to share their story and full name with whomever they please, they are expressly prohibited from sharing that of others. To ensure that people do not disclose information about others, the safeguard of not using one’s full name is staunchly encouraged. Under the model of 12-Step recovery, there are in fact 12 steps that need to be worked, but there are also 12 traditions that members are asked to respect, the twelfth tradition reads as follows:
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
Anonymity In The Information Age
When the founders of the 12-Step modality wrestled with anonymity, it was at a time when the average person did not have the ability to reach millions of people. Your typical American could not share their story or the stories of others by way of press, radio, and films. Those that did were strongly encouraged to exercise extreme caution, lest they break another person’s anonymity.
In the 21st Century, the outlets for expressing oneself in seemingly cathartic ways has reached new heights, i.e. blogs, Facebook and Instagram. There is hardly a young person in America who does not have a social media account. What’s more, most young people in recovery spend a good amount of time on the internet.
Our laptops and smartphones allow us to reach total strangers, who cannot easily figure out who is the one doing the sharing. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Sharing one’s struggles on social media platforms can result in one receiving support for their issues, but given that we are talking about the internet, a hotbed for vitriolic unmasking—such platforms can tempt people to disclose things that they wouldn’t likely disclose with others in person. Thus, inadvertently revealing the identity of others.
If you rely on social media sites for therapeutic reasons, sharing your struggles with the hope of feedback, be sure to keep what is said be about you. You are responsible for your own anonymity, be sure that what you share will not have the unintended effect of coming back to hurt you later. For more information on sharing with others while remaining anonymous, please click here.
Support from Social Media
A significant number of young men and women battling with mental illness have turned to Instagram for support. Unlike Facebook, Instagram allows its users to maintain a greater level of secrecy. This has a twofold effect: 1) People can share what they are going through anonymously (e.g. a relapse or a depressive episode) and get feedback that might help. 2) Masked user activity allows people to negatively comment on what people share, what is known as “trolling,” a behavior that has led suffering people to suffer more.
The general public often hears of horror stories involving trolls, mental illness and suicide. We hear less about people with specific disorders finding support and help by way of social media. A new study sought to shed light on the power of anonymous social media posting, and the feedback users received. The researchers found that the majority of responses on Instagram to posts about mental illness using the hashtag “#depression,” were actually positive and supportive, Vocativ reports. The findings will be presented at the Association For Computing Machinery conference.
There’s this kind of double-edged sword about being anonymous and not having to use your real name,” said Nazanin Andalibi, one of the study’s lead doctoral researchers. “The popular narrative around anonymity has been that people will troll each other and everything will just be really abusive…but opportunities for anonymity are really central to disclosing things that are sensitive for some people and to give and provide support. It just so happens that in this particular platform people are finding each other and being supportive of each other.”
The researchers point out that further study is needed to see what users do with the positive feedback they received. Does it lead to positive change?
Depression: Let’s Talk
Last Friday, was World Health Day. The focus of discussion was depression, a mental health disorder affecting more than 300 million people around the world. The World Health Organization(WHO) launched a yearlong campaign. “Depression: Let’s Talk” aims to empower people to talk about their condition with people they trust, so they can get the help they require. With respect to the aforementioned study, not only do people with depression get positive feedback, but Instagram allows posts that appear to be cries for help to be flagged. When that happens the users, who may be at risk will be sent messages that include resources for help with mental illness. Talking about despair, can lead to hope treatment and recovery.
At PACE Recovery Center, we work with young adult men, targeting the underlying issues that contribute to addictive behaviors and behavioral health diagnoses. The PACE Recovery Center team provides multidisciplinary treatment for co-occurring disorders, including depression. Contact us for more information, “Let’s Talk!”.