The Stigma of Alcoholism
Alcoholics Anonymous exists, first and foremost, to help people abstain from alcohol. But, integral to this purpose is anonymity. This aspect was considered so important by AA founder Bill Wilson that he refused an honorary degree from Yale rather than face the exposure of accepting. Early meetings of AA would have attendees wearing masks to hide their identities from their fellows. To declare yourself an alcoholic, especially in the early days of AA – before addiction was declared a disease – was to invite judgement and mistreatment. You were classified morally weak and lacking in willpower. For this, anonymity provided protection.
Today, the continued commitment to the principle of anonymity has invited discussions: Does maintaining an individual’s anonymity contribute to alcoholism’s stigma? Does it encourage a blind faith in the traditions of AA? Obviously, going public with your recovery is a very personal decision that everyone should be able to make on their own terms. Going public may not work for everyone.
To wit: Look at the attention given the self-outing of Paris Jackson. Paris is the 17 year old daughter of the late Michael Jackson. If you’ve followed the tabloids you’re aware of the struggles she’s faced growing up in the world’s most famous family. Last week she revealed on Instagram that she has been attending AA meetings. What followed next was a media frenzy. The incriminating quote, in its entirety, was simply this: “i [sic] have aa [sic] meetings to go to.” No further description of her situation or condition was included. Any conclusions are based solely on speculation (and there’s been a plenty of that). Despite the intense scrutiny the teen has been under in recent years, it seems her admission of attending AA meetings took the tabloid media by surprise.
The Big Book of AA makes the case that the most important outcome of anonymity is the spiritual experience or awakening. What does a “spiritual experience” mean? In AA terms it can mean a change in personality sufficient enough to bring about recovery. It’s a change that takes time and can only be achieved with the help and guidance of other interested people. Getting to that change requires work, self-exploration, and exposure. The intimacy of the discussions characteristic of AA meetings often reveal things that members would rather keep within the walls of the meetings – anonymity safeguards that.
Going public also makes yourself vulnerable to the possibility that you may have a mental disorder. (Alcoholism combines the elements of both a mental illness and a physical disease.) These mental symptoms can include a loss of control – taking in larger amounts of alcohol over a longer period of time than the person intends and continuing to drink despite adverse social, occupational, or legal consequences. Ultimately what alcoholism reveals most is that you’re human, which – despite its inevitability – leaves many people uncomfortable.
Going public makes us confront not only the truth about ourselves but our humanity.
Give props to Paris Jackson for facing her humanity at such a young age.
If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.