A sign for an Al-Anon meeting at the AA Southern Convention 2017.

The one big problem with Al-Anon’s Tradition 11

Guarding the wrong people?

As I mentioned in a previous post, this past weekend I attended my first AA Convention with Al-Anon participation.

(Again if you aren’t familiar with Al-Anon and Alateen: They are programmes for adults and teenagers (respectively) who have been affected by someone else’s alcoholism).

I could call it a joint convention… but it wasn’t. That much was very clear. It was an Alcoholics Anonymous convention. Al-Anon and Alateen were there by invite.

(That’s rather important to this post. You’ll see why shortly).

The theme of the convention was Anonymity. And so, as I read the Al-Anon traditions, I took special note of Al-Anon’s Tradition 11, which discusses that topic.

As I did, I noticed something in them that I hadn’t spotted before.

This Al-Anon’s Tradition 11:

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, and TV. We need guard with special care the anonymity of all AA members.

Why is Al-Anon’s Tradition 11 so unusual?

The Al-Anon UK logo. Click the image to visit the site. (Opens in a new window). Image credit: http://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/

Well, almost every other 12-Step fellowship, barring the other Anons (Nar-Anon, for instance) focuses on guarding the anonymity of its own members.

But not Al-Anon. Al-Anon’s Tradition 11 focuses on protecting the alcoholic.

There is a certain logic to this I suppose. A large number of Al-Anon members are in relationships or families with alcoholics. That’s why they need the programme the way they do. So by protecting the anonymity of AA members, logic would suggest the protect their own anonymity too by association.

The problem is, that what’s-mine-is-yours attitude is also symptomatic of the codependency that Al-Anon members are trying to heal from in the first place.

The problem with alcoholics and codependents.

In simple terms, alcoholics focus on themselves too much. To the point where it destroys their relationships.

On the other hand, codependent Al-Anons focus on the alcoholic too much. To the point where they lose themselves. Which if they aren’t careful, also destroys their relationships.

(That’s why you’ll often find the partner of an alcoholic saying “I thought it would be fine if they just got sober. But then they went to AA and it wasn’t fine. I was still angry!”)

So AAs and Al-Anons have the opposite problem. But often with the same outcome in their personal relationships.

Even the Fellowships themselves are at it!

AA Convention 2018 flyer | Healing Hub
Nice big AA logo there. No Al-Anon one, though…

Yet if you take a step back, you realise that even at the organisational level, these two fellowships play out the very same relationship pattern found between alcoholics and a codependents at the personal level.

The AAs look after on their own needs. They acknowledge the Al-Anons but make it clear where their focus is.

The Al-Anons tag along with the AAs to a convention that isn’t their own. They talk about the AAs between themselves. And they recite a tradition that’s all about protecting the AAs.

Even in recovery, they’re still focused hugely on the alcoholic – arguably more than is really healthy.

Keep the focus on Al-Anon.

Now I love Al-Anon. It’s a gentle, supportive programme. And I really have met some wonderful people through it. It’s certainly helped me to get back on my feet.

But to recover from codependency, you really do need to take the focus off other people’s needs, and focus on your own.

(Heck, even Al-Anon itself encourages attendees to keep the focus off other treatment centres, books, authors counsellors or 12-Step groups and to keep the focus on Al-Anon).

That means focusing on your own values; your own health; your own hobbies; your own feelings.

And, by that logic, surely your own anonymity too.

Because doesn’t any other approach just undermine the whole thing?

Is it time something changed?

Al-Anon Courage To Change, including Al-Anon's Tradition 11 | Healing Hub
Does Al-Anon itself have the courage to change?

Personally, I’d like to see Al-Anon review and modernise some of its traditions and practices. And, like AA and all other 12-step fellowships, I definitely think it could do with taking a look at how it approaches social media.

Will it? Probably not. (Almost certainly seems that way).

But if so, I’ll still keep going back. I can always take what I like and leave the rest.

At the end of the day, it still works if you work it.

(So work it; you’re worth it! Ahem).

What do you think?

Should Al-Anon and other similar fellowships review and revise their traditions and practices?

Has 12-Step recovery become outmoded?

Do you think the Al-Anon programme puts too much focus on the alcoholic?

Would a standalone Al-Anon convention work without AA participation?

And would you like to see Al-Anon’s Tradition 11 altered to make it more independent of AA?

Or do you disagree with me entirely?

Either way, please do let me know your thoughts (anonymously, of course!) in the comments below.

All the best,


Read more reflections from the AA Southern National Convention 2017:

Learn more about AA and Al-Anon:

To find out more about UK AAAl-Anon and Alateen events in your area, visit the links below:
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