Technology has been a regular part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. As the co-founder of a Silicon Valley startup that merges technology with recovery, I am even more intertwined with the tech revolution than ever. As a recovering person, I use tech tools as weapons in the battle against my disease. I feel compelled to raise awareness about technology as it relates to recovery. Welcome to Recovery Tech.
If you are in recovery and have a Facebook account, you may have experienced friend requests from people you don’t know, but who have 47 mutual friends, all of whom are in a Twelve Step program. What about the cryptic status update, “five”, informing you that your friend is celebrating five years sober today? Maybe you are part of a “secret” Facebook group for Twelve Step women (or men). You may have been invited to a Facebook event titled “Sarah Celebrates Four Years Sober!” to which you’re expected to RSVP electronically. All of these examples raise questions about anonymity, one of the guiding principles of all Twelve Step programs.
Because they believe online anonymity is virtually (ha-ha) impossible, I have heard old-timers warn against the use of electronic social media to connect and share information. While anonymity can be tricky when using various online media platforms, it is not impossible. Thus, I invoke a popular quote from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) literature: Thou shalt not commit “contempt prior to investigation”. Let’s investigate!
AA has published an article called AA Guidelines: Internet, which addresses at length some great topics about the intersection between AA (or other Twelve Step programs) and the internet. With regard to the use of social media sites, the AA internet guidelines explain that AA will figure out the guidelines by utilizing the group conscience. I say, brilliant! There is no sense in throwing the baby out with the bath water. As technology evolves, so will its uses. While some of these uses may not be valuable to those in recovery, many will be.
The guidelines make it clear that individuals are responsible for their own anonymity. Just what you wanted – another responsibility! So if anonymity is an individual concern, individuals must take action on their social media pages to shield themselves from unwanted personal exposure.
What does this look like? Well, it depends on how worried you are about your personal anonymity. To protect your anonymity, let’s look at some of the basic steps:
- Check your Privacy Settings. If your profile is public, nothing you publish is even remotely anonymous. If you need help with Privacy Settings, ask for help!
- Be cognizant of what type of information your share on your page. If you share information about being sober or sobriety, most people will believe you to be out about your recovery. They may think that it’s okay to tag you.
- Require that all pictures, statuses and wall posts in which you appear be approved by you before they are published. This means that you have to say it is okay for anyone to include your name in anything or to post on your page. (See Privacy Settings on your Facebook page.)
- Limit your Facebook name to your first and middle names or use an alias. This will add another layer of protection to your anonymity.
- Communicate with others that you wish to remain anonymous about your recovery. Despite the fact that this may seem obvious to you, these days it’s not obvious to many people. People cannot read minds. Be clear with others about your needs and wants (channeling Pia Melody)!
If you like, these basic steps will start you on your journey to retaining your anonymity online without having to abstain from your online presence. Again, I invoke a Twelve Step adage: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”
There are many anonymous ways to connect online with other people to discuss recovery and seek support, including online forums, pamphlets, chat rooms, social networking sites, video meetings, online sponsorship, workshops, etc. All of these resources are just a click away. We can easily connect with recovering people all over the world. What a gift!
Before cell phones, a recovering person had to be home to make or receive a call from their sponsor. The cell phone allows instant access to support from any location. Before the internet, you had to speak with a person who had a meeting list or had to have access to a printed list. Now you can easily download a meeting list for Twelve Step groups anywhere in the world.
Technology makes it possible to reach more people and to help each other maintain continuous sobriety. Imagine technology as the vehicle that connects individuals who otherwise might never meet. Like a car, internet technology can be used to safely transport people from one place to another or can be used dangerously, even causing lives to be lost. We are required to learn to safely operate a car before we can use it. The same principle can be applied to modern internet technology.
A growing number of people chose not to remain anonymous about their recovery and who regularly post comments on the internet that reveal their membership in a Twelve Step program. I believe there are many benefits to allowing others to know I am sober. I have found that revealing my group membership has strengthened connections with others. Because people realized that I am in recovery because of my social media presence, I have had private correspondence with those who have reached out to me for help.
While some, such as I, are comfortable with this disclosure, others are not. It is easy to forget about others’ anonymity when tagging friends in posts and photos. Because we follow the guidelines and principles, the Twelve Step way of life works. It is of great importance that we respect the right to anonymity as an integral part of a sober lifestyle for many people.
In Recovery Magazine columnist, Ashley Loeb, grew up in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. She is a cofounder of a tech startup called Lionrock Recovery, a Joint Commission accredited online substance abuse treatment center. In recovery herself, Loeb is passionate about sharing her experience, strength and hope with others. Ashley currently lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and two large dogs, while she enjoys what she describes as “a life beyond her wildest dreams”.