Advocacy with Anonymity? | Our Challenge in the 21st Century


We stood at the turning point…

Addiction is inarguably America’s number 1 public health challenge, here and now. We’re living in a day-and-age when combined addiction and brain sciences continue to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in answering the former perennial questions about addiction’s causes, its development and risk factors. We know what works in treatment and that addiction is a chronic illness requiring lifetime care. We get it in a critical mass way. As a result we’re posing new questions about such things as advocacy with anonymity and how to bust a long overdue and effective move with advocacy, while honoring the time tested practice of anonymity.

Lisa Frederiksen of

Lisa Frederiksen of

Recently, in an effort to evoke some much needed community and kitchen table conversation about addiction, my colleague, Lisa Frederiksen of and I co-presented a public screening and discussion of The Anonymous People. The director of the feature documentary, Greg Williams, has done a masterful job of engaging viewers to understand the history of addiction and the reasons it has mirrored the controversy and trajectories of other human rights issues in the U.S., including the charged and opinion provoking, HIV/AIDS movement. Greg used the HIV/AIDS issue as an example of a well learned lesson how advocacy can be a powerful change agent. In fact, advocacy is the only thing that has delivered any sustainable social and cultural change in our society.

Our well attended gathering was held in the community room of a downtown library and had a kind of “town hall meeting” feel to it. A wide cross section of the community was there including millennials to octogenarians, and addiction professionals/specialists to everyday folks from all corners of life. The common denominator in the room may have been articulated like this, “I deeply care about this issue personally, professionally, for my family and for my community and I want to know more about how I can help.” People spoke to the issue of anonymity vs. advocacy from every perspective and concern imaginable.

Advocacy with Anonymity

First things first…anonymity is defined as:

“Having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features; unremarkable or impersonal.”

In the context of addiction recovery and in the literature of AA–here’s how it maps:

“The principle of anonymity was established to assure a safe place for people to recover and keep focused on their primary purpose of helping [others] to recover.”

And advocacy’s definition:

“Public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.”

While the two terms or “energies” seem to be at odds with one another, our recent gathering allowed a clearer understanding of both/and, rather than either/or to emerge. Advocacy with anonymity requires an informed approach that upholds the sanctity of both domains.

There are many good reasons to practice anonymity in addiction recovery at the personal and institutional levels. From maintaining personal/family privacy to keeping organizations apolitical and free from any cultural ideology, anonymity can be a very good idea. Personal advocacy honors anonymity in this way; I may be inspired to advocate for recovery–to communicate openly and transparently about my own recovery or even Recovery at large, while honoring the privacy of other individuals and organizations associated with that recovery.

The most important thing to consider is to be mindful of the intention and languaging of the communication in an effort to change minds and hearts for the purpose of helping other people. Recovery advocacy is not to be confused with personal gain, economic or egocentric pursuits and it should not interfere in any way with personal recovery or that of another. To learn more about effective communication skills for recovery advocacy visit, and where you’ll find this very good brochure.

The Challenge of the Century

There are also many good reasons to advocate publicly for addiction recovery. Things are lining up in mutually beneficial ways in an effort to heighten awareness about the good news of addiction recovery in the 21st Century. Individuals from every station of life, IE, those in the 3 out of 4 of our suffering families are beginning to stand up in dignified ways to speak to the urgency of the issue. As Kristen Johnston puts it in The Anonymous People, “Whether we want to admit this or not, this is our black plague.” And as Faces and Voices of Recovery says, “By our silence we let others define us.”

Here are just a few things to consider regarding the practical benefits of effective recovery advocacy:

  • The combined costs of addiction is estimated at 600 billion dollars per year, (loss of productivity, treatment, incarceration, associated illnesses, etc.) much of which due to misinformation, stigma and shame
  • Consider our children and grandchildren and the future multigenerational social and psychological implications
  • Harness the untapped creative resources and skills of an estimated 25 million Americans and their families who have addiction
  • Incorporate mind, body, spirit wellness into all of health care delivery systems, IE, recovery advocacy is health advocacy
  • Heighten awareness about the interrelatedness of all things for more peace, productivity and joy in the world

Advocacy and Where the Rubber Meets the Road

What can you bring to the conversation?

What can you bring to the conversation?

As addiction recovery advocacy “sinks in” in an entrepreneurially and socially conscious way to be, it can lead to things like building an infrastructure for sustained wellness–wellness being the goal of addiction recovery.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area’s, Silicon Valley. It’s no secret that we have 34-and-counting billionaires worth over an estimated 300 billion dollars right here, right now. These people and families experience just as much incidence of addiction as any other of the, “3 out of 4 families affected” statistic stated above.

It seems like everyday I’m reading another headline or article like this one: In Silicon Valley, Some Entrepreneurs Seek Social Change. It reflects a move toward conscious capitalism and while people are interested in building individual wealth, more and more are realizing what their wealth can do to leave a legacy of goodness for generations to come.

Clearly then, 21st Century recovery advocacy is an important part of informing and inspiring people who possess some of the most powerful ways and means of affecting change in this increasingly more conscious capitalistic system. Money and the business/entrepreneurial acumen to create economic engines for the well-being for millions of others requires incentive and a plan. Energy grows where our intention and attention goes.

Business as Usual is Over

Finally, we did not come all of this way to sit by idly. Do what you’re moved to do in the way of advocacy–and in the way only you can do it–and let’s leave a healthier legacy for which we can all be proud. As social and business entrepreneur, recovery advocate and CEO of, Kevin Kirby reminds us, “When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, business as usual is over.”

Bottom line, all of it is a call to wellness. Yes, advocacy with anonymity. Let’s Roll.

Dr. Herby Bell is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and owner of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to wellness and addiction recovery in Saratoga, California. For more information please call 650 474 9411 or Email:  Connect with me online too:  Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • cmwilk says:

    “The principle of anonymity was established to assure a safe place for people to recover and keep focused on their primary purpose of helping [others] to recover.”

    Good stuff Dr. Bell! We all need a, “Primary Purpose,” in life.
    cmwilk Wants You To Read…Hidden Moralizing About AddictionMy Profile

  • Bob Navarra says:

    Thank you to both you Herby and Lisa for hosting this event. The documentary was very informative and highlights a position I feel strongly about: not making recovery the new elephant in the living room that can’t be acknowledged or talked about.

  • Hey Herby!
    A well-considered piece, and you expressed yourself well. Advocacy is just huge, be it the substance-related compulsive behaviors you focus upon, or the emotional/mental woes on my side of the blogging fence. And you know, it’s especially important because so many who suffer haven’t the personal resources to stand for themselves. I will continue to do what I’m moved to do in the way of selfless advocacy, as will you – and Lisa. Let’s just hope all who join us truly have the best interests of the suffering at heart. Thanks, man…
    Bill White, Licensed Counselor Wants You To Read…Cutting Edge Science in a Blanket of Kindness | Beyond AddictionMy Profile

  • HerbyBell says:

    Greetings, Bill!

    You frame it in a nuanced way I hadn’t thought about…that it is incumbent upon those of us who are inspired, to stand up for those who cannot and still suffering–sometimes suffering beyond description. You’re a man of your word because you truly do continue to DO what you can–and that’s a ton. I’m always proud to see/read you here at RHC, you bar raiser, you.
    HerbyBell Wants You To Read…Advocacy with Anonymity? | Our Challenge in the 21st CenturyMy Profile

  • Bob Navarra says:

    Thanks Herby, you are one of the most affirming people on the planet! It seems to me that when a person is struggling with addiction, identity as an addict is what breaks denial. What the movie highlighted for me, and what I noticed in the last recovering couple workshop I did, was identity as a recovering person/couple has not occurred to the individual, much less couple. Some couples struggled with seeing there are two different identities and conversations that need to take place for healing and growth: talking about the impact of the addiction (where we have been), and talking about the impact of recovery (where we are and want to go). So the elephant is addiction when we can’t talk about it, then we have the elephant again when we can’t talk about recovery. Part of the new recovery revolution I believe needs to start at home and include the couple and family relationships.

  • This is great, Herby – we so desperately need to continue to provide advocacy for those struggling with addiction – as well as for all the many people who love them and don’t know where to turn to get the help they themselves need. So many people are suffering from this unfortunately ever-present condition of addiction!

    I think the most important way to provide advocacy is with a heart full of compassion and love, not full of judgement and misunderstandings. In order to be truly compassionate, we need to have empathy without ego. Ego is so often what botches the help and makes it about the one attempting to help, rather than about the one who is seeking some answers.

    But since we are all human beings, we all have access to ego – so let’s accept that we may at times do it imperfectly and just keep trying!
    Candace Plattor Wants You To Read…12-Year-Olds Stabbing 12-Year-Olds: Are We Paying Attention Yet?My Profile

  • David says:

    “The most important thing to consider is to be mindful of the intention and languaging of the communication in an effort to change minds and hearts for the purpose of helping other people.” Mindfulness plays a significant role in health and recovery. Here you seem to focus on minfulness of purpose of others and their involvement. I think when one is open and mindful of others we are able to adapt to the needs and desires of others.

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