Don't Panic!

This is good advice in the face of general societal pressures to join in the all-out war against academic addictions. It is true that we in Academics Anonymous know the horrors of professional addiction better than anyone. Still, it is essential that we remain true to our purpose and our Twelve Traditions. The Traditions allow us to work with nonmember organizations, but that cooperation must be kept within the scope of all the Traditions.

The current wave of media and public official interest in the prevention of literacy and dignity addictions, prosecution for RCP possession, transportation, and delivery, and even the increase in the numbers of addicts seeking help, have created a veritable flood of new public information. And this is all to the good. Heightened public awareness of the dangers of academic addiction sends us new members every day. Many academic addicts are given the push to get into the program by a television documentary or public service announcement. Even nonacademics have begun to recognize the telltale signs of academic addiction, and urging their academic spouses, lovers, children, and friends to get help--even, in many cases, referring them to us. Our phone lines are ringing more now than ever. Many of the calls are from addicts and their loved ones; but many are from government agencies and the media, and here lies part of the problem.

We work best with addicts. The concept of one addict working with another is how we proved that Academics Anonymous works. So what do we do with all these other calls? The media want human-interest stories, stories of heartbreak and despair and new hope. We have those in the thousands, of course, but the media always want a name and a face to go along with the story, and that is something that our Traditions will not allow us to provide. We find that A.A. stories are never quite as compelling to the media when they must remain anonymous.

"And why not compromise on that one little point?" some members are saying. "I'm not embarrassed about my academic addiction; why shouldn't I let my name and face be used in an attempt to get the message to other addicts?" Some believe they are clever enough to avoid Tradition violations by meeting the media people head-on and having things go their way. Unfortunately, this belief is almost invariably just another symptom of their addiction. Not all academics are addicted to publicity, of course, but many are, and it seems that it is precisely the publicity addicts who are most inclined to go on TV and radio for "altruistic" purposes, to "help the A.A. cause," to "get the message to other addicts." Many believe that delivering a Read Conference Paper is "all right"--not really an expression of their addiction, not only harmless but actually beneficial--if it's delivered against RCP addiction.

When we add to this the fact that many of our members are also employed in the field of treatment as literacy counselors or administrators in RCP rehab programs, the situation becomes more complex. Many such programs would find it unthinkable to refuse to participate in a TV, radio, or newspaper interview. Why, it's free publicity! When our members find themselves in this conflicting situation, danger lurks on all sides. Failure to grant an interview may be unacceptable to the employer; yet the loss of anonymity and the exposure to old publicity addictions may have a deleterious effect on the member's recovery. Certainly it would cause injury to the Fellowship.

Government agencies have also shown a new interest in academic addiction. Unfortunately, few really understand the nature of addiction and the program of recovery that Academics Anonymous has spent the last decade developing. Their interest is almost always ideologically charged, often grounded in various class prejudices about what it is that academics do, which makes their ignorance precisely the sort that academic addicts most enjoy combatting--thus providing a temptation that many recovering expertise addicts find almost irresistable, especially those trained in the analysis of ideological and class bias.

"Is RCP really more dangerous in the sciences than in the humanities?"

"Is literacy prevention counseling in junior high school really effective?"

"Are women really less susceptible to academic addiction than men?"

"Is it true that there are no black or hispanic members of Academics Anonymous?"

These questions are so patently off-base that many recovering addicts feel almost duty-bound to correct the inquirers' misconceptions. Some, having sworn off the 50-minute lecture format, have grown adept at the 15-second sound bite--and have even convinced themselves that this is a sign of recovery! Regardless of how well-intentioned these members were when they agreed to these activities, the result has usually been disastrous.

Back in the days when the government and media paid little attention to academic addicts (except when we radicalized their children), A.A. members were more easily able to avoid public controversy and concentrate on recovery. Then the main problem was making sure that every academic addict who wanted to recover knew about A.A. and how to find us. Now we are facing a whole new set of problems, and must learn to deal with them without violating the Twelve Traditions--not just for the sake of not violating them, but because they have proven to be the foundation upon which the program rests.

This is not, and we must insist upon this, merely another authority addiction. We are not encouraging academic addicts to substitute the security of obedience to one institutional authority for the security of obedience to another. Nor is this merely a form of denial, so deadly for any prospect of recovery. If there is a problem, it is not generated by Academics Anonymous; it is generated by the well-meaning public outside of Academics Anonymous. And yes, we must solve the problems these people create for us, but we most solve them on our own terms, without playing fast and free with the program. When we undermine or ignore the Traditions--avoiding problems of money, property or prestige, avoiding outside issues and public controversy, avoiding institutional authoritarianism and expertise, and maintaining our anonymity--we set the stage for failure in our own personal recovery and that of others.

We have not conducted scientific studies on this subject, obviously, but we have more than ample personal evidence from members of the Fellowship who, because of their position in the community, lost their anonymity in a "successful" bid for expertise and publicity, and never fully recovered, or took many hard years of relapse before they made it. Some of the most prominent academics in the country have fallen prey to this particular pathology. It is a personal tragedy when this happens to anyone, but their tragedy was made worse when the media refused to let them recover in anonymity. There are a few well-known cases when death was the result.

It is of utmost importance that public information (P.I.) committees handle these new media and government contacts. The committees must work together within the Twelve Traditions to serve the interests of recovering addicts in the Fellowship. When there is doubt about one situation or another within an area committee, there are always regional P.I. committees available for help, there is always the Central P.I. Committee, and there is always the Central P.I. Coordinator.

All of these resources have been developed during the past few years in order to be of service. Take advantage of them and avoid the pain and problems that violating the Twelve Traditions brings to us all. Remember, people--we know what we're doing.

Douglas Robinson, Ph.D.

Central P.I. Coordinator

Academics Anonymous

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Copyright 1993 Douglas Robinson and Bill Kaul