Mark Sherman: “Everything anonymous”

Mark-Sherman SQUAREIn 1935, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith started Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a fellowship that has helped millions of people recover from alcoholism. The basic idea is alcoholics helping each other. This notion of peer support is one of those ideas that is brilliant in its simplicity, and it spread quickly, not only for alcoholics, but for addicts (Narcotics Anonymous), overeaters (Overeaters Anonymous), gamblers, people chronically in debt and so on.

Much has been written about these groups and each of them has many members. But peer support groups have spread into many other areas where people have concerns and these rarely get attention. I want to correct that omission right here by saying a little about some of these lesser-known fellowships.

1. Liars Anonymous. This is for people who feel compelled to lie in nearly every situation. While most people who are not chronic liars may pick on those who are with such rhymes as “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” those who do find themselves virtually unable to tell the truth realize that they suffer from a disease. The only people who can understand and help them are other compulsive liars.


But even using the highly successful model of AA, chronic liars have trouble recovering. Things start off badly when a newcomer introduces himself at a meeting, with a version of the classic “Hi, I’m Fred and I’m a(n) alcoholic (or addict or overeater),” which, in this case is “Hi, I’m Fred and I’m a liar.” Instead of the usual response from the group, “Hi, Fred!” there will be at least one or two people saying, “Come on, is your name really Fred?”

2. Paranoids Anonymous. This is one scary fellowship, but if you are paranoid, where else can you go? After all, where else will you find a whole bunch of people who know how it feels to have everyone out to get you? The problem is that it is very difficult to find a meeting, since PA members are, well, paranoid, about non-paranoid people finding their meetings.

3. Academics Anonymous. Having been an academic (a college professor) for more than 25 years, I know how hard it is to break the bonds of having to look everything up, having to actually use primary sources, having to be politically correct all the time and feeling like there’s something wrong with me if I’m not familiar with a particular quote from Shakespeare or a particular law of physics.

I tried going to Academic Anonymous meetings for a while, but when someone introduced herself by saying, “Hi, my name is Dolores, which, as some of you may know, comes from the Spanish, Maria de los Dolores, or “Mary of Sorrows,” and I’m not such a happy person, so perhaps my parents should have named me Joy, which reminds me: Why do parents give their kids particular names? Well, a study done in 1996 showed that…,” I knew that it wasn’t for me.

Another problem Academics Anonymous has is that it shares its initials with Alcoholics Anonymous, so recovering alcoholics often go to their meetings by mistake. As you can imagine, this typically drives them back to drinking.

4. Workaholics Anonymous. This is an actual fellowship and it does have meetings, but I don’t know how any workaholic would have the time to go to them. I can imagine a newcomer saying, “Hi, I’m Brenda and I’m a workaholic, and I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get back to work. See ya.”

5. Deniers Anonymous. This fellowship is for people who refuse to acknowledge that they have any problems. The typical salutation sounds like this: “Hi, I’m Bert, and I’m fine.” The return greeting from the group is not the usual, “Hi, Bert!” but rather, “Yeah, right. Tell us another one, Bert.”

6. Unusual Names Anonymous. Are you someone with a name so strange or unusual that you hesitate to say it when someone asks? You could change your name, yes, but you could also go to UNA. Finally, you’ll be amongst your peers. When you say, “Hi, my name is Flementine,” no one is going to laugh. Your fellow UNAers, like Mistletoad, Euthanasia and Wince will certainly understand how it feels.

7. Hippopotamus Anonymous. I don’t know if there is any such group, but I just love the way this sounds.