In some segments of the recovery community, the idea of “attraction rather than promotion” has been transmitted down through generations and generations of people in or seeking recovery. While the original premise of this idea still holds tremendous value, a great disservice has been done by mixing up the original intention of “attraction rather than promotion” with a catastrophically distorted perception of what is meant by the saying. Much like whisper down the lane, the concept many of us have been taught about “attraction rather than promotion” is far from what the original message was intended to be. Furthermore, with a significant percentage of the addiction treatment and recovery support service field staffed by people in recovery who have adopted the distorted version of “attraction rather than promotion,” not only do individuals, families and certain segments of the mutual aid recovery communities suffer – so too do our addiction treatment and recovery support service systems.
The Original Intention
In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), the 11th Tradition states “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.” This tradition was put in place with the notion that it would be a very dangerous thing for any one fallible human being to represent the fellowship of AA/NA in newspaper interviews, on the radio (read: television in the 21st century) and in movies. The thinking was this: if that fallible human being were to struggle or experience a slip, it could be then seen as a failure of AA rather than that one individual’s experience, thereby discounting AA/NA as a viable pathway to recovery. The objective was to not hinge public perception of AA/NA on any one individual, and to this very day, the 11th tradition as intended serves an important purpose. Some may argue that much of AA’s success as a still standing and growing mutual aid fellowship can be attributed to the wise foresight of its founders regarding the peril of having token leaders or representatives for any group or social cause.
The Distorted Perception
While the original intention of “attraction rather than promotion” has tremendous value, somewhere along the way on the whisper down the lane of oral tradition, the idea of “attraction rather than promotion” evolved to be thought of by many as something different. Rather than understanding the idea of “attraction rather than promotion” to be targeted at avoiding individual representation of AA/NA in the media, a terrible misunderstanding grew roots. The terrible misunderstanding is this: “attraction rather than promotion” means that recovery cannot be promoted; it means that we must wait until a person “wants it bad enough” or is “ready” for recovery. The distorted perception is that we ought not promote recovery and instead just allow for people to naturally be attracted to it.
Clearing Up the Mix Up
This misunderstanding flies not only in the face of what the founders of AA intended by enacting the 11th tradition; it flies in the face of all we know about addiction and recovery. What we know about addiction and recovery is that assertive outreach is effective, that motivational interviewing works, that exposure to recovery can be contagious and that being offered hope can be transformative. What we know is that recovery can and ought to be promoted, that getting out there and engaging people yields positive results. What we know is that when we fail to promote recovery, when we wait until a person wants it bad enough or is ready, we miss opportunities and we lose human beings. And when people die, families suffer immeasurably, communities are impacted drastically and the world is robbed forever of that irreplaceable treasure called untapped potential.