“Hi. My name is Bud Mikhitarian, and I’m a person in long-term … discovery.”
So begins the introduction of Mikhitarian’s book, Many Faces One Voice: Secrets from the Anonymous People, a book based on the award-winning documentary The Anonymous People. Calling himself a member of the country’s great unwashed—or people not directly affected by addiction and recovery—the writer, producer and director says he’s fortunate enough to have never had a problem with substance abuse, but has nevertheless
, discovered the miracles of recovery.
What led Mikhitarian to write this book was a 10,000-mile journey through what he calls the landscape of recovery that he and his brother Craig embarked on with young film director Greg Williams—a friend of Mikhitarian’s nephew, who has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol since the age of 17.
“Greg came to us never having made a [professional] documentary before, [whereas] my brother and I have been in the business longer than I care to admit, and asked us to help him make this film,” he says. So in a borrowed Honda Pilot crammed with cases of water and granola bars, the three men traveled cross-country to 20 states and interviewed hundreds of people.
“[We stopped] in various places, not quite knowing what we were going to encounter next, except we knew we were looking for the new recovery advocacy movement and the manifestations thereof,” he says of the experience. “ The great epiphany I had is that we can all learn from the people in recovery who have made their lives better and are—in small, individual ways—changing the world.”
They collectively gathered 120 hours of interviews and 80 hours of archival footage, which were ultimately boiled down to Williams' 88-minute documentary, which has become a film of impact in the treatment and recovery communities. “You can imagine the gems that were left on the cutting-room floor,” Mikhitarian adds.
These outtakes and individual stories—or what he calls the faces and voices of recovery, which are expanded upon and deepened in the book in ways the film could not accomplish—are ultimately what inspired the book. But it’s also about Mikhitarian’s own journey of discovery, which he calls deeply personal and says has far-reaching meaning.
“The lofty purpose of the book was to pick up some of [those] gems on the cutting room floor, provide a vital record of stories that could not be included in the film and also try to create some kind of relevance of those stories to the greater society,” he says.
Anonymity is central
Separated into chapters with titles such as “Shame to Pride,” “Fear to Courage,” and “Changing the World,” each individual story is accompanied by a still-frame of the person from the film. The project based itself on putting faces and voices to the anonymous people in recovery, so anonymity played a central part.
“We tried to position anonymity in a way that clarifies it,” Mikhitarian says, speaking of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that emphasize not revealing individual membership. “[Membership] doesn’t mean you have to be anonymous outside in your life.”
In fact, Mikhitarian explains that the film resulted in so much inquiry to AA that its administration had to issue a letter to members clarifying the fellowship's position, reaffirming that although it’s against the rules to disclose membership, it’s okay to be open about recovery, and that sharing personal stories and successes in order to help erase stigma is ultimately encouraged.
The project as a whole has had what Mikhitarian describes as a tremendous grassroots following that continues to build, thrusting Williams into the forefront of the recovery advocacy movement. “We’re kind of just going along for the ride because we see how important this movement is to people’s lives,” he says.
Ultimately, the book isn’t just for people in recovery or people who need recovery, Mikhitarian adds. While it includes great information and inspiration for those people, he says it’s also meant to perpetuate awareness among other “clueless” individuals (like he says he was previously) so they can contribute to the fight for reducing stigma and influencing policy.
“My entire career has been spent making informational films, and we’ve always said that you’ve got to win the hearts of your audience first before you can change their minds, and that’s what we’re trying to do here [with the film and the book],” he says. “If we erase the stigma, you can go a long way toward changing perception and policy and promoting justice.”
The book is scheduled to be released on May 4.