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New documentary urges individuals to leverage their recovery stories

June 12, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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“The Anonymous People” is not the first media presentation to urge individuals in recovery to reveal their personal stories, but this new documentary film clearly attempts to exceed past messages in persuading individuals to translate their personal experiences into political action.

Already seen by around 4,000 people in 20 sneak-preview screenings prior to an anticipated September release in conjunction with Recovery Month, the 90-minute film seeks to address how a recovery community so large can carry a political influence so relatively small. In an interview this week with Addiction Professional, film producer Greg Williams points to the dual forces of anonymity (an often misunderstood principle in the recovery community) and stigma in explaining the dichotomy.

Williams says early screenings of the film that have been sponsored by organizations in the treatment and recovery communities are producing the desired result as a call to action. “The number one question people are asking after they see the film is, ‘What can I do?’ It’s a pretty cool moment,” he says.

Williams says he went into recovery about 11 years ago at the age of 17, but really didn’t talk about his recovery experience in the first four or five years. He began to get a sense of the barriers individuals face in their recovery journey when a nonprofit organization he established in Connecticut hit roadblocks in gaining funding support for recovery-oriented services.

“We have all the data, but people just don’t seem to be getting it,” he says.

He began to study the work of addiction field historian and researcher William White and was also moved by the advocacy activity of individuals such as the husband-and-wife duo of John Shinholser and Carol McDaid—the latter being the most prominent national lobbyist for the treatment community. These individuals and many other leaders in treatment and recovery are featured in “The Anonymous People,” and the film has much more of a public advocacy focus than other recent documentaries about addiction for a public audience. “We use no pictures of the brain,” says Williams.

 The film encourages individuals not only to tell their recovery story, but to tell it so that it “moves the needle” in their local communities, such as by building momentum to establish recovery community organizations, says Williams.

Williams sees many individuals in recovery following a common path, where they might tout their accomplishment to others early on but then start to encounter stigma in settings such as the workplace. They begin to see the effects of societal shame creep into their lives, and they retreat into anonymity, he says.

He cites the example of an acquaintance who completed his last three years of college in high academic standing, but who cannot get into medical school because his record reflects his having confronted his addiction in his freshman year. “He’s a brilliant kid, and medical schools won’t take him,” Williams says.

He adds, “I hope this film brings to light the necessity to organize, and the need to take it to a new level into the community.”

Visit the website for “The Anonymous People” for information about screenings and how individuals and groups can become involved.