The Anonymous People Part Two

The A&E Recovery Rally in New York City, September 2009

During my recent visit with Greg Williams, a recovering addict and filmmaker (see post from August 8), we talked about how, in spite of verifiable research and brain science studies to the contrary, addiction is not considered a health issue by the general public.

Instead, addicts are viewed as moral failures.  “There is a stigma that we choose addiction,” Greg said to me.

Ultimately, stigma is why he decided to make the documentary, The Anonymous People.  Greg is passionate about capturing recovery stories on video, so as a way of teaching the non-addicted that people who are addicted are regular folks, the movie idea was born.

Two overarching themes

While filming over 75 hours of video of people talking about the stigma and shame of being a person in recovery, Greg said two themes emerged.  One common thread in his conversations was the media’s fascination with celebrity drug overdoses and failed rehabs.  This type of coverage tends to only focus on the horrors of drug and alcohol abuse.

The second theme mentioned among those videoed was the lack of an accessible constituency of people in recovery to balance the negative media portrayal.  There are more than 23 million people in long-term addiction recovery in America, yet no effective, mobilized base with a consistent message.

Most of the 23 million don’t realize it’s safe to come out, Greg believes.  Their recovery lives are often secrets hidden from employers and neighbors, community groups and faith communities.

The result is a compartmentalized recovery that may have existed for 10, 20 or 30 years.  Maybe longer.

Changing the face of other diseases

Breast Cancer Advocacy Movement:  Women diagnosed with breast cancer during much of the 20th century not only found it difficult to discuss their disease, they also usually came out of biopsy surgery having undergone a radical mastectomy.  These life-altering decisions were made solely by their doctors.

A public discussion about breast cancer was unthinkable until the 1970s.  After First Lady Betty Ford was diagnosed in 1974 and spoke about it openly, other women began to stand up and discuss their diagnoses.  An advocacy movement was born.

HIV Advocacy:  When the HIV/AIDS health crisis erupted in the 1980s, the gay community rose up in earnest.  Then Rock Hudson became the first major American celebrity to disclose his HIV status, followed by athletes Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson.  Non-afflicted stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana and Paul Michael Glaser, whose first wife Elizabeth contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, used their star platforms to contribute to the cause.

Both advocacy movements had a mobilized chorus of voices in common.  Greg believes they changed the nature of their respective diseases.  Suddenly, the public health crisis component became an integral part of conversations from Washington, D.C. to small American towns.

The same approach has to happen in order for addiction recovery to be viewed as a public health crisis.  As Greg told me, “When recovery becomes part of the debate, conversations can be had about the medical nature of addiction.”

Perception of anonymity

Mobilizing an effective constituency begins with shifting the perception that anonymity means people in recovery cannot speak publicly about their recovery.

Greg hopes his film helps with the perception shift.  Right now, the priority is to complete The Anonymous People with funding from the KickStarter campaign, a funding platform for creative projects.  Greg has until August 26 to raise the required funding; he’s a little more than 60% funded and needs eyeballs and dollars on the project.

Check out the sidebar on this page for a clip from the movie.  For the full-size version and a detailed description of Greg’s project, as well as information about KickStarter, go to

I asked Greg when we talked if we’ve reached the tipping point for addiction recovery to be seen as a health issue.  I could hear the smile in his voice as he replied, “The celebrity rehab craze has to lead us somewhere, doesn’t it?”

Please take a moment to watch the clip and then click over to The Anonymous People page to become a project backer.



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  1. […] Wilson writes weekly at B Here Today. Be sure to read the second part of her post, The Anonymous People Part Two.  You can follow Beth on Facebook and […]

  2. […] Wilson writes weekly at B Here Today. Be sure to read the second part of her post, The Anonymous People Part Two.  You can follow Beth on Facebook and […]

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