It hasn't exactly taken the country by storm. Most people don't even know about the documentary "The Anonymous People." But it has galvanized the communities of people in addiction recovery, their families and professionals who work in the field, to the point that the stigma of addiction is under siege — thanks in large measure to the very group of people who have both been shamed by that stigma and helped to foster it because of their desire to remain invisible and anonymous. Until now.
A portion of the 84-minute film made for the big screen by the brilliant young producer Greg Williams chronicles six decades of on-and-off efforts to eliminate public misperceptions about addicts and alcoholics and misguided public policy that has resulted in the "war on drugs," which locks them up and denies treatment to them. Most of the film, though, captures the burgeoning recovery advocacy movement that is sweeping small towns and big cities everywhere because addicts, alcoholics and their families are standing up and not taking it anymore. With their faces and voices, they are speaking out publicly about addiction as an illness that doesn't discriminate and the recovery that happens to millions of them when they overcome their problem.
(Disclaimer: I have a cameo role in the film but no personal financial interest, though my organization does sell the DVD. I'm in it only because I am one of these millions.)
There isn't room here to explain the movie or the controversy around it. But if you're reading this, then you'll have an interest in seeing it. And you'll want to take some sort of action. Unfortunately, though the film has inspired thousands of viewers, it does not include what you can do. So here you go. Three steps to action.
1) If you are a person who has overcome addiction to alcohol or other drugs, share that with somebody in your neighborhood or community who doesn't know it. Say, for example, "My name is Mary Jones, and I am in recovery, which means I don't drink or take drugs anymore." Why? Because everyone knows the face of addiction. But not enough people know what recovery looks like. You may choose to do this at your church, at a book club, to one of your elected officials or at a social gathering. Choose somebody you know or don't know. But explain why it is important that he or she understand that the recovery from addiction looks like you.
2) If you are a family member whose loved one has lived or died with addiction, share that with somebody who is unaware. Why? Because addiction affects most families, yet too many of them live in isolation framed by shame, sadness or fear. A powerful segment of the film captures a mother who lost a son to an overdose, and her public story inspires others to come forward or seek help.
3) If you are a professional counselor or therapist or CEO or employee who works to help addicts and alcoholics, talk about your successes with people who don't know that you make a difference in the lives of others. The public hears about the "failures" of those who relapse or drive while drunk again or die with the illness. But for each of those, there are others who do make it, thanks in large part to your help.
In recent weeks, I've hosted this film in Minnesota, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. People are fired up. They cry. They laugh. They want to do something or more to put their face and voice not just to the problems of addiction but to the solution. Here you go.
William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs. His book "Now What? An Insider's Guide to Addiction and Recovery" was published last year. Please send your questions to William Moyers at [email protected] To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.