Bookmark and Share

Changing the language of recovery

Groundbreaking documentary film

Greg Williams's 2013 film, The Anonymous People, imagines what could be accomplished if 23 million Americans organized as a force for social and political change--and offers a strategy to make that happen.

Eleven years into his long-term recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, Greg Williams came to believe that changing how we talk about addiction could have a huge impact on the way society and government perceive the disease.

The traditions of anonymity and of referring to oneself as an "addict" or "alcoholic" may have the unintended consequence of leading others to "interpret this as a form of shame. The point of the film is to empower the recovery community to have a conversation with people outside the community, using language that is not characterized by stigma and shame," he told The Fix , a website about addiction and recovery.

Williams advocates using language like this instead: "My name is Greg Williams and I am a person in long-term recovery and that means I haven't used alcohol or drugs since I was 17."

The movie showcases people in recovery from all walks of life, including public leaders, executives, celebrities and athletes, who have taken the courageous step of coming out of the shadows to tell their personal stories of recovery.

The Anonymous People has two key aims: to help the public understand that addiction is an illness, not a character flaw; and to mobilize the 23 million Americans in long-term recovery--fully 7% of the population--to advocate for urgently needed resources and policies that advance lasting recovery solutions.

The Anonymouse People

Hazelden helps spread the message

The Hazelden community is excited about the film's positive reception, as the organization has long been a powerful advocate for recovery. William Moyers, Hazelden's Vice President of Public Affairs and Community Relations, describes The Anonymous People as a "huge milestone in Hazelden's history of trying to eliminate the stigma and expand greater understanding of recovery from addiction."

The film was privately funded--including over $70,000 raised through Kickstarter. Hazelden got involved early in the production process, helping Williams identify people in recovery to interview for the film. Hazelden also promoted the movie through its publishing division and provided financial support for the film's distribution.

And Hazelden has been instrumental in bringing the movie to audiences, hosting a free screening of the film on its website, and sponsoring dozens of screenings and panel discussions for viewers across the country.

Abandoning anonymity?

Some viewers have felt uncomfortable about the movie's message, encouraging those in recovery to drop their masks of anonymity. But is the movie really abandoning this critical aspect of the treatment programs that have been so successful for decades? Not according to Moyers.

"It's NOT about doing away with anonymity. It's a fine line. But I believe you can speak out without violating the anonymity tradition by simply talking about yourself and your experience as an individual in recovery without revealing the specifics of your recovery program. I don't represent any recovery program. I merely speak as a person in recovery," he explains. "I've learned that when I stand up and speak out, putting a face on the problem and the solution, then I become a beacon of hope, a touchpoint for others who still suffer from the illness I live with," Moyers continues.

How you can see "The Anonymous People"

The film is inspiring, entertaining and informative. If you haven't seen it yet, here are a few different ways to do so:

Mrs. Ford was one of recovery's greatest advocates, and this movie is all about the spirit
of what she did--to have the strength, the intestinal fortitude and the willingness to stand up and speak out.

--William Moyers

The Voice, Fall 2014

Saving updates...