The Anonymous People is a move is by Greg Williams that examines the history of addiction and recovery in the USA. It particularly focuses on the culture of anonymity, secrecy and shame around the disease and how this impacts the health measures, or lack there of, for people suffering from addiction.
The film very smartly avoids justifying that addiction is a disease.
FACT: Addiction is a disease.
The evidence is overwhelming and if you are still not convinced I suggest you click here.
Addiction is not a moral failing or a choice, despite what some outspoken critics may try and assert.
The science is very conclusive.
Addiction, like diabetes, cancer or HIV is not an illness that ‘responds to ‘just say no.’ It is however a disease that can respond to treatment. But like many diseases left untreated, the results are pretty grim.
Instead the film makes the case for addiction coming out of the closet. Drawing parallels from the AIDS public health crisis of the 80’s, it highlights how the Gay community understood very quickly that silence = death. They had to mobilize and be public in order to educate and humanize the disease that was devastating their community. AIDS is not a ‘gay disease’ but it initially hit the gay community the hardest. Without a doubt this community advocacy led to a better understanding of the illness and led to improved health measures.
Unfortunately that is not the case with addiction.
It is still a disease with much stigma and shame attached to it. The key message of The Anonymous People is addiction suffers have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of. It further asserts that the culture of secrecy is now impeding suffers from getting help.
Before getting too far in, the film deftly deals with the elephant in the room: Alcoholics Anonymous.
Respectfully and accurately it traces back the enormous impact that AA has had on the disease of addiction and the perception of alcoholism in the public. Early pioneers in AA did an incredible job of educating the government and public about the disease. This subsequently led to improved health measures and the growth of the fellowship of AA, resulting in many people getting help to get sober.
If you have been around recovery circles at all, you may be aware that folks get a little bit uncomfortable when the subjects of Alcoholics Anonymous, anonymity and publicity come up. All 12-step programs have a tradition of anonymity, it’s the 11th tradition and it reads like this:
“Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and film.”
Tradition 11 of the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
This is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts of the 12-step community. What it means is this; if you are a member of AA or any 12-step fellowship please do not publically announce (in the medium of press, radio and film) that you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, or any 12 step fellowship.
The 11th tradition does not imply however, that you cannot publically state you are a former alcoholic, recovered alcoholic, ex- addict, person in recovery or however you choose to identify yourself.
Do you see the difference?
The 11th tradition requests that you don’t state publically how you got sober (if indeed you did get sober through the AA 12-step program), it does not imply however, that you can’t say publically that you are sober.
This movie clears up this misunderstanding really well.
Shame and fear have kept people silent, kept them in the shadows, which is why public health policies are so badly failing to serve this horrendous disease.
The movie highlights how advocacy is the answer, but in order to lobby and advocate for more and better treatment, addicts and alcoholics are going to need to be public.
There is a lot of work to be done in just undoing some of the faulty and ineffective measures that still impact how addiction is seen today.
The 1980’s well meaning, but laughable policy of ‘just say no’ had the effect of ensuring that we meet the challenge of addiction by just locking people up.
‘Just say no’, implies there is a choice, and if you are using illegal drugs then you’re choosing to break the law and should suffer the consequences.
Hence the explosion in the prison population since the 1980’s, as the USA has tried to imprison the problem rather than treating it.
(As an aside, I would really like to see the figures on who is profiting from building all these prisons to keep all these addicts in, but that is probably a completely different movie).
The second half of the movie focuses positively on the shift in perception that is happening with the emergence of a visible recovery movement.
This is the part of the movie that I really want everyone to see.
It consciously chooses to show individuals in long-term recovery, living happy, positive and productive lives. As speakers in the movie state when a public figure implodes due to addiction it’s in all the headlines. However you don’t hear about someone who is 10 years sober and doing very well. That’s just not sexy.
The Anonymous People successfully moves away from rock bottom stories and instead focuses on what recovery really looks like.
The message of this movie is that addicts look like us; you and me, and with access to the right kind of help, many people can recover. That recovery is a glorious thing to behold and we should celebrate that recovery form addiction is possible.
It makes a very pertinent point that if more people could see what recovery looks like, then they would support the public health polices that are desperately needed.
I would urge anyone in recovery or interested in the subject of addiction to see this film. Its message is as important as the message that Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous took to Dr. Bob Smith all those years ago.