One of our No More Secrets men saw a trailer about a new documentary movie that was soon to be released that he thought might interest me, it was titled ANONYMOUS PEOPLE.  Naturally the title caught my attention so I started to investigate. What I found was a wonderful and thought provoking premise and beautifully executed film. The film was tentatively scheduled to be shown on March 17 at the Meridian Theater in downtown Seattle. I say tentatively because enough tickets had to be purchased in advanced to guarantee operational costs. The website said that in order for the movie to be shown 82 tickets had to be pre-paid nine days in advance of the scheduled showing. With just two days left before the showing would be scrapped, the number was only at 40. NMS put out the word and we helped get it done. It was great going to the movies and seeing all of us there.

The ANONYMOUS PEOPLE movie is a feature documentary film about the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Deeply entrenched social stigma and discrimination have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades. The vacuum created by this silence has been filled by sensational mass media depictions of people in active addiction that continue to perpetuate a lurid public fascination with the dysfunctional side of what is a preventable and treatable health condition. Just like women with breast cancer, or people with HIV/AIDS, courageous addiction recovery advocates are starting to come out of the shadows to tell their true stories. This movie is much like How to Survive a Plague, a 2012 American documentary film about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It was directed by David France, a journalist who covered AIDS from its beginnings.  Beginning at the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, that documentary follows a group of AIDS activists and founders of AIDS group ACT UP, and follows their struggle for response from the United States government and medical establishment in developing effective HIV/AIDS medications. Their watch word was silence = death.

The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of the leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement is fueling a changing conversation that aims to transform public opinion, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting recovery solutions. Several celebrity types broke their anonymity to be in the movie yet in reality their alcohol and drug use because of their star status had made their stories public knowledge long before this movie.

Kristen Johnston who played “Sally Solomon” on the hit television series, 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996), for which she won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series was a central character in this documentary. In her autobiography, Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, Johnston discusses an addiction to alcohol and pills that began when she was in high school. She stated in the 2012 book that she had been sober for five years. Through her charity SLAM, NYC (Sobriety, Learning and Motivation), she mentors high school girls from New York City with addiction and self-esteem issues and has been crusading for the city to build a recovery high school.

Chris Herren was a potential all-star basketball player who entered the NBA Draft in 1999 and was selected by the Denver Nuggets in the 2nd round with the 33rd overall pick. He played in only 70 games from 1999-2001 as a member of the Nuggets and Boston Celtics. He averaged 3.2 points per game and 2.4 assists per game for his NBA career. After being released by the Celtics, Herren went on to play professionally for teams overseas.  His professional career blew up several times because of his drug and alcohol use. After completing several intensive rehabilitation programs, Herren has been alcohol and drug-free since August 1, 2008. In June 2009, Herren launched Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren, a basketball player development company to mentor players on and off the court.  Herren has written a book with Providence Journal columnist Bill Reynolds entitled Basketball Junkie: A Memoir, documenting his career on and off the court. Basketball Junkie was released in May 2011. In 2011, ESPN aired a documentary, Unguarded, directed by Jonathan Hock, based upon Herren’s basketball career and drug related issues. On March 20, 2012 it was announced that Unguarded had been nominated for two Emmys: Outstanding Sports Documentary and Outstanding Editing.  Herren now goes around the United States sharing his stories about his drug abuse and how he overcame it.

Patrick Joseph Kennedy II is an American politician and former U.S. Representative for Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district, serving from 1995 until 2011. He is the younger son of the longtime Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy has been a vocal advocate for health care reform. During his career, he joined with Republican U.S. Senator Pete Domenici from New Mexico in introducing legislation that places mental illness under the umbrella of health insurance. Kennedy had acknowledged being treated for cocaine use during his teenage years, and admitted that he abused drugs and alcohol while he was a student at Providence College but his addiction did not stop there.

On May 5, 2006, after a car crash Kennedy admitted that he had an addiction to prescription medication and announced he would be re-admitting himself to a drug-rehabilitation.  He had stated that he has no recollection of the car crash. He was sentenced to one-year probation and a fine of $350. Two of the three charges (reckless driving and failure to exhibit a driving permit) were dismissed. He was also ordered to attend a rehabilitation program that includes weekly urine tests, twice-weekly meetings with a probation officer, near-daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and a weekly meeting of recovering addicts. After nearly three years in recovery he relapsed again. On Friday, June 12, 2009, Kennedy again announced that he has “checked into a medical facility for treatment.” In a statement to the press, Kennedy said that his recovery is a “lifelong process” and that he will do whatever it takes to preserve his health. “I have decided to temporarily step away from my normal routine to ensure that I am being as vigilant as possible in my recovery.” He is no longer a politician.

William Cope Moyers is the son of journalist Bill Moyers. He’s written a new memoir about his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine and his recovery. He’s been sober for twelve years and is the vice president for external affairs at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota. His new memoir is Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption.

Another running theme in the movie is the debate about the “Anonymous” tenet that runs deep throughout the history and literature of AA. I was surprised to learn that AA’s co-founder Bill Wilson testified before a special congressional subcommittee hearing on July 23-25, 1969 in Washington DC. The committee was named “The Impact of Alcoholism in America” and was the brain child of and chaired by Iowa Senator Harold Hughes who himself was an acknowledged recovering alcoholic and a known member of AA. Before the committee started Senator Hughes asked that no photos of Bill be taken but audio was acceptable. During the proceeding he was addressed as Bill W. He was clear in his testimony that he was there as a recovering person and not as a spokesperson for AA.

The most interesting piece I found was about the re-branding of recovering alcoholics’ and drug addicts’ self-identification process. All the recovering people in the movie would introduce themselves in a new and unique manner designed to put space between someone in active addiction who historically lie, deceive and manipulate and someone in recovery who lives by a code of love and tolerance. The new language went like this:  Hi my name is _______ and I am a person in long term recovery from drugs and alcohol and I’ve been in recovery since ________. When I step back and think about it I think the new language is a brilliant maneuver to reshape public perception and remove societal shame. I find the entire concept refreshing.

So for me I give it two thumbs up, if for no other reason than it is very thought provoking. Now I can only wait and see how long it takes for someone to make a documentary about people in long term recovery from Sex and Love Addiction. Well I can dream, can’t I?

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