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The Anonymous People: Documentary Review

In my last post Stand Up for Recovery I wrote about this new movement called Many Faces 1 Voice. On March 1st, 2014, the Hazelden, a founding partner of the ManyFaces1Voice campaign, hosted a free online stream of The Anonymous People film a feature documentary film about the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.” – Click Here To Learn More About The Film


I found this documentary amazingly inspiring and extremely moving; I was in tears several times! I have dealt with the stigmas associated with alcoholism and recovery myself and it is just overwhelming. I loved what Kristen Johnston said about being consistently encouraged to be silent about her recovery, and that she finally decided that she was damn well going to tell anyone she wanted to! I also love that in the begin of the movie the narrator explains how the words we use to describe ourselves can also be viewed in a negative way. He explained that using the terms addict or alcoholic along with the word recovery, still has a damaging connotation and they prefer to refer to themselves as a person in recovery!

The movie was packed with history, starting around 1935 when Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob founded the most predominant 12-step program, the Alcoholics Anonymous. It was started on the basic idea of one person affected helping another one to solve their common problem with alcohol. Today there are some 300+ 12 step programs that are based on this very basic principle! I also admired the movie’s director who had included this disclaimer about the 12-Step anonymity tradition, stating, “The project team has deep respect and admiration for the long-standing, beautiful tradition of anonymity at the level of film.”

~ from The Anonymous People

~ from The Anonymous People

There was also a huge amount of political history in the documentary. I was reminded of the 80’s decade (during which I was a teenager), and the “Just say No!” and the “Zero Tolerance” campaigns that ended up being the most costly, anti-drug crusades ever in the United States. The government spent millions and millions of dollars by jailing all drug related offenders, and never focused on any recovery for the estimated 80% of those offenders who were addicts.

I was also amazed to learn about how little the laws concerning recovery related policies had changes over the years. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defined alcoholism as a disease, but it was not until 2008 that Recovery from Addiction was added to the Anti-Discrimination Laws governing the healthcare industry, without which insurance companies did not have to cover any addiction recovery treatments.

I also learned about the laws in this country that protect us, as people in recovery and are pertaining to discrimination as related to Employment, Housing, Government services, Health care, and Education. You can find this information on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or by downloading the Know your Rights brochure HERE.

There was a moving story about a woman who was a recovering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)* and a breast cancer survivor. She talked about how little support she got, some 20 years ago when she started her journey of recovery, and how abundant the help was when she was recovering from breast cancer. She talked about the numerous races and events that are held around the country to support breast cancer research and support programs, and how there are none of these type of events for improving recovery from addictions. She said that if we had that kind of support for those suffering from addictions, the recovery numbers would be much higher than the estimated 3-8%. Her message was very powerful, and it touched me the most because my step mom (who I consider my mom) died from breast cancer, and I was struggling with my disease. I learned a lot from my mom’s journey and I would never dare to compare mine to hers, but I was able to see the connection that this woman had made as a very potent message.

People do not carry the same shame when they are fighting other diseases, but we have such a stigma when it comes to the fight against addiction, no one seems to dare to step out and march and protest and demand change!


The film then focused on the courageous battle that the gay community fought during the 90’s AIDS epidemic. They didn’t care about the stigma, they were tired of losing their loved ones. They came together and they marched, and they shouted, and they lobbied and because of that, laws were changed, healthcare had changed, and there have now been many medical advances in the AIDS research. Very powerful!

There was also a piece on the treatment programs in several jails, and a recovery based high schools as well as a few recovery colleges, which is quite amazing to hear about because I have never known that anything like that existed.

The documentary concluded with the fact that there is lot more work to be done! Most importantly we all need to speak up and be proud of recovery, and help break the stigma! Addiction affects 2/3 families in this country, yet it is still the dirty little secret! The stigmas need to be broken and addiction needs to be treated like any other disease. It is time for us in recovery to speak up and speak out! We can change this!


Disclaimer: I hope, I got the dates and references correct, some I knew about, some I got just from memory after watching the movie. I apologize if any are not quite correct.

I read the comments under the Oscars Obituary page last night, a woman said that people should stop talking about Phillip Seymour Hoffman because he was a junkie and our kids do not need to see drugs glamorized. I wanted to scream! The man is dead, I am not sure how that glamorizes drugs!

We so need to change this public perception of addiction and recovery! We can do this by sharing our recovery stories with others, by letting them know that they are not alone, and they do not need to be ashamed!

If you are interested in joining the movement on any scale at all, please visit

Stand Up For Recovery!

Visit the Faces & Voices of Recovery website.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles. You may also find some great inspiration, support and resources at the bottom of this page.

Connect with Sober Courage on Facebook and on Twitter!

*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. (Ref:



  1. I was as inspired as you were by the film. It was amazing. I went on the website to see if there was a recovery center near me that I could volunteer at. I live in Tennessee, the Netherlands capital of the country. There is not one single recovery center listed for this state. Terrible. It has me thinking, that is for sure.
    Great documentary.


    • Wow, that is terrible! Maybe there are other places, like county ran rehabs or adult detention centers. Keep looking! There has to be some right? It’s great to hear that you got inspired too! I have been a part of a group which brings meetings to our county rehab, it is an amazing experience. We really try to focus on bringing lots of hope to the residence and letting them know that life in recovery is attainable!


  2. I felt so proud of who I am. I have never been into being anonymous, and this film made me feel even more proud of being in recovery. Two of the things that make AA not fit for me are the anonymity and saying “I am an alcoholic.” I was an alcoholic, now I am sober. I accept that I am an alcoholic, but that word doesn’t describe me anymore. I can’t wait to see where we are in five years! It takes us looking the world in the eye without shame to loosen the stigma of addiction.


    • “It takes us looking the world in the eye without shame to loosen the stigma of addiction.” – I love this! So very true. I grew up with the shame and lived with it most of my life. It wasn’t till the last few years when I realized that I was living a double life, hiding my recovery and pretending along with the rest of the world. I was very adamant that my recovery world would never meet my other world, but eventually it started driving me crazy! I have really moved forward in the last year, sometimes i just open my mouth and say it right out! I have to admin it feels but scary still, but the more I do it the more powerful it feels. There is no shame in recovery! And you never know when, what you say may start a conversation towards someone’s recovery. Thank you so much Amy!


  3. I cried a lot during the movie also. I ordered Kristen Johnston’s book “Guts” and it should arrive tomorrow. I have been frustrated lately because the few people I try to talk to about my problem in real life change the subject. I am so worried about it ruining my career but after the film, I am starting to wonder if I could use this to benefit my career. Maybe I will switch paths and start to help people in recovery. Today I read an article about pregnant women with addiction and how they do not feel any positive help for their problems. Maybe I can become their help.


    • It’s quite astounding isn’t it? People just don’t know what to say, they change the subject, they look at you funny. Yep, been there. And I think that it is so awesome that the movie has inspired you to do something to help! I am thinking of ways too. I know the office of the Faces & Voices of Recovery is right here in the Washington, DC area, I might have to just top by 🙂 I really do think that the most important is just being open and sharing our stories because that will help people that need recovery, to go and seek recovery. If I was not court ordered to rehab and meetings, I don’t think I would really know where to begin! Please let me know how the book is, I was thinking of ordering it too but I have 2 books waiting for me to read right now 🙂

      Thank you for this very inspiring comment! HUGS.


  4. I watched the film and it’s really stuck with me. I’m thinking about the stigma I attach to my own recovery because I’m afraid to reveal my self to others. But, I think about the Aids movement and how the perception changed so completely by “regular” people coming out to tell their stories and I do believe that is how the stigmas erode. We have to see the faces of people like our brothers, sisters and mothers. Regular people like me.
    Thanks so much for making me aware of that film.


    • Hi Fern, you are so right. I had the stigma myself. I was ashamed and hiding. But now I see that it affects all kind of people and it’s not a moral disease, in fact it has nothing to do with morals. I love what the one woman said, something like, when I was a kid playing in the sandbox, I though of being a doctor, a scientist, (and so on), then she says, alcoholic was not on that list. – that was great! Thanks Fern, I am glad you got to see it. Hugs.


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