Never one to shy away from uncomfortable subjects, I was happy to attend the viewing of the documentary The Anonymous People at the Gunter Theatre this past Friday. I arrived an hour early to the event. Not long after, I noticed the hum of the crowd in the lobby growing louder and louder.   Before I knew it the theatre was filled to capacity. There were over 400 attendees from all ages and all walks of life, many in long-term recovery, about to consume a film that might change the course of their lives.

The public viewing of the film was sponsored by Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) Greenville. I learned that FAVOR Greenville belongs to the national FAVOR issue advocacy organization that has opened FAVOR centers across the country. The work behind FAVOR can be divided into two parts—providing education and support services for individuals in long-term recovery from substance abuse disorders, and recovery advocacy. The latter is meant to amplify members’ voices and shape public opinion on a condition that has traditionally been silenced by anonymity and social stigma.

Upon arriving it was also great to see the FAVOR staff at work, welcoming and engaging everyone as well as signing up attendees for FAVOR Greenville services.  What’s more, to witness the courage that many attendees exhibited by coming out openly to this event reaffirmed my belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they set their mind to it. One example is the filmmaker himself.  At just 29 years old, Greg Williams is educating cities across the country on the addiction recovery movement through his documentary.

The film walked viewers through the history of the recovery movement—all the way from the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939 to the meetings in church basements and the other various programs of today rooted in AA. Through a series of interviews with former addiction sufferers, television clips of celebrities coming forward, and footage of decades-long public addiction recovery campaigns, Greg Williams drives the message that addiction and substance abuse disorders are a chronic disease that must be treated as such, and not criminalized or depicted as a moral failure. One of the most poignant interviews was that of actress Kristen Johnston’s. The former 3rd Rock From the Sun actress revealed her long-term battle with addiction to painkillers and alcohol which caused her a host of health issues. The issue of health implications became front and center as many of those interviewed expressed the need for those in addiction recovery to receive more support from the health community, such as ongoing yearly check-ups and funding for doctor visits. The documentary also brought to forefront the draconian laws of the 1980s that handed out severe sentences for drug-related offenses.   Footage of Williams’ visits to several prisons where inmates received recovery counseling were followed by a staggering statistic — 80% of those making up today’s prison population have been tied to substance abuse. This spawned a conversation about increased funding for prevention and recovery services.

FAVOR encourages individuals in long-term recovery from substance abuse disorders to step out of the shadows and seek the help they need without shame. The Anonymous People showed that with education, recovery programs, and recovery advocacy on the national scale, these people will remain anonymous no more.