I recently had the chance to see the film The Anonymous People while attending the REEL Recovery Festival, a film festival dedicated to showcasing filmmakers who make honest films about addiction, alcoholism, behavioral disorders, treatment and recovery. I was excited since the movie was released in 2013 and I hadn’t yet had the chance to see it and I had received many recommendations from friends about it. It was a fantastic film that really shed light upon four salient points that really hit home for me, so I thought I’d write an article encompassing these great points.
#1 – The disease of addiction has been relegated to second-class disease status –
Many people still think of addiction as a lack of moral integrity, despite having been classified as a medical disease since the 1950’s. Take an example of another medical disease – like Type 2 Diabetes, a disease primarily influenced by diet and lifestyle choices – and imagine it being treated the way addiction is being treated today. Can you imagine if 22 million people suffering from Type 2 Diabetes were refused medical treatment each year? How many people would die from the complications associated with diabetes – heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke just to name a few – if diabetics were refused medical treatment (1)? People would be up in arms! And yet, that is EXACTLY what is happening to those who suffer from addiction, except the disease associated complications shift to increased deaths from liver failure, suicide, overdose, and domestic violence, in addition to diseases associated with high-risk lifestyles like HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis C (2). How can we prioritize the treatment of one disease over the other, when the predicted outcome of those with untreated addiction are just as bad as those with untreated Type 2 Diabetes, if not drastically worse. We urgently need people from all walks of life to advocate for better evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment.
Kendall and I started Evolved Recovery because we so desperately wanted to help all those suffering from addictions! After realizing that despite addiction being a medical disease, it has a gaping hole in terms of support like the advocacy groups and lobbyists that other diseases have, such as AIDs, breast cancer, and diabetes. This REALLY struck a chord with me. Just think of all the money that has gone to AIDS and cancer research because their advocacy groups were loud and proud. Who says addiction advocates can’t do the same? We need to get LOUD and PROUD and advocate for our disease!
#2 – The disease of addiction does not discriminate –
Piggy backing off the first point – I enjoyed all the stories that were told in the movie and they showed that addiction is an equal opportunity disease – from teenagers, to TV stars, to politicians, to regular people just like me. The powerful messages of recovery in the movie without a doubt inspired me to no end.
#3 – Recovery messaging is important
One topic that really got the wheels turning in my head was the idea of recovery messaging – meaning the way we convey our recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to the public (3). I’m so used to just saying I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict, but this movie inspired me to think a little differently about this moving forward. It shifted my mentality to instead say “My name is Susan and I’m a woman in long-term recovery,” which conveys the idea that long-term recovery is possible! It takes a seemingly negative connotation and spins it into a statement of endless possibility. I absolutely love it!
#4 – Anonymity is an important issue –
Despite all of the great points the movie made, I think the movie missed the mark on the topic of anonymity a bit. Numerous times, the individuals interviewed in the film would vehemently comment that, “I won’t hide in a church basement any longer!” I took this to mean that they felt like they were figuratively forced into hiding at 12-step meetings, since many are held in churches all over the world, per the 12-step tradition of anonymity. I’m a member of a 12-step organization and I’ve never felt like I had to hide, ever. I think this topic is so important for a variety of reasons, including defining what anonymity really means, that I plan on addressing it in a separate article in the future.
I highly recommend that anyone in recovery, no matter your method of recovery – be it a 12-step organization, SMART recovery, or even a local church group – should watch this movie. It is as truly inspiring as it is informative. Little did I know how much I would learn and take away from this film when I sat down to watch it. We need not hide from the public, instead we should all band together to fight the insidious disease of addiction. We are not second class citizens nor should our disease be treated that way. Let’s get LOUD and PROUD together!