'The Anonymous People' screening will shed new light on addiction

According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national survey, 23.5 million Americans needed treatment for drug or alcohol addiction in 2011.

However, the survey showed that only 11.2% of those in need received it.

In 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence founded Alcohol Awareness Month, which takes place every April.

To help educate people about alcoholism and to raise awareness of and reduce the stigma surrounding alcoholism and addiction in general, there will be a 7 p.m. screening of The Anonymous People at Wilton High School’s Little Theater on Wednesday, April 23. It will be accompanied by a prevention, treatment and recovery services fair before the film and a Q&A session afterward.

The film tells the stories of real people in long-term recovery and shows what life is like for them without drugs or alcohol.

“This is not your tired old addiction rehab story splashed across reality TV or tabloid magazines, said 29-year-old Greg Williams, the film’s producer and a Connecticut native.

“There are no needles hanging out of people’s arms, pictures of the brain or fried eggs in a pan.”

Mr. Williams has been in long-term recovery himself for 12 years, and said it was important for him to make sure the film maintained its authenticity.

“The story of addiction is often told in the headlines about the 23 million who are still sick in our country, but we don’t really tell the stories of the 23 million who have gotten well,” said Mr. Williams.

The anonymity and shame and secrecy that accompany addiction, Mr. Williams said, makes it “deeply challenging to uncover the powerful stories of recovery and redemption.”

“I’ve been in long-term recovery since I was 17. My addiction started at age 12 and progressed quickly,” said Mr. Williams.

“Before I got into recovery, I started with alcohol and marijuana, then I got into prescription drugs. By age 15 or 16, I was fully addicted to opiates and other pharmaceutical drugs.”

Mr. Williams said he nearly lost his life a number of times, but after a near-fatal car accident in July 2001 that left him in the hospital, he began re-evaluating his life.

“I was in Silver Hill Hospital for a week as an adolescent and I was lucky enough to get into recovery,” he said. “My family really pushed me to go into a longer treatment program and then a halfway house program.”

Mr. Williams said he didn’t go into Silver Hill wanting to get into recovery but it “just kind of happened.”

“After I was a few days removed from my active drug use, I started to look at my life and where my life was going,” he said. “I was a good kid. I played sports and used to get good grades, and within a year or two, I was lucky to be alive. My life was going nowhere fast.”

From ages 17 to 22, Mr. Williams said, he became active with young people in recovery, but it wasn’t easy.

“We struggled helping young people get into recovery because their insurance cards didn’t work or they were getting sentenced to jail and getting sicker in jail for nonviolent offenses, or there were no housing options, or it was too late,” he said. “During my first six years of recovery, I had to bury six friends from my community in Connecticut.”

In The Anonymous People, Mr. Williams said, he set out to answer one very fundamental question: Why do we treat addiction and people with addiction in this country so dramatically differently than people with any other health issue?

As a result of his recovery, Mr. Williams graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in media production.

After witnessing the shame society puts on families of addicts, Mr. Williams said, he became infuriated and decided to put his experience and degree to use.

“I got angry at the system; I got angry at the policies that we have. I started talking and I met the people that you meet in the film,” said Mr. Williams.

“The people in the film had put themselves out there publicly as in recovery because they believe that by sharing their stories, we can start to change some of the insurance and criminal justice discrimination surrounding addiction.”

Mr. Williams said he met people who he believes are on “the front end of what’s going to become the next massive social justice movement.

“The people who have the most power to do that are the people who have been impacted by the issues, their families and those who have lost kids to addiction,” he said.

Mr. Williams said society’s view and treatment of addiction and addicts has to do with a number of factors, including lack of understanding and pediatric health issues.

“These kids don’t choose to become addicts. It’s a total lack of compassion, empathy and understanding, unlike we have for children with obesity or diabetes or any other kind of health issues,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s frankly disgusting.”

Mr. Williams said this is a pediatric health issue in the United States, especially when 90% of all addictions start in adolescent years.

“It’s a pediatric health epidemic, and yet our system —especially in Connecticut — only funds real treatment and ongoing support for 18 and older,” said Mr. Williams. “We have an entirely different system that’s pretty much psychiatric without a focus on addiction in Connecticut — at least for adolescents.”

However, said Mr. Williams, there are currently bills in the legislature that can change how the insurance department regulates insurers and how they pay for treatment.

Mr. Williams said the real problem in Connecticut is paying for services.

“In Connecticut, you’re either a millionaire and can pay cash for high-quality treatment or you’re broke and can get state funding and qualify for Medicaid and get decent treatment,” he said.

“But for the 80% to 85% of us in the middle, we can’t get anything in Connecticut for adolescents and families. Addiction is a massive problem in our communities and the problem breeds and grows in silence and secrecy.”

Mr. Williams said he has seen a lot of young people interested in The Anonymous People.

“It’s exciting that 20-year-olds are getting very active culturally in social change and community change,” he said. “We have had incredible success in showing the film to all types of people — people in recovery, families who have been impacted, to just regular communities.”

Mr. Williams said he is thrilled to have the opportunity to show The Anonymous People around the country.

“As a Connecticut filmmaker, I’m very excited to show it in Connecticut again,” he said.

The April 23 screening at Wilton High School will be sponsored by:

  • Silver Hill Hospital.
  • Human Services Council’s Mid-Fairfield Substance Abuse Coalition.
  • Wilton Public Schools.
  • Wilton Social Services.
  • Wilton Youth Services.
  • Wilton Youth Council.

There will be a 6 p.m. prevention, treatment and recovery services fair before the film and a Q&A session with Mr. Williams and Silver Hill Hospital’s physician-in-chief, Eric D. Collins MD, at 8:30.

Wilton High School culinary arts students will provide hors d’oeuvres at the event.

Due to the graphic nature of the film, it is recommended for high school students and adults only.