DANBURY — The Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism (MCCA) will honor Greg Williams and the Non-Profit Development Corporation of Danbury at its annual awards dinner, Thursday, March 20, at the Matrix Conference Center.
Mr Williams, a Newtown native currently living in Danbury, will be honored as Man of the Year for his work in producing The Anonymous People, an 84-minute, independent feature documentary about the 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery.
“I’m very humbled and flattered that somebody wants to recognize my work,” said Mr Williams. “The MCCA has been an incredible agency in supporting people in recovery, and supported the showing of the film at the Palace in Danbury, this past June. It shocked me, to hear I was getting this award,” he said.
The making of The Anonymous People was not about getting an award, though, said Mr Williams, and being the recipient of the Man of the Year Award leaves him conflicted.
“This is not about Greg Williams. It’s about the men and women of the decade, who are people who will forever affect change,” he stressed.
The Anonymous People is about recovery advocacy and removing the stigma surrounding addiction, two motivating forces in Mr Williams’ personal life.
“I grew up here in Newtown, and graduated — by the skin of my teeth —from Newtown High School in June of 2001. I was heavily addicted by the time I was 16,” Mr Williams said. “I was in The Newtown Bee often, but not in a good way — and I nearly lost my life several times through the actions I was taking,” he said.
His addictions began with alcohol and marijuana use while in middle school, and escalated until he was taking “everything under the sun.” It was just two weeks after high school graduation when his recovery began.
“I was in a car accident on Hanover Road. My parents got that phone call in the middle of the night that all parents dread. The police had found my wrecked car and said there was blood in it, but they didn’t know where I was,” Mr Williams said. Eventually, the police found the badly injured young man and he woke up in the emergency room of Danbury Hospital.
His parents entered him into an outpatient program in Danbury that turned Mr Williams in the direction of finally learning about his illness. Ultimately, he went to a rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania, followed by at 90-day halfway house, where the foundation for his recovery was set.
“It reconnected me to the person I wanted to be. I lost myself during that addiction, and my family lost me,” he said.
One aspect of the person he wanted to be was the young man who had been involved in the media production classes at Newtown High School. “I’ve always been interested in communications,” Mr Williams said, and considers himself now to be “a creative activist. I’m involved in social activism and filmmaking,” he said.
His activism focuses on public speaking, where he shares his story of recovery, and other means of promoting solutions to the public epidemic of addiction. He pursues changes to a culture that continues to instill shame in those people who are addicts and that fails to recognize that addiction is an illness deserving the same health care and compassion given to those suffering from diabetes or cancer.
There is a great deal of stigma and discrimination toward addicts, Mr Williams said. “Just the term ‘addict’ is negative. The words ‘junkie,’ ‘tweeker,’ ‘pothead,’ or ‘lush’ are all negative words that contribute to the ongoing demoralization of alcoholics and drug addicts, he said. The preferred term is “a person in recovery,” he said.
The Anonymous People focuses on people in recovery, of whom there are as many as there are active addicts — nearly 23 million — Mr Williams said. Many in recovery fear discrimination, though, so their voices are never heard.
In the film, community leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, public figures, citizens, and celebrities open up “to save the lives of others just like themselves.” said Mr Williams.
He did a number of short, autobiographical films before making The Anonymous People. “I realized how impactful it is when someone with a human face tells you what recovery has given back to them and back to the public. Behavior of addiction makes news. It is fascinating and sensational, but recovery,” he said, “is also sensational.
“I met these people who are doing incredible advocacy work. They are overcoming personal shame to move the story away from the idea that people with addiction are bad people.”
Throughout the filming of people in long-term recovery and of the experts in the addiction field, Mr Williams came to realize that anonymity had an upside and a downside.
“Anonymity has endured as one of the hallmark tenants of Alcoholics Anonymous. Without it, many suffering alcoholics may never have attended their first meeting. As important as anonymity has been to the growth of recovery, it has often been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused by those in recovery, and those on the outside looking in,” he narrates in the film. Anonymity has been blurred with secrecy, he said, and that is the message he wants to convey.
The film is not that those in recovery should speak out, but that they can speak out. Speaking out does not go against the anonymity granted to people involved in recovery fellowships, he said.
“Expose in the light your secrets, and they will die,” says a man in recovery in an opening scene of the movie.
Secrecy, silence, and shame prevent many in recovery from sharing their successful stories, even though addiction has been recognized for decades as an illness, not a moral failing. But without advocacy from those in long-term recovery, changing public policy to provide solutions to the problem and improved health care, rather than jail time, for addicts is difficult, Mr Williams said.
“This film is about the people I met who have courageously stepped forward, to speak and to help change happen in attitude. These people,” he said, “are game changers.”
The Anonymous People will have its premiere March 14-20 in Manhattan at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street. Tickets can be purchased at tinyrul.com/AnonymousPeopleNYC. To purchase the DVD or to find out how to host a local screening, visit manyfaces1voice.org. Click here to watch the trailer for The Anonymous People.
The Non-Profit Development Corporation of Danbury will also be honored at the March 20 dinner. Guest speaker for the evening will be Judy A., a noted Al-Anon speaker. Judy will be talking about the far-reaching and lasting impact that addiction has on family members.
The reception begins at 6 pm, with traditional Irish music provided by Trad. Tickets for the MCCA Awards Dinner can be purchased online at MCCAOnline.com or by calling 203-792-4515, extension 1102, or e-mailing HOchs@mccaonline.com.