‘Recovery Advocacy and the Making of The Anonymous People: An Interview with Greg Williams’ by William L White

UnknownGreg Williams’ film The Anonymous People has contributed enormously to the new recovery advocacy movement in the US. How did it all begin? Here, Greg is interviewed by Bill White. Below, is just a small part of that interview – it is part of Greg’s Story. 

Since the rise of a new addiction recovery advocacy movement in the late 1990s, culturally and politically mobilized people in recovery have found numerous vehicles through which that advocacy is being expressed.

A few years ago, I was contacted by Greg Williams, who shared his vision of capturing on film the spirit of the new recovery advocacy movement being manifested in communities across the country. It was one of the great honors of my life to play a small part in making Greg’s vision a reality.

Today, the film The Anonymous People is being screened in theatres and community settings across the U.S. and in other countries. On November 6, 2013, I had the opportunity to interview Greg about his life and this film. Please join us in this engaging conversation.

Early Recovery Advocacy
Bill White: Greg, let me just start by asking you to describe your personal journey from a person in recovery to a recovery advocate.

Greg Williams: Sure. I got into recovery when I was 17 years old. I was heavily addicted in my adolescence and, following a near-death car accident, entered an addiction treatment program in July of 2001. It was there that I was introduced to the idea of long-term recovery.

Following that treatment, I spent 90 days in a recovery house where I met a lot of people in long-term recovery and got involved in twelve-step fellowships and other peer recovery support activities.

Once I got back home, I got pretty active in my community in Connecticut. I worked with young people in recovery and tried to do a lot of recovery-related service work. That continued for me while I was in college and working regular jobs.

It was through that experience that I ran into a lot of system-level barriers trying to help others get into recovery. I had friends who didn’t have the opportunities I had to get treatment because of health insurance discrimination. I had friends who couldn’t find recovery housing. I had friends who I wrote letters to in jail who were getting even sicker behind bars, and then there were the friends who died of addiction. I attended a lot of wakes in my first five or six years of recovery.

As all of that is happening, my life is getting a lot, lot better, and I’m seeing thousands of other young people at conferences whose lives are also getting better and we often talked about the disconnect between the thousands of young people supporting each other in recovery and the system barriers we and our families had experienced on our way to recovery.

It was then that I began to get angry with how we as a country deal with addiction.

During that time, I met a special woman who became my mentor, Donna Aligata. Donna was very active in the formation of Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) and was working on a grant project through The Department of Children and Families about family advocacy, and we ultimately decided to build a non-profit organization called Connecticut Turning to Youth and Families (CTYF).

I did many short videos of young people in recovery for it and to get started, she introduced me to your work, and she introduced me to Faces and Voices of Recovery. She then asked me to speak at the Connecticut Legislative Building. I went there with my father and we told our recovery story to legislators in this very public venue.

A Hartford Current reporter, the big newspaper up there, cames over to me and asked, “Can I write an article about you?” I said, “Yeah, you just can’t use my last name.”

I was 23, and I was about six years in recovery and he looked at me confused and said, “You just testified in a public setting on the local cable access, but you can’t use your name in the article.” And I said, “Yeah, I’m not allowed to.” And he respected that and wrote a nice article about this young guy who got into recovery at 17. It was one of the nicest recovery articles that has ever been written about me.  The first line of the article refers to me as Greg W., and then it goes on to tell my recovery story.

Donna called me when the article came out, and said, “If I didn’t understand anything about addiction or recovery or anonymity, what do I read in that first sentence of this article?” And I said, “I guess that I’m ashamed” and then she said, “Is that why you’re speaking out?” and I said, “No, of course not.” My friends in recovery understood why I didn’t use my last name, but that was not the reason in the eyes of the public.

After that, I ended up at one of the Recovery Message Trainings held by Faces and Voices of Recovery, and it was there that I really understood the distinction between 12-Step Anonymity and being public about my recovery status. That unlocked the key and gave me a whole new language for me to become comfortable as a public advocate and helped me understand why putting a face and a voice on recovery is so important.’