Independent film shines light on addiction and recovery

Center for Prevention and Counseling celebrates National Recovery Month


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Addiction is everywhere.

More than 23 million Americans are living in long-term recovery, more than two-thirds of American families have been touched by addiction, 25 million Americans are affected by addiction but only 2.5 percent are treated, and that untreated addiction costs America more than $350 billion annually but only 2 percent is spent on recovery.

There are some of the gripping statistics provided in the film, "The Anonymous People." The Unity Church of Sussex County in Lafayette hosted a cinema night for this independent film which began as a project directed and produced by Greg Williams — a young man who faced addiction in his teenage years and is in long-term recovery.

An initial $100,000 investment grew as a fundraising drive on Kickstarter took hold in 2012 and raised additional pledges for different phases of production. The effort, as listed on Kickstarter hopes to "shift problematic policy toward lasting recovery solutions."

Through a collection of early recordings and recent interviews with the leading advocates, celebrities, and family members, it challenges the stigma of addiction. Williams, who narrates the film, describes the speakers as "courageous addiction recovery advocates."

Annmarie Shafer, a Prevention Specialist at the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton discovered the documentary as the news of the fundraisers spread through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Working in conjunction with Rev. Janice Billera at Unity Church, Shafer was able to bring the film to Sussex County to celebrate National Recovery Month.

Over 90 people from different parts of Sussex County attended the screening, one of the biggest attendances for the church. Though impossible to distinguish, the audience was a combination of those in recovery, those who know someone in recovery and those who were simply interested in learning more.

Having a profound reverence for the 12-Step recovery meetings and 12-Step recovering people, Schafer said she was concerned about the message 'The Anonymous People' would portray on the 12-Step model.

"It was immediately apparent, however, after seeing the film and hearing the collective response from the audience that, in no way, does this film do anything but help to demystify, unshroud and serve to pilot 12-Step recovery information into 21st century society," Shafer said. "Listening to all of the positive conversations that lingered well after the end of the film among most attendees, I believe, was a clear indication of the demand for such media to continue to evoke and inspire many more of these important discussions."

The movie takes the audience through a time line of history showing the progression from societies initial recognition that addiction was an issue, through the legislative action and laws designed for a public health response, to the beginning and current social movements that bring awareness and advocacy.

Notable public figures in the film include Senator Harold Hughes, Tom Coderre, Chief of Staff to Senate President in R.I., Lobbyist Carol McDaid, Congressman Jim Ramstad and John Shinholser, the Executive Director of the McShin Foundation, all have dedicated themselves to fight for new laws, increased insurance coverage and a greater understanding and acceptance of addiction and the recovery process.

Two celebrities featured are Former Miss America Tara Conner and actress Kristen Johnston, author of a book titled "Guts" tells her tale of addiction to pills and alcohol. Other entertainers that have gone public with their struggles and their celebration of sobriety include Mercedes McCambridge, an award winning actress who appeared in front of Congress in 1969 to have alcoholism recognized as a disease rather than a crime, along with Dick Van Dyke and astronaut Buzz Aldren in 1976.

There were two women currently in recovery in the audience that agreed to share their personal experience. They represent the age range and variety of substances used.

The addictions Kris, age 54, faced included a plethora of substances including alcohol and cocaine. She celebrates 29 years of sobriety and now works at a recovery center that sees 4,500 people walk through the doors every year. She is able to share her real life experiences in order to help others achieve a successful recovery in a peer driven, self sustainable environment.

"When people meet me, I am not what they think an addict is," said Kris. "Recovery is discipline. Going to meetings, calling people, getting out of bed and facing the day, having a sponsor to help learn the steps."

A major factor in her determination to continue her recovery as well as advocating for others, is her 32 year old daughter who is currently serving a four year prison sentence for repeated run-ins with the law stemming from her use of heroin. Her daughter has shared with her that at 15 years old, she was able to buy heroin on her school bus.

Anyone seeking help for addiction or more information on National Recovery Month can visit www.samhsa.gov or The Center for Prevention and Counseling at info@centerforprevention.org. The center also encourages anyone wishing to share their thoughts on the movie to e-mail, post on the organizations Facebook or Twitter accounts, or write a letter to CFPC at 61 Spring Street, Newton, NJ, 07860.

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