It’s considered a taboo subject, an effective way to squelch a conversation, a powerful reason to look the other way.
But addiction and alcholism affect millions of people in the United States. As many as 23 million are in long-term recovery, while nearly that many still suffer, according to UNITE to Face Addiction, a group working to publicize and solve the crisis.
Director Greg Williams, of Connecticut, has been traveling the nation screening his film, “The Anonymous People,” to raise awareness and rally advocates for a demonstration in Washington on Oct. 4, intended to put a face on the millions of Americans who have recovered from addiction.
Hundreds of organizations are expected to take part in the rally, dubbed “The Day the Silence Ends.”
The documentary features ordinary people, along with celebrities, discussing their recovery from addiction, including Miss USA Tara Conner, former NBA star Chris Herren and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
It will be shown at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Sinai, 6227 St. Charles Ave., and Williams will answer questions afterward. The event is free.
“Why do we treat this issue differently from other health issues? Because the afflicted and affected have no voice,” said Williams.
“If you think about breast cancer in the 1960s, or HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, and the stigma and shame associated with those issues, it wasn’t until the impacted started telling their stories that those people were being treated with humanity” and society began to tackle solutions.
“I’m in recovery since I was 17. I’ve been sober 14 years now. I nearly lost my life to addiction multiple times as an adolescent,” said Williams, 32.
“After I got into recovery, my life changed, and my life got a lot better. And I started helping other people who were struggling.”
What’s needed is a new attitude that treats addiction as a public health problem, rather than as a crime or a moral failure, said Williams, who holds a master’s degree in addiction public policy from NYU.
“What we’ve learned is that shame and punishment don’t solve addiction. If they did, we’d have a lot less addiction in America today,” Williams said.
Walton Goldring, who serves on the board of treatment center Bridge House/Grace House, and New Orleans social worker Jennifer Holmes are co-chairwomen for the local efforts of UNITE. Both plan to join the demonstration in Washington.
Addiction is “a progressive, deadly disease,” Holmes said. “Recovery is possible with the right treatment.” Ending the silence around addiction is the first step to improving access to treatment and finding more money for research, Holmes said.
When the HIV epidemic broke out in the 1980s, the shame and stigma in the gay community were overwhelming, she said. “But what they recognized was that if they didn’t come together as a community and speak up, they were going to die. Silence equals death.”
Added Goldring: “People in recovery have boundless capabilities to give back to our community. Whereas when they are trapped in their addiction, they are taking away.”
Said Williams: “If we did start telling our stories publicly, we could shift the story to the hope and possibility of recovery.”
“And people do get well.”