By AnnMarie McCullough
On July 24th 2012, 29-year-old filmmaker Greg Williams, a person in long term recovery since the age of 17, created a page on “Kickstarter,” a website that facilitates fundraising through online donations. The page contained a video less than 9 minutes long. Though short, this video carried a message with the potential to change the lives of many millions of people.
Williams’ film, The Anonymous People, aims to publicize the “New Recovery Advocacy Movement” in order to move beyond stigma and shift the focus from the problem of addiction to the solution: recovery. In just one month, The Anonymous People surpassed its fundraising goal – in fact, 272 backers from the recovery community gave over $80,000. The project was on its way.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, while researching films for the Orchard Recovery Centre’s upcoming film festival which focuses on the hope in recovery, Lorinda Strang and I were sent a link to Williams’ Kickstarter page on July 30th. Struck immediately by the filmmaker’s vision and eager to become involved with a movement so dear to our hearts, the Orchard pledged $3000 to the project. Williams was invited to speak at the 2nd Annual REEL Recovery Film Festival, held in October, where he showed the trailer and answered questions from a captivated audience.
Through Greg Williams, Lorinda and I were reacquainted with Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR), an American organization that is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the recovery community. Much like the gay community spread awareness and education about AIDS with an advocacy group formed in 1987 with the motto “Silence = Death,” FAVOR believes there is a need to recognize the millions of people living happy and productive lives in recovery. Faces and Voices of Recovery and the film The Anonymous People are part of the growing recovery advocacy movement which has now found its way into Canada.
We were aware that the US Government, through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) had been recognizing September as Recovery Month in the United States for almost 25 years. However, we found that Canada had no equivalent, and decided to immediately start planning the first ever public celebration of recovery in Canada.
We obtained a permit for the event and a proclamation was issued by Mayor Gregor Robertson recognizing September 30th, 2012 as Recovery Day in Vancouver. There was an afternoon celebration which included a rally and march with 1500 participants on the lawns of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The same day, Victoria, BC also held an event, while Ottawa received a proclamation from the City’s Mayor.
The 2012 Recovery Day event in Vancouver and the Orchard’s REEL Recovery Film Festival were documented by Williams for his film which was then still in production. In May of 2013, Greg returned to Vancouver and screened the completed film to a full house at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.
That same night, Lorinda and I announced the co-founding of our new nonprofit Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada, modeled after the organization that has been helping organize the recovery movement in the USA since 2001.
Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) Canada is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the 5 million Canadians in recovery from addiction, along with our families, friends and allies. Our goals: to build networks and foster recovery community organizations; to reduce stigma; to raise awareness and bring people together in celebration of recovery. Together, we will demonstrate the power and proof of recovery from addiction and its value to individuals, families and communities across Canada. We support all pathways to recovery and we STRONGLY support initiatives such as Recovery Day.
On September 8th, 2013 twelve cities across Canada – Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Victoria, Regina, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Kelowna, Ottawa, Fredericton, Toronto and Vancouver hosted Recovery Day events. Just prior, Lorinda and I were in Washington, DC to receive the Rally of the Year award from SAMHSA for Vancouver’s Recovery Day in 2012.
FAVOR Canada is now working with government officials to have a “National Recovery Day” recognized. The cross-Canada celebration will be held annually on the third Saturday of September – For 2014, it will be held on September 20th.
The FAVOR steering committee is comprised of co-founders Lorinda Strang and I from BC, as well Ann Dowsett Johnston in Toronto, Lisa Simone in Calgary and Sherri Skeans in Newfoundland.
Upcoming projects for FAVOR Canada include:
- Obtaining charitable status – early 2014
- First ever survey of the recovery community “Life in Recovery” – early 2014
- Website with training materials – Spring 2014
- Survey of general public – perceptions of recovery – Summer 2014
- Recovery Messaging Training – Summer 2014
- Offices set up in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver- Fall 2014
- Recovery Summit – first in Canada – early 2015
Activities of FAVOR Canada include:
- Fostering recovery community organizations
- Supporting recovery initiatives such as Recovery Day-an annual event in September where cities across Canada host walks and rallies in celebration of recovery
- Working with government to have the third Saturday in September declared National Recovery Day and September as National Recovery Month
- Conducting public education and awareness campaigns for recovery
- Hosting educational and informational trainings such as recovery messaging
- Facilitating relationships among local and regional organizations operating within the realm of recovery
- Maintaining a website containing information for individuals in recovery as well as their friends, families and allies on how get involved in their communities.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the initiation of Recovery Day as well as the founding of Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada were both inspired by Lorinda and I watching the trailer to The Anonymous People, a film about the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction.
Stigma and discrimination have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades, however courageous addiction recovery advocates are starting to come out of the shadows to tell their true stories.
The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of the leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, and celebrities such as Kristen Johnston who are telling their stories in the hope that they may save the lives of others. This passionate new public recovery movement is transforming public opinion, and shifting the conversation toward recovery solutions. We hope that Canadians in recovery and those who support them will be inspired by the film and join the movement here in Canada.
Please visit Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada to sign up to support and to be a FACE and a VOICE of Recovery. For those readers in the United States the website is here: Faces and Voices of Recovery.
Faces and Voices of Recovery developed guidelines for how to speak publicly while honouring the 12 Traditions. To view these guidelines, please see the PDF, Advocacy with Anonymity.
There will be a showing of The Anonymous People in Toronto on February 27, 2014, at Hot Docs, 506 Bloor Street West. Visit ManyFaces1Voice for screening times and locations in the United States.
Recovery advocate AnnMarie McCullough is a maven of reinvention with a serious social conscience and a need to give back. A certified Project Manager with 20 years experience in a variety of roles within the Healthcare and IT sectors, she now works as the Director of Communications and Community Relations at the Orchard Recovery Center. Combining her background in project and event management with her passion for recovery, she helped initiate the first RECOVERY DAY in Canada. AnnMarie and the Orchard brought the REEL Recovery Film Festival to Vancouver and launched Recovery Radio which she co-hosts. Her latest project: co-founding Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada, a non-profit dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the five million Canadians in recovery from addiction, along with their families, friends and allies. In long-term recovery herself since 2008, she inspires with her energy and enthusiasm, embodying hope for others who struggle with addiction.