Co-Founder, Photographer - I Am Not Anonymous
It has taken me roughly three weeks to process the events that occurred on the National Mall in Washington, DC on October 4th, 2015. I cannot remember a time where I felt such a wide range of emotions in such a short period of time. I have never, in my entire life, felt such an outpouring of love, momentum and hope.
When we first heard about Unite to Face Addiction, it was merely an idea. It wasn't even called "Unite to Face Addiction" yet. Greg Williams sat in my living room and talked about this idea that he had to bring the recovery community to the National Mall and give addiction it's "AIDS quilt moment." Our friend Mario was in the other room making phone calls to potential backers and entertainers. We wondered what it would look like. We wondered if the recovery community would stand behind it. It seemed so far into the future. I am finding it hard to believe that it is now behind us.
So much has happened in the last year and a half since Tom and I launched I Am Not Anonymous. It all started as a simple conversation about helping others, being vulnerable and sharing our own stories so we could give back all of the love and support that we received in the beginning of our journeys toward recovery. What neither of us realized, was that I Am Not Anonymous would continue to provide us with gifts beyond our comprehension. We are so grateful for the many friendships that we have gained. The bond that we feel toward the recovery community is unbreakable. We have been blessed to witness the transformative power of recovery not only in others, but also within ourselves. All of this was possible because of a willingness to open our minds and our hearts to the recovery community. They embraced us with open arms, and we will forever be grateful. It is our mission to share that experience with whomever is willing to listen.
If you were to tell us when we launched I Am Not Anonymous, that in just over a years time, we would be standing in solidarity with tens of thousands of other people on the National Mall, one block from the White House, celebrating recovery and advocating for change, we would have told you that you had lost your mind. If you were to tell us that in that crowd, the IANA family would be rolling deep, proudly wearing their IANA t-shirts and hoodies, we wouldn't have believed you. It all happened. On top of that, I had been offered a position as a staff photographer for Facing Addiction and was granted an all access pass to capture the event. Pinch me. I am totally humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be able to witness this historic event from such a unique vantage point.
I was also blessed to be able to share this experience with my sister-in-law, Dara, who after attending a fundraiser with us and meeting Greg and Jim, was hired as the Event Director for Unite to Face Addiction. I remember reaching out to her in the beginning of my journey. She was the only person that I felt I could be honest with about my struggles with a loved one who suffered from this disease. She was, at that point in my life, the only person who I knew (or so I thought) that suffered from the same disease and had found recovery. To be able to stand beside her for such a special moment of my life was something I will never forget.
I will never forget the moment when I was standing at the end of the stage photographing the performers. I took a minute to look back at the crowd. It was as if time stood still and the entire last two years flashed in front of my eyes. Two years prior, I was laying in bed shaking as reality set in that chances are, one day soon, I am going to wake up next to the man I loved...and he would be dead. I was paralyzed with fear. It was my first rock bottom in dealing with the disease of addiction and the very moment when I realized that I needed to get some help for myself. As I looked out in the crowd, I saw so many of the people who offered their love and support after that moment. I saw the sorrow of the people who have lost loved ones coupled with the joy of people celebrating recovery. There were sad tears, there were happy tears...but most of all, there were hopeful tears.
I saw the people who inspired Tom and I and gave us the courage to go against the grain and start I Am Not Anonymous. It was one of those moments where you realize that you are exactly where you are meant to be...and that from that point on, everything would be different. As I stood there, witnessing this historic event, I straight up ugly cried in front of tens of thousands of people. I wish I could bottle that feeling up and share it with the world because it was the perfect mix of love, joy, hope and camaraderie. As I made eye contact with various people in the crowd, a simple nod from them told me that they were feeling the exact same feeling I was. It was absolutely gutting and I wanted to attack hug every single person in the crowd.
Watching the crowd was just as entertaining, if not more than the performances by Joe Walsh, Johnny Rzeznik, Jason Isbell, The Fray, Jonathan Butler, Sheryl Crow, and Steven Tyler. It was raw and rugged and absolutely beautiful. Usually, when large crowds gather on the National Mall, it is in protest. This was different. We stood up FOR recovery. FOR better support services. FOR those that we have lost along the way. FOR those who are still out there sick and suffering.
The addiction/recovery community is at a pinnacle turning point. We are all responsible to maintain the momentum that Unite to Face Addiction has created. We need to keep forging ahead and create discussions that will lead to a change in public perception about this disease. It is time for us to support Greg and his team at Facing Addiction and donate so that they can bring together, for the first time ever, a platform of the very best experts and organizations in the addiction field to work collaboratively on high impact and scalable solutions that will help more people, more quickly, than has previously been possible.
Thank you to Greg Williams, Jim Hood, Dara Meyer and the entire Facing Addiction team for your momentous efforts in bringing this event together. You are all an inspiration to us at I Am Not Anonymous.
I will leave you with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I found courtesy of the incredible Brene Brown:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
We are in the arena. We are the change. The future is at our fingertips. We already made history on 10.4.15. This is not the end. It is merely the beginning.