“My name is Tom and I am a drug addict.” This evocative statement has drastically changed the life of Tom Goris, creator of I Am Not Anonymous. Before there was even the thought of a reformist movement towards empathy, Tom lived a successful life and had it all together on the outside, but he also had a secret which he could no longer internally bear. “I wasn’t able to see a way out because I was so consumed with guilt,” states Tom, a Long Island local, “How could I be an addict?”
Early in Tom’s recovery, he attended the viewing of Chris Herren’s award-winning documentary, Unguarded. “Watching and relating to this up-and-coming basketball star’s battle with the same force that had been fighting me gave me such hope and understanding,” reflects Tom.
Herren’s noble approach to illuminating the nature of the disease of addiction sparked inspiration within the co-creator, “I wanted to be able to share my journey publicly – I realized once I began to own that I am a drug addict, no one had the power to use it against me. I am more than just an addict and I wanted to repay the love and support I received in a much larger and unconventional way.”
Tom teamed up with his former girlfriend, Kate Meyer, a professional photographer in the township of New York to brainstorm possible ideas. “Standing alongside Tom during his active addiction and witnessing his journey into recovery, as well as my own recovery played an integral role in my inspiration for this project.” It was during this time Kate began hearing stories of recovery and her perception of substance abuse disorder shifted.
The mission behind co-creators Tom Goris and Kate Meyer’s movement, I Am Not Anonymous is to bring the solution of recovery into the conversation. The personal recovery stories will hopefully provide both an education and a source of hope in the midst of a monumental public health crisis. Documenting the campaign through photography allows the human to be captured beneath the struggle.
“Our shame isn’t confined to church basements or fold-out chairs across the country. Once we put a face and a voice next to the name, other people who lived in shame about their circumstances began to come out of the shadows.”
In fact, the movement leaders attended a conference at Hofstra University recently and shared their progressive advocacy within the largest crowd they had ever welcomed, when a student within the sea of people stood up and announced that he was currently struggling with alcohol and could not stop drinking. Through the proper resources and guidance, the student was directed in the right direction to receive help.
With this said, the vernacular needs to be shifted from blame and rejection to awareness and acceptance not just within the addicted, but the affected as well. The duo began The Affected subsidiary project to hear the personal stories of loved ones who have been altered in ways from the disease of addiction. “It became abundantly clear to us that addiction is a family disease and we would be leaving a key element out of the story if we did not give loved ones a chance to share their story and their journey into recovery,” says Kate. “If I had a place to read and hear about stories from families and friends who were affected by their loved one’s addiction, I wouldn’t have felt so isolated when I went through my own anguish.”
I Am Not Anonymous, launched in April 2014, has gained traction throughout the nation, resulting in Long Island’s News 12 creating a news vignette of their incredible work. Having been featured in The Huffington Post, The Daily Dot, News 12 Long Island Heroin Diaries and various podcasts and recovery blogs, I Am Not Anonymous has roughly 150 individuals from all across the nation sharing their experience on their website. Just like the work of their inspiring predecessor Chris Herren, the three-minute news expose landed the movement a nomination for the upcoming 2016 Emmy Awards in New York.
“It’s amazing to see how my story has evolved into our story,” expresses Tom.
Yet the problem still remains. It is clear that the addict is not the only one who needs rehabilitation – society’s view is in dire need of reconstruction as well. Addiction is so prevalent today, yet recovery is missing. Ignorance of the reality of addiction continues to kill and we can no longer afford to turn away, especially if we have the resources and leaders, such as Tom and Kate, to bring forth a method of improvement. There’s no middle of the road solution to this epidemic of disregard – a transformation of societal perception needs to take place if we expect to see any change and save lives.
Tom Goris is currently sharing his passion for service within Ambrosia Treatment Center, a Florida drug rehabilitation center with 5 locations nationwide. As an Outreach Coordinator in the New York province, Tom is guiding families and their loved ones in amidst of a crucifying illness. “Fulfilling my passion by helping people enter inpatient treatment is not only a job for me, it’s a way of life and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Ambrosia anxiously awaits the March 19th Emmy Awards in New York and congratulates Tom and Kate in all of their efforts.