I have been thinking about the importance of storytelling. In her book, Hope in the Dark, Rebbeca Solnit addresses the “untold histories” behind major social change. She says, “Changing the story isn’t enough in itself, but it has often been foundational to real changes.”
She goes on to add, “Some activists are afraid that if we acknowledge victory, people will give up the struggle. I’ve long been more afraid that people will give up and go home or never get started in the first place if they think no victory is possible or fail to recognize the victories already achieved.”
While she is talking about topics such as civil, women’s, and worker’s rights, I have been thinking lately about this idea as applied to the hundreds of thousands of 12-step programs, covering all types of addiction, taking place all over the world.
Twelve-step groups regularly read and re-read these really old, personal stories of recovery, with all their archaic language and idiosyncrasies. We do this even if we’ve already read them dozens of times. Why?
The power of storytelling!
Every story I hear tells me, “you are not alone.” Every time I hear about someone’s recovery it tells me, “you can recover.” Every time I hear someone’s relapse and recovery it says, “you do not have to stay in relapse.”
These are victory stories that provide the underpinnings of the entire 12-step group movement.
Think about all these stories that did NOT work for various addictions:
- Dramatic stories about deaths due to drugs or alcohol
- Horrifying tales of degradation and living on the streets
- Alarming warnings from doctors about Type 2 Diabetes, heart failure, liver failure, and other results of obesity, starvation, or substance abuse
- Threats of divorce, actual divorce, estrangement from loved ones, and the hatred and disgust of family and community members
- Reprimands from bosses, warning of job loss and financial ruin
- The danger of arrest and imprisonment
Well, we all know the list can go on and on from there. Did any of these work? No!
How interesting that these strong negative messages did not deter us. Instead, it is the positive voices of hope that lifted us up and moved us to recovery. It is the stories of success, not the fear of failure, that worked their magic. It is community, rather than alienation, that helps us stay abstinent one day at a time and teaches us we are loved by our Higher Power.
But, these stories aren’t some whitewashed, Pollyanna interpretation of what happened. Each story contains the ugly, horrifying, and agony-filled prequel to recovery and the up and down journey of recovery itself. They are real and raw. They say to me, “I am not alone. I am like this person. This person recovered. I can, too!”
Every time we read the stories in our “Big Books” and share our own experience, strength, and hope, we are remembering and reinforcing victory over addiction.
Our story-telling isn’t listed as one of the 12 steps, but I think it is a core of the success of the program. It’s the reason you can’t really do the 12 steps without the meetings. The meetings are where we share the stories!
Just a thought…
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