Why our recovery stories matter
As people in recovery, we know how difficult transformation is. We also know that the road to recovery has no end. The journey is never really finished. Are we ever really “done”working on ourselves? In fact, sharing your story is usually part of the treatment process and becomes a part of addiction recovery itself. A person needs to progress each day to maintain a healthy life. Every day adds more and more history to your story.
But how can you use your words more effectively? What is the goal of sharing stories about addiction? More importantly, how can you construct a story that will impact the right audience and really make a difference?
Capture attention to pass on the message
Today, we have the unique opportunity to speak with Daniel Maurer, freelance writer and speaker. He is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel and Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking (co-written with R.K. Kline). Sobriety is proof that words and visual elements can leave a strong impression. This book motivates and encourages readers to renew their lives, and it also shows the bond that groups like A.A. discover by sharing a common narrative.
As an addict in recovery and former Lutheran pastor, Daniel knows how to capture people’s attention to pass on a strong message. With that in mind, we asked him what kind of “formula” helps guide you to telling your story in your own way. Feel free to share your own examples or ask a question in the comments section. We’ll do our best to deliver a prompt response.
ADDICTION BLOG: What is the goal of storytelling in recovery from addiction?
DANIEL MAURER: Great question. I think storytelling has to do first with how we function as human beings. People are “storied creatures.” What I mean is that from the very beginning people have been sitting around campfires sharing stories. I’m not only talking about stories that entertain us; it’s more about connecting with others through narrative. We understand the world through that narrative.
Ask yourself this: What makes a good movie capture your attention? The story! You can see a movie with great action and the best special effects, but if the story sucks, forget it. You’re done.
In recovery we find the basis for caring about other people through telling our story and listening to theirs. We say, “Yeah. I get that. I’ve been there. I can relate.” Twelve Step groups like A.A. construct their recovery model around real stories and the experiences people have. Only when we understand others’ paths can we relate to share our own.
The goal is…empathy – that we’ll find a connection point to understand that there is hope beyond addiction.
ADDICTION BLOG: What are some key targets or results of storytelling that we in recovery can focus on?
DANIEL MAURER: I think what you’re asking is how our story informs a healthy recovery. A lot of that depends on the perspective we begin with. It’s the whole “attitude of gratitude” thing.
Look at it this way: If we focus on only the negative aspects of our past, we’ll take that negativity at apply into to move forward negatively. The wreckage we dealt as active alcoholics and addicts is very real and it’s okay to acknowledge it. But it’s more important to aim our attention at the reality that people get better. People change.
ADDICTION BLOG: Who is the ideal audience for addiction recovery stories?
DANIEL MAURER: That’s easy. Other addicts! Of course, I think in this day advocacy is important too. That means we share the hope with non-addicts that we can overcome our struggles and change.
One of the big roadblocks Bill W. found when he first penned the Big Book was that people thought alcoholics were unfixable, that those types couldn’t change. That’s not as difficult today because of how pervasive addiction and recovery are now in the public eye. It’s on people’s radars. But we still run the risk of others moralizing the issue. An effective recovery story says that we can (and do) change.
ADDICTION BLOG: What are the elements that make a good story?
DANIEL MAURER: “In the rooms” we hear a lot of stories. People share what happened in their lives. Most of them are pretty entertaining and hold our attention.
I think the key to a good story is don’t overwhelm people with details that don’t matter. A good story has enough information so you know what’s happening. You can follow the “plot.” What’s missing is all the other extraneous crap that doesn’t matter.
For instance, when’s the last time you went to a good movie or read a great book with a plot that really looks like real life? Never. We don’t want to see the characters going to the bathroom, waiting to fall asleep or brushing their teeth unless it has some purpose. So knowing what matters and what doesn’t is essential.
ADDICTION BLOG: What should people in recovery avoid when telling their own story?
DANIEL MAURER: That’s tough because it depends on the audience and the person sharing it.
“In the rooms” of N.A. and A.A., I don’t hold much back. I’m a high-discloser, though, so that’s easy for me. Other people aren’t as loose with sharing the wreckage of their pasts.
Also, if I’m speaking in front of a group, say, at a church, to share information about addiction, I won’t give details I would normally. I don’t want to turn people off. It isn’t that I’m embarrassed or disingenuous. Non-addicts especially need to come to grips with the recovery side first before they acknowledge the addiction side.
The other thing is to keep it recovery focused. They’ll know if you’re self-aggrandizing or just ranting. Get to your point. Communicate effectively. Then stop.
ADDICTION BLOG: How often do you think it’s healthy to tell your own story about recovery from addiction? Why?
DANIEL MAURER: I think we tell our stories all the time. Any day you wake up and go about living your life you’re “telling” a story by living it. Of course, I know you mean how often we should share our recovery stories specifically. In that case it really depends on the context.
When I wrote Sobriety: A Graphic Novel I wanted people to relate with the characters. The way I achieved this is by creating three-dimensional characters with real, entertaining, and authentic stories. The book works well because comics are simple to understand without being simplistic – a person can easily follow what’s going on. The text serves to support the artwork. It gives a clear narrative arc anyone can easily understand.
The point is that our stories are central to our recoveries. It’s not only about you; it’s also about how others can relate. And that’s what creates empathy. And empathy for yourself and others is what continues to heal us.
ADDICTION BLOG: What tips are helpful to prepare for sharing your story at a Twelve Step meeting like A.A. or N.A.?
DANIEL MAURER: Be real.
That means that it’s okay to have an outline of sorts in your head. Just share it like you’re speaking with only one other person.
If you mean: “How should a person prepare for a speaker-format in a meeting?” That depends on the person. Some people need notes. I don’t because I’m highly motivated and energetic when I speak, and I know what I want to say. But I’m wired like that. But it’s also that I see what a difference my story makes in others’ lives.
ADDICTION BLOG: What tips do you have for preparing a talk to a different (non-recovery) audience?
DANIEL MAURER: Still be real. But it helps to have your filter turned up a bit more.
Like I mentioned, this isn’t to be dishonest. It’s just that folks in this setting need more understanding about what addiction is before you get into the nitty-gritty.
One thing I don’t mind telling alcoholics is how often I used to drive drunk. It was nearly every day. Some non-addicts can’t handle that and they’ll put up a barrier. You might as well stop right then, because they’re not listening anymore. So you need a good filter, but it depends on the context.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with Addiction Blog readers?
DANIEL MAURER: Sure!
It’s that at whatever point you finds yourself, I want you to realize that nobody’s story is ever “finished.” You can always bounce back.
Psychologists have found that human beings are all naturally resilient. Resiliency and your ability to bounce back are interdependent with your spiritual connection. I’m not only talking about your God-beliefs. People find their own spirituality in many ways and there is no rulebook. The Steps and Traditions base themselves off of a healthy spirituality.
Incidentally, that’s exactly what our stories are about! We find purpose and meaning through the story we continually tell ourselves each day. It’s a freeing concept to understand – your story isn’t finished and you can make a difference to yourself and others.
Thanks for the opportunity you’ve given me to share my thoughts on why our recovery stories matter!