A critical aspect of recovery is sharing your story. The coaching program I graduated from, She Recovers, has a guiding principle that states:
“When we’re ready, we recover out loud so that other women who are struggling can find and join our movement.”
Before I share some of my story, a brief disclaimer: I’m not trying to get you to join a movement. I want to be able to offer you help if, and only if, you want it. What I would like is to explore the ways in which our stories and narratives trip us up and prevent us from getting what we want and need sooner.
Several years ago while at a wedding in the UK, I had a somewhat traumatic event happen that left me with a scar above my right eyebrow. For a year afterward, I had a crystal clear idea of the story of that night. It was a story I told countless times because people asked me about it everywhere I went. They couldn’t help it because for a long time I had to wear a bandage on my forehead. Ittt suuuuucked. Anyway, about a year later, a friend who was there told me a completely different story about what happened that night. I was in disbelief. Yes, I was really drunk and all of us have a hard time remembering drunk nights, but I was so certain of my story and now I second-guessed myself.
Memory experts have been telling us this for years. They know that even sober memories are usually inaccurate. It’s why eyewitness testimony is so fraught, and part of why lie detectors are inadmissible. I’m sure you’ve told your parents or your siblings about a childhood memory and they have vehemently denied your version and told you a completely different version from their perspective. You probably went back and forth about the truth and then walked away either firmly denying their narrative or doubting your own.
I think doubt is actually a gift. It reminds us that things aren’t always what they seem and if that’s the case then there's room for other possibilities. There’s power in understanding that the story you’re telling yourself about who you are, what happened in your past, your mottos and credos, are all just stories and they're probably not objectively true. It's actually impossible to know yourself in any kind of objective way, so maybe embrace that? To a certain extent, you have a choice about your identity. You can tell yourself an empowering story or you can tell yourself a story that makes you feel like shit.
I’m ok with never fully reconciling the details of what happened that night, because the truth isn’t in the exact details of how I got my scar. The truth is that I was really drunk and something really dumb happened that put a permanent scar above my eyebrow. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. No one did anything to me! It was a sloppy, messy accident. If I hadn't been drunk, it wouldn't have happened. This is how I take responsibility for what happened and make sense of something difficult and embarrassing. While I don’t love my scar, it's a healthy reminder that I was once out of control and now I’m not. Some days I look at it as a battle scar and some days I look at it and curse myself. It depends on the story I’m telling myself about my past that day.
Part of the reason I didn’t stick with a traditional program when I got sober is because whenever I went to a meeting, I felt pressure to admit that I was a powerless alcoholic. I didn't want to feel powerless. I did not want that to be my story and it hasn't been. These narratives help many people and I think that’s fantastic, but I also think it’s helpful to know that you’re telling yourself a story even if that story is working for you.
Now, please don’t get it twisted. There are truths and facts about the world including the most important one; some people are smarter than others. I believe the experts. I especially believe any expert willing to admit that they have the potential to be wrong about their assertions. Ain't that the truth.
What beliefs, stories, narratives are you telling yourself?
Here were some more of mine from when I was drinking:
“I’m just a drinker. That’s who I am.”
“I like to work hard, and play hard.”
“Sober people are boring.”
Let me know what you think about this post. I want to hear from you!