How Stories Transform Lives
When I first came to AA, I wondered how the hell sitting around in a circle listening to one person talking, and the next person talking and …. could have anything to do with my stopping drinking?
It didn’t seem very medical or scientific? Did not seem like any sort of treatment? How could I get sober this way, listening to other people talking?
It didn’t make any sense. Any time I tried to ask a question I was told that we do not ask questions, we simply listen to other recovering alcoholics share what they called their “experience, strength and hope”?
How does this help you recover from one of the most profound disorders known, from chronic alcoholism?
I did not realise that this “experience, strength and hope” in AA parlance, is fundamental in shifting an alcoholic’s self schema from a schema that did not accept one’s own alcoholism, to a self schema that did, a schema that shifts via the content of these shared stories from a addicted self schema to recovering person self schema.
Over the weeks, months and years I have grown to marvel at the transformative power of this story format and watched people change in front of my very eyes over a short period of time via this process of sharing one’s story of alcoholic damage to recovery from alcoholism.
I have seen people transformed from dark despair to the lustre of hope and health.
One of the greatest stories you are ever likely to hear and one I never ever tire of hearing.
Through another person sharing their story they seem to be telling your story at the same time. The power of identification is amplified via this sharing.
If one views A.A. as a spiritually-based community, one quickly observe s that A.A. is brimming with stories.
The majority of A.A.’s primary text (putatively entitled Alcoholics Anonymous but referred to almost universally as “The Big Book,” A.A., 1976) is made up of the stories of its members.
During meetings, successful affiliates tell the story of their recovery. In the course of helping new members through difficult times, sponsors frequently tell parts of their own or others’ stories to make the points they feel a neophyte A.A. member needs to hear. Stories are also circulated in A.A. through the organization’s magazine, Grapevine.
But the most important story form in Alcoholics Anonymous describes personal accounts of descent into alcoholism and recovery through A.A. In the words of A.A. members, explains “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”
Members typically begin telling their story by describing their initial involvement with alcohol, sometimes including a comment about alcoholic parents.
Members often describe early experiences with alcohol positively, and frequently mention that they got a special charge out of drinking that others do not experience. As the story progresses, more mention is made of initial problems with alcohol, such as job loss, marital conflict, or friends expressing concern over the speaker’s drinking.
Members will typically describe having seen such problems as insignificant and may label themselves as having been grandiose or in denial about the alcohol problem. As problems continue to mount, the story often details attempts to control the drinking problem, such as by avoid-ing drinking buddies, moving, drinking only wine or beer, and attempting to stay abstinent for set periods of time.
The climax of the story occurs when the problems become too severe to deny any longer. A.A. members call this experience “hitting bottom.”
Some examples of hitting bottom that have been related to me include having a psychotic breakdown, being arrested and incarcerated, getting divorced, having convulsions or delirium tremens, attempting suicide, being publicly humiliated due to drinking, having a drinking buddy die, going bankrupt, and being hospitalized for substance abuse or depression.
After members relate this traumatic experience, they will then describe how they came into contact with A.A. or an A.A.-oriented treatment facility…storytellers incorporate aspects of the A.A. world view into their own identity and approach to living.
Composing and sharing one’s story is a form of self-teaching—a way of incorporating the A.A. world view (Cain, 1991). This incorporation is gradual for some members and dramatic for others, but it is almost always experienced as a personal transformation.
So before we do the 12 steps we start by accepting step one – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol——that out lives had become unmanageable – and by listening to and sharing stories which give many expamples of this loss of control or powerlessness over drinking. .
Sharing our stories also allows us to stat comprehending the insanity or out of contolness (unmanageability) of our drinking and steps us up for considering step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity – through to step three, so the storeies not only help us change self schema they set us on the way to treating our alcoholism via the 12 steps.
In these stories we accept our alcoholsimm and the need for persoanl, emotional and spirtual transformation. The need to be born anew, as a person in recovery.
1. Humphreys, K. (2000). Community narratives and personal stories in Alcoholics Anonymous. Journal of community psychology, 28(5), 495-506.