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.

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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.

Reference

1. Humphreys, K. (2000). Community narratives and personal stories in Alcoholics Anonymous. Journal of community psychology, 28(5), 495-506.

 

 

Life In Recovery – Australia (Part 2)

“After over five years of intermittent relapses and struggling to re-invent myself, I can safely say that I feel at ease in my own company for the first time in my life. I trust that I will do the right thing by myself and my family”.

 

“…all levels of government need to stop focusing on the policing of drug use and distribution, and invest more in recovery services.

That would slash health care, child care and criminal justice system costs racked up by addicts, while drastically cutting crime rates and creating more valuable contributors to society, the Life in Recovery report says.

The survey, by the South Pacific Private and Turning Point treatment centres, suggests addicts in recovery are 75 per cent less likely to drive while under the influence, 50 per cent less likely to get arrested and 40 per cent less likely to perpetrate or be a victim of family violence.

They’re also 40 per cent more likely to volunteer in a community group, and tend to make more significant contributions to the community than the average person, according to the report’s author, Associate Professor David Best.

Government funding is provided for detox services but virtually no money is spent on the difficult recovery process that follows, despite relapse rates of between 50 and 70 per cent in the first year of recovery, he said.

The focus needs to switch to funding support groups and programs that help addicts get back on their feet, like finding jobs and accommodation, he said.

“None of the treatment services are sufficiently well-funded but the complete neglect of after care and recovery services is both inconsistent with the evidence and counter-productive, because it just puts people into this spiral of relapse,” Prof Best said.

from

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/05/05/govt-policy-addicts-wrong-report

reported in

http://www.southpacificprivate.com.au/Life-in-Recovery-Survey-first-of-its-kind

Infographic  of some of the Survey Findings

 

 

 

RECOVERY STATUS There was considerable variation in how people described their recovery:

• 79.8% described themselves as ‘in recovery’

• 6.3% described themselves as ‘recovered’

• 4.5% described themselves as in ‘medication-assisted recovery’

• 3.7% reported that ‘they used to have an AOD problem but don’t any more’

• 5.7% used other ways of describing themselves

Thus, for the vast majority of participants, recovery is seen as an ongoing process.

The majority (69.8%) reported that they had accessed alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment services meaning that 30.2% had never done so. Of those who had, 36.6% had taken medications prescribed by a health care professional to help them deal with their drug and alcohol problems.

At the time of the survey, 41 individuals (7.2% of the total sample), were currently receiving prescribed medication to deal with their drug and alcohol problems.

A higher proportion (82.0%) had attended a 12-step meeting, with 68.8% attending 12-step meetings at the time of the survey. Current 12-step group attendance involved Alcoholics Anonymous for 57.1% of the sample, Narcotics Anonymous for 24.6%, Gamblers Anonymous for 2.3% and Crystal Meth Anonymous for 1.0%.

11.3% were currently attending Al-Anon (as a loved one or family member) and 6.8% reported that they were currently attending other 12-step groups that included Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, GROW (for co-morbid alcohol and mental health problems) and Adult Children of Alcoholics. SMART Recovery was being attended by 0.5% of the survey participants.

 

1. FINANCES

Changes in financial situation from active addiction to recovery There were marked improvements in paying bills on time, in having your own place to live, in having a good credit rating and paying taxes from when participants were in active addiction to when they were in recovery.

WELLBEING & LIFE

2. FAMILY AND SOCIAL LIFE

…  there were marked reductions in the experience of family violence from around half of the participants during active addiction to less than 10% in recovery, that were accompanied by positive improvements in participation in family activities and planning for the future. There was also a clear improvement in children returning from care and a massive increase in participation of community and civic groups.

3. HEALTH

There are marked differences in health functioning as reported by participants with clear improvements in a range of self-care activities – improved engagement with GPs, regular dental check-ups, improved diet and nutrition and regular exercise. At the same time there is a clear reduction in health service utilisation indicated by marked reductions in the frequency of use of healthcare services and emergency department attendance and improvements in the rate of smoking. There is also a significant reduction in experiencing mental health side effects.

4. LEGAL ISSUES

Changes from active addiction to recovery in offending and criminal justice system involvement There are very striking transitions in involvement with the criminal justice system and overall offending with the most marked transition from 82.9% reporting driving under the influence while in active addiction to fewer than 5% while in recovery. Likewise, while more than half of the sample had been arrested in active addiction, this dropped to around 2% in recovery, leading to significant reductions in family disruption as well as significantly reduced costs to society. This is also reflected in the more than 90% reduction in imprisonment from active addiction to recovery, while there were considerable improvements in re-obtaining both professional registration and the right to drive once in recovery.

5. WORK AND STUDY

Missing work and being fired or suspended, which had been frequent occurrences in active addiction, were extremely uncommon in recovery, as was dropping out of school and university. In contrast, there were clear improvements in positive job appraisals, in further education and in remaining in steady employment.

 

THE SOCIAL NETWORKS AND SOCIAL IDENTITIES OF ACTIVE ADDICTS AND PEOPLE IN RECOVERY

Here the position is even more dramatic with the vast majority of participants reporting no contact with people in recovery while they were active addicts, but that this situation is reversed to the extent that 36% of people in recovery have a social network made up only of people in recovery.

This is reflected in ‘qualitative social capital’ – in other words the number of people individuals can rely on. At the peak of their addiction, 38.3% of participants reported that they had nobody they could discuss important things with compared to 2.0% who reported the same in their recovery. By contrast, while 8.6% of participants reported that they had four or more people they could discuss important things with in active addiction, this increased to 65.9% in their recovery. This is reflected in changes in social group membership – a proxy for connectedness and wellbeing.

…our participants’ social identification with addiction had not diminished but their social identification with recovery had grown enormously.

 

PERSONAL ACCOUNTS OF RECOVERY

THE EXPERIENCE OF ADDICTION

he pain and trauma of addiction is clearly illustrated in the reports of participants. Active addiction is seen as having destroyed the person’s own lives and taken many of the lives of their peers.

“Active addiction completely destroyed any semblance of normality in my life. Everything was reduced to absolutes: the need to get drugs so I could not feel sick, and the use of drugs to numb any emotional or physical pain”.

“Ruined my life in all areas, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually”

“I am alive, none of my peers from that time are alive. Only 5 of the 33 people I was in rehab with are still alive”.

THE JOURNEY TO RECOVERY

This journey is not perceived as a quick or easy journey by most of the participants. Many recognised that they have had persistent problems long into their abstinence. However, for most people it is a generally positive transition.

“After over five years of intermittent relapses and struggling to re-invent myself, I can safely say that I feel at ease in my own company for the first time in my life. I trust that I will do the right thing by myself and my family”.

 

“Addiction was part of my journey, I don’t regret it but recovery is so much more comfortable”.

THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING IN RECOVERY

Building on the previous section, this was generally very positive and the following examples illustrate the perceived benefits. Many people spoke of what they had achieved since starting their recovery journey.

“I am a productive member of society today: a good partner, parent, employee, daughter, sibling and friend, and I was not any of those things before”

“I experience long periods of peace of mind. I can manage problems really well. I am less inclined to react negatively to adverse events. I have recovered from Hepatitis C. I have deep and meaningful relationships with friends and family. I feel a wide range of emotions and can (mostly) sit with them. I have experienced 15 years of being engaged with and liked by the community instead of being a pest to society and that is absolute gold”.

POSITIVE ROLE OF TREATMENT OR MUTUAL AID

There were a striking number of comments supportive of 12-step groups, as illustrated by the following:

“AA saved my life because I gradually changed and got my self-respect back”

“AA saved my life; I would be dead without AA”

“I have a brand new life thanks to AA. For me, my children and my grandchildren. I am responsible at work and pay my bills”

“In nearly 30 years I have literally witnessed many hundreds of people turn their lives around from chaos and mayhem to lead similarly fruitful lives to the one I live today, overwhelmingly through the agency of their involvement in 12 step programs”

“I could not stop drinking on my own. AA has shown me a new way of living. Life is not perfect but I can now live like a ‘normal’ person. I have self-respect and dignity and I am a good worker and mother”

COMBINED APPROACHES Furthermore, as is consistent with the literature, a number of respondents talked about the benefits of bespoke and blended support from both mutual aid groups and professional treatment services.

“I am an active participant in the AA program – the 12 steps are my program for recovery. Putting the 12 steps in my life and putting the skills I learned at South Pacific Private into my life have given me a life that is full of understanding, patience, great relationships and love”.

“Detox set me on the path to recovery and AA helped me to sustain my recovery”, while a third respondent reported that “recovery through detox, rehab clinic, 12 step program with AA has completely changed my life and my attitude to life. I feel free and have choices and I am happy for the first time in years”

The overall conclusion by the majority of participants is that recovery is experienced as liberation and is an opportunity not just for a normal life but a meaningful and fulfilling one. That does not mean recovery is without regrets or without problems :

“My addiction was hell, my recovery has been amazing. I will be forever grateful for the second chance I was given. It took a long time to feel a part of the world when coming out of addiction. It was so hard to fit in with a world I felt so uncomfortable in. But now I love every day. I suffer with depression, and it has been harder than active addiction was but it is in remission and I have learned to live with it. My children are my greatest blessing and I have been able to break the cycle”.

 

Let’s be Friendly with our Friends?

Cross fertilisation among Recovery Fellowships

I have unfortunately heard sometimes not very complimentary remarks about different recovery groups and fellowships which I have never found particularly helpful or useful in attracting the alcoholic or addict who is still suffering. The simple reality is that people recover from alcoholism and addiction by a wide variety of means, and recovery regimes.

My father recovered via the Catholic Church and was probably not even aware of 12 step or other recovery groups?

People seem to recover in a myriad of ways – unassisted, via religious, spiritual and secular means.

The Big Book says we (AA) have no monopoly on God – I would add we have no monopoly on recovery or treatment either, however widely and prolifically used 12 step programs have become internationally.  We may benefit more from a position of love and tolerance and understanding of the reality we are in recovery from a potentially fatal malady and support each other however we can, no matter what our recovery affiliation is.

It may be that each and every group have many useful recovery knowledge and skills to learn from each other. Showing a united front as a greater recovery community may have a profound effect on attracting suffers of addictive behaviours to recovery.

In this video, William White explains how co-attendance between different fellowships is becoming much more common, as recovering individuals stray over to check out other recovery groups and fellowships. For example for woman for sobriety to attend woman’s groups in AA, perhaps brought to together by a general  “woman in recovery” generality.

It is not unusual for secular groups in recovery to also attend AA meetings especially atheist and agnostic groups with AA. Again a commonality in a more  non theist approach may be a commonality here, especially as there is  rise of agnostic and atheist  approaches within recovery, and especially 12 step groups, such as AA Agnostica. In fact, the Ernie Kurtz and William White have researched this rising trend in much detail.

 

In fact William White writes about this in his website – in the blog “Further reflection on Dual Citizenship” by himself and John Kelly, another leading researcher into recovery.

The Dual Citizenship Phenomenon

“Dr. Tom Horvath recently posted a blog on the “dual citizenship phenomenon”–individuals who concurrently participate in SMART Recovery and AA or other 12-step meetings.

Dr. Horvath’s interest in this phenomenon was sparked by recovering people simultaneously being involved in secular, spiritual and religious recovery support groups–groups whose core ideas and practices would on the surface seem to be incongruous.

The degree of dual citizenship in recovery is revealed in the membership survey of various recovery mutual aid groups.  In Gerard Connors and Kurt Dermen’s survey of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) members, 30% of (SOS) respondents reported concurrent AA attendance with an average of more than 50 A.A. meetings attended in the past year.

Lee Ann Kaskutas’ study of Women for Sobriety (WFS) revealed that about one-third of WFS members also concurrently attend AA meetings. 

In the LifeRing Secular Recovery Survey, 35% of LSR members surveyed reported co-attendance in another recovery support program–57% of those reporting attending AA. 

The most recent survey of SMART Recovery membersrevealed that 32.4% of SMART Recovery members also attend AA, NA or another 12-step program, 13.8% attend meetings of another secular recovery support program, and 10.5% participate in a faith/religious/spiritually-based program.

(Typically these dual citizens report that “I attend AA for the fellowship and community, and SMART Recovery for the tools.” These individuals, I suspect, would not attend AA if SMART Recovery were as large and had the same depth of community – certain individuals who seem equally committed to both organizations and both approaches –  these individuals are the true dual citizens.)

Such surveys reveal considerable eclecticism in recovery support participation across what are often portrayed as quite distinct frameworks of addiction recovery support.”

 

More recovering individuals are looking at themselves as members of a greater recovery community rather than simply identifying themselves within the confines of fellowship membership.

My own recovery has hugely enhanced by researching the neuropsychology of addiction and recovery over the last 5-6 years, in fact, on occasion this research has saved my life from probable relapse. My blogs seek to embrace aspects of DBT, CBT, psychological and psycho-analytic theories of addiction etc.

I have come to an understanding of my own addictive behaviours as being driven by an inherent emotional dysfunction mainly via academic research. For me the spiritual malady of AA can also be explained in terms of emotional dysregulation as can the processes of positive behavioural change prompted by working the 12 steps.  These views are not opposing but complementary, mutually supporting views.

I have a “critical” head which is not at odds with 12 step spirituality. I have not given up on self, but chosen to exercise self under the direction of my Higher Power, a HP that does not act via fear. My critical head has helped me explore my spirituality.  I do not leave my reasoning brain at the door when I enter the rooms of AA and I don’t suggest any one else does either.

In fact my initial understanding of myself as an alcoholic is primarily based on the perceived wisdom of AA members in their lived experiences  as recovering alcoholics –  I believe AA is as much about this shared recovery experience as it is the contents of the Big Book.

The “traditions” of AA are also borne out of the lived experience of recovery, compiled and organised by Bill Wilson from the lessons learnt in a multitude of recovery settings and recovery group experiences throughout the US and beyond over a number of years.

The Big Book described this illness in one way nearly 80 years ago and this way is still valid today but it should never preclude us from adding to this sum of knowledge, from explaining this illness given the understandings which have been developed in that 80-year time frame. We now know a huge amount about this condition and increasingly about recovery.

Bill Wilson himself commented that he feared the Big Book would become “frozen in time”. As someone who looked at different possible supplements to recovery, such as vitamin therapies, one can be sure that he were alive today he would be absolutely fascinated with  developments in our knowledge base about this condition and it’s recovery.

He may even have some pride that he helped in no small part, by  prompting such inquiry. Bill Wilson was fascinated and intrigued by alcoholism and his fellow alcoholics. For him anything that alleviated  the suffering of alcoholics would be considered helpful. He after all asked us to be “friendly with our friends”?

Isn’t that we are all trying to achieve, a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms of this emotional disorder, this spiritual malady? A greater awareness of the recovery process and possible outcomes of recovery? For ourselves and our families and communities.

Isn’t this a wonderful journey that we can all share?

Recovering My Identity

We continue to mine the research wisdom of William L White on the next few blogs. William White is one of a growing number of researchers looking into recovery. This is an oft neglected part of research although we are beginning to see  research into the neurobiology of recovery as we have discussed in various other blogs.

William White takes a more qualitative approach than our previous research blogs. It is important to marry quantitative and qualitative research moving forward. For example, William White makes an important point in his research writing about durability of recover, i.e. at what point (or how long does it take for) recovery to be considered durable?

Is there a period at which we can say these individuals in recovery will most likely continue to stay in recovery long term?

From a quantitative perspective it would be illuminating to image the brain of these individuals at say 5 years and compare to early recovery brain images to show what functions of the brain improve, what neurobiology is replenished (balanced) which neural networks are connected or reconnected via altered behaviour-based neuroplasticity etc.

Everyone should have access to information on the processes involved in  getting well, what this wellness looks like and how to get there. If you went to your doctor about any other illness or condition you would expect some information about treatment, likely chances of treatment success, likely outcomes of treatment and how you are likely to be in the long term. So why not have this information available in relation to addictive behaviour recovery?

Anyway on with next video on the experience of recovery.

Recovery Identity

There appear to be three types of recovery identity according to William White’s research

Positive – extremely enthusiastic about being in recovery and want everyone to know that they are in recovery!! I can relate to this I’m afraid. Especially int he earlier months of recovery when I was converting the world to the 12 step world of spiritual awakening!! The preaching phase of my recovery.

Neutral

Negative – In recovery but deeply ashamed about being in recovery because of the social stigma related to having the disease of addiction.

Interpersonal Styles of Recovery

Acultural – individuals who initiate and sustain  recovery without relationships with other people in recovery.

Bi cultural – can move within distinct cultures of recovery but can also function quite comfortably with “normies”or “earthlings” i.e. normal people at large in society.

Culturally enmeshed – deeply enmeshed within the culture of recovery. They live within the culture of recovery so much  and so exclusively that they have almost no contact with the mainstream culture. This is not unusual in early recovery but may not be encouraged in much later recovery.

At some point we all should be encouraged to, as William White states, “get a life” which is to leave to comfort blanket of exclusively 12 step life to start walking across that bridge to normal living. I know from my own recovery that suddenly, after 18 months, having to start working in a school with troublesome boys and kids with learning differences improved my recovery immeasurably.  Although I did not want to do it initially and was half terrified of doing so.

The best recovery is often in the world of people, this connectedness to others helps the recovery process no end. All recovery seems to most effective in a social setting. It helps test our so-called spirituality no end. We can only be sages in an AA meeting but in real life we really find out how spiritual we really are!!? 

It also helps with self esteem and self confidence in our own abilities. I have found in recovery, that I am recovering a person I have never known or met before. Recovery is an adventure in a sense. We continually disprove our over critical heads which is constantly telling us we can’t when we can.

I leave it to my higher power, which I call God, to reveal the me He wants me to be. 

Drugs were never this exciting!