The Power of Storytelling

28 Nov

This morning, like most mornings, started with a run. It’s the only time of day I can run without any aural stimulation, and I love hearing my feet pound the streets as the city sleeps and tuning into the bird song.

Today I changed my routine and decided to run listening to a Bubble Hour podcast. I’m finding that while the main bulk of my day isn’t preoccupied with thinking about drinking, bookending my day with sober blogs and podcasts so that my ‘me time’ is focused on consolidating my sobriety. This approach has really been working for me so far, as I’ve voraciously taken in ideas, stories and tools that have helped other people get and stay sober.

The episode of the bubble hour I chose today was focused around individual women telling their stories. Not only was it powerful in itself to listen to, it also provoked me to reflect on what’s changed for me during this run of sobriety, and how important what we’re all doing is as we write, read and comment on others blogs.

Storytelling has been my medicine for my problem with alcohol. If I hadn’t started reading the stories of women bloggers who I could relate to so much, I would still be in denial that I had a serious problem. Women like me don’t have problems with alcohol, I thought. I’m alone in my issue and it’s all my own fault. Reading and reading more and more people coming forward with their own tales has been a revelation to me and has completely changed my view of what being an alcoholic means. Alcoholism isn’t black and white, and you’re not aware whether you’re an alcoholic inside the moment you take your first drink, or even 5, 10 years into your drinking career.

So many stories I have read has have had been similar to my own, it’s like a little mix and match set of narrative points or themes have been given to us all to create our own story.  

Key story elements seem to be:

  • the insidious creep of alcohol
  • the feeling of reward alcohol gives, classic ‘me time’ being seductive
  • being high functioning in other areas of life
  • shifting from social drinking to drinking alone
  • denying you have a problem because you haven’t lost your job, kids or got a DUI
  •  noticing you don’t drink the way other people drink- how do people just manage to have ONE?
  • Hiding bottles as your drinking gets worse
  • Trying and failing to cut down
  • Trying and failing to stay sober
  • Many day ones
  • Being fooled after a period of sobriety that moderation might be a good idea.
  • Knowing it’s important enough for you to stop to pour time and energy into worrying about your drinking, seeking out help online, but feeling AA isn’t necessarily for you. 

Over and over I have read and listened to the same things in different formats from women all over the globe. We all have one thing in common: we’ve empowered ourselves to acknowledge the negative role alcohol now takes in our lives and have proactively made changes.

The power of story is incredible.

I’ve had the persistence to have several failed attempts at sobriety and I can honestly say that I would not be in the position I’m in of being on day 18 and feeling like I’ve had my last day 1 without all the wisdom of the people who have had the bravery to put their own stories online and support me in telling mine. Every word we write helps is reflect on our own problems, but also helps others recognise theirs and learn from the behaviours and mistakes of those who have gone before them.

The feeling I get when I have a comment on this blog of encouragement is overwhelming- it’s like having a little team of cheerleaders all over the globe.

The final step in getting to where I am now was vocalising my problem and telling my own story out loud, rather than through the act of typing, which sometimes makes me feel like I’m engaged in some sort of fiction. When I read back my own posts I sometimes don’t recognise myself if what I’ve written.

And I’ve learned that speaking is as important as writing for me. On October 13th I went to meet Belle, Carrie, Sober Journalist and Reading Creature in London. I was 30 minutes late because I turned back to my house so many times I missed my train. I was lacking the courage to go and meet these people whose stories I’d read and admired, but didn’t know whether I wanted to meet. What if they judged me?! What if I realised it was all a big mistake and that actually, they were REAL alcoholics and I decided I’m just fine and started drinking again? What if what if what if…

Going there and listening and talking in real life was one of the most valuable actions I could have taken. For me, it made this whole thing real. These incredible women who looked together and normal, and that I related to because of their problems with alcohol. Speaking to them and putting a face to their stories was invaluable.

I wonder whether the next step is to tell someone I know in my ‘normal’ life the full extent of what’s gone on. I have told versions of the story to friends to explain why I’m not drinking, but never the real version. There is someone I run with who isn’t too close a friend, who recently admitted something to me about a huge personal secret he has and it was a real weight off his mind. I’m toying with telling him my alcohol story, because it feels important to me to articulate it to someone else in my life, but I don’t know whether it’s a great idea. I’ve tried talking to a friend before (who is teetotal so I thought might understand the madness of what alcohol does to people) but he didn’t take my problem seriously because I look so together on the outside.

Maybe the power of storytelling when it comes to alcohol lies in reading the things we recognise in our own drinking habits. Maybe that’s why this sober blogging and online community works so well to support people- because we hear our own experiences in the words of others.

For now, I’ll keep my story within the blogging community, but one day I’d like to work out how these amazing stories could be brought to a wider audience, how I can use my job in the media to do something, however small, that brings our wisdom to wider audience. The moment to do this isn’t now, but the cogs in my brain are starting to turn and hopefully one day, something good can come out of what has been a pretty traumatic journey to get to this point. 

Day 18 feels pretty brilliant and I know I can carry on with this. No deprivation, no lusting after wine, just contentment. 

5 Responses to “The Power of Storytelling”

  1. happierlikethis November 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Your voice sounds so steady and focused and calm. You’ve got this. Hugs. 🙂

  2. soberjournalist November 29, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    So far I’ve found it hugely difficult to predict how people are going to react. People who I didn’t expect to get it totally have – whilst some of my closest friends don’t understand at all and are quite unsupportive. It’s a very strange business.

    • FitFatFood November 29, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      How much of the truth have you told them?

      Because of the way I drank in public (very controlled) I don’t think people would take me seriously!


  3. Jean November 30, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    I haven’t told my real story to anyone yet, I am not even sure what it is. I have 2 friends who know part of the story, but not all the angst that I have experienced. I have experienced 11’of the 12 key elements that you described. I feel so lucky to have found all these blogs and the Bubble Hour. I am on day 31 and feeling good, last summer I quit for 4 months and then decided that I could moderate, it didn’t work for me. So, after many failed attempts I am happily on day 31 and hope to continue.
    For now no meetings for me because I just couldn’t do it, I know too many people and it makes me feel uncomfortable to even think about a meeting. So I will journal, respond to blogs and drink lots of tea.
    Good luck and continued success!

  4. primrosep November 30, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    ‘Hearing our own experiences in the voices of others’ – absolutely. I am also finding sober blogs and other online resources amazingly helpful. I am learning a new skill from others who are doing the same and can show me both the tricks and the pitfalls. Hurrah for community!

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