One of the things that helped me submerge myself in recovery was the power of story. As a lifelong bookworm and someone who has made storytelling into a career, I’m endlessly fascinated by the common threads that run through the stories we tell.
In recovery and reading about recovery, I’ve been overwhelmed by the same story points that occur again and again in our narratives about drinking. I wrote about it here, some time ago. And again, today I come back to that thought: the stories are different but the ingredients are the same.
Someone very close to me recently confided in me that they were calling time on their drinking. We’d always drunk together and she was a bigger party animal than I ever was. When I sat her down a few months ago to tell her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about my drinking, she didn’t appear to take it in. She listened, and made noises of shock and sympathy, but something didn’t seem to click. I had then niggling feeling that this was because it might be shining a light upon her own drinking, but we’ve never spoken of it again and she’s never expressed worry about the way she drinks. Until now. Hearing my story had set off alarm bells for her and as we talked, she expressed key feelings and experiences she had an they were the same things we hear over and over in stories of problematic drinking: the time it wastes, the niggling feeling that you’re wasting your life drunk or hungover, the shame, the reliance upon it to socialise, the gradual creep of needing it more and more and perhaps most importantly, the knowledge that the problem has been there for longer than we would like to admit.
One of the things that they tell you to do when you come into AA is “listen for the similarities not the differences” when taking in the stories of others. Time and time again in those rooms I’m hit by how uncannily similar the key elements of drinking problematically are. All this seems bleeding obvious when I put it on paper, but it wasn’t to me until I started actively seeking the similarities that I realised I might have a ‘proper’ problem.
One of the things I feel more and more strongly about as my sober time increases is being more honest about why I’ve stopped drinking. Stigma breeds stigma, and without speaking out with at least a version of the truth I feel like I’ll be contributing to the issue of drinking problems being shrouded in some sort of secrecy. So I’ve been experimenting with the story I tell. Since I posted this, I’ve been getting a little bolder with what I say to people about why I stopped drinking. If they’re close to me, I tell them a true-ish version of the story: drinking was consistently making me feel terrible, and I hated doing it, but bloody loved it at the same time. It came to a head when it really was making me feel terrible and I had to weigh things up; it emerged that the only option for me was to stop, because drinking was taking away too much. It was hard to stop but I have, and I’ve never been happier.
Depending on their reaction, I will share more, telling some people (most of) the whole version. Now that I actually feel a bit more secure in my sobriety I want to demonstrate that there is a different way of living: for some of my friends I don’t think they can envisage having a ‘fun’ life without booze. It may achieve nothing, but given the impact that other people’s stories have had on me, I’d like to start sharing mine more. Slowly and sensibly, but share I will.
And with every comment we write, post we share and conversation we have about being sober, we’re helping to spread the sober word. May that message disseminate far and wide 🙂