Like I said earlier, my drinking story is boring. This is something I should probably be grateful for. But I have also wondered why we are drawn, with horror and fascination, to others’ “rock bottoms,” and feel compelled to share our own. In other words, why are stories so central to recovery work?
I started looking for some ideas about this and found one explanation in this article about what’s described as “autobiographical reasoning.” The authors claim that despite the central role of story in AA and other twelve-step type groups, the purpose and therapeutic role of story hasn’t received much research attention. Crazy huh?
“Autobiographical reasoning” basically means that we make sense of ourselves and our actions through story. Our autobiographies have two threads that seem at cross-purposes: On the one hand, our stories give us a stable sense of ourselves and our identities over time. On the other hand – and this is especially important for drinking stories – our autobiographies communicate change over time. You know: “I used to be this way; now I’m this way.” But there still needs to be an “I” who can make that statement right?
Too much metaphysics in that for a hasty blog post. But one take away for me was that we need others’ redemption stories. I was a little worried that reading drinking memoirs might be akin to rubbernecking when passing traffic accidents — that it might be gratuitous somehow to partake of others’ despair.
Instead, I think what we are looking for are roadmaps to change, and hope that we can change. After all, the tellers of dark drinking tales are those who have come out the other side. To appreciate their journeys, we need the full narrative sweep: origin stories, the fall, and the redemption. “Autobiographical reasoning” tells us that we need to see the possibility of change in stories, but also that there is a coherent person – an “I” — who can learn, albeit often gradually and with some pain along the way, to make that change.
So, the bottom line is that I’m feeling a little less guilty about being drawn to others’ drinking stories. It seems a pretty human thing to be drawn to redemption narratives, and this isn’t a matter of being entertained by someone else’s suffering; its about hope for our own recovery.