We all have them. We all keep them. We all share them. We all play them over, peer at them with new specs, dig deep to find the truths, shudder at the naughty and embarrassing bits. We cry at them. We laugh at them. We poke and prod them. We hide them. We cherish them.
There is nothing more unique to an alcoholic, or anyone for that matter, than our own story. No two stories are the same. There may be similarities, circumstantial and surface commonalities, underlying identification, comparable emotions, parallel conditions or like backgrounds, but our stories still remain exclusive to us and us alone. And there is power in that – a leather bound tome of experience and scenes encapsulated – an ever shifting orb of focus and form. A forever-until-the end one-act play with lots of costume changes and backdrops. Characters that come and go, but with us still holding court in the middle. We’re there whether or not we like the role given to us. We may feel like Iago at times, but often we find that our true role gets more and more defined as we move through recovery and sobriety. We see that we’re not just the clothes we put on and the words we say. The Bard Above has cast us as the right player, but we often have decided to pick something else – a costume that never fit to begin with – and that has caused us considerable grief.
I am not necessarily talking about war stories. You know, the sort of one-upmanship of grotesque escapades and bottom-barrel dramas meant to draw sharp reaction. War stories don’t hold much water for me, especially in meetings, although they have their time and place, absolutely. But what I am talking about is our stories – the entire package, which of course includes the drunken tales of debauchery and pitiful actions, but is in the context of our emotional and spiritual landscape.
Some people find the stories in meetings and online depressing. Perhaps the sliding scale of tragedy and self-induced trauma is too much to take on. And there are some very sad tales out there. Very sad. But what I take away from those stories are the fact that people have survived. The person telling their story is there in the seat or at the computer, compelled by something stirred within, to share with others what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. It’s not to showcase the drama or the demoralization, but to highlight the fact that this illness kills. It’s dangerous. It takes no prisoners. It doesn’t care what’s in or not in your bank account, what is or what isn’t parked in your garage, what is or what isn’t the colour of your skin. It doesn’t care how intelligent you are. It just doesn’t care…period. It wants you dead. And in the course of our lives, if we are bitten by that particular bug, we have a story. Things unfold as the illness takes hold, as ego rides shotgun with telling us everything is ok, nothing to see here. Our polluted actions, thoughts and emotions begin to plunk like stones, some small pebbles, other large chunks, cascading into the other parts of our lives. Everything clashes and melds together. We get out of control, one way or another. Our stories unfold.
The great power our stories carry is that we can identify with others and they can identify with us. The greatest revelation to someone caught in the grips of the grapes is listening to someone else tell their tale and realize that they too might be an alcoholic. No one has come out and qualified them as such. When we come to that conclusion on our own, it holdss great sway. It didn’t take me long when reading about other people’s struggles with alcoholism to realize that I too was an alcoholic. No one diagnosed me with it. No scrape and eye drop allergy tests administered. No jabbing of needles to get the confirmation. I just listened to others talk about themselves, and that was all I needed. That is the Great Ninja Power of the narrative…the ability to stealthily infiltrate the once closed mind and plant a seed.
Mrs. D had a great post recently that touched upon what I am speaking of. She wondered if it mattered how “bad” she was in her drinking days. You see, this is the problem with war stories sometimes – we hear the horrific tales of jails, under-the-bridge living, bankruptcies, torrid affairs, ripped apart families, hit-and-runs, DUI’s, arrests, institutional placements, asylum visits, hospitalizations, organ transplants, assaults, abuse, etc. and wonder if we have hit the correct marks in the alcoholic path. We compare growth charts. We compare mythologies (sorry, Leonard). We see that we don’t measure up and wonder if we are just overreacting. But what we forget is that alcoholism doesn’t care, remember? You a hockey mom with a great job, lovely hubby and the latest iphone? No arrests or even a speeding ticket? But worried about the Pinot Grigio bottles hidden in the laundry room and rattling around your recycling bin? Someone’s been there. They have a story. Hear it. Let her tell you about the other stuff – the shame, the guilt, the remorse around it all. Hear her as she lets you know how it got worse. Let her share about the next level alcoholism took her to. Because alcoholism always, always, always takes us down. Some of the lucky ones get off the elevator before it keeps descending. Some of us keep riding.
So in the end it’s not the actual circumstances that defines our alcoholism, it’s the causes and conditions that bring us to the bottle. And in that mix of emotions and thoughts and behaviours that carried me further into the depths of the disease, my story started to come together, a tapestry woven, a connecting of dots and dashes, a fortress of empties clogging a once vibrant life. And that is what I share with others. Not just the low-lights of my drinking career – that comes when it needs to be seen – but the internal guts of what it felt like to drink when I didn’t want to. I share the ugliness, the desperation, the pain, the hurt, the incapacity to stop what has started. I explain how I was cut off at the knees by my own selfishness and self-centeredness, how I created my own problems, how hopeless I felt, how deceptive and manipulative I was. I tell them of the anger. Oh…the anger. Rage. And that is where we clutch each other, linked arm in arm, in the communal trough of isolation and pain…and the identification of it.
We see in others what we see in ourselves. And there is power and comfort in that. We aren’t crazy after all. We aren’t alone.
Our stories change and evolve. What is done is done, obviously. There is not need to revisit the past just to self-flagellate. But what my story has given me is a message of depth and weight I can carry to the next alcoholic. He or she will see that I get it. We all do. That is why we read and share and post out here. That is why I love to read what is out there, to listen at meetings and to talk over hot cups of coffee. I feel the connection and see that while the outer sheath is different, underneath there is so much in common. I can speak of fears and resentments and have someone instantly click with me. And I them. And it doesn’t matter how bad things got, or didn’t get, to feel the tug of someone’s heart and soul and the fellowship that builds around that sensation is what matters at most.
My story is a ticket that gets punched over and over again to gain access to someone’s spirit. Your story gets into my spirit. We meet at a point of singularity where there are no externals, just the light of love and recovery and camaraderie. We are brothers and sisters who gained admission to the family simply by coming from a place of brokenness and the willingness to hold tight and be there for one another. To lift up, tear down, and heal. Our stories don’t define us, yet they stamp on us an indelible mark that we carry in us during our majestic lives. And we change the story as we go along. We may go through bad chapters in our lives, but they’re not the end of the novel.
Keep telling your story. Keep listening to stories. If you don’t identify, move on. Someone will come into your life where both your stories mesh, where you will find common ground, where things will make sense and link. Stay aware. Listen hard, give hard and love hard.
Stories. We all have them.