Every person understands their lives through a series of narratives. As humans, that is what we do. We see patterns and tell stories to try and make sense of where we came from and where we’re going. However, in recovery, addiction narratives can become a significant obstacle.
Addiction narratives are the stories people suffering from addiction tell about how and why they became addicted to drugs or alcohol. They are the stories of bumpy recoveries, multiple periods in rehab, and demoralising relapses. They explain what has happened to the lives they once knew and the relationships that have fallen apart.
Unfortunately, while narratives can be healthy and generally help us understand our lives, addiction narratives tend to do the opposite. Here’s why you need to break down your addiction narratives.
You Can’t Change The Past
Narratives mainly focus on the past, with only brief forays into the present and speculation about the future. Understanding the past is important, because we need to know where we came from to know where we’re going. But addiction narratives shine a light on a particular aspect of the past: your helplessness to change things.
Looking into the past, you have no power. You can only watch things happen with the inevitable “ending” in mind – you hit rock bottom and go to rehab.
It is in obsessing over these narratives that people start assigning traits to themselves which explain their helplessness:
– they always hurt people
– drinking exerts too strong a force over them
– people let them down
– they are barely able to survive in the real world
– they have never been good enough
All of these conclusions come from the simple fact that it is too late to change the past. You are always going to be helpless in the past, because it’s already over, but recounting how helpless you are makes it difficult to see anything different in the present.
This is not to say that you should pretend the past was any different or deny what you’ve been through. However, holding onto those narratives as objective truths inevitably leads them to become justifications to continue drinking or using drugs.
Narratives Devalue The Present
Another problem with addiction narratives is in relation to what all recovering addicts struggle with. Narratives make it easy to live in any moment but the present. In rehab, you learn to treasure the present, to focus on taking it one day at a time. Narratives give you an excuse to live in the past.
The reason is that when you see your life as a narrative, you imagine that there should be a perfect resolution in the future. Everything you’re going through becomes a journey to get there. You imagine that your life will be better only if you reach that resolution.
In recovery, you may begin to feel that you’ll never reach that resolution, and that can be incredibly demoralizing. But when you recognize that your life is not a narrative, you can see that the present matters far more than some imaginary point in the future. You can treasure your sobriety right now, even if there’s a chance you’ll relapse. You can begin to love who you are right now, even if you’re not as accomplished as you hope to one day be.
Addiction narratives unfortunately serve to keep you in the past. Denial is never the answer, of course. But by loosening your grip on the stories you’ve held onto, you can begin to move forward.