The Power of Storytelling in Making Change
When the pain started — the grinding, unceasing burning pain that seemed to manifest overnight — what was once a thorny aggravation to live with became her whole life. Her consciousness revolved around this merciless, parasitic companion that slowly dulled her light day after day.
They prodded her, they cut her, they seared her nerve endings and they injected medicine into her spine. Her hope faded with each failed attempt — each failed chance at a life without that cruel constant of her pain.
Then they offered her an illusion. A magic pill. It took her to a place of forgetting. She forgot her pain, she forgot her suffering, she forgot her burdens ... and then she began to forget herself. And when the illusion ceased and the pain of remembering flooded her consciousness, she hunted for more magic pills. They were the key — the talisman that helped her regain the short-lived bliss of burying her awareness beneath cascades of dopamine release.
And so began the transformation of this once luminous being into a shadow self, creeping through life seeking easy magic and increasing highs that were more than sufficient only weeks before. The pain was still there — always there — but now a new sickness was festering inside her.
I was angry at first. Someone who had once had such clear lines of sight into the real stuff of life, now this person was content to deteriorate behind a veil of avoidance. She had given herself over to an idea of who she thought she was, seen through the lens of opioid stupor.
When she reached the end of the path, it was with a vicious, primal wail that came from the place where we all keep our monsters. I had never heard such an expression from her. She was screaming from a terrible, dark forest in which she had lost her bearings. The forgetting magic had worked. She had not only lost her way, she had also lost herself.
She needed more than I could give her. This required more than I knew. I had spent years working with people to help them reflect and change. I’d worked with teachers enduring funding cuts and increased responsibilities, students crushed under the weight of expectations. I’d worked with health care practitioners to help them to better see the human being in front of them, rather than a time limit, a billing code or a diagnosable condition.
But I’d never tried to help someone reconnect with her authentic self — or re-author her authentic narrative. So I committed to support her through the recovery process she was so hesitant to begin.
The Florida Recovery Center had repurposed a hotel space filled with efficiency suites into a safe, self-contained microcosm of introspection, self-inquiry and recovery. There was a palpable culture of openness there. As I sat with her through the open recovery group sessions that family and friends were allowed to attend, I could see this tangible transition in her — like she had found her tribe. I saw connections, empathy and unconditional acceptance. All the things I had previously failed to achieve with her.
What most impacted me was the use of story. The efficacy of story in creating bonds, the way intersections of experience enabled the collective to shift forward in their process.
There was another kind of magic happening here. There was a clear value in this space for self-knowledge, enabling individuals to take wild risks with their self-actualization. I hadn’t seen her look so deeply within as she did during this time in this shared space.
I wanted this. I wanted to capture this method, to practice this alchemy that could turn expression into freedom and narrative into change. I had witnessed the power of shared narrative expression to show an individual her own life in a profoundly clear and naked manner, beyond all the ego protections we put in place to guard our most terrified selves.
This all transpired about four years ago. I’ve since recommitted myself to an inner path — to seeking my pure story as a new talisman with which I can connect with my true self. This practice has since developed into a new reality, made manifest through the use of narrative method.
Every day, I now connect with people during their worst moments — broken, hopeless, angry, frustrated people who have the singular desire for change, but can’t see where the new chapter begins, how their story of change can unfold. This is my practice of narrative counseling.
I reflect on its emergence in spaces like the Florida Recovery Center and I think of her. I think of her pain and her experience as the catalyst for my own transformation. She’s now authoring her own narrative and living her new story ... and I can tell you, it’s a page-turner.