Shame and stigma are what put the anonymous in Alcoholics Anonymous. Twelve step programs were founded on anonymity for a variety of reasons outlined in the twelve traditions of the program. Mostly, should a recovering alcoholic relapse, the founding members of AA didn’t want fingers point back at the program on personal or public level and say “it doesn’t work.” Such widespread criticism could keep many people from finding a practical solution to their problem of drugs and alcohol. Sadly, despite anonymity and the success of twelve step programs as well as “non-traditional” treatment programs for recovery, shame and stigma persist. Many people do not attend AA, other twelve step programs, or treatment of any kind out of the shame they feel for being an addict or alcoholic, and the stigma they face due to the misinformation of the society around them.
One principle of recovery which stands out against this endless cycle is the power of sharing the story. Storytelling is an ancient practice, the very reason we know anything about history and culture. For addiction and alcoholism, story telling is the way that people learn it’s okay to be an alcoholic or an addict, it’s okay to fall, and it’s okay to get back up. Typically, storytelling about addiction and alcoholism is reserved for twelve step rooms or treatment walls. “For the newcomer” is the reason most often cited for sharing one’s’ “experience, strength, and hope”. Huffington Post contributor Brooke Feldman suggests that storytelling might do more than spread awareness but actually cause hormonal changes in the brain by producing oxytocin.
“Oxytocin is the hormone that is responsible for human behaviors such as bonding, maternal behavior and building trust,” Feldman explains. “Oxytocin is also the hormone that is responsible for human behaviors such as empathy, generosity, and increased motivation to help others.” Helping others through sharing our personal adventures of addiction and recovery is critical to spreading awareness, empowering others to recover, and fighting stigma. “When we authentically tell our stories of triumph to others, when we openly share our heroic journeys of recovery, when we freely dispense of the gifts of wisdom we picked up along the way,” Feldman passionately describes, “we then have the amazing opportunity to serve as small but powerful oxytocin-inducing agents to the brains of those listening.” In other words, the mutual interaction of verbalizing our story while somebody else actively listens is a way to release “the very hormone known to be responsible for generating empathy, generosity and an increased motivation to help others.”
Addicts and alcoholics do not get the help they need or deserve. Written off as people who have moral failings and have become the derelicts of society, people are less than willing to reach out a helping hand to get someone’s life on track. By telling our stories, more importantly, by living our stories, we change not just our lives, the lives of others suffering, but the world around us- anyone willing to listen.
Lakehouse Recovery Center focuses residential treatment programs on supporting clients while they learn how to have fun again and live their lives in recovery. For information on our detox services and unique 12 month aftercare, call us today at 877.762.3707.