I have always loved storytelling. Or listening to storytelling. So I enjoyed Bill White‘s comparison of addiction to mythical figures in history. For instance he compares Pandora’s box to our hidden shame of substance use or of a loved ones substance use.
“Each of us is the box of Pandora and
within us resides primitive thoughts and emotions and closely guarded secrets all protected with
the admonition that they cannot be released to the world. And so each of us is left with the
burden of what precisely to do with this shadow side of ourselves that is so often the source of
guilt and shame. We are often told that this shadow feeds our addiction: “You’re only as sick as
your secrets.” Twelve Step programs—the steps of self-inventory, confession, amends, and
service to others—provide a framework to address this shadow. Similarly, numerous schools of
addiction psychotherapy are based on the assumption that recovery comes only through purging
the hidden, distressing emotions that have long been self-medicated with drugs”.
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero‑path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world. “
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Story reconstruction and storytelling play an important role in addiction recovery. Newly emerging recovery narratives cleave lives into the transformative categories of before and after. They encapsulate and distance the destruction of the past and open unlimited possibilities for the future. Storytelling and story sharing (the latter adding the act of listening) evolve as rituals of self-healing, service and communion. They affirm our membership within a community of shared experience, identity and resolve. The foundational knowledge of these communities of recovery is drawn not from scientific studies or clinical texts but from a library of stories drawn from the lives of present and past members and from stories collected from the larger world that offer instruction on how to conduct ones’ personal, family and community life in long-term recovery. The latter range from the latest news stories to the oldest fables.
Ancient myths have much to tell us about the imperfections of character that are deeply intertwined with the addiction experience and that serve as landmines of drama within the recovery process. One of my latest posted papers explores what guidance some noted mythical figures (Icarus, Narcissus, Sisyphus, Prometheus, Achilles, the Sirens, Pandora and Procrustes) may have to offer us on living a life in recovery. You can view the article at http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2013%20Myths%20to%20Recovery%20By.pdf
I hope you enjoy it. – Bill White
Addiction is at its core a disorder of excess. The cells and the psyche scream in harmony,
“higher, higher, ever higher,” fueling flights that, like Icarus, many addicts do not survive. The
Icarus story is a story about self-intoxication—“self-will run riot” as AA co-founder Dr. Robert
Smith characterized it. Addiction for many is not just about a drug, but a broad pattern of
excessive behaviors that touches most areas of one’s life. So where does that leave the modern
day Icarus? There are really only three broad choices. One is to succumb to the voices, ever
pushing the boundary toward death and a life of crashing consequences and devastation to self,
family, and community. The second is to stem this propensity for excess through self-talk
(personal mantras of moderation) and by developing daily rituals of moderation in one’s life as
antidotes to this drive toward excess. The final option is to channel this propensity for excess
into areas that are less destructive. This final option can bring unanticipated rewards. The
addict’s capacity for self-destruction is matched only by his or her potential capacity for creative
contribution. Both may spring from the same source—this zeal for excess that can be expressed
in infamy or greatness. A good lesson: the excess that has caused us so much pain can be
transformed into a virtue when properly channeled.