How Storytelling Keeps Me Sober
This week Liv’s Diaries has a guest post by the incredible Claire Rudy Foster. I am just in love with her words. I cannot wait until her book comes out next week, I’ve Never Done This Before (details below). And she lives in Portland. I’m sure you can all tell how enthused I am about that. Here she writes about How Storytelling Keeps Her Sober. I hope you enjoy.
My name is Claire, and I’m an alcoholic. That’s my “Once upon a time.”
I got sober in 2007, and spent the next couple of years experimenting with ways to deal with my addiction. Clearly, physical sobriety wasn’t enough for me. Without alcohol and drugs, I was as crazy as ever, and unhappy, and afraid to leave the house in case I saw someone I knew. I tried yoga. I tried meditation. I tried eating vegan. I tried cleanses. My self-care was at an all-time high, but I was incredibly unhappy and beginning to run out of hope. What was the point? I wondered. Who was I without alcohol?
Without a sober community, I was very much left to my own devices. I felt like I was floating, isolated, away from the rest of the world. To some degree, that was accurate. I was newly married, with an infant to take care of; I tried to think of myself as a wife, a mother, but those roles weren’t satisfying. I missed feeling wild and out of control. I missed my bad-news friends. I missed walking around feeling like I had the key to the city in my back pocket. Alcohol had made me feel invincible. Without it, I was like a crab without a shell: soft, defenseless, without form.
That changed when I started writing again.
I’ve always written—short stories, fiction, little scraps of things. When my son was little, I kept a yellow notepad on top of the bookcase so that I could dash over and write a sentence or two. I made the most of the time and space I had. However, I never wrote about myself, or the things I’d experienced before I got sober. I think part of me was afraid to look at that. Where to begin? When I examined my past, it was an ugly tangle.
Then, one day, I picked up a copy of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, by Philip Pullman. I couldn’t put it down. Page after page of princesses, curses, terrible tasks, beasts, disappointed fathers, famine. I related to every character, and when I finally closed the book, I knew I’d found a new way to tell my story.
Once upon a time, a beautiful girl fell under a curse, I began. A hole opened in her heart and the wind blew through it. She wandered the earth for seven years, searching for a magic needle to sew herself shut, but nobody could help her.
When I started telling my story, my perspective towards myself and my recovery changed. I wasn’t fated to suffer forever. I could still have a happy ending, as long as I was willing to be the hero in my own story.
Thinking of myself as a hero, instead of as a hopeless drunk, was a transformation for me. I had put so much work into taking care of my body; storytelling helped heal my heart.
I was an alcoholic, sure, but that didn’t stop me from defining myself and my future in a way that gave me hope. I stopped seeing my alcoholism as a shortcoming and accepted it as part of my story. Everyone I knew contended with problems of one kind or another—from divorce to job loss to grief and trauma. Why should my attitude towards my mental illness be any different? Writing gratitude lists and working on seeing the bright side of my experiences helped me get out of victim mode and start learning to take care of myself. After all, nobody was going to come save me: I had to save myself.
As my confidence grew, I traveled more, attended AA meetings all over the world, and mingled with people I never would have met otherwise, new friends on the same quest as me. I danced until sunrise, sober. I finished my first book. I ate gelato in Barcelona, sampled dim sum in Hong Kong. Every aspect of my life grew, and I was brave enough to embrace whatever came my way. I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t afraid.
At its worst, my addiction was a dragon to slay. At best, a pair of silver wings that flew me halfway around the world. Wherever I went, sober, I found myself in the company of angels.