I’ve been reading this book called The Spirituality of Imperfection, and after a long, mildly annoying Part 1, it immediately gave me a great insight at the start of Part 2. (Recovery lesson: don’t quit before the miracle!)
The insight came in the form of an analogy, which I will paraphrase and re-state here:
A drinking alcoholic is like a person lost in the wilderness, trying everything to get out, but with either no map or bad maps given to them by people who don’t know their way around these woods. Slowly that person loses faith and hope, then gives up and gives a real, heart-felt cry for help.
It’s at this point that God sends them a person with knowledge of the wilderness, a person who found their way out, who speaks the language of these woods, who has real knowledge on the subject because of this shared experience, and who, by telling their story, begins to lay out a map that works.
The suffering alcoholic still has to walk, to follow, but most of all to make their own map, through trial and error, with the constant support and encouragement they get from hearing the stories of people who made it out. At every junction, every time the trail seems to vanish, someone tells the story of how they made it past that point, and with willingness and faith and hope, the sufferer can make it out of the woods on their own path. In fact, this is the only way, because for each of us there is a distinct path, and nobody can walk our path for us.
The circle becomes complete when the newly freed alcoholic then looks back, sees the path they walked, and then finds another lost soul to tell their story to, thus owning their story and re-framing it as a story of hope and faith and salvation, rather than one of simply pain and confusion. Every twist and turn, every wrong start, every giving-up, is now seen as a crucial part of the entire path, just as much as every great discovery, every happy time, and the final emergence into the light.
This is the power of story-telling, and the great insight of AA: that it’s only by finding our own path, with the support of our fellows who found their own path from the same lost-ness, and then by sharing our story with others, that we fully accept the gift of recovery.
Thus, the basic framework of our stories: What it was like (identification and true knowledge), what happened (how I found my path, and how you can find yours), and what it’s like now (I’m free and in the light, and you can join us.)
It’s not a pretty or easy trip, especially while you’re on it, but it leads to a better place. We “trudge” the “road to happy destiny,” telling our stories along the way as if holding up a light to help the others who will follow.