By: Marilyn L. Davis
“It has always been on the written page that the world has come into focus for me. If I can piece all these bits of memory together with the diaries and letters and the scribbled thoughts that clutter my mind and bookshelves, then maybe I can explain what happened. Maybe the worlds I have inhabited for the past seven years will assume order and logic and wholeness on paper. Maybe I can tell my story in a way that is useful to someone else.” ― Nancy Horan, Loving Frank
While Nancy Horan’s book is a novel, this passage helps explain the power of memoir or reflective writing. I’m a huge fan of the genre, in part, because it began my recovery from substance abuse, but more importantly, this type of reflective writing healed me in ways I could not imagine when I first started writing.
Much like the character from Loving Frank, writing about our lives will put it into a narrow focus which highlights the issues, the choices, and the outcomes of the writer’s decisions. Memoirs analyze segments of lives, allowing the writer to see patterns, poor choices, and put it into focus in ways that talking about it can’t accomplish.
Memoirs are the fragments of our lives that demonstrate an individual’s experience. However, if the reflections touch on universal feelings, thoughts and overcoming something, the readers get a blueprint for changing and improving their lives as well. So, what are those universally appealing experiences? Typically, in memoirs they focus on:
Redemption comes from the Latin word redimere, a combination of re(d)-, meaning “back,” and emere, meaning “buy”, and for many of us in recovery, we are buying back the parts of ourselves that we sacrificed in our addiction by making changes within. We are reclaiming the aspects of ourselves that we lost due to our drug and alcohol use.
And some of us had a tremendous debt when we first embraced recovery. We had no conception of the damage that we had caused in our relationships, careers, educational opportunities, and social worlds. In our use, we were rather like a neglected and dilapidated house, allowed to fall into disrepair, exposed to the elements and severely damaged.
It was as if we couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge the minor damages as they occurred and then were forced to see it all when we quit using. For many, the price to buy back or repair the damages seemed too much and they returned to using rather than face the reality of their lives.
For those of us who did choose to redeem our relationships, careers, and take advantages of opportunities given to us, we knew there was a price, and the cost usually involved changes for the individual.
Redemption is a recurring theme in many memoirs. For most of the authors, there is a defining moment when they must change or be consumed by lifestyle, self-pity, glamour and fame, and continue deteriorating and die without ever trying to reclaim their lives. Redemption exchanges one set of values and behaviors for another in the hopes that life will improve as well. And it’s in that process of improving that readers relate.
There is not a single person who hasn’t made changes in their lives to better themselves, and when we share our catalyst for change, and how we overcame some adversity, we indirectly encourage our readers to do the same. They now know that someone else did it, overcame the obstacle, or found a way to triumph over hardships.
When we apply ourselves we often rediscover aspects of ourselves long neglected that if used properly can make our lives have meaning. And in finding meaning, we are often not doing what we thought we should do.
In some respects I’m similar to the journalist, David W. Berner. When I opened the women’s recovery home, I assumed that I would do this until the day I died. I’m not being melodramatic here. It’s more about not putting any thought into what I would do if I weren’t running the house and developing a recovery curriculum. David W. Berner was a successful journalist until a divorce, his father’s illness and losing his job forced him to change careers and become a teacher to “throw-away” kids.
In changing occupations, he rediscovered his love of words and giving voice to those who seemingly did not have one. When the house closed, I was persuaded to start writing to a broader recovering audience and the TIERS curriculum evolved. From that, I also rediscovered my love of writing.
When Scott Biddulph encouraged me to write for Two Drops of Ink, I knew that while I wasn’t spreading the recovery message and love of writing in the same way, this new way brought the messages of recovery and writing to more people, and my love of words as agents of healing were rekindled.
Recovery is about making something new and strong again. I know from taking a moral inventory, that I was not only character defects but admirable qualities, too. With that knowledge, I could see that the guts of my metaphorical house weren’t destroyed, but there were a lot of repairs to be made. Getting my interior house in order was going to take work – and lots of it at that.
I would have to assume responsibility for my choices, and whether I was going to continue with my use even when I knew the damage it was causing. I could no longer say, “I’m sorry” and hope that was sufficient. I was going to have to change and demonstrate that my guilt had a purpose; it was motivating me to change because I wanted relationships improved.
When I accepted responsibility for my poor choices, I found that liberating. Too many people are afraid of accepting responsibility for their choices. Yet, when we do, we are then in control of the next decision. We can acknowledge that we did not make good choices and now we are willing to learn from others, or not make the same mistakes again.
I made many mistakes in my use, and as a result, my daughters weren’t speaking to me, my parents were disappointed in my behaviors, and I was floundering in my career. When I took inventory, and became familiar with the Seventeen Spiritual Principles, I realized that there were aspects of myself that I’d used in a negative way. Those included:
- Acceptance – I didn’t argue with my dealer; whatever he sold, I bought
- Courage – I’d go into dangerous neighborhoods to score
- Diligence – in getting and using
- Perseverance – again, in getting and using
- Willingness – I would meet my dealer anywhere and anytime
When I recognized that these qualities were within me and I could choose how to use them, I knew that each of those characteristics would help me repair my relationships, behaviors, and allow me to focus on career choices that were more beneficial rather than detrimental.
Beyond making a restitution to someone that I stole from, I had to return to living the morals and values I’d learned as a child. I could no longer pretend that it was okay to behave in certain ways. Recovery restored my conscience; I could not act as if I did not know right from wrong or deny that there were ethical ways to act.
However, I still owed people amends for my actions. I could no longer be self-centered and only thinking of what I wanted out of life. I had to take others into account. Part of my amends process has been about encouraging others to share their writing both at Two Drops of Ink and From Addict 2 Advocate.
I strongly believe that how something is said is just as important as what is said, and that each writer has a unique voice even as we write about the same subjects. Encouraging new writers on both sites means that I’m repaying debts to those who helped me in my struggles to recover. While I’ve thanked them, and in some cases, being able to work with them and help them overcome adversity, I know there were people I harmed in my use that I cannot make direct amends to; they are no longer living, I’ve lost touch even with Facebook, or to contact them would be harmful to them and me in the final analysis, so I play it forward and try to help those who need support to write and heal.
I know from comments that some of our readers are encouraged to write about their lives and in this introspective writing have found closure or repaired damaged aspects of their lives.
So, what does my restored house look like today? It is a far cry from where I started twenty-eight years ago. It still requires maintenance to keep it spruced up. I still have to learn new ways to say the same thing. I still have to watch my use of the semicolon, and I still have to attend support meetings. But these daily safeguards preserve my changes and are so much simpler and less daunting than starting from scratch.
I also know that I’m not unusual. The number of people who have overcome their addictions is approximately 23 million individuals, but it is not just addiction that people overcome.If you have overcome some adversity in your life, there are those who are still struggling with the issue. In writing your memoir or simply reflective writing for yourself, you will heal.
Begin Your Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery Today
Writing about your life can and will give you clarity and in that clearness, you will find your way to transformation and if you’re kind enough to share your progress with us, we may be healed as well.
Here are some additional posts about memoir:
Tag line: Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing