By: Marilyn L. Davis
Putting the World in Focus
“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 reflective writing helped me heal in my early recovery.
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.
Narrowing the Focus
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.” 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 we were forced to see it all when we quit using.
For many, the price to buy back or repair the damages seemed too much. When they got overwhelmed with all the damages, they returned to active use.
For those of us who did choose to redeem our relationships or careers and take advantage of opportunities given to us, we knew there was a price, and the cost usually involved changes for the individual.
Redemption Comes at a Price
Redemption is a recurring theme in many memoirs. For most of the authors, there is a defining moment when they must change or consumed by lifestyle, self-pity, glamour, and fame and continue deteriorating and die without ever trying to reclaim their lives.
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 positive aspects that we long neglected that, if used correctly, can make our lives have meaning. And in finding meaning, we are often not doing what we thought we should do.
Rediscovery: A New Focus
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 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, people encouraged me to start writing to a broader recovering audience, and the TIERS curriculum evolved. From that, I also rediscovered my love of writing and started my blog From Addict 2 Advocate.
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. Writing there rekindled my love of words as agents of change and healing.
Recovery is about making something new and strong again. I know from taking a moral inventory, that I had 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’m sorry” was no longer going to be an acceptable reply to people. 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 taking 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 my inventory and became familiar with the Seventeen Spiritual Principles, I realized that there were aspects of myself that were positive. Still, I’d used them in negative ways. 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 obtaining drugs and using them
- 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.
Beyond making 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 behave.
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 firmly 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 reflective writing, have found closure or repaired damaged aspects of their lives.
Focusing on the Changes
So, what does my restored metaphorical house look like today? It is a far cry from where I entered recovery thirty-one 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, some are still struggling with the issue. In writing your memoir or merely reflective writing for yourself, you will heal.
With a lot of help from my editor, Claudia Ricci, I’m using this time to revise my memoir, Finding North: A Woman’s Journey from Addict 2 Advocate. I would anticipate more memoirs of Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery published in the months to come as we collectively heal from Covid-19, much as we saw after 9/11.
Begin Your Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery Today
Here are some additional posts about the memoir: