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The Power of Story

The Power of Story

Merlyn Karst

Posted in: Advocacy & Public Policy

This blog had a prompt. Reading John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” is a wonderful experience, to be repeated. The narrative about the Depression, caravans to California, and the description of awfulness those arriving experienced is priceless. It is even relevant in this different time and context. However, one chapter captured my attention as it spoke of storytellers and their importance to some semblance of well being in the camps. He wrote:  And it came about in the camps that the storyteller grew into being, so that the people gathered in the low firelight to hear the gifted ones and the people listened, and their faces were quiet with listening. They listened while the tales were told and their participation made the stories great. The storytellers, gathering attention into their tales, spoke in great rhythms, spoke in great words because the tales were great, and the listeners became great through them. For those reading this, I imagine there have been meetings and events where the “storytellers” have brought about what Steinbeck wrote about.

In the earliest periods of time, Cave drawings educated and as language developed, oral traditions had stories passed along to generations through word of mouth. Storytelling describes the social and cultural activity of sharing stories.  What I have learned is that it is human nature to tell others about our life’s happenings.  Storytelling, with fact mixed with fiction, is a human characteristic. Every culture has its own stories. I also thought of parables. A short definition of parables is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth. Jesus taught with parables. Stories that explained universal truth that used symbolism, simile, and metaphor, to demonstrate the moral lesson. We perhaps know best the stories of the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, and of the shepherd and the lost sheep in which a shepherd leaves his flock to find a single lost sheep—and upon finding it, he rejoices.Christianity was founded in ritual, fellowship, and storytelling.   Our recovery support groups and communities grow in the same way. In peer support, the storytellers have a lot of “peerness” in their stories.

The Faces & Voices of Recovery web site has a section titled Recovery Stories with the following preamble: Across the country, people in recovery are celebrating their successes and sharing them with others. However, these successes often go unnoticed by the broader population. Sharing and celebrating recovery stories connects community members with one another and empowers those who are still struggling to know they are not alone. It also helps us to eliminate the stigma people in recovery often face and educate the public that recovery is possible.

In a recent blog appearing on the Faces & Voices web-site, titled In Others’ Words, I told of the value to myself and others of finding and giving credit to the words of others to support my views. Here I go again. I have excerpted and combined Bill White’s words from a previous blog. “What is needed within the recovery advocacy movement is not a handful of highly visible charismatic leaders, but thousands of people in recovery stepping together into the light to affirm the reality and transformative power of recovery.” and, “The recovery advocacy movement will have matured when we can ALL stand publicly to represent the diversity of our past brokenness and the extent of our present healing. Every increment of that healing is cause for celebration, even among individuals who would not be the most obvious choice for the face and voice of recovery. If you don’t fit the iconic recovery poster image, you are still the face and voice of recovery, and your time in the sunshine is coming. Prepare yourself for that day.”

Many feel their story is not interesting or worth telling, but it will be. Remember Steinbeck’s word as he describes the listener. They listened while the tales were told and their participation made the stories great. There will be day that provides a special situation and environment when persons in recovery will stand up, stand out, tell their story, and be proud about it. A repeat from Steinbeck: The story tellers, gathering attention into their tales, spoke in great rhythms, spoke in great words because the tales were great and the listeners became great through them.  That is the power of story.