“narrative truth”

booksThis reminded me of something from Bill White.

At the heart of Perry’s argument — in line with neurologist Oliver Sacks’s recent meditation on memory and how “narrative truth,” rather than “historical truth,” shapes our impression of the world — is the recognition that stories make us human and learning to reframe our interpretations of reality is key to our experience of life

Bill said the following in Pathways [emphasis mine]:

Each person’s life is series of events and experiences. Those events to which one attributes special meaning get selected, abstracted, and massaged into stories that communicate to others the nature of one’s identity. Identity – that sculpted perception of self in relationship to the outside world at any given moment – springs from and is in turn shaped by storytelling. Life is a continuing process through which one adds new elements to his personal story, eliminates old elements from the story that no longer fit, and revises the old story to achieve new meaning. Story Construction forms the bridge between self perception and one’s self-presentation to others.

One’s story places oneself in a particular relationship with the world. The construction of personal history shapes both present and future. It is the justification and defense of one’s existential position. It can dictate the lines one has in a play with terrifying predictability. Each of us plays out the scenes and chapters in our lives in line with the motifs embedded within our own story. The construction of the past shapes the future. By telling you who I am, I tell you my fate. To change my fate, I must redefine who I am; I must reconstruct my story.

Many addicts have a carefully constructed life story that portrays them as being victimized by people and forces and conditions over which they have no control. The “victim” status and role serve as a righteous justification for continued self-destruction through addiction. It is as if revenge against the world can be achieved through obliteration of oneself. Through treatment and recovery, the addict’s history must be reconstructed, portraying the individual not as a victim but as an active player who contributed to the past through personal choices. Addicts present their history through stories of what the world did to them; recovering addicts speak of who they were, what they did, what they valued, and how they thought. Projection of blame is replaced by taking personal responsibility for ones past.

When the addict begins to disengage from the world of addiction, his or her personal story must be reconstructed. The old story will not enhance recovery; it provides permission for relapse. For recovery, the addict must be helped to reconstruct the story of his or her life – a story that will reflect a different conception of self, a different view of the world and a new value system. An essential milestone of recovery is the sobriety-based construction of one’s story. The story that will get the addict through the early months of sobriety will continue to evolve throughout the recovering addict’s life.

It is not particularly necessary that the first story constructed by the addict in treatment or early recovery be factually correct. Factual omissions and distortions are to be expected. It is necessary that the addict’s life be reframed within the story in a manner that supports recovery. The self-story in recovery must be different than the self-story in addiction. Whether factually true or not, the self-story in recovery must be metaphorically true. The story must give some meaning to one’s own suffering. The story must explain the suffering that one has caused others. Factual truth – which the addict may be incapable of in the earliest days of recovery – is secondary to emotional truth. The freedom achieved through purging the emotional content of the story and the power of the injunction for change that emerges from the story should take precedence over factual accuracy. As recovery proceeds, the story will evolve in ways that bring factual and emotional truth closer and closer together.

For me, a critical part of reconstructing my story was reconstructing my stories about the world I lived in and the people in it. My narratives that people would/could not understand and the dangers of vulnerability might have been more challenging to change than my narratives about who I was.


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