The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing Your Recovery Story
Everyone has a unique relationship with addiction and recovery. For some, it is a lifelong battle. For others, it can seem to be a momentary lapse in judgment that quickly grew into a lengthy struggle. Regardless of the specifics of your individual story, I’ve found that sharing it can be a powerful tool in your recovery as well as an excellent way to help others.
Recovery Stories and AA
The 12-step program Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the world’s most popular and well-known recovery programs. Khantzian, E. J., & Mack, J. E. (1994). How AA works and why it’s important for clinicians to understand. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 11(2), 77-92. … Continue readingA key component of AA is sharing your story with others struggling with addiction, and there are many guidelines for sharing at AA meetings. The recovery story is utilized as a way of passing along your experience, strength, and hope with others on the same journey. It is also an opportunity to connect with others and help them understand that they are not alone. This is backed by science, as storytelling has been shown to be a meaningful activity to accelerate one’s recovery journey. Nurser, K. P., Rushworth, I., Shakespeare, T., & Williams, D. (2018). Personal storytelling in mental health recovery. Mental Health Review Journal. https://doi.org/10.1108/MHRJ-08-2017-0034
However, it’s important to do a little prep before you share for the first time. The process can be a bit nerve wracking but is ultimately rewarding and fulfilling. To help you get started, I’ve found several dos and don’ts you can use as a guide for telling your AA story.
DO Share Your Story From a Place of Honesty and Vulnerability
While no one can tell you exactly how to write your addiction story, honesty and vulnerability are some of the most fundamental keys to recovery that should be included. When you share your story, be honest about your experience with addiction and recovery. Don’t try to hide the difficult parts or make them sound more glamorous than they are. Others need to see that recovery is not easy, but it is possible. This honest insight into your story can be constructive for someone just starting on their journey. It allows them to develop realistic expectations of what they can expect in recovery.
Be vulnerable in your story as well. This means sharing the parts of your story that you are not proud of. Others need to see that you are not perfect and that you have made mistakes. We all make mistakes, but it is what we do after we make them that defines us. A lot of shame and guilt often accompanies addiction, so be open about your emotions during your addiction and recovery. This can help others to feel less alone in their experience.
DO Assess the Past and Present
It is important to assess both the past and the present when sharing your story and making your recovery story outline. The past can trigger some people, so only share what feels to be the most helpful in the present moment. Your past can serve as a blueprint for others to follow, or it can be a warning of what not to do to maximize success and learn from failures.
The present is just as important as the past. In the present moment, we are the experts in our own lives. We have the power to change our story and write a new chapter. When you share your story, be sure to include what you are doing in the present moment to stay sober. This can be anything from attending 12-step meetings to working with a therapist. Whatever it is, sharing what works for you in the present moment can be incredibly helpful for someone who is just starting out on their journey, and give the necessary hope that recovery is possible.
DO Acknowledge Your Entire Support System
Your recovery story is not just about you. It is also about the people who have supported you along the way. Be sure to acknowledge your entire support system in your story. This includes your family, friends, therapist, sponsor, 12-step group, and anyone else who has helped you on your journey. These people have played a vital role in your recovery, and their support should be recognized.
DO Emphasize Growth
Recovery is a journey of growth. When sharing your story, be sure to emphasize your progress without being afraid of oversharing in AA. This includes everything from the physical changes you have made to the emotional and spiritual growth you have experienced.
For physical changes, detail how your appearance has changed, how your health has improved, and how your overall energy level is different. Don’t shy away from sharing before and after photos if you have them. These physical changes can be a powerful reminder of the progress you have made, and they can be incredibly motivating for someone who is just starting out on their journey. Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Rennick-Egglestone, S., Callard, F., Crawford, P., Farkas, M., Hui, A., Manley, D., McGranahan, R., Pollock, K., Ramsay, A., Sælør, K. T., Wright, N., & Slade, M. … Continue reading
For emotional and spiritual changes, detail how your relationships have changed, how your self-esteem has improved, and how your outlook on life is different. These changes can be some of the most powerful because they show that recovery is about more than just abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Warfield, R. D., & Goldstein, M. B. (1996). Spirituality: The key to recovery from alcoholism. Counseling and Values, 40(3), 196-205. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-007X.1996.tb00852.x Recovery is about healing the whole person, and that is something everyone can relate to.
DON’T Sugarcoat Your Story
Don’t be afraid to share the details. The more specific you are, the more relatable your story will be. This could include the name of the drugs you were using, the behaviors you were engaging in, and the consequences you faced. If you were to skim over these details, it could rob someone of the opportunity to see themselves in your story and realize that recovery is possible for them.
DON’T Glamorize Your Story
When sharing your story, it is important to be mindful of how you are presenting it. Are you making it seem like using drugs was fun and exciting? Are you making it seem like recovery is easy? It is important to be honest about the reality of addiction and recovery. Addiction is a serious disease that can have devastating consequences, and recovery is a hard but incredibly rewarding journey.
DON’T Forget to Mention the Importance of 12-Step Programs
If you are in recovery, then chances are that 12-step programs have played a role in your journey to achieving sobriety. Be sure to mention the importance of these programs in your story.  Pagano, M. E., Zeltner, B. B., Jaber, J., Post, S. G., Zywiak, W. H., & Stout, R. L. (2009). Helping others and long-term sobriety: Who should I help to stay sober? Alcoholism treatment … Continue reading Describe how they have helped you to stay sober, how they have helped you to grow, and how they have helped you to build a support network.
If there was a specific step within the program that was particularly helpful to you, be sure to mention exactly what it was. This can help someone really tune in during that portion of their recovery that they may have glanced over otherwise. If you deeply believe that 12-step programs were key to your success, then make sure your story reflects that.
DON’T Embellish Any Details
Recovery is an emotional journey, and it can be tempting to embellish your story for dramatic effect. However, it is important to be honest about your experience. This includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. By embellishing your story, you are doing a disservice to yourself and to the person you are sharing with.
For example, if you share that you hit rock bottom when you lost your job, be honest about the fact that you were fired for showing up to work high and you didn’t quit your job. This may not be the most glamorous detail, but it is an important one. It shows the raw reality of addiction and how it can affect every aspect of your life. Some observers might not relate to the ease with which you “quit your job” to pursue treatment, so they could tune out and miss key points in your story. This is one example of how embellishing your story can actually do more harm than good.
The Key Components of a Quality Recovery Story
If you are looking for guidance regarding what to include in your story, here are a few key components:
- Your motivation for getting sober. What made you realize that you needed to make a change?
- Your experience in treatment. What was your experience like in detox? In residential treatment? In outpatient treatment?
- Any relapses. If you have relapsed, be honest about it. What led to the relapse? What did you learn from it?
- Your current sobriety date. How long have you been sober? What has sobriety been like for you?
- Your experience in 12-step programs. How have 12-step programs helped you in your recovery?
- Your advice for others. What would you say to someone who is struggling with addiction?
- The low points of your addiction. What were the darkest moments of your addiction?
- The high points of your recovery. What are the things that you are most proud of in your recovery?
- Your hopes for the future. What are your plans for the future? What are your hopes and dreams for your life in recovery?
While it is important to be honest about the reality of addiction and recovery, it is also essential to focus on the positive. Your story is meant to inspire and motivate others, so focus on the hope, the courage, and the strength it takes to overcome addiction.
Connection Helps Us All On Our Recovery Journey
If you have more questions surrounding the dos and don’ts of sharing your story, I’m more than happy to offer guidance and support. Let’s work together to share our recovery stories and help as many people as possible find strength through support and hope from inspiration.
As always, stay strong,
|↑1||Khantzian, E. J., & Mack, J. E. (1994). How AA works and why it’s important for clinicians to understand. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 11(2), 77-92. https://doi.org/10.1016/0740-5472(94)90021-3|
|↑2||Nurser, K. P., Rushworth, I., Shakespeare, T., & Williams, D. (2018). Personal storytelling in mental health recovery. Mental Health Review Journal. https://doi.org/10.1108/MHRJ-08-2017-0034|
|↑3||Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Rennick-Egglestone, S., Callard, F., Crawford, P., Farkas, M., Hui, A., Manley, D., McGranahan, R., Pollock, K., Ramsay, A., Sælør, K. T., Wright, N., & Slade, M. (2019). Characteristics of mental health recovery narratives: Systematic review and narrative synthesis. PloS one, 14(3), e0214678. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214678|
|↑4||Warfield, R. D., & Goldstein, M. B. (1996). Spirituality: The key to recovery from alcoholism. Counseling and Values, 40(3), 196-205. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-007X.1996.tb00852.x|
|↑5||Pagano, M. E., Zeltner, B. B., Jaber, J., Post, S. G., Zywiak, W. H., & Stout, R. L. (2009). Helping others and long-term sobriety: Who should I help to stay sober? Alcoholism treatment quarterly, 27(1), 38-50. https://doi.org/10.1080/07347320802586726|