Under the Surface: The Untold Stories

By: C. W. Stratton


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou



There’s Always More Stories

There are many concepts related to the recovery process.  Bombarded with tons of suggestions and information about best outcomes, we try to connect all of this to ourselves.  I found, after years of battling addiction and years of counseling, that one size does not fit all.

Just as many of us had different experiences before our addiction, some of us had both similar and different experiences during active addiction.  Then we’re told to concentrate on the similarities in our recovery; we find the ways that work for us, “and countless others”, and arbitrarily decide that our answers are the only ones.

We’ve seen those recovering people who seem to be struggling significantly with maintaining abstinence and we wonder why.  What’s their problem? Why can’t they follow the simple steps that worked for us?

Believing we have the answers because they worked for us, we continue to make these suggestions:

  • Get to a meeting
  • Call your sponsor
  • Contact your support network
  • Read recovery material
  • Pray about it
  • Accept it

Some Stories are Complicated

These may seem to be simple suggestions for many of us to follow, but for some, this is a difficult task.  There is a statement within the literature which indicates: “There are those who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves, they are not at fault, they seem to have been born that way.  They are incapable of developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.” In others words, there are those who are constitutionally incapable of grasping the simple recovery concepts.

This statement has resonated with me for years.  Is this something some of us use as an excuse for allowing certain behaviors to continue?  Or, is this an avenue of exploration to further help the person?

Some people may feel that remaining drug and alcohol-free is enough, and many are satisfied with this (congratulations to those who stay clean). However, there are those who feel or yearn for a deeper connection with the recovery process which requires internal and external changes:

  • Change in attitude
  • Change in responses to conflict
  • Become more responsible and accountable
  • Improve vocational/educational skills (if applicable)
  • Engaging in purposeful things conducive to recovery
  • Broadening social connections that will enhance your life
  • Improve family relations

The Painful Stories

There may be underlying issues that result in an individual’s continued struggles with recovery.  If this is the case, we may want to make more suggestions to them about what results they see in others. We might need to read the literature again, and remember, “We have service centers that employ special workers.”  These services centers today are the treatment facilities and other counseling agencies.

We always have to be aware that for some, their childhood experiences before active addiction, have had negative impacts on their recovery.  These experiences can range from trauma, mental disorders, and even negative messages conveyed by loved ones and family members.  These messages could be:

“You’re never going to amount to anything.”
“You’ll never be successful.”
“You’re just like your mother/father – just an addict.”
“You’ll never get clean.”
“You’ll be using again; it’s only a matter of time.” 

Some of these messages are carried into the recovery process and ultimately become a hindrance to the process.  If not addressed, this becomes a heavy load to carry in addition to managing recovery.

We consistently look at the outside of the person and never allow ourselves to see the wounds and barriers that they’ve gotten in life.  We don’t see the real battle.  Although many of us aren’t clinicians or work in some other helping profession, we still adhere to the idea of one addict helping another, and we think that because it worked for us, it will be helpful to someone else. While that is usually true, we need to recognize that our help may just be in getting the struggling person into counseling or treatment for other issues.

Relating the Stories and Finding Empathy

Connecting with others in the recovery process is about relating and empathizing with them on a deeper level than just on the surface.  Given that a person is struggling with their recovery, if they give us an opportunity to see the exact nature of their difficulties we may want to consider making broader suggestions that are all-inclusive of the person as a whole; not just on the surface.

We all have experienced pain. However, our sources of pain may differ.  Inquire about what’s within the person that’s creating the barriers to their recovery, and when you listen carefully, you will probably be able to give them proper suggestions to help that person recover.

When you look under the surface, then you hear the untold story, acknowledging that there are underlying issues, and providing them with correct guidance.


Writing, and recovery heals the heart

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