The Art of Storytelling | Learning from the Past


Storytelling as a Tradition

The art of storytelling has long been a respected skill and an important tradition in many cultures. Over the course of history, community elders and their stories have been regarded as a treasure trove of society’s knowledge, history, and wisdom. Older members of a community were encouraged to share their stories with younger generations, keeping the oral tradition alive. Today, medical and social science researchers are interested in more than just the importance of storytelling as a means of teaching and entertaining, but also cognitive health.

Belonging and Acceptance

Storytelling goes far beyond the relating of culturally historic stories, myths, legends and lessons. It provides a means of belonging, acceptance and unity. Storytelling allows one to learn from the past and solidify an identity that may be unknown or misguided. The cultural act of storytelling from one generation to another provides a sense of being one with another, a belonging, and can evoke feelings of pride and diminish the thoughts and feelings of loneliness and not being understood. It is a way that our ancestors have created continuity in rituals and customs that define a family structure, regardless of education, finances and community stature. 
A family system is held together by unspoken mores and bonds that are seen, but too often, not understood. When generations take the time to provide such lessons, in the form of storytelling, it creates a bond that cannot be duplicated through other avenues. Storytelling sends the message that, no matter what you have done or the decisions you have made, you belong to someone, you belong to a system, and you are not alone. It is in these moments that the brain is introduced to a structure, a certain dynamic that makes sense in a world that may not. It allows for the cognitive process to minimize fears and embrace the decision-making process that has formed in our brains as influenced by past familial generations. 

Processing Reality & Overcoming Loneliness

Storytelling helps to activate multiple senses, solidify thoughts and bring our emotions into reality. It allows for our internal self to come to life and become real. It is imperative to feel if we are to heal! And, although it may be frightening to bring life to our stories, it is through this act that we create connections that help us through times of darkness and loneliness. This is when we breathe life to our values, morals and ethics that may have been forgotten or lost.
In the world of addiction and alcoholism, the feeling of loneliness is far too common. The belief that family and friends have given up on us is far too great to combat. And the thought that no one will understand and that family and friends have abandoned us is a reality that holds true in the minds and hearts of many who suffer from the disease of addiction. Through the simple act of storytelling and listening to storytellers, those feelings and beliefs can be transformed. This transformation can then be the catalyst to those seeking motivation and hope for sobriety and emotional and mental wellness.

Storytelling and 12-Step Meetings

In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and all of the other 12-step realms, the use of storytelling is of the utmost importance. One is free to share his or her own story, give it life while taking the power out of its secrets and invisible stronghold. When others hear their own story, when others can relate and when others can learn from it all, it allows a sense of healing emotionally and cognitively. Within this healing come solutions – solutions to our sense of wellbeing and the tragic stories that we tell ourselves that we must succumb to. 

It gives those suffering from the disease of alcoholism and addiction a chance to see that we are not alone, even when we may think we want to be. This is seen with the most power within Step Five of the 12-steps. This is the part of our recovery journey that allows us to share with our sponsor, our Higher Power and ourselves the exact nature of our past. It is a sacred section of one’s journey in recovery where solutions become an epiphany, a sense of belonging becomes inherent and the shame and guilt of our secrets diminish into a path of healthy wellness.

Change Your Story

The act of storytelling is also aligned with the successes of psychotherapy. A client can use this act through the use of narrative therapy in sessions. Through this approach, the client is free to tell his or her story from the vantage point of being the sole author of his or her life’s journey. Taking it a step further, the therapist helps the client identify his or her own strengths to apply them as solutions to questions, concerns and struggles. It helps to separate the problems experienced from the person and allows the client to see it strategically in order to identify areas requiring change. The benefits of such an approach in the therapeutic room goes beyond a professional telling the client what to do, it allows the client the opportunity to bring the therapist along the journey so that no one has to ever experience it alone.

There is so much more to the act of storytelling, beyond that of entertainment. It can actually be the one thing that alters one’s decision to accept the strength that is already within to change and reunite with the family system that can never be broken. The freedom that comes along with sharing our stories, past and present, is one that cannot be experienced through any other means. When we share our stories with a genuine sense of vulnerability, we take the power out of their secrets. We find the freedom and genuine self-worth that was hidden behind our own negative connotations of self. We allow others who share the same story to unite with us and for us on a journey of wellness that can only be successful when we make the decision to no longer try and do it alone.