Typically we see two recovery genres in the rooms of 12 Steps: The ‘Recovered’ Addict versus The ‘Recovering’ Addict narrative. Recovery stories are consequential for the person’s experience of recovery, since it seems that the telling and retelling of an empowered “Recovered” narrative, with its clear beginnings, turning points, and felicitous, institutionally condoned endings may well be critical for recovery to remain a stable condition in life (Shohet 2007:344-382).
Alternatively, the telling and retelling of ambiguous “always recovering” narratives, in which protagonists question received wisdom, ponder hypothetical life paths not actually pursued, and envision abstinence as both good and bad, may perpetuate a cyclical life course in which relapse recurs and permanent recovery eludes the narrator as protagonist (Shohet 2007:344-382).
In similar fashion to AA alcoholic drinking stories (Cain 1991), such narration articulates, but also facilitates, the teller’s consistent affiliation with and appropriation of institutional master narratives.
Central to the 12 Step recovery culture is the personal story of the recovered addict—“Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” (A.A. 2001:58). The Member’s personal story reinforces the figured world of 12 Step recovery. These narratives maintain the boundaries that structure and empower the 12 Step recovery culture. By sharing their personal stories of “what they used to be like”, members identify as addicts. Their “war stories” convey important criteria for potential members to identify and label themselves as addicts (Holland 2001:71). Furthermore…personal testimonies are significant to newcomers because the storylines of recovered addicts objectify the central cultural elements of the 12 Step world, such as the importance of attending meetings, getting a sponsor, helping other suffering addicts, doing service work for the 12 Step Group. By listening to the narratives of recovered members, newcomers learn the culture of 12 Step recovery. The newcomer learns the model of a 12 Step testimonial by listening to other members and through telling their own story, the newcomer comes to understand their own life as a member of a 12 Step program (Holland 2001:71). The 12 Step rhetorical language provides a powerful opiate that connects the newcomer to the 12-step culture and convinces them that their drinking/using/acting-out problem can be solved—resulting in behavioural transformations of newcomers (Waldram 1997:74).h
Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) 2001. Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. New York.
Holland, Dorothy C. 2001. Personal Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 66-97
Shohet, Merav 2007. Narrating Anorexia: “Full” and “Struggling” Genres of Recovery Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 35 (3):344-382
Waldram, J.B. 1997. Aboriginal spirituality and symbolic healing. In The Way of the Pipe: Aboriginal Spirituality and Symbolic Healing in Canadian Prisons. Canada: Broadview Press, pp. 71-98.