On Wednesday, May 26, at 7 p.m. at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, Turning Point of Windham County will host “A Beautiful Journey,” an annual storytelling event to showcase the journeys of people who’ve lived with substance-use disorder and how they relate to the healing and transformative process of recovery.
This article explains why these messages of hope are so important.
We all have our own stories about our lives, some of which we like to share and others that we prefer to keep to ourselves. For people in recovery, those stories involve the struggle with addiction and how it harmed their life, interrupting their ability to thrive. These stories can be intense, even terrifying. But time and time again, when these stories are spoken out loud and shared with others, people are transformed. Hope emerges.
Stories enlighten the teller about their own history and speak to the shame they have felt, about their story and their identity. Many already know a tradition of healing through storytelling in the judgment-free atmosphere of recovery meetings, but opportunities to hear such stories are rare for people in the larger community. How can we know the hope and resiliency of recovery if we don’t hear from the people who’ve survived and thrived how they healed and what helped? How can we truly know and support them?
A lot has changed since the pandemic started one year ago. We all feel the disappointment and frustration of losing our habits and traditions, getting together with friends and family, and suffering financial stability. Many of us have experienced the grief of losing someone to COVID. Even so, the pandemic has reminded us of what is precious and has remained constant. We can still walk in the woods at sunset, spend time with our loved ones on Zoom, and experience the pleasure and escape of a good book. Stories have been a favorite pastime for humans since our beginnings. They take our minds off the pressure and stress of our lives. They pass down essential information, meaning, and history through generations. They provide entertainment, teach us life lessons, and allow us to see things from another’s point of view. Storytelling is universal and helps us understand and navigate our lives.
Connection and community are so key to the recovery process, and the isolation we all lived with this past year proved especially challenging and painful for people with substance use in their past or present. People with histories of addiction may be especially vulnerable to the virus and related complications, and they may struggle to get their basic needs met. For those in recovery, and especially for those still living with substance use, the pandemic has intensified people’s experiences. Virtual groups and phone supports helped many, but often, people lacked devices or service to participate. Overdoses are rising in Vermont, and in the United States as a whole, and alcohol use has increased dramatically. People in recovery from addiction cannot afford to lose the supports they rely on to maintain wellness and avoid relapse. Losing these supports could be disastrous, even life-threatening. We all need more support than ever.
One way we can provide essential support is through the healing power of storytelling. Turning Point created “A Beautiful Journey” so that these stories can be heard by our community, an audience of people who are either directly or indirectly impacted by substance use. A Beautiful Journey showcases these stories: the painful aspects of living life shackled by addiction and the overwhelming shame that keeps people from seeking help. Most of all, the storytellers share how they found their own path to wellness or recovery and the hope for a life they despaired of ever having. They share how they’ve developed resilience and gratitude, how they’ve become beacons of hope for others.
J.R. Layne, a participant in our inaugural event in 2019, shared about his experience as a storyteller: “What I found was, after I got up and told my story to an audience of maybe, I don’t know, 75 to 100 people, something like that — it was so cathartic. It was the beginning of change, for me, probably the most significant step that I took in my early recovery. And, you know, that allowed me to just really look into myself — look within myself and find the truth of my story.”
The process of crafting their story also provides growth and healing. J.R. explains: “That process [of writing and sharing my own story] is a raw process. It’s raw, man; it pretty much splays your emotional body open and just exposes it to the world. And I was carrying a lot of anger and a lot of hurt and a lot of pain.” For the audience, people still struggling with addiction get reassurance that they are not alone in their experience and a piece of hope for their own recovery. For those who don’t have experience with addiction, “A Beautiful Journey” naturally confronts the discrimination that surrounds addiction. Imagine treating people with compassion and dignity!
Listening to others’ stories of recovery is powerful. People question their own beliefs about addiction. Their world is expanded, and compassion results, instead of the crippling judgment people often face. The storytellers each work alongside a writing coach, and they often develop a special bond that, for some, lasts long beyond the event. Layne said that he was initially resistant to the idea of working with a coach, but he was paired with a woman named Sue who made all the difference. “She fortunately had so much patience with me. She treated me almost as if I was her son. That’s how gentle and loving she was. And to this day, we’re friends.”
In the end, everyone benefits, and these benefits reverberate through the community. “”A Beautiful Journey” started me on a road where I was able to develop some self -respect and self-love. And now, today, I can. I can embrace, you know, positive affirmations from people. And I can believe what they say to be true,” says J.R., who has since become a recovery coach who uses his experience to help others gain freedom from addiction.
If you are coming to the Latchis Theatre on May 26, doors open at 6:30. To register for an in-person spot visit eventbrite.com starting May 15. There will be refreshments for sale from Free Spirits, a catering company that specializes in non-alcoholic drinks using recipes from several Brattleboro restaurants. If you would like to see the virtual, live-streamed event from your home, go to https://turningpointwc.org/abj