Story Changer

“…journalism, I thought, I could tell people’s stories, but I wasn’t changing their stories.”, Lori Gottlieb in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone Maybe

Story-telling has been part of my family for as long as I can remember. Whenever we gathered with daddy’s siblings or at my grandparents it wouldn’t be long before stories began to spill out like water from the faucet. 

It was usually daddy who started them. There seemed to be truth somewhere but each person had their own version of this truth. The stories were meant to get a reaction, most often laughter. That’s what I remember most and why I enjoyed listening again and again.

I’ve heard many stories over the years in our ministry. Too many were stories of sorrow and hardship. The hardest stories weren’t told as much as lived. The effects could be seen and felt in the coldness of expressions or eagerness to be seen and heard.

Therapist Lori Gottlieb was drawn to stories when she was in journalism but eventually became a therapist so she could, perhaps, help change the stories.

Never were we more conscious of that than when we worked with addicts and alcoholics.  

But first, the person has to want a new story. They have to recognize the one they’ve been living isn’t one of hope and wholeness. 

Perhaps it was easier with the ones with substance abuse issues. Most were at bottom. They were at the point where they had to live in a residential program. It was obvious they needed change. Though it’s amazing how a few weeks of sleep, showers and food will make what you left not seem so bad.

It was the regular folks. 

She was the oldest of seven. A 17-year old who didn’t feel like she fit in with her family. She had her first child in the living room of their small house. No one knew she was pregnant. No matter how much I listened to her, met her at school for private conversation, and asked the hard questions, like, was she was being abused?…..this was just life. 

Or the couple in their 50’s who called us to their home because she was worried he was giving too much attention to a younger woman. He was just trying to help out he said. Damsel in distress and all. 

The young man who couldn’t admit his father’s alcoholism and his parents missteps in acting that everything was normal.

The scary reality is, most people keep their stories so hidden no one knows they need to consider writing a new one. Or at least, a new chapter, a sequel with a new beginning, a more hopeful story.

I’ve thought about that line in Gottlieb’s book. I’ve thought about the part of my story I never revealed to my therapist. I’ve considered how hard it is for any of us to voluntarily change whether it’s our diet or hairstyle. 

The first step in AA is admitting we are powerless and our lives have become unmanageable.

The second step is acknowledging there is a power greater than us who can restore us to sanity.

The third is making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

One of our counselors summed it up this way: 

I can’t. 

He (God) can. 

Think I’ll let him.

Change isn’t in step 1. It starts with recognition. An admission that the story I’ve lived can be better – needs to be better. I need to change.

We can’t change the story that’s been written. Mistakes are to be learned from not ignored and pretended they didn’t happen. 

We can forgive the part of our stories that have caused pain to others or ourselves. If that pain has been self-inflicted, we can forgive ourselves.

The work of forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s often daily work.  But it is life-giving. 

It allows us to accept who God says we are: worthy, whole, His.

excerpts from Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb

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