The sharing of personal experiences; also commonly known as sharing recovery stories or narratives has been closely linked to the development of the recovery approach. Telling their stories allows people to visualise their experiences over time and to reflect on the long-term journey of recovery with its ups and downs. It places the person sharing their experiences at the centre – in effect they become the hero of the story. This provides an authenticity and immediacy not necessarily possible through academic or clinical perspectives.
The approach also allows people to reassess or re-author their experiences. Creating and taking control of your own story can be an empowering experience and is an essential part of the recovery process. By thinking about and defining who they are for themselves, people will be able to look for things that have worked and gone well. This is especially important and powerful for many people with mental health problems as they spend time being assessed and assisted by mental health professionals and social services. Naturally, the conversations are often focused on the negative effects of mental ill health. For some people this might include
problems and difficulties like drug or alcohol problems, unemployment, suicidal thoughts, traumatic experiences etc.
As a result of repeating these conversations over time, the problems and difficulties begin to define who the person is. For example, the person’s ‘story’ might become ‘I am someone with a drug problem’ or ‘I am someone who has had a traumatic experience’. While these facts are true, they are not the whole story – or the whole person. The fact is that many people with mental health problems have had to face severe hardships – yet they’ve survived. So it’s clear they have exceptional resilience and strength. But for as long as they stay focused on the negative effects of mental ill health, it’s unlikely they’ll see these positive qualities. And that can hinder
There is growing evidence that tells us that sharing recovery stories have much to offer in terms of recovery, wellbeing, resilience, identity and meaning. Finding and sharing recovery stories is an important aspect of recovery.
When people first start writing their story, it can be an emotional and challenging experience. They may start to question all or parts of their existing story and some may feel anger or frustration that they or others may have lost sight of their strengths, skills and qualities. But most people find this passes quickly and report feeling better for having got their ‘story’ out – whether they choose to share it, or keep it to themselves.