The Power of Stories

We are the Evidence

A Gift of Stories cover smallRecovery Devon has always believed in the power of personal stories of recovery. We believe that both telling and engaging with these stories is a powerful aid to personal recovery, and to increased understanding of mental health and wellbeing.

In a very real sense, we who have recovered are the evidence – that recovery from severe mental health difficulties is possible. Our stories are the proof and enable the promotion of hope and possibility.We aim to help many others to find their own voice and tell their own story.

The Recovery movement essentially developed from such stories. Some of the earliest writings about Recovery maintain their power to move and inspire us – stories from pioneers like Patricia Deegan, Mary O’Hagan and Judi Chamberlin – together with Julie Leibrich’s wonderful collection, ‘A Gift of Stories‘.

We Live in Stories

Beyond the Storms cover cr2Stories are a fundamental part of our lives as human beings. As the storyographer Daniel Taylor has said, ‘We live in stories the way fish live in water, breathing them in and out, buoyed up by them, taking from them our sustenance, but rarely conscious of this element in which we all exist. We are born into stories; they nurture and guide us through life.’

Recovery Devon has its own story of collecting and distributing these testimonies to the human spirit, to the fact that people can and do overcome severe mental distress. In 2009, ‘Beyond the Storms – Reflections on Recovery in Devon was published – a collection of 30 recovery stories co-edited by Recovery Devon members Laurie Davidson and Linden Lynn. Since November 2012 we have again been working with a Peer Reporter to gather stories of personal recovery.

Subjective and Objective Descriptions

The personal narratives we create for and about ourselves are the best record we have of our own subjective experience. As such they complement, and stand in contrast to, the ‘objective’ descriptions of us and of our mental states that have hitherto dominated the world of mental health. The latter descriptions have generally been written by others, for instance professional health workers, and have frequently reflected the power differentials inherent in the doctor/patient relationship.

But the stories we tell of ourselves have a power and immediacy that can move and often inspire others in a way that no attempt at objective description can. Our own stories are full of drama, of incident, of humanity – and can communicate them to others to help light a way forward for them.

We all have Many Stories

We all have many stories; these personal narratives change as our lives develop. They change over time, as we learn new insights from them. A new telling can offer hope, where none was before.

Sometimes our stories become stuck. Perhaps because we ourselves are stuck, with our lives in a bad place. Or maybe because the stories others tell about us have become stuck – this is a form of stigma, or stereotyping.

Chimamanda AdichieThe author Chimamanda Adichie, has eloquently described this process, which she calls The Danger of a Single Story. in a TED Talk from 2009. As she says,

‘Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign but stories can also be used to empower and humanise. Stories can be used to break the dignity of a people but stories can also be used to repair that broken dignity.’

Chimamanda also recognises the importance of power differentials when stories are told:

‘It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. …. How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.’

We celebrate people’s many stories and the hope and possibilities that positive stories can bring.