September 24, 2020

Most of us are familiar with standard plot structure: 

Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.

Typically, the resolution of the story leaves the protagonist a little bit better off than s/he was during the exposition. In the case of recovery narratives, though, the resolution is an ever-upward line. Almost literally, the sky is the limit.

No matter what kind of recovery meeting you go to, the narratives are likely to follow a predictable path. It’s not a bad path—in fact, it’s really good—but it is well worn by every other recovery story you’ve heard before. Briefly, the plot is:

Prologue—The speaker was the child of either very good or very bad parents, or, as in the case of many fairy tales, both. Cinderella’s mother, for instance, is dead at the beginning of most versions of that story, and our heroine’s father marries a woman who is okay until the father dies, at which point she becomes the Wicked Stepmother. Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the dozen children in The Wild Swans face a similar fate. In the recovery tale, our speaker’s childhood often overflows with feelings of not fitting in, being worthless or having a sense the speaker is different than everyone else. Imagine—being the Other in your own story.

Act I—The speaker discovers alcohol/drugs and from the beginning senses a key has been fit in a heretofore locked door. Finally, freedom. Ease. Comfort. Think Cinderella at the ball. That alienation is gone, at least while the speaker is high or has a buzz of some kind. Our person in recovery has found a way to live that works, has embraced better living through chemistry.

Act II—Devastation. Despair. Destruction. The substance that made life livable has turned its power on the user, leaving her or him worse off than ever before. Like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight, the spell has worn off, the horses have been turned back to mice. This part of the story is usually the longest and most emotional section, likely because it’s way easier to describe horror and loss than what is to follow in Act III. There’s a reason Paradise Lost is way more popular than Milton’s preceding work, Paradise Regained.

Act III—The resurrection. The homecoming (even to a home you’ve never been before.) The prince with the lost shoe. Prince Charming’s appearance. The recovery from addiction. Strings play, the lights brighten, life has become a glorious phantasmagoria. Typically, the speaker describes her or his pathway—AA, SMART Recovery, NA, etc.—and tells how much better life has gotten now that s/he has removed drugs and alcohol from life. From now on, life is clear sailing!

Over the next few days, I’m going to tell you a story about my friend, Larissa beginning in Act II and continuing into a different Act III. Before I begin, though, I should tell you a bit about Larissa, or at least what I think I know.

Larissa was born and raised in Dublin, NH, where her father was an attorney and her mother was a psychiatric social worker. Larissa never complained about her parents, except that they got divorced when she was in fifth grade, and she felt that scarred her. Still, Larissa went to private school where she excelled at drama and softball, the latter earning her a scholarship to Iowa State, where she was named an All American. After college, she drifted from corporate sales job to corporate sales job until she married at 28 and decided to become a teacher. Except for a year after the birth of each of her two children, Larissa never took time off from teaching.  According to her students, peers and supervisors, Larissa was a truly gifted teacher.

Oh, yes. Larissa’s drinking. Since high school, Larissa had enjoyed a few (or more) beers on the weekend. As she aged, though, her taste for booze increased, until at 38, she identified herself as an alcoholic. You’ll learn a lot more about Larissa, her drinking and her Third Act over the next few days.