‘Storyteller: Recovery Coach Role #11’ by Phil Valentine

I’ve recently posted two blogs about Meghann Perry, the last one being Recovery Storytelling – A Powerful Tool for Advocacy. Meghann has been working with CCAR (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery) and has introduced her storytelling approach to community members. Here’s a 2019 blog post from Phil Valentine, Executive Director of CCAR, about storytelling, Meghann Perry, and recovery coaching:

‘In the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© (and in most of our training offerings) we examine and consider 10 roles of the recovery coach as first outlined by Bill White in his landmark paper – Sponsor, Recovery Coach, Addiction Counselor: The Importance of Role Clarity and Role Integrity (2006). The roles have proven rock solid and serve the recovery coach profession beautifully.

  1. Motivator and Cheerleader (exhibits bold faith in individual/family capacity for change; encourages and celebrates achievement)
  2. Ally and Confidant (genuinely cares, listens, and can be trusted with confidences)
  3. Truth-Teller (provides a consistent source of honest feedback regarding self destructive patterns of thinking, feeling and acting)
  4. Role Model and Mentor (offers his/her life as living proof of the transformative power of recovery; provides stage – appropriate recovery education and advice)
  5. Problem Solver (identifies and helps resolve personal and environmental obstacles to recovery)
  6. Resource Broker (links individuals/families to formal and indigenous sources of sober housing, recovery – conducive employment, health and social services, and recovery support)
  7. Advocate  (helps individuals and families navigate the service system assuring service access, service responsiveness and protection of rights)
  8. Community Organizer (helps develop and expand available recovery support resources)
  9. Lifestyle Consultant (assists individuals/families to develop sobriety-based rituals of daily living)
  10. Friend (provides companionship)

We are now considering an 11th, the role of Storyteller.

It dovetails nicely with the others.  The correct story at the correct time can motivate, encourage, build trust and enhance advocacy.  Storytelling has a rich recovery history as well, from Native American talking circles to sharing in 12-Step fellowships.

But we don’t tell stories very well.

I’ve been blessed to hear some amazing stories.  However most stories are not all that engaging – too long, too monotone, too vague, too scattered.  I’ve told my share of stories – a few per day for the past 31 years.  Some of them were way better than others.  I attribute some of CCAR’s success in the ability to deliver a well-timed, engaging story rooted in purpose.

In 2015, Meghann Perry attended the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy and has been actively coaching recovery since.  She joined us for one of our new trainings in 2018. She told me about a program she designed that incorporated storytelling and recovery.  She envisioned the tremendous impact skilled storytelling could have in recovery work – especially coaching and advocacy.  Her enthusiasm resonated with me.

As CCAR continued to dive more into exploring the art and science of recovery coaching, I pondered for a long period of time on the art and science of storytelling.  Convinced, I contacted Meghann.

“Would you be interested in conducting a workshop for the CCAR staff?”

Meghann consulted with her business partner, Andrea Lovett, a gifted storyteller and teacher for 25 years. She replied yes and delivered.  Meghann taught us about crafting a concise, provocative, gritty and powerful story.  She gave us a solid framework (the science). In that structure we were free to develop our art.

As part of our learning, Meghann delivered one of her stories.  I sat transfixed, mouth open in amazement as tears trickled down my cheek. When she looked down and told about one blue shoe and one orange shoe, I saw them vividly. Her attention to specifics drew the entire staff into her story.  She closed with drama and flair.  It became clear to me that Meghann has an incredible gift and that she was absolutely spot on…

Storytelling holds tremendous promise for our recovery movement. 

Personally, her story kindled a spark deep within. I wanted to know more, I wanted to tell stories like she did.  I am eager to learn.

CCAR then brought Meghann and Andrea in for 4 workshops at 4 different sites to train as many staff and volunteers who were interested.  They coached us. They groomed us.  They encouraged us.  They prepared us.

On July 2, 2019, CCCAR held our first recovery Story Showcase at the Bridgeport Recovery Community Center. Six CCAR staff and volunteers told a 5–minute story along with Meghann and Andrea.  36 people from the community attended. Andrea shared a story about a Thanksgiving turkey rolling down the sidewalk.  Again, I was completely engrossed. Andrea’s skill amazed me, too.

The different stories of people who I work and volunteer with warmed my heart. They courageously stepped out in faith and all were thanked with heartfelt applause.

Meghann talked about the passing of her father while masterfully weaving in an addiction to recovery subplot.  Not a dry eye in the house.

“Yes Meghann, the recovery movement needs more of you.” I thought as I wept and clapped as loudly as I could.

I had the opportunity to tell a story about my recovery that I had told a hundred times before, but it was way better thanks to Meghann and Andrea.  What I had always thought was the turning point was not; it was an inciting incident. The turning point came weeks afterwards. Storytelling not only transforms the audience, it transforms the teller.

The first CCAR Story Showcase succeeded. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.  Afterwards, a Bridgeport firefighter told me he was somewhat jaded when it came to people who were addicted. He had encountered his share and they usually were not, um…, friendly.  He said this evening changed his perspective.  For the better.

Finally, this is an age where we are being called on for more and more data. As we scramble for data and challenge authority for what data is really necessary, let’s not forget the power in a finely crafted story. Imagine a vanguard of brilliant, concise, skilled, captivating storytellers that can motivate entire audiences in less than 5 minutes.  Imagine them in front of your legislature. [It would be AWESOME! – DC]

What do you think the collective impact would be for the recovery movement? [It would be AWESOME! – DC]

That day will soon be upon us.

Meghann Perry, CARC, is a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach, speaker, actor, teaching artist, and award-winning storyteller. She uses her degree in Theater Education and her passion for performing arts in combination with her work as a recovery coach and recovery advocate in many creative projects. Learn more at www.meghannperry.com.

Andrea Lovett has been performing and teaching storytelling professionally for 25 years. She is the recipient of the New England Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Award and The Oracle Award from the National Storytelling Network. Lovett was the first to create a workshop for personal short stories for performance in New England.

Meghann and Andrea  will also be teaching recovery storytelling at MPRC: The National Recovery Conference in November.

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots.  During that sacred time, my purpose in life became more precisely defined.  I am, simply, to coach recovery.  Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life.  I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in January 1999.  I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004.  I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula.  I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly.  It’s time to write them down.’ Phil Valentine