As a writer, I have worked in the field of addiction recovery for over three years, facilitating groups which focus on the sharing of autobiographical written work, produced by clients in residential treatment centres.
Writing autobiographically is not alien to the addiction recovery setting. Many treatment centres ask clients to write their 'life story' to read to their peers within the first weeks of arrival. Autobiographical writing in an addiction recovery setting is a powerful tool. Autobiography is different from creative writing because it emphasises a quest for personal truth: 'AUTOBIOGRAPHY: …literary work, novel, poem, philosophical treatise, etc., whose author intended, secretly or admittedly, to recount his life, to expose his thoughts or to describe his feelings' (Lejeune 1989:123).
The consequence of writing autobiography is an increased sense of self: 'It is through the act [of writing] that the self and the life…take on a certain form, assume a particular shape and image, and endlessly reflect back and forth between themselves as between two mirrors' (Olney 1980:22). This chapter looks at my experience of working in a multi-disciplinary team. It also offers background, rationale and a case study.
I worked with Secondary Addiction Recovery Centres, which ran residential rehabilitation programmes for people addicted to drugs, alcohol or food. The centres were counselling based, with daily groups and weekly one-to-one sessions with clients. Numbers of residents varied from 2 to 17. Ages ranged from 17 to 60. A broad social spectrum was covered.
Clients were often poly-drug users. The majority of people in the centre had not used any mood-altering chemicals for at least six weeks before they arrived. This is important to a writing group, because while clients are withdrawing from active addiction they are often bombarded with emotions and too raw to focus on the past or present: