I like to share a story of a 74 years old male that I used to see some years back. The client said that he has seen 4 psychiatrists and he has been on a heavy dosage of sleeping pills for past 10 years. He told me that while the dosage keeps getting higher and higher, he is experiencing less and less effectiveness. The client said that he was getting worried about the high dosages of medications, but that he simply wanted to sleep through the night. The client said that he was feeling desperate because his work required physical labor and it's affecting his financial livelihood.
Hearing from him that he had been to 4 other psychiatrists, initially, I was thinking what can I do for him? I've been listening to his stories about his past. And then it came. He was born in a poor family and he ate his first bowl of white rice when he served in the Korean military service. It's a story about a story about a young man who siblings. The client said that the aroma from the freshly baked bread made him want to take a piece and eat it on the way home. But then a fear bolted through his thought, thinking that he would not be able to stop eating once he took his first bite. He remembered wrapping the bread around with his hands and arms and running home so he could smell or eat the bread he had to share with his two younger siblings.
As he was telling this story, streak of tears ran down his leathery cheeks, as was mine. I've heard many hardship stories from years of working as a therapist, but I have never heard of such a story. After a good cry, I wondered if he would work with me. I will re-organize / re-authorize his past experiences and put it back in the emotional drawer, like we would organize a bookshelf. We spent three months going through the stories of his past haunted him. They were in the middle of the night. It took nearly three months to re-telling many different kinds of stories.
Re-authoring this narrative from a successful 74 years old business man, he was able to work through his childhood traumas from more objective perspective. What was once a sad story has become the foundation on which he rebuilt his life. He began to see himself as a victim of life circumstance, but a survivor of insurmountable life challenges that he had overcome. As we came to our termination, the client reported that he was falling asleep without any medications. This has taught me, once again the power of storytelling. This is the heart of narrative therapy.