Transcript: Redefining Recovery: The Addiction Memoir

atheists in recovery podcast Episode 19 transcript

Transcript: Redefining Recovery: The Addiction Memoir

Music 0:00
Welcome to the atheist in recovery Podcast, where we talk about finding hope in recovery

And now your host, Dr. Adina Silvestri

Adina Silvestri 0:22
Hello atheists in recovery and welcome to Episode 19 of the atheists and recovery podcast. And today, we have on Lisa Kirchner, and this episode was fun to record. I think you’ll find Lisa’s humor and wit and her personality to be quite genuine. And she’s very honest about her recovery journey and Lot of self discovery was had through her experiences. And then also she talks a lot about the addiction memoirs and how storytelling can be a very powerful way to understand the self through somebody else’s journey. You can really identify and learn from their struggles, and then also their their victories as well. And so we start our conversation off in Qatar in the Middle East, and Lisa talks about what it was like living there in the Middle East and then to have gone there with her husband, but to find herself very shortly after divorced, or I should say, going through a divorce and so what that was like for her trying to find herself in a Muslim country. So I hope you enjoy today’s show. Our guest, Lisa Kirchner. Lisa is the author of the critically acclaimed Hello American lady creature. What I learned is a woman in Qatar Greenpoint press 2014. Her essays, interviews and features have appeared in The Washington Post, day magazine, and salon among numerous other outlets. She’s a yoga teacher, a wellness expert appearing on the home shopping network and host of St. Petersburg monthly. Storytelling show true stories. You can find her at and you can follow her on Twitter @lisalkirchner.

Okay, here we go.

Lisa Kirchner, welcome to the show.

Lisa Kirchner 2:46
Hi, thank you for having me Adina.

Adina Silvestri 2:48
So I thought we would start with some of your essays. You talk a lot about your time in Qatar and you went there with your husband who Who left. Who asked you for a divorce and left. And then you find yourself who

Lisa Kirchner 3:04
He left first and then asked for the divorce

Adina Silvestri 3:07
left first and then asked for the divorce.

Lisa Kirchner 3:09
And then called me.

To Tell me.

Adina Silvestri 3:12

Lisa Kirchner 3:13
yeah, it was planned. When he left. He said he was going to look for a job. And then by the time he got there, the plan changed.

Adina Silvestri 3:21
So you find yourself alone in a Muslim country. So and dating is illegal there. So tell us a little bit about what that was like in your in your feelings at that point in time?

Lisa Kirchner 3:30
Well, it was so strange because I was also not telling people that I was getting a divorce for a number of reasons. I had been in the Muslim world before as a Peace Corps volunteer as a single woman, and I faced a great deal of harassment. But that, you know, that was many years before. And I was frankly, I just didn’t want to find out what it would be like to be perceived in my job. I was directing the marketing efforts for Carnegie Mellon University and I didn’t want to Find out how I would be perceived as a divorced woman how it might alter the structure. So I was not only not talking about it on purpose, but I didn’t have a good support system to talk about it with there and I became, if possible, even more miserable because the plan had originally been that we were both going to leave Qatar. And he was going to, as I said, look for a job. And then we were going to be gone together. And it just isn’t how it worked out.

Adina Silvestri 4:31
Right, right. And in your essay, you actually say your husband remarked, we couldn’t have survived this without each other. At one point, he said.

Lisa Kirchner 4:41

Adina Silvestri 4:44
So what time frame was this? What year was this?

Lisa Kirchner 4:46
I went over there in 2004. I was there for a few months without him while he was doing things to wrap up in the United States. And the plan was that I would have a three year contract from 2004 to 2007. But I actually left at the end of 2006. I was there for after he left. I was there for almost a full year on my own. And I had been there for a year and a half already. So I didn’t I didn’t fulfill my contract in the end. But I believe I saved myself.

Adina Silvestri 5:19

Okay. Yeah, we’re going to get there too. So, I want to shift and talk a little bit about your your upbringing, your spiritual upbringing from childhood.

Lisa Kirchner 5:32
Yeah, interesting. Yeah.

Well, I think that that’s interesting because I was raised in the Catholic religion. It’s hard for me to even say that very seriously because I just never bought the story. I thought, Hmm, that’s weird. And my mother, and I believe this was a self penance never took communion which also i thought was very weird. I went to the Catechism. I got the you know, the the saints name, the Holy Name, whatever that is I, you know, I’ve been through the rights of communion, and so on and so forth. I know what it looks like and what it has to offer. And I didn’t like any of it. I was always like that is really, I’m going to talk to a priest who’s talking to Jesus, who’s a standard for God, why not just like, you know, bypass. It didn’t make any sense to me, that structure and it was very patriarchal and unforgiving. And I didn’t like any of it this idea that God was constantly searching for what I was doing wrong, instead of anything else, but I did. But at the same time, I didn’t have any idea that there could be a way to view the universe as kind of conspiring to help you. That wasn’t on my radar, but certainly the fact that the universe seemed to be out to get me That’s it. I didn’t like that. Right.

Adina Silvestri 6:52
Right. Right. Not comforting at all. No. Yeah. And so where did you look for support And Maybe to answer that you could talk a little bit about your recovery journey.

Lisa Kirchner 7:03
Sure. You mean as a kid? Where did I look for support growing up? I started looking for support probably in alcohol and then drugs. I mean, we moved a lot when I was growing up. And it’s difficult when people say, Where are you from? I’m always flummoxed. Like, I don’t quite know how to answer that. Sometimes I think I’m like that Kristen Wiig character because I’m like, Oh, yeah, I live there. So when I was 10, I started drinking. It wasn’t a peer pressure situation. I’m literally went to my parents liquor cabinet with a big gulp and you know, started just pouring away. And I really don’t know where that came from. My parents aren’t big drinkers. I did used to watch old black and white movies with my mother and I loved how those sassy broads they can just throw back whiskey, take a drag off their cigarette and then deliver a scathing come back line and That, to me, I think was the ultimate. I grew up in a time. It’s not like this today, but where, you know, leaving the house was the much anticipated event of my lifetime like I can’t wait. I didn’t grow up afraid of adulting. I couldn’t wait to get away from the adults. So it was a different mind frame.

Adina Silvestri 8:19
Interesting. Yeah. So you said that you found support the bottom of a glass of alcohol tonight?

Lisa Kirchner 8:26
Yeah. Or just the bottle. I mean, I really didn’t bother with glass. Yeah, I was in high school. I could get people to get me fifths and I would drink that before I go out and then I I went for grain alcohol Adina because I was like, why am I gonna waste my time with? That’s how my mindset was. This is how I ended up in rehab at 19. I my parents didn’t take me there either. I took myself

Adina Silvestri 8:48
You took yourself to rehab.

Lisa Kirchner 8:50
Sure did. I wasn’t living at home. I wasn’t in trouble. My parents weren’t even really aware what I was doing. You know, when I went off to college, not long before beforehand. My dad was like, so are you going to college? And it’s like the end. And that’s what all the boxes in my room are for. We had that kind of relationship. Okay.

Adina Silvestri 9:10
Okay, so then you were in recovery at age 19. What were the feelings surrounding that.

Lisa Kirchner 9:17
That is a funny question. I remember going to a therapist. So I had been, let me just put it this way. I had been institutionalized a number of times, because nobody knew what to make of my behavior. And I was afraid to just get sober and no longer be doing therapy. It Again, this wasn’t like somebody was saying, you must do this. There was no prescription for this. But I did not trust my own mind at all. And so I got myself a therapist, and I can remember she showed me a chart of feelings with like, she would ask me how I felt and I would literally sit in her office and I’d be like, I don’t even know how to answer that question. And I remember the little chart that And it was like, which one of these corresponds to how you’re feeling. And that was literally a gateway. For me that was the key to starting to interpret my feelings. It took another 20 years, I would say, but I was at least able to communicate with it.

On a very basic level, I mean, I was practically feral is what I like to

feral yet strangely motivated. It’s such a bizarre combination,

Adina Silvestri 10:24
well, and your feelings can be really scary, especially if you haven’t processed them sober.


Lisa Kirchner 10:32

Adina Silvestri 10:33
So I thought we would jump now to the reason that I had actually found you is an article called redefining recovery, the evolution of the addiction memoir. And I loved this article so much because I feel like we do recover in community via storytelling, you know, which is the oldest form of entertainment, right? And I thought maybe you could talk a little about why you decided to write that article. Then we could get a little more nuanced.

Lisa Kirchner 11:02
Well, the article that you are talking about, I wrote for the, which is a great resource for lots of different viewpoints around recovery today. And I have a relationship with the editor there. And I thought that she would enjoy this idea. I had seen an article showing that for the first time in 20 years, death by opioid addiction had dropped. And I remember the secretary of that department saying something like, you know, we’re so glad about this. And I was like, well, who do you think we is? And I thought about it. You know, I really grew up in this era. I’m a writer for a long time. Early on, I was afraid I’m not I can’t be a writer. If I’m not drinking, I really waited those words. And you know, I talk a lot about drinking and a lot of that is because and I’ve heard you talk about this on your show before. I have found a lot of people in recovery in 12 step meetings that focus on alcohol, but the I was a garbage head for sure I did it all. Anyway, so I saw this statistic and I wanted to kind of look back at my own history, how has it changed because the culture has definitely changed around alcohol. I’m, I’m in a writing group, and I’ll sometimes I’ll write a memoir about, you know, starting to drink when I was 10, or how I was getting high when I was 12. And I’ve had people in the group be like, I don’t, I don’t believe that. As if I’m writing fiction. I’m like, Well, it’s true. And and I just think that the culture is very different. And some of it is these icons in film. And a lot of that film is based on literature. And I’d read it all Yeah, and I devour this kind of memoir. I love these stories, in part because it’s almost like going to a very well curated, meeting, and I have long since recognized how much I get from That feeling of I relate to this other human because of the story they’re telling. I also really believe that we learn from what other people do much more significantly than from being told what to do. And it’s easier and less personal, to look at the mistakes that another person makes, and be able to digest and synthesize that information into your own mode of being, as opposed to being told, you know, you’re kind of harsh, but you can see it when somebody else does it. And the next time that you get a reaction from someone to your harshness, you might think to yourself, wow, that maybe I was harsh. It just works better that way. I mean, it’s the same thing with writing group, I spot writing mistakes and other people’s work that I make. And then the next time I make it, I’m like, Oh, wait, didn’t I just tell you know, that’s interesting.

Adina Silvestri 13:56
Yeah. My introduction to addiction recovery memoirs was with Mary Karr’s book, Lit. And I loved it. I fell in love with his book. So much so that I’ve been afraid to read any others because I just don’t think they’re going to be as good which I know is not true.

Lisa Kirchner 14:14
As I said in the article, my list was not complete.

Adina Silvestri 14:17

You did you did say that. But I but you quote one line from Mary Karr that I want to share with with my audience, and you wrote, I haven’t so much gone insane as awakened to the depth and breadth of my pre existing insanity a bone deep sadness or a sense of having been a mistake.


Lisa Kirchner 14:39

Adina Silvestri 14:40
When you were writing that what was coming up for you?

Lisa Kirchner 14:43
Well, what I appreciate so much about Karr’s work, and I was, you know, I mean, I read the liars club long before that. I just I love her style and tone and Sensibility as a writer. But what I appreciated about lit was that it was written through The lens of long term sobriety and so when I started thinking about this topic, it was clear to me that one of the shifts first there was drinking a love story. And of course, I read that I mean, I read that in the 90s, sober when it came out and and that’s how long I’ve been sober. And it was written from a kind of different perspective and it emotionally it felt more like someone who was still a little bit enthralled with that lifestyle, even though obviously she had recovered from it. But it’s very subtle and hard to fully describe, which is why I wrote this article, how it’s different. It’s just a different level of emotional resonance for me and so for car, and again, as someone who had been institutionalized and had finally come to have to recognize how that is where the drinking and drugging impulse came from. I just felt that it was more manageable because some one else had experienced it and had survived it and gotten to the other side of it. That’s, I think, the most important thing,

Adina Silvestri 16:07
that there’s hope.

Lisa Kirchner 16:09
Yes. And not like a schlocky, like and then, you know, everything was fine. And I that’s another thing that I love about these books is that, you know, it’s never a straight shot and when you read kind of short essays online or even little tidbits that that you might hear if you’re in recovery meeting, why you might get the idea that you know, well, I drank, I had some issues, but when I put the plug in the jug, everything got better and now I have God in my life and so it’s all good. Thank you. Yeah, you know, that nails on a chalkboard for me. I was like, what, what are you talking about? I don’t I don’t even understand what your problem is. I adore the specifics and the scenes and the and the very personal revelation. That doesn’t turn me off. That’s what I love about these books. And, of course, because their books they’ve been through a very significant editing process. So, generally speaking, they’re useful.

Adina Silvestri 17:11
Yeah, I agree. How do you think it’s helped you in your recovery? And I’m thinking specifically about when you were when you were in Qatar?

Lisa Kirchner 17:19
Yeah. Well, it’s funny, I saw the list of publications on your website, the resources that you offer to people, and one of them was finding your North Star. Now, it’s funny, because I’m not a huge fan, now of a lot of the prescriptive type narratives. Because again, I think that a lot of it’s about finding your own way, but I mean, I was really in a place where I was still emotionally very disconnected and I didn’t see it. I mean, the thing is, is when you’re in those places, you don’t really see it. And it you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and that’s what books like that and stories like that offer me is this idea that I can Keep putting one foot in front of the other. And I’m going to find my way. And that’s what I, what I love about them. And then two, I don’t have to make all those mistakes, I don’t have to actually, you know, maybe go to that nth degree that gets memoir worthy God know’s I’ve already done it enough. You know, as you mentioned, it’s in my first book, and it’s in this second book that I’m working on now, about the subtitle is actually how I lost and found my happy place.

Adina Silvestri 18:31

Well, you’re gonna have to come back and talk about that book for sure. So it’s obvious that you see storytelling as a very powerful form of healing. How do you think it’s informed your recovery?

Lisa Kirchner 18:47
Well, I think it forms the basis of my recovery in some sense, because that is the initial experience for me because I came up through going to 12 step meetings You share stories. And I think some of that is lost when you really I don’t know that people are as honest, as my experience had been, or maybe I’m not, I really don’t know. But it’s very important to talk about what is actually happening in your life as it relates to recovery in order to connect with people. That’s how we understand each other. The best example I can give you is, is actually not really based on recovery. But it’s a, what’s the word I want to use. It’s a storytelling show that I run every month here in St. Petersburg. And in this show, I see people regularly get up and I’ve taught many, many classes. And this is the same thing with even with teaching writing, but the thing about when I teach it to storytellers, as opposed to writers, is that I see the transformation I see them going from 10 to two tip about their tail to owning it. And that is such a key part of the story. Because if you’re not controlling the narrative, the narrative is controlling you. And so we choose what we want to focus on in a story. And making those deliberate choices is incredibly value valuable, even if you’re not on the stage or writing a book. Because an what my tattoos is a signifier of we can remember the way that we view the world is everything. And what we focus on we get more of that is what move the needle for me is really recognizing, not how powerless I was, but how powerful I am. Which puts me you know, kind of at odds with sort of the basic premise of a lot of 12 step recovery. But

Adina Silvestri 20:52
no, but I love that that’s true. You have to shift the narrative.

Lisa Kirchner 20:56
Well, when you understand and I mean, it really started when I was studying Yoga. I know this sounds really woo woo, but I was studying yoga in India and we were talking about personality archetypes. And I read a lot of a lot about these topics. And when I began to see how things that happened to me, as tropes, as opposed to personal, it really broaden my understanding of how I saw my place in the world. And I do think that, you know, they call it humility in recovery meetings, the idea of your, your, your place in the world. But you know, for many of us, especially with shame based trauma in our lives, the word humility smacks a lot of humiliation. And it can be very difficult to distinguish, especially when the lizard brain kicks in. You’re beyond words at that stage, and you have to feel your way there. And some of that is through getting to a place of understanding which happens through story and being able to understand myself as a story. And as archetypes rather than as, right, wrong, good and bad was a game changer.

Adina Silvestri 22:07
or labeling it and in a negative way. So, as we sort of wrap up here in just highlighting the fact that we see ourselves through other people’s stories and how how that’s important that, you know, storytelling is, is great in it and it helps because I feel like you have this increased awareness as you were saying earlier, increasing awareness of yourself increased awareness of your place, surrounded by surrounded by others, and I feel like memoirs do a great job of that. And so, I’m going to give you a quote and I want to know your thoughts on it, and be the change you want to see in the world.

Lisa Kirchner 22:54
The famous Gandhi quote that I feel like, is often called as misquoted But isn’t actually misquoted, but it is part of a larger quote. But you know, I think that’s so true. It’s so easy to get on Twitter or to get on Facebook and like rail against this, that and the other thing and then walk away and be like, who I really am woke, but you know, then you go to the coffee shop, and the barista gives you a little attitude because they’re making minimum wage and you feel like Well, I’m paying $4 for my coffee, so you better be nice to me. And then how woke is that? You know, I mean, smile at the like my I have to say my husband is so great at helping me Remember to sort of be this person, like, do you want to be the person that makes the person around you feel like they had a bad day feel like they had a slightly better day. It’s a constant choice. And that’s not the same as people pleasing. You can tell somebody no and not make them feel bad. Right. It’s an art You can stand up and this is part of owning your story is standing up for yourself and what you believe in standing in your truth, but you got to know it. Yeah, you have to know it in order to be able to be that person without kowtowing without bulldozing, you know that there’s a way to there is a middle way.

Adina Silvestri 24:19
Yeah. What would you recommend to individuals? And starting in the memoir, Addiction Recovery space, what would be the first book you may recommend?

Lisa Kirchner 24:28
Well, I would recommend reading books. Or I mean, I, I’ve been shocked at when I teach memoir, how many people when I asked them what their favorite memoir is, they’ll say something like, I don’t know, like Water for Elephants or, you know, fiction fiction titles, they’ll they’ll they’ll come at me with you know, things that aren’t even memoir. You got to read in the genre. And it really helps to, I think, find stories that interesting You, you know, if you’re if you are interested in addiction recovery, it’s just I mean, Google and Amazon, honestly, such resources, you put in a book title that you like, and it’ll show you similar titles. You know, I think for too long we’ve tried to curate the list of this is an important book, or that’s an important book. And I think find your own way, like what works for you and go from there. Write your truth. And, you know, I think that there’s a lot to writing that is not happening on the page. Because when I wrote my memoir, I had to be had to be in great physical shape, mentally, emotionally, psychically, because I wanted, I had to look at some deep trauma that I had, and, you know, writing is not therapy, and it shouldn’t be. And that’s not the point of putting words on paper. It’s very difficult to actually write. I think memoir is the most challenging genre. I started as a journalist, I have a degree in journalism, and then I wrote fiction. So it surprised me as much as anybody I used to go by the byline Ll Kirchner because I didn’t want anybody to know what my gender was. When I wrote a memoir, I felt like well, I can’t really hide behind that because it’s going to be obvious. And I also wanted to write very specifically about what it was like being a woman in a Middle Eastern country going through a divorce, and specifically what I learned from that culture that informed that experience. And it was imperative, you know, that gender was part of the story. So I had to find a way to stay healthy, through that experience, not to relive it and be weeping every day. Although honestly, there was a lot of weeping. Yeah, sure. I think I’ve gotten a lot. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and healthier thanks to the practices that I do. continued to seek out in order to stay in a in a more grounded place. And there are I think there are many more resources for that. So that was a long way really not answering your question. But you know, anybody can start with my book. I think it’s a fantastic memoir, hello, American lady creature, what I learned as a woman Qatar.

Adina Silvestri 27:19
So looking back at your time in Qatar, what are you happy that you went?

Lisa Kirchner 27:25
Well, it’s a very best of times, worst of times scenario, I am happy that I went because otherwise my marriage might have lasted quite a bit longer. And it’s been a long road to realize I was not I wasn’t in a good marriage. I think that my ex husband put a fork in something that you know, was dead. And I wouldn’t have known that really until I met the man that I’m now married to. Because now I really understand what it’s like to be with a supportive partner. I grew up in such a toxic dysfunctional environment and Not your fault with my parents. I mean, I’ve also come to recognize that my father has severe as a Asperger’s. And my mother was very emotionally immature. And so we have a relationship that is unlike anything that I even sort of dared to think about. And it took all the experiences that it took to get to this place. And, and a lot of it was I did years of storytelling. As an exercise to try to edit my book, I wasn’t thinking like, Oh, I’m going to be healing myself. And at a certain point, I started to think, boy, if I’m trying to get into the real Zen meditative, like letting go of all this, maybe I shouldn’t be telling these stories, maybe thinking about it is a problem. But that’s not the


Adina Silvestri 28:43
Not the case. No it’s not. And that’s probably a pretty good place to end. I want to thank you so much for being on the show. Very grateful for your wisdom

Lisa Kirchner 28:52
Thank you for having me.

Adina Silvestri 28:53
Yeah. And

what are some of the best ways to reach you and see all the awesome work that you’re doing?

Lisa Kirchner 28:58
I’m on all the Regular social media places Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and it’s just my name Lisa L. Kirchner. There was another Lisa Kirchner, who had that URL. So I went with Lisa L. Kirchner. So I can have And maybe it was a mistake. I don’t know. Yeah. So that’s Li s a l k i r c h n e A lot of people want to put an S in there. I get it.

Adina Silvestri 29:24

Lisa Kirchner 29:24
Sounds like it.

Adina Silvestri 29:26
And we’ll link to that in the show notes, too. Yeah. Well, thanks again for being on and hopefully we’ll get to do this again soon.

Lisa Kirchner 29:34
I hope so.

Music 29:37
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