The redemptive power of storytelling

First aired on Tapestry (09/01/13) 

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If there's anything Don Lattin -- journalist, author, and recovered alcoholic -- believes in, it is the redemptive power of storytelling. Lattin, now six-and-a-half years sober with a recently published memoir, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years.

"I say I sort of worshipped at the altar of drugs and alcohol, and in a way I did," he told Tapestry's Mary Hynes. "They were probably the two most important things in my life in a lot of ways."

Originally balking at the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous, Lattin joined the group when he realized he was still doing drugs, but no longer having "wonderful experiences" when high. As part of AA's 12-step program, all recovering addicts are encouraged to have a spiritual awakening of some sort. For Lattin, it was overcoming his self-centeredness by learning to listen to the stories of others. Now, Lattin believes one of the best ways to find yourself is to explore the lives of others and find common ground.

"[Alcoholics Anonymous] encourages you to listen to other people's stories and then find your story in theirs," he said. "You find this commonality."

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So, when Lattin set out to write his memoir, it was only natural for him to incorporate the stories of others. His book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, A Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk, is 1/4 about his life and 3/4 about the lives of three other men: writer Aldous Huxley, philosopher Gerald Heard and the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous Bill Wilson.

The three men were friends and they all influenced modern concepts of "Do It Yourself" spirituality, like the notion of thinking of oneself as spiritual rather than religious. And they each taught Lattin something different. The writer taught him to stop being so cynical, the philosopher, to rise above life's occasional sadness, and the alcoholic, to tame his ego.

With the trio in the book, Lattin says his work is not just another recovery memoir. Hopefully it's more interesting, he quips.



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