Therapeutic Texts and Narratives of Recovery: Recovery Through New Identities

Kristen Lindblom1*

1 University of California, Los Angeles 1378 Washington Street, Braintree, MA 02184, USA

*Corresponding Author: Dr. Kristen Lindblom, University of California, Los Angeles 1378 Washington Street, Braintree, MA 02184, USA, Tel: 415-385-6230; Email:

Citation: Kristen Lindblom (2016) Therapeutic Texts and Narratives of Recovery: Recovery Through New Identities. Addict drug sensitize 1:104.

Copyright: © 2016 Kristen Lindblom, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

Received date:October 06, 2016; Accepted date: October 26, 2016; Published date: November 02, 2016


This paper examines the therapeutic relevance of second stories in an in-house drug treatment facility by closely analyzing one discursive phenomenon: character transformations. Through these men’s character transformations, the telling of second stories collectively results in a climax in which a bid for agency is made and therapeutic collocations are used. Significantly, these character transformations enable a speaker to inhabit the ideal character role provided by the treatment textbook. This unique treatment program frames drug addiction treatment as a moral enterprise, focusing on schemas of masculinity and emphasizing the development of a new moral self. Through the negotiation of stance and agency in personal narratives and second stories, these men collectively articulate their new social world and work collaboratively to define what membership in this community means. Narratives provide a temporal and syntactic structure through which these men can (re)-interpret and (re)-evaluate their past actions, present situations and imagined future lives.


Group therapy plays an important role in the recovery process for people with many different types of addictions. The ability to acknowledge and discuss one’s addiction and the effects it has had on one’s life is considered to be an important benchmark in the recovery process [1]. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs were some of the first addiction group therapy treatments to emphasize one’s own narrative as a key feature of the process of becoming a competent recovering addict [1-3], as well as one of the first organizations to succeed in reframing a disease as a “full-fledged, lifelong social identity” [4]. This paper examines narratives and second stories in a group therapy context at a treatment facility for recovering heroin and opiate addicts. Specifically, this paper argues that through the use and transformation of characters provided by a therapeutic text, speakers are able to try on different identities as they (re-)articulate their experiences of being in the world. In other words, in this paper I aim to show how through the use of one discursive phenomenon, character transformations, participants build to a climax which ultimately allows for them to position themselves in alignment with each other, and which results in the use of the program’s therapeutic lexicon, one of the primary goals of this intervention program (see section 4.1 below for an example of a character transformation). Through the recycling of a character from a prior story, the subsequent speaker makes his story interactively relevant; through the transformation of that character, the subsequent speaker creates a space which he can inhabit and makes his story personally relevant. One of the benefits of group therapy is that second stories can gain a “therapeutic relevance” [5] and the data presented in this paper illustrate how personal narratives, second stories and character transformations play a crucial role in the recovery process through altering these men’s lexicon, which creates new character roles for the men to inhabit in their narratives in this particular treatment setting. 

Review of relevant literature

Identity in therapy

A person’s identity is a socially constructed and fluid concept [6-9]. Various aspects of one's identity are made relevant and oriented to by the self and others depending on the context, social expectations and social roles. In the context of addiction, certain habits and embodied practices constitute an individual’s identity which must be transformed in order to achieve successful recovery. The fluidity of a person’s identity is particularly relevant when we examine therapy sessions, where attainment or achievement of a stable, ideal self is one of the main goals [10]. Through close examination of the individual and his¹ narrative construction of self [9], the process of socialization into a competent recovering addict can be elucidated. The men in these sessions are being instructed in how to know, see and act upon their new life worlds, what Goodwin (forthcoming) refers to as “epistemic ecologies”. This “social world of recovery” [1] is both individually and collectively constructed by its members and is an important part of the recovery process. Like any other community, drug use communities are socially constructed and require initiation into and training for its practices, as well as the establishment and maintenance of contacts [11,12]. Following this, an individual’s identity as an addict provides them with a script of “situationally specific behaviors” [11], which are commonly highrisk and at odds with mainstream society. Therefore, in this therapeutic context, one aim is to revise these situationally specific behaviors to align with behaviors conducive to successful recovery. Narratives are one resource through which the shifts from a past identity to a future one are made publically available as assessable resources to all participants.

 Masculinities in recovery

 Masculinities as a societal and social construct vary greatly in their definitions and applications. Masculinities are highly contextualized and socially constructed Johnson 1997, its plurality is fluid and complex [13-15]. The main focus of the intervention in the present study is on the problematic ideologies of masculinities which these men hold. In practice, these ideologies have resulted in problematic decisions and negative consequences; in therapy, these ideologies are grounded in and expressed through language. Therefore, these therapy sessions can be seen as “ideological sites” in which “social practice as both object and modality of ideological expression” [16] ground ideologies in identities and relationships [17]. Many of these ideologies, such as toughness, competitiveness and emotional inexpressiveness, can have extremely negative effects on men’s physical and mental health when psychologically internalized [18,19]. However, for the men in these groups, as members of a drugusing subculture, these ideologies “represent the perception of language and discourse [and action] that is constructed in the interest of a specific social or cultural group” [17]. The main focus of the intervention from which the data was collected for the present study is on the problematic ideologies of masculinities and the real, lived effects these ideologies have on decision-making, substance (ab)use and relapse. The curriculum is largely informed by Stu Weber’s (1997) discussion of biblical masculinity and the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1970s and 1980s. The mythopoetic men’s movement is a collection of organizations which are involved in discussing and dealing with gender issues. More self-help and therapeutic than political, the mythopoetic men’s movement views masculinity (in the singular form) as “in crisis” [20] due to the confusion of what it means to be a man in modern society. As women, racial and sexual minorities gained access to public spaces originally occupied by white, middle class, middle-aged heterosexual men, the mythopoetic men’s movement argues that these men no longer had a clear direction or understanding of where they fit in the social world. The main argument of this movement is that masculinity is an unconscious phenomenon in men, based on archetypes often Jungian 1959 which are expressed through the retelling of myths and fairytales (see Bly, 1990 for the prototypical example of mythopoetic men’s movement literature). Although the central argument of this movement is essentialist in its stance that there exists “an ontological essential difference between men and women…[that is] not socially constructed” [20], the drug rehabilitation facility from which the data was collected has greatly modified this argument in its curriculum to be inclusive of different sexual orientations, racial and religious backgrounds, and personal and social experiences and preferences. Moreover, this curriculum makes a significant departure from this movement in that it does work to socially and discursively reconstruct or reshape the masculine schemas of these men without embracing the essentialist argument of male/female social roles. However, one idea that has been maintained in this program is that manhood is something earned through selfawareness, model behavior and the recognition and awakening of the masculine essence which exists in all men.

Narratives in therapy

Much research has been done about narratives and narrative therapy in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs [1-3,5,21,22]. In these programs, there is a normative structure to the narratives told by the participants [3]. Most critically, there is a narration of one’s life as one of “several layered selves” [21] and this process of self-construction includes various social identities. Furthermore, the process of “working on the self to become a new moral person [is] central to the rehabilitation process” which “remains a significant aspect of the self-identities and self-representations of the most successfully rehabilitated former drug users” [23]. It is through these narratives about one’s own life in group therapy sessions that participants are enabled to develop a new sense of self [1] which integrates past, present and future selves while resolving discrepancies and deviations occurring during unsettling life events [24]. And it is through the telling of second stories that the men are able to systematically re-contextualize and reinterpret shared problems [5]. These narratives provide opportunities for these men to articulate, examine and re-author aspects of their lives [25], both real and imagined. This communal interpretative process [3] provides a means for these men to explore the roles that their conceptions of masculinity and their addictions have played in their lives. The second stories, then, function as a method to display commonalities with the speaker. They provide a platform on which to express that in having a similar experience to the one just shared, both speakers are less isolated; second stories provide a “normative status” [26]. In producing first narratives and second stories, a group therapy social world is built and maintained and this experience of isolation is broken down, which is a crucial step in breaking addictive patterns of behavior [27]. As Valverde states, in the context of AA meetings, “storytelling functions as much to bind the group together and create a sense of commonality as to build up individual identity” [4]. This is also the case in the present study, where, we will see, narratives and second stories serve both individual and collective identity projects and therapeutic goals.

Although there are many similarities between the functions of narratives in AA or NA meetings and the present group therapy sessions, there are some important differences. The stories in the current data do not necessarily follow a normative structure and the topics tend to vary more widely and away from “drunkologs” [3]. The present study addresses this gap in the field by focusing on a newly designed curriculum and group therapy format, with a focus not on recovering alcoholics but on recovering heroin users. There are competing forms of agency within this setting: the agency being constructed and negotiated within the program and recovery process and the agency of these men as competent members of the addict community, a membership not available to the current group facilitator. 

It is important to highlight the differences between second stories in daily, mundane conversation and second stories in group therapy sessions. Because one of the key components to a successful group therapy session includes the sharing of personal narratives, the group facilitator does the conversational work of making second narratives relevant, thereby frequently obviating the need for a story preface Sacks 1974 which justifies its relevancy to the talk at hand. In mundane conversation, stories typically begin with a story preface which explicitly states the story’s relevancy to the talk in progress. For example, [28]:

1                     Estelle:  Well I just thought I’d- re-better report to you what’s happened at

2                     Bullocks today


Furthermore, the somewhat structured composition of group therapy sessions differs from interactive construction of talk in that the facilitator decides who gets the floor next, making competition for the floor in this setting different from natural, everyday conversations [1]. Occasionally, two or more participants overlap at the beginning of their utterances, but in most of these cases, the group facilitator selects the next speaker. Additionally, men typically raise their hands to share a narrative, thereby gesturally competing for the floor; however, the facilitator also selects the next speaker in this case as well. Therefore, in this particular institutional setting, the group facilitator maintains control of the floor and next-speaker selection throughout the sessions. Furthermore, the sharing of highly personal narratives is a key feature of group therapy; thus, the conversational practice of saving face [29] or the concern of losing face manifests itself differently in this context than in daily mundane conversation [1].

The group therapy context is also an apt environment in which to explore the transformation of characters in narratives. Goodwin [30] argues that “actions are built by performing systematic operations on a public substrate which provides many different kinds of resources that can be reused, decomposed, and transformed”. The term substrate, asGoodwin [30] employs it, refers to the “emergent, local configurations of semiotic heterogeneity as sites of transformations”. In this paper, the systematic operations under discussion refer to the character transformations performed by current speakers. As the men spend more time in this institutional setting, they become competent members of this social world and in doing so, they are able to “inhabit each other’s actions” [30]. The men learn to use the text as a template on which to base their narratives through repeated exposure to and participation in group therapy sessions. The ability to take characters presented in one narrative and reuse or transform them in the next narrative allows for the men to build alignment with each other while simultaneously exploring their own, individual life histories. These transformations enable the men to inhabit the characters and roles presented in prior narratives in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. This also enables the participants to “grasp the meaningfulness in subsequent talk” [30], something which is crucial to the therapeutic process and which greatly shapes and organizes the interactional framework within which these men are operating. 

In examining how these participants operate on the substrates provided to them by the rehabilitation facility; it is important to also keep in mind the fact that these men are the “raw material” on which human service organizations operate [10]. AsCarr [10] states, “human service organizations invest the persons being processed with available cultural values and social identities; a practice that provides professional personnel with “reference points” in coping with the moral components of decision making”. In rehabilitation facilities, there are complex, ambiguous and competing ideologies at play in the interactions within the environment and with the larger, macro social structures outside of the institutional environment. These men have been members of a community with significantly different values and practices as active addicts and many of these values and practices are no longer relevant in their new community as recovering addicts. Beyond this, many of the practices involved in obtaining and using heroin constitute their current identities and in this therapeutic space they must adjust and develop new ways of being in the world. Furthermore, this plurality of starting points, knowledge and experience [31] give this therapeutic environment a dynamic and ever-evolving quality. Each participant’s drug-using career has resulted in his current position at this rehabilitation facility yet his path and personal lived experience of active addiction is his alone. As a result, although the men are operating with the same therapeutic text, and in a lot of ways have similarities across experiences, each man has his own unique experience of what role addiction has played in his life and what his recovery will look like. 


Analytic approaches

Throughout an interaction, individuals are presenting themselves to others and discursively managing this presentation of self. This presentation of self-functions to “convey an impression to others which it is in [one’s] interest to convey” [32]. Furthermore, these impressions help to define and influence the current interaction as it unfolds. Each interaction can be viewed as a framework, interpreted by the speaker and his interlocutors, which allows the participants to “locate, perceive, identify and label a seemingly infinite number of concrete occurrences” [33]. Conversation Analysis and Discourse Analysis each provide resources for an analyst to use to unpack the processes underlying the discursive work constantly being constructed and negotiated and the social actions which are produced as a result of this work within an interaction.

Discourse Analysis (DA), which derives “from speech act theory, linguistic pragmatics, [and] frame semantics” [34] suggests various abstract semantic constructs, scripts, schemata, or frames, with “which participants apply their knowledge of the world to the interpretation of what goes on in an encounter” [35]. In other words, DA is both the study of linguistic forms and the interpretive principles people employ to interpret and make sense of the world around them [36]; a world they are also simultaneously constructing. The primary concern of DA is “the cognitive functioning of contextual and other knowledge” [35] in interactions. All contexts are multilayered and embedded in present scenes and past actions [37]. Interpretive and sense-making processes are locally occasioned and made relevant through the talk. As an interaction unfolds, the participants orient to the prior utterances and their relevant backgrounds and shared knowledge, all of which changes as the talk progresses. In other words, “the syntax of interaction…provides for the sequential ordering of actions” [38] and this ordered interaction is used by participants to “analyze other’s conduct”. This socio-cultural, as well as lexical and grammatical, knowledge plays an important role in interpreting and making sense of the interactive world around us [35]. The present study draws upon discourse analysis as an analytic tool to provide the researcher with ways to analyze and interpret the data at the macro- and micro-levels by analyzing the linguistic and interactive means through which this community is built, organized and maintained. Importantly, DA helps elucidate normative perspectives in social and power relations [39] and the discursive mechanisms and resources available to and employed by the participants in the social construction of their world. 

Conversation Analysis is similar to Discourse Analysis, with its focus on meaning and context in interaction; however, it distinguishes itself from DA by using the sequential organization of talk and action as a primary analytic frame [40-43]. The sequential organization of unfolding action, specifically previous actions, creates the context for relevant, or possible, next actions. In other words, context is organized through the linking of interpretive processes to the constitution of unfolding action. In addition to the careful examination of the sequential features of the conversation, CA provides an analytic foundation for the investigation of social actors in their interactions. The present study uses CA to look at how the features of an institution shape the organization that talk takes in this particular setting by looking at what the participants orient to in order to produce talk-in-interaction. Most importantly, CA examines the relevance of a particular category or identity as oriented to by the participants themselves within the interaction, as opposed to a category which the analyst imposes on the interaction as being relevant. 

Data collection and participants

The data in the present study comes from two all-male group therapy sessions at New Beginnings Transition Support Services², part of the in-house recovery facility Bay Harbor, located in New England. This is a state-funded facility which separately treats both men and women who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions. As a transition support service, clients arrive at New Beginnings after spending three-seven days in a detoxification facility. There is no formal application or matching process; an individual will be placed there if there is a bed available. As a transition support service (TSS), there is an insurance-mandated ninety day maximum stay, at which point an individual will either move to a halfway house or other assisted-living facility or simply leave New Beginnings and return home. Because New Beginnings is an open door facility, clients are not court-mandated to stay and therefore are not under any obligation to complete the ninety day stay. Frequently people leave for various reasons, including to resume drug use, attempt to recover on their own or with their partner or they leave because they do not agree with some of the house rules (such as no male-female client interactions). Unlike many other recovery facilities, this facility takes a holistic approach to the recovery process. What this means is that in addition to attending AA/NA meetings, engaging in private therapies and dealing with outstanding legal and medical issues, participants also engage in group therapy session approximately 10-15 hours per week. These sessions range from trauma-informed exercises to meditation to explorations of masculinity (or femininity for the women). The data for this project comes from the masculinity-focused sessions, known as the “Range Group: Men Finding Their True Direction”. The program is designed to assist men in their recovery from addiction through exploring various men’s issues. The goal of the program is to aid these men in establishing their own “moral compass” through assisting men in enlarging their lexicon concerning masculinity, challenging the existing schemas involved with what it means to “be a man” and reducing these men’s proclivity and romantic notions towards violence. Quite literally, this program argues that changing a man’s lexicon will change the ways he views and experiences the world. Through reading chapters from a course book and completing written exercises, the men in this group prepare for group discussions, which orient around the readings. 

The typical client in these sessions at New Beginnings is 18-25 years old, male and opiate-addicted, predominantly due to heroin. As mentioned above, the facility also treats women, who live on a separate floor and participate in separate treatments. Different from a total institution [38] New Beginnings has an open-door policy, meaning that the clients are allowed to leave when they want and are not pleaded with to stay. The men must attend these groups and can only be excused if they are out of the facility, for example, to go to court or the hospital. However, there are no rewards for good behavior or verbal participation (such as weekend passes) besides what the clients gain from it personally. This is done to help promote a sense of agency and self-responsibility in these individuals and is a distinguishing feature from other in-patient facilities. Agency is particularly important in this population as heroin is often framed in larger mainstream discourse as a “causal actor” [45] or substance “which does things to people” and “makes [people] do things against their will” [45-48]. Therefore, one aim of this program is to aid the men in re-conceptualizing the role they have in their recovery process. 

The audio-recorded data comes from one forty-five minute session in February 2012 [50-53], at which the researcher was not present. The group facilitator wore the only microphone and recorded the session, with the permission of the participants³. The group facilitator walked around the center of the room and approached the speakers to best capture their voices for the audio data. Due to IRB protocol and facility policy, video-taping could not be conducted [54-56].


As stated above (section 4), prior to each group session, the men read a short text and complete some written exercises, generally reflective in nature. On this day of recording, the men are discussing fathering, a topic they are continuing from the session before and one of the more popular and emotional topics in general. Fatherhood, as it is conceptualized here, is an important relationship and role for the men to recognize in their recovery process. The analysis in this paper will focus on one important interactive feature present in these narratives: how subsequent speakers index, change and reuse the character structure of prior stories to frame the interactive organization of the session. Through careful analysis of this phenomenon, I hope to elucidate the discursive mechanisms which enable a therapeutic climax, defined as a moment in which a current speaker inhabits the ideal recovered addict character, to occur through the sharing of second stories. The five narratives under investigation in this paper lead to a therapeutic climax in which the therapeutic lexicon (i.e. moral compass, shepherd king) is used and the character is inhabited by a speaker who is making a bid for agency. 

Before analyzing the phenomenon under investigation, it will be useful to provide the text and the group facilitator’s initial utterance to which the men are responding (this data comes from minutes 17:55-27:50 of a 46:28 session). The text is presented below (see excerpt one), along with the initial utterance of the group facilitator, Ed? (see excerpt two). This text and initial utterance result in five personal narratives which employ the phenomenon under investigation.

The text, as read by one of the men, states:

Excerpt 1ª

1              James:                   If you are a fa:ther, reflect on some of

2                                              the interactions that you have with children and

3                                              >determine in which area of father work do they fit.<

4                                              You will find that there is an area for each situation.

5                                              As you respond to children’s needs, think about

6                                              the type of father work you’re doing (.)

7→                                         You will soon discover that you are involved

8→                                         in a variety of very important work (.)

9                                              And it will change the way you think about

10                                           fathering and provide a very stro:ng guide to how you

11                                           should respond to children’s future needs.


Through the use of the second person pronoun ‘you’ the text introduces two important characters: the recovering addict as a father (marked in red, lines 1, 2, 5, 6 & 10) and the recovering addict as a self-reflective individual in the process of change (marked in blue, lines 4, 7 & 9); in other words, a competent recovering addict. The text also introduces other characters who will be indexed and transformed in the subsequent narratives, including the addict’s (potential or actual) children (lines 2, 5 & 11) and the addict as a changed (and improved) father figure (lines 9-11). This text sets up an initial proposition upon which the men will reflect. Furthermore, it provides the framework in which these men will be operating. As can be seen in lines 7-8, this “fathering work” is framed as a positive enterprise in which these men are involved. Furthermore, in line 9, the institution’s stance towards these men is expressed. Because the text claims that as the men reconsider their role as fathers, their original conceptions will change, there is the implication that their original thinking was in some way problematic. It is important to note that the text does not necessarily present a particular or normative version of fatherhood so much as it presents fatherhood as an emotional, spiritual and time-related investment. The majority of the clients, as will be shown in the data below, recognizes that drug use, relapse and jail time, among other circumstances, have reduced their ability to be a present father. The text promises to provide a guide for future action for these men (lines 9-11). Therefore, the text not only introduces the broad topic of the session; it also grounds the discussion as a positive exploration of negative past actions with a future orientation. This reading of the text is followed by Ed’s utterance:

Excerpt 2


1              Ed:          ok, now (.) the exercise here (.) I wanna ask you guys this.

2→                         It’s a fairly strai:ghtforward thing but we’re gonna

3→                         kind of delve into it, kind of talk (.) about it a- a bit,

4                              ((clears throat)) so it says,

5                              Do you want your- do you want your children or possible children

6                              to grow up with more love and en- encouragement than you received?

7                              If so how ca:n you: >do that?< (.) Obviously I would like to think

8                              that the answer would be yes, you want your kids to grow

9                              up with more love and more encouragement. Tom.


As excerpt two illustrates, Ed produces a framework, or substrate, which organizes how the men will operate on the text and interact in the session. In particular, it makes narratives of personal experience a relevant subsequent operation through the question posed in lines 5-6. He frames this activity by stating that although the book exercise is “straightforward” (line 2), the group is going to “delve into it” (line 3). By framing his prompt as both straightforward but something that needs to be examined closely, Ed is indicating the high level of reflection and personalization he expects. In other words, this utterance sets up Ed’s expected organizational framework for the remainder of the therapy session.  

In line 4, the deictic pronoun “it” refers to the text, at which point Ed then reads the text discussion prompt (lines 5-6) from the book. The men are expected to orient to this framework provided by both Ed and the text, particularly in relation to the types of stories they should share. This category bound activity elicits narratives which concern kinship relations and responsibilities and provides a set of relevant characters that these men can occupy. Some of these characters are being recycled from the text (i.e. the addict as a (potential or actual) father figure, line 5), whereas others are introduced by Ed (i.e. the addict as a child, line 6). What is interesting to note, and of particular importance, is that immediately after Ed reads the question from the workbook aloud (lines 5-7), he provides a pre-narrative assessment (lines 7-9, marked in red bold) of what he expects the answer to be. I am calling this assessment a pre-narrative assessment, as it has a dual function of expressing Ed’s ideological stance towards the question as well as providing an expected format for a preferred narrative response, one which will be assessed positively. Moreover, it provides a participation framework with possible character types who may then be integrated into the narratives, taking the text as a point of departure. Ed’s utterance in lines 7-9 indicates his ideological stance towards these men’s upbringings: a lack of love and encouragement has resulted in their current situation and their having ended up at this treatment facility. Ed is also indicating his belief of what an appropriate subsequent turn in this discussion would include at the content level. This is an interactively important move because it frames the organization of the rest of the interaction. In addition to this interactive and discursive work, this utterance also invokes personal experience as a relevant story topic through the pronoun usage in line 8 (“you” and “you”), which simultaneously places each man as a character in the current text and as an entity who is expected to operate on the text using his own personal experience as a point of departure for his narrative. At this point, we will now turn to the phenomenon under investigation.

 Transformations on character structure

Transformations on character structure serve various purposes in this therapeutic context. One key function of such transformations is highlighting the relevancy of sharing subsequent stories during the meeting. These participants index characters present in each other’s stories, yet they also transform these characters to various effects. To illustrate what is meant by character transformation, see excerpt three below:



I was pretty much their mother,

Excerpt 3

1              Dave:                                                                               from the time they were born.


                ((25 lines omitted))

his mother’s in jail,

2              John:      his mother is in jail a      and he doesn’t talk to his mother. > he hasn’t seen his mother<


3                              since he was (.) four weeks old.


Dave is the first speaker to introduce the absent mother character into his narrator and the subsequent speaker, John, picks up this character and transforms it. In Dave’s character portrayal of the absent mother, he places himself in the grammatical subject position as the character fulfilling the typical mothering role. However, when John recycles this character, he transforms it through a removal process in which he does not take the place of the absent mother. Instead, he, like the absent mother, is a void in his child’s life. This is accomplished through John’s placement of his child’s mother in the grammatical subject position. In essence, throughout this session, the men build sets of equivalent characters based on the activities and character structure of the prior narrative(s). These sets of characters are locally contingent and interactively achieved and negotiated. This interactive practice points to the intrinsic character organization of stories. All of the characters indexed in these narratives involve kinship relations by virtue of the tasks in the workbook. Furthermore, there is a clear institutional and therapeutic orientation to which characters are and should be positive or negative, which is oriented to by these men throughout the session. 

Narrator-as-child character and narrator’s-(future)-child(ren) character

The first narrative produced in this session portrays the speaker as a pampered and babied child, which, according to the speaker, has resulted in his inability to be an independent and productive member of society. To facilitate a clear analysis, excerpt two, which is Ed’s initial request for a narrative is reproduced below.

your children or possible children

Excerpt 2 (partially reproduced)

4              Ed:          ((clears throat)) so it says,

5→                         Do you want your- do you want

6                              to grow up with more love and en- encouragement than you received?

your kids to grow up

7                              If so how ca:n you: >do that?< (.) Obviously I would like to think

8→                         that the answer would be yes, you want

9                              with more love and more encouragement. Tom.


I was growing up,

Excerpt 4

1→         Tom:      uh yeah, when  

2                              uh I was the youngest out of five,

3                              so: (.) like you know,

4                              I got babied out of everybody else,

I don’t wanna baby them too much

5                              and uh (.) if I- when I have kids, you know


7                              like where(.) > like you know< like

8                              I’m gonna provide and not

9                              they’re not gonna do anything on their own,

I don’t wanna baby them too much

10                           you know (.) and then you know°

11→                       so

12                           where they won’t even know what to do

13                           when they get say to like my age.



In excerpt two lines 5 and 8, Ed introduces and repeats the lexical phrase “grow up” which is then reused by the subsequent speaker, Tom, at the beginning of his narrative (marked in red, line 1). However, this phrase in excerpt four is transformed to include the current speaker as a child through the use of the past progressive and the insertion of the first person pronoun “I” in the subject position. This can be compared to the first use of the phrase, in excerpt two, which had the men’s child(ren) as the characters performing the action. This transformation is significant because Tom’s response does not align with Ed’s pre-narrative assessment. To account for this disalignment, Tom transforms which character is performing the action, which enables him to set up a childhood that is in contrast with the childhood established by Ed while maintaining the relevancy of his narrative through this syntactic collaboration. Additionally, Tom transforms the child(ren) character introduced by Ed in excerpt two, lines 5 and 8 (“do you want your children” and “you want your kids”) into a hypothetical character (“if I- when I have kids”) in line 5 (marked in green), excerpt four. This transformation allows Tom to inhabit the father figure character even though he does not yet have children, which also further justifies the relevancy of his talk. 

In addition to these character transformations, Tom portrays himself as the principal character unable, or unwilling, to do anything on his own. He places the blame of his current inability on his parents, who are responsible for the way they raised him. By invoking his large family, the speaker implies that his siblings may have also been responsible for enabling him (lines 1-4), which also introduces a new character for the current speaker to inhabit: the speaker as a babied child. The speaker contrasts this babied child character with his possible or hypothetical future children, whom he would want to be different. He further contrasts the narrator-as-incapable-adult character with what he hopes his grown, capable children would be.

In lines 6 and 11, Tom repeats the same utterance, thus presenting himself as a future father figure in this narrative who will be different from his parents and as a result produce a different, possibly non-addicted, child. This future father character indexes a social type of father, strong and capable, someone who would act in a way appropriate to this category and importantly, in alignment with the discussion question from the text. 

The subsequent speaker builds a new action by selecting the theme of how one’s upbringing has affected one’s life, but transforms the message by performing transformative operations on the characters in his narrative. Instead of presenting parents who babied him, the subsequent speaker, Dave, presents his parents as not loving him enough.

Do you want your- do you want your children or possible children

to grow up with more love and en- encouragement than you received?


Excerpt 2 (partially reproduced)

5→         Ed:         


7                              If so how ca:n you: >do that?< (.) Obviously I would like to think

8                              that the answer would be yes, you want your kids to grow

9                              upwith more love and more encouragement. Tom.


I uh I definitely am trying to raise my kids

with more love than I was.


Excerpt 5

1→         Dave:    

2 →

3                              >I mean< my mother smoked ((inaudible)) was born

4                              my baby um but (.) given given the life that I had,

5                              I was abused by my stepfather and his son,

6                              and having ta pretty much grow up on my own,

7                              um (.5) has has driven me to be

8                              um there for my children (.)

9                              that’s why they’re kind of

10                           you know upset at me right now,

11                           because when I got out I was giving the mother

12                           all the attention and shit like that and they just (.)

13→                       ((inaudible)) definitely doing that for my kids,

14→                       I’m giving them a lot more love than I got

15→                       as a father figure you know um (.4)

16                           and it it helps (.) connect with them (.2)

17                           on another level ,

18                           because I was I was pretty much their

19                           mother from the time they were born (.)

20                           until you know a couple years old.

21                           >at least two or three years old<,

22                           I would play that mother role

23                           and then I would hafta play the

24                           father role you know cuz ((inaudible))

25                           I kissing their booboo shit like that,

26                           they were coming to me when they got

27                           a booboo and um I just I- I-


In lines 1-2, Dave systematically reuses and directly answers the question posed by Ed in excerpt two, which results in his reuse of two characters from the initial story template: the addict as an actual father figure (excerpt 5, line 1, in green) and the addict as a child (excerpt 5, line 2, in black). The reuse of the phrase (‘with more love’, marked in purple) functions as a general preface to his narrative, which is then followed by the particulars of his own personal experience.

To move to the personal, the current speaker transforms the generic character of ‘your children’ to the specific character of ‘my kids’ (marked in blue). This tying back to the original question is then followed with a description of the speaker’s childhood (lines 3-6), which contrasts strongly with that of the prior speaker. This description serves to provide background for the upcoming claims made by Dave. By positioning himself as a neglected or unloved child character, Dave operates on his experience and turns it into a rationale for his desire to be a better father figure, which is in alignment with Ed’s pre-narrative assessment (lines 7-9, excerpt 2). As Dave continues his story in lines 16-27, he presents himself as a character who plays both the “father” and the “mother” role for his children and he describes the traits and actions embodied by this dual character. Because Dave does have children, he is able to present himself as an authentic character in his narrative, unlike the previous speaker who had to present himself as a hypothetical father figure. Significantly, in his character transformations, Dave retains the character slot of parent but transforms the “too coddling” parent and sibling characters of the prior narrative into the “abusive” parent and sibling characters of his narrative. 

I got babied

Excerpt 4 (partially reproduced)

4              Tom:                                      out of everybody else,

((4 lines omitted))

9                              they’re not gonna do anything on their own


I was abused

Excerpt 5 (partially reproduced)

5              Dave:                                     by my stepfather and his son,

6                              and having to pretty much grow up on my own,


As can be seen above, the passive structure “I got babied” is transformed by the subsequent speaker into “I was abused”, retaining a similar grammatical structure but with very different propositional content. In performing this transformative operation, the subsequent speaker maintains the same character slot, the addict as a child, but fills it in with an experientially different character experience. This character transformation serves two important interactive functions: it contrasts the current speaker with the prior speaker and illustrates the message that one’s upbringing not only shapes oneself but also how one raises children. Interactively, this simultaneously highlights the two speakers’ different pasts while aligning them in their present situations. These transformations make evident what Dave found meaningful in Tom’s talk and illustrate the consequentiality of individual narratives in building a collective therapeutic community. Dave’s understanding of Tom’s talk is displayed through the specific kind of character transformation he performs as he builds his response to Tom’s narrative. In addition to this character transformation, Dave also recycles and transforms part of Tom’s utterance (line 9, excerpt 4). In this recycling and transformation, Dave sets up a space where he can present himself as a character who can inhabit the act of growing up ‘on one’s own’ (line 6, excerpt 5). He accomplishes this through transforming the ‘their&rsquo


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