A film being shown to clinical professionals through screening events and conferences takes the position that patients beset by trauma, addiction and other serious conditions continue to carry a false and damaging narrative of themselves, even after their life circumstances change. The film depicts workshops in which individuals are guided to weave a new story of a life that has meaning and is marked by survival.
Mark Pirtle produced “Is Your Story Making You Sick?”. His background is in physical therapy but he has a connection to the addiction field, having launched the pain program at Sierra Tucson. Pirtle tells Addiction Professional that while the film's message does not repudiate the biological basis of addiction, he believes that too great a focus on the brain alone ignores crucial environmental factors that perpetuate suffering.
“We are relational—our brains develop in relation to our surroundings,” says Pirtle. “We all develop a model of who we are. If it sees us as 'less than,' if it sees us as needy, if it sees us as unlovable, then we're predisposed to medicate our hurt feelings.”
The film includes commentary from leading clinical experts such as Gabor Maté, Ellen Langer and Daniel Siegel. “We reached people who saw the big picture,” Pirtle says.
A short version of the film is now available to Addiction Professional readers for viewing online, through Nov. 20. Those involved with the project say current distribution is largely happening at the grassroots level, but they are exploring wider exposure through film festivals and they anticipate availability on digital streaming platforms.
Featuring trauma sufferers
“Is Your Story Making You Sick?” depicts activity in a retreat workshop involving participants affected by trauma. Participants are guided in revisiting the stories they tell themselves, altering the past programming that has not accounted for new circumstances in their lives.
Participants are shown engaging in exercises such as creating art that symbolizes what their life has looked like, and writing a timeline of their life. They participate in a burning ceremony that helps shed the old and refocus to new experiences. Through gradual exposure in narrative therapy, the trauma patients “learn to tolerate what's happening to them in the moment,” Pirtle says.
He says that behavioral health disorders and pain commonly involve distorted signals based on environmental factors. When he discusses chronic pain with patients, “I say, 'Your reaction is going to be everything,'” Pirtle says. “If you feel this pain and hate it, you're going to ramp it up. If you feel this pain and handle it bravely, and do other things such as exercise and engaging with the world more, the pain will not take up as much real estate in the brain.”
Watch a preview of the film here.