Meet Travis Meadors, Sober Storyteller
This Q&A, facilitated by Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, was originally published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.
Travis Meadors is a filmmaker based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of Sober Stories on Instagram and YouTube. A person in long-term recovery from addiction, Travis interviews others in recovery to capture what they have gained through sobriety. He draws out the wisdom of their lived experience in ways that inspire and educate others, capturing lessons universal to all humans: How do we overcome shame? Trauma? The ego? Grandiose thinking? Insecurities? Self-acceptance? In less than a year, Sober Stories has grown a following of 7,500 and counting. We enjoyed connecting with the filmmaker to learn more about his efforts to rebrand addiction and spread the hope of recovery through authentic and vulnerable stories.
Q: What does recovery look like for you, and how has it empowered different aspects of your life?
I think of “recovery” as “recovering the person you are supposed to be.”
For me, I think the key to that process, and this may sound strange, is having the willingness to be lost.
Being lost isn’t always bad. We can get lost in many things. We can get lost in addictions. We can get lost in ourselves. And of course, we can get lost in the woods.
To be lost, though, is to have some awareness that you are indeed lost.
This to me is the key to any healing or program of recovery. It’s about permitting yourself to be lost in the process, and allowing others to guide you through it.
For me, it’s healthy to maintain a humble awareness that I may not know what I’m doing or have the answers at any given time — that I am lost.
Then I can let go of my will and turn things over to my higher power and others to guide me through those woods.
I’ve tested myself finding my own direction many times. The results are conclusive: I’m pretty bad at it.
By giving up my controlling nature, I’m able to rest easier and know things are going to be okay no matter where I am at in my life today.
I’m recovering the person I’m supposed to be… which is lost.
Q: What does it mean for you to share your recovery with others?
As my dear friend Lynn Sherman once said, “A story can save a life.”
One of the things I’ve learned doing Sober Stories is we all are more alike than we think we are. We all deal with similar things, and our stories are often remarkably similar.
We all suffer from the chronic terminal condition of being human.
I think what’s important is the type of stories we tell each other.
Stories we hear about getting sober generally go like this: “Something bad happened in childhood. In dealing with the feelings that created, we turned to drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors to manage our emotions. In doing so, our lives got progressively worse until we hit rock bottom and then we got sober. The end. Roll the credits.”
I don’t find this a helpful story because it speaks to things happening. It’s a story of reaction.
I’m not interested in reactive stories as a filmmaker. I’m interested in stories that speak to the core cause of those reactions — the internal things we deal with and have to overcome.
For example, what if I told you:
I spent my whole life wearing the mask of a person I’m not … projecting out a person I thought people would like more than who I really am. I was a sad lonely person, terrified of really letting anyone get to know me because somewhere along the way I was made to feel unlovable. This led me to do things and suppress feelings, memories and emotions down so much that it eventually led me to insanity.
Would you relate to that?
For me, it’s about that story. It’s the stories of our internal journeys that can save us.
The bonds we create in recovery are so tight, we have a wounded kinship with one another. We share and relate to each other’s pain far more than the things we have done.
As I like to say: stories are about people, not things.
Q: What inspired you to create the Sober Stories Project, and how has its reception compared to your hopes and expectations?
As a filmmaker, I’m drawn to video content, and that’s what I sought out in the early days of my recovery.
Back then, in 2016 — believe it or not — there wasn’t a whole lot of accessible content about addiction, sobriety or recovery.
The one thing I could find that really spoke to me was Craig Ferguson’s famous monologue about Britney Spears. I devoured that video so many times.
Craig was just so raw and real when talking about his sobriety story. He helped me know that what I was going through was real.
So that’s where the kernel of the idea started — looking for more of that and not finding it.
I wanted to see people talking about their lives in such an authentic, raw way that I would know I wasn’t alone.
That’s very important to me in the content and writing I do for Sober Stories — letting it all hang out there in the open for everyone to see. The good, the bad and the ugly — that’s what helps people. (Hurts me getting hired, but helps people.)
I had already proven the basic format of Sober Stories in a previous project. So, I was confident in the concept and content.
What I wasn’t expecting was that all the praise, fans, likes, and comments would mess with my head so much.
Attention is a powerful drug. Especially the kind of attention that goes along with helping people. When someone says you are a big reason they got or stayed sober, it’s difficult to not get full of yourself and develop a savior complex.
I constantly have to remind myself how small and insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things, understanding that grandiosity is definitely a part of my own disease.
It’s honestly something I’m still trying to navigate. My relationship with it isn’t as bad as it used to be: I was on Instagram constantly for about the first eight or so months. But I’m trying to continually internalize that the success or failure of this project isn’t who I am. And that I am in fact not a big deal.
That’s a battle I wasn’t expecting to wage with myself.
Q: What other challenges, rewards and enlightening or ah-ha moments have you experienced as a result of your work on the Sober Stories Project?
Funny, “The Ah-Ha Moment” was the name of an ad campaign I did for Pearson Education. I love that phrase.
The reward for me ultimately is in the messages I get from people inspired by the videos— people who started going to AA, checked in to treatment, or simply got through the day.
Like I mentioned earlier, my biggest takeaway from the project so far is that we are all very similar. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, we all deal with the chronic terminal condition of being human.
Q: What would you like more people to understand about addiction and recovery?
I talk to many people in recovery who say something happened to them that wounded their soul and sent them down a path of self-destruction.
That definitely resonates with my experience. And, in order to live well, we may have to look at all the things that haunt us and deal with them, which is difficult.
One of the great themes, if not the greatest theme, in the American tradition of literature and film is the theme of truth and illusion.
We see this all the time in the great stories we tell. People project out an illusion of what they want people to see, or what they wish was the case — hiding the truth from themselves and the world.
I have found that people with addiction tend to have a much stronger, perhaps even grandiose, illusion to confront than others. Our truths are often buried deeper.
But in the demise of the illusion, and the rebirth of the truth, there is a place we can live. Where we can breathe the rare air of peace.
The journey from illusion to truth is, in the most literal and spiritual sense, the hero’s journey. And while it’s a harder, longer journey for some of us, it’s a journey for all humans.
Everyone has illusions that come from and cause pain, and everyone can find joy in greater truth. Recovery, therefore, is a window into opportunities for all humans.
The universality of hard-earned recovery wisdom is what I would like more people to understand. That’s really the core and DNA of the Sober Stories project.