Reading can be a vital resource throughout the Recovery process, many programmes have recommended texts integral to understanding their particular method and all too often that is as far as many of us go with our ‘research.’
I have always read a lot, often having at least three books in progress. My reading list usually comprises of something factual and current, some kind of history or philosophy and something for relaxation, pure enjoyment.
My early Recovery benefitted from reading titles which helped me understand my problem, inspired me to change my life and gave me a fulfilling, and safe way to spend some time.
As my personal Recovery developed I find that much of my reading is done through a ‘recovery prism,’ leading to the creation of a wide reading list which features obvious titles as well as some perhaps, different, even unexpected ones. Like any good library or book shop the Recovery Bookshelf divides into specific sections.
As mentioned many organised mutual aid support groups have their own literature, the most famous of course being the book Alcoholic’s Anonymous, often referred to as The Big Book. Never out of print since 1939 the book has sold in excess of 30 million copies and was included in The American Library Of Congress list of the 88 most important American books ever published. The other 12 Step Fellowships also have self published titles explaining the methods and principles contained in the 12 Step programme.
If you are planning on following a 12 Step Programme your bookshelf must start, NEEDS to start with the appropriate publication (listed below), and even if not, these books contain valuable ideas and concepts whatever your view of the specific programme.
ORA RECOMMENDS – The AA Big Book
SECTION 2 – A Daily Reading:
As well as “mutual aid” Recovery Programmes, many other ‘self-help’ disciplines, spiritual practices and practical “how to” guides recommend a daily reading of some sort. Whether motivational, spiritual or contemplative the habit of taking a few minutes each morning to consider an inspirational thought and identify a personal relevance has proved helpful to many, so Section 2 of the Bookshelf NEEDS a Daily Reading title. Those following 12 Step Programmes are spoilt for choice, but there are so many ideas outside of those we are just listing a few here.
ORA RECOMMENDS – The Language Of Letting Go – Melody Beattie
You can find a more comprehensive selection in the Online Recovery Academy Book Store.
SECTION 3 – Guides To Understanding:
Starting with a personal favourite in this section, Abraham Twerski MD Addictive Thinking, originally published under the title Understanding Self-Deception, this American Psychiatrist has been a long time Addiction specialist and his accessible style makes complex concepts easy to understand. This section of the bookshelf can fill up pretty quickly. As a suggestion, take it easy, find titles that you feel are of direct interest to you and your particular problem. There are many paths to Recovery, books in this section should help you find your personal understanding of your own solution.
Another favourite here is Understanding The High Functioning Alcoholic by Sarah Allen Benton.
Three other titles that I would give a special place on my personal bookshelf would be, Dr Gabor Mate’s In The Realm Of The Hungry Ghosts, Bruce Alexander’s The Globalisation Of Addiction and the irrepressible Tommy Rosen’s Recovery 2.0
Another recommendation here would be Marc Lewis’s book Memoirs Of An Addicted Brain. A Neuroscientist and recovering addict this book challenges some of the disease model concepts in a scientific manner whilst promoting the idea of a personal Recovery.
Finally this section would always benefit from The Recovery Book by Al J. Mooney M.D. this book is really a Recovery manual laid out in a chronological, easy to understand style.
ORA recommends – The Recovery Book – Al J. Mooney M.D.
SECTION 4 – On Reflection:
This section of the Bookshelf deals mainly with philosophical and spiritual approaches to Recovery, this is also where the Bookshelf can begin to get experimental and diverse. My own Bookshelf has a number of titles that are not outwardly related directly to Recovery from addiction, they do however concern themselves with change, of thought and actions, read through the “prism” of Recovery these books took on a new life and meaning for me. Many titles here are ones that I would previously refused to read (dismissing them as pop psychology or New Age drivel), or claim to have read (and sometimes had) without ascribing any real value to their content.
First recommendation I this section would be Brene Brown’s The Gifts Of Imperfection, this is a genuinely loving book guiding the reader through a journey of self discovery and acceptance.
Another Bookshelf favourite is The Spirituality Of Imperfection by Ernie Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, whilst 12 Step informed this book uses a huge appreciation of Ancient Wisdom, philosophy and humour to illuminate the Recovery path.
It would seem foolish to leave out the life changing classic, The Road Less Travelled, by Scott M. Peck. Never out of print since publication in 1978 this book, written in such an accessible and gentle manner can be considered a “guide book” through the often hard and uncomfortable process of change toward a higher level of self-acceptance and understanding.
On the subject of classics that challenge the way we think, Victor Frankel’s brief, but moving Man’s Search For Meaning provided this reader with a whole new way to perceive the lived experience.
This section also sees some forays into Buddhist thinking notable in my own reading journey Modern World, Ancient Wisdom by the Dalai Lama and Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
A more contemporary take on living philosophy can be found in the easy reading style of populist thinker Alain De Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy which focusses on key areas of problematic modern life – lack of money, romantic problems, self-worth, anxiety, the fear of failure and the pressure to conform – which, whilst by no means exclusive to those in Recovery, are danger zones for relapse.
Finally (for now), Eckhardt Tolle’s excellent The Power Of Now is not only thought provoking, but also intensely practical in helping understand the Recovery concept of being “in the now”.
ORA Recommends – The Spirituality Of Imperfection – Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham
SECTION 5 – The Personal Memoir:
We love to identify. Although the modern “cult of celebrity” leaves me cold, I enjoy reading frank open Recovery memoirs by the famous, infamous and sometimes otherwise unknowns that populate this section of the Bookshelf. Personal memoirs are not restricted to the famous (or infamous), many recovering addicts, and their families, have published their own stories which offer unique personal insights, hurt and humour and the realities of damage and healing.
Scar Tissue, the dark days and subsequent redemption of Anthony Kedis (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) is a great example of the “celebrity” story and I’m looking forward to reading Chrissie Hynde’s (of The Pretenders) new autobiography Reckless.
An often neglected title is Moments Of Clarity, a selection of short writing compiled by Christopher Kennedy Lawford which features various takes on “that moment” when the light goes on and change becomes inevitable. The book features Alec Baldwin, Ed Begley Jnr, the great Steve Earle, writer Susan Cheevers and many others and makes a great addition to this section.
There are already a wide selection of memoirs in the Book Store, these will be added to regularly.
I couldn’t finish this section without mentioning the first memoir I read in Recovery, Smacked by South African author and journalist, Melinda Ferguson, this title often fails to get the mentions it deserves although it sold over 30,000 copies in South Africa, huge for that territory. Sharp and savage in equal measure it is a refreshingly honest read.
ORA Recommends – Moments Of Clarity – edited by Christopher Kennedy Lawford
SECTION 6 – Stranger Than Fiction:
There is no shortage of drug and alcohol fuelled fiction, although Recovery fiction is perhaps less common. This is also a very subjective experiential section, if you don’t like noire crime novels you won’t like my first recommendation – but keep an open mind!
Matt Scudder is an alcoholic ex-New York cop turned unlicensed private Eye. Created by Lawrence Block (a prolific author in long term Recovery), the Matt Scudder mysteries span some 20+ years, and although getting darker in content, the tension is relieved by sharp edged humour and hope is provided by Scudder’s own journey in Recovery. Scudder is drinking for the first three books, gets sober in the fourth and the “sub-plots” of his Recovery issues are incredibly authentic (Block’s experiences shine though).
Filmed twice, once in the 80’s with Nick Nolte, and in 2014, with Liam Neeson Hollywood clearly gets Block’s work, but sadly neither of these films captured what I found in the novels. There is a full chronological list of The Matt Scudder titles in our bookstore.
Fellow detailer of the dark side James Lee Burke had his own struggles with alcoholism, an experience which informs the psyche of his recovering alcoholic character Dave Robicheaux. The Robicheaux series is pretty hard core, but again even in some of the more extreme stories the challenges facing the recovering alcoholic have an authenticity that more than suggest the writer knows the cold dark night of the alcoholic soul. A full list of Robicheaux stories can be found in The Bookstore.
Stephen King’s addiction is well recorded along with his Recovery, both cast a shadow in some of his writing. As fellow novelist and critic Tom Shone wrote about The Shining, “one of the best books ever written about alcoholism… [because] it doesn’t know what it was about. It was an act of urgent self-diagnosis, conducted in the pitch dark.” Whilst the screen version stays with most of us courtesy of Jack Nicholson’s manic turn, reading The Shining with that quote in mind is highly recommended. King published a sequel to The Shining in 2013 called Doctor Sleep also well worth investigating.
Tom Shone, quoted above, contributes a lovely book (his first novel), In The Rooms (2009) telling the story of Englishman in New York, literary agent, Patrick Miller, who fakes alcoholism in order to sign an author attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
- Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Chandler and countless other authors have had their fair share of struggles with booze, and have written characters recognizable to anyone suffering from addiction, but to bring the section up to date our final recommendations are Party Girl by Anna David (Editor at the addiction/recovery web site The Fix), mentioned here because as well as being well written and authentic this is a story of Recovery, albeit one with plenty of challenges. Finally, is it fact or fiction? Well Oprah helped work that out, but James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces is hard to leave out, so here it is, maybe we should have a “faction” section?
Chances are that if you enjoy fiction you will start noticing a lot more characters with addiction issues once you make a choice for Recovery (Ian Fleming’s James Bond perhaps!).
ORA Recommends – The Matt Scudder Mysteries – Lawrence Block
So there you have it, a few suggestions and a plan for building a literary foundation to your Recovery. This is in no way a complete list, and is not trying to be – we will be posting reviews regularly on the Online Recovery Academy, adding titles regularly to our Book Store, and passing on recommendations we receive too.
Shortly after drafting this article I discovered a fantastic platform https://www.futurelearn.com which offers free online courses from Universities and colleges including “Mental Health and Literature” – I’m currently half way through this course that investigates the usefulness of literature in complementing Recovery, or at least understanding of depression, bereavement, trauma and other mental health issues and in doing so has helped me understand that this can, indeed, be a useful in fact vital part of many peoples journeys.