This Naked Mind
I’ve written extensively about how much the book The Easy Way to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr impacted my recovery. I don’t believe I would have had the success I did if I had started anywhere else, and also, I don’t think I could have started anywhere else. I wanted to control alcohol, not eliminate it. The book completely flipped the idea of sobriety for me, from something that seemed like a consequence, to something I wanted. In the same vein, Annie Grace’s Control Alcohol achieves this end. She carefully takes the reader through the reasons we, as a society, drink and our social conditioning around alcohol, and by the end, makes the same arguments as Carr: that drinking is a monumental waste of time, and recovery from it is akin to freedom—not loss.
However, Annie’s book has something that Carr’s book doesn’t: research. It’s a fantastically documented book, drawing on the latest findings in the addiction field, that delivers you to the same conclusion Carr’s book does. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is still in the place where sobriety feels like a consequence, and further, encourage anyone, regardless of where they are on the path, to pick it up. I encourage you to also read Carr’s book The Easy Way to Control Alcohol and take the time with the final steps. I wrote them out in my own language and words that made sense to me, and pasted them on the wall above my kitchen sink—and recited them daily.
The Bottom Line: These two books change sobriety from a feared punishment to a proud choice, and expose the insanity of our society’s love for alcohol. Read them both. And then read them again. And again.
The Body Keeps the Score
Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
I didn’t read van der Kolk’s masterpiece until mid-2016, when, finally, at the urging of one too many people, I picked up what had previously seemed to be an arduously long, complicated, boring book. At that point, I had read Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, and also two of Peter Levine’s books (all on trauma). I had also started to dig further into yoga books that focus on trauma and somatic recovery, such as Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith (another brilliant read). I had found something lacking from all these books and resources about trauma.
I guess you can say what was missing was a sense of the big picture: a simple, cohesive answer to what exactly is trauma, how does it work, how do we even begin to attempt to work through it. Every time I finished a new book on trauma and what to do with it, I found myself with less of an answer, more confused. The Body Keeps the Score solved that issue for me. It made sense of a landscape that is typically delivered either in a fragmented, oversimplified, or overcomplicated way. It made difficult concepts I had previously found entirely overwhelming comparatively simple. Even better, I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t stop underlining it. Everyone—and I mean everyone—can stand to benefit from Bessel’s work. You’ll walk away understanding what trauma is, how it happens, how it lives in us and colors our present, what parts of the brain and body are affected, why we can’t think our way out of it, and—most importantly—how to begin to renegotiate it, practically. The book blends beautifully with concepts discussed in the other books recommended here, it complements and adds value to the entire picture of recovery, and it’s a book that I would rank among my top 20 favorite reads of all time. It’s that good.
The Bottom Line: Everyone who is working recovery from addiction has suffered some form of trauma, and a significant percentage of us have suffered severe trauma/have PTSD. Trauma is something that we must work with, practically, in our recovery. This is the definitive guide on how (and why) to do that.
May Cause Miracles
The metaphysical text A Course in Miracles (along with a lot of other spiritual practices, but this more so than any) gave me the foundation I needed to heal myself, my relationships, my shame, my fear, and my spirit. More importantly, it gave me the path to my continuously evolving sense of self-love and my first real sense of freedom. My intro to the Course came by way of Gabrielle Bernstein, through reading such books as Spirit Junkie and Add More Ing To Your Life. Those books were great because it was the first time I had experienced a woman who I felt was somewhat relatable in terms of life experience, who talked about being addicted to Subway. However, I found the books impractical, in terms of applying her teachings in any meaningful way.
That changed for me when I discovered May Cause Miracles, a 40-day guide to releasing fear. This book, while simple, and admittedly not wholly deep, was what served as my training wheels to spirituality and self-love. For forty days, after practicing the lessons offered, listening to the accompanying guided meditations, and diligently doing the work, I was by all accounts transformed. Since then, I have gone back to it again and again. I can’t recommend this book and this work more. I implore you to give it a go, ride the resistance, and allow the subtle shifts to work in your life.
The Bottom Line: This is a great book to use to begin to move out of fear, and to make small shifts in your daily life that will lead to happiness.
The Great Work of Your Life
It is my sincere belief that one of the largest causes of addiction is disconnection from who we are, and the abandonment of our essence and unique purpose. For me, this was absolutely true. I spent my life working towards becoming an ideal that society had deemed socially acceptable: a corporate job that paid well, and health insurance. I had completely departed from my sense of purpose in this world, my natural gifts and talents and creativity, and this is what was at the root of my suffering. Cope begins his book with two haunting quotes. The first, his own: “You will know how to act when you know who you are.” The second, from Jesus (Gnostic Gospels of St. Thomas): “If you bring forth what is in you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
The preface of this book is that we each have something to contribute, something to share, that is unique to each of us. And that in the world we live in, which places importance on power and materiality, most of us have gone astray and lost that spark, that knowing, that connection to our essential self. He demonstrates through countless tellings of famous and infamous figures—from Gandhi to Harriet Tubman to John Keats to Walt Whitman to Henry David Thoreau—the nature of this struggle to find out who we are and what gifts lay buried deep inside. If I were to point to ten of the most influential books I have ever read, I would point here first. It’s that good. It reminds us that we are not alone in this struggle, that great people who are glorified in history as knowing who they were started as terrible, confused messes, and the power of finding our purpose in a world that almost works against this feat. It will leave you empowered, enlightened, and with the itch to go deep and find out why you are really here. An essential journey for those of us who can’t settle for not being ourselves anymore.
The Bottom Line: Purpose is paramount to a successful recovery. Read this book to be inspired by stories of great people who have started as huge messes and done great things.
The Dark Side of the Light Chasers
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: I wish I had read this at the beginning of recovery. I found Debbie Ford’s work in mid-2014, right as I was starting Tempest, and at a personal crossroads: I had done a lot of self-work, had come to this glorious peace within myself, and then lost it, spiraling into a depression that I was certain I should no longer be subject to. The primary cause of this suffering was I was sure that now that I knew how to behave and was all spiritual, that I shouldn’t still have human qualities. I shouldn’t be a bitch, shouldn’t be jealous, shouldn’t feel inferior, shouldn’t feel shame, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t.
I was holding myself to an impossible standard even Jesus would find difficult. Reading The Dark Side was my first introduction to the shadow—that part of us that we repress and disassociate from because it’s too painful to accept as part of who we are. Reading this book took off the blinders and allowed me to see the places in me that I wasn’t letting be (the stuff I didn’t like) and to accept these qualities and integrate them into the picture of who I actually was. It let me be okay with the gossip, the bitch, the judge, the procrastinator, the sloth. Furthermore, it helped me understand on a deep level that the qualities I abhorred in other people were reflections of this shadow part of me, and the qualities I adored and admired in other people were, too. It helped me to navigate exceedingly difficult relationships, and also harness them for growth. Bonus, it helped me get in touch with some of the beautiful qualities I was blind to: for instance, my obsession with Susan B. Anthony and Gandhi were more personalized once I understood that they were fed by recognition of something in them and their work that was alive in me.
The Bottom Line: This book helps us to integrate the positive and negative aspects of ourselves—which is ESSENTIAL in recovery—and gives us the tools to use our most difficult relationships to our advantage, and our admiration of others to uncover our own greatness.
The Diet Cure
Nutrition is one of the most neglected pieces in recovery from addiction, which actually means that we make recovery much harder on ourselves than we need to. Most likely, our nutritional deficiencies played a role in why we initially reached for alcohol or drugs in the first place—most of us who struggle with chemical dependency started with brain chemistry imbalances (neurochemical imbalances), blood sugar regulation issues, hormone irregularities, and poor digestion. Our substances of choice most likely temporarily alleviated these symptoms but exacerbated them at the same time. When we are in recovery, especially from alcohol, we are almost certainly dealing with a liver that needs detoxifying, blood sugar that needs regulating, neurochemicals and hormones that need balancing, and a gut that needs resetting. This is by no means an easy thing to do—trust me on this.
One of the things I did early in my recovery was read this book, and also implement some of the protocols. While there are other great resources out there that explain nutritional needs for recovery (Mary Vance’s blog is my favorite), this is an excellent place to begin to understand body systems, neurochemicals, and the correlation between pathologies/imbalances in these systems, and addiction. I think it’s imperative you at least start to understand the concepts illustrated in Julia’s book. This will help you with cross-addiction (to sugar and processed foods, for example) and implement small changes based on very specific symptoms (there is a diagnostic test for various conditions, and paired protocols for correction). You can read a bit more about my own sugar addiction here.
The Bottom Line: You are most likely suffering from compromised physical health, and incorporating nutritional changes early on can help you manage a happier recovery. Start by reading The Diet Cure, and educating yourself on neurochemicals, blood sugar issues, and hormonal issues. If possible, implement some suggested protocols.
The Talent Code
This is kind of a strange one to include but I’m adding it because it taught me one of the most important lessons on this path: That we grow and evolve our abilities, not by staying in the soft place, but by reaching just outside of our comfort zone and current capacity. When we struggle and stay with the struggle (like, when we struggle with overcoming an addiction) we are not just merely surviving, but are actually growing in our struggle.
In other words, this book presented to me the concept that breaking addiction isn’t just about making it through the discomfort to get to the other side, but rather looking at the discomfort as the key to my evolution as a human being. Discomfort is integral to developing new neural pathways, new talents, new strengths. This is something that not only served me in believing I CAN change but also believing that I could do other hard things, too, like sitting in meditation for 8 hours, like starting my own business, like writing a book. This book is the foundation upon which I lean when I want to retreat, stop, halt. When I think I can’t, when I think I shouldn’t, when I think things shouldn’t be this hard, I am reminded by the lessons learned in this book that anything worth doing is done in the fire, not on the beach. That it should be hard. That struggle is just another way of learning the things we are supposed to learn.
The Bottom Line: Read this book to understand that good things happen when we are put to the test, and to flip your perspective on the struggle from something that is a curse to something that is the key to growth and evolution.
Awakening Joy is one of the most influential books I have read on my path, written by one of the most influential men on my path. It is safe to say that somewhere around the age of 15 or 16, I lost my spark—that childhood wonderment that I had felt so infused with all but disappeared as “real life” began to unfold—my parents divorced, my dad came out as gay, my mom went back to school, my sister moved out, I found pot and alcohol. I remember thinking that this loss of wonderment was natural. I thought: At some point, we all lose our joy. This is what growing up is all about.
This book changed that for me, reminding me that joy is not something reserved for small children who don’t yet know about nuclear weapons, racism, economic disparity, mortgages, homophobia, addiction, murder—but something that is available to all of us, all of the time, no matter what. Joy is our birthright. I have to say that had I not spent time face-to-face with James at a retreat, or tapped into what he was talking about, I probably would have thought his book was a bunch of BS written by an old Berkeley hippie who drives a Prius. But I did meet James, and he was joyful, and he did get me to find that place in myself, if for only a moment. And so, I took it seriously.
This book not only taught me the importance of joy and how to tap into it, but gave me the incentive to incorporate joy into my everyday life. Very early on, due to the principles taught in this book, I started waking in the morning and dancing, singing in the bathtub, skipping on the sidewalks, practicing laughing yoga, shaking my booty, and basically doing anything in my power to create a profound sense of joy. Without this piece, I dare say things wouldn’t have been so beautiful and big.
The Bottom Line: We all lose our joy at some point, and for those of us suffering chemical and substance addiction, recovering our innate joy is part of the process. This book will help you do that.
Quit Like a Woman
I first wrote this list for The Tempest in 2016 and for the most part, it has remained unchanged because these books are each so important and necessary. And yet, if the book I needed the most had existed when I was getting sober, I wouldn’t have written one. Quit Like a Woman is about my story of how I got sober; it’s also about why two decades of trying not to qualify as an alcoholic kept me sick and from questioning my drinking. It’s about our alcohol-centric culture that blames people over a substance and how large multi-national corporations with a market cap of $1.6 trillion—that is Big Alcohol—have seized upon that distinction to keep us confused about whether alcohol is good or bad, thus profiting from our death: in other words, alcohol is the new cigarette. Quit Like a Woman is also about a history of patriarchal recovery paradigms made to break down male privilege and how these paradigms are not only inadequate but dangerous for women and other historically oppressed communities.
Quit Like a Woman is a manifesto; an argument I needed to hear when I got sober; it’s also a guidebook to empowered, holistic sobriety; an invitation to a better life replete with how-tos. It’s also kind of a memoir. It’s, as I am, a lot.
The Bottom Line: This book will give you both the understanding of how the term alcoholic, the alcohol industry, and a patriarchal recovery industry wove itself into a force that keeps people sick and out of power.
Recovery from addiction is a life practice, a way of being, and because of that, it requires us to explore the whole of our lives and existence. We cannot just find God and be done with it, or even just work a series of steps and call it a day. Recovery means we reframe our relationship with the whole of us: our bodies, our minds, our agency and personal power, our emotions, our spirit, our relationships, our communities, our environment, our purpose, ourselves. And so, this reading list for recovery draws on many resources and teachings that span the spectrum of these elements.
Below you will find books that will help you reframe your attitude about alcohol and addiction, build a holistic recovery map, understand the importance of purpose and creativity in recovery, build a yoga and meditation practice, get a grip on the addiction scene as a whole (personally and societally), get familiar with the physiological effects of addiction, tap into a sustaining spiritual practice, work with your fears and tackle your shadow side. This reading list for recovery will also rebuild your brain, rebuild your body, support your recovery through basic nutritional practices, handle difficult relationships, find JOY, navigate the nuances of a recovery industry built to break down male privilege and what that means for any human who has never had such power, and hundreds of other things that have served me and countless others on this path.
Featured Image: bambitravel28/Twenty20