Recently Renew Magazine asked me to write about my five favorite books. When I looked at the shelves and shelves of recovery literature lining my office I was, at first, stumped. Just five? But then I thought, “What has really stuck to me or changed me?” Yes, the Big Book is on the first list, but Renew readers are recovery folks…they know about The Big Book and the Twelve & Twelve, but what are the great—but less obvious—recovery books that I love?
Here’s what I wrote:
Years ago a wise therapist helped me understand reading this way: “Books won’t save you and books won’t change you, but books will help you to build a cognitive life raft.” So here are five books I love that have helped me survive the roiling waters of recovery.
“Women Who Love Too Much”, by Robin Norwood is the book I owe my life to. “WWL2M” was my intervention. I saw myself in that book when I couldn’t recognize myself in a mirror. Norwood’s stories gently coaxed me into 12-step rooms and into a belief in my own recovery. Almost 30 years later I cherish my original copy and I read it once a year.
“The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. This may be the first and the funniest “self-help” books. It was written in 1668 and it is one of the great narratives in the English language, and it feels as contemporary and relevant as last night’s sitcom. The language takes a few minutes to adjust to but then you blink and laugh, and laugh again, and recognize yourself, and people you know as Pilgrim trudges the road to happiness.
“Lit—A Memoir” by Mary Karr-- A smart woman learns from her mistakes; a wise woman learns from other people’s mistakes. So I love stories about what you did and then what happened. Mary Karr is the author of “The Lair’s Club” and also a poet. “Lit” –about parenthood, recovery and learning to write –and is perhaps one of the most beautiful and insightful stories about a woman’s journey to save her life.
“Anna Karenina”—by Leo Tolstoy. Yes, it’s a novel, but Anna K. is the best relationship book ever written. It can show you how to make a marriage work and how to how to ruin one from the start. This is the book that wrote the book on infidelity. Even Women Who Love Too Much, doesn’t come close to what Tolstoy writes about emotional dependency and the impact of addiction on a family. .
“Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. This is cognitive therapy for the layperson. It is the most easily digestible, directly applicable and simply practical guide to changing beliefs and thoughts. This book helped me when mining my past no longer felt productive and I realized that it was my thinking, rather than my drinking that was the issue.