Bibliotherapy: Good Books for Recovering People

Recovering people need different things at different times in their recovery. For the first year or two, efforts are directed toward learning to stay clean, and clearing the wreckage from the past. Most recovering people must spend a great deal of time, energy, and attention on these tasks during the first year or two of recovery.

 

After mastering these essential tasks, recovering people often ask, “What’s next?”  They can experience what I call a mid-recovery-life crisis. Some people go through it after a few years, and some after ten or more. It’s sometimes described as a yearning for something deeper. For some, it means work on relationships – with other people, with one’s Higher Power, and with one’s self. For others, it means finding renewed meaning and purpose in life.  Many people find answers to their mid- recovery-life questions in the twelve steps, of course, but outside sources can also aid in this phase of recovery.

 

Books containing the wisdom and experience of other people can be a tremendous help. Here are a few titles that have helped recovering people on their journey of recovery:.

 

The Mindful Addict, by Tom Catton

This is a tale of one man’s spiritual journey in recovery. The author describes his addicted life in the first fourth of his book, then moves on to tell of his eclectic approach to spirituality. He embraced Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation. The author elaborates on spiritual principles he’s found to be keys in his recovery. Toward the end of the book he explains how his spirituality helped him face some serious medical conditions. He talks about the importance of being wide-awake to life, and about the importance of showing up, serving others, and of radical acceptance. This is a book to read and re-read.

 

Mindful Recovery, by Tom Bien and Beverly Bien

This book discusses mindfulness and its relation to spirituality. It contains options for people, even in early recovery, who object to concept of a Higher Power. Mindfulness can be used to help heal addictions and other ailments, such as anxiety or other strong negative emotions. The book not only describes spiritual practices of awareness and enjoying the present moment, but also gives practical exercises to help. Short stories, scattered throughout the book, serve as examples for how these techniques can be applied. The authors explain how journaling, meditation, and storytelling can help recovery. This book contains tools for change, and may be a place to start with patients who object to the phrase “Higher Power,” but who are still open to a spiritual approach to recovery.

 

The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning, by Earnest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham

This book promotes the idea that spirituality is attained by admitting and accepting our imperfections. The book also says our imperfections make for some really great storytelling, and our stories contain great truths. This book and the ideas in it are compatible with AA and 12-step recovery. Parts are interesting and inspiring, but it’s not a quick and easy read. Sometimes the book felt scattered, but after all, it is an imperfect book. I highly recommend this book to people with perfectionistic tendencies.

Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life, by Emmet Fox

This book, written sixty-five years ago or so, is still mentioned in AA meetings as a source for spiritual ideas. When I first read this book many years ago, I was intrigued by the idea that positive thoughts bring positive effects. I think there’s a certain amount of truth to this, but now I have difficulty with the book’s vending machine concept of God. The author states that we can control the events in our world by having positive thoughts, and that God will give us our hearts’ desires. I don’t think it’s that simple, and it fails to acknowledge our lack of control over many things. This book has no explanations of why bad things happen to good people.

 

Simply Sane: The Spirituality of Mental Health, by Gerald May

This wonderful book, written about twenty years ago, is thin at just 180 pages, but packed with interesting ideas. The book emphasizes the importance of being tolerant and patient not just with other people, but also with ourselves. We don’t have to try so hard. We don’t have to endure the stress of “having it all.” This book is the same author who wrote Addiction and Grace, another book worthy of reading and re-reading.

 

A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth, by Keith Miller

Warning: this is a book written by a Christian for other Christians. And it’s relatively old, published originally in 1992. The author discusses how Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-steps can be used as a pattern for spiritual growth for anyone, not necessarily only for people with alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, too many people in churches think they dare not be completely honest about how broken and needy they are. Some church people believe that after salvation, Christians shouldn’t struggle with addiction. But it’s that façade of self-sufficiency that cuts off the healing available from other people. It takes humility to admit we need the help of other people. Many people would prefer God heal them privately, and leave other people out of the process.

 

You Can’t Make Me Angry, by Paul O.

This author is the guy whose story is in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and contains that oft-quoted bit about “acceptance is the answer to all my problems.” This book elaborates on that idea. When I first picked it up, I thought, “How silly. Of course people can make other people angry,” but by the end I agreed with Dr. Paul: an emotionally mature person doesn’t have to let other people make her angry. This book is all about growing up emotionally, and taking responsibility for our own emotions and reactions. This is a book to keep, read and re-read. It’s written in a light-hearted manner, with nice vignettes for examples, so it’s enjoyable, not heavy. Also read his other book, “There’s More to Quitting Drinking than Quitting Drinking.”

 

Of Course You’re Angry: A Guide to Dealing with the Emotions of Substance Abuse, by Rosellini and Worden

This Hazelden book is kind of a counterpoint to the above book, and also is excellent. This book explains why addicts need to acknowledge angry feelings rather than suppressing them. When we suppress and deny feelings, they often come out sideways, and cause problems. The book explains that we can chose how and when to express angry feelings, instead of acting out anger in ways we later regret. I highly recommend this book for all recovering addicts, their families, and all other members of the human race.

 

Stage II Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction, by Ernie Larsen

More than any other book, this book is excellent for people in recovery who start asking “What’s next?” The author puts special emphasis on restoring relationships. He also discusses some of the more common ruts people can fall into during recovery. See also: Stage II Relationships: Love Beyond Addiction by this same author.

 

Lit by Mary Karr

This autobiography tells of the author’s struggle with both addiction and recovery. Full of zinging metaphors, the book elegantly tells an addict’s story. I particularly like how her book didn’t end at getting clean, but continued to describe her peaks and valleys in recovery.

Have you found books that helped you find meaning and purpose in your recovery and your life? Please write a comment to tell us about them.

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