In living my daily life in recovery, I have three main guiding forces: working steps with my sponsor, going to meetings, and reading the literature. My sponsor walks me through the steps and I consider him my mentor. Meetings keep me connected with other addicts. I learn from the experience of others and get to share my own experience. To me, AA and NA literature is a set of manuals for spiritual living. The answers to most of my questions about how to handle life situations are in there. The Big Book, Basic Text, aIt Works: How and Why, the 12 & 12; I consider all of these books required reading.
I think my favorite is an NA book titled Living Clean. Each chapter is about a different aspect of recovery and is comprised of smaller sections written by different NA members. There are chapters on relationships, living spiritually, taking care of ourselves physically, etc. This is the book that has helped me the most.
Both the Big Book and Basic Text were also written by more than one person and contain personal stories from dozens of addicts and alcoholics. Contributions from several people rather than from one author provide a larger and more robust source of information and experience to draw from. That makes these books accessible and meaningful for anyone.
Recovery is an all-inclusive way of life. Addiction affects people the same way, no matter what a person’s background is. The traditions of the anonymous fellowships were carefully laid out to ensure that the programs accommodate anyone and can work for anyone. I don’t think that there is any substitution for meetings but the literature is equally as important.
The AA Big Book was the first piece of anonymous literature I was exposed to and reading it through for the first time was a powerful experience for me. I had started it in treatment and then relapsed but I continued reading and finished the book. Although I wasn’t putting to use what I was learning at the time, it stuck in my head and helped me get back into recovery and treatment more quickly. I read about the disease of alcoholism, how it works and manifests, and could see it in my own life. I understood exactly what the authors had written about. I read through all 42 stories and two, in particular, seemed like they could have been written about me, the rest I identified strongly with on at least one thing. The book put to rest any doubts I had about being an addict. That was an uncomfortable truth at first but I also felt better knowing that I wasn’t unique or alone.
I think that the Big Book and Basic Text are probably felt the most powerfully by people unsure about their own addiction who are reading them for the first time. Going to a meeting for the first time can also be a very powerful experience but if you are resistant to the idea of being an addict, it may still be easy to think of yourself as different from everyone else. No matter how closely you identify with what someone shares, you can create all kinds of reasons why you are different. I think that’s harder to do when it’s just you, alone with the book. Early in recovery, it’s easy for people’s personalities to get in the way of the message.
Recently I’ve read a few novels about addiction and alcoholism and two had quite an impact. Junky by William S. Burroughs and The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson. Junky was published in 1953 and The Lost Weekend in 1944. Both are semi-autobiographical accounts by the authors. I didn’t look up the authors online until after I had read the books but it was obvious while reading them that the writers had personal struggles with addiction. The stories in the Big Book and Basic Text are great and are varied enough that any addict reading them can closely relate to elements of several different accounts. While neither of these two novels is especially long, they provide deeper dives into the psyches of the central characters. Both Burroughs and Jackson demonstrate the inner workings of an addicted mind amazingly well. I’ve read both of them twice within the last year and will probably read them again. My own experience began with alcoholism and eventually transitioned to heroin so I felt that I closely identified with both books and this is probably true for many of us in recovery. I think people without the problem of addiction would be equally fascinated.
Furthermore, reading both books will give the reader a greater insight into how the singular disease of addiction manifests itself in different ways through different substances.
- Junky is a stark portrayal of the bleak and dangerous existence of a heroin addict. The story is told from the viewpoint of the main character, Bill, and describes his descent into addiction and the subsequent suffering through that lifestyle. Bill’s story starts in New York City and over the course of several months, his misadventures take him through other cities and states. What was striking to me was how normal Bill’s increasingly desperate behaviors and crimes become to him over time. His emotional state begins to crumble but he talks about the extreme measures he takes to stay well in a matter-of-fact, aloof manner. Without wanting to spoil anything I’ll just say that you can see by the end of the book that Bill is really searching for some kind of meaning in life that he just can’t seem to figure out and drugs have become that purpose.
- The Lost Weekend, like the name suggests, takes place over a single weekend. The main character, an alcoholic named Don, is coming off of a brief stint of sobriety and has the apartment he shares with his brother to himself. He has shirked a promise to travel to the country with his brother and quickly falls into another round of the wringer. Jackson goes incredibly in-depth with Don’s moment-to-moment thought processes and the accuracy with which he writes about the delusion, fantasy, and inner demons is sublime. It taught me about myself in a way I never expected. There is a chapter in particular titled The Joke which had me reflecting on the book and my own life for the rest of the day.
I didn’t want this blog to turn into a book review so the descriptions of these books are brief. Hopefully, the short amount I wrote is enough to pique your curiosity and will encourage you to read them. There have been times in my recovery when I’ve questioned whether or not I’m really an addict. I’ve gone through times of not working much of a program but nothing much changed. I didn’t pick up, I didn’t want to pick up. There were a couple of times I considered picking up but I just put it off for a day, then again the next day, and eventually that idea went away. I started to wonder if I really needed to stay clean.
These books helped me the most by reinforcing how much of an addict I am. I was able to identify closely and recognize similar thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in my own life and I lost any doubt about the existence of my disease. I think we probably all have times of wondering if we’re really addicts and anything that can help cement the reality of being an addict into your mind is worth looking into.
If you are interested in picking up any of the books on addiction we discussed, here is a list of recovery literature we referenced above:
- The Big Book
- Basic Text
- It Works: How and Why
- The 12 & 12
- Living Clean
- The Lost Weekend