“And on I read until the day was gone / And I sat in regret of all the things I’ve done / For all that I’ve blessed and all that I’ve wronged / In dreams until my death I will wander on.” — Chris Cornell
I suppose I read myself sober.
My first couple months sober I devoured books every night, especially memoirs. It started six days into my sobriety. I was taking a piss and realized, depressingly, that I was still dehydrated and unhealthy from my last binge. While I was feeling the familiar shame of self-damage, I just happened to catch a line on the cover of Runner’s World magazine about how running can help fight addiction. It was an article by Caleb Daniloff called The Runner’s High. I read the article three times and immediately ordered his book. That was the beginning of saving my own life.
All day I would look forward to relaxing in bed with the latest book and a couple seltzers. During those first few months I must have tried every seltzer on the market, finally settling on Polar Mango Limeade as my favorite. I am still prone to drinking six or seven a day. Between used books that I purchased online and those I downloaded on my Kindle, I read 18 books in that first year of not drinking [author’s note: I am now at 22 books and have updated the list below accordingly]. Here they are, not really chronological, sort of grouped, with a short commentary on each. I’m not saying this will work for you, but it certainly set me on my path and I would not have succeeded without these books and the nightly ritual of reading and hydrating.
Running Ransom Road by Caleb Daniloff
I’ve read this book three times. Even though my marathon days are done, I just really enjoyed everything about this book. It’s well-written, inspiring, and I totally related to it. It helped that the author lives in Boston and we’ve run several of the same marathons. And I don’t think anyone describes a hangover better than Daniloff.
Nothing Good Will Come Of This by Kristi Coulter
An amazing read. This book and her blog, Off-Dry, were a real lifesaver in the early days. Coulter totally nails what that first night, first week, and first month(s) are like. Her confidence in what her life has become sober is infectious. This is a book I want returned anytime I loan it out. Such a good, introspective writer.
Tired of Thinking About Drinking by Belle Robertson
This book is more of an extension of her blog, but it’s great. Belle’s daily minutes (emails) are also really useful for maintaining that daily commitment. She’s really able to articulate just how much time we waste trying to control our drinking, and what a toll it takes on our daily life (and wallet). She can be a little cheesy but I appreciated her positive attitude about sobriety.
The Big Book AA
I feel like it’s probably required reading at some point in your journey. There’s nothing I can write about AA that Holly Whitaker hasn’t already written, so I’ll just defer to her on this one! I gave away my copy.
Living Sober AA
I found this (small) book much more useful than the Big Book. Lots of practical advice on the day-to-day act of living sober. I also love the title, because sobriety to me is about all the things you have to gain, not the one thing you are giving up, or “quitting.” Even if you hate AA I think this book is worth a read. It made my nightstand collection, which is saying something.
God and Starbucks by Vin Baker
As a huge Celtics/NBA fan AND a huge Starbucks fan, this one was a must-read for me. It’s not great, and I found Baker to be a tad pedantic at times, but it was entertaining. The guy went through hell and he’s pretty honest about it. I appreciated his ability to rediscover meaning in some of the simpler “chop wood, carry water” aspects of daily living.
Kick The Drink…Easily by Jason Vale
First, a caveat: this book is terribly written. Like, really bad. Apologies to Vale but it’s the truth. That said, Vale and Carr outline the philosophy that worked for me. It’s the concept that alcohol does nothing for you. That you have so much to gain by living sober. More time, more energy, more clarity, more money, more LIFE. Vale focuses on the positive gains which I relate to, and which keep me motivated to stay on the path. I consider this a must-read.
Quit Drinking by Allen Carr
See above. Apparently Vale and Carr had some sort of falling out over their respective books. Even though Carr’s book is much better written, I prefer Vale’s for some reason. They both outline the same philosophy though, so you can choose. I wouldn’t say it’s counter to AA, but it is different, and I found it more applicable to my life.
Dry by Augesten Burroughs
This is by the Running With Scissors author. I’ll be honest I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. I found Burroughs to be…swarmy? I guess that’s the word. But other people I know LOVE this book. To each his own. He does do a great job describing how quickly alcohol can make you go full “fuck it” mode and just destroy everything around you. Giving this one away in the hopes it helps someone else.
The Recovering by Leslie Jamison
Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. This book is as much about alcohol and the craft of writing as it is about getting sober. Not exactly uplifting, but very real, and I was enchanted by parts of it. She’s a great writer and a great researcher. Worth the read for sure, though you may skip around a bit.
Fat, Forty, and Fired by Nigel Marsh
A friend recommended this book, which is about a lot more than quitting drinking. Marsh loses his job, and takes a year off to reconnect with his wife and kids, get back in shape, rediscover a sense of purpose, etc. There were times in the book that I found him to be insufferable and almost stopped reading, but his epiphanies about fatherhood really hit home for me. I also adore Australia (the setting of much of the book) so that was a plus for me.
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
For some reason this book blended in my mind with the blog posts of Laura McKowen, which I’ll take as a high compliment of this book, but I honestly can’t recall much about it. Apparently sobriety does not always mean a steel trap memory after all. It’s still on my Kindle though, so I guess I didn’t hate it. I need to reread it soon.
A Happier Hour by Rebecca Weller
I recently had PRK eye surgery, which despite the numbing eye drops (I decided not to take the Valium) meant experiencing the sensation of the surgeon literally scraping seven layers of cells off my eyes. It was not pleasant. Not quite as bad as a spinal tap (I’ve had that as well) but close. Anyway my point is I’d rather have my eyeballs scraped off again than reread this book. Sorry Rebecca.
How To Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
Man, this book is…something. Marnell is unique. Although I can’t relate to her fashion obsession or life in NYC at all, I could relate to her childhood Courtney Love obsession (just substitute Kurt Cobain) and she certainly understands addiction. A crazy read if you’re looking for a side of edginess with your sobriety.
The Naked Mind by Annie Grace
Similar to Carr and Vale, but with a little more brain science. A good factual read if you’re interested in some of the neuroscience of addiction. I didn’t love it, but found it interesting and it’s certainly a well-written book. Apparently I bought it on the same day as Gray’s book (according to my Kindle) which was apparently a very distracted couple of weeks in my life. Insert shrugging emoji here.
Lit by Mary Karr
She’s the Liars’ Club author, and she’s a great writer. I was farther along into sobriety when I read this one, but would have devoured it in the early days. Some of her blackout descriptions just nail the terrifying reality of realizing your drinking is out of control, and that mix of utter shock and sadness that comes with realizing you could have hurt someone else. A good book.
Recovery by Russell Brand
Meh. I’m not sure I finished it. I appreciate why Brand wrote this, but I just couldn’t get into it. I just kept picturing, you know, Russell Brand writing a book and then reading it to me. Maybe that’s your thing though! It is cool just how many people have realized they are happier sober.
Tomorrow I’ll Be Different by Beauchamp Colclough
Another book that probably would have meant more to me early on, but that I sort of flew through reading after more than a year sober, just nodding along. This was Elton John’s inspiration though, and he just hit 29 years sober (and sponsors Eminem, believe it or not) so that’s kind of cool. I’ll give this one away and hope it helps someone else.
Sober Stick Figure by Amber Tozer
Tozer! An entertaining and informative read. Definitely an easy book to get through, with plenty of humor injected into the life lessons. And, Tozer replied to my tweet about her book, so bonus points for being awesome like that! I really enjoyed this one and took a few pithy quotes from it.
We Are The Luckiest by Laura McKowen
This book was about what I expected, since I’d read so much of Laura’s blogs/posts/etc. It’s a very honest book and boy do some of her stories hit close to home. There really are parts of life we were lucky to make it through, and it sure makes me grateful for the sober present. I think Laura hits on that feeling in her book, and it probably would have had a more profound impact on me if I’d read it earlier in my own…God I hate using the word recovery or journey…my own whatever. I actually went to her book launch in Massachusetts, though it was kind of a disappointing experience. A good read though.
Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker
Holly is the founder of Tempest, an online recovery program/group/philosophy that had far more of a positive impact on me than AA ever did. I liked Holly’s original website “Hip Sobriety,” and I really like the Tempest and the Temper, even if they aren’t exactly aimed at me (a straight, white, American male). Her book is sort of a summary of all that: her own recovery and her own relentless drive to found her own recovery company. I share her feelings of unease in AA, and can relate to a lot of the book. Not all of it (I’m sorry, but I think essential oils are bullshit and I’m not into yoga, haha) but her message is amazing: you get to define what your sobriety looks like.
Alcohol: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
Just a superb book. It took me a while to get into it, but once I was in I was hooked. And it was only after I’d finished it that I found out about Knapp’s life story, and that made the impact of the book even more jarring. This is now one of the first books I recommend to people. And as a dog lover I also found her book Pack of Two to be pretty good.
I have found a lot of sobriety is rediscovering your natural state. As a kid I devoured books. I always read in bed, and more often than not stayed up far later than I should have because I could not put the book down. I would hold the book sideways so I could rest my head while I read because I was so tired but didn’t want to stop (insert drinking parallel here). When my parents tried to stop me I would read under the covers with a flashlight.
I found that love of reading again sober, and now I always have at least two books going at once. Holly writes about this, about rediscovering the joys of childhood, though they are joys that should not be limited to childhood. Vale and Carr as well (or one of them anyway, ha) provide the example of ten-year-olds at a birthday party: they have a blast and lose their minds, and no one would think to add alcohol to the picture. Everyone knows it would be dangerous and stupid, and besides the kids are having plenty of fun without it. So why does that have to go away when we become adults?
I recall a day in England when Davin said “You do sort of act like a kid sometimes,” and he totally meant it as a compliment. The joy of life is right there, if you can figure out how to not be so goddamn self-conscious about it and just go after it. I never thought I’d be able to honestly say it as an adult but: I’ve learned how to have just as much fun without alcohol. And I’d say my mental health has improved 75%, if that makes sense. If you can get through those early weeks, and build some momentum of your own, I think you’ll find your life will start to improve significantly, and in ways that will surprise you. Text, call, or email me anytime…I’ve got your back!