I originally posted this list in February 2016, as a list of 13 books essential for holistic recovery. I've since updated it, switching out my recommendation for trauma, as well as adding two new books to the mix.
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, societally), get familiar with the physiological effects of addiction, tap into a sustaining spiritual practice, work with your fears, tackle your shadow side, rebuild your brain, rebuild your body, support your recovery through basic nutritional practices, handle difficult relationships, find JOY, understand the war on drugs and the evolution of addiction treatment, get clarity around that whole "is it a disease or not" debate, and hundreds of other things that have served me and countless others on this path.
Recovery from addiction is not just a one and done - it 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 emotions, our spirit, our relationships, our communities, our environment, our purpose, ourselves. And so it is we must draw on a number of resources and teachings that span the spectrum of these things. While this is not every book I believe should be read, I have spent countless ours refining the list in order to give you the best of what I've read in terms of foundation for a recovery library.
Before starting, if you have a minute, I encourage you to also check out Why Reading Is Paramount In Recovery. Happy reading!
Updated! 15 Essential Books To Build A Holistic Recovery
1. This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol. year. 2015 | pages. 271 | author. Annie Grace
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 a consequence, to something by the end I 1,000% 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 total loss, but 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 sentence to a proud choice, and exposes the insanity of our societies love for alcohol. Read them both. And then read them again. And again.
2. Integral Recovery. year. 2013 | pages. 312 | author. John Dupuy
If you want to understand exactly how to build a holistic approach to recovery, this is the book you must read. It is by far - BY FAR - the most comprehensive modality that is available to us at this time, and is the framework from which my own recovery stands, and what Hip Sobriety School is modeled on. John Dupuy (who is now a friend) not only takes the reader through an understanding of how addiction takes root, and why traditional modalities either fail to meet the mark or take us all the way, but provides a complete guide to how to structure an effective and evolutionary approach to recover from addiction and most importantly, thrive in life (for the rest of your life). Until I found it in spring 2014, I hadn't a clue why my own recovery had worked so well, except to say that I knew yoga, meditation, amino acid therapy, spirituality, purpose, creativity, and a few hundred other things seemed to work for me. This book changed all that. This book literally codified what I had learned from my own experience and recovery into an actual model that can be replicated. While John may use some different techniques than I recommend here on this site (Brain Entrainment Meditation for him, Kundalini Meditation for me; weightlifting for him, running and yoga for me), the philosophy is the same. And until I write my own book on recovery - this is the one I recommend. Note, this is a DENSE book. John is a smart man, and some of the material is heavy to get through. Treat this as a bible - go through it slowly, and come back to parts that are sticky until you get them. I also recommend An Integral Guide To Recovery by Guy du Plessis, another friend, and colleague of John's. His is a more consumable, lighter version, and a little more in line with AA/12-Step work (as in, he used 12 Steps himself and recommends the reader to as well), but the same principals are at work. They are both amazing resources to choose from, and neither require or detract from the 12 Steps or AA, I find them compatible to any path. The Bottom Line: Get this book to help you map out a holistic recovery.
3. Awakening The Brain. year. 2012 | pages. 288 | author. Charlotte A. Tomaino.
This book by Charlotte A. Tomaino - who is both a nun and one of the earliest Neuropsychologists - highlights two of the most important aspects of recovery: the power of our belief and thoughts, and the potential we each have to reshape and recover the function of the brain. Charlotte believes as I do that our potential is almost limitless, and brings both her years of study in spirituality and neuroscience into an elegant handbook that helps the user both understand brain function and learn basic techniques to empower ourselves in personal development. Not to be missed are the explanation of the brain-body compass, and the discussion of hyper- and hypo-arousal - both key learnings for someone who is attempting to manage recovery from addiction in our chaotic and demanding lives. I love it mostly for her ability to play on both the importance of hope and neurological processing - it's a perfect dance of science and spirituality, not making one or the other more important or at odds, but perfect companions. The Bottom Line: Understanding the brain, and the belief that we can change, are paramount to recovery. This book delivers on both.
4. Clean. year. 2014 | 400 pages | author. David Sheff
I read this book in early 2014, when I was still trying to figure out exactly what addiction IS, and why it happened to me. I want to say I underlined about half of it, if not more. Clean is an aggressive book, in that it aims to take on substance addiction in America from every possible angle: from why it happens to some of us, to why it happens the way it does in America, to the futility of our treatment systems, to the factor of socio-economic disparity, to the failed war on drugs, to the latest research and discoveries, and beyond. For me, this was the thing I needed to read as I was beginning to navigate my own understanding of the landscape as well as my own personal experience and was hungry for the 10,000 foot view. This book will not answer all your questions - no one book will - but it will give you a great foundation to build upon as you continue to explore and formulate your own opinions and beliefs. It is a wealth of information - chalk full of statistics, resources, examples, practical advice, as well as antidotes from Sheff's real-life experience. The Bottom Lime: Read this to get the 10,000 foot view on substance abuse and chemical dependency.
5. May Cause Miracles. year. 2013 | pages. 272 | author. Gabrielle Bernstein
If you've been a reader of this blog, you've heard me speak about A Course In Miracles about 5,732 times. And for good reason - it 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 or inspiring, 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. (You can read my previous blogs about it: How I Overcame 43 Paralyzing Fears, and How To Do Your Own Fear Cleanse.) Since then, I have gone back to it again and again. I can't recommend this book and this work more. Disclaimer, about half of those I recommend it to hate it, don't like her voice, find it oversimplified and sometimes disingenuous. I will say that I, too, experience that with Gabby's work sometimes. But I can say with all conviction that by doing this work first, I would not be where I am today, or grasp A Return To Love (another favorite) or A Course In Miracles the way I do now. 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.
6. Drink. year. 2014 | pages. 320 | author. Ann Dowsett Johsnton
This book has my heart for two reasons. First, Ann Dowsett Johnston's eloquent and heartbreaking story of her descent into addiction and her recovery from it is one of the few memoirs on addiction that left me inspired, not gutted. Her insightful and elegant description of her own battle rests close with my own experience. Second, Drink does something no other book has yet been able to achieve: bring to light the breathtakingly devastating epidemic of problem drinking and addiction to alcohol among women. Tracing her own story and conditioning towards alcohol in a society that increasingly glamorizes drinking and sweeps the consequences of it under the rug - a society that makes wine marketed to mommies and then arrests them when they pass some invisible line between socially acceptable and morally reprehensible - this book will leave you with a deep appreciation with what has gone wrong, and what needs to change. The Bottom Line: Read this book to gain a deeper understanding of why addiction to alcohol is a growing epidemic among women, and for Ann's beautifully told, relatable story of addiction and recovery.
7. The Body Keeps The Score. year. 2014. | pages. 464 | author. Bessel van der Kolk.
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 seemed - to me - to be an arduously long, complicated, boring book. To 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 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, and 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.
8. The Great Work of Your Life. year. 2012 | pages. 304 | author. Stephen Cope
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 out 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 successful recovery. Read this book to be inspired by stories of great people who have started as big huge messes and done great things.
9. The Dark Side of The Light Chasers. year. 2010 | pages. 204 | author. Debbie Ford
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 Hip Sobriety, 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 that I was sure 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 that even the Dalai Lama would find difficult. Reading The Dark Side of The Light Chasers 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 weren'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 gossiper, the bitch, the judger, the procrastinator, the sloth. Further, 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 was more personalized once I understood that it was fed by a 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 admirations of others to uncover our own greatness.
10. Meditation as Medicine. year. 2002 | pages. 320 | author. Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
While I've practiced yoga since 2003 and desired to become a teacher, it wasn't until I found Kundalini yoga that I took the leap and got certified. The primary reason for this was because it had been so powerful in my own recovery from addiction, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it for my own evolution, and to also teach others struggling with addiction. There is a reason that Kundalini works in recovery - it is dynamic and it incorporates not only typical asanas (postures) you would find in, say, a hatha or vinyasa class, but also finger positions (mudra), sound and chanting, single pointed focus (meditation) and breathing. Combining these aspects makes it the kale of yoga and meditation - a little of it goes a long way. This book not only explains the benefits of Kundalini yoga, but is written by a doctor, and ties these benefits to specific body systems. Of the over 20 manuals and books I have read on Kundalini yoga, no other book comes close to grounding for the average reader the powerful effects of Kundalini yoga on the healing of the body and mind. Dr. Khalsa does not go into discussing addiction specifically, but we can understand from our other readings and explorations which body systems are affected by addiction (the brain - specifically the limbic system, midbrain, and cortex; the endocrine system; the nervous system) and make the connection. The Bottom Line: Kundalini is a POWERFUL tool to use in recovery, and this book explains practically and from a medical perspective, how and why. BONUS, it has a lot of great exercises and practices.
11. The Diet Cure. year. 2012 | pages. 464 | author. Julia Ross
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 off 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 detoxifiying, 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 and the Kalish Method are two of my favorites), this is an EXCELLENT place to start to begin to both 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 unprocessed 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 definitely suffering from compromised 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.
12. The Talent Code. year. 2009 | pages. 256 | author. Daniel Coyle
This is kind of a strange one to include, but I am 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 it, 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. As a key to develop 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 this blog. 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.
13. Awakening Joy. year. 2012 | pages. 336 | author. James Baraz
Last but oh so not least, one of the most influential books I have read on my path, written by one of the most influential men on my path: Awakening Joy. 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 of the closet, 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. 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 AIDS, nuclear weapons, racism, economic disparity, mortgages, infidelity, addiction, murder, ... - but actually 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 actually tapped in to what he was talking about, I probably would have thought his book was a bunch of BS written by an old Berkeley hippie who drove 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 (literally - I taught myself to shake my as*), 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.
In June 2015 I came across an article in Salon by Marc Lewis that suggested that addiction was, in fact, not a disease. As someone who'd been comparing the difference between her own treatment for addiction vs. her mother's treatment of cancer in effort to draw awareness around the inherent disparity - as someone who'd been screaming about the necessity to treat addiction within the medical community - I was floored. Who was this man, and how could he propose such dangerous ideas? Of course, I bought the book immediately. I've now read it three times in the last few years, and I have to say that it hasn't convinced me one way or another about whether addiction is a disease or not (and has more than anything driven me to think disease just equals semantics), but it has radically changed my perspective on what addiction is, how it develops, and how we treat it - along with mental illness - in our healthcare non-system. The book also provides a great 101 on neurobiology (brain stuffs). The Bottom Line: This is a great book to help you come to your own conclusions about whether addiction should be classified as a disease, as well as a great starting point to begin to understand what happens to the physiology of the brain in addiction. (You may also like Maia Szvalavitz's Unbroken Brain).
In 2015 Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream, published an article titled The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. It went viral, and everyone I knew sent it to me - many of them from outside of the addiction space - with comments like Did you see this? or This has me thinking about addiction completely differently! or Johann Hari is an effing genius. I hated him and I hated this article. First, because here was yet another person who hadn't struggled with addiction first-person, who by his own admission still drank, who because of his own encounters with those that DID suffer from addiction was now some sort of self-proclaimed expert on the matter - I am "skeptical" of those who haven't actually eaten the dog food that is addiction, who think they have figured out addiction. Second, Hari's mantel - and the point of his article - is that the cure for addiction is in connection - social isolation is the driving force that makes people sick. Which is TOTALLY TRUE. I mean, I couldn't agree more that our society is sick and it makes people sick and that addiction is an outgrowth of that. But tell that to the mom who is driving drunk to soccer practice to pick up her kids. Honey, you just need connection. Third, the article completely de-emphasized the role that drugs and alcohol play. It in effect took all the blame off of the substances themselves and put it back on the person (to be clear I'm in the middle here - I don’t think you can say it's just the drugs or it's not the drugs at all - not with the way our society promotes alcohol or with what we know of how drugs - including alcohol - affect the brain.) And then I read Chasing The Scream and not only did I completely fall in love Hari and his obsessive worldwide quest to understand addiction, but I found one of the most important pieces of investigative reporting on the history of the war on drugs, addiction treatment, and the prison industrial complex. There is no other book out there that achieves what this book does. It will anger you and inform you and you will not be the same when you finish it. Which is to say, reading this will make you the exact kind of powerful we need you to be. The Bottom Line: To understand addiction and what it is to recover from addiction, you need a bit of etiology on not only how you arrived, but how the system that is supposed to help you did. This is book serves that up, with a side of righteous anger.