Sometime around the Kavanaugh hearings, a colleague of mine—a lovely, sweet man—tone policed me in a conversation. I was speaking in my normal voice, albeit a terse one because he'd just done something spectacularly undermining of my authority as a CEO, and, well, as a human, when he said "I can't talk to you when you're being emotional." Later that night, talking to my mother, I started hysterically screaming into the phone—but don't worry, it was just to demonstrate to her what emotional really sounds like. We rolled into fits of laughter about what might have happened to him if I'd really let him have it, gone full Holly on him.
A few weeks after the tone-policing bullshit, and after an emotional, belligerent rapist was confirmed to the highest court of the land, I met with a friend for lunch in Union Square. My dad was sick, my mom was sick, we'd just started a new Hip Sobriety School, we'd just hired our 11th employee, and my boundaries were being punched from every single side of me. As I was telling her about how many feminist books I was reading to write my own book, I noticed that familiar feeling of a knife being plunged from behind my right ear into my right eye socket; an ocular migraine had joined me for lunch with her, and by the time I left, I was experiencing visuals in my right eye, and had formed a nifty little blind spot.
I had a facial planned, which I was late for. It was the first time I'd gotten one since moving to Brooklyn, and the facialist spent my hour set aside for self-care telling me that I looked like pretty big shit, and that I should, um, try and prioritize self-care. When I told her I needed her to stop talking because my head was about to explode, she told me her shamanic gut instinct was I needed this advice; nonetheless, she persisted. At the end I thanked her for her service, which was, to be honest, $165 for some face rubs I could have done myself and a lecture I didn't want or need, and made another appointment. That night at home, almost totally blind in my right eye, I canceled the next appointment.
The ocular migraine lasted for a day: It was hot and blinding like my anger; the weight of too many books I'd read written by rightfully furious women; the weight of too many boundaries being trampled; the weight of a lifetime of swallowing so much purged, finally, by an anger that seemed to be seething from every woman I knew about not being believed, or being gaslit, or being abused, or being sexually harassed, or being raped, or being pushed to the point of no return. If 2017 was the bottom—or just the collective realization that we'd been at the bottom for a very long time—2018 was how pissed I was about it.
A few months ago, moving around on the Instagram, I ran across a woman's repost of one of mine; she said something to the degree of "I know Holly can be too much but this is a good quote." She was white and blonde and I imagine her ire was at how, in 2018, I finally talked about white privilege and Black lives; about racism and homophobia and not just sexism, which enough white women agree exists to be mutually agreed upon as a "not too much" topic. So if 2018 was the year I finally showed the least amount of human decency I could by acknowledging racism and my part in white supremacy to the dismay of many white women who found my "identity politics" "off message," it was also the year that I got letters from superiorly woke white women, telling me how smug and dangerous I was for using words like "intersectional feminist"; pointing out how I'd ordered my cis-ness before my white-ness and what that really said about me and how far I had to go in understanding what a true, dumb bitch I really was; silly girl. It was also the year I stepped back to write my book, and didn't blog, or use Facebook that much, or go home for Christmas, or call my mom when she couldn't walk, or call my dad when he was in the ICU; the year my unread text messages ticked up to 350; and so it was the year that I failed, entirely, to live up to everyone's expectations. Well, all except for my own. Because, seriously, just fuck what anyone thinks of me. (I learned that in 2018, too.)
If this feels like a lot, or too much, or not related to addiction, then this probably isn't for you. If you however, like me, are interested addiction outside the silo of: a definition, a meeting, a craving, a substance, and, like me, are interested in understanding addiction within the context of: this world, the humans in it, the systems that perpetuate it, the things that drive us to it (for different reasons), read on.
Also: this list is a pretty femme list; and if you think that only women or feminists or femme-identified humans should read feminists books, then you definitely need to read this shit. Also, there are of course some fantastic reads that are explicitly about addiction. Enjoy! (Chef’s kiss.)
Notes: (1) There’s a list of books on addiction and recovery at the bottom, sans review. If you’re looking for the books I recommend for recovery, check here. (2) Yes, I do read a lot and a seemingly impossible amount; close to 2 books a week. Please consider: I went on zero dates in 2018, had sex twice, live by myself, don’t cook, and haven’t shaved my legs in two months. I also read for work. What I’m saying is: if this makes you feel like you don’t read enough, please put it in the context of I basically only read, go to work, and drink coffee.
The Books That Made Me in 2018
1. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger | Rebecca Traister
I'll be the first to admit that while I had such high hopes for All The Single Ladies, which Traister wrote in 2016, I left it unfinished on my nightstand. I just couldn't with the single lady empowerment shit. I am single, I have cats, I don't give fucks; I'm garden-variety and I didn't really need another book to explain why Single is Strong. But when Good and Mad came out precisely at the time we found out Kavanagh liked beer and Erin Keane reminded us that "Every woman I know has been storing anger for years in her body and it’s starting to feel like bees are going to pour out of all of our mouths at the same time," I was pretty sure I might eat the entire book in one sitting. Seriously, every woman I know told me to read this book, and it's because we need this book; we need something so hot with our anger it burns us to hold it. And if you wonder how women's anger connects to addiction, maybe you haven't been around enough women recovering.
2. Men Explain Things To Me | Rebecca Solnit.
I read this book in the Fall of 2017, mostly from my bathtub, pining over yet another tall, emotionally unavailable dad-bod Jewish man (my kryptonite) who'd rejected me. This was right around the time of Weinstein, and #MeToo, and also exactly around the time I went out to raise venture capital to grow Hip (if you don't know, women pull in about 2% of all venture funding in the US; man-only or man-woman teams bring in the remaining 98%). Which is to explain to you that: It was a fun time in my life, that fall of 2017. I'm not sure how I'd managed to go as long as I had without reading anything by Solnit, I fell in love—I've read five other books by her this year (one's on the list). Men is a book about, well, naming things; mainly things that seem to escape our notice, and things that we tend to shrug off as innocent—like that time a man I worked for told me he'd like me to come whisper a request I made in his ear, versus emailing it to him. Solnit paints a perfect picture of the spectrum of sexism and misogyny, connecting rape as an outgrowth of the things we endure as normal. If you're looking for a connection on misogyny and alcoholism, try this line on from Ann Dowsett's Drink: "If we could eliminate all violence, bullying, sexual and physical abuse, sexual harassment, we could prevent 66% of binge drinking in twelve- to eighteen-year-olds. Sexual abuse accounts for 20% of binge drinking, and sexual harassment for 50%."
3. Women, Race & Class | Angela Davis
This was one of the more recent things I read, mostly because so many books I'd been reading led me to it. (Try this neat trick: reading only books you find referenced within books you read; it will lead you to some of the greatest and surprising reads and connects ideas.) I'd read Woman's Hour (on the history of women's suffrage; not a favorite) as soon as it came out, and one of the more surprising themes that emerged—that I had not been aware of until this point—was how racist the women's suffrage movement was, how much white feminism was positioned as the only feminism—something that remains today. We idealize and revere people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as the mothers of suffrage and women's liberation; we bury the contributions of Black feminist activists like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Lucy Parsons, who paved the way, who were nearly erased from the mainstream story of suffrage. It also exposes the system of capitalism as the (unassailable) foundation to our patriarchal system; this would prove important to tie back when I later read the Globalization of Addiction by Bruce Alexander, which asserts hyper-capitalism as the direct and absolute cause of our now surging rates of addiction. It's an important book to read for so many reasons, but mostly because if we want to understand injustices we face in a society, we have to understand the part white women have played—and still play—to perpetuate them.
4. An Integral Guide to Recovery | Guy du Plessis
I met Guy in late 2014, in Utah at the home of John Dupuy (author of one of my favorite books on addiction, Integral Recovery.) Guy was (and still is) in recovery, from South Africa, and what I found so enthralling about the whole situation was how both he and John were writing essentially the same book—how to recover from addiction whole-istically using Ken Wilber’s Integral model—and that they were such huge supporters of each other. When Guy's book came out in 2015, I felt for certain it wouldn't offer me anything that John's book hadn't already, but it did: it offered me one of the easiest, most graspable understandings of an integral approach to recovery; he didn't just boil the ocean that is addiction recovery, he also served it up in the most delightful, simple way. I read it in two days and highlighted at least half of it. It's on the list because as I started to feel like I was "drifting away" from my roots of addiction recovery after a year of exploring threads that lead beyond the typical tropes we see in addiction recovery, I picked it up to remind me of why I will never stop wanting to learn, and teach, recovery. Note: the book is written for a masculine, 12-step audience (but what isn't)—take what you need. Lastly, Guy is an atheist and there are few heavy-hitting resources in recovery for atheists.
5. The Biology of Desire | Marc Lewis
The first time I read about this book was in a review prior to its publication. It was July 2015, I was on vacation with my family, and I told my sister that I will never stop wanting to learn about the brain and addiction. Marc has that affect. This year, I read it for the third time. It's a magnificent read that argues addiction isn't a medical disease, but rather, addiction is the human brain doing what it is supposed to do. Biology is a journey into the definitions and theories of addiction that have persisted, an argument around why certain definitions both limit and promote the advance of recovery, and as Lewis is a neuroscientist (and professor, and recovered from addiction himself)—it's full of explanations of neuroscience, and what happens to the brain (and human) in addiction, and in recovery. It's also a book that takes addiction into the larger scope of society; reading it a third time led me to some conclusions I previously missed, like the tie between capitalism/free-markets and addiction, or how recovery intervention can sometimes be only about timing.
6. Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies | Catrice Jackson
I read this book after reading some books on racism, white supremacy, white feminism, and white privilege (some are mentioned here, some are not; notably excluded but important to read are Eloquent Rage, White Fragility, Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race, and So You Want to Talk About Race—all are wonderful just not on the list). This is a practical, clear guide on how to start dismantling racism within yourself—the idea being, of course, dismantling racism starts with white people dismantling it within themselves. It is a simple, thorough, kind and straightforward book that will help you to start down the path of looking at the racist parts within we often believe aren't there unless we're holding a Confederate flag. I went to Catrice's workshop and the idea that stuck with me the most is that just like addiction, racism thrives in the dark; and just like addiction, it isn't about how good of folk we are, if we don't actively examine the racism within ourselves, it chokes not only those on the other side of it, but us. As Tommy Rosen said, the opposite of addiction is awareness and conscientiousness; I believe to a large degree, this is applicable to racism as well.
7. The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober | Cath Gray
First: One of my closest friends wrote this book. So there's that. However, Cath is a friend for a reason: We think the same about addiction and recovery, and share resources, beliefs, values, ideals. She's an atheist, and I am all about that Jesus and into metaphysics and Kundalini and I basically am spirituality-scented; and still, we land on the same side of things more often than not. When I started reading the manuscript for this, I was basically like FUCK this is my book. But it wasn't my book, it was hers; it's just, of all the books on addiction, the one I would have wanted to write. It is the modern day bible of sobriety, which I am certain Cath will love me saying; she also just recently released a journal to pair with it.
8. The Mother of All Questions: Further Reports from the Feminist Revolutions | Rebecca Solnit
It's another fantastic fucking book by Rebecca Solnit. Read it. That's all.
9. First, We Make The Beast Beautiful | Sarah Wilson
I've never quite identified as having anxiety disorder, though I had panic attacks through my twenties, as well as agoraphobia. I found yoga rather young, at age 23, and have used it consistently since (and for a time pot, alcohol, and eating disorders) to manage said anxiety. I don't know why I don't identify as anxious, but I am writing to you with bleeding bitten nail beds, and I just did about an hour of Kundalini just make it through the terror that is writing a blog post. In other words: I deal, and I've never been terribly interested in understanding much about my anxiety, beyond how to control it. Anxiety is just not that interesting to me; depression and addiction however are enthralling. Anywho. While selling my book, the lovely people at Dey Street popped Wilson's book into my hands, and one night I decided: Why the fuck not read about anxiety? I hated First, We Make The Beast Beautiful at first, so so so much. Wilson made me nervous and fidgity and overwhelmed me with her overwhelm, but something happened as I read it, which was: the realization that I've been dealing with heavy doses of anxiety my whole life, and have never truly spoken about it, or claimed it, or pulled it apart. The other realization that hit was: Why are there so few books on anxiety by women? In the end, I couldn't put it down; I'm not sure if I wished I'd read it earlier in my life, but I do see this as being one of those defining books that finally gave something I've been dealing with since literally age five a mirror and a voice.
10. SPQR | Mary Beard
I bought this book as soon as it came out in 2016 (or maybe even 2015) since I'm obsessed with the Roman Republic and subsequent Empire. It traveled not once with me but twice to Rome itself, where it sat, unbothered, unopened, at the bottom of my backpack. It wasn’t until I moved to Brooklyn that I started to pore into it, which paid off. On a May 2017 weeklong trip to Rome, walking up Via di Porta San Sebastiano, toward the Appia Antica and past a tomb I'd seen at least a dozen times, I finally understood it to be the tomb of the Scipios (or Sepulcrum Scipionum)—a tomb from 3rd fucking century BC. Which is a very exciting thing for me, but a very boring way of telling you I read a 500 page book about Roman history. The point that matters is that it was written by a woman; a brilliant woman, who dared to tell the story that has been told millions of times in thousands of texts, but from a new point of view and angle. In a world where our history is written by men, and where men's word and written record form our beliefs and visions of history with them at the center and women as a footnote this was a refreshing and mind-bending read about a story I thought I knew, that changed my understanding of Rome, Roman history, and its influence on the world, forever. If you are a nerd like me, this one’s for you.
11. Children of Blood and Bone | Tomi Adeyemi
I bought this book because everyone I knew with good book taste told me to, and because I couldn't recall the last fiction book I’d read that was written by a Black woman. Now, I'm not into fiction, at all. If I'm not learning some fact I'll forget next week or something that cites at least 75 studies it's not worth it to me. But after Thanksgiving and before Mrs. Maisel Season 2, needing a break from life, I picked it up and couldn't put it down. I read it in three days in which I nearly developed bed sores and I can't wait for Tomi to write the next one. There were a lot of people that compared her to the next JK Rowling; I would say, she is in a class of her own—there is no book I’ve ever read like this. This is also a book for those of us who might, say, watch all of Game of Thrones three times.
12. This Naked Mind | Annie Grace
I read this, or Allen Carr's The Easyway to Control Alcohol at least once a year for one simple reason: Our society tells us to drink at every turn (thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times a day), and I need to purposely direct myself towards arguments that debunk that myth. Dismantling the idea that alcohol is beneficial is core to sobriety and recovery; and this book does that. I've written a much longer, more eloquent review in this post here on the 13 Essential Books To Build A Holistic Recovery From Addiction.
13. Make Miracles In 40 Days | Melody Beattie
This summer, while traveling in Italy, the thing happened to me that always happens when I take time off: I lose my sense of self, and I lose my shit. Work gives my life meaning and shape, and because my work has been so centered on my own story and experience for the last five years, when I lose this grounding force, I basically lose my way. I tend to respond the same way, which is to tread faster and grasp for things that will restore my sense of place in the world, and because my energy runs thick and knows I'm running in place to preserve some false sense of self (rather than to do my best and release it), what ends up happening is I only prove even more how totally unimportant I am. Which typically has me walking the beach of Massa Lubrense searching for a signal to check how many Instagram likes I got on some vapid posturing meme that serves no purpose but to reinforce my importance, only to find that the plan backfired, and according to the number of likes, I've become totally irrelevant. I can see how insane it is; I can feel myself falling; I grasp harder, I compare myself to others. Inevitably, I delete social media from my phone, meditate, swim in the Mediterranean, and listen to Pema Chodron as I go on some long walk through a lemon orchard until I remember, oh my god I'm in Italy and this shit doesn't matter. Except this year: it wouldn't go away.I was miserable; and try telling that to anyone who isn't it Italy and see how sad they are for you. Anyway, this is my long and windy way of telling you that this book kept coming up for me; that finally I read it; that finally, I put its practices into place, and that for the last six months I've been emailing my friend Tracy daily gratitude lists (almost daily but kind of not because I'm terrible at discipline), and it's changed my life in ways I will never have words for. I'm not going to give away the process; my friend Ann Dowsett wrote about this book in a post on The Temper called The Cliché Magic of Practicing Gratitude so you can read more about how this practice got her a book deal (!!!) but seriously, just get this book and do what it says. You'll be glad for it.
14. The Bright Hour | Nina Riggs
I first read Nina Riggs' memoir of her escalating battle with terminal breast cancer in 2016; I knew the story ended with her death before I even began it, but what got me the most—and the absolute haunting part of it all—was how much life was written into those pages. When I read it again this summer the same thing hit me all over again; how much I felt I knew her, how she felt like a friend or someone I would be friends if we'd had the chance; how someone I'll never meet could touch me so deeply that I count them among my departed. Nina's writing and storytelling taught me a few things. She clearly made her own rules in terms of writing. She wrote how imagine she spoke, chapters were sometimes a page long or twenty, and she had a zest for the colon, Which left me with a zest for the colon. Which means: Nina lives on in my work.
15. Trauma To Dharma | Azita Nahai
There are lots of books on trauma; this is the only book on trauma that (a) outlines specifically (as in step-by-step with practices) how heal from trauma (b) is written by a woman who has (c) endured severe trauma (d) who used the process outlined to heal her own trauma and (e) did her doctorate on said process so she could (f) write this book. When we talk about PTSD or post traumatic stress, we are generally talking in terms of what men experience; the studies have been largely performed on male veterans; this means there’s a shortage of studies and literature on what happens to women who endure domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape and how they recover themselves. This is a book written by a woman who survived these things. So there’s all that, which alone is more than one could ask for and every reason to buy said book. But then there’s also the fact that it’s written by a woman who saved me, someone who has helped shape me into who I’m becoming—my therapist/coach/guide, Azita.
16. When They Call You a Terrorist | Patrisse Khan-Cullors
A memoir by one of the founders of Black Lives Matter; for this one, I don't have the right words. It sat with me, infected me, and changed me, and I fell madly and deeply in love with Patrisse; she's ethereal and ineffable and despite everything she's been through, a ray of light, a beam of love; I follow her on Instagram and I am constantly in awe of how she shines, and stands, and fights. If you don't know the history of BLM, or what is behind the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, this is a good introduction to it as well as an invitation into the life of an activist that changed the course of history.
I can say, honestly, that Pema Chodron saved my life. I found her on a walk in Rome a few years back when I was completely losing my shit, and started listening to her taped lectures. I honestly and truly do not know where I would be without Pema and her gentle, sage wisdom and guiding force. (If you are ooking for a lecture to start with, go with Bodhisattva Mind.) I didn't read this book until 2016, but since I first picked it up, I've read it almost consistently since; a page or a paragraph at a time as needed. This is one of those books that you pick up, flip to any page, and immediately remember everything is going to be okay. I cannot recommend it enough, or her lectures enough.
18. Venture Deals | Brad Feld
One of the things I allude to almost constantly but fail to disclose in any length of detail is that I am the founder of a company, and also, the Chief Executive Officer. (See how I did that?) As of this writing, we have 16 employees and we've raised a considerable amount of venture capital. One day I'll talk more about what the fucking fuck it actually means to found, build and run a VC backed company, but for now, I want to share with you a bible that every dude and their uncle recommended I get when starting out raising funds. Again remember: 2% of venture capital raised goes to women, 79% went to men (the rest goes to a combination of the two). Which means in 2017, people like me walked away with $1.9 billion of investment dollars, while men walked away with about $70 billion. This is a hard book to read and nut to crack, but it's also an invaluable tool for those of you who are going the route of VC.
19. Mad In America | Robert Whitaker)
This one gets special mention, since I read it in 2017, but it had such an impact on me I couldn't leave it out. Whitaker's book is a history of the way America treats mental illness, which is a tour through: primitive unethical and torturous practices in the name of medicine; eugenics, ableism, homophobia, and racism; institutionalization; forced sterilization; the rise of Big Pharma; surgical (and then medicinal) lobotomy; and more. If you want pull the strings on why we are where we are in terms of how we approach addiction and mental illness in our society, this is your book. Warning: it's disturbing, haunting, and graphic.
Other books on addiction I read in 2018.
Here are some of the other books I read, specifically on addiction and recovery, that might be worth checking out.I re-read: Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston for the fourth time; and for the third time Her Best Kept Secret--again, about women and drinking. I read Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol (fabulous but this dude is clearly pro-alcohol and it's slanted); The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried is an important piece of work if you're looking to balance your endocrine system in recovery; Alcohol Explained by William Porter wasn’t my favorite book but many clients have told me it helped them quit drinking; Woman of Substances was a great book and chalk full of things specific to women's recovery, but in the end she decides to re-incorporate alcohol; I think the trap of alcohol is trying to make it work and if you're looking for ways to be free, reading something where the happily-ever-after includes alcohol can be a mind-fuck (also--check out my post, Are You Sober If You Still Smoke Pot on this); Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter; Lost Connections by Johan Hari; and finally, Sober Curious by my dear friend Ruby Warrington, which comes out in 2019.