If you’re going into recovery, are already in treatment, or are trying to get your loved one into treatment, reading about other’s experiences with recovery can help. In fact, memoirs can prove to be a powerful, inspirational, and motivational tool to help people move through recovery and stick with it. Often, they’re not a good choice for people who aren’t yet ready to recover – because reading them takes effort, taking messages at face value takes effort, and finding inspiration and meaning in something that isn’t a substance. At the same time, some of these books can provide valuable insight into drug and alcohol use culture across the United States, helping people to understand how they go to where they are, why they stay there, and what it’s doing to them.
These recovery memoirs are written by women but can be enjoyed, read, and meaningful for anyone.
Caroline Knapp was a columnist for the Boston Pheonix when she chose to get treatment. Knapp’s soul-baring memoir details her over 20 years as a high-functioning alcoholic, seemingly holding it together and doing well in her career and her life on the outside, and secretly using alcohol to numb everything behind closed doors.
Knapp’s powerful, emotional memoir is a classic and it’s one that opened a lot of doors to women coming out and being open about addiction and high functioning addiction. Her memoir shares her life experiences, getting clean, and her drive to make it through anyway – which can be a powerful and inspirational read for anyone facing alcoholism themselves.
Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering” is a memoir and a collection of essays, with stories, memoirs, and cultural history behind alcohol and drug abuse – from the perspectives of both men and women. The work offers value to those in recovery and those who are trying to make the leap, because it shares about the history of addiction and recovery, the history of criminalization of addiction, and the history of recovery itself. Jamison’s story details recovery as well as addiction, talking about cravings, the ongoing battle against drugs and alcohol, and making life work in recovery – not just fighting addiction.
That makes this memoir a powerful focus on not addiction but on recovery, which can be extremely helpful for people looking to get themselves into that mindset to work through the problems that come with recovery, and to move through those problems.
Holly Whitaker’s “Quit Like a Woman” is a combination of memoir and cultural critique, assessing her own history of drinking and alcohol abuse alongside the U.S. culture of alcohol abuse. Whitaker writes for women, detailing how culture, advertising, and culture push women to drink. This memoir blends her recovery journey and ongoing recovery with feminism and her own unique path out of addiction.
While some of the book is also dedicated to Whitaker’s own, feminist approach to addiction treatment, that information is useful even if you’re attending another therapy or treatment center.
In the Unexpected Joy of Being Sober: Discovering a happy, healthy, wealthy, and alcohol-free life, Catherine Grey discusses substance abuse in a light few people do. She starts discussing the reasons she quit drinking – hangovers, blackouts, poverty, mental health problems, failing relationships – and dives into the joy in life she finds because she is sober. That approach of refusing to glamorize alcohol and substance abuse and instead doing the opposite is one that few people take – and it’s a perspective that many of us need. That’s especially true in the United States, where most people drink and it’s uncommon and even weird to “not” drink.
Grey questions that, questions why she can’t have a happier and healthier life without alcohol and shares her journey and her success in reaching that point. That’s valuable and inspirational, whether you’re considering quitting, are already in treatment, or are well on your way to recovery.
Clare Pooley’s “Sober Diaries” details one woman’s realization that her alcohol habit was putting her life and her children at risk. Pooley discusses the dark side of alcoholism creeping up on you, of drinking more and more under the guise of normalization, and how it impacts life, weight, and health. She also discusses her mental health and shares how she turned to alcohol because she was depressed, and as a mother of three, she had no other visible way out.
That honesty is shared in Pooley’s witty, funny style, which makes it a lighter read than it otherwise would be. And, while Pooley’s journey was interrupted by cancer, she continued on to stay clean and sober – and shares how much better and happier her life is now. This book is a good choice for people trying to answer questions around alcoholism, talking to family, coping, and even living with family members who drink.
Girl Walks out of a Bar is a dark, funny, and honest look at high-functioning addiction. Lisa Smith details her experience as a high-functioning professional with the money for addiction, using substance abuse to escape stress and unwind, and using self-medication to cope with high-stress and high-pressure environments. Smith’s memoir details her interventions, her eventual treatment, and her recovery – while showing how she hid her addiction, functioned around it, and used drugs and alcohol to cope with real life problems.
This message is largely intended as a cautionary tale, but to anyone in similar positions, it can be eye opening to the fact that others have experienced similar situations, that help exists, and that life does get better.
Hopefully you or a loved one find some inspiration, motivation, and guidance in one or more of these books. At the same time, there are dozens of memoirs written by men and women. You can always look around and find something that speaks to you and read that.