10 Essential Books to Build a Holistic Recovery
Here’s the alternative back-to-school reading list you’ve always wanted.
Here’s an alternative back-to-school reading list, where 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. 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.
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 percent 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: Drinking is a monumental waste of time, and recovery from it is akin to freedom, not loss.
However, Grace’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 expose the insanity of our societies love for alcohol. Read them both. And then read them again. And again.
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 also 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. Although Dupuy may use some different techniques than I recommend (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. Dupuy 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 Dupuy’s. His is a more consumable, lighter version and a little more in line with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and 12-step work (as in, he used the 12 steps himself and recommends the reader to as well), but the same principles 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 with any path.
The bottom line: Get this book to help you map out a holistic recovery.
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. Tomaino 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.
May Cause Miracles
year 2013 | pages 272 | author Gabrielle Bernstein
If you’ve ever read my blog, hipsobriety.com, 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, though simple and admittedly not wholly deep or inspiring, was what served as my training wheels to spirituality and self-love. For 40 days, after practicing the lessons offered, listening to the accompanying guided meditations and diligently doing the work, I was by all accounts transformed. 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 whom 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 Bernstein’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 able to 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.
year 2014 | pages 320 | author Ann Dowsett Johnston
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 to my own experience.
Second, Drink does something no other book has yet been able to achieve: It brings to light the breathtakingly devastating epidemic of problem drinking and addiction to alcohol among women. Tracing her own story and conditioning toward 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 Dowsett Johnston’s beautifully told, relatable story of addiction and recovery.
The Body Keeps the Score
year 2014 | pages 464 | author Bessel van der Kolk
I didn’t read Bessel 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 van der Kolk’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 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 or have post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma is something that we must work with, practically, in our recovery. This is the definitive guide on how (and why) to do that.
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 toward 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 10 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 terribly 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.
Meditation As Medicine
year 2002 | pages 320 | author Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa
Although 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 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 also 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. Dharma Singh 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.
year 2014 | pages 400 |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 socioeconomic 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, chock-full of statistics, resources, examples and practical advice as well as anecdotes from Sheff’s real-life experience.
The bottom line: Read this to get the 10,000-foot view on substance abuse and chemical dependency.
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 wasn’t letting be — the stuff I didn’t like — and to accept these qualities and integrate t hem into the picture of who I actually was. It let me be OK 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 were more personalized once I understood that they were 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.
Recovery from addiction is not just a one and done. It is a life practice, a way of being. It requires us to explore the whole of our lives and existence.
Holly Whitaker is a sobriety coach, teacher, speaker, co-host and co-producer of the Home podcast,and a Kundalini yoga and meditation instructor. She writes about addiction and addiction recovery on her website, Hip Sobriety.