The best books that get inside the addict’s mind

Henriette Ivanans Author Of In Pillness and in Health: A memoir
By Henriette Ivanans

The Books I Picked & Why


By Mary Karr

Book cover of Lit

Why this book?

Karr is a poet, and you cannot race through Lit. Her language is to be untangled and savored. Only then can you grasp the profound dawning of a woman as she stumbles, soberly, towards God. In the last half, Karr is desperation personified, and she is encouraged by an AA fellow to pray. I was enthralled by Karr’s journey to find a Higher Power, trying on spirituality and religions with a fierce and humble willingness. (The 12-Steps are not about religion.) Karr does find an unlikely connection to Catholicism. I’m grateful for her transparency; the open window into her heart and mind. Karr taught me about the necessity to remain teachable to have a different experience of life.

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The Glass Castle

By Jeannette Walls

Book cover of The Glass Castle

Why this book?

Walls captivated me with her story of freedom from a neglectful childhood and her mercurial alcoholic father. His wildly selfish opinions on raising impoverished children are rationalized by a spell he weaves for many years. The promise of a brilliantly constructed new home made of glass —The Glass Castle. He reminded me of my own father who died of alcoholism at 38, whose death inspired me to write. As in my life, The Glass Castle was the unfulfilled promise of his sobriety, and consistency of love. Walls never invites self-pity. The shocking anecdotes she lived through were not strung together to disturb, but in service of her truth. Walls taught me a lot about how to tell the truth.

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Drinking: A Love Story

By Caroline Knapp

Book cover of Drinking: A Love Story

Why this book?

Knapp’s book felt like a friend holding my hand through my early stages of recovery. Her cool and smooth language brilliantly highlights the way alcoholics rationalize the most self-centered actions. I was on perma-nod throughout the read. Knapp describes her obsession with alcohol like falling in love and then breaking up with an abusive lover. There is no more perfect description of the diabolical disease that ends so many lives. Knapp asks many of the same questions I did: “Am I an alcoholic? Was my bottom really that bad?” highlighting how the alcoholic’s mind is never recovered. If not treated, it is always seeking a loophole, a fresh, new way to justify taking that first drink. 

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A Million Little Pieces

By James Frey

Book cover of A Million Little Pieces

Why this book?

I gobbled up this book the way I came to gobble pills — insatiably. Frey’s staccato and sparse writing style worked like a magnet. It pulled me into his mind’s inferno after his crack-fueled, decade-long alcohol dependence is ended. He broke grammatical rules that intensified his rehab experience, feral cravings, disdain for AA, and dark selfishness that is the true marking of an alcoholic. This inspired me to take chances writing. To make up words, play with punctuation, go meta. Oh, and I also learned not to lie. Notwithstanding questionable truths, AMLP is Frey’s mind as a proverbial train wreck. Not only could I not look away, I was compelled to climb inside and study the wreckage with him.

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How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z

By Ann Marlowe

Book cover of How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z

Why this book?

The book pushed all my buttons. Marlowe has brief-ish relationship with heroin in NYC in the ’90s and apparently, can “just stop.” Her studied reflections on heroin and its culture are cemented in absolute resistance to the idea that addiction is a disease. For me, this is a dangerous concept that makes me cringe, as much of her book did. But her resolute intelligence and ego make for fascinating reading. With a frown, I reflected on phrases like, “Living in an eternal present is not good for us, no matter how much we want it.” Her book reminded me of the many ways people define addiction. It inspired me to get crystal clear on my viewpoint before I took pen to page.

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