Saturday, November 28, 2020


Not long after my father was diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration, I stopped drinking.

Correlation is not causation -- it took me about four years from hitting my rock bottom to finally, successfully get sober. Did Dad's diagnosis tip me over the edge? Maybe. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that in the year's since, and the most honest answer I can give is that I just don't know. It's not as if I didn't have plenty of reasons to stop before that. But it's also hard not to draw a line from one to the other.

Whatever the case, over the last year or so I began to worry a lot more about relapse. As Dad's condition deteriorated I worried I'd start drinking again to cope. Then, when it became clear he was going to die, I worried I'd drink again once he was gone.

Sobriety still feels like such a tenuous thing. I still talk about it so little. There is always the fear I will say too much, announce myself as a sober person and then immediately fuck it all up. This has happened before. It could still happen again.

But for now it has not. And I am grateful for that, and for the people who have helped me along the way. As the year winds down and it becomes clear that I'm not falling off the wagon, I thought this was the appropriate time to share some of my gratitude. In a very difficult year, here are some of the books that helped me.

This was the right book that came at the right time. I found it while doing service work with a recovery group and realized it was exactly what I needed. I'd been sober for a couple of years by that point, but it was becoming painfully obvious that there was a lot more work to be done to deal with those things I was self-medicating against. This book defined what that necessary work was, and how to begin.

I've read my share of recovery memoirs, but this is one of the best. Karr writes with deep, hard-won wisdom, humor, and compassion both for others and herself. It's helpful, especially when your own sobriety might feel a little shaky, to hear stories from someone who's further down the road of recovery. Karr offers that perspective.

I read this book the week Dad died. It is short and deeply personal, written by someone who has experienced more than her share of grief -- both from losses she has suffered, and those she has caused. The exercises in this book will help you understand your own grieving; not just of people, but of your relationships, futures, and the hopes you no longer carry. Sometimes it was a difficult read, but after Stage II Recovery it felt like a crucial one.

There's something to be said for anyone who can take an old idea and make it feel new. That's more or less what Brand does with the 12 steps. There's a recovery memoir in here as well, which is funny and deeply honest, but for me this book was most useful as a reminder that sobriety is something you do every day, one day at a time.

People Watching

On Wednesday, I went out to meet up with a friend and do some writing. We met at the Athenaeum, a historic building in Indianapolis designed...