Summer Sobriety Tips: A Reading List

If this is your first summer sober – congratulations.

You made it.

You worked hard to get where you are. Any period of recovery and/or sobriety is an accomplishment. We know it takes strength to enter treatment, commitment to stay in treatment, and daily attention to detail to work your recovery program effectively. It’s not an easy process. There are highs, lows, and everything in between. But you’re sticking it out because you know it’s the best thing for you and the people you love.

Again – congratulations.

You deserve it.

And now that summer is here, you get to re-learn how to pass the lazy afternoons, the endless twilight hours, and those long summer nights – all without drinking or using drugs.

So how are you going to pass all that time?

We have a great idea: read books.

The Perfect Recovery Activity

Reading is an excellent way to pass your time and support your recovery. Reading recovery related material is an important part of your program, but that’s not really the kind of reading we’re talking about in this post. No one expects you to spend every single moment of your free time dissecting your past, analyzing your present, and planning your future as it’s related to recovery.

News flash: recovery may be the most important thing in your life – especially in the early stages – but it’s not the only thing in your life.

You need to find wholesome, uncomplicated ways to enjoy yourself.

Enter books.

Hardcover books, softcover books, comic books, books on tape, books on an e-reader, books on your phone – any kind of book will do.

Read books in your favorite chair at home. Read on a bench on the park. Read on a blanket at a picnic while kids run around and the ants somehow find a way into the potato salad. Read under an umbrella at the beach or by the pool. Read under the covers in your bed late at night (we know that’s not proper sleep hygiene – we’re just saying). Read out under the stars on a quick weekend camping trip. Read on the train during your commute.

Or, you can put in a pair of earbuds and listen to your favorite book or podcast while you’re working out, taking a walk, or doing the dishes.

It doesn’t matter how. Some people love the feel of an old-fashioned hardcover. Others think hardcover books are medieval, bad for the environment, and prefer to go the digital route. We have no preference – as long as you read what you love and love what you read, it truly does not matter.

But wait: we said reading was the perfect recovery activity.

Here’s why.

Five Reasons Reading is a Top-Line Recovery Activity

  1. It’s simple. Reading a book or listening to a book on tape or podcast follows one of the best rules for recovery – and life in general – there is: The KISS Rule. Keep It Simple, S Yes, books make you think. But you don’t have to overthink books. Open, read, enjoy – that’s it. We wish more things in life could be as straightforward as reading a good book.
  2. You’re in control. When you’re struggling with addiction, you often lose the power to make the right choices for yourself. This goes for the big things and the little things. An essential part of recovery is regaining power and control over the little things in life – things you do every day like eating and exercising – so that eventually, you build confidence in your decision-making skills and regain control over the big things in life. Reading is one of those little things you can control: you choose what, when, where, why, and for how long you read.
  3. You learn. People who read know things. It’s that basic. You can learn anything you like from books. Any subject, any style, any time. And when you’re done reading, you can sport a t-shirt with this take on a beloved line from the most popular show on cable TV in recent years:

“I read and I know things.”

  1. It’s a healthy escape. We all need an escape. No one knows this better than people in recovery, because when you’re trapped in the cycles of addiction, escape is one of your primary drives. You drink or do drugs to escape any number of things – work, stress, family, responsibility, emotions, your past – you name it. The urge to escape is not necessarily bad, but using alcohol or drugs to escape is the reason you’re in recovery. It’s not healthy. Books, however, are a healthy escape. Sure, we just talked about how much you can learn from books, but they’re also a great way to learn, but they’re also a great way to take a break from reality that has none of the problems that come with drinking or doing drugs.
  2. You get all the feels. Learning to navigate your emotions is a critical part of the recovery process. If you developed your alcohol or substance use disorder to hide from your emotions, then learning emotional coping mechanisms may be the most challenging part of your recovery. One wonderful thing about books is that they connect to real human emotion while simultaneously distancing you from it. You’re there, with the characters, one hundred percent – but if it gets too intense, you can simply close the book, collect yourself, and return to the story when you’re ready. Most people in recovery wish life was like that.

Now that you know why we think you should read, let’s move on to what we think you should read. Heads up: it might not be what you expect.

Summer Reading for Recovery

We absolutely recommend you read the books suggested by your counselors and your recovery peers. This includes recovery manuals and workbooks published by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, and Refuge Recovery. To find their reading material, please click the links to their websites: most of their resources are free to download online.

As a general rule, we shy away from recommending celebrity recovery memoirs. This may surprise you, but here’s our reasoning: despite all their best intentions, many of them end up glorifying alcohol and drug use. Whether that’s due to the demands of their publishers or their need to mythologize their own past, we can’t say. What we do know is that celebrity recovery memoirs follow a pattern: they heavily qualify personal anecdotes with some variation of “don’t try this at home,” then proceed to tell stories of alcohol and drug use that are often both depressing and triggering. You know what drinking and doing drugs is like – you don’t need to read about how other people did it when your main focus is staying sober.

With all that said, here are our top four recommended titles for summer reading:

  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. This book is all about accepting yourself, letting go of negative self-talk and habits, and embracing everything that makes you, you.
  • You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. This is the self-help book for people who would never in a million years want to be caught reading a self-help book. Don’t worry – your secret is safe with us – and the millions of people who’ve already read it.
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed. We make a memoir exception for this story of self-discovery that recounts the author’s solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to Oregon and Washington.
  • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. This book is for everyone, but resonates best with people who are spiritual, but not religious. For some, this book is transformational. For others, it connects the dots many self-help books leave unconnected. Practically speaking, this book offers insight on how and when to listen to the voice in your head, and how and when to completely ignore it – a great topic for people in recovery.

That’s the end of our list – happy reading!