“Nobody reads books anymore.” That is the conventional wisdom these days. The internet is supposed to have ruined us all, reducing our attention span because we have the power to jump from one thing to another with a mere click.
But like so much of the “information” out there, it’s not true. It’s just that people who never before had a platform to talk about themselves can now do so – and that includes bragging to us about things no intelligent person should be proud of. The prevailing mantra is “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
I’ve always enjoyed reading and it helped me a whole lot during the darkest chapter of my life.
My name is Andy Macia, and I’m an
addiction/alcoholic. I’ve been nine years clean and sober now. In the midst of
my addiction I read many books. I was what is called a functioning
addict/alcoholic from the age of 14 until I was thrown in jail at 22. During my
two years in jail I read a ton of books. I mean, there really isn’t much to do
other than escape those walls through Vampire Lestat’s antics or Harry Potter’s
Once I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous I gradually accepted that I had a problem and started to work to better myself. In this blog post I’m going to go over five books that are essential to my recovery from my addiction to drugs and alcohol.
One of the key aspects of recovery is understanding that you’re not alone; countless others have hurtled down that hill and made the long, painstaking climb back up, and although everybody’s story is different, we all have things in common.
1. Bill’s Story – The Big Book
I’m going to start with the true story of a clever, gifted man whose struggle with addiction led him to become one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. William Griffith Wilson was born in East Dorset, Vermont on November 26, 1895 and died January 24, 1971. In between, he knew the elation of professional success and saw it all brought crashing down by alcohol. He wrote about it in Bill’s Story, which appears in Alcoholics Anonymous’ The Big Book.
Bill Wilson was a financial wizard: the kind of person who could make money out of money. It’s a gift, and you’ve either got it or you haven’t.
As he made plenty of it, he could afford to spend it in large quantities, and one of the things he liked was drinking, so he got to the point where no bottle of champagne and no rare Scotch whisky was beyond his means. An alcoholic will find the wherewithal to get drunk even if he or she is penniless, but having the cash makes it so much easier, and so Bill brought top quality booze into his life and it betrayed him. It clouded his judgement, impaired his skills and destroyed the trust others had in him. He battled it, he stopped drinking, he started again, he found allies in a similar position and together they fought and failed and tried again and eventually Bill Wilson discovered that although he would never win through his own efforts, if he put his trust in a “higher power” he could do it.
In these non-religious – even anti-religious – times it is important to note that the recovering addict is not required to ascribe the title of God to this higher power, but belief in it is crucial. As Bill Wilson writes: “Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.”
This sort of story is only beneficial to the addict if it ends in success, and Bill not only got his own life back on track, he laid the foundations of recovery for thousands of fellow sufferers, including me.
2. The Basketball Diaries
Another book that had a profound effect on me is The Basketball Diaries, and that’s largely because not only is it about addiction, but it’s written by a basketball player, and I love that sport.
The Basketball Diaries was written by Jim Carroll and is based on diaries he kept between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Published in 1968 and set in New York City, it tells of his youthful dreams of glory on the basketball court and how his addiction to heroin took over and led him down a terrible path familiar perhaps more to women than men, because heroin addiction is relentlessly expensive and many addicts resort to doing things they would never have dreamed themselves capable of. Prostitution can generate a fast buck, but with pride and self-respect flying out as quickly as the money comes in.
In addition to the diaries we get an insight into the mind of Jim Carroll through his songs, because he became a musician too. He was in the place and at the time of a highly creative but dangerous and destructive generation. This was the New York of Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground and a gritty, low-life culture. One of his contemporaries was Lou Reed, composer of songs such as Heroin and Waiting for the Man. It was an era when rebelliousness met naivete at the sharp end of a syringe.
Jim Carroll dealt in a similar kind of music: restless, dry, guitar-based rock with a cast of characters you wouldn’t take home to meet your folks.
Here’s a couple of Jim’s lines:
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
The Basketball Diaries is a cautionary tale of how teenage dreams can be subverted and destroyed by substance abuse. I started to abuse drugs and alcohol at the age of 14. I played basketball throughout my teenage years. I was pretty good too. This book gave me a great sense of nostalgia and reminiscence.
3. In My Skin
But it’s not all men and it’s not all NYC and rock’n’roll. Anyone can fall into the trap, as the story of Kate Holden demonstrates. Kate had a comfortable middle-class upbringing in Melbourne, Australia but, in a wave of rebellious stupidity, she decided to try heroin just once for fun.
“No one made me try heroin,” she says. “My friends told me to keep away.” But try it she did and it grabbed her and dragged her into the gutter of prostitution, first in the dark, deadly world of getting into cars with men and later into the life of the high-class call girl, where the money and the luxurious surroundings can almost disguise the level to which the user has sunk.
It’s a different take on the same old story, but at least, again, there is an encouraging outcome for those of us wondering how we can ever get out of the cycle of addiction. After using for almost five years, Holden’s moment of salvation came. With the help of methadone and her family, she finally kicked the habit, left her shady, well-paid world and set about rebuilding her life.
Despite the author being a female heroin addict the message and lesson is clear. There are many characteristics I have in common with Kate, this book is well written, making it easy for me to feel a connection with the protagonist.
4. The Shining
Stephen King, the great novelist with a penchant for horror, is a recovering alcoholic who used his struggle to flesh out the central character in The Shining (with the not inconsiderable help of Jack Nicholson in the movie adaptation). As if the spooky, paranormal goings-on at the remote wintertime hotel were not testing enough, our man has to contend with his cravings and the sort of horror that only an addict can really understand. Whereas to find the hotel’s bar devoid of alcohol for the winter might be a disappointment to many people, to the alcoholic it would be a relief, and to find it mysteriously restocked one day a terrible, shocking challenge.
The novel (and the film) may not be primarily about alcoholism, but for someone like me, going through what I was, it added a scary dimension to an already gripping tale.
5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
And so to a book that is neither a memoir nor a novel, but an inspirational one which helped me tremendously as I planned and then began my new life after the nightmare of addiction. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck explains how choosing a way of looking at the world can influence our success and happiness.
It’s dead simple, Dweck tells us: there is the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you love the score. With the growth mindset, you love the process and the growth.
It’s the kind of concept that can bring daylight into your darkness, and it certainly gave me a new way of seeing things. Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and at some point during her study of human nature she alighted on the theory and decided to make it hers.
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
The section titles tell you how the theory can be applied:
Is success about learning – or proving you’re smart?
Mindsets change the meaning of failure
Mindsets change the meaning of effort
A study of mindset and management decisions
There is something here for everyone, whether, like me, you’re determined to forge a successful career in business, while living one day at a time clean and sober, or if you simply want to come to terms with yourself, maximising your potential and refusing to be bound by what you may currently see as your limitations.
So, is reading a thing of the past? Of course it’s not. If anything, the technological revolution just gives us more opportunities.
But do you feel you’re better-informed and more entertained in the current climate or is all the available material somehow too much? When we can find the answer to any question in an instant and satisfy the desire to be amused or educated without moving from the couch, shouldn’t we all be better off than in the past?
Kindles and ebooks may be the way forward and books made of paper may be on their way out (although there is still nothing like lying on the beach with a good novel soaking up the sun cream from your fingers). But however you do it and whether you’re reading for pleasure or for help and self-improvement, there is simply no substitute.