Most Popular Recovery Books
They may not be AA-approved, but writers from Eckhart Tolle to Marianne Williamson have been eagerly adopted by millions of recovering addicts. By Kristen McGuiness
This groundbreaking work by M. Scott Peck brought the principles of spiritual psychology into the mainstream back in 1978 and has been loved by millions since. As the book famously stated, “To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.” Sounds a lot like the popular AA aphorism, “Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.”
Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling testament argues that only by living firmly in the present can people achieve true enlightenment. His has influenced countless people in the recovery movement who relate to his message about how dwelling on an imperfect past or focusing on an unknowable future can only results in self-destructive thoughts and defiant attitudes. In his most famous book, Tolle writes, “The pain that you create now is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind.” If there's a more articulate way of summarizing AA's third step, we haven't it.
Emmet Fox has inspired generations of folks seeking a spiritual message through his words. One of his biggest, and most famous, fans was AA co-founder Bill Wilson. Fox's book, an exploration of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, has been read and revered by peoples of all faiths. Though he was a devout proponentof Christianity, Fox was definitely more interested in attraction than promotion. “Never try to force other people to accept spiritual truth,” he wrote. “Instead, see to it that they are so favorably impressed by your own life and conduct, and by the peace and joy that radiate from you, that they will come running to you of their own accord, begging you to give them the wonderful thing that you have.”
Don Miguel Ruiz’s bestseller shared the wisdom of his Toltec ancestors while presenting a straightforward code on how to live. Much of what he writes echoes step work, such as this section, which summarizes the 12th step rather well: “Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your family, to your community, to everything. But it is the action that is going to make you feel intensely happy. When you always do your best, you take action.” Many folks in recovery find that bearing in mind Ruiz's Four Agreements—be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best—is the basis for a truly spiritual life—and a shortened rendidtion of the twelve steps.
One of the best known Zen masters in the world, Vietnamese philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh has written numerous books that appeal to Buddhists and non-believers alike, while addressing nearly every aspect of modern society, from the Civil Rights movement to 9/11. He preaches that only when loving others do people get to be truly human, and in tune with the universe. In True Love, Hanh writes, “Really try to be there, for yourself, for life, for the people that you love. Recognize that presence of those who live in the same place as you and try to be there when one of them is suffering, because your presence is so precious for this person. In this way you will be practicing love twenty-four hours a day.”
The perfect gift for a friend in recovery, this book of poems by the Sufi master Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky) has spoken to people for centuries and become a beloved source for meditation and inspiration for plenty of people in recovery. Believed to have been written in the 14th century, these short verses about life, love, and God continue to speak to the modern world. As Hafiz writes in one of his most famous poems, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” Otherwise known, in 12-step rooms, as letting us love you until you can learn to love yourself.
“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us,” argues Pema Chodron in her powerful treatise. “We always have this choice.” Essentially, The Places That Scare You speaks to accepting the dark sides of life and learning how to view anxiety, fear, and uncertainty as tools to enlightenment and joy as opposed to things better avoided. Sort of like that acronym for fear—Face Everything And Recover—often quoted in the rooms.
Santiago, the young Spanish shepherd in Paulo Coelho’s renowned fable about a boy’s search for his own destiny, has entertained the world and influenced millions. Inspired by a dream to go to Egypt and learn from a great alchemist, Santiago learns the wisdom of life. A parable that many in recovery have found applicable because of the way it speaks to the power of transformation and healing when you’re willing to look within, Coehlo writes, “When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.” Great advice for anyone who’s stumped while trying to make a gratitude list.
One of Deepak Chopra’s most popular books, The Book of Secrets postulates hat we can discover our magnificent potential for love, healing, compassion, and faith only if we abandon the forces that keep us trapped in negative thinking. “Transformation means radical change of form, the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly,” he writes. “In human terms, it means turning fear, aggression, doubt, insecurity, hatred, and emptiness into their opposites.” In other words, a perfect expression of steps six and seven.
Marianne Williamson’s widely revered Course in Miracles concludes that love is the most potent solution to all our personal ills and concerns. Her most famous quote—which Nelson Mandela recited when he was freed from decadesn prison is, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?” You’d be hard pressed to find someone deeply involved in 12-step recovery who doesn’t know about that quote, let alone have it hanging somewhere in their home.
Kristen McGuiness is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Fix who wrote previously about the 13th step and dreaming about drinking, among many other topics. She is the author of 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life.