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BOOKS AND FILMS OFFER INSPIRATION FOR GETTING AND STAYING SOBER by Thom Forbes, Public Access Journalism
Two things struck me in particular as I read Wholey’s book: The inevitable progression of the disease and the infinite variety of recovery. It gave me hope when I needed a metaphysical pick-me-up.
A different book, also titled “Courage to Change” but subtitled “One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II,” has been a comfort to parents, spouses and friends of alcoholics and addicts for more than a decade. It’s a “daily reader” — a collection of short meditations on topics such as “manipulation” and “letting go” built around pithy stories, reflections and quotes.
“I used to sit in my favorite chair first thing in the morning and read it before my daughter got up,” says a friend, whose former husband is an alcoholic. “It causes you to stop and reflect. It helped me to appreciate that the best gift you can give someone is the power to make their own decisions and mistakes.”
The granddaddy of the daily readers — there are dozens in print targeted to many niches — is “Twenty-Four Hours a Day” by Richmond Walker. First issued in 1954, it has sold more than 8 million copies in 30 countries for the prolific publishing arm of Hazelden, the alcohol and drug rehabilitation center based in Center City, Minn. In keeping with the Alcoholics Anonymous practice of taking “moral inventory,” the book reinforces the responsibility of alcoholics to treat their disease.
“It helps you realize that alcoholism does not come out of the bottle; that it’s all about the character defects and shortcomings that a person has, and that you have to change in order to stay sober,” says William G. Borchert, who wrote the screenplay for “My Name Is Bill W.,” a 1989 television movie that won an Emmy for actor James Woods. The video of that docudrama has become a staple in rehabs worldwide, and Warner Home Video recently reissued it on DVD.
Borchert is also the author of “The Lois Wilson Story,” a new Hazelden biography about the wife of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose own achievements are finally coming to the fore. The co-founder of Al-anon, Lois was the first person to identify addiction as a “family disease.”
“Without Lois, there would have been no twelve-step program because there would have been no Bill Wilson,” Borchert says. “She sustained him for 17 years of horrific drinking until he found recovery.”
The most influential recovery book is Bill Wilson’s own 1939 classic, “Alcoholics Anonymous” (AA Services), which has gone through four editions and sold more than 25 million copies. In keeping with the AA tradition of anonymity, it does not bear his name. Nearly 1 million English-language bound copies are distributed each year; “The Big Book” is also available to download or read for free.
Two books helped me understand my relationship with my daughter, Carrick, who was addicted to heroin. “Terry” (Plume), by former Sen. George McGovern, is a father’s story of his daughter’s fatal dance with alcohol and drugs from her teen years to the morning she was found frozen to death at 45 outside a bar. Martha Tod Dudman's “Augusta Gone” (Simon & Schuster) is a mother's struggle to understand her teen daughter's manipulation, theft, drug use and disappearance from home, as well as her own guilt and doubts.
Carrick herself says that the German film “Christiane F.: A True Story,” is the most powerful cautionary tale of teenage addiction she has seen.
“Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home,” a five-part TV series produced by Bill and Judith Moyers, first aired on PBS in 1998, is still available for sale and circulates in some library systems. It holds up exceedingly well, and guides are available to download for employers, heath professionals, families, teachers and general viewers at .
Many informative narratives also have illuminated addiction and its impact on others for me over the years. “The Harder They Fall” (Hazelden) by Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill, like “The Courage to Change,” features interviews with celebrities about their addiction and recovery and reaffirms both the common threads and unique cut of each person’s disease.
Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story” (Delta), Pete Hamill’s “A Drinking Life: A Memoir” (Little Brown), and J.R. Moehringer’s “The Tender Bar” (Hyperion) are all compelling memoirs by newspaper reporters that capture the allure of alcohol. Of course, all three authors eventually realize that, as a bartender told Moehringer, “Drinking is the only thing you don’t get better at the more you do it.”
Thom Forbes is an author, blogger on addiction and recovery, and former reporter for the New York Daily News. From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's "Silent Treatment: Addiction in America" project, produced by Public Access Journalism, LLC.
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