Five Transformative Books for Healing & Recovery—and What I Learned From Them

books recommendations recovery self-help Apr 04, 2023
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It’s no secret: I’m very anti-self-help. 

It’s not that reading self-help books isn’t great, nor do I think they don’t help—they do, just in tandem with other modalities. 

But self-help has many limitations, and with the help of a qualified therapist or coach, many people can implement the strategies they learn.

However, the following self-help books have truly transformed my life, leading to more significant healing than many of the therapists I frequented over the years.

I’ve been looking forward to sharing them with you, so here goes. 

And since I know you’re busy, I’m including the ideas that changed my life—and how I implemented them. 

The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller 

Francis Weller is a lesser-known yet highly-reputed psychotherapist who has written a book on grief that will change your relationship with it entirely.

I found this book shortly after losing my second parent at the height of the pandemic, and it honestly changed my life.

In The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Weller makes a case for developing an apprenticeship with grief. He claims suffering serves a transformative purpose—it teaches us to grow large enough to accommodate our pain. 

Weller details how Western patterns of amnesia and anesthesia have prevented us from moving through loss, keeping us tethered in painful and redundant cycles of blame and shame.

But grief presents an invaluable opportunity to cultivate community and the coping mechanisms we need to thrive, making it one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences we can have.

What I Learned 

This book taught me to reintroduce ritual into my life—it relayed the importance of cultivating a spiritual relationship with my emotions, allowing me to create space or those feelings to breathe and serve a purpose). 

This book also taught me how to: 

  • Find a community 
  • Cultivate rituals around grief and loss
  • Channel pain into creativity 
  • Acquaint me with uncertainty and the unknown. 

American Detox by Kerri Kelly  

Kerri Kelly is a daring, groundbreaking genius and an excellent writer—and she has recently become my friend after I reached out to her regarding her book.

The book in question, American Detox, is a combination textbook-workbook-narrative-blueprint for social change. 

It traces many of our worst personal problems to wellness culture, an ideology that espouses relentless self-discipline, individualism, and perfectionism. 

Kelly draws from fascinating research to make the unusual argument that “wellness” makes us sick—and compliant. 

I can’t recommend this book enough—I’ve read it twice since I bought it two months ago. 

What I Learned 

This book taught me more than I can write, but here are some of the most valuable lessons I got.


  • My obsession with recovery and wellness is keeping me unhappy and unwell.
  • Wellness culture perpetuates social inequities and makes us lonely, addicted, and sick.
  • Wellness culture is deeply tied up with capitalist meritocracy and neoliberalism.
  • The way out is together.


  • Self-inquiry and compassionate curiosity 
  • Mitigating my addiction to wellness and perfection
  • Collective practice and having brave conversations 
  • Practicing everyday abolition 
  • Working with others to further our spirituality 


Note: I wrote a long-form essay on toxic perfectionism, available to paid subscribers on my SubStack. Please consider supporting!


The Trauma of Everyday Life 

Trauma happens to all of us—and that’s a good thing.

Death, illness, loneliness, and fear affect all of us, yet we seem determined to go at it alone. 

In The Trauma of Everyday Life, Mark Epstein discuss the transformational potential of trauma—how it can teach us about ourselves and others, promoting dramatic psychic and spiritual changes.

Epstein is a Buddhist practitioner and psychotherapist, and he blends the two modalities in a brilliant and effective methodology for reconciling oneself with the vagaries of life. 

What I Learned

I’ve read this book several times, and its unique blend of poetic language and compelling research sums up most of what I know about healing.

Epstein guides the reader: 

  • Understanding trauma makes us more wise, more caring, and more compassionate.
  • How to integrate breathwork into the day-to-day
  • How to meditate on the go and in difficult moments
  • How to identify and incorporate feelings in the body
  • How to leverage pain as a strengthening force in one’s life.  


The Age of Addiction 

If you’re anything like me, you’re susceptible to reverse psychology.

An excellent way to get me to stop doing anything is to tell me that someone—or worse, a corporation—wants me to do it.

That’s what David Courtwright has accomplished in his magnum opus on the history and politics of limbic capitalism, the “technologically advanced but socially regressive business system in which global industries, often with the help of complicit governments and criminal organizations, encourage excessive consumption and addiction.”

The quote speaks for itself, but I will add that in tracing the history of limbic capitalism, Courtwright helped me quit vaping and overspending! 

What I Learned

This book taught me to question everything and showed me exactly how to do so.

I learned every possible fact and figure about consumer culture and pleasures—from the Silk Road to AI porn. 

Additionally, I learned that:

  • Addiction is a primarily manufactured social phenomenon intended to keep us spending (and to keep us numb)
  • How addiction shows up (and differs) in different cultures.
  • How addiction affects the brain, body, and social structures.
  • To reconcile my need for pleasure with my tendency to overconsume. 

Quit Like a Woman

This New York Times bestseller is controversial—and though I don’t agree with all of it, it radically altered my perspective on addiction among women and BIPOC. 

Whitaker’s basic premise is that addiction functions differently in individuals of different demographics and that our approach to recovery should take this into account.

Drawing from her experience as a woman in 12-step programs—hampered by shame, atheism, and an unwillingness to accept misogyny—Whitaker details the cultural and political factors that play into alcohol addiction (from marketing to laws and regulations) and how to address them. 

She proposes a vision of recovery that integrates the needs of women, getting at the core of what makes feminine-presenting people overindulge and resolving them one by one. 

This book has angered many people in 12-step programs for its critiques, but I feel it is a must-read for anyone in recovery—especially those in 12-step circles.

What I learned 

Whitaker is a skilled researcher who has gracefully established a historical and political timeline to support her theory. The research is fascinating, revealing such jaw-droppers as the fact that alcohol companies specifically target women (“wine moms,” anyone?).

From this book, I learned the following:

  • To leverage somatic modalities and breathwork in my recovery 
  • To tend to both my masculine and feminine throughout the recovery
  • That my recovery needs to grow and evolve with me
  • That I can rely on supports other than AA to recover 
  • That my gripes with AA are valid! 
  • That people recover outside of AA all the time
  • That I can still go to AA and critique it—because that’s the measure of a healthy ideology.

So, Did I Change My Mind About Self-Help?

In short, no.

Self-help books are enjoyable to read and can support other modalities, but they’re insufficient on their own. 

To best recover from addiction, you need multiple avenues of support and spirituality, including a qualified recovery coach, therapist, nutritionist, meditation practice, reflective practice, and more. 

If you’re interested in chatting with me about recovery or healing, please book a free consultation on my website.

Happy healing! 


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