I love a good memoir. I have devoured countless memoirs about a variety of topics from sex work to being a Warhol factory girl to depression. I particularly love recovery memoirs as I find the content to be relatable and it gives me hope in my own sober journey. In early recovery, the stories of others are an invaluable resource. We hear stories around our recovery meetings, read stories online, and find hope in the stories of individuals who have gone through the same thing as us. We even love hearing stories from recovery podcasts.
But in my search for new recovery memoirs to read, one thing that has stood out to me on these lists of memoirs is that there are limited titles that are authored by Black people in recovery. And so, I decided to compile one.
Many of these memoirs are not exclusively memoirs focusing on recovery from substance use disorder, but memoirs chronicling the experience of being Black in America while also touching upon the universal theme of recovery from anything. We cannot have a conversation about Blackness without also discussing racism, and many of these stories deeply explore the theme of how racism has an impact on substance use disorder (SUD). Below are 12 recovery memoirs from Black authors that you need to add to your To Read List.
1. I’m Black and I’m Sober: The Timeless Journey of a Woman’s Journey Back to Sanity by Chaney Allen
Chaney Allen’s book was the first recovery memoir that was published by a Black woman author. Her story tells the story of a minister’s daughter who grew up poor in Alabama, eventually moving to Cincinnati and falling into substance use disorder, all while raising children. It tells the story of her addiction and eventual recovery in San Diego, California. After getting sober, Allen devoted her life to recovery.
2. Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir by Brian Broome
This highly anticipated memoir from Brian Broome is coming out in May, touching upon his story of growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned boy dealing with attractions to other boys who eventually turned to drugs and liquor as a coping mechanism. Broome’s writing style will put you into a state of uproarious laughter followed by tears.
3. Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
This memoir is SUD-adjacent, telling the story of losing loved ones to the disease. Jesmyn Ward vividly recounts growing up Black in a small town in Mississippi, and living through the deaths of men whom she loved. In five years, Ward lost five men in her life, including her only brother, to drug overdose, accidents, and suicide. She painfully recounts the impact of racism and poverty on the lives of these men, and the way that those issues contributed to addiction and the breakdown of family.
4. Angel on My Shoulder: An Autobiography by Natalie Cole
This memoir by Cole tells the story of growing up among wealthy and famous white people, and the pressure of being the daughter of Nat King Cole. This is a story of survival; Cole turned to hard drugs despite her successful R&B career and credits her survival to an angel on her shoulder. Her story is a telling and frank description that omits no details in the story leading up to her decision to enter treatment at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in 1983.
5. Healing Neen: One Woman’s Path to Salvation from Trauma and Addiction by Tonier Cain
Cain’s memoir is a compelling story of the ravages of addiction in our lives. For 19 years, Cain lived with substance use disorder (SUD), passing in and out of prisons and jails, and working as a sex worker until she found recovery. Cain fearlessly addresses trauma and the impact of SUD and serial incarceration. Cain is now a champion for trauma-informed-care in prisons and hospitals.
6. Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Laymon’s book is not a memoir about SUD, but it deserves a mention here because of his extensive and frank discussions gambling. It tells the story of the lifelong ravages of physical and sexual abuse and racism’s ravage on the body. This memoir is artfully crafted, opening each chapter with Laymon’s current weight and the amount of money in his pocket.
7. From Recovery to Discovery: My Journey Through Addiction by Felicia Lee-Sexton
Lee-Sexton’s memoir details her path from cocaine addiction to a life of recovery. Her substance use disorder started when she was 20, when she was introduced to a life of money, sex, and drugs. Lee-Sexton’s memoir credits God for her salvation after 12 years of SUD.
8. The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir by Jenifer Lewis
This memoir from the co-star of Blackish is exactly what we needed. She is nicknamed the “Mother of Black Hollywood” because of her roles as the mother of characters played by Whitney Houston and Tupac Shakur. This is a story of how undiagnosed mental illness nearly derailed Lewis’s career, leading her to finally confront her bipolar disorder and sex addiction after a breakdown during the filming of The Temptations.
9. Unashamed by Lecrae
Rapper Lecrae’s memoir is a frank story of overcoming many obstacles, including childhood abuse, abortion, addiction, and suicidality as a two-time Grammy award rapper. He also addresses his experience of feeling out of place in the music industry as a rapper who also practices a Christian faith, feeling excluded at red carpet events due to discussing his faith in his lyrics.
Baker is a former NBA all-star whose career was derailed by his substance use disorder. In his story, he convinces himself that he is a better player under the influence, but eventually lost everything to his SUD. This riches-to-rags tale tells Baker’s story of how he came to manage a Starbucks and become a youth minister, and his gratitude for his ordinary life.
11. From the Crack House to the White House: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities by Denise Stokes
Denise Stokes has a very impressive resume. She served as an advisor to President Bill Clinton as a member of the President’s HIV/AIDS Advisory Council and helped to officiate the proclamation of World AIDS Day. Her 2012 memoir is an earnest account of the journey that led her there, from rape, homelessness, and substance use disorder, as well as a diagnosis of HIV at age 16. This is a story of how Denise wrestled from the clutches of death to launch an impactful career.
12. Straw: Finding My Way by Darryl Strawberry
Darryl Strawberry was a baseball player, and a promising one at that. Drafted by the NY Mets in 1980, Strawberry went on to be the Rookie of the Year in 1983 and was the first National League Player to be voted to the All-Star Game in all of his first four seasons. He also earned a reputation off the field, implicated for drug use, tax evasion, solicitation, and domestic assault. This is the story of his rise in baseball and his struggles outside of the ballpark, ultimately ending with his marriage and redemption.
These stories are powerful memoirs that explore both the pain of addiction as well as the versatility of Blackness. This diverse collection of stories features Black authors from all types of backgrounds and explores themes that are part of the deeply intertwined web of racism, trauma, and substance use disorder.
If you, like me, are looking for stories of recovery that center Blackness, hopefully this list will get you off to a good start.