Like just about everyone I know, I am incredibly anxious and overwhelmed at the current state of things amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. While I found it easy to draw upon the internal work I’ve done in sobriety to remain calm and optimistic in the first few days, my resolve has been tested over the last week as the pandemic has hit home and began impacting my own community. I am very lucky to remain employed and able to work from home but I know that many people have not been so fortunate.
“I can do hard and uncomfortable things and nothing, good or bad, is permanent.”
I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of the crisis that is unfolding or gloss over the hardship that anyone is facing, but I am trying to see this pandemic as an opportunity. As a chance to practice what I have learned in recovery, that I can do hard and uncomfortable things and that nothing, good or bad, is permanent. During this time, I am finding comfort in books that acknowledge the painful realities of life’s hardships while offering a message of encouragement. I hope this list can provide you even a modicum of comfort during this uncertain time.
1. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Before Cheryl Strayed was massively popular and BFFs with Reese Witherspoon, she was a little-known advice columnist for the online magazine The Rumpus. Her column “Dear Sugar” answered questions on a range of issues from battling with self-confidence as a writer to how to heal from losing a child.
A collection of her most popular columns was published in a book titled Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar in 2012. I received the book from a friend after my brother died in 2012 and I truly did not think I could go on living. Its poignant, simple but profound advice helped me muster the strength to continue trudging along until one day I was able to smile again and then laugh. Life moves forward and we all have the opportunity to begin again if we choose to.
2. This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike by Augusten Burroughs
Described as a book to “explore how to survive the un-survivable,” sober author Augusten Burroughs (of Running with Scissors fame) describes with brutal honesty how he survived some truly insurmountable odds. Many are feeling overwhelmed by the calamity in the world right now and it feels oddly comforting to have Burroughs lay out a clear path for how we can survive it and to do so with humor.
With chapters with titles that cut to the chase like “how to fail” and “how to get over your addiction to the past”, Burroughs shares his wit and wisdom on how to beat the odds and remain sane while you deal with life’s sometimes very unfair curveballs. Note: it is NOT your typical self-help book so read it with an open mind.
3. To Begin Again: Rebuilding Your Life after Bad Things Have Happened by Naomi Levy
Naomi Levy was 15 when her father was shot and killed during an armed robbery in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY. She deeply understands how situations can deteriorate in a minute. Levy draws on her experience surviving some awful circumstances as well as her professional experience as a rabbi and the difficult situations she helped people navigate to provide stories of strength and hope for anyone struggling to move forward.
So many people have been or will be profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether because they lost their job or because they lost a family member. We need messages like Levy’s about how we can begin again when faced with loss and adversity.
4. salt. by Nayyirah Waheed
Salt. is actually a book of poetry but it is one of my favorite books to read or recommend during a difficult time. I first read salt. in spring 2017 when I was dealing with an awful bout of depression that just did not feel like it was going to end. Waheed’s poetry helped me name my feelings and that was empowering for me. I rediscovered the book just after getting sober in spring 2019 and again, it helped me to identify how I was feeling and that felt empowering.
Her poetry is a beautiful mix of commentary on current and historical events and empowering messages of self-love. I look to Waheed’s writing often when I am struggling with feeling comfortable in my skin. I’ve also looked to her poems as mantras. A favorite poem of mine: “It is being honest about my pain that makes me invincible”.
5. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
The Sun and Her Flowers is another book of poetry and is Rupi Kaur’s follo0 up to her wildly popular first book of poetry Milk and Honey, which was published in 2014. The Sun and Her Flowers is split into five sections including writing, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming with the poems in each section generally following these broad themes.
I recommend reading “Rooting,” followed by “Rising.” “Rooting” is full of poetry expressing the pain of living through difficult circumstances, primarily Kaur’s and her parents’ own story of immigration to Canada from India. “Rising,” on the other hand, offers encouraging and powerful advice, such as this poem which is simply “I will no longer compare my path to others.”
We are living in unprecedented times amid this global COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you can see this as an opportunity to draw inward and focus on what we know (or simply hope) to be true: We are strong and we will get through this, ourselves and our community. I hope these books might help you care for yourself right now.