Although the details of our addiction and recovery stories may be different, the core of our experiences is often the same. Identifying with others who have been through the hell of addiction and made it to the other side can provide a cathartic sense of relief, providing both hope and the opportunity to feel seen and perhaps a little less alone.
There are lots of places to seek out others’ stories: In group meetings, through therapy, or in online communities. Sometimes, though, you just want to curl up with a good book. That’s why recovery memoirs are an excellent way to understand someone else’s experience and how it can apply to your own.
Admittedly, there are a lot of lists there about the best recovery memoirs, which is why ours is a little different. We were inspired by the diverse experiences of our own community members. Since we care about all kinds of recovery, we wanted to emphasize that drugs and alcohol are not the only ways that women suffer and not everyone recovers through a 12-Step program. And while memoirs centered around alcohol addiction are prevalent on this list, there are plenty of others to choose from, too.
But wherever that journey starts, these memoirs prove that struggle can lead to something beautiful and healing in the end.
1. Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
If you’ve ever looked around the room and wondered why there is alcohol everywhere, then this is the book for you. From drinks at baby showers to work events, brunch and book clubs, graduations and funerals, alcohol’s ubiquity is a given and the only time that people get uncomfortable is when someone doesn’t drink. Why is that? In this powerful book, founder of Tempest and The Temper, Holly Whitaker embarks on a personal journey into her own sobriety and along the way discovers the insidious role that alcohol plays in our society.
Using her relatable voice, which is equal parts honest and witty, Holly tackles the ways that alcohol companies target women. She also divulges the details on her emerging feminism, an alternate way out of her own addiction, and a calling to create a sober community with resources for anyone who is questioning their own relationship with alcohol. At the end of the day, this memoir is a groundbreaking look into our current drinking culture while providing a road map to cut alcohol out of our lives so that we can truly live our best lives.
The paperback will be coming out in January 2021 everywhere books are sold, (but preferably from your local, independent bookshop!).
*Editor’s note: Holly Whitaker is the founder of The Temper as well as our parent company, Tempest.
2. My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean by Amy Dresner
Recounting the progression from an idyllic childhood to a monstrous meth addiction, Amy Dresner explores her recovery journey in this insightful memoir. Her shameless honesty about all of the darkness that got her there (including landing in the psych ward, and ending up penniless and divorced with court-ordered community service) is part of what makes this addiction memoir impossible to put down.
Dresner battles through sex addiction and starting over in her 40s after she went as low as she could imagine. But she ultimately forges a path ahead to find a new life worth living. This book will resonate with those who’ve had a tough time at rock bottom.
“Dresner battles through sex addiction and starting over in her 40s after hitting rock bottom. But she ultimately forges a path ahead to find a new life worth living.”
3. Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction by Erica Garza
Author Erica Garza grew up in a strict Mexican household in East Los Angeles. She writes with evocative prose about the anxiety that fueled her addiction to masturbation as a young girl, and eventually, her sex and pornography addiction as an adult. Through failed relationships, serial hook-ups, blackouts, and all of the shame that comes with these experiences, Garza writes a riveting memoir narrating a journey of exploration as she seeks therapy. Eventually, she begins a 12-Step program to find relief, if not salvation, from her addictions.
This memoir is what is sorely missing in the conversation of sex addiction: the female perspective.
4. Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller
Recovering from a lifetime of dieting and health issues, Kelsey Miller writes with impressive honesty about her journey of self-loathing, disordered eating, and how she found help thanks to an intuitive-eating coach and fitness professionals.
Going through her past of crash diets, the body she’s had since early childhood, and a lifetime of failure, Miller eventually contends with her painful past. But, at the same time, she takes steps toward a healthier future.
“Miller’s memoir is about recovering from a lifetime of difficult relationships and a home situation that seems desperate at times.”
5. Nothing Good Can Come from This: Essays by Kristi Coulter
There are countless memoirs about addiction and recovery, but not quite so many about stopping drinking and its aftermath. When author Kristi Coulter stopped drinking, she began to notice the way that women around her were always tanked, and how alcohol affected those around her.
In this essay collection, Coulter writes with wit about a life in transition — and what happens when you suddenly look up and realize that maybe everyone else isn’t quite doing things the right way. This memoir is a frank, feminist look at life after recovery.
6. Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies that Nearly Killed Me by Erin Khar
You might just need a strong stomach if you’re going to read this deeply personal and illuminating memoir about Khar’s 15-year-struggle with heroin, along with details on the opioid crisis and what it’s like for the over two million Americans who are currently battling with this addiction.
In this fiercely honest upcoming memoir (released on February 25th, 2020), Khar talks about her picture-perfect childhood growing up in LA before she first experiments with her grandmother’s expired painkillers… eventually leading to her starting to use heroin at thirteen. This book explores the next fifteen years of her life, including the various lies that she told herself, and others, about her drug use. With tons of heart and wisdom, Khar eventually helps readers recognize the shame and stigma surrounding addiction and how there is no one path to recovery. At the end of the day, you’ll want to devour this book because it is ultimately a life-affirming story of resilience that is a must-read.
7. How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir by Cat Marnell
What happens when an ambitious young woman is keeping a secret of addiction? High-profile writer Cat Marnell answers the question in the gripping memoir of her life as she battles bulimia on top of an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs.
By day, she’s a successful editor, but by night she’s a party girl who can’t sleep. In this tale of self-loathing and self-sabotage, readers can follow Marnell as she battles her inner demons and falls down further into despair — yet eventually making it through to the other side.
8. Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
In this dazzling memoir about a family’s struggle with hoarding, Kimberly Rae Miller brings to life her experience growing up in a rat-infested home while trying to hide her father’s shameful secret from friends for years. The emotional burden of her past eventually led her to attempt to take her own life.
With beautiful prose, Miller’s memoir is about recovering from a lifetime of difficult relationships and a home situation that seems desperate at times. Still, there is redemption at the end of the road as she details a complicated yet loving relationship with her parents, despite the odds.
9. More, Now, Again by Elizabeth Wurtzel
If you grew up in the ‘90s, then you probably remember Wurtzel’s first memoir about her depression, Prozac Nation. It garnered her literary acclaim but, at age 26, she still lacked the one thing she really wanted: happiness. When her doctor prescribed Ritalin to help her focus, Wurtzel went down a dark path that eventually caused her to grind up her Ritalin and snort it. Next, she battled with cocaine, then more Ritalin… and the cycle continued.
This memoir tells of her painful descent from depression into drug addiction and, eventually, how she broke free. Despite its dark beginning, this is ultimately a hopeful book that inspires readers to root for her throughout. Wurtzel sadly passed away at the age of 52 in January of 2020. Her confessional style of writing has left an indelible mark that remains influential today.
“Vargas helps those of us who deal with a co-occurring disorder understand taking on both mental health and alcoholism—and how we cannot heal one without the other.”
10. How to Grow Up: A Memoir by Michelle Tea
Hoping to make her dreams a reality, Michelle Tea recounts her awkward attempts to gain literary fame as she smokes, drinks, and snorts her way through San Francisco. She begins to slowly grow into a healthy, reasonable, self-aware, and stable adult. Her passionate writing shines as she tells of her often difficult relationship with money, her relationships, and more.
This is a darkly comic book about the slow road through recovery, really growing up, and being someone that gets back up after screwing up.
11. Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction by Elizabeth Vargas
Anyone who has ever suffered from panic and anxiety might understand the allure of alcohol to help cope. That siren song eventually led to broadcast journalist Elizabeth Vargas to admit her addiction on national television.
In this memoir, Vargas recounts the childhood that led to her anxiety and panic and how alcohol gave her a release from her painful reality. But, predictably, addiction eventually became part of her painful reality. Writing honestly about her secret dependency and time in rehab, Vargas helps those of us who deal with a co-occurring disorder understand taking on both mental health and alcoholism — and how we cannot heal one without the other.
12. The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
Have you ever read a book that perfectly blended memoir with cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage? That’s what you will get with Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering. The book re-examines the stories that we tell about addiction from the perspective of Jamison’s own struggles, and also includes her ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses such as David Foster Wallace and Billie Holiday.
The Recovering takes a deep dive into the history of the recovery movement while also examining how race and class impact our understanding of who is a criminal and who is simply ill. She ultimately identifies how we all crave love and how that loneliness can shape who we are, addicted and not.
13. I’m Just Happy to Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering by Janelle Hanchett
Often, we hear the stories of people with addiction being redeemed by their children — but this is not that kind of story, which is precisely why we love it. It’s about a woman who longs to belong and find comfort in her new life with husband and baby but instead develops a gripping addiction to wine.
Janelle Hanchett chronicles the story of embracing motherhood through the devastating separation from her children at the height of addiction. Her quest for sobriety includes rehabs and therapy — necessary steps to begin a journey into realizing and accepting an imperfect self within an imperfect life. For any mother or person who has felt like an outsider in your own life, you might just relate.
“Janelle Hanchett chronicles the story of embracing motherhood through the devastating separation from her children at the height of addiction.”
14. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir by Cupcake Brown
Before she even turned twenty, Cupcake Brown survived more than most of us will in a lifetime: The death of a parent, childhood abuse, rape, drug and alcohol addiction, miscarriage, hustling, gangbanging, near-death injuries, drug dealing, prostitution and homelessness.
Eventually, she goes through a series of 9-to-5 jobs that end with her living behind a Dumpster due to a descent into crack cocaine use. But in this gripping memoir, she turns it all around with the help of a family of eccentric fellow substance users and friends or strangers who come to her aid. This gripping tale is about the resilience of spirit combined with the worst of modern urban life. Cupcake survives thanks to a furious wit and an unyielding determination and you’ll want to read her inspiring (and oftentimes frightening) tale.
15. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
Sarah Hepola’s evenings were always about drinking. Alcohol, after all, tasted to her like freedom itself. Her beloved habit of overdrinking and staying until bars closed, however, meant that her nights and the following mornings were also all about her regular blackouts.
For the longest time, she thought alcohol brought adventure into her life, but eventually, she had to face the hard reality: Whatever lies she wanted to tell herself the truth was that drinking was more likely draining her life and breaking her spirit. This is the story of a woman who embarks on her bravest adventure yet and discovers sometimes you have to give up your beloved destructive habits to finally find yourself.
16. Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston
As it turns out, there’s an epidemic no one is talking about: Risky drinking amongst girls and women is on the rise, and things such as DUIs and “drunkorexia” are more common than ever.
In this book, celebrated journalist Anne Dowsett Johnston intuitively intertwines her own life story of alcohol use disorder with some great in-depth research and relevant interviews with those leading the charge in this field, shedding some much-needed light into this crisis and the factors that have contributed to it.
17. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Growing up in the public eye is never an easy thing. Especially not when you’re a crucial part of the cultural phenomenon called Star Wars. Things get even more interesting when you have to do all this while battling manic depression, addiction, and visiting all sorts of mental institutions as a result.
In this adaptation from her stage show, Carrie Fisher uses her trademark sarcasm and humor to tell you all about growing up in Hollywood and living as Princess Leia. Well, at least as well as she can remember after having been through electroshock therapy.
18. I’m Black and I’m Sober: The Timeless Story Of A Woman’s Journey Back To Sanity by Chaney Allen
It’s not easy being an African American woman in recovery and it’s especially not easy when you are one the first one to publish a book written on the topic, but that’s exactly what Allen has done in this masterful autobiography about the impact of discrimination and the obstacles faced by African Americans as they become sober.
Allen’s story of being a young woman in a teenage marriage that eventually runs away to Cincinnati, where she begins the destructive pattern of weekend partying and drinking, is a powerful tale. Eventually, she finds sobriety through a commitment to God and humanity to spend the rest of her life doing anything she can to help anybody suffering from alcoholism. Her timeless tale is a powerful one, and definitely one that needs to be read by all.
19. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas
Koren Zailckas is not an alcoholic. She’s just someone who uses alcohol to muster up courage, and well, survive life. This is just how it has always been since her introduction to Southern Comfort when she was just fourteen.
This book is a tale of how, after many years of excessive drinking and spiraling into a self-destruction cycle, Zailckas realizes that it doesn’t matter whether or not she identifies as an “alcoholic.” Finally, she accepts that she has to stop doing this to herself and decides to quit drinking.
“She’s just someone who uses alcohol to muster up courage, and well, survive life.”
20. Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa F. Smith
Lisa Smith is the epitome of control… except when she is not. Beneath her perfect life and incredible success hides a girl who thought she had cheated her way out of her anxiety and stress via alcohol, but now has completely surrendered to the powers of this magical liquid. You could never tell, but she is the perfect example of a high-functioning alcoholic who looks like everything is perfect, even when it clearly isn’t.
In this dark but incredibly comedic memoir, Smith tells all about her story and the road she finally took towards recovery from her perpetual numbing.
21. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
For Caroline Knapp, as it is for many, alcohol was the protective friend that allowed her to get through life. Her protector became her lover and this is the memoir of their twenty-years-long destructive relationship.
This book is Knapp’s journey through self-discovery. It’s a beautifully told story about how alcohol seduced her at fourteen and secretly subjugated her through her university years and most of her award-winning career.
22. The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober: Discovering a Happy, Healthy, Wealthy Alcohol-Free Life by Catherine Gray
If you’ve wondered what it would be like to live your life sober, this book is for you. More than just a memoir, this book is about the societal traps that lead us to drink, how drinking affects our brains and our bodies, and the psychology and neuroscience behind it all.
Catherine Gray was trapped in a seemingly hopeless cycle but she’ll show you the escape route, and the wonders that await you on the other side if you’re considering joining her.
“More than just a memoir, this book is about the societal traps that lead us to drink, how drinking affects our brains and our bodies, and the psychology and neuroscience behind it all.”
23. The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking and Started Living by Clare Pooley
After quitting her career in order to dedicate more of her time to her family, Clare Pooley found herself depressed and feeling sluggish with a daily drinking habit to keep her company. She often wondered if she was an alcoholic but was afraid of the answer.
This book is a positive tale where she narrates the year in which she went from a cancer diagnosis to her happiest and best self ever. In this journey, she became sober, beat cancer, and finally built a richer life than she could have possibly imagined.
24. We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen
There’s a new kind of thinking in the recovery world, and all of that is thanks to McKowen’s upcoming memoir (released on January 7, 2020). Although there might not be anything “lucky” about addiction, in this moving memoir, the author details how, in the midst of early sobriety, she realized that she was actually the lucky one because she no longer had to rely on a dangerous substance to anesthetize her pain and anxiety.
In this book, McKowen talks about her personal story along with how she faced the facts, the question of AA, and dealing with other people’s drinking. Although she doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult sobriety can be (and yes, it’s not without its struggles), she continues to write about the many blessings of living an honest life without the debilitating shame of addiction.
25. Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska
Jowita Bydlowska could not have expected things to go this way. She had already beat alcohol in the past and there was nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of her child with some champagne, right? Wrong. That celebration threw her once again into the depths of alcoholism.
This is a raw memoir that makes you feel like you’re there with the writer, through all her shame, all her hiding, and all her self-accusations of being a terrible mother because of her drinking. Her struggle is beautifully portrayed, and you also get to emerge with her on the other side once she regains her sobriety once more.
“She had already beat alcohol in the past and there was nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of her child with some champagne, right? Wrong.”
26. Lush: A Memoir by Kerry Cohen Hoffmann
That bottle of merlot was all Kerry Cohen could think about as she got through her day. She did all she had to do but always with this reward on top of her mind. It took her until she was forty to realize this was neither normal nor healthy. She was a self-identified functional alcoholic.
The worst part? When she looked around she couldn’t help but notice that she was very much not alone. Lush explores the ongoing addiction crisis amongst middle-aged females through Cohen’s lenses in a very relatable style.
27. Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic
With incredible wit and skill, Sacha Scobie manages to tell you both what alcohol used to mean for her and how her sober life is going now. She relied on alcohol, so now that this is no longer an option she has to re-evaluate everything in her life, which leads to some great and very witty observations on her newfound life.
This a different memoir because it focuses not on the road to sobriety, but on what happens with your life now that you’ve done the thing that once seemed impossible.
28. A Happier Hour by Rebecca Weller
Rebecca Weller was in a weird state of denial. She is a health coach, after all, so she knew better than anyone that she had to quit her growingly dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. The problem was that she was also terrified of what this would mean. At 39, would she become a bore and be completely unable to socialize?
One day she decides to try anyway and to become the subject of her very own 3-month sobriety experiment, embarking on a self-discovery journey that ends up showing her that a little (even if hard) change is sometimes necessary to get what you truly want in life.
29. Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr
This is the book for you if you’re looking for masterful prose. It is also the book for you if you consider faith to be a necessary piece for the puzzle that addiction recovery entails. This is a story of faith and love through the journey of recovery, more than just a tale from alcoholism to sobriety.
Mary Karr is known for her wit and charming style, and in these pages, she discusses pretty much all her life struggles, not only those with alcohol. This memoir is poetic and a treat for lovers of beautiful writing.
30. After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey through Darkness to a New Beginning by Helaina Hovitz
As a child, Helaina Hovitz was a very close witness to the attack to the World Trade Center on 9/11. These events leave her with a serious case of PTSD that in turn throw her into despair and later lands her into addiction.
More than a journey through addiction and recovery from it, this is a tale about how trauma shapes us, and how we can only free ourselves from its hold by facing it. It’s a testament to how one moment, completely out of our control, can drastically change our lives.
“More than a journey through addiction and recovery from it, this is a tale about how trauma shapes us, and how we can only free ourselves from its hold by facing it.”
It takes guts to admit that you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol (or anything else). It takes even more guts to seek the help you need to recover. These twenty-six authors have shown incredible bravery and resilience in sharing their most painful experiences and deepest vulnerabilities in public as they recount their roads to recovery.
Whether you want to better understand the mindset of addiction or find inspiration in how they got out of it, these memoirs are nothing short of inspiring.