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 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.
But wherever that journey starts, these memoirs prove that struggle can lead to something beautiful and healing in the end.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 her 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
It takes guts to admit that you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. It takes even more guts to seek the help you need to recover. These 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.