Vary My Days: A Sober Reading List

January 9, 2018

Whether you're in the midst of figuring out - this very evening - that your using days are over, you've got a few shaky days under your belt or you've been proudly sober for a month, one of the first things to conquer when you get sober is all of the free time. It can be a blessing and a curse to suddenly have what feels like all the time in the world. When I first quit drinking, I just slept. Or that's how I remember it, anyway - I was in a daze for the first month or so. If you're brand new to sobriety, remember: all you have to do is not drink or take the drugs. That's it, infuriating and difficult as it is. Don't take the first drink. Why not read this to pass the time? I'm a great time waster, I promise.

Once my cognitive functions kicked back into highs gear, I was blown away to discover that I'd spent so many hours a week at bars, or going to the liquor store, or being passed out. The amount of time I had, post-work, to exist as a non-alcohol-imbibing human was baffling.

 

Since addicts are obsessive people, some newly sober people create a new exercise regimen, take up a new hobby or work on reorganizing their closet - anything to distract from the discomfort of Not Doing The Thing. What did I wind up doing? Googling stuff. I laid in bed, browsing the internet for answers to questions I had been too afraid to ask anyone in person.

Googling embarrassing questions like "will I ever have fun again?" or "sober sex" or "tips on apologizing" led me to message boards and forums. I read pages and pages of Reddit, Metafilter, Tumblr threads. In my search, I looked for any sign from more reasonable-seeming people that what I was going through was temporary.

 

The stories that addicts (and those affected by them) share are raw, human stories of desperation, loss, unimaginable struggling. Redemption, triumph and joy play a part, too. While there is often a common thread to addiction (family issues, financial problems, mental illness, trauma), everyone's struggle is different, so everyone's recovery will be, too. I guarantee something will resonate eventually.

Specific to my recovery: I was afraid that I had to stop being a stand-up comedian. Lots of artist friends have shared similar fears - that alcohol or drugs was the key to their creative process, that liquid courage was required to perform, that cast parties would be excruciating, that the professional courtesy of going out for a drink with a patron or colleague would be untenable. All of those things worried me, too. Would my stage presence suffer since I was so used to physically reaching for a drink during key moments in my jokes? Could I make small talk at open mics? What would I do when I got paid in drink tickets?

 

In my relentless, amateurish research on sobriety, I began to seek out stories by entertainers who had gotten and stayed sober. Since it's 2018, this isn't a straightforward reading list, by the way. It's essays, books and podcasts. The bonus section includes comics and video games, too. When (brave, quiet, private, wonderful) artists reach out to me in the earliest stages of sobriety, these are the first things I recommend for them.

 

  • Craig Ferguson's incredible monologue about sobriety. It begins with an apology about poking fun at celebrities and ends with a very vulnerable admission about his rock bottom moment. I watch this - no joke - at least once a month.
     

  • Megan Koester's brutal essay, "So I Have A Drinking Problem." This essay was written when Megan was still drinking and is so painfully relatable to me. Her follow-up essay after she got sober is excellent, as well. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.
     

  • Chris Gethard's essay, "Why I Quit Drinking." While using a funny story to illustrate why drinking, for him, was always a nightmare, the comedian/public access star also (in a very casual way) normalizes not drinking in the comedy world, which was a life-saver for me.
     

  • WTF with Marc Maron. Maron can be divisive because he comes off as gruff and pushy. However, he's been in recovery more than a decade and I enjoy his perspective most of the time. Here's a good list of episodes that deal with addiction. Episodes I'd add to this: Russell Brand, Edie Falco.
     

  • This interview with comedian Amber Tozer. She has a funny book and a big online presence that you can explore. She's also great on WTF. Overall, she's definitely someone that I'd love to get a coffee with sometime - so funny and honest!
     

  • Darrell Hammond's incredible memoir about addiction, parental abuse, self-harm and, you know, being on SNL despite all of that. This is a TOUGH read, so note the content warning before the excerpt

     

     

  • Rob Delaney's book, Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. Rob Delaney is a hilarious human and also sober. His book details his chaotic drinking life and the ups and downs of mandatory rehab. His show, Catastrophe, co-written by the amazing Sharon Horgan, also deals with sobriety.
     

  • Russell Brand's book, Recovery, is amazing. Since it's brand new, it didn't play a part in early sobriety for me, but I love it and especially his secular, no-nonsense version of the 12 Steps.
     

Bonus Round!

 

  • Hyperbole and a Half's comic, "Sneaky Hate Spiral." While this doesn't at all outright deal with addiction, I think this comic about a sudden mood change is very relevant to newly sober people, as experiencing Everyday Human Feelings without self-medicating first is a shock to the system.
     

  • Beautiful Stories by Anonymous People, Chris Gethard's podcast. Gethard opens his office's landline up to an hour-long call with a complete stranger. The only rule is that he won't hang up. At my loneliest, the extremely vulnerable one-on-one conversations helped me feel connected. I recommend starting from the beginning
     

  • Mary Karr's memoir, Lit. My best friend (damn her) actually gave me this book well before I quit drinking. I discovered it later and couldn't put it down. Apologies to anyone who saw me crying on the el about it. (Her first book, The Liar's Club, is excellent, too.)
     

  • Kristi Coulter's stellar essay about why, specifically, sobriety is difficult for women. Her workplace struggles were so relevant to me, as I'd just started a new job two months after quitting drinking.

     

  • Super Meat Boy. Easily the most frustrating video game I've ever played, I fired up Steam a lot when I was angry at the world and needed to yell at something. This maddening side-scroller was featured in the delightful documentary, Indie Game: The Movie. (Look up Youtube videos of people playing the game for a glimpse of how much you'll suffer.)
     

Well, we did it. Ready to start an alcoholic book club? Seems kind of appealing now, honestly. Next week, I'm going to write about coping strategies for one of the most common and dreaded aspects of sobriety: how to navigate being a sober person in a boozy environment. Thanks for reading!

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