I recently finished re-reading 12 Stupid Things that Mess Up Recovery by Allen Berger, a recovery classic for people in early recovery. I almost forgot what a great book it was.
Allen Berger condenses twelve common pitfalls that can mess up recovery and teaches us how to avoid them with the clarity and wisdom of a man with decades of both personal and professional experience. Short, easy-to-read, and enjoyable, this is a wonderful resource both for people in recovery and for those who want to understand the recovery process.
This book is brimming with wonderful insight, but here are twelve of my favorite quotes:
1. “True recovery is the product of humility that emerges from living and practicing a conscious and spiritual life.” (p. 1)
In one of the first sentences in the book, Allen Berger begins by defining addiction as a medical condition with a spiritual cure. This is probably my favorite line in the book.
2. “We have to pursue recovery with the same tenacity and enthusiasm that we had when we were drinking or using other drugs.” (p. 31)
We must be willing to go any length to stay clean and sober, just as we would go any length for our addiction. This can mean trying new ideas, taking the advice of others, and going to meetings. We were willing to do much worse for our addiction; what can we not give for the sake of our recovery?
3. “Recovery requires rigorous honesty. Nothing less will work. We are as sick as we are secretive.” (p. 39)
Self-honesty is essential for healing. Berger compares it to lancing the boil and letting all the puss drain out. Gross, I know, but we have to discuss the things we don’t want to talk about, especially our secrets.
4. “Recovery is about salvaging our humanity” (p. 41)
Recovery is about accepting and embracing our humanity instead of the unreasonable standards of perfection we impose upon ourselves.
5. “In recovery, it’s okay to be average.” (p. 49)
Of course we are all unique, but feeling “special” in A.A. is often pride in disguise; we feel we deserve to be treated differently, or that we can pick and choose what we think will be helpful. In recovery, those who do best are those who surrender and follow suggestions.
6. “We do what we do because of who we are, not because of someone else’s behavior.” (p. 54)
Especially in relationships, it becomes easy to blame our behavior on our partner’s behavior. (“If you wouldn’t act this way, I wouldn’t do this!”) Instead, we need to accept full responsibility for our harmful behavior and take the initiative to repair the damage (step 8).
7. “Instead of trying to be perfect, learn how to become more human.” (p. 57)
Many of our problems are related to the standards we impose on ourselves, an idealized version of our life we strive to acquire. To work a successful recovery, we need to accept that we will never attain perfection, nor work a perfect program. We need to embrace our humanity.
8. “Self-concern is different from selfishness.” (p. 61)
We need to learn to take care of ourselves. The desire to please others should be balanced with personal integrity. Self-centeredness occurs when we don’t know how to take care of ourselves.
9. “Problems are gifts that need to be carefully unwrapped.” (p. 80)
Relationship problems don’t indicate that something is wrong; rather, they are an indication of a healthy relationship. We need to keep them in perspective and ask for help when we don’t know what to do.
10. “Recognizing our need for additional help is an indication that we are working a good program.” (p. 89)
A.A. isn’t the answer to every problem, and we should not treat it as so. Self-reliance can sabotage our recovery, and we must have the humility to ask for help from friends, therapists, or sponsors.
11. On choosing a sponsor: “Select a person who has what you want.” (p. 91)
Sponsorship is the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it’s not always easy asking for help, or knowing who to ask for help. Allen has wonderful advice on this subject, found on page 91, but the core of his advice is simply to select a person who is working a program that attracts you.
12. “Recovery clearly is an act of self-compassion. The process that helps us stay clean and sober helps us recover our true self.” (p. 107)
Recovery is about reconnection, with both others and our true selves. Whether going to meetings or working the steps, the diligence we pour into our recovery forms the bedrock for living a healthy, robust life.
You can preview the first few chapters on amazon.
Have a favorite quote from your favorite recovery book? Share it with us in the comments below!