Book Review of Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction by Mackenzie Phillips
The last column I wrote was titled “What’s in your toolbox?”, which was posted August, 2018. I missed posting an article last month due to my father’s illness and subsequent death. Believe me, during the stress of the past several months, I have had more than one occasion to open up my toolbox and review all the tools I have in there. In some cases, I polished them off and updated them. Others I just cherished like the old friends that they are. And I added a few new ones because it seems like there’s always another tool to be tried. I once heard that AA meetings are like recovery hardware stores when it comes to finding healing tools to help you become healthy and whole.
Of course, there are other place to find tools and books are one of those places. I have a large collection of recovery books – AA-approved and otherwise. Recently, the editor of PaganPagesOrg, Jennifer Sacasa-Wright, sent me Mackenzie Phillip’s latest book, Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction, published by Atria Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
This is a wonderful little book. I don’t know if you know who Mackenzie Phillips is – she’s five months older than me so we are contemporaries – but knowing who she is really doesn’t matter as far as the contents of this book is concerned. You’ll find out enough about her so that you know that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to using drugs and trying to get sober and eventually achieving that serenity. If you want to know more about her life, there’s an autobiography with all the titillating tidbits that everyone tweets about called High On Arrival: A Memoir
. And of course, there’s always Google. But Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction is just that – eleven short missives on how to get through the worst part of recovery – which, really is all of it.
Each chapter is set up the same way. There is the title of the chapter and a quote from an outside source that defines the chapter. Then she has a story about her own use or maybe someone she knows – someone in her past life or someone she has counseled in her practice. She is very discrete in her disclosures but you always get the message – the strength, the hope, the experience. At the end of each chapter there is a section called “It Works If You Work It”. It’s the “workbook” section of the book – where you get your paper and pen and answer questions about what you just read and apply it to your own recovery. In this way, she makes this slender book into a living act of hope and healing.
Some of the things she wrote about really hit home in a large way. When she wrote about “re-creating history” (page 5) that rang so true, even though I didn’t have a family history of shooting heroin – but I have a family history of alcohol use and abuse – so the idea of “it being so normal” (page 5) definitely rang true. I grew up with the martinis that my parents always drank when Daddy came home from work and the beers that were consumed at every family picnic. The hangovers that were explained as Grampa’s morning “grumpiness”. You had to stay out of his way, ya know? This was normal. And I thought that all mommies drank red wine when they made dinner! So naturally, I re-created this reality when I grew up. Not with red wine but with beer and marijuana. I remember my little son handing me a rolling paper so I could roll a joint first thing in the morning! For my doobie with my coffee! That helpful little guy! That was a wake-up call right there.
Another thing that I could really identify with when she wrote that getting high felt great (page 17). It does feel great – that’s why we do it. There’s no other reason any addict or alcoholic uses – and that’s whatever your drug of choice may be – and I’m including food and gambling and sex and working out with this – getting high feels like a million bucks when you do it. It’s the other part of using that sucks – the hangover, especially – but also the empty bank account and the broken promises and whatever problems are caused by your actions. And even a so-called good addiction – like working out – can have adverse outcomes. There is use – there is abuse – and there is dependence. The question is – where does your relationship with your substance of choice lead you?
A lot of what she writes about is the same stuff you will hear about at any AA/NA meeting or rehab group or therapy session. Mindfulness – trusting yourself and others – acceptance – surrender – forgiveness of others and of yourself – taking responsibility and consequences. On pages 83 and 84, she has a 5-point plan, which I read to be a pre-Twelve-Step plan of action – points 1 and 2 are about thinking about changing your addictive ways and point 3 is preparation for change. Point 4 is action – when you go to AA/NA, check in at rehab, see a therapist, tell all your friends that you’re getting sober. Point 5 is maintenance. She writes, “This is when the real work begins.” (page 84) She doesn’t say that this is when you go through the Twelve Steps of whatever group with which you have chosen to affiliate yourself. But this is what she means: “The possibility of relapse is always real, but this is also the stage in which you arm yourself with a set of skills that will make you less likely to slide back into places that you’re determined to leave behind.” (page 84)
One of the best chapters in the entire book is near the end. It’s about abuse and denial. She writes:
Here’s the hardcore truth: you can smash the pipe, put the plug in the jug, break the tip off the needle, but if you
don’t address the deeper issues, you’re not going to be able to get whole or become a healthy part of the world
around you. Trauma, maltreatment, or abuse, whatever you choose to call it, is a huge, deeper issue that comes
up a lot when we look at addiction. Not talking about trauma and its relationship to substance use would be like
avoiding the larger-than-normal elephant in the room. Childhood trauma and its aftermath is something that
needs to be spoken of and brought out in the open. This is also true of adult trauma, which is often not spoken of
I totally agree with this – not only is it true in my own life, I can attest to this, having sat and listened to many other people – at AA and NA meetings, in rehab sessions, and in domestic violence groups.
She talks about trauma in scientific and compassionate ways. How we carry trauma with us for “the rest of our lives”. (page 129) The “before-trauma you” and the “after-trauma you”. (page 129) For those of us who have experienced multiple traumas and different kinds of traumas, this kind of demarcation makes sense – like looking at pictures in a photo album.
Phillips also writes that trauma “takes up residence not only in your mind but also in your body.” (page 129) Trauma victims experience “headaches; pain in your joints; stomach issues; weight issues; feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.” (page 129-30) How many of us have had these symptoms? I know that I took opiates for years for some of these!
The one thing she doesn’t talk about in this book is spirituality. The closest she comes to it is talking about hope. And she writes that “humor and laughter are just other faces of hope” (page 143) and to remember that “hope is the thing with wings”. (page 145) Other than that, she never mentions a word about anything spiritual whatsoever. This, honestly, is one of the book’s strengths. This book has the ability to appeal to anyone struggling with substance abuse regardless of religion or spiritual beliefs or lack thereof. For wiccans and pagans looking to read a book on sobriety that doesn’t cram God-talk down their throats, Mackenzie Phillips offers a really nice alternative to so many of the recovery books that are currently on the shelves of our libraries and bookstores.
All in all, I have to say that this is an outstanding little book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in recovery. In fact, I have a good friend to whom I plan to give it to the next time I see her! I know she will read it and pass it on to another woman in recovery. I hope it goes far!
Until next month – it works if you work it! Brightest Blessings!
Phillips, Mackenzie. Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction. NY: Atria Paperbacks, 2017.
About the Author:
Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.
Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.
She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.