Resilience reading: Books to help with the bounce-back

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A page from Unattended Sorrow

When I was going through the shitshow of my post-divorce emotional recovery process, I read SO MANY BOOKS. With 50/50 custody, suddenly half my time was very very empty and I was adrift and confused and so I did what nerds have always done: I buried my feelings in words, and went searching for my redemption in books.

I’ve written before about the 5 books that changed my life last year, but today I want to talk specifically about the books that were the most useful to me in those early days of crisis, when I was just trying to keep one nostril above the water and keep swimming toward the shore, even when I didn’t even know where the shore was and it felt like maybe I didn’t even care where shore was and would be just fine with sinking right here, thank you very much.

I’ll get the two most popular books out of the way: Worldwide bestseller The Power of Now didn’t get that way by coincidence. Get the audio book and let that shit roll over you for hours a day. And then there’s Pema Chodran’s When Things Fall Apart, is a deeply-loved favorite for a reason… it’s great for having a friend read to you while you lay in bed and cry!

Now, here are the crisis and resilience books that helped me the most. Those of you who follow me on Insta may recognize some (but not all) of them…


I’ll start here, because I’m a brain-driven thinker, do-er, learner. In the darkest shock of my early days of grief, this book was a life raft. Its premise is that grief unlocks every sadness you have ever tried to ignore — every unattended sorrow shows up to demand your attention. Sure: you can shove it away for now, but it’ll just show up again later…

“So,” I thought to myself, ever the strategist, “If that’s true, I might as well feel all the pain as much I need right now, so that we can get ‘er done.”

Oh, Ariel. Always looking for that ROI…

But the strategy is solid: the only way over is through, fully. And so, in I went.

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness

This book changed things for me. Or, more specifically, page 42 changed things for me. I spent sooooo much time desperately trying to think and DO my way out of my depression and there was just no solution… Instead, I just hated myself more for being broken.

This book helped me understand why rumination and brooding only got me farther from where I wanted to be. Lots of scientific research behind this one — meditation as psychology and neuroscience, NOT spirituality, which was exactly what I needed at the time.

HIGHLY recommended for pragmatic, practical, cerebral folks who think meditation is too woowoo or new age to be relevant for them.

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow by Toni Bernhard

This book was recommended to me by the Offbeat Empire’s sales manager, Tiffany. The author had written a book Tiff loved called How To Be Sick, applying Buddhist teachings to living with chronic illness and pain… Tiff thought this more general interest take might be helpful for me… and she was right.

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser


This is one of those books that I never thought I’d read. I mean, my MOM gave it to me, and so I initially dismissed it as Boomer pablum… And I was totally wrong. Elizabeth Lesser’s writing helped me realize that what I thought was a divorce recovery process was actually a midlife crisis and spiritual awakening no pressure or anything ha ha ha *fart noise*

Yeah, it’s written by a 60something suburban white lady, but it’s still a great book… especially for 40somethings dealing with midlife stuff. (And now I want to know… What other amazing books have I been too snobby to read?)

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life by Ellen Forney

Ok, first some disclaimers: this book wasn’t yet published when I needed it! Also, I’m not bipolar. And lastly: Ellen is a friend of mine. BUT THIS IS THE BOOK I WISHED I’D HAD! So much of grief and crisis for me was about trying to find ways to self-regulate my overwhelming emotions… and boy howdy: if there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to navigate overwhelming emotional roller coasters, it’s our bipolar friends. Ellen’s book is filled with practical, easy to understand advice that’s relevant to ALL of us trying to find ways to manage terrifying emotional swings.

And it’s COMICS! ‘Cuz when you’re griefstricken and in crisis, shit like “reading paragraphs of text” can feel completely overwhelming. Your brain just isn’t working like normal… Ellen’s bold, playful comics help make this information super digestable. Plus, c’mon: SMEDMERTS!


Bonus book that I didn’t read but meant to:

Full Catastrophe Living! I mean, if that title doesn’t fuckin’ say it all…

PS: The book I wrote about my process of recovering from my entire life falling down is available now! ORDER NOW: From Shitshow To Afterglow

Comments on Resilience reading: Books to help with the bounce-back

  1. Not really a comfort book, but I have been struggling A LOT with how I am at work. After years of incredibly negative interactions with coworkers and bosses (at my current job) I was starting to think I was totally broken and just a terrible employee and/or person. And then I read Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead (it just came out!) and it was like getting punched in the face a couple of times.

    There was hope! I could suddenly see how all my interactions had turned sour starting on day one. I saw how deeply affected I had been by my first three months on the job, and how they had scarred me and contributed to my poor behavior/bad interactions–and then Brown offers a way out and into a healthier, happier, honest mindset!

    I read our library’s copy in 2 days, but I asked for a copy for Christmas because there was SO MUCH to digest that I need to highlight/sticky note/notate the margins (and I NEVER do that to books).

    I’m not sure there’s a lot to salvage at my current job, but I feel confident now that I can start my next job with a whole new mindset.

    • THIS IS AWESOME! I have a friend who has struggled with chronic workplace conflicts (…different jobs! …every job!) and I never know what to say. Just listening is of course always wise, but it’s nice to have a recommendation to pass on to them if they ask for one. Thank you!

    • Second for Brene Brown! Dare tonLwad ask recomended for me and then I went back and read the Gift of Imperfection and was floored! Just like Kit, it pointed out reasons for so many bad habits and things that I had been blaming myself for but then showed me how to move forward. She is a guilt and shame researcher and how many of us have sat ourselves down to stay in those two areas? Enjoy for a good think!

  2. Ariel – The Power of Now is changing my life. Thank you so so much for recommending it and all of these other books! Grief really takes you to some new places. I’m about halfway through and my question is what do I do when I finish reading it? Do I read it again and again? Do I take a course? Hire a coach? (I know, I know I’m thinking to far ahead. Planners gonna plan) I’m dealing with resistance (very addicted to thinking which is an interesting thing to realizing!) and I don’t want this to just be a cool book I read in 2018. I want to go all in. Does this make any sense?

    • There’s a second book (A New Earth, also great!!) and then it’s a life long practice…. For me, presence is a daily effort that I’m pretty sure will always be a challenge. Having a seated meditation practice (seriously, 5min a day every single day is all it takes to start…) has been huge for me.

      Also, huge snaps to you for wanting to keep diving in!!! Grief can be an excellent fuel, if you want to use it that way… Or have the capacity to use it that way? Or the support? Or something? I don’t actually know whether it’s a choice or something else … My experience was that it wasn’t (I felt compelled to transmute it into momentum), but that could just be my blindspots.

      • I am reading Full Catastrophe Living and I’m on week 6 of the MBSR program. I’m doing the course. Its completely free (don’t even have to give your email) and I really like the structure and accountability.

        Interesting you ask if its a choice or something else. A couple days ago I was listening to Brene talk about how/why people ARE doing the best they can and Sam Harris talk about no free will. With these combined it is really hard to be hard on yourself and others (which is helping me with my boss’s unmindful behaviors).

        I do wonder why its so hard if its so easy as Ekhart says.

        Oh and another book I would add to this list is Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff

  3. Hi Ariel – This is all good stuff. But I have to say that reading Ariel M. Stallings really helped get me through it! I hope you’re well. Things are good here on the east coast – hard to believe it’s been over a year since my husband left. But every day is one more day I’ve lived The. Only. Way. Over. Is. Through.


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