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…
Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart by Stephen Levine
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.
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