Saturday, April 7, 2007

Restore Your Life: A Living Plan for Sober People

By Anne Geller, M.D. with J. Territo.
ISBN 0-553-07153-X

Reviewed by Diane J.

If you were able to quit drinking or drugging before your addiction seriously damaged your relationships, your work life, and your health, you may find this to be a nicely-written but somewhat obvious volume of commonsense ideas. If you hit the end of your first week sober feeling like a stroke victim confronted with a series of knotted shoelaces and Chinese menus, however, you will find that Restore Your Life is an informative, compassionate, and mercifully secular guidebook for early sobriety.

Anne Geller, who is a physician and recovering alcoholic, notes in her introduction that, while there are many books available on spiritual growth, spirituality "is not the whole of this new life, just as the decision to become sober does not automatically make you a sober person." This is the last time you will hear anything about spirituality in the book until you reach the bibliography (this includes the chapter on attending AA, by the way). Geller focuses throughout on providing information and advice on conducting your daily life sober.

"To begin, you must know where you are," and the first three chapters are one of the best layman's guides to the physiological and emotional disturbances of early sobriety, from a good basic overview of neurochemistry through the damage that alcohol and other drugs can inflict and the symptoms that may appear. This may not be ideal reading for the hypochondriac, but if you are bothered by effects like short-term memory loss or geographic disorientation, it can be oddly comforting to find them listed and described in non-hysterical good English.

The chapters that follow include Geller's suggestions for handling stress and reducing mood swings; rebuilding your relationships with family and friends where possible; joining and using a support group (AA, of course, but Geller's instructions would apply equally well to nonAA groups); working sober and handling the aftermath of working NOT sober; beginning to establish healthy eating and exercise habits, dealing with insomnia, and establishing a health care routine for yourself.

The chapter on relapse prevention is based, as she notes, on the work of G. Alan Marlatt and includes an interesting relapse risk assessment tool. Other welcome features of the book include an unflustered, unshocked, and unhysterical chapter on "Sober Sex" which does NOT presume that the entire audience is heterosexual, male, and married; and "Smoke Free: Giving Up Cigarettes" which addresses the death rate among sober alcoholics from lung disease and argues for a completely addiction-free lifestyle for the sober.

Geller writes clearly and logically. While the book is the standard blend of explanation, exhortation and anecdotes about people with single names and multiple bad habits, she handles these ingredients well. Her anecdotes in particular are much less wooden than the usual recovery book stories, and the cast of characters less stereotyped and much more representative.

In the "Afterword," Geller speaks briefly about her own difficult and relapse-broken path to sobriety, and states "I have written the book I would have liked to read while I was struggling through the first three years of my recovery." I think that a great many people struggling with early sobriety will be grateful that she has.

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