Saturday, April 7, 2007

Selling Serenity: Life Among the Recovery Stars

By Andrew Meacham
ISBN 0-89777-708-5

By Marty N.

For six years, Andrew Meacham worked as an associate editor for Health Communications Inc., a major publisher of recovery books. He wrote numerous articles on recovery issues for the magazine Changes and for the US Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In this capacity he had contact with recovery authors who were attracting mass audiences, such as John Bradshaw, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, Wendy Kaminer, and Melody Beattie, and with others who became controversial within their professions, such as Anne Schaef, Thomas Szasz, and Jacqui Schiff. He watched the recovery movement balloon from the relatively narrow field of alcoholism into the limitless pretensions of "codepen- dency" and the "repressed memory" industry, a major focus of the book. His book contains interesting vignettes of encounters with some of the leading actors in this panorama, interlaced with his informed journalist's observations on economic and political trends impacting the treatment industry.

In the course of his work, Meacham became disillusioned with much of what he saw, and eventually withdrew and wrote this debunking volume. Meacham's critical perspective relies on Szasz and on Stanton Peele, who view excessive drinking and other self-destructive behaviors as philosophical choices rather than as medical symptoms. But for all his disillusionment with recovery hucksterism and opportunistic disease-mongering, Meacham does not fall entirely into the trap of believing that there is really nothing to recover from. He believes that the core idea of self-help, one sufferer helping another, remains valid and necessary, but that it has been hugely corroded and corrupted by commercialism. It is his hope that "society will learn from the recovery movement without repeating some of its worst errors." The book is smoothly written and supported by hundreds of citations and an excellent index.

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