Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: Sobriety by Daniel D. Maurer

The solution to our illness isn't something meant to drag us down. In the same vein, twelve step recovery is really about waking up to what our condition is...a spiritual problem. Remember, spiritual things aren't the same as religion. Religion can have spirituality connected with it, and many people do find their spirituality in a church. What I'm saying is that our difficulty as addicts is connected directly with our dis-ease. We alcoholics and addicts are not "at-ease"--not at all! To feel "at-ease" we need either: 1) drugs and alcohol, which eventually kill us, or 2) a spiritual path to serenity and wellness. So the twelve steps are really about life! - Daniel D. Maurer, Sobriety: A Graphic Novel

I admit that I only have a passing familiarity with recovery groups and 12-step programs. I've attended a few meetings as an observer and have a copy of the "big book"--largely untouched--on my shelf. I have several friends and acquaintances who are making journeys through recovery and have heard small pieces of their stories. Thankfully, I have never had to make this journey myself, although I do recognize certain tendencies in me that could necessitate such a thing if I'm not attentive.

That is pretty much where my knowledge ends. I'm guessing that many in helping professions who may encounter such issues could benefit from a better understanding. Even more importantly, there are many seeking recovery or hesitant about such programs--as well as those seeking help for a loved one--who'd like to know more about what it entails. Fortunately, Daniel D. Maurer and illustrator Spencer Amundson have given us Sobriety: A Graphic Novel.

Maurer, a former Lutheran pastor and person in recovery, clearly wanted to provide a simple and accessible way to explain the ethos of Alcoholics Anonymous. I'll be up front here and say that he succeeds in several ways.

First, the driving narrative is the interaction between a diverse group of people at a treatment center. I mean "diverse" both in terms of age, ethnicity, and orientation, but also in terms of what brought them together and where they are in the recovery process. The oldest and most experienced, Larry, acts as a guide for the others, who have questions or who are having difficulty or disagreements with parts of the program.

Second, these difficulties and disagreements seem to be included because they are quite real for many who are going through such programs, and they are presented with integrity and addressed accordingly. A few other characters, for instance, have a hard time with all the references to a "higher power." Another disagrees with having to go through treatment at all and thinks the steps don't seem like a big deal to manage. These concerns, mainly via Larry, are taken seriously and explained in terms of one's individual path. That is, no two people will interpret the steps the same, and the journey with be different for everyone. The program will be for each what he or she needs.

Third, the twelve steps are intentionally included and presented one by one, with commentary by different characters to help one another understand. Again, one character may embody a certain common objection, and others will help explain and interpret what it could mean for them.

Finally, there are a few intermissions where comic versions of the author and illustrator talk about what has happened so far and present a more straightforward explanation of certain concepts. These include brief anecdotes about and thoughts from figures like AA founder Bill W., Carl Jung, and Viktor Frankl that help flesh out the philosophy behind the steps.

Sobriety: A Graphic Novel is a fantastic introduction to this program, and I think it would be helpful for those needing such a program for themselves. I'd certainly recommend it for them, as well as people like me seeking a better understanding in order to help others if or when the need arises.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)