What do you read when you’re early in sobriety or sober curious? Tawny Lara has recommendations.
I spent the first few years of my recovery curbing those booze cravings with a newfound appetite for consuming as many sobriety books as possible. I’d lie in bed, devouring every memoir I could get my hands on. Feverishly highlighting passages that felt medicinal, like a salve to the emotional wounds of early recovery. When I felt overwhelmed by my friends’ Instagram stories of them taking shots or sipping two-for-one margaritas, or when I was tempted to participate in a group happy hour, I dove back into bed to read another book.
Early sobriety and sober curiosity can be a confusing time. It’s often an era of self-discovery, meeting the real version of yourself without liquid courage or self-medicating with alcohol. That time is also spent discovering who your real friends are (and aren’t). It’s natural to wish there was a map or a guidebook to help you through the bumpy terrain of early sobriety. Luckily there’s a whole genre of books designed for this exact time period. Welcome to the world of QuitLit, or should I say, #QuitLit.
QuitLit began with first-person narratives about people getting sober. The QuitLit book genre is expanding as the world becomes more sober curious. In addition to excellent memoirs, there are also books written to help readers feel empowered as they navigate life without alcohol. Whether you’re newly sober, trying a dry month for the third time, or celebrating your 15th SoBerthday, these books can help you take life one day at a time.
Best book for dating while newly sober: Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers by Jennifer Matesa
Jennifer astutely discusses two taboo subjects (sex and sobriety) that need more airtime and less stigma. This book features some of the author’s personal stories and interviews with other 12-step folks. The thought of dating without alcohol scared the hell out of me in early sobriety. I had no idea how to sit across from another human while eating dinner and not drinking. If dating felt overwhelming, the thought of having sex without alcohol seemed nearly impossible. Sex in Recovery helped me feel comfortable with sober sex by reading about other folks’ trepidations. If they can (literally) do it, so can I. And so can you.
When you’re craving fiction but still want to learn about sobriety: Party Girl by Anna David
Before #QuitLit was a thing, before we all became Sober Curious, 2008 gave us Party Girl. This book is technically a novel, but it reads like a memoir. Follow celebrity journalist Amelia Stone as she lives the stereotypical Hollywood It Girl nightlife until, you guessed it, she gets sober. Amelia struggles to maintain her party-girl image while managing her own recovery. Author Anna David openly discusses her own recovery on social media, and in this anthology she edited. She also re-released Party Girl in 2021 on her own publishing platform, Launch Pad Publishing.
Honorable Mention: The Secret Life of a Hollywood Sex and Love Addict by Brianne Davis
When you want to learn more about Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco, and Big Pharma: Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis by Ryan Hampton and Claire Rudy Foster
Recovery often leads us to explore topics we’d never thought to explore while in active addiction. This book is one of them for me. I would never have thought to read a book about the opioid epidemic while in active addiction, since I actively avoided most forms of unpleasant reality during that time. Unsettled exposes the truth behind Big Pharma while also highlighting the devastating journey of people personally impacted by opioid addiction. If you’re interested in learning more about the justice system (or should I say, the injustice system) and the class-action lawsuit side of the opioid epidemic, this book is for you.
Honorable Mentions: Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker and This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life by Annie Grace
When you want to read about sober motherhood and the façade of social media: Highlight Real: Finding Honesty & Recovery Beyond the Filtered Life by Emily Lynn Paulson
Emily Paulson bravely opens up about the intersection of active addiction, getting sober, managing a digital persona, and being a mom. As a former chemist, Paulson writes from an approachable, educated perspective. Reading this book feels like having lunch (or DMing!) with a bestie. Paulson also started Sober Mom Squad and has a book about MLMs coming out in May.
Honorable Mentions: Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska and We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of Sober Life by Laura McKowen. Also, keep an eye out for Celeste Yvonne’s book about mommy wine culture in September!
If your Dry January didn’t go as planned: Sober Curious Reset: Change the Way You Drink in 100 Days or Less by Ruby Warrington
Maybe your Dry January turned out to be a bit damper than planned. It happens! Instead of beating yourself up, try a reset. Ruby Warrington created a map to help you on your sober curious journey. Not only did she come up with the iconic term sober curious (and quite literally wrote the book on it!), but she also wrote this companion workbook designed to give your Dry Month(s) some structure. Level up by grabbing a bestie for #accountability, or join her Sober Curious Facebook group.
Honorable Mention: Not Drinking Tonight: A Guide to Creating a Sober Life You Love by Amanda White
Best book when you’re bored of club soda and want to try some new NA drinks: Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason by Julia Bainbridge
I was a bartender who thoroughly enjoyed mixology in my drinking days. I replaced ‘party girl’ with ‘sober girl’ as my fridge went from booze-stocked to seltzer-stacked. Seltzer is cool and all, but I still missed making fun drinks. Enter the booze-free drink scene! Yes, the booze-free drink scene is a thing, y’all—and it is thriving! Julia Bainbridge wrote the perfect book for anyone interested in learning how to make interesting NA drinks for a solo night in or when hosting a gathering. As the book’s subtitle acknowledges, these drinks are for anyone—not just sober folks. Fun Fact: Even people who drink alcohol often appreciate a fun NA drink option! Check out Zero Proof Nation for up-to-date listings of sober bars, booze-free bottle shops, new NA brands, and drink recipes.
Honorable Mention: Mocktail Party: 75 Plant-Based, Non-Alcoholic Mocktail Recipes for Every Occasion by Diana Licalzi and Kerry Benson
Best book for when you just met the real you, without booze, and you want to learn how to be nice to yourself: Esteemable Acts: 10 Actions for Building Real Self-Esteem by Francine Ward
One of the hardest aspects of early sobriety or sober curiosity is meeting (and embracing!) your authentic self. Especially if you relied on liquid courage to get through the tough stuff. Francine Ward is a sober lawyer and author whose personal recovery journey helped her identify ten ways to boost her self-esteem. Learn how to feel confident without booze, break down the scary to-dos into smaller, tangible tasks, and give yourself some grace as you navigate life without booze.
Best book to read when you’re curious about the intersection of sex work and sobriety: Overcome: A Memoir Of Abuse, Addiction, Sex Work, and Recovery by Amber van de Bunt
This raw memoir isn’t just juicy porn star drama; it’s a meditation on overcoming toxic parents, eating disorder recovery, and surviving mental health crises. Amber does the impossible: destigmatizing both sex work and substance use disorder. Her story proves that someone can be sober and enjoy sex work and be a kick-ass mom.
Best book when you want to read the most vulnerable recovery memoir ever written: A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown
To say Cupcake Brown experienced trauma puts it mildly. By the time Cupcake was a teenager, she’d already lost her mother and a pregnancy. She also went through the foster system and homelessness. Cupcake shares the harrowing story of a Black woman who’s truly lived through hell and came out through the other side to tell us all about it.
In addition to the rapidly expanding #QuitLit genre, there are also TV shows and podcasts that combine storytelling and getting sober:
- F*cking Sober: The First 90 Days: This Webby-Award-winning fictional series follows Anita around New York City during her first 90 days of sobriety, created by sober auteur Katie Mack. (I’m proud to be part of the team behind this show.)
- Single Drunk Female: This show follows twenty-something Sam after she hits rock bottom in NYC, then she moves back home to Boston to get sober, reckon with her past, and create a healthier future, created by Simone Finch
- Mom: This star-studded series highlights the brutal reality of getting sober … with your mom, created by Chuck Lorre.
The aforementioned books helped me in my early booze-free life for one significant reason: representation. The early stages of sobriety or sober curiosity can feel like learning how to walk in a world filled with Olympic sprinters. Reading about how someone else learned to walk can help you gain footing. The good news is that you don’t need to sprint. At least not today.