Difference between Self-help books and Self-improvement books

The earliest stages of recovery are solely about taking the withdrawals from abstention on the chin – and avoiding relapse. This is a selfish exercise. Pamper yourself as much as possible. Do anything you need to do, not to relapse, bar substituting one serious addiction for another. If you’re already a smoker, smoke a few more cigarettes temporarily. Eat biscuits. Over-exercise temporarily. This is the time when you need self help and so: self-help books. Self improvement comes later on and self-improvement books help in the process of turning yourself into a better person – and then helping other people.

Self-help books reinforce the selfish early phase

The selfishness of the self-help books is OK for newcomers to a 12 step program when they are sorting themselves out early on – to be of use to others later – but frankly their best bet would be to stick to 12-step literature to avoid distractions. Only one or two Amazon titles look relevant such as the Mindfulness workbook for Anxiety; and Unfu*k Yourself: Out of head, into life; or Love Yourself.

Consider meditation as an early self-help exercise

However, everyone’s 12-step program, or even a program without the use of the steps, is different from everyone else’s and needs different content to be taken at a different pace. Some things will be taken in a different order as well, though it is often suggested that the 12 steps are taken in the order they are written. My biggest disagreement on that score is where meditation isn’t mentioned until Step 11. It can be most beneficial to start meditating from the word Go. This is as much a matter of self help as self improvement and literature on the subject can be considered equally as self-help books or self-improvement books.

Self improvement = helping others

Actually, new members help others from the very start when they attend a fellowship because they enable established members to help them – even if the new member doesn’t realize it. New members often help each other, too. But a lot of the help new members give in the early stages is without knowing. The kind of help that members give to others consciously comes later. After they embark on the self improvement phase of their programs, they will help newer members to define their individual programs, become sponsors and so on. Later still members will become helpful in the wider world, because their programs are bridges to normal living. But none of it is a race.

Most of my friendships were entirely within 12-step fellowships until, after 10 years, I realized that I wasn’t interacting with ‘normal’ people and needed to seek more acquaintances and friendships outside AA. Then helping can become a way of life. Einstein said: “To help each other – that is the answer to the question ‘Why are we here’.”

Self improvement books

If self-help books are the more selfish variety, fit for the early stages of a program when selfishness is encouraged, then self improvement books are less selfish and more about reaching out to be kinder and of use to others. Examples of these self improvement books from my straw poll of Amazon titles are: Zip it– make kind comments to others instead of hateful ones; Destination happiness – the power of belief, focus, change and so on; and The Five Love Languages – secrets to love that lasts.

Self-improvement comes later

Even if you believe you’re not an addict, Everyone’s an Addict can help with self improvement. In a way the whole book is about self improvement, but there is an especially strong section in Chapters Four & Five reflecting the fourth & fifth steps: a searching and fearless moral inventory, and admitting our wrongs. 40 of the pages between 92-135 under the months of April & May tackle individual faults such as the seven deadly sins and how to move closer to the corresponding virtue. Moving from anger to calm is probably the biggest, most urgent task for most of us.

The long useful life of self-improvement books

So self improvement books are going to be useful in the longer phase of a program between acquiring the tools to achieve abstention in the first couple of years and (hopefully a natural) death. Nowadays we’re beginning to hear of some members whose total sobriety exceeds 50 years. So some members will be spending 50 years on the self improvement phase of the program. During this time self improvement books could help greatly to beat any threat of boredom. For boredom can mark the prelude to a relapse.

I hope readers will see Everyone’s an Addict as the epitome of a self improvement book with legs. Not only can it guide one through the early withdrawals stages, but also it can help keep one from boredom during long years of recovery.

All you need is Everyone’s an Addict

Everyone’s an Addict will stand on its own as a 12-step reader. This blue book is good for everyone whereas each reader need only select one of my other three handbooks as a companion to it. Readers can choose which is most appropriate for them.

An Atheists Unofficial Guide to AA, the yellow book is my earliest offering and has become my classic best-seller. Broadly it rewrites the 12 steps for an agnostic or atheist and points out where the AA textbook Alcoholics Anonymous blows off course as a result of outdated, misguided or stick-in-the-mud attitudes. My latest, the orange book, Secular AA introduces even more freedom to the abstention process, inviting readers to construct their own individual program. This may exclude steps entirely and the same goes for spirituality, though the book argues that non-religious spirituality may exist. My second book, the pink one, An Atheists Twelve Steps to Self-improvement, is similar to the first, but targeted at members of other 12-step fellowships.

Buy Everyone’s an Addict at any time

There might be a temptation to buy Everyone’s an Addict around Christmas time because it covers one year of daily entries – and certainly one way of using the book is as a daily reader over one year. It could make an invaluable Christmas gift – or a gift at any time, come to that.

But the pages are numbered, as well as dated. So, while January is dated and numbered 1 to 31, February 1 occurs on page 32 and so on to December 31 on page 366. Therefore one could start on page one on any day of the year and turn to a new page each day without reference to the months. In this way a newcomer could use the book as practical guide to any 12-step program.

However the book is just as useful in providing daily inspirations for oldtimers, so they could follow the dates, starting on any day of the year. Equally, meetings could make random selections as a basis for topic meetings.