Recovering: a newsletter from Holly Whitaker
The newsletter is called Recovering. I chose the name because I believe that everyone—and I mean everyone—should have what me and my friends who are in recovery from chemical and behavioral addictions have, which is self-care as a baseline, recovery as a way of living. I see the world through the lens of our collective and individual addictions, and the world—as we all know—is on fucking fire, and so it follows that I see the solution to all we are facing through the lens of a shared recovery. Whatever I publish here won’t necessarily be constrained to the subject, but recovery will be the thread that sews what I write together.
I stopped drinking on April 14, 2013 and I started writing less than a month later, on May 11, 2013.
Not drinking afforded me a way into recovery. Writing gave me a purpose, a way to make sense of it all and do something with what I experienced.
The first blog I ever started was called Little Miss Surrendered: Rocking Out Rock Bottom; it was anonymous and lived on Wordpress. I started writing because one of my friends handed me Glennon Doyle’s first memoir and I knew after reading one essay that I, too, was a writer, and that I was supposed to write about addiction. Days after reading that book I wrote my first essay ever (it is very, very bad), and over the course of 2013 I wrote just a few more essays, all published under a pseudonym. I broke anonymity in February 2014, when I got angry about the internet’s reaction to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose death, how everyone was talking about him like he was some outlier instead of what he was, which was our genuine representative.
In response to his death I wrote an essay called The Faces of Addiction: Mine. Then I posted that essay to my Facebook and LinkedIn account. Overnight, everyone I knew—every boss and former boss, co-worker and former co-worker, all of my friends, ex-boyfriends, relatives, etc.—learned all my dark secrets. Over the last decade it’s become normalized to talk about our mental health struggles or addictions; it wasn’t normalized when I published that essay. Publishing that essay and sharing it widely and letting everyone know the depth of my fucked cost me a lot. It also saved me.
After that Wordpress account I started a blog called Hip Sobriety, and for years I published my writing there. That blog eventually became the basis for a sobriety school (Hip Sobriety School) that few thousand people used to stop drinking; that sobriety school eventually became a venture-backed start-up (Tempest) that provided an early form of decentralized, personalized digital recovery from AUD; and eventually that organization was acquired by another organization. During that time, I wrote a New York Times best-selling book, Quit Like a Woman (Penguin Random House 2019), which so far has sold about 350,000 copies and been translated into six languages. I stopped working for Tempest in 2021; I’m currently working on my second book (PRH, 2024). This is a very condensed biography of a stupidly weird decade of my life, but it’s mostly my way of telling you it started with a terrifying, costly essay about recovery, and it will probably end that way too.
I absolutely believe the key to our collective freedom and our way out of this current fresh hell is our individual paths to healing. Not our self-optimization; not wellness. But true and genuine recovery, accessible to all.
This is not a newsletter to give you one more thing to do or one more way to fix yourself. This is a newsletter dedicated to reminding you we are not supposed to adapt or self-optimize through the end times. This is a newsletter that means to remind you that we won’t get there from there, that we have to start here, and here is so very, very good (promise).
This is a free and paid resource;
I try and keep most content free, and some content is behind a paywall. This is one of my jobs, and I put a lot of work into it. I believe in an ethos of paying people for their work (especially in recovery spaces where work is undervalued and therefore, resources are limited). If you love this newsletter, get value out of it, and believe in paying people for their work, consider a paid subscription.
Accessibility is important. As such, the yearly subscription is lower than almost all other newsletters on Substack; it’s also offered for free to anyone who cannot afford it. If you cannot afford it (as opposed to can afford it, don’t want to pay!) follow these steps:
If you really love this publication and want to help it (1) continue and (2) reach folks who can’t afford it, you can sponsor a subscription below or you can also donate via PayPal.
If you really really love this publication, consider becoming a Founding member.
Also, if you’re just here for the free shit and never want to pay: I love you, thank you for being here at all, and for reading my silly little email.
What you get with free vs. paid subscription
What free subscribers get
The weekly-ish email. A few paragraphs of what’s happening/what I’m thinking about plus a round-up of at least 10 recovery-related resources and links that I meticulously curate. (Scroll to the bottom of this newsletter to see an example).
What paid subscribers get
Longform essays and resources Once (or twice) a month I send out a longform essay or compiled resource. Some of these are for free subscribers and some are for paid.
The ability to comment and interact on any post
Occasional threads like this one where we crowd-source solutions (“What was the tipping point for you to quit drinking if you are abstinent?"; etc.)
Access to the archive (all my old writings and resources that are slowly making their way here from my old blogs)
Mission; (in listicle form)
Solving every single world issue through recovery? Why not.
“Either all of us are addicts or none of us are.” —Dr. Andrew Tatarsky
“All of us” live in a free-market system (i.e., capitalism, late capitalism) (or system impacted by free-market systems, which the global community is)
Free-market systems are a source cause of addiction (a system that turns you into a means of production, scoops out your insides, leaves you hollow and reaching for the products of that system to fill the hollow)
addiction is defined broadly to include all behavioral and chemical substance addictions(anything we do that brings short term relief, has long term consequences, that we continue to do despite negative affect; this would include alcohol, opioids, cigarettes, but also use of social media, smartphones, shopping, anti-aging practices, etc.)
It follows: all of us are addicted
It follows: all of us need recovery
Currently: Only people designated as social deviants (sex-, drug-, alcohol-, gambling-, food- addicted) get recovery!
Everyone else gets yoga classes, face creams, and TalkSpace (wellness, self-help, self-optimization, hyper-individualized solutions that reinforce the individual as the problem who needs to work harder at making the existing system work).
Wellness, self-help and self-optimization are tools of the system, tools of capitalism that center and protect the system at the cost of the individual.
Recovery is not a tool of the system. Recovery requires sacrifice of the social contract (no longer taking part of x, y, z) and a development of self-awareness and growth that transcends the given culture.
We live in a sick society.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” - Krishnamurti
We need to stop adjusting.
We need to consider ourselves in recovery.
If we all consider ourselves in recovery, and live with recovery as a baseline, the culture will shift.
This is a newsletter that assumes all of the above; if you are here, no matter if it’s just that you can’t stop doom scrolling or buying anti-wrinkle creams or looking at your iPhone, you deserve to be here. You deserve recovery.
From my book, Quit Like a Woman:
Our revolutions don’t rise out of peak experiences; they emerge when we’re smacked down, robbed of our spirit, angry, oppressed. Revolution is a reaction to violence, and it is generative, in that revolution calls forth a latent power that resides in each of us that’s been waiting its whole life to burn the fucking system to the ground.
Recovery is the resistance. This is where you start.
Welcome to the resistance. I love you. I’m glad you’re here. Let’s have fun!