As I’m coming to the end of two weeks vacation for the Holidays and end of the year, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on 2018. There have been so many things that have had a big impact on me in the last year, especially books and podcasts that have helped me recover from poor health and guided me to follow my intuition to create the life I want. I’m going to revisit some of my favorite books from this year and dive into how they affected me (warning, may get deep!). Consider these books highly recommended by me, I’d love to know your favorite books of 2018 so drop me a comment and let me know!
Recovery - Russell Brand
For anyone who doesn’t know Russell Brand, he’s a British comedian, actor & author who publicly talks about his addictions to alcohol, heroin, sex and more. I’ve been exploring my own sobriety from alcohol over the last 18 months or so and was originally drawn to his book as I really like what I know of him as a person (I sometimes listen to his podcast ‘Under The Skin’), but I shied away from it for a while as I didn’t consider myself an ‘addict’ or ‘in recovery’, so wasn’t sure how relevant it would be for me. I’m so glad that earlier this year I picked up a copy during a trip home to England when I was in need of some soul-searching. Russell is a fantastic story-teller and I was riveted by the gory truth-telling of his past with alcohol, drugs and sex and the way he was able to join the dots from how he acted and felt as an adult to his early experiences in childhood. He introduces the reader to the 12 steps of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and lays out how he went through each of the steps and what he learned about himself along the way. It’s funny, heart-breaking and hope-inspiring all at once and his honesty really hit home for me.
Key takeaway: My earth-shattering moment from the book was Russell’s explanation of how people with addictions, more often than not, have multiple vices that they turn to in an attempt to fill the void inside of themselves or escape from who they are (due to childhood trauma, self-loathing etc). He urges the reader to look at their own behaviors and be honest about any areas of their lives that have (in the words of AA) becoming ‘unmanageable and beyond your control’. Reading this book allowed me for the first time to admit that my skin-picking was in fact an addiction/compulsion that I was not able to control even though I knew it was having an adverse effect on my life. I read the book twice on the plane from London to San Francisco, and when I got off the plane my mindset had completely shifted around an area of my life that I had previously not been able to admit to anyone, not even myself.
The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle
On that same soul-wrenching trip to the UK, I was at a real low point with my health after trying all year to get well through restricting my diet in various ways to try to pinpoint the issue. On this trip home to see my family, I was at the time both vegan and gluten-free and yet my skin was a NIGHTMARE, leaving me embarrassed to go out in public or have photos taken with my 2 year old nephew whom I was visiting. I was also incredibly stressed out with work, as I was about 6 months into a new job that I didn’t really feel like was the right thing for me. At this point, I had finally found a naturopathic doctor in San Francisco and was awaiting my results from the extensive testing she’d ordered (upon my return, I found out I had severe adrenal fatigue and intolerances to two things that had remained in my diet - Soy and Sugar). Added into the mix was some stress from my relationship - my boyfriend of 6 months was at Burning Man (a festival that takes place in the desert of Nevada) and I hadn’t heard from him for a few days. This was the first time I’d had any real anxiety or doubts about our relationship and I was freaking out, feeling so anxious that I hadn’t heard from him and then feeling anxious about the fact that I was anxious, worried that I was reverting back to the old ways that I thought I’d left behind. I was at a real low point emotionally and physically and I started having panic attacks after a few days in the UK.
I turned to my tried and tested self-care tools for support but I couldn’t bring myself to meditate or do yoga, my brain felt so tired and depleted. Luckily, I found on my Audible app a copy of The Power of Now that I’d never listened to, and in the very early hours of another jet-lagged morning of no sleep, I started to listen to it. It was like magic, as soon as I heard Eckart Tolle’s voice I felt soothed and more myself. I felt stronger emotionally and more able to control my ‘monkey mind’ that had been going from worst case scenario to worst case scenario on a loop. The next day I went for a walk on my own up to the top of Glastonbury Tor, which is a short walk from my sister’s house. I sat at the top and meditated in the sunshine and then walked into town for a tarot reading and a coffee at my favorite coffee shop on the high street. By getting out of my head and stopping the worry-cycle I was in about my boyfriend, my job and a million other things I couldn’t control, I was able to really enjoy the gift I’d been given of time in England with my family. If you are new to the spiritual world (as I was a few years ago) then you may not know Eckhart Tolle could be regarded as the most popular spiritual teacher of our time. This book is one of seven books that Tolle has written and talks about his own battle with depression in his twenties and his realization that he was able to transform his experience using only his mind, which led him to becoming the spiritual author and master that he is known as today.
Key takeaway: (My interpretation)There is no past, no future, only the NOW. Anytime spent worrying or ruminating on the past or the future is wasted, but if we use that energy on the now there is so much joy to be had in every experience. How often are we truly present with the present? When you are feeling anxious, notice where your mind has gone (the future or the past). Bring your mind back to the present and focus on sensations and what is actually around you and in front of you and within you. Most of the time, there is nothing at all to be anxious about in the now and all is well.
Make Peace with Your Mind - Mark Coleman
In 2018 I became a facilitator for a Mindfulness course at my work (Google) called Search Inside Yourself. Upon my graduation from the ‘train the trainer’ course (a two week intensive program), the instructors recommended to me a couple of books around mindfulness and the inner critic, including Make Peace with Your Mind. They said that my homework would be around becoming more aware of the critic that lives in my brain and in that hope that through increased awareness I would eventually be able to learn to silence or reframe the voice of the critic so that it does not have authority over my thoughts or actions.
From talking to others, I think many of us struggle in the same way that I do with self-criticism and the feeling of not being enough. I loved Mark Coleman’s book because it was an easy read and contained practical examples of how the inner critic might be showing up and playing havoc with your life, without you even realizing it! I feel like after reading this book I was much more aware of when my critic was coming out to play and was able to sit with those thoughts with compassion without letting them rule my emotions. This is definitely a book I would read again and one that I’ll keep in my armory if I find myself going through a period of self-critical thoughts.
Key takeaway: Watch where your mind goes after you receive praise. Does your mind immediately go to a more critical thought about yourself? If yes, you aren’t alone, this is the work of the inner critic. Bring awareness to your thoughts and sensations when you are receiving praise and be mindful of the critic creeping in. This blew my mind as after I read this, I noticed myself doing exactly this! I was receiving praise at work about a project, and almost instantly my brain went to another project where I felt like one of the major stakeholders wasn’t happy with the progress. In the moment, I brought awareness to where my mind had gone (to a critical thought) and laughed at myself internally, and with compassion I was able to bring my mind back to the project at hand (the one that I was receiving praise for). I’m not sure I’ll ever get rid of the inner critic entirely but becoming more aware of the way it works has allowed me to create some distance emotionally from those thoughts and in doing so, those critical thoughts seem to hold less power over me.
Liver Rescue - the Medical Medium (Anthony Williams)
Whilst I haven’t read the whole of Liver Rescue yet, I’ve put it on the list because the Medical Medium’s podcasts, blog-posts and books have hugely helped me this year in my struggles with my health. When I was waiting for my test results to try to get some answers to the fatigue and cystic acne that I was dealing with, and even after the results showed that I had adrenal fatigue, candida and severe food intolerances (amongst other things), I was overwhelmed by what I read on the internet as I tried to self-diagnose and self-medicate for my symptoms. I was especially scared by the idea that to get rid of Candida I would have to limit my fruit intake, as I absolutely love fruit and feel so aligned eating it. The Medical Medium (AKA Anthony Williams) is a Spiritual Guide who has a protocol for health for many of the top ailments that people in the western world suffer from today. When I first heard about him I admit I was skeptical - could I really take health advice from someone claiming to get their information from ‘spirit’? But when I dove into his solutions for Acne, Candida and Adrenal fatigue I found that they made a lot of sense to me and were also aligned with the diet I wanted to follow - one high in fruits and vegetables and low in meat/dairy/gluten etc. I followed the Medical Medium protocol (basically fruits and veggies and no or low grains) for a while when I was at my sickest and did find that my skin cleared up a little, but at that point I wanted to move away from restrictive diets as I felt they were not good for my mental health and I was struggling to get enough energy into my body to recover.
The Medical Medium says that cystic acne is actually due to the streptococcus bacteria that many of us pick up in our youth and never fully get rid of. The Strep bacteria feeds off of eggs, dairy, gluten and corn so, according to Anthony, these should be avoided if you are suffering from cystic acne. in my case, my cystic acne was actually being caused by my food intolerances (soy + sugar), but I think for people suffering from cystic acne who do not have intolerances then this could be really interesting information. Now I’ve successfully cut my intolerances from my diet and have restored my adrenals somewhat, I’m back to doing his Celery Juice every morning and eating a 90% plant based diet. I’m pleased to report my skin is SO MUCH better and I’m feeling better in myself with much more vitality and energy. I love seeing the photos of people’s recovery journey on his instagram!
Key takeaway: Celery Juice in the morning on an empty stomach can help kick start the liver and help rejuvenate and repair our bodies!
White Fragility - Robin DiAngelo
I had this book for a few months before I read it as I think subconsciously I thought it would be a depressing or slow read. In actual fact, I read the book in less than a week and I found it incredibly insightful and practical. DiAngelo is a (white, female) American Researcher, Lecturer & Academic who focuses her work on racial and social justice. The book’s subtitle is: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, and DiAngelo explores a number of different mechanisms that white people (myself included) use to avoid the topic of race and contribute to the racism that exists in our society. DiAngelo uses her extensive experience as a trainer on Race and Racism in corporate settings to give real-life examples of ways in which ‘White Fragility’ (and discrimination against black people) shows up in the behavior of white people, even in environments like training programs on the topic of race.
Key takeaway: One of the sections of the book that stood out for me talked about the ‘white woman’s tears’. (In my interpretation) Robin DiAngelo explains in the book how a white woman crying in front of a black woman/person about the injustices of our racist society, only seeks to serve the white woman and is disrespectful to the black person(s) present as it (1) takes attention away from the victim of the injustice and diverts attention back to the white woman and (2) ignores the deep ingrained history of white women inflicting oppression onto black men; where a white woman’s tears often resulted in a black men being killed or put behind bars. This really stayed with me as it was a viewpoint I hadn’t considered before and as an emotional person it’s a situation I could imagine myself being in (being moved to tears in a discussion around injustice, something I care deeply about). I am very grateful to Robin DiAngelo for the perspective I’ve gained from reading the book and I am eager to learn more.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
Although much of my reading this year has been non-fiction, I couldn’t have a book list for 2018 without including a fictional novel! I chose this book because not only did I love it, but also because it was a book that I would never have chosen myself but ended up loving. The Hate U Give is the debut novel from Angie Thomas, an American author who started writing the book as a short story as part of her college final-year program, in 2009 around the time of the police shooting of Oscar Grant (which happened just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, in Oakland). Over the next few years, the book became a novel and was published in 2017. In 2018, the movie adaptation was released and my book club chose The Hate U Give as their book of the month. The Hate U Give is YA (Young Adult) fiction, following Starr Carter, a 16 year old African-American girl who lives between two worlds - her mostly poor, black neighborhood where she grew up with her family and her private, predominantly white and affluent, school. The book centers on the shooting of Starr’s old childhood friend Khalil by a police officer and takes the reader through the events before and after the shooting and the various perspectives and judgements of the diverse people in Starr’s life. I found the characters compelling (especially Starr’s father) and I felt a lot of compassion for Starr’s and Khalil’s family and community as I read about the palpable fear of police brutality that they lived with every day - I cried a lot.
Key Takeaway: I didn’t know that TuPac’s song Thug Life was an acronym for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everything’, so that was definitely a learning for me! Although I hear about police shootings on the news, this book really allowed me to step in the shoes of the victim and those communities in a way that I had never been able to before. Reading this book and looking at my book list (predominantly white authors) has highlighted to me the bias that exists within my own life choices and I am making a conscious effort in 2019 to bring more diverse voices into the podcasts, books, and entertainment I consume so that I can continue to learn and understand more the experiences of others and comprehend my own privilege.