— Kickass Recovery, by Billy Manas (New World Library, 2020)
Reading a book on addiction recovery is not as daunting as recovery itself, but it can be a difficult task for numerous reasons, including how it may bring up painful memories, how the approaches discussed are not compatible with a reader’s lifestyle or values, or simply because no addiction experience is alike.
Billy Manas’ Kickass Recovery avoids some of these landmines by adopting an informal conversational style sprinkled with anecdotes and humor, drawing as much from personal experience as from a wide range of sources. The result is a practical approach to recovery that feels more like listening to a friend pulling for the reader than an author lecturing an audience. This is a “how-to” book instead of a memoir, where Manas breaks down the process of getting back on your feet, nuts and bolts, warts and all.
In this vein, the author proposes a starting point: Name your “why.” That is to say, determine what type of life you want to lead. “You’ve already got well-developed ‘wanting’ muscles; it’s time to put them to use desiring things that make your life better.” These are not esoteric steps in a path to spiritual development but a way to map out a plan and effect concrete change from changing your outlook to increasing your income.
In Manas’ case, the prospect of becoming a father—and the very real fear that if he continued on a self-destructive path, it would eventually estrange him from his child—led him to enroll in truck-driving school and quickly improve his material conditions. Nothing earth shattering, but a big step toward a better life nonetheless.
Rewiring Your Thoughts
Another crucial insight in Manas’ self-improvement is to change your mindset in order to propitiate better circumstances. In other words, “learn to have the gift of gratitude” that will allow you to see the good things in your life in order to create a new reality.
To this effect, Manas looks in every direction for insights. This includes conventional sources like Tony Robbins and his creed of continuous improvement, but also an obscure pamphlet from 1935 called “The Seven-Day Mental Diet” by Irish writer Emmet Fox, which sets out a rigorous plan of not allowing the intrusion of negative thoughts. Manas also finds inspiration in unusual sources such as former boxing heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and his training method of pushing against massive weight every day in order to sculpt his enormous physique. Manas posits that others can do the same in order to stay in “spiritual shape,” and suggests numerous exercises, from reading biographies of inspirational individuals to sleeping and eating well and learning to let go of grudges.
In one of Kickass Recovery’s most introspective passages, Manas recounts how he confronted a predatory law firm that specializes in buying old debt from credit card companies. In the face of intimidation tactics and the might of a firm that had the resources to bully him even if the law was not on its side, he decided to “reclaim my own power to affect situations in my life.” In telling the story of how he prevailed in court, he reflects on how in the past he would have simply bemoaned his victim status and how sobriety gave him a newfound agency.
The old Manas was someone who drove around in an old car “copping methadone” all day and hoping for an effortless cure to his addiction. The new one is “a guy who has thousands of people a month reading” his articles. The process of changing can be grueling, Manas says, but it becomes attainable once you choose what to focus on instead of letting circumstances dictate your life.
— Gonzalo is a writer born in Texas, raised in Chile, and currently living in Shepherdstown. His books have been published in Spain and Chile, and his fiction has appeared in Boulevard, Goliad, and The Texas Review, among others.Review by Gonzalo Baeza