Creatures of Habit: A User's Guide to Recovery
by Shane Liston
Page Publishing

"…I just want you to know you are not alone. I also want to let you know there is hope."

There is a sobering candor to Liston's book, allowing the reader to fully appreciate the arduous path out of despair and to recovery. Liston himself is a chief example of how one ends up on the dark road of dependency. His is a story of heartbreaking revelations and redemption. It celebrates the human spirit and proclaims what we can all achieve for ourselves.

Liston begins with a boyhood "in the arid southwest" among "white trash" that is unfavorable and rife with pain. He bears his father's abuse and fends against equally abusive bullies at school. These ordeals toughen him, yes, but they also leave him vulnerable to escalating violence, depression, and addiction. By eighth grade, Liston is already smoking, drinking vodka, and stealing. And while he seeks his mother's love and protection, he fails to shield her from his father's wrath.

Later, Liston is sent to live with Mormons, where he welcomes a new independence. Even there, he encounters bullies and unwanted expectations. When he befriends Matthew, he is led astray by temptations with drugs and sex. But this respite is disrupted by the sudden reappearance of his father, who drags a reluctant Liston home. Once again, he yields to the "black hole" of drugs and depression.

It isn't until he meets Sarah and joins the Army that Liston experiences a period of happiness and health. The birth of his son gives him new meaning. Regrettably, further loss lures Liston toward temptation again, where he nearly loses everything, including his own life. A friend's drug overdose evokes Liston's self-reflection regarding his second chance and finally prompts his vow to live a good life.

This is a brutally honest and heart-rending book that is part memoir, part self-help. Framed around a recurring dream of an eagle in flight, there is an instant ease to Liston's narrative that's infused with humor, drama, and joy. He contemplates the realities and repercussions of his long-term drug use and explores the traumatic memories of his family. He regards profound losses that continually afflict him.

Structurally, Liston's book is straightforward and matter-of-fact. It's broken into two parts, with the first, which reads as a compelling memoir, arguably being the better half. The author imparts life lessons in the second half, devoting his time to laying out certain steps one can follow for living well and ideals to aspire to. While there are spiritual elements to Liston's reflection plan, it is not the primary focus. Even he admits his complex relationship with God. The second half feels somewhat disconnected from the first, based purely on the singular strength of the first. Nevertheless, the second half serves Liston's purpose and serves it well. Additionally, each chapter is prefaced with song lyrics, their words holding a particular significance for Liston and relating to events occurring within the chapter. One will recognize and enjoy the nostalgic references to these lyrics.

What Liston does best with his book is ponder deep questions, considering our purpose as humans and our place in the natural world. He aptly combines punishing truths with statistics and facts. One learns the unfortunate number of spouses and children abused every day in the United States alone. However, beyond the depressing nature of Liston's history and struggle with addiction is the overarching message of hope. This is a book primarily written for addicts by a recovering addict. Liston understands the mental and physical anguish of addiction. And he knows the willpower it takes to achieve rehabilitation. His book is a call to action for his "brothers and sisters on this path," but anyone can benefit from his words. In challenging times, Liston offers kindness, love, and understanding in the simplest, most honest way he can. He asks us to listen to one another and see how connected we are. His voice is a rare and refreshing one, and his story will resonate with readers long after the last page is turned.

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