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Words To Live By: Which Books Changed Your Life?

If you’ve been reading this column or my personal blog Sweetney for any length of time, you know that the past few years have been difficult ones for me. Sure, there’s The Topic Which Shall Not Be Named (okay, fine, I’ll say it: my divorce). But I’ve taken some other hard hits and been dealt some additional wounds – things I haven’t really written about before at length, anywhere. Like… Well, like the fact that the husband of someone I once considered one of my closest friends inexplicably turned on me and took it upon himself to wage a campaign of hate and lies against me online for the past couple of years. Yeah, I know. Admittedly, this is an unhinged person who openly confessed to (and later apologized for) trolling one of my group sites during the time his wife wrote for it — in his words, simply “for fun” — going so far as to call all of us, his wife included, racists (his wife is white, he’s African American – needless to say, this probably didn’t make for pleasant dinner conversation between them) (now that’s what I call FUN!). And so yeah, clearly there’s some sort of mental illness that should be taken in account (even if that doesn’t entirely excuse it), but the point is, that kind of betrayal and unprovoked cruelty (for FUN!) — coming during the worst time in my life, and from someone I dearly loved and trusted and called family — is a difficult thing to process and get over. Having multiple losses, multiple betrayals, all happening in your life at once can obviously change you, and that kind of thing doesn’t usually change you for the better. Let’s just say I’ve struggled with A LOT of hurt and anger (is it obvious? Yeeeeah.).

Which is why I’ve been actively looking for comfort and wisdom in book form – something I’ve done in difficult times since I was a child. And I’ve been looking hard and with some urgency, because my gut instinct when faced with this level of hurt and pain (and, at times, outright rage) is to withdraw and become mistrustful in the broadest and most general/all-encompassing way possible. To, as the hyper-paranoid X-Files advised, Trust No One. And man, it’s been hard to not give in to that protective instinct – to not put up walls, shut the world out, and never let anyone get too close again. So to combat that instinctive pull, I’ve been looking for insights from smart people who’ve written about dealing with loss and hurt – people like Brene Brown, whose research on shame and overcoming it is nothing short of epic and life-changing. Her books have helped me begin to process some of what I’ve gone though more than anything else I’ve read, and if you haven’t heard her speak, I can’t recommend the following video to you enough. Take the time to watch, and you’ll become a convert, I swear:

Then, just this past weekend, I read the new book from Augusten Burroughs, This Is How. It too touches on shame (there’s a whole section in his book devoted to the topic called “How To Shatter Shame,”) and about a dozen other topics related to living better, feeling better, and – perhaps most importantly – to not letting others dictate to us how we feel (no matter how much they may want to), which I’ve found incredibly illuminating and instrumentally helpful. So much so, that I’m currently giving away two copies of the book on my site (run don’t walk!).

But I know I’ve just skimmed the tip of the Helpful Books iceberg, and that there must be so much else out there that I should read that I know nothing about. So I’m asking you, in earnest: Which books have helped guide you in your darkest hours? Whose words have helped you get through hard, painful times? What authors have positively impacted how you live, how you relate to other people, how you see yourself and your life? Which books, in essence, changed your life?

I really wanna know. Please share your recommendations in comments!

Read more from Tracey at her personal blog, Sweetney

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More of Tracey on Sweetney & Spice:

- Does Your Marriage Have an Expiration Date?
- What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Divorce
- Do Parents Have the Right to be Happy?

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