Heroes and Heroines in Recovery

For years I noticed that alcoholism is a common theme in romance, and in all fiction. But nine times out of ten, the alcoholic or addicted character is the antagonist. She’s the awful mom or the deadbeat dad. Or the violet ex.

To be fair, alcoholism is often an antagonist in real people’s lives. All clichés come from a place of truth. And there’s a reason that making “direct amends” is Step 9 in traditional twelve step programs.

But many who are struggling with addiction will make great strides and live beautiful lives. And the romance genre is for everyone, right? Diversity in romance can mean many things.

These past few years I’ve had a particular interest in characters in recovery. I began with Jude’s opioid addiction in Steadfast (True North #2.) It was one of the heavier research challenges I’ve taken. That book came out in 2016, but every day Jude is waving at me from the newspaper headlines. That story is still whispering in my ear. (Jude’s Suboxone prescription is getting a lot of positive media attention lately, too.)

But then I surprised myself by giving May Shipley a drinking problem in that same series. Thus Speakeasy (True North #5) is also an addiction story—but completely different in tone and weight. May’s alcoholism doesn’t define her, even if it gives her story grist.

When I write characters with diverse challenges, my first goal is always storytelling. I don’t feel qualified to educate on the subject, and I never set out to school readers. And yet, while addiction is not the sunniest topic, it absolutely gives the character a unique perspective. And that’s pure gold for storytelling. Give me a character with a unique challenge and a sideways view of the world, and I’ll give you a hero/heroine you haven’t read before.

The upshot is that I’m tuned in to addicted main characters now. There aren’t too many. (Or maybe I’ve missed them!) The ones I’ve mentioned here have two things in common.

  • The addiction story isn’t glamorized, or used for shock value.

  • There’s no “love heals” solution to the addiction. (That’s cheating!) Recovery—like writing good endings—is hard work.

So here’s three that I love! Roan Parrish does a great job with exploring the recovering character’s life choices in Riven. He’s in a rut because his musical career was so tied to his drug habit. And he doesn’t see how to have one without the other. It’s a great read.

The Emmy Abrahamson book, “How to Fall In Love With a Man Who Lives In a Bush,” is actually semi-autobiographical. This is an author I met on a business trip to Berlin. She met her alcoholic husband when he was living in a park in Vienna. Fascinating love story! It’s been translated into a gazillion languages.

And I loved the way that Lisa Kleypas handled alcoholism in Again the Magic. Well, fine, I loved everything about this book. There are actually two romances in it. The secondary story is for Livia and Gideon. Gideon is absolutely an alcoholic when the book opens. And ultimately Livia shows him that they can’t be together unless he can find his way out of the bottle. Kleypas doesn’t use modern addiction or recovery language (because that wouldn’t make sense) yet she still delivers a credible story of an addict who does the hard work of recovery.

Click on any cover to see the Amazon listing.