Book Review

July 6, 2011
Dan Farish writes just as though he were talking to you. Sometimes he leans forward, takes hold of your arm, and looks you in the eye. That kind of writing makes 3 Steps to Recovery engage the reader from the painful workings of Farish’s dysfunctional childhood family through the depths of a life wrecked by alcohol to the struggle of climbing out of the darkness.

It is commonly believed that there is a genetic predisposition to addiction. Perhaps so, but this book makes a compelling case for childhood abuse sending someone into the entrapping arms of substance abuse. That path is clearly illustrated by the emotional wounding of a difficult childhood setting the table for the emotional numbing of alcoholism.

Either a person has experienced chemical dependency or one hasn’t. For those of us who haven’t, 3 Steps to Recovery is an autobiography that explains in vivid detail how a life can spiral down into the hopelessness of alcoholism. It would be hard to read this book without empathizing with Farish’s journey. Much of that journey involves the experience of treatment. Typical treatment for a variety of addictions involves some form of the original 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA has helped countless people get their lives back from alcohol but some versions of the program seem to present even more obstacles for someone with a drinking problem to overcome.

The experience Dan Farish had with treatment led him to distill the program down to three steps that were most important to his recovery. For those who have little patience with confessional programs and manipulative program leaders, 3 Steps to Recovery cuts to the chase. One of the criticisms often leveled at AA is the quasi-religious aspect of the organization. Farish freely acknowledges the spiritual component of recovery and illustrates it in a most convincing way.

The measure of success for any treatment program is the quality of life for those who have gone through it. Although his path following treatment wasn’t always smooth, Farish’s life subsequent to treatment is a testament to the effectiveness of his approach. 3 Steps to Recovery is easy to read and hard to put down. I believe it can show the way to a restored life for many. Enthusiastically recommended to those with an addiction, to those affected by someone with an addiction, and to those who simply want to have have a better understanding of what it’s like to become an alcoholic and to recover from it.

Three Steps to Recovery book review -

I first became aware of Dan Farish after returning from a trip to London. I’d designed an on-line writing course and discovered a new student had enrolled during my absence. The course offered to teach people how to write a non-fiction book and Dan was keen to write one.

Initially, he wanted to write a self-help book showing readers how to overcome addiction, based on his own experience as an addict. In essence, he has distilled the essence of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step program down to its most useful parts. I felt that the book he proposed would be difficult to pull off. Would he, for instance, have enough material to write more than a pamphlet and had his methods been tested on anyone else? It concerned me that there was a danger that it could be little more than a rant against A.A., which to my mind is a well-meaning organization with good and bad points and clearly helps some, if not all recovering alcoholics. 

By this time, I had also become aware of Dan’s twenty-year struggle with substance abuse and learned of his metamorphosis from a full-blown alcoholic to a normal “take it or leave it” social drinker. Conventional wisdom, not just in A.A., but also in healthcare substance abuse circles, suggests that this shouldn’t happen. Most addiction recovery experts believe that the only hope for alcoholics is to give up booze and forever abstain at all costs, as any future contact with alcohol would push the former drinker to an unhealthy dependency on the bottle.  

Some might argue that Dan Farish wasn’t a true alcoholic and that what he experienced was a phase; an extended rite of passage that he eventually outgrew. That somehow he had matured and put his past excesses behind him. My own experience of working with numerous alcoholics during a 25 period as a psychiatric nurse suggests that Dan had, indeed, been an alcoholic, but something had happened to change him.

I suggested that instead of writing a self-help book, Dan write a memoir that tracked his early life, his drinking years and what has happened since - and that the second part of the book consist of the life-changing steps he had learned, so others could benefit from his experiences.

The draft of Dan’s first chapter was pretty good. I could see ways of improving the flow and suggested some minor changes, but from then onwards my role changed from writing tutor to cheerleader. As you will discover when you start reading Three Steps to Recovery, Dan is a brilliant and witty narrator who has a wonderful way with words, original metaphors and an eye for detail.  More importantly, he tells a great story that is at once harrowing, humorous and hopeful.  

This book is hard to put down and is the best sort of page-turner, giving you an insight into a dysfunctional American family, Boston’s drinking culture, and Dan’s journey to sobriety. But the second part of the book is equally fascinating, which forces the reader contemplate Dan’s assertion that he had a spiritual experience – an experience that cured a twenty-year addiction and turned his life around.  People with a scientific background are likely to be skeptical, as there isn’t a logical, scientific explanation for Dan’s life-changing experience. Then again, science still hasn’t found the answers to many of life’s mysteries.

Desperate people often turn to God or a higher power during acute crisis, and many claim their pleas have been rewarded with a positive response, providing them with strength and resolve they didn’t have before.  This might be hard to understand for those who have never felt the need to ask for this kind of help, but should any of us reject this approach out of hand?

Addictions of all types are notoriously difficult to treat. Alcohol or other substances become a seductive mistress to those held captive in its embrace.  Common sense, counsel, reason and the best intentions can be blown away in an instant and cause an addict to relapse. There are different types of treatment options available and each has its pros and cons. What might work for one addict might not work for others. As Dan mentions in his book, the approach being offered here may not suit everyone. But it might, just might, be the treatment of choice for addicts who have tried other therapies that didn’t work for them.

Dan has recently trained to become an addiction recovery coach and is currently in the process of taking on the sort of alcoholics that some addiction counselors consider to be beyond help. I wish him well and know he will change many lives for the better.

Alcohol abuse is the curse of our age. It plays a huge part in the breakdown of family life and it is behind many, if not most, violent incidents and is a contributing factor in many fatal traffic accidents. Any approach that complements existing addiction treatment services should be taken seriously. The 3 Steps to Recovery that worked so successfully for Dan Farish might just work for you or someone you love.

Peter Cross
Auckland, New Zealand

Peter Cross is a writing tutor, former publishing editor, and a six time published author currently working and living in New Zealand. To learn more about Peter, please visit