Self-help books for addiction recovery
image from "Accept Love" © 2011 Very Simple Guide by Todd Vogel
ADDICTION BLOG: The photos that accompany the Very Simple Guides are sharp, colorful and often catch a very poignant natural moment. First, why do you photograph nature?
TODD VOGEL: There is so much beauty and wonder in nature – I am constantly fascinated by it. Photographs allow me to capture a bit of it, to hold onto a moment.
I am still confused as to who exactly my higher power is. Not sure of gender or form but certainly an artist, and nature is the works which evidence this.
ADDICTION BLOG: Secondly, how do you approach nature photography? How much preparation (both technical and emotional) is required? And finally, What equipment do you use to produce the images?
TODD VOGEL: It really helps that I live close to nature in the woods of NY state. And my wife is a avid gardener. I try to have my camera close at hand. Beauty is always there and I try to take advantage. For example when the weather forecast is talking about fog in the morning I will often make a point of getting up early because it offers opportunities both with light but also with dew – particularly on spiders webs. I can get carried away with the engineering, the material and the structure both involving calculations which are beyond me and are done by a spider as a matter of course. And then the dew turns it all into something very beautiful.
As for the equipment though I started out with film I have gone digital – I have a “good” camera these days, but much can be done with a fairly simple point and shoot. In fact macros or close-ups from that sort of camera are often very good. To reliably catch birds in flight and other quick events you may need more and better, but not necessarily. As for software I have a lot but for most photos only adjust exposure, contrast and occasionally correct the color. I very rarely do much of what folks call ‘photoshopping.’
ADDICTION BLOG: What tips do you have for people interested in shooting outdoor nature scenes?
TODD VOGEL: First you have to learn to see it. Light coming through objects is a favorite of mine as is early morning or late afternoon light where angles are low and the color is more golden. Take lots of photographs and be happy when you get it right.
At least half the fun is learning about the things you are photographing. At home we have a shelf of field guides including one which purports to have all the bugs found in a garden.
ADDICTION BLOG: OK, Let’s move on to the Very Simple Guides themselves. Who is your ideal audience for Very Simple Guides?
TODD VOGEL: Anyone who tends to complicate things. That includes a lot of people. Most everyone I know. Many of the topics are geared towards people in recovery (from any number of things) but others are suitable for an audience of confused puppies of all breeds.
ADDICTION BLOG: I understand that you are in recovery for addiction yourself. What is the origin and intent of the Very Simple Guides?
TODD VOGEL: We are especially good at complicating things. When in the middle of what I call an emotional hurricane the typical self help book – or even conference approved literature is often far too dense to penetrate the swirling clouds of denial, projection and fear. The format of Very Simple Guides sometimes can get inside and provide a bit of calm. At least that’s my intention. The addiction was only a symptom of a deeper soul sickness, these books try to chip away at some of the falsehoods we have come to believe about ourselves – and to provide a glimpse of a path that does not have to lead over a cliff.
How it happened: So there I was, on a Sunday morning, about twenty years sober, at a meeting in the basement of a nursing home listening to a speaker. Sometimes the message is experience strength and hope, and sometimes folks feel compelled to dump. This was one of the later and it went on for a while. As he was speaking I realized his life really wasn’t all that bad – his glass was maybe 20% empty (this is the 20% that includes not having a Porsche in your garage) and he was focusing on that void. I realized he was making a decision to be unhappy. I went home and wrote about this – calling it Be Happy or Not – Your Choice.
At the time I was getting more involved in photography and for some reason the writing came out more like a poem than the essay I had intended. I decided to add some photos and there it was. As time passed I found I was able to use fewer words and bigger photos and that there seemed to be a nearly endless stream of topics.
I passed some of these early booklets out to friends who were going through this and or that and they reported back that the books were very helpful. I am an addict in so many things – I have written a lot of these – some are admittedly not as good as others. Most are specifically for folks in recovery be it AA, NA, al-anon though I have branched off now and then. Tragic Loss was written for a friend who lost a son to the disease… Being Right was written to keep myself honest.
ADDICTION BLOG: I think the thing that strikes me most about the Very Simple Guides is the inspired wisdom that the words carry. How did (and do) you access these phrases of truths? Do the ideas come to you after preparation, contemplation or from nowhere?
TODD VOGEL: I really don’t know where it comes from. They often flow quite quickly, then get edited. Over time they have gotten a lot less wordy. One of the great advantages of the format is that I do not feel the need to be comprehensive and exhaustive. Instead I try to find a way to ring a bell in the reader and let them take it from there. We are, after all. Intelligent – often too smart for our own good. I do not, by any means, claim to have all the answers. The particular wording is sometimes mine; the concepts are part of our collective wisdom.
ADDICTION BLOG: Some phrases are repeated throughout Very Simple Guides. Why?
TODD VOGEL: As you read the books, you will see I have a fairly rigid format. For example, on the second page I say something like” there is nothing new here, you already know most of it.” This is something of a disclaimer, I have not come up with all of this by myself I am repeating, paraphrasing, and other wise regurgitating what I have heard over the years. One of the wonderful things about the rooms is our collective wisdom and our desire, no, our need – to share it.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you read or use Very Simple Guides yourself? If so, how do they help you?
TODD VOGEL: Writing and editing them is something of a meditation. I have used them with sponsees both open and rolled up.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
TODD VOGEL: The longer I am in recovery the more I am convinced that so may of our problems arise from a warped sense of self. For myself there was a great deal of gentle healing required. Whips and chains were an option I chose not to take. It all comes down to balance and love. I also would welcome your readers to see these books themselves – electronic versions of Very Simple Guides are available at If you have trouble with flash- pdf versions of Very Simple Guides are available as well.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my work.
Photo credit: Todd Vogel