Most books about addiction or chronic pain tend to fall into a different set of two main categories: the self-help, psycho-educational type OR the memoir. You get either the info about recovery with a peppering of personal experience OR you get the gut-wrenching personal experience with helpful resources listed in the back of the book.
Most people travel the path from addiction to recovery to counselor and then tell their story. Dan Mager did it backwards: he was a counselor first—a bona fide licensed clinical social worker—then descended into the hell of addiction and chronic pain, and clawed a path forward to recovery and to a more authentic practice of his clinical skills.
Dan Mager’s Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain is an unexpected, category-busting hybrid of a book. It is a memoir with brains and a self-help book with heart. It is a book about the complex relationship between chronic pain and addiction, the agonizing freefall that comes when chronic pain is both the illness in need of treatment and the agonist of the greedy monster of addiction. In reading Mager’s book, one gets a clear understanding of the charged relationship between the two. For some people, the treatment that brings relief of chronic pain (prescription opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl) also fuels the fire of addiction.
For Dan Mager, the chronic pain condition was severe sciatica that threatened his precarious status as a (relatively) high functioning alcohol and marijuana user. He had settled into this mode after having had a serious problem with harder drugs from early adolescence through his twenties. By the time of his chronic pain diagnosis, he was settled in a (relatively) stable adult life. He was married. He was a father. Even more than that, he was a licensed social worker, the director of clinical services at a large social service agency in Arizona. He helped people with addiction. He supervised addiction counselors. He wrote grants. He was a smart guy. He would have told you that, sure, he enjoyed his pot, his beer, and his wine. But the rough days were in the past; he was “managing” now.
But when he got the results of an MRI that clearly showed serious lumbar issues in his spine, he knew that pain medication was in his future. His response? In his own words, “I vividly remember hearing (the doctor) say the drug dose he was starting me with, and immediately being of two dramatically different minds—one was ecstatic, the other full of trepidation—foremost was, Yeah, baby; bring it on! Followed by, Uh oh, this could be serious trouble.” I urge you to read the book to learn more of how his story unfolds and the rather encouraging path of recovery that he found and is still on.
Mager’s writing is clear and engaging. He has a teacher’s heart, a desire to share information to help others. His down-to-earth, no nonsense style is well-matched with the sophistication and insight he brings as a seasoned mental health professional. His story is at once unique and eminently relatable. Whether you have struggled with addiction and chronic pain yourself—or you have crossed paths with someone who has—you will find a compassionate, intelligent, and inspiring companion in Dan Mager and his work.
Copyright 2013 by Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.