3 out of 4 stars
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Stories of substance abuse and recovery are a common topic in memoirs, though many of these can be difficult to read due to the graphic and sometimes shocking nature of the circumstances in which addicts find themselves. Paula Cunningham’s account, Dragonflies... From Broken to Beautiful, does not gloss over the reality of the lows of addiction, yet it remains a relatively easy and uplifting read. Much of the positivity emanating from the book can be attributed to the author’s strong Christian faith, which functions as an undercurrent to her life, and gives her the strength she needs to survive the darkest times.
Paula takes us through her early years, including a fairly normal childhood, followed by her time at college where she met her first husband. As an adult, she takes a teaching position in her town, and a fall on the job results in a prescription for pain medication. Gradually, Paula’s tolerance and dependence on the medication increases, and she finds herself contacting multiple doctors to obtain the pills she craves. Simultaneous to her building addiction Paula experiences increasing problems in her marriage, and as things continue to escalate on both fronts, the marriage eventually comes to an end.
Newly divorced, Paula must face her difficult days on her own, and attempt to maintain some form of stability for the sake of her children. Though she attempts to quit taking pills, mounting life difficulties (like the aftermath of the divorce, and her parents’ failing health) give her plenty of excuses to turn back to the pills as a means to numb and cope. The only other constant and source of strength for her during this time is her relationship with God, and the strength of her faith in prayer. Her account takes us through the twists and turns of her addiction, and her eventual road to recovery.
The format of this memoir resembles that of a Christian testimony, as it tells the story of Paula’s life and her struggle with addiction through the lens of her relationship with God. Though her beliefs were always strong, the relationship takes on a new meaning for Paula when she begins to seek sobriety. For this reason, typical readers of addiction memoirs may find this to be a different read than they are used to. Though the difficulties faced by Paula and her family were undoubtedly heart-wrenching, this story lacked some of the grit and horrors present in many other stories written by former addicts. Other readers who may enjoy this book are those who enjoy reading about others’ faith journeys, or books about overcoming adversity.
Though there was nothing specifically wrong with the book, other than some minor punctuation errors (misplaced commas), I found myself having difficulty connecting with the writing style. The events were described in a very expository manner, which makes sense since the author mentioned the book started as a personal journal, and eventually evolved into a memoir to help others. At times, I found this straight-to-the-point linguistic format overly simplistic, and even slightly pedantic. As the author described her realizations and lessons learned, I perceived the language as bordering on defensive (when it came to her own actions) and preachy (when it took the format of advice given to the reader). It was difficult for me to see past these impressions when reading her account of the incidents that occurred, and that dampened my enjoyment of the book. For this reason, I have decided a rating of 3 out of 4 stars is appropriate. Despite its imperfections, this is a book filled with important lessons and examples of the crucial role faith plays in helping us meet our goals.
Dragonflies... From Broken to Beautiful
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