I rarely review fiction as it doesn’t usually fit in the sport psychology genre. However, athletes struggle with mental health issues just as much as the rest of us so to find books that accurately describe psychological issues, portray and discuss them in a way that can help build understanding and show those struggling with issues they are not alone can be really beneficial.

I am also increasingly on the lookout for fiction that can resonate in a way non-fiction isn’t designed for. I am regularly asked by parents of junior athletes if there is any fiction that would help their children grow their understanding of positive sporting behaviours, knowing they would find it easier or more engaging to read. If I had the skills to do it I would love to write fiction. The author that nails a story about a teenage footballer who learns how to handle the pressure of expectation and desperation to succeed will have a bestseller on their hands.

When I heard about Lucy Nichol’s book Parklife I was fascinated by how the theme of addiction would be covered within the fiction genre. With her background in mental health and addiction services she clearly has a deep understanding of the issues and  evidence and knowledge to bring to this topic – and she does so without sugar coating the bad stuff but by still showing there I hope.

The story focuses on Emma, a 28 year old with trauma in her past whose drinking and prescription drug taking has gradually crept up until everyone around her sees she is addicted. She takes a while longer to accept this.

One of the themes I really love if just how ingrained drinking is within much of the British culture – what do you do without it? How do you still have ‘fun’?  It means that addiction can be easily covered up, until the rock bottom moments when it can’t. I don’t usually work with clients with alcohol addiction but often do support those with exercise addiction and see similarities where we can hide what we do in plain sight – until we realise the extremes we have reached are harming us mentally and physically.   

Another theme I loved was the importance of support. A psychological characteristic I see as super important to our success is a sense of belonging (so important it was the first chapter in my new book) and addiction is often considered to be born of disconnection and a craving to belong. One of the strongest ways out of it is to build new connections and a sense of belonging with others. This is one of the reasons groups like AA following the 12 steps are so valuable – and Nichols highlights the benefits of these meetings for Emma within the book. Nichols also regularly reminds us that Emma has her best friend, her dad, her landlady and others on her side. This support is vital.

The other theme I enjoyed was the examination of the process of recovery and how vulnerability and talking was such a key part of that. There were some lovely quotes:

  • “Addiction. It doesn’t want you to talk about it – it wants you to stay unwell.”
  • “You’ll soon find talking becomes therapeutic- like shaking a rug out in the street.”
  • ”Talking will keep you well. Secrets will keep you sick.”

All of these feel like sage advice that goes far wider than addiction.

Finally, there is a lovely section where the protagonist is asked to think about ‘why’ she drinks rather than about what she does. It reminds me so much of the need in many parts of life that when we are struggling remembering why we want something is so much more motivation than focusing on the ‘what we do’.  In Emma’s case focusing on why she is drinking and drug taking, on the thoughts she is trying to avoid and the escape she is craving is what will get her back on track, come back after setbacks (and Nichols makes it clear there are usually setbacks in recovery) and see her making a sober life for herself.

Parklife is a great book to see the nuances behind addiction, a reminder that we should never judge a person from the first impressions and that we all need to feel we belong. It can be found on Amazon and where-ever else you buy your books.