At the new specialty bookstore in Wheaton, customers are bombarded with all kinds of positive thoughts.

There are books for fighting depression and drug abuse, sex addiction and shopping too much. There are magnets with messages, bumper stickers with bromides, and cards that congratulate the recipient on three months of staying sober.

And for those moments when life seems overwhelming, the store's line of palm-sized "positive-affirmation cards" could prove bracing. "I now take charge of my emotions and my life," said one. " . . . I love me."

Miracles Recovery Books & Gifts is the region's first entry in the growing field of bookstores devoted totally to people who are trying to solve their problems. Or, as the now-popular phrase goes, "people who are in recovery."

Christy Gitlin and Nancy Levine, owners of the store on Triangle Lane near Wheaton Plaza, said they decided to open the business after they had trouble finding suitable cards or gifts "for friends of ours who were in recovery," Gitlin said.

"It's hard to get congratulation cards," added Levine, "when most of them seem to have a champagne glass on them."

In the past two years, there has been an explosion of recovery-oriented bookstores in New York and on the West Coast, filling a special need as more people come to terms with alcohol or drug addiction, grief and loss, cancer or compulsive behavior.

According to the recently organized Recovery Store Network, there are more than 200 such stores in the United States today, up more than 50 percent in one year.

In New York City alone, 15 new recovery-oriented stores have recently opened, offering everything from stuffed bears that recite Alcoholics Anonymous slogans to T-shirts with the message, "My mother was the travel agent for guilt trips."

At those stores, and at Miracles, the emphasis is on making the customer feel at ease in browsing for books on such forbidding subjects as "Adult Children of Alcoholics," or "Surviving With Serenity -- Daily Meditations for Incest Survivors."

"People want to feel safe in a store like this," said Levine, who previously ran a small bookkeeping firm.

"People you don't know will tell you their deepest secrets," added Gitlin, a former nursing assistant.

But a sign atop a shelf at the Wheaton store stresses the importance of anonymity. "Who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here, but . . . please keep coming back," the sign says.

At a cursory glance, the interior of Miracles bookstore is like any new specialty shop with bookshelves along one wall and card displays on another. But a closer look shows the difference: These books have titles such as "The Doormat Syndrome" and "Fat Is a Family Affair."

These bookmarks remind the reader that "There is no growth without pain."

These bumper stickers tell other vehicles that "You are following a miracle."

To less determined souls, it might seem a little depressing to work in a store that deals strictly with the problems of life, but Gitlin and Levine don't see it that way.

"It's not so much where people have been as where they are going to go," Gitlin said. "I find the environment really positive. I can wake up in a lousy mood and come in here and feel great."