Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Prince.

Prince

I’ve been waiting to comment about Prince, because the tox screens aren’t yet in.

It’s not like it was with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead with the rig still in his arm and drugs all over the house.

But today the New York Times is running a front-page feature about Prince’s apparent addiction to painkillers. Associates have been saying since the day he died that he’d had hip surgery because of his acrobatic performances onstage, in high heels.

princesplits_1bi2hnl-1bi2hnq

Prince was a short guy—five-feet-two. He was slim and lithe, and he spent decades bounding onstage with guitars strapped around his torso. Guitars are basically pieces of solid hardwood. They’re heavy, man.

prince-guitar

And the high heels—they look awesome, but they hurt the whole body, not just the feet.

prince-high-heels

In the years I’ve been running this blog, I’ve heard from so many people who became addicted to painkillers because they felt the need to push themselves past the limits of their bodies. Speaking for myself, I sought treatment for two painful neurological conditions in the early 2000s, when OxyContin was being jammed onto the medical market. I was assured by high-level pain experts that there was little risk of my becoming addicted because I had “legitimate pain,” but within a couple of years I was being prescribed massive doses of fentanyl, and I was abusing it.

Not many people make it off fentanyl alive.

I’m able to manage my pain without dependency producing drugs, because I have learned to work within my limitations. It has been a frustrating and humbling experience. My constant pain reminds me every day that I have to take care of myself in ways that are different from what I learned as a kid, and also ways that are different from what the culture would have me do—which is take drugs.

When the CDC last month issued new guidelines for opioid prescribing, Center for Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden M.D. noted in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Initiation of treatment with opioids is a momentous decision and should be undertaken only with full understanding by both the physician and the patient of the substantial risks involved.”

Drugs are not inherently evil, but they carry particular dangers. We live in a culture in which these very powerful chemicals are prescribed by doctors, many of whom do not understand their powers. And that ignorance is then passed to patients, who then learn not to respect the powers of the chemicals.

In Prince’s case we still do not know the autopsy findings, but reports from associates serve to remind the public of the importance of considering one’s penchant for using substances to drive oneself past one’s own limits. The artist formerly and belovedly known as Prince was a true original—as a friend of mine put it, “his own freak.” He was also a human being and a businessman, and he wanted to keep doing what he was doing despite the limits of age and physical injury. Unfortunately the human animal is not built to jump off stage risers in high heels for more than three decades without sustaining chronic injury. However artistically independent Prince was, a little humility is called for to accept the limitations of the human body and mind.

I’ve always found it pretty ironic that when Pink Floyd was writing their song “Comfortably Numb,” the working title was “The Doctor.”

Come on, now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well, I can ease your pain
And get you on your feet again …

Can you stand up?
I do believe it’s working good
That’ll keep you going through the show
Come on, it’s time to go

Prince-1

 

Sex in Recovery: Making Breasts Legal.

venusdemilo

The Venus de Milo. Greece, 100. B.C.E.

Several young people in recovery who I know have been putting up seriously badass feminist posts on Facebook. One such post—a story about how it’s legal in our state to go topless—was removed by Facebook. Maybe some jerkwad decided to flag it as obscene. Maybe the flagger felt intimidated by the photo on the story that showed actual female breasts (four of them, if I remember rightly).

Or else, Facebook’s algorithms trawled through and caught the post because it had tits in it. And the poster was banned from the platform for 24 hours.

It ought to be legal to show breasts in public. We ought to be able to look at breasts and think “sexual” or “womanly” without thinking “porn.”

A while ago I wrote a biography of a breast-cancer patient who had a double mastectomy at age 30 and you know what?—the local paper could run a photo of her naked torso AFTER surgery because it was a family newspaper and there was nothing recognizable as breasts in the photo. Editors are running businesses so they have to meet their readers’ needs, but it’s just too bad that American readers feel safer looking at the scars and mutilation caused by treatment of disease than at a healthy female body.

Having researched this book about sexuality and recovery that’s coming out in a few months (please stay tuned), it’s clearer to me than ever that our culture is bound by insane moral judgments about sexuality that distort people’s sexual response, leading to abuse of substances and, worse, of women and children (by both men and women). The young women I know have such badass courage to be posting the feminist stuff that they’ve been posting recently! They have my admiration.

I feel strongly about making human bodies legal. So ladies, when it gets warm, let’s go down by the river and take off our shirts. Feeling safe and accepted inside our bodies is, by the way, the best way to overcome trauma and to avoid relapse.

And here are all the places in the U.S. where you can Go Topless.

topless_map_with_MX_clean_1

Report From The Body: Venus de Milo.

When I was a kid I used to pore through my mother’s art books she’d bought for the one term she’d spent as a fine art student at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University. On the bookshelf behind the end table next to the chair lived a red cloth-bound art-history volume that had black-and-white reproductions of great works of art throughout Western European civilization. Because at this time, African and Native American and “oriental” art didn’t count.

Of all the photos I pored over—even more than Michelangelo’s David (which I’m not sure was represented in its entirety, I think they must have cropped the photo at the waist, the way CBS cropped Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show) I think I most closely studied the Venus de Milo.

Venus-de-Milo

At 10 or 11 I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I didn’t understand that all cultures formulate their ideas of beauty. I didn’t even half-comprehend the irony that as I was studying this photo, my own culture was coming up with these images of sexual beauty:

farrah-fawcett-pinup Bo-Derek

And then Karen Carpenter starved herself to death, and the first stories about anorexia started appearing in the Time Magazines that used to come to the house.

Now, I understand, YouTube has videos giving instructions to girls and women about how to do it well. That is, how to starve yourself.

//

I found this amazing shot of the Venus de Milo today.

venusdemilo

At 10 or 11 I didn’t understand how to look at this sculpture, but today here’s what I notice from this shot: Aphrodite has abs. Her strength shows. And she has quite a nice bit of padding underneath her skin. Her belly looks like mine (or, my belly looks like hers).

She’s well-fed. She’s fit. She would not fit into a Size 2, or even into a size 6.

She doesn’t have cleavage. Her collarbones aren’t sticking out.

Her posture is upright. She’s confident. (She’s a goddess, right? But still.)

And her face. Her gaze isn’t seductive. She’s not thinking about what other people think about how she looks.

She’s not trying to sell herself to any bidder. She’s occupying her own body.

//

The other day my friend Noah, who has 20-some years sober, said to me that he’d been living in his head. “I’m way up in my head these days,” is the way he put it, and he sounded trapped.

“Can you get down into your body?” I blurted, only half-knowing what I was asking.

He fastened his blue eyes on my face. “I don’t know what that means,” he said, surprised, thinking.

When do you live in your head? When do you live in your body? 

(Originally published August 30, 2013.)

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Toward A Healthy Sexuality In Recovery.

spotlight-2015-directed-by-tom-mccarthy-movie-review

I watched Spotlight last night and it had a profound effect on me, not just as a writer whose background and first awards were in print journalism, but also as a woman raised in a strict Catholic family in which sex, sexuality, and people who were sexual were judged sinful and evil.

One of the sanest voices in the film is Richard Sipe, a guy who abandoned the priesthood and now works as a therapist and researcher (and it’s always noted that he married a former nun!!). Before the Globe team ever put together the story that broke the Boston Catholic child-sex-abuse scandal, Sipe wrote a rather obscure academic study called Sex, Priests, and Power. It confirms ideas that have been living inside me for decades in an inchoate way, I think because my upbringing put such a stringent prohibition on sex and sexual enjoyment. I’ve simply doubted my ideas and my ability to think them through. Sipe writes:

Sex, pleasure, sin, and women were [in the fourth century] woven into a theological equation that solidified the celibate/sexual structure of the Roman Catholic Church and influence every aspect of its development. Power was consolidated in sexual terms. That structure is crumbling under the weight of its own hypertrophy, if not corruption. . . . The sexual behavior of priests must be understood against the clear and unbending sexual moral doctrine of Catholic Christianity, namely: Every sexual thought, word, desire, and action outside marriage is mortally sinful. Every sexual act within marriage not open to conception is mortally sinful. Sexual misbehavior constitutes grave matter in every instance [emphasis his]. No other area of moral life, including murder, is treated with this same moral rigidity. The majority of Catholics simply do not believe this teaching, nor do they think that natural law [meaning science] supports it.

So the prohibitions on sex were at the very heart of the way this religion developed from the start.

My parents, each of whom had themselves considered taking clerical vows before they met each other, were not among this majority who Sipe says do not buy catholicism’s sexual strictures. They promulgated them in their own family. I was the eldest and expected to be an example for the younger two, especially my sister. When my parents discovered that I was having sex, they disowned me in a five-hour Spanish-Inquisition-style interview at their kitchen table. No thumbscrews or rack, but because I refused to say I thought I was evil just because I was having sex, they told me never to come home again for help. Expelled. I was 23—a grown woman.

And I’d already been drinking for five years. I had my first drink, not coincidentally, the night I had my first sexual encounter. Dude just wanted to make out with me. No taking my clothes off, nothing, but still, I wasn’t so sure. I was nervous (no kidding!!), and I didn’t know how to negotiate that stress, so I drank his gin.

The fact about this extreme response that supports Sipe’s ideas is this: four months before my parents issued this edict, I had crashed my car in a blackout. I realize now that because my dad drank enormous amounts, they could hardly disown me for that behavior. Not much would have driven them to this extreme.

But sex sure did.

I was never raped. Thank goodness. (So many women and girls have been. And so many boys.) But my parents’ expulsion of me hurt me deeply. I’ve worked for years on forgiving them because I no longer want to be trapped by my anger.

//

Sex In Recovery revised 2c

My new book is part of that work of forgiveness.

For the past year I’ve been interviewing people in recovery from addiction about their sexual histories for a book that will be published this fall. Exactly zero people have turned me down for interviews for this very intimate and anonymous look into how we negotiate sex after we no longer have drugs to control our fear and shame about it.

I’m so grateful to my sources. Their stories are amazing.

Many of the people I’ve interviewed across the country have been not just physically abused, but also sexually abused. As adults, and many as children. Believe me, I did not choose them for this characteristic. I just started talking with them, and out it came:

My uncle had sex with me from the age of 8 to 13.

My stepfather used to take my clothes off and put his hands on my genitals. I think my mother knew.

My neighbor, after school, would force me into his basement make me go down on him.

It wasn’t everybody. The studies say upwards of 50 percent of women (maybe more) and about 20 percent of men in recovery have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Stephanie Covington, who conducted some of the groundbreaking research on women and sexual abuse in recovery, found 75 percent of women recovering from addiction have survived sexual abuse of some kind. Self-reports of sexual trauma are usually considered to be low.

This means that at any given recovery meeting anywhere, in any modality (12-step, SMART, LifeRing, Women in Sobriety, Hip Sobriety, or just your morning coffee klatch), most of the people around you have experienced sexual abuse.

I mean, what the fuck, man. It haunts me. Listening to these stories has changed me.

It doesn’t matter whether kids grow up catholic or protestant; Sipe writes. If it’s christian, it’s fucked up around sex. And this country is largely christian.

In 2,000 years no Christian church has developed an adequate theology of sexuality—that is, no one has worked out an overarching, comprehensive, and integrative understanding of the nature and place of sexuality within the scheme of salvation and theological system [emphasis mine]. . . . Practical reality, scientific development, and spiritual awareness of the origins and meanings of sexuality, life, and love expose the inadequacy of the system to sustain its own stated goals.

A lot of us parents are not physically or sexually abusing our kids. But we’re definitely not talking to them about sexuality, either. Clearly Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug-use slogan “Just Say No” (which is NOT what abstinence-based recovery systems are about, btw—they’re about working out this understanding of the nature and place of sexuality) came from christianity.

//

What’s so amazing about the people I’ve interviewed is that recovery has enabled them not only to quit drinking and using but also, in great measure, to heal from the super-bad shit that was foisted on them. To the last one, they said they talked with me so they could help other people know that this healing was possible.

My book is called Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers. It’s structured like a recovery meeting. There are about a dozen speakers and topics. The book is designed to:

  • help people who don’t know how to talk about their sexual conflicts and pleasures to begin to find language for them
  • give people a sense of the breadth of sexual experience—before, during, and after active addiction—among people in recovery
  • provide a tool that can be used to suggest topics in meetings, and to begin to talk with therapists, sponsors, friends, and family
  • show that sexuality and pleasure are normal, natural, joyful, superfun and awesome parts of a whole life

Most of all I hope it makes people understand none of us is alone. None of us has to think we’re looking at friends who have secretly figured everything out, while we ourselves have a super-fucked-up sex life. We also don’t have to feel forced to shut up about our healing when sharing would be so helpful.

None of us has to keep up a deadly silence.

Stay tuned! If you want to know more, leave a comment or email me.

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The Narcan Is Working, But The Dealers Aren’t.

So it’s not clear exactly how many have died, but one report says “several” Western Pennsylvania people have died of overdoses of heroin in bags stamped “Piece of Mind.”

Narcan has saved at least another 15. Which, it’s about time Narcan is out there. It should be as easily available as condoms, IMO.

As in any story, I like to read the social media comments sections. One woman wrote,

Any person that could hand over these drugs to make a dollar should be dead themselves.

I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m recovering from addiction. What I talk less often about, because it’s not my life, is the fact that I come from a family pretty full of people with addiction. A few of us are in recovery. But a bunch of us are dead.

Here are the Pennsylvania people arrested so far.

heroindealers

They remind me of some of my cousins. When those cousins were still alive, of course. When they were alive, they were tricking, stealing, and also selling drugs.

You think people start out at 8 or 10 dreaming of looking like these dealers by 28 or 30—unhealthy, hard, haunted?

The reader writes,

Too many kids losing their lives. Too many kids losing their parents. How can we put a stop to this… I don’t care.. You get caught putting this on the street you need to be in jail for the rest of your life. Period.

Interesting.

You think all drug dealers aren’t parents?

You read the word “drug-dealer” and you think “kingpin”? As a friend pointed out to me, these are not the Drug Dealers who the DEA ought to be going after. These are the street-level folks who are basically heroin users selling a few bags on the side. Their main problem is addiction. “They are tortured souls,” my friend said. And they need treatment and a hell of a lot of support.

You think there are no people with addiction who are so sick they shoot up in front of their kids, teaching them how to do the same?

Putting a drug dealer away for life is depriving another kid of his or her parent. You may argue that the drug-dealer deserves it, but does the kid? Research shows that kids who grow up with incarcerated parents are more likely to become just like those parents, and/or to develop other serious health and social problems. These people in the mug shots probably grew up with parents who were mentally ill, addicted, incarcerated. The cycle repeats, unless we a a society stop it. We need to figure out a better solution than just killing them or sticking them in prison.

She writes,

I can’t believe what society has came too

Well, hon, I can’t believe what society has came too, neither. What it has come to, according to you, is this: we should imprison for life people who straight-up sell heroin, but we should let off scott-free people who trick others into signing bad mortgages and deprive them of their life savings and blow the bottom out of the economy and cause the largest recession since 1929.

Also, what it has come to is this: we are finally admitting addiction is not just a low-class black-folks and white-trash problem. It’s not just in Washington and Johnstown. It’s in Pittsburgh. And in Pittsburgh it’s not just in Homewood and the Hill anymore. Although when it was, not too many people cared: another reader wrote,

They don’t make a big deal when it happen in North Philly. Y do they care when it happen in West Pa?

It’s in white upper-middle-class Upper St. Clair, too.

And even if you grow up white and “privileged” and go to college, you’re looking at a shitload of debt and a shrinking job-market for anyone not doing software or drone development. SUPER good times, this economy. It SUCKS, and the 1 percent is overjoyed because a lot of the 99 percent is so hoodwinked about the situation that they either don’t bother to vote or, if they vote, they actually support the people who are enacting policies that enable the yawning class gap.

The Narcan is working, but a lot of people in this society are not. And as Gabor Maté, Johann Hari, and a number of other people writing about addiction have pointed out, we don’t just need to detox “junkies” and send them on their ways—or even to put them on maintenance drugs—to solve the problem. We need to create a society where they actually have a chance of doing productive work for a living wage that pays for both their student loans and a place where they can keep their heads out of the rain.

Otherwise, cutting, bagging, stamping, and selling dope looks like a pretty damn good way of making a buck.

//

Richard Pryor: “They call it a ‘epidemic’ now. That means white folks are doin it.”

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