Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Am I Really Clean and Sober?

A reader wrote in a comment yesterday,

My 31-year-old heroin-addict daughter has now been clean and sober for 6 months—today! It’s a bloody miracle. She smokes, and it kills me to see her slowly killing herself every day. Yet—she’s not shooting up or smoking crack. In fact, she has started exercising again and is almost fanatic about getting her daily workout in at the gym. And, she’s constantly eating—especially candy. … I know all these things are filling up the addiction hole—so, is she really in recovery? Just wondering.

Congratulations to your daughter on six months free of heroin and crack. Yesssss.

SmokingFirst, about smoking: I’m rabid about it because I watched my mother lose her life in a nasty death to lung cancer. You’d have thought it would have gotten her by attacking her lungs, but no: in the end it attacked her brain, and she lost her mind. She was a prodigiously intelligent woman, and it took away the strength she valued most. Classic. … People smoke without really believing it’ll kill them. Or they think it might kill them but they do it anyway. My sister and I used to talk about how, in the year or so after our mother’s death, we wanted to approach every smoker we saw on the street and beg them to stop. So ya mon, I use this blog to preach against the perils of nicotine. It IS a drug.

Second, to the question of whether your daughter is “really” in recovery: a question each of us answers for ourselves…

I’ve had friends who got free of heroin, alcohol, crack, kratom, bupe, oxy/roxy/fentanyl/you-name-it, and saved their lives, and who then discovered, in the process of discernment and gaining greater spiritual clarity, that they needed to stop other chemicals or compulsive behaviors. Friends have stopped smoking, stopped eating or throwing up compulsively, stopped compulsive shopping or gambling or having anonymous sex. Some have struggled to stop and haven’t always been able to. Some have stopped one behavior only to have another one pop up, like whack-a-mole.

I’m trying to stop compulsively eating sugar. I’ve managed to cut out the ice cream <sigh>, cookies, candy, etc. Now I’m looking at prepared foods that contain sugar. I don’t eat a lot of prepared foods, but then again, I don’t eat a lot—another habit I have to look at. I need to eat more nutritiously. I need to feed my body, not just my brain and spirit. It’s one of my shortcomings, habitually ignoring my body—not living inside this skin, but instead living somewhere about a foot above and to the right of my head: where the crazy teachers at our Croatian Sunday school taught me that my “guardian angel” lived. (I guess somewhere along the line I decided to move out of my body and hang with my angel. Not that it did much good—my body took over and decided, by times, to eat whatever the hell it wanted in my mind’s absence.)

As I’ve made some progress in the steps, and being happy and clear and taking care of myself, I’ve come to notice some roadblocks to clarity and happiness, and my lifelong habitual consumption of sugar is one of them.

Sugar does all kinds of things drugs do. It increases dopamine the way cocaine does. It stimulates the mu opioid receptors in the same ways heroin or any other opioid does, albeit more mildly. (When I read this 2008 study out of Princeton proving this, my deep affinity for sterling rock-my-world pharma-grade opioids made sense.) Sugar makes me energized for a while, then puts me to sleep, just like my favorite drugs did. It might even kill pain for a while. Certain kinds of pain.

Plus it tastes good. It gives me the sweetness that I missed as a child.

Can I be sweet to myself in other ways? Can I be sweet to others? Can I accept the sweetness that others show me without habitually feeling unworthy?

Monty Python's God

Every time I try to talk to someone it’s “sorry this” and “forgive me that” and “I am not worthy.”—Monty Python’s “God”

I have the kind of body-type that allows me to eat however much sugar I like and not gain weight.  “High metrabolism,” as one of the bimbos in Legally Blonde said. I’ve always used this as an excuse to eat lots of chocolate. But I need to take care of this metabolism, and feeding it sugar is like feeding it a supper out of a landfill. It’s like feeding it garbage. Well: it IS feeding it garbage.

I sometimes wonder what I’d be capable of, physically and intellectually, if I ate a truly nutritious diet.

How fit and strong I might become.

Which is another question in my recovery: How strong am I willing to become?

I am afraid of being strong and fit.

I’ve heard a lot of women say this. In the same meeting about “fear” the other night, another woman talked about how she wasn’t afraid of failing—she expected to fail, and she even welcomes the rejections and failures when they come because they validate her idea of herself as not such a great person. What she’s afraid of is being accepted, getting the job, making progress, being strong. Because it means she has to step up and become active. And this means that somebody is inevitably going to be disappointed in the way she handles situations.

I understood: failing is a good way of avoiding this conflict.

So have I “really” been in recovery? Am I “really” sober?

None of these questions would even pertain if I were still taking drugs. I had moments of clarity during my drug-taking, moments that allowed me to be a functional mother, perform in my job, write books, experience “success.” But through that time, I was afraid, angry and selfish.

I couldn’t act on my own behalf. I was taking drugs because I was afraid of what you might think of me, afraid I wasn’t as good/pretty/rich/smart/successful as you, afraid even to talk to you. Selfish. Hiding.

Or else I was all up in your face, acting out, convincing myself I was being very articulate and smart. But mostly, I was afraid, and hiding.

I’m a real beginner at all this. What I can say is, right now, “real” healing is taking productive and responsible action on my own behalf, so I can fit myself for service the best I can.

I mean, sure when I was using drugs, I had some good ideas (o yeah, i had sooo many good ideas), a few “intuitive thoughts,” some plans that seemed really “inspired.”

But how many did I act on?

And when I did manage to act, how fit for service was I?


  1. Awesome reflection. The article is fascinating!

  2. For me, recovery requires abstinence, but abstinence does not require (or equate) recovery. It sounds judgemental but there are a lot of people who don’t put dope in their bodies, and who don’t work steps, or try to recover spiritually and emotionally. I tend to avoid them because it’s been my experience that they either go out (spectacularly), or their anger comes out sideways and I get hurt.

  3. Being sober is about more than not drinking or using. It is about having a spiritual transformation in addition to not having a mental obsession or a physical craving. I haven’t had the physical craving but have certainly been mentally obsessed and had a spiritual malady. I am recovering. And most likely will be for a long time.

  4. I don’t smoke, never have, although I certainly like my sugar. After 35 years of loving alcohol, and nearly destroying my life, I am 20 months sober, and actively involved in AA. Have a sponsor, have my big book, routinely chair my home group, have sponsored (currently sans sponsee), and am grateful, grateful, grateful that I was pulled out of the swamp byt he grace of God, my rehab joint, my wife, and all my AA buddies..

    My own personal opinion is, I see numerous folksin the rooms who have transformed their lives… their parents/wives/ kids no longer hate them, they can hold a job, they have a dramatically higher serenity “quotient”, but still eat their doughnuts, gulp their coffee, and smoke their cig’s. Are they in a dramatically better place?? I say yes, yes, yes! Do I/they need to continue to work on reducing all that “bad stuff” (especially cig’s)? Yes, yes. Do I need to obsess on it? No, no, no (again, Cig’s are a tough one).

    It seems like it is important to apply someof the forgiveness, and acceptance, and easing of judgement to ourselves as well as others. Work on these other “enthusiasms”, but twenty-plus purposeful years of alcohol-free living, with a bit too much sugar and caffeine… well, that ain’t all bad.

  5. This is timely for me. I am sober. I am now addressing being overweight. Am I addicted to food – maybe. Am I lazy and undisciplined – yes! Am I an addiction hypocondriach? I am not so sure. It is nice to have a 12 step solution to any real , imagined or hyped up in my own mind problem. It is better than needing surgery or medication that a Doctor controls and not me. Mmmm maybe some more meetings and 10th step work .

    Your article is great. Thanks

    I am going to Croatia for a summer break this year. I was there last year and loved it.

  6. guinevere

    June 10, 2011 at 9:22 am

    @Richie, a good friend of mine says that the 12 steps can benefit anyone–that it’s just too bad that only alcoholics and addicts feel they have reason to do the work. … Very envious about your going to Croatia!! 🙂 we plan to go next year. Tell me where you’re going—Adriatic? My family are from the Zagorje outside Zagreb.

    Thanks for being here, and warmest wishes for a healthy summer.

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