Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

An open letter to the mom of a heroin addict

I’ve been thinking all morning of the comment Peggy left last night on my review of Bill Clegg’s book… Since Peggy is going to visit her daughter in rehab today, I wanted to offer a reply to her comment, as a letter of encouragement and support.


My daughter, Hayley … is 31 yo and in an all women’s treatment facility in southern California. She has now been clean/sober for over 75 days, and seems to have vigorously embraced sobriety and the 12 step recovery program. She was a crack and IV heroin user for about a year …

It doesn’t matter what or how much we used or drank—the mentality of addiction is largely the same from addict to addict. Though the behaviors are different from substance to substance: if you read Bill Clegg’s book, as a crack user his behavior was different from mine. He smoked crack in bathrooms and hotels; I used all sorts of prescription drugs in all sorts of ways “not as prescribed.” I didn’t have a crack stem; he didn’t have fentanyl patches; but at the end we were both isolated and alone, with confused partners and without jobs. It’s the same with heroin users, drinkers, anyone who is addicted.

The fact that she is in recovery – and is even alive, is a bloody miracle. …

It’s always a miracle when we find true recovery from this life-threatening disease. Isn’t it a miracle when someone recovers from cancer or AIDS?

Hayley graduated with honors from a small, private, prestigious liberal arts college—and I’ll always be mystified as to how/why she journeyed down such a dangerous, self-destructive path.

It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or accomplished, or what stuff we have or don’t have. None of that protects us from this disease.

I’m desperate to get inside an addict’s head and learn as much as I can about addiction. You, as a writer and an addict in recovery, can offer so much wisdom, experience, and . . . hope.

The first thing I can learn as someone who has loved an addict is: Addiction is a family disease. It affects not just the addict, but everyone around the addict.

The second thing I learned was to keep the focus on myself. AlAnon’s Detachment pamphlet was something I carried around in my bag. Please download this. It reads, in part,

Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives, lives with dignity and rights, lives guided by a Power greater than ourselves. We can still love the person without liking the behavior.

And we may never fully understand the behavior. I am still trying to “figure out” why I became an addict, how someone like myself (a person who graduated from a small, private liberal arts college, who put herself through graduate school, who has publication credits, who has taught at university, who’s married, has a kid, blah blah blah) could possibly have become an addict. It doesn’t matter what I did, what stuff I have. I am directed to believe it was beyond my control.

I am responsible for my health and recovery, and taking responsibility for that one day at a time appears to be the best way—in addition to actually cleaning up the messes I’ve made, which I’ve done my best to do—that I can redeem the mistakes of the past.

When I get too far ahead of myself and too afraid, and prevent myself from being guided by a power greater than myself, I fall down. I had more than a year sober in January and I used a Vicodin pill.  So now, with a sober date of January 3, I have almost seven months. But really, I have only today.

My mother died (she was one of many in my family who died) as the consequences of this disease. If she were here today, I would want her just to be present with me. I wouldn’t ask her a bunch of questions about her illnesses, and I wouldn’t want her to ask me about mine… I’d show her the painting I’m working on. We’d spend time with her grandchild. (Can you imagine for a moment how much I wish he had a grandma?) We’d eat supper together.

We’d do ordinary things.

Inviting other addicts and those who love addicts to share their experience, strength and hope here…

With every good wish on your journey…  –G


  1. I’m glad you mentioned Al-Anon. I do the 12-steps for substance abuse recovery but I’m planning to do the steps with an Al-Anon sponsor, now, for the first time, as well.

    Thought you might find this interesting. Cheers!

  2. If I had started attending Al-Anon years ago, I think it would have saved me a lot of pain and difficulty struggling with my own addiction to pills. My mother was a raging alcoholic. She had always been a drinker, socially and “cocktail hour” type at first, then as I became a teenager, her alcoholism went into high gear. I used to blame myself (as she blamed me and my father for it), but I can see now, through the lens of time and maturity, that she had a LOT of problems, both long-term and situational, that led to it. One night when I was babysitting for some neighbor kids, I called Al-Anon to speak to a counselor. After hearing my story, the lady begged me to find an Al-Anon meeting as soon as I could, but I told her there was no way for me to go without my Mom finding out. They even offered to have someone come and pick me up, but I wouldn’t go, afraid of how angry my parents would have been if I “outed” her behavior in the community. See, my mother knew she was an alcoholic, but refused to admit she had “a problem” — big difference. My father and I had something of an intervention with her a year or so prior to this, where she became infuriated, refused to get help, and even threatened to never speak to us again if we continued to harp on it (as it was, she didn’t speak to me for almost a month after that). Her alcoholism became my punishment for existing — at least that’s how I took it. Sober, she was a completely different person, kind and loving — she didn’t see it that way, and there was no way for me or my Dad to ever convince her of that. I was too young to realize that her disease was far beyond my control.

    I hung up the phone and didn’t call back again (too afraid). To this day, I wish I’d taken them up on their offer — if for no other reason, than to help ME deal with the issues that I continue to struggle with to this day because of it. Alcoholism (and addiction) are, indeed, family diseases that EVERYONE suffers from, not just the addict. It’s like a virus that attaches itself to everyone it touches.

    The families need help even if the addict refuses to help him/herself.

    The detachment pamphlet is a great example of that. Thanks Guin!

  3. Great post and lots of honesty. I think that once I understood detachment, then I was truly on the road to recovery. Like you wrote, the background, education, money, prestige, etc. doesn’t matter. What matters to me is keeping the focus on myself, letting the problems of the alcoholic go, minding my own business, lowering my expectations and detaching with love.

  4. Bravo, G!! I’m so happy for this last entry. As an alcoholic/addict in early recovery, I wish I could adequately convey the mind of an addict. The best explanation is that I believe most of us suffer from a hole in our soul. For some, like G and I, we lived with parents who had serious addiction issues and there was serious dysfunction in our early life. For others, it has to do with the bondage of self … “we” are all there is … we want, we need, we self-medicate because we have no coping skills to deal with our spiritual malaise.

    G is a perfect example of how the program of AA works. I have witnessed her transformation first-hand (well, through her writing on a detox and recovery website) and it’s an extraordinary experience to see the changes she has made.

    I’m afraid, for some addicts, they need to reach their bottom … and receive what is called “the gift of desperation”. Sounds crazy but it’s what got me into a recovery program. I had to hit my own bottom and plead for help. Fortunately, I didn’t die before help came.

    I love your blog, G. And thank you for sharing your experience, strength and hope with the world.


  5. Oops, one more comment: There is always hope.

  6. guinevere

    July 29, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Margaret… thanks for your story. Addiction wreaks damage throughout family relationships, and I’m sorry to hear you couldn’t find help sooner. … I found AlAnon very late in life, in fact just three months before I found out my mother was going to die, and for a long time I had real problems with a God who would “allow” me to go that long before finding help. … I was just telling my sister this morning that, today, I’m pretty grateful just to have had those six weeks before my mother lost her mind due to the lung cancer that microscopically infiltrated her nervous system. I mean… what if I hadn’t had that time with her? it was the only time in 35 years that she and I were ever able to love each other.

    channah darlin… what can I say. much love. … sure I’m not a perfect example of anything… but I agree with you: there’s always hope. –G

  7. i am so glad i found you. yesterday i started a blog to chronicle my life and how i’m learning to live with this horrendous disease. i attend families anonymous, which i believe is similar to alanon. thank you so much for your deep honesty. i am trying to connect with others to help me on this journey. i am in a hurry this morning, but i will be back later this afternoon to read through all your posts. thanks again for your honesty. i find it refreshing.


  8. i’m sorry i typed the wrong address on the above comment. this is my correct website.

  9. hi g,

    it’s me again. i don’t know how it did it but i really screwed up my blog page. but i think i may have it figured out. i see you became a follower of the wrong blog. i am trying to delete that blog but have failed at that attempt too many times to count now. anyway i think i have the correct address above. thank you for being patient with this. i love what i have read here so far.


  10. hi g, may i call you g?

    i received a comment on my blog today saying that i need to give up hope for my son. i totally understand what she is saying but as the day wore on it totally kicked my butt. my program teaches me that experience, strength and hope will help us all. could you please comment on whether or not hope has any place in recovery? without it i think i would be bitter.

    thank you so much for your input.


  11. G – I’m just now discovering and reading this post referencing my daughter and my visit with her back in July. WOW! Thank you for these important reminders about detaching with love and working my own recovery program. You are soooo right – that my obsession with my daughter’s addiction, trying to find out how and why it happened, getting involved with her recovery and trying to orchestrate or control outcomes, are indications of my own illness and how addiction becomes a family disease.
    It’s the end of September now – and my daughter has been sober for almost 5 months. Yet – I still whirl in to high anxiety and action, intervening “on her behalf” to manipulate the legal system so she won’t have to suffer some logical, yet dire, circumstances – like , going to jail.
    I’ve almost made myself sick for the past month, worrying about whether or not my daughter will be able to get on a plane with no current photo ID. I bought her a ticket to visit my mother, her grandmother, for my mother’s 93rd birthday. I was most likely responding, in guilt, to wanting my mom to be able to see Hayley sober, before she died. I will never again try to orchestrate such a complicated scenario – and now realize that I have absolutely no control over my daughter or her disease/recovery. Stay tuned for the final scene.

  12. Guinevere – thank you for sharing this with me this morning. This open letter to Peggy could be an open letter to me. I have not downloaded the purple detachment booklet yet but I repeat like a mantra the serenity prayer ever since you reminded me of it a few weeks ago. Thanks for all your wisdom Guinevere. Nx

  13. For the most part, Al-Anon has saved me from myself. The Principles and Traditions of Al-Anon can be applied to any relationship, regardless of whether or not there’s addiction involved. My control issues are at the root of so much of my ‘sick’ behavior – – – and those control issues stem from how I was raised, as the granddaughter of an alcoholic. I still have soooo much to learn – and it only happens, “one day at a time”.

    P.S. Refer to my blog post, “One Day At A Time”. Thank god, the true meaning of that slogan prevails right now. Hugs

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