Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Finding Myself And My Voice.

A few weeks ago I went to a regional prescription drug abuse “summit” sponsored by the Department of Justice. The DEA was there, and Obama’s top drug-policy person, and the U.S. Attorney, and a bunch of pharmacists (including one who seven years ago had been robbed of OxyContin at gunpoint; she still cries about it). Also on the panel: my old pain physician, who I haven’t seen for two years.

I still have pain. Why haven’t I seen her for two years?—because the stuff I do for my pain has little relation to the therapies she recommended, most of which were drug-oriented. (The last drug she recommended made my hair fall out. I’m pretty much done with drug therapies, unless I’m desperate.)

I sat there and listened to my old doctor talk about how she uses a treatment protocol for every patient, and she tries not to rely on her gut feelings. (She was responding to the pharmacist who had been robbed, who told the audience she could tell which customers were addicts as soon as they walked through the doors.) My doctor talked about monitoring patients, requiring them to come in for pill counts. “It’s not foolproof, but it helps,” she said.

Too right it helps. Advocates for pain patients talk about pill counts, urine samples and other monitoring practices as discriminatory against those who have pain, treating them “like addicts.” If we removed the stigma from addiction, however, monitoring people for signs of another illness would be called good medical practice.

So anyway I went home and banged out an op-ed and sent it to my regional paper. The editor loved it. It’s going to run as early as he could run it—it’s long and he wanted to give it a good ride, he said. The piece outs me as a drug addict, and it calls my late father an alcoholic and my late mother a nicotine addict, and I thought about it carefully and decided I’m pretty much OK with all that, especially since the entire point of the piece is to bust down the stigma surrounding addiction and ask the public for treatment and compassion rather than punishment and censure. I keep reminding myself that both my parents told me before they died that I needed to write what I needed to write.

Dawned on me last night:

The piece is running the weekend my sister is staying here with her family.

Right away the addict in me took over. I wanted to call the editor, tell him to run it a week later. Or a week earlier, to get it over with before they arrive and I have contact with my sister, who I love and who I hardly ever get to see. And with my brother, whom I also love and about whom I never write, because he’s intensely private. Run it a different time, anyhow—because when I begin to panic about other people’s reactions, anything that’s actually happening must be wrong, I have to make sure everyone will be OK with what I say, everyone will be OK with who I am, with my point of view, because to be OK inside myself my first instinct is to make sure the people around me are OK, especially with me.

I’ve often wondered why I don’t get to say what’s real for me without being afraid. This blog is an exercise in doing that.


I’m noticing that the longer I spend sober, the more myself I seem to become. The more I speak in my own voice. The more I have desires and instincts that feel authentic. The more at peace I am with me.

Except when it comes to my family.

It doesn’t make a difference that my parents are dead: they’re still very much present for me.

I think of the things that happened in my family to silence me. (I speak only from my own perspective here; it’s my belief that they worked to silence large parts of all of us, but I’m only speaking for myself.) When I was little: the smackings, the beltings, the screaming. When I was older: the hours-long moral and philosophical inquisitions held at the kitchen table when I disagreed with a principle of my parents’—usually of my mother’s. Never being allowed to have the last word. Being told I had a temper that I had to squash. My mother’s jealousy of my artistic abilities. (Never mind her discourse and behavior around sexuality.)

If I gave my son that treatment, I’d expect he’d do something later in life to numb his feelings out.

My son stood in the kitchen the other day and said:

Mama, thank you for raising me well. I will never take it for granted.

He doesn’t say this for my benefit. He knows he doesn’t have to take care of me.

He says it because it’s true for him.

What a gift.


Many of us have been hurt in childhood.

Saturday in a meeting on steps 3 and 4 a friend told this story: A friend of his in recovery had been sexually abused. “Ultimate victim, right?” my friend said.

No way can you blame a child for his sexual abuse. No way can you hold him accountable. But my friend said: “You know what my part in this abuse is? My part is my willingness to let go of it.”

Each of us has our own ways of letting go and growing through adversity, moving closer to who we were created to be. Some people hold the hurt in their hearts and let it go silently, and other people talk about it—or write songs about it, or paint pictures about it. Or write stories about it.

Rodin: “The Hand of God Creating Woman and Man.” At Rhode Island School of Design’s museum. I love how the man has wrapped both his hands around the woman’s head. … Rodin’s pieces are always so confrontational and inviting that museums have to post signs ordering viewers not to touch.

So I’m going to let the piece run when the boss wants to run it.

To accept myself I have to accept that I’m the kind of person who lets go by expressing herself. I have to be willing to allow other people to have their responses to that.


  1. Bravo!

  2. What about the 11th and 12th tradition regarding anonymity?
    You could have written the piece anonymously. Or, used a pen name?

  3. Anybody else have a reply to this?

  4. Dearest Anon… My understanding of the 11th and 12th traditions is that they do not require us to be silent about our experience of addiction, just to remain anonymous about our recovery programs. This is a widely held misconception—that Tradition 12 asks us to be silent about our experiences of addiction.

    Also: the 12th tradition asks me to place principles above/before personalities. Discernment about this idea has led me to speak more and more openly and freely about my experience with addiction, including its family components. Being silent about my own experience because people’s personalities may want me to be silent is putting personalities before principles—the principle here being openness in the name of helping others.

    Anon, what do you think? would love to hear you and others share. /G

  5. “I’m noticing that the longer I spend sober, the more myself I seem to become. The more I speak in my own voice. The more I have desires and instincts that feel authentic. The more at peace I am with me.”

    Hi G, I can so relate to this even though I am only just over 50 days. I was with some people the other day who started making so- called “polite” racist statements. You know the kind about “different cultures etc” In the old days I would have let it go, but would ahve fumed and also written off the speakers. In this case, I quietly and “politely” disagreed with them and gave my point of view. Although it was early morning coffee – and thus was not a situation I would normally have been drinking in – it still felt like my new found sobriety had something to do with being able to speak my mind. Something about a new sense of self, about not just pleasing others all the time and about a new sense of self- confidence.

    Thanks for a great post and well done on the op-ed.



    I won’t pretend to be a 12 tradition expert but let me tell you my interpretation of the “Anonymous” aspect of 12 step programs. I think of anonymity as it pertains to the program in two different ways.

    Number 1.

    It should not be made publicly known that any individual is associated with a particular 12 step program. Why? Because if that individual fails to stay clean and/or sober then there ‘failure’ will be seen as failure of the 12 step program they are involved with. ( I don’t agree with this but I can understand given the way judgement is passed.)

    Number 2.

    Anonymity in the rooms…12 step programs are ‘we’ programs. They is no difference between ‘you’ and ‘I’…there is only ‘Us’. I think the insertion of the anonymous word is an attempt to break down the barriers/separation between members and remind us that we are here together…moving towards a common goal.

    Thanks for writing Guinevere. I enjoy your thoughts.

  7. Dear Guenivere,
    Your courage inspires me! I cannot thank you enough for this piece. I, too, am just coming into becoming the woman I know I can be. (I hope) Looking forward to the op-ed piece. Has it run?

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