Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

G Gets Strong: Day 3 | Finding Out I Am A Pussy

So here we are in the new year, with our lists of resolutions. It’s hard to make small changes, much less large-scale changes that alter the entire landscape of one’s life.

Shane Niemeyer

Shane Niemeyer at his 2003 booking in Boise.

Trawling my Gmail inbox for a good story I happened across the one about how the addict who tried to hang himself in an Idaho jail failed to do the job thoroughly and wound up alive after all. (A number of us know how that feels; I don’t, exactly, but a number of us do.) While recuperating in a straitjacket he found some magazine stories about triathletes. He turned the pages with his feet and decided that if killing himself hadn’t worked, he’d—well—he’d become a triathlete.

And he did.

Shane Niemeyer running Kona triathlon

Recovering heroin addict Shane Niemeyer running his first Ironman World Championship race in Kona, Hawaii.

That was seven years ago. He just completed the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

Triathlons are three races in one: running, cycling and swimming. I know this because the Surgeon Mom of one of my kid’s friends is a former triathlete. (She is one of a number of moms with whom I have a nasty habit of comparing myself, usually with poor consequences)

I don’t want to be a triathlete, but I have made it a goal this year to test my strength. So two days ago I started an exercise regimen. The regimen calls for me to exercise six days per week for at least an hour per day. It also calls for an initial nutrition plan of 50 percent protein, 30 percent carbs and 20 percent fat. Which is a lot more protein and a LOT less carb than I’m used to eating.

So I’ve been on this regimen. And I’m learning two things:

  • My body is fairly fit (I passed the fitness test), and I eat pretty nutritiously to begin with
  • Psychologically, I am a wuss.

Weakling, coward, sissy. Pussy. My dad would say “candy-ass.”

How do I know this?—because when I couldn’t do what I needed to do, as hard as it was being demonstrated to me, as fast and as many times as it was being demonstrated (perfectly, in other words), I wanted to quit. I needed to quit. I needed to hide my face even from myself.

When I couldn’t do even ONE of this particular exercise (I crashed on my forehead, from a very short distance), I almost gave up my resolve to do the entire program. How’s that for extremist, black-and-white, if-I-can’t-have-it-now-I-won’t-have-it-at-all thinking.

I consulted Angela, my coach. She wrote: “It is a 90 day program for a reason.”

Jesus God, I am so tired of having sponsors/coaches/therapists/other borrowed or paid shamans tell me I have to Do Time. Time In Grade, my sponsor says. When does the freebie come.

(Addict-bullshit. Get grateful, girl.)

“It takes a while to advance, and you have to have room to grow or there is no motivation.”

Not me, mate! My motivation derives from being in front at the off.  … Pffff.

“So please don’t view it as inadequacy, just opportunity to grow. All you need to do is show up and just move that body as best YOU can every day.”

She also said something else that I like:

Do your best
And forget the rest

That rhyming advice (“Attitude of gratitude,” etc.) is always great, and usually helpful, and true. … But this is just the sort of thing that was never said to me as a kid. It was more like

Do your best
And your best better be perfect
Or your ass
Is grass

(“What does ‘Your ass is grass’ mean?” my British husband asked the other day when I quoted this favorite saying of my dad’s. My husband is Oxford-educated, has rather a vivid imagination; I could see he was picturing blades of grass sprouting from someone’s cheeks. … I laughed. “It means, I Will Mow Your Ass Down,” I said. “Jeez,” he said, “it took me this far in life to get that.” I introduce him to such High Life. Oops, no pun intended.)

I remember when I decided to go to grad school. Big Change. I’d gotten myself into a terrible relationship with a guy who drank all the time (and so that’s what I did too), I’d wrecked my car, and I thought what I probably needed was to make a change. Really what I probably needed was six months in a rehab, or at least heavy-duty counseling somewhere away from my parents. But in lieu of that, I decided I’d go to grad school and try teaching my way through a writing program. And here, verbatim, was my mother’s version of support: She looked at my face through narrowed eyelids, took a drag on her cigarette, and said, stabbing the butt in my direction,

What the hell makes you think YOU can handle those college kids?

(then exhaling smoke in my face)

Poor mum. What that was about, I can see now, was: SHE wanted to be able to teach the college kids. But it wrecked my confidence. I allowed it to. I was 24; the kids, some of them, were 20. For a long time, when I’d walk through the door of a classroom, I’d hear those words in my mind.

Amends, I can see now, are not always about going back to a grave site and reading a letter. They’re sometimes about kicking somebody else out of your head-space.

I passed one year sober the other day. I’ve got more than two years working the 12 steps to stay clean and sober, and compared to One Year, 90 days looks like small time. Angela told me she used to say to herself that she could do anything for 90 days. Well, I know I can, and that’s not bravado. I mean, I’m used to putting myself on a five-minute basis of not using. I’m used to Going To Any Lengths.

I’m sore as hell. I’m used to being sore. I actually even like being sore. I just don’t like Not Being Able To Do What I’m Told To Do. If I need to go to any lengths, and I can’t, then how do I get better?

I guess I just show up and try again. Welcome to the human race.

It took Shane Niemeyer seven years to get to the world championship in Kona.

Haven’t bought a pull-up bar yet. But I will.

6 Comments

  1. love this post! especially about kicking someone out of your headspace!

  2. Very motivational – great for the beginning of a new year and a new decade. Thanks.

  3. Awesome G. You go for it. You will be doing those pull ups soon enough.

  4. G – sometimes it helps to take a class, or exercise with someone else – to keep you motivated. And then, there’s the flip side of the coin. I’m worried that my daughter, Hayley, who has been clean and sober since last May (from heroin/crack cocaine addiction – plus, anything else she could get her hands on), has substituted exercise as her “drug of choice”. I’m going to post about this soon.

    Love your writing, G. Thanks for your honesty and willingness to share so many gritty details of your past – and your daily struggles and challenges now. Peggy

  5. I can totally relate to this post, both because I’ve never been able to do a pull-up and because I want to be out in front of the pack from the get-go too. I’ve recently started doing yoga again and have to continually remind myself to stay grounded in the process, rather than starting out as a revered yogi. Thanks for the funny post!

  6. Just heard: T.I.M.E. Things I Must Earn, or better: Things I Must Enjoy. Too pooped from trying to be perfect to reply further, but I know you can do it. Lemme know when you get to that pull-up. That is one of my life goals. 🙂

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