Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Gifts of the Program: Tact.

One of the things I love about Al-Anon in our region is that during the holidays many of the groups have “gifts of the program” meetings. They put up pine branches and candles and bake ziti and cookies and pass out little “gifts.” I’ve been going to one particular Gifts of the Program meeting since 1999. That year they gave out paper bookmarks, and mine said, “Joy.”

It was the year my mother died, and I kept waiting to feel joy. And the times I did were few and far between.

I’ve learned in my program of recovery from addiction that I get what I give. I sat in the meeting the other night thinking that I probably didn’t feel much joy because I wasn’t giving much out. It had no chance to come back to me.

This year it was bookmarks again—beaded ones on string. And mine said, “Tact.”

Frankly, at first I was disappointed to draw “tact” as a gift. Much more hopeful to get “peace” or “serenity” or “self-care,” or even “sponsorship” or “forgiveness.” These are all gifts I’ve drawn in the past.

The more I sat with the gift, the more I liked it.

Tact is the gift of being able to handle difficult or delicate situations with sensitivity.

The root of the word is the Latin tactus, “a sense of touch,” from tangere, “to touch.”

Tactile. Contact.

I grew up in a household that was sadly devoid of tact, except for my father’s ability to smooth over conflicts and stop verbal sparring without screaming himself. Part of the way he did this was through touch. Dad had huge hands, with the square nails of a scientist. But though they were large, they weren’t heavy; sensitively boned, tough and capable of work but free of meanness or brutality. As far as I know, Dad was never in a fight. I never saw him punch anyone; he whipped me and my brother a few times, but it was mostly my mother who used her hands (and other tools) against our bodies.

Dad didn’t need to do that to teach us. He had tact.


I haven’t been writing as much on this blog in recent months because my life is undergoing enormous changes. I’m coming to the end of my third year of sobriety. It feels almost as though the ground is shifting underneath my feet; as though vast weather-systems are moving through, washing out the land and changing the very terrain. I appreciate your patience with me.

I’ve been able to stay sober. Sometimes, just barely. Other times, I feel solidly sober, unable to be knocked off my sober boots (thanks to my friend Heather for the allusion) by any amount of wind or seismic shocks.

I’m grateful to be sober.

I’m terribly lonely, though.

It’s hard for me to call people, even my sponsor, because I want to look like a good girl. I don’t like leaning on folks. I don’t like showing weakness. I’m afraid that showing weakness will lead me to indulge in self-pity, and I can’t afford that indulgence.

I go whole days without touching another person.

I sat in the meeting thinking, What I really want is to be touched.

So instead of waiting for Tact to come to me, the way I waited for Joy 13 years ago, I’m going to have to engage in the difficult practice of giving contact, giving human touch. And maybe some of that will come back to me—if I keep myself open to it.



  1. we have a game at the sabbath table of passing around a deck of “angel cards” – each one has an attribute, gift, attitude, etc.
    i’m always amazed at how useful the ones are that seem disappointing at first. like tact. what a clunker. but how deep.
    hugs are good. we’re (almost) all starved for touch. be brave.

  2. What a wonderful post and what a wonderful response about the angle cards. Perhaps every addict — especially addicts, who have been withdrawn into their substance — needs to keep a little “touch” fund going at all times. Therapeutic massage is safe touching, a chance to engage with tact.

    I’m sharing this with my readers and patients. Thank you and stay as open as your blog.

  3. G – I had many of those same feelings as I heard you read the word “tact”. As I heard each gift I thought to myself, what if that was mine – what would I say. I kept turning “tact” over and over, like a stone I found on the beach. I forgot my gift and had ask my SO to remind me. When you get a gift that causes you pause and perhaps a bit of immediate disaapointment it becomes the gift that keeps on giving. It becomes a challenge as you think about what it means and how it fits. Personally I think tact is an amazing gift and one that I aspire toward. Perhaps you can loan it to me. The reaching out stuff is a struggle for me too. I never thought about it, but it takes a degree of tact to trust others with yourself and to admit powerlessness. Perhaps you can knit an ugly green and red sweater with the word “tact” right between Santa and the Snowman.

  4. Pamela, thanks for being here… Had a massage this week and the woman who works on my body suggested I throw my arms open wide and feel myself grow big. At one point she let my arms dangle off the edges of the table. “Feel how big you are,” she said. Do you find sometimes women are afraid to take up space in the world?

    The Hunger Fix looks amazing and I hope maybe we have a chance to talk about it sometime soon. /G

  5. DJR, you are an amazing friend… thank you. /G

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