Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Sober Life: Negotiating Transitions

Today is the first day of school.

Addicts always have a tough time with transitions, or so it’s said.

transition n. the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another

Makes sense. I hear a lot of people talk about how they drank or used in an effort to stabilize their feelings, to achieve some kind of steady state or condition. At first we want to feel the way we felt in the beginning, when we took the first drink or pill or whatever; then we just want to feel not-sick. Or we just want to not-feel. Constantly.

The operative word in the definition: “change.” Transition is about when the drug or dopamine spike starts coming down. Or the moment when we want to stop feeling one way and start feeling another.

Haven’t written lately about “things they say in the rooms,” but one thing my sponsor is fond of saying is:

You can’t feel your way into right action

You act your way into right thinking

My Al-Anon sponsor is also fond of saying:

Feelings aren’t facts

I felt a bit pissed this morning when I discovered the school district had changed my son’s bus stop to an intersection that’s a known drug corner. Don’t the people at the district keep track of this stuff? where the hell do they live? On one side of the corner there’s a beer distributor; on another side there’s a nuisance bar; across the street, where he’d catch the bus, there are abandoned houses and a boarded-up Kentucky Fried Chicken. There’s some major development happening on this street, and I haven’t driven down there at 8 a.m. for a while so I don’t know if it’s still the case, but it used to be that you could watch hookers trailing home in the early morning all along that stretch.

This was the peak of my pique; it had begun last week when the bus-stop notice came in the mail, with my son’s name on it and all the other slots (pickup location, time, bus number) blank—and when I tried to call the district, no answer, not even a voicemail.

And BTW, the first day of school means all of us working moms have a ton of work to catch up on.

It helps to look at the facts: I have a car I can use to drive my kid to school. (Additional fact: many other parents don’t.) I don’t have to report to an office at a certain time. I’ve been able to give my kid a cell phone so he can call if he runs into problems. Also: yes, this bus stop is not too far from our house, which means, yes, drugs are being dealt three or four blocks away—but our neighborhood is relatively safe, with a great deal of development taking place on the main drags—three major medical centers; a Whole Foods shop; an enormous supermarket; excellent restaurants that book weeks ahead. Many abandoned storefronts are being reopened, and our neighborhood is officially “happening.”

So the drug-corner bus-stop is what they call a “luxury problem.” Nobody is on fire, here, and we can wait for it to be solved.

Shit happens, and sometimes when shit happened I used to call my dad. (Calling my mother was like opening a backdraft into a house fire. Explosions; emergencies; orders barked on bullhorns.) Dad was an alcoholic, he died in 2007 of his alcoholism, but he was a placid drinker—he didn’t fire guns, punch faces, break bones or glass or furniture; he drank because he “liked beer,” he said, and also to “relax.” (He would, admittedly, become so “relaxed” that he would fall asleep weeknights around 8:30 or 9.)

But Dad had a couple primary messages that stuck. One was: There are two ways to look at everything—the positive way and the negative way. I used to hate it when he said this, because it branded me as “negative,” and I didn’t know how to change. … I now think there are more than two ways to look at everything, and I teach my son this; but I get his point, and I also teach that to my son.

The second was: It will all work out OK.

I mean, I could get cynical here and say, How does it all work out OK, Dad, when your wife dies at 58 and you yourself die at 68? When my kid has no grandparents nearby at all? (His other grandparents are overseas; and one of them died this year. So he has one left, and though she’s an amazing Granny, with a killer sense of humor and a big heart, she’s 3,000 miles away. My parents, on the other hand, lived 15 miles down the road.)

It all DOES work out OK, though. If I look at reality as it is, and accept it, I am forced to say that it is working out OK. Maybe not as I’d have wanted it to 10 or 20 years ago (or even, with regard to the bus stop, last week), but it IS OK.

One way it works out OK: I stay in today. Another way: I ask other people for help. My sister and I sometimes call each other to tell each other it’ll all work out OK.

“His bus stop is now on a drug-corner,” I told my sister, who lives in suburban Wisconsin.

“There ARE some things to be said for the suburbs,” she said, chuckling.

Sometimes we ask each other: What would Daddy say?

“It’ll all be OK,” the other one will reply.

(We skip over the fact that, most times, he also would have said, “How about a beer?”)

The Beach Boys.

Here’s a song that reminds me of my Dad and his message… I discovered after Dad died that he loved the Beach Boys. Found a bunch of Beach Boys tapes in a kitchen drawer and in the red Mustang convertible with white leather seats that he bought after my mother died. Makes sense… He liked doo-wop music and fifties culture, and he taught all his kids to hear harmonies—a skill that, for me, translated from music into literature and the rest of life. At Christmas we’d often sing carols in five-part harmony, with Dad singing bass, standing in back and rocking on his heels. I like to sing Mike Love’s bottom part, the one that goes:

Now, don’t—don’t you worry, babe


1 Comment

  1. I like these lessons from your dad. I think of mine often and the things that he would say.

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