Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Red Bull And Radical Self-Acceptance.

Sincere thanks to everyone who has written in asking where in the sam hill G has been. WTF, G?? A month without a blog post? Where the hell are you? You are my sunshine, etc.

You are mine as well. I think about you readers every day. I love the mail I get from you. I mentally formulate blog posts for you as I go about life maniacally trying to patch all the holes in the bricks, and the blog posts back up inside my head and break through the logjam and rush downstream like the water in the Niagara Riverbed in a high-water spring, whitecaps peaking over the eternal bedrock, powering the entire region.

Where G has been: G has been enrolled in Elite Acceptance Dojang.

In April, as she was winding down a spectacularly successful semester of teaching writing, G decided that on May 1 she would quit caffeine, gluten, and (cough) sugar, in all its forms: fructose, sucrose, HFCS, white flour, the whole bit. And G also decided that, on May 2, she would Feel Awesome. G has been learning that this is her SOP: she makes the plan, she secretly writes the story, and then she has to deal with the seismic shocks that arrive when Real Life doesn’t mesh with the narrative. (Back in the day this used to be an awesome excuse to use. Reality not matching narrative = migraine = instant need for drugs.)

In fact G has been having many migraines. In fact, G did not, after quitting sugar and caffeine and gluten on May 1, feel awesome on May 2. She didn’t (yet) feel like fkn shite, either. But early in the morning of May 3, at about half past midnight, as G slept peacefully without the dregs of sugar and caffeine oozing through her blood, G’s leggy, towering 15-year-old son woke, washboard ribs convulsing, screaming that an explosion was taking place inside his skull. He pointed to his right ear.

“Come on,” said G, thinking, Stroke? No, ear infection, sliding into jeans and running shoes. “We’re going to the hospital.” The only place where, in the middle of the night, you can get Auralgan.

“I don’t wanna go to the hospital, Mom,” whined the boy, regressing to age 3, pulling a shirt on.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 15. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The boy, age 15. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“We’re going,” G said, grabbing her keys and poking the boy in the back—the best she can do these days to enact physical force on a young man of five-foot-nine-and-a-half.

It was an ear infection. Diagnosed not by the (young, male) resident, who missed the signs, but by the (middle-aged, motherly, female) attending pediatrician, after we had sat in the ER for two hours.

“You’ve got an ear infection, pal,” she said. “Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot more ear infections than the resident has.” She wrote scripts for antibiotics and Auralgan.

The next day, G decided she needed to renege on her austerity commitment. She drank a cup of strong Yorkshire tea to “get started.”


Did you know caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world? Fact.

Did you know that when we drink coffee or tea, we’re enacting an ancient method of extracting drugs from plants? We’re steeping, with boiling water, legal psychoactive herbs that release their drugs when the steam hits. In old-timey medicinal terms this is called an “infusion.” If you boil the herbs for a long time, it’s called a “decoction.” (I quite like that word: de-cock-shun. There’s the sound of a gun in there, somewhere.) If you let the herbs stand for a long, long time (say, a week, or even a month) in ethanol—which also brings the drugs out of the plants, but more slowly and more thoroughly, like a kindergarten teacher carefully leading her kids out on a field trip—it’s called an “extraction.”

But just because, with coffee or tea, we’re not using booze to do the trick—that doesn’t mean we’re not taking a drug.

Caffeine ain’t gonna kill you, but it can cause significant problems: insomnia, bruxism (tooth-grinding), headaches, chronic anxiety, and adrenal system disruption and depletion. The walnut-sized adrenal glands, one capping each kidney, are key to controlling our metabolisms, hormonal systems, moods and sleep cycles. Sugar stresses out the adrenals in the same way.

Adrenals—meaning, "above the renals," or the kidneys. They help run the metabolism. They crap out on us when we endure too much stress.

Adrenals—meaning, “above the renals,” or the kidneys. They help run the metabolism. They crap out on us when we endure too much stress.

I used to love my morning ritual: a Vicodin, crushed and swallowed; a cup of strong tea; and toast with butter and jam. Opioids, caffeine, and sugar. Dopamine score; adrenal drain. I’d be content for about five hours, then feel like crashing—so I’d take more: Vicodin with afternoon tea and cookies. The drugs would power me through. A lot of women take painkillers this way—to muscle, to steamroll through a big daily agenda. The same way most folks use caffeine and cookies.

Without caffeine and sugar, the pile of cells called G’s Body is not the same as it is when it’s loaded up on caffeine and sugar. My body has become tolerant to the chemical effects.

This bothers me. It means I’m not accepting my body as it is. I push it, with my will, to do things it can’t do, with destructive effects: when I drink caffeine, I crave sugar, so I get several drugs at one time. Processed sugar is a drug. I crash with migraine, fatigue, PMS, and other physical problems.


G's new touring bike.

G’s new touring bike.

I’ve spent more than half the days since May 1 without “getting started” on a cup of caffeine, and it feels good. On those days, I’m not constantly monitoring myself, wondering if I “need something” to keep going.

I accept myself more.

But it’s so habitual not to accept myself. It’s so habitual to do things—carry out actual acts, however seemingly inconsequential (they accrue; their value and power accrues)—that show I REFUSE to accept myself. Drink more tea. Eat more sugar. Beat the shit out of myself mentally, emotionally, tacitly, for wanting to do things (and, actually, doing the things) that I believe I can’t.

So I’m carrying out some contrary actions. My program of recovery asks me to act in ways that grate against the grain of my habits, ways that carve new paths into the neuronal structures. I’m making space for myself where I can do what I’m made to do. I’m investing in that space. I’m cleaning out old spaces and letting things go. (I have to do more of that. It’s like inventory: I don’t feel like mucking out the Augean stables; I’m afraid of what I’ll find; it’s tiring.) I’m working, and I’m trying to get reasonable rest and exercise, despite being extremely anemic.

British-made leather saddle to conserve my body.

Split leather saddle to conserve my body.

Because I’m anemic, and because I’m (habitually) afraid, I sometimes feel numb. It occurred to me the other night while walking the dog that I’ve done everything to get rid of this numbness, this fear, except two things: to use, on the one hand; and, on the other, to accept it. The teacher at the Buddhist center where I meditate advised us, in a workshop on Fearlessness in Everyday Life, to sit with fear, to feel it, to care for it, to sink into it and then finally through it to another place where we are all held by a divine something—who knows what it is or how to talk about it, but it holds us.


I’ve also been reading fellow blogger and sober woman Heather Kopp’s memoir Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. I love this book. What I appreciate most about it is the candid way Heather talks about finding God—how she talks about the source of her sobriety. She is not a typical Christian. I’ll be reviewing her book here soon and giving away copies to readers who comment, so stay tuned.

I’m also reading Dave Sheff’s Clean and Dirk Hanson’s Addiction Inbox. I have lots of other adventures planned for the summer. Stay with me.


  1. sunnyincanada

    May 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Glad the wheels are on dude. We missed you.

  2. Been a while since we saw your fine thoughts here, G. I am glad you are back and holding it together. Your sharing is an amazing thing and I thank you for your honesty.

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