Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Reverb10: Beautifully Different

[Until 31 December I’m participating in reverb10, a month-long challenge to get bloggers to respond to writing prompts designed to help themselves and their readers take stock of the past year—conduct the year’s final inventory—and to imagine possibilities for the coming year.]

Today’s prompt: Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different—you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

When I was a kid I focused on the outward things that made me unfortunately different. I was fat; my teeth were abnormally crooked; my eyes were black and my skin olive-colored, Gypsy-style—in fact, it appears I have Roma in my heritage. And there were other differences. Whereas other girls spent recess on the playground jumping rope or doing hopscotch—being social—I read books and drew by myself. By the time I was in high school, I was making all my own clothes. I was a real oddball.

Also, I didn’t know how to get along with other kids. I was naïve; the mean girls got over on me, and I had one date in high school.

When I moved to college, my braces and that whole Geek-Squad reputation came off, and the dudes decided I was hot stuff. They liked my dark eyes and dark skin. They noticed my legs. They liked my sharp mind. Geek Catholic Girl Turns Instant Hot Chick. I didn’t take advantage of this because in my mind I was still a geek.

My entire family also still saw me as the Geek, and it remained absolutely boring and lonely at home. And in order to manage my increasing unhappiness about my family (which I never even realized was an alcoholic family until I was in my 30s), and to keep my feeling secret—especially my feelings of appreciation about myself; and to keep them secret not only from everyone else but also from myself—I started drinking.

I drank, in Steve Martin’s ancient words from the 1970s, to Get Small. And this morphed into a painkiller penchant when I started getting my headaches treated in my late 20s. The penchant turned into a full-blown addiction in my mid-30s.

I drank and used because I needed to make myself quiet. I am at my most uncomfortable when I am empowered. I come from a long line of chronically unhappy, unrealized housewives.  One of them, my grandmother—my mother’s mother, the wife of a violent alcoholic—is in a nursing home right now, dying of kidney failure. She is 97 and has, as far as I can tell, never been happy, never achieved any power over her own life. And has spent her life complaining about it.

This is the image I know, and the image I feel most comfortable with: the woman at home, taking care of everybody else, complaining about it.

One thing that made me get sober was my urge that I was damned if I was going to carry on that way. Being the martyr. I wanted to be different.

I am different. Today. One thing that makes me different from those unhappy dead and dying people in my family is that I’m getting help… And for that I’m grateful…

Identifying myself as a “sober person,” as I do whenever someone offers me something alcoholic to drink, marks me as different. I’m able to do this because I’ve gotten help, and because of that help I maintain contact with a power greater than myself that keeps away the obsession to numb-out.

For a long time (for a loooong time) I did not like identifying myself as an alcoholic or an addict at meetings—or anywhere—because I thought this set me apart from humanity and made me “different” in an ugly way. The word “stigma” means “to brand with a stick,” in essence “to mark with shame,” and that’s how I felt. I’ve been poked with sticks before, in that old childhood playground, and I’ve bloody well had enough.

Guinevere and son

Being Sober, being awake: Me and my son on Tower Hill, London, June 2010.

But when I began to meditate as part of Step 11, and brought my experience into the present moment, I looked around and had to admit that nobody was poking me with a stick anymore. When I identified myself as an addict or an alcoholic, I was saying what was true. This gave me a chance to share my experience in ways that might help other people. And guess what—more than 6 million Americans are abusing prescription painkillers. So there are a lot of people to help.

Today I’m five-feet-five, 120 pounds, olive-skinned, black-eyed, and brown-haired with a bit of gray. I’m a mom, a wife, a sister, and aunt, a friend. I write and make art. I play tennis, ride my bike, do yoga, and garden. And I’m a sponsor, a sponsee, and recovering from addiction.


  1. It is a great post from the heart. It seems to me that 12 steppers have the outsider complex and having a program make me feel like and insider among outsiders. When you know you don’t fit in you might as well stand out in your own way. Always to the extreme. In highschool I hung with the art crowd they seemed less judgmental. Mostly now I think they were high and didn’t give me much thought. I have found my own place in life and still do quite fit in exactly anywhere. Maybe that is the way I like it.

  2. I have learned to celebrate myself. But it has taken years to get there. Thanks for sharing your story.

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