Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Sober life: Practicing habitual contentment

My friend Nora wrote in a comment on my last post:

I used to think being happy meant being happy all the time…

Now I focus on being content. I wrote on ODR the other day that one of my character flaws is habitual discontent… It’s a habit I learned in my alcoholic family: expecting life to be unenjoyable, not to go well, just expecting to be unhappy. Expecting melancholy. Sometimes I feel melancholy without even knowing why, without having any reason—I feel as though I ought to just sit down and cry because it’s the thing to do. …

Since it’s just me practicing this, I can’t expect higher power to remove this, so I’ve been trying to practice habitual contentment. Satisfaction as a habit. Why not smile because it’s the thing to do? Why not be content, just because?

Mona Lisa

A half-smile of contentment.

Nora also wrote:

Isnt the hardest thing in life to just ‘be’?! To be in the hard times as well as in the good times.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like I have to play catch-up ball because of the time I’ve “wasted” on my addiction. It’s a terrible feeling, the compulsion to make up for lost time. Because it’s impossible, really. It’s an impossible bind. One can’t make up for lost time.

It’s my failure to accept myself that drives this compulsion—that drives any compulsion. One of the hardest things in life IS just to be. And the only way I’ve found to do that is to be completely honest—first with myself, then with others. …

I was speaking with a person who can’t stop using. They simply can’t stop. Boy, I knew what they felt like. They lied about their clean date, because they couldn’t accept the fact that they used—the fact that they’d used made them feel like a “failure,” and this led them to lie, which made them feel more like a failure, and the lies just snowballed. … For me, my lies snowballed into thievery and all sorts of other deviant behavior—and it was all because I could not accept who I be.

The only way I got out of the sticky web of lies was to be “rigorously honest” at meetings and with a mentor who I trusted. I wanted what they had, and I trusted that if I got honest and did what they told me, I’d be able not only to quit, but to live with contentment. And it happened.

But I had to be ready and willing. It took years for this… I had to be through. Finis.

Now I try to see life less in terms of “good” and “bad” times, and just in terms of times. All times. I might have difficulties, but I have tools to get through them. Even the so-called “good” times can present difficulties. I try not to label… I’ve gotten myself into so much trouble by labeling the Times of My Life because it creates massive expectations and I end up living in the cold and lonely Desert of Times That Are Never Good Enough.

I try to be content. The word is from the French, which comes from the Latin meaning “to be satisfied.” The old root means “to contain.” Which for me has connotations of self-possession. I contain myself. That is sobriety.

It’s so haaarrrd. My addiction carps at me me that I need to be rescued, that I’m helpless, needy, defective…

But it’s also pretty simple. A lot of times I just remember that if I don’t use today, and if I help one other person, I’ve made it to a finish line and can wipe the sweat off my brow with a bit of self-respect.

When I do my 14 minutes of meditation in the morning, I try to put a half-smile on my face, as Thich Nhat Hanh advises. Just for exercise. You know what? It works.


  1. Thanks again G, because your special !
    Today im not catching UP, im catching ON. My contentment lies in the fact that GOD has me where he wants me. I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I USED to be !

  2. I am reasonably content today. I have my moments of stress but realize that I don’t have to let stress take over. It is good to turn to my HP when I am concerned. I can let the stress go. I know that God takes care of me and others.

  3. from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh:

    If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. If in our daily lives we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind and a sign that you are master of yourself.

    How can you remember to smile when you wake up in the morning? You might hang a reminder – such as a branch, a leaf, a painting, or some inspiring words – in your window or from the ceiling above your bed, so that you notice it when you wake up. Once you develop the practice of smiling, you may not need a reminder. You will smile as soon as you hear a bird singing or see the sunlight streaming through the window. Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding.

    When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness. This half-smile, how many artists have labored to bring it to the lips of countless statues and paintings? I am sure the same smile must have been on the faces of the sculptors and painters as they worked. Can you imagine an angry painter giving birth to such a smile? Mona Lisa’s smile is light, just a hint of a smile. Yet even a smile like that is enough to relax all the muscles in our face, to banish all worries and fatigue. A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns to us the peace we thought we had lost.

    Our smile will bring happiness to us and to those around us. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness, our smile. And this precious gift costs nothing. At the end of a retreat in California, a friend wrote this poem:

    I have lost my smile,
    but don’t worry.
    The dandelion has it.

    If you have lost your smile and yet are still capable of seeing that a dandelion is keeping it for you, the situation is not too bad. You still have enough mindfulness to see that the smile is there. You only need to breathe consciously one or two times and you will recover your smile. The dandelion is one member of your community of friends. It is there, quite faithful, keeping your smile for you.

    In fact, everything around you is keeping your smile for you. You don’t need to feel isolated. You only have to open yourself to the support that is all around you, and in you. Like the friend who saw that her smile was being kept by the dandelion, you can breathe in awareness, and your smile will return.

  4. guinevere

    September 15, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Acting our way into right thinking/feeling.

  5. I’m with you on this one. I am striving for contentment. For a way of enjoying the journey and not just the idealism of the goal I am focusing on at the time. Lately I have mostly been feeling good – and okay with the rougher times as I accepted they were part of the deal but today I feel grouchy and life feels tough and irritating. I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning but maybe I ought to go and give myself a big grin and see if that helps. Nora x

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