Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Sober Life: Self-Acceptance

100mcg Mylan fentanyl patch

The drug I found a couple weeks ago: 100mcg fentanyl patch. It was even in its envelope.

Woke yesterday morning from a dream in which I found drugs and used them. In drug-dreams I hardly ever use, but after yesterday’s dream I was certain that I’d blown my sobriety, and I had to check my pupils in the mirror to make sure it was just a dream.

Went to my usual noon meeting at the university. There were only two guys there.

“Did you guys ever have a dream in which you were absolutely sure you used?” I asked. “As if it wasn’t really a dream, but real-life?”

“Pffff,” one of them said, unmoving.

“All the time,” the other one said.

I’ve been talking a lot at meetings about having found these drugs. And yesterday I figured out other reasons why I didn’t use them:

  1. My husband’s ultimatum that if I ever brought drugs into the house again, he’d leave me. I couldn’t use the drugs and then either lie to him, or tell him I didn’t give a shit about his ultimatum. Or try to get out of it by convincing him I didn’t “bring” them into the house.
  2. All the people who have helped me over the past 19 months. How could I go to them and tell them I’d used—or lie to them? I couldn’t.
  3. My fear of fentanyl. Fentanyl is ONLY for people who are opioid-tolerant. I’ve read about deaths of opioid-naive people who have used fentanyl.

So I’ve redeveloped a respect for, or at least a fear of, drugs. Or at least some drugs.

I’ve been feeling pretty spiritually blank lately. I still pray in the morning—the Third Step prayer, usually; or some version of asking the Great Mysterious for help—and I get on my knees several times a day. I think I have some pretty strong unhealthy default settings. One of the guys at the Thursday meeting quite often says he needs certain things to be “installed.” I need faith to be installed. I need surrender to be installed.

Intuition is installed, but without faith and surrender it’s hard to use it.

Someone said the other day that, when she came into the program in 1982—when I was starting college; the year I started to drink, in fact—her sponsor asked her where she lived, and she named a very dodgy neighborhood on a hillside. “Oh, my child,” her sponsor said:

Way up high
on that hill
behind the back of God.

That’s the way I felt as a kid. I didn’t live high on a hill or next to a slum. I lived in the generic suburbs, the deep white conservative Catholic suburbs, an aesthetic, cultural and spiritual desert. We were financially secure, but I never had access to money. I mean, never. Some alcoholic families work this way: they deprive the kids of what is available. I wonder: is it worse to have no resources, or to have them but not be able to use them?—we weren’t poor, but my mother behaved as though we were poor, and my father just let her do whatever she wanted. The people I know who grew up truly poor are at least able to spend money on themselves now.

I still quite often behave as though I am poor—financially, emotionally, socially, spiritually. I have money, but I can’t let myself spend it on myself. It has to be spent on other people. Default setting. Shortcoming.

In the summers I never saw any friends and I quite often felt as though I were living behind God’s back. I still have a tendency to “isolate,” as they say. Shortcoming.

I’ve felt the same way since finding those drugs. I cry spontaneously. I don’t call people. I feel blue, and I don’t know why. I can’t concentrate. I feel tired all the time. I’ve thought maybe I should take an antidepressant. I’ve thought maybe I should, in the words of songwriter Tom Waits, “Change my shorts, change my life, change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy.” Maybe I should—

“Should is not the solution,” my sponsor said:

“What now?” is the solution.

Been reading Didion’s essay on “Self-Respect,” published in 1961, three years before I was born. She writes:

Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all bout. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts. . . .  That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.

“Do you know why you want to use?” my sponsor asked.

“Because I’m sick,” I said.

“Oh, for godsake—haven’t you heard anything I’ve ever told you?” she said. “You want to use because you have feelings you don’t like.”

“I don’t like to cry every day,” I whinged.

“Why don’t you just let yourself cry?”

It’s a discipline to allow feelings to come out, without overindulging in them. Accepting them without overindulgence is humility. It’s Step 7. It’s a discipline to accept oneself for who one is, while also recognizing one’s shortcomings and doing what one can to overcome them—rather than beating oneself over the head for them. It’s easier to beat myself over the head. It’s what I’m used to. It’s the equivalent of taking a razor and cutting myself.

The more difficult practice is to accept myself. Even attempting to do this is a major amend.


  1. I remember beating myself up for wanting to isolate. I eventually learned that there is a difference between solitude and isolation, though they may look the same on the outside. They feel totally different on the inside. When I isolate I feel alone and disconnected. In solitude, I feel connected to and aligned with my Higher Power.

  2. Still struggling with loving myself after nearly three decades of sobriety. Wonder just what instilled these old tapes of negativity so deeply ?~!

  3. guinevere

    August 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    @Lynda, in my case it was growing up in an alcoholic family. Gosh, if I will be struggling in 28 years, I dunno what to say. 🙁 but I guess part of recovery and spiritual growth is learning that the arrival is not the goal, it’s the journey.

  4. Arrival is not the goal, its the journey! What a concept…….I like it. I think i will pass that on to some of my friends.
    I have found booze in places that were not expected and,all I did was get pissed…Thank God to desire to use was lifted right off the bat,cuz Im not sure if I would still be sober if it had’ent. And of course my HP must have known that ,and knew it was time for me to sober up. He(HP) also knew that I was weak and counld not have stoped if he didnt step in and give me big time help. Ofcourse getting on my knees and crying out for help had to come first.

  5. Ahh, G. , it is hard to just let those feelings flow through. Often, I think that they will. Ot end and I will be sad forever. But they don’t stay and do move on. I have dreams about my wife and father drunk. They fill me with a feeling of loss and loathing. Unsettled stuff. I am glad to know that none is real today.

  6. Holy Crap, G. This is a brilliant post.

    1. “Should is not the solution,” my sponsor said:

    “What now?” is the solution.

    Some days it seems I live and die by the “shoulds.”

    2. “Oh, for godsake—haven’t you heard anything I’ve ever told you?” she said. “You want to use because you have feelings you don’t like.”

    Ditto. Over the past year I’ve sublimated my urge to use with food, shopping, and avoidance. Nothing too extreme, but just enough on the edge for me to know that POSSIBLY it is time to deal with these unlikeable feelings.

    3. It’s easier to beat myself over the head. It’s what I’m used to. It’s the equivalent of taking a razor and cutting myself.

    Yes. Finding humility and balance to accept and feel these feelings is ever so tricky.

    Thank you as always for making me think.

  7. I had a drinking dream recently. There was dread in my heart when I woke up. For the same reasons as you had. Wife, AA team, kids, work people would all have been let down by me sucking back alcohol again. I thought that “of course you went back to drinking – your never going to stay sober – a useless screw up like you”…
    It was good when the realization came that it was just a dream. A whack of gratitude and then a touch of smugness came next. I am worthy of sobriety.
    Why is it I never have to go back and review the basics of walking or talking when I have to revisit self acceptance so often? Thanks for writing.

  8. My father, who died in 2008 at age 94, believed that the definition of success was: “Doing something you don’t want to do and doing it well.” In other words, it’s easy to do things you want to do or come easily. The real test in life is doing what’s hard – – – and getting through it – and doing a good job of it. G – you’re doing this. It’s not easy. But, you’re doing it. And, you’re helping others muddle through the mire and getting to the other side. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing or talking about. Your fears, and anxieties, and doubts, and frustrations make it a worthwhile endeavor. Thanks for sharing it all. It helps – believe me, it does.

  9. in my experience suffering comes in waves, and in hindsight it acquires a kind of romantic glow. in my experience new waves of it may require additions or expansions or different twists on my recovery routines, so that decades after my arrival in AA i am now a newcomer in al anon, and possessed of that hope (and despair) so characteristic of early days. to me it is strange how addiction science and medical science in general knows all about the phenomenon of tolerance — wherein treatments (or dosages) to lose effectiveness over time. yet when it comes to the exploding population of addicts with long-term sobriety, there is often little effort to reach beyond the obvious — go to more meetings, work the steps harder — for possible new paths to growth or survival. i have seen old timers drink, briefly, just to recapture that hope they had as newcomers.

  10. I always think of the line from a Sarah McLachlan song, “The life you’ve left behind is a cool breeze.” This is the work that we do. Using is the easier, softer, deadlier way – it’s the way right out of this world. If we want to stay in it, we have to feel our feelings. It takes work and discipline.

    I like your sponsor’s perspective. I’ve found that sometimes the most helpful thing I can say to someone who is stuck or at risk of being stuck, is “What’s next?” For me, I usually need a period of reflection, silence, meditation. Get to the still centre, and then go from there.

    It’s not just us recovering people who get stuck. We sure don’t have the market cornered on that. So tell us G, what’s next?

  11. I woke this morning to a drinking dream combined with me raging at someone who had hurt me within the dream. I was sobbing as I awoke and now realize that I have not dealt with the feelings. That was tough to wake to but thank God it’s a dream. I got up, made coffee and began a 4th which could take a while.

  12. Patricegodbout

    June 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    oh my this touches me, it has been so long since I have been touched. i am a 53 year old female, I am on 30 mls. of methadone maintenance for around 20 years. I also drink too much but I am good at hiding it, from my husband, my parents. I never had children, I regret that but I would rather be an addict without kids. I pretend alot but in my heart I believe in God, (goodness). I survived a lot of bad things. I lost alot.

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