Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Sober life: Six tips for learning to love ourselves


Mary Karr

Mary Karr, memoirist and poet 

Met Mary Karr the other night. Also heard her speak—a great talk. One thing she said (among a number of things) that stuck with me: She said she is Very Nice To Herself these days.

If you’ve ever read her memoirs, you might understand why this stuck with me. Our mothers might have been the Karma Kousins, the soul sistahs snipped from the same psychic cloth. Growing up with women like these, you learn bad emotional housekeeping. The cobwebs and dust bunnies, as it were, build up. After a while, with me, it wasn’t just fluff in the corners and under the bed. The anger and FEAR got so bad it was regiments of rats chewing through the basement drainpipes and moving up, and eventually entire floors of the house blocked off while I just carried on using, bent over under the eaves and typing, trying to convince myself I was able to “function.” No wonder I had a crick in my back.

Some people ask how, after all the “wreckage” we’ve created, we can learn to love ourselves and treat ourselves well.

After what Mary Karr said the other night, I got thinking and compiled a list (I’m big on making lists these days). Because, at 22 months into recovery and eight months continuously sober, this is one of my big projects: Learning to Love Myself.

I do the 12 steps. If you recover another way, I hope you’ll share about that way…

1. Work the steps, and don’t quit before Step 5. Taking Step 5 a second time after my brain cleared of all the chemicals made it even better, because I could experience the love of another sober person witnessing my attempt at taking stock of the wreckage. This person also reminded me there were considerable goods I needed to keep.

2. Do for myself what I CAN do. They say in the rooms, “God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” I was taught a couple months ago by a dear friend whom I’ve known since the day I got into detox that God/HP/whatever would not do for me what I CAN DO for myself. I can’t sit back and expect HP to do all the work. … One way I’ve focused my energies on this task: After looking at my shortcomings recently, I was directed to list their opposites, and then act as if The Great Whatever had already removed them. A real eye-opener: For example, if I want more gratitude instead of self-pity, how about making a gratitude list each day? This turns out to be, instead of a chore, a good way of valuing what I have in life … and so a good way begin to treat myself better.

3. Act as if.  You hear this a lot: “act as if.” Fake it till you make it. I have an approach-aversion relationship with this idea because it can become a way into a fake life, and for a long time for me, it was. I faked everything, just waiting for the day I’d make it. However, I’ve been encouraged lately to “act as if” The Big Kahuna has my back. When I see this as an invitation into a mindset—when I bring it into my morning meditation—the result is that I can enter into the state of trust. A way of taking care of myself.

4. Make lists. I can collect all the great ideas I want, but I’m still real good at letting great ideas slip through the cracks. So I make lists. I have an iPod where I could store all kinds of notes but I also keep a little traditional notebook in my bag. It’s the third one since I got out of detox. … I have an electronic to-do list attached to my computer’s calendar, and I make a weekly list of tasks I want to complete. Even if it’s just one item, it’s important to me to be working toward something—it’s means I’m learning to respect what’s important to me. I’ve spent a lot of years showing myself disrespect.

5. Practice discipline.  My to-do list is attached to my calendar, which is enabled with electronic reminders that kick my ass when I’m not looking. These reminders include important things I need to do for others and also myself—things like “get a haircut” and “play tennis.” Sometimes I don’t achieve all my goals… and sometimes that means there’s an underlying issue of self-care that I need to look at. Am I forcing myself to do something I don’t really want to do? Are my expectations realistic? Am I slipping back into the big Egyptian river (De-Nile)?

6. Forgive myself. This is maybe the hardest one for me… I’ve never had any models for it; in many ways, I just don’t know what it looks like. My model is the remorseless judge and merciless critic. I ask often to be able to let go of self-hatred and allow it to be replaced with self-love. Actually, lately I’ve been thinking that it maybe needs to be replaced with divine love, which I’ve begun to suspect is a hell of a lot bigger, shinier, and deeper than human love…

This feels like something I can’t do for myself… Self-hatred is a destructive attitude, and it’s said that, if we ask, God will change our attitudes in order to keep us sober. And so far, it has happened. I’ve become more tolerant of my weaknesses without foisting them onto people, and I actually enjoy my own company more. Then the judgment descends again… They say time heals all ills, and “time” is one of my higher powers…

Some ways Mary Karr says she is good to herself: she exercises every day, going to the gym or practicing yoga every day. She puts herself on a work schedule, shutting off the phone and refusing to answer the door when she needs to. And she prays every day. She meditates every day.

Notice how often the words “every day” appear.


  1. Good suggestions. I wish that a sponsee I have would read the one about not quitting before Step Five. That is where the big change occurred for me. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I loved this post, having just finished reading Mary Karr’s book, LIT. What an amazing book. I admire Mary’s honesty, her himility, her ability to find dark humor in absolutely everything, her skillful wordsmithing, her fine memory, and her willingness to share all of this with all of us. Her book has given me tremendous hope for myself, my daughter, my biological family, my recovery family and everyone I’ve met who is dealing with the disease of addiction. I recommend that everyone read it and thanks again for sharing your experience with Mary Karr. I hope she keeps writing and writing because I want to keep reading her!

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