Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Sober Mothering: Teetering on the Edge of Delusion.

So maybe I haven’t described what life has been like the past few weeks. It’s been fucking crazy a little challenging. I’ve been teaching a class in essay writing at the university. And I’m doing other work. I’m also looking for tenants for a flat in a building we own. And in my “spare” time, I’m exercising, playing tennis, going to meetings, and talking with sponsees and new women and sometimes my sponsor. (I have blatantly thrown in the terrible towel on keeping the house clean.)

And oh yeah—I’m also picking a high school for my kid. He’s applying for admission into three high schools in our city: two public schools, and one private. Both the public schools are magnet-schools. So it’s a crap-shoot anyhow for the second magnet school, which is strictly lottery. But the first public high school is the creative and performing arts school, which requires a student-written application and an “audition.”

He’s written his application. (Do you know how hard it is to be a professional writer and not fix up your kid’s writing—but also help him with it? which grammatical errors do you let stand? how many questions do you ask in the margins before you’re showing your hand, not as writer or even an English teacher but as a perfectionist?)

And tomorrow he has his interview. He brings in his portfolio, and the admissions committee will ask him to draw on command, to extemporize about a professional painting, and to talk about his own work. He’s gonna be down there for six hours.

He’s 14.

A six-hour interview.

The new public arts high school.

The facility is awesome. Our city is at the confluence of two major river systems, where they join to form a third. The school is on the south shore of my favorite river. You can look out the corner windows of the painting studio and see both sports stadiums and the entire cultural district. The sculpture studio has saws and drills and other machinery that made me want to cut my hair off and buy black jackboots. …

But the keys to going to this school are: you have to want to do one art all afternoon, every day. You can’t do two arts. And you can’t play sports. My kid plays the guitar, and he’s an experienced soccer striker.

The old private high school.

On the other hand, it’s free. The third option, the private school—which is, he announced in September, where he REALLY wants to go—costs

(this is sticking in my throat)

$23,000 per year. We have been told that 40 percent of kids get as much as 50 percent scholarship money. But who really knows until the papers are signed?

I’ve spent the last two months helping him put together a portfolio for the arts school. A lot of the day yesterday I spent upstairs cutting mats for his drawings. I also happen to be an artist, and as a fabulous bonus I’m the child of an alcoholic and an unrecovered let’s just say that I’m the child of my mother, a smart perfectionist raised by a crazy violent drunk—and helping him put the portfolio together has been a lot harder than helping him with his writing. Because underneath everything I have this truly terrible and awesome urge to Get It Perfect, to Make Him Get It Perfect, which on its flip-side is about self-hatred and lack of faith, and which, if I do not let it go, will mean that I will end up making him feel like a piece of shit if he doesn’t get into this school.

Not to mention I’ll go back to using, because I’ll look at my kid and know that it was I who made him feel like a piece of shit.

I believe another name for this is (just taking a stab here) “bondage of self”?

It’s also pretty close to delusion. As in, I am absolutely WORTHLESS if, as a professional writer and artist, I can’t get my kid into this school.

My mantra has been: “It’s all going to work out like it’s supposed to” (mantras are supposed to be internal, right?—you’re not supposed to go around chanting them out loud all day, right?). But a lot of the time, the louder I repeat this mantra, the louder the perfectionistic delusional voice chants back, and pretty soon I can see the bayonets coming for me over the hillside, it feels like I have a war going on, and the War In My Head was one reason I used. Or “used to use.”

The Place Where The Story Takes A Drastic Turn And G Gets Perspective

So this morning I’ve made breakfast and have tried to cajole my kid into wearing a hat over his wet hair, since we woke up to snow, and I’m just opening the door for him to catch the bus when I see K from up the street, standing in front of my house.

K is a woman who lives up the block. She has schizophrenia. She was doing relatively well before her sister died a year and a half ago. Then she got much, much worse. She stood there in her sweats, a look of fear on her face.

I asked what was wrong. She said she’d tried to go to the store but as she made her way down the block, the voices took over.

I thought about how often I use the word “crazy,” albeit in a colloquial way.

The long and short is, I jumped into some clothes and took her to the store. The whole time, she checked out with me whether the stuff she was getting was “OK”—as if some of the stuff could be morally wrong to put in her basket. Standing in front of the jam shelf, she couldn’t make a choice. “Help me out here, G,” she said.

I stood there and helped her pick out some jelly and my worries about everything shrank down like this morning’s snowflakes melting on the sidewalk.

A number of us who know K are pretty concerned about her. I called my spiritual mentor, who is a psychologist; also, a good friend of mine from the rooms, whom K herself had called yesterday, and who knows the social-services system here pretty well; they both suggested urging her to call her nurse if she were to come by again. My friend from the rooms articulated what I’d felt in the grocery store:

I think we can identify with that level of delusion because we’re teetering on the edge of delusion all the time ourselves.

It’s true. One of the most slippery parts of addiction is the delusion. I have to check out my own mind with people I trust. It’s strange: I can help others sort truth from delusion, but it’s sometimes not so easy to do when I’m stuck inside my own head.


  1. hey…if you ever want to talk about son goes there and is a dancer. I am 23 years sober..and struggle with mental health issues as well. Being is a mom and being sober is hard.

  2. G-
    thanks for this window into sober parenting! I can so relate – my 14 yo son is looking at high schools ( 1 private, 2 public magnets) for next year as well. My delusions pushed me into characterizing him as “lazy” this past week (not directly to him, but to his other mother) for him not taking more initiative in the process…

    When indeed it was my issues of anxiety about his ability to get in, do the work and be successful (and not living in my house at 30!). Talk about not living one day at a time – in my delusion I was in 2027 with him still living with me, eating his way through bags of groceries, watching questionable videos, and asking for money!

    I had to back up, apologize to her for my outburst, and then move forward with helping him in his choices, preparation, and planning. Focus on my healing.

  3. My eldest is now into week 6 of uni (college). She knows everything about everything you’d think listening to her on some days. We enjoy our chats and she tells me when she is ready to go home to her halls (which I pay for as well) . The dynamic has really changed in our home where number 2 girl has to contribute to the smooth running of the house. She has picked up the mantle and is working her butt off. I am doing my own ironing as there is no child to pay to do it,and I do a dam good job, and rock out on my ipod when I think I am alone. Today it was the greatful dead. My children need me still. They need me clean and sober. I need them to grow up slowly and teach me me not to be a total dick and know all. I worry less for them less now that there is an HP in my life. Richie.

  4. Yeah, my kid is teaching me not to be a total dick and know-it-all… Thx, Richie. It IS about faith. … More about how he did in his audition next week. /G

  5. Wow, I sure can identify with being the perfectionist parent…really hard for me to let go of the critical parent and play. I have a friend like K, who was a very functional recovering person, until his son committed suicide, now he wanders the streets, and if he sees you and recognizes you, will wander off into a unintelligible soliloquey, and I when I see him I hope that he doesn’t see me.

  6. Hey G, my girls may be 5&7 but I have felt the beginnings of my parent perfectionism. Last year had my 5yr old in gymnastics, she’s a natural and loves it. There was me having her practice every night at home…not because she loved it but because I wanted it to be perfect.
    Sick? Yeah I think so. Glad I got perspective.

  7. My son, who is now 20, repeatedly tells me that I make him feel like a piece of shit because I ran his life, chose his school, and decided what was best for him. If true, it didn’t work. My guess is whether your son goes to the public school or the private school, he will turn out the way he is going to turn out. Maybe he won’t go to the same college if he goes to one school as opposed to the other, but he will ultimately be the same person. Whatever you decide, don’t beat yourself up. Your son is lucky and enriched indeed, because he has loving, caring parents. The rest will be up to him and his DNA.

  8. I did a lot to ‘help’ my youngest son get in to one of the best colleges in the country. I’m not sorry I did. This was something I could do – and I did it well. I was careful to preserve the integrity of his intent and premise, in all his essays. I served more as a ‘coach’ versus a dominating re-writer. The fact is, our schools do not teach good writing skills. In each essay re-write that I insisted on, Brian learned some basic writing development skills his teachers should have been teaching. The admissions essay took 20 drafts to smooth out and get ready for submission. Brian, also, submitted an art portfolio. I’m not sorry I that I was an active participant/contributor in my son’s acceptance in to Stanford. He graduated with almost a 4.0 – in film/media studies, and now has his own very successful documentary film company. I knew the potential was there – but he needed coaching and help in articulating his talents. This is what parents do. The trick, of course, is making sure that the writer’s voice is always preserved and present. The fine tuning is what needs a more critical eye than what the 17 (or 14) yo has. I’m a huge proponent of public schools – for a variety of reasons. I think your son has 3 very good options – and with your mentoring/coaching, can’t go wrong with any of them. Can he do club soccer? And why would a school limit a kid to just ONE art form/expression? Sometimes, your ‘job’ is changing the system. Good luck!

  9. hi G,
    i’m thinking abt the little battle btwn the good mantra and the evil delusional, controlling part – if one gets louder, so does the other one. so…. it might work to lower the volume on the mantra… and change the tune of it so that it sounds light and comforting. with me, the hardest thing that i learned to do is to make space for the “bad” side – and love him. (not to approve of what he says, but to approve of “him”. and i know when that part of me feels shut out, unwanted, silenced, disapproved of – he’ll want to act out. and then i suffer more. so, what i’d say to that delusional part of you that wants perfection from you and your son, is, “you are so caring, so loving. you may not get to act on all your good ideas to make everythig just right, but your goodness for wanting to is appreciated. just lovely.”

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