Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: 12 steps (page 1 of 21)

On G’s Gratitude List: Men.

They’re unfathomable creatures, men. I don’t understand them (and, actually, I do).

I love most things about them: Their hair. Their skin. The fact that they’re bigger and stronger than I am, even the small ones. Their minds. Especially their voices. I love listening to men talk and sing.

Right now I’m listening to Tom Waits … he wrote this beautiful song.


Many of my feelings about men, of course, have to do with my father.

I was NOT daddy’s little girl. That was my little sister. My mother claimed me as her best friend, confidante, and ally—which might be why I think men are such incomprehensible, mysterious, unreachable, alluring beings. I originally wanted to have a girl, but I’m very, very glad I gave birth to a boy.

For most of his life Dad had a big beer-gut, and he was not hairy. (I like men with hair on their arms, their legs, their chests.) When I was growing up, I didn’t consider Dad handsome. I was kind of ashamed of the way he looked, actually, because he didn’t take care of his body.

But this is a picture of my dad in college.

Dad, senior photo, University of Pittsburgh, 1961.

(The flattop and skinny tie kill me.)

He was handsome. He was six-feet-two; he wore a size-12 shoe and a size 46-long coat. He was smart and dependable and spiritual and utterly unafraid of people, and he Read Books. He sang bass in the church choir.

Dad’s message was, “Everything will be OK.” Sometimes (especially when the Dow crashes, or when one of our kids has a real problem) my sister and I call each other and say, “Tell me what Daddy would say.”

His hugs were the best. A hug from Dad was like receiving a hug from the entire planet. Market shares could be tumbling, buildings could be burning, hurricanes could roar through and flood even uplands and when I hugged Dad, the world would be put back together and I’d be standing again on hard, dry ground.

His hands were large but finely boned, with square nails. Like a scientist.

He had blue-gray eyes. Like rain.

My son’s eyes are deep, dark Bournville brown, like my brother’s. His eyebrows are heavy and black, like Dad’s.

My son.

My son.


My son is one of a number of important men in my life. Another is Jacques, who lives in New York and has 30 years sober and who’s like a brother to me. And another is a tall geeky guy with a magnificent sense of humor, who rents out his car because he cycles everywhere within a 20-mile radius of his house. There’s yet another tall guy, with long hair and superb taste in music, whom I’ve known since the last days of post-punk. Both these tall guys are enjoying raising young women. … There’s also my son’s father, who gave our boy that dimple in his chin and who, in both his sons, has raised two good men.

I’ve learned many lessons from men that I could never have learned from women. My son has learned many things from the other men in his life that he could never have learned from me.

I’ve spent much of my life being afraid of men, as if they were bears in old-fashioned zoo cages. My mother taught me that if I trusted men, if I was nice to them, they’d eat me alive. Please Don’t Feed the Bears. My fear was actually not a fear of men but a fear of my own sexuality. One of the primary side-effects of using drugs was the depression of my sex-drive. When I was using, I didn’t look at men. On the whole, I didn’t notice other people. I was immured in my own bubble, within the curved walls of my skull.

Now that I’m sober, I notice men all the time. As a sober straight woman dedicated to honesty and integrity it’s important for me to pay attention to the fact that I have a serious attraction to these bears. Even if I don’t act on that attraction—because to act or not to act, and how to act, are choices recovery gives me—it makes life more alive.

Thank you, all you Bears, for being who you are.

Dear G: Am I An Addict?

So I’m responding to two emails I received in the past week: one from a stranger, and one from a friend.

This is gonna be a long post, so get your iced coffee and your orange-chocolate-chip biscotto (my favorite) and sit down.

The Stranger has been prescribed Percocet (oxycodone), OxyContin (also oxycodone), and the antidepressant Cymbalta (duloxetine) for the past six years.

The Friend has been taking a teensy dose of Klonopin, a benzodiazepine—an addictive class of drugs used as sedatives and muscle relaxants—for the past year.

Both of them asked me for advice.

(Before I go on, I have to remind y’all that I’m not a doctor. I just share experience here—please take what you need and leave the rest.)

The Stranger seems more confused than the friend. The Friend, who has seen his share of addicted folks but is not in any program of recovery and never before thought he was addicted to anything, reached out to me because he knows I write about addiction. And he knows I don’t bullshit.

The Stranger writes:

I think I’m an addict? Am I? Am I not? Why is it even important to know if I am or not? Well, to me it’s important because I am having a HECK of a time coming off these meds.

This person has been tapering off 60mg OxyContin plus 40mg Percocet—a total of 100mg oxycodone, which truthfully is not that big a habit. It’s not a tiny habit, a tiny habit is two or three Percocet (15mg) per day, but getting off 100mg oxycodone is eminently doable, even if you’ve been taking Oxy for six years.

So let me tell you about some of the things I’ve learned about how to tell whether you’re an addict.

Obsession

It doesn’t matter how much we use, or how we use, or when we use (only after noon, only after 5 p.m., only after work, only after we put the kids to bed, etc.). It matters what the drug-use does to our minds.

Quitting 15mg versus quitting 100mg is like the difference between somebody who drinks two glasses of wine every evening and someone who drinks a bottle. Is the person who drinks just two glasses—but who cannot do without those two—NOT an alcoholic because she only drinks two? No. It’s what the two does to her. It’s how she thinks of those two glasses when she’s not drinking them, as well as when she is.

(BTW heavy drinking, for women, is usually defined as more than one drink per day every day.)

Both these people can quit their habits. The person who drinks only two glasses might have a harder time quitting because she thinks, “I’m only drinking two.” Or the person who drinks a bottle might have a harder time because her body has become more physically dependent and she’ll get sicker when she quits.

If they both stick it out, they’ll start to see benefits. It takes time. It takes a lot of days of sheer commitment not to pick up, and that itself takes a lot of support. For which I’d say, yeah, try a 12-step program, but give it a real shot: get a sponsor, take the steps, do what you’re told. If you’re really powerless over your drugs, wave the white flag (Step 1). If that doesn’t work, there are other ways of getting sober, but I know best what has worked for me and that’s what I talk about here.

Getting Our Drugs

Alcoholics can just go to the store and buy their drugs. We drug-addicts usually have to lie and cheat to get ours. Alcoholics wind up doing weird stuff AFTER they’ve bought and taken their drugs. For example, how do you hide all those empties—they clink when you try to drag them to the curb or the recycling bin, etc. … Drug-addicts usually aren’t faced with these kinds of questions (unless you’re shooting, which leaves tracks that you have to hide). Our questions are more about how to get the drugs in the first place.

If we’re using illegal shit, we have to commit felonies to buy it.

If we’re using legal shit, we also usually have to commit felonies to buy it.

I committed I don’t know how many felonies to get my drugs. A lot. More than 10. Enough, probably, to warrant a prison sentence, because I committed them over and over, over time. They all expired this summer, which made me feel free, in a sense, but in another sense I can never make up for having committed them in the first place. I talked to a lot of people about how to make amends for having committed felonies that put doctors and pharmacists and my own family in danger. They all said, Change your behavior and stop doing it. Tell other people not to do it. So:

Don’t. Change. Dates. On. Scripts. It’s fucking dangerous and can hurt more people than yourself.

The Stranger is not yet committing felonies. But she’s doctor-shopping. She’s been to four doctors other than her regular doctor to get drugs to supplement her regular scripts. More and more states are enacting doctor-shopping laws.

//

The green Watson-387 hydrocodone tabs I used to chew when I was becoming an addict. Bitterness on the tongue.

The green Watson-387 hydrocodone tabs I used to chew when I was becoming an addict. Bitterness on the tongue.

Let me tell you a story. When I started using legal drugs, I didn’t think I was an addict and I thought the amount of drugs I was being prescribed (45mg hydrocodone per day?—or something like) would last me frigging forever. I had spent the past two or three years trying to make thirty 10mg Watson-387 hydrocodone tablets last an entire month, and I’d always run out, because, of course, I Was In Pain, and the pain needed to be treated. When I scored ninety 15mg caps per month, I saw a road paved with those white-caps stretching to the horizon and thought life was finally perfect and I would be taken care of forever.

What happened was, in two months I needed 60mg per day.

By the end of that year I was being prescribed 150mg per day—ten 15mg caps. I would get a delivery of 300 15mg capsules each month. A delivery. The Man would come and deliver them. Personally, I think this qualifies as an official “shitload” of drugs, but just wait:

By the end of the next year another 120mg morphine (in the form of Kadian, a long-acting capsule) had been added to that, and in another six months I was given extra fentanyl lollipops. Pharmaceutical Tootsie-Pops. No: Dum-Dums, really. By that time I was a stone junkie, although I still had trouble believing I was, because I was still doing my life. Opioids don’t disable you the way alcohol and, say, meth do: I didn’t look drunk because I wasn’t drunk. I was just on a shitload of drugs, and when I ran out, I was incapacitated in every way.

And toward the end I always ran out.

Running Out

“When I would run out of the meds early,” The Stranger says.

People who don’t have problems taking their meds don’t run out. People who do have problems taking their drugs do run out.

“But I hate being high!!!”

“I LIKE feeling normal and sober!” she writes.

Oh, sweetheart, pleeeze. I hated being “high” too. I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted to have energy when I wanted, be relaxed when I wanted, be accepted.

“I never drink (hate the stuff!) or smoke marijuana, and I’ve never done any hard drugs.”

Solidarity, sistah. <fistbump> I am a Top-Shelf White-Collar Addict all the way.

By the time I detoxed five years ago, I hadn’t seriously drunk alcohol in more than a decade. I “hated the stuff.” And I’ve never done any street drugs. Ever. Never smoked cigarettes, let alone weed. Never danced topless on any frat bars, never stripped for the dudes, never screwed around. I’ve never woken up in anyone’s bed I didn’t actually have a relationship with.

By the end I had a kid, for chrissake, and I Took Care Of Him, and I did a good job, not the best job I could have done, because I was a stone junkie.

If you like feeling sober, then quit sooner rather than later. You will only feel more and more sober. The feeling of extra energy I got from pills was fake energy. If you can exercise at all, your body will soon start producing its own endorphins and you’ll heal.

But you will not start to heal until you quit putting extra opioids into your body.

Anxiety and Fear

One of the most helpful things I’ve ever heard was from my first sponsor, who told me that I needed to call anxiety by its right name: fear. “Because anxiety can be medicated,” she said.

But you don’t go to the doctor and ask for pills because you’re having fear.

The Stranger mentions fear over and over again in her email. It’s a signal of addiction.

The Friend’s email had none of that fear. He was balls-out about his concern: “I believe I have become addicted.” Which is the thing that made me think he wasn’t addicted: we addicts tend to keep second-guessing ourselves. Even when we ask for help, it’s usually: “I think I MIGHT be addicted,” or, “Am I addicted?”

But who am I to know for sure? I don’t know how much fear or obsession he has or whether he’s running out of his tiny dose of Klonopin each month and changing dates on scripts to get more. (I’m pretty sure he’s not committing that felony; after speaking with him, I don’t think he’s even running out.)

This is one of the aspects of addiction that needs a lot more research. If we’re going to treat addiction as an illness, we need clear diagnostic criteria so that it’s not a matter of self-diagnosis or self-identification.

Pregnancy

I’m not a doctor, and I’m not an addictions specialist, but I’m a mom and a woman and I wrote a book on pregnancy for which I did more than a little research, and my mind is made up about this: if at all possible, unless the mother’s life is threatened (which is to say, unless she’s already on a load of heavy drugs and gets pregnant and can’t detox without endangering herself and the pregnancy), women ought to get off their drugs if they want to get pregnant.

There are a lot of studies starting to come out about the “benefits” of buprenorphine over methadone in pregnancy, but most of those are for heroin addicts and/or methadone-maintenance patients who are already pregnant.

The Stranger has tapered down to 30mg of oxycodone per day. I hope that, before she gets pregnant—which she says she wants to do—she’ll quit entirely.

Because motherhood is damned hard work. And it’s best to do it sober. It is the single thing I wish I could go back and change: I wish I’d been entirely sober for my kid’s childhood.

Please don’t miss your kid’s.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 3.

If this helped you, the best thing you can do is pass it on via the little social buttons below.

Also, please visit my new site: Recovering the Body.

Blowing Up Midtown.

I wend my way down Third Avenue away from the Lex Ave subway stop (I call them “stops,” not “stations,” because that’s what I’ve trained myself to call them—I learned to ride the Tube in London and native Londoners on the street laugh at me when I ask where the nearest Tube “station” is—It’s a stop, innit? This is how afraid I am of being laughed at: I change my language, change my shorts, change my shirt, change my life, as Tom Waits sings, so that I can avoid even minor disapproval) and toward the midtown offices of this famous treatment center whose headquarters are in my state but which also maintains a location here. I wonder what it looks like.

It’s small. It’s narrow. It’s a little glass door sandwiched between skyscrapers in the tall steelconcrete windtunnel that is Midtown.

Caron, midtown.

Caron, midtown.

The meeting is downstairs. It’s big. Lots of people, it turns out, are “family and friends” of alcoholics and addicts in this town. I arrive five minutes late because the train was running late, I’m not used to building in time for the constant subway delays in this city, actually I’m not used to building in time for any malfunction ever, I always expect myself to be running at top speed in perfect condition, nuts tightened, pump primed, engine lubed and idling, ready to go. That perfectionism, in fact, is one reason I’m here, sitting at the back of this meeting, digging my knitting out of my bag and listening to the speaker give a “qualification.”

This is a meeting whose weekly theme is “intimacy.”

The speaker talks, to my great surprise, about sex.

No one at any meetings in my town talks about sex.

But sex, sober sex, truthful sex, Real Sex, is so important and so critical to this process they call “recovery.” Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about sex? I wonder to myself. The answer is obvious: people are embarrassed to be open about their sexual “issues” in what used, in my parents’ cocktail era, to be called “mixed company.”

But I need to know what sober sex means. Honest sex.

What does it mean? What does it look like?

(My sponsor says: Making love doesn’t always have to mean sex. It can be other things.)

The speaker makes an analogy that sounds crazy and gross but is actually, upon second thought, fairly sane: this person wants a relationship that’s so intimate that it looks the way primates look when they’re grooming each other, weeding through each other’s hair and cleaning each other down.

stock-footage-cu-monkeys-grooming-each-other-at-the-monkey-temple-in-kathmandu-nepal

Total acceptance.

We’re primates, aren’t we? I think. Don’t we have this instinct somewhere in our DNA, this need to be so accepted and cared for not just by ourselves but by someone else as well?

//

I raise my hand. I talk about sex. I cry afterward, unwillingly. I don’t take long to talk, the “spiritual timekeeper” doesn’t even signal me to shut up, but I feel stupid, like a stupid freak as I root my Kleenex out of my bag and blow my nose. I’m the only one crying—at least, I think so.

Stupid freak. This is the language that my mind uses to address myself when I talk about dangerous subjects, the language that is second-nature and feels comfortable, like a threadbare flannel shirt. It’s garbage but it keeps off the draft.

I’ve been thinking about language all day. I’ve spent the day writing for an editor I like, a guy in this city in fact. But I also, paradoxically, found myself going to Mass. I’d gone to another meeting at a church, it happened to be the holiday they call (I used to call) Holy Week, I’d gone inside the cool stone nave to be quiet and “maintain conscious contact,” and suddenly the priest showed up. He said Mass. And I knew all the responses. I spoke the language. It burbled out of some deep well inside me that I thought I’d banged the cover on long ago. I am taken aback by some of the phrases. Particularly:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you
But only say the word and I shall be healed

I shall be healed. Healed. Had I ever thought about that idea, that this “sacrament” could Heal Me? Not as such; I’d gone to church to please my parents, to look like a Good Girl, to maintain appearances, keep the varnish bright, and to somehow Meet God in “God’s house”—my mother’s term for church. I’d memorized the responses to the Mass the way I memorized my “times tables” in fourth grade; later all this memorization helped me commit calculus to short-term memory, and the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales to long-term memory, in Middle English, with spelling, and accent:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour …

Aprille. It’s April already. I’m ahead in getting my taxes done but already behind in so many other things. In Work. In Money. In Appearances. In Sex. In Life.

//

After the meeting I thank the speaker. Women and men alike express appreciation for my “share.” A guy tells me not to feel alone, that what I said about sexuality is probably a lot more common than I think. I nod my head and thank him and climb the stairs to the lobby.

I ask the woman behind the desk if Dr. Paul works here.

Paul Hokemeyer, MD, JD, clinical consultant to Caron Treatment Centers, NYC.

Paul Hokemeyer, MD, JD, clinical consultant to Caron Treatment Centers, NYC.

 

She regards me with a patient smile usually reserved for very young children. “He’s not here right now,” she says kindly, checking her watch—it’s 8:30 p.m.—“he’s left for the day.” Of course, I say; I just wondered; I’ve talked with him several times over the phone; I’m a journalist and sober blogger and I’d just wondered if these were his offices. I’m rambling a bit. I’m out of business cards; I don’t take myself seriously enough. I’m looking around at the lobby. People routinely do business over distances these days but something in me likes to place people, place faces, I’ve got quite an earthbound mind, I like to look into people’s eyes, I’m an artist

I paint portraits.

I paint portraits.

but I also wind up defending myself in situations where I needn’t. Why explain myself with the receptionist?

(because i explain defend myself with everyone)

Isn’t it time to open up a bit? to trust? … I think back to the interview I held with the Famous Author the day before. I was showing him my paintings on my new iPad; I felt as though I was not supposed to be showing him art on a fancy expensive consumerist design tool, I could hear the voice of my mother

(goddammit, who the hell do you think you are?)

but I showed him anyway; he said he recognized one of the paintings from my blog.

You read my blog? I asked.

I told you I read your blog,

he said.

I didn’t believe you, I blurted, placing my fingertips on his arm. He regarded me with slight reproach. He’d guessed my age as younger than his, though in fact I’m six or eight years his elder.

I try to live a life of rigorous honesty these days, my friend,

he said.

//

Bloomingdales_flags

Wind whipping Bloomingdale’s flags. Photo by Woody Campbell.

I walk out of the Midtown treatment center offices. The wind through Bloomindale’s flags has built to tornado force. I mechanically scan the sliver of sky for tornadoes, but of course they never experience cyclones here. I’m blowing up Third Avenue in Midtown. I’m steadying myself to keep from pitching over when a hand touches my left shoulder. I turn; it’s a woman from the meeting where they talked about sex. She asks the name of my blog. She has heard me speaking with the receptionist, saying I’m a sober blogger. She plugs the name of my blog into her smartphone and it comes up, smack, right there, in the wind, on the corner of 58th and 3rd, in Midtown.

She smiles and tells me this was her second meeting and she was glad to hear me speak. Both of her parents are addicts. Both of my parents were addicts, too, I say. She says her mother has just gotten out of rehab and her father is on methadone—not “really clean,” but still.

I tell her I’m glad they’re alive.

I touch her hand. People are so alone in this town—in this world—skin rarely touches skin. We’re evolved to receive these electric charges. We need them to power up.

She tells me that she’s been trying to change her attitude and give back to people by being a clown.

A clown? I say.

“I dress up as a clown,” she says, “and I meet people around town.”

Her face is beautiful—round cheeks, full lips, framed by dark curls.

Actually, I remember, all faces hold beauty—experiencing it requires deep looking.

A witness.

Spirituality = Reality.

Today I’m borrowing this title from my good friend Dani, who has written under it for four years (click here to read her in Freedom From Hell). Thanks, Dani.

//

My friend Jacques’s dad died four days ago in Tucson.

I’ve known Jacques for 25 years. When I met him in 1988, he had gotten sober two years before, at age 22, and was dating Ben, who was studying in the same writing program I was attending. Jacques and Ben are still both poets and English teachers. We were all born in the same year.

Ben’s mom has been living with terminal cancer for several years; by incredible coincidence, the day after Jacques’s dad died—just three days ago, in other words—Ben’s mom had a setback and began actively dying. These former lovers are losing their second parents within days of each other. I find the resonance strange and beautiful.

When it became clear to Jacques that his dad would not last very long, he told the hospice staff that his dad needed a Catholic priest. The hospice worker told Jacques she’d send a minister, a social worker, they had all kinds of resources.

“I need a CATHOLIC PRIEST,” he said. “My dad wants last rites in the Catholic tradition. Can we please get a Catholic priest?”

“I had no idea why I said that, my dad and I didn’t talk about what he wanted at the end,” Jacques tells me today on the phone. “But my dad was a strict Catholic, G, it was serious with him, it wasn’t mumbo-jumbo.”

Jacques, one of three brothers, was born at St. Francis Hospital (Rabbi Abe Twerski and the nuns later turned it into the city’s haven for drunks and junkies; my cousin Danny spent some time there, I believe—it was notorious in our family that you had hit shameful low-bottom if you were at St. Francis; meanwhile, I was born at Braddock General, which, for a number of years until it closed in 2009, served as a detox and rehab for the river valley’s addicts). Jacques lived around the corner on 44th Street till he was in second grade, when his dad started making enough money to move them out to the suburbs, where they had the split-level and the country-club membership.

On the drive back to his hotel four days ago, the hospice worker called his cell and said the priest had arrived and was ready to give his dad the sacrament, and that she’d put the phone on speaker so Jacques could hear his dad’s responses.

“And this is no shit, G, OK?” he said. “On the very last word—on the ‘Amen’—the hospice worker said, ‘Your dad just took his last breath.’ He died on the last word of the sacrament.”

We sit there in silence, absorbing this.

altar-boysJacques and I were raised strict Catholic in the 1960s and ’70s. Jacques was an altar boy (dunno what my thing is with altar boys, but I can just picture Jacques in red robe with white lace surplice, holding the censer and cracking jokes under his breath). Jacques and I know what sacrament means, even though we no longer receive them ourselves.

“You did that because you were sober,” I remark. “If you hadn’t been sober, do you think you’d have had the presence of mind to be so certain about what your dad wanted, and to act on that leading?”

“You know, I have goosebumps on the back of my neck when you say that,” he says. “Because I’ve been thinking about that. He didn’t tell me he wanted that—I just knew.”

“How old was your dad—86?” I ask. “That’s a hell of a long time to live, and you made sure your dad had what he needed at the end of that long haul in order to let go and be at peace. In doing that for him you showed him great compassion and kindness.”

“I’ve been realizing something about love,” he says. “It’s not a feeling. It’s a commitment, a desire for the other person’s wellbeing such that you’re willing to sacrifice yourself.” Not in a codependent way, he emphasizes; not in a way that fosters the other person’s weakness and insecurity and one’s own security and vanity, but in a way that fosters the other person’s growth and peace.

Jacques has racked up large bills flying from his home in northern Michigan to Tucson every month since August, when his dad fell and had to move into nursing care.

“Love is hard, G!” he says. “It’s so hard!

We pause, considering this weighty truth.

“Well,” he says, and I can hear him stretching, “I’m standing here in the 75-degree sun and I’m gonna go take a swim now.”

“Fuck you, darlin,” I say fondly.

//

So this is part of the way I stay sober. People in The Program talk about “helping others,” reaching out to the newcomer, and I do that, but I also interact with several people in my life who are oldcomers, who count their sober-time in decades, and I stay active with principles I’ve learned from many years in Al-Anon. Long-time sobriety doesn’t guarantee any results—serenity, peace of mind, happiness, even a good night’s sleep. It starts out one day at a time, and it stays that way.

Meanwhile I tell Ben I’ll take some of his classes if he can’t get back from Dallas in time.

Observe These Hands, My Dear.

Arrived at my women’s meeting last night just as the meeting was starting. Came from having a withering argument with someone with whom I’ve had (and/or withstood) withering arguments for a long time. No big deal, right?—we all have folks in our lives who bring out the sharpest claws in us. I’ve had two or three panic attacks in the last couple months and they always begin with an out-of-body thing—it’s almost like I’m standing right next to my body, watching it go through the motions of a panic attack: face blanks out as though to deny the anger (mine; the other person’s); chest tightens, throat chokes, then the body starts to gasp slightly, as if it’s being dragged underwater.

Last night as I walked into the meeting I felt my face go blank and my throat choke and I walked to the chilly little bathroom at the back of the basement room where we have this meeting. At the back of the cold room, near the last wooden stall, under the window, I saw that someone had placed a space heater, and as I leaned my forehead onto the windowsill and a sob escaped the noose around my throat, I felt the heated air gliding up toward my face like a warm blanket.

My friend Tina followed me into the bathroom and called my name.

I fell stone in love with Tina the day two or three years ago that I heard her lead. Tina is one of those astonishing people who got sober at like age 22, and who has never had a drink or drug in the intervening 25 or 30 years. I don’t mean to make it sound as if it’s easy for her. It’s not. She’s a working mom whose partner, a guy with lots of sober-time and his own professional successes, enthusiastically supports her career and her work as a mother. She led me to the ratty little couch in the basement room adjoining the meeting room and as we talked she laid out some options I hadn’t seen before. Then we joined the rest of the meeting.

(What would I do without these women? Prolly drive down to one of the many bridges in this town. It’s their trust that keeps me sober.)

//

After the meeting, my sponsor, who had been there the whole time, asked me what had happened, and I told her. Again. … Do you never feel as though you must at least take a shot at making the story you’ve told a million times interesting, just to make sure the other person doesn’t scram, or scream, or fall asleep? The story of the conflict that engendered this particular argument I had last night—no way can I make it interesting. It’s the most common, most banal of stories on the face of the earth. “One of these days you’re going to get sick of hearing me talk about this and you’re going to fire me because of how boring all this is,” I told her, rolling my eyes.

(I hate it when people use the word “fire” for leaving a sponsorship. It’s not about hiring and firing. To “fire” someone is to demean them. But I said the word “fire” anyway.)

She shook her head almost in wonder and I realized I was doing it again—indulging in self-recrimination, self-censure, self-self-self, superselfinvolvement. Her eyebrows met above her glasses, and she claimed her best litigator’s stance and diction as she (once again) pointed out that I was being too hard on myself, that I was taking responsibility that wasn’t mine, that I had to cease the criticism and judgment “and, what is the word—opprobrium, shall we say?—that you use against yourself,” and to practice an attitude of gentleness and compassion toward myself and everyone else. Much of my work with my sponsor is about Step 7—humility and self-acceptance.

//

I want to fix myself. I want to figure out a Way To Be, a Pure Way that upsets no one else—so that I can do what I need to do for my own peace of mind and no one else will be affected. Teflon Woman. I know that the ONLY thing I can change is myself—so let’s get on with it, G, let’s figure out what “needs fixed” (as all my aunts used to say) and get out the toolbox and start in with the hammers and saws. There has to be something I can do to fix it. “It” being myself.

The idea that I’m fine just as I am, that I’m where I need to be right now, still doesn’t feel all that familiar.

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Flo (way down the trail) and Ginger chasing each other in snowy Frick Park.

When it comes upon me, however—when I let that attitude overtake me—I experience a state that approaches bliss. The other day for example it snowed, a heavy wet six inches, I ditched my morning plans because my kid’s school was delayed two hours, I drove south to the big hill in the city and walked my dog Flo and my friend P’s dog Ginger (because P is in Holland taking care of her mother) and simply allowed myself to be in the snowy morning without feeling as if I were doing anything wrong, as if I were reneging on any work (I was but amen, so be it), and I watched the dogs chase each other in the snow and heard the robins singing—a sure bellwether of spring—and the happiness welled up a little bit in me because I was right there, just doing the next thing, and it’s those moments I feel no need to change myself, Fix Myself, do anything to myself to make myself different so other people will be OK with me and my actions. Actually it wasn’t happiness, it was just contentment. The opposite of “discontent.”

“Content”—the word comes from the Latin for contain or to hold. In those moments I feel held, safe.

Other times—well, other times I stand in the Lululemon dressing room trying on expensive yoga pants and the rear-view in the three-way makes me pick apart every aspect of my body, makes me want to take out a couple grand so I can join a kickboxing class and finally possess, if never big breasts or booty, at least tiny Buns Of Steel. Still other times, I walk calmly into the church bathroom and sob quietly against the back wall. Quietly, so as not to upset anyone else.

//

My sponsor regarded me through her glasses and held up her hands. “I wish I could be like Rhett Butler with Scarlett,” she said, shaking her hands in front of my face.

“You mean,” I said, “where he says, ‘Observe these hands, my dear, they could tear you to pieces—’”

“—‘if it would take that stupid, wishy-washy idiot Ashley out of your mind,’” she finished. “I wish I could smash out of your head all that self-hatred and self-criticism. I would do it if I could.”

So she’s looking up at me, shaking her hands into my face. She ain’t no Rhett Butler. My sponsor is like two inches shorter than me—four or five when I am, as I was last night, wearing the awesome John Fluevog boots I bought in November from the Fluevog shop in lower Manhattan. No photo can convey the feeling I get from wearing these boots. They make me taller and über-badass. Impervious to (self-)criticism.

How do you kick the enemy’s ass when the enemy is yourself?

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Observe these boots, my dear. They were made for walking. By John Fluevog.

Then she started in about what a fascinatingintelligentspiritual person I am, how I have So Many Wonderful Qualities, blah blah blah, and I stopped listening.

(Scarlett: “Take your hands off me. You drunken fool.” Scarlett is about as adept at resisting real love as I am.)

Because I have to do that work for myself. I have to Love Myself. I can’t make anyone else do that work. (Can I?) I have to come to some kind of dependable right-sized understanding of the person I am. None of that requires Fixing Myself. I can’t screw anything in there that will make it all better. It takes time. Experience. Acceptance of mistakes, of possible mistakes, of myself. Taking steps outside my limits. Risk. Grief. Celebration.

//

Postscript: Ed died last night, peacefully, at 4:30 a.m. A great privilege to have known him. May you be at peace, Ed, and may your wisdom continue to speak words from The Cloud into our ears.

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