Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: 12 steps (page 2 of 21)

Trust: My Sober Family.

Somebody wrote in last week asking me to write more about how to stay sober long-term—when obsessive thoughts about picking up come back, and while the body is healing from the damage substances do. The top three things I do to stay sober long-term are:

  1. Take care of my body (eat mindfully, exercise, get rest).
  2. Take care of my spirit (pray, meditate).
  3. Take care of my mind.

Taking care of my mind means connecting with sober people I can trust to tell me the truth.

In sobriety, my nuclear family is made up of my sponsor and the three women I take through the work.

My sponsor

plumMy sponsor is a 67-year-old woman who grew up in the next borough over from my neck of the boonies.  Our high-school football teams were (still are) fierce rivals—the Mustangs v. the Indians.

PennHillsWhen I talk with my sponsor I usually go to her house, or else we meet at Whole Foods and get something healthy to eat.

One thing I love about my sponsor is that she doesn’t play phone games. We don’t do the work by text or email. We talk over the phone so we can hear each other’s voices, or we meet so we can look into each other’s faces. If the phone goes to voicemail, I trust that she can’t pick up the phone. She doesn’t screen calls. This has taught me not to screen calls with the women I work with. I’m straight-up with them: If I can pick up the phone, I will. If I can’t, I’ll call back as soon as I can.

I tell them something Sluggo told me: always have three women on hand you can trust will take calls from you in the middle of the night. I always have three in mind. My sponsor is one of them.

This connection is important. When I got sober, I had no clue that anyone would want to have anything to do with me, maybe ever. I couldn’t trust myself; why would anyone else want to trust me? I thought poorly of myself (I’m still tempted to think ill of myself; this is part of my alcoholic-addict mind: the warped thinking will somehow pull off any fucked-up contortion to entice me to pick up) and just picking up the phone was difficult. It was easier to pick up a drug or a drink because I didn’t have to risk my pride. Drinking or drugging meant I didn’t have to be vulnerable with anyone.

In sobriety I’ve learned the only way to protect myself from the fear of making mistakes is to avoid all relationships. I can only do that if I use. I’m wired to be social—we all are.

When we make connections with other people, it changes our outlook by changing our neurology. The hormone oxytocin is released when we form a new relationship. Powerful substance, oxytocin: also released during breastfeeding; also, in both sexes, during orgasm. The “afterglow” hormone. The comfort-and-joy chemical.

The women I work with

This comfort-rush is good for me, and I get it when I pick up the phone for the women I work with. There are three right now.

Georgia came first. 24; artist who studied at NYU. (I’ve gotten permission from all four of these women to write about them here.) Went for a while to the (private, expensive) high school my son now attends. Hipster. Vegan, wears no makeup with her simple haircut and skinny jeans. I learn so much from this young woman. The first time we sat down to do the work, I could see she has a very strong internal guide, a kind of compass that invariably swings to True North. The main thing I do when I talk or meet with Georgia is to gently help her stay in touch with this compass. Which helps me stay in touch with mine. We’re all born with this guide. Quakers call it the Inward Light. It can become warped by sitting in the coals of addiction.

Watching Georgia walk the walk gives me so much hope.

Then there’s Phoebe, who used to live in a house I own as a rental property. I mentioned to her that I have three apartments on this one street, and she said, “I used to live on that street.” When we drove by, we determined that the house I own was indeed her old digs—and the place where she used to deal drugs. What a coincidence, huh?

She was busted 20 years ago in the second-floor flat. The cops got her cash and her stash, pulled it all from the kitchen drawers. For Phoebe it’s been hardest to kick the drink. She relapsed hard late in 2011, racked up a bunch of DUIs, and is now on house-arrest. And she’s doing well. What I learn from Phoebe is to take life, even at its most difficult (especially at its most difficult), one small step at a time. At one point Phoebe had been facing jail time. A bunch of us wrote letters to the judge in her support, and today she is not incarcerated. She’s working, volunteering, staying fit (she was a gymnast as a kid) and living a sober life. Phoebe teaches me to be vigilant and persistent. She also reminds me to be grateful for simple things.

And then there’s Dora the Explorer, a 20-something cyclist and yogini who originally comes from the Pacific Northwest. She loves my city—this makes me so happy, that she loves my city.

The meeting place of three rivers.

The meeting place of three rivers.

Dora and I first met online when she wrote Guinevere an email one day. We met IRL (in real life) for a business thing last year; then she decided she wanted to try to quit smoking weed. She popped up at meetings. We’d have coffee. She asked if I’d be her sponsor. Some time passed, after which she looked at me shyly in the Quiet Storm one night and admitted that she had been reading my blog for a year before she’d written me.

“Your online voice sounded a lot like my mother’s,” she said, “except sane, and sober. So I thought of you as my Sober Blogger Mom.”

Turned out that she lived exactly three blocks away from me.

Small world. Or so they say.

I can’t describe how all this makes me feel—the Sober Blogger Mom thing, the woman dodging jail teaching me vigilance and gratitude, the hipster kid whose compass points to True North trusting me with her inventories and her life-story.

I trust all these women, and they trust me.

Trust. That’s what keeps me sober long-term.

Trust, and good organic food, and exercise—yoga, running, strength-training. And prayer and meditation—spiritual strength-training.

Trust is a powerful force. I believe there’s a certain percentage of folks who need “medication-assisted therapy” or what we used to call “maintenance,” folks who can’t stop picking up no matter what they do. But I also think a lot of folks don’t give the spiritual solution enough of a try. It requires me to trust, which is tough for an egomaniac. In addiction I lied a lot. The lies warped my sense of truth.

My sober family helps me sort the truth from lies. Dora and Georgia come to a Buddhist recovery meditation meeting my sponsor leads at the Shambhala Center Tuesday nights. I sometimes see Dora and Phoebe at a Saturday-morning literature meeting. And Friday nights, at a women’s meeting, my sober family and I are quite often all in the same room.

Stranded.

Manhattan_bridge_snowWe landed at LaGuardia and arrived at the midtown hotel early Thursday morning, and even before we sat down we were strategizing about how to get back out. The “storm of the century” (O how the media love to whip up enthusiasm), a northeaster packing snow, was cooking up and we reserved rooms for an extra night, the first in a long line of contingencies we worked out over the course of the day. We sat in the little European lobby drinking tea and considering our options.

“That guy’s checking you out,” my friend said. She’s 73, she’s been married for 50 years, to one guy. What does she know about anyone checking anyone out?

I scanned the lobby and couldn’t see who she meant. We were sitting near two young men speaking German.

“Him,” she said, nodding toward the guy sitting three feet from me. He was maybe 10 or 15 years younger than I and his long curly brown hair was half-hidden by a woolen watch cap.

Nein,” I told her.

“Oh yes,” she said.

Then he glanced into my face.

What do I know about anyone checking anyone out? Apparently not much.

//

0By 3 p.m. we were stranded.

We sat in a coffee shop west of Times Square, she working her iPhone, I working mine, peering at flight schedules and train timetables. The wait-times to speak to agents were upwards of three hours. At 4 I put my name in a queue for a call-back from Delta. I kept my phone on during the play, expecting a call at 7; the phone rang back at 11. I filed email queries and Twitter queries. They’d cancelled 3,000 flights and all buses out. The snow was due not that night but the following: 10-15 inches.

Hell, I thought, that’s not the storm of the century. The storm of the century was western New York Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2000, when three feet fell in a single lake-effect afternoon. My three-year-old son woke from his nap and ran from window to window, clapping and hollering, “Mama! It’s snowing and thundering and lightning-ing all at the same time!”

The storm of the century was the Ohio valley the winters of 1977 and 1978, when three feet fell in a couple days, trees lost their branches, power lines snapped and lay live in the road, deer ate the bushes around the house to keep from starving, and school was shut for a week. We played Clue and charades forever. I took my sister sledding, in the sodden days before microfiber outerwear or even waterproof boots. Back then, a measly ten inches by no means guaranteed a snow-day: they’d just run the plows and wrap the bus-tires in heavy chains and make the morning world sound like sleigh-bells.

“Stranded” has an interesting sound to it. A “strand” of pearls, a “strand” of hair—a long, thin, ribbony sound. We sat “stranded” in the middle of Manhattan, millions of people milling around us. The word comes from a Viking word, strond, for beach or riverbank. When their boats were “stranded,” they were scattered, washed up on the beach, the bank, the strand. A famous street in London called The Strand is named after the shore of the tidal River Thames, which for millennia was wide and shallow, accommodating barge-travel; then in the nineteenth century the Victoria Embankment and the Albert Bridge were built in Chelsea, deepening the channel by erasing the strand.

We were beached on the banks of Midtown. We needed to shove offshore.

We made plans to leave Saturday but as time marched on, it became clear Saturday would be too late. I tossed in bed Thursday night, thinking I may not get back in time for a job interview (my first job interview in 18 years; I’ve been doing business by word-of-mouth for almost two decades) on Monday morning. I’d be sleepless with dark Gypsy circles under my eyes, unable to Be Awesome, as the kids say. So I bought Amtrak tickets at 6 this morning and here we are, crossing the banks of the Delaware, following the shores of the Susquehanna, the strands, rolling on the steel river.

//

It occurred to me this morning, sitting in the hot Amtrak lounge at Penn Station, talking with my friend Lucy (“Are you OK? Are you stranded?” she texted), that having grown up in an alcoholic family I have a habit of stranding myself. In order to make myself feel safe, I try to control outcomes. I go into situations with the opposite of what my Al-Anon sponsor has advised. “High hopes, low expectations,” she always says. A recipe for optimism: thinking positively, surrendering outcomes. When my expectations are high and my hopes are low, however, I get into trouble. I attach myself to a specific outcome with little belief that it’ll happen. Because it usually doesn’t happen. I can’t control outcomes. So my boat runs aground, because I’m essentially powering it with unsustainable fuel.

Since I’m usually ashamed when I run aground, I don’t call people. It takes Lucy texting me (Are you stranded?) to wake me up and allow me to relax and let the tears fall in the hot Amtrak Lounge at Penn Station, throngs of people waiting for trains outside.

The strand of communication saves me. (I needed a meeting today.) Phones used to be wired: strands of wires strung throughout communities, between communities, connecting each other, an actual network. Now the networks are digital, virtual, cellular, whatever that really means, and though they’re less visible or tangible they’re no less real or helpful. Lucy was 600 miles away but she sat with me in Penn Station, listening to my tears fall and it was her act of love and acceptance that allowed me to collect my scattered self and move back onto the river. To take care of myself.

Three Years Sober: To Move Or Not To Move?

This morning I slogged off to a very early meeting I’m now doing Thursday mornings. Clear. Cold: 9 degrees. All the adjectives for cold feel threatening: bitter. Biting. Numb. Icy.

Frigid.

The cold morning was beautiful. The cloudless sky was a deep crystalline violet. Absolute stillness at 6:45. The half-moon was shining like a lamp, reminding me of a dream I had on Christmas Eve, a dream that has stayed with me. I dreamed of a moon that kept changing—from fingernail to almost half, growing and growing in brightness—and in the dream I was moving from window to window and realized I was witnessing a clear lunar eclipse.

The windows were like the ones in my house, but I was not in my house. I was somewhere else.

The dream ended with a bright full moon and a sense of growing clarity. I woke with a feeling of peace.

It seems to me that, in the dream, there were obstacles sliding slowly out of the way of the light. In a lunar eclipse what casts the shadow is the Earth. And I am part of the Earth. So (by the transitive property, as my kid would say), what was moving out of the way of the light was me.

//

The third year of sobriety was hard in my world. Bitter. Biting.

Frigid.

I wanted to get numb over the holidays. I’m tired of life being hard. Two days after Christmas I found myself in the same spot, the same physical location, as the one in which, three years ago yesterday, I stole a Vicodin and ended a relapse. I stood in that room last week, looking at the bottle of Vicodin. The same bottle: it’s still there. I held it in my hand. Tempting. In the end, I heard my friend C.’s voice telling me:

If you use, you will abandon yourself.

In the end I decided I was damned if I was going to take one of those boring little pills and wait to feel the numbness sneak through my body the way it had three years ago, just so I could Be Numb for a few hours and then have to Come Back To Life—or not, because that’s always a possibility. I put the bottle back, unopened. Walked back out to the basement room where everyone (else) was drinking beer in front of the woodstove.

But why did I have to stick my hand in the fire? Huh?

//

This morning I woke up and for a while actually forgot I was three years sober. How’s that for gratitude. So I put it on Facebook: “3 years.” All these people wrote in. Some of you I know from seeing you every week of my life in some room or other. Some of you I met online and later met In Real Life. Some of you, I’ve never seen your faces. If I had died, I wouldn’t have known any of you.

It’s easy to forget I could have died. I write, “Life is hard,” but life is jammy compared with life in active addiction, which was hell. Which was slavery to lies and isolation and the almighty drug.

Life has been asking me lately to remember that I could have died. For a story I’m writing for The Fix I talked with Dr. David Smith, the founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, who has practically pioneered addiction medicine and has been working with people like us for more than 40 years. “I have a number of patients who have become addicted to fentanyl with serious medical consequences,” he said. “In the latest one, the patient ate a fentanyl patch and died.” This was a nurse. Another ate a patch and had a heart attack, he said; yet another ate fentanyl and fell asleep behind the wheel of the truck he was driving—fortunately before he’d started the ignition. His boss, however, Did Not Like This.

I remember the times I used so much that I could feel my respiration slowing against my will. I remember wondering if a body could force itself to breathe.

//

Commitment to sobriety forces me to change my ways of doing life. One of my ways of doing life?—passively. Things Will Just Work Out. Take a Chill Pill.

Things don’t Just Work Out. People work them out. People make choices. Not to make a choice is to make a choice.

So in my dream I saw a moon that kept changing—from fingernail to almost half, growing and growing in brightness—and in the dream I was moving from window to window and realized I was witnessing a clear lunar eclipse. The windows were like the ones in my house, but I was not in my house. I was somewhere else.

I was somewhere else. Somewhere like my house, but not, but not.

The dream ended with a bright full moon and a sense of growing clarity. I woke with a feeling of peace. And it seemed to me that, in the dream, there were obstacles sliding slowly out of the way of the light: the Earth. Myself. Moving out of the way of the light.

Moving out of the way.

Moving.

“You seem stuck,” a friend of mine said the other day. “It worries me that you wanted to use. I think you need to get moving.”

So often, all sobriety asks me to do is to move. “Accept, then move,” Sluggo used to say. So much of what Sluggo used to say is stuff that still works. Sluggo didn’t write to me on Facebook today. But I love Sluggo, and I know she loves me.

What Are Character Defects? An Open Letter To Dolly.

Got an email overnight from an old friend of mine who has been questioning how much she drinks, and why. She has been going to AA, she said, but she couldn’t understand—and couldn’t stand—the idea of “defects of character.”

She sent me a link to an essay written 25 years ago by a professor of philosophy and religion. The essay argues against the “disease concept” of alcoholism—the author sees alcoholics as suffering from a moral problem based in desire and will. He separates the realms of science and spirituality.

So it would take me ages to put down everything I’d like to say back to this guy’s essay—I’ll save it for another time.

//

But dear Dolly, I wanted to share something I’ve been experiencing with regard to my character defects and how surrendering them to a “higher power” (Step 7) is helping me stay sober.

When I joined Al-Anon 14 years ago I was suffering. I had a 2-year-old kid and a marriage, a house, a job, a car, the whole bit, and I felt like killing myself. I had grown up with active alcoholism my whole life. I was raised by a woman who had been raised by a violent drunk.

The green Lorcet pills I used to take for pain. Actually mine were white—they were the strongest ones.

I was taking one pill per day for pain, but I couldn’t stop taking that one pill. I’d gone to AA and figured I couldn’t call myself an alcoholic because I hadn’t had a drink in three years. I’d gone to NA and told my story and some people looked at me cross-eyed because I was taking just one pill. These were people who had sold everything they had for smack or crack, sold their last remaining possessions in their houses, sold their bodies to cop drugs on the street, faced knives and guns and disease. I bought my measly little pills in the drug store. I thought, “I can’t be an addict—I’m not like these people.” (I don’t think this would happen in NA today. OxyContin and its cousins are too prevalent.)

It would take me a few more years—eight or 10—to meet people who used the way I used. It would also take me some time after that to realize that I’d begun the whole show by drinking my head off when I was 17 and we were in school together. (I had my first drink ever at the Phi Delt house. Gin and tonic. Let some slippery sophomore Phi Delt get me drunk and grope me, and all the girls on my hall laughed at me the next day: I’d let That Guy feel me up. I got so scared about being laughed at and showing how naïve I was that I met a guy the following month and stuck with him for almost four years.)

So when I took the 12 steps in Al-Anon I made a list of things I thought I’d done wrong: I worried about deadlines and put things off because of my worry and annoyed my coworkers. I was judgmental, I thought of myself and other people as either all good or all bad. I’d lost a couple of pieces of jewelry people had given me and this hurt them. And I thought my defects of character were things like anxiety, black-and-white thinking, and carelessness.

I continued to have migraines and terrible physical pain, and after several years I went to the pain clinic and got serious drugs and eventually became an addict. Even so, I carried on with therapy and Al-Anon because I thought if I could just figure out my emotional problems, I’d be able to either quit taking drugs or take them responsibly.

But it worked the other way around. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking and taking drugs (acknowledged my “powerlessness” over them, in Step 1) that I could begin to see my emotional problems clearly enough to remedy them.

Once I got sober I took the 12 steps again, guided by a woman who has been sober for more than 20 years. I saw that my “defects of character” were deeper than what I thought. My primary character shortcoming is not just “anxiety,” it’s a mortal fear of disapproval. I’ll do fucking anything (have done most anything—or sometimes even worse, NOT done most anything) to make the people around me think I’m OK. I will, for example, stick for four years with a boy I like, I might even love, but with whom I’m not really happy, to avoid being lonely; I’ll avoid having other relationships, to avoid being called a slut.

Another defect is putting other people’s judgment and comfort ahead of my own. (Really just a subset of the previous defect.)

Yesterday I was in a meeting when someone told a story about how, when she was drinking and using, she used to use at night because, she said, it helped her sleep. She used to pass out in the house, maybe on the hallway floor or wherever, and her husband would be like, “Why are you sleeping on the floor?” Hearing this story made my defect of character crystal clear.

I didn’t used to do pass out in the hallway. Here’s what I used to do: For years, for more than a decade even, I trained myself not to move in bed, not even to turn over, not to get up and pee, and definitely never to touch my partner, because I was sleeping next to someone who had intractable insomnia. This person is a light sleeper and if I even turned over, I might wake him up. So I trained myself to lie still. I gritted my teeth, literally, in order to do this.

Grit your teeth and bear it, was the way I was raised in my alcoholic family.

Eventually the tooth-grinding became a problem in itself and I had to get a tooth-guard to keep from grinding my teeth to stubs. Also, I had jaw pain. Also, I had neck and head pain, and shoulder pain, and back pain. For which, of course, I took drugs.

Also, I had a lot of suppressed anger and frustration, which it turns out contributes to tooth-grnding.

The drugs helped me sleep and not-move. They helped me not-care about the anger. For a while. Until they didn’t help anymore.

They also helped me ignore my anger and frustration during the day and get done what I needed to get done. They helped me grit my teeth through everything and not-care about the pain.

I didn’t understand I was contributing to my own pain. “Medical science” told me it was an illness, a syndrome, for which I might need to take drugs for the rest of my life. 

Another of my huge character defects is arrogance. I secretly think I’m perfect—or if I try hard enough, I can be perfect. I can do what other people want me to do, or what I think they want me to do, and not “betray” them or let them down. I kept doing life this way for years and years.

Let me admit something to you, Doll. I’ve spent most of the past two weeks on my own. And I’ve been able to get real rest. I wake up without jaw pain. When I wake in the middle of the night, I get up to pee without tiptoeing as though my footfalls might cause an earthquake. It took me a few days to remember I was allowed to turn on the light and maybe even read or write.

And my spiritual discipline tells me that I don’t have to blame this person. No one “made” me do anything. I chose to do all this myself.

And I don’t even have to blame myself.

All I have to do is to see clearly what I’ve done to contribute to the hurt. Take responsibility. Ask for my shortcomings to be removed. And then change the behavior (amends).

Turn on the light in the middle of the night.

The thing is, my thinking is so distorted, I am so arrogant and at the same time so full of self-hatred, that I need another source of power to guide me in changing my behavior. When I rely on my own power, usually I go pretty far down the wrong road before I see how I’ve gone wrong.

I’m learning to trust my own judgment by taking small steps forward, using my own judgment under the guidance of others who have gone before me on this road. I can’t “insight” my way into being healthy, I have to take action. I have to turn on the light. No one’s telling me to do anything. I’m engaged in what Quakers call “discernment.” All I’m doing is using a map. A GPS of sorts. And the GPS might lead me to a swamp, or a desert, or up against a mountain, and it’s always a learning experience.

I learn by doing. Not by figuring everything out beforehand.

It’s scary sometimes. It’s also exhilarating. I feel alive.

My friend P and her daughter with our dogs, Ginger and Flo.

I need to go walk the dog. But I wanted to get back to you.

Love, G

The Ones Who Save Our Lives.

At the meeting Sunday night, my friend H. stood up and announced that his longtime sponsor had died suddenly the previous day of a heart attack. He mentioned a name, which happened to be the name of a different guy, someone I’d known in graduate school. For a moment I thought maybe we were thinking of the same person, but the way he spoke about his sponsor was so contrary to my experience of the guy I knew 25 years ago that it was clear he was talking about someone else.

“When Frank moved away a few years ago,” H. said, “he chose my new sponsor for me, and I took his suggestion, because he knew me very well and because he helped me get sober.” His right hand covered his heart, then he blinked and swallowed hard. “He saved my life,” he said.

I questioned myself again. Was it the same guy? The Frank I’d known had been shy, retiring, unassertive, fearful of criticism. Different Frank, I thought.

I listened as many of the men in the room murmured their recognition and agreement about this guy who had saved H.’s life. If he had saved one life, certainly he had saved others. Maybe they were thinking of the guys who had saved their own lives.

The next day I found out, of course, that H’s Frank and the Frank I knew were the same guy. It has had me questioning my perceptions, my judgments of others and my own limitations.

//

I used to go to this Sunday-night meeting regularly when I was detoxing in 2008. At that time there were a couple guys I knew who also came every Sunday, an artist who practices yoga, and a teacher, both serious bikers. The artist would come in dressed in full-body zip-up bike armor; the teacher would arrive in leather jacket and black shit-kickers. Tough guys, I thought.

This summer I attended a memorial service at the university where I’m teaching right now. It’s the school where I earned my graduate degree, the school where my brother and sister earned their undergraduate degrees, and the school where my father earned his bachelor’s in engineering—the first person in our entire extended family ever to go to college. The memorial service was in honor of a guy named Buddy, who for more than 20 years taught fiction here. He also taught a journal writing course that, 25 years ago, Frank and I took together.

It occurs to me now: since H. has 25 years, I met Frank just as H. was getting sober. So even as we sat in Buddy’s writing class, unbeknownst to the other people in that room—or maybe just unbeknownst to me, who walked this earth so unconscious for so long—Frank was busy saving H.’s life.

This was before cell phones and texts and emails. Frank and H. would have communicated largely by phone, and of course by meeting face-to-face. “In the flesh,” as it were.

I’d had no clue back then that Frank was a recovering alcoholic, but I knew Buddy was. I can’t remember how I found out about Buddy’s alcoholism. It just seemed to be a known fact: “Buddy’s an alcoholic.” For all I know, Buddy himself may have told me, or he may even have mentioned it in class. Back then, I had no idea what alcoholism was, I had no idea that I’d been raised in an alcoholic family. I thought “getting sober” was about just not-drinking. I thought Buddy must have simply stopped, the way I had set my teeth and stopped drinking after crashing my car in 1988. You wreck your life—you set your teeth and stop drinking and put it all back together, was what I thought.

That wasn’t how it worked out for me, of course, because I wasn’t doing what Buddy and Frank and H. were doing. And also Bill and Monty, two other professors in that department. For decades Monty set up a noon Wednesday meeting there. At 11:30 Wednesdays he could always be seen wheeling the coffee urn from the office to the conference room.

And Bill—he wrote young-adult novels and books about how to teach freshman writing; he ran around the university with a greasy gray ponytail tied at the nape of his neck, nosing into the lives of junior faculty and grad students who had problems finishing their publications and earning tenure or doctorates. “Do you want to keep this job?” he’d ask them. “Do you want to finish your dissertation?” He invented a system of sponsoring these writers: he’d put them on a “contract”—they’d map out their work for the week on Sunday night, then call him every Friday to report whether they’d made their quotas. He’d prescribe prayer each day before and after working. I know several guys who wouldn’t have their tenured university positions today without Bill’s writing contract. Which of course Bill adapted from his experience with the 12 steps.

Some of these guys showed up at Buddy’s memorial service. Most of the people who approached the podium to speak were major writers. Several novelists, a few poets, a nonfiction writer. Then Buddy’s kids; his wife. It was an open mike. And suddenly there was the teacher, the guy from the Sunday-night meeting with the leather jacket and shit-kickers, except he was that day wearing his professorial wardrobe and he was standing at the podium talking about Buddy—how he’d come to grad school to learn to write with another guy (one of the major novelists in the audience), and how he’d run into Buddy, who had recognized he needed help. How Buddy had become his sponsor, how he had done what Buddy told him, how he’d gotten sober after years of trying to quit drinking on his own. Then the tough leather-clad shit-kicker began to cry. “Buddy didn’t just write great books—he also saved lives,” he told the auditorium.

My sponsor was sitting two rows behind me.

Freaks me out, man, the circles in which this life-saving flows.

There are so many more people who have helped save my life. People who have allowed me to connect with the power they’ve found to live sanely and contentedly. People who have told me at wise moments that I’m full of shit and/or that I need to learn to care for myself more gently. People who keep picking up the phone. People who love me.

In gratitude.

Frank J., 1950-2012.

Buddy N., 1939-2012.

Bill C., 1932-2005.

Monty C., 1929-2009.

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