Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: AA (page 2 of 5)

The Dutch Begin Studying Baclofen For Addiction

So here we are again, back at the baclofen question. My Dutch friend sends me a link to a news story (in Dutch!) about the University of Amsterdam starting a study of baclofen as a treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. Managed to cobble some sense out of the story, which begins:

Is this the wonder pill which will bring rescue to, among others, alcoholics, junkies and smoke-drug addicts?

“Smoke-drug addicts”—very much like that one. My mother, a die-hard smoker for 30 years before she died at 58 of lung cancer, was definitely a “smoke-drug addict.”

(Another interesting tidbit: the Dutch word for “addiction” is “verslaving”—which, my friend says, means “a slave to a substance.”)

Baclofen is a derivative of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and is a GABA-receptor agonist—just like, as it happens, alcohol. Surprise, surprise! they work in the same way. … Baclofen is prescribed as a muscle-relaxant for spasticity in conditions such as multiple sclerosis. It is also prescribed off-label to reduce addictive cravings. And it’s dependency-producing. You can’t just quit baclofen—it must be tapered up and down when getting on or off it; stopping use suddenly leads to the same kind of (prolonged, painful) detox that benzos induce.

So they’re gonna study us alcoholics, junkies and smokers, BUT: not gamblers, because apparently there’s no medical evidence that gambling addiction actually exists. The researchers are, according to the story, somehow really hoping it works for drug-addicts. Leading us to believe “junkies” are maybe worse than the other types?

The story quotes a guy from a drug-rehab who has administered baclofen to 100 patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, GHB and benzos, and, apparently, about half of them no longer use their (other) drugs.

The best part of the story: the researchers are speculating that baclofen works better on addicts who use out of “angst.” The story reads (according to my Dutch friend–thanks P):

“With people who use substances from a more positive emotion we do not believe baclofen to be very effective,” according to [Professor Reinout] Wiers [of Amsterdam University]. One assumption of the researchers is that the muscle relaxer also has a calming effect on addicts who try to mask and conquer their fear.

Which would make sense. I mean, what real alcoholic doesn’t drink out of conscious or unconscious “angst”?

Also: I was not fully aware of this, but angst is the Germanic word for fear. So, take a pill, and my fear is relieved. … This brought back the words of my first sponsor, a deeply spiritual woman and former “junkie” who once advised me, as I detoxed off fentanyl and started work on my Fourth Step only to discover that I had a few bits of “angst” going on:

DON’T call it “anxiety.” It’s plain old fuckin fear, OK? If you call it “anxiety,” you can go to the doctor and get a pill for it. It’s OK to medicate “anxiety.” But nobody goes to the doctor and says, “I’m having some FEAR, I need a pill.”

I took her point.

But maybe now, with baclofen, you’ll be able to do that.

Olivier Amiesen, M.D., who controls his alcoholic cravings with Baclofen

The whole baclofen business started with Olivier Ameisen, a French cardiologist who for 15 years practiced in New York and taught medicine at Cornell’s Weill Medical College. Unable to stay sober despite following up on all his practitioners’ recommendations, going to rehab, and sitting in two AA meetings per day for seven years, Ameisen experimented on himself: he started taking high doses of baclofen, which, he wrote in his 2008 book The End of My Addiction, eradicated his cravings and allowed him to become a social drinker. Ameisen called for randomized studies of baclofen’s effectiveness—of which, presumably, the Amsterdam study is one.

One wonders if it would even be OK to become a social drinker while taking high-dose baclofen. Though not classified as a benzo, baclofen basically has a benzo profile and the same kinds of OD risks. In addition, though it seems not to have any tolerance effect (unlike alcohol), dosages have to be closely monitored, because over 80mg/day baclofen can interfere with functioning and cause drowsiness. Ameisen uses baclofen at doses of 200mg+.

I once brought my questions about baclofen up at a meeting early in my sobriety. I got a number of very interesting responses. One was from a young man, maybe 28 or 29, who had been clean for about a year or so. Smart guy and very physically fit. His face lit up like a torch when I mentioned baclofen. After the meeting he said:

It’s funny when people talk about using baclofen to get rid of cravings. My experience was, when I used baclofen WITH alcohol, the combination was juuuuust right. If you know what I mean.

I knew what he meant.

For me, using a chemical to fight chemical addiction is like using water to avert a flood.

Ameisen’s statistic sounds so disappointing: 5,000 meetings over seven years failed to keep him sober. Another friend, a former heroin addict who got sober the way I did, bristled when I mentioned this statistic:

For an addict like me, sitting in two AA meetings per day for seven years ISN’T the solution.

What this person meant was, for an addict like her, the solution = taking the steps. Meetings alone don’t keep her sober.

I can buy, along with Gabor Maté (one of my true addiction-treatment heroes), that some people just can’t get sober with the steps and may need to take “maintenance” drugs to escape the “junkie” lifestyle. That’s cool. In Stephen King’s words, there’s more than one way to de-fur a feline. But if they want to research the addiction-treatment possibilities of baclofen, on which the patent has expired and from which ain’t nobody gonna make no big bucks, why don’t they also research the effectiveness of other cheap and non-patentable “solutions” that have worked for millions of people for much longer?

A Talk With Melody Beattie

Melody Beattie (credit: Hay House).

When I call her, Melody Beattie (pronounced bee-tee) is in a house near Two-Bunch Palms, near Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, in the southern California desert. She is working on another writing project, a new and different kind of work than the self-help books she’s written for the past 25 years. And ever since the success of her 1986 book Codependent No More, which helped cement “self-help” as a Library of Congress category, Beattie has always come to this wasteland (no matter how beautiful it may be: the Latin origin of the word “desert” is a place “left to waste”) to start writing.

Come to think of it, the book also secured the LC category of “codependence.”

“I hate the word codependence,” she says. “It’s nothing you can wrap your hands around.”

Too late now.

Beattie’s voice has rough edges. It’s like a boat with lots of barnacles. Beattie has been through rough weather in her life—has “been though some stuff,” as they say in meeting rooms and in the rooms of therapy. She has “dealt with some issues.” Now 63 and the author of 17 books that spring from the survival skills she has honed—not all of them productive, she says—Melody Beattie recounts that she got sober at 24, in 1973, and that, by then, she had been drinking half her life. As soon as she became a teenager she was sexually approached or abused by a number of men, including neighbors, corner-boys, guys at her church, and even the husband of the woman for whom she babysat. Not long after she started drinking, she also began using drugs, eventually shooting heroin and working as a stripper to keep the supply going.

Codependent No More WorkbookOne of the more interesting things she says in her most recent book, the Codependent No More Workbook, is that drinking and drugging saved her life: if it hadn’t been for the emotional numbness that had resulted, she might have killed herself. Though I wasn’t kidnapped or raped as a child, this analysis—that what might have killed us actually, for a time, saved us—struck a certain authentic chord in me and I wanted to ask her about this and other views she takes that draw attention and sometimes criticism.

I ask her: Don’t people have problems with this idea—that drugs saved us?

She replies easily, “You know what? I don’t care what people think.”

Most of her books get very high reviews from readers, but there are inevitably a few who take issue with her ideas. For example, from an unhappy Amazon reader review of her 2010 book, Make Miracles in Forty Days:

This is the biggest bunch of hooey I have ever read. One is supposed to express “gratitude” for everything that makes their lives miserable and that will bring a miracle from God?! If I were God, I would think, if this person is so grateful for the hardships in their life, I might as well give them more misery since they are so “grateful.”

Right. The return of The God Thing.

Below is a blog-sized collection of excerpts from our conversation… starting with a question about The God Thing.

Guinevere: You write, “No greater feeling exists for me than to see proof that God knows my name, knows where I live, and cares about my life.” If that were so, how could God have let such difficult things happen to you, including the loss of your son 20 years ago, at 13 years old?

Melody Beattie: I was gonna go use that week. I just wanted 10 minutes of not feeling that. And as it happened, just then I got a phone call from a friend who had relapsed. He said, “I’ll come get you.” And when he came, I told him I wanted new syringes; so we went to a pharmacy that sold them. And then I told him: I can’t use cocaine because it’s too unpredictable. And the heroin is cut with shit. Dilaudid has that horrible orange dye in it.

And in talking this way, the other part of me kicked in. The healthy part. My friend was getting a bit upset with me: I was not behaving in the way that addicts generally think and behave. But I realized: what I really wanted was the freedom to choose.

G: But I mean, didn’t you get pissed at God when your son died?

MB: I don’t even know that I’ve totally forgiven God. It’s like I’ve tabled that issue. It’s like I’ve said, “There are some thing we’re gonna talk about later, God.”

G: You say prayer and meditation are how we get our power. But it seems to be the last thing most people think of in terms of solving a problem.

MB: I prayed a lot after Shane died. People don’t realize that the 12 steps is a bag of tools. Most people work them once while they’re cleaning up, but the 12 steps work incredibly well on everyday problems. You can work them again and again. And as tools go, they’re very responsive. If we take even half a step toward them, they move across the universe for us.

G: You write, “The biggest shortcoming of the codependency recovery movement is that codependents frequently don’t take working the steps as seriously as alcoholics and addicts. They think it’s an option, because they haven’t been the ones using drugs or drinking.” —This is a pretty big indictment.

MB: I like to ask codependents if they’ve worked the steps. Seriously—have you ever done this? Gone up to a codependent and asked them if they’ve actually worked the steps? Lots of codependents go to meetings [and think this is enough to recover]. If you read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it doesn’t say you have to go to meetings. But it does say you have to work the steps. I’m not putting down going to meetings—but you won’t get better if you don’t do the steps.

G: It’s pretty clear that you go or have gone to AA meetings. Is it OK that people know you go to AA? What about anonymity?

MB: In my books I handle that a lot of times by doing it as quoting other people’s experience with particular programs. But yeah, part of me feels guilty. Another part feels like this: sometimes rules are made to be broken. …

You know, recovery has been institutionalized.  We’ve taken the experimentalism and spontaneity out of it.

G: You write in your workbook, “The AA program taught me that God is real. Codependency recovery taught me that I’m real and that I deserve to be loved. I can fully express the person I am.” I’m interested in what you’ve learned about yourself from recovering from addictive relationships that maybe recovering from alcoholism and drug-addiction didn’t teach you.

MB: When I wrote Codependent No More they didn’t have self-help shelves in the bookstore. … My codependency took me to my knees. I thought to myself, “Here I’ve been given this fantastic gift of sobriety and I want to kill myself.

I was dirt-poor the first 15 years of sobriety. I was so filled with guilt—another survival mechanism. The majority of codependent behaviors actually resemble grief. I once had the opportunity to talk with Elisabeth Kubler Ross [author of On Death and Dying], who came up with the five stages of grief. I remember thinking, as I spoke with her, that if you add obsession and guilt to the five stages of grief, you have codependence.

You know, self-esteem can save us. A few years back I was asked to speak at my old high school, Minnehaha Academy. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the the time I went to that school. I had thought something was fundamentally wrong with me. … I don’t do many speaking engagements anymore. When I arrived, I saw that a number of teachers had come back to hear me talk. One was 90 years old! I looked at these people and realized that I hadn’t felt that kind of love and care back then. And this was a very good private school—they specialized in the creative arts. …

The principal had found a photograph of me. You have to realize, there were no photographs of me from childhood, from the time I was abducted off the street when I was 4. But this guy had managed to find one. And he put this picture of me up on the screen behind where I was speaking. It was enormous. I looked at that picture and the memories of what I’d gone through came over me. Seeing that picture of myself started a process of healing. Life will provide us the therapy we need.

What My “Bottom” Looked Like: by Guest Poster Sally

Recently I’ve been approached by folks inquiring about guest-posting their experiences on Guinevere Gets Sober, as well as exchanging posts with their blogs. One of these folks is Sally, who blogs about health at Eat Breathe Blog. She’s also a recovering alcoholic who wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to have a “turning point.” I’ll also be blogging for Sally at some point…

My favorite line in this blog: “Typically, when I get arrested, I snap out of my blackout—but not this time.” Wow. Thanks, Sally.

Guest-posting is a fabulous part of being part of the blogging culture. If you’d like to guest-post here, email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.


What My Bottom Looked Like

by Sally

As Emmylou Harris sings about addiction: "At the bottom of a hole of a deeper well..."

My bottom looked like this: I was facing years in a federal prison, after years of getting arrested on various alcohol and drug related charges. In the end, I had three different counties wanting to lock me up for good. I had lost the faith of a loving family, all my friends looked at me as a sick person and I hit a place of spiritual bankruptcy that was more emotionally taxing than anything I had ever experienced in my life.

And I was only 21.

My life was headed down a road of destruction and failure, and everyone knew it but me. I could not bring myself to distinguish the truth from the false, and the truth about my life was that it was plummeting to a place of no return. I was headed toward prison, yet I still felt invincible. Alcohol consumed my every thought. I loved to drink. I love the effect produced by alcohol. I drank essentially to produce that effect. Once I took the first drink, I couldn’t stop. An obsession came over me and at that point, no amount of will power could keep me from heading off on another spree.

That’s exactly what happened the night of August 2, 2008. I woke out of a blackout in mid-conversation with a Hispanic guy, and I was yelling at him: “Speak English, dammit!” This man turned out to be a fellow cell-mate because, you guessed it, I was in jail again. No idea how I’d gotten there. That blackout was one of the worst of my life. It was long, six to eight hours in duration, and I remembered literally nothing. Typically, when I get arrested, I snap out of my blackout—but not this time. The last thing I remembered was the obsession to drink that took over my body, and I was staring down a bottle of vodka. That had been about six hours earlier, and at this point, I felt like my life was over.

Suicide became my only thought. Ideas of facing—yet again—the consequences of my actions, overwhelmed me, and I didn’t want to do it. It was at this exact moment that the thoughts came to me:

I am an alcoholic. … I can’t drink normally. … I’ve never been arrested sober. … I have to stop drinking.

It was that easy, but then again—I couldn’t imagine living without alcohol.

Eventually, they let me out of jail, and I went straight to a rehabilitation hospital for alcohol addiction. That night, I attended my first AA meeting, with an honest desire not to drink. This desire had come over me when I was in jail that last time—it was the first of many spiritual experiences. It became clear to me: If I were to eliminate alcohol from my life—I wouldn’t be in the situation I was in. I never got arrested sober, because when I was sober I never broke the law. I haven’t taken a drink since.

I was introduced to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose members introduced me to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps to recovery. The 12 steps in turn introduced me to a God of my own understanding, through whom I found the power to solve all my problems. I found this God in working the steps. He was inside me the entire time. In my first spiritual experience, I realized that through all my trials and tribulations in life—God was there, guiding me through. I guess my God realized that the only way I was ever going to gain the willingness to throw myself into the steps was to suffer a severe amount of pain—so he gave that to me.

Through the steps I’ve experienced several spiritual experiences and have since recovered from the “seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” that is alcoholism. I gained a sense of belief, and eventually faith, that has forever changed my outlook on life. I was given a new will to live. I had recovered from alcoholism.

I will always be an alcoholic. I will never be able to successfully take another drink of alcohol without setting the cycle of physical illness and mental obsession. AA’s program lets me experience true happiness. There is one small requirement that is asked of me: that I share my experience with other people in hopes that they too can recover from alcoholism. I am always here for anyone that reaches out.

Sally writes about health and wellness on her blog, Eat, Breathe, Blog, and also about dental insurance. She said she couldn’t pass up a chance to share her experience, strength and hope with you.


Book Review: Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More Workbook

One amazing insight I had while I read Melody Beattie’s new Codependent No More Workbook—a sequel to her 1986 bestseller, Codependent No More, reissued this month by Hazelden’s press—is this: I drank and took drugs to cope with my “feelings” about the unbearable shit I tolerated as the child of an alcoholic family.

Otherwise, I might have killed myself. So, in  sense, drugs and alcohol saved me.

Yeah, feelings: read frenzied rage, crippling fear. Flaming. Paralyzing.

I wasn’t abandoned, kidnapped or raped. What happened to me was, as just one example, my mother made me into her therapist and Best Friend. She griped about her unhappiness with her husband (my father) and their nonexistent, or often subpar, sex life. I thought it was my job to listen to it. It made her feel better. … And then, he would come home and start drinking. And she would look at me, knowingly. And I had to keep her secrets.

The whole drama gave me migraines and insomnia and crushing anxiety. Eventually a desire to instantaneously vaporize. I mean there were many moments when all I wanted to do was to stuff my bra with a bomb and set it off. It gave me no hope about the future. That sounds simple and maybe stupid, but think about it. Sixteen years old and NO HOPE.

The next year, I started drinking.

Fortunately, Melody Beattie is back to tell us that those of us who have lived with other people’s addictions are not nuts if we felt like killing ourselves, and then used drugs to manage those “feelings.”

If You Came From Parents Who Were Addicts, How Do You Recover?

Beattie articulates a problem I think faced by many who are trying to recover from both addiction and the consequences of growing up in addictive families. We found out we couldn’t trust our parents—who were the be-all, end-all to us as kids—so how can we trust God/HP/whatever? What kind of “HP” would give us childhoods like that? … She says (or, rather, she quotes others saying) this mistrust can lead those of us who practice both kinds of program to misinterpret what AA says about self-will. When I first started going to meetings for my addiction, I heard this a lot: “Whatever YOU want to do?—probably GOD doesn’t want you to do it. You should do the opposite.” Well, wtf?—I WANTED to be a good mother for my kid and partner for my husband. I WANTED to start supporting myself financially and find work that made me happy.

“AA looked at self-will with disdain and disapproval,” Beattie quotes one person saying, in her chapter on Step 3. “Al-Anon taught me it was essential to trust myself. … Usually what felt right and good to me would be God’s plans for me, not some disobedient flurry of self-will run riot and acting out. What I had a passion to do would be my higher purpose.”

“But how do I know if what I’m doing is my will or God’s will for me?” Beattie herself asks. “Hush,” she answers. “Don’t worry about that now.”




Chinese mountain-temple steps.

Chinese mountain-temple steps.



The bottom line for Beattie’s workbook: Here is how to cooperate and communicate with the God of your understanding. Beattie, who has climbed the Chinese mountain-stairs leading to the temples at the top, uses the metaphor of mountain-climbing a lot: climb it one step at a time, and take lots of breaks.

The book is divided into chapters that address the steps of AA and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA). They’re chock-full of “activities” and rewritten versions of prayers found in AA’s Big Book. In fact, Beattie has done so much work for the reader that I wonder if someone involved in the writing of this book wasn’t acting out a few codependent compulsions. For example she has a two-page Julia-Cameron-style Step 3 contract that we sign and date. The chapter on Steps 4/5 contains five full pages listing “possible emotions, beliefs, and behaviors,” apparently to help codependent people see themselves more clearly (since we’re so used to looking at other people’s problems). The chapter on Steps 6/7 contains Beattie’s own version of AA’s Seventh Step Prayer—except Beattie’s takes up a page and a half, too long to commit it to memory.

I found myself wanting to see some worksheets or questionnaires designed to get people to think in terms of their own experience and language—as well as some more about sponsorship, which has been helpful to many people. Rather than giving a person fish, it is said, it’s more helpful to teach her to catch them. Beattie does some of both. Her goodwill mission behind all this is clear: Not enough attention has been paid to the recovery of people related to addicts and alcoholics, and she wants to share the paths she’s beaten in the past 30 years through some of life’s more harrowing circumstances. She LOVES the steps because they’ve saved her life more than once. She is here to tell you:

Working the Steps won’t turn you into a robot, an empty shell, or a clone.

“Or a pod-person,” I thought to myself, using the term of a friend of mine who has had an approach-aversion relationship with the steps and the idea of HP for about two years. I’d like to ask her more questions about higher power.

And Beattie intimately understands the weird contortions of over-thinking we addicts-and-children-of-alcoholics (so-called “double winners”) put ourselves through in trying to identify—and trust—the “intuitive thought” provided by HP that the Big Book talks about. For me, one of the most resonant stories she quotes is that of Annie E., a woman who, after her divorce, almost abandoned the business she had energetically built in order to take a 9-to-5 job that would provide health insurance for her kids. “That meant a huge loss,” Annie E. says. “I’d worked so hard. But I had to do what I had to do to take care of my children.”

But then (because Annie E. has been praying and meditating, and working the steps), she has the intuitive thought that, if she prays (i.e., just asks) for guidance, and tries to listen, she’ll find a path through the thorns that were blocking her vision. It’s not just AA, CODA, Al-Anon and other “programs” that teach this; it’s also Buddhism, various meditative and therapeutic practices, and most of the major spiritual traditions of the world. “Why did I think God’s will meant that I couldn’t do what I loved doing?” Annie E. asks. “I realized it was because I believed I was supposed to suffer.” [bells going off in my mind here] She keeps her business, makes enough dough to insure her kids and send them to college, and takes care of herself financially and emotionally.

My Al-Anon sponsor always told me, “This is not a Pollyannish program.” Meaning, I had to Bring It. She’d also ask: “What are you doing to take care of yourself today?”

That’s Beattie’s primary message to those of us who have lived with other people’s addictions: You don’t need someone else to take care of you. You can take care of yourself. And: you can be happy doing it.


12 steps: Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Study

Next time you’re raking the leaves or scrubbing the floor, pop this series of MP3s on the CD player or iPod and have a listen…

You can get them on the Silkworth website.

AcceptanceJoe and Charlie are recovered alcoholics who for a long time ran very popular old-school Big Book seminars across the country. The Silkworth series was recorded live in front of an audience in 1998, so it contains a distillation of decades of wisdom and experience—they’d been doing this for a long time. (Apparently Joe passed away in the mid-2000s.)

One of them is from Arkansas and one of them is from Oklahoma, so they have fantastic accents and the Southerner’s gift for gab. … As Charlie says in his introduction, they don’t consider themselves to be gurus, or to speak for that fellowship:

We’re just two old drunks, met together several years ago, found we had a mutual interest in the Big Book. We studied it together for quite some time. Hopefully we’ve learned a few things about it. And those few things we’ve learned about it—we just love to be able to share them with other people.

Charlie is the Alpha-dog, and he talks more than Joe. But when Charlie gives Joe a word in edgewise, Joe usually has something real good to say. Here he is on the sexual inventory:

I look back in my life and when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I got to thinkin about this a lot. I mean A LOT. Almost gave me brain damage from thinkin about it. So I went to my mom and I said, “Mom . . . I been thinkin about this sex thing.” She said, “Oh my God, Benny Joe”—scared her to death. That’s my name—Benny Joe. She said, “Oh my God, Benny Joe, that’s not a good thing to be thinkin about. Fact, it’s a dirty rotten filthy thing to be thinkin about,” she said. “And you oughta save it for the one you love.”

“Think about that,” he says, as people laugh and groan simultaneously.

I can’t remember now who recommended I try out Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Study, but whoever it was, I’m grateful to them. It was very early in recovery, maybe even during my detox. Thank god for the Internet, where I could get the files immediately, for free. I used to play them back to back while I was in post-acute withdrawal, sitting in the hot bath trying not to feel frozen, or dragging my butt around, trying to do my days, just putting one foot in front of the other. They made me laugh and they reminded me that it can be done: We Do Recover.

The whole series is 35 chapters long. Go for it. And take a look at the other offerings on Silkworth while you’re at it.

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