Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: acceptance (page 2 of 2)

Running Uphill.

Clinging for dear life: A door-handle on a course I run.

I’ve come to like running as an exercise discipline for the same reasons I liked doing P90X last year: I don’t have to join a gym to do it, and it requires only minimal equipment. It’s easier to fit into a busy and unpredictable schedule than, say, kickboxing, or Tae Kwon Do, or yoga classes at a studio.

The other day I had half an hour to squeeze in a run before taking my kid to soccer practice. I was running one of a couple of courses I’ve mapped out. The city where I live is hilly, and this course has moderate inclines. I run down the avenue, around the right side of the park behind a hospital, and up a sharp hill to the front of the children’s hospital, then I turn left and run back home through the town’s old Italian section.

I was keeping up a decent pace because I wanted to run as far as I could in a strictly limited amount of time (he couldn’t be late for practice, the coach had hollered at the kids a few weeks back for being late, I could hear my mother’s voice grating, calling me late, late, “consistently late”—the fact is, I’m always trying to jam one or two more things into small slots of time), and in the last five minutes of the workout something happened that pissed me off: I had trouble keeping up. My legs felt tired. I don’t get stitches in my side anymore, that’s gone, but as I kept an eye on the clock and ran to keep up my pace, I became more and more irritated: I was lagging. Even though I was running a shorter distance than I usually run, my body was tired.

Then I noticed that, for some time, I’d been running up a long grade.

In that moment it was as though I woke up. A bright scarlet male cardinal swooped in front of me and disappeared into a bush, like a stoplight changing to green.

The fact is, I was irritated because my struggle to run up the grade had dragged my attention away from a lot of other things I was thinking about instead of my run. Instead of where in the world I was, what I was doing.

It’s interesting how habitually I leave my body and retreat inside the walls, the lonely little castle of my mind. Even while exercising, while pushing my body to do something important to me, something beyond its limits, I may not strictly BE inside the body I’m driving; I might be going over lists of other things to do. Or things other people do better than I. Or people who do things I do better than I do them. Or things I should have done by now that I may never do because I fucked up was in my addiction for so long.

Meanwhile, I’m running uphill. I’m forcing my body to keep pace up a long grade and expecting myself to feel as if I were running on the level.

The point is not that I need to slow down. I’m allowed to run as fast as I want to. But however quickly or slowly I run, it’s better to be conscious about it. It’s OK to keep a steady pace up a long grade, as long as I know that’s what I’m doing. I mean, how I can I force myself to keep this steady pace up a hill AND expect myself to feel the same as though I were running a level road? How is that reasonable?


I have a whole scenario in my mind of Where G Should Be By Now that will never happen because I was in my addiction. I lost time. My life changed, I got older, things happened to me and I did things to others while I was in that slavery. I’m still making amends and people tell me I’m right where I need to be, they say it blithely the way they remind me I ought to live “one day at a time” and that I’m lucky to be alive.

“You shouldn’t even be here,” my first sponsor once told me soon after I detoxed in 2008.

“Damn right,” I said, thinking about all the things I should have been doing, the job I should have had, the money I should have been making, the independence I should have been enjoying. I shouldn’t have been sitting there with her, I should have been someplace much richer and more important. Then as she continued to stare at me I realized what she meant. She meant that the way I used drugs, I should have been dead.

Part of me accepts the idea that I’m just where I need to be as a truth self-evident; meanwhile another part wants proof; and yet another part continues to climb into some costume, draw the castle bridge, work on the mural, my Pretend Life, and try to get my “real” life to match that picture.

Running uphill.


Singing Ah-la-la-la-de-day.

Sober Life: Negotiating Transitions

Today is the first day of school.

Addicts always have a tough time with transitions, or so it’s said.

transition n. the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another

Makes sense. I hear a lot of people talk about how they drank or used in an effort to stabilize their feelings, to achieve some kind of steady state or condition. At first we want to feel the way we felt in the beginning, when we took the first drink or pill or whatever; then we just want to feel not-sick. Or we just want to not-feel. Constantly.

The operative word in the definition: “change.” Transition is about when the drug or dopamine spike starts coming down. Or the moment when we want to stop feeling one way and start feeling another.

Haven’t written lately about “things they say in the rooms,” but one thing my sponsor is fond of saying is:

You can’t feel your way into right action

You act your way into right thinking

My Al-Anon sponsor is also fond of saying:

Feelings aren’t facts

I felt a bit pissed this morning when I discovered the school district had changed my son’s bus stop to an intersection that’s a known drug corner. Don’t the people at the district keep track of this stuff? where the hell do they live? On one side of the corner there’s a beer distributor; on another side there’s a nuisance bar; across the street, where he’d catch the bus, there are abandoned houses and a boarded-up Kentucky Fried Chicken. There’s some major development happening on this street, and I haven’t driven down there at 8 a.m. for a while so I don’t know if it’s still the case, but it used to be that you could watch hookers trailing home in the early morning all along that stretch.

This was the peak of my pique; it had begun last week when the bus-stop notice came in the mail, with my son’s name on it and all the other slots (pickup location, time, bus number) blank—and when I tried to call the district, no answer, not even a voicemail.

And BTW, the first day of school means all of us working moms have a ton of work to catch up on.

It helps to look at the facts: I have a car I can use to drive my kid to school. (Additional fact: many other parents don’t.) I don’t have to report to an office at a certain time. I’ve been able to give my kid a cell phone so he can call if he runs into problems. Also: yes, this bus stop is not too far from our house, which means, yes, drugs are being dealt three or four blocks away—but our neighborhood is relatively safe, with a great deal of development taking place on the main drags—three major medical centers; a Whole Foods shop; an enormous supermarket; excellent restaurants that book weeks ahead. Many abandoned storefronts are being reopened, and our neighborhood is officially “happening.”

So the drug-corner bus-stop is what they call a “luxury problem.” Nobody is on fire, here, and we can wait for it to be solved.

Shit happens, and sometimes when shit happened I used to call my dad. (Calling my mother was like opening a backdraft into a house fire. Explosions; emergencies; orders barked on bullhorns.) Dad was an alcoholic, he died in 2007 of his alcoholism, but he was a placid drinker—he didn’t fire guns, punch faces, break bones or glass or furniture; he drank because he “liked beer,” he said, and also to “relax.” (He would, admittedly, become so “relaxed” that he would fall asleep weeknights around 8:30 or 9.)

But Dad had a couple primary messages that stuck. One was: There are two ways to look at everything—the positive way and the negative way. I used to hate it when he said this, because it branded me as “negative,” and I didn’t know how to change. … I now think there are more than two ways to look at everything, and I teach my son this; but I get his point, and I also teach that to my son.

The second was: It will all work out OK.

I mean, I could get cynical here and say, How does it all work out OK, Dad, when your wife dies at 58 and you yourself die at 68? When my kid has no grandparents nearby at all? (His other grandparents are overseas; and one of them died this year. So he has one left, and though she’s an amazing Granny, with a killer sense of humor and a big heart, she’s 3,000 miles away. My parents, on the other hand, lived 15 miles down the road.)

It all DOES work out OK, though. If I look at reality as it is, and accept it, I am forced to say that it is working out OK. Maybe not as I’d have wanted it to 10 or 20 years ago (or even, with regard to the bus stop, last week), but it IS OK.

One way it works out OK: I stay in today. Another way: I ask other people for help. My sister and I sometimes call each other to tell each other it’ll all work out OK.

“His bus stop is now on a drug-corner,” I told my sister, who lives in suburban Wisconsin.

“There ARE some things to be said for the suburbs,” she said, chuckling.

Sometimes we ask each other: What would Daddy say?

“It’ll all be OK,” the other one will reply.

(We skip over the fact that, most times, he also would have said, “How about a beer?”)

The Beach Boys.

Here’s a song that reminds me of my Dad and his message… I discovered after Dad died that he loved the Beach Boys. Found a bunch of Beach Boys tapes in a kitchen drawer and in the red Mustang convertible with white leather seats that he bought after my mother died. Makes sense… He liked doo-wop music and fifties culture, and he taught all his kids to hear harmonies—a skill that, for me, translated from music into literature and the rest of life. At Christmas we’d often sing carols in five-part harmony, with Dad singing bass, standing in back and rocking on his heels. I like to sing Mike Love’s bottom part, the one that goes:

Now, don’t—don’t you worry, babe


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