Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: addiction recovery (page 2 of 3)

Sayings from the Rooms: Take What You Like and Leave the Rest

In AlAnon they say:

Take What You Like and Leave the Rest

In AA they say it a bit differently:

Take What You Need and Leave the Rest

(AA’s version, characteristically, incorporates a bit more desperation)

The idea is, we help each other in meetings by sharing from our personal experience—who knows about alcoholism and addiction better than those who have experienced it, or have lived with it?

From what I’ve heard over the years, the AA version is said less often in AA than the AlAnon version is said in AlAnon. Why?—I think it’s because in AA, the feeling is, we’re trying to save our lives, and in order to do that, we’ve gotta do as we’re bloody well told. We feel like we can’t afford to give people the idea that we can pick and choose anything.

In AA they also say,

Take the Cotton Out of Your Ears and Put It in Your Mouth

Listen

I’ve heard it said that this saying is for the kind of drunk/addict who drank or used to enlarge herself—participate in the grandiosity of addiction. But because I used in order to make myself small and shut myself up… because I came to The Rooms with a throat packed with cotton, my sponsors have encouraged me to do the opposite: spit out the gag, speak up and develop my voice. (Thus, dear reader, this blog)

Sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction.

Went to an AlAnon meeting a while back. It had been a month or two since I had been to AlAnon, and I came home a bit irked. (red flag, anyone?) Told my partner that I disagreed with a few things that were said. Particularly the idea that no one should identify herself as an alcoholic in order to protect the idea that “AlAnon is Spoken Here.”

“I mean, there’s a difference between identifying oneself as an alcoholic, and saying ‘Last week at my AA home group we talked about XYZ, lemme tell you all about it,’” I said. “Don’t you think that there might be someone in The Room who might actually be helped by knowing that there’s another person there who’s an alcoholic, considering the fact that lots of us adult-children-of-alcoholics drink and use in order to numb out painful childhoods?”

“I would think—” he began.

“And somebody else called his wife his Qualifier!” I rambled. “I mean, WTF!! I never labeled my dad my Qualifier. I never even called my asshole gun-shooting grandpa my Qualifier—”

He sighed impatiently and waved his hands in my face.

“What part of Take What You Like and Leave the Rest do you not understand?” he said. “It’s not, Take What You Like and Fuckin Argue With Everything Else!”

AHHH-hahahahaha!” I yelped, collapsing on the couch as though he’d nailed me with a pea-shooter. “You got me, babe!”

Mouth

What writing tons of inventory has shown me: If I’m criticizing other people, I’m probably being twice or three times as critical of myself.

Time to let up on everyone…

Today I’m going to

Listen and Learn

(AlAnon’s equivalent of AA’s cotton-in-mouth saying)

Also paint. Also write.

It’s a wild life.

Sayings from the Rooms: On F.E.A.R.

They say,

Fear =
False Emotions Appearing Real

Talked last night and again this morning with a long-time friend of mine who also grew up in an alcoholic family. We’ve both had some family difficulties recently… When it involves kids, it hits us especially hard. We need our kids to be happy in order to be OK.

Kids who have grown up with addiction quite often need the people around them to be happy in order to be OK.

One lesson of recovery: we can’t control other people, places, or things. We can only control our own behavior.

But both of us feel that same feeling in the pit of the stomach: that’s where the F.E.A.R. resides.

Steps 6 and 7 teach me that I can control my behavior, but sometimes I can’t control my attitudes. That’s when asking for help from a power greater than myself becomes necessary.

***

A different friend of mine and I were discussing a situation in which yet another friend of ours had secured therapy for their child. I was recalling how my own parents had been entirely reluctant to entertain the idea that any of us might need therapy, despite considerable acting out in the family. I remembered how my father banged his hand down on the table and said, “You don’t need a psychologist, you need GOD!”

“I think Dad didn’t hold much with psychology,” I said. “Psychiatry was even worse. And I think my mother didn’t want to spend the money…”

[you don’t deserve it]

“Sometimes God costs money,” my friend said mildly.

Life saverThere’s that old story about the guy who’s flooded out to the top of his house, and along come a raft, a boat, and a helicopter, all of which he turns down, telling himself he’s waiting for “God” to save him. After he drowns and gets to heaven, God chews him out: “I sent you a raft, a boat, and a helicopter—what were you bloody thinking??”

Sometimes God comes in the form of a doctor.

Sometimes God comes in the form of a friend on the other end of the telephone.

Sometimes God comes in the form of a Group Of Drunks.

***

Fear passes… it’s “just” a feeling. Feelings aren’t facts.

God saves me from my F.E.A.R. in all kinds of ways… up to me to keep an open mind in order to see it.

Also up to me to ask for help…

“It’s just as much self-will NOT to accept help as it is to go drink or use,” a friend of mine with 20-some years is wont to say.

Sharing the “We”: Recovery Bloggers I Read

In line with a suggestion I received recently that I focus on what I’m grateful for, I wanted to mention some other blogs I visit regularly and for which I’m truly grateful. Community is important in sobriety. I read lots of blogs and will just mention a few today… These folks not only provide worthwhile reading and entertainment, but they also quite often save my sanity by giving me much-needed perspective at, so it seems, just the right time… I hope you’ll explore these too.

Mr. Sponsorpants

Mr. Sponsorpants is the alias for a guy who is about 25 or 30 years sober. His recovery process is Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s been around just about every block imaginable with regard to “helping others,” and he’s entirely no-bullshit, clear and super-direct, but at the same time (and somehow it’s not a paradox with him) extraordinarily compassionate. I’ve often wished he could be my sponsor, or pinch-hitting-sponsor, or fairy-godsponsor, or whatever. I feel shy about sending him emails because he knows so much (and I know so little) but I’ve sent more emails to him than to any other blogger, because I have lots of questions about sponsorship. Just writing the emails helps me formulate the questions and be open to answers… His latest post is full of humility and honesty. He’s able to show himself getting pissy and sarcastic and truly depressed, but we never lose compassion for him. He posts very often and I hardly ever go a day without reading this guy… gratefully.

Syd, Who Is Just F.I.N.E.

Confession: I feel like Syd is the sane big brother I never had. Syd doesn’t know this and might could care less, but I feel so much affection for this marine biologist cum photographer and writer. I don’t know if “Syd” is his real name or not, and I don’t know if the photo in his avatar is himself (I think prolly not, but who knows? it’s a great photo)… But from what I can gather Syd is a marine scientist living out his early retirement on the Carolina coast and who is married to a recovering alcoholic. His blog is about recovering from the family disease of alcoholism, from an AlAnon orientation. He has four or five years in the program and he doesn’t sit around on his butt about anything, either—he sponsors lots of guys and he knows his literature inside out. He’s always got projects going. He’s into Action. His higher power rolls with the sea and flies with the birds; rises and sets with the sun. His blog—illustrated with his own photos of the sea, the marshes, and the wildlife in his beloved territory—is a peaceful place to visit when my world gets crazy. And his post earlier this week on self-pity gave me perspective that helped me a great deal. Thanks, Syd.

Works Aside

Bansky girl with heart balloon

My 13-year-old son thinks Banksy is a superhero because he uses the power of art for the common good without getting found out.

Nora, a native Londoner, writes a blog from her home in Switzerland about her relationship with her younger sister, Hannah, an IV heroin addict still living in London. Her avatar is a famous graffito of Banksy’s, the girl with a heart balloon, a print of which my mother-in-law gave me. Nora blogs out of a desire to understand her sister’s addiction and its roots in and effects on the family. Her descriptions of her sister’s behavior are hair-raising, and they betray her dedication to observing her sister and maintaining a deep connection with her—and ultimately to understanding her:

I didn’t want to believe that Hannah couldn’t be trusted but it fast proved true of her too. She has become so adept at lying she can look you straight in the eye and tell you she comes from Mars. And then she’ll go on to tell you what it’s like living in outer space, how she works with Martians and that you are actually from there too. And, all the while her face doesn’t flinch, her eyelids don’t flutter and when challenged she becomes outraged that you’d had the audacity to not believe her.

Nora’s perspective helps me understand my own addiction. … She also has a strong desire to change public perceptions of addiction so those who suffer can get help. You go, Nora…

Helplessly Hoping

Peg is the mother of a 30-something daughter who is a recovering heroin addict. She writes occasionally, but when her posts come, they’re intimate, and they wring my heart with empathy for the tightrope parents of addicts walk. Peg’s daughter has roughly five-and-a-half months off drugs and in a program of recovery. She lives in a sober house a few states away from her mother. Yet Peg spends a great deal of time thinking and worrying about her daughter’s sobriety… having earlier this year rescued her from a derelict drug-house and seen her daughter’s body in the worst of conditions. Peg’s daughter’s body has recovered… and now she’s witnessing the recovery of her daughter’s emotional and spiritual health—and hoping (helplessly) that it’s real… “Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit.”

Being Sober

In her profile Mary Christine says only that she is “a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous.” The heading on her blog says she’s been sober since 1984. When you read her blog you find out that she’s a grandma, she knits (she knitted a GORGEOUS baby blanket for her new granddaughter), she suffers from migraine and is reluctant to take medications, and, don’t this beat all, she’s training for a marathon. This totally blows me away and inspires me. I think spiritual and physical fitness are intimately related…  I think Mary Christine abides by this too:

I am clear though that we could do none of any of this [living soberly] without the intervention of a loving God.

I believe that I am sober by the Grace of God. I also believe I can disregard this gift and throw it away any day by not caring for it. I need to care for my sobriety every single day. Just as I am training for this marathon every single day—even on days when I am resting…

Wow. Read her.

Coming to a Doctor’s Office Near You: Buprenorphine Implants!

Titan Pharmaceuticals, the California manufacturer of a product designed to release a steady stream of buprenorphine over a period of six months, yesterday released what they called positive results of a study of this product in yesterday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

There’s lots of stuff that none of the journalists have reported about this study.

Beginning with the funding. The JAMA piece said Titan Pharmaceuticals funded this study. What it didn’t say was that last year Titan was awarded $7.6 million in federal funds from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse to study this product over three years. So a big chunk of federal money was awarded to a private pharma corporation.

Also: Titan and the UCLA study authors are calling the implants a success, but more than two-thirds of the implant participants received supplementary Suboxone tablets. That’s like saying, We gave them extra heroin to curb the cravings, but hey! the implants still worked. People do not understand: buprenorphine is an opioid, no matter what formula it comes in, no matter whether you call it an “implant” or a “medication” or a “drug.”

The product, which Titan has named Probuphine, is a 26-mm rod impregnated with the opioid buprenorpine. It’s designed to be surgically placed underneath the skin on the non-dominant arm. (Women have long used technology like this with contraceptive hormone implants.) Over time it keeps drug levels at a steady state in the bloodstream.

Titan’s people are calling this steady-state release one of the big advantages of Probuphine—no fluctuations in drug-plasma levels, the way there are with pills like Suboxone, or liquids like methadone.

Suboxone pills

Suboxone, the dissolving orange tablet whose drug sticks like super-glue to your mu receptors

They may have a point here. Suboxone has a 37-hour half-life. Let me explain how half-life works: When the drug is orally dosed every 24 hours, many physicians believe, Suboxone stacks up in the bloodstream—the body does not metabolize it faster than it’s dosed. But if it can be released in a steady trickle dose, then it might not stack up.

Titan and NIDA are also saying that because the drug is implanted, it’s impossible to divert. This is the big selling-point for the rods. Patients can’t hawk it on the black market, the way they do with Suboxone or other drugs. Code for this: they say it “improves patient compliance,” which means patients simply have no choice other than to take the drug, because it’s stuck inside the body.

How the study worked

The study involved a group of patients that received four Probuphine rods, and another group that received placebo rods. Both groups could also receive Suboxone pills if they were experiencing withdrawal or craving (up to 12 or 13mg per day!—an equivalent of about 525mg morphine. I mean, why even give your patients implants if you’re going to let them take an extra 12mg of Suboxone?) in the first 16 weeks of the study; for the last eight weeks, participants who elected to get an extra implant were limited in the amount of extra Suboxone they could receive. And everyone had to go to “counseling.”

Results of the study that everybody’s reporting (source: JAMA—I wish I could provide a link to the entire study, but the link above only gives you the abstract):

  • “Success” was measured solely in terms of urine tests free of illegal opioids (i.e., heroin). Results: 40 percent of implanted patients dropped “clean” urine, as opposed to 28 percent of the placebo group.
  • Withdrawal and craving scores for the implant patients were “significantly lower” (whatever that means) than those for the placebo patients.
  • Biggest result touted by the study’s lead author, Walter Ling, M.D. of UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs: two-thirds of the implant patients stuck with the program (that is, continued to receive counseling—either that, or continued to receive their Suboxone), while only one-third of the placebo patients finished.

RESULTS NOBODY’S REPORTING:

  • Conflicts of interest in the researchers: Dr. Ling, the lead author of the study, is receiving research money from both Reckitt Benckiser (maker of Suboxone) and Titan (maker of Probuphine), and speaker fees from Reckitt. The other authors are also receiving either research money or speaker fees from these and many other big pharma companies, as well as NIDA (the federal government, whose projects are supposed to remain independent of commercial influence).
  • How these earnings influence the market: Buprenorphine, especially in maintenance form, is huge business. It is The Biggest Drug Treatment for opioid addicts right now, with sales of more than $900 million in the U.S. alone. That’s a 2010 statistic—it’s certainly grown since then. Reckitt and Titan are targeting not only “treatment resistant” addicts such as IV heroin users, chronic relapsers, and so on, but also to chronic pain patients who have become addicted to opioid medications—the fastest growing sector of addiction today. Enormous markets they’re mining. (In fact lots of curious investors read this post and come away with the conviction that, no matter what happens to the drug addicts, they better invest in Titan.)
  • Treatment assumptions: Built into Probuphine is the assumption that the only “real” way to treat addicts is to give them a drug for the rest of their lives.
  • Induction doses: All participants were inducted at fixed doses of 12-16mg per day of Suboxone over three days before they were randomized. Why give them this much to begin with? 12-16mg is an enormous dose of Suboxone. As in, equivalent to bags and bags of heroin, or around 525-750mg of morphine. Most people do not understand how powerful buprenorphine is.
  • How much bupe were they really getting? Finally, the authors admitted that with the way the study was conducted, it’s difficult to know exactly how much buprenorphine is getting into the body with the implant vs. Suboxone supplements. They say that their blood tests were consistent with “a constant buprenorphine release of 1 to 1.3mg/d from 4 to 5 implants.” If it’s true that the implant patients were getting only one milligram per day, then that would be brilliant, because that’s a low dose for addicts trying to get off junk … but it might also explain why nearly two-thirds of the implant group wanted extra Suboxone.

Especially if “counseling” was the only other solution offered to them.

I Couldn’t Kill the Kittens

News since last Thursday… I dropped my guys off to catch a carpool to a weekend soccer tournament out east, then took the kittens to the shelter, all ready to say goodbye to the little darlings and enjoy an extremely rare weekend on my own, free of engagements.

And the shelter vet stood in front of me with one of the kittens dangling from his hand and said, “They’re too small.”

“Too small for what?” I asked.

“Too small to live here,” he said. “We’re inundated with kittens. If you leave them here, I’ll just put them down.” A friendly euphemism for “kill them.” In my mind’s eye I him push the the needles into their paws, saw their heads slump on their pencil necks.

My jaw pumped up and down on its own for a few seconds, as I tried think what to say to this astonishingly cold greeting.

“That’s just my reality,” he said distantly, directing his eyes sort of past my face.

After dithering for about ten minutes, I took them back home.

Sully closeup

My amazing Sully, 1987-2006. Green eyes and a beauty mark.

I’ve put cats to sleep before. In other words, hired vets to kill them, to put them out of their misery. The first cat I ever owned as an adult, the legendary and devoted Sully, came to me at four weeks old when I was 23 and preparing to move to another state for my second newspaper reporting job. She lived 19 years, eventually developing kidney failure, and I had to “put her down.” If you’ve ever held an animal in your arms and watched the plunger descend and felt the animal stop breathing… well, it’s an experience. It’s necessary when the animal is suffering.

But when the animals aren’t suffering…

“There are already too many kittens in this world,” the vet said. Which is true. A common old-fashioned way of getting rid of kittens is simply to drown them. Some nasty bastards used to crush their heads, I guess. As if they were insects. Maybe they still do these things.

“Why not take them to a meeting?” a friend suggested. In that moment, I realized I had choices. I could do due diligence and try to find them a home before considering other more dire options.

It’s worth noting that this same friend told me they could have put the kittens down with no problem. They have very clear boundaries, and in that moment I admired this person. I’m not always so clear.

Clarity seems to be a situation of accepting who one is, and what one can do. How much one can give at a certain time.

Sully napping

Sully napping / watercolor sketch

So I had to practice discipline about knowing who I was this weekend, and about boundaries. My iPod was an effective boundary-setter. Wore my iPod a great deal so I could not hear the kittens crying as I took care of them—feeding them with a bottle, teaching them to use the litter tray. Kittens and babies cry—it’s what they do, it’s how they’re built. My son’s crying used to kill me… I wrote about this in my first book. Couldn’t take it. Something about hearing him cry reduced my heart to shards, and I didn’t even know why at the time. I thought I must be crazy. I didn’t know how the family disease of addiction was operating in me.

I didn’t know who I was then. So I couldn’t know who he was, which was Simply A Crying Baby.

How I’m built is, there’s something in me that responds to crying. My Emotional emergency-medical tech comes out, complete with portable gurney and heated blankets, and I’m there to relieve the person of their burden. There’s a space in me into which other people’s anger and sadness fit (prepared by my mother, who poured her unhappiness and rage into me from an early age). I have to practice discipline to defend that space so that I don’t admit too much of that suffering into my life.

I was raised to believe that my function was to relieve others’ suffering. Not even to believe it, just to do it. What recovery is teaching me is: I deserve to be happy as much as anyone else does, to do the things I want to do…

My guys were gone this weekend, and I could do as I liked. I worked hard. I gardened a great deal, and mowed the grass. I started the process of redesigning my study and archiving my parents’ documents. I had nobody else to report to. No one else’s expectations (fictional or real) hanging over my head. I stayed up late and ate when I wanted, if I wanted.

Being by myself was an enormous relief. But truth be told, I had expected I’d get a lot more done. My attention kept being drawn back to the babies and I felt a big compulsion always to see if they were OK. I found myself thinking that it would have been “perfect” if the kittens weren’t here. But I couldn’t kill them, and here they were.

Kittens

The kittens, one month old

“One day at a time,” said my AlAnon sponsor, who was getting ready to fly overseas for a month-long work trip. For chrissake, I said, here you are flying off to some dangerous place, and here I am telling you about some measly kittens.

“Don’t compare,” she said. She’s a huge cat-lover and I could hear the smile in her voice. “You did something KIND today.”

I have to accept reality, and reality is that I’m not the kind of person who can pitch life, even a little life, into the incinerator without at least giving a shot at protecting it. Maybe it makes me kind. Maybe it makes me naïve. I don’t know what it makes me.

But over the weekend they were a constant reminder of my need to put my own priorities first—and also to balance my priorities against other needs.

I need to find them a home soon, though, because they’re getting big, it’s getting cold, and I have lots of shit stuff to do.

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