Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: AlAnon (page 2 of 3)

Words to say when someone gets sober

We’ve had some interesting search terms this past week:

Want to help my mom get sober

Letters of encouragement for a young addict

Words to say when someone gets sober

Addiction can be a prickly subject

Recovery from addiction can be a prickly subject

I love “letters of encouragement for a young addict.” I love all these, actually.  I think the best recommendation I could give is just to be as present as possible.

Being present: that means giving full attention. Having few expectations.

I just heard a 21-year-old woman tell her story a week ago as a way of celebrating her first year sober. Twenty-one years old: think about it. If she can stay sober, she has her entire life ahead of her. She’s still at university. Her story completely rocked… she gave up binge-drinking, pills, eating problems, everything.

I remember having coffee with her when she was about six months sober. She was afraid she was going to drink again; it was the middle of winter, all her friends were out partying on the weekends. What we talked about was faith. She was interested in my Quaker meeting. I let her ask me questions.

We talked about discernment, and about the idea that we could discern the spirit moving in silence—because Quakers hold silent worship meetings. My encouragement to her (more as somebody old enough to be her mother, rather than as someone with “more sobriety”) was to follow the intuitive guide that resides in all of us, that is our birthright. The big book talks about it:

What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. . . . We find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely upon it.

That’s page 87.

The other night I drove a young woman home from a meeting. She couldn’t have been more than 25. I’ve seen this young woman from time to time at meetings. She’s tried to get sober for the past two years (maybe for more—I’ve only been coming around the rooms for two years); she’d put together a month or three months, then go out and drink. At this meeting, she said she had 30 days and was in an intensive outpatient rehab program. She said it very reluctantly because she was afraid she’d drink again.

Note well: both these women were afraid they’d drink again.

For family members who are wondering how to encourage their loved one in rehab or in outpatient programs: if you are afraid they’re going to drink or use again, multiply that fear by 1,000, and you’ve got the fear that your loved one has. They are more afraid than you are that they will drink or use again. Which is why we need to be present for our loved ones, and have low expectations. Piling expectations on top of fear just creates more fear. My AlAnon sponsor always says: High hopes, low expectations.

On the way to her apartment, the young woman said she wasn’t sure about how to choose a sponsor. I hear so many women say this. I had three sponsors in my first year—long story for another post—and my experience about choosing a sponsor is this: Look for someone who lives freely. And look for someone who has what you want.

“I really wish Q could be my sponsor,” she said with passion.

“There you go—that’s your intuitive voice that the big book talks about,” I said. “Q rocks. She works a great program. She’s free.”

But I’ve asked her before,” she said. “She said she has too many sponsees.”

A good sign: a sponsor who knows her limitations, I said.

“What about asking her one more time?” I said. “And if she says no, ask her for the names of some of her sponsees… Because if you like what Q has, chances are her sponsees are gonna have some of that. Or ask her for some names of other people she would recommend. This is a way of inviting the spirit into the situation.”

What words do you say when someone gets sober?

An open letter to the mom of a heroin addict

I’ve been thinking all morning of the comment Peggy left last night on my review of Bill Clegg’s book… Since Peggy is going to visit her daughter in rehab today, I wanted to offer a reply to her comment, as a letter of encouragement and support.

***

My daughter, Hayley … is 31 yo and in an all women’s treatment facility in southern California. She has now been clean/sober for over 75 days, and seems to have vigorously embraced sobriety and the 12 step recovery program. She was a crack and IV heroin user for about a year …

It doesn’t matter what or how much we used or drank—the mentality of addiction is largely the same from addict to addict. Though the behaviors are different from substance to substance: if you read Bill Clegg’s book, as a crack user his behavior was different from mine. He smoked crack in bathrooms and hotels; I used all sorts of prescription drugs in all sorts of ways “not as prescribed.” I didn’t have a crack stem; he didn’t have fentanyl patches; but at the end we were both isolated and alone, with confused partners and without jobs. It’s the same with heroin users, drinkers, anyone who is addicted.

The fact that she is in recovery – and is even alive, is a bloody miracle. …

It’s always a miracle when we find true recovery from this life-threatening disease. Isn’t it a miracle when someone recovers from cancer or AIDS?

Hayley graduated with honors from a small, private, prestigious liberal arts college—and I’ll always be mystified as to how/why she journeyed down such a dangerous, self-destructive path.

It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or accomplished, or what stuff we have or don’t have. None of that protects us from this disease.

I’m desperate to get inside an addict’s head and learn as much as I can about addiction. You, as a writer and an addict in recovery, can offer so much wisdom, experience, and . . . hope.

The first thing I can learn as someone who has loved an addict is: Addiction is a family disease. It affects not just the addict, but everyone around the addict.

The second thing I learned was to keep the focus on myself. AlAnon’s Detachment pamphlet was something I carried around in my bag. Please download this. It reads, in part,

Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives, lives with dignity and rights, lives guided by a Power greater than ourselves. We can still love the person without liking the behavior.

And we may never fully understand the behavior. I am still trying to “figure out” why I became an addict, how someone like myself (a person who graduated from a small, private liberal arts college, who put herself through graduate school, who has publication credits, who has taught at university, who’s married, has a kid, blah blah blah) could possibly have become an addict. It doesn’t matter what I did, what stuff I have. I am directed to believe it was beyond my control.

I am responsible for my health and recovery, and taking responsibility for that one day at a time appears to be the best way—in addition to actually cleaning up the messes I’ve made, which I’ve done my best to do—that I can redeem the mistakes of the past.

When I get too far ahead of myself and too afraid, and prevent myself from being guided by a power greater than myself, I fall down. I had more than a year sober in January and I used a Vicodin pill.  So now, with a sober date of January 3, I have almost seven months. But really, I have only today.

My mother died (she was one of many in my family who died) as the consequences of this disease. If she were here today, I would want her just to be present with me. I wouldn’t ask her a bunch of questions about her illnesses, and I wouldn’t want her to ask me about mine… I’d show her the painting I’m working on. We’d spend time with her grandchild. (Can you imagine for a moment how much I wish he had a grandma?) We’d eat supper together.

We’d do ordinary things.

Inviting other addicts and those who love addicts to share their experience, strength and hope here…

With every good wish on your journey…  –G

A Quaker explores the Serenity Prayer.

Full disclosure: Eileen Flanagan and I are acquainted through Quaker circles.

Flanagan’s subject here is a prayer that is spoken during the tens of thousands of recovery meetings that take place around the world every day.

We recite so frequently that we may no longer even think about the words. Do we grasp their power to help us discern who we are and what God/higher power/Spirit/Universe means us to be doing with the gifts and resources we’ve been given?

Flanagan has interviewed nearly 30 people who have grappled with these questions, and she uses the Serenity Prayer to illuminate their stories.

One of my favorites among her subjects is Park Dong-Sun, a Korean who immigrated to U.S. 25 years ago, at 40. Dong-Sun soon experienced a bunch of business failures and started drinking alcoholically. He joined AA; since he had studied Zen Buddhism in Korea, he brought this to bear on his experience of the 12 steps. Eventually he became a monk. Flanagan writes that one of Dong-Sun’s central questions that the Serenity Prayer helps illuminate is, “Change from what to what?” In other words, as she writes,

Millions of self-help books are sold every year to people hoping to change, but we have to ask ourselves, change in what way, for what purpose? Are we hoping to put on a new False Self, one that will make us more successful or popular? Or do we seek a deeper change, one that realigns our priorities and helps us to live more authentically? This is where listening within and knowing ourselves is crucial. It takes discernment to know what you should accept in yourself and what you should try to change.

Discernment is a major Quaker practice—one that has been central to my own recovery, and one with which Flanagan spends a lot of time in this book. She starts by giving us the original edition of the Serenity Prayer as credited to Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give us grace
To accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things that should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

That last line is all about discernment. Discernment is both a listening for and a testing of leadings, and can be compared to the activity we undertake when we engage in Step 11: how do we know what Higher Power’s will is for us? How do we carry that out? … For those who have tried 12-step meetings and have difficulty with “the God-thing,” Flanagan’s explorations of discernment and “seeking divine guidance” are well worth a read.

Woven throughout the book is an exploration of the concept and practice of accepting what we cannot change, including—unexpectedly, and perhaps with comfort for those who were raised in overly critical alcoholic families—the greatness instilled in us by our creators. This is a superbly powerful notion: that one of the things I cannot change is my own essential nature … Who I Be. The more I accept my inherent gifts and resources, Flanagan and her subjects’ stories reveal, the greater the likelihood I can use those to serve the good of society and create positive change in the world. My beloved AlAnon sponsor would agree.


Sober life: Contentment and Comedy

On random play on the iPod this morning:

“Penny Lane” by the Beatles (1967)

I have a good friend who says that in early sobriety she asked herself every morning, “God, what would you have me be today?”

What came to me this morning when I asked this: What if God just wants me to be happy today?

I was cleaning the bathroom when this came to me.

Thich Nhat Hanh says cleaning bathrooms can be a meditation. Actually what he says is that anything can be a meditation if you do it with full attention. “Breathing in, I know I am cleaning the toilet…”

Usually, I hate cleaning the toilet. It was one of my jobs as a kid: cleaning our one bathroom that five people used. But this morning “Penny Lane” was playing and I was noticing how beautiful the master bath was looking as I was cleaning it. Today I don’t only have one bathroom; I get to have more than one. I get to have a master bath. I get to clean it. Breathing out, I can see the bathroom is becoming shiny…

Also I was noticing that, because I’d gotten up at 8 o’clock to clean, other people in my house had followed… People were stripping beds, gathering laundry, tidying up, taking care.

In AlAnon there’s a saying: “Let it begin with me.” I’ve never thought of myself as a leader. I was trained to follow. But one of the promises of AlAnon is that “the family situation is bound to improve as we apply the AlAnon ideas.” This also works in AA. It works in Zen. It works in athletics—Tae Kwon Do, Tai Chi, yoga, tennis. People are attracted to improvement, progress. Happiness.

Contentment, my AlAnon sponsor calls it.

When I’m happy, people around me are usually happier. I give it away, and I get some back.

Lately it’s hard for me to be content. It’s not only when things go wrong that I screw up… it’s also (maybe even more) when things are good that I tend to screw up.

I’m used to creating drama so I can solve problems and feel good about myself. Contentment feels dangerous, static, boring, and boredom sometimes leads me back to bad habits. I get squirrelly, panicky. Taking contrary action helps…

This morning I had to play two hours of tennis to get out of my head.

Another way I create drama: I worry about my kid. My friend Mary suggested I take an inventory of all the good things I’ve done in my mothering. Also, to watch some comedy. So here’s some comedy: Robin Williams on parenting.

Sober life: Step 7 for a crazy week to come

On random play this morning on iPod:

“Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, 1968)

Crazy week coming up in G’s house: renting the apartment next door this weekend; husband leaves for UK next Wednesday; school ends next Thursday; get the folks sorted to look after house and garden; pack me and the kid up and leave next Sunday. Fly Delta, change terminals/planes in JFK, massive airport I’ve never negotiated. (Any tips?)

My beloved mother- and father-in-law both moved to a nursing-home six weeks ago. On the face of it, they moved for respite from being at home: they’re both in their 80s, and she had been taking care of him in his dementia. But this past Monday, we were informed that my mother-in-law’s back is broken. We don’t know anything else: we were told, in an email, “fractured.”

So they’re in a bad way. Their beautiful little Georgian townhouse with its garden terrace will, in all likelihood, have to be sold this summer. It will be the last time my husband sees his family’s home. He’s already in grief.

Writing this helps. Because I was about to say: “I am flying to a country where they sell codeine over-the-counter.” They sell this bloody ibuprofen-codeine compound called Nurofen, you can get 36 tablets for like £7 or something, do you know how many people in the UK are addicted to this stuff, spend days trawling from one pharmacy to another buying boxes of this and eating lethal quantities of ibuprofen? It’s not the codeine that will kill them, it’s the Motrin.

But writing “He’s already in grief” helps me get out of my own head and remember it’s not all about me and my “stress.”

One of my big defects: fear of abandonment (my in-laws are leaving ME).

When I ask for it to be removed, I can suddenly remember ways I can help this family.

I also need to take care of myself. I’m taking my iPod. Tennis racquet. Running shoes. Camera. Pencil and sketchbook.

None of these will be of use unless I pack a positive attitude. Also, unless I ask for help. I have meeting lists for the places where I’ll be. My AlAnon sponsor (with whom I started working in 1999, before cell phones were widely available) has always been fond of saying, “There’s a phone in every city.” She is now in Johannesburg; my AA sponsor is—somewhere, in a busy summer travel schedule; and I’ll be in the UK. Now there’s Skype, AIM, text, Facebook.

And my higher power never goes anywhere. Well, it goes everywhere. It’s Skype-free.

There’s always help. If I ask.

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