Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: AlAnon (page 3 of 3)

Disaster Relief: Step 3.

Syd had a very fine post yesterday about the Gulf oil disaster and his feelings of defeat upon watching oil-slicked birds trying and being unable to fly.

When I read it this morning it made me think of the discussion at my home group last night. A friend is in grief for a family member who recently died of cancer, and she’s angry at God for letting such a disaster happen. How do we carry on turning over our wills and our lives to a God with whom we’re so angry?

Syd’s post doesn’t express anger at God for the Gulf oil spill—it expresses anger at the people who screwed up, who drilled so far below the ocean’s surface, who messed up the drilling, and who are now passing the buck while wildlife and human life suffer.

Still, it’s hard to “turn the problem over” when it’s so massive and horrible, and when we feel its enormousness and enormity so keenly. How can we just give it away to a force we can’t even see, that we can’t even prove is there?


Last night as I sat knitting in the meeting and listening to this topic being brought up, I thought of my cousin Amy.

My cousin Amy.

Amy was 36 when she died in July 2009. She had three kids—the oldest, a girl, 17.

She also had a longstanding drug problem, which she supported by shoplifting, identity theft, and sometimes turning tricks. Her kids were taken away from her by county children’s services. My cousins who were close to her tried to help her, but to give them credit, it’s almost impossible to “help” someone in active addiction who doesn’t want to be helped.

She died after being strangled and beaten by her drug dealer and another guy. After killing her, the guys stripped her, wrapped her body in a piece of carpet, and dumped her in a wooded lot. Her body was found 11 days later—in July, high summer—decomposed, unrecognizable, identified by the only fingerprint she had left.

My cousin’s murderers.

These are the men who killed Amy. The on the right broke her ribs and fractured her skull. The one on the left strangled her from behind. They’ve been convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Both Amy’s parents were addicted to heroin and other drugs. Her father was a Vietnam vet, a Marine scout-dog handler who watched Vietcong bombs, booby traps, and bullets kill several of his dogs. He rotated back to the world with PTSD and a solid injection-drug habit. When he died he was 31, and his oldest child, Amy, was 8.

This was not just his “personal” problem. This was also a consequence of sending an 18-year-old off to work in a futile war, and then shipping him back home wounded in spirit and leaving him to negotiate his illnesses on his own.

It’s like the Gulf Oil Spill. Its causes are deep, and it spreads.

After losing both my parents to the consequences of addiction, hearing about Amy’s murder made me feel angry and helpless. I’d worked hard to detox and get sober, only, it seemed, to see yet another person in my family fall to the disease of addiction.

My addict-mind decided I was destined for the same outcome. After all—BOTH of my own parents. This preyed upon my mind. I wrote inventory, I talked with my sponsor, but I continued to be a slave to anger and self-centered fear. I compared myself with other “successful” people who earn more money than I do, who went to better schools than I did, who have won more recognition for their work than I have, whose houses are bigger than mine, who apparently are more secure and solid than I.

I used over this. One day while visiting my aunt, I saw an old photo of Amy with her children, and I took a Vicodin. Incredible. I stole two Vicodin, I took one, and I put the other one back.

Recovering addicts I know were like, “Was it only one, and if it was only one, HOW was it only one?” It was only one. It only needed to be one: when you say “Fuck You,” you don’t have to raise all your fingers. In the U.S., you raise one. That’s what I was doing: telling whatever “God” is out there, “Fuck you.”

If I want to survive, though, I have to choose to align myself with a power more productive than the feeling of “fuck you.”

Boundaries and bullies

The word “boundaries” isn’t quite well-loved in 12-step addiction-recovery programs, in my experience. I heard somebody in a meeting once say that when we talk about “boundaries,” we’re just shirking our responsibility to help other people—we don’t need to build fences, we need to take fences down and find ways to help others.

“Boundaries” is a strong Al-Anon word. It’s one of the first words my Al-Anon sponsor taught me 12 years ago. I grew up with almost no boundaries. My mother had her nose in my business constantly. So I grew up with the idea that it was normal for people to walk all over me.

And along came a bully.

Bullies have this amazing sixth sense: they can finger the sensitive kid in a crowd. It’s like we have the Kick-Me-Hard sign tattooed on our foreheads in fuchsia. They’re so good at this because, of course, bullies themselves are quite sensitive. They just cover it up with aggression.

Danica seemed made for me. She loved books; she introduced me to my first adult novels—I mean, novels written for grown-ups, not porn: she loaned me The Shining by Stephen King in eighth grade, and after that, I was done with the “teen” section in the library. She also gave me trash pulp like Harold Robbins and Helter Skelter; later she quoted Sylvia Plath (“Every woman loves a fascist”) and changed her name to Danika, which to me made it look more like “swastika”—more aggressive, more threatening. … She had a magnetic personality and collected friends like a garbage can collects flies: they stuck to her even when you waved your hands over them. At the lunch table, Danica was surrounded by a gaggle of girls, and I was one of them. I’d found a home.

Until one day I came to the lunch room and nobody would eat with me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They all sat at the far end of our table, Danica at the center, whispering behind their hands and casting glances in my direction.

This is the way girls bully. The way boys bully, I’m finding out with my own 12-year-old boy, is much more direct and physical. They pour drinks into each other’s hair. They rub wood chips into each other’s faces. They wrestle and knock each other down; they offer the victim a “free hit,” then dodge at the last second.

My alcoholic family, absent and oblivious to the damage these conflicts could wreak, gave me no skills to cope. The best my mother could do was to tell me to give my pain to Jesus. So I became the punching bag, the perennial victim.

When I moved to college, Danica also chose the school I’d been accepted to and followed me there; she was even put into a dorm room five down from me, and she tried to pull the same shit. One night she got drunk, collared my new boyfriend, pulled him inside her room and locked the door. … By that time I was out of my braces and drawing the good-looking guys, but my mentality stuck: I still thought I was The Loser. These were some of the feelings that caused migraines and other pain that I tried to drink away, and later drug away.

The other day, after helping my kid deal with a situation at school, and teaching him about options for coping, I had a dream about Danica. In the dream she was an adult, and I approached her as though I were going to give her a great big kiss after so many years.

I slid my hand up the back of her head, wound her hair around my fingers, and yanked. Hard.

“How did it feel?” my husband asked.

“Awesome,” I said.

In fact, I see Danica all the time. She’s friends with a few of my Facebook friends; she’s super-thin with circles under her eyes. For all I know, she may have an eating disorder. Her smile begs for affection from the viewer. She’s clearly fragile.

And I’ve learned: the best thing I can do to help her is to stay away from her.

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