Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: alcohol

Lancet Study: Alcohol More Dangerous than Heroin

Front-page news in the Guardian today: A study published Friday in the online edition of the British medical journal Lancet declaring alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the United Kingdom—much more dangerous than heroin and crack, or even tobacco.

The study turns conventional perceptions on their heads by classifying alcohol along with heroin and crack as “Class A” dangerous drugs, with alcohol in the far in the lead. Behind the top three come crystal meth, cocaine, tobacco, amphetamines and cannabis.

The drugs were scored on 16 harm criteria, from drug-specific and drug-related mortality and damage at the top, through dependence, impairment of mental functioning, loss of tangibles and relationships, injury, crime, family adversities, environmental and international damage and economic cost.  Scores ranged from 0 (no harm) to 100 (maximum harm), with each point indicating an equal measure of “harm”—so a drug scoring 50 (roughly, crack) was considered to be 25 percent less harmful than a drug scoring 75 (roughly, booze).

Source: Lancet, 29 October 2010. Drag file to your desktop to view in full resolution.

Amazing. But what we’ve always known, right?

That’s not to say that if crack were legal, it wouldn’t score higher.

One question I had: If, as various sources state, tobacco is causing more than 100,000 deaths in the UK each year (roughly one-quarter to one-fifth of the deaths it causes in the US), why does tobacco rank so low on the list? In 2008, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, alcohol caused 9,000 deaths. They must think alcohol has greater collateral damage than tobacco—I’d like to hear about why they think this is more important.

Another question: Where were the prescription drugs? Methadone and buprenorphine are the only ones appearing on this list. Maybe they’re more tightly regulated in the UK—but in the US, OxyContin and Vicodin would be on this scale somewhere, and I’d like to know where they would rank.

People, places and things

Dunno why I feel so sad today.

Just back from a weekend in the mountains. Ought to feel refreshed and happy.

Expectations… To put it in perspective, however, I have a high-school friend with a husband and four children and who is dying of leukemia; and another friend both of whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. And I’m sitting here feeling “sad.”

The mountains

Where I sat the first day.

This weekend I was in a remote place. No phone reception; hardly any internet. It was healthy to be disconnected. … All the while, though, I kept wondering how it would be when I got back. How I would transition back into connection.

We walked dark trails that crossed waterfalls.


The waterfall we saw on Saturday.

We drove deep into forests, along high ridges and down, and the road gave out onto broad fields with rolls of hay and black cows. We were told to park by the shore, near the campers. And there was the swimming hole.

It was cooler on Saturday; a screen of cloud covered the sky but the sun bored through bit by bit and heated the flat rocks by the river. The water had carved a deep channel at that spot. And on the other shore, an old brown rope with five knots, hanging from a tree. Much too high for my son, who simply jumped from the cliff.

I lay on the rocks and listened to the river making its music, and my son’s laughter and screams.

We ate grapes and cheese and crackers.

My guys sat in the “natural jacuzzi,” a place in the shallow falls where the water cascaded over their shoulders. Still I didn’t get wet. One of my recurrent nightmares is diving under, being unable to get to the surface in time, and being forced to inhale the water just before I wake up.

I took photographs. I watched the yellow Swallowtails sail up the shoulder of the hill on the opposite shore and thought about the many times I used to get drunk in this state when I’d worked there 20-odd years ago… How I’d always meant to visit this section but never thought I could do it on my own. How I was always afraid of the good ole boys I’d inevitably meet out on the road. (Just digging the towels out of the car that afternoon, in those two minutes, I’d had to deal as one of them pulled up and stopped the truck: “How’s the water, darlin?” “It’s nice,” I said, shortly. For godsake.) How my accent said I wasn’t local. I couldn’t take care of myself. I was afraid of everything, the water, the roads, the wildlife, the men, everything.

The meeting last night was about “people, places and things.” People talked about how they’d changed their lives when they got sober—hauled up stakes and moved; changed partners and friends or lived alone for a long time. “Hibernated,” one woman said. I thought back to two years ago when I got sober. I couldn’t do that. I had a husband and a child, a house, a garden.

A husband and child I was afraid of; a house and garden I’d ignored for a long time.

My addiction made me leave people, places and things. I was afraid of almost everything and everyone I loved, and I either avoided or left them.

People that I loved—not just my husband and son, but friends, colleagues, and family.

Places that I loved: despite having the resources to travel, I’d refuse to plan vacations with my husband. Having fun and being happy threatened me.

It still does.

I left things. The number of valuable things I’ve lost—or “forgotten,” left behind—I’m ashamed to say. Even if it’s just a special stone that I used to carry in my pocket. My carelessness with things I love comes from my belief that I don’t deserve them. It’s a kind of reverse-arrogance. I’m super-specially-low.

As my husband and son were taking their last swim in the river before leaving, my husband asked me if I were finally going to get wet, and as I shrugged, he called, quietly, “Wimp.”

“What did you say?”

He laughed softly and turned his back.


I jumped in and swam the channel to the other shore. The depth of the hole stole my breath—whenever I swim and my feet can’t touch the bottom, my diaphragm seizes, and I had to turn my mind to my breathing so I didn’t panic. Once I’d recovered, I could see the beauty of the valley from the surface of the water. The ridge bent a curved reptilian backbone against the sky. I grew up in a place on a river. Everything looks different once you get out on the water… if you can bring yourself to get out there.

My son was ecstatic. He’d already scrambled up the cliff and was waiting for me, shivering, lips tinged cyanotically.


I pulled myself up the slick boulders.

Once up I could see a natural set of steps to the top, decorated with pale-green lichens.

It was perhaps 12 feet. At the top, it looked so high… And the mesas of limestone beneath the water shone through in the pale sunlight. We’d have to jump far out. If we slipped…

There are so many things I want to do with my life. Why is danger always the first thing I see?

“OK, Mom . . . one—two—three!”

How do the Swallowtails manage to fly so high with such light wings?


I jumped four times. HP leading me to take risks and have faith, I guess.

Then swam upstream and put my hands against the old boulders and let the current wash over me.

Slept well…

I wish I could feel that clean and relaxed all the time. But life is not about what I “feeeel.” It is what it is.

Lindsay Lohan’s doing Adderall, Ambien, and Dilaudid

So, I never imagined myself to be the kind of writer who documents the lives of celebrities, but this is an interesting case that illustrates a trend happening all over the country.

Lindsay Lohan’s probation report was released today and it says she’s taking five powerful prescription drugs: Adderall (for attention-deficit disorder); Ambien (for insomnia); Zoloft (for depression); Trazodone (for depression and insomnia); and—get this—Dilaudid, prescribed after she had her wisdom teeth out in early June.

Dilaudid is a Schedule II opioid painkiller that’s roughly four times more powerful than morphine. In other words, it’s some heavy shit, and dentists and oral surgeons don’t usually prescribe heavy shit for that kind of pain. Where I come from, they usually write for a few Tylenol #3 or Vicodin with no refills and tell you to give your gums the good old saltwater rinse. Prescribing Dilaudid for post-wisdom-tooth extraction pain is like sending in the A-bomb for the proverbial anthill.

Asking for Dilaudid for that kind of thing?

If you’re Lindsay Lohan, you can probably get what you want. You can be persuasive one way or another.

More and more people are taking drugs they’re getting from a variety of doctors, and mixing them with each other, and with alcohol. The belief is rampant that because a drug is prescribed by a doctor—because it is a prescription drug—it’s not dangerous.

The belief is that the Real Dangerous Drugs are the ones that Homeless Junkies shoot under the bridge.

Actually?—the Real Dangerous Drugs are the ones in your medicine cabinet. They’re pure and they’re quality-controlled to do their jobs.

One job of morphine, by the way, is to treat “dyspnea,” or the labored breathing that people experience when they’re dying. The “death rattle.” Because morphine—all opioids, actually—slow down your breathing.

And you take too much of any opioid, and/or mix it with other stuff like Ambien, Valium, or alcohol, and your breathing can stop (this is what, for example, Heath Ledger did).

The strength and reliability of these drugs is one reason prescription drug abuse is the most rapidly growing drug problem in this country. According to a statement by the International Narcotics Control Board earlier this year, 6.2 million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. Many of these people are doing things like taking painkillers such as Dilaudid for toothache, mixing them with Adderall (speed) and Ambien (major downer) and knocking those back with a cocktail at, say, the MTV Music Awards.

You mix too many chemicals like this and yes—you will wind up depressed and anxious, with insomnia, and some physical pain, plus maybe gastric reflux. This sends you to the doctor, who gives you more pills (Trazodone, Zoloft, Nexium… all of which Lindsay, according to her probation report, is taking).

Lindsay, Lindsay… who since 2004 has had how many cosmetic-surgery procedures?—and did each one come with its subsequent painkiller prescription? I’ve known addicts who would get teeth pulled unnecessarily so they could get pills; in L.A. it’s just as easy (maybe easier) to go to your plastic surgeon.

Unfortunately it looks as though Lindsay will be able to keep getting her drugs while she’s in jail, because they’re prescribed by a doctor. Hopefully, for her sake, once she reaches rehab, that’ll change.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers to rehab again

Is Jonathan Rhys Meyers hitting bottom? Star of The Tudors, Meyers, 32, has signed on for his fourth stint in rehab (this time in London) after having been prohibited from boarding a United Airlines flight at JFK Airport in New York when staff noticed he was pounding drinks in the first-class lounge.

Meyers became enraged and physically belligerent, and used an incendiary racial epithet, resulting in his being banned from all United Airlines flights.

Last summer he was arrested at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris when he threatened to kill bar staff in the first-class lounge, who shut him off after noticing that he’d been pounding drinks while waiting for his flight. He was charged with “willful violence, outrage, hitting and threatening death.”

Good for him for trying again. Hope Meyers gets the help he needs. I’ve long wondered what it takes for us to get sober. My friend Tom says it might always remain a mystery… Lots of people say, “I was done.” The way I think of it is, “I just couldn’t do it anymore.” What did it take for you? How many times?

Film Review : Crazy Heart.

Crazy Heart is out on DVD this week and I want to say two things about it.

But first just a quick aside: A lot has been said about Jeff Bridges EXCEPT that they cast maybe one of the soberest Hollywood actors to play a total low-bottom drunk who loses a great deal in order to get sober. For all Cameron Douglas’s claims that his movie-star family contributed to his addiction, Bridges grew up in the center of a Hollywood dynasty, and he’s put together a stable family and has been married to the same woman since Jimmy Carter was running this here show. His performances with kids (in this film and I’m thinking also of Seabiscuit) betray his fondness: when I saw Crazy Heart in the theater my friend Jules and I bumped heads and agreed that actors cannot successfully pull off facility with kids onscreen unless they’ve parented with their own hands and hearts.

Anyhow. The film:

1. The doctor who sets Bad Blake’s ankle

This is remarkable and I hope increasingly true-to-life: a physician who confronts the patient with the fact that he’s an addict. He says:

The kinds of stuff we’re talking here—emphysema, heart failure, cancer, an extremely good chance of a stroke. They’re gonna kill you.  Look: let’s not kid ourselves about this one. You’re an alcoholic. … You have to stop smoking, stop drinking, and lose 25 pounds.

I mean, why couldn’t my dad’s doctor have smacked him around a bit with something like that? They always told him to “cut down.” He’d drink O’Doul’s (bleccch) for a few weeks till his liver enzymes came back semi-normal, then he’d start adding Sam Adams and Penn Pilsner back in.

2. The Good Part: Bad Blake Gets Sober

Many people get sober in connection with their kids. Part of the damage Bad Blake has done in his addiction is to abandon his only son… At the suggestion of Jane (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he rings him up, and his son cuts him off. So he transfers his hope for affection to Janey’s little boy. And then he loses—abandons—the boy in a bar. And Janey packs her bags.

Watching the kid’s face in the window of the taxi driving away is what sends him into his last bender, and what makes him pick up the phone and tell Wayne (Robert Duvall) he wants to get sober. He can’t stand that he’s lost another kid.

And then, when he starts cleaning up the wreckage of the past in his house, and he finds the kid’s pajama shirt, that’s what makes him drive to Santa Fe and try to make amends to Jane.

But really, he’s not making amends—he’s trying to get Jane back. That’s not amends, that’s self-will.

If I’d been Jane, I’d have locked the door on him, too, because his amends was pious and selfish, and all about him. I was taught that when we make amends, we do not say I’m Sorry—we say, I Was Wrong, and then we let the other person have the dignity of her response. I’d like to have seen him say, “Jane—I turned my back on your kid in the bar, I was irresponsible, and I’m here to tell you I was wrong. Is there anything you need to say to me?” The screenwriter wrote it as it stands most likely with the intent of showing that he was not so far along in his sobriety.

But it remains all about the boy—later Bad Blake gives one of his big fat royalty checks to Jane not for her but for her son’s eighteenth birthday. That’s a real recovery: giving something without expecting anything in return.

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