Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Alcoholics Anonymous (page 2 of 3)

The Dutch Begin Studying Baclofen For Addiction

So here we are again, back at the baclofen question. My Dutch friend sends me a link to a news story (in Dutch!) about the University of Amsterdam starting a study of baclofen as a treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. Managed to cobble some sense out of the story, which begins:

Is this the wonder pill which will bring rescue to, among others, alcoholics, junkies and smoke-drug addicts?

“Smoke-drug addicts”—very much like that one. My mother, a die-hard smoker for 30 years before she died at 58 of lung cancer, was definitely a “smoke-drug addict.”

(Another interesting tidbit: the Dutch word for “addiction” is “verslaving”—which, my friend says, means “a slave to a substance.”)

Baclofen is a derivative of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and is a GABA-receptor agonist—just like, as it happens, alcohol. Surprise, surprise! they work in the same way. … Baclofen is prescribed as a muscle-relaxant for spasticity in conditions such as multiple sclerosis. It is also prescribed off-label to reduce addictive cravings. And it’s dependency-producing. You can’t just quit baclofen—it must be tapered up and down when getting on or off it; stopping use suddenly leads to the same kind of (prolonged, painful) detox that benzos induce.

So they’re gonna study us alcoholics, junkies and smokers, BUT: not gamblers, because apparently there’s no medical evidence that gambling addiction actually exists. The researchers are, according to the story, somehow really hoping it works for drug-addicts. Leading us to believe “junkies” are maybe worse than the other types?

The story quotes a guy from a drug-rehab who has administered baclofen to 100 patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, GHB and benzos, and, apparently, about half of them no longer use their (other) drugs.

The best part of the story: the researchers are speculating that baclofen works better on addicts who use out of “angst.” The story reads (according to my Dutch friend–thanks P):

“With people who use substances from a more positive emotion we do not believe baclofen to be very effective,” according to [Professor Reinout] Wiers [of Amsterdam University]. One assumption of the researchers is that the muscle relaxer also has a calming effect on addicts who try to mask and conquer their fear.

Which would make sense. I mean, what real alcoholic doesn’t drink out of conscious or unconscious “angst”?

Also: I was not fully aware of this, but angst is the Germanic word for fear. So, take a pill, and my fear is relieved. … This brought back the words of my first sponsor, a deeply spiritual woman and former “junkie” who once advised me, as I detoxed off fentanyl and started work on my Fourth Step only to discover that I had a few bits of “angst” going on:

DON’T call it “anxiety.” It’s plain old fuckin fear, OK? If you call it “anxiety,” you can go to the doctor and get a pill for it. It’s OK to medicate “anxiety.” But nobody goes to the doctor and says, “I’m having some FEAR, I need a pill.”

I took her point.

But maybe now, with baclofen, you’ll be able to do that.

Olivier Amiesen, M.D., who controls his alcoholic cravings with Baclofen

The whole baclofen business started with Olivier Ameisen, a French cardiologist who for 15 years practiced in New York and taught medicine at Cornell’s Weill Medical College. Unable to stay sober despite following up on all his practitioners’ recommendations, going to rehab, and sitting in two AA meetings per day for seven years, Ameisen experimented on himself: he started taking high doses of baclofen, which, he wrote in his 2008 book The End of My Addiction, eradicated his cravings and allowed him to become a social drinker. Ameisen called for randomized studies of baclofen’s effectiveness—of which, presumably, the Amsterdam study is one.

One wonders if it would even be OK to become a social drinker while taking high-dose baclofen. Though not classified as a benzo, baclofen basically has a benzo profile and the same kinds of OD risks. In addition, though it seems not to have any tolerance effect (unlike alcohol), dosages have to be closely monitored, because over 80mg/day baclofen can interfere with functioning and cause drowsiness. Ameisen uses baclofen at doses of 200mg+.

I once brought my questions about baclofen up at a meeting early in my sobriety. I got a number of very interesting responses. One was from a young man, maybe 28 or 29, who had been clean for about a year or so. Smart guy and very physically fit. His face lit up like a torch when I mentioned baclofen. After the meeting he said:

It’s funny when people talk about using baclofen to get rid of cravings. My experience was, when I used baclofen WITH alcohol, the combination was juuuuust right. If you know what I mean.

I knew what he meant.

For me, using a chemical to fight chemical addiction is like using water to avert a flood.

Ameisen’s statistic sounds so disappointing: 5,000 meetings over seven years failed to keep him sober. Another friend, a former heroin addict who got sober the way I did, bristled when I mentioned this statistic:

For an addict like me, sitting in two AA meetings per day for seven years ISN’T the solution.

What this person meant was, for an addict like her, the solution = taking the steps. Meetings alone don’t keep her sober.

I can buy, along with Gabor Maté (one of my true addiction-treatment heroes), that some people just can’t get sober with the steps and may need to take “maintenance” drugs to escape the “junkie” lifestyle. That’s cool. In Stephen King’s words, there’s more than one way to de-fur a feline. But if they want to research the addiction-treatment possibilities of baclofen, on which the patent has expired and from which ain’t nobody gonna make no big bucks, why don’t they also research the effectiveness of other cheap and non-patentable “solutions” that have worked for millions of people for much longer?

A Talk With Melody Beattie

Melody Beattie (credit: Hay House).

When I call her, Melody Beattie (pronounced bee-tee) is in a house near Two-Bunch Palms, near Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, in the southern California desert. She is working on another writing project, a new and different kind of work than the self-help books she’s written for the past 25 years. And ever since the success of her 1986 book Codependent No More, which helped cement “self-help” as a Library of Congress category, Beattie has always come to this wasteland (no matter how beautiful it may be: the Latin origin of the word “desert” is a place “left to waste”) to start writing.

Come to think of it, the book also secured the LC category of “codependence.”

“I hate the word codependence,” she says. “It’s nothing you can wrap your hands around.”

Too late now.

Beattie’s voice has rough edges. It’s like a boat with lots of barnacles. Beattie has been through rough weather in her life—has “been though some stuff,” as they say in meeting rooms and in the rooms of therapy. She has “dealt with some issues.” Now 63 and the author of 17 books that spring from the survival skills she has honed—not all of them productive, she says—Melody Beattie recounts that she got sober at 24, in 1973, and that, by then, she had been drinking half her life. As soon as she became a teenager she was sexually approached or abused by a number of men, including neighbors, corner-boys, guys at her church, and even the husband of the woman for whom she babysat. Not long after she started drinking, she also began using drugs, eventually shooting heroin and working as a stripper to keep the supply going.

Codependent No More WorkbookOne of the more interesting things she says in her most recent book, the Codependent No More Workbook, is that drinking and drugging saved her life: if it hadn’t been for the emotional numbness that had resulted, she might have killed herself. Though I wasn’t kidnapped or raped as a child, this analysis—that what might have killed us actually, for a time, saved us—struck a certain authentic chord in me and I wanted to ask her about this and other views she takes that draw attention and sometimes criticism.

I ask her: Don’t people have problems with this idea—that drugs saved us?

She replies easily, “You know what? I don’t care what people think.”

Most of her books get very high reviews from readers, but there are inevitably a few who take issue with her ideas. For example, from an unhappy Amazon reader review of her 2010 book, Make Miracles in Forty Days:

This is the biggest bunch of hooey I have ever read. One is supposed to express “gratitude” for everything that makes their lives miserable and that will bring a miracle from God?! If I were God, I would think, if this person is so grateful for the hardships in their life, I might as well give them more misery since they are so “grateful.”

Right. The return of The God Thing.

Below is a blog-sized collection of excerpts from our conversation… starting with a question about The God Thing.

Guinevere: You write, “No greater feeling exists for me than to see proof that God knows my name, knows where I live, and cares about my life.” If that were so, how could God have let such difficult things happen to you, including the loss of your son 20 years ago, at 13 years old?

Melody Beattie: I was gonna go use that week. I just wanted 10 minutes of not feeling that. And as it happened, just then I got a phone call from a friend who had relapsed. He said, “I’ll come get you.” And when he came, I told him I wanted new syringes; so we went to a pharmacy that sold them. And then I told him: I can’t use cocaine because it’s too unpredictable. And the heroin is cut with shit. Dilaudid has that horrible orange dye in it.

And in talking this way, the other part of me kicked in. The healthy part. My friend was getting a bit upset with me: I was not behaving in the way that addicts generally think and behave. But I realized: what I really wanted was the freedom to choose.

G: But I mean, didn’t you get pissed at God when your son died?

MB: I don’t even know that I’ve totally forgiven God. It’s like I’ve tabled that issue. It’s like I’ve said, “There are some thing we’re gonna talk about later, God.”

G: You say prayer and meditation are how we get our power. But it seems to be the last thing most people think of in terms of solving a problem.

MB: I prayed a lot after Shane died. People don’t realize that the 12 steps is a bag of tools. Most people work them once while they’re cleaning up, but the 12 steps work incredibly well on everyday problems. You can work them again and again. And as tools go, they’re very responsive. If we take even half a step toward them, they move across the universe for us.

G: You write, “The biggest shortcoming of the codependency recovery movement is that codependents frequently don’t take working the steps as seriously as alcoholics and addicts. They think it’s an option, because they haven’t been the ones using drugs or drinking.” —This is a pretty big indictment.

MB: I like to ask codependents if they’ve worked the steps. Seriously—have you ever done this? Gone up to a codependent and asked them if they’ve actually worked the steps? Lots of codependents go to meetings [and think this is enough to recover]. If you read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it doesn’t say you have to go to meetings. But it does say you have to work the steps. I’m not putting down going to meetings—but you won’t get better if you don’t do the steps.

G: It’s pretty clear that you go or have gone to AA meetings. Is it OK that people know you go to AA? What about anonymity?

MB: In my books I handle that a lot of times by doing it as quoting other people’s experience with particular programs. But yeah, part of me feels guilty. Another part feels like this: sometimes rules are made to be broken. …

You know, recovery has been institutionalized.  We’ve taken the experimentalism and spontaneity out of it.

G: You write in your workbook, “The AA program taught me that God is real. Codependency recovery taught me that I’m real and that I deserve to be loved. I can fully express the person I am.” I’m interested in what you’ve learned about yourself from recovering from addictive relationships that maybe recovering from alcoholism and drug-addiction didn’t teach you.

MB: When I wrote Codependent No More they didn’t have self-help shelves in the bookstore. … My codependency took me to my knees. I thought to myself, “Here I’ve been given this fantastic gift of sobriety and I want to kill myself.

I was dirt-poor the first 15 years of sobriety. I was so filled with guilt—another survival mechanism. The majority of codependent behaviors actually resemble grief. I once had the opportunity to talk with Elisabeth Kubler Ross [author of On Death and Dying], who came up with the five stages of grief. I remember thinking, as I spoke with her, that if you add obsession and guilt to the five stages of grief, you have codependence.

You know, self-esteem can save us. A few years back I was asked to speak at my old high school, Minnehaha Academy. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the the time I went to that school. I had thought something was fundamentally wrong with me. … I don’t do many speaking engagements anymore. When I arrived, I saw that a number of teachers had come back to hear me talk. One was 90 years old! I looked at these people and realized that I hadn’t felt that kind of love and care back then. And this was a very good private school—they specialized in the creative arts. …

The principal had found a photograph of me. You have to realize, there were no photographs of me from childhood, from the time I was abducted off the street when I was 4. But this guy had managed to find one. And he put this picture of me up on the screen behind where I was speaking. It was enormous. I looked at that picture and the memories of what I’d gone through came over me. Seeing that picture of myself started a process of healing. Life will provide us the therapy we need.

Charlie Sheen, Addiction, Interviews, And Twitter

Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen on ABC’s “20-20.

 

 

 

 

So, the self-immolation of Charlie Sheen.

From the 20-20 interview:

Q: When was the last time you used?

A: I don’t know.

Bullshit. Every addict knows when he last used.

Then, in a burst of recollection, he remembers WHAT he used (though not precisely when).

Q: What are we talking about? How much?

A: I dunno, man, I was banging 7-gram rocks and finishing them, because that’s how I roll. I have one speed, I have one gear: GO.

Q: How DO you survive that?

A: Because I’m me. I’m different. I have a different brain, a different constitution, I have a different heart, I have a different—you know, I got Tiger Blood, man.

They film his workout (bad curls, crappy form, flinging barbells around, not real lifting), flash a closeup of his skinny-ass abs, creep through his house, photograph his cigars, and look for drugs but can’t find any, though they do turn up a porn star and a model. He submits to a urine drop and apparently comes out clean (more bullshit).

He says his brain fires like “something not of this terrestrial realm.” “Judgment” is a word he uses a lot. “I don’t have time for their judgment,” he says of CBS execs who shut down his show, “Two-and-a-Half Men.”

Charlie Sheen joined Twitter two days ago and already has nearly 1 million followers. Not “friends,” followers. Watchers. Oglers. People just waiting to get notice in their feeds that he’s fucked the next thing up. So they can feel better about their own lives? Entertainment?

Meanwhile to the active addict this feels like adulation. He logs in and 48 hours later, instant audience! Viral! Power! “Winning!”

Charlie SheenI tried to find an image of Charlie Sheen from ages ago in which he looks healthy, but I couldn’t dig one up. There are photos of him looking younger, certainly, but he always looks pale, and his eyes are defended. (In contrast to Robert Downey Jr.’s eyes, which always looked sad and empty when he was younger—as if he were staring into blank space, an abyss.) Even when smiling, Charlie Sheen’s face always seems to bark: Get The Fuck Back Or I’ll Rip Your Fuckin Head Off. The Today Show’s Jeff Rossen remarks in yesterday’s interview, “You’re angry!”

Q: You say you’ve cured yourself of addiction. How have you done that?

A: I closed my eyes and made it so. With the power of my mind.

Jesus wept. His advice to other addicts? Fix yourself, close your eyes, change your brain, quit believing all this ancient, plagiarized nonsense.

A friend of mine with some sober years calls this not just ordinary bullshit, but Transcendental Bullshit.

And then there’s this gem: He reads from page 417 of AA’s Big Book. The famous Page Four-Seventeen. The passage on Acceptance Is The Answer To All My Problems Today. You just KNOW what’s coming.

He stares into the camera and tells his boss (his EX-boss):

You gotta accept me.

Lots of people watching all this and saying, “What a fuckin asshole.” From one perspective, they’re right. Addiction, persistently and willfully untreated, makes us into assholes. Plus the experts are right: he probably has some kind of mental illness. In any case, he’s a sick man.

Embarrassingly sad. I feel for him. I feel for his family, especially his kids. I can’t imagine how it is these days to be Martin Sheen. I mean yes I can: I’ve lived with addicted people who refuse to quit or get help; I’ve read blogs of friends who write about how to relate to their family members who are still active or in very early recovery after terrifying histories. But none of these people are watching their kid blow himself up in public.

The masses love to watch a guy set fire to himself, or piss his pants. It can turn us into voyeurs, into nasty seventh-graders whose expertise is finger-pointing and heckling. “Yesterday and very early this morning,” TIME Magazine wrote, “Charlie Sheen continued not going away.” As though they really expected him to. Or even wanted him to.

Why are we so interested in fucked-up celebrities? Is it fair to look at celebrity stories as allegories for our collective experience? … I reckon yeah, with limits. Charlie Sheen is not interesting because he’s an asshole. He’s interesting because he’s got addiction and probably other problems and is refusing to get help. Like many others of us have, and still are. And he has so many resources, including wealth and a concerned parent—unlike many of us.

Celebrities choose to live outside, on the Common, in the public square, instead of behind closed walls like everybody else. The magnifying glass trained on them shows up strengths and weaknesses shared by all of humanity.

“What is called for here is prayer—and plenty of it,” a friend of mine said. “For ourselves as well as Charlie.” I mean I’m not sure I’ve ever known how to pray, exactly, but setting some kind of intention other than being a Gawker helps me put the magnifying glass down. Those damn things can burn.

 

12 steps: Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Study

Next time you’re raking the leaves or scrubbing the floor, pop this series of MP3s on the CD player or iPod and have a listen…

You can get them on the Silkworth website.

AcceptanceJoe and Charlie are recovered alcoholics who for a long time ran very popular old-school Big Book seminars across the country. The Silkworth series was recorded live in front of an audience in 1998, so it contains a distillation of decades of wisdom and experience—they’d been doing this for a long time. (Apparently Joe passed away in the mid-2000s.)

One of them is from Arkansas and one of them is from Oklahoma, so they have fantastic accents and the Southerner’s gift for gab. … As Charlie says in his introduction, they don’t consider themselves to be gurus, or to speak for that fellowship:

We’re just two old drunks, met together several years ago, found we had a mutual interest in the Big Book. We studied it together for quite some time. Hopefully we’ve learned a few things about it. And those few things we’ve learned about it—we just love to be able to share them with other people.

Charlie is the Alpha-dog, and he talks more than Joe. But when Charlie gives Joe a word in edgewise, Joe usually has something real good to say. Here he is on the sexual inventory:

I look back in my life and when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I got to thinkin about this a lot. I mean A LOT. Almost gave me brain damage from thinkin about it. So I went to my mom and I said, “Mom . . . I been thinkin about this sex thing.” She said, “Oh my God, Benny Joe”—scared her to death. That’s my name—Benny Joe. She said, “Oh my God, Benny Joe, that’s not a good thing to be thinkin about. Fact, it’s a dirty rotten filthy thing to be thinkin about,” she said. “And you oughta save it for the one you love.”

“Think about that,” he says, as people laugh and groan simultaneously.

I can’t remember now who recommended I try out Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Study, but whoever it was, I’m grateful to them. It was very early in recovery, maybe even during my detox. Thank god for the Internet, where I could get the files immediately, for free. I used to play them back to back while I was in post-acute withdrawal, sitting in the hot bath trying not to feel frozen, or dragging my butt around, trying to do my days, just putting one foot in front of the other. They made me laugh and they reminded me that it can be done: We Do Recover.

The whole series is 35 chapters long. Go for it. And take a look at the other offerings on Silkworth while you’re at it.

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.

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