Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: alcoholism (page 1 of 9)

Getting Sober Young In New York.

I’m about 90 percent past a case of walking pneumonia that lasted more than a month, and while I continue to cough, I’ve been busy, busy, busy.

Please check out my latest today for The Fix, in which my friend “Sophia,” a 23-year-old NYU grad, talks about how her dad made her a deal when she was a kid: he’d buy her booze if she’d purchase pot for him from her friends at high school.

Not really an uncommon scenario, it turns out. A lot of today’s parents, who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, smoke pot at home and let their kids drink, thinking that if it happens under their roofs, the kids will be all right. What happened in Sophia’s case was, she got the distinct impression that her dad thought boozing and drugging was OK, so at about 14 she started boozing and drugging herself, and by the time she got to her senior year at NYU she was an alcoholic.

I was driving my 15-year-old son to school this morning—the same high school Sophia attended for a while. He usually rides his bike, but he’s recovering from a concussion, and I had to deliver medical forms to the office. Walking to the front door I glanced through the basement windows, watching the kids unpack their stuff into their lockers, wondering how much weed was stashed in those skinny metal cupboards. I have a strong strain of naivete and I want to believe there’s not much, the kids seem so “nice,” but I think back to my own rural high school, with the whiff of weed around every distant corner—and fogging the back of every school bus. It’s how many kids got through the boredom of high school, and through their own refusal to rise to certain challenges: they numbed themselves out.

(For how many years did I refuse to rise to challenges and numb out my resentment against myself? Many.)

I know a number of people who overcame addiction at young ages in New York City. Opportunities for recovery are everywhere in Manhattan. They’re easier to find than the subway stops.

Today I talk to my kid openly about addiction—and about sex, and relationships, and feelings. I’ve learned from my journalistic work and from my own experience that I need not only to tell him to manage his feelings but also to model productive ways of doing so.

We can live consciously or unconsciously… It’s the consciousness of this that helps us remain close. And he and I remain extremely close. No wonder: I still carry traces of his body inside mine. We both seem aware of this.

Yesterday for a story I’m working on I spoke with Natalie Angier, author of Woman: An Intimate Geography. She writes,

Years and years after a woman has delivered a child, she continues to carry vestiges of that child in her body. I’m talking about tangible vestiges now, not memories. Stray cells from a growing fetus circulate through a woman’s body during pregnancy … Scientists have found fetal cells surviving in the maternal bloodstream decades after the women have given birth to their children The cells didn’t die; they didn’t get washed away. … A mother, then, is forever a chimera, a blend of the body she was born with and of all the bodies she has borne.

Unlike many young men, my kid expresses his feelings openly. I’m glad I’ve been able to teach him this practice. It may be one that saves him from some of his genetic tendencies.

The boy and his dog. “I love her fiercely, Mom,” he said. A powerful practice, to be able to express our feelings openly. Especially for men.

Getting Sober On Vacation In A Spot With No Meetings

Been getting a lot of mail lately. Today I received this email from an American who is overseas in a rural area where she says she can’t get to any meetings. Here is what she says:

Hi Guinevere,

I’m reaching out to anyone right now. For the next month I’m working in Europe in a little town of 5,000, no meetings around. I would have been sober seven years in March but I started drinking in January, when I was working at a high-level political meeting, at which everyone was a glamorous, seemingly functional alcoholic. Since then I’ve gained almost 20 pounds (I was a daily runner), and am screwed out here. I don’t know how to put it down. Stay away from triggers… my trigger is noon! Any advice, words of comfort, wisdom, what to do, how to get it back?

So I called a good friend of mine who just had 19 years on Monday. Here are some options we came up with together:

  1. Are there really NO meetings? you might check with your program’s local information service in Austria or the world service office to make sure. One of my good friends in sobriety stopped drinking/using by driving two hours one way to the meeting at which she got sober.
  2. Have you checked with the local hospital, which might know of resources to help alcoholics/addicts?
  3. Have you checked other recovery programs?—when I’m out of town sometimes I’ll go to a different program if I can’t get to the one I like best.
  4. Have you reached out to your people from your sober life at home? what about your sponsor, your “we,” trusted friends and spiritual mentors. 
  5. Do you have program literature with you? If not, there’s a lot available online.
  6. Have you tried In The Rooms or the various online social networks that help alcoholics/addicts? In The Rooms has daily chat meetings and video meetings via Skype.
  7. Finally, have you tried to get in contact with whatever higher power you were in contact with while sober? If it helps, feel free to write me about how your higher power has helped you in the past.

Does anyone else out there have anything to suggest to our new friend? Please carry the message, dudes.

Poor Hitch: Christopher Hitchens Dies at 62.

Christopher Hitchens

“Have you heard about Hitchens?” I asked a friend one day the summer of 2010.

“What—is he finally in rehab?”

Not exactly the response I expected, but after all a logical one.

“No,” I said. “He has esophageal cancer.”

“Isn’t that the kind of cancer you get when you’re an alkie and you smoke like a chimney?” my friend asked. My friend, a poet, is an “alkie” himself and, at 47, has been sober for more than 25 years.

“Yeah,” I said. “It often has a very poor prognosis—they usually don’t find it until it’s advanced.”

Poor Hitch, we agreed, then we were tempted to take it back, because if there were anyone in the world who wouldn’t stand for anyone’s pity, it might be Christopher Hitchens.

Christopher Hitchens, just before he was diagnosed with cancer.

And now Hitch has gone. The world of language and letters and of debate will be the more impoverished for it. He was a brilliant speaker and writer.

Hitch has remained on my mind since I read about his diagnosis the summer he got sick. Just before that, I’d come across this interview with him in the Guardian, in which the writer opens with a portrait of Hitch in hangover and then, after taking him for a pub lunch:

It seems to me so evidently the case that Hitchens is an alcoholic that to say much more feels unnecessary. But for the record, he trots out all the usual self-serving, defensive evasions: “For me, an alcoholic is someone who can’t hold his drink” or, “I’m not dependent, but I’d prefer not to be without it.” The longest he has ever been was a dry weekend “in fucking Libya”, and he claims he drinks only to make other people less boring. So, presumably, he doesn’t drink when he’s with [Martin] Amis? “Er, yuh, I do.”

He was a relatively young man—only 62, not yet out of middle age—but his body had been leveled. Not only by cancer, but also by addiction, the underlying cause of the cancer. Just before he got sick, he’d been taking care of book sales and promotion for his memoir Hitch-22, flying around the world, but he’d not been taking care of himself.

Hitchens was a formidable intellect. He could worst his opponents in debate, gain the upper hand or secure the last word on panels, or engross any assembly for hours on end.  Talk-show hosts worked hard to insert toeholds into Hitch’s monologues. He reveled in performance as much as he enjoyed working out the arguments.

I remember sitting in a bar with Hitchens, listening to him regale me and our partners (Hitch and my partner had been at Oxford, at the same college at the same time) with his opinions and tales of his exploits. This was a while ago, he had just started working for Vanity Fair, and I don’t remember the details of the stories or the arguments; what I remember is his bearing, and his appearance. He knocked back glass after glass of scotch and chain-smoked, holding the cigarette in the same hand as the booze. His shirt was unbuttoned (as always) to show the mat of hair on his chest, and his sandy locks fell across his damp forehead.

I kept looking at him, wondering, Why does this guy think he’s so hot?

He had been much more handsome before the booze and ciggies went to work on him.

Christopher Hitchens as a student at Balliol College, Oxford, around 1970.

Hitch always carried himself as though he were a real dude when in truth, by the early 1990s, he looked blowsy. He wouldn’t have been much to notice had it not been for his voice. Hitch had a gorgeous voice—insistent, seductive; mellow and smooth at the front but with a deep burn at the back, like the Scotch he loved. For a man who had lived and worked in the States for 30 years, his voice was still curiously Oxonian all the way through. How Hitchens preserved his accent is an interesting question. I think Hitch’s voice was where his psyche lived (he may have said and even believed it lived between his legs, but a great part of it lived in his larynx) and I suspect he protected it.

After his diagnosis interesting discussions sprouted up on the Internet about the ethics of praying for Hitch. Should someone who disdains faith and God be prayed for? Would they want prayers? And many people wondered: Could Hitchens possibly remain an atheist, now that his life was in jeopardy?

Of course he remained an atheist, for fook’s sake. Who cares whether Hitch would or would not want anyone’s prayers?

What I always wondered was, would he ever get sober?

I suppose it’s because I lost both parents to addiction that I find this the more important question. Neither of my parents was able to quit their drugs before they died.  … A prescient exchange occurred between Hitchens and Jon Stewart when Hitch appeared on The Daily Show in his 2007 promotion of God is Not Great, his book about atheism.

Stewart: Does [faith] serve a purpose to give comfort to people, because we are a species that knows we’re going to die and leave—isn’t it nice to have something that brings comfort? Is it necessarily a bad thing to have that comfort, if it doesn’t then cause us to attack other species whose comfort we don’t believe in? Let’s say it’s just for our comfort.

Hitch: That’s a very beautiful and sincere question. [audience laughter] I, myself, I’ve always thought—in the death matter—that an exception would be made in my case.

S: Really?

H: Yes. But I must look like an asshole to you when I say that.

S: Not just when you say that.

Uproarious laughter at Stewart’s last jibe. Anyone who was able to get Hitchens’s goat always earned some giggles. Hitchens himself was gracious about it—he was usually (but not always) generous with talk-show hosts who tried to spar with him. And of course Hitchens was joking about living forever, but only half-joking—the carefully chosen language of his response skirted a critical blindness. Let’s face it: his life had been in jeopardy long before he was diagnosed with cancer. You can’t drink and smoke that hard for that long without putting your life on the line. Hitchens said ages ago for the record that many great writers “did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wind.”

Well, OK, Hitch, and how long and how well did they live?

Another thing that I noticed during this Daily Show clip: Stewart looks and sounds so calm and spiffy next to Hitchens. Because Stewart is so healthy.

I’m thinking about Hitch’s wife and kids. …

By the way, if you think it’s impossible to get sober and still be an atheist, think again. Lest it be considered in poor taste to offer up my own example, let me mention that a friend of mine turned me on to this interview with Augusten Burroughs, author of the memoir Running with Scissors: he claims to have no religious belief and to have cleaned up with a higher power that was a “cartoon version of Jesus, plucked from the manger with a pet cow.”

Community Is Expensive, Drugs Are Cheap

One magazine I sometimes read is More, whose content is designed to help women in midlife. This month they’ve got a long feature on how women with migraines are being deluged with painkillers.

The drugs are “transforming” the migraines from episodic to chronic daily headaches. I’d thought this was my own private anomaly. (This view is part of growing up in an alcoholic family: everything is “personal,” we don’t have anything in common with anyone else, and we Don’t Talk About It.) I’m sometimes forced to take triptans every day for weeks, and this is not good for me but I do it anyway. It’s a common problem for women.

The piece mentions a review of medical-insurance claims published in 2009 that found “almost 20 percent of the opioids prescribed in this country are dispensed to relieve the pain of migraines and headaches.”

But the source wasn’t cited. So I did a little checking and turned up the study, which appeared in the journal Pain (144:20-27). Psychiatrists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined insurance claims for opioid painkillers, since self-reports of opioid use are pretty unreliable (we forget; we lie; etc.). They were looking at people who were “chronic” painkiller users (with more than 180 days of opioid use—which means I was a “chronic” user way back in 1999); “acute” users (less than 10 days), and non-users. Some startling results:

  • Chronic users made up only .65 percent—a tiny sector of the total population, but they used almost half of all the painkillers appearing in the claims
  • They had significantly more physical and psychiatric problems than people in the other two groups
  • Women made up more than 63 percent of the chronic users, and they used more of the medical services, especially as they got older
  • More than one-third of all the chronic users—and many more women than men—had mental health disorders.
  • Opioid abuse was twice as common among women than men, while men had twice the rate of alcohol problems.

Classic: We don’t have to drink, because we have our drugs! I can’t tell you how many women I’ve known who had this experience. I think of it as professionalizing our addictions. Being a drunk is low-class—Hurstwood crashed in the Bowery flophouse. But popping those pristine purple pills (which is the way I always remember OxyContin—like little amethysts) is moving it uptown.

And what do the drugs do for us emotionally? Do the scientists ever ask about the kinds of pain the drugs numb out?

Questions for a future interview.

The researchers are calling for pain programs to offer treatment not just for the “physical disease state” but also for the emotional problems that go with the appearance of chronic pain.

The way I hear this is, in order not just to cover up the symptoms but actually to heal, people in pain need other people to listen to us. We need community.

But healing the emotional problems is expensive. It’s a lot cheaper to give out drugs, even Prada drugs like OxyContin. Methadone and oxycodone (both of which I’ve taken; methadone is strong and cheap, I remember my shock when I bought 90 pills for five bucks) are a lot less expensive than the kind of help people might need to really heal. A study in the journal Headache (2010;50(7):1175-1193) last year found that in just six years between 1997 and 2003, U.S. methadone sales shot up by 824 percent, and oxycodone sales rose 660 percent. And this investigative story published in Salon and picked up by AlterNet the other day reported that the DEA has for the past 10 years been rubber-stamping gargantuan increases in production of opioid painkillers despite evidence of massive diversion from Florida to Maine and into the Ohio valley.

Insurers no longer want to pay for long-term treatments that involve patients talking to actual people (this story is trending in the New York Times today; there have been others talking about how psychiatrists only have time to give out drugs and can’t afford to listen to their clients).

It’s expensive to pay a real person.

From an interview with Gabor Maté that I’m going to run later on (stay tuned):

G: Do you think addicts can truly recover? You’re a proponent of harm-reduction for a certain percentage of addicts.

GM: The answer is absolutely yes. Precisely because we’re not isolated human beings. It very much depends on a supportive context. And if you talk to people who have made it, what was the one quality that was always there for them? Community.

The best solution is to build more community. Connection heals.

This site is free. If it helps you, please pass it on by using the buttons to share on social media.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Gets Sober After Years of Teenage Booze Binges

G has been away on vacation with family for the past 12 days… Whole lotta shakin goin on, and got lots to tell you, but it’ll take a few days for me to get back up and running.

I promise not to make every post about a celebrity, but this one is interesting. Imagine Harry Potter, trashed: a few days ago Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays the young wizard, admitted he’s been sober for almost a year after having become “reliant” on booze. Radcliffe, 21, tells British GQ:

There were a few years there when I was just so enamored with the idea of living some sort of famous person’s lifestyle that really isn’t suited to me.

He also admits that he wishes he were the kind of person who could go out and enjoy a couple of drinks, but “that doesn’t work for me,” he says.

Daniel Radcliffe on his 21st birthday

Radcliffe talks about having gotten away with a great many drunken binges without paparazzi capturing him on film, but it’s easy enough to find pictures of Radcliffe’s 21st birthday at the end of last July, celebrated with lots of vodka shots in St. Petersburg (as in Russia, where they make the best vodka).

Salon, HuffPo and others are marveling at Radcliffe’s uncanny ability to conceal his habit (News Flash: Alcoholics Hide Their Drinking!).

“The real surprise is how well he hid it,” Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Huffington Post.

But… is it possible that, like so many other stars who’ve been given so much so soon, he’ll seek consolation again in substance abuse? … It’s one thing to calm down when you’re an older, partied-out Robert Downey Jr. or Eminem. It’s another when you’re barely out of your teens and the character who’s made you famous is retiring.

The character made him very rich, too. Radcliffe is estimated to be worth £48 million ($77 million). And yeah, he’s been “given” a lot, but he’s also earned a lot: Radcliffe has devoted more than half his life to maintaining this film franchise.

Nobody’s looking at Radcliffe’s sobriety date: August 2010, just after the pictures were published of his sodden birthday party. He obviously went out and got rip-roaring drunk in front of somebody’s lens, he saw the photos (or, likely, a parent or handler forced him to look at the photos), he decided it was bullshit, and he hasn’t picked up a drink since. Who knows if he’s in AA or what, but he’s sober.

IMO, the real news flash happens when ANYONE is able to get sober and stay there. One key is being teachable.

Radcliffe seems to be someone who is able to learn from the mistakes of others. He tells GQ:

There’s no shame in enjoying a quiet life, and that’s been the realization of the past few years for me. I’d just rather sit at home and read, or go out to dinner with someone, or talk to someone I love, or talk to somebody that makes me laugh.

To many other 21-year-olds, this kind of life sounds—well, fucking boring, quite frankly. It’s hard to get sober at the point when you’ve just reached legal drinking age and can buy your booze without having to sneak around anymore. I’ve known some people who have managed it (usually people, like Radcliffe, who started drinking alcoholically in their teens, sometimes even before their teens).

I have so much respect for the young people I see trying to get sober. To me, having gotten sober at 44, their lives look like an open road with lots of interesting places to visit along the way.

But to them, in the middle of the hard work of early sobriety, the road usually looks like a path through a Vietnamese forest in 1968—or else monotonous, like a blank road through a Kansas cornfield. I’ve talked to lots of young people about the difficulties of giving up drinking and using at their age. A lot of their questions come from the stress of being at the verge of adulthood and not knowing how to make decisions—and no longer having alcohol to blunt the resulting fear.

Of course, owning £48 million and houses in London and New York, as Radcliffe does, are responsibilities that bring their own “stresses.” But when you have a lot less than £48 million in the bank and you live in an obscure apartment that you can’t afford to furnish or even stock with food, in a small town that feels like (or even is) nowhere—when you’re still struggling to get a college degree and are facing an uncertain career picture in the middle of a deep recession—giving up the one way you cope with hard feelings is like cutting off a part of your body: your lips, say, or another equally sensitive part.

“How will I ever have fun again?” I’ve been asked by young newcomers.

Opportunity is worth more than any money in the bank or any deed to the most valuable real estate. You can’t buy opportunity, even opportunity to have fun. But there are sure and certain ways to squander it when it comes along.

Older posts
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter