Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: community (page 1 of 2)

Valentine’s Day: #Sobersex Vid Series!

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Since publishing Sex in Recovery, I’ve discovered that so many sober folks want to talk about sex, but they’re scared to start because they don’t know how. We’re raised not to think about sex, much less even talk about it, and to hide our experiments in this rich, healthy world of desire and pleasure. The culture bequeaths us the crazy-ass paradox that sex is dirty and that we should save it for the one we love.

I’ve talked with dozens of sober people about sex, and Lara (pictured above) is enthusiastic, sensible, and fun! My new #sobersex video series goes live on Valentine’s Day—the day I think we should love ourselves first, give ourselves not just chocolate but also self-acceptance and commitment to discover who we are.

Secret Facebook group for women: And if you want to be part of my new secret FB group for women interested in discussing sobersex, follow my Facebook author page and shoot me a DM.

Heart-Opener.

In yoga yesterday I could see evidence of my heart beating in my chest.

I had bent my back into supported Bridge Pose. Then I rotated my upper arms away from each other and watched my ribcage rise up like an arch. I could see the soft pounding of my heart. There it was, just an inch or so under the flesh covering the bones of my ribs, in the spot where it’s been beating for more than half a century.

I sometimes cry when I do yoga heart-openers. I spend a lot of time with my shoulders hunched in front of a keyboard, or else hunched against the criticisms my own mind levels against me. My massage therapist tells me my shoulders are cranked so tight because I hold my body like a boxer with her gloves up and her elbows drawn against her abdomen. She tells me to practice opening my chest. This un-swaddles my heart, which sometimes makes me cry.

//

I’ve had to make drastic changes in my life in the past few years. My life today looks little the way it looked three or four years ago. Change brings relief and it also hurts, and it flips me out that I might be making mistakes. And because I’m five years sober, I feel like I’m supposed to know better than to have that kind of fear—all that self-centered garbage I ask each morning to be hauled away from me. As if “God” were a garbage-man, or my personal errand-boy: Take it away!

So I not only have fear, I have shame that I’m feeling fear, and then ancillary shame that I’m asking God/HP to take the fear away. Which makes me hunch even further into myself. Shame Spiral, anyone?

I talked about this in yesterday’s Y12SR yoga meeting. It was Easter Sunday. The topic was gratitude that we’re even alive. One after another, people talked about losing parents, family, friends to addiction.

Sixteen years ago around Easter, I was 34 and driving out to my parents’ house every day to help my dad take care of my mother, who was dying of lung cancer. She had smoked three packs a day for 40 years. When she finally died on June 3 of that year, I was so mortally pissed off at God that I spent the next eight years trying to poison myself. I started by stealing a few of my dead mother’s morphine tablets and ended by committing my last felony prescription forgery in roughly July 2008. Great way to use my artistic skills.

I shouldn’t even be here typing this. I should have overdosed or gone to jail. I remember the first time I took some stolen morphine. I lay in bed feeling as if somebody had stacked a pallet of bricks on my chest. A heart-closing exercise. I would exhale, and it would be a long time before my body wanted to inhale again. It scared the shit out of me and I loved it: I wouldn’t have to feel the fear or the anger.

When I made it into recovery, one of my first feelings was guilt that I’d escaped the death sentence that killed both my parents.

People were talking in yesterday’s yoga meeting about how recovery is like the resurrection in the Easter story. It occurred to me that it was also interesting to remember some elements of the Passover story: we’d taken steps to mark ourselves as ones to be skipped over by the angel of death. Also, each of us in the room had escaped slavery—the root of the word addiction. And we get together to tell our stories, never forgetting that we don’t have to be slaves anymore.

I can see how helpful it might be for a group of people to have some kind of religious ritual to keep remembering that they’re chosen. How many times have I heard, during the course of a meeting, “I was supposed to live!—God has a plan for me”? If that’s true, then God discriminates.

I think God doesn’t have plans for my life.

The only plan is love. And it’s not even a plan, it’s a law of nature, and living with it is an exercise of bringing my little tiny (but enormously fucking perverse) will into line with that force. (Splinters are small, but they hurt like hell, right?) Love is the currency, the current of power, that God/HP/Whatever deals in. Bona fide love is pure, reliable, healing, life-giving, durable, like the sun.

If you think about it, there’s nothing we eat that doesn’t come from the sun. We actually EAT the sun every day, which is a fabulous image: Here, take a bite of this star! When we hug each other’s bodies, it creates electricity that comes, when the trail is traced back to its origin, from the sun.

Can the sun be improved upon? I wondered that the other morning. The sun hangs in delicate balance with the life on this planet, and if we tried to make the Star Experience better (say, get rid of clouds, so we can see the star more often), we’d only be screwing up on a grand scale. Sometimes I have to understand that life is fine as it is.

(It’s tempting to think that “God” puts signs in my way to remind me, but she doesn’t.)

Graffiti in my neighborhood.

Graffiti in my neighborhood.

//

Lately I’ve been having some experiences in human love that have given me a glimpse of the vast purity and beauty of this superhuman power source. My son is one big part of these experiences. So are some close friends of mine, and the people in my recovery community. All these people provide me with perfect opportunities to give away love, and like the Bridge Pose, this cracks my heart open. And what I give comes back, multiplied.

Of course, I don’t think I “deserve” even the human part of the experience, much less the “divine” one. So, in case it’s not real, or in case I lose it (because guess what? nothing lasts, goddammit!!), I run around with my shoulders hunched. Or I force them back and paint on a tough mask that makes me look bitchy, arrogant, aloof: Throw anything at me, man! Take away whatever you want, I’ll survive, I don’t fucking need ANYBODY!

Fake power. Meanwhile inside the mask, G is hunched: small, scared, in need of arms around her, even temporarily.

Before I got sober I had little idea how to take care of myself when feelings like these struck. I’d try to make them go away by numbing them with drugs. Now, instead, I run with the dog, throw a dinner party for my old friend Nancy whose husband just had cancer surgery (successful!), start the painting another friend asked me ages ago to make, do mental push-ups by studying another language, engage the help of a smart no-bullshit therapist, give my students and their work my attention, compile playlists of beautiful music, ride my bike on this city’s long river trails, make lists of people and things I’m grateful for, practice yoga, take photographs and post them to share the world’s beauty, etc.

I also go to meetings, for the same reason people celebrate Easter or Passover or any holiday, and for the same reason they go to coffee houses and dog parks and book clubs and yoga studios: because I’m part of the tribe of Homo sapiens, and the desire for community is practically encoded in my cells. Because my heart needs to be around other beating hearts. Because cracking my chest open helps me exchange a little more love, which plugs my life into a great big socket of power.

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Hands, Soul, And The Crack In Everything.

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In the front window of Clay Yoga, Pittsburgh.

This is a long post, a good one for Thanksgiving week, so if you walk through it, thank you. Today my friend Jenn, who shares her wisdom about yoga and recovery in my book, has seven years sober. On Facebook she posted a beautiful meditation about what her sobriety means. I hope you read it: click here. She unabashedly talks about her soul, about bringing the life of her soul to bear in the world to help bring about peace. About giving to other people.

I’ve spent so much time in these past 7 years thinking about what I need to do to be fulfilled (whether it’s material or psychological) that at times I have forgotten that I am an integral piece to the universe – that my existence matters greatly. I have a lot to give by just being around. Whether it’s showing up to a meeting just to be there for another addict/alcoholic, giving tzedakah, all of which nourish my soul.

People are scared of the word “soul.” Just writing the word “soul” kind of flips my stomach. What does it mean, “soul”? If we don’t know what it means, maybe it’s threatening. Maybe it’s sentimental, anti-intellectual, reductive, essentialist. Maybe it doesn’t really exist. If it doesn’t exist, and I talk about it and act like it’s real, I’ll look like an idiot. No, I’ll BE an idiot.

But Jenn writes about her soul without fear. (So does Leonard Cohen, see below.)

I want this.

//

The thing is, connections happen that I can’t control. I met Jenn six years ago by chance, at a meeting I’d never been to and to which I’ve never gone since. (“I totally remember that,” Jenn said this morning. “You rode your bike.”) I had a few months, and later I stole a Vicodin and ate it, and Jenn just kept showing up in my life, and there were things about her that were irresistible to me. The beauty of her face, for one. The way something inside her would light up that beauty and shine its brightness into the darkness of—

Yeah, my soul.

It made me want to stop patching up all my cracks with drugs and let the light in.

Jenn and Olliver

Jenn and Cara’s daughter. Just lookit them. (via Instagram @blackcatcara)

She talks about that in her post—what lights her fire. It’s sharing with other people. Jenn has a gabillion friends online and In Real Life because people are just drawn to her openness. She LIKES to talk to people. “I’m good at it,” she once told me. She can cold-call anyone, from famous researchers and politicians to people in halfway houses, where she donates time teaching yoga to give “tzedakah,” the Hebrew word for “charity.”

She knows who she is and she’s not afraid of that. For people like us, that’s what seven years sober brings.

//

Another person that keeps showing up in my life is Sadie. That’s not her real name. Sadie is a self-described pothead who has trouble staying away from weed. A while ago she found my blog and started writing to me. A few months into our on-and-off correspondence, she found the wherewithal to quit her 30-year every-day pot habit for the first time.

She wanted to pay me. She was like, You and your blog helped me quit pot. You should be compensated for this.

I was like, I don’t take money for this blog. This is just me giving back what people who love me gave to me.

A few months after that exchange I found a Facebook message from Sadie with a link to a fancy shoe-shop that I love. For a gift certificate.

Shoes — a gift from Sadie.

Shoes — a gift from Sadie.

I was tempted not to accept it. It activated all the bullshit from my childhood about how I don’t “deserve” generosity, about how “it’s better to give than to receive.” We had money—my dad worked as a research engineer for a Fortune 500 corporation—but my mother held the purse-strings tightly and all of us always felt poor. All three of us kids—we all have trouble accepting other people’s generosity.

Sometimes life isn’t so clear. I went to my sponsor, who hesitated for a moment. Then she said, “Your problem is that you can’t accept goodness in your life. She’s trying to be generous. Why don’t you try accepting this?”

So I wrote Sadie a note of Thanksgiving.

I don’t know what to say, except thank you… And that it’s folks like you, who have the courage to be real and to walk through their fear in order to have honest conversations, who make what I do worthwhile. I guess I’d also like to say that this act of yours is a real challenge to me… I have a way of thinking that what I do isn’t of any real value and that it’s not worthy of material consideration. This is a lesson I need to learn, and I’m glad you’re one of those who are teaching me.

She wrote back that since she’d quit pot she’d gotten two bonuses and a promotion, and had been recruited to the board of a local charity. She wrote,

These are accomplishments a 30+ year pothead never expected.

I bought a couple pairs of shoes and sent Sadie photos and more thank-you notes. Every time I put the shoes on, I thought of her. A few months went by. Then about a month ago she wrote again:

i’ve resumed my shitty habits and am not feeling too bright or proud. I suck at letting anyone help me. Really bad. But I don’t regret trying to crack this open. And I don’t think I’ve given up entirely.

“Crack this open.” Letting the light in.

I wrote back and told her about the people I met online who walked with me, who wrote to me every day, multiple times a day, some of whom I’ve never met in person. Danielle. Tom. Janice. And I told her it has been important for me to heal from trauma in order to stay in recovery.

I knew when I was writing that sentence—heal from trauma—that it was going to grab her. Because this is a woman with a lot of hurt in her history. It makes her feel Permanently Fucked-Up, Defective, Useless.

She wrote back—first when she was stoned; then, after she’d come down, she wrote that she has been smoking weed to build a wall around her permanently fucked-up self.

Sadie has cracks all over the place. She’s working overtime with the pot to patch it all up. It’s exhausting work, and there’s not enough pot in the world to finish it.

//

Jenn wrote this morning:

Before sobriety, I did not believe that I was able to be loved, that I was worth loving. It has only been in sobriety that I’ve been able to tap into these with such a depth of understanding. And the beauty is…we’re still on this journey. Every day is a new day.

Sometimes she loses sight of her commitment to eat nourishing food, to stay physically and mentally fit, to bring up “noble children” to foster the welfare of all life on earth. To lead “a life of understanding, loyalty, unity and companionship not only for ourselves but also for the peace of the universe.”

Fucking HUGE ideas there. Jenn thinks big and I think she knows it. Part of recovery is accepting that these big commitments are good to work toward and also unattainable 24/7. We do our best. And the thing that allows us to accept our limitations is learning we’re lovable.

Let me just reiterate—Jenn wrote this morning: 

Before sobriety, I did not believe I was worth loving.

Sadie wrote this morning:

You continue not to write me off no matter how much I deserve it.

Sadie doesn’t believe she deserves anyone’s care, including her own. Yeah—I was in this place when I met Jenn six years ago, and the love and just pure willingness to connect shone out of her face, and it was irresistible and I began to look for it in other people. And I found it.

I want to tell Sadie that there are people—if she looks for them—who will love her unconditionally, who will look her in the eyes and turn that bright klieg light of love on her face, but I can’t tell her that because she won’t believe me. Hell, I wouldn’t have believed that when I was still using. I was patching up the cracks with drugs, it was very dark inside, I wanted it that way. I Would Not Let The Light In.

Instead I try to put the klieg light into words. I try to shine some of the light Jenn and so many other people have shone into me.

I wrote Sadie this morning:

i mean quitting pot is your decision. i don’t care whether you continue to use pot or not. i have no investment in it. but i do care about whether you’re suffering, and it seems that you continue to suffer, and that pot is a somewhat useful but impermanent and incomplete system of managing that suffering. not that spiritual and physical fitness are permanent. they aren’t—i have to keep working at both of them. but they are complete, or much more far-ranging than drugs (for me), and they never run out. they also let me connect to my fellow human beings, which, as you see from your last two messages, drugs prevent us from doing. addiction isolates me and i’m sick of isolating myself. it’s a kind of self-punishment and i’ve experienced enough real love that i want more of that rather than more drugs.

I can’t be Jenn for Sadie because I can’t see her. I can’t hold her hand. Holding hands is such a powerful act of connection and healing. Do you know how many nerve endings are in our hands?—2,500 nerve receptors per square centimeter. Hands contain some of the body’s densest areas of sensation. When we touch each other’s hands it sets off an electrical and chemical storm of affection, care, protection, safety. Love.

I can’t hold Sadie’s hand. But I can give her what Janice, Danielle, Tom gave me. If I keep writing, she might find someone’s hands In Real Life.

Among Addicts, It’s A Small World After All.

The other day I get an email from an English guy who says he has a story about Subutex, if I’m still collecting stories about buprenorphine (I am still collecting them and will be talking to folks starting in May—if Suboxone saved your life and/or kicked your ass, please email me).

This guy spent 10 years on buprenorphine after a devastating heroin habit. He took methadone to get off heroin, and he thought that in Subutex he’d found a painless stepping-stone off methadone. But bupe has given him all kinds of problems with his intellect, emotions, creativity, ambition, passion. He writes,

I cannot feel joy.

He jumped off Subutex two weeks ago and writes that he has already had a couple slips because he’s so impaired that he can’t stand it.

I have a loving wife, two beautiful sons, supportive friends, an ok job and yet I have been wanting to die for a few years now—not actively suicidal (you can’t be actively anything on long-term sub maintenance) but quietly hoping that fate would off me.

I know what he’s talking about. So does my jump-buddy, Bonita, who kicked Suboxone days ahead of me in 2008. So do thousands of other people who have had trouble either being on or kicking buprenorphine, or both.

//

So, but here’s where it turns “most uncanny,” as Nigel said: In writing back, I mention I’ve spent tons of time in the UK, mostly in London and Yorkshire.

Nigel replies: he was raised near Kensington High Street (London), and he was educated at the Catholic boarding school, Ampleforth (York).

I know where Ampleforth is, I say, because I’ve been practically everywhere in the North from the Lakes to Robin Hood’s Bay, and all the dales and moors in between.

And I’ve lived in London. I tell him about a very unhappy, lonely winter I spent in London 15 years ago. “To combat a serious case of depression,” I tell him, “I used to push my son up Marloes Road toward Ken High Street and into Holland Park every day I could. I retain a great affection for Holland Park, and for a little tiny key-garden called Edwardes Square.”

Edwardes Square, West London. Photo courtesy of Londonholic.

Edwardes Square, West London. Photo by Londonholic.

Most Americans visit St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park. Holland Park is an underrated treasure, appreciated mostly by Londoners, who, on warm summer nights, enjoy outdoor concerts and pick-up footie matches on the lawn. And friggin nobody knows Edwardes Square. I get blank stares when I mention it to anyone. It’s just a little tiny square in West London. When people get that far they make the cab fare worth their while by visiting Kensington Palace, the V&A Museum, the boutiques on the Kings Road. You can’t even get into Edwardes Square unless you live in one of the houses facing it. I myself couldn’t get in. But it was my little psychic refuge that long-ago early spring.

Nigel, however, says: his parents live off Pembroke Gardens Close, adjacent to Edwardes Square:

I know the area intimately.

Then:

He says he himself used to live on Marloes Road across from the Devonshire Arms.

Devonshire Arms pub.

Devonshire Arms pub.

(Nigel has lived in some fancy places. Not Belgravia, but still.)

I picture the Devonshire Arms: big corner pub; patio paved for pleasant outdoor boozing. (I never drank at the Devonshire Arms; I had my baby with me, always, and my codeine back at the flat.)

Nigel tells me,

My bedroom window overlooked Marloes Road, and I spent some of the darkest days of my heroin addiction in that ivory tower. I would have been there in 1998.

So. While I was struggling with killer postpartum depression the winter of 1998, walking several miles per day with my boy in a stroller, up Marloes Road and then Campden Hill Road to Notting Hill Gate, then west to the northern entrance to Holland Park—I was passing Nigel in his house every day.

G was rationing out her American codeine.

Nigel was banging his British smack.

And now here we are, on opposite sides of the sea, talking about how to live sober.

Most uncanny, 

Nigel writes.

Definitely a very small and funny old world.

Thank you, Nigel.

Pack Animals.

In the process of getting rid of stuff. Cleaning out drawers, collecting bags of trash. Things I once valued are now discarded. Things I once used, or thought I could use but never did and saved for years in hopes I might one day use them—or simply because they are beautiful—I now give away to people in my life who I think might like them.

I’ve found some journals I thought I’d lost. Not that I’ve inventoried every journal I’ve ever kept. I have journals going back to age 10, 38 years ago. When I teach journal workshops I sometimes haul cartons of them in, to impress upon students the sheer quantity of material a life can produce.

But this one journal, a small Italian-made book bound in fake red leather, I thought was gone forever. It has some important stuff in it. I started it at the beginning of 2000 and wrote till my mother’s birthday on April 19. Then, in grief (she had died less than a year before, at 58), in despair about my craving for painkillers, and in confusion about whether to have another child (I didn’t want to and felt guilty about not wanting to), I stopped journaling in that book.

But a few pages later I began a record of the eccentric utterances of a 3-year old boy, and that of his “cousin-twin,” a little girl just five days younger than he.

“Laura,” I asked my 3-year-old niece at a nighttime bonfire at my brother’s land in the country, “do you see the stars?” The Milky Way spread its veil above us and the mound of orange logs threw sparks into the night air.

“No, Aunt G,” she said, “I see FIRE BEES!”

Fire bees. These are the moments that infuse the language of family and friendship, the poetics of connection. When I look into her 15-year-old face I see traces of myself—dark eyes tilted upward at the outer corners, dark hair, high cheekbones, olive skin, even little dimples on the septums of our noses that no one else in the family has but us two. And she sees herself when she looks at me. It’s comforting: “I look like her.” I put a photo of us on Facebook and people wrote in: “Uncanny.” Physical, emotional, even intellectual and linguistic resemblances make up the net that holds us together. We might find these resemblances and resonances in blood ties, and we might find them in kindred spirits.

“I remember walking up the hill and seeing the light of the fire,” she tells me on the phone today. We call, we text. She sends me photos of herself before and after (“My new hair! xoxo”) cutting eight inches off her long brown locks. I tell her I will send her the scarf I bought for her the last time I was in New York. We hang up, and I leave her with a text:

You look beautiful, darling

It’s in her phone. So she can look at that idea over and over.

//

My son is in Colorado, skiing, but he is also here with me. (It’s a scientific fact that when a woman bears a child, she forever—FOREVER, till she dies, no joke—carries the microscopic vestiges of that child inside her body. Which is to say, cells from the child’s body continue to course throughout her blood and lymph and flesh, even her brain.) My phone buzzes:

We made it safely to Denver

I text back with photos of the dog.

My dog, Flo, 1 year old. She loves me unconditionally and gives me unlimited kisses.

My dog, Flo, 1 year old. She loves me unconditionally. We give each other unlimited kisses.

I run into his friends on the street, shoot a photo of their smiles, text it to him. From the mountains a text threads its way back to me:

Hahaha, fine young gentlemen

I know we’re close. I don’t need journals or texts to remind me. Why, then, do I page through these old conversations? 

Here is a story in the red journal: in 2002, when he was 4, I came home after his bedtime, having spent a late night judging a literary contest. I rarely missed putting him to bed (one of my signature “codependent” guilt-trips: I always needed to be the one who was “on”; Owl Babies was a book I frequently read to myself as much as to him). I crept into his room to kiss him goodnight, and he woke up. I wrote,

He wraps his arms around my neck and kisses my cheek three times, quick.

“You are back,” he says.

“Yes.”

“Can I have a cuddle?”

I bend down next to him.

“I knew you would be back in time,” he says.

“I always come back—and, you see? I always give you a kiss and a cuddle.”

He sighs. “You are so Mama-ish.”

“What does that mean—Mama-ish?”

“You sound like Mama. You smell like Mama,” he says, pressing his nose into my cheek.

We humans are pack animals. We’re driven to get next to each other; there’s something healing in hearing each other’s howls, in rolling in the texture and scent of each other’s skin the way animals do. We need each other. The trick for me is to accept that need, to allow myself to satisfy it, and even to enjoy it, without allowing it to overtake the rest of my life and make me sacrifice myself.

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