Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: community (page 2 of 2)

Recovery, Step 11: Meditation.

The other night I was up in the middle of the night, sleepless, thinking about a letter I had to write. Thoughts

(you haven’t written a letter like this in a long time, what do you know about these issues anyway, ??who the hell do you think you are??)

kept me awake. So I focused on my breath and meditated.

About three minutes later an answer appeared, bubbling up like the fragrant bay leaf in jambalaya.

I’ve been meditating regularly. The intuition muscle is working.

The next morning I wrote down what had come to me in meditation. I thought, “This could be brilliant or it could be bullshit.” So I sent the idea off to a friend of mine who does this kind of writing. She wrote right back:

FABULOUS, GO W/IT!!

The power of intuitive thought.

Also: the supportive power of community.

//

When I meet newcomers to recovery, I notice how fidgety some of them are, and I sometimes ask them if they’re meditating each day. Most are not. They say they don’t know how. They say they’ve tried and can’t. Sometimes they say they’re “not on that step yet.”

When I first worked the steps, I got “previews” along the way, and meditation and prayer were two of those previews. So were amends. Just because I may not yet be taking Step 9 doesn’t mean I can’t make up for something I screwed up yesterday. Right? And just because I may not be on Step 11 doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to pray or meditate.

The other day in my home group I talked about turning problems over to meditation and prayer and a guy approached me after the meeting to talk about meditation. He wanted to know how I did it. Fiftysomething; two weeks sober; he’d been around the New Age Block, had tried various meditation methods and he was interested in getting the lowdown on how to do it the “right” way.

Newsflash: There is no right way.

As Mary Karr might say,

There’s just the application of the ass to the seat. 

As Yoda might say,

Do or do not—there is no try.

Meditation is for the Recovery Warrior.

Yoda knew about The Force.

//

When I got sober the second time, days after my relapse, I was told to meditate every day.

[I received this direction from Sluggo, a former heroin addict, fellow mom, experienced Zen meditator. She generously pinch-hit as a long-distance sponsor for me for a while when I was between sponsors In Real Life. Her experience with sobriety and Buddhism is here.]

Sluggo taught me this Way To Meditate (one of many):

  • Sit facing a blank wall.
  • Sit with your back held upright and easy. 
  • It’s better to sit crosslegged or kneeling on a cushion on the floor, but if you’re sitting in a chair, sit away from the back.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Set a timer for two minutes.
  • Close your eyes halfway and gently unfocus them.
  • Hold still, begin by focusing on your breath. 
  • Each time you notice a thought, let it pass and bring your attention back to your breath.

That’s it.

The hard part is not how to do it. The hard part is actually doing it.

If you’re an addict like me, you’re afraid of your thoughts and you may not drink or use anymore but there are a lot of other things you do or are tempted to do to avoid your mind (eat, shop, gamble, work, clean, exercise, watch Netflix…). Meditation allows me to accept my mind. A powerful tool to correct self-rejection and self-censure.

Sluggo said: Add a minute or two each week or so until you get up to the length of time you want. She said: Do it at the same time every day. She said: I put my kid on the school bus, go upstairs, and meditate.

I don’t “try” to meditate. I either do it, or I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t. On those days, easy does it. I don’t beat up on myself for not doing it or for doing it wrong. I don’t congratulate myself for doing it or for doing it right.

Just now, I put my kid on his bike to soccer practice, and I’m here ready to meditate.

Fifteen minutes.

Let’s do it.

The Family Situation Is Bound to Improve

Went to my noon meeting at the university today.

I love this meeting. It’s in one guy’s office, and there’s another guy who usually shows up. Sometimes when I walk in they’re the only two there, which can be very helpful.

Last week I brought a posse of four women. Added to the two guys, plus two other women, plus me, we had nine people squeezed into this little tiny office. Toward the end another woman I’ve known from the rooms for 12 years arrived and lay down on the floor behind everyone else. When she spoke up, it was like the Greek chorus singing from behind the curtain.

Today I brought three women. One of these I met at a literature meeting I try to make on Saturdays. She’s from a place that’s very close to where my sister lives. I hear her accent and am reminded of the upper Midwest and Lake Michigan. I’m reminded that even though nobody else in my family of origin is in recovery, my own efforts can have a positive effect on them. “The family situation is bound to improve,” goes one of the suggested openings. It has improved: my son is going away on a three-night school trip next week, and he’s looking forward to going. As in, “Mum, I can’t wait to go.” Three years ago, when I was getting sober, he was having panic attacks and couldn’t fall asleep in his own bed. Talk about “gifts of the program.”

We talked about “changes” today. How to handle change, how not to avoid it. I sat there thinking about my kid, and the kid I was. I had this startling experience in therapy earlier this week. I’m doing EMDR. (When you’ve been locked in a car overnight at 3; when you’ve been hit with belts and other stuff; when you’ve been personally humiliated by bullies and parents alike; when you’ve learned as a child that it’s too hard or even dangerous to make friends because you’re too busy trying to protect yourself, both at home and at school, you might need to get “extra help,” as my Al-Anon sponsor calls it) I’ve had to revisit several bad scenes before, and resolving them felt straightforward (if grueling) because the feelings came out easily. Three-year-olds HAVE to express their feelings. So I could interact with that kid.

But when I revisited the 14-year-old, something happened that I hadn’t foreseen. She wouldn’t talk to me.

I sat with her in the location of a bad scene that has bothered me off and on for 30 years (everything came back: the smells, the sounds, the crawling feeling of dread in my belly) and what I realized was this: She was entirely numb. From head to foot, from inside out.

“Imagine how hard she had to work at that age to be so totally numb,” my practitioner said.

(Yeah, I thought, and she didn’t even have any booze or drugs to help her.)

My son at 10. He could already talk about his feelings.

Something didn’t make sense. I tried to figure out what it was. When you’re in an EMDR session, things get a little bit hazy. … I was thinking about my kid. All the times I’d sat and listened to him talk about his feelings. All the times he’s crawled on my lap to confess a fear or a wrong or an achievement, all the times he’s spoken back to me when he thinks I’ve said or done something unfair. All our conversations and negotiations, our admissions of fear and anger and love.

“My kid can talk about his feelings. He’s really good at it,” I said.

“Of course he can,” she said. “Who taught him to do that?”

I actually had to think a minute. “I did,” I said.

“Hmm,” she said. “And who taught you?”

“Um,” I said. Really thinking hard now.

“Nobody?” I said.

I couldn’t talk about my feelings until I came to “the rooms” 12 years ago. I mean I had been to therapy, I had learned to negotiate (and even unconsciously to manipulate) the discourse of the therapeutic relationship, I had learned all about transference and about how I made my therapist into a mother-figure. Talk-therapy wasn’t all a head-trip, but a lot of it was. (I’d never heard any practitioner articulate this before I met Servan-Schreiber.) After like eight years of talk-therapy, plus multiple courses of antidepressants and other psych-meds, I still felt as though suicide might really be an option. That’s what I was thinking the night of Jan. 3, 1999, when I drove through an ice-storm and slid into my first Al-Anon meeting. I walked into the church basement and told probably the first person I saw, “I seriously need help, or else I’m gonna kill myself.”

Recovery, the real people I’ve met in those rooms and even in some online rooms, have taught me how to say what I feel, even if it freaks me out, even if it feels as though I SHOULDN’T feel that way.

But that mute, numb teenager who hates herself?—she’s still skulking around somewhere.

One of the best ways I’ve found to interact with her is by bringing her in front of other people who understand, who maybe have their own numb kids living inside them. Which is part of the reason I made this site.

Sober Life: Finding Community

Spent part of today drafting a new blog post for Pat Moore Foundation, a Southern California detox and rehabilitation center that, to my gratitude and honor, has asked me to guest-blog for them. (Click here for my latest post, about how to deal with someone who is in denial about their addiction.) And I was thinking about how isolated my addiction made me. I was remembering how I used to hide from everyone, including my closest family.

Forget about meeting strangers… I usually only went to places or events where I was sure to know most of the people. I remember my husband asked me, after I got sober, “Who on earth are you afraid of?” I answered, “Everyone.” He was incredulous.

Today I walk around without that fear. It’s an enormous gift. I don’t have to be afraid to run into anyone anymore. The ease with which I meet strangers still kind of surprises me. … Someone over the weekend told me, “You seem to be good at introducing people to other people and publicizing things.” This made me laugh. Because I remember what it was like to be inside my sickness. And to be convinced that I’d forever and always be there, that there was nothing I could do to get out.

This blog has been a big part of the diminishment of my fear. I meet strangers here every day. I’m grateful for each and every person who stops by to check out what’s going on here. Thank you. Thank you.

One of the great things that happens among bloggers is the community that springs up amongst us. We find out we have common goals and instead of being competitive about the whole thing, we share resources. Pat Moore Foundation is trying to create that kind of community by asking guest bloggers to contribute to their site. And at the same moment that PMF asked me to write for them, a number of people asked me if they could write for me. A couple of weeks ago, a piece by “Sally” appeared here, about “What Hitting Bottom Looked Like”; and pretty soon you’ll see a piece by Tara, who writes at a blog called The Act of Returning to Normal. Tara’s writing about motherhood, alcoholism, and sobriety.

If you want to share resources, let’s talk.

Here’s a song I used to listen to all the time when I was detoxing. Always loved Lindsey Buckingham’s fingerpicking. … Reminds me I never want to go back to the old life.

Reverb10: Party

[Until 31 December I’m participating in reverb10, a month-long challenge to get bloggers to respond to writing prompts designed to help themselves and their readers take stock of the past year—conduct the year’s final inventory—and to imagine possibilities for the coming year.]

Today’s prompt (which is really yesterday’s, because I’m a day behind): Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

I went to a funeral

And Lord, it made me happy

Seein all those people that I ain’t seen

Since the last time

Somebody died

—Lyle Lovett, “Since the Last Time”

A pan of kielbasa, Daddy's favorite party food.

What does your family do after a funeral?—My family has big parties. My dad’s family was an extended Eastern European crew and in the old days it was big pots of cabbage rolls and kolbassi and sauerkraut, trays of ham sandwiches with Miracle Whip on buns, pans of baked manicotti or ziti, casseroles full of fried chicken, bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw (didn’t matter if it was the dead of January—to use a small pun—we always had these summer salads at any family gathering). Urns of coffee, and cases of beer, or even kegs.

The custom was to gather to celebrate the person’s life. Must have been the first wake I ever went to, the priest finished with the funeral at the cemetery and we drove back to the church and trooped down into the hall and to my astonishment the floor was covered with tables, and the tables were covered with food, and it smelled like Christmas and Easter all in one, and I saw Daddy walk over to the church kitchen with the choir guys to get a beer (a beer in the church kitchen??), and everybody was talking and laughing, and I said to Mom what’s happening? because I thought Aunt Pearl died and I thought we were all supposed to be crying, and she said Aunt Pearl died, but what we do now is have a party for Aunt Pearl’s life.

After the church hall shut down the party moved to my aunt’s house and went on all night.

I was 9.

Everybody talking

They were telling funny stories

They were saying all those things

That they ain’t said

Since the last time

Somebody died

I was going to write that alcoholism wrecks this ability to celebrate in the midst of grief, but it’s not alcoholism that wrecks it. My dad was an alcoholic, and his mother and uncle were alcoholics, and other people in his family were alcoholics—and people got drunk at these parties and at other parties, at Christmas and especially at weddings, oh my lord the weddings. But my dad had love in his family. His mother drank until she was catatonic sometimes, I’ve been told, but she loved him, and he also had four sisters and a brother who took care of him. He always had what he needed—and all we need is love.

It’s alcoholism + abuse that really wrecks the ability to celebrate.

My mother’s family was different from Daddy’s. Dad was an alcoholic, yeah—but he was Sleepy Drunk. He’d fall asleep (i.e., pass out) at 8:30 or 9 and that would be the end of it. Not to say this didn’t have consequences in and of itself, but they were not as ruinous in many ways as those of the Mean Drunk. Mom’s dad was a Mean Drunk. I’ve heard stories about how he’d kick her brother or throw things at the family. Her mother failed to protect the kids from him. She herself hit the kids, and abused them in other ways; as a child, her barber-father had thought it wise to discipline her with his razor-strop.

This kind of anger and fear never goes away—unless you make a conscious effort to deal with it. … Grandpa quit drinking, but I could always see that anger and fear in his face. That’s called being a Dry Drunk. He died when I was 11—my second funeral, after Aunt Pearl’s, and there weren’t no party after that one. We went back to the house, where we ate a tense meal in the dining room. My grandmother drank a beer—a Michelob poured into a tall pilsner glass. I’d never seen her drink alcohol before. My uncle sat in the chair where my grandfather usually sat. The other kids were in the kitchen; I was somehow the only one allowed to sit with the grownups. We ate roast turkey. And my grandmother and her children argued while the rest of us tried to swallow our food.

Two nights ago, my grandmother died. She was 97—blind, deaf, in dementia. Again, no party. For the first time in my family, someone has died and there’s not even going to be a funeral. Which is my family’s prerogative. In a certain way, it makes sense. My grandmother had practically no community around her.

Another thing alcoholism + abuse does is, it prevents people from talking with each other and speaking truth and feelings.

In thinking about my grandmother’s death the past day or so, I can see that my Dad’s family’s tradition instilled something deeply positive in me. When somebody dies, it’s just instinctual—I need to do something to celebrate life.

What that will be, this weekend, is to focus on what’s before me. To take care of the living. The literal meaning of “party” is a gathering. This weekend is full of gatherings…

Today my beloved Al-Anon sponsor of 12 years arrives with her husband to stay with us overnight. We’ll make supper… or we’ll order in from the wonderful new Indian restaurant up the hill. We’ll sit in front of the fire and talk and laugh and share stories and hold hands.

Tomorrow morning I get to go with my son and my husband to the bar mitzvah of one of my son’s oldest friends. He has known Max and we’ve known his parents since the kids were 3. Ten years! How they grow. Max will read the Torah in Hebrew in the temple on the hill and as I listen to the prayers in a language that I won’t understand, I will say my own prayer for the life and spirit of my grandmother…

Then, tomorrow afternoon I deliver my husband to the airport, where he’ll take off for the UK for the coming week to visit his parents, who are declining in a nursing home. And tomorrow evening I’ll take our son to the bar mitzvah party. And we’ll dance.

A good party song… Lyle grew up in gospel-land and he can see the sunlight in the shadow. Have a listen…

Reverb10: Community

[Until 31 December I’m participating in reverb10, a month-long challenge to get bloggers to respond to writing prompts designed to help themselves and their readers take stock of the past year—conduct the year’s final inventory—and to imagine possibilities for the next.]

Today’s challenge: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

Oh my God (I mean omg). Where haven’t I found community this year?

I started the year with a relapse. I took a Vicodin on 2 January. I was busy with the demolition derby of comparing myself with other people… the surgeon-mom, the epidemiologist-mom, the professor-mom, the university-administrator-mom, the stay-at-home-with-four-kids-mom. Every mom in my neighborhood was a better mom than I was. Cooler, richer, fitter, better dressed—or dressed “less well” than I, but happily oblivious, or happy with it. In other words, they knew who they were.

A photo of me, just before I detoxed off fentanyl in August 2008. Pale, very skinny, and you can't see, but my pupils are absolutely pinned. Still: I couldn't let appearances down, and my hair was curled and sprayed into place.

And then, on the other end of the spectrum, there was my cousin Amy, whose kids were taken away from her by the court, and who couldn’t stay out of trouble. She was killed—beaten and strangled to death—by her drug-dealer and another guy 18 months ago. When I saw her picture on the second of January at my aunt’s home, and when I thought of all the other folks in my family who had died of the consequences of addiction—including both my parents—I felt enormous grief for this community I’d been born into. The anger and despair I felt were as sharp as the razorwire designed to keep certain people inside certain places and out of others. On that day, standing on the edge of that sharp fence, I stole two Vicodin. I ate one, and I put one back.

I chewed the one I took—ground it between my molars, always my left molars. The pills were always bitter; they made the saliva run. My saliva runs now just writing about it, this is how Pavlovian drug addiction is. … I downed it with a big draught of water and about 20 minutes later I could feel the drug hit in the well of my belly. Five milligrams of hydrocodone.

I remember how numb and unplugged just that one 5mg pill made me feel. Still amazes me to think I took at least 100mcg/hr of fentanyl for several years. Strongest painkiller on earth. How did I not die? How was I not divorced?

Drugs and addiction wreck community. Shame wrecks community. Abuse wrecks community. They unplug it, undermine it, infest it, carpet bomb it, aerial spray it with agents that numb.

“Give yourself a limited amount of time to beat yourself up,” my mentor said, “and then get on with the work.”

The work being inventory. Stock-taking. Why I Did It, and What I Wanted Instead.

One thing I wanted instead was connection. To be plugged in, to have many friends, to help others.

Community.

My belief that I deserve or could have community had waned over the years of addiction.

But: I was already hooked into the fabulous detox community at Opiate Detox Recovery. So I started this blog with my ODR pseudonym. And the hits started coming in. People started writing, and lo and behold I was building another community. I was writing to other sober-bloggers, I was finding other people. People helping people—this is the nature of recovery and healing. It’s also the nature of community: the word comes from the Latin, cum = with, or together, and munus = gift.

I’ve re-established ties with my spiritual community, my Quaker meeting. I was asked to serve on the committee that looks after its spiritual welfare. I’m helping to bring in Eileen Flanagan to speak there early next year to strengthen the community.

A small cadre of women within the community are thinking of forming a women’s group to help keep each other accountable to our spiritual principles in our personal and professional lives—in our communities.

I’ve joined an exciting new book group, and I’ve formed a writer’s group of my own.

I can hear a cardinal singing outside my window…

What I imagine for the next year, what I hope, is for the ability to accept my own flaws and vulnerabilities more easily. I’ve met people for whom this is possible. I’ve read about others. I hope to talk to some people who study the ability to do this. … For these people, community is the human race.

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