Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: faith (page 2 of 3)

What My “Bottom” Looked Like: by Guest Poster Sally

Recently I’ve been approached by folks inquiring about guest-posting their experiences on Guinevere Gets Sober, as well as exchanging posts with their blogs. One of these folks is Sally, who blogs about health at Eat Breathe Blog. She’s also a recovering alcoholic who wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to have a “turning point.” I’ll also be blogging for Sally at some point…

My favorite line in this blog: “Typically, when I get arrested, I snap out of my blackout—but not this time.” Wow. Thanks, Sally.

Guest-posting is a fabulous part of being part of the blogging culture. If you’d like to guest-post here, email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.


What My Bottom Looked Like

by Sally

As Emmylou Harris sings about addiction: "At the bottom of a hole of a deeper well..."

My bottom looked like this: I was facing years in a federal prison, after years of getting arrested on various alcohol and drug related charges. In the end, I had three different counties wanting to lock me up for good. I had lost the faith of a loving family, all my friends looked at me as a sick person and I hit a place of spiritual bankruptcy that was more emotionally taxing than anything I had ever experienced in my life.

And I was only 21.

My life was headed down a road of destruction and failure, and everyone knew it but me. I could not bring myself to distinguish the truth from the false, and the truth about my life was that it was plummeting to a place of no return. I was headed toward prison, yet I still felt invincible. Alcohol consumed my every thought. I loved to drink. I love the effect produced by alcohol. I drank essentially to produce that effect. Once I took the first drink, I couldn’t stop. An obsession came over me and at that point, no amount of will power could keep me from heading off on another spree.

That’s exactly what happened the night of August 2, 2008. I woke out of a blackout in mid-conversation with a Hispanic guy, and I was yelling at him: “Speak English, dammit!” This man turned out to be a fellow cell-mate because, you guessed it, I was in jail again. No idea how I’d gotten there. That blackout was one of the worst of my life. It was long, six to eight hours in duration, and I remembered literally nothing. Typically, when I get arrested, I snap out of my blackout—but not this time. The last thing I remembered was the obsession to drink that took over my body, and I was staring down a bottle of vodka. That had been about six hours earlier, and at this point, I felt like my life was over.

Suicide became my only thought. Ideas of facing—yet again—the consequences of my actions, overwhelmed me, and I didn’t want to do it. It was at this exact moment that the thoughts came to me:

I am an alcoholic. … I can’t drink normally. … I’ve never been arrested sober. … I have to stop drinking.

It was that easy, but then again—I couldn’t imagine living without alcohol.

Eventually, they let me out of jail, and I went straight to a rehabilitation hospital for alcohol addiction. That night, I attended my first AA meeting, with an honest desire not to drink. This desire had come over me when I was in jail that last time—it was the first of many spiritual experiences. It became clear to me: If I were to eliminate alcohol from my life—I wouldn’t be in the situation I was in. I never got arrested sober, because when I was sober I never broke the law. I haven’t taken a drink since.

I was introduced to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose members introduced me to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps to recovery. The 12 steps in turn introduced me to a God of my own understanding, through whom I found the power to solve all my problems. I found this God in working the steps. He was inside me the entire time. In my first spiritual experience, I realized that through all my trials and tribulations in life—God was there, guiding me through. I guess my God realized that the only way I was ever going to gain the willingness to throw myself into the steps was to suffer a severe amount of pain—so he gave that to me.

Through the steps I’ve experienced several spiritual experiences and have since recovered from the “seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” that is alcoholism. I gained a sense of belief, and eventually faith, that has forever changed my outlook on life. I was given a new will to live. I had recovered from alcoholism.

I will always be an alcoholic. I will never be able to successfully take another drink of alcohol without setting the cycle of physical illness and mental obsession. AA’s program lets me experience true happiness. There is one small requirement that is asked of me: that I share my experience with other people in hopes that they too can recover from alcoholism. I am always here for anyone that reaches out.

Sally writes about health and wellness on her blog, Eat, Breathe, Blog, and also about dental insurance. She said she couldn’t pass up a chance to share her experience, strength and hope with you.


Are Cigarette Smokers “Really” Addicts?

SmokingWhile I was in the UK for my father-in-law’s funeral last week, I had an interesting talk with someone who has tried and failed for some years to quit smoking.

This guy has been smoking for half his life. He started at about 16, and he’s 32. (Studies show that when people start smoking as teens—or using any drug, including alcohol—it’s much harder to quit later.) When he was 18 or 20, back when nicotine patches were prescription-only, his father paid for patches. And the patches worked to help him stop. But then he started smoking again. Since then he’s quit “a bunch of times,” as he said, but has never been able to stay quit.

I remember asking him after the first time, when he was maybe 21, why he found it so hard to stop smoking. This was around the time my mother died of lung cancer, and before my own addiction became entrenched—before I understood the ways addiction becomes woven throughout the fabric of life, the ways it changes the neurological system.

He had given me simple answers: He was always desperate for the first morning cigarette with his coffee. He missed having a cigarette with his friends when he went for a beer. He wanted a cigarette when he smelled other people having cigarettes. Smoking helped him deal with stress.

So, as the author of an addiction blog I was thinking to myself, here’s some reasons he found it hard to quit:

  • the morning hit of nicotine potentiating the caffeine—people have always used drugs together; addicts get used to using them together; think Speedball, think alcohol and Valium (a combination that has killed many people), think ecstasy and speed. Hell, think Four Loko, the crazy-ass combination of caffeine and booze that has landed college kids in the hospital in the past year.
  • the social aspect of using—he missed smoking with the people he drank and smoked with. When he went out drinking, it was natural also to smoke. He couldn’t do one without the other. (In fact, he might not have been able to socialize without drinking. I mean holy God, I understand this.)
  • simple sensory triggers—cigarette smoke creating what we addicts call “euphoric recall.” He sniffed the smoke, he suddenly remembered the burn at the back of his throat, his mouth watered, he just needed a cigarette. Alcoholics feel the fire down their throats when they see someone drinking; opiate addicts feel the spreading warmth in the bottom of their bellies when they come across “paraphernalia” or actual drugs.

And then, of course, the all-time biggest “trigger” of them all: stress. (When I was using, getting up in the morning was stress enough to make me use. Vikes with morning coffee, anyone?)

We were on a walk in a park with a group of family and I heard a particular, very familiar loose bronchial cough come out of his mouth.

“You’re not STILL smoking?” I said.

He unzipped a jacket pocket and showed me a packet of Marlboros. UK law dictates one entire side of the package be printed with the warning, “SMOKING KILLS.”

“Dude,” I said, “you have to stop.” He knows all about my mother, blah blah blah. And there we were, standing with some of his closest family.

“I know,” he said.

I asked him what was making it hard for him. He said he found it impossible not to smoke when he goes out drinking with his buddies, “and also smoking spliff makes it hard. I mean, smoking anything would make it hard,” he said. Bingo. Using other drugs. Alcohol and weed.

What’s necessary? Well, how about total abstinence and a program of spiritual fitness… But most smokers don’t see themselves as “real addicts” so they don’t think going that far is necessary.

“I’m gearing up to create the Master Plan for quitting for good,” he said. “But I don’t know what it’ll be yet.”

We talked about Chantix, which he hadn’t heard about. I told him Chantix had worked for friends of mine for whom all else had failed.

Chantix might get him clean, but staying clean is another matter. As every recovering addict knows.

He was speaking really laconically, as though he had all the time in the world to quit, as though the warning printed on the packet in his pocket were just an ad he didn’t have to pay attention to. Addicts have very selective attention. And most smokers don’t consider themselves addicts.

In fact: in trawling through some research today, I found this astonishing paper published in the journal Addiction. In this paper, “Believing in Nicotine Addiction: Does It Really Make Quitting More Likely?”* the researchers suggest that it’s counterproductive for smokers to think of themselves as “addicts” because, in some studies, those who did “expressed weaker intentions to stop smoking and had much lower expectations regarding their perceived ability to do so.”

I was amazed. They’re paying these guys to sit in a room and tell people who can’t quit a lethal substance to deny they have a real addiction. I mean, take the logic a step further: if smokers should not “believe” in their addictions, why shouldn’t alcoholics and heroin users also take the same strategy? Why don’t they just do away with rehabs and tell us all, “You’re not really addicted—believing you’ve got an addiction just takes away your power and responsibility to quit.” Unbelievable.

Nicotine addiction is real. I’ve seen it. It killed my mother. She was a prodigiously intelligent and beautiful woman who died at 58, after having lost her hair (three times), her balance, her hearing, the use of the muscles on one side of her face, and eventually her speech and her mind. She should be here today, 70 years old, playing with her grandchild. But she’s not. Because of nicotine addiction.

No one told her she had an addiction. Her physicians told her to quit but never told her she was an addict. She herself would have been mortified at the term and would have rejected it.

But in my experience, the truth sets free.

Of course, this is just “anecdotal.” 🙂

*Addiction, 106:3, 678-679, March 2011.

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.


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.

The God Thing: How God Changes Your Brain.

I am acting like an addict and eating through the rest of the sugar in the house. I know this is what I’m doing; it feels the way it felt eating through the rest of the drugs I had before I went into detox two years ago. I know I need to change my behavior because I’ve come to this awareness in sitting meditation.

Lots of people say they can’t meditate—they can’t sit still; they can’t keep their bodies from fidgeting; they can’t quiet their minds. Most of all, they say they don’t know how.

There are so many instruction books and CDs out there. I should post a list sometime. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s are great. He’s on iTunes and other places.

How God Changes Your BrainI’ve been sitting each day for about 15 minutes since late July. It began as an experiment: I wanted to try what Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman suggested in their book, How God Changes Your Brain. They say that just 12 minutes of meditation practiced daily for eight weeks can reduce stress and “anxiety” (fear) and also slow the aging process.

And “God” can, in their estimation, constitute any force of your choice outside of yourself: but it has to be positive and loving. Their studies show that a fearful “God” can be extremely damaging to the brain.

(Sound familiar?)

Further, after having studied advanced practitioners of meditation and prayer (Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, etc.), they concluded that “activities involving meditation and intensive prayer permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that are involved with lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive and intellectual functioning.” In other words, meditation and prayer, if practiced diligently and long enough, can PERMANENTLY decrease fear and sadness, and make us smarter and more compassionate.

I think possibly the “improvements in cognitive functioning” can have to do with simple awareness and insight. Meditation has brought more awareness to my life. In meditation, I just let go of thoughts as they come by. It’s the discipline, the training of the mind to Let Go. I don’t look for any feeling to happen, I just let go. Just as exercise has benefits throughout the rest of the day, so does meditation. In letting go, during my day, other information can come in. This is awareness…

What I wanted was to be the Queen of Serenity, Rocketed Into My (Preferably Pink) Fourth Dimension of Recovery. What I got was an awareness that I need to quit sugar. It’s bad for me. Part B of this awareness: I might not be able to just “cut down.” Part C: Quitting might be a pretty painful process.

There is a certain serenity in all this. It’s real, for one. It’s not Pink.

Meditation opens my mind so I can accept, or at least entertain, these formerly threatening ideas.

The authors also give eight exercises to improve brain function. The top three, which they suggest are the most important and must be worked together, are 1) Having Faith (or, basically Being An Optimist), 2) Dialoguing With Others (or, basically Being Social), and 3) Aerobic Exercise (or, basically Getting Your Butt Off The Couch, Dude). Number Three, they say, can include yoga.

You know what, this is totally nothing new. It’s “no big shakes,” as my Dad used to say. Maybe the scans showing improved blood-flow to certain brain-areas are news. But the results are stories we’ve been hearing about for a long time, and I’m coming to the conclusion that all the books are basically saying the same stuff:

Meditation | David Servan-Schreiber, a physician and cancer-survivor who wrote The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy, recommends “heart coherence” breathing exercises (which I’ve trained in, and which are tantamount to meditation). Servan-Schreiber has recommended regularly practiced cardiac coherence as the single best way to protect longevity, stimulate the immune system (a project in which, as a cancer survivor, he’s particularly interested), and control anxiety and depression. He also recommends Aerobic Exercise and Being Social.

The Present Moment | Jon Kabat-Zinn, another physician, has written many books about the benefits of meditation for people struggling with chronic pain and other illnesses. His book and CD collection, Wherever You Go, There You Are, trains people in mindfulness and how to “wake up” and be fully aware in the present moment—a concept that is the centerpiece of meditation.

The Power of Now + Ego Deflation | Eckhart Tolle writes about all the same stuff in his Oprah-endorsed book. Tolle also adds a great deal of emphasis on the need to “smash the ego” (sound familiar?) except Tolle would never use such violent language. He might recommend, instead, becoming aware of the deep stillness within, the power that resides within each of us, and that as soon as we find that source, this disempowers the ego.  To accomplish this, however, we need to be practitioners of some sort of meditation, to foster awareness.

I could go on and on. There are a hundred books that have each sold a million copies out there that all say the same stuff:

  • Meditate/pray
  • Release resentment and fear—old stuff, and current stuff
  • Wake up to the present moment
  • Take care of the body

Big news: this is what the Big Book says, too! I mean the way of life the 12 steps advocate is the same kind of way of life these other teachers are advocating. It’s all the same stuff, it’s not Weird or a Cult, and it’s not rocket science.

It’s not hard to overcome these problems. The solutions are plain.

So: “God” (i.e., the good inside me, the little Dear Abby inside that gives me good advice) tells me I need to eat good food.

Got six sessions left on my yoga card. Gonna use them before the end of the year.

My best friend had her birthday yesterday. We took the afternoon off and watched It Might Get Loud (great flick, love Edge) at her place, after a game of tennis. We exchanged presents. Hers to me: one of those stretch-straps you attach to a door; when you stretch it, it’s supposed to build your lats and your abs and stuff. Great for winter-workouts. Also: a 5-lb. barbell so I can do curls while I watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

“Let the reps begin,” she said.

Yes ma’am.

People, places and things

Dunno why I feel so sad today.

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

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

The mountains

Where I sat the first day.

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

We walked dark trails that crossed waterfalls.


The waterfall we saw on Saturday.

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

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

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

We ate grapes and cheese and crackers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still does.

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

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

“What did you say?”

He laughed softly and turned his back.


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

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


I pulled myself up the slick boulders.

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

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

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

“OK, Mom . . . one—two—three!”

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


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

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

Slept well…

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

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