Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: fear (page 2 of 3)

Finding Myself And My Voice.

A few weeks ago I went to a regional prescription drug abuse “summit” sponsored by the Department of Justice. The DEA was there, and Obama’s top drug-policy person, and the U.S. Attorney, and a bunch of pharmacists (including one who seven years ago had been robbed of OxyContin at gunpoint; she still cries about it). Also on the panel: my old pain physician, who I haven’t seen for two years.

I still have pain. Why haven’t I seen her for two years?—because the stuff I do for my pain has little relation to the therapies she recommended, most of which were drug-oriented. (The last drug she recommended made my hair fall out. I’m pretty much done with drug therapies, unless I’m desperate.)

I sat there and listened to my old doctor talk about how she uses a treatment protocol for every patient, and she tries not to rely on her gut feelings. (She was responding to the pharmacist who had been robbed, who told the audience she could tell which customers were addicts as soon as they walked through the doors.) My doctor talked about monitoring patients, requiring them to come in for pill counts. “It’s not foolproof, but it helps,” she said.

Too right it helps. Advocates for pain patients talk about pill counts, urine samples and other monitoring practices as discriminatory against those who have pain, treating them “like addicts.” If we removed the stigma from addiction, however, monitoring people for signs of another illness would be called good medical practice.

So anyway I went home and banged out an op-ed and sent it to my regional paper. The editor loved it. It’s going to run as early as he could run it—it’s long and he wanted to give it a good ride, he said. The piece outs me as a drug addict, and it calls my late father an alcoholic and my late mother a nicotine addict, and I thought about it carefully and decided I’m pretty much OK with all that, especially since the entire point of the piece is to bust down the stigma surrounding addiction and ask the public for treatment and compassion rather than punishment and censure. I keep reminding myself that both my parents told me before they died that I needed to write what I needed to write.

Dawned on me last night:

The piece is running the weekend my sister is staying here with her family.

Right away the addict in me took over. I wanted to call the editor, tell him to run it a week later. Or a week earlier, to get it over with before they arrive and I have contact with my sister, who I love and who I hardly ever get to see. And with my brother, whom I also love and about whom I never write, because he’s intensely private. Run it a different time, anyhow—because when I begin to panic about other people’s reactions, anything that’s actually happening must be wrong, I have to make sure everyone will be OK with what I say, everyone will be OK with who I am, with my point of view, because to be OK inside myself my first instinct is to make sure the people around me are OK, especially with me.

I’ve often wondered why I don’t get to say what’s real for me without being afraid. This blog is an exercise in doing that.

//

I’m noticing that the longer I spend sober, the more myself I seem to become. The more I speak in my own voice. The more I have desires and instincts that feel authentic. The more at peace I am with me.

Except when it comes to my family.

It doesn’t make a difference that my parents are dead: they’re still very much present for me.

I think of the things that happened in my family to silence me. (I speak only from my own perspective here; it’s my belief that they worked to silence large parts of all of us, but I’m only speaking for myself.) When I was little: the smackings, the beltings, the screaming. When I was older: the hours-long moral and philosophical inquisitions held at the kitchen table when I disagreed with a principle of my parents’—usually of my mother’s. Never being allowed to have the last word. Being told I had a temper that I had to squash. My mother’s jealousy of my artistic abilities. (Never mind her discourse and behavior around sexuality.)

If I gave my son that treatment, I’d expect he’d do something later in life to numb his feelings out.

My son stood in the kitchen the other day and said:

Mama, thank you for raising me well. I will never take it for granted.

He doesn’t say this for my benefit. He knows he doesn’t have to take care of me.

He says it because it’s true for him.

What a gift.

//

Many of us have been hurt in childhood.

Saturday in a meeting on steps 3 and 4 a friend told this story: A friend of his in recovery had been sexually abused. “Ultimate victim, right?” my friend said.

No way can you blame a child for his sexual abuse. No way can you hold him accountable. But my friend said: “You know what my part in this abuse is? My part is my willingness to let go of it.”

Each of us has our own ways of letting go and growing through adversity, moving closer to who we were created to be. Some people hold the hurt in their hearts and let it go silently, and other people talk about it—or write songs about it, or paint pictures about it. Or write stories about it.

Rodin: “The Hand of God Creating Woman and Man.” At Rhode Island School of Design’s museum. I love how the man has wrapped both his hands around the woman’s head. … Rodin’s pieces are always so confrontational and inviting that museums have to post signs ordering viewers not to touch.

So I’m going to let the piece run when the boss wants to run it.

To accept myself I have to accept that I’m the kind of person who lets go by expressing herself. I have to be willing to allow other people to have their responses to that.

Recovery, Step 11: The G-Force and Just Being.

Foxgloves in bloom in G's garden. Standing upright with the help of G-force.

Today in meditation I noticed that my body holds itself in a state of habitual tension, as though it were ready to spring, or as though it were hanging on.

Springing—at what? Not at, but away from. Away from what? Danger. Anger—my own and others’. Fear—of failure, of success, of losing what I have or not getting what I want.

Hanging onto what?—the earth, the world, my place, the small footprint I’ve earned on our planet.

Do you do hold your body in tension? Scan your body right now, and notice where the tension may be.

I took a long in-breath, and as I exhaled I asked my body to let go of whatever it might be holding onto.

As I felt the tendons in my hips and shoulders soften, suddenly I could feel gravity again. The G-force. One of my higher powers. Think about it: gravity does a lot of work for us that we don’t need to pay attention to. It does stuff we can’t do for ourselves.

By holding my body constantly tensed (in a position of fear), I’m fighting gravity. I’m fighting a power greater than myself.

By permitting my body to soften into the G-force, I allow myself to Just Be.

Are you able to Just Be? If so, let me know how.

Joan Didion’s Ordinary Alcoholic Family.

Joan Didion smoking in front of her Corvette Stingray, late 1960s.

So today I have a piece out about Joan Didion’s latest book, Blue Nights, in which she talks about the life and early death, at age 39, of her adopted daughter, Quintana. And in which she DOESN’T talk about how Quintana’s alcoholism most likely ended her life.

I wrote the piece because I read the book and couldn’t get Quintana out of my mind. Her mother insists in the book that she was not “privileged.” Didion talks about 14-year-old Quintana learning from Natasha Richardson how to seduce college boys on “spring break” in St. Tropez. She talks about the Spanish-speaking Mexican maid saving Baby Quintana from a rattlesnake in the back yard while Didion herself tries to hide the maid’s presence from the state adoption social worker. She writes about the 60 batiste and lawn baby dresses hung in Quintana’s closet—dresses Didion counted over and over, to prove to herself, apparently, that she had the right equipment to be a mother.

I’m going to quote at length here. She was “not unaware,” she writes, that a number of readers

(more than some of you might think, fewer than the less charitable among you will think) would interpret this apparently casual information (she dressed her baby in clothes that needed washing and ironing, she had help in the house to do this washing and ironing) as evidence that Quintana did not have an “ordinary” childhood, that she was “privileged.”

I wanted to lay this on the table. …

Nor will I even argue that she had an “ordinary” childhood, although I remain unsure about exactly who does.

“Privilege” is something else.

“Privilege” is a judgment.

“Privilege” is an opinion.

“Privilege” is an accusation.

“Privilege remains an area to which—when I think of what she endured, when I consider what came later—I will not easily cop.

(Joan, come on: ALL baby clothes need washing. But not all of them need ironing.)

This is maybe the first time I’ve ever read Didion honestly being pissed off.

Most of the rest of the time, she’s pissed off, all right, but not honestly. It’s all hidden by style.

I think of all the years I’ve been reading Didion, studying her prose—I began reading her at 23, and I’m now 47. There were times, especially in my 20s and early 30s, when I’d lay her stuff down, feeling exhilarated at the sheer style and gorgeous intelligence of her writing—but also overcome by waves of despair and dread that I couldn’t explain. This book explains them.

I can see now that reading Didion was like hearing my mother talk: a brilliant stylist, a fascinating mind, a sparkling storyteller, and deeply angry and fearful underneath all that glitter.

That household was just like mine, after all: a plain old “ordinary” alcoholic family.

If you want to read an insightful review of Blue Nights, check out the piece in the London Review.

Amy Winehouse: Dying for Approval

Update 7/24/11: Please see the blog entry about Amy Winehouse’s death.

***

I love writing this blog: one day I get to think about university-geek doctors researching neuroplasticity, and the next day I get to think about train-wreck celebrities who are flushing their enormous talent down the toilet by saying “no, no, no” to rehab.

Amy Winehouse

 

In other words, Amy Winehouse. Who today cancelled her European tour after showing up drunk and/or wasted on drugs in Belgrade, Serbia a few days ago.

Amy Winehouse is dying for approval.

Catch this video of Winehouse shot Saturday night, in which the audience boos her:

She stumbles around, stops in mid-verse a few times, and drags a band-mate over to help her finish her lines. Aside from the fact that she’s completely wasted, here’s what I noticed about Winehouse in this video (and this may be simple projection on my part):

  • She gives two of her tall dark and handsome band-mates prolonged hugs and repeatedly seeks their attention during the song.
  • She is wearing a corseted skin-tight sequined tiger-print “dress,” which pushes her breasts up to her collarbones.
  • Her posture: despite the fact that she’s taken off her heels, she still can’t stop jutting her tits out in front and her butt out in back. She has learned to “present” her body in a compulsively sexual way.

What’s driving Winehouse is so obviously her need for other people’s approval. … Extremely insecure. I say this because I notice the tendencies in myself, OK?

So, you’re thinking, Yeah, so what. This is what performers do, this is how they’re motivated—by looking for approval.

It’s not what performers used to do. Performers used to be allowed to focus on their musicianship and their skill, and not sacrifice their health and sanity and life for a buck. Musicians used to be straight when they played gigs and they received fees that were sane and reasonable, which kept ticket prices affordable. Musicians wore suits, and dresses that covered their bodies. Think the Beatles. Think the Supremes, or Aretha. I mean even Janis Joplin, who was also dying for approval, wore clothes! … Then came Madonna, and MTV, and music became as much about using spectacle and voyeurism and pretend narratives—Yesterday I was Marilyn Monroe; today I’m a henna-tattooed Indian yogi; tomorrow I think I’ll be a disco cowgirl—to raise ticket prices. It’s no longer much about the actual music. Because as everyone knows, the art itself never makes you any money. It’s the tours and the merchandise and the peripheral press coverage, the celebrity.

So Amy Winehouse, a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic and addict with fantastic pipes and something of a knack for songwriting, arrives at 20 years old, just a kid, in the mid-2000s. She’s getting drunk and cutting and starving her body. Of course she can’t agree to go to rehab! Fuckin-A. Her voice is being compared to Sarah Vaughn’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s, which may or may not flatter her and make her aware of her extraordinary potential. What’s important is, she is being called “controversial.” Newsweek is saying she is “a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse-control.” She gets this. When poor impulse-control is part of what makes you so top-dollar, what makes people APPROVE OF YOU so much, how can you go to rehab? Rehab is all about regaining impulse-control. It’s all about saying “no, no, no” to things that are going to kill you.

Like, for example, drinking, and smoking crack and ciggies till you come down with emphysema.

Like, making more money at all costs.

I have a couple good friends who enjoy Amy Winehouse’s music. I must admit I’d never heard any of her songs before I listened to “Rehab” this morning. I’m trained in voice, and Amy Winehouse has an amazing gift. The tune is catchy and the words are perhaps more ambiguous and lyrical than they might at first seem. It’s unclear to me, at least, whether the singer in “Rehab” means her lines entirely without irony.

The man said, “Why you think you here?”
I said, “I got no idea
I’m gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near”

What I notice in the 2006 video for “Rehab” is, she is being produced in the same sleazy way that she performed in her Belgrade concert. She frankly looks like a prostitute. A “slut,” as we used to say in high school. Her lips have been pumped up to porn-star proportions. A year or two later, so will go her breasts.

Stacey Earle in performance in Pittsburgh, 18 June 2011.

On Saturday (ironically, the same night Amy Winehouse was stumbling around in Belgrade) I went to a house concert. Stacey Earle, a sister of Steve Earle, and her husband, Mark Stuart, performed a two-hour gig for 40 people. I took a friend of mine who blogs about rock music. He wrote me later:

Their performance was so beautiful and sincere. Her songwriting and his guitar—why aren’t folks like this more ‘successful’ and others like (fill in the blank) fill stadiums? Its not the songs—the songs are BEAST!

I replied, “Others (fill in blank) are more successful IMO because they sell sex and youth.” What they also sell is spectacle. In Amy Winehouse’s case, it’s the spectacle of sickness. Pete Townshend used to destroy his guitars onstage. Amy Winehouse is destroying herself. When you watch her onstage, you get to feel like you’re witnessing the ruination of something beautiful that has become iconic, as though you were present at, I dunno, the ripping in half of the veil in the temple? the self-immolation of the Vietnamese monk?—plus, as a bonus, if you’re lucky and Winehouse isn’t too wasted, you get to hear a bit of beast entertainment thrown in. Same with Charlie Sheen.

Or you can choose to pay to watch Mark Stuart and Stacey Earle, who wears no makeup and doesn’t dye or even style her hair, and who hasn’t bothered to “fix” her crooked teeth (“I think if she fixed them, her entire way of singing would change, and maybe not for the better,” my friend mused), who has a different and equally powerful vocal gift and who is able to play two hours without losing track of her songs or her lines. She’s not dying for approval. She’s not filling up arenas, because why?—she’s healthy and sincere? “Sincerity” doesn’t necessarily make a million bucks. But it makes great music. And when you’re an addict, it might keep you alive.

 

Motherhood and My Addiction: By Guest Poster Tara

Guest poster Tara, who blogs about sobriety at The Act of Returning to Normal, writes today about how her alcoholism and her motherhood were intertwined—she drank to soothe her fears that she wasn’t a “good-enough mother”… and, later, she got sober in part out of her desire to give her kids a sober mom. I’m grateful to Tara for this post—I so closely identify with her feelings about motherhood: intimidation; inferiority; setting up the goal of perfection, and never being able to meet it.

Tara, I’m so glad you’re sober today. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day.

Readers interested in guest-posting can email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.

***

Motherhood and My Addiction

by Tara

Drinking motherDuring the last few months of my drinking in the summer of 2010, I was in a serious funk. Believing that my problem was a depression that had nothing to do with the copious amounts of alcohol I consumed, I considered going to my doctor to ask for anti-depressants. The part of me that was concerned about my drinking was also convinced that if I wasn’t suffering from depression, I would definitely have to cut back. I couldn’t contemplate quitting altogether, largely because it seemed impossible, like running a marathon. So I pondered anti-depressants, but procrastinated about making a plan to take them. Part of me was afraid I would never be able to drink normally, even if I did feel better.

It was summer and I was working from home. My kids were at summer day camp. I drank vodka at lunch every day. Cautious about consuming too much, I measured the portions carefully, stopping after lunch so that I wouldn’t be too drunk to drive to camp to pick them up. Each morning I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink until after they got home. By lunch each day I broke my promise. Later, I would thank God that I had this one small responsibility. I think it was the only thing that prevented a complete downward spiral into absolute drunkenness. I believe if not for that one ten-minute drive each day that I would have started drinking after breakfast.

The weekends were a different story. It was during this summer, on the weekends, that I began drinking before lunch while my family was out grocery shopping and I was home alone cleaning up the house. Looking back, I’m not sure why drinking in the mornings seemed necessary, but I wanted solace from an anxiety I couldn’t shake. I wanted to recapture the wake-and-bake feelings I had in my early twenties—that feeling that all was well with the world. Back then, I lived in San Francisco and smoked pot all the time; then, it seemed okay to chase peak experiences because it aligned with my desire to be more laid back, more “Californian.” I was trying to change myself the only way I knew how, from the outside in, and saw smoking pot as a style choice, on a par with wearing bell-bottomed pants and listening to folk music. I stopped smoking pot in 2001 when I was pregnant with my first child. At the same time, I put away my bell-bottoms. In my mind, getting high was tied to youthful exploration and at odds with my new sense of responsibility to my daughter. It was easy to let it go.

Ten years later it seemed I still wanted the hard edges of life to melt away so that I could be left with a good feeling. I wanted to be there for my kids but I felt like I wasn’t good enough as I was. In order to be a good mother, I believed I had to reshape myself into someone who loved them enough to help them, to listen to their stories, and to automatically have all of the right answers. I wanted to give them a sense of self-confidence and well-being my parents hadn’t given me. When I was drunk—just enough—I thought the “bad mother” parts of me moved into the shadows. I thought that I had to feel good to be a good mother. I thought that to feel bad meant I was bad.

There were many tangible moments that underlined my sense of failure at motherhood: “forgetting” to sign up for sports because practice was scheduled for times I typically drank, and hurrying along the bedtime routine because I needed to get back to my glass. I’m also sure there were embarrassing moments I don’t remember: slurred words,  stumbling, and forgetfulness. I loved my kids more than anything else, but I couldn’t fully accept that my drinking prevented me from connecting deeply with them.

Then two things happened that finally led me to seek sobriety. First, in a fit of pain over my failures in parenting, I tried to hurt myself. I don’t say kill, because I don’t think that was my intention at the time, although clearly it could have been a consequence. Second, my mother-in-law lost her temper because she saw everyone in the house tiptoeing around, pretending we were fine. She now admits that it drove her crazy to be with us, because although she couldn’t put her finger on why, she knew things were not good. Her anger wasn’t specifically directed at my drinking, even though she definitely thought I drank too much and saw through the lies I told her about cutting back. She knew that my life was unmanageable even though she didn’t know the truth about when or how much I drank.

After going through these two things, I was finally able to accept that things were not “fine.” I understood I had lost myself completely and I would never get out of the mess I was in—unless I first stopped drinking. This comprehension humbled me and for the first time in over ten years I asked to be released from my addiction. I prayed every day and counted the minutes. It sounds simplistic, even now, but for the first time in years I was able to put more than one or two days of sobriety together. This simple prayer worked for a few weeks, until I realized I needed help if I were going to put any amount of time together. I found AA and it helps me to stay sober.

After months of drunken contemplation about whether my family would be better off without me, when I got sober I understood the pain my kids would feel if I just disappeared. My memories of the night I tried to hurt myself, and the scars on the inside of my wrist, keep me focused on the fact that no matter how shitty things may seem now, they were truly shitty when I was drinking.

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