Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: fentanyl (page 2 of 5)

In Real Life: Meeting Allgood.

Have you ever met anyone online who means a whole lot to you—you’d take their middle-of-the-night calls, you’d give them food or shelter, you love them, but you’ve never seen their face?

//

A couple weeks ago I get this Facebook message:

Hey, so I’ll be driving through your state next week. I’ll be on I-80 heading east… could we meet for lunch? I would like that. Let me know. Love

It is “Allgood” writing.

Mid-30s, Mark Wahlberg-ish accent, former heroin addict, one of my mainstays when I was first getting sober. “Allgood” is his screen name.

Stoked to try to work this out. End of school year; teaching, writing, driving the boy around; schedule has been impossible. But this dude was one of the first and most dependable folks I met when I started looking for sober people online. He tells it like it is. He was so honest and direct that he freaked me out. He’s kind, and he’s no-bullshit: two qualities I admire in anyone. (Sometimes the no-bullshit comes before the kindness; sometimes vice-versa, as with anyone, right?)

//

I met Allgood on Opiate Detox Recovery, the place where I became Guinevere, when I was in detox in 2008. Allgood is a former East Coast stocks trader and IV addict who has been sober since spring 2008. Just before I detoxed, he was Getting It after many, many, many tries. He had been looking at jail time. He picked sobriety instead.

How he stays sober: he helps other people. He has written almost 5,000 posts to people (including myself) trying to kick drugs of one kind or another. He is busy changing his work and moving across the country so he can help more people.

And the people online who helped him?—they were telling him their stories, they were giving him their numbers, they were offering to take his dog while he went to rehab, for chrissake. The help just goes around and around.

//

It’s in the back of my mind: Allgood will be here in a couple days, he’s coming in north of my town and this is a bridge-and-tunnel city, I never venture into the suburbs, so I kind of wait for some burst of inspiration about a meeting place till I’m sitting at a soccer match last week and my phone lights up with a text:

Is our gathering happening, G?

Yes, dammit. It is. I sit there at dusk in the dewy skeeter-ridden grass and watch my kid score a goal, then I use an app to nail down a place. I text him the address so in case he has GPS he can plug it in. He writes:

Sweet! Can’t wait!!! See u there

//

It’s 85 degrees at 5 p.m. in the shady parking lot of this restaurant, and I am on the phone with a 20-something woman in the program when I see him open his car door. He has already warned me he’s in “super-duper driving-cross-country casual dress” and I see that he’s wearing three or four days’ growth of black beard and black flip-flops. He tells me to take my time with this girl and my conversation winds down, and then Allgood is standing in front of me, and I put my arms around him, and it was like the time my son and I hugged one of the redwoods in Marin County. We just leaned in.

In Marin County with my boy, four months out of detox.

Marin County and the redwoods—that was three years ago, March 2009.

Allgood was steady.

When I relapsed in January 2010, I told my friends on the forum. A lot of people were surprised and some expressed shock, disappointment, and even feeling “doomed” if Someone Like G could relapse (for godsake). Because I can talk a good talk, I sounded most of the time as though I were doing real well. (I’m still learning how to apply the principle of rigorous honesty to my relationship with myself, and also how to ask for help and then to accept it.)

Allgood’s boat wasn’t rocked. Allgood had tried to quit and had relapsed many times himself. Here’s what he wrote (in Post No. 999 on my thread) to the people who were disappointed and to me:

We are never “cured” from this disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. What we have is a daily reprieve contingent on our spiritual condition.

Sure, this is disappointing to hear. Am I surprised? Certainly not…

G—what was missing in your program this time? Are we willing to move forward and seek more this time? I’m hand in hand with you my friend. Much love

//

“So, in my family we just kind of order, and share everything,” Allgood told me as we looked at the dinner menu. “Is that cool with you?”

I’m, like, hardly ever really hungry. I didn’t care much about the food. I wanted to see him smile. (It’s impossible to see someone smiling while writing to them over the Internet.) He told me some of his story I hadn’t heard before. I was having a very, very tough week last week, and he listened with deep attention and asked me questions about my experience.

I’d spoken to Allgood over the phone before and his years out West had taken the edge off his Marky-Mark accent. I ordered a crab cake on salad and he had scallops and salmon and at the end we split a funnel cake with cream on top, and we shared stories, and it was all good.

//

I’ve met other sober people In Real Life who I’d first met online. Two in particular mean a lot to me, and they both live in New York. There are one or two on Long Island I’d like to meet. There’s another one in Jersey who I’ve never met but for whom I’ve made some art, and another in New Hampshire I want to make a date with in July. (These two have helped save my life.) There’s a guy in Iowa I wish I could connect with, a former fentanyl addict whose every post I read for several years before I even logged on as Guinevere. There’s one in L.A., one in San Diego, and one in Washington, D.C.

Have you ever met a sober person in real life who has helped you online? Are there sober people you know only online who are part of your sober community? Would you be willing to tell us about them?

Addiction And Self-Care.

The new puppy with my friend P, who's helping me train her.

This is the new puppy I adopted two weeks ago. Her name is Flo. She’s 10 weeks old. You want to talk about unconditional love—there’s nothing like curling up and having a nap with a puppy. I’d never experienced it before. It’s different somehow from napping with a cat.

So last week I had an emergency D&C because I was basically bleeding to death. I had been scheduled to have one this week, tomorrow in fact, but my GYN called last Thursday morning and scheduled it immediately: my hemoglobin was so low that I was on the verge of needing a transfusion.

Question: How could an intelligent woman with two degrees and an IQ north of 130 possibly let her health descend to that state? How could I allow myself to bleed to death and not take care of myself?

Answer: Self-care has nothing to do with intelligence. Neither does addiction.

Here’s a story for you. My mother had a hysterectomy at my very age: 47. I remember being on the phone with her from my office at my first reporting job: she had been having horrible long periods, basically bleeding to death, and she hadn’t had a pelvic exam in seven years. SEVEN YEARS.

In the Al-Anon books it asks us: are we taking care of ourselves? Are we going to the doctor, the dentist, are we getting haircuts?

I go to the doctor. I sometimes put off the dentist. I get haircuts every other month. But do I really pay attention to my body? Is it a place where I actually live?

A lot of the time, it isn’t. A lot of the time, I’m living in some alternative reality I’ve created in my mind. I was, after all, raised by a woman who ignored her body so effectively that she made it seven middle-aged years without a pelvic exam and had to have a hysterectomy because of the grapefruit-sized fibroid tumors that grew inside her in the interim. All the while, the rhetoric that came out of her mouth was this Catholic stuff about the body being “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some temple: the curtain in hers was rent, the cornerstone broken, by the time she was 58.

This was my model for being a grown-up woman.

And my dad: I won’t even get into how well my dad ignored his body.

Physical exercise helps me pay attention to my body. But still: I was bleeding for three weeks! I just told myself it’ll stop sometime it has to stop sometime just be patient just wait it out i don’t have time to deal with this so IT MUST NOT BE HAPPENING, and in the interim my hemoglobin dropped to 8.5 (the low-normal level is 11.5; the standard level for transfusion is 8.0) and I was feeling “a little bit tired.” Yeah. I believe this is called something like psychosis: refusal to acknowledge reality.

So I go in for the operation and they tell me it’ll be conscious sedation and I know what conscious sedation is, because G is a person who knows her drugs: conscious sedation (also known as “twilight sleep”) is Versed (the drug that makes you forget what’s going on) and Propofol (strong sedative: Michael Jackson’s favorite candy) and fentanyl (the drug I was on—on? I was as tall as the fucking Empire State Building on fentanyl in August 2008). I had to have these drugs because it’s surgery and they were going to open the hood and scrape me out, and I didn’t want to have these drugs because I hadn’t taken drugs in more than two years.

My sponsor said, “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.” If the alternative is bleeding to death, I guess she’s right.

I was scared because I’d had two surgeries while I was un-sober. The first was an appendectomy that was torture because they couldn’t control the pain, they wouldn’t give me the shitload of drugs I’d have needed to control abdominal laparascopic post-surgical pain, so I just put up with it. It was horrible. And then I broke and dislocated my elbow in a bike-fall in 2006, and during the conscious sedation to put the bones back into the socket the ortho guy told my husband he’d never shot so much fentanyl into one person in his life. So I was afraid I’d be in pain.

But of course I was in no pain, because I’m now what physicians and pharmacists call “opioid-naïve.” I woke up in post-op feeling as though God’s own sunlight was shining on my face, feeling sheer gratitude to all the nurses, telling all the staff how thankful I was for their willingness to take care of me. The surgery had gone well and I had no pain. And I was sent home with a couple doses of Vicodin, which I took because later when the fentanyl wore off, I had shooting needly pains below my navel.

And for a day after, I had a headache. My body getting rid of the drug metabolites.

And then on Monday it occurred to me: I had felt so good, so grateful, because I was high. I was high. Why do the drugs have to make me feel so goddam good?

“Every feeling passes,” my sponsor says. “All the ‘good’ feelings, all the ‘bad’ ones—they all pass.”

And this morning my husband goes to the dentist because he has pain in his tooth and the dentist X-rays his jaw and discovers an abscess, he prescribes Vicodin, my very favorite beloved awesomest drug on the face of the planet, especially since I’m “opioid-naive.” I just had drugs in my body last week, I can remember in my body how niiiice they made me feel.

David Foster Wallace once said, You think you’re an atheist, you think you don’t worship anything?—let me tell you, everyone worships something. Listen to the way I talk about Vicodin.

So I call my sponsor and tell her: I don’t want to use the Vicodin that is now living in my house. She says, You know what you have to do. I say, Yes, I know.

Part of that is writing it here. The truth.

The truth is, if I listen to my body, what it really wants is not drugs.

What it wants is love.

Withdrawal, One Day At A Time.

Went to a meeting yesterday. Topic: “One Day At A Time as a spiritual practice.”

Today is the third anniversary of the day I jumped off my medical detox. My detox doctor prescribed Suboxone to help me land my plane off a 30,000-foot level of Fentanyl. I spent two months on Suboxone—almost triple the time this doctor usually allows his patients to spend on that drug. He was very kind to me and one of my first acts of “recovery” was to repay his kindness by taking the drug responsibly—by showing him that I actually wanted to detox.

If you find it difficult to manage withdrawal by yourself, it might be good to find a doctor you can trust to help. The only way I managed detox was to turn the process over to someone else.

A lot of people come to Suboxone-detox doctors with heroin or Vicodin or OxyContin problems. Their supplies of pharma drugs have been erratic, and the quality of heroin is uncertain. They run out of money or their dealers run out of dope. So some people haven’t been on a steady level. Detox is somewhat easier if you haven’t been on a steady level: in the down-times, the body has a chance to regain some equilibrium, and there’s not so much physical damage to repair.

But I was on a fairly steady level, and the level was towering, the equivalent of 400-600mg of morphine per day. Crazy-high level.

I never thought I’d ever, ever—ever—be able to jump and land on the ground with both my legs intact. I’d tried. I’d gone into withdrawal (voluntarily, involuntarily) over the years, and gotten partway, only to be driven back to the drugstore to get the thing that would relieve the suffering of severe withdrawal.

In withdrawal from any drug on which the body becomes dependent (including psych-meds), the body and mind experience problems operating optimally. For opioids the physical problems include sweating, cramping, vomiting, goose-flesh, headaches, soaring blood pressure, insomnia, extreme deathly fatigue. It’s often the last two, which can hang on for ages and which affect psychological wellbeing, that drive people back to drugs.

Alcoholics go through sweating, racing heart, weakness, palpitations, tremors, seizures. The seizures can be life-threatening, which is why it’s sometimes better to do a medical detox from alcohol-addiction.

Mel Bochner, "Blah, Blah, Blah," 2009. Saw this at the Met last week and it reminded me of my kid's art.

And then there are the psychological disturbances. Confusion. “Anxiety” (otherwise known as fear). “Restlessness, irritability, discontentment,” blah blah blah.

In opioid withdrawal there can even be a kind of euphoria as the body begins to return to normal functioning. The senses come alive; food tastes good again; we walk into the kitchen and our mouths water; appetites return. There have been documented cases of spontaneous orgasm in opioid withdrawal. The body, no longer drugged and dulled, begins to produce the hormones that support normal sexuality—and the physical and emotional responses go a bit overboard for a while.

//

People in yesterday’s meeting were talking about One Day At A Time. I heard a saying that I’d heard long ago in a meeting: “You can start your day over at any time—even an hour before bedtime, you can start your day over.” I was reminded of how my friend and mentor Sluggo used to ask me, after I jumped and was feeling lousy and was facing a Thanksgiving holiday with family in the house—exhausted from detox, unable to look at cleaning the entire garret guest-space; upset, as always, at the grunge on the kitchen floor—Sluggo used to ask me,

How are you now?

And now?

And now?

I didn’t get this at the time. “I’m FUCKED UP NOW!!” I’d scream at  her in my head.

I could have screamed it at Sluggo in real life (“IRL”) and she would have sat there, like, OK, so you’re fucked up now. She never tried to force solutions. She rocks at detachment.

Sluggo is wise, and streetwise; she’s quite literally been around the world, and she’s seen and done a lot of shit. She’s lived in Tokyo and Paris and other places where supermodels live while they’re showing haute couture. She’s been held up at knifepoint in Chicago, trying to cop, shivering from withdrawal and exposure in an evening gown that she was supposed to be modeling. … After a lot of tries, she got “clean.” She got married, had a kid and now uses the 12 steps to stay sober and sane.

(I love her.)

Step 11 is Very Important to Sluggo. She knows how to meditate. Because she meditates.

Her question (“How are you now? And now?”) is about meditation. Meditation is about practice. The practice of meditation changes the body and nervous system. It counters paranoia, compulsiveness, anxiety, “restlessness, irritability, discontentment.” For people like us, it’s medicine.

After Sluggo asked me this question a few times, I began to realize that Right Now I was safe and well. “FUCKED UP!!” is a mean judgment that hides great expectations. “Safe” and “well” are facts.

//

At the meeting yesterday I was sitting next to a woman who said she had 40 days. From the sheepish look of her, she felt kind of bad admitting she had “only” 40 days. Murmurs around the room: “Awesome!” “Forty days rocks.” “Forty days is HUGE.” There was a guy there who had five days. Then people started talking about how we only have This Day, and how This Day can start over again at any time, so really we only have This Moment.

How are you now?

And now?

And now?

Sober Life: Self-Acceptance

100mcg Mylan fentanyl patch

The drug I found a couple weeks ago: 100mcg fentanyl patch. It was even in its envelope.

Woke yesterday morning from a dream in which I found drugs and used them. In drug-dreams I hardly ever use, but after yesterday’s dream I was certain that I’d blown my sobriety, and I had to check my pupils in the mirror to make sure it was just a dream.

Went to my usual noon meeting at the university. There were only two guys there.

“Did you guys ever have a dream in which you were absolutely sure you used?” I asked. “As if it wasn’t really a dream, but real-life?”

“Pffff,” one of them said, unmoving.

“All the time,” the other one said.

I’ve been talking a lot at meetings about having found these drugs. And yesterday I figured out other reasons why I didn’t use them:

  1. My husband’s ultimatum that if I ever brought drugs into the house again, he’d leave me. I couldn’t use the drugs and then either lie to him, or tell him I didn’t give a shit about his ultimatum. Or try to get out of it by convincing him I didn’t “bring” them into the house.
  2. All the people who have helped me over the past 19 months. How could I go to them and tell them I’d used—or lie to them? I couldn’t.
  3. My fear of fentanyl. Fentanyl is ONLY for people who are opioid-tolerant. I’ve read about deaths of opioid-naive people who have used fentanyl.

So I’ve redeveloped a respect for, or at least a fear of, drugs. Or at least some drugs.

I’ve been feeling pretty spiritually blank lately. I still pray in the morning—the Third Step prayer, usually; or some version of asking the Great Mysterious for help—and I get on my knees several times a day. I think I have some pretty strong unhealthy default settings. One of the guys at the Thursday meeting quite often says he needs certain things to be “installed.” I need faith to be installed. I need surrender to be installed.

Intuition is installed, but without faith and surrender it’s hard to use it.

Someone said the other day that, when she came into the program in 1982—when I was starting college; the year I started to drink, in fact—her sponsor asked her where she lived, and she named a very dodgy neighborhood on a hillside. “Oh, my child,” her sponsor said:

Way up high
on that hill
behind the back of God.

That’s the way I felt as a kid. I didn’t live high on a hill or next to a slum. I lived in the generic suburbs, the deep white conservative Catholic suburbs, an aesthetic, cultural and spiritual desert. We were financially secure, but I never had access to money. I mean, never. Some alcoholic families work this way: they deprive the kids of what is available. I wonder: is it worse to have no resources, or to have them but not be able to use them?—we weren’t poor, but my mother behaved as though we were poor, and my father just let her do whatever she wanted. The people I know who grew up truly poor are at least able to spend money on themselves now.

I still quite often behave as though I am poor—financially, emotionally, socially, spiritually. I have money, but I can’t let myself spend it on myself. It has to be spent on other people. Default setting. Shortcoming.

In the summers I never saw any friends and I quite often felt as though I were living behind God’s back. I still have a tendency to “isolate,” as they say. Shortcoming.

I’ve felt the same way since finding those drugs. I cry spontaneously. I don’t call people. I feel blue, and I don’t know why. I can’t concentrate. I feel tired all the time. I’ve thought maybe I should take an antidepressant. I’ve thought maybe I should, in the words of songwriter Tom Waits, “Change my shorts, change my life, change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy.” Maybe I should—

“Should is not the solution,” my sponsor said:

“What now?” is the solution.

Been reading Didion’s essay on “Self-Respect,” published in 1961, three years before I was born. She writes:

Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all bout. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts. . . .  That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.

“Do you know why you want to use?” my sponsor asked.

“Because I’m sick,” I said.

“Oh, for godsake—haven’t you heard anything I’ve ever told you?” she said. “You want to use because you have feelings you don’t like.”

“I don’t like to cry every day,” I whinged.

“Why don’t you just let yourself cry?”

It’s a discipline to allow feelings to come out, without overindulging in them. Accepting them without overindulgence is humility. It’s Step 7. It’s a discipline to accept oneself for who one is, while also recognizing one’s shortcomings and doing what one can to overcome them—rather than beating oneself over the head for them. It’s easier to beat myself over the head. It’s what I’m used to. It’s the equivalent of taking a razor and cutting myself.

The more difficult practice is to accept myself. Even attempting to do this is a major amend.

Dreaming About Drugs Or Drinking—What To Do About It?

I’ve had a couple drug dreams lately. It’s been a stressful time—school let out, my kid is home all day, I’ve had to negotiate lots of scheduling issues with my partner. Transitioning into summer is always hard—in fact, any transition is hard for me. Addicts, in general, do not like transitions. I’m the kind of person who likes to eat the same things at the same time of day; I order the same menu items from the few restaurants I go to; I wear the same clothes—dependable ones that look good on me—until they wear out.

The other night I dreamed I had a bunch of fentanyl patches. Part of me doesn’t want to describe what I tried to do with them, because I don’t want to give anybody ideas about how to abuse medication (especially fentanyl, because abusing it can kill you), and I also don’t want to send anybody into euphoric recall. … But another part of me wants to tell you how my senses responded in the dream. Because it helps to be honest with people about what I used to do, and how it used to feel.

When I first detoxed off fentanyl, back in November 2008, I had drug dreams pretty often. It seems to me they happened almost every night, but I don’t think they were actually that frequent—it just SEEMED like they were. My using dreams back then were frantic: in the dream, I’d be searching through stuff in the house, looking for something to make me feel better, and when I found it, my whole body would yearn toward the drugs. (I tried thinking of a better and less corny word than “yearn,” but this is what it felt like. “Yearn” comes from an old Germanic word meaning “eager.”) My whole body bent itself toward the stuff it knew would make it feel better.

It was partly a chemical thing: withdrawal just takes time to get through, and during withdrawal it’s very hard to sleep. Sleep-deprivation is one of the things that prevents a lot of people from making it through to the other side of withdrawal—it’s hard to function during the day if you can’t sleep at night, and when your body knows what will make it easier, it naturally gravitates toward that.

But it was also partly a psychological thing. Pavlovian. I’d trained myself to cope with problems (and also joyful situations) by using drugs. I’d managed the way I felt with chemicals, instead of allowing the feelings to pass. I didn’t want the painful feelings to persist, so I used chemicals to get rid of them; I didn’t want the joyful feelings to leave me, so I used chemicals to try to prolong them—or else to get rid of the fear of the joy leaving me. Of course, in the end, the drugs stopped working, but I clung to the hope that they would work again someday—which is the delusion of addiction, and the insanity, the breakdown of health and wholeness.

And when I’d wake up from the dream, I’d feel mortally disappointed that I hadn’t actually found drugs, that I was on my own again, trying to manage life by myself. (This was before I learned to depend on another power than my own will.) Sometimes I’d cry.

I hadn’t had a dream about using drugs for a long time before I had one a couple weeks ago. In the dream I found these fentanyl patches. Brand-new, shiny-clean, pure drugs. But somehow in the dream I couldn’t touch them. I’d try to touch them and they’d dissolve from view, disappear. Then I’d pull my hand away and they’d reappear. Ephemeral.

So this dream wasn’t actually about USING drugs… it was about the temptation, and the presence of drugs in my mind and consciousness. The fact that my addiction is always with me. The aliveness of it. I don’t exactly imagine it, as they say, “doing push-ups in the parking lot” while I’m at meetings. But as Eminem raps,

This f*cking black cloud still follows me around
But it’s time to exorcise these demons
These motherf*ckers are doing jumpin-jacks now

It’s around. It’s not Gone.

I was sick for a long time, and it takes a lot of discipline to recover from a chronic sickness. People who undergo treatment for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and other illnesses have to organize their lives around managing their problems. And I don’t buy the argument that people with addiction caused their own problems and people with other illnesses didn’t. Many people with obesity and diabetes today have made a hefty contribution to their problems through their reluctance or refusal to face the fact that they eat too much and they eat foods that cause ill-health. It’s being shown that cancer and hypertension are caused by the disastrous ways Americans eat and drink and use their bodies—or don’t use them.

Blaming is useless, but figuring out the cause-effect relationship leads to the ability to strategize about solutions.

So what do I do when I dream about drugs? Today I first of all wake up and send up a statement of thanks to the Higher Power Of The Day (today my HP is Time) that I didn’t actually use. And then I let it go. My friend Arlene in L.A. used to tell me all the time, when I was newly detoxed, “This Too Shall Pass.”

Life is not about what you feeeel, baby girl,

she’d say, and she was right.

When I was newly detoxed and dreaming about drugs, I used to cling to those feelings of maybe Finding Something Someday. Today I try to let it all slide off me. I hand it over to Time, which will eventually make me forget. I hand it over to Love, which will help me take care of my body and spirit. I hand it over to Common Sense, which tells me:

It’s just a dream.

What do you do when you dream about drugs or drinking?

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