Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: fitness

Recovery Karma: Teaching S to Serve

Man U and Liverpool on’t telly downstairs. I’m up here by myself on a cold Saturday morning. The waterbed is warm.


“What Labrador ate those balls?” the pro asked us yesterday.

“They’re pink, for breast cancer,” S said.

They were also half-flat. And they were the fuzziest balls I’d ever seen. They did look dog-eaten. But S liked them, so I didn’t pop the new can I’d brought.

I’m writing about this today because I played with S yesterday afternoon, and I can’t get it out of my mind or body how much I enjoyed hitting with her. She’s fairly new to tennis but she doesn’t hit like a beginner. S is a beautiful Jamaican woman maybe two inches taller than I, so she’s on the tall side, and she’s been working out for years: spinning, weight-lifting, yoga. Her upper body is bigger than mine, and she has the quads of a track star. Plus she’s just totally voluptuous and beautiful. I’m a gamine (read: small tits) and that’s all there is to it.

Yesterday was the second time I’d hit with her and I heard myself thinking like a coach: She’s got some bad habits, she plays inside the baseline and she swings at her volleys and she has trouble sticking to a decision to come to the net, she winds up in no-man’s land (wasn’t this what Robbie called it when I got caught flatfooted behind the service line?), but she’s fast and she’s smart, she’s got good instincts, and she runs every shot down.

“It’s hard on the glutes,” she said.

“I do a lot of squats and lunges,” I said.

I’m working on my down-the-line shots, my inside-out shots. I drove her back and forth. She ran, she was willing, and she made some good gets.

Eventually I was chomping to play some points. But S can’t serve.

“It’s my next lesson,” she said. We both take lessons from a guy named, funnily enough, Rob. She’d played ages ago in Jamaica, she said, and she’d been picking it back up for the last year or so.

“Let me see your serve,” I said.

Her feet were all wrong. Her toss was loopy. She hadn’t worked out the rhythm of the backswing and her ball popped 30 feet in the air.

S NEEDS to serve, I decided. Her ground strokes are too powerful for her to go any longer with a dinky serve.

(I mean who the fuck am I to decide what someone else needs, right?)

“Put your front foot at a forty-five degree angle,” I said. “Now hold your racquet like you’re scratching your back.”

“But what about going like this?” she asked, swinging her racquet back.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” I said. “Just put your racquet back there. Now toss the ball and swing the racquet forward.”

She did. The ball fired and hit the tape. She tried another: the ball landed in the service-box. A decent serve.

Now, I thought, all you have to do is practice that about 200 times a day. (Don’t get me wrong. I love practicing my serve. Robbie would fill up a hopper and let me go at it. He’d spend 45 minutes just returning my serves. I’d do the same for him—which is how I got used to playing with men. I prefer hitting against men, unless I’m playing my sister, which is like playing a man. She’s six feet tall and entirely unafraid on court. A lot of women are afraid to hit hard, and I’ve never been a dinky hitter, in anything.)

I went back to my side of the court and fired off a few serves. S had trouble returning them, but she tried, and in watching her try so damn hard, I was reminded of myself, how hard I tried, how hard I always try, how much I dread failure, how afraid I am of being detected as a fucking fraud, and how little I think I have to give anyone.

The difference was, S was smiling the whole time.

“Wow!” S said when we knocked off. “You really taught me a lot today! I’m going to practice what you taught me.”

Motherhood has gone a little way toward letting me know that I can help someone else—even if it’s just one person. But I was unsober for so much of my kid’s life. One of the side-motivations of drug-use was that it numbed me out to the deep fear that lives in my belly that I am, after all, a shitty mother, from a long line of shitty mothers, world without end, amen. It also numbed me out to reality: I help people. I’m still just learning that I can help other people. I’m usually afraid of stepping on the other person’s toes.

S tells me she wants my advice and I think, Oh right: four or five years ago, when I was unsober and when S was applying for her Ph.D. program, I helped her with her application essays.

Robbie emailed me a while back:

And you – well, you basically taught me how to write – which served me well in law school and beyond. I still remember some forgotten freshman english teacher commenting on my second paper (after you got to me) “you’ve suddenly learned how to write!”

I gave S my serve and she hit some returns and I thought about how it’s nice and everything that I still have Robbie’s voice in my mind, it’s sweet that he taught me, and it blows me away that I can now help someone else.


As we walked out of the facility a private girls’-school team was arriving for their practice session. S said hello to several of the girls. S has three boys, ages 18, 16 and 14; they’re all drop-dead knockouts, the eldest one has dated several chicks on that team, he probably knows every 17-year-old girl within a five-mile radius; and the youngest boy is one of my son’s best friends. “S is The Coolest Mom,” my son told me recently.

“Huh,” I said. “What about me?” (The eternal dipshit question, which will always out.)

“You’re cooler than most of the moms,” he said nonchalantly, “but S is sooo cool. She NEVER gets out of the car to say hi to the parents when she’s dropping someone off.”

Which isn’t true. S often winds up in our front hall to say hi. But I agree, S is very cool. The coolest thing about S is not her beauty or her speed or her three amazing gorgeous smart polite cheeky boys or the fact that she is doing it all as a single mom, plus writing her diss. It’s her willingness, and her humility.

Taking Stock

A pal of mine told a story in a meeting yesterday about “letting go of outcomes.” “There are two people in a boat—one is you, and one is God,” he said.

Somebody has to row, and somebody has to steer.
And God don’t row.

I’d brought up the topic. I’m feeling a bit nervous about giving up control of outcomes of a couple of situations. Both situations involve this blog. One is personal; and one is about an internal leading to step back and take some inventory about what I write here. Both situations involve a big character defect: my fear of disapproval. Of abandonment.

Did I ever tell you the story of the time I was locked out of a house when I was 3? Or the time I was locked in the car outside overnight, at the same age?

Some of my fears come from times like those, very little-girl times, and some fears come from times when I was about 13, and then there are other fears that come from the year I turned 23. I haven’t figured out whether I’m writing about my fears in a way that allows me to let go of the hurt—or in a way that requires me to hold on. I want to let go. So I can help you let go.

I’m taking stock in other areas of life as well. Finished my second round of P90X.

Diamond push-up.

I can now do 160 non-girly, on-my-toes push-ups per workout. Twenty-four of those are dive-bombers. I can do clap push-ups and military push-ups and diamond push-ups. I’ve met the two goals I set for myself—to do pull-ups, and to test my strength.

But: I don’t have a six-pack. I’m still five-foot-five-point-five (I’ve grown half an inch from doing core workouts) and 117 lbs., but the thing is, I’m not sure I even want a six-pack. I may not be willing to restrict my diet in the ways required to produce “cuts.” At least, not for reasons of vanity. I’ve discovered that I actually LIKE to eat. I like the taste of food. Yesterday I bought a bag of Utz chips and ate them with half a chicken-salad sandwich, and I enjoyed myself.

Two days ago I played tennis for more than two hours, and totally kicked ass with my serve, and I was so fast that I made it to every point—it feels powerful to be that fast on my feet—and I felt deliciously wrung out when we quit. “We totally want you for our team,” one of the women said. Tennis is more fun than P90X workouts and I realized that I don’t want my life to support my workouts.

I want my workouts to support my life.

G Gets Strong: Day 7 | Push-Ups and Recovery

So on Jan. 4, the day after I celebrated a year sober, I started a fitness program to test my strength that will take me 90 days to complete—until April 4. My goals are to test my strength and to do unassisted pull-ups.

I started last week with a chest-and-back workout that made me sore for five days. You know how, when you haven’t run or cycled in a long time, you overshoot the distance you can go and the next day you’re paralyzed?—that’s how I felt. For five days. Because of course the next day I had to do cardio, and the day after that it was biceps, triceps and deltoids; and on and on.

Saturday, I did two workouts: went snowshoeing, and did a separate legs-and-back workout.

I took a break on Sunday.

By yesterday my chest was feeling OK. The deep muscles in my butt were screaming, and a knot had appeared in my right thigh, for which I did some stretches. But I could do push-ups again.

I was able to do more than I did last week.

I have to do like five or six different kinds of push-ups. The hardest kind is the “dive-bomber” push-up. I’m allowed to modify it into something called the “Hindu” push-up, which seems almost equally hard but whose movements I’m more familiar with because I’ve studied so much yoga.

Last week when I tried to do this, I crashed. On my head. For real. I’d done so many pull-up exercises (on resistance bands) and other kinds of push-ups—straight push-ups, military push-ups, diamond-hands, declines, wide-flies, etc.—that my arms wouldn’t hold me up, and I fell on my head. This is when I almost gave up… I almost said, Fuck it. I could hear the ass-hat gym teacher I had in high-school calling me an “old lady” from the other side of the track while she socialized with the track-stars who had already finished their four laps and were sauntering in for their showers.


Famous last words. “Fuck-it” is usually the last thing we say to ourselves before we take the first drink or drug.

I decided to keep showing up, after getting some encouragement from Coach Angela, but I couldn’t see how, if I could not even attempt a move, I’d ever have a chance of getting better at it. But somehow I did. Something happened in the past week that allowed me to try again yesterday.

It’s called “recovery.” Literally. … What makes the muscles so sore is this: they develop tiny little micro-tears. What happens during the week is, when you cross-train, you give the muscles a break and exercise other parts of the body, and those tears heal and in the process make the muscle stronger. The muscle recovers.

This happens even when you’re 46 and you’ve been telling yourself all your life that you’re not capable of real physical fitness because you’re an “old lady” who can’t run around the high-school track even once without stopping.

Last night I tried again. And I not only did one Hindu push-up, I did five in the first round, and six in the second round. (To be honest, the sixth one was a bit compromised in form. But what the hell!)

Flipped myself out. Yelled down the stairs, where my son was watching Bogey in The Maltese Falcon, “Dude! I just did FIVE of those things that made me crash on my head last week.” My boy hollered back,

Yeah, my Main Mama!

Wrote to Angela, my coach:

omg, Ange, I just did FIVE of those f*cking dive-bombers! so chuffed

She wrote back:

Yeah baby! I am sooo stoked for you!! (Read that with a Spicoli accent!) Keep it up, you are going to be transformed.

Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont HighShe’s writing tongue-in-cheek, at least about the Spicoli part. Anyway I laughed. The guys at school loved Spicoli. In fact my college BF and I had a cat we named Spicoli. I can hear Sean Penn saying, “Duuude, awwwesome.”

Another metaphor: totally overlooked it in my post yesterday, contained in what Bill Clinton said about good nutrition breaking up the blockages around the heart and enabling the body to heal itself.

This is what happens when we learn how to take care of ourselves and practice these principles in all our affairs. Our hearts get rid of the garbage. We recover.

It’s not “a Pollyannish proposition,” as my Al-Anon sponsor would say.

It’s hard work, dude.

Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Addiction Is a Medical Illness: Bill Clinton Shows How

Quote for the day:

Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.—George Carlin

Addiction is the disease of “more”…

Since I passed one year last week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Last year when I relapsed it seemed impossible that I’d be able to put together another year clean, much less Really Sober. Using again took me by surprise. … I’ve wondered what it is that makes it possible for some people to choose to keep moving in healthy ways, while others continue to pick destructive paths. Part of it, I think, is having people around you who believe in you, or on whom you can’t give up. A lot of people, for example, say they get sober for their families, in particular their kids.

But I also believe there has to be a kind of deep central belief in oneself. A love for oneself. I never thought I had this. When men would tell me they loved me, I’d be like, “Why?” I could never see why, and I could never get enough of hearing it.  …

But I’m finding out I have it. Self-respect.

A Quaker friend sent me a story from the NYT’s Well Blog about the China Study—a book about how eating plant-based whole foods will reverse heart disease, prevent diabetes, and work all sorts of other health wonders. I checked it out. I read as much of it on Amazon as I could, then ordered the book, which will come tomorrow. The author, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., talks about these facts: medicine has become an industry in this country, just the way food-production has, and both industries protect profits before the wellbeing of their patients/customers. They will do everything they can, including plant spies, to silence even good science so that profits will keep rolling in.

The China Study is a 25-year-partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine in Beijing. It has demonstrated two things:

  • eating lots of animal-based foods (including dairy and eggs) is linked with more chronic illness, and
  • eating lots of plant-based foods is linked with greater health.

Simple, as most effective practices are. And Campbell wanted to lay out his story, his evidence, and let readers make up their own minds, he said.

But when he tried to publish it, he said, his agent shopped it around New York and all the editors (probably guided by their sales reps) wanted Campbell to make more than two-thirds of the pages recipes. They didn’t care about the science, they just wanted to make the book pretty so it would be guaranteed to Sell More Books. So they would Make More Money.

“They wanted to dumb it down,” he said. As usual, with systems driven by addiction.

So he said, Screw that, and he took it to a little tiny publisher down in Texas where they published the book as it was (although admittedly with the façade of a Workman or Rodale title).

And it has sold half a million copies. Now that it’s appeared in Tara Parker-Pope’s column, it will likely sell another several truckloads. I bet Workman and Crown are biting their knuckles.

Bill Clinton closeupWhat I wanted to tell you about though was this story: Bill Clinton decided to become a vegan after reading The China Study. He’s 64, he lost 24 lbs., he’s back to weighing what he weighed in high school and is hoping to reverse his heart disease. He says he wants to be around to see his grandchildren.

Now this really got me. Because my parents are not around to see their grandchildren. They knew they weren’t in great health, but they didn’t take charge of their situations and make changes so they could be around.

Bill researched this big change. Of course, unlike addiction, heart disease itself does not include a component that tells you that you don’t actually have a disease—however, many people with heart disease are addicted to the foods that have caused their disease, making it difficult for them to make the changes necessary to kick-start their innate healing powers.

Bill has done some stupid and compulsive things in his career, things that I’ve heard some people say make him an addict or like an addict. Whatever—apparently, he loves his daughter. She asked him to lose 15 lbs. for her wedding. An amazing request. (I can just picture asking my dad, who had a lifelong enormous beer-belly, to lose weight for my wedding—or for any reason.)

And he did. He lost 20 lbs.

The stents, designed to keep his coronary veins open, were already clogging up with cholesterol. He started out by evaluating his options. Here is Bill talking about his plant-based eating:

So I did all this research and I saw that 82 percent of the people since 1986 who have gone on a plant-based, no dairy, no meat of any kind—no chicken, turkey—I eat very little fish, once in a while I’ll have a little fish, not often—if you can do it, 82 percent of the people who’ve done that have begun to heal themselves. Their arterial blockage clears up. The calcium deposits around their heart breaks up. … We now have 25 years of evidence. And so I thought . . . I’ll become part of this experiment. I’ll see if I can be one of those that can have a self-clearing mechanism.

Operative phrase: “If you can do it.” Operative power: one greater than yourself.

Addicts who contemplate joining a 12-step program that requires abstinence from addictive substances usually balk first at the abstinence part. Why do I have to abstain? Then they balk at all the hard work they have to do while they’re working to abstain. Why do I have to do all this hard work? Why can’t I just be cured?

Well, Holy Fried Pork Rinds, Batman. Change is hard.

How is Bill Clinton’s story of abstaining from all animal-based food for the past year any different from any alcoholic’s or addict’s story of abstaining from all alcohol and drugs? Bill was a Southern boy raised, no doubt, on fried chicken and biscuits made with lard, slathered with butter and gravy; I grew up in a house always stocked with beer, with people who drank and smoked all the time, as a way of life. Now we’re making changes so we can be around for other people, and for ourselves…

Both Bill and I are making nutritional changes.

We’re both exercising.

We’re both taking care of business.

To get back to T. Colin Campbell Ph.D. for a second. This story exemplifies the way in which addiction is a “medical illness.”

It’s a medical illness NOT because there’s a pill or gene out there, yet to be discovered, that will cure addicts and make drug manufacturers rich.

It’s a medical illness because it is a condition that can be treated by simple changes—in what we put into our bodies, and how we use them, and why.

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