Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: forgiveness

A Talk With Melody Beattie

Melody Beattie (credit: Hay House).

When I call her, Melody Beattie (pronounced bee-tee) is in a house near Two-Bunch Palms, near Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, in the southern California desert. She is working on another writing project, a new and different kind of work than the self-help books she’s written for the past 25 years. And ever since the success of her 1986 book Codependent No More, which helped cement “self-help” as a Library of Congress category, Beattie has always come to this wasteland (no matter how beautiful it may be: the Latin origin of the word “desert” is a place “left to waste”) to start writing.

Come to think of it, the book also secured the LC category of “codependence.”

“I hate the word codependence,” she says. “It’s nothing you can wrap your hands around.”

Too late now.

Beattie’s voice has rough edges. It’s like a boat with lots of barnacles. Beattie has been through rough weather in her life—has “been though some stuff,” as they say in meeting rooms and in the rooms of therapy. She has “dealt with some issues.” Now 63 and the author of 17 books that spring from the survival skills she has honed—not all of them productive, she says—Melody Beattie recounts that she got sober at 24, in 1973, and that, by then, she had been drinking half her life. As soon as she became a teenager she was sexually approached or abused by a number of men, including neighbors, corner-boys, guys at her church, and even the husband of the woman for whom she babysat. Not long after she started drinking, she also began using drugs, eventually shooting heroin and working as a stripper to keep the supply going.

Codependent No More WorkbookOne of the more interesting things she says in her most recent book, the Codependent No More Workbook, is that drinking and drugging saved her life: if it hadn’t been for the emotional numbness that had resulted, she might have killed herself. Though I wasn’t kidnapped or raped as a child, this analysis—that what might have killed us actually, for a time, saved us—struck a certain authentic chord in me and I wanted to ask her about this and other views she takes that draw attention and sometimes criticism.

I ask her: Don’t people have problems with this idea—that drugs saved us?

She replies easily, “You know what? I don’t care what people think.”

Most of her books get very high reviews from readers, but there are inevitably a few who take issue with her ideas. For example, from an unhappy Amazon reader review of her 2010 book, Make Miracles in Forty Days:

This is the biggest bunch of hooey I have ever read. One is supposed to express “gratitude” for everything that makes their lives miserable and that will bring a miracle from God?! If I were God, I would think, if this person is so grateful for the hardships in their life, I might as well give them more misery since they are so “grateful.”

Right. The return of The God Thing.

Below is a blog-sized collection of excerpts from our conversation… starting with a question about The God Thing.

Guinevere: You write, “No greater feeling exists for me than to see proof that God knows my name, knows where I live, and cares about my life.” If that were so, how could God have let such difficult things happen to you, including the loss of your son 20 years ago, at 13 years old?

Melody Beattie: I was gonna go use that week. I just wanted 10 minutes of not feeling that. And as it happened, just then I got a phone call from a friend who had relapsed. He said, “I’ll come get you.” And when he came, I told him I wanted new syringes; so we went to a pharmacy that sold them. And then I told him: I can’t use cocaine because it’s too unpredictable. And the heroin is cut with shit. Dilaudid has that horrible orange dye in it.

And in talking this way, the other part of me kicked in. The healthy part. My friend was getting a bit upset with me: I was not behaving in the way that addicts generally think and behave. But I realized: what I really wanted was the freedom to choose.

G: But I mean, didn’t you get pissed at God when your son died?

MB: I don’t even know that I’ve totally forgiven God. It’s like I’ve tabled that issue. It’s like I’ve said, “There are some thing we’re gonna talk about later, God.”

G: You say prayer and meditation are how we get our power. But it seems to be the last thing most people think of in terms of solving a problem.

MB: I prayed a lot after Shane died. People don’t realize that the 12 steps is a bag of tools. Most people work them once while they’re cleaning up, but the 12 steps work incredibly well on everyday problems. You can work them again and again. And as tools go, they’re very responsive. If we take even half a step toward them, they move across the universe for us.

G: You write, “The biggest shortcoming of the codependency recovery movement is that codependents frequently don’t take working the steps as seriously as alcoholics and addicts. They think it’s an option, because they haven’t been the ones using drugs or drinking.” —This is a pretty big indictment.

MB: I like to ask codependents if they’ve worked the steps. Seriously—have you ever done this? Gone up to a codependent and asked them if they’ve actually worked the steps? Lots of codependents go to meetings [and think this is enough to recover]. If you read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it doesn’t say you have to go to meetings. But it does say you have to work the steps. I’m not putting down going to meetings—but you won’t get better if you don’t do the steps.

G: It’s pretty clear that you go or have gone to AA meetings. Is it OK that people know you go to AA? What about anonymity?

MB: In my books I handle that a lot of times by doing it as quoting other people’s experience with particular programs. But yeah, part of me feels guilty. Another part feels like this: sometimes rules are made to be broken. …

You know, recovery has been institutionalized.  We’ve taken the experimentalism and spontaneity out of it.

G: You write in your workbook, “The AA program taught me that God is real. Codependency recovery taught me that I’m real and that I deserve to be loved. I can fully express the person I am.” I’m interested in what you’ve learned about yourself from recovering from addictive relationships that maybe recovering from alcoholism and drug-addiction didn’t teach you.

MB: When I wrote Codependent No More they didn’t have self-help shelves in the bookstore. … My codependency took me to my knees. I thought to myself, “Here I’ve been given this fantastic gift of sobriety and I want to kill myself.

I was dirt-poor the first 15 years of sobriety. I was so filled with guilt—another survival mechanism. The majority of codependent behaviors actually resemble grief. I once had the opportunity to talk with Elisabeth Kubler Ross [author of On Death and Dying], who came up with the five stages of grief. I remember thinking, as I spoke with her, that if you add obsession and guilt to the five stages of grief, you have codependence.

You know, self-esteem can save us. A few years back I was asked to speak at my old high school, Minnehaha Academy. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the the time I went to that school. I had thought something was fundamentally wrong with me. … I don’t do many speaking engagements anymore. When I arrived, I saw that a number of teachers had come back to hear me talk. One was 90 years old! I looked at these people and realized that I hadn’t felt that kind of love and care back then. And this was a very good private school—they specialized in the creative arts. …

The principal had found a photograph of me. You have to realize, there were no photographs of me from childhood, from the time I was abducted off the street when I was 4. But this guy had managed to find one. And he put this picture of me up on the screen behind where I was speaking. It was enormous. I looked at that picture and the memories of what I’d gone through came over me. Seeing that picture of myself started a process of healing. Life will provide us the therapy we need.

How to Make It Through the Holidays Sober and Happy

On how to make it through the holiday season sober…

e.e. cummings has a good thought:

e.e. cummings poster unless you love someone nothing else makes any sense

Found this poster on the wall in the kitchen of our friends’ P & P’s place the other night. Had been over their place a million times, but had never opened my eyes enough to see this poster, and what it said. Awareness. Awake-ness. A gift of recovery.

It bears repeating:


P originally said his mother had bought him the poster. Then he emailed me back:

Present from P!!!
Reminds me of my mum.

Interesting how his love for two people was connected in his mind by this object. Love does this… connects people. They say it “binds” people.

There are so many bonds… restraints; bandages; wrappings, as in presents, coats or blankets. Bindings on the edges of fabric, to prevent fraying. Surety bonds to make a deal secure. Chemical bonds, genetic bonds: shared DNA. My nieces and nephews are bound to me by shared DNA; when they hear Auntie G’s voice on the phone, it pulls at their “heartstrings,” the emotional “ties” we feel inside the chest. We feel them when a loved one speaks our name. We feel them when we speak the name of someone we love. They’re real. They pull us together.

Today’s reverb10 prompt is: Everything’s OK. What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

My friend D asked me this a long time ago: Don’t you know everything will be OK? I didn’t then. It took me a while. It took a relapse, and it took admitting this to people who cared, to meetings, to my “we,” my “Wii,” my Many Girlfriends, my sponsors, and accepting their love and their direction. Accepting the fact that people actually do care.

Do love.

Do love me.

And that the best thing I can to keep that connection moving is to pass that love on the best I can… forgiving myself and others for our mistakes.

Another gift. We are bound to each other.

Off to make my grandma’s apple strudel for P & P, who are bringing their kids over tomorrow. I channel grandma every time I make her strudel. Photos to come. Yum.

Edit: Scrubbing the floor (which maybe I should have done after making the strudel), listening to Handel’s Messiah. It occurred to me that I’m not a conventional “believer”… But one thing I do believe is that more will be revealed.

A good rendition from the Orchestra of the Antipodes, an Australian ensemble… please give it a listen. (BTW it’s not Christian, though Christians have appropriated it. The lyrics are from Isaiah, a Jewish prophet.)

Father & son: Justin Townes Earle cancels tour for rehab

Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle

Today’s news: singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has decided to cancel the rest of his current tour (which means dumping 21 shows in the U.S. this month and next, and 10 shows in the UK through November 14) in order to go to rehab.

Earle, 28, was arrested Sept. 16 in Indianapolis on charges of public intoxication, battery, and resisting arrest in connection with an alleged dispute with a nightclub owner and the owner’s daughter during Earle’s appearance at the club.

Steve Earle

Steve Earle, hardcore troubadour

Earle is the son of singer-songwriter Steve Earle, one of my heroes. I love Steve Earle. Love his music, love his acting in the television series “The Wire” (in which he plays the NA sponsor to the unforgettable homeless police informant, Bubbles), and love his personal story. He was completely beaten by drugs, kicked in jail, and came back to have a prolific creative life and a productive marriage. He BELIEVES in recovery. He knows it works. He lives it, and it is available in his music.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Moments of ClarityIf you don’t know about Steve Earle’s story, you must check it out. You can find it in a few places. One place I liked reading it is Chris Lawford’s collection of addicts’ stories, Moments of Clarity: Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery. I bought this book in hardcover (I know I keep saying “I bought this book in hardcover” but I, like, never buy hardcovers because I’m so cheap, my mother taught me always to wait for the paperback, but I’ve been trying to do things differently) shortly after I got out of detox almost solely because Steve Earle’s story was in it and at that moment of my life I needed to own Steve Earle’s story, and also Jamie Lee Curtis’s story (she was a Vicodin fiend, like me, she hoarded Vicodin and ate it secretly, only she got free a lot more quickly than I did—good for her), and also Lou Gossett’s and Alec Baldwin’s. But Steve Earle says some fabulous things in his story. Here is one thing he says about forgiveness that I reread this morning… having two years out of detox, out of the daily grind of using, it read differently to me today—it read more compassionately and with more possibility:

I am much more forgiving now, because I frequently have to forgive myself as I just stumble through the wreckage and try to recover. . . . The biggest difference now is that I have to feel stuff and be there for it, and if I hurt somebody’s feelings I have to deal with the consequences. Before, if I hurt somebody’s feelings—and I’m sure I hurt lots of people’s feelings—I was capable of living with it because I was high all the time. That’s why people think we’re assholes, because we are. We aren’t out there operating with all of our senses, and we aren’t operating with our hearts. We’re operating with our brains and our “want to” and that’s it. Recovery doesn’t promise that you won’t be an asshole, but most of the people that practice spiritual principles of recovery in all their affairs, they do get to be better people than they were when they came in. I may still be, relatively speaking, an asshole, but I know I’m better than I was, and that’s because I have to be. It’s absolutely necessary to my survival, and I don’t do it for everybody else, I do it for me.

How does this relate to his son’s going to rehab? Steve Earle knows that the “easier, softer way” doesn’t work. He knows everyone has to get well for himself and find his own way. A few years back, Justin was working for him, playing in his band, and Justin’s drug use got in the way of his performances, so what did Daddy do?—kicked baby boy out of the band. Said, You’re on your own. And by all reports, that was when Justin started looking after himself and his health. Also, his own work took off and earned critical notice. … No pithy blog-summary of their relationship can do its complexities justice, but there are some principles at work in there. Boundaries, for one.

And judging by his website, I don’t think Steve is shutting his own schedule down because of what’s happening with his kid. He’s doing recovery for himself. When he does what he needs to do for himself, it enables others to act on their own behalf as well.

(This is still a difficult concept for me to accept… that I’m doing it for myself—they all say that: they do it for themselves…)

Now: Justin has grown enough that he apparently doesn’t need Daddy to tell him when it’s time to get treatment. Good for him. Reports say he’ll be back on the road before Thanksgiving for the Kent State Folk Festival. Hope so.

Loving My Kid, Forgiving Myself.

So many things I want to write about. Would love to file something about Christopher Hitchens. Have a stack of books, three or four of which I wish I could review today, one of which (the excellent ADDICTION AND ART) should have been reviewed last week. But these kinds of posts require more of my attention because I need to be responsible to the others involved in them… and this week my son is out of camp. I promised him some “bored” weeks, and today was a bored-day, and I didn’t get that attention to devote to this work.

Instead we helped a mentor of mine, 71-year-old Quaker friend who last night had to put her 15-year-old dog to sleep. Took her out for coffee and a walk at the botanical garden.

Think about it: she got that dog when she was 55.

“Did you see how happy you made Aunt V?” I asked my almost-13-year-old in the car on the way home.

“Yeah,” he said. “And you looked pretty happy. And I guess I was happy too, so that made three of us.”

My kid flying down a fell in Cumbria, England, earlier this month.

The longer I stay sober, the more moments I get to have like the one pictured above. Or maybe I just get to be present for them. The other day I decided I’d just settle in for my 12-minute meditation in the couch in the living room; my husband and son were chatting about the car race scheduled for the next afternoon, and my son turned to ask me a question; then he said, “Oh, Mama’s meditating—that’s so awesome.”

He calls me “Mama” when he feels affectionate. Also “Motherington.” Also “Madréas”—his own personal derivative of the Spanish madre.


Another fine moment: standing in the kitchen telling him I’d become an addict, and that I’d detoxed two years before and changed my life. Inwardly I flinched, expecting him to sneer with venomous questions or accusations, but he nodded and clapped, hollering, “Yo, Mama!

“Dude,” I said, crying.

“But Mom,” he said, “don’t you write about this stuff on a blog called something like Guinevere?”


My sponsor said later: “Kids know everything.”

“I dunno, I think I saw it open on the desktop? or something…” he said. My account on the desktop is password-protected. So he couldn’t have seen it there. Someone had found it and told him: Your mom is a junkie.

“Honey,” I said. “Wouldn’t you be embarrassed if I wrote about this stuff?” Because I have a few essays. Which I’ve been reluctant to send to outlets, or even to work on, because I don’t want to embarrass my family. Especially my son. I don’t want him to be the kid at school with the Addict Mom. His other friends are sons of the Surgeon Mom, the Professor Mom, the Epidemiologist Mom, the City-Planner Mom, the Rock Star Mom (for real).

I am the Writer and Painter Mom. I am also the Addict Mom.

In answer to my question, my son replied, with an incredulous expression, “Why?”

It seems my son can see more deeply into the situation than I can. And more deeply into both of us.

The woman who’s working with me on steps 10 and 11 told me today:

You hold yourself responsible for too much. You think that somehow you caused your addiction and you could have done something different? You need to take a long hard look at that. This is something that is beyond your control.

I suffer a great deal from wanting to turn the clock back—from the conviction that time-reversal is the ONLY way I can make anything right. Impossible. But this is what addiction does: its distortion of reality puts us in impossible binds. Leads us to suffering. Tempts us, eventually, to use.

She said:

In getting sober, you are a completely different mother for your child. And you’re influencing his life for the better every day.

(but what about all the time he missed out on while i was using?)

She said:

ALL you can do is live the best that you can and be of service.

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