Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: getting sober

Step 5: Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The dog won’t walk this morning.

She won’t put weight on her right rear paw. I’m not a dog person, this is my first dog, I don’t know dogs well; I only know Flo and Ginger and Andy—big black dog, a year older than Flo, looks like her big brother, and her owner and I call them Greg and Cindy.  I know my sponsor’s dogs. But this is the first one I’ve ever lived with.

She loves me.

In an hour we go to the vet.

Life is no longer normal when, first thing in the morning, the dog doesn’t climb all over me. In greeting, Flo does this wiggle, her own patented dance, a twist: her tail wags her hips, it charms everyone and it reminds me somehow of Marilyn Monroe in a very tight black dress.

Flo is childlike, and at the same time she reminds me that we’re all animals.

//

I’m sick this morning, I have a sore throat and a headache, and I think it’s because I read inventory yesterday. I took a fifth step for the first time with my sponsor of two years. Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs.”

I was keyed up about it. She had instructed me to write inventory about a particular set of problems, and unlike previous sponsors, she told me to write it stream-of-consciousness. By the time I was done writing two days ago, I thought I might throw up. I called her: I’m done writing inventory, I said, and I’m gonna be sick.

It’s just a feeling, she said.

She said, I find it interesting that you have feelings, and then you write stories around them. The feelings are just feelings. They pass. They don’t need your editorial commentary.

The post-nasal drip is oozing down in a sickening way. My larynx feels like sandpaper, and my throat feels packed with small marbles. My head hurts.

It’s just a feeling.

It was a relief to read inventory to her. Sometimes when I experience that kind of relief, I get sick, as though all my defenses relax and allow the bad stuff to come in—or else to come out.

We sat in her living room, on her couch with her dogs sprawled across our laps, and at her direction I read straight from what I’d written. She’d prayed first, an invocation about my being able to be with the truth and to heal. I can’t remember what she said, because I was nervous: I was telling her some stuff I’d never told anyone. I’d written two inventories with two other sponsors, and somehow this stuff had never been spoken. It was as though I were dragging it out of a dark box.

I think I’d always tried to fit my story into other women’s narrative structures. I can read Carolyn Knapp, I can go to speaker meetings and listen to other women tell their stories, and what I hear, by and large, is this: I slept around; I can’t even remember all the men I’ve been with; I used to wake up hung over in strangers’ beds; I feel terrible about all the nameless faceless sex-partners I’ve had in my life, I wish I could gain back my innocence, there’s no way I can get it back.

This isn’t my story. I sit in speaker meetings and think, This is not my story. Does anyone else who drank and used have my story?—I don’t think so. Terminally unique, as ever.

When I drank and used drugs, I kept myself in a box. I preserved my innocence in a dark crate, in formaldehyde. I prevented myself from having experience. I did what others expected of me, mostly.

Since age 17, when I first got drunk. Since age 25, when I first started using medication. (I mean drugs.) Until she got sober, G lived in a box. She chose to do it. And even after G got sober, in some essential ways G confined herself to her box until this year, 2012, when something happened, G glimpsed a slim but powerful sliver of light shining through the crate’s rough plywood slats.

This process was beyond her control, it was greater than herself. It happened. When something like this happens, you either accept it or reject it. G has been working to accept it.

Light is a powerful thing. It shows up the dark places. Shadows are an inevitable part of life, and the only time shadows cause real problems, in my experience, is when I protect them. When I shove stuff into the shadows so I can’t look at it, I don’t have to see what might be growing in there.

In fact I now realize that I’d thought that if I shoved certain thoughts and feelings (and dreams—remember dreams?) into the shadows, then, like plants, they’d just wither and die, and eventually in the dead of some night I’d just hire in some garbage collector or housecleaner to wipe out those spaces, delete all that memory, and I’d never have to worry about that stuff again.

That’s not how life works.

Instead the stuff grew, and in the shadows, in the darkness of the box, I couldn’t see what was growing. I could ignore it. Until I got more and more sober.

This all sounds like a Maurice Sendak or Quentin Blake story.

Maybe it could be a Guinevere story someday.

(remember dreams?)

//

I’ve thought seriously about climbing back into the box again, you know. You know what I mean?—it would cause much less disturbance. Everything could stay the same. No one else would be impacted (I mean hurt) by G’s changes. No one could call G selfish or deluded or whatever.

You can’t climb back into that box again, my therapist said some weeks back.

If you do, you’ll die.

Her expression was baleful.

Die? I said doubtfully.

How soon we forget: G nearly jumped off a bridge in May. G, do you remember?

(yes)

You’ll die, she said. You’ll either jump off a bridge, or you’ll start using again—or something else. The only way you could stay in that box was to use.

The only way you could stay in that box, my sponsor said yesterday, was to drink and use.

It’s a responsibility to live up to one’s potential, to discover what one was created to be and then to be that. It’s easier simply to remain a child and let someone else take care of you.

But guess what. Our Little G is growing up.

//

I looked up from the pavement and saw this sign on my run the other day: someone needlepointed it and posted it on a phone pole.

Some | All

Experience | Innocence

An invitation to choose.

Choosing the box is trying to have it all, make everyone happy, pretend I’m happy myself. Engage in denial. Preserve innocence. Be a child.

Choosing to come out, to be a Big Girl—to be a woman, to choose experience—is recognizing I can only have some.

I pick “some.”

Getting Sober Online Or In Real Life

Can you get sober online? or does it have to be IRL?

More and more people are using the Internet to look for help with their addictions. I’m getting mail every day from people who are desperate for help. We heard from the American woman staying in a little town overseas with no meetings; according to the comment she wrote this morning, she cannot put down the booze, and she’d like some help.

Where can she get help?

Here are some other examples:

I’m a single mom, divorcing an abusive alcoholic husband, I have a pill problem and started Suboxone and can’t get off, I’m afraid of depression; what should I do?

I tried tapering off pills and went from 90mg to 15mg but now I’m up to 60mg again, is any benefit I got from tapering lost now that I’ve gone back up, I don’t know where to turn for help; what should I do?

I love an alcoholic who is artistic and sensitive and intense and highly self-aware, here’s the situation: he’s stopped drinking but he still smokes weed every day, and I’m not sure whether his weed thing matters, I just wish he’d place a higher value on himself, I also wish he’d love me more, because I love him so much, I see so many beautiful things inside him that he doesn’t even see; what should I do?

//

Caveat: This blog has its limitations. It is strictly a place where I share personal experience, strength and hope. I’m not a professional, I don’t have all the answers. Quite often I don’t have even one answer. I’m just another addict trying to stay sober today.

But I do know how I got sober.

The first place I reached out was online, at Opiate Detox Recovery. (Fantastic resource for anyone dealing with an opioid drug problem; excellent moderators who protect the community; please check in if you’re trying to quit painkillers or dope.) I was two days into an outpatient medically-overseen detox, I was sick, I was (quite literally) kicking, and I had a shitload of stuff to get done. My first post was all about how I was a pain patient and trying to make my life manageable by reducing my tolerance a bit and how I was in the middle of painting the dining room, how it was Labor Day and I had a bunch of people coming for dinner, I had to cook, I had to clean, I had to take care of my kid and my husband and maybe I’d fucked up my brain chemistry forever with drugs, and blah blah blah poor me, please please please help me.

I got replies right away. Within 20 minutes, in fact. From Jay, who told me yes, I’d fucked up my brain chemistry, but that if I got off drugs it would heal, and from Arlene who told me to drop the fuckin superwoman act.

“It will only lead to continued rationalization to use,” she wrote.

“I don’t know what you mean by the superwoman act,” I wrote back, all high and mighty.

It took me three more weeks to accept the truth in her statement and admit to myself and to one other person that I was an addict. And that person was a person who lives in my city, who met with me in the flesh, whose brown eyes and calm voice conveyed concern and care.

I started going to meetings.

Meanwhile Gettingbetter and Allgood and Sluggo and OnMyWay and a bunch of other awesome people had started writing. Also Bonita, who was detoxing at the same time and who “jumped” (quit taking drugs) on my birthday that year, a couple days ahead of me. My Jump Buddy: we were paratroopers into the Land of the Clean and Sober. (Rough landing for both of us, but we’re both still alive, and both sober.)

Sluggo wrote me a taper schedule that I followed, along with the doctor’s supervision. The doctor, of course, was IRL, and in real life he did not take insurance, so he was expensive.

But how much is my life worth? how much money? how much time? I paid him about $700 to detox me. Cheap at the price.

I’m alive today.

It was after I jumped that the online support became important and ingrained in my daily life. I jumped Nov. 1, 2008, and that Thanksgiving Day I went upstairs every hour or so to write posts to those folks, because I had five house guests and because I felt draggy, restless, irritable and discontent, I had very little recovery, I had no faith, and those online folks answered. Same with Christmas. Same when my first sponsor relapsed; same when my second sponsor ditched me. I could always go to those people, and I’d always get an answer.

//

So in April, while visiting New York, I met OnMyWay, still sober, living in Brooklyn, working in Midtown. It’s ALWAYS amazing to see the faces of people with whom I have shared an online connection. Her face was round and sweet; her eyes were like large peaceful ponds in the fall, after the leaves have dropped and the sun shines into the water and the surface of the water is calm.

Then just before Memorial Day I met Allgood.

Allgood and Dani on either side of G.

Two days ago I drove from Kingston to Providence to meet Gettingbetter, also known as Dani, along with Allgood, who live near each other. They drove two hours to see me, and two hours home. I knew Dani was one tough fellow beeyotch whose backbone had hauled my sorry ass through some difficult shit after detox. In my mind she had grown into a kind of super-neohippie-wisewoman; despite the fact that I’d seen photos of her, I had given her long Joni-Mitchell-style hair, only brown, and lots of suede, maybe even fringes and beads. In real life, Dani is about my height, about 8 years younger than I, and smooth-faced, with eyes the color of yellow topaz, or cat’s eye sapphire. She wore jeans and a T-shirt. She’s fit and strong and healthy and sober.

Allgood kept pushing plates of food my way (his family and mine come from opposite sides of the Adriatic; the custom is to feed those you love), but I just wanted to sit there and look at their faces and listen to their voices and soak it all up. Same with a few others I’ve met IRL who I first met online.

What can I say? They saved my life, man. They keep saving it.

So do the many real-life people in my sober community. It takes an entire village to get sober.

//

Can you get sober online? The answer for me was yes and no. Online support is a real bonus for people getting sober these days. But I need to see real people to be sober. I need to hold someone’s hand; I need to hear someone’s voice; I need to see the whites of their eyes as they help me get honest. We have bodies for a reason, after all.

Now I need to meet Sluggo.

Getting Sober On Vacation In A Spot With No Meetings

Been getting a lot of mail lately. Today I received this email from an American who is overseas in a rural area where she says she can’t get to any meetings. Here is what she says:

Hi Guinevere,

I’m reaching out to anyone right now. For the next month I’m working in Europe in a little town of 5,000, no meetings around. I would have been sober seven years in March but I started drinking in January, when I was working at a high-level political meeting, at which everyone was a glamorous, seemingly functional alcoholic. Since then I’ve gained almost 20 pounds (I was a daily runner), and am screwed out here. I don’t know how to put it down. Stay away from triggers… my trigger is noon! Any advice, words of comfort, wisdom, what to do, how to get it back?

So I called a good friend of mine who just had 19 years on Monday. Here are some options we came up with together:

  1. Are there really NO meetings? you might check with your program’s local information service in Austria or the world service office to make sure. One of my good friends in sobriety stopped drinking/using by driving two hours one way to the meeting at which she got sober.
  2. Have you checked with the local hospital, which might know of resources to help alcoholics/addicts?
  3. Have you checked other recovery programs?—when I’m out of town sometimes I’ll go to a different program if I can’t get to the one I like best.
  4. Have you reached out to your people from your sober life at home? what about your sponsor, your “we,” trusted friends and spiritual mentors. 
  5. Do you have program literature with you? If not, there’s a lot available online.
  6. Have you tried In The Rooms or the various online social networks that help alcoholics/addicts? In The Rooms has daily chat meetings and video meetings via Skype.
  7. Finally, have you tried to get in contact with whatever higher power you were in contact with while sober? If it helps, feel free to write me about how your higher power has helped you in the past.

Does anyone else out there have anything to suggest to our new friend? Please carry the message, dudes.

Am I Really Clean and Sober?

A reader wrote in a comment yesterday,

My 31-year-old heroin-addict daughter has now been clean and sober for 6 months—today! It’s a bloody miracle. She smokes, and it kills me to see her slowly killing herself every day. Yet—she’s not shooting up or smoking crack. In fact, she has started exercising again and is almost fanatic about getting her daily workout in at the gym. And, she’s constantly eating—especially candy. … I know all these things are filling up the addiction hole—so, is she really in recovery? Just wondering.

Congratulations to your daughter on six months free of heroin and crack. Yesssss.

SmokingFirst, about smoking: I’m rabid about it because I watched my mother lose her life in a nasty death to lung cancer. You’d have thought it would have gotten her by attacking her lungs, but no: in the end it attacked her brain, and she lost her mind. She was a prodigiously intelligent woman, and it took away the strength she valued most. Classic. … People smoke without really believing it’ll kill them. Or they think it might kill them but they do it anyway. My sister and I used to talk about how, in the year or so after our mother’s death, we wanted to approach every smoker we saw on the street and beg them to stop. So ya mon, I use this blog to preach against the perils of nicotine. It IS a drug.

Second, to the question of whether your daughter is “really” in recovery: a question each of us answers for ourselves…

I’ve had friends who got free of heroin, alcohol, crack, kratom, bupe, oxy/roxy/fentanyl/you-name-it, and saved their lives, and who then discovered, in the process of discernment and gaining greater spiritual clarity, that they needed to stop other chemicals or compulsive behaviors. Friends have stopped smoking, stopped eating or throwing up compulsively, stopped compulsive shopping or gambling or having anonymous sex. Some have struggled to stop and haven’t always been able to. Some have stopped one behavior only to have another one pop up, like whack-a-mole.

I’m trying to stop compulsively eating sugar. I’ve managed to cut out the ice cream <sigh>, cookies, candy, etc. Now I’m looking at prepared foods that contain sugar. I don’t eat a lot of prepared foods, but then again, I don’t eat a lot—another habit I have to look at. I need to eat more nutritiously. I need to feed my body, not just my brain and spirit. It’s one of my shortcomings, habitually ignoring my body—not living inside this skin, but instead living somewhere about a foot above and to the right of my head: where the crazy teachers at our Croatian Sunday school taught me that my “guardian angel” lived. (I guess somewhere along the line I decided to move out of my body and hang with my angel. Not that it did much good—my body took over and decided, by times, to eat whatever the hell it wanted in my mind’s absence.)

As I’ve made some progress in the steps, and being happy and clear and taking care of myself, I’ve come to notice some roadblocks to clarity and happiness, and my lifelong habitual consumption of sugar is one of them.

Sugar does all kinds of things drugs do. It increases dopamine the way cocaine does. It stimulates the mu opioid receptors in the same ways heroin or any other opioid does, albeit more mildly. (When I read this 2008 study out of Princeton proving this, my deep affinity for sterling rock-my-world pharma-grade opioids made sense.) Sugar makes me energized for a while, then puts me to sleep, just like my favorite drugs did. It might even kill pain for a while. Certain kinds of pain.

Plus it tastes good. It gives me the sweetness that I missed as a child.

Can I be sweet to myself in other ways? Can I be sweet to others? Can I accept the sweetness that others show me without habitually feeling unworthy?

Monty Python's God

Every time I try to talk to someone it’s “sorry this” and “forgive me that” and “I am not worthy.”—Monty Python’s “God”

I have the kind of body-type that allows me to eat however much sugar I like and not gain weight.  “High metrabolism,” as one of the bimbos in Legally Blonde said. I’ve always used this as an excuse to eat lots of chocolate. But I need to take care of this metabolism, and feeding it sugar is like feeding it a supper out of a landfill. It’s like feeding it garbage. Well: it IS feeding it garbage.

I sometimes wonder what I’d be capable of, physically and intellectually, if I ate a truly nutritious diet.

How fit and strong I might become.

Which is another question in my recovery: How strong am I willing to become?

I am afraid of being strong and fit.

I’ve heard a lot of women say this. In the same meeting about “fear” the other night, another woman talked about how she wasn’t afraid of failing—she expected to fail, and she even welcomes the rejections and failures when they come because they validate her idea of herself as not such a great person. What she’s afraid of is being accepted, getting the job, making progress, being strong. Because it means she has to step up and become active. And this means that somebody is inevitably going to be disappointed in the way she handles situations.

I understood: failing is a good way of avoiding this conflict.

So have I “really” been in recovery? Am I “really” sober?

None of these questions would even pertain if I were still taking drugs. I had moments of clarity during my drug-taking, moments that allowed me to be a functional mother, perform in my job, write books, experience “success.” But through that time, I was afraid, angry and selfish.

I couldn’t act on my own behalf. I was taking drugs because I was afraid of what you might think of me, afraid I wasn’t as good/pretty/rich/smart/successful as you, afraid even to talk to you. Selfish. Hiding.

Or else I was all up in your face, acting out, convincing myself I was being very articulate and smart. But mostly, I was afraid, and hiding.

I’m a real beginner at all this. What I can say is, right now, “real” healing is taking productive and responsible action on my own behalf, so I can fit myself for service the best I can.

I mean, sure when I was using drugs, I had some good ideas (o yeah, i had sooo many good ideas), a few “intuitive thoughts,” some plans that seemed really “inspired.”

But how many did I act on?

And when I did manage to act, how fit for service was I?

Trudging in Sobriety: Learning Boundaries from Two Stray Kittens

I was finishing up work yesterday afternoon around 4, and the neighborhood cat who my son and I call Urchin, and who sometimes comes to our house for a visit, was curled up next to me, snoozing. Suddenly he sprang up and toward the windows of my study, then bounded downstairs and demanded to be let out the kitchen door.

As I let him out into the 45-degree rain, I heard what he’d been hearing: the screeches coming from under the shed.

I took a flashlight and there they were. Two two-week-old kittens.

Stray kittens

The stray kittens. iPod for scale...

Urchin ran in the opposite direction, hissing.

The rain came down.

“Oh my goodness,” I said as the shed’s roof poured rain down on my head.

My son came out and saw them peeking out from under dry but stony and unforgiving cover.

“Aren’t they so cute, Mama?” (My son, though 13, sometimes still calls me Mama)

“Speaking of Mama, where is Mama?” I said, looking around doubtfully. Mama is the local bobtail cat who is always popping out kittens. She’s feral, and no one has ever been able to trap her to get her spayed; there are two folks in the neighborhood who stubbornly feed her without catching her, and thus enable her to populate the neighborhood with stray babies.

We were due at the orthodontist in 20 minutes.

I went into action, the way I learned from my mother, who could have been an effective military general.

“Darlin. Get the old cat bed off the porch for me,” I said. “And let’s get a big box from the basement. And an old towel, because they probably don’t know how to use any kind of cat box,” not even the shallow disposable aluminum jelly-roll pans I’d bought for the two stray kittens our young neighbor next door had found last week—bobtails just like these, so they were probably from the same litter. This young neighbor had called me at 10 p.m. breathless—“I have kittens in my driveway!” Mama!—what do I do??

Here’s what we did yesterday. We packed the kittens into the old cat bed, with the heated bean-bag that I use for my sore shoulders underneath an old scrap of baby-blanket fleece. We went to the orthodontist. On the way home we picked up two boxes of cat-milk (no lactose; added whatchamacallit for kitties) and a medical syringe because they didn’t have any kitty nursing bottles at the grocery store. And in between getting dressed for the reception for my husband’s colleague whose husband had died two months ago, and shoving pizza in the oven for my son, we fed the kitties.

“Aw, Mama… aren’t they so cute,” he said, shooting video of them with his Nano.

Yes, Darlin, they are so cute. … I love cats. It’s why I let Urchin in whenever he wants. I meet dogs and they see “CAT” tattooed in invisible ink across my forehead and go talk to my husband. I’ve even come to like these kitties despite the fact that they have no tails. It’s great in sobriety to know oneself.

I rediscovered today how hard it is for me to work with babies in the house. They scream. They command attention. To work, I have to concentrate.

I wrote a schedule out for myself this morning at 6 a.m., and as soon as I wrote out the schedule I could hear them start to cry in the basement.

I’ve been thinking about something Irish Friend of Bill said a couple of months ago in a comment. He said,

I have yet to meet an alcoholic who consistently makes helping newcomers their priority who has relapsed. Thats what attracted me to it in the first place. … I mean in conjunction with completing the first 9 steps. I just haven’t met them. all the people I meet who consistently assist newcomers and try to help them stay sober, all stay sober. Its the most consistent thing Ive done in AA.

I’ve met them. I’ve met people who have put other people’s needs before their own, put helping newcomers first, and then drank. It might be more common among women than men. In many societies, women are socialized to put others’ needs before our own, and thus deplete ourselves.

My first sponsor, who helped me tremendously, who gave me a great deal of attention and care, relapsed when I was five months sober. I mean, I say she relapsed at that time because that’s when she went to rehab, but she’d been using before that. All the while she was using, she was helping me—a newcomer—God bless her.

My second sponsor, who also gave me time and attention and much good direction, fired me after two months because she said she had too many sponsees and her sponsor told her she needed to cut everyone loose so she could take care of herself.

Today I’m trying to take care of myself first. They say on airplanes that you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself, then on the newcomer the kitties I mean on your child. I’m still learning how to do this.

Something I’ve been noticing about myself lately is that I expect too much of myself. This is unsober. The schedules I write out are unrealistic. I got up at 5 this morning, and I expected myself to transcribe notes from two interviews (one an hour-long interview, and one 90 minutes) within an hour. This is unrealistic—I started at 6 and by the time I heard my son’s growing feet hit the floor above my head at 7:15, I was not even done with the 90-minute talk.

If I don’t get up at 5 (which I can’t always do—though I’ve heard stories of people who have accomplished their goals by getting up at 4 a.m. to do it, then working a full day; so would expecting myself to do it be so unrealistic?—it would exhaust me and deplete me), I have from about 8:30 to 4 to work. That’s about 7.5 hours. Not counting time to eat, shower, meditate, pray, and pee. Much less exercise or enjoy the sunny day. If I count those things, which constitute the most basic self-care, that cuts it down to about 6 hours. Realistically. And I don’t always have that much because sometimes I have meetings; sometimes I have to volunteer at school; sometimes my kid doesn’t even have school and on those days I squeeze work in when I can.

So on average, on a good week, I maybe have 20-24 hours in which to blog and all that entails; work on creative material, including research, interviewing and archiving, not to mention actual writing; paint (got a painting on the easel right now that I have to finish; another one on commission); and also, by the way, look for work. I mean, work that pays. Which can be a job in itself.

Then there’s cleaning the house; taking care of the garden; mending the clothes; ironing shirts; paying bills; completing paperwork; volunteering for the art association; occasionally spending time with my husband;

Anything else?

The orthodontist. The dentist. The physical therapist (he has patellar tendinitis).

And now the animal shelter.

So today, as a stopgap, I bought a little kitty bottle so I could feed the kitties for one more day because I could not drive all the way to the animal shelter TODAY, because it was not in my plan, because today I was writing and painting. Today I was taking care of bidness. Even though the plan turned out to be slightly pear-shaped because of the kitties. I’m trudging.

I actually relate to any critter that’s motherless… and am happy to take care of it while I can.

Maybe I need instruction in time-management. Maybe I need to scale back, and leave the likewise scaled-back outcome to higher power. If anyone has some great ideas, please let me know. I could use some help.

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