Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: healing

She Recovers in NYC: Healing Alongside Our Sisters

She Recovers in NYC

The She Recovers in NYC conference is the first-ever international meeting to pay attention to the particular needs of women in in all kinds of . Aside from being one of the happiest celebrations of recovery on the planet, She Recovers in NYC is built to help us heal from serious problems that compromise our recovery.

It’s just real that, as women, we face some challenges that are different from those of our male counterparts. One of the most prevalent and important is the level of trauma in our histories.

Whereas no more than 20 percent of men in recovery have experienced trauma, one reliable study found trauma in the histories of roughly three-quarters of women. About two-thirds of those have experienced physical trauma, and a significant fraction have experienced sexual trauma, including childhood sexual abuse.

Five hundred of us will cross state and international borders to gather in New York, and three out of four of us will be dealing with trauma in our pasts. And as the long-running Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has pretty definitively shown, trauma is highly correlated with the ways we drank and used drugs.

We have to take care of this trauma. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, and we also can’t allow its fallout to tempt us back into that life.

When I heard that Dawn Nickel and Taryn Strong and their team were putting this conference on, I knew I had to go. I wanted to be with my sisters who are struggling with the same problems I and so many others grapple with.

I know what those problems are. I’ve heard about them firsthand. For my last book, Sex in Recovery: A Meeting between the Covers, I interviewed more than four dozen ordinary people in recovery about their sexual histories inside both addiction and recovery.

Men talked about physical abuse, usually from their fathers. But woman after woman—one of my sisters after another—talked about sexual trauma: rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, performing sex-work to get drugs.

I also heard from women in recovery who have been celibate for up to 12 years, who desire relationships and sexual pleasure but have no idea how to go about getting there without drinking or using a drug.

Talking with so many women convinced me that substance abuse has roots in a lack of healthy touch in society and in our failure to talk in reasonable ways to our kids—or even with each other—about sex.

Recovery awakens desires for healthy and loving sexual relationships, but because we don’t talk about sex in the culture, we have no language to talk about any of this.

She Recovers NYC is not just a party—it’s also a balls-out effort to help women heal from serious problems that may compromise our ability to stay clean and sober. Interactive workshops are designed to help women begin to talk about sexuality, desire, trauma, numbing ourselves with sugar, and fear of abundance. Yoga sessions are designed to help us stay inside our bodies. No way could I resist going.

On Shooting Smack “Only” Twice.


Bayer’s phenomenal invention, which they touted as a “cure” for morphine/laudanum addiction. As Vonnegut might have said, “And so it goes.”

Last Sunday my local paper published an epic piece about four people who OD’d on heroin last year. The writer ran a journalistic marathon following these survivors to see how they fared. That’s hard to do, it takes dedication, and I respect him for it. One subject is doing well. Two are struggling. And one, a 21-year-old man, fatally OD’d in his own bedroom.

His mother found him. She is suffering the grief of the world, and my heart is with her.

It’s important in journalism to get facts right.

They got two wrong.

First, he quoted a person with active addiction saying that if you don’t share needles and don’t OD, then “heroin is the perfect drug.” The perfect drug!! Well, hell. OK, it’s easier to control not sharing needles, but not overdosing?? Good luck with that. Easier (but not impossible) not to OD with pharma drugs, because you know what dose you’re getting. Heroin’s a total craps shoot.

It’s easy to justify this quotation by saying, “The subject said it—not me.” But it’s the journalist’s responsibility to check facts and provide perspective to skewed opinions.

For example, in terms of not being “perfect,” you may as well write sex off the list of stuff you’ll be doing as long as you’re shooting heroin. Also, women have a decent chance of going into early menopause, meaning they’ll wind up with thinning bones at, say, 35. This isn’t guaranteed because how many of us have heard stories of babies being born addicted to heroin?—another reason heroin ain’t “perfect” by a long shot.

Second, and this is the one that bothered me more: they said the autopsy showed the young man had “only” two track-marks on his arm, “which likely meant that the young man was no addict.” Holy Moses, Allah, Jesus and Buddha. The writer had just talked about how much pharma shit the guy had blown through for YEARS. His addiction to expensive pills he could no longer get was what drove him to the street to buy heroin.

These errors are such a sad commentary on the pervasive ignorance of the press and other powerful voices in our society about what addiction is and how it works. Hopefully in his next piece  the writer will reach out to some expert voices to check out his speculations.

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Finding beauty in the battle with addiction

Sobriety gave me back my artistic practice.

That’s why I love this story in the Canadian North Shore News about women artists rediscovering their creativity after getting sober.

The story is about an exhibition called Artists of Avalon: Women in Recovery from Addiction Discover their Creativity. The mixed media show opened in Vancouver April 13 and features the work of 17 women artists who are also healing from addiction. The women have been helped by Avalon Women’s Centre of West Vancouver and Vancouver.

The story quotes artist Gwen Dirks, 48, sober for seven years:

I never felt that I had something to say, to put down in my own painting. So basically what sobriety has given me is this gift of getting to know myself sufficiently, to say ‘I have something to say,’ and . . . that what I have to say is valuable and something that I can show other people.

When Gwen was drinking, like many of us, she only ever had the courage to be creative when someone asked her to. She couldn’t be spontaneous.

Lots of people who drink or use drugs—especially people who like to write, play music or make art—start out because they think it’ll loosen up their creativity. They think it’ll help them be more spontaneous. And one myth about addiction that drives me nuts is that drugs make you more creative—and that giving up drugs and getting sober means you’ll be condemned to live a boring life.

These women blow that myth to pieces.

I’d like to hear from some sober people living interesting lives…

If you’re in Vancouver, go see the show, which runs until May 2 at the Ferry Building Gallery.


Knitting for Sobriety

Logged onto one of my Facebook groups one day—a group called Knitting for Peace—and found a plea from Joanne Pearl, a clinical supervisor at Odyssey House, an outpatient substance abuse facility in the South Bronx:

I have started a knitting/crochet group to teach healthy leisure skills. My folks love it. I am writing as I have run out of supplies. I am hoping you can all dig into your stashes and donate those odds and ends you know you will not be using. I am also looking for needles.

Well, it just so happens that I have a HUGE “stash”—of yarn, and lots of knitting needles. Aside from my own yarn, we had cleaned out my father’s house after he died in 2007 and I’d found a bunch of unfinished crochet projects my mother had left when she died in 1999. I don’t crochet and neither does my sister, and, unable to consign them to the landfill since my mother had started them with her own hands, I’d been holding them until the right opportunity presented itself.

I sent them in a big box to Joanne.


Later we talked about her work teaching recovering addicts to knit and crochet…

G: What are the drugs the women you’ve worked with have used most?

Joanne: In outpatient, by far the biggest is cannabis, because in the community it’s just seen as so socially acceptable.  Then cocaine, alcohol, heroin. … When they come in saying that smoking cannabis isn’t really drug-use, I just nod and say, “OK … And while you were smoking that cannabis, did you lose your job? Did you fail to graduate from high school? How many goals did you abandon while you were smoking?”

G: When did you first start working with people struggling with addiction?

Joanne: I was a non-academic dean at a liberal arts college in Westchester County in the late 1990s, when heroin was making a resurgence in New York—it was even on Wall Street. At my school, we had the poorest of the poor to very wealthy students. And I learned that individuals are stunted in personal development because of drug use.

G: How did you come up with the idea of using crafts to help people recover?

Joanne: I was working in inner-city Yonkers, at an outpatient day-rehab for women and children. That was where I started the crafts. The director there was a very “crafty” woman and she was open to the idea.

Boredom is the hugest trigger for relapse and drug-use: “I’m bored, I don’t know how to fill up my time.” When addicts are bored, the first thing they think of is going to a bar and getting drunk, finding their drug of choice, or going to a club, which means they have to spend money. They don’t have healthy leisure skills. They don’t think about watching a movie, talking with friends, reading, or just taking a walk. They haven’t learned to develop that alone-time. They don’t want to think or feel. Boredom comes on very quickly in those recovering from addiction—in a matter of five or 10 minutes.

G: What do the women you work with like about knitting and crochet?

Joanne: One beautiful thing—knitting and crafting is something you can do by yourself. Around here, there are like ten 99-cent stores where you can pick up some yarn and needles—so it’s not cost-prohibitive. It can be a lifelong skill.

It can include all age-groups. I had two girls here of 8 and 10 [relatives of a recovering addict]. They came to me one day: “Miss Joanne, what are those sticks and balls of string?”

G: So there’s something healing about making things and being creative…

Joanne: It teaches them to be patient. There’s a woman who graduated several years ago who keeps coming back to show me what she’s made. She’s learn to turn her mistakes into design elements, and she’s actually designing her own garments now. She says, “I never feel alone or bored—when I start feeling bad, I put on my shawl and my hat and I pick up my needles, and I feel better.”

It also becomes a forum where therapy goes on. It frees up the mind so they can speak. They talk about their remorse over losing a child, or past domestic violence or sexual abuse.  They offer each other support. It’s a magical tool.


My mother’s unfinished projects have gone to Amanda, a 60-year-old recovering addict who came to Odyssey House after residential treatment. “She’s a crocheter,” Joanne says. “She always came to the group, even when it wasn’t too stable.” I can’t think of a better person to finish my mother’s work.

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