Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: helping others

In The God-Box: Two Guys Taking Vicodin.

P & P's sweet yellow lab, who I love and who loves me.

Last night went to a 50th birthday party for my friend P. This morning her husband (also called P) phoned to thank me for helping him in the kitchen. I didn’t do much: gave him instructions for browning his baked brie (under the broiler), taught him how to use his own convection oven, and oversaw the complex, gourmet task of heating the Costco frozen mini hotdogs wrapped in puff pastry.

Over the phone this morning, P said her husband was suffering from an infection in one of his molars. His jaw was killing him.

“Hasn’t the doctor given him anything for the pain?” I asked. “Codeine?” They’ve known I’m an addict since the summer day in 2010 that I told them at the Tate Modern in London, looking at Niki de Saint Phalle’s “shooting” paintings.

“Yes: I picked up a Z-Pac for him this morning for the infection,” she said. I sat there waiting for her to announce Which Drug he’d been given.

“And he also has Vicodin.”


“But they didn’t want him to take it during the party last night.”

Of course. Because he’d have been drinking. Also, it might make him sleepy. Vicodin makes normal people sleepy, and sometimes nauseated. It makes addicts like me wake up and want to clean the entire fucking house from attic to basement, all the while sorting out three or four book chapters in our minds. “My house was never so clean as when I was using,” my friend L murmured to me the other day during a meeting when someone mentioned Vicodin.

Once upon a time, if a friend mentioned she had Vicodin in the house, I might have felt an immediate, overwhelming drive to invent a pretext for coming over right away, eagle eyes scouting around for the brown plastic bottle with the child-proof cap. They say you’re either moving toward a drink/drug or away from one, and today I didn’t have that compulsion—I had the memory of it, but not the actual feeling—so today I think I’m sober.

The reality is, drugs are everywhere, anyway. In order not to descend into insanity, I have to keep steering into some kind of solution.

“Has he taken any?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s not helping.”

“When did he take it?” I asked.

She handed the phone to her husband. He said he’d taken one 7.5mg pill two-and-a-half hours before.

“G, why isn’t it helping?” he asked.

Because the fucking drugs never take away all the pain, I thought. They just take away part of it and make you not-care about the rest.

“Because when you have severe acute pain, sometimes you need a bit extra to get on top of it,” I said. That’s what they taught me at the pain clinic: when a flare comes along, try to anticipate it and take a bit extra. I suggested he take one more, and then dose every 4-6 hours as it said on the bottle.

“Is that going to be OK?” he said.

“You don’t have a problem taking drugs,” I said, “so you’re not going to have any trouble. And that much Tylenol isn’t going to hurt you. Just don’t take more than that. And why don’t you try putting some ice on your face?”

I call him a couple hours later and the one extra has helped him get on top of the pain. “It’s just like you said,” he tells me. “It’s not all gone, but it’s not killing me anymore.”

Would P ever think of chewing the Vicodin? Hell no.


A couple days ago I get an email from a reader, a guy about my age. Dave from California. He’s sitting out in San Diego or somewhere waiting for spinal surgery, he’s got 16 years clean and sober, the pain is frigging driving him nuts. He NEEDS to make it go away. He thanks me for my post about Chewing Vicodin.

This post gets tons of hits. There are many, many of you out there, pills in your hot little hands, wanting to know “how to maximize the effects of Vicodin.”

“I have found myself wanting to chew the medicine,” Dave writes.

Would P ever think of chewing the Vicodin?—I ask myself again. Hell no: because P isn’t an addict. P can have one or two glasses of wine. He can choose which it’s going to be: one—or two.

“Sixteen years clean,” Dave writes, “and as soon as the pain gets too big I start to think I know a better way to take pills. Thank you. Keep doing what you do. It is a service for which I am grateful.”


If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me to keep doing what I do with this blog, I’d have a nice packet of dough. It’s very, very kind of people to say this. I’m grateful for you guys who read me. For the many people like Dave who check in and find help and who are generous enough to let me know about it.

Dave is having his surgery today. He’s going to be in a lot of pain. I’m holding him in the light. That’s how Quakers talk about praying for someone: “holding you in the light.” (I’ve been walking around these days, holding a bunch of people in the light. It’s quite a comforting thing to do, praying for someone else’s ass life besides my own.)

“Pain sucks, man, I know,” I write to Dave, “but one addict praying for another is a powerful thing.”

If you have a moment, maybe you’d be willing to drop a note in the God-box for Dave.

Why not also pray for P?—Actually, I pray for P, too, he and his wife are quite often on my gratitude lists, but I know P will be all right. It’s Dave I’m worried about. He’s dealing with two monsters.

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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.

Sober life: Step 12 and helping others

Sometimes I don’t think I have anything to offer others. One of my shortcomings is a belief that I can’t really help others, that all my efforts are for nought. I wrote the following down in a meeting recently… it was spoken by a mid-40s woman with 20-some years sober:

If you can stay sober for ten minutes, you can tell someone how to stay sober for ten minutes. If you can stay sober for a day, you can tell someone how to stay sober for a day.

staying sober starts with baby steps“Helping others” in recovery might start with small steps… Just like helping ourselves often starts with small steps…

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