Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: higher power (page 2 of 8)

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.

What Do You Worship?

David Foster Wallace.

I’m on a DFW kick. David Foster Wallace.

Discovered several of his pieces I hadn’t known about before. Including a short story called “Suicide as a Sort of Present,” which demonstrates to shocking effect his deep grasp of Alice Miller’s theories of fucked-up narcissistic mothering on children. Best to hear him read it himself. Only takes five minutes.

And then there’s this beautiful address called “This Is Water” that he gave to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College, an excerpt of which was published in the Wall Street Journal just after his death.

Did you know that David Foster Wallace had been to rehab? Several times. He got sober in the early 1990s in upstate New York, where he met Mary Karr in the “rooms.” They dated for a while. I don’t think the word “dated” is really the most accurate term, but it’s the term that Wikipedia uses to describe their relationship. Read her most recent book, Lit, a memoir of her alcoholism and recovery, for her story about their 13th-stepping, including a stellar row in which Wallace destroys her coffee table.

After rehab Wallace switched from pot to cigarettes; eventually, because he was also something of an athlete and liked to run, he gave up smoking to protect his lung capacity and started sucking on smokeless tobacco, a habit he tried to quit several times. Like many addicts, he never managed to quit nicotine. He’d come to class (he was a professor of English) lugging a stack of books, a towel, a tennis racquet, and a coffee can into which he spat the juice while he was teaching.

Throughout Wallace’s writings readers can find references not only to suicide (a spooky reality: it even crops up in his address to the graduates) but also to his efforts to understand how to control one’s own mind—in other words, his attempts at mindfulness—as well as his comprehension of the divine. “God.” The “universe.” Whatever. It’s interesting to hear this prodigiously smart guy talk about how atheism doesn’t exist, how we all worship something.

Here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble truths or some intangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

One thing I love about Wallace (apart from his beautiful voice; not all men have beautiful voices but Wallace had one; reading his words and hearing him speak them are two different experiences, and I encourage you to take the time to click on the links above and below that will let you enjoy his voice) is his commitment to investigating the most commonplace aspects of life and finding their extraordinary qualities. It’s not the epiphanies and huge achievements and Life’s Great Orgasms that Wallace thinks offer the most important truths. The ordinary parts of our days—the grocery shopping, the endless standing in line, the fighting traffic—are the moments when we are most “ourselves,” when we bang into our intractable questions and problems. It’s in those moments, Wallace basically says, that we can learn life’s most valuable lessons.

It’s also, he says, in the interactions with the people we love. Sitting down to dinner with them, negotiating who will buy the food, who will cook, who will wipe the crumbs from the table; what to talk about, how to fight, how to resolve conflict—all that stuff most of us think of as life’s detritus. For godsake—another trip to the supermarket, another dinner to cook, another set of dishes to wash, how can I survive under the burden of all this mundane crap?—is usually how my thoughts run, anyway.

Wallace’s point is, we can choose how we think about our ordinary experience, and what meanings we assign to our experience. “Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life,” he tells the kids,

you will be totally hosed.

Exercising that choice is Real Freedom.

What his essay made me realize is, in the end, my choice is Mine. It’s not about finding someone else who can endorse it for me. I get to choose my thoughts, and as Wallace notes, that’s real freedom. (Not having loads of money, or drugs, or attention, or sex, or beauty, or power.)

It’s Real Sobriety. He never used that word, but for me that’s what he means. My addiction was slavery, and my sobriety is freedom.

I think Wallace believed in community, in its most basic sense—from the Latin communis, the word means sharing: time, space, resources. Ourselves. Living with other people. I suspect Wallace was a tough person to live with, but apparently he was never happier than when he moved in with his wife. It supposedly goes against current trends (a recent Time magazine story, on “the 10 ideas that will change our worlds,” reports as the Top World-Changing Idea the trend that increasing numbers of Americans are choosing to live alone… Awesome!! Let’s measure the health effects in 15 years time). His address to the younguns comes straight from his experience of living in community.

Life is a tough thing, man. It’s a hard place to spend decades of time. And it’s even harder to do it all by oneself. I spoke at my local women’s shelter yesterday and heard stories of women being forced to have sex when they were kids, women who’d seen their sons shot up, women who don’t know how to protect their kids from the real-life physical and psychic shit that goes down in their worlds every day. “Mama,” one woman’s 11-year-old daughter asked her about her future boyfriends, “when they hit me, do I call you or Daddy?” I was speaking with my friend Lucy, and we told the women that nobody gets sober alone and nobody gets away from an abusive bastard alone (I know this from experience)—and, frankly, nobody does life alone.

Tempting to isolate, though, because then we don’t have to negotiate anything with anyone. We can, as Wallace notes, be “the lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms. … This freedom has much to recommend it,” he says.

But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

What would happen, I wondered, if instead of paying so much attention to having enough money or achievement or security, I worshipped more consistently that real freedom?

A life experiment to try.

My choice to try it is part of the real freedom. Hmm.

Listen.

Poor Hitch: Christopher Hitchens Dies at 62.

Christopher Hitchens

“Have you heard about Hitchens?” I asked a friend one day the summer of 2010.

“What—is he finally in rehab?”

Not exactly the response I expected, but after all a logical one.

“No,” I said. “He has esophageal cancer.”

“Isn’t that the kind of cancer you get when you’re an alkie and you smoke like a chimney?” my friend asked. My friend, a poet, is an “alkie” himself and, at 47, has been sober for more than 25 years.

“Yeah,” I said. “It often has a very poor prognosis—they usually don’t find it until it’s advanced.”

Poor Hitch, we agreed, then we were tempted to take it back, because if there were anyone in the world who wouldn’t stand for anyone’s pity, it might be Christopher Hitchens.

Christopher Hitchens, just before he was diagnosed with cancer.

And now Hitch has gone. The world of language and letters and of debate will be the more impoverished for it. He was a brilliant speaker and writer.

Hitch has remained on my mind since I read about his diagnosis the summer he got sick. Just before that, I’d come across this interview with him in the Guardian, in which the writer opens with a portrait of Hitch in hangover and then, after taking him for a pub lunch:

It seems to me so evidently the case that Hitchens is an alcoholic that to say much more feels unnecessary. But for the record, he trots out all the usual self-serving, defensive evasions: “For me, an alcoholic is someone who can’t hold his drink” or, “I’m not dependent, but I’d prefer not to be without it.” The longest he has ever been was a dry weekend “in fucking Libya”, and he claims he drinks only to make other people less boring. So, presumably, he doesn’t drink when he’s with [Martin] Amis? “Er, yuh, I do.”

He was a relatively young man—only 62, not yet out of middle age—but his body had been leveled. Not only by cancer, but also by addiction, the underlying cause of the cancer. Just before he got sick, he’d been taking care of book sales and promotion for his memoir Hitch-22, flying around the world, but he’d not been taking care of himself.

Hitchens was a formidable intellect. He could worst his opponents in debate, gain the upper hand or secure the last word on panels, or engross any assembly for hours on end.  Talk-show hosts worked hard to insert toeholds into Hitch’s monologues. He reveled in performance as much as he enjoyed working out the arguments.

I remember sitting in a bar with Hitchens, listening to him regale me and our partners (Hitch and my partner had been at Oxford, at the same college at the same time) with his opinions and tales of his exploits. This was a while ago, he had just started working for Vanity Fair, and I don’t remember the details of the stories or the arguments; what I remember is his bearing, and his appearance. He knocked back glass after glass of scotch and chain-smoked, holding the cigarette in the same hand as the booze. His shirt was unbuttoned (as always) to show the mat of hair on his chest, and his sandy locks fell across his damp forehead.

I kept looking at him, wondering, Why does this guy think he’s so hot?

He had been much more handsome before the booze and ciggies went to work on him.

Christopher Hitchens as a student at Balliol College, Oxford, around 1970.

Hitch always carried himself as though he were a real dude when in truth, by the early 1990s, he looked blowsy. He wouldn’t have been much to notice had it not been for his voice. Hitch had a gorgeous voice—insistent, seductive; mellow and smooth at the front but with a deep burn at the back, like the Scotch he loved. For a man who had lived and worked in the States for 30 years, his voice was still curiously Oxonian all the way through. How Hitchens preserved his accent is an interesting question. I think Hitch’s voice was where his psyche lived (he may have said and even believed it lived between his legs, but a great part of it lived in his larynx) and I suspect he protected it.

After his diagnosis interesting discussions sprouted up on the Internet about the ethics of praying for Hitch. Should someone who disdains faith and God be prayed for? Would they want prayers? And many people wondered: Could Hitchens possibly remain an atheist, now that his life was in jeopardy?

Of course he remained an atheist, for fook’s sake. Who cares whether Hitch would or would not want anyone’s prayers?

What I always wondered was, would he ever get sober?

I suppose it’s because I lost both parents to addiction that I find this the more important question. Neither of my parents was able to quit their drugs before they died.  … A prescient exchange occurred between Hitchens and Jon Stewart when Hitch appeared on The Daily Show in his 2007 promotion of God is Not Great, his book about atheism.

Stewart: Does [faith] serve a purpose to give comfort to people, because we are a species that knows we’re going to die and leave—isn’t it nice to have something that brings comfort? Is it necessarily a bad thing to have that comfort, if it doesn’t then cause us to attack other species whose comfort we don’t believe in? Let’s say it’s just for our comfort.

Hitch: That’s a very beautiful and sincere question. [audience laughter] I, myself, I’ve always thought—in the death matter—that an exception would be made in my case.

S: Really?

H: Yes. But I must look like an asshole to you when I say that.

S: Not just when you say that.

Uproarious laughter at Stewart’s last jibe. Anyone who was able to get Hitchens’s goat always earned some giggles. Hitchens himself was gracious about it—he was usually (but not always) generous with talk-show hosts who tried to spar with him. And of course Hitchens was joking about living forever, but only half-joking—the carefully chosen language of his response skirted a critical blindness. Let’s face it: his life had been in jeopardy long before he was diagnosed with cancer. You can’t drink and smoke that hard for that long without putting your life on the line. Hitchens said ages ago for the record that many great writers “did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wind.”

Well, OK, Hitch, and how long and how well did they live?

Another thing that I noticed during this Daily Show clip: Stewart looks and sounds so calm and spiffy next to Hitchens. Because Stewart is so healthy.

I’m thinking about Hitch’s wife and kids. …

By the way, if you think it’s impossible to get sober and still be an atheist, think again. Lest it be considered in poor taste to offer up my own example, let me mention that a friend of mine turned me on to this interview with Augusten Burroughs, author of the memoir Running with Scissors: he claims to have no religious belief and to have cleaned up with a higher power that was a “cartoon version of Jesus, plucked from the manger with a pet cow.”

Tina Fey’s Awesome Advice That May Save Your Life.

My husband gave me Tina Fey’s Bossypants for my birthday. Seriously behind the curve on this book, which was published in April and which both my sister and my friend P snagged within minutes of its release.

I should be rationing myself to like two pages per day, because the book has only 275 pages and I want the laughs to last longer than 2.5 days, but in classic addict-fashion (More Is Always Better) I’ve been steaming through it instead of doing other things I should be doing, such as grinding through every past-season episode of “Monk” on streaming Netflix with my kid (he likes “Monk”; also “Psych”; I’m OK with “Monk” because Adrian reminds me of me—I do crazy shit like straighten the pictures on the walls of other people’s houses—but “Psych” weirds me out ) or cleaning the toilets. Tina Fey’s payoff somehow provides more of an incentive.

Last night I read her rules for improv.

  • Rule No. 1: Always agree and say yes to everything that happens.
  • Rule No. 2: Add something to the conversation (say “yes, and”).
  • Rule No. 3: Make statements. Instead of speaking in questions all the time (which makes your partner do all the work in improv—if you ask the questions, they have to come up with all the answers), be responsible and make statements. Be part of the solution.
  • Rule No. 4: There are no mistakes. Only opportunities.

Rules No. 1 and 4 might save my life. (Along with her list of all the physical attributes a woman is now expected to possess, including “the abs of a lesbian gym owner” and “doll tits,” and her stories about the SNL writers who piss in cups) But the other two rules are good, too. Saying “yes, and” is important. It fosters conversation. It moves life along instead of allowing it to stay stuck. And making statements grows assertiveness.

Fey writes,

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

If she were following her own advice, she’d make a statement and say That’s no frigging way to live. I’m familiar with that way of life. That way of life shuts down creativity and intuition and possibility and hope.

(Today’s experiment: Pick any one of these four qualities—creativity, intuition, possibility, hope—and you have today’s higher power.)

But saying “No, I can’t” right off the bat is the way I learned to live.

I’m unlearning it.

(If you like this, please share it on Twitter or FB. 🙂 )

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