Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: letting go

Spirituality = Reality.

Today I’m borrowing this title from my good friend Dani, who has written under it for four years (click here to read her in Freedom From Hell). Thanks, Dani.

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My friend Jacques’s dad died four days ago in Tucson.

I’ve known Jacques for 25 years. When I met him in 1988, he had gotten sober two years before, at age 22, and was dating Ben, who was studying in the same writing program I was attending. Jacques and Ben are still both poets and English teachers. We were all born in the same year.

Ben’s mom has been living with terminal cancer for several years; by incredible coincidence, the day after Jacques’s dad died—just three days ago, in other words—Ben’s mom had a setback and began actively dying. These former lovers are losing their second parents within days of each other. I find the resonance strange and beautiful.

When it became clear to Jacques that his dad would not last very long, he told the hospice staff that his dad needed a Catholic priest. The hospice worker told Jacques she’d send a minister, a social worker, they had all kinds of resources.

“I need a CATHOLIC PRIEST,” he said. “My dad wants last rites in the Catholic tradition. Can we please get a Catholic priest?”

“I had no idea why I said that, my dad and I didn’t talk about what he wanted at the end,” Jacques tells me today on the phone. “But my dad was a strict Catholic, G, it was serious with him, it wasn’t mumbo-jumbo.”

Jacques, one of three brothers, was born at St. Francis Hospital (Rabbi Abe Twerski and the nuns later turned it into the city’s haven for drunks and junkies; my cousin Danny spent some time there, I believe—it was notorious in our family that you had hit shameful low-bottom if you were at St. Francis; meanwhile, I was born at Braddock General, which, for a number of years until it closed in 2009, served as a detox and rehab for the river valley’s addicts). Jacques lived around the corner on 44th Street till he was in second grade, when his dad started making enough money to move them out to the suburbs, where they had the split-level and the country-club membership.

On the drive back to his hotel four days ago, the hospice worker called his cell and said the priest had arrived and was ready to give his dad the sacrament, and that she’d put the phone on speaker so Jacques could hear his dad’s responses.

“And this is no shit, G, OK?” he said. “On the very last word—on the ‘Amen’—the hospice worker said, ‘Your dad just took his last breath.’ He died on the last word of the sacrament.”

We sit there in silence, absorbing this.

altar-boysJacques and I were raised strict Catholic in the 1960s and ’70s. Jacques was an altar boy (dunno what my thing is with altar boys, but I can just picture Jacques in red robe with white lace surplice, holding the censer and cracking jokes under his breath). Jacques and I know what sacrament means, even though we no longer receive them ourselves.

“You did that because you were sober,” I remark. “If you hadn’t been sober, do you think you’d have had the presence of mind to be so certain about what your dad wanted, and to act on that leading?”

“You know, I have goosebumps on the back of my neck when you say that,” he says. “Because I’ve been thinking about that. He didn’t tell me he wanted that—I just knew.”

“How old was your dad—86?” I ask. “That’s a hell of a long time to live, and you made sure your dad had what he needed at the end of that long haul in order to let go and be at peace. In doing that for him you showed him great compassion and kindness.”

“I’ve been realizing something about love,” he says. “It’s not a feeling. It’s a commitment, a desire for the other person’s wellbeing such that you’re willing to sacrifice yourself.” Not in a codependent way, he emphasizes; not in a way that fosters the other person’s weakness and insecurity and one’s own security and vanity, but in a way that fosters the other person’s growth and peace.

Jacques has racked up large bills flying from his home in northern Michigan to Tucson every month since August, when his dad fell and had to move into nursing care.

“Love is hard, G!” he says. “It’s so hard!

We pause, considering this weighty truth.

“Well,” he says, and I can hear him stretching, “I’m standing here in the 75-degree sun and I’m gonna go take a swim now.”

“Fuck you, darlin,” I say fondly.

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So this is part of the way I stay sober. People in The Program talk about “helping others,” reaching out to the newcomer, and I do that, but I also interact with several people in my life who are oldcomers, who count their sober-time in decades, and I stay active with principles I’ve learned from many years in Al-Anon. Long-time sobriety doesn’t guarantee any results—serenity, peace of mind, happiness, even a good night’s sleep. It starts out one day at a time, and it stays that way.

Meanwhile I tell Ben I’ll take some of his classes if he can’t get back from Dallas in time.

Into The Cloud: Jump Through The Window.

It’s the small hours of a new day, and I’m awake and thinking about Ed.

Ed is a long-time member of my 12-step group. He’s 74, native of Westchester County, N.Y. Upwards of 40 years sober. He’s got terminal cancer of the bile ducts—the little tiny vessels that allow bile into the liver from the gall bladder—and it looks as if he’s at the end of his life.

Tomorrow is Saturday and Ed, again, will not be at the literature meeting I’ve been going to for a couple years. I went last week and met up with one of his long-time sponsees. I asked him how Ed was. The guy’s smile kind of froze on his face and his eyes welled up, and he said he was only then coming to the realization that Ed would not last long.

Ed has been living with this cancer for more than a year, had received his diagnosis in December 2011, just after retiring from his job. The rounds of chemo and radiation had done their best to stop him from carrying on his life, developing apps and jockeying a weekend radio gig at the university station—Ed is a jazz and blues aficionado—and playing with his grandchildren and his many devices. Ed made friends with all the Apple Store “geniuses” and always brandished the latest Apple product. When I visited him yesterday morning at his nursing home, he was lying back half-asleep on his bed, his tray-table holding a cup of water and his black iPhone 5.

He was forever trying to get me to learn how to navigate The Cloud.

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One thing I appreciate about Ed is that he’s a solid atheist with a spiritual orientation. He was raised Irish Catholic, and he’s proof that a person who doesn’t believe in any kind of “god” can get sober using a 12-step program.

I’d sit in those meetings bristling about God: what the hell kind of Higher Power gave a shit about whether I used drugs or not? He’d sidle up to me after the meeting and tell me it didn’t matter how I understood the power, as long as I knew it wasn’t myself.

“’Other Power,’ you call it,” I told him yesterday morning, and he nodded.

Ed is a devoted dad who was able to remain close with his kids through divorce and remarriage. One of his daughters showed up at 10:30 yesterday morning, while I was there with Lucy and his wife. When my kid had insomnia; when I fretted about choosing the right school for him; when I’d worry about his someday becoming an addict—Ed would tell me just to focus on today and love my kid the best I could.

He’d tell me I was doing a good job as a mom. I believed him. He’s the age my dad would have been had my dad not died six years ago of his own GI cancer, and my dad used to tell me that.

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Unlike my dad, who I don’t think enjoyed my writing, Ed always read this blog. It took me a while after he started reading it to accept that he was in fact reading it, because he had so much sober-time—what could I possibly have to say to someone like Ed? I write from “beginner’s mind.” But I know enough people with more than two or three decades of sobriety to know that, at some point, after the thrill is gone, you need to stay alert for ways to keep sobriety new, to keep developing spiritual fitness. You can’t stay physically fit by doing the same workout every day for 10 years.

Roy Eldridge, jazz trumpeter and hepcat.

Roy Eldridge, jazz trumpeter and hepcat.

Once, Ed read a blog post and emailed to tell me it was musical—it reminded him of a jazz tune called “Jump through the Window” by Roy Eldridge, a jazz musician who was born on the North Side of our city, got kicked out of school in ninth grade, and played in bands at Birdland and in Chicago and Paris. Ed said my language conveyed the energy of classic 1940s and 1950s swing-jazz. “Look it up,” he advised, and I bought it from iTunes.

Because I’m still pretty Earthbound, though, it’s on my hard drive instead of in The Cloud.

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I’ve learned through experience how to say goodbye to people. The most important part is to stay receptive to the quiet requests of my heart. Today I found myself holding Ed’s hand, and also closing my eyes for a minute to find a quiet space inside me.

Still, it’s hard to let go. But there’s peace to be found in the discipline of trying.

 

Recovery, Step 11: The G-Force and Just Being.

Foxgloves in bloom in G's garden. Standing upright with the help of G-force.

Today in meditation I noticed that my body holds itself in a state of habitual tension, as though it were ready to spring, or as though it were hanging on.

Springing—at what? Not at, but away from. Away from what? Danger. Anger—my own and others’. Fear—of failure, of success, of losing what I have or not getting what I want.

Hanging onto what?—the earth, the world, my place, the small footprint I’ve earned on our planet.

Do you do hold your body in tension? Scan your body right now, and notice where the tension may be.

I took a long in-breath, and as I exhaled I asked my body to let go of whatever it might be holding onto.

As I felt the tendons in my hips and shoulders soften, suddenly I could feel gravity again. The G-force. One of my higher powers. Think about it: gravity does a lot of work for us that we don’t need to pay attention to. It does stuff we can’t do for ourselves.

By holding my body constantly tensed (in a position of fear), I’m fighting gravity. I’m fighting a power greater than myself.

By permitting my body to soften into the G-force, I allow myself to Just Be.

Are you able to Just Be? If so, let me know how.

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