Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: meditation (page 1 of 6)

Step Carefully Or You Could Be Eaten.

american-alligator

I know a woman who is writing a book about various practices of “self-care.” From time to time, she posts requests on Facebook asking for people to reveal their practices. It makes for some interesting reading. Today she asked people to write about what they “do for spiritual self-care.” “How do you transcend the self, surpass the ego and face existential realities that we are all going to die?” she asked.

Wow.

“Meditation? Hiking? Going to church? Twirling like a Dervish? Analyzing dreams? AA meetings?”

People were writing about angels, crystals, goddesses; meditation and prayer; reading the Bible and listening to music; walking in the woods; watching birds, watching the moon.

They also talked about how they don’t do their chosen disciplines enough. “I need to find myself again,” one person wrote.

I thought about what I do. I don’t hike but I walk the dog. I don’t go to church. I don’t twirl like a dervish or analyze my dreams.

But I go to meetings.

//

“Meetings won’t keep you clean and sober,” I was told when I started going to meetings, by an awesome spiritual seeker of a sponsor who a few weeks later started using drugs again.

I learned a lot from that woman. I think she’s right: meetings don’t keep me off drugs, and when people say “just don’t pick up, and go to meetings,” I cringe because I don’t buy it. If I could “just not pick up,” I wouldn’t even be sitting in that folding chair trying not to eat the cookies/doughnuts/other high-fructose garbage-food on the table next to the shitty Maxwell House coffee.

I go to meetings because it lets me spend time with people I love. And it forces me to spend some time taking the steps.

The steps are suggestions, all of them, so none are compulsory. But practiced with discipline, their result is not guaranteed happiness but spiritual enlargement.

Every day, I try to turn my will and my life over to the care of forces greater than I am. Most people focus on the word “greater,” but for me the operative word is “care.” I totally get that there are lots of forces greater than I am (time, light, gravity, Google, etc.). But having grown up with addiction and depression in the house, it has been an ongoing effort throughout my life to remember that there are great forces in the world that can and will CARE for me—without expecting anything in return—if I diligently practice surrender of my will.

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Harambe

My will is wild. Some news stories of late have reminded me how wild the will is: the kid who wiggled into the Cincinnati gorilla enclosure; the Nebraska toddler who was eaten by a Florida alligator on Disney property; the Oregon guy who went to Yellowstone, decided he’d step past the barrier and walk across the fragile mineral crust, and fell into the hot springs. The water in those springs is so acidic that nothing was found of his body.

Os desaparecidos.

I think perhaps books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and films like “Into the Wild” have “popularized” the idea of wilderness and made some people think that the wild is entertainment. Safe wildness. But there end up being holes in the zoo fences, gators in the peaceful tropical lagoons. (Disney’s will was to earn money, and not to spoil the fantasy with warning signs.)

And toddlers (and even adults) just seem to want to go wherever they want to.

The wild is certainly beautiful and strong and glorious, but it is also unpredictable and deadly if we do not abide by some rules and apply discipline.

The will is wild. My will can very well drag me underwater if I do not let go of it and follow some rules for safety.

  • Trust “The God Thing,” as my friend Em likes to call it.
  • Clean the dog hair out of my house.
  • Help other people.
  • Be grateful. Write those down.

Also eating good food and drinking clean water. Because I don’t Stop Drinking, I just don’t drink the stuff that hurts me.

It’s hard to practice every day, because I Just Don’t Feel Like It, you know what I’m saying?

And as every spiritual practitioner of every discipline has ever recorded in their meditations, there can be long spiritually dry spells. AND THAT’S NORMAL. But because our self-help culture has sold us the idea that we should always be happy, we think it’s abnormal to practice, and then be unhappy, and then to keep practicing.

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You’re Already Awesome.

lolo-jones

Judson Brewer M.D. teaches stone nicotine addicts how to quit by teaching them how to meditate. He’s a psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine who, by some apparent miracle, trained in mindfulness meditation while studying medicine at Wash U in St. Louis.

He’d been studying stress in mice but after meditation training evidently decided that it might be more useful to study stress in humans. So he switched his research focus to the connections between stress, mindfulness and “the addictive process,” as he calls it.

Brewer’s Yale lab has found that mindfulness (i.e., meditation, i.e., Step 11) is twice as effective as leading treatments (read: drugs) developed for smoking cessation. His studies show …

Read the rest at Recovering the Body. And please subscribe there.

Introducing “Recovering the Body.”

Thanks to all those who, in my absence from this space, have been commenting on posts and writing in. I’m keeping up as much as I can while I begin a brand-new project that I think I can now announce—though the contract isn’t signed, it’s almost signed and I’ve been assured it’s happening.

In June, I was invited by Hazelden Publishing to write a new book about physical recovery from addiction. 

In fact there’s no book in the market like this, so it’s an awesome idea. They found me through this story I wrote last year for The Fix (sadly, now defunct) about four elite athletes who use exercise to stay sober. The idea for that story came from an exchange I had with a friend of mine, a writer, athlete and sober guy I met two years ago when he emailed Guinevere. In the way life works now, we have become close and he has given me a ton of moral and practical support.

So the help just goes around in a big circle. You catch it and you pass it on, a big game of Karmic Hot Potato. Is what I tell my kid, anyway. And what I tell my kid is usually what I need to hear.

The editor asked me to write a proposal, so one night I came up with an elegant design that has five chapters—exercise, nutrition, sleep, and sex, along with a chapter on meditation—to help readers understand the particular ways in which addiction to drugs and alcohol fucks up the body, and what physical discipline and care can do to restore not just physical health but also mental wellbeing and spiritual fitness.

"A Moment in Time," bronze cast by Roxanne Swentzell.

They bought it immediately. As in, within days. The contract is being finalized, and I will spend this fall and winter writing the manuscript. The book will be released as a lead title Fall 2014.

Amidst all that work it hadn’t even occurred to me to start a new site. I was too busy feeling crappy about not having time to push to this one. But a friend, a senior publicist at a big house in NYC, suggested over coffee at the café up the street—she lives in NYC but her boyfriend lives here, in fact five blocks from me—that I (duh) buy the domain name to my working title and make a space for my ideas, questions, stories, connections. A kind of online sketchbook, as my friend Paul said.

This way, you guys can have a way to contribute to the process. There’s a lot I don’t know, and I want to learn from you.

My intention is to keep publishing here when issues arise that concern the subject of this blog—getting and staying sober, as well as pet issues of mine (Suboxone use and abuse, for example, is still a massive blinking dot on my radar).

But I will be publishing stuff more often on my new site. I’ll ask you to share your ideas and experiences. I’ll be talking to some high-level athletes and professional experts and researchers, but mostly I’ll be talking to ordinary folks who squeeze (or who, like me, sometimes fail to squeeze) their exercise and nutrition regimens into their days, along with everything else they do, including working, parenting, and whatever constitutes their recovery programs. I’ll be talking with folks who feel like they might be going overboard, substituting exercise, food, sleep or sex for the drugs they used to use.

If you follow me on Facebook as Guinevere, I hope you’ll click the button below and follow me under my real name. That’s where I’ll be posting stuff about this new project. And if you have ideas and questions, please please please let me know.

Connect with Jen.

Recovery, Step 11: Meditation.

The other night I was up in the middle of the night, sleepless, thinking about a letter I had to write. Thoughts

(you haven’t written a letter like this in a long time, what do you know about these issues anyway, ??who the hell do you think you are??)

kept me awake. So I focused on my breath and meditated.

About three minutes later an answer appeared, bubbling up like the fragrant bay leaf in jambalaya.

I’ve been meditating regularly. The intuition muscle is working.

The next morning I wrote down what had come to me in meditation. I thought, “This could be brilliant or it could be bullshit.” So I sent the idea off to a friend of mine who does this kind of writing. She wrote right back:

FABULOUS, GO W/IT!!

The power of intuitive thought.

Also: the supportive power of community.

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When I meet newcomers to recovery, I notice how fidgety some of them are, and I sometimes ask them if they’re meditating each day. Most are not. They say they don’t know how. They say they’ve tried and can’t. Sometimes they say they’re “not on that step yet.”

When I first worked the steps, I got “previews” along the way, and meditation and prayer were two of those previews. So were amends. Just because I may not yet be taking Step 9 doesn’t mean I can’t make up for something I screwed up yesterday. Right? And just because I may not be on Step 11 doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to pray or meditate.

The other day in my home group I talked about turning problems over to meditation and prayer and a guy approached me after the meeting to talk about meditation. He wanted to know how I did it. Fiftysomething; two weeks sober; he’d been around the New Age Block, had tried various meditation methods and he was interested in getting the lowdown on how to do it the “right” way.

Newsflash: There is no right way.

As Mary Karr might say,

There’s just the application of the ass to the seat. 

As Yoda might say,

Do or do not—there is no try.

Meditation is for the Recovery Warrior.

Yoda knew about The Force.

//

When I got sober the second time, days after my relapse, I was told to meditate every day.

[I received this direction from Sluggo, a former heroin addict, fellow mom, experienced Zen meditator. She generously pinch-hit as a long-distance sponsor for me for a while when I was between sponsors In Real Life. Her experience with sobriety and Buddhism is here.]

Sluggo taught me this Way To Meditate (one of many):

  • Sit facing a blank wall.
  • Sit with your back held upright and easy. 
  • It’s better to sit crosslegged or kneeling on a cushion on the floor, but if you’re sitting in a chair, sit away from the back.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Set a timer for two minutes.
  • Close your eyes halfway and gently unfocus them.
  • Hold still, begin by focusing on your breath. 
  • Each time you notice a thought, let it pass and bring your attention back to your breath.

That’s it.

The hard part is not how to do it. The hard part is actually doing it.

If you’re an addict like me, you’re afraid of your thoughts and you may not drink or use anymore but there are a lot of other things you do or are tempted to do to avoid your mind (eat, shop, gamble, work, clean, exercise, watch Netflix…). Meditation allows me to accept my mind. A powerful tool to correct self-rejection and self-censure.

Sluggo said: Add a minute or two each week or so until you get up to the length of time you want. She said: Do it at the same time every day. She said: I put my kid on the school bus, go upstairs, and meditate.

I don’t “try” to meditate. I either do it, or I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t. On those days, easy does it. I don’t beat up on myself for not doing it or for doing it wrong. I don’t congratulate myself for doing it or for doing it right.

Just now, I put my kid on his bike to soccer practice, and I’m here ready to meditate.

Fifteen minutes.

Let’s do it.

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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