Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Michael Jackson

Sober Life: Eminem’s Sober Interview with Rolling Stone

Standing in Whole Foods’ checkout line last night, and there was Eminem on the cover of Rolling Stone, nose peeking out from his (shady) hoodie.

Eminem Rolling Stone 2010

I shelled out. Eminem is currently the music industry’s bestselling and most visible recovering addict. From the glimpses I got waiting to buy my pork chops, I could see that his recovery from addiction was the first subject discussed and the subject most referred to throughout the interview. That, and his kids, and his work.

So I thought I’d share a few tidbits with you guys, in case you’re interested. Because I know you’re interested. Lots of you land here looking for “Eminem sobriety” or “does Eminem go to meetings.”

(For those who may not be familiar with Eminem: birth-name Marshall Mathers, 38; he is a hip-hop artist who grew up and still lives in Detroit; in December 2007 he was hospitalized for an overdose of methadone and the sleep-aid Ambien which nearly killed him. One relapse after that, and he committed to recovery. Also the title of his most recent album, Recovery is expected to be the bestselling album of 2010.)

Ambien is addictive. On his Ambien use:

Toward the end, I don’t think the shit ever put me to sleep for more than two hours. It’s very similar to what I’ve read about Michael [Jackson]. I don’t know exactly what he was doing, but I read that he kept getting up in the middle of the night, asking for more. That’s what I was doing—two, three times a night, I would get up and take more.

On the shooting death of his good friend, Detroit rapper Proof, and how addiction made him self-absorbed in his grief:

I remember days I spent just taking fucking pills and crying. One day, I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t even want to get up to use the bathroom. I wasn’t the only person grieving—he left a wife and kids. But I was very much in my own grief. I was so high at his funeral. It disgusts me to say it, but I felt like it was about me. I hate myself for even thinking that. It was selfish.

On getting high on methadone—a drug that most physicians and even many addiction specialists don’t believe can make you wasted:

I remember I got the methadone from somebody I’d gone to looking for Vicodin. This person said, “These are just like Vicodin, and they’re easier on your liver.” … I remember taking one in the car on the way home, and thinking, “Oh, this is great.” Just that rush.

Eminem’s just like a lot of us who committed to recovery to be here for others:

I knew I had to change my life. But addiction is a fucking tricky thing. I think I relapsed within … three weeks? And within a month it had ramped right back to where it was before. That’s what really freaked me out. That’s when I knew: either get help, or I am going to die. As a father, I want to be here for things. I don’t want to miss anything else.

Eminem apparently does not go to meetings. He wanted to attend meetings but people inevitably recognized him and wanted things from him, which made it difficult for him to be open in the group. On anonymity:

I tried some meetings—a couple of churches and things. It tended not to do me much good. People tried to be cool, but I got asked for autographs a couple of times. It made me shut down. I called a rehab counselor who’d helped me the first time. Now I see him once a week.

It’s well known that Elton John acts as his sponsor:

I speak to Elton [John]. He’s like my sponsor. He usually calls me once a week to check on me, just to make sure I’m on the up-and-up. He was actually one of the first people I called when I wanted to get clean. He was hipping me to things, like, “You’re going to see nature that you never noticed before.” Shit you’d normally think was corny but that you haven’t seen in so long that you just go, “Wow! Look at that fucking rainbow!” Or even little things—trees, the color of leaves. I fucking love leaves now, man. I feel like I’ve been neglecting leaves for a long time.

And this is where I put the magazine down to take a breath, because I enjoyed this guy’s unpretentious poetry so much and I was starting to love his process. There’s no one right way to get sober. But there are some essential ingredients: honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness to do whatever is needed. Especially willingness.

It seems Elton John, sober for 20 years, regularly reaches out to other celebrities with drug problems. Eminem has made it clear that he rang up Elton John for help because he knew Sir Elton would be able to understand the mental distortions that extreme fame exerts on a person, and he wasn’t able to get that in an ordinary meeting. Which is too bad—because when you get right down to it, in Orwell’s words, none of us addicts is “more equal” than any other. Maybe some people might think this choice in itself is grandiose and ego-driven. But I respect it: I see him recognizing the real limitations that he’s presented with, and then seeking help where he can, so that he can save his life and continue to do what he needs to do … stay sober, take care of his kids, and do his work. Each of us has to do this—get help in the way that best fits our life.

“There’s a lot more awareness of addiction these days,” my husband said this morning when I told him about this heretofore homophobic hip-hop singer calling on a flamboyantly gay star. “Imagine who might have been saved in the past if there had been more awareness. I mean, who was looking out for Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison? And so many others.

And here he is on some of the cleanup. On working sober, and the time lost on his CV:

I don’t know, man. I feel like I took a lot of time off. Not doing shit for those four or five years, how lazy I got—it’s time to get back to doing what I love. I feel like I’ve got a lot of gas in the tank. I just want to make up for letting people down.

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On Oprah Today: Big News—Addicts Engage in Denial!

Oprah and Paris Michael Jackson

Oprah talks with Paris Michael Jackson.

So Oprah has scored interviews with Michael Jackson’s mom and all three kids (Paris, Prince Michael I, and Prince Michael II, affectionately called “Blanket” by his father).

In the interview with Katherine Jackson, Oprah discovers that Michael Jackson actually DENIED that he was an addict.

omg!! I totally cannot believe an addict would do such a thing as lie. Personally?—I NEVER lied about my addiction. j/k

Oprah, for godsake, tell me some news.

Denial is just fear. … I was in a meeting last night, the topic of which was “fear.” Pretty good meeting. Went around the circle, lots of recovering people talking about how fear means either

Fu*k Everything And Run

or

Face Everything And Recover

Also how fear motivates some people to move into the danger zone, to become more active and work harder—or, in the words of one guy I enjoy hearing, fear motivates us to sit on the couch watching “Doogie Howser” and avoiding making a simple professional phone call. “There is no reason this phone call would be threatening,” this guy said, “there is absolutely no danger in picking up the phone and making the call, but when I’m in my fear, I am hanging with my internal addict, and he has me watching ‘Doogie Howser.’ It’s pathetic.”

He calls his internal addict “That Motherfu*ker LeRoy.” Because he heard someone else at another meeting call her internal addict “That Motherfu*ker LeRoy,” because someone else called his internal addict that once… and so it goes.

That Motherfu*ker LeRoy: the one who tells me I can’t make a simple phone call.

The one who tells me I’m worse than everyone else out there trying to accomplish anything. Even if I’ve done some fairly cool things. Like, for example, scoring 13 Grammy Awards, 26 American Music Awards, and the best-selling album of all-time. No matter what, if I’m in my addiction, I am The Piece of Shit Around Which The World Revolves (with thanks to my friend Jacques for this saying).

The one who tells me I have to hide in my house, endanger my kids, lie to my own loved ones.

The one who tells me not to accept affection, even as my son comes to hug me and say, “You’re wonderful” (as he did just now). Accepting affection: too dangerous.

My 13-year-old son heard me being interviewed by someone the other day. This person was interviewing me about my addiction and recovery. He heard me answering questions honestly about being “a drug addict” who had “gotten sober” and was now “changing my life” and “trying to help other people”—stuff like that. I thought he couldn’t hear me—I was in the kitchen making dinner (multi-tasking—trying to walk and chew gum), and he was in the living room playing his electric guitar.

Later on, after his soccer practice, he sat down next to me on the couch to watch a show about Jimi Hendrix on TV.

“Mom,” he said, “I heard you talking in the kitchen before.”

That Motherfu*ker LeRoy stuck a needle into my heart and told me to be afraid, Be Afraid Right Now, told me to lie and say it didn’t really happen. It was fleeting, but he definitely spoke to me. Instead I just sat there, breathing. (Meditation really does help)

“Yeah?” I said, watching the ruffles on Jimi’s shirt dance as he played “Hey Joe” and fiddling with one of my son’s fingers.

“Yeah,” he said, “and I just wanted to say that I know how hard it is for some people to do what you’re trying to do, and I’m really proud of you.”

Dude.

Getting ready for work: Chewing Vicodin

I didn’t plan on writing about Michael Jackson again, but the news today (via the Associated Press, see story) is pretty shocking:  Jackson paid a physician to administer the anesthetic propofol intravenously every night for two years so he could get a full night’s sleep.

On the one hand, it’s appalling; on the other, predictable. I did the same sort of thing myself. And I’m hardly unique: I’m a 44-year-old white middle-class American addict.

What’s predictable is the fact that Jackson was so desperate for sleep.  If he was taking as many drugs every day as they say he was (two heavy-duty opioids, a benzodiazepine, a muscle relaxant, and more), he was definitely screwing up his body’s ability to regulate its sleep-wake cycles, also called “circadian rhythms.”

When I made it into detox last year, I was taking 100mcg/hr fentanyl—usually more, because I sometimes took more than prescribed. That’s roughly equivalent to 400mg morphine. (To give you some perspective, after routine surgery, patients are usually given 5mg Percocet, which is about equal in strength to morphine.  I was taking about 80 times that, every day.)

Fentanyl is the strongest opioid available by prescription. It’s commonly used for cancer patients. I was prescribed it for migraine and fibromyalgia.

Any opioid addict will tell you that addiction wrecks your sleep.

Morphine was named after Morpheus, the god of sleep, and heroin addicts have made the image of the “nod” a cliché.  But there’s another side to opioids that many non-addicts don’t realize: a spike in blood-levels can give you extra energy.

I started taking Lorcet 10mg for headaches about eight or nine years ago. (Lorcet is the same as Vicodin: it contains hydrocodone and Tylenol.) I was given 30 per month—an amount that seemed enormous then. So I took about one per day. As soon as I discovered I could get refills a bit earlier than exactly 30 days, I started taking maybe one-and-a-half per day. Here’s why: on Lorcet, I could Get Everything Done.

I could get up at 6 with my son, get breakfast, do the dishes, get him dressed, get myself dressed, get his lunch packed and get him out the door to daycare, and I was showered and in my chair ready to work by 9.

I could work at a computer for hours and never move. I could get an amazing amount of work done in the half-day I had to do it. I could get my son, put him down for a nap, get more work done, get him up, clean the house, get dinner, and after dinner, weed the garden or do other chores.

For someone like me, that level of control was central to my ability to feel like I could survive in this world.

About 18 months or two years into my run with Lorcet, I was taking two tablets per day (and facing the consequences: I’d face several days per month when I was out of medication). Because, as with any drug that results in dependence, after 18 months at the same dose, the effects of one tablet weren’t as powerful. So I increased the dose—not under supervision. Just on my own. Because, of course, I knew best.

So I could “function.”

Many addicts take drugs so they can function.  For us, it was a solution.  For many years, I reasoned—rationalized—that I wasn’t an addict because I had a common image of addiction: Real Junkies lay around on the couch, eating Doritos and watching soap operas.

I was Working.  I was Productive. Just like Michael Jackson. Right?

The press often mentions that Jackson was taking all these drugs to “prepare” himself for the 50 London shows he’d signed for.  As if it is a truth universally acknowledged that a celebrity musician—or anyone—needs drugs as part of his “preparation” for his work. Even the press continues to enable him in his death.

My habit of “preparing” for my work each day was to chew a pill or two before I even got out of bed.  I chewed them to maximize their effects: most addicts discover that taking drugs in some manner “not as prescribed” is the best way to manipulate their effects. The practice led me into a deep well, out of which I’ve climbed step by step in the past nine months. I’m seeing the light, and for that I’m grateful.

What’s shocking is that there is a health professional on the face of this earth who would be so greedy for money and so interested in exploiting his association with a celebrity that he or she would agree to carry out something so harmful one time, much less over the course of two years.  Not only did the practice apparently finally kill Jackson, but also the drug itself had to be stolen: propofol, an anesthetic designed for hospital use, is not available by prescription.

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