Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: NA

What Are We “Allowed” to Do in Recovery Groups?

A friend of mine I met years ago through the ether admitted she was dealing with some ambivalence about AA. She said:

It seems like you’re not allowed to just “take a break” from AA if you can’t figure out what its function is in your life. I owe every single thing I have to the steps and AA. I would have no good things if recovery hadn’t been at the core and the forefront of my life. And I know this, and that’s what I struggle with. How does recovery change for us? Where should it go?

Since starting this blog I’ve encountered this question a bunch of times in different ways. Another reader talked about the question of how to find new ways of growing after spending a long time in recovery:

to me it is strange how addiction science and medical science in general knows all about the phenomenon of tolerance—wherein treatments (or dosages) lose effectiveness over time. yet when it comes to the exploding population of addicts with long-term sobriety, there is often little effort to reach beyond the obvious—go to more meetings, work the steps harder—for possible new paths to growth or survival. i have seen old timers drink, briefly, just to recapture that hope they had as newcomers.

I’m tempted here to mention how much “time” these people have, whether or not they’ve “gone out and come back” or whether they’ve had a huge amount of continuous sobriety—some of those seemingly indelible marks, like brands burned into us, that in 12-step groups for addictions people often use to track others’ credibility.

(Are you wondering these things? Would it change your view of what these people said if you knew how much “time” they have, or whether they’ve “gone out” at some point?)

My Unofficial Home Group

I go to a meeting at a university that isn’t an official meeting. It isn’t in the meeting list. We don’t take up a collection, we don’t contribute to the local, regional or world-services offices, we don’t have a group representative and don’t participate in the running of the local office. But there’s “real” recovery going on at this meeting, and I consider it one of my home groups.

“I love this meeting,” people say, and they bring other people to it the next week.

More and more people are hearing about this meeting (this is what happens with healthy meetings where there’s recovery that’s alive) and we’re growing out of the little tiny space. We might have to hold a group conscience to figure out what to do about it.

Are we “allowed” to go to this group? Are we “allowed” to think of it as a home group?

Are we “allowed” to have more than one home group?

The principles say no, but I do anyway; are we “wrong”? Are we hurting the fellowship?

(Am I being a “taker”?)

I know a number of people who go out and come back, go out and come back. Is it a possibility that some people might be able to abstain for a long time, while other people will wind up going out and coming back?

Are we “allowed” to keep going out, coming back, going out, coming back?

Are we “allowed” to take breaks away from meetings?

When have you felt censored or judged in meetings? How do you respond to that?

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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Principles above personalities: Anonymity

Anonymity maskMy friend Syd’s recent post on Anonymity has me thinking.

A while ago I posted a column by Roger Ebert about how he got sober… I’ve thought about this column a lot, because it gets a lot of hits, and my opinions on his breaking his own anonymity go back and forth.

Sometimes I agree with Ebert, that he’s working the 12th step and sharing his experience, strength and hope with a view toward helping someone else get sober.

Sometimes I wonder about how it affects him, as an author, to break his own anonymity this way… whether he’s even aware it affects him—ego has a tendency to blind us to its own effects … and whether it affects the fellowship he attends.

This column drew 1,300 comments when it was published. It’s easy to look at a statistic like that (the way I did) and say, “Wow—he’s doing a great service, reaching so many people.” So instead, after reading Syd’s piece, today I did a search on the word “anonymity” among the comments on Ebert’s column, and read a sampling. The ones that mentioned anonymity or talked about Ebert’s violation of the tradition of anonymity amounted to a real argument about the tradition.

I hope you guys will weigh in on this. I really hope people will comment…

Some people thought his column did a service by showing guts and bringing the message to more people.

Good stuff Roger. … As to the personal anonymity question, I don’t see how you “coming out” as an alcoholic in any way could hurt AA. This gives people like me a reminder that great things can be done despite my shortcomings. Thank you.

Others thought he was “pompous and overblown” and only looking for praise for his own struggles.

Roger, Breaking your anonymity breaks AA’s 12th tradition. Reread it. Nowhere in the tradition does it provide exceptions. Even for those with over 30 years. Now that it is broken you cannot unbreak it. AA is a program of attraction not promotion and did not need you to recruit new members. Breaking anonymity is an ego-feeding proposition, in effect you are saying, “Look at me, I’m sober.” Did it occur to you that there may be alcoholics who find your persona pompous and insufferable? Now they will associate AA with you and have another reason to postpone going to a meeting. AA’s green card says that the greatest reward is to do a good deed in secret and have it discovered by accident.

I must say I did not read the column that way the first time… One of the first things that went through my head when I found Ebert’s column was, “Jeez, if Roger Ebert’s a recovering alcoholic, then it can’t be so awful to be an addict—and there might be some hope for me.” Maybe I thought this way only because I “like” Roger Ebert. Which means I might be putting a personality before a principle.

But if I resolutely put the principle before the personality, I can see how it could be read the other way. If there are people who do not “like” Roger Ebert and see him as the “face” of AA, or in any way representing the organization, it could have negative consequences (“another reason to postpone going to a meeting,” as the guy above says).

(Does that mean I should take it down off my site?)


One thing I’ve been thinking about is the issue of “success” in the comments.

Your story is among the best I’ve read about Alcoholics Anonymous and its impact on our lives. I celebrated 38 years of sobriety in February. And like you, I have broken my anonymity. A recently published memoir tells the story of my journey from a curbside on skid row in New Orleans to award-winning reporter and my ten year tenure as Senior Investigative Correspondent for CNN’s Special Assignment Unit. My success in collecting multiples of every major broadcast journalism award, including four Peabody medallions, is intertwined with the principles I learned in the fellowship—foremost being the principle of self-honesty we begin developing from the day we first walk through the doors with “a desire to stop drinking.” I am a hard-nose when it comes to AA Traditions, but there are times when it is necessary to publicly share our stories and success in order to help the still-suffering alcoholic/addict who has not found AA. Thirty-eight years gives me confidence that that the breach will not result in AA police repossessing my chips. Congratulations again on a superb article.

This guy makes a big deal of the program rocketing him out of his disease into a fourth dimension not only of, he says, spiritual awareness and personal integrity but also of professional success. He mentions his “multiple” awards and a memoir and attributes all this experience (helping others? earning money and attention?) to having practiced the principles in all his affairs—the implication being, “YOU CAN HAVE THIS, TOO!” … This is pretty attractive… maybe even seductive. Many of us (including myself) have come to the rooms without jobs, hoping someday to get or make good work for ourselves—work that not only supports ourselves and our families but also enables us to use our gifts to help others and contribute.

Then we have this comment:

Rogert Ebert is pompous, overblown and overrated. Who cares about his struggles. There’s literally thousands of people who have succssfully beat drug and/or alcohol addiction and their stories never make the papers. They just get up everyday and go to work or carry on as best they can. Ebert is seeking admiration and accolades for his problems, only because he is prominent and a celeb…big deal!

This kind of brings it back to the primary purpose: AA is about getting sober and helping others get sober. All the rest is gravy. …

But it also sounds a bit like sour grapes.

Telling one’s story

I think it’s important to tell one’s story. Maybe I feel so strongly about it because it’s second-nature to me. I tell stories. … It’s true that thousands of people get sober every day, and go about their lives—helping others get sober—without putting it in the papers (or on a blog, for that matter). However, there are also many who die, equally or even more obscurely, without getting help. … There’s a misconception out there that the 11th and 12th Traditions dictate that we have to be anonymous in everyday situations. How could this work?—we couldn’t possibly carry a message of hope if we had to remain anonymous in personal situations.

A sponsor once told me that I could never go wrong if I shared my own story in a meeting. … I think I can probably stay within the principles if I share my own story outside a meeting, as long as I:

  • don’t identify myself with one fellowship or another, or
  • don’t reveal my name or face.

Some time ago, for that reason, I changed my picture here to obscure my face.

It’s a problem… I loved Mary Karr’s Lit—she doesn’t mention which fellowship she attends. But I also loved Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story, and she mentioned she went to AA.

OK, so now please tell me what you think…

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