Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: overdose (page 2 of 2)

Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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As Truman Capote, the role that won him the Academy Award.

As Truman Capote, the role that won him the Academy Award.

It’s being widely reported that Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. He was found in a West Village apartment with the sharp still in his arm and several bags nearby.

He had 23 years sober before he relapsed on painkillers and heroin in 2012.

In "Almost Famous," as legendary 1970s music critic Lester Bangs.

In “Almost Famous,” as legendary 1970s music critic Lester Bangs.

The news literally knocked the wind out of me and I cried, the way I cried the day I heard David Foster Wallace (another person recovering from addiction) hanged himself. My first thought in both cases was selfish: Now we never get any more of their brilliant work. 

My second thought was for their partners, and for Hoffman’s kids. Hoffman had—has? had?—three kids. “Young children,” they are described in the New York Times story. Village residents who saw him around the neighborhood are describing him on Twitter as a generous dude who was kind and unpretentious when he brought his kids to the coffee shops.

As the kind, unpretentious home-health worker in "Magnolia."

As the kind, unpretentious home-health worker in “Magnolia.”

I loved him in this role in “Magnolia.” There is a video circulating on Twitter, a clip from “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” showing him being shot up with drugs and mumbling while he nods. The author of the Tweet wrote,

How art more than imitates life.

Well, sure. Those of us who used to nod out may remember how to act like that. It’s more challenging to really BE kind and unpretentious. I prefer to remember him in this role—the attentive nurse who helps Tom Cruise’s father die.

(There’s an even better scene here. The dying guy is played by Jason Robards, who was a recovering alcoholic. Robards’s character admits how shitty he feels about having cheated on his wife, and later Hoffman’s character takes pity on him in the extremity of the guy’s suffering and uses the morphine to put him out of his misery, kissing the guy’s forehead while he dies. A bunch of commenters blasted this scene by calling it for example, “white-knight pussy propaganda,” but to me it looked like two recovering drunks listening to the wreckage of the past—a practice that is sometimes criticized by those who hate 12-step-recovery as being holier-than-thou superfluous moral bullshit, but which can be very helpful for recovery if it’s done well.)


The fact is, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work made him an extraordinary artist, but with regard to this disease, he was just an ordinary person with addiction. 

The illness of addiction is the most endemic and perhaps the most invisible in our society. It is connected with so many other illnesses—HIV, heart diseases, lung diseases, liver diseases, cancers of all kinds; and also depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses—as well as car accidents, accidental shootings, murders, and other forms of death. PLEASE LISTEN: every 19 minutes an American dies of a drug overdose. Here in Pittsburgh two dozen have died in the past two weeks from a fentanyl-spiked cut of heroin. That cut is making its rounds to bordering states, and I wonder whether that’s what killed him. I’m glad fentanyl didn’t kill me

These numbers ought to be unacceptable to any sane citizen or leader—and remember, we elect the leaders.

As someone who writes and speaks about the dangers of this illness and the possibilities of recovery, news like this makes me feel at once nearly despairing and also recommitted to letting the public know that with appropriate help people with this disease can recover.

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Sobriety and Success: Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons

Saw Emmylou Harris in concert the other night.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris preparing to sing Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty”

Saw her one other time, about 10 years ago when she toured with Elvis Costello. She sings well with men. On this year’s tour she’s (again) backed by a group of men whose voices harmonize well with her reedy, pure mezzo-soprano. She’s 63; she’s been touring for more than 40 years; and she hasn’t shredded her voice the way so many others have by belting and screaming. She lets it do what it was made to do. She accepts its changes.

She’s still gorgeous. “That hair!” a friend of mine said, when I told her where I was going that evening. My hair has gone grayer in the past six months, and I haven’t colored it. It was good for me to see a talented woman use her abilities to give others pleasure, and rest so comfortably inside herself while she was at it.

I discovered Emmylou Harris about 25 years ago, when I was involved with a guy who drank and played the guitar a lot when he was off work. Of course I drank with him. He had a bunch of vinyl, and amongst his albums was the classic Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons. My boyfriend’s voice wasn’t much good but I loved singing harmony, so we sang “Love Hurts” and I figured out Emmylou’s part and ignored my boyfriend’s voice (and also his drinking, and also my drinking) and heard only Gram Parsons singing in my mind, because Gram Parsons had a beautiful voice—a “high-lonesome” voice as Keith Richards once called it, a voice full of “beautiful pain”—and also a pretty face:

Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons in his Nudie suit

I have this powerful ability to ignore what’s really going on, which is why they say

Denial Ain’t Just a River In Egypt

(“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt?” my son said the other day, when I repeated this to him. “De-nial… haha,” he said. “Never heard that one, pretty good, Mom.” “Dude,” I said, “I didn’t make it up.”)

So I made up this whole story about how Gram and Emmylou were in love and how their love propelled them to success—because in my 23-year-old mind nobody could sing “Love Hurts” and “Hearts on Fire” the way they did without actually being in love. In fact the story is this: Gram was a stone smack and morphine addict, also an alcoholic, and wasn’t getting it “together” to rehearse their act; then they found Emmylou, and what Emmylou brought to the act was not just her beautiful voice but an actual work ethic. Discipline. She made them practice a beginning, a solo, and an ending for each song they played on tour, and everyone from the band who’s still alive credits her discipline with saving the band from being fired from every gig.

“When Gram was together [not wasted], there was nothing like his presence onstage,” Emmylou says in Fallen Angel, a documentary about Gram Parsons. “He had this extraordinary command, this amazing charisma.”

Gram Parsons never got sober—he overdosed on booze and morphine in 1973. This fact doesn’t prevent me from loving his music. I just wish there were more of it.

I thought about this story the other night while Emmylou came back onstage to play “Pancho and Lefty.” She’s still with us, able to do what she does … maybe just because she DOES IT. She keeps putting one foot in front of the other. She got paid a measly $500 for her first gig with Gram, and she wasn’t sure what to do with that money, so she went home and bought a guitar, and step by step she parlayed that first into an entire career, with hard work and faith in the work itself. It wasn’t magic. It was “simple, but not easy.” It was sober. … Emmylou Harris was never an addict, but it doesn’t matter—f0r me, she’s a model of sober life.

Emmylou Harris and her dogs

Emmylou Harris with her band and her dogs at the end of the show. She also has children, grandchildren, a house, friends—a full life…

Sobriety doesn’t guarantee success. Sobriety guarantees the ability not to drink or use. To do that, I have to have discipline. And it’s the discipline that will lead to something greater.

This is one of my favorites of hers, from Cowgirl’s Prayer (1993).

Fentanyl: The Drug The Kids Call “Fent.”

More about fentanyl… In gratitude for two years of freedom from it.

A 33-year-old upstate New York man is facing two years in state prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to selling the fentanyl patches that caused a teenager to overdose fatally when he sucked on them.

This guy, James Slingerland, apparently stole his father’s supply of patches after his father, who was being treated at home for end-stage cancer pain, was taken to the hospital. Of course when you’re taken to the hospital, you don’t bring your drugs with you because they give you drugs from the hospital pharmacy.

So Slingerland had this brainwave: he would nick his dad’s drugs and sell them for a bit of extra pocket change. Except the middle-man sold them to a teenager who then chewed one and died.

This is what a brand-name Duragesic fentanyl patch looks like.

Duragesic fentanyl

Brand-name Duragesic fentanyl patch, 75 micrograms.

Fentanyl is so strong it’s measured in micrograms, not milligrams. (A microgram is one-onethousandth of a milligram. Very small amount.)

Can you see the gel inside there? People squeeze the gel out and suck on it. I have a friend from Opiate Detox Recovery who used to call brand-name Duragesic patches his “ketchup packets.” Because he said as soon as he tore the envelope off the first one and saw how squishy it was, he knew what he’d do with it. He couldn’t stop himself. (It’s part of addiction, the not-being-able-to-stop-yourself.)

Aside from drastically increasing the risk of fatal overdose by sucking the gel (in other words, you can kill yourself by doing this), the other agents in the gel are also toxic to organ systems. The gel is NOT GOOD FOR YOUR LIVER when it is eaten. Please do not eat it.

I used to buy the generic Mylan fentanyl patches.

Generic fentanyl patch

Generic Mylan fentanyl patch, 100 micrograms.

This is exactly what my fentanyl patches looked like. 100mcg. Boy does this bring back memories…

In the news stories about the upstate New York overdose, the cops were saying fentanyl is “about 80 times more powerful than morphine.” Morphine is the gold standard against which other opioids are compared, and I’ve heard lots of different estimates bandied about. Truth is, they don’t really know how to measure how much more powerful than morphine fentanyl is, because of the varying rates of absorption. If you have not a lot of body fat, fentanyl will metabolize more quickly than if you have more body fat. If you have more body fat, fentanyl will hang around in your body longer and take longer to excrete, because it’s fat-soluble. If you work out, or if your temperature runs even a degree high, and you put a patch on your skin, fentanyl will be absorbed more quickly.

People have found all kinds of ways to warm up the patches so they’ll be absorbed more quickly—so the blood levels will “spike” and they’ll feel some kind of high.

And if you stick it in your mouth, where it’s the warmest in the body—where does the nurse take your temperature?—the fentanyl will be absorbed the fastest of all. If you fall asleep (“nod”) with it in your mouth—it can kill you.

For all the readers out there who get to this post by searching on phrases like “is it quicker to eat fentanyl patch or stick it”—THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Think about the people who have died.

Fentanyl is, if you’ll excuse my French, Nothing To Fuck With. It is only for opioid-tolerant patients with high levels of pain who are being overseen regularly by a physician.

Extra fentanyl worked wonders when I had an appendectomy and when I broke my elbow. For pain in the tissues, opioids do a crack job (to use a small pun). For neurological conditions, not so much. Fentanyl suckers (“Actiq” lollipops) are marketed for neurological problems such as headaches. In my experience all Actiq did for my migraines was make me not-care about them. They didn’t take away much pain—they just made me not-care about it.

And for addiction, they’re hell. There’s almost nothing harder to get free of than fentanyl. You want to up your tolerance, you’re in for some serious debt when you pay the piper, take it from me.

Fentanyl was my ball-and-chain for three years, until I hired a detox physician to help me get free. And two years ago this week I woke up free of fentanyl. I was on Suboxone for two more months—which is another story for another day soon—but I was free of fentanyl. Thank god.

Heavy metal band Slipknot’s bassist dead of morphine-fentanyl OD

This just in via many sources… Paul Gray, 38, bassist for heavy metal band Slipknot, accidentally overdosed on morphine and fentanyl. It was also reported that he suffered from significant heart disease, which is not unexpected in an IV drug abuser.

God, I look back and cannot believe I used both those drugs. There but for some serious grace go I.

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