Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: prayer (page 1 of 4)

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.

//

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.

In The God-Box: Two Guys Taking Vicodin.

P & P's sweet yellow lab, who I love and who loves me.

Last night went to a 50th birthday party for my friend P. This morning her husband (also called P) phoned to thank me for helping him in the kitchen. I didn’t do much: gave him instructions for browning his baked brie (under the broiler), taught him how to use his own convection oven, and oversaw the complex, gourmet task of heating the Costco frozen mini hotdogs wrapped in puff pastry.

Over the phone this morning, P said her husband was suffering from an infection in one of his molars. His jaw was killing him.

“Hasn’t the doctor given him anything for the pain?” I asked. “Codeine?” They’ve known I’m an addict since the summer day in 2010 that I told them at the Tate Modern in London, looking at Niki de Saint Phalle’s “shooting” paintings.

“Yes: I picked up a Z-Pac for him this morning for the infection,” she said. I sat there waiting for her to announce Which Drug he’d been given.

“And he also has Vicodin.”

Aha!

“But they didn’t want him to take it during the party last night.”

Of course. Because he’d have been drinking. Also, it might make him sleepy. Vicodin makes normal people sleepy, and sometimes nauseated. It makes addicts like me wake up and want to clean the entire fucking house from attic to basement, all the while sorting out three or four book chapters in our minds. “My house was never so clean as when I was using,” my friend L murmured to me the other day during a meeting when someone mentioned Vicodin.

Once upon a time, if a friend mentioned she had Vicodin in the house, I might have felt an immediate, overwhelming drive to invent a pretext for coming over right away, eagle eyes scouting around for the brown plastic bottle with the child-proof cap. They say you’re either moving toward a drink/drug or away from one, and today I didn’t have that compulsion—I had the memory of it, but not the actual feeling—so today I think I’m sober.

The reality is, drugs are everywhere, anyway. In order not to descend into insanity, I have to keep steering into some kind of solution.

“Has he taken any?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s not helping.”

“When did he take it?” I asked.

She handed the phone to her husband. He said he’d taken one 7.5mg pill two-and-a-half hours before.

“G, why isn’t it helping?” he asked.

Because the fucking drugs never take away all the pain, I thought. They just take away part of it and make you not-care about the rest.

“Because when you have severe acute pain, sometimes you need a bit extra to get on top of it,” I said. That’s what they taught me at the pain clinic: when a flare comes along, try to anticipate it and take a bit extra. I suggested he take one more, and then dose every 4-6 hours as it said on the bottle.

“Is that going to be OK?” he said.

“You don’t have a problem taking drugs,” I said, “so you’re not going to have any trouble. And that much Tylenol isn’t going to hurt you. Just don’t take more than that. And why don’t you try putting some ice on your face?”

I call him a couple hours later and the one extra has helped him get on top of the pain. “It’s just like you said,” he tells me. “It’s not all gone, but it’s not killing me anymore.”

Would P ever think of chewing the Vicodin? Hell no.

//

A couple days ago I get an email from a reader, a guy about my age. Dave from California. He’s sitting out in San Diego or somewhere waiting for spinal surgery, he’s got 16 years clean and sober, the pain is frigging driving him nuts. He NEEDS to make it go away. He thanks me for my post about Chewing Vicodin.

This post gets tons of hits. There are many, many of you out there, pills in your hot little hands, wanting to know “how to maximize the effects of Vicodin.”

“I have found myself wanting to chew the medicine,” Dave writes.

Would P ever think of chewing the Vicodin?—I ask myself again. Hell no: because P isn’t an addict. P can have one or two glasses of wine. He can choose which it’s going to be: one—or two.

“Sixteen years clean,” Dave writes, “and as soon as the pain gets too big I start to think I know a better way to take pills. Thank you. Keep doing what you do. It is a service for which I am grateful.”

//

If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me to keep doing what I do with this blog, I’d have a nice packet of dough. It’s very, very kind of people to say this. I’m grateful for you guys who read me. For the many people like Dave who check in and find help and who are generous enough to let me know about it.

Dave is having his surgery today. He’s going to be in a lot of pain. I’m holding him in the light. That’s how Quakers talk about praying for someone: “holding you in the light.” (I’ve been walking around these days, holding a bunch of people in the light. It’s quite a comforting thing to do, praying for someone else’s ass life besides my own.)

“Pain sucks, man, I know,” I write to Dave, “but one addict praying for another is a powerful thing.”

If you have a moment, maybe you’d be willing to drop a note in the God-box for Dave.

Why not also pray for P?—Actually, I pray for P, too, he and his wife are quite often on my gratitude lists, but I know P will be all right. It’s Dave I’m worried about. He’s dealing with two monsters.

Why Do Some People Get Sober and Some Don’t?

Been praying for a person I know who used recently. Makes me wonder: why do some people get this program and some don’t?

Called a friend of mine who I think of as Big Daddy. He got sober in the late 1980s. He’s really tall, like my dad, and was born around the same time as my dad; Big Daddy has seen a lot of people come and go. He passed along some words from the legendary late Sally M., a woman who seemed to me to be totally batshit on the outside (I’d met her several times outside the rooms: globs of black mascara; scarlet blush; a gash of red lipstick that bled onto her teeth; wild hair; incessant, nervous chatter) but who helped a hell of a lot of people in her time. Larger-than-life in the rooms here. “Sally told me,” he said,

If you hang around these rooms long enough, you’ll see a lot of people die.

He talked about a guy who let a sponsee go because the sponsee wasn’t doing what he suggested, and kept on using. “He told his sponsee, ‘Some people just have to die,’” Big Daddy told me. “It sounds cruel, but it’s a reality—this disease kills people, and people have to know that. If you can deliver that line—‘Some people just have to die’—while letting the person know you love them and don’t want to see that happen to them, it can be a very powerful motivator.”

“I guess I just don’t buy that some people DO have to die,” I said.

But isn’t it true about any disease? Some people have to die of hypertension and stroke. Some people have to die of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer. Addiction.

And anyway, how do you “pray” for somebody? What the hell good does it do?—is what I was thinking as I washed the lunch dishes today. (My kid is home until school starts August 29. August is a long, long month, man. Thank god the heat broke.)

My mother in 1959, the year she started smoking. It killed her 40 years later, at 58.

I’ve wondered about and worried over this question a lot: how to pray for someone. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1994, I sat down that night in my room and tried to pray for her, but what could I possibly pray?—anything that came to mind seemed petulant and childish: “Please keep Mommy safe. Please don’t let her die.” Well—guess what: my mother had to die from cancer. (Actually, she had to die from her nicotine addiction, which caused her cancer.) No “prayer” or “wish” I sent out into the universe was going to change that.

Today as I prayed for this guy who used, I remembered praying for another person to whom I’d tried to make amends. Back in late 2008, early 2009, I wrote this other person a couple of letters, the first of which really pissed him off; he never responded to the second. (Yes: I fucked up the amends. Or so it seemed.) Sponsors told me to leave him the hell alone, and to Pray For Him. What I prayed was, basically, this: “Please give him all the peace and security and happiness I’d want for myself.” Whenever he came to mind, I’d put kind thoughts into my mind around him, and I’m sure it didn’t do a damned thing for him—what could it possibly have done?—but it did something for me. The next time I saw him, two years after I sent the second letter, things were Fine. I mean—the conflict had gone. We were on good terms. I was no longer afraid of him. I saw this person a couple months ago and things were still great. The change was on the order of a miracle, believe me, because for going on two decades the situation between me and this other person had been intractably bad—but it was simply a result of a changed attitude on my part.

With this guy who used it’s a little different. I already care about this person. What I need to realize is, there is nothing I can do to Make Him Stay Sober. No amount of love or understanding or patience, no amount of cajoling or reminding—none of that will make him sober, because that desire and willingness to do what is necessary needs to come from inside him. You can carry the message but you can’t force anyone to hear it or act on it.

(Program skeptics say, There’s no other disease that requires “willingness” and “desire” in order to get well. To the contrary, however: it takes a great deal of willingness and desire to heal from any of those illnesses mentioned above.)

I can still send out the same intention: “Please give my friend all the peace and security and happiness I’d wish for myself.” At the very least maybe it will give me more clarity about how to respond to him whenever I see him.

Motherhood and My Addiction: By Guest Poster Tara

Guest poster Tara, who blogs about sobriety at The Act of Returning to Normal, writes today about how her alcoholism and her motherhood were intertwined—she drank to soothe her fears that she wasn’t a “good-enough mother”… and, later, she got sober in part out of her desire to give her kids a sober mom. I’m grateful to Tara for this post—I so closely identify with her feelings about motherhood: intimidation; inferiority; setting up the goal of perfection, and never being able to meet it.

Tara, I’m so glad you’re sober today. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day.

Readers interested in guest-posting can email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.

***

Motherhood and My Addiction

by Tara

Drinking motherDuring the last few months of my drinking in the summer of 2010, I was in a serious funk. Believing that my problem was a depression that had nothing to do with the copious amounts of alcohol I consumed, I considered going to my doctor to ask for anti-depressants. The part of me that was concerned about my drinking was also convinced that if I wasn’t suffering from depression, I would definitely have to cut back. I couldn’t contemplate quitting altogether, largely because it seemed impossible, like running a marathon. So I pondered anti-depressants, but procrastinated about making a plan to take them. Part of me was afraid I would never be able to drink normally, even if I did feel better.

It was summer and I was working from home. My kids were at summer day camp. I drank vodka at lunch every day. Cautious about consuming too much, I measured the portions carefully, stopping after lunch so that I wouldn’t be too drunk to drive to camp to pick them up. Each morning I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink until after they got home. By lunch each day I broke my promise. Later, I would thank God that I had this one small responsibility. I think it was the only thing that prevented a complete downward spiral into absolute drunkenness. I believe if not for that one ten-minute drive each day that I would have started drinking after breakfast.

The weekends were a different story. It was during this summer, on the weekends, that I began drinking before lunch while my family was out grocery shopping and I was home alone cleaning up the house. Looking back, I’m not sure why drinking in the mornings seemed necessary, but I wanted solace from an anxiety I couldn’t shake. I wanted to recapture the wake-and-bake feelings I had in my early twenties—that feeling that all was well with the world. Back then, I lived in San Francisco and smoked pot all the time; then, it seemed okay to chase peak experiences because it aligned with my desire to be more laid back, more “Californian.” I was trying to change myself the only way I knew how, from the outside in, and saw smoking pot as a style choice, on a par with wearing bell-bottomed pants and listening to folk music. I stopped smoking pot in 2001 when I was pregnant with my first child. At the same time, I put away my bell-bottoms. In my mind, getting high was tied to youthful exploration and at odds with my new sense of responsibility to my daughter. It was easy to let it go.

Ten years later it seemed I still wanted the hard edges of life to melt away so that I could be left with a good feeling. I wanted to be there for my kids but I felt like I wasn’t good enough as I was. In order to be a good mother, I believed I had to reshape myself into someone who loved them enough to help them, to listen to their stories, and to automatically have all of the right answers. I wanted to give them a sense of self-confidence and well-being my parents hadn’t given me. When I was drunk—just enough—I thought the “bad mother” parts of me moved into the shadows. I thought that I had to feel good to be a good mother. I thought that to feel bad meant I was bad.

There were many tangible moments that underlined my sense of failure at motherhood: “forgetting” to sign up for sports because practice was scheduled for times I typically drank, and hurrying along the bedtime routine because I needed to get back to my glass. I’m also sure there were embarrassing moments I don’t remember: slurred words,  stumbling, and forgetfulness. I loved my kids more than anything else, but I couldn’t fully accept that my drinking prevented me from connecting deeply with them.

Then two things happened that finally led me to seek sobriety. First, in a fit of pain over my failures in parenting, I tried to hurt myself. I don’t say kill, because I don’t think that was my intention at the time, although clearly it could have been a consequence. Second, my mother-in-law lost her temper because she saw everyone in the house tiptoeing around, pretending we were fine. She now admits that it drove her crazy to be with us, because although she couldn’t put her finger on why, she knew things were not good. Her anger wasn’t specifically directed at my drinking, even though she definitely thought I drank too much and saw through the lies I told her about cutting back. She knew that my life was unmanageable even though she didn’t know the truth about when or how much I drank.

After going through these two things, I was finally able to accept that things were not “fine.” I understood I had lost myself completely and I would never get out of the mess I was in—unless I first stopped drinking. This comprehension humbled me and for the first time in over ten years I asked to be released from my addiction. I prayed every day and counted the minutes. It sounds simplistic, even now, but for the first time in years I was able to put more than one or two days of sobriety together. This simple prayer worked for a few weeks, until I realized I needed help if I were going to put any amount of time together. I found AA and it helps me to stay sober.

After months of drunken contemplation about whether my family would be better off without me, when I got sober I understood the pain my kids would feel if I just disappeared. My memories of the night I tried to hurt myself, and the scars on the inside of my wrist, keep me focused on the fact that no matter how shitty things may seem now, they were truly shitty when I was drinking.

A Talk With Melody Beattie

Melody Beattie (credit: Hay House).

When I call her, Melody Beattie (pronounced bee-tee) is in a house near Two-Bunch Palms, near Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, in the southern California desert. She is working on another writing project, a new and different kind of work than the self-help books she’s written for the past 25 years. And ever since the success of her 1986 book Codependent No More, which helped cement “self-help” as a Library of Congress category, Beattie has always come to this wasteland (no matter how beautiful it may be: the Latin origin of the word “desert” is a place “left to waste”) to start writing.

Come to think of it, the book also secured the LC category of “codependence.”

“I hate the word codependence,” she says. “It’s nothing you can wrap your hands around.”

Too late now.

Beattie’s voice has rough edges. It’s like a boat with lots of barnacles. Beattie has been through rough weather in her life—has “been though some stuff,” as they say in meeting rooms and in the rooms of therapy. She has “dealt with some issues.” Now 63 and the author of 17 books that spring from the survival skills she has honed—not all of them productive, she says—Melody Beattie recounts that she got sober at 24, in 1973, and that, by then, she had been drinking half her life. As soon as she became a teenager she was sexually approached or abused by a number of men, including neighbors, corner-boys, guys at her church, and even the husband of the woman for whom she babysat. Not long after she started drinking, she also began using drugs, eventually shooting heroin and working as a stripper to keep the supply going.

Codependent No More WorkbookOne of the more interesting things she says in her most recent book, the Codependent No More Workbook, is that drinking and drugging saved her life: if it hadn’t been for the emotional numbness that had resulted, she might have killed herself. Though I wasn’t kidnapped or raped as a child, this analysis—that what might have killed us actually, for a time, saved us—struck a certain authentic chord in me and I wanted to ask her about this and other views she takes that draw attention and sometimes criticism.

I ask her: Don’t people have problems with this idea—that drugs saved us?

She replies easily, “You know what? I don’t care what people think.”

Most of her books get very high reviews from readers, but there are inevitably a few who take issue with her ideas. For example, from an unhappy Amazon reader review of her 2010 book, Make Miracles in Forty Days:

This is the biggest bunch of hooey I have ever read. One is supposed to express “gratitude” for everything that makes their lives miserable and that will bring a miracle from God?! If I were God, I would think, if this person is so grateful for the hardships in their life, I might as well give them more misery since they are so “grateful.”

Right. The return of The God Thing.

Below is a blog-sized collection of excerpts from our conversation… starting with a question about The God Thing.

Guinevere: You write, “No greater feeling exists for me than to see proof that God knows my name, knows where I live, and cares about my life.” If that were so, how could God have let such difficult things happen to you, including the loss of your son 20 years ago, at 13 years old?

Melody Beattie: I was gonna go use that week. I just wanted 10 minutes of not feeling that. And as it happened, just then I got a phone call from a friend who had relapsed. He said, “I’ll come get you.” And when he came, I told him I wanted new syringes; so we went to a pharmacy that sold them. And then I told him: I can’t use cocaine because it’s too unpredictable. And the heroin is cut with shit. Dilaudid has that horrible orange dye in it.

And in talking this way, the other part of me kicked in. The healthy part. My friend was getting a bit upset with me: I was not behaving in the way that addicts generally think and behave. But I realized: what I really wanted was the freedom to choose.

G: But I mean, didn’t you get pissed at God when your son died?

MB: I don’t even know that I’ve totally forgiven God. It’s like I’ve tabled that issue. It’s like I’ve said, “There are some thing we’re gonna talk about later, God.”

G: You say prayer and meditation are how we get our power. But it seems to be the last thing most people think of in terms of solving a problem.

MB: I prayed a lot after Shane died. People don’t realize that the 12 steps is a bag of tools. Most people work them once while they’re cleaning up, but the 12 steps work incredibly well on everyday problems. You can work them again and again. And as tools go, they’re very responsive. If we take even half a step toward them, they move across the universe for us.

G: You write, “The biggest shortcoming of the codependency recovery movement is that codependents frequently don’t take working the steps as seriously as alcoholics and addicts. They think it’s an option, because they haven’t been the ones using drugs or drinking.” —This is a pretty big indictment.

MB: I like to ask codependents if they’ve worked the steps. Seriously—have you ever done this? Gone up to a codependent and asked them if they’ve actually worked the steps? Lots of codependents go to meetings [and think this is enough to recover]. If you read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it doesn’t say you have to go to meetings. But it does say you have to work the steps. I’m not putting down going to meetings—but you won’t get better if you don’t do the steps.

G: It’s pretty clear that you go or have gone to AA meetings. Is it OK that people know you go to AA? What about anonymity?

MB: In my books I handle that a lot of times by doing it as quoting other people’s experience with particular programs. But yeah, part of me feels guilty. Another part feels like this: sometimes rules are made to be broken. …

You know, recovery has been institutionalized.  We’ve taken the experimentalism and spontaneity out of it.

G: You write in your workbook, “The AA program taught me that God is real. Codependency recovery taught me that I’m real and that I deserve to be loved. I can fully express the person I am.” I’m interested in what you’ve learned about yourself from recovering from addictive relationships that maybe recovering from alcoholism and drug-addiction didn’t teach you.

MB: When I wrote Codependent No More they didn’t have self-help shelves in the bookstore. … My codependency took me to my knees. I thought to myself, “Here I’ve been given this fantastic gift of sobriety and I want to kill myself.

I was dirt-poor the first 15 years of sobriety. I was so filled with guilt—another survival mechanism. The majority of codependent behaviors actually resemble grief. I once had the opportunity to talk with Elisabeth Kubler Ross [author of On Death and Dying], who came up with the five stages of grief. I remember thinking, as I spoke with her, that if you add obsession and guilt to the five stages of grief, you have codependence.

You know, self-esteem can save us. A few years back I was asked to speak at my old high school, Minnehaha Academy. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the the time I went to that school. I had thought something was fundamentally wrong with me. … I don’t do many speaking engagements anymore. When I arrived, I saw that a number of teachers had come back to hear me talk. One was 90 years old! I looked at these people and realized that I hadn’t felt that kind of love and care back then. And this was a very good private school—they specialized in the creative arts. …

The principal had found a photograph of me. You have to realize, there were no photographs of me from childhood, from the time I was abducted off the street when I was 4. But this guy had managed to find one. And he put this picture of me up on the screen behind where I was speaking. It was enormous. I looked at that picture and the memories of what I’d gone through came over me. Seeing that picture of myself started a process of healing. Life will provide us the therapy we need.

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