Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: recovering from addiction

G Gets Strong: Day 3 | Finding Out I Am A Pussy

So here we are in the new year, with our lists of resolutions. It’s hard to make small changes, much less large-scale changes that alter the entire landscape of one’s life.

Shane Niemeyer

Shane Niemeyer at his 2003 booking in Boise.

Trawling my Gmail inbox for a good story I happened across the one about how the addict who tried to hang himself in an Idaho jail failed to do the job thoroughly and wound up alive after all. (A number of us know how that feels; I don’t, exactly, but a number of us do.) While recuperating in a straitjacket he found some magazine stories about triathletes. He turned the pages with his feet and decided that if killing himself hadn’t worked, he’d—well—he’d become a triathlete.

And he did.

Shane Niemeyer running Kona triathlon

Recovering heroin addict Shane Niemeyer running his first Ironman World Championship race in Kona, Hawaii.

That was seven years ago. He just completed the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

Triathlons are three races in one: running, cycling and swimming. I know this because the Surgeon Mom of one of my kid’s friends is a former triathlete. (She is one of a number of moms with whom I have a nasty habit of comparing myself, usually with poor consequences)

I don’t want to be a triathlete, but I have made it a goal this year to test my strength. So two days ago I started an exercise regimen. The regimen calls for me to exercise six days per week for at least an hour per day. It also calls for an initial nutrition plan of 50 percent protein, 30 percent carbs and 20 percent fat. Which is a lot more protein and a LOT less carb than I’m used to eating.

So I’ve been on this regimen. And I’m learning two things:

  • My body is fairly fit (I passed the fitness test), and I eat pretty nutritiously to begin with
  • Psychologically, I am a wuss.

Weakling, coward, sissy. Pussy. My dad would say “candy-ass.”

How do I know this?—because when I couldn’t do what I needed to do, as hard as it was being demonstrated to me, as fast and as many times as it was being demonstrated (perfectly, in other words), I wanted to quit. I needed to quit. I needed to hide my face even from myself.

When I couldn’t do even ONE of this particular exercise (I crashed on my forehead, from a very short distance), I almost gave up my resolve to do the entire program. How’s that for extremist, black-and-white, if-I-can’t-have-it-now-I-won’t-have-it-at-all thinking.

I consulted Angela, my coach. She wrote: “It is a 90 day program for a reason.”

Jesus God, I am so tired of having sponsors/coaches/therapists/other borrowed or paid shamans tell me I have to Do Time. Time In Grade, my sponsor says. When does the freebie come.

(Addict-bullshit. Get grateful, girl.)

“It takes a while to advance, and you have to have room to grow or there is no motivation.”

Not me, mate! My motivation derives from being in front at the off.  … Pffff.

“So please don’t view it as inadequacy, just opportunity to grow. All you need to do is show up and just move that body as best YOU can every day.”

She also said something else that I like:

Do your best
And forget the rest

That rhyming advice (“Attitude of gratitude,” etc.) is always great, and usually helpful, and true. … But this is just the sort of thing that was never said to me as a kid. It was more like

Do your best
And your best better be perfect
Or your ass
Is grass

(“What does ‘Your ass is grass’ mean?” my British husband asked the other day when I quoted this favorite saying of my dad’s. My husband is Oxford-educated, has rather a vivid imagination; I could see he was picturing blades of grass sprouting from someone’s cheeks. … I laughed. “It means, I Will Mow Your Ass Down,” I said. “Jeez,” he said, “it took me this far in life to get that.” I introduce him to such High Life. Oops, no pun intended.)

I remember when I decided to go to grad school. Big Change. I’d gotten myself into a terrible relationship with a guy who drank all the time (and so that’s what I did too), I’d wrecked my car, and I thought what I probably needed was to make a change. Really what I probably needed was six months in a rehab, or at least heavy-duty counseling somewhere away from my parents. But in lieu of that, I decided I’d go to grad school and try teaching my way through a writing program. And here, verbatim, was my mother’s version of support: She looked at my face through narrowed eyelids, took a drag on her cigarette, and said, stabbing the butt in my direction,

What the hell makes you think YOU can handle those college kids?

(then exhaling smoke in my face)

Poor mum. What that was about, I can see now, was: SHE wanted to be able to teach the college kids. But it wrecked my confidence. I allowed it to. I was 24; the kids, some of them, were 20. For a long time, when I’d walk through the door of a classroom, I’d hear those words in my mind.

Amends, I can see now, are not always about going back to a grave site and reading a letter. They’re sometimes about kicking somebody else out of your head-space.

I passed one year sober the other day. I’ve got more than two years working the 12 steps to stay clean and sober, and compared to One Year, 90 days looks like small time. Angela told me she used to say to herself that she could do anything for 90 days. Well, I know I can, and that’s not bravado. I mean, I’m used to putting myself on a five-minute basis of not using. I’m used to Going To Any Lengths.

I’m sore as hell. I’m used to being sore. I actually even like being sore. I just don’t like Not Being Able To Do What I’m Told To Do. If I need to go to any lengths, and I can’t, then how do I get better?

I guess I just show up and try again. Welcome to the human race.

It took Shane Niemeyer seven years to get to the world championship in Kona.

Haven’t bought a pull-up bar yet. But I will.

Reviews: “Black Swan” And “The King’s Speech.”

Today is “One Plus One” because I have one year and one day of continuous sobriety… yay. More on that later.

Also because I’m reviewing two films I saw over the holiday, both of which illuminate problems and solutions faced by addicts seeking (and sometimes not seeking) recovery.

Black Swan

Natalie Portman Black Swan

Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.”

An enjoyable psycho-ballet-thriller. Natalie Portman, who was miscast as Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl because of her lack of voluptuousness (and her inability to shed her American accent), was fine as Nina, the anorexic-bulimic-workaholic ballerina whose body is controlled at home by her mother (Barbara Hershey) and at work by her artistic director (hot Frenchman Vincent Cassel, who was also marvelous as the Duke of Anjou in Elizabeth).

Nina doesn’t own herself.

Trying, like a good little addict, to please everyone, she drives herself, working late nights until even the company’s rehearsal pianist calls it quits and tells her to go home and find a life. But she has no home, because her mother rules her apartment, even crashing in an armchair in her room. … Her body rebels with rashes and adhesions, which she goes to great length to hide. Another more sensuous ballerina in the company (Mila Kunis) tries to befriend her and mentors her in the art of popping pills and seducing dudes in clubs—a kind of false “letting go” which leads to delusions and paranoia, sending Nina past the point of no return. She wills herself through all her obstacles and eventually gets what she wants—professional success, approval, billboards on the side of Lincoln Center, etc.—but at a huge cost, and she never comes close to trusting or connecting with any of the other characters despite their best efforts. Which is the point: her illness drives her to complete isolation.

The King’s Speech

Colin Firth in The King's Speech

Colin Firth as the stammering King George VI in The King’s Speech.

The King’s Speech and Black Swan are about the same problems, really: childhood abuse and the illness it creates, including illnesses of obsessiveness and compulsiveness comparable to addiction, if not also including addiction; and reclaiming ownership of the body in an effort to reclaim self-expression.

“I have a voice!” shouts Colin Firth as the stammering King George VI. “Yes, you do,” says Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, his speech therapist cum psychotherapist/sponsor.

I loved The King’s Speech. It was good to see Helena Bonham Carter playing something along the lines of a real human being for once, rather than a demented psycho wiccan, or an animated character. She makes a decent human being.

Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, cheerfully refusing to co-sign Bertie’s bullshit.

The aspect I liked best was the relationship between Bertie and Lionel. “Bertie” was the pet-name used only by the king’s family for the king himself, and Lionel demanded to use the nickname. The moment I liked best, the one I wrote down, was the moment when Lionel and Bertie negotiate their initial meeting: Lionel tells Bertie not to smoke and makes it clear he is not going to, as it were, “co-sign any bullshit.”

As the film progressed, their relationship began to parallel a sponsor-sponsee relationship. For example, it turns out that Lionel isn’t a “doctor” of speech therapy but rather a former actor who started using his experience in drama to help shell-shocked veterans of the Great War to reclaim their powers of expression: just one guy using his experience in the service of helping other suffering guys. The guy he’s helping now, it turns out, was starved by his nanny, abused by his parents, bullied by his brothers, put into painful leg-splints to correct knock-knees and made to use his right hand when he was naturally left-handed. Isolated as royalty, he could tell no one about his feelings. His fear almost literally choked him.

“My sign doesn’t say ‘doctor,’ and I don’t have any letters after my name,” Logue tells Bertie, after the Archbishop of Canterbury (an always formidable Derek Jacobi) questions his credentials and attempts to replace Logue with his own candidate. The king wavers in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, feeling forced to fire the man who has been the only person in the world to whom he could confide any of his fears—the root of his stammering problem: fear.

“Your majesty,” the prelate says imperiously, “your function is to be advised, and I have advised you. My duty is to look after the person on whose head I am to place this crown.”

“Thank you, archbishop,” Bertie says finally, “but it is, after all, my head.”

The ending, naturally, is historic. But the way in which Logue helps the king deliver his first wartime speech, in the film at least, is a brilliant piece of sponsorship. All along the way he lets Bertie make his own hesitations and mistakes and decisions. He allows himself to screw up. He waits stuff out. He cares, but he remembers it’s about the job and not about his own ego. Though he’s dealing with the top dog, he might just as well be helping any schoolboy. And the man heals.

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