Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: recovery (page 1 of 15)

She Recovers in NYC: Healing Alongside Our Sisters

She Recovers in NYC

The She Recovers in NYC conference is the first-ever international meeting to pay attention to the particular needs of women in in all kinds of . Aside from being one of the happiest celebrations of recovery on the planet, She Recovers in NYC is built to help us heal from serious problems that compromise our recovery.

It’s just real that, as women, we face some challenges that are different from those of our male counterparts. One of the most prevalent and important is the level of trauma in our histories.

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A Different Prince.


Prince, pupils pinned v.01. (When you’re addicted to opioids, you can hide a lot, but you can’t hide your pinned pupils.)

When they said Prince had been saved by a shot of naloxone on the plane home from a show, I knew he’d been using something stronger than Percocet, and I was right.

I didn’t say this out loud, or write it here, because some people who loved Prince were screaming on social media that anyone “standing by to call him ‘addict'” were “haters.”

I don’t want to be a hater. I just want to tell the truth. I knew he was on something stronger than Percocet. He must have been, for a long time. Otherwise, the Tylenol in Percocet would have shut his liver down long ago.

“The decedent self-administered fentanyl,” the medical examiner wrote.

By all rights, I should have gone the way of Prince. For three and a half years I was prescribed fentanyl for migraine and fibromyalgia, and, as he did, I took too much (aka, “overdosed”). Many times.

Fentanyl is the strongest painkiller known. It comes in lollipops and in patches that you’re supposed to stick on your skin, but people who abuse the drug often suck on the adhesives. I did.

Mixed with heroin, fentanyl has killed dozens in the Northeast and Midwest United States.

Fentanyl is not as commonly prescribed for chronic pain as Vicodin, Percocet or OxyContin, for the simple reason that it’s much more lethal. Fentanyl is about 80 times stronger than morphine or heroin. From the variety of estimates given in the press and in professional literature, it’s clear that scientists have not even determined the precise bioequivalencies.

It’s just fucking STRONG.

Fentanyl’s particular pharmacologic qualities allow it to zip into the brain like a high-speed train, flooding receptors and stopping autonomic functions, including breathing.

Prince was apparently saved at least once by a shot of naloxone, or Narcan, a drug that kicks any painkiller off the receptors and reboots respiration. To help save lives in the opioid addiction epidemic, Narcan must be made more widely available.

But when dealing with fentanyl, the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network notes that EMS staff generally don’t have enough time to use Narcan “because this highly potent opioid can quickly cause death.”



Prince, pupils pinned v.02.

I know how Prince would have felt when he was overdosing. He would have felt as if someone were stacking a pallet of bricks on his chest. Brick by brick, he would have exhaled, maybe closing his eyes, and it would have been a long time before his body wanted to inhale again. He might have wondered whether his body would remember to breathe.

He died alone on the floor of an elevator. Just sit and hold that image for a minute.

If he were in excruciating or intractable pain, which by many accounts he was, respiratory depression might, sadly, have come as a relief. For 30 years Prince performed acrobatic stunts in high-heeled boots, and the hip surgery he had about 10 years ago reportedly did not resolve his pain.

As a serious performer, Prince wanted above all to show up as the sequined spectacular of Paisley Park, The Purple One, The Artist. American society is competitive, and it values only what we’ve done lately, and those of us who grow up inside it—as children, being bullied by its bullies—learn to identify ourselves primarily with what we can DO. If we can’t perform, if we cannot work construction, sit for hours in front of a computer, carry our children—or sing the songs we ourselves have written and do splits with a hardwood guitar strung across our chest—without debilitating pain, we may begin to feel there’s little reason to live.

Often, our solution is to find a way to control or numb our feelings about the pain so we can do whatever the hell we want.

No: it’s up to scientists and physicians to find ways to control pain. We ought to surrender that job to them. When we play around with doctors’ tools, we risk our very lives.


My detox from fentanyl in 2008 was a hard, year-long slog, and it taught me my job is to find ways to treat my body so I don’t hurt it in the first place. We all need to live inside our mortal bodies and learn to accept their earthly limitations.

Drugs—the doctors’ and pharma corporations’ solutions to problems—give us the ability to power through pain, but at what cost?

To be sure, no one really knows what crossed Prince’s mind when he put the extra patch on his skin, plastered it inside his cheek, or sucked the extra fentanyl lollipop.

Ostensibly being a devout Jehovah’s Witness, he may have wished he could quit the drugs. His staff apparently called in an addictions specialist shortly before he died—a California doctor who was sending his son to Minneapolis to conduct an addiction intervention—so it sounds as if Prince, and/or the people who surrounded him, might have known he had a serious drug problem.

Not many people have ever taken fentanyl. Having unfortunately been there, I can say it’s beyond hard to quit. Anyone using fentanyl to feed their addiction—or even to numb chronic pain—is in dire straits and will be slowly backed against a wall. Whether quitting the drug and getting sober or continuing to take the drug to control pain—either decision requires a transformation of one’s life, an acceptance of real limitations, physical and psychological. 

Prince might have been saved by Suboxone—the partial-agonist opioid drug used in detox and medication-assisted treatment, which the California doctor’s son was reportedly bringing to Prince the day he died. In fact, Suboxone helped me detox—but I’m glad I didn’t wind up taking it indefinitely.

Ironically, Suboxone or Subutex may also have controlled Prince’s pain. But never again would he have been able to leap off risers and cavort in high heels.



Prince, pupils pinned, v.03.

I remember dancing with my hazel-eyed college boyfriend to “Little Red Corvette.” (Ahhh.) That song is like a scent that forever hangs in the hallways of my brain, preserving my personal history. Little Red Corvette.

Those memories get filed away, and we move on. Right?

In order to live, Prince would have had to file those memories of landing in splits and accept his body’s demand that he transform his idea of himself—that he find a different way to be Prince. And we still would have loved him.

The Prince is dead. Long live the Prince..

The Prince is dead. Long live the Prince..

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Tina Fey’s Awesome Advice That May Save Your Life.

My husband gave me Tina Fey’s Bossypants for my birthday. Seriously behind the curve on this book, which was published in April and which both my sister and my friend P snagged within minutes of its release.

I should be rationing myself to like two pages per day, because the book has only 275 pages and I want the laughs to last longer than 2.5 days, but in classic addict-fashion (More Is Always Better) I’ve been steaming through it instead of doing other things I should be doing, such as grinding through every past-season episode of “Monk” on streaming Netflix with my kid (he likes “Monk”; also “Psych”; I’m OK with “Monk” because Adrian reminds me of me—I do crazy shit like straighten the pictures on the walls of other people’s houses—but “Psych” weirds me out ) or cleaning the toilets. Tina Fey’s payoff somehow provides more of an incentive.

Last night I read her rules for improv.

  • Rule No. 1: Always agree and say yes to everything that happens.
  • Rule No. 2: Add something to the conversation (say “yes, and”).
  • Rule No. 3: Make statements. Instead of speaking in questions all the time (which makes your partner do all the work in improv—if you ask the questions, they have to come up with all the answers), be responsible and make statements. Be part of the solution.
  • Rule No. 4: There are no mistakes. Only opportunities.

Rules No. 1 and 4 might save my life. (Along with her list of all the physical attributes a woman is now expected to possess, including “the abs of a lesbian gym owner” and “doll tits,” and her stories about the SNL writers who piss in cups) But the other two rules are good, too. Saying “yes, and” is important. It fosters conversation. It moves life along instead of allowing it to stay stuck. And making statements grows assertiveness.

Fey writes,

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

If she were following her own advice, she’d make a statement and say That’s no frigging way to live. I’m familiar with that way of life. That way of life shuts down creativity and intuition and possibility and hope.

(Today’s experiment: Pick any one of these four qualities—creativity, intuition, possibility, hope—and you have today’s higher power.)

But saying “No, I can’t” right off the bat is the way I learned to live.

I’m unlearning it.

(If you like this, please share it on Twitter or FB. 🙂 )


Connect with me

Addiction and Recovery | In Your Eyes.

First, many thanks to the many people who took 45 seconds over the weekend to connect with me. Lots of great suggestions and feedback, which is valuable to any writer. Will take me some time to process—meanwhile, more always welcome.

Today I’m thinking about eyes.

Someone was telling me the other day about her adult daughter, who she said is living at home with her and is addicted to painkillers. First morphine, now Vicodin. “Now we have to get her off the Vicodin,” she said. Her nose was running. She kept taking a tissue out to blow her nose. A cold, I thought.

“Is she truly addicted? Is she acting out?” I asked.

“She sometimes gets violent,” she said. Then her eyes snapped to my face. “How do you know about this kind of thing?”

“I’m a drug addict,” I said.

“How?” she asked. She looked at my face, my clothes. I don’t “look like” a drug addict. So I told her “how.” She started to cry.

After she blew her nose the third or fourth time, I frankly looked into her eyes.

I’m used to looking at people’s faces and figures. I’m an artist and always on the lookout for subjects. I’m also a writer. In most of the stuff I’ve written or painted, I’ve focused on seeing inside people. Buildings bore me. Landscapes bore me. They don’t have eyes. They don’t have bones.

In my second book, I was hired to see inside a person who had died at a young age of cancer. To do that I interviewed people who had known her, including her parents and husband and surgeon, and I also studied many photographs of her face and figure.

To create an effective portrait or profile, you have to notice things about people. Seeing inside people can feel like an invasive act; it can in fact BE an invasive act. You have to be careful you don’t bring your own projections to the process of seeing. But total objectivity is a myth, and it’s impossible to leave yourself entirely behind.

What I saw when I looked into her eyes was: her pupils were pinned.

The light was by no means bright.

Right away part of me wished I hadn’t looked. Her family life was falling apart, she said; and I didn’t want to know that she herself might have a drug problem.

Pinned pupils are a sentinel indicator of opioid ingestion. A runny nose is a sign of opioid withdrawal. You can hide many of the rest of the signs of opioid drug-use—itching; mania; somnolence (sometimes you can hide this); lack of appetites for food, exercise, sex. You can hide some of the signs of withdrawal—sweating; gut cramps; goose-bumps. You can try to hide a runny nose, but you cannot hide pinned pupils.

Here are my pupils in August 2008, two weeks before I detoxed:

Guinevere's eyes two weeks pre-detox, August 2008.

I look desperate, lost. Dull. Fading away.

When we “get clean,” when we detox from drugs or alcohol, when we recover from any illness, our bodies show the effects.

Last week my friend Dawn shot some photos of me. She has a big-ass camera with lots of pixels. One of the first things I noticed when I looked at the proofs was my pupils. Big, dark pupils. Also: healthy skin. No amount of money can buy these when you’re wrecked.

G's eyes, October 2011.


There are a few things about people’s bodies that tell their stories without their speaking. I look at a person’s mouth. I look at hands. (The nails, the shapes of the bones, the skin stretched across hands say a great deal about a person’s physical and emotional life. I love looking at hands.) And of course, the life of the eyes is extremely difficult to control. They are almost literally windows. If two people look long enough into each other’s eyes—in real life (“IRL”)—even without speaking, they will break down in tears or some other expression of deep feelings, because the act is so intimate. That intimacy of eye-contact is hard-wired into us. It’s easy to avoid online.

If you look closely enough at the photo of my eyes (click image for full size) you can even see a reflection of Dawn.


I was thinking over the weekend that many of us addicts and alcoholics get tired of admitting our addictions. “It’s not all I am,” people say. “My addiction is not my whole identity. There’s more to me besides.” True. But I was thinking about how there’s a certain freedom for me these days in being “out.” In not hiding. It allows me not only to help others, but also to accept who I am more fully.

Which means I can move more readily toward the person I am becoming.

What does your body say about you? How much do you try to hide?

Eminem Officially Named God (of Rock).

GQ has named Eminem a God of Rock.

(My man Robert Plant is in there too. Also three women!—Deborah Harry, Erykah Badu, P.J. Harvey.)

Shady says he couldn’t have done the last two albums, much less stayed alive, without being sober.

The GQ portrait. Dude: nice necklace.

On the ways the things that made him push himself also made him into a junkie:

The thing sobriety has taught me the most, is the way I’m wired—why my thought process is so different. I’ve realized that the way I am helps with the music. Sporadic thoughts will pop into my head and I’ll have to go write something down, and the next thing you know I’ve written a whole song in an hour. But sometimes it sucks, and I wish I was wired like a regular person and could go have a fuckin’ drink. But that’s the biggest thing about addiction: When you realize that you cannot—for fuck’s sake, you can NOT—fuck around with nothing ever again. I never understood when people would say it’s a disease. Like, ‘Stop it, dickhead. It’s not a disease!’ But I finally realized, Fuck, man—it really is.

On being a freak in rehab:

Look, every addict in rehab feels like everyone’s staring at them. With me? Everyone WAS staring at me. I could never be comfortable. There were people there that treated me normal. Then there were a bunch of fucking idiots who aren’t even concentrating on their own sobriety because they’re so worried about mine. They’re stealing my hats, my books—it was chaos. Everything was drama in there. And at the time, I didn’t really want to get clean. Everybody else wanted me to. And anyone will tell you: If you’re not ready, nothing is going to change you. Love, nothing.

On caring too much what other people think about you:

I would hear people saying this and that about Relapse. Certainly I’m not going to sit on the Internet all day and read what Sam from Iowa is saying about me. But I’m a sponge. I’ve always been a sponge.

Read the interview

More on Eminem

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