Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: self-acceptance (page 2 of 4)

Red Bull And Radical Self-Acceptance.

Sincere thanks to everyone who has written in asking where in the sam hill G has been. WTF, G?? A month without a blog post? Where the hell are you? You are my sunshine, etc.

You are mine as well. I think about you readers every day. I love the mail I get from you. I mentally formulate blog posts for you as I go about life maniacally trying to patch all the holes in the bricks, and the blog posts back up inside my head and break through the logjam and rush downstream like the water in the Niagara Riverbed in a high-water spring, whitecaps peaking over the eternal bedrock, powering the entire region.

Where G has been: G has been enrolled in Elite Acceptance Dojang.

In April, as she was winding down a spectacularly successful semester of teaching writing, G decided that on May 1 she would quit caffeine, gluten, and (cough) sugar, in all its forms: fructose, sucrose, HFCS, white flour, the whole bit. And G also decided that, on May 2, she would Feel Awesome. G has been learning that this is her SOP: she makes the plan, she secretly writes the story, and then she has to deal with the seismic shocks that arrive when Real Life doesn’t mesh with the narrative. (Back in the day this used to be an awesome excuse to use. Reality not matching narrative = migraine = instant need for drugs.)

In fact G has been having many migraines. In fact, G did not, after quitting sugar and caffeine and gluten on May 1, feel awesome on May 2. She didn’t (yet) feel like fkn shite, either. But early in the morning of May 3, at about half past midnight, as G slept peacefully without the dregs of sugar and caffeine oozing through her blood, G’s leggy, towering 15-year-old son woke, washboard ribs convulsing, screaming that an explosion was taking place inside his skull. He pointed to his right ear.

“Come on,” said G, thinking, Stroke? No, ear infection, sliding into jeans and running shoes. “We’re going to the hospital.” The only place where, in the middle of the night, you can get Auralgan.

“I don’t wanna go to the hospital, Mom,” whined the boy, regressing to age 3, pulling a shirt on.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 15. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The boy, age 15. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“We’re going,” G said, grabbing her keys and poking the boy in the back—the best she can do these days to enact physical force on a young man of five-foot-nine-and-a-half.

It was an ear infection. Diagnosed not by the (young, male) resident, who missed the signs, but by the (middle-aged, motherly, female) attending pediatrician, after we had sat in the ER for two hours.

“You’ve got an ear infection, pal,” she said. “Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot more ear infections than the resident has.” She wrote scripts for antibiotics and Auralgan.

The next day, G decided she needed to renege on her austerity commitment. She drank a cup of strong Yorkshire tea to “get started.”

//

Did you know caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world? Fact.

Did you know that when we drink coffee or tea, we’re enacting an ancient method of extracting drugs from plants? We’re steeping, with boiling water, legal psychoactive herbs that release their drugs when the steam hits. In old-timey medicinal terms this is called an “infusion.” If you boil the herbs for a long time, it’s called a “decoction.” (I quite like that word: de-cock-shun. There’s the sound of a gun in there, somewhere.) If you let the herbs stand for a long, long time (say, a week, or even a month) in ethanol—which also brings the drugs out of the plants, but more slowly and more thoroughly, like a kindergarten teacher carefully leading her kids out on a field trip—it’s called an “extraction.”

But just because, with coffee or tea, we’re not using booze to do the trick—that doesn’t mean we’re not taking a drug.

Caffeine ain’t gonna kill you, but it can cause significant problems: insomnia, bruxism (tooth-grinding), headaches, chronic anxiety, and adrenal system disruption and depletion. The walnut-sized adrenal glands, one capping each kidney, are key to controlling our metabolisms, hormonal systems, moods and sleep cycles. Sugar stresses out the adrenals in the same way.

Adrenals—meaning, "above the renals," or the kidneys. They help run the metabolism. They crap out on us when we endure too much stress.

Adrenals—meaning, “above the renals,” or the kidneys. They help run the metabolism. They crap out on us when we endure too much stress.

I used to love my morning ritual: a Vicodin, crushed and swallowed; a cup of strong tea; and toast with butter and jam. Opioids, caffeine, and sugar. Dopamine score; adrenal drain. I’d be content for about five hours, then feel like crashing—so I’d take more: Vicodin with afternoon tea and cookies. The drugs would power me through. A lot of women take painkillers this way—to muscle, to steamroll through a big daily agenda. The same way most folks use caffeine and cookies.

Without caffeine and sugar, the pile of cells called G’s Body is not the same as it is when it’s loaded up on caffeine and sugar. My body has become tolerant to the chemical effects.

This bothers me. It means I’m not accepting my body as it is. I push it, with my will, to do things it can’t do, with destructive effects: when I drink caffeine, I crave sugar, so I get several drugs at one time. Processed sugar is a drug. I crash with migraine, fatigue, PMS, and other physical problems.

//

G's new touring bike.

G’s new touring bike.

I’ve spent more than half the days since May 1 without “getting started” on a cup of caffeine, and it feels good. On those days, I’m not constantly monitoring myself, wondering if I “need something” to keep going.

I accept myself more.

But it’s so habitual not to accept myself. It’s so habitual to do things—carry out actual acts, however seemingly inconsequential (they accrue; their value and power accrues)—that show I REFUSE to accept myself. Drink more tea. Eat more sugar. Beat the shit out of myself mentally, emotionally, tacitly, for wanting to do things (and, actually, doing the things) that I believe I can’t.

So I’m carrying out some contrary actions. My program of recovery asks me to act in ways that grate against the grain of my habits, ways that carve new paths into the neuronal structures. I’m making space for myself where I can do what I’m made to do. I’m investing in that space. I’m cleaning out old spaces and letting things go. (I have to do more of that. It’s like inventory: I don’t feel like mucking out the Augean stables; I’m afraid of what I’ll find; it’s tiring.) I’m working, and I’m trying to get reasonable rest and exercise, despite being extremely anemic.

British-made leather saddle to conserve my body.

Split leather saddle to conserve my body.

Because I’m anemic, and because I’m (habitually) afraid, I sometimes feel numb. It occurred to me the other night while walking the dog that I’ve done everything to get rid of this numbness, this fear, except two things: to use, on the one hand; and, on the other, to accept it. The teacher at the Buddhist center where I meditate advised us, in a workshop on Fearlessness in Everyday Life, to sit with fear, to feel it, to care for it, to sink into it and then finally through it to another place where we are all held by a divine something—who knows what it is or how to talk about it, but it holds us.

sober-mercies

I’ve also been reading fellow blogger and sober woman Heather Kopp’s memoir Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. I love this book. What I appreciate most about it is the candid way Heather talks about finding God—how she talks about the source of her sobriety. She is not a typical Christian. I’ll be reviewing her book here soon and giving away copies to readers who comment, so stay tuned.

I’m also reading Dave Sheff’s Clean and Dirk Hanson’s Addiction Inbox. I have lots of other adventures planned for the summer. Stay with me.

Blowing Up Midtown.

I wend my way down Third Avenue away from the Lex Ave subway stop (I call them “stops,” not “stations,” because that’s what I’ve trained myself to call them—I learned to ride the Tube in London and native Londoners on the street laugh at me when I ask where the nearest Tube “station” is—It’s a stop, innit? This is how afraid I am of being laughed at: I change my language, change my shorts, change my shirt, change my life, as Tom Waits sings, so that I can avoid even minor disapproval) and toward the midtown offices of this famous treatment center whose headquarters are in my state but which also maintains a location here. I wonder what it looks like.

It’s small. It’s narrow. It’s a little glass door sandwiched between skyscrapers in the tall steelconcrete windtunnel that is Midtown.

Caron, midtown.

Caron, midtown.

The meeting is downstairs. It’s big. Lots of people, it turns out, are “family and friends” of alcoholics and addicts in this town. I arrive five minutes late because the train was running late, I’m not used to building in time for the constant subway delays in this city, actually I’m not used to building in time for any malfunction ever, I always expect myself to be running at top speed in perfect condition, nuts tightened, pump primed, engine lubed and idling, ready to go. That perfectionism, in fact, is one reason I’m here, sitting at the back of this meeting, digging my knitting out of my bag and listening to the speaker give a “qualification.”

This is a meeting whose weekly theme is “intimacy.”

The speaker talks, to my great surprise, about sex.

No one at any meetings in my town talks about sex.

But sex, sober sex, truthful sex, Real Sex, is so important and so critical to this process they call “recovery.” Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about sex? I wonder to myself. The answer is obvious: people are embarrassed to be open about their sexual “issues” in what used, in my parents’ cocktail era, to be called “mixed company.”

But I need to know what sober sex means. Honest sex.

What does it mean? What does it look like?

(My sponsor says: Making love doesn’t always have to mean sex. It can be other things.)

The speaker makes an analogy that sounds crazy and gross but is actually, upon second thought, fairly sane: this person wants a relationship that’s so intimate that it looks the way primates look when they’re grooming each other, weeding through each other’s hair and cleaning each other down.

stock-footage-cu-monkeys-grooming-each-other-at-the-monkey-temple-in-kathmandu-nepal

Total acceptance.

We’re primates, aren’t we? I think. Don’t we have this instinct somewhere in our DNA, this need to be so accepted and cared for not just by ourselves but by someone else as well?

//

I raise my hand. I talk about sex. I cry afterward, unwillingly. I don’t take long to talk, the “spiritual timekeeper” doesn’t even signal me to shut up, but I feel stupid, like a stupid freak as I root my Kleenex out of my bag and blow my nose. I’m the only one crying—at least, I think so.

Stupid freak. This is the language that my mind uses to address myself when I talk about dangerous subjects, the language that is second-nature and feels comfortable, like a threadbare flannel shirt. It’s garbage but it keeps off the draft.

I’ve been thinking about language all day. I’ve spent the day writing for an editor I like, a guy in this city in fact. But I also, paradoxically, found myself going to Mass. I’d gone to another meeting at a church, it happened to be the holiday they call (I used to call) Holy Week, I’d gone inside the cool stone nave to be quiet and “maintain conscious contact,” and suddenly the priest showed up. He said Mass. And I knew all the responses. I spoke the language. It burbled out of some deep well inside me that I thought I’d banged the cover on long ago. I am taken aback by some of the phrases. Particularly:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you
But only say the word and I shall be healed

I shall be healed. Healed. Had I ever thought about that idea, that this “sacrament” could Heal Me? Not as such; I’d gone to church to please my parents, to look like a Good Girl, to maintain appearances, keep the varnish bright, and to somehow Meet God in “God’s house”—my mother’s term for church. I’d memorized the responses to the Mass the way I memorized my “times tables” in fourth grade; later all this memorization helped me commit calculus to short-term memory, and the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales to long-term memory, in Middle English, with spelling, and accent:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour …

Aprille. It’s April already. I’m ahead in getting my taxes done but already behind in so many other things. In Work. In Money. In Appearances. In Sex. In Life.

//

After the meeting I thank the speaker. Women and men alike express appreciation for my “share.” A guy tells me not to feel alone, that what I said about sexuality is probably a lot more common than I think. I nod my head and thank him and climb the stairs to the lobby.

I ask the woman behind the desk if Dr. Paul works here.

Paul Hokemeyer, MD, JD, clinical consultant to Caron Treatment Centers, NYC.

Paul Hokemeyer, MD, JD, clinical consultant to Caron Treatment Centers, NYC.

 

She regards me with a patient smile usually reserved for very young children. “He’s not here right now,” she says kindly, checking her watch—it’s 8:30 p.m.—“he’s left for the day.” Of course, I say; I just wondered; I’ve talked with him several times over the phone; I’m a journalist and sober blogger and I’d just wondered if these were his offices. I’m rambling a bit. I’m out of business cards; I don’t take myself seriously enough. I’m looking around at the lobby. People routinely do business over distances these days but something in me likes to place people, place faces, I’ve got quite an earthbound mind, I like to look into people’s eyes, I’m an artist

I paint portraits.

I paint portraits.

but I also wind up defending myself in situations where I needn’t. Why explain myself with the receptionist?

(because i explain defend myself with everyone)

Isn’t it time to open up a bit? to trust? … I think back to the interview I held with the Famous Author the day before. I was showing him my paintings on my new iPad; I felt as though I was not supposed to be showing him art on a fancy expensive consumerist design tool, I could hear the voice of my mother

(goddammit, who the hell do you think you are?)

but I showed him anyway; he said he recognized one of the paintings from my blog.

You read my blog? I asked.

I told you I read your blog,

he said.

I didn’t believe you, I blurted, placing my fingertips on his arm. He regarded me with slight reproach. He’d guessed my age as younger than his, though in fact I’m six or eight years his elder.

I try to live a life of rigorous honesty these days, my friend,

he said.

//

Bloomingdales_flags

Wind whipping Bloomingdale’s flags. Photo by Woody Campbell.

I walk out of the Midtown treatment center offices. The wind through Bloomindale’s flags has built to tornado force. I mechanically scan the sliver of sky for tornadoes, but of course they never experience cyclones here. I’m blowing up Third Avenue in Midtown. I’m steadying myself to keep from pitching over when a hand touches my left shoulder. I turn; it’s a woman from the meeting where they talked about sex. She asks the name of my blog. She has heard me speaking with the receptionist, saying I’m a sober blogger. She plugs the name of my blog into her smartphone and it comes up, smack, right there, in the wind, on the corner of 58th and 3rd, in Midtown.

She smiles and tells me this was her second meeting and she was glad to hear me speak. Both of her parents are addicts. Both of my parents were addicts, too, I say. She says her mother has just gotten out of rehab and her father is on methadone—not “really clean,” but still.

I tell her I’m glad they’re alive.

I touch her hand. People are so alone in this town—in this world—skin rarely touches skin. We’re evolved to receive these electric charges. We need them to power up.

She tells me that she’s been trying to change her attitude and give back to people by being a clown.

A clown? I say.

“I dress up as a clown,” she says, “and I meet people around town.”

Her face is beautiful—round cheeks, full lips, framed by dark curls.

Actually, I remember, all faces hold beauty—experiencing it requires deep looking.

A witness.

Observe These Hands, My Dear.

Arrived at my women’s meeting last night just as the meeting was starting. Came from having a withering argument with someone with whom I’ve had (and/or withstood) withering arguments for a long time. No big deal, right?—we all have folks in our lives who bring out the sharpest claws in us. I’ve had two or three panic attacks in the last couple months and they always begin with an out-of-body thing—it’s almost like I’m standing right next to my body, watching it go through the motions of a panic attack: face blanks out as though to deny the anger (mine; the other person’s); chest tightens, throat chokes, then the body starts to gasp slightly, as if it’s being dragged underwater.

Last night as I walked into the meeting I felt my face go blank and my throat choke and I walked to the chilly little bathroom at the back of the basement room where we have this meeting. At the back of the cold room, near the last wooden stall, under the window, I saw that someone had placed a space heater, and as I leaned my forehead onto the windowsill and a sob escaped the noose around my throat, I felt the heated air gliding up toward my face like a warm blanket.

My friend Tina followed me into the bathroom and called my name.

I fell stone in love with Tina the day two or three years ago that I heard her lead. Tina is one of those astonishing people who got sober at like age 22, and who has never had a drink or drug in the intervening 25 or 30 years. I don’t mean to make it sound as if it’s easy for her. It’s not. She’s a working mom whose partner, a guy with lots of sober-time and his own professional successes, enthusiastically supports her career and her work as a mother. She led me to the ratty little couch in the basement room adjoining the meeting room and as we talked she laid out some options I hadn’t seen before. Then we joined the rest of the meeting.

(What would I do without these women? Prolly drive down to one of the many bridges in this town. It’s their trust that keeps me sober.)

//

After the meeting, my sponsor, who had been there the whole time, asked me what had happened, and I told her. Again. … Do you never feel as though you must at least take a shot at making the story you’ve told a million times interesting, just to make sure the other person doesn’t scram, or scream, or fall asleep? The story of the conflict that engendered this particular argument I had last night—no way can I make it interesting. It’s the most common, most banal of stories on the face of the earth. “One of these days you’re going to get sick of hearing me talk about this and you’re going to fire me because of how boring all this is,” I told her, rolling my eyes.

(I hate it when people use the word “fire” for leaving a sponsorship. It’s not about hiring and firing. To “fire” someone is to demean them. But I said the word “fire” anyway.)

She shook her head almost in wonder and I realized I was doing it again—indulging in self-recrimination, self-censure, self-self-self, superselfinvolvement. Her eyebrows met above her glasses, and she claimed her best litigator’s stance and diction as she (once again) pointed out that I was being too hard on myself, that I was taking responsibility that wasn’t mine, that I had to cease the criticism and judgment “and, what is the word—opprobrium, shall we say?—that you use against yourself,” and to practice an attitude of gentleness and compassion toward myself and everyone else. Much of my work with my sponsor is about Step 7—humility and self-acceptance.

//

I want to fix myself. I want to figure out a Way To Be, a Pure Way that upsets no one else—so that I can do what I need to do for my own peace of mind and no one else will be affected. Teflon Woman. I know that the ONLY thing I can change is myself—so let’s get on with it, G, let’s figure out what “needs fixed” (as all my aunts used to say) and get out the toolbox and start in with the hammers and saws. There has to be something I can do to fix it. “It” being myself.

The idea that I’m fine just as I am, that I’m where I need to be right now, still doesn’t feel all that familiar.

IMG_0345

Flo (way down the trail) and Ginger chasing each other in snowy Frick Park.

When it comes upon me, however—when I let that attitude overtake me—I experience a state that approaches bliss. The other day for example it snowed, a heavy wet six inches, I ditched my morning plans because my kid’s school was delayed two hours, I drove south to the big hill in the city and walked my dog Flo and my friend P’s dog Ginger (because P is in Holland taking care of her mother) and simply allowed myself to be in the snowy morning without feeling as if I were doing anything wrong, as if I were reneging on any work (I was but amen, so be it), and I watched the dogs chase each other in the snow and heard the robins singing—a sure bellwether of spring—and the happiness welled up a little bit in me because I was right there, just doing the next thing, and it’s those moments I feel no need to change myself, Fix Myself, do anything to myself to make myself different so other people will be OK with me and my actions. Actually it wasn’t happiness, it was just contentment. The opposite of “discontent.”

“Content”—the word comes from the Latin for contain or to hold. In those moments I feel held, safe.

Other times—well, other times I stand in the Lululemon dressing room trying on expensive yoga pants and the rear-view in the three-way makes me pick apart every aspect of my body, makes me want to take out a couple grand so I can join a kickboxing class and finally possess, if never big breasts or booty, at least tiny Buns Of Steel. Still other times, I walk calmly into the church bathroom and sob quietly against the back wall. Quietly, so as not to upset anyone else.

//

My sponsor regarded me through her glasses and held up her hands. “I wish I could be like Rhett Butler with Scarlett,” she said, shaking her hands in front of my face.

“You mean,” I said, “where he says, ‘Observe these hands, my dear, they could tear you to pieces—’”

“—‘if it would take that stupid, wishy-washy idiot Ashley out of your mind,’” she finished. “I wish I could smash out of your head all that self-hatred and self-criticism. I would do it if I could.”

So she’s looking up at me, shaking her hands into my face. She ain’t no Rhett Butler. My sponsor is like two inches shorter than me—four or five when I am, as I was last night, wearing the awesome John Fluevog boots I bought in November from the Fluevog shop in lower Manhattan. No photo can convey the feeling I get from wearing these boots. They make me taller and über-badass. Impervious to (self-)criticism.

How do you kick the enemy’s ass when the enemy is yourself?

IMG_0123

Observe these boots, my dear. They were made for walking. By John Fluevog.

Then she started in about what a fascinatingintelligentspiritual person I am, how I have So Many Wonderful Qualities, blah blah blah, and I stopped listening.

(Scarlett: “Take your hands off me. You drunken fool.” Scarlett is about as adept at resisting real love as I am.)

Because I have to do that work for myself. I have to Love Myself. I can’t make anyone else do that work. (Can I?) I have to come to some kind of dependable right-sized understanding of the person I am. None of that requires Fixing Myself. I can’t screw anything in there that will make it all better. It takes time. Experience. Acceptance of mistakes, of possible mistakes, of myself. Taking steps outside my limits. Risk. Grief. Celebration.

//

Postscript: Ed died last night, peacefully, at 4:30 a.m. A great privilege to have known him. May you be at peace, Ed, and may your wisdom continue to speak words from The Cloud into our ears.

Finding Myself And My Voice.

A few weeks ago I went to a regional prescription drug abuse “summit” sponsored by the Department of Justice. The DEA was there, and Obama’s top drug-policy person, and the U.S. Attorney, and a bunch of pharmacists (including one who seven years ago had been robbed of OxyContin at gunpoint; she still cries about it). Also on the panel: my old pain physician, who I haven’t seen for two years.

I still have pain. Why haven’t I seen her for two years?—because the stuff I do for my pain has little relation to the therapies she recommended, most of which were drug-oriented. (The last drug she recommended made my hair fall out. I’m pretty much done with drug therapies, unless I’m desperate.)

I sat there and listened to my old doctor talk about how she uses a treatment protocol for every patient, and she tries not to rely on her gut feelings. (She was responding to the pharmacist who had been robbed, who told the audience she could tell which customers were addicts as soon as they walked through the doors.) My doctor talked about monitoring patients, requiring them to come in for pill counts. “It’s not foolproof, but it helps,” she said.

Too right it helps. Advocates for pain patients talk about pill counts, urine samples and other monitoring practices as discriminatory against those who have pain, treating them “like addicts.” If we removed the stigma from addiction, however, monitoring people for signs of another illness would be called good medical practice.

So anyway I went home and banged out an op-ed and sent it to my regional paper. The editor loved it. It’s going to run as early as he could run it—it’s long and he wanted to give it a good ride, he said. The piece outs me as a drug addict, and it calls my late father an alcoholic and my late mother a nicotine addict, and I thought about it carefully and decided I’m pretty much OK with all that, especially since the entire point of the piece is to bust down the stigma surrounding addiction and ask the public for treatment and compassion rather than punishment and censure. I keep reminding myself that both my parents told me before they died that I needed to write what I needed to write.

Dawned on me last night:

The piece is running the weekend my sister is staying here with her family.

Right away the addict in me took over. I wanted to call the editor, tell him to run it a week later. Or a week earlier, to get it over with before they arrive and I have contact with my sister, who I love and who I hardly ever get to see. And with my brother, whom I also love and about whom I never write, because he’s intensely private. Run it a different time, anyhow—because when I begin to panic about other people’s reactions, anything that’s actually happening must be wrong, I have to make sure everyone will be OK with what I say, everyone will be OK with who I am, with my point of view, because to be OK inside myself my first instinct is to make sure the people around me are OK, especially with me.

I’ve often wondered why I don’t get to say what’s real for me without being afraid. This blog is an exercise in doing that.

//

I’m noticing that the longer I spend sober, the more myself I seem to become. The more I speak in my own voice. The more I have desires and instincts that feel authentic. The more at peace I am with me.

Except when it comes to my family.

It doesn’t make a difference that my parents are dead: they’re still very much present for me.

I think of the things that happened in my family to silence me. (I speak only from my own perspective here; it’s my belief that they worked to silence large parts of all of us, but I’m only speaking for myself.) When I was little: the smackings, the beltings, the screaming. When I was older: the hours-long moral and philosophical inquisitions held at the kitchen table when I disagreed with a principle of my parents’—usually of my mother’s. Never being allowed to have the last word. Being told I had a temper that I had to squash. My mother’s jealousy of my artistic abilities. (Never mind her discourse and behavior around sexuality.)

If I gave my son that treatment, I’d expect he’d do something later in life to numb his feelings out.

My son stood in the kitchen the other day and said:

Mama, thank you for raising me well. I will never take it for granted.

He doesn’t say this for my benefit. He knows he doesn’t have to take care of me.

He says it because it’s true for him.

What a gift.

//

Many of us have been hurt in childhood.

Saturday in a meeting on steps 3 and 4 a friend told this story: A friend of his in recovery had been sexually abused. “Ultimate victim, right?” my friend said.

No way can you blame a child for his sexual abuse. No way can you hold him accountable. But my friend said: “You know what my part in this abuse is? My part is my willingness to let go of it.”

Each of us has our own ways of letting go and growing through adversity, moving closer to who we were created to be. Some people hold the hurt in their hearts and let it go silently, and other people talk about it—or write songs about it, or paint pictures about it. Or write stories about it.

Rodin: “The Hand of God Creating Woman and Man.” At Rhode Island School of Design’s museum. I love how the man has wrapped both his hands around the woman’s head. … Rodin’s pieces are always so confrontational and inviting that museums have to post signs ordering viewers not to touch.

So I’m going to let the piece run when the boss wants to run it.

To accept myself I have to accept that I’m the kind of person who lets go by expressing herself. I have to be willing to allow other people to have their responses to that.

Recovery, Step 1: How Not to Jump Off A Bridge.

A couple weeks ago I felt an intolerable urge to jump off a bridge. I even had a specific bridge in mind, the oldest still-standing bridge here, one of my favorites in this “city of bridges.” It’s especially beautiful at night

though the image that looped in my mind was of jumping off the side (specifically, the west/downstream side, the side pictured above) during the day.

In other words, while everyone around could see me. Performance of a lifetime.

This was the week that Allgood visited. I hadn’t confided my urge to jump off the bridge to Allgood because, at the time, the desire was so weird, so true, that I hardly recognized it was happening. Just like the bleeding—I’d been bleeding for three weeks before life forced me to recognize that I was actually bleeding OUT.

I’d confided other things to Allgood, because he cares about me, and because I thought that if I talked to him, the pain that I thought maybe was making me think about jumping off the bridge would ease. But I also told a few other people about my urge. For example, I called my sponsor. And I told a therapist, who fortunately recognized how much trouble I was in and asked me to guarantee my safety to her—to promise that I would commit myself to a psychiatric facility rather than waiting for someone else to do it. (Or, of course, jumping.)

These acts—telling other people what I was thinking and promising someone else I’d take care of myself first—are the same as telling someone before I use. Because, as a commenter said here recently, what we’re all engaged in doing in recovery is “keeping from killing ourselves”—whether it’s jumping off a bridge (quickly) or drinking/using (sometimes, though not always, more slowly).

I began to be suicidal on a Wednesday afternoon, and I don’t know why it was that the act of jumping off a bridge was the one that overtook my imagination. There are less painful and messy ways to die. It was only two days later, when I found myself looking at a story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website about what happens to the body when it hits the water, what the Coast Guard has to deal with, what the medical examiners usually find inside, that I knew I was really off my rocker. By then I’d been crying most of the day for two days and unable to work much.

I was also unable to make the simplest of decisions. I couldn’t decide what to have for lunch. I couldn’t decide whether to accept my friend P’s weekend invitation to join her and her daughter and another friend, with my dog and three other dogs, at her house in the country. It seemed like a massive decision, an un-scalable mountain.

“You know, P,” I said over the phone, “I’m not really doin too well.”

“I hear that in your voice,” she said kindly. “L and I don’t mind. You can just sit all weekend and watch the dogs.”

“But what if Flo doesn’t get along with the big dogs,” I asked. There would be Ginger and L’s two adult male dogs, Cooper and Simon.

“She’ll be fine,” P said.

In fact, she was fine. Here she is, being fine:

 

For most of the weekend we sat and watched The Dog Movie. We also ate—the four of us women cooked for each other. We cleaned up. We rested. It was very hot, in the 90s, and the puppy and I would go into our dark little room and she would laminate her belly to the cool wood floor and I’d lie down on the bed and turn the fan on my body, and we’d nap.

Sunday the tide turned, I could get through the day without weeping, I began to laugh again. I brought Flo home Monday.

And when I got back, I realized this is what happened to make me nuts: I’d stopped, on schedule, taking the massive dose of progesterone prescribed to me to make me stop bleeding. I’d read Ayelet Waldman’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine about her desire to top herself when her progesterone began crashing in perimenopause; I spoke to my doctor about it, she confirmed my analysis. I’ve put safeguards in place to help me through this month.

But it was a shock.

I began speaking about it in meetings. To make it real. To avoid hiding it out of shame. And I was amazed by the responses I received. My 73-year-old friend Martha (who is one of my surrogate mom figures) told me, inside a meeting and with tears in her eyes, that she wanted me to stick around because I was very important to her and she couldn’t do without me. My friend Big Daddy, also 73 and six-foot-four, put his arms around me and let me cry on him. “I want you to learn to be more permissive with yourself, Baby,” he said.

But you have to exert discipline around these thoughts. They are unacceptable.

My friend E called me and listened while I told him what happened. Which humbled me because E, also in his 70s, is having chemo for cancer. He sees himself as being in recovery from two life-threatening illnesses. And here I am, comparatively “healthy” and engaging in this thinking.

Then there was Allgood, who I eventually told over email that I’d been in real trouble. I got a series of replies, among them this one the other night while I was at my son’s graduation from middle school:

Dear G—you have helped me enormously. Promise me you will call me before you visit any bridges …..please.  Love, A

Always strange to hear I’ve helped someone. But why shouldn’t I be able to help someone?—it’s selfish to think I can’t.

It’s also selfish to beat myself up for having these thoughts. Or for any reason, really.

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