Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: self-care (page 1 of 2)

Is It Easy to Quit Suboxone?

Some of you may know I’ve gone back to graduate school to get licensure to be a therapist. Here is an actual statement made in my textbook in the chapter about substance-use disorders:

[Buprenorphine] does not produce the physical dependence that is characteristic of heroin and can be discontinued without severe withdrawal symptoms.

Statements like this one make me turn into the Tasmanian Devil inside.

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 11.05.47 AM

Look, Suboxone saved my life, okay? There is no other way I could have detoxed off fentanyl—what other person do you know who has been on fentanyl for 4 years and lived to tell the tale?

But I had the good sense and sheer luck to take Suboxone for less than 3 months, and at doses much lower than the high-dose therapy that’s common in the U.S. Thank god I had ordinary recovering people rather than doctor, researchers, or expert talking-heads looking out for my welfare—I was tempted to stay on it long-term, because I’d been on major opioids for so long that I didn’t think I could do without them. And whatever the textbooks and “experts” might say,

buprenorphine is a major opioid.

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Renee Zellweger And The Fallacy Of “Total Abstinence.”

Ceci n'est pas Renee Zellweger.

Ceci n’est pas Renee Zellweger. And Our World Is Rocked.

So apparently we should be paying attention to the fact that Renee Zellweger has further fucked up her face. Whatever she did this time—and there are a million writers out there trying to scratch out a measly buck tracking down doctors willing to speculate about what it was—clearly it wasn’t the first time she commissioned knife and/or needle against herself. She’s been bingeing on Botox for years.

A lot of the publications that are running this shit have surprisingly venerable histories. The Atlantic, for example. I mean The Atlantic published Emerson, Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson and Mark Bleeding Twain, for godsake. What the hell are they doing? Playing vulture to the carrion of our voyeurism. We wrote snarky shit about her Lemon-Head face and that made her fuck herself up, and to top it off it makes you read what I’m writing now, because don’t you wish you had her rich-and-famous life? etc.—this is how Big Media make their money.

I used to read Time Magazine when I was a kid. It was practically the only non-religious publication, besides the Pittsburgh Press, that used to come to the house. That was back in the 1970s, when the magazine first spun People off its “lifestyle” pages, since Time, Inc. was no longer publishing Life. Way back when, for chrissake, Time used to publish James Agee. His novel A Death in the Family and his nonfiction account of southern tenant-farmers, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, were books whose language and commitment of their author (admittedly ill with alcoholism and probably more besides) shaped my idea of what it meant to be a writer: You had to do a good job, not just for yourself but also for your sources, for your readers, and for the writers who had come before you.

Now nobody owes anybody anything. It’s a free-for-all—market laissez-faire.

//

Let Us Now Praise Famous MenAgee had been under contract with Fortune to write a piece about cotton sharecroppers, but after spending time with the impoverished “Gudgers” he found he no longer had it in him to use these poor people as tools to produce the shiny happy piece that Madison Avenue required, so he said Fuck It: I’ll make a book instead. You know how many copies he sold?—1,000. In nine years. The publisher waited nine years before putting it out of print. Today a sales record like that wouldn’t last six months.

The 1960s civil rights movement resurrected the book, and it hasn’t been out of print since then. Because its excellent language and deep integrity speak for themselves. They teach people how to be human.

By the same token, the headline for the Time story about Zellweger’s latest cosmetic “fix” lacks integrity—”Leave Renee Zellweger’s Face Alone!” It’s a manipulative, “hurry-up-and-wait” kind of line: Hey everybody, I’m gonna set fire to myself, so DON’T look at me!

But what pisses me off so much about this Renee Zellweger “story,” if you can call it that, has nothing to do with Renee Zellweger herself but with the fact that the media perpetuate this self-destructive thing that women do to ourselves—this compulsive looking in the mirror, the constant examination of ourselves, a fixation on self. Which is one of the roots of addiction: selfishness, self-centeredness. Obsessive self-reference. My bro David Foster Wallace wrote in “This Is Water”:

And the so-called Real World will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along on the fuel of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self.

We read about Renee Zellweger but we’re really thinking about ourselves. You can bet that next week her face will be on the cover of People. We might read People in the grocery store line and go home and eat a big bowl of ice cream, because even if Renee Zellweger has fucked up her face, she’s rich-and-famous and automatically has a better life than we do. Automatically. Then sometime in the not-too-distant future we (automatically) go to the doctor and ask for Celexa so we can be not-depressed, or we steal or cop some Adderall so we can lose some weight and regain our “concentration.” Or whatever.

If you have kids in your life, and if any of the kids are American girls, you have been watching the progression of true insanity from generation to generation due to this kind of snowball effect between the media and its consumers. I mean until the 1970s, at which time society had sustained a 15- or 20-years’ barrage of Twiggy-style ad images, anorexia presented only in isolated cases. If the media produce this garbage, there will be huge audiences to eat it up; the audiences won’t stop buying it (will we?), and Time, Inc. will definitely not stop producing it if they can “brand” and sell it. The same with Kraft, Inc. If they can produce this “pasteurized processed cheese-food,” otherwise known as “American cheese,” they will create a market for it, and we will eat it up.

The same with the drug companies. If they can brand and sell this stuff—the drugs—they will create a market for it, and we will eat it up. “Got PMS? Ask your doctor for Sarafem.” Or whatever.

A couple weeks ago I told my first-year students to read David Foster Wallace’s essay “This Is Water” and to write an essay exploring ways they had become enslaved by some attitude. It shouldn’t have surprised me (but it did) that so many of the women wrote about their obsession with their weight or some other aspect of their appearances. With “beauty.” The few men I have in this class wrote about their obsession with “success.”

Plus ça change, and all that.

//

Recovering Body_smallWhen I sat in front of an audience of 1,000 a couple weeks ago to talk about my new book and took questions about physical recovery from addiction, the first was from a woman who wanted to know how I “deal with food”: I have put into print my compulsion to eat sugar, and the questioner wanted to know how I manage to feed myself. We can quit drinking alcohol, the logic goes, but human beings can’t just starve.

In mulling this question over it has occurred to me that in fact I am not completely abstinent from all drinks—just drinks that hurt me. And that includes soda. … I can’t be completely abstinent from all food or drugs—but I can choose not to put food or drugs in my mouth if they’re going to change my reality (in other words, the truth). If a shot or a beer distorts the truth for me, then should I never drink ANYTHING, even water? If sugar screws with my head, should I not eat ANYTHING?

I can’t quit eating or drinking altogether, but I can quit putting into my body stuff that hurts me—stuff of all kinds, including the smorgasbord of “stories” that tempt me to Feed My Head, telling me how to think about the ways Renee Zellweger has fucked up her face.

I can’t abstain from the mirror. But I can choose to stop talking shit about the person I see when I look there.

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Self-Compassion: Hurting The Ones We Love.

Cross-posted with Recovering The Body.

Today I have a guest-post about self-compassion running on Jill Salahub’s very cool site, A Thousand Shades of Gray. I love following Jill everywhere—on Facebook, in her emails that arrive so often. Jill is a sister on the trail of questions we’re asking together. Thanks for including my work in this wonderful group of essays you’re collecting.

//

One lesson I’ve learned this year: hurting people I love is inescapable. Unless I decide not to have relationships.

I really don’t see myself as a hermit.

I’ve hurt a few people I love recently. Earlier this year I committed series of acts that gave another person tremendous feelings of hurt. Just yesterday I found out from one of my best friends that I’ve been saying some things that I had no idea were hurting her.

//

The first hurt is an example of making choices in the service of myself, my own best interests, that just happened to hurt another person. I knew they were going to hurt this person. I avoided taking the actions because I knew it would cause great pain. Day by day, if I were going to stay sober, I had to take the actions, and I was appalled to watch the pain happening, like waves rolling into the shore.

For some weeks I sat at the window watching the waves rolling by, my heart squeezing in empathy and doubt.

I second- (and third-, and fourth-) guessed myself. I didn’t turn back.

//

In the second example, I found out I’d hurt my friend yesterday only because I’d taken the risk of telling her something she’d said just that minute that had hurt me.

Her hurtful speech had occurred in conversation yesterday. But it turned out that, when I rolled over and showed my belly (when I, in Brené Brown’s parlance that Oprah is now making universal, “became vulnerable”), she bared her teeth and let me know I’d been saying things that had hurt her feelings for a while. And then when I yelped in surprise and pain, she rolled over onto her back. And there we were, two puppies on our backs in the dirt, paws waving in the air, yelping our hurt.

After rolling back up onto our feet and talking about it, we were able to chase each other and play again, as our dogs do on our morning walks.

My friend's yellow lab, and my black mutt.

My friend’s yellow lab, and my black mutt.

“I’m being vulnerable here!” I said. “I have to practice what I read about!! I can’t just read it and not DO IT, right?”

(You’re such a loudmouth, my mind says.)

“If we can’t tell each other these things,” she said, “who can we tell?” A space in my chest opened in gratitude for a friend who is willing to engage in honest conflict. Not many are.

Our dogs are good friends.

Still, I walked away yesterday morning with my throat choked up. Interesting that it was my throat. Was my body trying to squeeze the words I’d said back inside me? Trying to keep myself from ever speaking again?

Or was it just that the throat is the locus of the voice, and this is where the hurts had occurred—with our voices?

//

I’m learning that the body and mind are in conversation. They’re one, they’re intertwined somehow, and I’m beginning to think that the way they’re intertwined is through this conversation, a kind of discourse. What kind of discourse is it? How is it conducted? These are some of the questions I’ve been asking lately.

The mind tries to force the body to walk away calmly and get on with the day. The body is able to cooperate only so far before rebelling with some action: butterflies in the stomach; pain in the head; fatigue in the flesh. Choking in the throat.

When the mind ignores these statements by the body and tries to push the body through, the body protests in a louder voice. Nausea, inability to eat; cluster headache, chronic daily headache, migraine; chronic fatigue syndrome. An inability to speak up, a silencing of the body’s voice in critical situations. Such as true relationship.

Craving to drink, smoke, use something.

So the mind and body engage in a struggle for domination.

Dr. Sally Gadow, a Ph.D. nurse and leading scholar in health care ethics and the phenomenology of the body, writes about this struggle in a fascinating paper, “Body and Self: A Dialectic.” This paper itself (my friend pointed out yesterday) is an academic paper, so its expression is in the language of the mind, the intellect, and Gadow herself offers this caveat inside the paper. But I think what Gadow enacts in it is an effort to respect and give voice to the body.

To report from the body, which has long been one of my projects.

The struggle for domination is the second of four levels of development Gadow says have to take place if the body and mind are to transcend their “dualism,” their two-ness, and begin to work together as one to express each other’s interests. In this second level, “the two are not only distinct but opposed—each alternately master and slave.”

The second stage describes addiction.

The transcendence describes sobriety. Freedom from slavery.

Ginny-Flo03

//

Yesterday, driving home with my throat choked up, I thought about self-compassion. My mother trained me early to feel compassion for the pain of others. Hurting someone else without knowing it is one of my worst fears in sobriety. I used to numb this fear, as well as the reality that I’d hurt other people, with drugs.

“How will I know I’ve hurt you if you don’t tell me?” I asked my friend.

“You’re right,” she said.

The question underneath the choking is, Does my friend really love me?

My dog Flo kissing my friend's husband.

My dog Flo kissing my friend’s husband.

Doubt rises up. If you’re going to get her to love you, my mind tells my body, you have to fucking SHUT UP.

(And stop swearing so much!! She said I swear too much.)

But anyone who knows me know my language can be strong, fierce. Is it just who I am?

To make things right, I know I have to change my behavior. But do I need to change myself?

Do I need to change to be loved?—an old, old compulsion.

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.

Addiction And Self-Care.

The new puppy with my friend P, who's helping me train her.

This is the new puppy I adopted two weeks ago. Her name is Flo. She’s 10 weeks old. You want to talk about unconditional love—there’s nothing like curling up and having a nap with a puppy. I’d never experienced it before. It’s different somehow from napping with a cat.

So last week I had an emergency D&C because I was basically bleeding to death. I had been scheduled to have one this week, tomorrow in fact, but my GYN called last Thursday morning and scheduled it immediately: my hemoglobin was so low that I was on the verge of needing a transfusion.

Question: How could an intelligent woman with two degrees and an IQ north of 130 possibly let her health descend to that state? How could I allow myself to bleed to death and not take care of myself?

Answer: Self-care has nothing to do with intelligence. Neither does addiction.

Here’s a story for you. My mother had a hysterectomy at my very age: 47. I remember being on the phone with her from my office at my first reporting job: she had been having horrible long periods, basically bleeding to death, and she hadn’t had a pelvic exam in seven years. SEVEN YEARS.

In the Al-Anon books it asks us: are we taking care of ourselves? Are we going to the doctor, the dentist, are we getting haircuts?

I go to the doctor. I sometimes put off the dentist. I get haircuts every other month. But do I really pay attention to my body? Is it a place where I actually live?

A lot of the time, it isn’t. A lot of the time, I’m living in some alternative reality I’ve created in my mind. I was, after all, raised by a woman who ignored her body so effectively that she made it seven middle-aged years without a pelvic exam and had to have a hysterectomy because of the grapefruit-sized fibroid tumors that grew inside her in the interim. All the while, the rhetoric that came out of her mouth was this Catholic stuff about the body being “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some temple: the curtain in hers was rent, the cornerstone broken, by the time she was 58.

This was my model for being a grown-up woman.

And my dad: I won’t even get into how well my dad ignored his body.

Physical exercise helps me pay attention to my body. But still: I was bleeding for three weeks! I just told myself it’ll stop sometime it has to stop sometime just be patient just wait it out i don’t have time to deal with this so IT MUST NOT BE HAPPENING, and in the interim my hemoglobin dropped to 8.5 (the low-normal level is 11.5; the standard level for transfusion is 8.0) and I was feeling “a little bit tired.” Yeah. I believe this is called something like psychosis: refusal to acknowledge reality.

So I go in for the operation and they tell me it’ll be conscious sedation and I know what conscious sedation is, because G is a person who knows her drugs: conscious sedation (also known as “twilight sleep”) is Versed (the drug that makes you forget what’s going on) and Propofol (strong sedative: Michael Jackson’s favorite candy) and fentanyl (the drug I was on—on? I was as tall as the fucking Empire State Building on fentanyl in August 2008). I had to have these drugs because it’s surgery and they were going to open the hood and scrape me out, and I didn’t want to have these drugs because I hadn’t taken drugs in more than two years.

My sponsor said, “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.” If the alternative is bleeding to death, I guess she’s right.

I was scared because I’d had two surgeries while I was un-sober. The first was an appendectomy that was torture because they couldn’t control the pain, they wouldn’t give me the shitload of drugs I’d have needed to control abdominal laparascopic post-surgical pain, so I just put up with it. It was horrible. And then I broke and dislocated my elbow in a bike-fall in 2006, and during the conscious sedation to put the bones back into the socket the ortho guy told my husband he’d never shot so much fentanyl into one person in his life. So I was afraid I’d be in pain.

But of course I was in no pain, because I’m now what physicians and pharmacists call “opioid-naïve.” I woke up in post-op feeling as though God’s own sunlight was shining on my face, feeling sheer gratitude to all the nurses, telling all the staff how thankful I was for their willingness to take care of me. The surgery had gone well and I had no pain. And I was sent home with a couple doses of Vicodin, which I took because later when the fentanyl wore off, I had shooting needly pains below my navel.

And for a day after, I had a headache. My body getting rid of the drug metabolites.

And then on Monday it occurred to me: I had felt so good, so grateful, because I was high. I was high. Why do the drugs have to make me feel so goddam good?

“Every feeling passes,” my sponsor says. “All the ‘good’ feelings, all the ‘bad’ ones—they all pass.”

And this morning my husband goes to the dentist because he has pain in his tooth and the dentist X-rays his jaw and discovers an abscess, he prescribes Vicodin, my very favorite beloved awesomest drug on the face of the planet, especially since I’m “opioid-naive.” I just had drugs in my body last week, I can remember in my body how niiiice they made me feel.

David Foster Wallace once said, You think you’re an atheist, you think you don’t worship anything?—let me tell you, everyone worships something. Listen to the way I talk about Vicodin.

So I call my sponsor and tell her: I don’t want to use the Vicodin that is now living in my house. She says, You know what you have to do. I say, Yes, I know.

Part of that is writing it here. The truth.

The truth is, if I listen to my body, what it really wants is not drugs.

What it wants is love.

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