Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: staying sober

Am I Really Clean and Sober?

A reader wrote in a comment yesterday,

My 31-year-old heroin-addict daughter has now been clean and sober for 6 months—today! It’s a bloody miracle. She smokes, and it kills me to see her slowly killing herself every day. Yet—she’s not shooting up or smoking crack. In fact, she has started exercising again and is almost fanatic about getting her daily workout in at the gym. And, she’s constantly eating—especially candy. … I know all these things are filling up the addiction hole—so, is she really in recovery? Just wondering.

Congratulations to your daughter on six months free of heroin and crack. Yesssss.

SmokingFirst, about smoking: I’m rabid about it because I watched my mother lose her life in a nasty death to lung cancer. You’d have thought it would have gotten her by attacking her lungs, but no: in the end it attacked her brain, and she lost her mind. She was a prodigiously intelligent woman, and it took away the strength she valued most. Classic. … People smoke without really believing it’ll kill them. Or they think it might kill them but they do it anyway. My sister and I used to talk about how, in the year or so after our mother’s death, we wanted to approach every smoker we saw on the street and beg them to stop. So ya mon, I use this blog to preach against the perils of nicotine. It IS a drug.

Second, to the question of whether your daughter is “really” in recovery: a question each of us answers for ourselves…

I’ve had friends who got free of heroin, alcohol, crack, kratom, bupe, oxy/roxy/fentanyl/you-name-it, and saved their lives, and who then discovered, in the process of discernment and gaining greater spiritual clarity, that they needed to stop other chemicals or compulsive behaviors. Friends have stopped smoking, stopped eating or throwing up compulsively, stopped compulsive shopping or gambling or having anonymous sex. Some have struggled to stop and haven’t always been able to. Some have stopped one behavior only to have another one pop up, like whack-a-mole.

I’m trying to stop compulsively eating sugar. I’ve managed to cut out the ice cream <sigh>, cookies, candy, etc. Now I’m looking at prepared foods that contain sugar. I don’t eat a lot of prepared foods, but then again, I don’t eat a lot—another habit I have to look at. I need to eat more nutritiously. I need to feed my body, not just my brain and spirit. It’s one of my shortcomings, habitually ignoring my body—not living inside this skin, but instead living somewhere about a foot above and to the right of my head: where the crazy teachers at our Croatian Sunday school taught me that my “guardian angel” lived. (I guess somewhere along the line I decided to move out of my body and hang with my angel. Not that it did much good—my body took over and decided, by times, to eat whatever the hell it wanted in my mind’s absence.)

As I’ve made some progress in the steps, and being happy and clear and taking care of myself, I’ve come to notice some roadblocks to clarity and happiness, and my lifelong habitual consumption of sugar is one of them.

Sugar does all kinds of things drugs do. It increases dopamine the way cocaine does. It stimulates the mu opioid receptors in the same ways heroin or any other opioid does, albeit more mildly. (When I read this 2008 study out of Princeton proving this, my deep affinity for sterling rock-my-world pharma-grade opioids made sense.) Sugar makes me energized for a while, then puts me to sleep, just like my favorite drugs did. It might even kill pain for a while. Certain kinds of pain.

Plus it tastes good. It gives me the sweetness that I missed as a child.

Can I be sweet to myself in other ways? Can I be sweet to others? Can I accept the sweetness that others show me without habitually feeling unworthy?

Monty Python's God

Every time I try to talk to someone it’s “sorry this” and “forgive me that” and “I am not worthy.”—Monty Python’s “God”

I have the kind of body-type that allows me to eat however much sugar I like and not gain weight.  “High metrabolism,” as one of the bimbos in Legally Blonde said. I’ve always used this as an excuse to eat lots of chocolate. But I need to take care of this metabolism, and feeding it sugar is like feeding it a supper out of a landfill. It’s like feeding it garbage. Well: it IS feeding it garbage.

I sometimes wonder what I’d be capable of, physically and intellectually, if I ate a truly nutritious diet.

How fit and strong I might become.

Which is another question in my recovery: How strong am I willing to become?

I am afraid of being strong and fit.

I’ve heard a lot of women say this. In the same meeting about “fear” the other night, another woman talked about how she wasn’t afraid of failing—she expected to fail, and she even welcomes the rejections and failures when they come because they validate her idea of herself as not such a great person. What she’s afraid of is being accepted, getting the job, making progress, being strong. Because it means she has to step up and become active. And this means that somebody is inevitably going to be disappointed in the way she handles situations.

I understood: failing is a good way of avoiding this conflict.

So have I “really” been in recovery? Am I “really” sober?

None of these questions would even pertain if I were still taking drugs. I had moments of clarity during my drug-taking, moments that allowed me to be a functional mother, perform in my job, write books, experience “success.” But through that time, I was afraid, angry and selfish.

I couldn’t act on my own behalf. I was taking drugs because I was afraid of what you might think of me, afraid I wasn’t as good/pretty/rich/smart/successful as you, afraid even to talk to you. Selfish. Hiding.

Or else I was all up in your face, acting out, convincing myself I was being very articulate and smart. But mostly, I was afraid, and hiding.

I’m a real beginner at all this. What I can say is, right now, “real” healing is taking productive and responsible action on my own behalf, so I can fit myself for service the best I can.

I mean, sure when I was using drugs, I had some good ideas (o yeah, i had sooo many good ideas), a few “intuitive thoughts,” some plans that seemed really “inspired.”

But how many did I act on?

And when I did manage to act, how fit for service was I?

Trudging in Sobriety: Learning Boundaries from Two Stray Kittens

I was finishing up work yesterday afternoon around 4, and the neighborhood cat who my son and I call Urchin, and who sometimes comes to our house for a visit, was curled up next to me, snoozing. Suddenly he sprang up and toward the windows of my study, then bounded downstairs and demanded to be let out the kitchen door.

As I let him out into the 45-degree rain, I heard what he’d been hearing: the screeches coming from under the shed.

I took a flashlight and there they were. Two two-week-old kittens.

Stray kittens

The stray kittens. iPod for scale...

Urchin ran in the opposite direction, hissing.

The rain came down.

“Oh my goodness,” I said as the shed’s roof poured rain down on my head.

My son came out and saw them peeking out from under dry but stony and unforgiving cover.

“Aren’t they so cute, Mama?” (My son, though 13, sometimes still calls me Mama)

“Speaking of Mama, where is Mama?” I said, looking around doubtfully. Mama is the local bobtail cat who is always popping out kittens. She’s feral, and no one has ever been able to trap her to get her spayed; there are two folks in the neighborhood who stubbornly feed her without catching her, and thus enable her to populate the neighborhood with stray babies.

We were due at the orthodontist in 20 minutes.

I went into action, the way I learned from my mother, who could have been an effective military general.

“Darlin. Get the old cat bed off the porch for me,” I said. “And let’s get a big box from the basement. And an old towel, because they probably don’t know how to use any kind of cat box,” not even the shallow disposable aluminum jelly-roll pans I’d bought for the two stray kittens our young neighbor next door had found last week—bobtails just like these, so they were probably from the same litter. This young neighbor had called me at 10 p.m. breathless—“I have kittens in my driveway!” Mama!—what do I do??

Here’s what we did yesterday. We packed the kittens into the old cat bed, with the heated bean-bag that I use for my sore shoulders underneath an old scrap of baby-blanket fleece. We went to the orthodontist. On the way home we picked up two boxes of cat-milk (no lactose; added whatchamacallit for kitties) and a medical syringe because they didn’t have any kitty nursing bottles at the grocery store. And in between getting dressed for the reception for my husband’s colleague whose husband had died two months ago, and shoving pizza in the oven for my son, we fed the kitties.

“Aw, Mama… aren’t they so cute,” he said, shooting video of them with his Nano.

Yes, Darlin, they are so cute. … I love cats. It’s why I let Urchin in whenever he wants. I meet dogs and they see “CAT” tattooed in invisible ink across my forehead and go talk to my husband. I’ve even come to like these kitties despite the fact that they have no tails. It’s great in sobriety to know oneself.

I rediscovered today how hard it is for me to work with babies in the house. They scream. They command attention. To work, I have to concentrate.

I wrote a schedule out for myself this morning at 6 a.m., and as soon as I wrote out the schedule I could hear them start to cry in the basement.

I’ve been thinking about something Irish Friend of Bill said a couple of months ago in a comment. He said,

I have yet to meet an alcoholic who consistently makes helping newcomers their priority who has relapsed. Thats what attracted me to it in the first place. … I mean in conjunction with completing the first 9 steps. I just haven’t met them. all the people I meet who consistently assist newcomers and try to help them stay sober, all stay sober. Its the most consistent thing Ive done in AA.

I’ve met them. I’ve met people who have put other people’s needs before their own, put helping newcomers first, and then drank. It might be more common among women than men. In many societies, women are socialized to put others’ needs before our own, and thus deplete ourselves.

My first sponsor, who helped me tremendously, who gave me a great deal of attention and care, relapsed when I was five months sober. I mean, I say she relapsed at that time because that’s when she went to rehab, but she’d been using before that. All the while she was using, she was helping me—a newcomer—God bless her.

My second sponsor, who also gave me time and attention and much good direction, fired me after two months because she said she had too many sponsees and her sponsor told her she needed to cut everyone loose so she could take care of herself.

Today I’m trying to take care of myself first. They say on airplanes that you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself, then on the newcomer the kitties I mean on your child. I’m still learning how to do this.

Something I’ve been noticing about myself lately is that I expect too much of myself. This is unsober. The schedules I write out are unrealistic. I got up at 5 this morning, and I expected myself to transcribe notes from two interviews (one an hour-long interview, and one 90 minutes) within an hour. This is unrealistic—I started at 6 and by the time I heard my son’s growing feet hit the floor above my head at 7:15, I was not even done with the 90-minute talk.

If I don’t get up at 5 (which I can’t always do—though I’ve heard stories of people who have accomplished their goals by getting up at 4 a.m. to do it, then working a full day; so would expecting myself to do it be so unrealistic?—it would exhaust me and deplete me), I have from about 8:30 to 4 to work. That’s about 7.5 hours. Not counting time to eat, shower, meditate, pray, and pee. Much less exercise or enjoy the sunny day. If I count those things, which constitute the most basic self-care, that cuts it down to about 6 hours. Realistically. And I don’t always have that much because sometimes I have meetings; sometimes I have to volunteer at school; sometimes my kid doesn’t even have school and on those days I squeeze work in when I can.

So on average, on a good week, I maybe have 20-24 hours in which to blog and all that entails; work on creative material, including research, interviewing and archiving, not to mention actual writing; paint (got a painting on the easel right now that I have to finish; another one on commission); and also, by the way, look for work. I mean, work that pays. Which can be a job in itself.

Then there’s cleaning the house; taking care of the garden; mending the clothes; ironing shirts; paying bills; completing paperwork; volunteering for the art association; occasionally spending time with my husband;

Anything else?

The orthodontist. The dentist. The physical therapist (he has patellar tendinitis).

And now the animal shelter.

So today, as a stopgap, I bought a little kitty bottle so I could feed the kitties for one more day because I could not drive all the way to the animal shelter TODAY, because it was not in my plan, because today I was writing and painting. Today I was taking care of bidness. Even though the plan turned out to be slightly pear-shaped because of the kitties. I’m trudging.

I actually relate to any critter that’s motherless… and am happy to take care of it while I can.

Maybe I need instruction in time-management. Maybe I need to scale back, and leave the likewise scaled-back outcome to higher power. If anyone has some great ideas, please let me know. I could use some help.

Sober life: Practicing habitual contentment

My friend Nora wrote in a comment on my last post:

I used to think being happy meant being happy all the time…

Now I focus on being content. I wrote on ODR the other day that one of my character flaws is habitual discontent… It’s a habit I learned in my alcoholic family: expecting life to be unenjoyable, not to go well, just expecting to be unhappy. Expecting melancholy. Sometimes I feel melancholy without even knowing why, without having any reason—I feel as though I ought to just sit down and cry because it’s the thing to do. …

Since it’s just me practicing this, I can’t expect higher power to remove this, so I’ve been trying to practice habitual contentment. Satisfaction as a habit. Why not smile because it’s the thing to do? Why not be content, just because?

Mona Lisa

A half-smile of contentment.

Nora also wrote:

Isnt the hardest thing in life to just ‘be’?! To be in the hard times as well as in the good times.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like I have to play catch-up ball because of the time I’ve “wasted” on my addiction. It’s a terrible feeling, the compulsion to make up for lost time. Because it’s impossible, really. It’s an impossible bind. One can’t make up for lost time.

It’s my failure to accept myself that drives this compulsion—that drives any compulsion. One of the hardest things in life IS just to be. And the only way I’ve found to do that is to be completely honest—first with myself, then with others. …

I was speaking with a person who can’t stop using. They simply can’t stop. Boy, I knew what they felt like. They lied about their clean date, because they couldn’t accept the fact that they used—the fact that they’d used made them feel like a “failure,” and this led them to lie, which made them feel more like a failure, and the lies just snowballed. … For me, my lies snowballed into thievery and all sorts of other deviant behavior—and it was all because I could not accept who I be.

The only way I got out of the sticky web of lies was to be “rigorously honest” at meetings and with a mentor who I trusted. I wanted what they had, and I trusted that if I got honest and did what they told me, I’d be able not only to quit, but to live with contentment. And it happened.

But I had to be ready and willing. It took years for this… I had to be through. Finis.

Now I try to see life less in terms of “good” and “bad” times, and just in terms of times. All times. I might have difficulties, but I have tools to get through them. Even the so-called “good” times can present difficulties. I try not to label… I’ve gotten myself into so much trouble by labeling the Times of My Life because it creates massive expectations and I end up living in the cold and lonely Desert of Times That Are Never Good Enough.

I try to be content. The word is from the French, which comes from the Latin meaning “to be satisfied.” The old root means “to contain.” Which for me has connotations of self-possession. I contain myself. That is sobriety.

It’s so haaarrrd. My addiction carps at me me that I need to be rescued, that I’m helpless, needy, defective…

But it’s also pretty simple. A lot of times I just remember that if I don’t use today, and if I help one other person, I’ve made it to a finish line and can wipe the sweat off my brow with a bit of self-respect.

When I do my 14 minutes of meditation in the morning, I try to put a half-smile on my face, as Thich Nhat Hanh advises. Just for exercise. You know what? It works.

Sayings from the rooms: “Sobriety is like fresh produce”

My old friend Jacques told me this morning…

They say sobriety is like

fresh produce:

If you don’t do something with it


it’ll go bad on you.

“Dintchyou ever hear that, hon?” he said.

“Sobriety’s no canned good. It has a short shelf-life.”

“N’kay,” I said.

Sobriety is like fresh produce

Fresh produce from G's garden... now I gotta use it up.

Sober life: Step 7 for a crazy week to come

On random play this morning on iPod:

“Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, 1968)

Crazy week coming up in G’s house: renting the apartment next door this weekend; husband leaves for UK next Wednesday; school ends next Thursday; get the folks sorted to look after house and garden; pack me and the kid up and leave next Sunday. Fly Delta, change terminals/planes in JFK, massive airport I’ve never negotiated. (Any tips?)

My beloved mother- and father-in-law both moved to a nursing-home six weeks ago. On the face of it, they moved for respite from being at home: they’re both in their 80s, and she had been taking care of him in his dementia. But this past Monday, we were informed that my mother-in-law’s back is broken. We don’t know anything else: we were told, in an email, “fractured.”

So they’re in a bad way. Their beautiful little Georgian townhouse with its garden terrace will, in all likelihood, have to be sold this summer. It will be the last time my husband sees his family’s home. He’s already in grief.

Writing this helps. Because I was about to say: “I am flying to a country where they sell codeine over-the-counter.” They sell this bloody ibuprofen-codeine compound called Nurofen, you can get 36 tablets for like £7 or something, do you know how many people in the UK are addicted to this stuff, spend days trawling from one pharmacy to another buying boxes of this and eating lethal quantities of ibuprofen? It’s not the codeine that will kill them, it’s the Motrin.

But writing “He’s already in grief” helps me get out of my own head and remember it’s not all about me and my “stress.”

One of my big defects: fear of abandonment (my in-laws are leaving ME).

When I ask for it to be removed, I can suddenly remember ways I can help this family.

I also need to take care of myself. I’m taking my iPod. Tennis racquet. Running shoes. Camera. Pencil and sketchbook.

None of these will be of use unless I pack a positive attitude. Also, unless I ask for help. I have meeting lists for the places where I’ll be. My AlAnon sponsor (with whom I started working in 1999, before cell phones were widely available) has always been fond of saying, “There’s a phone in every city.” She is now in Johannesburg; my AA sponsor is—somewhere, in a busy summer travel schedule; and I’ll be in the UK. Now there’s Skype, AIM, text, Facebook.

And my higher power never goes anywhere. Well, it goes everywhere. It’s Skype-free.

There’s always help. If I ask.

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