Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Step 1 (page 1 of 3)

Dear G: Am I An Addict?

So I’m responding to two emails I received in the past week: one from a stranger, and one from a friend.

This is gonna be a long post, so get your iced coffee and your orange-chocolate-chip biscotto (my favorite) and sit down.

The Stranger has been prescribed Percocet (oxycodone), OxyContin (also oxycodone), and the antidepressant Cymbalta (duloxetine) for the past six years.

The Friend has been taking a teensy dose of Klonopin, a benzodiazepine—an addictive class of drugs used as sedatives and muscle relaxants—for the past year.

Both of them asked me for advice.

(Before I go on, I have to remind y’all that I’m not a doctor. I just share experience here—please take what you need and leave the rest.)

The Stranger seems more confused than the friend. The Friend, who has seen his share of addicted folks but is not in any program of recovery and never before thought he was addicted to anything, reached out to me because he knows I write about addiction. And he knows I don’t bullshit.

The Stranger writes:

I think I’m an addict? Am I? Am I not? Why is it even important to know if I am or not? Well, to me it’s important because I am having a HECK of a time coming off these meds.

This person has been tapering off 60mg OxyContin plus 40mg Percocet—a total of 100mg oxycodone, which truthfully is not that big a habit. It’s not a tiny habit, a tiny habit is two or three Percocet (15mg) per day, but getting off 100mg oxycodone is eminently doable, even if you’ve been taking Oxy for six years.

So let me tell you about some of the things I’ve learned about how to tell whether you’re an addict.

Obsession

It doesn’t matter how much we use, or how we use, or when we use (only after noon, only after 5 p.m., only after work, only after we put the kids to bed, etc.). It matters what the drug-use does to our minds.

Quitting 15mg versus quitting 100mg is like the difference between somebody who drinks two glasses of wine every evening and someone who drinks a bottle. Is the person who drinks just two glasses—but who cannot do without those two—NOT an alcoholic because she only drinks two? No. It’s what the two does to her. It’s how she thinks of those two glasses when she’s not drinking them, as well as when she is.

(BTW heavy drinking, for women, is usually defined as more than one drink per day every day.)

Both these people can quit their habits. The person who drinks only two glasses might have a harder time quitting because she thinks, “I’m only drinking two.” Or the person who drinks a bottle might have a harder time because her body has become more physically dependent and she’ll get sicker when she quits.

If they both stick it out, they’ll start to see benefits. It takes time. It takes a lot of days of sheer commitment not to pick up, and that itself takes a lot of support. For which I’d say, yeah, try a 12-step program, but give it a real shot: get a sponsor, take the steps, do what you’re told. If you’re really powerless over your drugs, wave the white flag (Step 1). If that doesn’t work, there are other ways of getting sober, but I know best what has worked for me and that’s what I talk about here.

Getting Our Drugs

Alcoholics can just go to the store and buy their drugs. We drug-addicts usually have to lie and cheat to get ours. Alcoholics wind up doing weird stuff AFTER they’ve bought and taken their drugs. For example, how do you hide all those empties—they clink when you try to drag them to the curb or the recycling bin, etc. … Drug-addicts usually aren’t faced with these kinds of questions (unless you’re shooting, which leaves tracks that you have to hide). Our questions are more about how to get the drugs in the first place.

If we’re using illegal shit, we have to commit felonies to buy it.

If we’re using legal shit, we also usually have to commit felonies to buy it.

I committed I don’t know how many felonies to get my drugs. A lot. More than 10. Enough, probably, to warrant a prison sentence, because I committed them over and over, over time. They all expired this summer, which made me feel free, in a sense, but in another sense I can never make up for having committed them in the first place. I talked to a lot of people about how to make amends for having committed felonies that put doctors and pharmacists and my own family in danger. They all said, Change your behavior and stop doing it. Tell other people not to do it. So:

Don’t. Change. Dates. On. Scripts. It’s fucking dangerous and can hurt more people than yourself.

The Stranger is not yet committing felonies. But she’s doctor-shopping. She’s been to four doctors other than her regular doctor to get drugs to supplement her regular scripts. More and more states are enacting doctor-shopping laws.

//

The green Watson-387 hydrocodone tabs I used to chew when I was becoming an addict. Bitterness on the tongue.

The green Watson-387 hydrocodone tabs I used to chew when I was becoming an addict. Bitterness on the tongue.

Let me tell you a story. When I started using legal drugs, I didn’t think I was an addict and I thought the amount of drugs I was being prescribed (45mg hydrocodone per day?—or something like) would last me frigging forever. I had spent the past two or three years trying to make thirty 10mg Watson-387 hydrocodone tablets last an entire month, and I’d always run out, because, of course, I Was In Pain, and the pain needed to be treated. When I scored ninety 15mg caps per month, I saw a road paved with those white-caps stretching to the horizon and thought life was finally perfect and I would be taken care of forever.

What happened was, in two months I needed 60mg per day.

By the end of that year I was being prescribed 150mg per day—ten 15mg caps. I would get a delivery of 300 15mg capsules each month. A delivery. The Man would come and deliver them. Personally, I think this qualifies as an official “shitload” of drugs, but just wait:

By the end of the next year another 120mg morphine (in the form of Kadian, a long-acting capsule) had been added to that, and in another six months I was given extra fentanyl lollipops. Pharmaceutical Tootsie-Pops. No: Dum-Dums, really. By that time I was a stone junkie, although I still had trouble believing I was, because I was still doing my life. Opioids don’t disable you the way alcohol and, say, meth do: I didn’t look drunk because I wasn’t drunk. I was just on a shitload of drugs, and when I ran out, I was incapacitated in every way.

And toward the end I always ran out.

Running Out

“When I would run out of the meds early,” The Stranger says.

People who don’t have problems taking their meds don’t run out. People who do have problems taking their drugs do run out.

“But I hate being high!!!”

“I LIKE feeling normal and sober!” she writes.

Oh, sweetheart, pleeeze. I hated being “high” too. I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted to have energy when I wanted, be relaxed when I wanted, be accepted.

“I never drink (hate the stuff!) or smoke marijuana, and I’ve never done any hard drugs.”

Solidarity, sistah. <fistbump> I am a Top-Shelf White-Collar Addict all the way.

By the time I detoxed five years ago, I hadn’t seriously drunk alcohol in more than a decade. I “hated the stuff.” And I’ve never done any street drugs. Ever. Never smoked cigarettes, let alone weed. Never danced topless on any frat bars, never stripped for the dudes, never screwed around. I’ve never woken up in anyone’s bed I didn’t actually have a relationship with.

By the end I had a kid, for chrissake, and I Took Care Of Him, and I did a good job, not the best job I could have done, because I was a stone junkie.

If you like feeling sober, then quit sooner rather than later. You will only feel more and more sober. The feeling of extra energy I got from pills was fake energy. If you can exercise at all, your body will soon start producing its own endorphins and you’ll heal.

But you will not start to heal until you quit putting extra opioids into your body.

Anxiety and Fear

One of the most helpful things I’ve ever heard was from my first sponsor, who told me that I needed to call anxiety by its right name: fear. “Because anxiety can be medicated,” she said.

But you don’t go to the doctor and ask for pills because you’re having fear.

The Stranger mentions fear over and over again in her email. It’s a signal of addiction.

The Friend’s email had none of that fear. He was balls-out about his concern: “I believe I have become addicted.” Which is the thing that made me think he wasn’t addicted: we addicts tend to keep second-guessing ourselves. Even when we ask for help, it’s usually: “I think I MIGHT be addicted,” or, “Am I addicted?”

But who am I to know for sure? I don’t know how much fear or obsession he has or whether he’s running out of his tiny dose of Klonopin each month and changing dates on scripts to get more. (I’m pretty sure he’s not committing that felony; after speaking with him, I don’t think he’s even running out.)

This is one of the aspects of addiction that needs a lot more research. If we’re going to treat addiction as an illness, we need clear diagnostic criteria so that it’s not a matter of self-diagnosis or self-identification.

Pregnancy

I’m not a doctor, and I’m not an addictions specialist, but I’m a mom and a woman and I wrote a book on pregnancy for which I did more than a little research, and my mind is made up about this: if at all possible, unless the mother’s life is threatened (which is to say, unless she’s already on a load of heavy drugs and gets pregnant and can’t detox without endangering herself and the pregnancy), women ought to get off their drugs if they want to get pregnant.

There are a lot of studies starting to come out about the “benefits” of buprenorphine over methadone in pregnancy, but most of those are for heroin addicts and/or methadone-maintenance patients who are already pregnant.

The Stranger has tapered down to 30mg of oxycodone per day. I hope that, before she gets pregnant—which she says she wants to do—she’ll quit entirely.

Because motherhood is damned hard work. And it’s best to do it sober. It is the single thing I wish I could go back and change: I wish I’d been entirely sober for my kid’s childhood.

Please don’t miss your kid’s.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 3.

If this helped you, the best thing you can do is pass it on via the little social buttons below.

Also, please visit my new site: Recovering the Body.

What Are Character Defects? An Open Letter To Dolly.

Got an email overnight from an old friend of mine who has been questioning how much she drinks, and why. She has been going to AA, she said, but she couldn’t understand—and couldn’t stand—the idea of “defects of character.”

She sent me a link to an essay written 25 years ago by a professor of philosophy and religion. The essay argues against the “disease concept” of alcoholism—the author sees alcoholics as suffering from a moral problem based in desire and will. He separates the realms of science and spirituality.

So it would take me ages to put down everything I’d like to say back to this guy’s essay—I’ll save it for another time.

//

But dear Dolly, I wanted to share something I’ve been experiencing with regard to my character defects and how surrendering them to a “higher power” (Step 7) is helping me stay sober.

When I joined Al-Anon 14 years ago I was suffering. I had a 2-year-old kid and a marriage, a house, a job, a car, the whole bit, and I felt like killing myself. I had grown up with active alcoholism my whole life. I was raised by a woman who had been raised by a violent drunk.

The green Lorcet pills I used to take for pain. Actually mine were white—they were the strongest ones.

I was taking one pill per day for pain, but I couldn’t stop taking that one pill. I’d gone to AA and figured I couldn’t call myself an alcoholic because I hadn’t had a drink in three years. I’d gone to NA and told my story and some people looked at me cross-eyed because I was taking just one pill. These were people who had sold everything they had for smack or crack, sold their last remaining possessions in their houses, sold their bodies to cop drugs on the street, faced knives and guns and disease. I bought my measly little pills in the drug store. I thought, “I can’t be an addict—I’m not like these people.” (I don’t think this would happen in NA today. OxyContin and its cousins are too prevalent.)

It would take me a few more years—eight or 10—to meet people who used the way I used. It would also take me some time after that to realize that I’d begun the whole show by drinking my head off when I was 17 and we were in school together. (I had my first drink ever at the Phi Delt house. Gin and tonic. Let some slippery sophomore Phi Delt get me drunk and grope me, and all the girls on my hall laughed at me the next day: I’d let That Guy feel me up. I got so scared about being laughed at and showing how naïve I was that I met a guy the following month and stuck with him for almost four years.)

So when I took the 12 steps in Al-Anon I made a list of things I thought I’d done wrong: I worried about deadlines and put things off because of my worry and annoyed my coworkers. I was judgmental, I thought of myself and other people as either all good or all bad. I’d lost a couple of pieces of jewelry people had given me and this hurt them. And I thought my defects of character were things like anxiety, black-and-white thinking, and carelessness.

I continued to have migraines and terrible physical pain, and after several years I went to the pain clinic and got serious drugs and eventually became an addict. Even so, I carried on with therapy and Al-Anon because I thought if I could just figure out my emotional problems, I’d be able to either quit taking drugs or take them responsibly.

But it worked the other way around. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking and taking drugs (acknowledged my “powerlessness” over them, in Step 1) that I could begin to see my emotional problems clearly enough to remedy them.

Once I got sober I took the 12 steps again, guided by a woman who has been sober for more than 20 years. I saw that my “defects of character” were deeper than what I thought. My primary character shortcoming is not just “anxiety,” it’s a mortal fear of disapproval. I’ll do fucking anything (have done most anything—or sometimes even worse, NOT done most anything) to make the people around me think I’m OK. I will, for example, stick for four years with a boy I like, I might even love, but with whom I’m not really happy, to avoid being lonely; I’ll avoid having other relationships, to avoid being called a slut.

Another defect is putting other people’s judgment and comfort ahead of my own. (Really just a subset of the previous defect.)

Yesterday I was in a meeting when someone told a story about how, when she was drinking and using, she used to use at night because, she said, it helped her sleep. She used to pass out in the house, maybe on the hallway floor or wherever, and her husband would be like, “Why are you sleeping on the floor?” Hearing this story made my defect of character crystal clear.

I didn’t used to do pass out in the hallway. Here’s what I used to do: For years, for more than a decade even, I trained myself not to move in bed, not even to turn over, not to get up and pee, and definitely never to touch my partner, because I was sleeping next to someone who had intractable insomnia. This person is a light sleeper and if I even turned over, I might wake him up. So I trained myself to lie still. I gritted my teeth, literally, in order to do this.

Grit your teeth and bear it, was the way I was raised in my alcoholic family.

Eventually the tooth-grinding became a problem in itself and I had to get a tooth-guard to keep from grinding my teeth to stubs. Also, I had jaw pain. Also, I had neck and head pain, and shoulder pain, and back pain. For which, of course, I took drugs.

Also, I had a lot of suppressed anger and frustration, which it turns out contributes to tooth-grnding.

The drugs helped me sleep and not-move. They helped me not-care about the anger. For a while. Until they didn’t help anymore.

They also helped me ignore my anger and frustration during the day and get done what I needed to get done. They helped me grit my teeth through everything and not-care about the pain.

I didn’t understand I was contributing to my own pain. “Medical science” told me it was an illness, a syndrome, for which I might need to take drugs for the rest of my life. 

Another of my huge character defects is arrogance. I secretly think I’m perfect—or if I try hard enough, I can be perfect. I can do what other people want me to do, or what I think they want me to do, and not “betray” them or let them down. I kept doing life this way for years and years.

Let me admit something to you, Doll. I’ve spent most of the past two weeks on my own. And I’ve been able to get real rest. I wake up without jaw pain. When I wake in the middle of the night, I get up to pee without tiptoeing as though my footfalls might cause an earthquake. It took me a few days to remember I was allowed to turn on the light and maybe even read or write.

And my spiritual discipline tells me that I don’t have to blame this person. No one “made” me do anything. I chose to do all this myself.

And I don’t even have to blame myself.

All I have to do is to see clearly what I’ve done to contribute to the hurt. Take responsibility. Ask for my shortcomings to be removed. And then change the behavior (amends).

Turn on the light in the middle of the night.

The thing is, my thinking is so distorted, I am so arrogant and at the same time so full of self-hatred, that I need another source of power to guide me in changing my behavior. When I rely on my own power, usually I go pretty far down the wrong road before I see how I’ve gone wrong.

I’m learning to trust my own judgment by taking small steps forward, using my own judgment under the guidance of others who have gone before me on this road. I can’t “insight” my way into being healthy, I have to take action. I have to turn on the light. No one’s telling me to do anything. I’m engaged in what Quakers call “discernment.” All I’m doing is using a map. A GPS of sorts. And the GPS might lead me to a swamp, or a desert, or up against a mountain, and it’s always a learning experience.

I learn by doing. Not by figuring everything out beforehand.

It’s scary sometimes. It’s also exhilarating. I feel alive.

My friend P and her daughter with our dogs, Ginger and Flo.

I need to go walk the dog. But I wanted to get back to you.

Love, G

Step One, Four Years Ago.

G in labor. “If you’re smiling,” my friend Nan said, “you have a long way to go.” I did.

Fifteen years ago this morning I went into labor with my son. How is it that we can remember these events in our bodies when our cells have been replaced twice over? A long labor—31 hours; didn’t give birth till tomorrow morning. … I thought it would never end, the Cheerios and cheese plastered to high-chair and skin; wiping mouths and noses, impaling feet on Tinkertoys and Legos, reading (reciting) The Big Red Barn or Pat the Puppy or Thomas the Tank Engine time after time. But it passed like a fog on the highway that, after I inched to the top of the hill, burned off to reveal the panorama.

And then down the hill again, and around the foggy bend.

The same has been true of recovery. Four years ago today, I admitted to myself, to a higher (other) power, and to another person that I was an addict. I felt trapped in a fog of not knowing how to get myself out of yet another problem; how to clean up the massive pile of wreckage that, it was dawning on me, I’d created. But the fog passes—day by day, as I inched myself to the top of the hill, I saw gaps in the fog, then by times as it burned off I could see vistas.

And then, of course, back down the hill again, and around the foggy bend.

A day at a time.

Recovery: From Pneumonia, From Self-Censorship.

Last time I wrote, my editorial about how addiction is not a crime was coming out. (In case you want to read it: here it is.) After it ran, I got really sick. I was ill already, but my cough got worse, I could hardly talk without coughing, and I couldn’t sleep.

I tried everything—antibiotics, steroids, allergy medicine, expectorant, plain Robitussin. So my doctor gave me prescription cough syrup. Not codeine, as I expected, but my very favorite awesomest drug on the face of the planet: hydrocodone, in Hydromet syrup. “Take it for a little while,” she said, “and get some rest and your body will heal.”

I’ve known addicts who, before they got sober, used to carry bottles of hydrocodone syrup around in their purses and take a nip or a slug every so often. I knew one person who had trouble quitting his smoking habit in part because every so often the tar in the butts would give him bronchitis, and this would enable him to get Hycodan (same drug, different name).

I told everyone: sponsor, meetings, a bunch of people on Facebook, anyone who would listen, “I have to take hydrocodone for this cough.” Be careful, they said. The weird thing is, I was taking it when my op-ed ran. So people were writing in to thank me for speaking up for addicts, and there I was, on a drug.

The drug stopped my cough, but my body didn’t heal. The cough came back worse when the drug ran out. It was dry; it strained my back and sides and finally I had to go back to the doctor and tell them I wanted to know what the hell was going on with my lungs. My doctor was on vacation; I saw another doctor who conducted a more thorough history and ruled out a bunch of stuff and decided I had “atypical pneumonia.” Walking pneumonia, from some kind of extraordinary tiny little microbe that produces almost no phlegm. So she gave me a different antibiotic. And she refilled the Hydromet.

I didn’t tell as many people, because there’s only so much patience you can expect addicts to show about how you’re allowed to use your favorite drug. I mean, alcoholics never go to meetings and say, “I’m allowed to drink this week.” I didn’t want to sit in meetings and tell them, “I get to use my drug-of-choice AGAIN!—psych.” Still, I didn’t abuse the drugs, and I didn’t get obsessed with them.

Instead, I just got sad all over again.

//

The antibiotic and the cough syrup ran out four days ago. The cough mostly went away, and now it’s coming back again. I seem to be powerless over it.

Or am I?

People have volunteered a lot of explanations for why my lungs have been sick for six weeks.

“Are you barking at the world?” someone asked me. “Do you need to be heard? Are you trying to shut yourself up?”

“Lung illnesses are about grief,” another person said. “You must be experiencing delayed grief, or anticipatory grief, or fear of letting go of something.”

“Who’s choking you?” someone else demanded. “Who’s trying to gag you or shove something down your throat?”

One may well ask.

My friend P at first told me I have to “speak up” in situations where I feel silenced. (She consulted her amazing Dutch Medical Bible that gives insights into all human ailments—I love to hear her translations.) The morning after I got the pneumonia diagnosis, on the way to the dog park, I texted her to ask if she could look up “pneumonia” in her bible. I expected like two sentences, but she photocopied a whole page of the book and brought it to me. Under “Longontsteking” (pneumonia), it told me why, apparently, I’m sick (“You’ve ended up in a life which is not appropriate for your real, true nature: an unconscious choice. Thus you must liberate yourself…” it began). And here’s what it said I have to do to heal:

Let yourself not be determined by past roads, or by a partner, etc. Build a new life on a more stable basis than formerly: on your deep, powerful Self. Draw your roots up from the old ground and hurry them elsewhere. Realize your complete existence and its dignity. Become conscious in each cell of your body. Turning away from your own divine source doesn’t let that internal fire heat your body.

It just kept on hitting the nail on the head.

I’m sitting there in the dog park and P is reading this to me sentence by sentence, from Dutch to English. The dogs are chasing each other through the grass, dew is covering everything, including my back and my butt, because we’re sitting on a dew-covered bench (“I don’t care, I’m wet already,” P said), and I’m listening like Nic Cage hearing Cher “tell him his life” in Moonstruck. Except I don’t then jump up and upend the bench and kiss P. I sit there and try to hold back my tears, and I cough.

My Deep, Powerful Self.

Draw my roots up.

The internal fire heating my body.

And get this part:

Babies and children with pneumonia: the above causes are also sometimes the parent’s experience. So when you help yourself, you thus help your child.

//

Let me tell you a story: Baby G had pneumonia when she was two months old. Normal pneumonia, double-lung pneumonia. The phlegm consolidated under G’s fragile baby-kitten ribs and she couldn’t breathe. It was December 1964, Christmas week. G’s folks drove G back to Braddock General Hospital, where she’d been born, and Dr. Tomlin put tiny baby G (she had been born very small, 6 lbs. 2 oz.) into an oxygen tent. Back then they didn’t have ventilators or even isolettes—they’d make a little cloth tent, and they’d pump oxygen into it. If G’s mother had lit a cigarette (they used to let you smoke in hospitals; the way she told it, she smoked right up until she pushed in each of her pregnancies), she might have blown the whole place sky-high.

The nurses sent G’s folks home, and instead of going home they went to G’s father’s family church—the Croatian church where just a month before G had been baptized. They knelt and prayed in front of the manger (back then, the church doors were open day and night). The church was dark, and the pastor came out and saw that G’s mother was crying. They told the priest about the baby in the tent, and he patted G’s mother’s shoulder. “Go home and go to sleep,” he said in his Slavic accent, “I vill pray for baby. Baby vill be fine.” And G’s parents made their way back to their newlywed apartment, in the latticed shadow of the roller coasters of the old-style amusement park.

Meanwhile, back at Braddock General, Dr. Tomlin was working overtime, monitoring the baby, giving her minute doses of a relatively new drug called penicillin. She was so small and so sick and the drug was so new (less than 20 years old in clinical use at that point) that his pediatric training hadn’t yet taught him how much to give her.

In the morning G’s parents came back, and the baby’s fever had broken.

What saved G—was it “God” and/or G’s parents, and/or the priest, and/or the doctor, and/or the drug??

//

Who knows. But my mother blamed the pneumonia on my “immature lungs” and someone with a cold. She never took a look at her own contribution to the situation. It was a long time before I considered how dangerous for a baby it might have been to put her in a house full of smoke.

At any rate, I’m alive today. Even if I do have pneumonia.

My mother is not. And neither is my father.

Become conscious in each cell of my body.

Realize my complete existence and its dignity.

And to stay alive, my life has to keep changing. An amends to myself.

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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