Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Step 10 (page 1 of 2)

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.

Taking Inventory: Reorganization.

Most of us live with too much stuff. Going through stuff, and getting rid of what we don’t need, is about taking inventory. It’s a real, concrete and useful way of experiencing Step 10.

I bloody hate doing it. Why is it so hard to let go of stuff, even stuff I don’t need, stuff that doesn’t do me any good? There’s this voice in the back of my head that says, You might need this someday. I was raised in a family that had a Depression-era attitude. When we moved my grandmother to a nursing home, we found boxes containing bits of string, ends of pencils, tiny erasers, pieces of chalk, stubs of candles. Stuff no one would ever use. Same when my father died.

Meanwhile, there were things in his house that needed fixing that didn’t get attention.

Yesterday I finally finished building the shelves in my study—the ones whose construction was interrupted back in August when I found drugs.

I also bloody hate spending money and time, especially on myself, but it feels right to have put the shelves up. To have spent the money and time to get them put up.

I’m getting rid of stuff, and reorganizing the stuff I want to keep. It takes time. It takes effort. I have to Decide: Do I Want This? … I’ve been avoiding it. It’s good practice, deciding what I want. It’s an amends to myself. It’s a good time of year to do it—I can donate the stuff I don’t need to others who might need it.

It keeps me on my toes. Reorganizing makes things new for me.

Of those of you who have been sober a long time, I want to ask: How do you keep your recovery new? If you have 5, 10, 20, 30 years, how do you refresh the work?

//

Here’s what’s on some of my new shelves. Tell me what’s on your shelves. Comment here if you want, or connect with me anonymously.

Click photos for full size.

 

 

 

Recent reads. What are you reading?

 

A few journals and sketchbooks, and my compact OED, which you can now put on your phone. I like having the paper one.

 

Charlee took this photo of me when I was five months pregnant. My son is behind my navel. Also: his first hiking boots, given to him the day he was born by his godmother.

One of my nieces, next to a Buddha picked up in a London market. Sitting on a Japanese mat my brother brought me from Tokyo.

 

On Resentment, Codependency, and Recovery from Addiction

 

Resentments are built from feelings about stuff that’s past—water over the dam. But we choose to feel the feelings over and over again.

Nurturing a real resentment makes me know how much energy it takes to remain angry and hurt about something.

Since I started taking the 12 steps for my addiction in 2008 I’ve worked hard to root out resentment from my life. I’ve taken seriously the direction to pray to be divorced from self-pity or self-seeking motives. I can see now that this prayer has largely been effective. I’ve lived much of the last year, especially, free of resentment. (Fear is another matter. Still praying to be released from fear)

But something happened about 10 days ago that really made me angry. Somebody stepped on me and made accusations that were entirely false, but whose import and assumptions hurt me a great deal. They hurt because my conduct bears strong witness to the contrary.

Actually they hurt because in order to be OK I need people to recognize that G Is Above Reproach. I know this from having done inventories for the last two-and-a-half years. Bullshit pride. If I were really OK within myself, I wouldn’t need other people to recognize it.

My process is this: I get through the initial crisis real well, I’m calm and centered and even cheerful, I encourage THE OTHER PERSON through their feelings, and they get to a place where they find peace, and they’re soooo grateful to me for helping them! (another part of the pride: I can Fix People) Then after everyone settles down, the hatches are all battened, I start feeling really angry. Because I’ve stuffed my own feelings belowdecks and spent a lot of time taking care of someone else, policing the grounds, and making sure the territory is weapon-free.

When everything calms down, I fall apart.

A very old M.O., learned in a chaotic alcoholic family.

I also come down with actual physical pain, headaches, and terrible exhaustion. I’m insomniac. Which is why I started taking the drugs in the first place. Pain, insomnia, and overwhelming exhaustion. The drugs, I remembered clearly this week (with a kind of clarity that made my mouth water)—they took care of all that. I could plow through the pain and exhaustion and take care of bidness, and Not-Care that I was so angry.

I can see clearly, from my vantage point inside my resentment, the difference between resentment and anger. Anger can be OK, it can tell us when something dangerous or threatening has happened, it can motivate us to positive action, it can be energizing and productive and protective. Resentment is just sickness. It’s just picking a scab. It’s putrefying.

It’s also exhausting to stay angry about something that’s over. It takes a lot of energy.

A psychologist told me recently (I may have mentioned this before; forgive me if I have; it’s something I’ve been thinking about) that children are sort of genetically programmed to keep the family together. I can remember now how many times I did this for my mother. She’d have a fight with my father (clarification: she’d fight with my father; my father would just drink and listen to her fighting) and come back to me crying, complaining about what an insensitive bastard he was, etc. ad nauseam, and I’d listen and calm her down and commiserate and encourage her that things would be OK. Then I’d go to my room and absolutely fall apart. I didn’t know what was happening to me, of course. (I also wasn’t fully cognizant that she talked about me behind my back, too, in the same way she talked about my father) What I thought I knew was that I hated my father and loved my mother. After she died and all her crazy behavior stopped, I came to learn that my father was a very gentle man who hardly ever roused himself to anger—it was my mother who incited him to hit us.

Anyhow. All that is water that’s now downstream. It’s OVER.

Except it has carved paths across my terrain that remain very deeply grooved. Every day is a choice to behave in a different way, to FIND a different path, to take steps down this path, to be guided by something more powerful and healing than this sickness.

I had trouble writing my gratitude list last night. Another consequence of resentment: the withering of gratitude. Today I am grateful for:

  • the cloudy sky
  • good friends
  • the hug my son gave me when he first got up this morning
  • watching a movie with my family last night
  • my flower garden
  • my daily bread
  • hot tea
  • my comfortable bed
  • my sobriety
  • this blog, which helps me let things go—and for your willingness to read

What are you grateful for?

Sober Life: Today’s Recovery Inventory

Inventory-taking... Some shelves are easy to see, and some we hide back in the dark. But we still have to look at them and find out what's there...

I teach a journal-writing course in the Lifelong Learning Institute at a university in my city. I adore the students because they have enormous life-experience, and I get to help them value it by teaching them how to write about it and share it with others. One of my students quite often writes journal entries that include poems, lyrics and songs—which, delightfully, he sometimes sings out loud to the class. He emailed me these questions this week and gave me permission to post them here. I’ve taken the liberty of adding some of my thoughts after each question.

The word “inventory” comes from the Latin inventarium—literally, “what is found.” What do you find here?

Am I a master of courage? … “Courage” comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart.

Am I a master of patience? … “Patience” comes from a Latin word meaning “suffering”: can I tolerate pain today without being knocked off balance?

Am I a master of joy and happiness? … To “master” something means to practice it until we become an expert. Imagine becoming an expert at being happy.

Do I carry any resentments? … A familiar and obvious item in an inventory…

Can I forgive everyone? … EVERYONE. Even people who are no longer around to ask forgiveness.

Absolutely and unconditionally? … “Condition” comes from Latin words meaning “to say something extra,” or “to talk with.” It’s harder to forgive without saying something back to the person. But a great discipline.

Can I change the way I see others? … The only thing I can change about someone else is the way I see them—my attitude.

What am I grateful for right now? … Major practice. Seems small, but changes life.

Am I grateful for the love I give and receive? … Love is an action, not a feeling.

Do I spread warmth and love everywhere I go? … Am I thinking of others, not just of myself?

What is the best use of my time & my resources? … Discernment.

Can I handle all that happens in my life in a loving and powerful way? … To “handle” means “to touch,” not necessarily “to control.” These days, I’ve been trying to hold onto the steering wheel of my life—but lightly. I can direct power, but I’m not the source of power…

Do I live today? … Ahhh. Yes.

Lasting change happens not in one day, but through actions taken over time. Is my experience, anyway. When I repeat a daily inventory (Step 10) over a period of days or weeks, or months, I inevitably find that I’ve done more good on any given day than I thought I had. Also, that problems are not insurmountable. Classic findings for a child of an alcoholic family.

Inventory-taking helps improve my attitude about my life. What’s the difference between “feeling” and “attitude”? … Feelings can be almost any subjective reaction to a state or event. So feelings are passive—we don’t make feelings happen, they descend on us. But “attitude” about action. “Attitude” comes from the Latin aptitudo, from aptus, which means “fit.” You can’t become fit in any way without practice.

Fitness, man. More about that tomorrow.


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