Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Step 11 (page 1 of 6)

Step Carefully Or You Could Be Eaten.

american-alligator

I know a woman who is writing a book about various practices of “self-care.” From time to time, she posts requests on Facebook asking for people to reveal their practices. It makes for some interesting reading. Today she asked people to write about what they “do for spiritual self-care.” “How do you transcend the self, surpass the ego and face existential realities that we are all going to die?” she asked.

Wow.

“Meditation? Hiking? Going to church? Twirling like a Dervish? Analyzing dreams? AA meetings?”

People were writing about angels, crystals, goddesses; meditation and prayer; reading the Bible and listening to music; walking in the woods; watching birds, watching the moon.

They also talked about how they don’t do their chosen disciplines enough. “I need to find myself again,” one person wrote.

I thought about what I do. I don’t hike but I walk the dog. I don’t go to church. I don’t twirl like a dervish or analyze my dreams.

But I go to meetings.

//

“Meetings won’t keep you clean and sober,” I was told when I started going to meetings, by an awesome spiritual seeker of a sponsor who a few weeks later started using drugs again.

I learned a lot from that woman. I think she’s right: meetings don’t keep me off drugs, and when people say “just don’t pick up, and go to meetings,” I cringe because I don’t buy it. If I could “just not pick up,” I wouldn’t even be sitting in that folding chair trying not to eat the cookies/doughnuts/other high-fructose garbage-food on the table next to the shitty Maxwell House coffee.

I go to meetings because it lets me spend time with people I love. And it forces me to spend some time taking the steps.

The steps are suggestions, all of them, so none are compulsory. But practiced with discipline, their result is not guaranteed happiness but spiritual enlargement.

Every day, I try to turn my will and my life over to the care of forces greater than I am. Most people focus on the word “greater,” but for me the operative word is “care.” I totally get that there are lots of forces greater than I am (time, light, gravity, Google, etc.). But having grown up with addiction and depression in the house, it has been an ongoing effort throughout my life to remember that there are great forces in the world that can and will CARE for me—without expecting anything in return—if I diligently practice surrender of my will.

//

Harambe

My will is wild. Some news stories of late have reminded me how wild the will is: the kid who wiggled into the Cincinnati gorilla enclosure; the Nebraska toddler who was eaten by a Florida alligator on Disney property; the Oregon guy who went to Yellowstone, decided he’d step past the barrier and walk across the fragile mineral crust, and fell into the hot springs. The water in those springs is so acidic that nothing was found of his body.

Os desaparecidos.

I think perhaps books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and films like “Into the Wild” have “popularized” the idea of wilderness and made some people think that the wild is entertainment. Safe wildness. But there end up being holes in the zoo fences, gators in the peaceful tropical lagoons. (Disney’s will was to earn money, and not to spoil the fantasy with warning signs.)

And toddlers (and even adults) just seem to want to go wherever they want to.

The wild is certainly beautiful and strong and glorious, but it is also unpredictable and deadly if we do not abide by some rules and apply discipline.

The will is wild. My will can very well drag me underwater if I do not let go of it and follow some rules for safety.

  • Trust “The God Thing,” as my friend Em likes to call it.
  • Clean the dog hair out of my house.
  • Help other people.
  • Be grateful. Write those down.

Also eating good food and drinking clean water. Because I don’t Stop Drinking, I just don’t drink the stuff that hurts me.

It’s hard to practice every day, because I Just Don’t Feel Like It, you know what I’m saying?

And as every spiritual practitioner of every discipline has ever recorded in their meditations, there can be long spiritually dry spells. AND THAT’S NORMAL. But because our self-help culture has sold us the idea that we should always be happy, we think it’s abnormal to practice, and then be unhappy, and then to keep practicing.

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You’re Already Awesome.

lolo-jones

Judson Brewer M.D. teaches stone nicotine addicts how to quit by teaching them how to meditate. He’s a psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine who, by some apparent miracle, trained in mindfulness meditation while studying medicine at Wash U in St. Louis.

He’d been studying stress in mice but after meditation training evidently decided that it might be more useful to study stress in humans. So he switched his research focus to the connections between stress, mindfulness and “the addictive process,” as he calls it.

Brewer’s Yale lab has found that mindfulness (i.e., meditation, i.e., Step 11) is twice as effective as leading treatments (read: drugs) developed for smoking cessation. His studies show …

Read the rest at Recovering the Body. And please subscribe there.

Shit Happens. And Shit Is Unknown.

A quick post—I am hard at work and have only a few minutes, but I needed to write this for my beloved friend P, who is still in Holland.

P has been going back and forth to Holland for almost a year, tending to her mother, whose health in her mid-80s has been in decline. She bought a ticket three weeks ago when she was told her mother had suffered another setback. Her mother had asked the nursing-home staff to email her daughter a photograph of herself in her nursing-home bed for Mother’s Day:

P's mom in Holland on Mother's Day, 2013.

P’s mom in Holland on Mother’s Day, 2013.

Een dikke kus van Ma!—A big fat kiss from Mom.

Gosh. It has been 14 years since I had a kiss from my mom, who died June 3, 1999.

It’s hard for P to be so far away from her mom. “She’s just worried about ME having a good day,” P said to me during our morning walk and her eyes spilled over. “She’s only thinking of me.”

That’s the kind of mom I want to be. I want to let my kid go and do his life, even if it’s in another country, on another continent, or in the same house. My first real exercise will come this summer. He’s 15 and can go wherever he wants in our city.

P and I have talked a great deal about how we can’t know when life’s great changes will happen, when the shit will finally come down. Useless to walk around holding an umbrella over my head. I have to live and practice enough flexibility, spontaneity and ingenuity to respond to life’s surprises. I meditate to discipline my mind, prying its rigid fingers off the stories it writes before the shit happens. Trying, always, to dictate the story arc (I usually have several running at once).

P booked the ticket. Then, once she got there, she worried: that something would happen.

That, this time, nothing would happen.

//

I was talking with some women in recovery this morning. We meet up early Thursdays and this morning I was talking about some changes in my life, telling them I’m responding with as much flexibility, spontaneity and ingenuity as I can but that I’m still procrastinating on some tasks, that it feels as though I’m letting myself down, Letting God Down, and that when all is said and done, I can’t control everything—Shit Happens.

“But shit is unknown,” one of my friends said. “We can’t know what shit’s going to happen. That’s what makes change so unnerving.”

Yes.

To get out of my head, to stop compulsively controlling The Story, I’ve been walking P’s dog, Ginger, three or four times a week, along with my dog, Flo. I’ve been doing this since P started going away. I herd Flo into the back seat and drive to P’s house at around 8, by which time everyone else in P’s family is at school or work. Ginny jumps on me (I can hear P telling her to get down) and, even though I shouldn’t when she jumps like that, I give her treats and kisses because she smells like P’s perfume and because she loves me, because I miss P and I want to make her dog happy even if I can’t make her happy—even if I can’t see the smile on her face, even if I can’t feel her arm threaded through my elbow as we walk.

Walking Ginger and Flo takes me two hours. They’re big dogs (Flo is only 45 lbs. but she has a big-dog attitude), and I sometimes walk five or six miles to do it. In the summer P and I will spend three or four (sometimes five) mornings each week walking the dogs together.

P taught me that dogs actually smile. Especially Labradors.

Ginger and Flo.

Ginger and Flo.

Natural mood-lifter.

Saturday I walked Flo, and P’s husband, whose name is also P, walked Ginger. The off-leash park is around the corner from their Loft/House and we walked up the hill in chilly, damp air. I’m training wiry Flo to obey and stocky Ginger to jump:

G with Flo, Ginger, and Tyson.

G with Flo, Ginger, and Tyson.

Sunday and Monday I didn’t sleep well. In the small hours Tuesday I woke and checked my phone: an email from P titled “Sad”:

My mom passed away this morning 7:10 Dutch time.

Two hours before I woke.

That morning I walked Ginger and Flo and on my way up the hill passed a sign hanging from an electrical box:

IMG_0629

So I took a “motivator” for P. It was a handwritten poem, maybe put there as a project by neo-hip-hop-folk-rapper students at the school across the street. It’s about Unknown Shit About To Happen.

Running like the wind

Fast, faster, fast as can be

Running to wondrous things

To a life full of possibilities

No more lying around

Sitting and lazing on the ground

Nothing will come to me if I don’t go and get it

So I’ll run towards the things I want to get

And I don’t care anymore if I have to sweat

And as I run I see all new things

Different lands with all kinds of shapes and beings

I feel different airs

Smell different scents

And I can suddenly handle the idea of rent

For as I run I can see what can be

All sorts of fun is waiting for me

So I run and I run, until I can’t anymore

And then I decide to run some more

And although I’ve seen so much more now

I know that there’s so much more to make me go “wow”

And since you worry because I’ve never worked so hard

I’ll send you a letter saying “I’ve found my inner bard”

This bard tells me my journey’s just begun

And I know life’s about to get much more fun

And all because I decided to run

//

“When I come home,” P told me before she left, “I’m not leaving again for a long time.”

But who knows? We can’t know. She might fly off to Barcelona again, or to Siena, or run off to stay in the loft in New York City. I might drive to Boston or fly to Rome, book a train to Ancona and take a ferry to Zadar.

Zadar

Zadar, Croatia.

The fact is, when shit happens, my life usually gets a lot bigger. If I allow it. And I don’t think God cares whether I sail to Zadar, but I think God wants my life to be big.

Recovery, Step 11: Meditation.

The other night I was up in the middle of the night, sleepless, thinking about a letter I had to write. Thoughts

(you haven’t written a letter like this in a long time, what do you know about these issues anyway, ??who the hell do you think you are??)

kept me awake. So I focused on my breath and meditated.

About three minutes later an answer appeared, bubbling up like the fragrant bay leaf in jambalaya.

I’ve been meditating regularly. The intuition muscle is working.

The next morning I wrote down what had come to me in meditation. I thought, “This could be brilliant or it could be bullshit.” So I sent the idea off to a friend of mine who does this kind of writing. She wrote right back:

FABULOUS, GO W/IT!!

The power of intuitive thought.

Also: the supportive power of community.

//

When I meet newcomers to recovery, I notice how fidgety some of them are, and I sometimes ask them if they’re meditating each day. Most are not. They say they don’t know how. They say they’ve tried and can’t. Sometimes they say they’re “not on that step yet.”

When I first worked the steps, I got “previews” along the way, and meditation and prayer were two of those previews. So were amends. Just because I may not yet be taking Step 9 doesn’t mean I can’t make up for something I screwed up yesterday. Right? And just because I may not be on Step 11 doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to pray or meditate.

The other day in my home group I talked about turning problems over to meditation and prayer and a guy approached me after the meeting to talk about meditation. He wanted to know how I did it. Fiftysomething; two weeks sober; he’d been around the New Age Block, had tried various meditation methods and he was interested in getting the lowdown on how to do it the “right” way.

Newsflash: There is no right way.

As Mary Karr might say,

There’s just the application of the ass to the seat. 

As Yoda might say,

Do or do not—there is no try.

Meditation is for the Recovery Warrior.

Yoda knew about The Force.

//

When I got sober the second time, days after my relapse, I was told to meditate every day.

[I received this direction from Sluggo, a former heroin addict, fellow mom, experienced Zen meditator. She generously pinch-hit as a long-distance sponsor for me for a while when I was between sponsors In Real Life. Her experience with sobriety and Buddhism is here.]

Sluggo taught me this Way To Meditate (one of many):

  • Sit facing a blank wall.
  • Sit with your back held upright and easy. 
  • It’s better to sit crosslegged or kneeling on a cushion on the floor, but if you’re sitting in a chair, sit away from the back.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Set a timer for two minutes.
  • Close your eyes halfway and gently unfocus them.
  • Hold still, begin by focusing on your breath. 
  • Each time you notice a thought, let it pass and bring your attention back to your breath.

That’s it.

The hard part is not how to do it. The hard part is actually doing it.

If you’re an addict like me, you’re afraid of your thoughts and you may not drink or use anymore but there are a lot of other things you do or are tempted to do to avoid your mind (eat, shop, gamble, work, clean, exercise, watch Netflix…). Meditation allows me to accept my mind. A powerful tool to correct self-rejection and self-censure.

Sluggo said: Add a minute or two each week or so until you get up to the length of time you want. She said: Do it at the same time every day. She said: I put my kid on the school bus, go upstairs, and meditate.

I don’t “try” to meditate. I either do it, or I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t. On those days, easy does it. I don’t beat up on myself for not doing it or for doing it wrong. I don’t congratulate myself for doing it or for doing it right.

Just now, I put my kid on his bike to soccer practice, and I’m here ready to meditate.

Fifteen minutes.

Let’s do it.

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.

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