Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Step 3 (page 2 of 2)

Sober Life: How to Stay Sober in a Bar (or Anywhere Else)

Over the weekend I went to my 25-year college reunion. I hadn’t remembered how deep in the boonies this place is. It’s in the middle of friggin nowhere. There are now fake gaslights on the sidewalks and the tiny park has been gussied up, but the place is still cut off from the rest of the world. In a way this is part of its charm, but I felt its isolation even more acutely Saturday night when I went “downtown” to meet my old friends, now middle-aged, who I found throwing back pitchers and playing ping-pong at a dive-bar. I’d prepared myself to go to bars, but I hadn’t remembered just how low-bottom this town’s dive-bars were. And I hadn’t remembered how much beer these guys could put back.

Correction: how much G Herself used to put back. A lot.



Quarters drinking game

How to play Quarters: bounce the quarter... if you miss, you drink. If you win, everyone else drinks.


I drank, I remembered, all the time. Very often, at any rate. WTF else was there for an 18- or 19-year-old to do in the middle of nowhere? We had keg parties in houses, in parks, anywhere we could. We went to the dive-bars and drank cheap happy-hour beer and anything else we could get served. I had a friend from the school newspaper who tended bar in senior year; he used to mix us this blue drink that we sloshed from cleaning-fluid bottles with spouts. We called it the Blue Whale—otherwise known as Windex. We drank it in shots. We played Quarters. We invented drinking games that always involved the loser chugging the beer or bolting the shot. We drank until closing time. We drank away our boredom and our daytime fear about what we’d do once we graduated.

I realized that drinking worked for me. In a way, for a while, it saved my life. If I hadn’t drunk—considering what was happening at home—I might have jumped out a window.

So. I knew ahead of last weekend that I’d be going to bars. I knew everybody else would be drinking. (They weren’t playing Quarters, they weren’t chugging beers, but everybody but me was drinking.) And I was right about all of this, and it was cool with me that they were drinking and I was not.

How did I stay sober?

I asked a young woman, a newcomer I’ve been working with, who also went away last weekend, how she stayed sober. She went to a seaside resort where she knew people would be drinking. She came back and called me yesterday, thrilled to tell me that she’d stayed sober. I could hear the clarity in her voice. She said I could share here how she stayed sober (which turned out to be the same way I stayed sober).

“I set an intention before I left,” she said.

Oh man, this is good, I love this: an intention. You don’t have to say, I got on my knees, I prayed my ass off—you can just Set An Intention.

“I set an intention before I left that I would be present for this person,” she said. She was visiting a friend who’s having some trouble. “And I asked myself what my higher power’s will for me was.”

Aha. Step 3.

But: how did she know what her higher power’s will for her was?

“I’ve done the opposite of my higher power’s will so often that I can tell,” she said, laughing. “I knew that if I drank, I would not be able to be present for this person. Or for myself.”

Exactly. I wanted to be present for these people.

Some of these people (almost all of these people) I hadn’t seen in 25 years. But from the time we started hanging out when we were 17 and 18, we were almost like family. We WERE family—we were the first family-of-choice any of us ever had. We chose to be with each other while we were working on the massive job of earning higher educations and beginning to separate from our parents. I listened to the jokes we told and heard their laughter (so strange, and so familiar), and I felt the spaces these people have carved in me, like water across the earth, and realized those spaces will always be there, forever.

Those spaces prepared the ground for others who came after them.

But some of these people, after four years, I’d left hanging. I’d left school thinking most of them were sick of me and didn’t like me after all. Some of them, I’d hurt. The last time I saw my college boyfriend, for example, was 25 years ago, and I’d picked a fight with him and left him standing in the street and just Never Saw Him Again. Which is the way I’ve left a number of people. … This guy is one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever known. I wrote him a letter years ago to make things right, and we’re cool—and I knew we were cool—but to see him and everyone else face-to-face, to be clearheaded and responsive with these people… it was a shift from the out-of-body Wasted And Fearful Experience of decades ago to an in-body experience of the present moment. It was, I guess, like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, with all the pieces fitting. You can see the seams and some drips of glue, but it’s OK: it rolls. It’s whole.

I sat in the bars and watched them drink good beers—Dos Equis and Corona with fresh lime wedges forced down the throats of the bottles, the foam rising up to meet the fruit (remember that?), beers I used to drink, and my mouth didn’t even water because I was present and I knew what I was there for.

It’s like what my friend C said to me last summer, before I visited my husband’s family in the UK (where they sell codeine over the counter):

If you use, you will abandon yourself, and you’ll be unable just to be present for them, which is a great service in and of itself.

C is the shit, man. So are many, many other people I’ve known who have shared how they stay sober in places where people are drinking. And it’s great to be passing it on and seeing it work for others.

What My “Bottom” Looked Like: by Guest Poster Sally

Recently I’ve been approached by folks inquiring about guest-posting their experiences on Guinevere Gets Sober, as well as exchanging posts with their blogs. One of these folks is Sally, who blogs about health at Eat Breathe Blog. She’s also a recovering alcoholic who wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to have a “turning point.” I’ll also be blogging for Sally at some point…

My favorite line in this blog: “Typically, when I get arrested, I snap out of my blackout—but not this time.” Wow. Thanks, Sally.

Guest-posting is a fabulous part of being part of the blogging culture. If you’d like to guest-post here, email me at guinevere (at) guineveregetssober (dot) com.


What My Bottom Looked Like

by Sally

As Emmylou Harris sings about addiction: "At the bottom of a hole of a deeper well..."

My bottom looked like this: I was facing years in a federal prison, after years of getting arrested on various alcohol and drug related charges. In the end, I had three different counties wanting to lock me up for good. I had lost the faith of a loving family, all my friends looked at me as a sick person and I hit a place of spiritual bankruptcy that was more emotionally taxing than anything I had ever experienced in my life.

And I was only 21.

My life was headed down a road of destruction and failure, and everyone knew it but me. I could not bring myself to distinguish the truth from the false, and the truth about my life was that it was plummeting to a place of no return. I was headed toward prison, yet I still felt invincible. Alcohol consumed my every thought. I loved to drink. I love the effect produced by alcohol. I drank essentially to produce that effect. Once I took the first drink, I couldn’t stop. An obsession came over me and at that point, no amount of will power could keep me from heading off on another spree.

That’s exactly what happened the night of August 2, 2008. I woke out of a blackout in mid-conversation with a Hispanic guy, and I was yelling at him: “Speak English, dammit!” This man turned out to be a fellow cell-mate because, you guessed it, I was in jail again. No idea how I’d gotten there. That blackout was one of the worst of my life. It was long, six to eight hours in duration, and I remembered literally nothing. Typically, when I get arrested, I snap out of my blackout—but not this time. The last thing I remembered was the obsession to drink that took over my body, and I was staring down a bottle of vodka. That had been about six hours earlier, and at this point, I felt like my life was over.

Suicide became my only thought. Ideas of facing—yet again—the consequences of my actions, overwhelmed me, and I didn’t want to do it. It was at this exact moment that the thoughts came to me:

I am an alcoholic. … I can’t drink normally. … I’ve never been arrested sober. … I have to stop drinking.

It was that easy, but then again—I couldn’t imagine living without alcohol.

Eventually, they let me out of jail, and I went straight to a rehabilitation hospital for alcohol addiction. That night, I attended my first AA meeting, with an honest desire not to drink. This desire had come over me when I was in jail that last time—it was the first of many spiritual experiences. It became clear to me: If I were to eliminate alcohol from my life—I wouldn’t be in the situation I was in. I never got arrested sober, because when I was sober I never broke the law. I haven’t taken a drink since.

I was introduced to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose members introduced me to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps to recovery. The 12 steps in turn introduced me to a God of my own understanding, through whom I found the power to solve all my problems. I found this God in working the steps. He was inside me the entire time. In my first spiritual experience, I realized that through all my trials and tribulations in life—God was there, guiding me through. I guess my God realized that the only way I was ever going to gain the willingness to throw myself into the steps was to suffer a severe amount of pain—so he gave that to me.

Through the steps I’ve experienced several spiritual experiences and have since recovered from the “seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” that is alcoholism. I gained a sense of belief, and eventually faith, that has forever changed my outlook on life. I was given a new will to live. I had recovered from alcoholism.

I will always be an alcoholic. I will never be able to successfully take another drink of alcohol without setting the cycle of physical illness and mental obsession. AA’s program lets me experience true happiness. There is one small requirement that is asked of me: that I share my experience with other people in hopes that they too can recover from alcoholism. I am always here for anyone that reaches out.

Sally writes about health and wellness on her blog, Eat, Breathe, Blog, and also about dental insurance. She said she couldn’t pass up a chance to share her experience, strength and hope with you.


Sayings from the rooms: Carrying the message

My friend Jacques told me this today,

about helping others:

You carry the message,

not the person.

It’s hard to watch people struggle with using. I came across a passage in my journal today from when I last used, on 2 January, after a long period of sobriety… I hadn’t had substances in my body for a long time, and I was completely “opioid-naive,” as the doctors say. Here’s what I wrote about the experience when I was in it:

It makes me not-care.

It relieves my anxiety that I won’t be able to handle any eventuality.

It relieves my obsession with threat and pain, and the threat of any pain.

It makes me dull—blunts my edges.

It relieves my fear of the future.

It makes me not-care about the past.

It makes me hide.

It makes me feel like I’m coming out of myself.

It makes me have courage, but the courage is false.

It makes me less terrified of making mistakes.

It makes me overly apologetic—because I’m hiding, and in any hiding situation, the boundary is false.

It makes me forget.

It makes me calm.

It makes me energetic.

Later, it makes me want to sleep.

It makes me want to hoard everything.

It makes me see as if through a glass, darkly.

I look at this list. I can see why substances were an attractive solution. My feelings were (are, can be—if I do not work a program of spiritual growth) tied up in the past and the future… Preoccupation with the past is resentment, and preoccupation with the future is fear. Numbing out is one way to skirt the issue. You can take a drink or a pill and almost instantly “not-care.”

For years, all I wanted was to not-care… basically, to go to sleep so I could forget about the past and not worry about the future.

Today I got to carry the message… that I no longer have to stress out about having a fridge with a top shelf stacked with beer, or visiting people’s houses whose medicine cabinets have Vicodin or Percocet in them, because my obsession has been taken away. I gave up, accepted I was powerless, and surrendered to a power greater than myself. Each day that I wave my white flag and take action that is contrary to what I “feel,” I get let off the hook and am given power where once I was powerless.

Sometimes, it is soooo hard!!

In the rooms, they also say:

Her Majesty,

Queen Baby.

(My friend Arlene, whom I met at Opiate Detox Recovery, was fond of telling me I was Her Majesty Queen Baby when I’d complain how haaaaarrrrrd it was to stay clean.)

Spiritual growth is about being awake in the present moment. Living in that tension, but negotiating it with self-possession.

Thelma, driving through the desert, being chased by cops: “I feel awake.”


Disaster Relief: Step 3.

Syd had a very fine post yesterday about the Gulf oil disaster and his feelings of defeat upon watching oil-slicked birds trying and being unable to fly.

When I read it this morning it made me think of the discussion at my home group last night. A friend is in grief for a family member who recently died of cancer, and she’s angry at God for letting such a disaster happen. How do we carry on turning over our wills and our lives to a God with whom we’re so angry?

Syd’s post doesn’t express anger at God for the Gulf oil spill—it expresses anger at the people who screwed up, who drilled so far below the ocean’s surface, who messed up the drilling, and who are now passing the buck while wildlife and human life suffer.

Still, it’s hard to “turn the problem over” when it’s so massive and horrible, and when we feel its enormousness and enormity so keenly. How can we just give it away to a force we can’t even see, that we can’t even prove is there?

Last night as I sat knitting in the meeting and listening to this topic being brought up, I thought of my cousin Amy.

My cousin Amy.

Amy was 36 when she died in July 2009. She had three kids—the oldest, a girl, 17.

She also had a longstanding drug problem, which she supported by shoplifting, identity theft, and sometimes turning tricks. Her kids were taken away from her by county children’s services. My cousins who were close to her tried to help her, but to give them credit, it’s almost impossible to “help” someone in active addiction who doesn’t want to be helped.

She died after being strangled and beaten by her drug dealer and another guy. After killing her, the guys stripped her, wrapped her body in a piece of carpet, and dumped her in a wooded lot. Her body was found 11 days later—in July, high summer—decomposed, unrecognizable, identified by the only fingerprint she had left.

My cousin’s murderers.

These are the men who killed Amy. The on the right broke her ribs and fractured her skull. The one on the left strangled her from behind. They’ve been convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Both Amy’s parents were addicted to heroin and other drugs. Her father was a Vietnam vet, a Marine scout-dog handler who watched Vietcong bombs, booby traps, and bullets kill several of his dogs. He rotated back to the world with PTSD and a solid injection-drug habit. When he died he was 31, and his oldest child, Amy, was 8.

This was not just his “personal” problem. This was also a consequence of sending an 18-year-old off to work in a futile war, and then shipping him back home wounded in spirit and leaving him to negotiate his illnesses on his own.

It’s like the Gulf Oil Spill. Its causes are deep, and it spreads.

After losing both my parents to the consequences of addiction, hearing about Amy’s murder made me feel angry and helpless. I’d worked hard to detox and get sober, only, it seemed, to see yet another person in my family fall to the disease of addiction.

My addict-mind decided I was destined for the same outcome. After all—BOTH of my own parents. This preyed upon my mind. I wrote inventory, I talked with my sponsor, but I continued to be a slave to anger and self-centered fear. I compared myself with other “successful” people who earn more money than I do, who went to better schools than I did, who have won more recognition for their work than I have, whose houses are bigger than mine, who apparently are more secure and solid than I.

I used over this. One day while visiting my aunt, I saw an old photo of Amy with her children, and I took a Vicodin. Incredible. I stole two Vicodin, I took one, and I put the other one back.

Recovering addicts I know were like, “Was it only one, and if it was only one, HOW was it only one?” It was only one. It only needed to be one: when you say “Fuck You,” you don’t have to raise all your fingers. In the U.S., you raise one. That’s what I was doing: telling whatever “God” is out there, “Fuck you.”

If I want to survive, though, I have to choose to align myself with a power more productive than the feeling of “fuck you.”

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