Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Trudging in Sobriety: Learning Boundaries from Two Stray Kittens

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

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

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

Stray kittens

The stray kittens. iPod for scale...

Urchin ran in the opposite direction, hissing.

The rain came down.

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

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

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

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

We were due at the orthodontist in 20 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else?

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

And now the animal shelter.

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

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

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


  1. Oh my goodness, how adorable! My babies are tail-less, too. They’re manx not bobtail, though.

  2. Whew, where’s the time for G. to read/daydream/contemplate/have fun? As a fellow writer I know these things are essential to my creative life, so I’m assuming it’s the same for you. I also sometimes have trouble setting boundaries and making time to care for myself. I don’t have an easy solution, but if what you listed above is an accurate assessment of your expectations of yourself, I can see why drugs were so appealing. I know on opiates I could work for days without “rest” because I didn’t feel anything: pain/hunger/exhaustion/loneliness and I didn’t need anything (“things” included food, exercise, companionship, sex) except more drugs. I hope I’m not overstepping when I say that I don’t think you need help with time management, but with learning to be ok with yourself, no matter what you achieve in a day. You are so much more than your accomplishments. (If you question this, ask yourself whether you love your friends/family/child any less when they “fail” or make mistakes. No, I bet the answer is that you love them BECAUSE of their so-called flaws.) Be easier on G. I’m attached to her. I also think her life (and definitely her sobriety) depends on it.

  3. guinevere

    October 11, 2010 at 12:06 am

    So & so… I thought maybe they were Manx… but not sure. The vet at the shelter said they might just have birth defects. (more later about what the vet at the shelter said…)

    M… fabulous to see you here. I mean just lovely. … Spent the past two days alone and discovered more about how unrealistic my expectations are once the (real and imagined) expectations of others were taken away. Also about how unadaptable I am in the face of changing plans. Inflexible… Anyhow, thanks for them words.

  4. OH G I love them. Oh my goodness. What a blessing.

    I don’t know if I ever told you this story, but in the summer of 2007, right in the middle of my heaviest kratom extract addiction, this friendly stray — not feral at all — started coming around my house way up north. She was too skinny; I started feeding her daily. As you may imagine, I soon had a new best friend.

    Late August, early September, she started getting super fat. I thought it was due to all my food, but it didn’t take long for me to do some research and realize that my girl was preggo.

    I had two domesticated cats already and wasn’t sure what to do. So I named the stray “Pickle” (because she was in one) and thanked God that we had a basement that wasn’t attached to the rest of the house. I waited as long as I could, then “captured” Pickle and put her in the basement at the end of September. Up there near Canada, late September is when it starts to freeze at night. By the end of their infancy, her kittens would have died outside.

    A week later we heard yowls and I found Pickle birthing in the corner. I watched all night and six little kitties came out.

    For the next two months, the second I got home from work, I would bolt downstairs and sit with those kitties and Pickle all night long. I built them a big play area with cinderblock sides and with all kinds of toys and buildings; then, I put a space heater down there.

    I sat there all night smoking and getting high and passing out in a purple plastic lounge chair. Used to wake up with kittens all over me.

    I gave them all away but one — I still have Dill, the runt.

    My point? God sends drug addicts and alcoholics kittens to take care of, even if they aren’t sober yet. I used to wonder why I got to take care of those kittens — you have to understand that I used to wish, hope, and pray that something EXACTLY like what happened would happen to me. There is nothing better than a kitten.

    And now I think God knows that drug addicts will champion and love the weak, the vulnerable, and the beautiful more than any other. Be it identification or be it sheer empathy, we are the best ones to love in that way.

    Or so says my ego.

    Carry the torch dear friend.


  5. guinevere

    October 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Dani… good lord girl… where ya been all this time??

    Dill: great name for a cat. Bet everyone else would choose Atticus… (course the runt couldn’t be Atticus)

    Great to hear you talk about what God sends and knows and does. I’m not sure I can speak about God like that, but I like it when other people do.

    Another thing your story says to me is that not all is wasted (to use a small pun) while we’re using. It’s something my husband reminds me of… He hates it when we’re talking about something that happened in our lives, some decision I might have made, and I characterize it as sub-standard because “I wasn’t sober then.” I made a lot of mistakes, but I also did a great deal of good even when I was using. So did you…

  6. All our cats were ones that we adopted. I found Rachael when she was not much older than these and told her that if she lived, she would never have to be cold and hungry again. She looks just like the little gray one in your photo. She is such a great cat and has not gone cold or hungry. Take care of the babies. Animals teach us about compassion.

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