Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Who Do You Miss?

In four days it will be my birthday. I’ll be 47, sober for almost two years, in recovery from addiction for three, and in Al-Anon for almost 13. A list of “birthdays.” 

My mother died of lung cancer 12 years ago at 58. I rarely miss her, but there are three days of the year on which I predictably, and sometimes rather desperately, wish she were still alive: her birthday (April 19); my son’s birthday (September 19); and my birthday. Who remembers your birth better than your own mother?

It makes me sad that my son doesn’t get to have a grandma nearby, that my mother never got to see how well my son’s turning out.

(“He’s a good kid,” my father told me before he died. “He’ll be OK. You’re doing a good job.” These words are like the chair in which I put my feet up at the end of the day. I don’t often sit in that chair because when I do, I fall asleep—it’s so comforting.)

The rose window of Nôtre Dame de Paris.

My son used to crawl on her lap and play with her necklace, a gold replica of the rose window in Nôtre Dame cathedral. Dad brought the pendant back from a Paris business trip in 1983. My mother wore it always, and after my mother died Daddy gave it to me. … My son would crawl up onto her lap and stick the disk in his mouth, and she’d let him do it. In the brief time they knew each other, she let him do stuff she’d never have let us do. The grandkids would have mellowed her out.

For our birthdays we got to ask for our favorite dinners and whatever we wanted for dessert. Except for my birthday Mom would make pumpkin pie. And every year I would have preferred to have something chocolate but I could never tell her this, because she somehow got this idea that pumpkin pie was my favorite, or else it was because I was born the day before Halloween. She needed to be the perfect mom who baked the perfect birthday dessert. There was something in me that couldn’t dispel her illusions. That something is the obsessive caretaking thing about me, the thing that’s overly influenced by what other people think, the alcoholic-child-thing. She obsessively took care of me, and I obsessively cared for her right back.

Today I’d be able to find a way to let her know that I like chocolate better than pumpkin. Not so I could have the chocolate, but so we could know each other better. So we could be honest.

I grew up in a family rife with addiction. I lost both parents to it. All my cousins who are still alive have lost people close to them to addiction. Many of us have lost people to addiction—not just family members but also friends, fellows in the rooms, sponsors. The Subversive Librarian wrote a remarkable post about this recently—about how suicides and deaths due to addiction tempt her to relapse, make her desperate with the idea that she might after all have to follow them.

So she takes action to insure that she doesn’t.

Who do you miss? What’s your experience with loss?


  1. G, your memories of love and loss are very poignant. It sounds like you have come so far and I applaud you for beating those demons, one day at a time. Hats off to you, my new friend, stay strong.

  2. Well, words aren’t enoough for me. So I created a little video for my friend:

  3. After three decades of not losing anyone I have been slammed since July 2008 when my only sister dropped dead of a blood clot in her lungs-totally unexpected. I still cry every single day for her and for our family’s loss. My good friends and patients have died one after another in what seems like an unending stream of shocks, distress, sorrow, fear, uncertainty and inability to get very excited about anything. We lost our younger brother this past June-less than three years after sister; neither had celebrated their 50th birthday.

    Sadness permeates everything I do; I have withdrawn into myself for several reasons: fear of losing anymore people that I care about inhibits my making new friends; thinking about my dead people makes the tears flow whether or not I want them to; overall my personality underwent a sea change after my sister’s untimely death.

  4. guinevere

    October 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    @Helene… glad to have made your acquaintance in New York. A powerful experience.

    @John, thanks for giving me an opportunity to remember Andy and see his face again. Your photos of the Run are, as ever, beautiful.

    @Lynda, my dear, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister and brother. Thank you for writing about your experience here. … Though “the rooms” seem full of people ready and willing to make connections, your comment puts me in mind of a number of folks (myself included, sometimes) who remain afraid to connect with others for fear of losing friendships, being rejected, or somehow failing to maintain control over relationships. An interesting subject for another time.

  5. 2 years ago, Sept.3, my Mom died of alcoholism. I’m an alcoholic and I had been sober just shy of 2 years. We drank together, inappropriately, many times while I was growing up. I believe that I was a “worse” alcoholic than she was–until I got sober.

    The moment I surrendered my will to my higher power, from that moment on, my mom drank herself into oblivion and eventually death.

    What happened was this: I was at her house after she bailed me out of jail for a DUI. I woke up in a stupor and told her I needed her to get me alcohol. I thought I was going to die, I needed it. She refused. And right then I knew, if my own Mother wouldn’t get it for me, I was done. I surrendered. She saved me and looking back on that moment I can visualize the demon leaving my body and entering her. I know that sounds a little dramatic and maybe fantastic. But it was as real to me as my sobriety is real. Over the next year I got healthy and I watched her descend deeper into hell. I tried to be a good example and show her how happy life could be. But she had given up.

    More than once in my drinking days I would wake up and WISH I was dead. I know that feeling of complete horror and self loathing, pure sickness. Pure pain. But I did not know that a person could actually die like that. yet that’s exactly what she did. Her death certificate says “failure to thrive” as the cause of death.

    Since she’s been gone I miss her like nothing else, but I also feel closer to her because I know that she’s back to her pure self. We can connect spiritually without the baggage of disease clouding our contact.

    that’s my experience

  6. guinevere

    October 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    @Jenn… “We can connect spiritually without the baggage of disease clouding our contact.”—I like that. … How do you connect with your mom on a spiritual basis? what’s that like for you? (I ask because I’ve also had experiences of connecting with people who are gone) /G

  7. Your post reminds me of how my mom would always make a cherry pie for my dad’s birthday which was the same as George Washington’s. You know, cutting down the cherry tree thing? And his name is George, too. I always wondered if he really wanted that or if she simply thought that it was necessary to do it.

    As my parents have aged and retired and we’ve all moved away, I find that my mom doesn’t have much of an interest in what I am into these days. I have attempted to connect with her but she’s always running off somewhere and just doesn’t have time to talk. I always think to myself, “So why did you answer the phone??”

    I have no idea where I’m going with this comment. I guess I’ll just say Happy Early Birthday and I hope someone makes you a chocolate cake 🙂

  8. I believe that my mom and I planned this life out together before we came into it. The whole time she was drinking herself to death, I would go visit often and it was like she was possessed. Crying out to me from behind her eyes. ONE time she looked at me and she knew that I knew. It’s hard to explain. Knowing she was in there somewhere but not being able to reach her, it was torture.

    ~sidenote, my husband has explained to me that he felt this same way about me. Living years with his real wife, best friend, soul mate, me, bound and gagged by alcohol while “Drunkifer” walked in my shoes and kissed him with bad breath.

    I held my Mom while she died. I watched her leave. It was a GIFT. I felt her there with me smiling and approving of me. And ever since, often, I imagine she is right here with me. I talk to her (sometimes) and almost like, commiserate, run things by her. Get her approval 🙂

    Cuz we had a LOT of bad in our relationship. She abused me, and neglected me. I think her guilt over that is some of what drove her to drink. And being a mom, and a drunk, I can totally understand. She did what she knew how. So we had all that horrible poison in our air and now it’s gone.

  9. I miss unrealized relationships: the relationship that I wanted with my parents (now deceased) vs. the actual relationship of a dysfunctional family, and the relationship that I wanted to have with my son, based on what I observed from other families, vs the actual detached relationship I have with my son based upon his current addiction and mental illness. I am very grateful for other relationships I have: my relationship with my wife, who is working her programs, my relationship with my daughter, who is working her program, my relationship with fellow members of Alanon, and relationships with friends and co-workers.

  10. guinevere

    October 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

    @Jenn… I also talk to my mother. Not often. But when I do, she’s always above me and to the right, and she says things she never would have said in life.

    @Dave… How powerful. When I was doing my 4th step in Al-Anon years ago I felt these same losses. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to let them go, I wasn’t able to feel them fully and release them, and my resentment helped slide me into addiction. Your post impels me to pick up the blueprint again myself. … My heart feels for you and I’m honored that you visit here and write in so often. /G

  11. Hi Guinevere,

    I miss my parents and brother, whom I lost to the consequences of their lifestyles, and they are a part of my daily prayer and meditation. I always visit their graves to touch base as part of that process, and I have been thinking about folks who were active when I first began, who have passed. Their example was very important to me. Hope they know somehow. Mike

  12. Debbie Maclennan

    October 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I just left a comment on your previous post – “Connect With Me’. I was a little shocked to hear that I share your mother’s birthday. I watched my own mother die of lung cancer over a five year period. My boys were 2 and 4 when she died. I have yet to shed a tear, and feel guilty.

    You wrote that “something is the obsessive caretaking thing about me, the thing that’s overly influenced by what other people think, the alcoholic-child-thing. She obsessively took care of me, and I obsessively cared for her right back.” I can complete relate. My challenge is in raising boys who who don’t worry about what others think about them, and have the courage to forge their own paths.

    Thanks so much for posting; its always illuminating.

  13. Beautiful post, G. And the comments are also very powerful. I lost my mother to lung cancer in 1982. I do hear from her now and then — usually in the form of a New Mexico license plate at eerie times and places. I still miss her and think about her daily. Before she died, I asked her to contact me from the “other side” if she was able to do so without scaring the hell out of me. And she did — just five minutes before the hospital called to tell us she was gone. As she said to me before, “We’ve always managed to be together even when we were separated by thousands of miles. So I know we’ll still be together when I die, too.” She died with 10 1/2 years of sobriety. At the last meeting she went to, I celebrated my first sober birthday.

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