Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

The stigma of addiction: Do addicts in recovery get better?

The stats and comments show that you guys like it when I write about current events. So I spent a couple hours trawling my Gmail news alerts this morning… Because I have an alert set for “Vicodin,” I’ve got lots of news about the new season of “House” (House apparently kicked his Vicodin habit, though at the end of last season in a moment of crisis he ran to his bathroom for a secret stash he’d hidden? and Cuddy walked in and they got it on?—I dunno).

Also big news: Lindsay Lohan has failed a random drug test (cocaine) and may be sent back to jail. This after it was “determined” a few weeks back that she didn’t actually have a problem with drugs, her problem was “just” with her erratic upbringing. So much for court-appointed psychiatric evaluations.

Also: many, many car-stops all over the country, with troopers pulling down stashes of up to 16 lbs. of brown heroin (Illinois), plus eight grand in cash and hundreds of Oxycontin pills (Ohio), and the usual odd numbers of Vicodin, Lorcet and subutex, and whatnot.

But the story I liked most was the one in the Kennebec Journal about the halfway house for recovering alcoholics they’re thinking about opening in Jefferson, Me.

Jefferson is a little town about 45 miles west of Camden, a seaside resort in what is known as “mid-coast”—north of the beaches at the southern tip of the state, and south of Acadia and Bar Harbor. Jefferson is in Lincoln County and it rang a bell because I’ve been to those parts—we’ve sometimes driven from our Appalachian-foothill town to Maine for vacations, and we usually stay near Belfast, a fishing town just north of Camden (and less touristy).

Maine pond ducks

My boy several years ago, watching the ducks on the mid-coast pond we sometimes visit.

When we go up there we fall into Maine habits, one of which: we leave the house without locking the doors.

Some of the good folks of Jefferson are afraid that having “addicts” as their neighbors will mean that they have to start using their keys. They’re afraid that if the residents get kicked out of their supervised-living situation, they’ll be dumped to roam the streets of Jefferson (which, apparently, they’ve been promised will not happen: residents who fail drug-tests will be taken to the hospital).

I was heartened to see how many comments were filed supporting the project.

Wake up—people that are addicts, alcoholics, etc. are your neighbors. You have been living a sheltered life if you think you’re any better than any of these people.

A rural facility is the best place for a bunch of drunks. I’m one so I feel safe to speak up on this. I’ve gone to AA for 13 years. Prefer to live at home, thank you. But there are many that don’t have a home in the first place. There must be a safe place to start the journey.

There were also those who had, shall we say, less sympathy:

Bring em on. My wrong answer stick is loaded and waiting.

(For godsake)

Success rates for these programs is at best about 15 percent. Addicts are not parasites, they are predators. … Trying to help an addict is a black hole that can easily suck good people in at their peril.

I’ve written something similar elsewhere: “it’s almost impossible to help an active addict who doesn’t want to be helped.”

I’ve sat across tables from people who have said to me, “I want to stop drinking, I need to stop drinking, but I can’t stop drinking—what can I do??”

When I was using and saying to myself, “I want to stop using, I need to stop using, but I can’t stop using,” I wasn’t ready to stop using, pure and simple. I hadn’t had enough. And yeah, my addiction made me into someone who sometimes manipulated, lied, and stole, but who more often was simply passive in her own life and who was by times quite emotionally unstable. A “predator”? No. A sick person.

But someone who is ready, who has put together sober time, and who wants help? Who has willingness?

These are two different people. Quite literally. The person I was when I was using bears little resemblance to the person I am now.

This is hard for me to live with sometimes. It makes me feel strange, as though I have dissociative-identity disorder—what they used to call “multiple-personality.” Is that person hiding inside me? Will she take over again? … Do I get to indulge in the loathing I have for her, because of the things she did?

I was talking to a young newcomer recently who said they had regrets. They were talking about how much they hated themselves for the things they’d done while using. … This is one of the ways I get not to hate myself. I get to tell a new person I did the same things—or the same kinds of things. They look at me: 45, articulate, put-together, married with a kid, and hear me talk about the shit I pulled, the ways I fell down, and they get to have hope that they’ll be able to pick themselves back up and also let go of the self-hatred.

And the married with a kid… I don’t take this for granted.

“Babe,” I said last night as we were drifting off at 10:30.


“Oh never mind,” I said.

“I wish I had a hot dinner for every time you’ve cut yourself off like that,” he said. “Why do you censor yourself?”

“Because it’s 10:30, and I know you’re gonna just tell me it’s too late to talk about it,” I said.

“Why?” he said. “Is it a philosophical question?”

“Kind of,” I said.

“Oh Christ.”

We lay there in silence and I thought maybe he was dozing off again when he said, “Out with it, then!”

“Well…” I said. “When I told you I was an addict and was in recovery and all that, and it turned out that I’d been addicted all that time and wasn’t able to understand it, and basically deluded you and myself and everything, why didn’t you just leave me?”

He didn’t pause even for a second. “Because you were IN RECOVERY,” he said. “And people in recovery get better.”


  1. Thanks, G, for your full disclosure and honesty. Your story gives me such hope for my daughter. I especially value your comments and observations since you’ve walked the long road of recovery yourself and can teach me (us!) so much. Nora, at worksaside just wrote a nice piece on her blog about the stigma of addiction. This is a topic that could engage us all in a lot of good discussion and dialogue. Even I, as the mother of a heroin addict, feel stigmatized – even within my own family! I hesitate to offer parenting advice to my son and his wife because, afterall, my daughter became a heroin addict. I kind of feel that I’ve lost all credibility. Later, Peggy

  2. G – I second Peggy! Each and every word in this post rang true for me. It baffles me to think that even addicts in recovery continue to be stigmatised. I remember when we first found out Hannah was using heroin, my father swore us all to secrecy. It made me so angry because I thought he was trying to hide what was going on to the outside world because of his own shame but actually he was trying to protect Hannah’s future. He wanted her to have the chance to have an judgement free life once she was in recovery. And now I really understand why.
    And as for the quote from your husband. You’ve found yourself a gem there. He was right and you are living proof. Thanks for sharing. Nx

  3. I think that there is such fear and ignorance among people when it comes to addiction. They see the craziness of addiction on TV and what it does. And yes, it can be all of those things. But I do believe that people need a chance to recover and to not be judged because they have a disease. Great post, G.

  4. You’re a good writer, G. (I can’t spell the whole name, at least without a dictionary.) You’re words are golden, madam. It’s just, always, a crazy situation when one is using. I use alcohol. I use booze. Others prefer pills or H or coke or the myriad other forms of self-coping, self-exiting, self-selfishness. And I am fed up with it. It is killing me, and killing my happy life. I just wanted to add that. I can write you a haiku, too.

    through glazed eyes i see
    Darkness hugs tight, the bird is
    crushed. held too tightly

    Peace, G. Peace.

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