Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Gratitude—The Antidote to “Restless, Irritable and Discontent”

I had a piece all planned out and half-drafted about David Foster Wallace’s addiction and the reasons he could not escape his depression; also another piece about a new magazine about recovery called Renew, whose editor has asked me to be the book and media reviewer; and I still plan to write those pieces, but I’ve wandered into a bad neighborhood this week. You know you’ve wandered into a bad neighborhood when it’s 9 in the morning and you’ve just dropped the kids off for camp and you’ve cranked up Lyle Lovett singing Townes Van Zandt, and you’re crying in the car.

Townes Van Zandt

Driving home and leaking a few scalding tears of self-pity, I was thinking how sick I am of being in early sobriety: that I’d like very much, thank you, to be one of those people you see at meetings who has 30 or 40 years (will I ever have 30 or 40 years?—I cleaned up pretty late, I might be dead before then) and who can stay sober seemingly without trying. One of those people who says they no longer need to go to meetings—that they just come to “give the message to the newcomer” (me). You ever run into those people?

Me, I have to try real hard sometimes. And then I try too hard. I can’t get the balance right. I can go a long time doing tricks on the bar, then I fall off, and it hurts.

I’ve been restless, irritable and discontent. My behavior yesterday pointed this out to me. Went to the library to pick up some books that were being held for me, and the hold on one of them had been cancelled because I was a day too late. One day. The book was sitting right there in front of her. I said, “Can’t I still take it out?” I take books out of the library to save money. If I were rich as Croesus, I would be buying all these books and supporting their authors, but I can’t afford to do that (poor me), so I support the public library instead. And the librarian checked the screen and said, “No, there’s another hold on this book.”

I said: “Isn’t there another copy in the system?”

She checked the screen and said: “No—this is the ONLY COPY in the entire system.” The entire frigging system, I thought, has only one copy of this title, and I can’t have it because I was 12 hours too late. If I’d been in the right frame of mind (i.e., sober) I would have thanked the librarian for her help, but as it was, I snatched the two books she allowed me to take and slammed the door on my way out.

On the curb, I thought, What the hell are you doing, slamming doors? You don’t behave like this anymore.

But yes, it turns out, I do behave like this. When I resent my own failings, I blame other people for it and slam doors.

Went home, opened my computer and saw that my battery had drained to 20 percent. Checked the cable and found the transformer had burned out on me. Looked for the spare and couldn’t find it anywhere. Called my husband, who is overseas, taking care of his family—but yesterday, he was by himself in the countryside, staying at a pub, having a sweet little holiday in the mild Yorkshire sunshine. And there I was, I thought, in this infernal heat, dealing with his inability to leave the spare charger where I could see it.

And in the back of my mind was the thought that, the last time I had a little tiny holiday by myself—exactly 72 hours away from home—I caught hell about it for a week. Resentment.

“I gave the spare to my sister,” he said. So he’d secretly taken it with him, and there was no spare in the house, and my computer was ready to die.

I let him hear about it, for 30 seconds, then told him to “have fun” in the country and hung up on him. Total bitch.

I mean yeah, it would have been nice if he’d told me he was giving away our spare charger. But would it have changed things in the least?—no. The reality is, I have money enough to buy a charger. Thank goodness.

Gratitude, man. It’s a choice.

Yesterday’s meeting wound up being about gratitude. Trudged through the 96-degree heat to the meeting and nobody had a topic, and my friend Benedick who was chairing said he wanted to talk about Step 4 and character defects—whether they actually get “removed,” whether we can truly change and become better people, or whether the defects stick around and we remain big bad addicts and have to struggle against them forever. He opened it up and a woman said, “What I really wanted to talk about is gratitude,” and this little moan went around the room—the way it quite often does, I notice, outside of Thanksgiving-Time Gratitude Meetings. Even at Thanksgiving you sometimes hear people mumble, “I fucking HATE gratitude meetings.” I’ve said it myself.

I hate gratitude meetings. Because they have a way of pointing out my weaknesses.

I want life to be easy. When it’s easy I think I’m safe.

Gratitude is the antidote to all this… even active drunks and addicts can understand this. Townes wrote:

You will miss sunrise if you close your eyes
That would break my heart in two

He wrote this while he was killing himself drinking. Beautiful things can come out of suffering and devastation.

At the meeting yesterday I confessed that during these 96-degree days I sometimes wish I could have a cold beer. Drugs, I said, were for serious medication of suffering and pain; beer was for kicking back and having fun, cooling off, and having a laugh like everybody else. I remember the taste: a bit sweet at the front and bitter at the back, with the bubbles prickling my tongue and making my mouth water. And then the hit, first in my belly, which is also where the drugs always hit, but in a different way. I liked pale ale, or bitter. Fuller’s is (was) nice. … There is beer in the house, and a distributor up the block, a specialty pub two blocks away, and I am the only adult here, no one would know, but I haven’t had a drink.

My friend Benedick, a 30-year-alcoholic who just passed a year, talked at the meeting yesterday about how he’d been outside the day before from noon to 11 at night, and he’d gone through three shirts and after he knocked off work at 11, his colleagues all said, “Let’s go get a beer!”

“This sounded like the best idea that anyone had ever proposed in the history of civilization,” he said. “It didn’t sound like temptation. It sounded like a reasonable and intelligent response to a long day in the heat. I would pound the beer and I would go to Heaven, and Jesus would be there to meet me at the bar.”

If that ain’t temptation, I thought. “I will turn these desert stones into bread… all you have to do is Ask.”

“Except after the beer, I would have a shot, and then another few shots and a beer, and then a shot and a beer and a shot,” he said, and then he would be wasted and wake up with a hangover.

He told his friends this. He said it helped him to be honest. Thinking it through, surrendering to the reality of his alcoholism, helped him to stay sober that night.

So I tell you, my friends, today: I am in a bad neighborhood. I’m not obsessed with drinking or using but I am obsessed with worry—getting everything done, perfectly; proving I’m a Good Girl so I can be Safe Forever. Called Benedick last night and told him that I believe what my friend Sluggo has told me a lot of times: that addiction and character defects just cover up the divine beauty that is inside us; that it’s not up to us to Fix Ourselves but to allow that beauty to be revealed. God doesn’t come in, God comes out. Steps 6 and 7.

So, rest easy. I used to sing this song to my son to lull him to sleep.


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  1. G, the day will come when you will be getting ready for bed and you look in the mirror and suddenly it strikes you that you haven’t struggled today. Then the next week it may be two days in a row. Or not. I promise, your day will come, G. Hold onto the belief that it will become easier.

  2. You wrote: “On the curb, I thought, What the hell are you doing, slamming doors? You don’t behave like this anymore.

    But yes, it turns out, I do behave like this. When I resent my own failings, I blame other people for it and slam doors.”

    Me too, G. Most recently was just last month and it certainly was no fault of the person at the desk. I slammed out the door and then drove stupid just to prove (to Whom?) that I still could ??~! What !~! How much of a jerk can I be !

    Must learn to control that aspect of me; I hate it and it is So Counterproductive to progress. And hard to explain later to the husband who doesn’t do that kind of ‘hurt’.

  3. guinevere

    July 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    @Lynda… thanks babe. Glad somebody understands me… I know a lot of people do, but thanks for sayin. –g

  4. Hey G.
    I know just how you feel. I’ve been feeling squeezed out, worried, and full of fear lately. I don’t want to find gratitude…I bitch and moan…and then, at the end of a long day, when I cannot sleep for the life of me, finding gratitude is the only thing that brings a sliver of peace.

    Thank you for sharing.

    I love Renew as well –

  5. Steve Earle said, “I will shout out, while standing on Bob Dylan’s coffee table, that Townes Van Zant is the best song writer America has had”.

    Townes sure wrote some great stuff. I am grateful today. Yesterday – not so much.

  6. guinevere

    July 23, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    @Richie, YES… One of the things I was gonna say but didn’t want to make the post even longer: Lyle Lovett does the best rendition of “If I Needed You” because he achieves that wide-open big-sky Texan-range sound… I was gonna say that the only other person who might be able to do it justice is Steve Earle, because he gets the desperation inherent in the song, and that he would finger-pick it in a simple way instead of having that grand sound Lyle has.

    Lyle gets the Texan part; Steve gets the desperation and isolation.

    And I couldn’t find a live version of Lyle doing this song, but I found video of Steve Earle doing it with Emmylou. Can’t tell the date of this video and Steve doesn’t exactly look sober, it looks as though he’s forgetting some of the words (but I could be wrong), and Emmylou is watching his face carefully the way she used to watch Gram Parsons’s face, working hard to get the coordination right, and it made me wonder why it is that Emmylou seems to sing with gifted male addict-musicians… and she’s able to help them to do their jobs.

    This is the video… Toward the end it cuts to Townes singing the song.

    This is Lyle doing it. Audio only.

  7. Great post, G – so honest and full of helpful tips for staying on the path – just for today. Yeah – it’s hard staying sober, which is why they say you need to “work” the program. But I know that feeling, of just wanting a fu*king break sometimes, and not having to struggle every single day. I don’t believe that 30 years of sobriety makes it any easier – I mean yeah, they have more practice so it may “look” effortless – but that’s what mastery is all about – making something that’s hard look easy. I also think that maybe those in long term recovery have come to accept some things that we’re still wrestling with. I’m sending this on to Hayley. You have great taste in music – and congratulations on the book review gig , “Renew”. Peggy

  8. Thanks for sharing – isn’t it crazy that alcohol is so entwined with relaxation and celebration? I lived by the idea that success was having a drink on a balcony admiring the view…
    Just that I was such a success I was drinking on the balcony around 11am most Tuesdays…
    It isn’t awkward anymore, friends know I’m a drunk so we just talk about driking as if it’s something i used to do, and it doesn’t faze me. And it doesn’t.
    Nearing 100 days sober, I’ve found the day count is something to cherish, and I value the day by day growth of that number so much it works for me…
    Like your candid honesty and courage in sharing your thoughts.

  9. guinevere

    July 24, 2011 at 8:36 am

    @Peggy, as always great to see you my friend… I know a guy with 20+ years who says it’s not about “working” the steps (“it works if you work it”?) but “taking” them… and allowing them to work you… which I kinda like.

    Love Mark Knopfler, even tho he plays a Fender (my kid prefers Gibsons, and has turned me on to them!) … beautiful guitar. Specially his slide.

    @Bwendo, glad you’re here! will check out your site. Congratulations on three months.

  10. Went to an open AA meeting last night where there was a lot of desperation of people new to sobriety as well as many with over 20 years. The newly sober ones were struggling. One fellow just got off a 45 day bender. He was desperate to be back after giving up 7 years for the last run. Now he has a month back in the rooms. I see them saying what were we thinking? How could I have not remembered that the one beer will lead to shots and that leads to endless days of drinking. I am so grateful for those who are sober and I pray for those still sick and suffering.

  11. guinevere

    July 25, 2011 at 12:11 am

    @Syd, you’re a darling, and a beautiful person… so glad i know you.

  12. I’m feeling restless irritable & discontent. A lilltle over 7 months of being clean & 5 months sober, I know I’m on relapse rd. It scares me, but this time around I know exactly where this road goes. I’ll need to write down what I’m grateful for this morning & share it with my sponsor. Starting with I’m grateful for the people who share on the internet like this because for a computer illiterate like me, its easy enough. Thanx.
    Lorena from Whittier, Ca.

  13. Lorena, awesome to see you here… As my old friend Arlene in L.A. told me when I was at your place, Don’t pick up even if your fucking ass is falling off. (sorry for the profanity—just quoting Arlene, and Arlene was adamant that the saying include the profanity)… see you again. x /G

  14. I resonate with this today. I can’t sit still. Want to escape, checkout, be elsewhere. It’s a very physical thing for me.

    Saying I don’t know how to be comfortable in my own skin is not a metaphor for me. It means I’m not real good at being present in my own body, which is, of course, here right now. Right this very moment.

    So restless, irritable and discontent means I’m not in the present moment…which is the only place to find anything life-giving, including gratitude.

    Anyone have any suggestions for how to physically induce a state of gratitude? Sober, of course. 🙂

  15. Wow – I do some writing on the subject of recovery, and you have made me very jealous. You have mad skills! An awesome piece.

  16. Thanks for reading, Bob… Please share and/or connect on FB/Twitter if you get a chance. /G

  17. You will be o.k., keep doing what you are doing, I felt the same way “30” years ago. 🙂

  18. This was so what I needed to read today. Love hearing from others who think and feel like me

  19. Thanking my higher power, AA and Google right now. I woke up feeling ‘Restless, Irritable and Discontent’. Wasn’t even sure why. Glad I found this. It is very easy for me to take things for granted, and I need reminders that I am truly blessed in so many ways. I thank all of you for sharing!

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