Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.


In yoga yesterday I could see evidence of my heart beating in my chest.

I had bent my back into supported Bridge Pose. Then I rotated my upper arms away from each other and watched my ribcage rise up like an arch. I could see the soft pounding of my heart. There it was, just an inch or so under the flesh covering the bones of my ribs, in the spot where it’s been beating for more than half a century.

I sometimes cry when I do yoga heart-openers. I spend a lot of time with my shoulders hunched in front of a keyboard, or else hunched against the criticisms my own mind levels against me. My massage therapist tells me my shoulders are cranked so tight because I hold my body like a boxer with her gloves up and her elbows drawn against her abdomen. She tells me to practice opening my chest. This un-swaddles my heart, which sometimes makes me cry.

I’ve had to make drastic changes in my life in the past few years. My life today looks little the way it looked three or four years ago. Change brings relief and it also hurts, and it flips me out that I might be making mistakes. And because I’m five years sober, I feel like I’m supposed to know better than to have that kind of fear—all that self-centered garbage I ask each morning to be hauled away from me. As if “God” were a garbage-man, or my personal errand-boy: Take it away!

So I not only have fear, I have shame that I’m feeling fear, and then ancillary shame that I’m asking God/HP to take the fear away. Which makes me hunch even further into myself. Shame Spiral, anyone?

I talked about this in yesterday’s Y12SR yoga meeting. It was Easter Sunday. The topic was gratitude that we’re even alive. One after another, people talked about losing parents, family, friends to addiction.

Sixteen years ago around Easter, I was 34 and driving out to my parents’ house every day to help my dad take care of my mother, who was dying of lung cancer. She had smoked three packs a day for 40 years. When she finally died on June 3 of that year, I was so mortally pissed off at God that I spent the next eight years trying to poison myself. I started by stealing a few of my dead mother’s morphine tablets and ended by committing my last felony prescription forgery in roughly July 2008. Great way to use my artistic skills.

I shouldn’t even be here typing this. I should have overdosed or gone to jail. I remember the first time I took some stolen morphine. I lay in bed feeling as if somebody had stacked a pallet of bricks on my chest. A heart-closing exercise. I would exhale, and it would be a long time before my body wanted to inhale again. It scared the shit out of me and I loved it: I wouldn’t have to feel the fear or the anger.

When I made it into recovery, one of my first feelings was guilt that I’d escaped the death sentence that killed both my parents.

People were talking in yesterday’s yoga meeting about how recovery is like the resurrection in the Easter story. It occurred to me that it was also interesting to remember some elements of the Passover story: we’d taken steps to mark ourselves as ones to be skipped over by the angel of death. Also, each of us in the room had escaped slavery—the root of the word addiction. And we get together to tell our stories, never forgetting that we don’t have to be slaves anymore.

I can see how helpful it might be for a group of people to have some kind of religious ritual to keep remembering that they’re chosen. How many times have I heard, during the course of a meeting, “I was supposed to live!—God has a plan for me”? If that’s true, then God discriminates.

I think God doesn’t have plans for my life.

The only plan is love. And it’s not even a plan, it’s a law of nature, and living with it is an exercise of bringing my little tiny (but enormously fucking perverse) will into line with that force. (Splinters are small, but they hurt like hell, right?) Love is the currency, the current of power, that God/HP/Whatever deals in. Bona fide love is pure, reliable, healing, life-giving, durable, like the sun.

If you think about it, there’s nothing we eat that doesn’t come from the sun. We actually EAT the sun every day, which is a fabulous image: Here, take a bite of this star! When we hug each other’s bodies, it creates electricity that comes, when the trail is traced back to its origin, from the sun.

Can the sun be improved upon? I wondered that the other morning. The sun hangs in delicate balance with the life on this planet, and if we tried to make the Star Experience better (say, get rid of clouds, so we can see the star more often), we’d only be screwing up on a grand scale. Sometimes I have to understand that life is fine as it is.

(It’s tempting to think that “God” puts signs in my way to remind me, but she doesn’t.)

Graffiti in my neighborhood.

Graffiti in my neighborhood.

Lately I’ve been having some experiences in human love that have given me a glimpse of the vast purity and beauty of this superhuman power source. My son is one big part of these experiences. So are some close friends of mine, and the people in my recovery community. All these people provide me with perfect opportunities to give away love, and like the Bridge Pose, this cracks my heart open. And what I give comes back, multiplied.

Of course, I don’t think I “deserve” even the human part of the experience, much less the “divine” one. So, in case it’s not real, or in case I lose it (because guess what? nothing lasts, goddammit!!), I run around with my shoulders hunched. Or I force them back and paint on a tough mask that makes me look bitchy, arrogant, aloof: Throw anything at me, man! Take away whatever you want, I’ll survive, I don’t fucking need ANYBODY!

Fake power. Meanwhile inside the mask, G is hunched: small, scared, in need of arms around her, even temporarily.

Before I got sober I had little idea how to take care of myself when feelings like these struck. I’d try to make them go away by numbing them with drugs. Now, instead, I run with the dog, throw a dinner party for my old friend Nancy whose husband just had cancer surgery (successful!), start the painting another friend asked me ages ago to make, do mental push-ups by studying another language, engage the help of a smart no-bullshit therapist, give my students and their work my attention, compile playlists of beautiful music, ride my bike on this city’s long river trails, make lists of people and things I’m grateful for, practice yoga, take photographs and post them to share the world’s beauty, etc.

I also go to meetings, for the same reason people celebrate Easter or Passover or any holiday, and for the same reason they go to coffee houses and dog parks and book clubs and yoga studios: because I’m part of the tribe of Homo sapiens, and the desire for community is practically encoded in my cells. Because my heart needs to be around other beating hearts. Because cracking my chest open helps me exchange a little more love, which plugs my life into a great big socket of power.

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  1. Hi G.,
    It’s been awhile since I have had any involvement in the blogging world. I got cancer, twice! (Bald from chemo as I type this.)

    I recently read a quote by Thich Nhat Hahn on taking good care of our feelings because they are a part of us. Our anger and fear are little babies we can learn to soothe and cherish. I used to think (and often still do) that I hated these feelings and wanted them gone. I too, thought God was the ultimate garbage man. But then I learned they don’t go away and only wail louder when hated and neglected. As my beloved therapist Alice used to say “Our feelings are our memories.”

    Hope this helps. Always glad to see a new post in my inbox. You continue to help me. Congrats on five years and opening your noble and glorious heart.

    The ex Writing myway sober blogger.

  2. guinevere

    April 7, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Susan, what a kind comment. (When I saw “zipmonk” in the address, I was like, WOW!) I’m very sorry to hear about your illnesses. Cancer is a bitch, to put it mildly, and I hope you find the strength and wherewithal to do what you need to do to take care of yourself during your recovery. Including taking care of your anger and fear. “Our feelings are our memories”—thanks for this perspective, and much love to you today. xx /G

  3. Hi there guinevere, I am still in the middle of my “recovery” story. I ended up on methadone after being put on various opiate painkillers for back pain associated with crohns disease. I was on 2 (yes 2 )100ug fentanyl patches (durogesic ) at a time. Let’s say I slept a lot.

    Over time I have reduced the methadone down to 20mg a day then recently (a few days ago) swapped to suboxone, hoping it would…. fuck I don’t really know what I was hoping.

    I am finding the transition from full agonist to partial agonist quite difficult. I am currently on 8mg a day and don’t really want to increase but my pain levels and anxiety levels are very high. Do you think i should increase to a level of comfort then slowly reduce from there or try to stick with the 8? Or I could go back to the low dose methadone.

    I want to detox but my pain gets too bad to bare. Don’t know what to do.

    I go to the gym everyday and do cardio, weights and physio exercises. I also make an effort to eat healthily etc. Don’t drink or smoke etc. All that shite.

    It all gets rather overwhelming. To be completely honest all I want right now is a nice big shot of oxy. But I won’t do that. Chocolate and hot shower will have to do. Maybe aa night time bike ride.

  4. guinevere

    April 17, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Kieren… I think it’s interesting that you wrote an “aa night time bike ride.” As in “AA.”

    I have an email in to a friend who cured his severe IBS with low-dose naltrexone to see whether Crohn’s might also respond. Is this a treatment you’ve tried? /G

  5. Thank you for sharing this with me. I appreciate the compassion of the sober/recovering community. The love and grace of my ‘friends’ is what helps me through each day!

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