Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Step 5: Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The dog won’t walk this morning.

She won’t put weight on her right rear paw. I’m not a dog person, this is my first dog, I don’t know dogs well; I only know Flo and Ginger and Andy—big black dog, a year older than Flo, looks like her big brother, and her owner and I call them Greg and Cindy.  I know my sponsor’s dogs. But this is the first one I’ve ever lived with.

She loves me.

In an hour we go to the vet.

Life is no longer normal when, first thing in the morning, the dog doesn’t climb all over me. In greeting, Flo does this wiggle, her own patented dance, a twist: her tail wags her hips, it charms everyone and it reminds me somehow of Marilyn Monroe in a very tight black dress.

Flo is childlike, and at the same time she reminds me that we’re all animals.


I’m sick this morning, I have a sore throat and a headache, and I think it’s because I read inventory yesterday. I took a fifth step for the first time with my sponsor of two years. Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs.”

I was keyed up about it. She had instructed me to write inventory about a particular set of problems, and unlike previous sponsors, she told me to write it stream-of-consciousness. By the time I was done writing two days ago, I thought I might throw up. I called her: I’m done writing inventory, I said, and I’m gonna be sick.

It’s just a feeling, she said.

She said, I find it interesting that you have feelings, and then you write stories around them. The feelings are just feelings. They pass. They don’t need your editorial commentary.

The post-nasal drip is oozing down in a sickening way. My larynx feels like sandpaper, and my throat feels packed with small marbles. My head hurts.

It’s just a feeling.

It was a relief to read inventory to her. Sometimes when I experience that kind of relief, I get sick, as though all my defenses relax and allow the bad stuff to come in—or else to come out.

We sat in her living room, on her couch with her dogs sprawled across our laps, and at her direction I read straight from what I’d written. She’d prayed first, an invocation about my being able to be with the truth and to heal. I can’t remember what she said, because I was nervous: I was telling her some stuff I’d never told anyone. I’d written two inventories with two other sponsors, and somehow this stuff had never been spoken. It was as though I were dragging it out of a dark box.

I think I’d always tried to fit my story into other women’s narrative structures. I can read Carolyn Knapp, I can go to speaker meetings and listen to other women tell their stories, and what I hear, by and large, is this: I slept around; I can’t even remember all the men I’ve been with; I used to wake up hung over in strangers’ beds; I feel terrible about all the nameless faceless sex-partners I’ve had in my life, I wish I could gain back my innocence, there’s no way I can get it back.

This isn’t my story. I sit in speaker meetings and think, This is not my story. Does anyone else who drank and used have my story?—I don’t think so. Terminally unique, as ever.

When I drank and used drugs, I kept myself in a box. I preserved my innocence in a dark crate, in formaldehyde. I prevented myself from having experience. I did what others expected of me, mostly.

Since age 17, when I first got drunk. Since age 25, when I first started using medication. (I mean drugs.) Until she got sober, G lived in a box. She chose to do it. And even after G got sober, in some essential ways G confined herself to her box until this year, 2012, when something happened, G glimpsed a slim but powerful sliver of light shining through the crate’s rough plywood slats.

This process was beyond her control, it was greater than herself. It happened. When something like this happens, you either accept it or reject it. G has been working to accept it.

Light is a powerful thing. It shows up the dark places. Shadows are an inevitable part of life, and the only time shadows cause real problems, in my experience, is when I protect them. When I shove stuff into the shadows so I can’t look at it, I don’t have to see what might be growing in there.

In fact I now realize that I’d thought that if I shoved certain thoughts and feelings (and dreams—remember dreams?) into the shadows, then, like plants, they’d just wither and die, and eventually in the dead of some night I’d just hire in some garbage collector or housecleaner to wipe out those spaces, delete all that memory, and I’d never have to worry about that stuff again.

That’s not how life works.

Instead the stuff grew, and in the shadows, in the darkness of the box, I couldn’t see what was growing. I could ignore it. Until I got more and more sober.

This all sounds like a Maurice Sendak or Quentin Blake story.

Maybe it could be a Guinevere story someday.

(remember dreams?)


I’ve thought seriously about climbing back into the box again, you know. You know what I mean?—it would cause much less disturbance. Everything could stay the same. No one else would be impacted (I mean hurt) by G’s changes. No one could call G selfish or deluded or whatever.

You can’t climb back into that box again, my therapist said some weeks back.

If you do, you’ll die.

Her expression was baleful.

Die? I said doubtfully.

How soon we forget: G nearly jumped off a bridge in May. G, do you remember?


You’ll die, she said. You’ll either jump off a bridge, or you’ll start using again—or something else. The only way you could stay in that box was to use.

The only way you could stay in that box, my sponsor said yesterday, was to drink and use.

It’s a responsibility to live up to one’s potential, to discover what one was created to be and then to be that. It’s easier simply to remain a child and let someone else take care of you.

But guess what. Our Little G is growing up.


I looked up from the pavement and saw this sign on my run the other day: someone needlepointed it and posted it on a phone pole.

Some | All

Experience | Innocence

An invitation to choose.

Choosing the box is trying to have it all, make everyone happy, pretend I’m happy myself. Engage in denial. Preserve innocence. Be a child.

Choosing to come out, to be a Big Girl—to be a woman, to choose experience—is recognizing I can only have some.

I pick “some.”


  1. Wow. I’m speechless. This could very well be your best post. I can’t even put together the words to express my feelings after reading this. I’m going to take my time – and read it again, and think about it, and how it applies to ME, and my life. Because, it does. One (ok, maybe it’s 3) general comment: you have a very good sponsor, you’re working your program, and recovery is a process. Thank you bringing us along on the ride.

  2. I too lived in that box since I started raising myself at about age 9, or maybe even before. It was very safe (ie, controlled) but very lonely in there, and a lot of work to maintain. Drinking helped make it all seem normal, or fun, or less worrisome. Since sobering up, I have had that same thought of wanting to go back in the box, under the rock, which would end up in using eventually, I am sure. Suicide, physically or spiritually.

    Thanks also for the quote from your sponsor about feelings and stories-I expect mine to say the same to me tomorrow when I do a little fifth step on how I have been behaving in reaction to feelings of fear and abandonment. I have to own up to the stories I have told myself, trying to explain away or make someone else responsible for the feelings. Really hard work, this owning up–especially doing it in real time rather than talking about thirty years ago….

    They tell me it gets better. 19 months seems like 19 days of sobriety, at these times.

  3. I am envious that you have a sponsor who is so dedicated to your recovery.
    Mine took me through a very hasty, lame step 5 in about 45 minutes, decided herself that I was willing to have God remove my defect of character and then to pray them away. I was like, uh.. do I have any input here? Also I got nothing off my chest, so I experienced none of the fear and sickness and relief and insights that you did.

    I, too have remained locked in a box for 15 years. This is not to say that I didn’t open the lid once in a while to do some nasty things and then crawl back in.

    It is so much easier to remain a child and never grow.

    I saw a tattoo the other day. It read, “Change or Die.”

    Absolutely, undeniably true.

  4. Wow, yes. Catherine, as a friend of mine told me once, the ways some some sponsors give instructions about step 5 causes more people to stay drunk/wasted than to get better.

  5. back at you, darlin.

  6. Sometimes I tell myself I got sober too late. As though, past a certain age, I should have kept using. Hard for me to believe, but it’s better to get sober at any age than to remain wasted. Hang in there.

  7. gosh, Peggy, what would I do without you? much love. waiting for your next screed.

  8. Well I stopped in on the right day didn’t I?? FAB post!!
    Those boxes and shadows are what kept me from truly living fully for years, it’s intimidating to shed the light upon them….and my defective nature wants to keep just the tiniest piece of myself in a shadow still but I fight this….this is sobriety to me.

    Living in the glaring, difficult, messy space of life and learning to love it.

    I’m so glad to have you my dear friend G

  9. The Pole sign reminds me of the shortest poem of all time (according to George Plimpton). He credits it to Mohammed Ali. “Me, We.”
    I really appreciate your writing. It’s helped me make sense of some of my feelings, courage to be sober and a sense that a new beginning can be a positive experience. btw, I love William Blake, too. Thanks so much.

  10. What do you do with the whole 12 step thing if you’re agnostic?

  11. Dude… I am agnostic. I don’t believe in God. I believe in a lot of other powers greater/other than myself, including time, gravity, light, and the energy/collective understanding of community.

    Here’s a post I wrote a while back that might address your question… if you have more questions, let me know.

  12. Hey Joey… thanks for being here. “Me, We”: very cool. /G

  13. I’m glad to have you as well, dearest Julie

  14. I am SO late to the party! My *box* was spherical! And I had an istant visual of what that Quentin Blake drawing might look like!
    Yeah, there’s no *back*. No way out but through.

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