Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: detox (page 2 of 3)

Withdrawal, One Day At A Time.

Went to a meeting yesterday. Topic: “One Day At A Time as a spiritual practice.”

Today is the third anniversary of the day I jumped off my medical detox. My detox doctor prescribed Suboxone to help me land my plane off a 30,000-foot level of Fentanyl. I spent two months on Suboxone—almost triple the time this doctor usually allows his patients to spend on that drug. He was very kind to me and one of my first acts of “recovery” was to repay his kindness by taking the drug responsibly—by showing him that I actually wanted to detox.

If you find it difficult to manage withdrawal by yourself, it might be good to find a doctor you can trust to help. The only way I managed detox was to turn the process over to someone else.

A lot of people come to Suboxone-detox doctors with heroin or Vicodin or OxyContin problems. Their supplies of pharma drugs have been erratic, and the quality of heroin is uncertain. They run out of money or their dealers run out of dope. So some people haven’t been on a steady level. Detox is somewhat easier if you haven’t been on a steady level: in the down-times, the body has a chance to regain some equilibrium, and there’s not so much physical damage to repair.

But I was on a fairly steady level, and the level was towering, the equivalent of 400-600mg of morphine per day. Crazy-high level.

I never thought I’d ever, ever—ever—be able to jump and land on the ground with both my legs intact. I’d tried. I’d gone into withdrawal (voluntarily, involuntarily) over the years, and gotten partway, only to be driven back to the drugstore to get the thing that would relieve the suffering of severe withdrawal.

In withdrawal from any drug on which the body becomes dependent (including psych-meds), the body and mind experience problems operating optimally. For opioids the physical problems include sweating, cramping, vomiting, goose-flesh, headaches, soaring blood pressure, insomnia, extreme deathly fatigue. It’s often the last two, which can hang on for ages and which affect psychological wellbeing, that drive people back to drugs.

Alcoholics go through sweating, racing heart, weakness, palpitations, tremors, seizures. The seizures can be life-threatening, which is why it’s sometimes better to do a medical detox from alcohol-addiction.

Mel Bochner, "Blah, Blah, Blah," 2009. Saw this at the Met last week and it reminded me of my kid's art.

And then there are the psychological disturbances. Confusion. “Anxiety” (otherwise known as fear). “Restlessness, irritability, discontentment,” blah blah blah.

In opioid withdrawal there can even be a kind of euphoria as the body begins to return to normal functioning. The senses come alive; food tastes good again; we walk into the kitchen and our mouths water; appetites return. There have been documented cases of spontaneous orgasm in opioid withdrawal. The body, no longer drugged and dulled, begins to produce the hormones that support normal sexuality—and the physical and emotional responses go a bit overboard for a while.


People in yesterday’s meeting were talking about One Day At A Time. I heard a saying that I’d heard long ago in a meeting: “You can start your day over at any time—even an hour before bedtime, you can start your day over.” I was reminded of how my friend and mentor Sluggo used to ask me, after I jumped and was feeling lousy and was facing a Thanksgiving holiday with family in the house—exhausted from detox, unable to look at cleaning the entire garret guest-space; upset, as always, at the grunge on the kitchen floor—Sluggo used to ask me,

How are you now?

And now?

And now?

I didn’t get this at the time. “I’m FUCKED UP NOW!!” I’d scream at  her in my head.

I could have screamed it at Sluggo in real life (“IRL”) and she would have sat there, like, OK, so you’re fucked up now. She never tried to force solutions. She rocks at detachment.

Sluggo is wise, and streetwise; she’s quite literally been around the world, and she’s seen and done a lot of shit. She’s lived in Tokyo and Paris and other places where supermodels live while they’re showing haute couture. She’s been held up at knifepoint in Chicago, trying to cop, shivering from withdrawal and exposure in an evening gown that she was supposed to be modeling. … After a lot of tries, she got “clean.” She got married, had a kid and now uses the 12 steps to stay sober and sane.

(I love her.)

Step 11 is Very Important to Sluggo. She knows how to meditate. Because she meditates.

Her question (“How are you now? And now?”) is about meditation. Meditation is about practice. The practice of meditation changes the body and nervous system. It counters paranoia, compulsiveness, anxiety, “restlessness, irritability, discontentment.” For people like us, it’s medicine.

After Sluggo asked me this question a few times, I began to realize that Right Now I was safe and well. “FUCKED UP!!” is a mean judgment that hides great expectations. “Safe” and “well” are facts.


At the meeting yesterday I was sitting next to a woman who said she had 40 days. From the sheepish look of her, she felt kind of bad admitting she had “only” 40 days. Murmurs around the room: “Awesome!” “Forty days rocks.” “Forty days is HUGE.” There was a guy there who had five days. Then people started talking about how we only have This Day, and how This Day can start over again at any time, so really we only have This Moment.

How are you now?

And now?

And now?

Dreaming About Drugs Or Drinking—What To Do About It?

I’ve had a couple drug dreams lately. It’s been a stressful time—school let out, my kid is home all day, I’ve had to negotiate lots of scheduling issues with my partner. Transitioning into summer is always hard—in fact, any transition is hard for me. Addicts, in general, do not like transitions. I’m the kind of person who likes to eat the same things at the same time of day; I order the same menu items from the few restaurants I go to; I wear the same clothes—dependable ones that look good on me—until they wear out.

The other night I dreamed I had a bunch of fentanyl patches. Part of me doesn’t want to describe what I tried to do with them, because I don’t want to give anybody ideas about how to abuse medication (especially fentanyl, because abusing it can kill you), and I also don’t want to send anybody into euphoric recall. … But another part of me wants to tell you how my senses responded in the dream. Because it helps to be honest with people about what I used to do, and how it used to feel.

When I first detoxed off fentanyl, back in November 2008, I had drug dreams pretty often. It seems to me they happened almost every night, but I don’t think they were actually that frequent—it just SEEMED like they were. My using dreams back then were frantic: in the dream, I’d be searching through stuff in the house, looking for something to make me feel better, and when I found it, my whole body would yearn toward the drugs. (I tried thinking of a better and less corny word than “yearn,” but this is what it felt like. “Yearn” comes from an old Germanic word meaning “eager.”) My whole body bent itself toward the stuff it knew would make it feel better.

It was partly a chemical thing: withdrawal just takes time to get through, and during withdrawal it’s very hard to sleep. Sleep-deprivation is one of the things that prevents a lot of people from making it through to the other side of withdrawal—it’s hard to function during the day if you can’t sleep at night, and when your body knows what will make it easier, it naturally gravitates toward that.

But it was also partly a psychological thing. Pavlovian. I’d trained myself to cope with problems (and also joyful situations) by using drugs. I’d managed the way I felt with chemicals, instead of allowing the feelings to pass. I didn’t want the painful feelings to persist, so I used chemicals to get rid of them; I didn’t want the joyful feelings to leave me, so I used chemicals to try to prolong them—or else to get rid of the fear of the joy leaving me. Of course, in the end, the drugs stopped working, but I clung to the hope that they would work again someday—which is the delusion of addiction, and the insanity, the breakdown of health and wholeness.

And when I’d wake up from the dream, I’d feel mortally disappointed that I hadn’t actually found drugs, that I was on my own again, trying to manage life by myself. (This was before I learned to depend on another power than my own will.) Sometimes I’d cry.

I hadn’t had a dream about using drugs for a long time before I had one a couple weeks ago. In the dream I found these fentanyl patches. Brand-new, shiny-clean, pure drugs. But somehow in the dream I couldn’t touch them. I’d try to touch them and they’d dissolve from view, disappear. Then I’d pull my hand away and they’d reappear. Ephemeral.

So this dream wasn’t actually about USING drugs… it was about the temptation, and the presence of drugs in my mind and consciousness. The fact that my addiction is always with me. The aliveness of it. I don’t exactly imagine it, as they say, “doing push-ups in the parking lot” while I’m at meetings. But as Eminem raps,

This f*cking black cloud still follows me around
But it’s time to exorcise these demons
These motherf*ckers are doing jumpin-jacks now

It’s around. It’s not Gone.

I was sick for a long time, and it takes a lot of discipline to recover from a chronic sickness. People who undergo treatment for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and other illnesses have to organize their lives around managing their problems. And I don’t buy the argument that people with addiction caused their own problems and people with other illnesses didn’t. Many people with obesity and diabetes today have made a hefty contribution to their problems through their reluctance or refusal to face the fact that they eat too much and they eat foods that cause ill-health. It’s being shown that cancer and hypertension are caused by the disastrous ways Americans eat and drink and use their bodies—or don’t use them.

Blaming is useless, but figuring out the cause-effect relationship leads to the ability to strategize about solutions.

So what do I do when I dream about drugs? Today I first of all wake up and send up a statement of thanks to the Higher Power Of The Day (today my HP is Time) that I didn’t actually use. And then I let it go. My friend Arlene in L.A. used to tell me all the time, when I was newly detoxed, “This Too Shall Pass.”

Life is not about what you feeeel, baby girl,

she’d say, and she was right.

When I was newly detoxed and dreaming about drugs, I used to cling to those feelings of maybe Finding Something Someday. Today I try to let it all slide off me. I hand it over to Time, which will eventually make me forget. I hand it over to Love, which will help me take care of my body and spirit. I hand it over to Common Sense, which tells me:

It’s just a dream.

What do you do when you dream about drugs or drinking?

Every Detox Fail You? Try the Thai Buddhist Detox

Thamkrabok Thai Buddhist monastery, where addicts and alcoholics get sober according to Buddhist teachings.

For those in search of them, there are detox and recovery choices other than the 12 steps and drug-maintenance. For example, the Beeb is reporting results from a UK nonprofit that show that 95 percent addicts who go to a Thai Buddhist monastery stay clean after treatment.

East-West Detox, a Berkshire nonprofit organization (or “charity” in British-speak), helps British people who want addiction treatment to go to Thamkrabok, a monastery about two hours’ drive north of Bangkok. After the charity’s National Health Service (NHS) funding was cut in 2007, they commissioned Queen’s University in Belfast and London’s Brunel University to study its effectiveness over the following three years.

The report, released recently, states that 95 percent of those who receive the four-week Thamkrabok treatment stay drug-free, compared with 38 percent of NHS patients in UK detox centers, and recommends the NHS reinstate funding, though the Berkshire NHS trust says it currently has no plans to do so.

Thamkrabok’s treatment involves drinking a secret herbal formula and then sticking a finger down the throat and forcing yourself to vomit. Addicts in treatment receive other herbal remedies—to help, for example, with sleep—and they’re taught to meditate, chant, and contribute to the work of the monastery. Those receiving treatment are asked to make a solemn vow, called a “sajja,” stating that they “really want to stop using drugs/alcohol” and that they’re attending of their own volition.

The Thamkrabok website itself says it “does not offer miracle cures” and cautions readers to take any success-rate claims with a grain of salt. However, it makes this claim for itself:

What can be said, without any doubt, is that ALL ex-addicts who keep their SAJJA—with honesty and integrity—remain 100 percent drug free.

One of the BBC pieces tells the story of Sarah, a former heroin addict and mother of a young child, who had been prescribed methadone and Subutex (buprenorphine) to help wean her off heroin, but she “just found herself stuck on them.” Since coming back from Thamkrabok in 2004, she has remained free of her addiction.

I also follow a blog by Paul Garrigan, an Irishman who got sober from alcoholism in 2006 at Thamkrabok. Check out his blog for more information about this Buddhist-oriented way of staying sober.

Sober Life: Finding Community

Spent part of today drafting a new blog post for Pat Moore Foundation, a Southern California detox and rehabilitation center that, to my gratitude and honor, has asked me to guest-blog for them. (Click here for my latest post, about how to deal with someone who is in denial about their addiction.) And I was thinking about how isolated my addiction made me. I was remembering how I used to hide from everyone, including my closest family.

Forget about meeting strangers… I usually only went to places or events where I was sure to know most of the people. I remember my husband asked me, after I got sober, “Who on earth are you afraid of?” I answered, “Everyone.” He was incredulous.

Today I walk around without that fear. It’s an enormous gift. I don’t have to be afraid to run into anyone anymore. The ease with which I meet strangers still kind of surprises me. … Someone over the weekend told me, “You seem to be good at introducing people to other people and publicizing things.” This made me laugh. Because I remember what it was like to be inside my sickness. And to be convinced that I’d forever and always be there, that there was nothing I could do to get out.

This blog has been a big part of the diminishment of my fear. I meet strangers here every day. I’m grateful for each and every person who stops by to check out what’s going on here. Thank you. Thank you.

One of the great things that happens among bloggers is the community that springs up amongst us. We find out we have common goals and instead of being competitive about the whole thing, we share resources. Pat Moore Foundation is trying to create that kind of community by asking guest bloggers to contribute to their site. And at the same moment that PMF asked me to write for them, a number of people asked me if they could write for me. A couple of weeks ago, a piece by “Sally” appeared here, about “What Hitting Bottom Looked Like”; and pretty soon you’ll see a piece by Tara, who writes at a blog called The Act of Returning to Normal. Tara’s writing about motherhood, alcoholism, and sobriety.

If you want to share resources, let’s talk.

Here’s a song I used to listen to all the time when I was detoxing. Always loved Lindsey Buckingham’s fingerpicking. … Reminds me I never want to go back to the old life.

Insomnia in Recovery: Three Things I Do To Sleep Better

Insomnia in detox rehab recoveryChemical detox can mess up our sleep cycles. When our bodies get rid of the chemicals we’ve ingested for so long—whether nicotine, alcohol or drugs; street drugs or prescription drugs—our neurological systems need time to heal. And one of the cycles governed by the healing neurological system is the sleep-wake cycle.

This can also be true of folks “detoxing” from toxic, codependent relationships. My experience in Al-Anon helped me understand that the compulsive need to solve other people’s problems is analogous to drug-use: it makes me feel better to make someone else feel OK; it distracts me from being present in my own life and taking care of myself, just as drugs did. This constant focus on other people I can’t control can make me anxious, chronically raising cortisol (adrenaline) levels and short-circuiting my body’s ability to regulate its energy. Setting healthy boundaries with people can be freeing, but it can also feel dangerous and unfamiliar. I’ve spent sleepless hours in the night worrying about other people and how I can fix them up and make them all better.

When we’re detoxing or working a difficult problem in recovery, we can feel tired during the day and restless during the night. It takes time and work for the nervous system to “reset” itself.

And when I was detoxing, my first instinct was to “take something,” preferably another chemical, to make me feeeeel better. But in recovery I’ve tried to break the habit of “taking something.” I want to find non-chemical ways to deal with my problems.

Here are a few ways I’ve dealt with insomnia:

The Body—Exercise. In detox, I started exercising at least five times per week, for at least 30 minutes per session, and I’ve tried to keep up this regimen for the past two years. I notice that, during the times I slack off on my exercise regimen, my body feels colder and more sluggish. It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but when I feel really knackered during the day and unable to sleep at night, it’s not rest that does me good but getting out on the tennis court, hopping on my bike, doing half an hour of yoga, or taking a fast walk. Anything that makes my body sweat and stretch. Regular exercise has been shown to be just as effective as antidepressants at lifting the mood and restoring natural sleep.

Steven Scanlan, M.D., medical director of Palm Beach Outpatient Detox and a board-certified addiction-medicine specalist, says exercise works better than any drug to help bring back sleep cycles. “Studies show that 12 minutes of exercise per day with a heart rate of greater than 120 beats per minute restores the natural endorphin system in half the time,” Scanlan, who has overseen thousands of detoxes for people addicted to alcohol and opiates, told me.  “The people who do that, their sleep architecture returns to normal in half the time of people who don’t exercise. Twelve minutes! And of course you can do more.”

Sleeping in detox recoveryThe Mind—Meditation. A daily discipline of calming the mind in order to calm the body accrues benefits after the actual meditation is finished, the way exercise accrues benefits for the body after the actual workout is done. A meditation practice has taught me I don’t have to grab onto every thought that comes into my mind. I can choose which thoughts to admit. So when I’m wakeful in the night, I focus on my breath. I make the breaths come slowly and through my belly, not my chest. When the fearful thoughts come, the meditative practice I’ve cultivated helps me let them go.

The Spirit—Gratitude Lists. I’ve had quite a number of wakeful nights recently. Moving into new arenas and accepting challenges wakes up the old fear inside me. The fear attacks my faith that, as the old saying goes, “All will be well, and all manner of thing will be well…”

Instead of writing inventory on my fear, I’ve been directed to pay attention to my gratitude. I’ve been writing little gratitude lists each night before bed. … The other night, when I woke up, I had this wild sleepy idea that I could breathe out a mental gratitude list. I slowed my breath down, and on each exhale I thought of something for which I was grateful. After about eight or 10 breaths, I wasn’t sure I could come up with anything important. But the things we’re grateful for don’t have to be earth-shattering. Here were some things I thought of in the middle of the night:

  • My warm bed
  • My comfortable sheets
  • My husband sleeping next to me
  • My son in the next room
  • Our house
  • The good roof on the house
  • Our furnace
  • My friends
  • My sister coming to visit
  • My computer
  • Our piano
  • My son’s guitar
  • My son playing his guitar
  • Singing with my husband
  • My art room
  • My paints and brushes
  • Being clean and sober
  • Our garden
  • My warm socks
  • My yoga mat
  • My bike
  • Our big city yard
  • Our books
  • Supper
  • My soft pillow

The fact that I was able to generate an interminable list amazed me. The longer I went on, breathing out my gratitude, the calmer I felt, and the more sure I became that we would be OK. The more I could release my fear into faith that something else other than myself, a lot bigger than myself, was taking care of us. Taking care of me.

And I fell asleep…

Sleeping in detox rehab recovery

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