Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: discipline

Step Carefully Or You Could Be Eaten.


I know a woman who is writing a book about various practices of “self-care.” From time to time, she posts requests on Facebook asking for people to reveal their practices. It makes for some interesting reading. Today she asked people to write about what they “do for spiritual self-care.” “How do you transcend the self, surpass the ego and face existential realities that we are all going to die?” she asked.


“Meditation? Hiking? Going to church? Twirling like a Dervish? Analyzing dreams? AA meetings?”

People were writing about angels, crystals, goddesses; meditation and prayer; reading the Bible and listening to music; walking in the woods; watching birds, watching the moon.

They also talked about how they don’t do their chosen disciplines enough. “I need to find myself again,” one person wrote.

I thought about what I do. I don’t hike but I walk the dog. I don’t go to church. I don’t twirl like a dervish or analyze my dreams.

But I go to meetings.


“Meetings won’t keep you clean and sober,” I was told when I started going to meetings, by an awesome spiritual seeker of a sponsor who a few weeks later started using drugs again.

I learned a lot from that woman. I think she’s right: meetings don’t keep me off drugs, and when people say “just don’t pick up, and go to meetings,” I cringe because I don’t buy it. If I could “just not pick up,” I wouldn’t even be sitting in that folding chair trying not to eat the cookies/doughnuts/other high-fructose garbage-food on the table next to the shitty Maxwell House coffee.

I go to meetings because it lets me spend time with people I love. And it forces me to spend some time taking the steps.

The steps are suggestions, all of them, so none are compulsory. But practiced with discipline, their result is not guaranteed happiness but spiritual enlargement.

Every day, I try to turn my will and my life over to the care of forces greater than I am. Most people focus on the word “greater,” but for me the operative word is “care.” I totally get that there are lots of forces greater than I am (time, light, gravity, Google, etc.). But having grown up with addiction and depression in the house, it has been an ongoing effort throughout my life to remember that there are great forces in the world that can and will CARE for me—without expecting anything in return—if I diligently practice surrender of my will.



My will is wild. Some news stories of late have reminded me how wild the will is: the kid who wiggled into the Cincinnati gorilla enclosure; the Nebraska toddler who was eaten by a Florida alligator on Disney property; the Oregon guy who went to Yellowstone, decided he’d step past the barrier and walk across the fragile mineral crust, and fell into the hot springs. The water in those springs is so acidic that nothing was found of his body.

Os desaparecidos.

I think perhaps books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and films like “Into the Wild” have “popularized” the idea of wilderness and made some people think that the wild is entertainment. Safe wildness. But there end up being holes in the zoo fences, gators in the peaceful tropical lagoons. (Disney’s will was to earn money, and not to spoil the fantasy with warning signs.)

And toddlers (and even adults) just seem to want to go wherever they want to.

The wild is certainly beautiful and strong and glorious, but it is also unpredictable and deadly if we do not abide by some rules and apply discipline.

The will is wild. My will can very well drag me underwater if I do not let go of it and follow some rules for safety.

  • Trust “The God Thing,” as my friend Em likes to call it.
  • Clean the dog hair out of my house.
  • Help other people.
  • Be grateful. Write those down.

Also eating good food and drinking clean water. Because I don’t Stop Drinking, I just don’t drink the stuff that hurts me.

It’s hard to practice every day, because I Just Don’t Feel Like It, you know what I’m saying?

And as every spiritual practitioner of every discipline has ever recorded in their meditations, there can be long spiritually dry spells. AND THAT’S NORMAL. But because our self-help culture has sold us the idea that we should always be happy, we think it’s abnormal to practice, and then be unhappy, and then to keep practicing.

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Step One, Four Years Ago.

G in labor. “If you’re smiling,” my friend Nan said, “you have a long way to go.” I did.

Fifteen years ago this morning I went into labor with my son. How is it that we can remember these events in our bodies when our cells have been replaced twice over? A long labor—31 hours; didn’t give birth till tomorrow morning. … I thought it would never end, the Cheerios and cheese plastered to high-chair and skin; wiping mouths and noses, impaling feet on Tinkertoys and Legos, reading (reciting) The Big Red Barn or Pat the Puppy or Thomas the Tank Engine time after time. But it passed like a fog on the highway that, after I inched to the top of the hill, burned off to reveal the panorama.

And then down the hill again, and around the foggy bend.

The same has been true of recovery. Four years ago today, I admitted to myself, to a higher (other) power, and to another person that I was an addict. I felt trapped in a fog of not knowing how to get myself out of yet another problem; how to clean up the massive pile of wreckage that, it was dawning on me, I’d created. But the fog passes—day by day, as I inched myself to the top of the hill, I saw gaps in the fog, then by times as it burned off I could see vistas.

And then, of course, back down the hill again, and around the foggy bend.

A day at a time.

Losing Fitness.

I’ve been losing fitness. 

It’s not supernatural: I haven’t been exercising as rigorously or as often as I had been earlier this year, or even last month.

I can’t do as many push-ups. I can’t move as quickly on the tennis court.

The knee-jerk reaction to this information (I’m losing fitness) is to beat the shit out of criticize myself. It happens without my even knowing it’s happening; the voice speaks to me underneath the surface of my mind and most of the time I only half-hear it. But when I pay attention, it’s frightening. Listen:

You’re lazy
You’re a slacker
You’re undisciplined
You suck
You know what you should be doing, now get your ass in gear

“Get your ass in gear” is what my mother always told us when we had stuff to do. Housework, homework, practicing our instruments, rehearsing for a try-out or performance, everything from getting ready for the bus in the morning to applying to colleges. Get Your Ass In Gear.

(I’ve only ever said this to my son in jest. “Mama,” he would say, “why do you have to use profanity?” or “Why do you have to be vulgar?” Because I come from Vulgar, I’d be tempted to reply. Vulgar is my hometown. It’s where I was born. But: I don’t have to live there anymore if I don’t want to.)

This is what I looked like last month. I don't quite look like this—for now.

I can feel the changes in my body from losing fitness. I feel less strong. I have less energy. Now that winter is coming on, I feel colder. I have more trouble sleeping. Exercise regulates my body temperature and sleep. And I can also feel (and see) my body changing in its appearance. My clothes still fit but I don’t feel quite as lean as I used to feel. Because I’m not.

I’ve said it lots of times here: Exercise is medicine for me. But I haven’t been taking my medicine regularly. I’ve gone three days without exercising. When I was using, I only ever went that long without using when I was desperate.

Maybe instead of thinking of it as medicine, I should think of exercise as food. I’d never go three days without eating.

I’m coming up on two years sober. No drugs, no alcohol for two entire years. Due to maintaining spiritual fitness. In that time, I’ve had stronger moments and weaker moments. The time I found drugs in my house was one of the weaker times. Figuratively speaking, I had to do a great many push-ups to get past that one.

Meanwhile, at that time, I beat myself over the head, just as I’ve been beating myself over the head for failing to exercise more regularly.

I feel as though, if I don’t beat myself over the head, I might never get back into the saddle. But isn’t beating myself over the head a disincentive?

I’ve heard people in meetings beat themselves over the head for wanting to drink, use, gamble, eat, or shop to get rid of their feelings. These people might be losing a bit of fitness.

Why is it so tempting to excoriate ourselves when we lose fitness?

It’s said that we’re either moving toward a drink or drug, or away from a drink or drug. Do we actually think we can spend our entire lives constantly moving away from what tempts us?

Can we operate under the assumption that it’s possible constantly to gain fitness?

I’ve been thinking about these questions for some time. They seem contradictory. How is it that we’re supposed to be working on ourselves, changing ourselves, getting rid of character defects, going to any lengths—yet also learning to accept ourselves in our frailties, weaknesses, and humanness?

Please let me and other readers know how you negotiate that. 

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