Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: sleep

Introducing “Recovering the Body.”

Thanks to all those who, in my absence from this space, have been commenting on posts and writing in. I’m keeping up as much as I can while I begin a brand-new project that I think I can now announce—though the contract isn’t signed, it’s almost signed and I’ve been assured it’s happening.

In June, I was invited by Hazelden Publishing to write a new book about physical recovery from addiction. 

In fact there’s no book in the market like this, so it’s an awesome idea. They found me through this story I wrote last year for The Fix (sadly, now defunct) about four elite athletes who use exercise to stay sober. The idea for that story came from an exchange I had with a friend of mine, a writer, athlete and sober guy I met two years ago when he emailed Guinevere. In the way life works now, we have become close and he has given me a ton of moral and practical support.

So the help just goes around in a big circle. You catch it and you pass it on, a big game of Karmic Hot Potato. Is what I tell my kid, anyway. And what I tell my kid is usually what I need to hear.

The editor asked me to write a proposal, so one night I came up with an elegant design that has five chapters—exercise, nutrition, sleep, and sex, along with a chapter on meditation—to help readers understand the particular ways in which addiction to drugs and alcohol fucks up the body, and what physical discipline and care can do to restore not just physical health but also mental wellbeing and spiritual fitness.

"A Moment in Time," bronze cast by Roxanne Swentzell.

They bought it immediately. As in, within days. The contract is being finalized, and I will spend this fall and winter writing the manuscript. The book will be released as a lead title Fall 2014.

Amidst all that work it hadn’t even occurred to me to start a new site. I was too busy feeling crappy about not having time to push to this one. But a friend, a senior publicist at a big house in NYC, suggested over coffee at the café up the street—she lives in NYC but her boyfriend lives here, in fact five blocks from me—that I (duh) buy the domain name to my working title and make a space for my ideas, questions, stories, connections. A kind of online sketchbook, as my friend Paul said.

This way, you guys can have a way to contribute to the process. There’s a lot I don’t know, and I want to learn from you.

My intention is to keep publishing here when issues arise that concern the subject of this blog—getting and staying sober, as well as pet issues of mine (Suboxone use and abuse, for example, is still a massive blinking dot on my radar).

But I will be publishing stuff more often on my new site. I’ll ask you to share your ideas and experiences. I’ll be talking to some high-level athletes and professional experts and researchers, but mostly I’ll be talking to ordinary folks who squeeze (or who, like me, sometimes fail to squeeze) their exercise and nutrition regimens into their days, along with everything else they do, including working, parenting, and whatever constitutes their recovery programs. I’ll be talking with folks who feel like they might be going overboard, substituting exercise, food, sleep or sex for the drugs they used to use.

If you follow me on Facebook as Guinevere, I hope you’ll click the button below and follow me under my real name. That’s where I’ll be posting stuff about this new project. And if you have ideas and questions, please please please let me know.

Connect with Jen.

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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