Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Step 4

On Resentment, Codependency, and Recovery from Addiction


Resentments are built from feelings about stuff that’s past—water over the dam. But we choose to feel the feelings over and over again.

Nurturing a real resentment makes me know how much energy it takes to remain angry and hurt about something.

Since I started taking the 12 steps for my addiction in 2008 I’ve worked hard to root out resentment from my life. I’ve taken seriously the direction to pray to be divorced from self-pity or self-seeking motives. I can see now that this prayer has largely been effective. I’ve lived much of the last year, especially, free of resentment. (Fear is another matter. Still praying to be released from fear)

But something happened about 10 days ago that really made me angry. Somebody stepped on me and made accusations that were entirely false, but whose import and assumptions hurt me a great deal. They hurt because my conduct bears strong witness to the contrary.

Actually they hurt because in order to be OK I need people to recognize that G Is Above Reproach. I know this from having done inventories for the last two-and-a-half years. Bullshit pride. If I were really OK within myself, I wouldn’t need other people to recognize it.

My process is this: I get through the initial crisis real well, I’m calm and centered and even cheerful, I encourage THE OTHER PERSON through their feelings, and they get to a place where they find peace, and they’re soooo grateful to me for helping them! (another part of the pride: I can Fix People) Then after everyone settles down, the hatches are all battened, I start feeling really angry. Because I’ve stuffed my own feelings belowdecks and spent a lot of time taking care of someone else, policing the grounds, and making sure the territory is weapon-free.

When everything calms down, I fall apart.

A very old M.O., learned in a chaotic alcoholic family.

I also come down with actual physical pain, headaches, and terrible exhaustion. I’m insomniac. Which is why I started taking the drugs in the first place. Pain, insomnia, and overwhelming exhaustion. The drugs, I remembered clearly this week (with a kind of clarity that made my mouth water)—they took care of all that. I could plow through the pain and exhaustion and take care of bidness, and Not-Care that I was so angry.

I can see clearly, from my vantage point inside my resentment, the difference between resentment and anger. Anger can be OK, it can tell us when something dangerous or threatening has happened, it can motivate us to positive action, it can be energizing and productive and protective. Resentment is just sickness. It’s just picking a scab. It’s putrefying.

It’s also exhausting to stay angry about something that’s over. It takes a lot of energy.

A psychologist told me recently (I may have mentioned this before; forgive me if I have; it’s something I’ve been thinking about) that children are sort of genetically programmed to keep the family together. I can remember now how many times I did this for my mother. She’d have a fight with my father (clarification: she’d fight with my father; my father would just drink and listen to her fighting) and come back to me crying, complaining about what an insensitive bastard he was, etc. ad nauseam, and I’d listen and calm her down and commiserate and encourage her that things would be OK. Then I’d go to my room and absolutely fall apart. I didn’t know what was happening to me, of course. (I also wasn’t fully cognizant that she talked about me behind my back, too, in the same way she talked about my father) What I thought I knew was that I hated my father and loved my mother. After she died and all her crazy behavior stopped, I came to learn that my father was a very gentle man who hardly ever roused himself to anger—it was my mother who incited him to hit us.

Anyhow. All that is water that’s now downstream. It’s OVER.

Except it has carved paths across my terrain that remain very deeply grooved. Every day is a choice to behave in a different way, to FIND a different path, to take steps down this path, to be guided by something more powerful and healing than this sickness.

I had trouble writing my gratitude list last night. Another consequence of resentment: the withering of gratitude. Today I am grateful for:

  • the cloudy sky
  • good friends
  • the hug my son gave me when he first got up this morning
  • watching a movie with my family last night
  • my flower garden
  • my daily bread
  • hot tea
  • my comfortable bed
  • my sobriety
  • this blog, which helps me let things go—and for your willingness to read

What are you grateful for?

The Dutch Begin Studying Baclofen For Addiction

So here we are again, back at the baclofen question. My Dutch friend sends me a link to a news story (in Dutch!) about the University of Amsterdam starting a study of baclofen as a treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. Managed to cobble some sense out of the story, which begins:

Is this the wonder pill which will bring rescue to, among others, alcoholics, junkies and smoke-drug addicts?

“Smoke-drug addicts”—very much like that one. My mother, a die-hard smoker for 30 years before she died at 58 of lung cancer, was definitely a “smoke-drug addict.”

(Another interesting tidbit: the Dutch word for “addiction” is “verslaving”—which, my friend says, means “a slave to a substance.”)

Baclofen is a derivative of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and is a GABA-receptor agonist—just like, as it happens, alcohol. Surprise, surprise! they work in the same way. … Baclofen is prescribed as a muscle-relaxant for spasticity in conditions such as multiple sclerosis. It is also prescribed off-label to reduce addictive cravings. And it’s dependency-producing. You can’t just quit baclofen—it must be tapered up and down when getting on or off it; stopping use suddenly leads to the same kind of (prolonged, painful) detox that benzos induce.

So they’re gonna study us alcoholics, junkies and smokers, BUT: not gamblers, because apparently there’s no medical evidence that gambling addiction actually exists. The researchers are, according to the story, somehow really hoping it works for drug-addicts. Leading us to believe “junkies” are maybe worse than the other types?

The story quotes a guy from a drug-rehab who has administered baclofen to 100 patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, GHB and benzos, and, apparently, about half of them no longer use their (other) drugs.

The best part of the story: the researchers are speculating that baclofen works better on addicts who use out of “angst.” The story reads (according to my Dutch friend–thanks P):

“With people who use substances from a more positive emotion we do not believe baclofen to be very effective,” according to [Professor Reinout] Wiers [of Amsterdam University]. One assumption of the researchers is that the muscle relaxer also has a calming effect on addicts who try to mask and conquer their fear.

Which would make sense. I mean, what real alcoholic doesn’t drink out of conscious or unconscious “angst”?

Also: I was not fully aware of this, but angst is the Germanic word for fear. So, take a pill, and my fear is relieved. … This brought back the words of my first sponsor, a deeply spiritual woman and former “junkie” who once advised me, as I detoxed off fentanyl and started work on my Fourth Step only to discover that I had a few bits of “angst” going on:

DON’T call it “anxiety.” It’s plain old fuckin fear, OK? If you call it “anxiety,” you can go to the doctor and get a pill for it. It’s OK to medicate “anxiety.” But nobody goes to the doctor and says, “I’m having some FEAR, I need a pill.”

I took her point.

But maybe now, with baclofen, you’ll be able to do that.

Olivier Amiesen, M.D., who controls his alcoholic cravings with Baclofen

The whole baclofen business started with Olivier Ameisen, a French cardiologist who for 15 years practiced in New York and taught medicine at Cornell’s Weill Medical College. Unable to stay sober despite following up on all his practitioners’ recommendations, going to rehab, and sitting in two AA meetings per day for seven years, Ameisen experimented on himself: he started taking high doses of baclofen, which, he wrote in his 2008 book The End of My Addiction, eradicated his cravings and allowed him to become a social drinker. Ameisen called for randomized studies of baclofen’s effectiveness—of which, presumably, the Amsterdam study is one.

One wonders if it would even be OK to become a social drinker while taking high-dose baclofen. Though not classified as a benzo, baclofen basically has a benzo profile and the same kinds of OD risks. In addition, though it seems not to have any tolerance effect (unlike alcohol), dosages have to be closely monitored, because over 80mg/day baclofen can interfere with functioning and cause drowsiness. Ameisen uses baclofen at doses of 200mg+.

I once brought my questions about baclofen up at a meeting early in my sobriety. I got a number of very interesting responses. One was from a young man, maybe 28 or 29, who had been clean for about a year or so. Smart guy and very physically fit. His face lit up like a torch when I mentioned baclofen. After the meeting he said:

It’s funny when people talk about using baclofen to get rid of cravings. My experience was, when I used baclofen WITH alcohol, the combination was juuuuust right. If you know what I mean.

I knew what he meant.

For me, using a chemical to fight chemical addiction is like using water to avert a flood.

Ameisen’s statistic sounds so disappointing: 5,000 meetings over seven years failed to keep him sober. Another friend, a former heroin addict who got sober the way I did, bristled when I mentioned this statistic:

For an addict like me, sitting in two AA meetings per day for seven years ISN’T the solution.

What this person meant was, for an addict like her, the solution = taking the steps. Meetings alone don’t keep her sober.

I can buy, along with Gabor Maté (one of my true addiction-treatment heroes), that some people just can’t get sober with the steps and may need to take “maintenance” drugs to escape the “junkie” lifestyle. That’s cool. In Stephen King’s words, there’s more than one way to de-fur a feline. But if they want to research the addiction-treatment possibilities of baclofen, on which the patent has expired and from which ain’t nobody gonna make no big bucks, why don’t they also research the effectiveness of other cheap and non-patentable “solutions” that have worked for millions of people for much longer?

Reverb10: Five Minutes to Capture What to Remember about 2010

[Until 31 December I’m participating in reverb10, a month-long challenge to get bloggers to respond to writing prompts designed to help themselves and their readers take stock of the past year and to imagine possibilities for the coming year. I imagine it as conducting the year’s final inventory.]

Today’s prompt: 5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.


OK, here goes. <click>

Play tennis and learning from my first coach

Meeting our new friends P and P through our son, who plays soccer with their son

Robin's egg

After mama laid the third egg--amazing. 15 April 2010

Watching the robin build her nest in my climbing rose bush in April, and the three baby robins who grew up and fledged there

Visiting my husband’s family in Yorkshire; spending holidays in London (with P & P and their kids) and Cumbria

Beginning a daily meditation practice in July

Sponsoring: being sponsored, and taking sponsees in my program of recovery from addiction

Beginning this blog

Reading books (a partial list):

  • Mary Karr, Lit
  • Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
  • Atul Gawande, Better
  • Toi Derricotte, The Black Notebooks (again)
  • Bill Bryson, At Home
  • David Shields, Reality Hunger
  • Bill Clegg, Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man
  • Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight
  • Peter Steinhart, The Undressed Art: Why We Draw
  • David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear
  • Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (to be reviewed here soon)
  • Abigail Thomas, A Three Dog Life
  • Portions of St. Augustine’s Confessions
  • Portions of Robert Bly’s Iron John (again)
  • Ian McEwan, Atonement
  • Shakespeare’s sonnets (again)
  • Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase
  • Charles Reid, Paint What You Want to See (again)
  • Charles Reid, The Natural Way to Paint (again)

Watching my son’s ability on the electric guitar explode

Meeting so many new friends

Bringing meditative awareness into daily life

Opening my mind to new ideas and people

Truly practicing the ability to keep an open mind

Becoming open to meeting new people for the first time in my life

How many ways can I say it?



<click> Five minutes up.

I type fast… 90wpm.

Lists, lists, and more lists…

Pretending for a moment that I’ve forgotten all this stuff.

To capture = to take into one’s possession by control or force

Gotta say, I’m not into “capture” anymore. I grew up in an alcoholic family. I had a childhood and young adulthood of “capture.” Emotional capture, intellectual capture, spiritual capture, everything held hostage. Then there was the artistic capture: faces had to be “captured,” details “captured,” nothing invented, nothing re-imagined or seen with new eyes or new mind. No experimentation or true play.

I’m sure the author of this prompt didn’t mean the word so drastically… Because I’ve seen her books and she knows how to play. I’m sure we could substitute any one of a number of words into her prompt—record, document, preserve—and remain true to its spirit.

Even so…

I want to let go.

I’m not hangin onto anything anymore. I mean, I might do. I’m human. But you know what, when I do that? hang on? I’m not trusting in the Bigger Picture that has my back.

If I had to forget it all, it would be OK.

Which is remarkable, because I’ve had an entirely sober year in 2010. But if I had to forget all the good times, it would be OK. I’d be more than OK. I’d chop wood and carry water (or mop water off the basement floor, as I did the other night in the middle of the night when the water heater malfunctioned :)). I’d be awake.

Beginner’s mind.

Reverb10: The Year’s Last Inventory

As part of my ongoing inventory (Step 4) process—and in the spirit of my sponsor’s directive to focus on gratitude and the positive—I’ve decided to write in support of Reverb10: Reflect on This Year and Manifest What’s Next.

Reverb10Reverb 10 is a very cool annual event and online initiative to reflect on this year and manifest what’s next. Each day bloggers write about a new one-word idea—we use the end of our year as an opportunity to reflect on what’s happened, and to send out “reverberations” for the year ahead. So far they have about 2,500 bloggers signed up.

Today’s word: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

The last thing I made was a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich for my son’s lunch. I used the low-sugar peanut butter he likes, the smooth kind whose oil doesn’t come unseparated from its peanuts; raw unpasteurized honey, which contains natural antibiotics; and whatever multi-grain bread was in the big stone Boston bean-jar that my Al-Anon sponsor gave me, which sits beside my fridge.

I used a knife from the stainless set that was given to me and my husband for our wedding.

I used the unwaxed waxed-paper bags we now get from Whole Foods to wrap the sandwich for his lunch-bag.

When I was on high doses of painkillers, if asked the question “what was the last thing you made?” it would never have occurred to me to answer with something so commonplace as a sandwich. Today I’m grateful that I’m well enough to recognize that making my son’s lunch is caring for him in the most basic of motherly ways. I don’t do stupid stuff like leave him little messages in his lunch, or write smiley-faces on his sandwich bag. These ideas used to occur to me in my addiction; they’re the kinds of things my mother used to do, and now I can see they’re just as selfish as NOT making him any lunch at all. He’s 13. Making him a lunch is about making sure he has food. It’s not about reminding him who I am or making him think about me when he should be thinking about his own life.

I’ve also made some paintings I like.

Maybe the best thing I made this year was this blog. I’d been thinking about it for a long time. I’d had blog-aversion and blog-anxiety, I thought I was too old, I thought nobody would want to read about addiction, and I ironed a path through all that to get to the place in May where I could begin filing regularly. And then I started meeting new readers, and my fate was sealed… I made myself into a blogger.

Thank you for being here!

I’m a maker, and I have been one all my life. There’s a great deal more that I want to make that I need to clear time for. I was just talking about this problem this morning two friends who also raise kids and write, and who know what it is to juggle schedules. To make books, we agreed, requires clearing time, learning to say “no,” and becoming accountable to one’s own plans. These are also part of my recovery… time management. MAKING plans. Above all, accountability.

What was the last thing you made?

12 steps: Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Study

Next time you’re raking the leaves or scrubbing the floor, pop this series of MP3s on the CD player or iPod and have a listen…

You can get them on the Silkworth website.

AcceptanceJoe and Charlie are recovered alcoholics who for a long time ran very popular old-school Big Book seminars across the country. The Silkworth series was recorded live in front of an audience in 1998, so it contains a distillation of decades of wisdom and experience—they’d been doing this for a long time. (Apparently Joe passed away in the mid-2000s.)

One of them is from Arkansas and one of them is from Oklahoma, so they have fantastic accents and the Southerner’s gift for gab. … As Charlie says in his introduction, they don’t consider themselves to be gurus, or to speak for that fellowship:

We’re just two old drunks, met together several years ago, found we had a mutual interest in the Big Book. We studied it together for quite some time. Hopefully we’ve learned a few things about it. And those few things we’ve learned about it—we just love to be able to share them with other people.

Charlie is the Alpha-dog, and he talks more than Joe. But when Charlie gives Joe a word in edgewise, Joe usually has something real good to say. Here he is on the sexual inventory:

I look back in my life and when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I got to thinkin about this a lot. I mean A LOT. Almost gave me brain damage from thinkin about it. So I went to my mom and I said, “Mom . . . I been thinkin about this sex thing.” She said, “Oh my God, Benny Joe”—scared her to death. That’s my name—Benny Joe. She said, “Oh my God, Benny Joe, that’s not a good thing to be thinkin about. Fact, it’s a dirty rotten filthy thing to be thinkin about,” she said. “And you oughta save it for the one you love.”

“Think about that,” he says, as people laugh and groan simultaneously.

I can’t remember now who recommended I try out Joe and Charlie’s Big Book Study, but whoever it was, I’m grateful to them. It was very early in recovery, maybe even during my detox. Thank god for the Internet, where I could get the files immediately, for free. I used to play them back to back while I was in post-acute withdrawal, sitting in the hot bath trying not to feel frozen, or dragging my butt around, trying to do my days, just putting one foot in front of the other. They made me laugh and they reminded me that it can be done: We Do Recover.

The whole series is 35 chapters long. Go for it. And take a look at the other offerings on Silkworth while you’re at it.

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