Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

What Do You Want That You Don’t Ask For?

Early text this morning from an adult child of an alcoholic family also in recovery from addiction. “I need help,” it said. It seems several friends are in the same position: while holding our own addictions at bay, we’re hearing the old voices from our childhoods in alcoholic families. What they tell us is this:

You are not good enough
You aren’t worth it

All of us, every single one of us, has these words running in the back of our minds, the way those neon electronic ticker-tapes wrap around the sides of buildings in Times Square. They tick by, endlessly screaming for our attention.

“It feels like that voice is me,” she said. “I can’t stop it. How can I stop it?”

“How did you quit drinking?” I asked.

“Praying, going to meetings, talking to people, reading,” she said.

“One day at a time,” I said.

My friend is struggling because she’s coming to some realizations about herself and her life that she doesn’t want to accept. I recognized the problem. It’s easier for me to allow myself to be squeezed to death than to state my bottom line in words that are clear, courteous, and unambiguous: “I can’t do this job anymore / I won’t accept this behavior / I love you, now please leave.”

(“Everyone deserves courtesy,” my Al-Anon sponsor taught me. Even people I don’t like, who step on my toes or cheat me blind, or who otherwise piss me off. I don’t always succeed with the courtesy thing because I have a big mouth.)

I have stayed in jobs for years past the time I could do them with any satisfaction. I’ve stayed in relationships that were emotionally, physically and sexually damaging. I’ve been afraid to press the “publish” button on this blog for fear of making a statement that someone might call wrong, stupid, somehow imperfect.

My boy, shortly after he was born. Intense guy from day one.

It’s my son’s 14th birthday today. We took him out to dinner last night (did my parents ever take me out to dinner on my birthday? Hell no), to his favorite restaurant (did I have a “favorite restaurant” as a kid? Hell no) where he ordered udon noodles with chicken and vegetables. As I scanned the menu it occurred to me that I grew up in such an isolated way that I was 23 before I knew I could go to a Chinese restaurant.

I’ve always had difficulty with menus. Menus are lists that invite us to choose.

To make a choice is to make a statement: I like this. I’ll try this. I WANT THIS.

I wanted something on the menu, but it didn’t have enough vegetables. I wanted it with broccoli added. I asked the waiter: can you add broccoli? He said,

It might be an extra charge.

“Fine,” I said, my mother immediately keying in her message on the ticker-tape in the back of my mind about the “waste” of money, about how “special” I think I am to ask for a change in the menu.

My dinner came, and it was exactly what I wanted. My appetite was satisfied. I was happy, and it was a simple accomplishment.

I practice saying what I want in small ways first.

What do you want that you’re afraid to ask for?

8 Comments

  1. I spoke yesterday morning on the topic of “choices.” I recalled that as a child growing up with an alcoholic mother I was once asked to sit on Santa’s lap and was asked what I wanted. I couldn’t think of anything. Not because I didn’t have wants, but because I could not articulate them because I was too busy accomodating to my mother’s needs, and really could not “know” what I wanted the way I know myself today after decades of recovery. I really didn”t have many choices if I didn’t have access to what I want. So when I get what I want, it is an extra special thrill.

  2. guinevere

    September 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    @John, I know what you mean about it being a thrill. Even when it’s just extra broccoli.

  3. I was always told that resilience and independence were the marks of success and as a result I became disconnected and rarely sought help or advice from others.
    Now, sober, I am grateful that I can concede that I sometimes need help and assistance and that it in and of itself is not a sign of weakness and failure.

  4. Hi Guinevere,

    Loved the picture of your baby boy, I have one of those too, who will be 13 soon. He came to me the other day with a request for his birthday, and delivered it rather nonchalantly, as if it was a done deal. I was very surprised, since I do not pay any attention to birthdays. I am reading your article and thinking back to my childhood, and the one B’Day party I can remember, where my mom turned me and my 2nd grade buddies loose in the neighborhood, probably out of frustration at the excitement and motion we were generating. My sobriety date is around the time of my B’Day, and my Dad died the day before my 23rd, so my B’day has been about remembering and grieving and renewing, which is way more than my son can understand. And he definitely does not get it when I say to make every day a birthday, nor does his mother. Thanks for a thought provoking article. Mike

  5. I am right here now… in that emotional pit of not feeling good enough. I am in a job with no chance of satisfaction. I’m afraid to ask for what I need or want. Thank you for writing this. And I know just what you mean about the fear of hitting publish.

  6. guinevere

    September 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

    @Tara, you totally fucking rock for pressing that button. You’re awesome and you need to keep showing us how to be awesome.

    @Bwendo and @Mike, good on you for staying sober, and thanks to both of you for being here. /g

  7. I don’t ask for much. I find that if I do ask for something, I really want it. My wife tends to buy things that I even mention I might want. I have few real wants.

  8. The will to WANT TO ask for something I’m afraid of asking for.

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