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Local author explores addiction recovery through physical health

"Americans find it really dangerous to live inside our bodies."

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Paying it forward: Jennifer Matesa
  • Paying it forward: Jennifer Matesa

Jennifer Matesa's new guide to addiction recovery doesn't cover 12 steps. Instead, it runs a marathon on previously uncharted terrain.

The Recovering Body: Physical and Spiritual Fitness for Living Clean and Sober (Hazelden) explores addiction treatment through exercise, sleep, nutrition, sexuality and meditation. Matesa, the Shadyside-based writer behind the award-winning blog Guinevere Gets Sober, says her first book is the only guide to achieving physical recovery during addiction.

"[Americans] find it really dangerous to live inside our bodies," Matesa says. "It makes us feel very weak and vulnerable, and this book is all about looking at actual disciplines that we can practice that can bring us back to living in our bodies in a way that is at least comfortable or tolerable."

Matesa lost her parents to addiction to legal substances, and detoxed from her own painkiller addiction in 2008. But moving away from drugs, Matesa had "no idea where to go or what to do."

"Addiction was not very much in the media, so there wasn't a lot of information out there, and I was extremely ashamed of my addiction. I didn't want to tell anybody," says Matesa, now an adjunct writing instructor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Matesa and other survivors share their stories in the book, and describe how they are reclaiming their lives through activities like mountain-climbing, yoga and Cross-fit. One pitfall is excessive exercise: Matesa calls it "varicose vanity," where looking good means everything else is good, too.

"Recovery is all about paying it forward, and passing along experiences that can be really damaging in the moment," Matesa says. "But they turn out to be the most valuable experiences we've ever had because they help other people."

We also meet Mikey, a 21-year-old musician coming off heroin, whose sexual endurance deteriorated while his sexual appetite rocketed as he began caring for his body.

Matesa says sexual health is largely uncovered in meetings and such recovery materials as The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. With survivors previously wandering through the research void, Matesa's book devotes more than 20 pages to sexuality.

"A lot of times I think people don't even have language to talk about what they are feeling," Matesa says. "It feels like a wall too high to scale for a lot of people, and one of the goals with this book was to bring that wall down a bit so we can see over it."

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