I didn’t become a minimalist on purpose.
I didn’t make a conscious decision to live with less or pare down my material life to make way for other, more important things. I went into rehab, which in many ways could be read as an attempt to preserve the important things (i.e. my life), but it wasn’t mindful in any way, it was a last-chance saloon in wild, wild Bedfordshire serving two fingers of the best gulping tap water.
I packed whatever I thought I’d need for 28 days in my grandmother’s old tan leather travel bag; jeans, t-shirts, toothpaste, books…there wasn’t much. A scrapbook of a life, a Polaroid shot squashed into torn polyester lining. I walked up the concrete path to the clinic wondering if I was making the worst decision of my whole life. I’d just blown most of a small but serviceable inheritance on a spell in this place and here I was rocking up in torn jeans and an old flannel shirt, face raw and red with anxiety, sober and two hours early.
Day in, day out, I wore the same things, worn scratchy and thin in the end from the big industrial dryers, holes in my socks and soles. I extended for two weeks so spent a month and a half in total living out of one tiny bag, recycling my threads until I could see the last of the summer sun through the weave. And you know what? There were a couple of shirts I barely wore, that languished on the hangers while I brawled with my ego in the group therapy room, or read quietly on the garden wall, or gave myself groin strain attempting to play football with guys who had to stop every five minutes to retch into a flower bed because they were being smashed to pieces by their heroin detox. I’d brought almost nothing, and it was still too much.
When I left that place, it was with the same bag over my shoulder, but I wasn’t going home. With one week to go I had a meltdown, I walked into the office and cried until my head pounded and said I could not go back. I said out loud that I needed to be where the recovery community was strong because I was not strong, but the truth was my heart was screaming at me that this moment, these weeks suspended in the atmosphere of possibility, this weightless time spent in utero – a womb of blank walls and uniform duvet covers and linoleum floor – waiting to be reborn, this was the time to start over. If I could just trust this bonkers impulse and dive in, just quell my fear for long enough to do something that on the outside looked outrageously stupid, I had a shot at something bigger and brighter than I’d ever imagined.
So I did.
I moved into halfway housing with that one bag, and I’ve never looked back. Sure, I’ve gone back, sorted through the wreckage of my old life haphazardly shoved into big Sainsbury’s bags and donated 90% of it, but my heart remembers the time Before (life now is A.R. Anno Rehab) in the same way it remembers my dreams, real but unreal.
Part of that unreality haze was being surrounded by stuff, and now I didn’t have that crutch, had spent months living without it, realised how much clearer everything was without it. I didn’t truly need any of it in the same way I never truly needed a drink, they were both just plasters over a wound too big to heal alone. I look around the room that six months in is still home and know I have more to do and less to cling to, but it’s okay, it is – as you hear in recovery – progress not perfection. I thought I’d be tempted to fill the gap but it turns out, flying in the face of all health and safety announcements, that I don’t mind the gap.
Not at all.