Mind the Gap

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 anymore.

Not at all.

Milagro

Once when I was alone in Italian fields I saw a spirit on a Palamino horse. A female spirit in smooth white linen and in my vision I knew she was called Milagro. I waited as she rode straight towards me, whole body trembling like an arrow about to fly out from between someone’s fingers but when she was foot or so away she vanished, leaving a cool halo of misty air around my face like a cloud of flour settling on the swaying yellow grasses.

My windows are open to the night and to the smell of all the flowers that have gone to bed or are still up, sipping honey rain water from the ground like coffee. I don’t really sleep despite the chemicals I wash down every night with filtered water. Sometimes I drift into a half-awakening and go and visit that beautiful and terrible city in my liminal dreams that I call Somnopolis – go visit its surreal cathedral and walk long, polished aisles inhaling candle smoke and furniture polish. Watch the junkies on the kerb shoot up lucidity.

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Writing is an occupation full of jangling hours, like the minutes are silent windchimes telling you another silent storm in your head is coming. The sky at dawn here is a mass of shifting violet with silent Roe deer grazing in the green fields and I always felt at my most alive in the dawn, connected to the world wide wisdom while the energy is fresh and undiluted by car horns and plastic and advertising. I rise with the mist from the waking grass, I am the steam pouring from the backs of the brown herd.

When I was a kid I’d walk down to the farm and talk to the horses the sky was that star-freckled watercolour. Take an apple for the sleepy amber mare in the long field, she was a true gentlewoman in ginger and ash blonde with velvet nostrils the colour of cinnamon, wholesome animal breath curling away into the minerals given up by the soft soil.

Stroke her coarse, bone-pale mane. remember the bleached robe of the miraculous spirit. Give the fruit to those blunt teeth in grateful communion, because the wine in the heart of the apple is sweet.

Brave Nonetheless

There are some things only talked about in the mirror; when I run my hands through newly-shorn hair at the nape of my neck. When that still water of glass reflects my fingers deftly sewing up a shirt. When the brush scrapes enamel worn to ghostliness by addiction’s sucker punch. As the scales tick back and forth like a clock, when the smell of honey rises from a pot of cool cream.

There are some things I say to myself when the black silk trim of my curtain is whipped about like a violent phantom by a night full of foxes opening their razor throats, shrieking love poetry. When I wait for my bones to reclaim sleep like white roots sipping opiates from the earth, when the rain sings its acapella lullaby.

There are secret words I use to comfort myself when I see a hearse roll down the road, a train pull away, my mother’s hand wave goodbye through the window, a crushed car dumped on the verge with coke cans and badger corpses and feathers fluttering from smashed bird bodies. Loss upon loss, piled up on the highway. Monuments to unhappy transience.

Prayers and mantras for washing hair with pure olive soap, for shaking out bedlinen that smells of lavender and the pine trees that pour their scent from the hilltop. For gauging the colour of storm clouds, dabbing bloodied knees with cotton, watering the tender green jasmine plant, shaking delicate mustard yellow chamomile flowers into a glass jar.

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Psalms to command stillness, acceptance, love. A long litany of nurture in spite of med times and eyes strained from mangling saltwater and kids on the bus who spit.

Words to remind me who I am. To soothe simplicity into my hands as my mind turns over and over, devouring itself. As my minds argue and cajole and placate one another, Russian dolls with peeling paint and hidden jewels for eyes, willful and strange and ecstatic and sorrowful. Oh, and brave; brave like the last cigarette against a pockmarked wall. Brave like the execution blindfold stained with blood spatter and powder burns.

Brave nonetheless.