The End Of The Girl

This post has been a long time coming.

When I went into rehab in August last year, I felt so optimistic and light, as though my bones had been hollowed out and the stagnant old marrow replaced by cool air and sparkling water, as though the old feather bed underneath my skin was finally being aired, as though each ethereal step could transport me into another, better life; hovering above the baking pavements like the heat haze, like a cloud in torn jeans.

Well, it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

I’m 31 years old and the passion I once had for life has bled out through the bandages. I’ve relapsed and come shuffling back into the rooms like the haggard ghost of myself, I’ve realised that you can meet the right person at the wrong time and have it quietly shatter you over the months like a window cracking under ice. I’ve admitted that I dont know who I am or where I’m going. I’ve been suspended in the atmosphere living life as a spinning plate, as a shard of something bright and jagged mirroring the stars like glass being passed off as diamonds. It’s been heartbreaking, feeling all that newborn hope I had seep away, like watching baby birds die.

This blog has undergone many changes since it first began. I’ve compartmentalised my life into so many different people, terrified that no one would want to read the disjointed reality, so that I actually have a couple of blogs where I talk about different things. I dont believe I can do that anymore. I don’t even know what I can do anymore. I just need all the threads of my life to converge in the centre of the web, so that perhaps they can pull me back as I step like The Fool off the edge of this cliff.

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Not too long ago I was reading about runic inscriptions, there is a piece that was found in the grave of a woman in Germany which reads: For The Wayfarer, Love.’ It has been translated a few different ways: for the soul of the dead – from the beloved; for Odin (the traveller) – with love. I prefer the idea that the soul is being sent with love on their journey, For you, flying between worlds; for you, arriving on unknown shores; for you, the wayfarer, love.

I have finally, at the end of these months of despair that have strangled my days like quiet but lethal bindweed, begun my real journey, to a creative life in sobriety, to finding out who I am without drink and drugs, which have kept me numb and suppressed and half-here since I was fourteen years old. To a magickal existence rooted and winged, not fuelled by the false promises of power lurking like a wet specimen in a bottle. Because no matter how many times I die inside, I resurrect; I claw my way through the living grave of my own body and rake the glowing ashes of my brain, again and again. I hope you enjoy the trip with me, as I sail somewhere new from the end of my world, from the end of the girl.

Persephone’s Feast

Get up, because the draught has woken you again, make a thin, weak instant coffee and listen to the absolute feathery white static silence of the night. Try to be positive; think how lovely this breeze will be in the summer, as you rub the blood back into your feet. Check the cupboards and nibble a slice of hardening bread.

Back in bed, with the covers wrapped cocoon-like around you, wonder if today’s the day you can have a hot shower, or a bath without boiling the kettle seven times, because maybe by some miracle the plumbing your landlord won’t fix is better now. Wonder how many calories there are in the bread you’ve just eaten, tell yourself to relish the cold night because shivering burns fat. Wonder what you’ve become.

There’s an ethereal quality to the hours just before dawn, when the night is over but the day not yet born, it’s the counterweight to faerie’s dusk, when it’s dangerous to look in hallway mirrors. You know you should be writing but instead you’re thinking about Victorian seances and bathroom suicides and bad omens (before you woke you dreamed about a buzzard dying with its wings torn off). About bisexuality and lesbianism in bohemian Paris, about the likelihood of WWIII predicted in Buzzfeed articles, about dying your hair in lilac pastels and changing your name again. About the food you can’t afford (it doesn’t matter, starvation has 0 calories).

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When the sun comes, listen to the crowing of a rooster in someone’s back yard. Dress in cold clothing, staring at the freckling of peridot moss on next door’s tiles. There are bargain plums ripening in a bowl on the kitchen counter but they are not ready to eat; remember that time you bought a pomegranate and every seed was flawless and the most mystical thing you’d ever tasted, rivalled only by farmhouse eggs with the richest yolks of golden orange. Remember a house with heat and light and carpets, look around at the mould beginning to creep through another coat of nunnery-white paint. Wonder what you’ve become.

Call your partner, your sponsor, your friend. Tell them everything’s fine. You miss them, you’re still sober and getting to meetings, what are they up to. Block out the insistent whispering in your head by trying to act like a normal person. With going to the shops and gazing longingly at meat that won’t be reduced until 18.00 like a normal person. With running a tepid bath and lying there until your flesh is numb obsessing over torturous cold water therapy in Georgian sanatoriums like a normal person. With picking up the tablets that stop the worst of this putting you back in hospital.

Wait…Just wait for the quiet night to roll around again, when it’s just you and your ghosts in the Hades of this room, waiting for revelation between the clock hands, eating up the seconds like those pomegranate seeds.

Wonder what you’ve become.

Shallow Graves

Sometimes I look back at the first few days of treatment, scuffing the toes of my shoes against the warm red brick of the garden wall and watching the stifling, sultry sun of August settle on next door’s yellow roses, and at almost eight moons sober it feels like another life – a Polaroid photograph or dream snippet half-remembered over morning coffee. The link between my two selves feels strained and trembling. The weight of my sober life is a drop spindle, pulling the thread tight.

I can stare into the past and catch glimpses of this new me amongst the chaos, like seeing veins of bloody red quartz running through a black stone. The last decade was a long game of hide and seek, my hands over my eyes as I counted to one hundred, and I kept expecting to find myself behind the sofa, or the curtains, but I never did. I get it now. Someone once told me you can’t go searching for enlightenment because it isn’t outside you, that’s like leaning out of a window and asking for directions to the building you’re in. Finding the real you after 16 years of being permanently drunk is kind of similar. People talk about travelling the world to find out who they really are but I didn’t go to India or Nepal or Peru and catch a glimpse of God, I went to a rehab clinic in a filthy grey little English town and dropped back inside myself like a stone shattering the surface of a frozen lake.

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I used to run up against the idea that sobriety is like a treasure map, that if I just went to enough meetings and made enough weak, watery tea and coffee in enough cold and echoing church kitchens then the path would become clear, that the red X would seep through the paper and I’d know where the treasure was buried, but the treasure isn’t out there, it’s somewhere under the ruins and ash of my old life; glints of iron and gold and pomegranate garnets piled up in the elegant fist of my ribs. The reality is that red X is like the medieval mark of a murderer, when the accused would place their hand on the shroud of the victim and if they were guilty the corpse would bleed. My old life is shouting my guilt from beyond its grave. I put my hands up, soaked as they are with something red, and it could be blood or wine, I admit that I killed myself.

Not everyone gets a resurrection, and I feel I’m letting down all those addicts who never rose again, because I should be happier. As the whole world around me cries out its renewal with lilting birdsong and the powdery purple crocuses carpeting the parks and the delicate yellow of primroses, I should be happier.

The Well of Loneliness

‘What’s it like? The new place?’

I struggled to find the words. Cold. Bleak. Liminal. I wanted to show her the slim rivers drying on my cheeks, leaving a trail of ashes and salt. I wanted to play a film of the last six weeks and have a lightning flash of understanding tear through muscle and electrify bone. I wanted to say the unfamiliarity is killing me.

I was sitting in my room – my strange, alien room – after I was released from the clinic – (none of these memories will be in order, by the way, Mind: Out of Order) – knocking back black instant coffee, sharp and sour and necessary as breathing, curled up in the hollow of God’s palm like a spider caught in a match flame; a jumble of delicate, breakable limbs. I wanted to say: You know I had a fiancé, right? A warm home in a beautiful part of the country? A glamourous if stressful job? Now I’m single and jobless in halfway housing, what do you think it’s like?

‘Yeah…It’s okay actually.’

I was a coward. I sipped my thin, watery caffeine and remembered standing on the warm concrete of the clinic yard watching the stars come out, like spots of bright rain on the other side of the glass. Life suspended in the atmosphere, life as a spinning plate, life as a shard of stardust wandering bright and aimless under Heaven, step by faltering step.

STEP ONE – list five things drinking/drug taking gave you in the beginning…

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…and I wrote power…escape…belonging… among others. Thinking about it, right from the first time the glass lip of a bottle clinked against my teeth, I was swallowing escape. A magical elixir that could make me like other people, that could tailor the awkward suit of my own skin more neatly around my transgressive, psychedelic watercolour soul, that opened a door to anywhere but here. I used to think the miracle ‘Drink Me’ was about lifting myself out of the well of loneliness; but I realised during Step One that it was always, always about crawling right inside the broken ribcage of my loneliness, shuffling on bleeding knees like a sinner to the foot of a rotting cross, and dying there.

I cried when I put down the phone. I knew I’d get on the floor and talk to God in a minute, another minute, a breath, another breath; dragged in and out of my lungs like an oxygen clock, but the dial tone pushed my head under the water and put me deep in the well, listening to the sound of my own breathing echoing off the stones

If I Live, If I Die

    Lord if you hear me, I’m falling down

Day one. I’m on my way to rehab. We’re tearing down the motorway in the spitting rain and everything is grey, even the grass banks seem to be flowing away up to the horizon like watercolour. I can feel the sympathetic green of my eyes leaking too, melting out into the white canvas of watery optic around them, getting right into the fine cracks. Emerald-shot.

‘You’re sure you want to do this?’ My stepfather is smoking a cigarette out of the window. ‘We’re all behind you…It’s just…’

It’s just that I’m thirty years old and these wheels are hissing through the puddles on the road and I’m jumping off into empty space like a guy about to beat the hangman to the drop. It’s just that the the first half of my life has dwindled like a dollar store candle, guttering into A&E visits and psych hospitals and what’s left of the flame stutters now with the slightest shift in the air. It’s just that my heart is floating somewhere above the earth, one trembling thread tied to a blade of grass, just a cobweb kissing the ground and only visible to those blessed people who take the time to stop and watch the wind change. I can feel myself straining at the confines of my own skeleton with every glass of hot amber like someone swimming in the wild at night, waiting to be sucked under by a stray current like the bad end of a Victorian romance; white leaden limbs catching in the feral green hair of the river.

In front of us, a lone black Lexus weaves across the lane. My stepfather snorts.

‘What do they think they’re doing? The dozy motherfucker.’

I shrug, my shoulder blades feel dislocated, my brain is rattling on its stem like a dice box trying to throw a six. ’They’re probably daydreaming about what it’s like to not be driving a Lexus.’

He laughs and we race in silence past storage units and roadside diners and trees still thick with summer green. I am leaving my past life behind me as easily as the glowing embers of that smouldering paper cigarette-end as it bounces on the road. I almost say: I had a dream last night that I was looking through one of those spyholes you get on apartment doors, and I knew there was someone on the other side waiting for me to answer but I couldn’t make nothing out but a pair of dark eyes. I think it might have been the Devil knocking. What do you think of that.

 My faith is weary, my soul is too
Lord if you hear me, I need some proof

He hauls my bag out of the trunk and I stand there as the rain stops falling. Everything about this place is horrifyingly new and strange and I stand there by the cricket ground, hollow as a chapel as the car roars off, my fingers aching and the thick, swampy beat of this song I’ve had rolling around my skull for weeks – about the last-chance, bleeding-out ache of a soul on the rocks – coming back to me, watching my breath hang in the air like I could stop time or make a wish or God would answer my prayers if I can just faithfully count every droplet of water taking flight from my lungs. I think:

Fuck me, my life is a church that burned down.

I wonder how my legs are moving when my spine is an anchor ripping through deep water, when the seconds are sixty air bubbles a minute in lungs crushing under all that oceanic pressure. Then the door opens and fluorescent light pours out into the chill and misty air and suddenly my hands are empty, and I step through the door staring down at the dead white lines across my fingers, where the blood has stopped flowing. I remember signing the contract for treatment because I walked through the doors sober. I remember carrying my light bag – 28 days worth of hastily gathered t-shirts and jeans, a toothbrush, a dusky pink snake of adventurine prayer beads – up the echoing stairs to an attic room, opening the skylight and watching the beech leaves dance in the wind. Looking at my own face in the mirror, bleached and blank and bare, like the walls.

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.

Red or Blue

In my dream, Christ is painting his nails again.

We’re sitting on a park bench placed incongruously in desert sands, behind us, a vast stone has been rolled away from a tomb carved into solid rock, revealing nothing but cool darkness. One of his hand sports arterial crimson, the other a shimmering blue-green that reminds me of the ocean. He holds them up, waggles his fingers.

‘Which one, d’you think?’

I point wordlessly at the kingfisher blue. He nods thoughtfully, hair catching the sun in glints of electric jet. The rattle of palm leaves sounds above us, when I look up they’re like blades of jade against the pale sky.

‘Very interesting, you know that says a lot about you as a person.’

‘Don’t try and psych 101 me, Jesus.’ I say. He laughs, a burst of something loud and joyful and carefree…Whenever he appears in my dreams Christ laughs more often than, to my knowledge, he is ever given credit for.

We sit kicking our heels under the trees for a while. At some point, Christopher Walken joins us. He picks the crimson red nail polish, Jesus and I exchange a significant look.

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When I wake, it’s to the sound of the buses beginning their endless circuit of this town. I get up, make breakfast, swallow new pills designed to keep my Picasso brain in check again. I spend a lot of my days drifting in and out of consciousness at the moment because of the side effects, I’m told they won’t last too long. I am six months sober and clinging on to awareness like someone in a plane crash wondering if clouds could break their fall; it reminds me horribly of taking opiates, that struggling to surface like a fish with scales of iron.

Later at a meeting someone who heard my first main share last week, and oh boy was it as depressing as I told you it probably would be…

‘I drank because I am alive, but I didn’t want life; not adulthood with its loss and responsibilities and exit wounds…I still don’t know if I do…’

…Comes up and gives me a hug. They know I went into hospital the morning after that share because I wanted to kill myself; I’ve only just taken the plastic band of A&E baggage reclaim off my wrist. I get a mouthful of well-meaning angora jumper drenched in Chanel and her fingernails catch the light like swarming ladybirds, they are streaked the same bright poppy red of Christ’s right hand.

I think, Fuck you, Christopher Walken.