‘What’s it like? The new place?’
I struggled to find the words. Cold. Alone. I wanted to show her the riverbeds 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.
Picture the scene: I’m sitting in my room – my strange, alien room – having just been released from a rehab facility in September. I was there for a month and a half, sleeplessly walking the fluorescent corridors and drinking black instant coffee – sharp and sour and necessary as breathing. I’m grateful to be sitting there sober and drawing breath, but I’m also terrified, despairing, curled up in the hollow of God’s palm like a spider caught in a match flame; small and spindly and breakable. My life collapsed in on itself in those six weeks. I had a fiance, a home in a beautiful part of the country, a good if stressful job; then I flipped my life like a penny and it landed tails up, single and jobless in halfway housing in Luton. I wanted to say: What do you think it’s like?
‘Yeah…It’s alright actually.’
I’m a coward. I sipped my thin, watery coffee 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. I remembered the feeling of unexpected cameraderie and togetherness of all us troubled, lonely addicts walking those familiar halls; listening to the sound of the kettle boiling; hugging and laughing and scuffing our shoes against the red brick of the flowerbeds. I remembered the aching chaos of my first couple of weeks there, lost and frightened and hurting. I think about the aching chaos of now.
Thinking about it, right from the first time the glass lip of a bottle clinked against my teeth, I was swallowing escape from loneliness. That magic 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 that sad well; but drinking, I realised during Step One, was about crawling right inside the broken ribcage of my loneliness and dying there.
I’m still afraid, to tell you the truth. I’m afraid of all these newborn hours with no escape. I’ll get on my knees and talk to my Higher Power in a minute, but right now I am deep in the well, listening to the sound of my own breathing echoing off the stones.