The automatic door swung open just in time for my body to slip through. I tugged at my coat zipper, jerking it all the way up to my chin, then balled my hands into fists and shoved them in my pockets. My breath came in shaky, shallow bursts. And right there on the sidewalk outside Meijer, I wept.
To anyone passing by, I might have looked like I’d gotten a call about a death in the family. Or maybe that someone had stolen my wallet at gun point. But the truth? The truth was that I didn’t really know why I was so upset.
I’ve had several similar “episodes” in the last few months, and they’re almost always at work. They’re almost always when I’m with people. Anything seems to trigger them: a snippy customer, a manager disagreeing with me, an innocent text from my mother that I’ve read too much into. When I’m cashiering, I look down at screaming toddlers begging for a Snicker bar and see myself. Coming unglued, having a meltdown, losing my shit—whatever phrase works best. That’s what I do. That’s how I am.
When the feelings pass, I’m physically exhausted. I sit in my car watching the window defrost or pace from the couch to the kitchen to my bed to the door. I try to pick up the pieces of myself, grasping at ideas and emotions and memories like the stray items of clothing scattered around my apartment. I put away my phone and close the blinds, journaling or soaking in a hot bath or binging on cookies as I go over everything all over again. I pick at my skin and my eyebrows. I turn the music up loud in my ears and dance. I crawl on hands and knees through my apartment picking up loose change. I masturbate. I wander into the grocery store in the middle of the night, sweaty and head pounding, looking for something sugary. I text a friend. What the fuck is wrong with me? And then it’s over. The light around me changes and it’s a new day and I’m sipping coffee and I’m hoping for the best and I’m clocking into another day of work. And so the cycle goes. When I fall out of routine, I fall apart.
When I was in rehab, my days were organized around much different patterns. (And I fucking miss those patterns). I was always with others, awake and talking and thinking and writing from 6 am until nearly 11pm, seven days a week for three weeks. With the exception of a single hour of individual counseling each week, every single emotion had to be addressed and processed publically. Our secrets keep up sick. The staff taught us to communicate. And not in the ways we were used to. Instead of storming in and out of conversations or lighting up or pouring a drink, we had to learn to say what we meant, even if we said it imperfectly. In group therapy sessions, when someone asked how we were doing, we were forbidden to use general words. Ok, fine, I’m good. Bullshit. Our daily and weekly chore rotation taught us to depend on each other. If the shower drains were clogged with hair, somebody had to answer for it. If somebody left their personal items in personal space, we all suffered the consequences.
Maybe some of this stuff sounds pretty basic. Like many of my peers, I grew up in a home with lots of rules and expectations. I was supposed to make my bed and take my laundry in every day. None of this stuff was new knowledge after two years of heavy drinking. But it also kind of was. Active addiction disrupts some of our most basic instincts. Cleanliness, promptness, and awareness of others aren’t mind-blowing concepts for healthy people, but they were to me. I had to relearn the simple ritual of sitting at a table three meals a day. I had to relearn to shower and wear clean clothes. And I had to relearn to laugh and cry sober. Apparently I’m still learning most of that stuff.
Six days out of the week, my kitchen sink is full of dishes, the litter boxes reek, my bed isn’t made, and most of my clothes are dirty. I’m also usually consumed by some form of moodiness or frustration. But the good news is that I sleep 8 hours most nights and shower most mornings. I take a multivitamin and drink at least one glass of milk every day. I’m not spending $50 dollars or more each week on weed. I’m not lying or cheating. I’m mostly just cleaning and reading, petting my cats or watching movies. I spend less time reliving hard moments from my past and more time imagining what the future will be like. And that doesn’t mean things are easy or that I’m doing especially well. I have less than a dollar in my bank account and there’s way too much cat hair on my work uniform. But the way I see it, anytime I’m in the present moment at least trying to deal with my feelings or thoughts is a moment I’m actually living. And I guess that’s a pretty cool thing. We’re all a little rough around the edges. And we’re all a little unglued.