Discover more from portrait of a body (in pieces)
5. Grubby little weirdos
February (part two)
This is chapter 5. If you’re new, you should probably start with at the beginning.
The only comfortable position in the attic is leaning out of the skylight. You’re fresh from the shower and towel draped, a cigarette hanging from your lips, shivering in the February night. You’re also wearing sunglasses for some reason. Between drags, the dominant thought is that this project was a terrible idea and you should never have committed to it. This is nothing new. Nights are always hardest. Something to do with the effect artificial lighting has on the nervous system. Either that, or it’s particular to the attic. At the meeting tonight you declined your share. You’re meant to check-in, talk about your struggles. Besides not being sure you’re an addict, you’re also not sure how to properly articulate that the room you live in is stealing your lifeforce to power infrastructure in an alternate reality. V keeps sending you recovery memes with the caption You’ve been triggered! It’s a gameshow you made up during the meeting, where you send the other things to try and trip them up. First one triggered loses. Hers wasn’t a bad effort. In it a man is bashing another man on the back of the head with a pipe. The attacker, the pipe, and the victim are all labelled me. It’s a metaphor. You take a drag on your cigarette and counter with a meme that has three direction signs. The first says I’m a giant piece of shit. The second, I was cut from the cloth of God. The third says I’m hungry. They are all pointing in the same direction. You’ve been triggered, you add. She sends back three cry-laughing emojis though you suspect she is neither crying nor laughing. V is a formidable opponent when it comes to recovery memes. Perhaps you should pay more attention in meetings. Perhaps your chats with V are your recovery and meetings are there to give you things to gripe about. The thought ends with the cigarette, and you sling the butt into the sky, not waiting to watch it fall onto the flat spot of a roof nearby, the one littered with your spent filters.
Your brother is reading the ingredients on a packet of cereal like he didn’t spend his twenties sinus-deep in every drug he could get his hands on, recreational or otherwise. What? he says when you ask. I like to know what’s in it. Then, when he sees your face, they put all sorts of shit in cereal. This is a man whose only exposure to the gym was buying drugs in the car park. Just trying to take care of myself, he says. No shame in that. You wouldn’t know what that’s like. You want to tell him there’s plenty of shame in pretending to be someone else, but you opt instead for something sharper. The real shame is that you used to be cool, you say.
It’s your turn to share. You raised your hand, waited, and now, nothing. The right words are proving elusive. All words in fact. You want to qualify yourself for being here. You want to say that you too have done some shit. But the parameters won’t allow it. You can’t discuss turn-ons, memories, specifics. Nothing that got you off or sent you spiralling. You can’t talk about the affairs and hook-ups and trysts. You can’t talk about the hotel rooms and video calls and pictures. You can’t talk about how it’s not that you were irresistible, it’s that you weren’t available. That there was something desirable in the destructive power of not caring. Of not being present. You can’t talk about how you let yourself be used, like personal pornography. Like a sentient dildo, or a chatbot who writes beautiful sexts. You can’t talk about any of this. Cardboard faces wait for your share. Eyes blink in canon. Someone coughs. You want to tell them about a meme you saw. A writer you know posted it. It said fuck you, pay me. And it floored you. Like tears-soaking-your-shirt startled. You stared a while, unable to work out what it was that moved you so. Fuck you, pay me. And then you realised: she’s asking for her worth, demanding her needs be met. Fuck you, pay me. And what was troubling you was that you couldn’t remember ever asking for someone to meet your needs. It seems so simple. Fuck you, pay me. You want to tell them: that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? The reason you’re here. That feeling of being completely worthless. That it’s not only that you haven’t asked for what you need, it’s that if you did, you’re convinced that the request wouldn’t be granted. You’d be told no. You realised you could ask a hundred different ways and you will never get what you need. Not from her. The words don’t arrive. You need to share something, so what you share is this: Deleted Instagram this morning. Put it back this afternoon. Missed the dogs too much. Vacant faces stare back at you. Someone else begins their share and the meeting moves on.
Fuck you, love me.
A text from V. Sorry I’ve been quiet. The darkness outshone my sparkle. It’s shame this is a sad thing because it’s beautifully phrased. V’s trauma is hers and it’s her story to tell, but the thing that stems from her trauma, the thing she’s dealing with right now, is that she was enmeshed with someone who wasn’t always good for her, and who, now she’s finally left, has made leaving incredibly difficult. Had a strange couple of days, she says. This senior chap at work, really well respected, he pulled me to one side and said I was doing a good job. You should have heard it. It was like, biblical. He lit up gold. Angels played tiny trumpets. I went home and wanked myself silly. I was up all night. Over and over and over. You know when you come to the point it’s not even fun anymore, but you can’t stop. Add another twelve hours to that and you’re close. He’s not even attractive. Not even mildly! I had to take two mental health days to recover. Couldn’t pee straight most of yesterday. She adds a cry-laughing emoji, which is the most socially acceptable way to process shame. Sorry that happened, you say. If it helps, it’s not just you. You tell her you got neck strain from pressing an ear against the attic wall trying to listen the neighbours go at it. They’re in their mid-fifties. Not much to look at. But they put on quite a show. She sends three more cry-laughing emojis. We’re all just grubby little weirdos, you say.
All this time it has never occurred to you to just whip your cock off for a bit, save yourself some trouble. Then again, if you wanted to be only slightly less miserable but without functional plumbing, you’d have stayed on antidepressants.
Recovery involves a lot of reading. There are books, binders, pamphlets. The literature. Maybe the idea is you’ll be too busy studying to go out and fuck somebody you shouldn’t. If only it were better written. Some people think volume is the same as value. Then there’s the content. Love addict. You can’t imagine saying it. The story you tell about yourself is important. A few words worth thousands. Addict feels like a big story to tell, but that’s not the only story being spun. As you read, you keep tripping over the same word: powerless. As in: Admit we are powerless over our addiction. It doesn’t sit right somehow. You confess your doubts to V in a text. I know, she says. I laughed out loud the first time I heard the higher power thing. You don’t have to agree with it all. Just the parts that help. The higher power she’s referring to used to be capital-G-God. but they walked that back to be anything of your choosing, as long as it’s a thing that holds you to account. Like your Nan. Or Beyoncé. Or one of the dogs you follow on Instagram. V hasn’t decided on a higher power yet. She hasn’t decided if she’s going to do the steps. She asks if you’ll stick with it. Don’t know, you say. Maybe it was just a bad relationship. A few bad choices. A few wrong beds. Like, if you eat bad pizza, you don’t give up on pizza, right? She thinks about it a moment. Yeah, she says. But I might give it up for a while. Or think about what attracted me to that particular slice of pizza in the first place. V is very wise. You agree to give it more time.
If you ever doubt the power of story, try telling yourself you’re a piece of shit every day for a decade and see where that narrative gets you.
You don’t want to talk about your ex. Her trauma is hers. It’s not your story to tell. But you can talk about the effect it had on you. And the effect was profound. To love her was the hardest thing you’ve ever asked yourself to do. To love her was to ignore your own needs and desires. Because it wasn’t love at all. Not really. And to continue trying to love her, against the advice of philosophy and poetry, would be to choose misery. You thought you could take it. You thought you just needed to try a little harder. But no amount of strength would have been enough. The sensible thing to do would have been to yield. Admit defeat. But you didn’t. Couldn’t. All that effort, all that potential. You didn’t want it to be for nought. So you spent more than you had. Time and energy. The sunk costs of love. Strength without wisdom is just stubbornness. It’s time to take care of you. That means no more talking to her. No more hurting. Heart or no, you need to heal. It’s not that you can’t take it, it’s that you shouldn’t have to. No más. No más.
An email arrives. Your ex says she’s found your heart. Want to pick it up Sunday? She asks. The timing of it is the work of a cruel god. And the thing you never expect, the thing you never prepare for, the thing that really trips you up, is when she’s nice to you. You can hear the audience chanting in the background: You’ve! Been! Triggered!
Antidepressants (SSRIs) can be a lifeline. But a common side effect of antidepressants is a loss of libido or difficulty achieving orgasm, which was, in my experience, depressing.