We enjoyed this submission by Harry Stainer, which delves into an issue affecting two characters, breaking the story into two halves and two perspectives. Each character's definitive voice and limited knowledge of the other gives this piece a bittersweet charm.
Author's introduction: After a sudden relapse a young couple reflect on how addiction has affected their relationship and how to move forward.
by Harry Stainer
‘We often talk about addiction as a downward spiral but make no mistake - addicts are stagnant people.’
This is what one of the speakers had told Lily at her first meeting. In retrospect, maybe this was her giving me a warning sign that she didn’t think she could do it, that she would never grow beyond this. Maybe she was using it as another way to push people away, giving off the impression that she was just an addict and that is all she’ll ever be.’ At the time, I didn't think of these things. I just wanted her to get better.
It’s now, sitting in the car, that I understand what this means. After two months of moving forward she’d fallen right back to where she was before. It was as if nothing had changed and all the effort was wasted. I know they say relapse is part of recovery, but does it have to be this… painful? I tried to call her sponsor but her phone was off. Useless. Isn’t the whole point of a sponsor that they’re available whenever?
Lily had opened the car door and fallen on her way out. She was doing that thing where she was laughing and making light of it all, but we both knew that within ten minutes she would be crying and saying she was sorry.
Another time she was drunk, she broke down and said that the drinking made her feel like she'd been robbed.
As a culture, we are obsessed with the idea that we can change and grow; if anything it’s one of the most optimistic standpoints we have, that individuals can confront parts of themselves that they don’t like and strive to be better. Alcohol takes that opportunity away; the second a thought comes into your mind that you don't want to be there, you can just sip until you can feel a blanket of numbness slip over you. This is a safe space, or it feels like it; you are protected from all those thoughts and feelings that you don't want to confront. Sat on the end of my bed, Lily said that that safe space robbed her of so much: choices; decisions; feelings she was supposed to feel... She didn’t remember it in the morning.
'…make no mistake- addicts are stagnant people.’
The words came into my head again - and for a moment I think maybe we were destined to do this forever.
I got out of the car and helped Lily up off the floor. I hear her mutter the words 'I fucked up’. This wasn’t the first time she had said this. One time she came in and decided to cook fajitas at 3 am. What she didn’t do was turn the stove off, nearly burning the house down - that was another ‘I fucked up moment’.
It’s moments like this where I try to remember the other Lily - the one that used to make up the lyrics to rap songs because she didn’t know the words, or the one that managed to get my mum on the kids’ bouncy castle at Susan’s daughter's birthday. The Lily that would sit with people when they were sad, even if they didn’t want to talk.
One of the first things Lily ever said about me was that I had sad eyes. Every time I was asleep, she’d jump on me, touch my face gently and start singing the opening lyrics to True Colours. She hadn’t done that in a while, even when she was sober.
As I helped her into the house, she kicked off her heels and slumped herself on the sofa. She was doing that thing where she rested one foot flat on the floor to stop her world from spinning. Maybe that was it for tonight, there would be no anger or tears. Maybe she would just fall asleep. I poured her a glass of water and bent down to turn her head to the side in case she was sick.
‘Do you hate me?’ she muttered.
I paused for a moment. Would she even remember this? ‘Yes’ my brain said - things were going so well and you just had to ruin it. I don’t know if it’s possible to love and hate someone at the same time, but if there was an argument to be made for it, here was the prime example. Not long from now one of them would subside, but for now it wasn’t the right time to explain emotions that I was finding hard to articulate myself.
'I don’t hate you. I just want you to get better.’
That was all I could say…
I switched off the light.
Six missed calls from Josie. I call back and she tries to reassure me, but so much of her sobriety is tied to her faith. I still don’t have the heart to tell her I'm an atheist. As she reads me proverbs 26:11 I can’t help but think that no god can save me from this.
‘One day at a time.’ She hangs up the phone.
I am alone again and I can feel the taste of sugar and vodka in my throat. I don’t remember having any cocktails.
Here comes the fear again. Did I kiss anyone last night? Did I hurt anyone? I'm not going to go down this path. Shame and anger lead to relapse... The AA meetings are getting into my head. I’ve already relapsed now, what does it matter anymore?
I shouldn’t have gone to Alex’s leaving do. I was never going to be able to go to a party without drinking. I had every intention of having soft drinks but rum is so tempting when everyone else is having it. I think to be sober is to suffer when you only feel joy when your alcohol blood level is at a certain percentage.
I open the sobriety app on my phone. ‘62 days’. In the top corner is a reset button. I don’t want to lose that 62. If it’s gone, then it's all for nothing. I’ll do it later.
I know Dan is upstairs asleep but I’m too scared to go see him. I know he picked me up, but how much of me did he see this time? I probably hurt him and said things I didn’t mean. ‘It’s never just one drink’ he will say. I wonder how many times I’ll have to learn the same lesson before it sticks.
I wish he would leave. This isn’t good for him but then I wonder if I can do it without him. Right now, I think letting him go would be a twisted act of mercy. I don’t think he understands what it is to need something to survive. The truth is when I drink all the fear goes away and all the messy parts of me don’t seem to matter. I think it moved past the point of recreation a while ago and now it might be a necessity. At Least with God, no matter how much you lose, you always have someone to turn to... if I lose Dan, there’s no one.
In meetings there are the veterans who have been sober 3, 4, 5 years and I don’t know if I'm ever going to get there. I might just do this until I die - once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
The fear creeps in again, I can feel it in my stomach. I know another drink will take it away. In meetings we were taught an exercise where when we wanted to drink we would get a pen and paper and write down the reasons why drink affected us in a negative way. I’d written one a few weeks ago, last time I was tempted.
From the draw I pull out the notepad; it reads:
When I drink I get so anxious the next day it's hard to leave bed
When I drink I become someone I don’t like and it scares me
When I drink I’m using it to avoid the feelings that I don’t want to feel
When I drink I worry that Dan and I will end up hating each other.
I stare at the notepad for a moment, fixated on the last bullet point. He probably didn’t sleep last night. He will be angry but he won’t show it because he knows it’s something I can’t help. I wish I had a reason why I drank last night. I wish someone had died or I was under extreme stress but the truth is that I drank because I could. I drank because it was right there in front of me. But I know I don’t want to do it again, or at least try not to.
The bedroom door is already open at the top of the stairs. Dan is laying there in his boxers. He knows I’m ashamed, but he looks up at me as I enter and simply says “Hey you.”
I slump myself next to him on the bed and gesture to a pillow. “I want you to take this and smother me, please.” I throw the pillow at him. He catches it before it hits him in the face. He grabs it jumps on top of me and pretends to put start suffocating me.
“I never get how this kills people. You can still breathe, right?”
As he pulls the pillow off my face, I pretend to play dead with my tongue stuck outside my mouth.
“Ah yes! Finally, I can sleep in peace!” he says as he rolls back onto his side.
There is silence for a moment.
“Are you going to try again?” The words come out softly from his mouth.
I pull my phone out from my pocket and show him the 62 number on the app.
“You do the honours.” I say.
He taps the reset button. The ‘0’ doesn’t feel as bad as I thought it would. I can tell he was relieved.
He hugs me tight. As I look up at him I notice his eyes, those eyes that always look sad.
“You with the sad eyes” I sing to him as my head sits on his chest.
He smiles in a way I haven’t seen in a while.
Harry Stainer is a writer living in Sheffield, his works include writing the short films 'Landmine' and 'The Little Picture' which went on to Win best film at the Top Shorts Film Festival. Harry has worked in welfare for the past couple of years but writes in his free time, He also enjoys long hikes with his dog, Woody.
Find Harry on Instagram at @rejectedscripts282.
Cover image by Flachovatereza via Pixabay