I know next to nothing about Olympics sports or athletes but it has been great fun being able to tune in now and then and instantly become deeply invested in whatever’s currently happening. It’s an interesting phenomenon, really: one minute none of us have given a single thought to, say, women’s slalom skiing, the next we’re all hanging on every gate turn and offering our in-depth opinions about their technical scores. John mentioned that it would be awesome if you could choose your commentary track — like, you can pick the discipline expert sportscaster who carefully explains all the mechanics and mishaps unfolding onscreen, OR you can choose to listen to a couple of drunk guys trying to figure out curling.

I have been watching an unusual amount of TV lately because my back went from “hmmm” to “NOPE” and so I spent several days in a recliner with a heating pad which was just as exciting as it sounds. I didn’t even have a good book on hand and ended up reading a bunch of dirty Sherlock/Watson slashfic on my phone, so if you have any questions about how Sherlock’s legendary powers of observation might impact his lovemaking skills I am FULL of useful information.

My back has slowly been improving but in a bid to hurry up a return to normalcy I got a deep tissue massage yesterday. The therapist was a birdlike wisp of a woman who nonetheless had the grip of a bench vise, I have no idea how one small human can wield that much power from her fingertips but I had to go to my happy place (the bottom of a bag of Sweet n’ Salty Boom Chicka Pop) and stay there for the entire hour. She zeroed in on every tender, resistant square inch of flesh and dug in like she was trying to find a buried piece of bubble wrap. I was too embarrassed to request that she lighten her touch from “the atmospheric pressure on the surface of Saturn” to “something that doesn’t actively clear out my sinuses,” but after enduring sixty minutes of her Gitmo tactics I had to admit I felt much more relaxed and loosened up, like a wrung-out dishrag. Or possibly I was just relieved to be done?

My favorite part about watching the world’s highest level of sports performances from my invalid-chair is how it seems like every other athlete is competing despite some god-awful injury they endured less than a year ago. NBC invariably trots out the photo of them lying in a hospital bed, recuperating from some accident where their actual spleen came out their eyesocket, and now here they are hurtling down an ice-covered hill at 85 MPH. It’s enough to make a person feel a tiny bit self-conscious about spending days parked unmoving in front of the TV because “Ermm, I stood up funny.”

Not too self-conscious to continually critique their techniques, though. Heck, this is even more fun than when I used to act like I knew what I was watching on So You Think You Can Dance. I mean did you SEE that guy bobble the rails? Amateur hour. *stuffs another pretzel in mouth, knowledgeably*


There are no cell phones allowed in rehab. If I want to make a phone call, I wait my turn at the bank of pay phones next to a stairway. I tuck myself inside, wrestle the folding door shut, and use an honest-to-god calling card. The receiver smells like an overflowing ashtray. Every conversation feels like a spotty satellite communication between far-flung planets.

There is no alcohol in the hand sanitizer, lest us addicts fasten our desperate mouths to the pump. We are required to squirt our palms as we enter the dining room, and the foamy substance just sort of smears around and around, it doesn’t evaporate. My hands feel dirty afterwards. It seems like some sort of ridiculous, industrial-cleanser-smelling metaphor.

By some stroke of luck I have a room to myself for the first two weeks, then a woman is moved in. She’s fresh out of detox, racked with withdrawals and a bevy of existing health issues. She is thin and bone-white and haggard and she has long dark hair that is perpetually wet-looking. She reminds me of an older version of the girl from The Ring, I am legitimately a little frightened of her. She’s a smoker, and there are no doors on the closet: her clothes smell so strongly of tobacco it makes my eyes water. She can barely walk or communicate. The first night, I wake to the stench of vomit. “I puked when I was asleep,” she says slowly. She forgets to flush the toilet, she leaves gobs of hair in the shower. I tell my group counselor about all of this and with a single phone call she has me moved to another room. I feel both ashamed and immensely relieved. Later, when I run into this woman at lunch, she has absolutely no idea who I am.

If we make our beds in the early morning like we are supposed to, an unseen cleaning person leaves a small foil-wrapped chocolate on our pillow. This is condescending as hell, I think, but also: ooh! Chocolate.

Once a week or so we are allowed to sign up for an outing to Rite-Aid. We are brought there in a van, we have twenty minutes to shop. I walk the brightly-lit aisles like it’s my first time in a developed nation, running my fingers over bottles and brushes. Some of the younger girls rush to the samplers, they paint their nails and spritz themselves with perfume. They buy boxes of forbidden candy and shove them down their pants. Back in rehab, we troop single-file to the counter where an employee sifts through all of our bags, confiscating the skin toners and mouthwashes.

Sometimes people just up and leave, and it’s weird. A guy gets kicked out for using Kratom. Another guy, his insurance runs out. A woman comes to one group session and never returns. One guy quits, then comes back a few weeks later: ashen, hollow-cheeked.

I become close with a woman named Sarah. We have giggling fits together, we talk about anything and everything, we actually spend an evening weaving friendship bracelets. When she graduates, I am bereft. In Augusten Burroughs’ addiction memoir Dry, he writes about meeting his friend Hayden in treatment: It’s the kind of friendship that’s easy to make in elementary school when you’re six or seven. (…) You will never make a friend as completely and easily as you did when you still wiped your nose on your sleeve. Unless, it seems, you are forced into rehab.

Every morning, a group of us walks to the YMCA. We file past the front counter accompanied by our handlers, like children being brought to daycare. Some people play basketball and some head to the pool. Some of us go to the workout room where we lift weights, exercise some small necessary measure of control over our treacherous bodies, our restricted lives. It feels weirdly hopeful: everything has fallen apart, yet here we are, picking things up. Investing in something. We stare unblinking in the mirrors, trying to make sense of it all.


← Previous PageNext Page →