Slipper-like supermarket sneakers are popular here. Thick socks; overlarge hoodies and sweatshirts. On the whole, the Relapse Prevention Group on a Tuesday afternoon is not the place for couture. Comfort is in fashion on this catwalk. I’m sure if Primark sported a full-body cotton-wool onesie, recovering addicts would queue round the corner.
Everyone takes their seat, and sort of hugs themselves up. For the boys, hands disappear into overlong sleeves. For the girls, knees disappear up the front of big baggy jumpers. Lips are chewed. Fringes are deployed.
You could probably measure recovery here by number of layers. Two duvets down to one. Giant cardigan, to large cardigan; and eventually to one that fits.
An addict develops an armour-like coating. He lies to the people he loves. He lies to himself. He does it consistently, and professionally. A full-blown functioning addict could become guest lecturer at the Mossad school of deception. He could walk George Smiley up and down the garden path until he needed a sit-down.
He needs plate mail to survive this. Enough to let him think he can sort it out tomorrow, or next week. To take control. I mean it’s not really a crisis yet, is it? Enough to let him avoid the self-loathing for long enough to get to the end of the day. Just today. He’ll feel strong tomorrow. Tomorrow everything happens.
In the Relapse Prevention Group, Jane is anxious. She’s a former events organiser for the music industry. She started independently, organising her own events. Negotiating her way onto the scene with the balls of a seven-foot Viking.
Now living at home, her parents have trusted her with fifty quid. She’s 39. She quakes.
Jon is from the City. An ex-hedge fund manager. He is literally shaking at the idea he may have gotten angry with his new girlfriend. No, he didn’t shout at her. Just got terse; but he’s convinced he upset her, and it’s burning him up.
David is a classical musician. He once self-medicated to deal with his anxiety prior to performance. Now his problem comes after the concert. How it makes him FEEL.
Once that armour comes off, it leaves a bare and untouched surface. Everything is so HOT or so COLD. Every touch from somebody else is either velvet, or sandpaper. Every emotion shunts back online like a Japanese maglev train.
And love is like the bolt of lightning that rockets through the Frankenstein set at RKO. The monster heaves, and opens his eyes. He’s come from a very, very cold place. Touch is transcendent. Holding hands is the graze of God. There is infinity in a kiss.
The battle these people have fought has been epic. In the true literary sense of the word. They are a hard and resourceful group. They are good in a tight spot. They will attach themselves to you and stand at your side for the merest of affirmation. They will love you, and always remind you of what is most important. They will see your flaws and find you beautiful. And they are wise. You just need to give them the chance. They need you to think about what ‘virtue’ is, in a compromised world.
They have been addicts. Then they were recovering addicts. Now they’ve been recovered addicts for a while, and are tired of telling their story.
They are now potential. Glorious, glorious potential. Bless them all.
You’ll find one, if you’re lucky.