Polystyrene People

Original Fiction from Headstuff | Polystyrene people

It is not possible for anything good to come from polystyrene cups.  It is also not possible for anything good to come from the people holding the polystyrene cups. They feel unnatural, cheap, fake and flimsy. Cups and people can be discarded after they have been used, there is a never-ending supply, they are bad for the environment and can be found littering the streets, both cups and people can be described in this way.

“Will you share something with us today? Is there anything that has been bothering you that could be helped by talking?”

This train of thought is interrupted by the nurse’s questions. For the past three weeks I have been attending group therapy. It’s similar to Alcoholics Anonymous groups but we live in a centre that provides the therapy, doctors, medication, meals and recreational activities. Some days are fun, we sit around and swap war stories. Everyone racks their brain for the worst thing that they have done. Drunk driving incidents, robbing, fights with loved ones: these stories have been repeated so many times to therapists that they have been perfected. You know when to pause, when to trail off and at what point you can allow your voice, to falter, slightly. It’s a performance piece that can only come from years of therapy. It is a delicate balancing act, too much emotion and the nurse will see it as an opportunity for you to accept a higher power, they’re not allowed to say Jesus anymore. This higher power will help guide you towards sobriety. Too little emotion and the nurse will prod and poke you with questions, interrupting your flow and ruin the performance.

Today, I share something that I realised at breakfast.


I have a theory that the coffee they give us is decaffeinated. The nurses say that it’s not, but some of my fellow patients that have been here longer than I, are convinced that it is. The issue with serving decaffeinated coffee as caffeinated coffee, is that the patients who have been drinking coffee on the outside will have withdrawals. Caffeine withdrawals may not be the most serious of withdrawals but if you are already coming off alcohol or drugs, you don’t want to worry about the caffeine content of your cup.

The nurse is not amused with my theory. I can’t blame her: not because my theory is not well thought out, but because I’m making a joke of what is supposed to be a serious situation. Sobriety is serious business. But let us not forget that it is a business. They may appear like they want you to recover but do they really? If I don’t take this serious and relapse, this lovely clinic will get more business which can only be good for the staff.

My alcoholism, like my receding hairline, blue eyes and my car are all a form of paternal inheritance which keep my doctors, nurses, therapists and publicans in work. If the twelve of us sitting in this circle managed to get our lives together, she and her nurse friends would be out of a job. They need me.

Twelve of us make up this circle. The housewives, who split their time between wine and their children, sent here by their husbands. The OAPs, this group can be subdivided into alcoholics or benzo dependants, either a life of hard drinking or an addiction to the meds freely prescribed by their doctor. The young ones, this is my group. I’m the youngest of the twelve, a fact in which I take a sense of perverted pride. The young ones also contain the biggest cocktail of substances being abused, alcohol, cocaine, ketamine, benzos and weed. Finally, there are the outliers. These men seem to have come here of their own volition or if someone sent them, they do not visit. They have no visitors, no girlfriends or wives, mothers or fathers, seemingly they have no one. They socialise with us, always quick with a witty comment or a lighter, but I don’t know anything about them. 

This is our circle.

I swallow the last of my secretly decaffeinated coffee and place the empty cup between my feet. Standing up slowly, pushing my hands against my thighs as I rise. My body is stiff from sleeping on the wafer-thin mattress. Finally, I’m ready to give the nurse what she wants, it has been building. I have an audience who must listen to me, judgement and criticism are not allowed in our circle. Whatever I say they must accept without question, right now I am the ultimate truth. 

Whatever I say they must accept without question, right now I am the ultimate truth.

It started when I became disillusioned with college. For hours I would sit in the lecture hall, staring blankly ahead. The lecturer would talk continuously at the same volume and pace, his voice fading in and out. I would pick up on certain words but for the most part he had lost me, and I was happy not to be found. I would never hand in assignments, not because I couldn’t do them but because it all had begun to mean nothing to me. So, I would sit there, staring at nothing, looking like a person who had been put on pause. 

At home I locked myself away in my room under the guise of doing my assignments. In reality, I would sit there with my paper and pens untouched, staring into nothing. Thinking all the time that this was pointless, that everything I did was pointless. Soon I would be sprawled across my bed like a carcass, waiting for the vultures to come and pick me clean. As my eyelids began to feel heavy, my bed became softer, the room warmer. Until finally sleep rescued me, carrying me into the realm of the unconscious and escaping the banality of my own existence. 

This would continue until Thursday. Thursday night is when I would come alive. Thursday night was my birthday, Christmas and summer holidays rolled into one. On Thursday, pause mode was suspended for a few hours and I lived. 

I had read about people searching for the meaning of life, searching for inner happiness, philosophers questioning why are we here? Monks starving themselves for enlightenment, pouring over books and living in solitude. By two o’clock on a Thursday night/Friday morning, I had the answers to these questions and the answers to questions you and I have not thought of yet. I found the answers not in dogmatic texts, Platonic verses or Socratic dialogues, not even in Nietzsche’s nihilistic crisis, but at the bottom of pints and the end of a bag of coke. The bathrooms and back seats of taxis were my lecture halls, the drunks of Dublin my unwilling students. Most of the time they never wanted to listen to me, but I had their best interests at heart. 

I would spend the following day under the blankets. Safe in my pillow fortress, with the lights dimmed and my posters standing sentry. A trail of loose change and cigarettes led to the bed as if a corrupted Hansel and Gretel had come home with me. If I still had my phone, I would refuse to look at it. Every time it vibrated or lit up a wave of anxiety would engulf me, soaking me in sweat, mixing with the gin and beer which seeped from my pores, creating one last cocktail. I did not want to be reminded of anything I could not remember of my own accord. I may not be an expert in biology or chemistry, but I believed that if I did not remember something from the previous night, my body had chosen to forget, and it would do me no good to force it to remember. With this belief in mind I would cut conversations with friends short in solidarity with my body.

Soon my Thursday night turned into Thursday and Monday nights. After my twentieth birthday I would go on to add Saturday to my weekly routine. After my twenty first birthday drinks on a Sunday became the norm. I called it brunch, but I was not there for the smashed avocado on gluten free toast, or any of the new millennial crazes. I wanted the bottomless mimosas, preferably with no orange juice.

Eventually I was only calling my friends so that I had someone to drink with. Eventually, I didn’t care if I had nobody to drink with. My bathroom lectures about life had less and less listeners until it was just me talking to the bathroom attendant. Deserted by my students. Slurring my words as I miss the urinal and piss on my shoes. The following morning, I would need a can to stop the shakes and set my stomach for the day. Much like how the Thursday nights turned into Monday, Saturday, Sunday and a Wednesday, my can in the morning multiplied exponentially.

 To tell you the truth, I resent each and every one of you. It is because of you that I am being forced to live in this rehab centre and “get better”. I would happily continue my life the way it was going. I’m only here because you and millions like you who chose to get better. If you all accepted your alcoholism as part of you and not something that must be changed then I would not have to be here. You all folded, folded like these cheap cups, you gave in. You conformed to society and now I am being forced to too.

I sit down. The nurse and the other patients thank me for sharing. 

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