When I Got Clean, My Apartment Did Too

“Messy Bed, Messy Head”

I’ve heard this saying forever. And I get it — if your bed’s not made or your home is untidy (and you keep putting off cleaning), there’s a chance your clutter may be a reflection of something troubling going on inside of you.

I never gave this slogan much credence. Because while I’m no neat-freak, I’m also not a messy person. I like things to be organized and presentable, however if a pile of clothes are left on my bed after a rushed morning, or our living room is littered with glasses and plates because of a successful dinner party, I can wait until the next morning to clean it all up. And none of that, I thought, meant I was “troubled.” I still don’t think it does.

However, since getting sober, this little phrase has taken on a whole new meaning. When I was active in my alcoholism, especially during that last year when I was more or less staying in my apartment and drinking all day, messy wasn’t even the word to describe my surroundings.

I never did the dishes, my clothes were piled up everywhere, empties (before I started hiding them) were never recycled (and if they actually made it into the recycling bin, that was like a major win for me).

Really, that’s what it all came down to — respect. As a self-loathing, active alcoholic, I had zero respect for myself, so how on earth could I have respect for anyone or anything else?

The only thing I kept semi-organized were my beauty products, which, let’s face it friends, is not too hard to do. I’m sure hard-core meth addicts could keep a pretty collection of vintage perfumes together if they really wanted to. (Though, thinking back to the little I learned from Breaking Badmost notably “Spooge” and his lovely wife — perhaps not).

But here’s the really crazy part (because remember, this disease can MAKE YOU CRAZY): I didn’t see any of it. Of course cerebrally I knew that I had clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink (which were left for my poor husband to do) and a desk piled with items arranged in a Jenga-like fashion that risked collapse at any moment. But, contrary to how I used to be, none of that mattered.

I didn’t “see” any of this mess that to most everyone else (especially my spouse) was a sign that something was seriously wrong.

I recently watched an episode of Hoarders and was TRULY freaked out when I found myself identifying with one of the subjects. This poor woman’s house was insane — so much stuff everywhere, to the point that she had to create special tunnels to get around and use a ladder to reach her bed (which was now near the ceiling). When her shocked family saw this for the first time, and asked her how she could live like this, she replied: “Like what? I figure I’m doing just fine.”

At that point they cut to the counselor, who went on to explain that this woman had been living for so long in her jungle gym of years-old trinkets and filth, that she had stopped seeing the mess herself. Not to say that her eyes stopped working, but rather, that her brain was minimizing the reality of what was all around her, probably because it was too painful to truly face and deal with.

Thankfully, I’m not a hoarder (I’ll take alcoholic over hoarder any day), but I was really weirded out when I identified with what the Hoarders counselor was saying. As my drinking got worse and my world got smaller, other parts of my life withered away. The thing that mattered most to me was that all-important, totally curative bottle of booze, and as long as I had that, those huge pile of dishes, that rank smell in the fridge, those clothes that had been sitting on my dresser for over a season, just didn’t matter. I didn’t “see” them, just like that hoarder didn’t “see” the tragic mess that permeated her entire home.

Plus, I could still live, get dressed, work and put on a “normal front” for the outside world, so what was the problem?

Amazingly, this is something I’ve only started to really recognize, after two-plus years of sobriety. I shudder when I think of how I behaved — assuming my husband (or some magic fairy, I didn’t really think about it) would do all the chores, take out the recycling and the trash. How incredibly disrespectful I was, not just to my partner, but to my home.

Really, that’s what it all came down to — respect. As a self-loathing, active alcoholic, I had zero respect for myself, so how on earth could I have respect for anyone or anything else?

Now, I respect every inch of my home. I put my clothes away promptly. I do the dishes when it’s my turn to do them. I’ve cleaned out the hoarder-esque area beside my bed and have now made it my meditation station. Once a sign of my sickness, it’s now a soothing sanctuary for my health and well-being.

Before and After
(Plus, we really need a new duvet cover)

I respect all of these amazing things that I have in my life, and I realize that I have to continue to care for them on a regular basis, whether they be relationships, health or “tidiness.” Now, when I see I have messes to clean up (both physically and emotionally), I know that I have to deal with them — rather than run away into a vodka bottle. Otherwise, I’ll lose all of the wonderfully fulfilling things that being sober has brought me.

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3 Responses

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  3. Adrian

    I found that during the first days of refusing to drink, when I was forced to do SOMETHING at home, the first thing I had to do was clean. Mainly the floor. I discovered this need in me for clear surroundings, and realized that one of the irritations that I was medicating with alcohol was the disorder in my home. It’s still not yet where I’d love it to be (need to install the new kitchen sink, for example, which will remove it from my office), but I am often thankful for the powerful feeling of peace I get from walking into a fairly clean, neat space. It’s a precursor for creativity for me. I think there’s so much… oh, chaos, or energy, in my own head that I really need the space outside my head to be clear.


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