Ch. 7: Paper clips and Fiona Apple

August 2006

The red house consisted of five single beds and a master bedroom. It was significantly bigger on the inside than what one would view from the front. There were only five of us living there so rent and utilities were cheap. Only $400 a month, unless you lived in the master bedroom, where you would have to pay an extra hundred or so.

It would’ve been well worth it too, considering it was a larger room with a queen-sized bed and its own bathroom. You would have it all to yourself. But the house rules stated: beds and rooms go by seniority and since. I had to share a dinky room with two other guys, since I was the new kid in the crib.

It wasn’t all that bad, though. All of them were cool and really stoked that I brought a guitar. And could actually play it well, too; however, not as well as “country-singing prodigy,” Jim.

Jim was a highly regarded housemate, whom shared the room with me. He had been the lead role in a Larry Clark film when he was younger. Not to mention, he was a bad dude on the guitar and always played an open mic night at this rustic, country music venue. I spent most of my time, in the beginning, with him. Playing guitar, talking about artists, and going to AA meetings. He was really into singer/songwriter music and had got me into artists like Fiona Apple and Regina Spector.

We were buddies until he moved out, into his own place in town. James had come from the same rehab I was at, but wasn’t convinced he was a drug addict or an alcoholic. So, he went to a bar for a beer and found out that he wasn’t an alcoholic, at all. He could drink like a gentleman, without drooling or begging for another Jameson on the rocks, which happened to be my favorite.

His parents had brought him to Arcadia Recovery because his older brother had some issues. So, they sent him there just in-case he did, too. But it turned out he didn’t do he started to look at getting his own place.

He couldn’t have picked a better time to move out, because a really good buddy from rehab was getting out and joining our fun, sober community. Though, not soon enough to grab a spot in my house. Jim’s bed was reserved for another addict, the owner’s son, who was old and crazy. He was a dirty, forty-year old man named Tom who would eventually get caught peering into the woman’s sober house at night. With that crap, Randy had to stay in another halfway house.

Randall, a.k.a. Randy, a.k.a. Shit Kicker, was a few years older than me. He was tall, with really short blonde hair and blue eyes—the exact opposite of me—who always wore a country-western, button-up shirt and cowboy boots. His style was just a tad-bit different from my ripped jeans, black, band T, and black, faded Chuck’s.

What was I doing hanging out with a redneck like him?

Good question.

Well, when I first arrived at rehab, I met pretty much everybody: from the tweakers to the junkies and the crazies to the old-fart alcoholics. I became friends with them all. It wasn’t until later when I met Randy, whom, I hated at first.

Walking in, with his dirty boots, as if he owned the damn place. He started hanging out in the back row of class with the younger, more kick-ass addicts—such as myself—being a smart-asses to the counselors and tech people.

Wait! Let’s back up here. You need to know what happened before the Shit Kicker came ‘round these parts.

When I arrived, after I was welcomed by the “welcome to high school” guy, there was a group that was considered “the popular group,” of rehab.

Real cool, I know, to be the most popular in rehab. 

They had taken me in, I have no idea why. They just told me to sit with them at lunch one day. I felt flattered so I joined. But after the first day, I had found out the real deal: it wasn’t that they didn’t want to be with other people; other people didn’t want to be with them. Which is the deal with most ‘popular’ groups, if you think about it.

The “popular” clique, they were. They were the typical “Mean Girls” and guys who would sit at lunch, by themselves, making fun and creating ugly nicknames for people. I had hung out with them for the first few days until, I flew away as fast as I could. Still keeping everything cool with them.

I found out I had more in common with the junkie kids, even though I was there primarily, for alcohol. There were two of them, Eric and Mickey, who were straight-heroin shooters. They were a lot more intelligent than everybody else. And they didn’t belittle anyone, like the popular kids did. So I sided with them.

We were quiet, for the most part, and kept to ourselves. Although, we did have fun laughing at the tweakers playing volleyball. I still don’t know how someone could become so enthusiastic about playing volleyball.The tweakers would get so into it, acting crazy and ripping off their shirts like they were imitating a homoerotic scene in Top Gun. Only tweakers have that kind of energy in rehab.

Eric, Mickey, and I were hard to separate. We’d spend some of the day in class or meetings, where we’d play hangman and other games via passing notes. However, most of the day was spent in the courtyard smoking cigarettes and talking.

That’s literally, all there is to do. I went up to two packs aday.

This is where most of the recovery happens. Just us addicts, talking and spending time together, realizing that we are not in this alone. Initially, that is how Alcoholics Anonymous was started. Two drunks getting together forming a community of guys with alcohol problems that can meet up and not feel alone. However, it was in this courtyard where I found out things I didn’t need to know. Like how to cook and shoot heroin. You know, just in case I ever tried it. I’d never even seen it before so I thought it was okay because I figured I would never try it.


That’s the thing with rehab, you come in one thing and leave another. Like in the movie Blow, with Johnny Depp: He explains how he went into jail “with a Bachelor of marijuana, and came out with a Doctorate of cocaine.”

    In the meantime, this had been Eric’s fourth stay in rehab. He was a chronic relapser, meaning he went back to shooting dope very often after getting clean. I didn’t quite understand this at the time, so I thought after this stint, he could stay clean. 

I remember two days before he left, he told me in group that I didn’t even know him and I should forget about him staying clean. I had felt insulted and offended because, by this time, I considered him a best friend. I was convinced that he had had the strength and courage to stay clean. In hindsight, I didn’t even know what addiction was, much less, how powerful it can be. I thought you came into rehab to detox, get all the drugs and shit out of your system, hang out for a little while, then leave and stay clean with ease.

I was so naive.

The day had come and a friend of Eric’s was coming to pick him up: Some chick whom he claimed was his sister. I saw nothing wrong with it, until she pulled up to the side, instead of the main entrance. He had told me to tell our counselor that his dad had picked him up.

      Red flag! But still, I had given him the benefit of the doubt.


      We said our goodbyes and then he was off.

That’s how rehab is, you’ll meet some of the most interesting people in your life, become pretty much family. Going through very difficult situations together sober, then your heart is crushed when they leave. Not to mention, how much it hurts when you find out they relapsed immediately after they left. As if everything they did in rehab, including your friendship, was complete and utter bullshit.

Such was the case with Eric. Apparently, his “sister,” Dylan, wasn’t his sister after all, but his girlfriend and ‘using’ partner. She picked him up and drove straight to Dallas to get dope. He relapsed three hours after leaving.

     Now, it was just Mickey and I, plus a few other younger addict kids that made up the back rows of the classroom. Until, a new chick, whom Mick had the hots for, came in. He then, spent most his time with her. I was pissed off. Not at Mick, but at Eric for lying to me. He was a junkie though, but I didn’t understand what that really meant. Yet…


More younger addicts and alcoholics were checking-in. We outnumbered the older adults 2:1. Then, in-walks this cowboy-shirt-wearing, shit-kicking, redneck fella’ named Randall—though I wasn’t going to call him that. He was a crack addict, though.

      Yes, a cowboy crack addict. I loved it. 

      We, instantly, became friends. After a while, we owned rehab. New patients started to flock to us now, for guidance.

Foolish people. But…

      Did I just become popular without alcohol or drugs? I believe I did. Suck-it liquid confidence!

     Hanging out with kids who thought the same as I did, helped me gain the confidence to talk to others, the newer kids, especially. If I acted as if I owned the place, which I did—based on seniority—I had no problem talking to anyone. We all had something in common. We were all addicts and alcoholics with the same thinking process. It was great; however, there was one thing, my counselor said there was a problem with my treatment plan: I didn’t have one. She said I “had to participate in the program.”

I considered myself an agnostic person. I was raised Catholic, but stopped attending church when I turned thirteen. According to my parents, I was old enough to make my own decisions. Then, I believe it was around the time I started smoking weed and reading Nietzsche that I started to question everything.

You know, having epiphanies and conversations that sound so astounding when you’re stoned, but sound absurd when you’re sober?

      So, when I walked into the main classroom, in treatment, I saw the infamous twelve steps:

Step one: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.


      Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.


      Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

Oh, shit.

      I had a minor freak out considering I wasn’t sure if I believed in a God, and it looked like belief was mandatory in staying sober. And being sober was what I wanted.Not just for me, but for my parents and anyone who truly cared about me.

My counselor told me to open up the “Big Book”—the book of A.A. we were given during the check-in process—and read the chapter, “We Agnostics.”

      I waited awhile before I did this, though. Randy was right there with me, helping. So I told them both I would read that chapter. And that’s what I did one night.

It made little sense to me, but I believe I got the gist of the message it was trying to portray. So after reading it, and after a few humiliating attempts, I started to pray. Well, that’s what I’m calling it. Really, I asked for the universe—or whatever is out there—to please, help me. Help me stay sober. Help me get through the steps. Help me find the path I was meant to be on.

The next day, on the way to my first class, I found a paperclip in the hallway. It was entwined with the dirty fibers meshed together forming the cruddy carpet. I picked it up and took it to class with me.

      Over the years, playing drums had made me ADHD (among the alphabet soup of problems I was diagnosed later). I’m constantly tapping pencils or my feet, so having the paperclip was a fun surprise. It gave me something to play with during some of the boring classes, like Relapse Prevention (the one class I should’ve been paying the most attention to) and the “Studs”class (STDs).

      Over several days, I had found many paperclips in some of the most random places. Places you’d think would be the last place to find a paperclip. Of course, I’d find them in classrooms and offices, but then I’d find some in the hallways, in my laundry, out on the gravel outside, and two on the mini putt-putt course we had, located in the center of the giant loop driveway out front. I even found one in the bottom of the pool.

      I started to ponder on why I kept finding these things all over the place. Sure, the buildings were considered a hospital or treatment center so you’re probably thinking… “of course, you’d find things like a paperclip.”

Since, I had a lot of down time, smoking cigarettes, I’d think for a long time about it and tried to figure out the reason why theselittle clips kept popping up randomly. I figured there had to be something controlling this weird pattern or coincidence. Another patient—sort of a Jesus-freak woman—told me that “there are no coincidences and everything happens for a reason.” Now, when you’re around people like this for a considerable amount of time, their ideas and reasoning start to rub off on you, so I took her advice.

      What if I was meant to find these clips? What if something had answered me when I laid in bed that night mumbling things out into the air?

      I took all the information I had gathered and brought it to my counselor.

“That’s very interesting J. Now what do these paperclips mean to you? Why are you holding on to them?” Jackie asked because I was collecting all of them. I was up to over 20.

Jackie was the counselor of our group of six patients. There were five groups total. She was a short rotund woman on account of being pregnant. She was sweet and was always there when I had a problem; though, she was not an addict or alcoholic, a problem I would have with, later on.

“I don’t know, I like to play around saying my higher power gave them to me so i wouldn’t be so bored in class.. But in all honesty, I guess because they keep some kind of faith alive that there may be somethingout there controlling this pattern or coincidence, as well as, every other coincidence in my life.”

She then asked, “well what is significant about the paperclip?”

“I don’t understand.”

      “What does a paperclip do?” She reiterated.

“Well, it holds things together, I guess.”

      I stared at her for a few seconds until, the lightbulb in my head lit up. That was it… the paperclips were holding my life together. My gentle heart gradually started thumping harder. The revelation was so astounding to me, I was gleaming with joy. Maybe I could do this program after all. Maybe I can stay clean and sober.

It was then, after the talk I had with my counselor, I started to read the rest of the Big Book starting with the first chapter. A lot of things I read, sent off bells and whistles, really hitting the nail on the head. I was really getting it.

I had found my higher power. It wasn’t the Judaeo-Christian God that you’d find in the Bible or any Supreme Being found in any other religion. It was as plain and simple as the universe and nature. Those were the only two things I felt were higher than myself.

  A lot better than a damn doorknob, that I heard was someone else’s higher power. 

So, a few days later, I was ready for the third step prayer, in which I would say this prayer, giving myself over to my higher power. In my head, the whole thing sounded kind of culty, but I figured, “Why not give it a shot?” Just don’t drink any punch they give you.

After I said this prayer, I was floating in the air. Staying away from alcohol and drugs didn’t seem like a big problem at all. I was floating on the “pink cloud” everyone talked about, when you feel this way and are excited about the program and being apart of something much bigger than yourself.

I went back to my room and opened up my drawer where I kept my collection of paperclips. I wanted to hold them and be grateful that this beautiful epiphany had happened to me. I opened up my top drawer and saw that they were gone.

“What the hell….?” I said out loud to myself.

I opened the next drawer and then the bottom.


I went through all my folders, cabinets, and clothes, only to find my journal entries, books, and a few pieces of lint.

      Someone must’ve stolen them as a joke. The whole paperclip thing wasn’t kept a secret between my counselor and I. I think everybody in rehab knew about it while it was happening because I had made such a big deal about it.

I was devastated at first, but only for a short while. I didn’t need them anymore and maybe someone else did, so I let it go. I also stopped finding them everywhere like before. Not in classrooms or hallways. But that was okay, I didn’t need them anymore. I had found my higher power now.


2 thoughts on “Ch. 7: Paper clips and Fiona Apple

  1. Cameron J

    Dude that’s awesome that you write these and post them to read. I can relate to so much of this…I try to read these, but can’t seem to read them in order. PM me if you can. I’d like to talk more about sobriety.

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