A gift from David Foster Wallace via Infinite Jest.
If, by virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA’s state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts. You will find out that once MA’s Department of Social Services has taken a mother’s children away for any period of time, they can always take them away again, D.S.S., like at will, empowered by nothing more than a certain signature-stamped form. I.e. once deemed Unfit—no matter why or when, or what’s transpired in the meantime—there’s nothing a mother can do.
Or for instance that people addicted to a Substance who abruptly stop ingesting the Substance often suffer wicked papular acne, often for months afterward, as the accumulations of Substance slowly leave the body. The Staff will inform you that this is because the skin is actually the body’s excretory organ. Or that chronic alcoholics’ hearts are—for reasons no M.D. has been able to explain—swollen to nearly twice the size of civilians’ human hearts, and they never again return to normal size. That there’s a certain type of person who carries a picture of their therapist in their wallet. That (both a relief and kind of an odd let-down) black penises tend to be the same general size as white penises, on the whole. That not all U.S. males are circumcised.
That you can cop a sort of thin jittery amphetaminic buzz if you rapidly consume three Millienial Fizzies and a whole package of Oreo cookies on an empty stomach. (Keeping it down is required, however, for the buzz, which senior residents often neglect to tell newer residents.)
That the chilling Hispanic term for whatever interior disorder drives the addict back again and again to the enslaving Substance is tecato gusano, which apparently connotes some kind of interior psychic worm that cannot be sated or killed.
That black and Hispanic people can be as big or bigger racists than white people, and then can get even more hostile and unpleasant when this realization seems to surprise you.
That it is possible, in sleep, for some roommates to secure a cigarette from their bedside pack, light it, smoke it down to the quick, and then extinguish it from their bedside ashtray—without once waking up, and without setting anything on fire. You will be informed that this skill is usually acquired in penal institutions, which will lower your inclination to complain about the practice. Or that even Flents industrial-strength expandable-foam earplugs do not solve the problem of a snoring roommate if the roommate in question is so huge and so adenoidal that the snores in question also produce subsonic vibrations that arpeggio up and down your body and make your bunk jiggle like a motel bed you’ve put a quarter in.
That females are capable of being just as vulgar about sexual and eliminatory functions as males. That over 60% of all persons arrested for drug- and alcohol-related offenses report being sexually abused as children, with two-thirds of the remaining 40% reporting that they cannot remember their childhoods in sufficient detail to report one way or the other on abuse. That you can weave Madame Psychosis-like harmonies around the minor-D scream of a cheap vacuum cleaner, humming to yourself as you vacuum, if that’s your Chore. That some people really do look like rodents. That some drug-addicted prostitutes have a harder time giving up prostitution than they have giving up drugs, with their explanation involving the two habits’ very different directions of currency-flow. That there just as many idioms for the female sex-organ as there are for the male sex-organ.
That a little-mentioned paradox of Substance addiction is: that once you are sufficiently enslaved by the Substance to need to quit the Substance in order to save your life, the enslaving Substance has become so deeply important to you that you will all but lose your mind when it is taken away from you. Or that sometime after your Substance of choice has just been taken away from you in order to save your life, as you hunker down for required A.M. and P.M. prayers, you will find yourself beginning to pray to be allowed literally to lose your mind, to be able to wrap your mind in an old newspaper or something and leave it in an alley to shift for itself, without you.
That in metro Boston the idiom of choice for the male sex-organ is: Unit, which is why Ennet House residents are wryly amused by E.M.P.H. Hospital’s designations of its campus’s buildings.
That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Then that most nonaddicted adult civilians have already absorbed and accepted this fact, often rather early on.
That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that.
That AA and NA and CA’s ‘God’ does not apparently require that you believe in Him/Her/It before He/She/It will help you. That, pace macho bullshit, public male weeping is not only plenty masculine but can actually feel good (reportedly). That sharing means talking, and taking somebody’s inventory means criticizing that person, plus many additional pieces of Recoveryspeak. That an important part of halfway-house Human Immuno-Virus prevention is not leaving your razor or toothbrush in communal bathrooms. That a seasoned prostitute can (reportedly) apply a condom to a customer’s Unit so deftly that he doesn’t even know it’s on until he’s history, so to speak.
That a double-layered steel portable strongbox w/ tri-tumblered lock for your razor and toothbrush can be had for under $35.00 U.S./$38.50 O.N.A.N. via Home-Net Hardware, and that Pat M. or the House Manager will let you use the office’s TP to order one if you put up a sustained enough squawk.
That over 50% of persons with a Substance addiction suffer from some other recognized form of psychiatric disorder, too. That some male prostitutes become so accustomed to enemas that they cannot have valid bowel movements without them. That a majority of Ennet House residents have at least one tattoo. That the significance of this datum is unanalyzable. That the metro Boston street term for not having money is: sporting lint. That what elsewhere’s known as Informing or Squealing or Narcing or Ratting or Ratting Out is on the streets of metro Boston known as ‘Eating Cheese,’ presumably spun off from the associative nexus of rat.
That nose-, tongue-, lip-, and eyelid-rings rarely require actual penetrative piercing. This is because of the wide variety of clip-on rings available. That nipple-rings do require piercing, and that clitoris- and glans-rings are not things anyone thinks you really want to know the facts about. That sleeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused. That female chicanos are not called chicanas. That it costs $225 U.S. to get a MA driver’s license with your picture but not your name. That purposeful sleep-deprivation can also be an abusable escape. That gambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and abstention, and masturbation, and food, and exercise, and meditation/prayer, and sitting so close to Ennet House’s old D.E.C. TP cartridge-viewer that the screen fills your whole vision and the screen’s static charge tickles your nose like a linty mitten.
That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That loneliness is not a function of solitude. That it is possible to get so angry you really do see everything red. What a ‘Texas Catheter’ is. That some people really do steal—will steal things that are yours. That a lot of U.S. adults truly cannot read, not even a ROM hypertext phonics thing with HELP functions for every word. That cliquey alliance and exclusion and gossip can be forms of escape. That logical validity is not a guarantee of truth. That evil people never believe they are evil, but rather that everyone else is evil. That it is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid person. That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds. That you can all of a sudden out of nowhere want to get high with your Substance so bad that you think you will surely die if you don’t, and but can just sit there with your hands writhing in your lap and face wet with craving, can want to get high but instead just sit there, wanting to but not, if that makes sense, and if you can gut it out and not hit the Substance during the craving the craving will eventually pass, it will go away—at least for a while. That it is statistically easier for low-IQ people to kick an addiction than it is for high-IQ people. That the metro Boston street term for panhandling is: stemming, and that it is regarded by some as a craft or art; and that professional stem-artists actually have like little professional colloquia sometimes, little conventions, in parks or public-transport hubs, at night, where they get together and network and exchange feedback on trends and techniques and public relations, etc. That is possible to abuse OTC cold-and allergy remedies in an addictive manner. That Nyquil is over 50 proof. That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them. That if enough people in a silent room are drinking coffee it is possible to make out the sound of steam coming off the coffee. That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack.
That concentrating intently on anything is very hard work.
That addiction is either a disease or a mental illness or a spiritual condition (as in ‘poor in spirit’) or an O.C.D.-like disorder or an affective or character disorder, and that over 75% of the veteran Boston AAs who want to convince you that it is a disease will make you sit down and watch them write DISEASE on a piece of paper and then divide and hyphenate the word so that it becomes DIS-EASE, then will stare at you as if expecting you to undergo some kind of blinding ephiphanic realization, when really (as G. Day points tirelessly out to his counselors) changing DISEASE to DIS-EASE reduces a definition and explanation down to a simple description of a feeling, and rather a whiny insipid one at that.
That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking. That the cute Boston AA term for addictive-type thinking is: Analysis-Paralysis. That cats will in fact get violent diarrhea if you feed them milk, contrary to the popular image of cats and milk. That it is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off. That 99% of compulsive thinkers’ thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences of are never good. Then that this connects interestingly with the early-sobriety urge to pray for the literal loss of one’s mind. In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving shit out of itself. That it is possible to make rather tasty poached eggs in a microwave oven. That the metro-street term for really quite wonderful is: pisser. That everybody’s sneeze sounds different. That some people’s moms never taught them to cover up or turn away when they sneeze. That no one who has ever been to prison is ever the same again. That you do not have to have sex with a person to get crabs from them. That a clean room feels better to be in than a dirty room. That the people to be most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened. That it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak. That you don’t have to hit somebody even if you really really want to. That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.
That nobody who’s ever gotten sufficiently addictively enslaved by a Substance to need to quit the Substance and has successfully quit it for a while and been straight and but then has for whatever reason gone back and picked up the Substance has ever reported being glad that they did it, used the Substance again and gotten re-enslaved; not ever. That bit is a metro Boston street term for a jail sentence, as in ‘Don G. was up in Billerica on a six-month bit.’ That it’s impossible to kill fleas by hand. That it’s possible to smoke so many cigarettes that you get little white ulcerations on your tongue. That the effects of too many cups of coffee are in no way pleasant or intoxicating.
That pretty much everybody masturbates.
Rather a lot, it turns out.
That the cliché ‘I don’t know who I am’ unfortunately turns out to be more than a cliché. That it costs $330 U.S. to get a passport in a phony name. That other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid. That you can obtain a major credit card with a phony name for $1,500 U.S., but that no one will give you a straight answer about whether this price includes a verifiable credit history and line of credit for when the cashier slides the phony card through the register’s little verification-modem with all sorts of burly security guards standing around. That having a lot of money does not immunize people from suffering or fear. That trying to dance sober is a whole different kettle of fish. That the term vig is street argot for the bookmaker’s commission on an illegal bet, usually 10%, that’s either subtracted from your winnings or added to your debt. That certain sincerely devout and spiritually advanced people believe that the God of their understanding helps them find parking places and gives them advice on Mass. Lottery numbers.
That cockroaches can, up to a certain point, be lived with.
That ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.
That different people have radically different ideas of basic personal hygiene.
That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.
That if you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way or form trying to get credit for it, it’s almost its own form of intoxicating buzz.
That anonymous generosity, too, can be abused.
That having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place, afterward.
That it is permissible to want.
That everybody is identical in their unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That this isn’t necessarily perverse.
That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.
That God—unless you’re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both—speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God.
That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.
That the smell of Athlete’s Foot is sick-sweet v. the smell of podiatric Dry Rot is sick-sour.
That a person–one with the Disease/-Ease—will do things under the influence of Substances that he simply would not ever do sober, and that some consequences of these things cannot ever be erased or amended. Felonies are an example of this.