Monk hands

The Illusion of a Clean House


I’m absolutely terrible at relaxing, I realise that now. I was up at 5 am today (a Saturday in the middle of a long-weekend) because I get grumpy when I sleep in. I don’t know why; I love sleeping in. But when I do I inevitably end up spending most of the day crotchety and ill tempered, as though allowing my body to rest is wasting time that could be spent on more useful endeavours like laundry, yard work, or doing the dishes.

Once upon a time I would stay up until dawn playing Baldur’s Gate, Morrowind, Icewind Dale, and other fantasy RPGs. I played guitar, wrote songs and poetry and would while away the hours day-dreaming about ideas for novellas and short stories. But somewhere along the line I went from easygoing and fun to dull and dreary, forever putting responsibility and commitment ahead of spaciousness and joviality.

Every spare second became an opportunity to be productive and useful – picking something up, putting something else away, planning for what needed to be done next, worrying about what I was omitting, forgetting, or ignoring. Lists, tasks, obligations – always living in the future rather than the present. It’s positively exhausting sometimes, but I can’t seem to stop the habit.

My son has been begging me to start playing World of Warcraft and telling horrible dad jokes again, because apparently I’ve become too boring, bossy, and judgemental – and I believe him. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – and so it does with me.

In re-reading these words I realise what an obsession it’s all become. There is a line where being proactive and productive becomes something else – something less helpful and all together more restrictive; where the emphasis shifts from cleanliness to control. When I feel helpless, I clean. When I feel worried, I clean. When I feel inadequate or self-conscious, I clean.

It’s as if having a pristine house will let me live in the illusion of control for just a little while, until something is out of place and needs to be resolved. Then the whole cycle starts again.

In early sobriety I was taught about how lack of power was my dilemma; that alcoholics like me try in vain to control the world around them and when we can’t, we get upset and either lash out at others, drink to deal with the anxiety of life, or both. I seem to look at a messy house as symbolic, as if it’s an indicator of the quality of my life or how well I’m performing and providing.

I don’t drink anymore, but I still have to contend with the anxieties of life as much as anyone else. I do sometimes worry that I’m less capable of dealing with the stress than normal people, but that’s neither here nor there. I must deal with what is, not with how I wish things were.

A clean house will not help me deal with life any more effectively than a messy house, but seeing the world through a place of serenity, acceptance and gratitude certainly will. So today, when I “clean house,” I plan on doing it internally – beginning with my frame of mind.