A Tic in Twelve Steps
Peter Stenson

1) My forehead twitches. It's an involuntary cure for a pressure in my sinuses. Nothing will ease this pressure. I blink and move my forehead and my ears join in and I do it all the time, more at night, more after caffeine. For the split second while twitching, this pressure is lifted.
2) I chew twelve dollars worth of Nicorette a day. I like cinnamon. I eat three pieces at a time. It makes my stomach hurt. I sleep with it pressed between my gums and molars. It gives me diarrhea.
3) In the last month, I've applied for twelve jobs. I've gotten reject minuses on the two that actually replied. The others, nothing. No call. No email. These aren't great jobs -- Subway, grocery stores, Starbucks.
4) My dog shits on the stairs. He's a Husky. He just turned six. This is new over the last month and I think about it being some not-so-subtle fuck you, some form of acting out, and maybe he's saying you don't give me enough exercise or maybe he's saying I don't like you and mommy fighting.
5) When I was young, probably eight or nine, my mom asked what was wrong with my face. I couldn't stop blinking, trying to ease the tension from my forehead. I told her I didn't know what she was talking about. She said that she was taking me to the doctor.
6) When I read or watch TV, I pluck my left eyebrow. My wife tells me to stop. I don't realize I'm doing it. It just feels like the hairs are so long and curly and are fucking hideous and I've gotten damn good at zeroing in on the worst offenders, securing them between two chewed nails, and giving a quick outward jerk. I love it when the end is white and thick. Makes me feel like I've really accomplished something.
7) The other day, I walked through campus and a group of a few hundred gathered in the courtyard. There was music. They were doing dance skits for some fraternity/sorority thing. I laughed because it was ridiculous. My laughing got loud and then I realized I wasn't laughing, but crying, bawling, and I covered my mouth and turned and walked away. They'd looked so young.
8) Last month, I started to go to meetings again. I said that after eight years of being sober, I was losing it. Not using or anything, just coming the fuck undone, everything seeming impossible, unmanageable. They talked about gratitude. They talked about getting back to the basics. They told me to let go and let god. I drank coffee and ate Nicorette. My forehead twitched. They told me that addiction's an insidious disease, always coming back, motherfucker's doing pushups and shit, just waiting for a chance to resurface.
9) My mom came to visit. This was the first time in two years. She slept in the study. She woke up and I could hear her disgusted, saying things like oh my. I got out of bed. My dog had covered the white steps with shit. My mom said what is going on in this house?
10) I met a guy at a coffee shop for an interview and told him I would be great at holding a sign on the side of the road. He looked me up and down. I felt violated. He told me he'd give a call if something came up.
11) The doctor spoke to me like I was retarded. I sat on the crinkling white paper. This was me as a kid. My mom was there too. He told me the tick with my forehead was psychological. He asked if something was bothering me. He asked if I felt stressed. He asked if I was experiencing a sense of losing control.
12) I've learned to shield my tic. I've learned to sneak one in when heads are turned. I've learned that it will never go away -- the pressure in the very center of my forehead -- that it's not physical, that it's not even there, that it's fears and the future and marital strife and shitting dogs and it's not doing what is needed to be a better person, healthier, more sober, holding addiction and defects at bay, and knowing this, self-pity more comfortable than change, and it's pretending that life is fifty-yard-field goals and my relationships are I-beam sturdy, and it's the feeling of being buried underneath thin hairs growing from my left eyebrow and they're strong and thin and they cover my body and crawl down my throat and it's gagging on their coarse pubic texture and being bound by each and every hair -- each one disgusting, each one unrelenting -- and I've learned to shield their ripping out too, as well as not to feel like I've accomplished anything when I see their white root of flesh because another one is already filling its place.