Holly Furey

Doctrine of Signatures

Holly Furey

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‘So, you're basically already living as an in-patient...’

Unsure as to whether this was a question or an observation, I just responded with a nod of agreement.

It was 11am but the depth of the darkness in the room could have convinced me it was the hour’s nocturnal twin. The place was so shaded that upon entering I momentarily thought it was filled with smoke.  I wondered if these overcast conditions were part of an intentional ambiance, one that was supposed to encourage a sense of anonymity, which would in turn allow for more honest discussions.  There were a few fake plants present which made perfect sense; anything organic or designed to bloom wouldn’t survive in this climate.

I sat across from my new therapist at quite a distance as the feng shui she had chosen to adopt appeared to prioritize wide angles and enough leg room to make a giant feel at ease. I found myself leaning forward in the armchair for most of the fifty minute session so that she could hear me better but also so that I could see her more clearly, having forgotten my glasses.  There was a couch in the room too.  I estimated it was big enough to comfortably facilitate three people which meant only one thing: group therapy took place here. An image of my family sitting in this room with me entered my mind and made me reach for my bottle of water; its fizz filled my stomach and helped clear my throat.

As of that Monday mid-morning, I had been living at home and was 3.83 days sober according to an app on my phone. The same one that sent me inspirational notifications like, ‘stay strong’ or ‘what you plant now, you will harvest later,’ at 6am daily - just how early did they think recovering addicts greeted their days? It also had a habit of congratulating me each time I made it to a week of sobriety, or indeed, the first hour. I have had plenty of false starts and am therefore, very familiar with its reset option which, when summoned, poses the question, ‘are you sure you want to reset?’ Initially, this reply both confused and humoured me, as I was all too sure that the timer required a reboot. You can adjust it right down to the minute of your last offence and I find a strange sense of solace in the specificity. Old habits die hard and mine were proving to be both immortal and fatal.

In-patient life at home remains as monotonous as one might expect. My room was declared a ‘safe zone’ a few days ago, that is, it was stripped of its bottles, both empty and full – the plump ones were exsanguinated right in front of me as I tried my best to casually suggest that they not go to waste; surely someone could drink what I couldn’t? But this interjection only served to irrigate more tears from eyes that already found it difficult to look at me. In the period since that brutal day, I had covered all of the walls, a couple of chairs and some ornaments in layers of thick white emulsion paint – sloppy work, I’ll admit; drips galore and my arms ached for days, but everything looked clean and glacial and that made me less fidgety.

I could of course leave the house but at a cost of one too many questions. There was some relief in that any excursions made and completed before 2pm were looked on with admiration rather than suspicion; therapy sessions, doctor’s appointments and exercise came under the same commendable category. But jogging through parks with bags of dog shit hanging from skeletal trees wasn’t doing much for me and I began to regard endorphins as a sort of urban myth. So, appointments with professionals and the occasional coffee date made up the blood and bones of my days. The truth was that my family could not fully relax when they knew that I had crossed over to the other world; the one beyond the stretch of green under my window; the one in which I resembled an adult who could make healthy choices when in fact, I was more of an anxiety ridden seven-year-old who had a difficulty denying herself the harmful things she wanted.

So for this reason, I spent most of my time at home, wandering around in a paint splattered night coat.  The kitchen had become my main street, paved with linoleum instead of stone. There, I could browse the newspapers and amble along until I inevitably bumped into someone I knew. During my most recent visit, I met my mother who had come home from the real main street. I liked that she brought in the smell of the outside air; the fresh chill clung to her scarf and skin. I stood there gulping it in and she handed me a bag containing lumps of cold, gleaming beetroot.

‘They're great for the liver,’ she said.

They’re great for your liver, she meant.

I was not inclined to believe this statement because the morsels looked like sickly shrunken livers themselves; hard and the colour of pomegranate gems. These beets were the meatiest vegetable I had ever seen; the prospect of eating one as a vegetarian and a now bored recluse was, embarrassingly, rather exciting. This incident was similar to one that occurred a few days earlier, when she gave me a bouquet of broccoli following my mutterings about quitting smoking.

‘These are great for the lungs.’

Your lungs.

Again, I wasn’t sure if I could believe her then either because the raw tufts resembled ailing, algal bronchioles. But digesting these claims as truth rather than snake oil, I began to see these organic-somatic resemblances as a kind of scientific discovery or, at the very least, a veggie philosophy all of my own – either that or I was in the grips of a psychic breakdown brought on by a lack of alcohol. Is this a normal part of withdrawal? Or is this what clarity feels like?  I truly have no idea.

The principles of this theory revisit me occasionally; for instance, while washing white grapes and examining the bunch of glossy corneas staring up at me, it occurs to me that, minus the iris and taking the pip as the pupil, you have yourself an ocular parallel; and scientifically, grapes are indeed good for the eyes.  

It seems that similar things harbour the ability to heal one another; that remedies lie in resemblance.

If, for a moment, this thought is extended to people, there is a new promise.

I look like my parents and my siblings look like me. Perhaps that’s where the healing is, in family, in beetroot too, but mainly, I now hope, in those of a similar consistency to me. 

Or, in a simultaneously terrifying and empowering sense, it is possible that my solution lies in that which bears the greatest resemblance to me of all: myself. 


Holly Furey


Holly Furey is a writer and artist from Dublin. She will soon graduate from Trinity College Dublin with an M.Phil. in Irish Writing. She is currently a full-time flâneuse.