By Tabitha Payne

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When you’re desperate, you’ll try anything once.  So there I was, sitting in a folding chair around a table in a church basement with a bunch of alcoholics.  I think every adult who’s been through the shitter and back has found themselves at an AA meeting at least once.  Most of us don’t stay.  We buck up, get jobs, pay our bills, and start drinking like adults again.  I was in quite a bind though so I was trying this on for size.  To ensure I sat through the whole meeting, I tagged along with a friend of mine who had been successful in the program.  She was my ride home.  I wasn’t going anywhere.

It seemed all right.  I was jubilantly conversing with the other losers around the table when a shimmery faced granola girl in cotton shorts sat down beside me.  She was chewing gum.  I grimaced at the discovery.  I’ve never been able to maintain my sanity when someone around me was chewing, on anything.  Gum is the worst.  I was reading an article on Wikipedia about a neuropsychiatric disorder called misophonia.  The word literally translates to the hatred of sound.  The disorder is characterized by the insurgence of extreme anger, and even violent thoughts in reaction to specific sounds.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one suffering this ungodly affliction.

Every felonious smack of her mastication billowed through the air in hellish cacophony.  It was all I could hear.  The smacking grew louder and louder, echoing like the screams of a banshee, amplified by the superior acoustics in the church basement.  I could see her jaw gyrating in my peripheral.  That bothered me, as it was a cruel reminder of her lack of concern for my suffering, so I cupped the palm of my hand over the side of my face in an attempt to blind myself from the image.  Just as I was doing my best to maintain my composure, the tics started to occur.   The Wikipedia article discussed how some people afflicted with misophonia symptomatically suffer from involuntary tics in reaction to hearing their trigger sounds.  The main one cited in the article was mimicry of the sound.  Mine were a little different, yet no less severe.  Violent foot stomps, involuntary twitches, and exasperated sighs overcame me with every chomp of this vile woman’s gum.  I suppose this is why misophonia is classified as a neuropsychiatric disorder rather than a mere psychiatric disorder. 

I decided that I was going to try and put these sounds out of my mind in an attempt to become engaged in the meeting.  I had done some meditation in the past, so I employed some of the calming techniques I’d learned: deep breathing, clearing my mind etc. and listened to what the idiots around the table were saying.  They were talking about the third step.  The third step of Alcoholics Anonymous reads; made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  Through the clenched teeth of extreme concentration, I listened intently to what the other drunks were saying.  They were talking all this poppycock about how God helped them not go off on their bosses or how God told them to break it off with their significant other so they could “grow spiritually”.  It must be really nice to live in a first world country where God pays attention to your job and your relationships.  Meanwhile, a young mother in India is contemplating selling her newborn infant into slavery in order to feed her other two children.  I swear, if God exists, he’s certainly nothing I want to worship.  He’s either an unbelievably cruel task master or a giant brain, just like mine, unable to control His nightmares. I wouldn’t say any of that in the meeting, of course.  In fact, I couldn’t think of what to say at all.  All I could think of were the socially unacceptable things I wanted to do to the chewing girl sitting beside me.

I envisioned face palming her with such power that she’d fall out of her folding chair.  Then, I’d grasped my fingers around her long, giraffe-like neck and activate just the right pressure points to make her grasp as I’d watch the gum catapult from her throat.  I’d bellow “use a mint next time bitch”, just before bashing her skull into the linoleum.  While hovering over her tiny frame, I’d let my fists go into a frenzy upon her once dewy complexion, flattening her nose, swelling her lip, and inevitably rendering her unconscious.  She shouldn’t have chewed gum.  Bitch had it coming.  It was unbelievable how criminal my imagination could be.  I began fearing for my sanity.

Just as I was going to disturb the meeting by excusing myself to the lavatory in an attempt to escape the troubling sounds coming from the seat beside me, I watched the granola girl gingerly remove the gum from her mouth and neatly place it in a foil wrapper.  A sigh of relief overcame me.  I felt like a bariatric patient who’d lost over 200 pounds.  I felt sane again.  There was a half an hour left of the meeting and now I could enjoy it (well, sit through it) in peace.  I began to smile.  Just as I began to bask in a country club of calming relief, I watched the dewy faced granola girl remove a foil wrapped stick of gum from an almost empty pack of Double Mint and unwrap it.  Slowly, she put the gum in her mouth.   

– Tabitha Payne

Author’s Note: Everyone has their “thing.”  Their “quirk.” Misophonia equitably illustrates the agony of a disorder suffered by many, yet seldom spoken about.  It’s time to break the silence (just not with offensive sounds).