Case in point

Yesterday I managed to do something at work that terrified me: speak to someone I’d never spoken to before. I needed their help as they were the only manager around with the relevant permissions to approve a transaction I was trying to process on the system. My manager and anyone else I might have turned to were nowhere to be seen. L, the manager that I had to turn to, was perfectly nice about it, approving the transaction straight away for me, which upturned my preconceptions about people who’ve never spoken to me having to dislike me in some way. For nearly four months I assumed she was one of the hostile masses that had it in for me, even though she’d never looked at me, which made turning around and asking for a simple favour ten times as hard as it needed to be. I’m glad I managed to do it, but I hesitate to see this as a breakthrough. With my illness progress tends to happen in little drips and drabs, and this aversion to asking strangers for help will most likely continue into the future.

This week I’ve also been surprised by S, the friendly guy who’s just been made team leader of the other team. He’s been making extra efforts to get to know me and V as our teams are in the process of merging, and had I stayed at the bank he could have become my team leader at some point. Though I know his efforts may come from a new manager’s desire to be seen as a good manager, there is still a genuineness there which comes as a real surprise for two reasons. One, I’ve experienced precious little genuineness and warmth at the bank this year; two, at first sight S isn’t the person I would have expected it from. I may have said before that he is the archetypal bloke: very macho, into sports, likes a drink down the pub, likes talking about women. But in the course of a few brief conversations this week I also found out that we like some of the same music and holiday destinations. He’s made an effort to talk to me as a human being after I’ve helped him with some query or other, instead of just walking off, and through this an unexpected connection has emerged in the workplace. Today, he went as far as to say that he was sad he wouldn’t have much time to get to know me better.

Now, I could have just died of happiness there and then, to have such an attractive individual being so nice to me. God, S, just kiss me now please! I wanted to say. He really is every little gay boy’s fantasy. But seriously, I guess it is a shame I won’t know him for much longer. A few more months, and maybe I’d have been able to talk to him without feeling entirely self conscious. I’ve spent very little time talking to heterosexual males in the last fifteen years; when I do I always notice my own physical flaws more than usual. I notice how skinny and weak I am; how gay I am. S is like one of those boys at school who’d have picked on me if this was twenty years ago. Twenty years on, I still can’t accept that he would just talk to me because he wants to be nice.


I’ve booked myself onto a counselling introduction course at a nearby college in September. I knew I had to make a start on this career path at some point, and I didn’t want to spend too long procrastinating on it. This is the first of several stages of training I’ll have to go through in the next two to three years. Although it’s unequivocally a good thing to spend money on, I still hesitated in paying for that course today. I’m spending from my savings again, and I’m not going to be able to replenish them until I get a part time job. I’ve applied for a couple of jobs that seem ok this week, no success yet. I know it’s very early days and earlier in the year I found I had to apply for about ten jobs to get one interview. But I’m thinking about the fact that my CV says I left the bank after five months, how this will look to potential employers. It’s too tempting to follow those doubts down a rabbit hole and get lost. I need to remind myself almost every minute that I’m doing the right thing, that my HP has always provided for me before. I had to leave the bank for my sanity and I have to do this training because it’s the only thing I really want to do with my life.

After a nice chat with S in the morning I managed to get sucked into his teammates’ conversation across the barrier dividing our desks again. The office had the atmosphere of a kids’ party because it was the bank’s sixth birthday today, and they were playing a name game where each person in turn had to name something under a selected category, passing through the alphabet on every turn. So if the category was film, the first person would name a film beginning with A, the second a film beginning with B, and so on. Pretending to do my work on the other side of the partition, I listened to them playing this silly game for an hour, without them noticing that I was listening. They’ve never noticed me listening, it probably wouldn’t even cross their minds that I would have any interest in their discussions. To them I’ve never indicated any interest in it. I spied on their game today as it got sillier and all the rules got bent out of shape, and I could feel my blood boiling as it went on. No one could think of a film beginning with W so they decided to broaden the category to “films and TV shows”. When the category was countries, no one could think of one beginning with X so they changed it to “countries, cities and states”. I hated their willy nilly widening of the goal posts. I wanted to cry out “Watership Down” when they got stuck on W. I wanted to yell at them for being lazy and uncultured for not persevering with just countries. I worked myself up into a right state, until I realised that I had no idea why I was getting so upset.

I was particularly angry with F, the only male in the team apart from S, who seemed to be the main decision maker in terms of changing the rules of the game. He is normally the one who starts the games, as well as the one who tells all the jokes on a daily basis. People want to be his friend; he lets them be his friend. To them he is an affable guy’s guy who’s funny and witty and everything you want in a colleague. To me, he is just sarcastic and immature. Last week, it was F who laughed at the dress his teammate was wearing. (“You call that fashion?”) His way of joking around with his close friends is basically to poke fun at them. And now they all do it with each other. When they’re all together at their desks, all you hear is near constant sarcasm and teasing. When they’re playing their name games, each person’s attempt is met with snarky laughs and cries of “What? Can’t you think of any better country / film than that?!”

My disease seems to focus on F in particular because he’s the only one in the group that’s never said a word to me. For four months I’ve sat opposite him and I’ve tried to smile at his jokes, and it’s got me nowhere. I’ve never exactly talked to any of the others, but they do say hello and smile occasionally. They know I exist. If I don’t manage to talk to F in the next few weeks, I’ll leave the bank without ever having spoken a syllable to the person I’ve sat a metre away from during my entire time there.

Towards the end of the day everyone had to wish M a fond farewell as it was his last day at the bank. M also sits a metre away from me on the other side, and he has also been the focus of an intense resentment for most of the time I’ve known him. I’ve resented him for being one of the office’s most popular people despite a gruff, abrupt manner. His popularity is inexplicable to me. People actually seem to like his rudeness. To see him crack a smile is a rare thing indeed; people seem to find this trait funny. He got incredibly embarrassed this afternoon when thirty people gathered round to give him his card and leaving presents, and for the first time I felt a slither of empathy for the guy. He clearly didn’t want to be the centre of attention: he kept telling everyone to fuck off, with a sheepish smile on his face I might add. The more the group persisted in trying to get him to make a speech the more awkward he looked. I felt no anger towards him by the end of the day. I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to him – I’ve never voluntarily spoken to him before – but I could privately wish him well.


With all of the day’s distractions it was hard to do what I was supposed to be doing. I was frustrated with that and I was frustrated with the other team and their loud, silly games, so the day could have ended on a very bad note. But after M’s strangely poignant farewell gathering, my feelings changed and I could leave the office feeling quite neutral about everything. And I could look forward to another good meeting in town. When I arrived there was the same initial awkwardness that there is every week, trying to choose the best seat. Clumsily I sat in the middle of the room, the place where I previously vowed never to sit again because no one else likes sitting there. I wanted to improve matters for myself by making eye contact and saying hello to everyone I knew, but I have this lifelong, stone cold fear of making eye contact, so it was a no goer really. It breaks my heart that it’s pretty much the same story every week there: I don’t say hello to everyone at the beginning and I spend most of the meeting worrying about it. The script never changes: “they don’t want me to say hello to them, even though they know me, because I didn’t say hello last time and they’re probably pissed off about it.” This one little thing seems to dog me constantly. The process of rejoining AA and re-immersing myself in a program has put the spotlight on it, and I know that when I start training to become a counsellor I will have to look at it even more closely. As a counsellor I understand you have to look at yourself unflinchingly.

Of course I couldn’t share in the meeting. Were this one of the other meetings I go to, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad. At the other meetings there are reliable groups that I always sit with, people who I can trust and not feel like I’m out on thin ice with. Having one or two reliable anchors in a meeting can make all the difference with me, and I don’t have that at the Friday meeting yet. Although it’s mostly the same set of people that go there every week, and although I’ve been going for years, I don’t have that anchor there yet. I keep going back week after week because I hope deep down that it will change and I’ll find some peace there eventually.

These days I recognise more and more that the problem is entirely in me. I can know that thinking of the people who go to the Friday meeting as qualitatively different somehow to groups in other meetings, because I don’t have the same bond with that group, is not useful to me. Until a few years ago a victim mentality was entrenched in my life and I couldn’t see myself as being entirely accountable for any problem in my life. I’m glad I don’t blindly blame the world out there for things any more. But this sense of accountability is a conscious effort for me. My instinct to make myself separate and blame others is my default, as proved by the awkwardness at the beginning of the meeting and my burning resentment towards F at work.

I ought to remember that they’re just people, not demons for heaven’s sake. If I can keep that in mind for the next few weeks maybe I’ll be able to leave the job without hating any of them.

I make a conscious effort to connect with at least one person before I leave a meeting now. At the end of tonight’s meeting, against all odds I managed to connect with two. This meeting can be full of surprises (which is why I like it so much). A, the extroverted newcomer who I went to coffee with a couple of times earlier in the year, came up to me and asked if I wanted to go for coffee again next week. It had been so long since the last time we made any effort to be sociable with each other, I thought he’d just forgotten about me. In fact, at times when I’ve seen him and he’s not instantly said hello to me I’ve thought he hates me. I assumed I must have pissed him off by not asking him to coffee a third time back in the spring, so because I’d pissed him off of course I couldn’t ask him again.

Shortly after that I bumped into my friend T outside and we had a good old chin wag. He’s about to embark on a Psychology degree, something I had a lot to say about since it’s my area of interest. He was a little more flirty with me than I’d have liked, but it was ok because he’s great to chat to, and I enjoyed the fellowship.

It goes to show, I can walk up to people and say hello, even when I’m sure I can’t, when it’s a stressful situation like the moments after a meeting where everyone’s forming their groups. I tried to think how I did it tonight and it occurred to me, maybe it was not thinking about it that did it. Worth a go next time, ey?

Light, tunnel

When I woke on Monday I had that rare feeling of certainty which has been so absent in the past few years. The only time I’ve experienced it recently was in the days just before the bank offered me their job, when I knew I should turn any offer down. On Monday I felt the same clarity about what I was meant to do. I was going to hand my notice in. It was a couple of months sooner than I originally planned, but all of a sudden I couldn’t think why I needed to wait any longer. The time had come, and I actually felt good about it. I was ready to leave.

I was going to write my resignation letter on Monday and hand it to J on Tuesday during my appraisal. Higher power intervention made me do it a lot quicker than that. J emailed me first thing on Monday to tell me that one of the other teams were having a q&a / mingling session in the kitchen, and that I had to go; it was the last thing I wanted to do, especially as I was preparing to resign. I replied to the email as politely as I could, saying that I didn’t feel comfortable going at the moment for reasons that would be easier to explain face to face. J took me aside to a room, and there it all came out. My HP wasn’t going to let this wait until Tuesday. I was honest with J, and she took it all quite well, though she was clearly surprised and disappointed that I was choosing to leave so soon into my contract. She wanted to know that I was sure; I could assure that I was.

Until then I hadn’t given any indication to anyone that I was unhappy or thinking of leaving, and I suppose this is what J was most surprised about. Had I been more open about my feelings before then the news might not have been such a bombshell for the team, but of course in a big corporation that doesn’t value employees’ feelings as much as it should, who’s going to feel confident enough to tell their boss they’re unhappy? I didn’t want to risk being fired. I’ve been through it before, this need to pretend to be happy for the sake of not rocking the boat; by Monday I was sick of it. I had to do it for years at my last company and I shouldn’t have to do it any more.

From the very start my instincts told me not to take this job. Now I know my instincts were right. I haven’t had a moment’s happiness or enjoyment since I’ve been there. I feel bad for leaving the team sort of in the lurch, since I now have just a month to train them in some very complicated tasks at a time when they’re already overstretched. J and V have both said they’ll be sad to see me go, which is nice of them, and it’s clear that they’ve been impressed with my work these past months. If I didn’t hate the company, if the office was a lot nicer, if I could wear my own clothes into work every day, I might have been able to stay, but those things aren’t going to change and my mind was made up a long time ago. In the end, the problem was both about me and the bank. The two are irreconcilable.

With my feelings out in the open I started to feel a lot better about things, and Monday and Tuesday in the office were perversely quite pleasant. All the anxiety I had about being stuck in a dead end job forever was gone. I could feel like myself again.

Today reality started to set in a bit. I’m doing pretty well for money and the need to walk straight into another job after this one isn’t critical, but it would be good to have something lined up soon. I found out that the bank only does “factual” references for new employers whereby they state the length of time you’ve worked there, your job title and reason for leaving. I assume they have this policy because they don’t want busy managers spending time writing nice long references and making it easier for leavers to move onto better jobs elsewhere, which sucks a bit.

J had said that I would get an email from HR at some point confirming my leaving date. I hoped to get this yesterday, so that it would all feel official and I’d know I was definitely leaving. One wouldn’t seriously expect the bank to turn around and refuse my resignation, but the longer I had to wait for the email from HR the more I feared that something had gone wrong and I wasn’t leaving after all. By this afternoon I started to imagine scenarios where HR never send me the email and it gets to the 24th August, my last day. In most of them I’d just leave anyway and not come back, but I’d be bothered by a knowledge that the bank hadn’t officially let me go and could turn my unacknowledged resignation into a dismissal for their benefit. Even though there was zero possibility of this happening, because it would be really stupid and far fetched (and I’d already had verbal confirmation from my manager that my leaving date will be the 24th), I am known for an ability to over-worry that surpasses most of humanity, and I got really angry thinking about it.

As the anger grew I started to find myself spying on the conversations around me again, and soon I had been sucked in again just like last Friday, back into judgment and frustration and self flagellation. I was furious at them for carrying on their stupid playground conversations – they should have psychically picked up on me criticising them last week and known I didn’t want to listen to them any more.

After lunch I had to stop thinking and accept that the email from HR would come eventually, and that there was no way I could be made to stay a moment longer after the 24th. I’m not lying when I say that a minute after this acceptance came the email. My leaving date will indeed be the 24th August. It will be an extra special weekend because the day after on the 25th, I travel to Lyon for a holiday I booked ages ago and which I’m really looking forward to.

Apart from sadness at me leaving so soon after I got there, the general attitude from close colleagues seems to be that I’m a little crazy. They don’t know that I have enough saved up and will be able to live quite comfortably without work for a few months, should it come to that. Evidently most people never have the luxury of being able to take one break in their career, let alone two. Unlike last year, I’m not planning to have a big break this time. I’d like to be in work again in September, but it will have to be something I want to do because I can’t take another job that I hate. I’m going to be choosier than I was before, much choosier, because somehow I feel that I deserve to be at this stage. I must admit it feels a little weird to say that, but I know so many people in AA who are fulfilled and happy in their jobs, so I can’t help wondering why I shouldn’t be as well.

Of course no amount of vetting will eliminate the possibility of future anxiety in any job I take. There will always be those first few nerve racking days, the parties that everyone has to go to, the awkward small talk, finding my way around a scary new office, asking for help. But I do think that I can make things a bit easier for myself by checking places out at interviews and making an actual decision about whether it’s the sort of place I’d like to work.

I’m only looking for part time work because the other part of my plan is to look at training in counselling. A few minutes research online tells me that any training route I go down will be long and expensive. For years I assumed I would leave this until my 40s, when I had some life experience and perhaps more money in the bank. This year I’ve begun to feel that I’ve done enough waiting in life. It will be difficult and expensive to train as a counsellor, but I have to make a start at some point, and I will need time to do it, so I can’t work full time any more. Thanks to living at home without bills, I won’t have to as long as I can stay here.

The future is full of uncertainty once more, and it would be easy to spend all my time in the next few months fretting, like I did at the beginning of the year. Uncertainty is a fact of life for me now – but I can still be fine in spite of it. I’ve been very good with money this year, which will make all the difference once I’m out of the bank. Against the uncertainty I have a plan, one that, if followed, will see me into a career I could love. Just as I have had many uncertain, anxious and distressed days this year there will be many more in the future, whatever happens. I hope I can be vigilant and keep going with the plan regardless.


I went to the party. I don’t want to write about all the reasons why it wasn’t perfect. I don’t want to complain about how I was anxious from start to finish, how I could only make myself stay for two hours, or how I was fixed in place for most of the time needing people to start conversations with me. I don’t want to see any part of it as a failure. I want to celebrate the fact that I went even though I was nervous. I want to be glad that I stayed for two hours, and that I managed to talk to lots of people. Yes, most of them had to do the hard work in coming over to me, but at least they wanted to talk to me. I talked to people I hadn’t met before and people I had met but never properly connected with. I had a lovely long conversation with my old flatmate S, who I didn’t know was friends with R. We reminisced about happier times when we shared a flat in earlier sobriety, and then we revelled in the happy coincidence of M, one of the flat’s current occupiers, showing up.

M moved into the flat immediately after S left in 2011; two years later I moved out, leaving M there; this year M came into recovery, and became friends with R through the Tuesday meeting that I brought him to. For half an hour the three of us stood in a busy hallway in R’s flat gushing over how great our old flat was, and the funny way that it has become involved in all of our recoveries. It really made S’s night, being introduced to M and finding out how it was all going at the flat now. We both really miss the flat – some of the happiest times in my life were spent there, and I’m sure it’s the same for S, who now wishes he could move back. It was a strange and delightful collision of several worlds. I had cause to think of the role serendipity had played in my life. Later I realised that if it weren’t for AA, none of us would have had those happy years in that flat (nor would we have been speaking about it at a party in 2016).

I left after 9pm, having managed two hours, as I was starting to feel tired, and it was getting too crowded to move around properly. I hadn’t spoken much to R at all, but I couldn’t begrudge him for being busy with the other thirty guests. As I said goodbye he said he was glad I’d come. I was glad I’d come. Later on some of them would be going clubbing at one of London’s biggest gay clubs which I used to frequent sometimes with fellow AA’s in early sobriety. I wasn’t the slightest bit tempted to go last night. I’ve come to realise that nightclubs just aren’t my thing any more. I’d had my night out. I expect it will be quite some time before I go to another sober house party. I remain somewhat on the edge of the circles that these things happen in. Had I been in a worse mood last night I could have believed I was on the edge of everything and therefore not really welcome. It was hard work keeping all those conversations going.

The thing I’ve never liked about parties is how people move around all the time and never stick to one spot, so when the person you’re talking to has to go to the loo or to the kitchen for a drink, you’re left standing, waiting for the next person to come along, as the person who’s left you will nearly always get sidetracked on their way back and start talking to someone else. Predictably I experienced a few of those shaky moments where I was left on my own. But some unexpected determination not to let those moments last arose in me. Although I couldn’t quite make myself go up to people and start those conversations, I could stand and smile and look approachable. So by 9pm I’d had a pretty good time, and it felt like the right time to go, even though the sky was still light outside, the party was still in full swing and people were still turning up. Could I have stayed longer if I’d had to? Yes, probably. But I’d still talked to a lot of people, I’d had the good time I came for and I could genuinely say that was enough. It’s certainly the first party I’ve mostly enjoyed in many years.

Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable without alcohol; back then there was always a darkness around parties, because I could know that things were usually going to end up messy or humiliating. A lot of my anxiety around parties now probably comes from that, even though it’s different now. Yesterday I did it, in spite of the anxiety, without having to push myself too much. Now I’m going to say something I very rarely say: I’m grateful. There, that wasn’t so bad.

Note: I’d like to think I’ll have equally positive things to say about my return to work tomorrow – that after successfully socialising in one tricky situation yesterday I’ll have renewed confidence in talking to the people at work who scare me. At the moment I can’t see it happening. Work challenges me in so many more ways than a party full of supportive, sober gay men. Oh well.

Alcoholic, love thyself

On Wednesday I was asked to chair the step 11 meeting in town. I’m always happy to speak – it’s a way of doing service, and I don’t get as nervous about chairs as I do about spontaneous sharing in other meetings, because I know I’m going to share, and I’ve got longer to say something meaningful. I’ve been asked to chair a lot of meetings in the last few months, which must be encouraging as someone out there must appreciate what I have to say. Sitting at the front of the Wednesday meeting was momentarily troubling, as it had been over four years since I last sat there and handed in my notice as the meeting’s secretary. Those days are long behind me now and it was only a momentary upset. But as I started to speak and share my pre-planned words of wisdom, the same underlying, niggling self doubt that had plagued me throughout sobriety and which came to the surface when I abandoned my commitment there four years ago, was palpably there, making me question nearly everything I had to say. I’d say something about gratitude or serenity, and a minute later I’d wonder if I had really meant it or if I was just parroting something I’d heard someone else say, which can understandably be distracting when you’re trying to voice a coherent and useful message.

My ten minutes were up in a flash and the rest of the meeting proceeded nicely. I had talked about those issues of later sobriety which seem to be troubling me at the moment, or at least tried to convey some sense of them in the limited time I had. My intention had been to conclude with a positive message about how God and step 11 help me to live through whatever comes one day at a time, and people expanded on this theme beautifully, some of them saying it in a far more arresting way than I thought I ever could. It was a good meeting, it was good to be there, but when I left I didn’t know if I could fully believe all that I had said.

My friend R is celebrating his belly button birthday this weekend and I have been invited to a party at his place in the west. Since I got the invitation mid week I haven’t been able to decide whether to go or not. I want to go, there’s no question of that, but whether I can go is a different matter. I have no plans this evening, but whether I have the guts to face another party full of AA’s leading lights is in doubt. It’s the third AA party I’ve been invited to this year, something I could only dream of a couple of years ago. It would be wonderful and so much less tiresome if I could simply accept these invitations without reservation or having to spend days mulling over them. But I am who I am, and we’ve long known about my devastating inclination to overcomplicate everything. I deliberately put off making a proper decision until today, the day of the party, because my feelings were bound to be changeable throughout the week, and I didn’t want to commit to going, only to have to back out at the last minute. I’ve told R that I want to come but I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling, and I’ll have to see when the time comes. He’s fine with that, he understands. In telling him the truth I suppose I secretly hoped he’d respond by imploring me to come. Had he said “oh, it just won’t be the same without you!” I’d have fallen over myself to go. But he didn’t say that, he’s simply left it up to me, as would anyone trying to organise a party for thirty people who hasn’t got the time to stroke the ego of a needy friend.


Next week everyone is having their half year appraisal at work. I will have one even though I’ve only been there for four months, because it’s done in the summer and winter for everyone regardless of how long they’ve been there. I had to spend most of yesterday adding my comments to an official review form in preparation for the meeting on Tuesday with J. The form laid out all twenty of the bank’s core values and I had to explain where I had fallen short of meeting each of these values, and how I was going to work to improve on them. We all had to do it. After three hours of writing about why I hadn’t met the bank’s standards, and providing countless examples of how I could do better, I felt even more crap about myself and the job, if you can believe that. As with everything that the bank does, I can see the reasoning for it, but I believe the execution is horrible. They don’t seem to have realised that making employees describe in detail why they’re bad at something will make them believe they’re really bad at it. There’s no option to leave any parts of the form blank, you have to answer to everything. If you can’t think of an example for one of the values, for instance “surpassing expectations”, then your only option is to embellish or make stuff up. Isn’t it? So if you were previously doing ok, but not great, in this area, once you’d done your review you might come out thinking that you suck at it, because you’ve had to spend an hour thinking about why you don’t meet the standard yet.

I did the form because I had to; I’ll have the meeting with J next week and verbally commit to improving in all these areas because I have to. I’m not ready to leave the job yet, so until I am I have to go along with things that I don’t believe in. It made what had already been a difficult week even more depressing. Later on Friday, the team gathered to say goodbye to C, one of the managers who’s been promoted to another part of the organisation. Given the high proportion of internal promotions that you see in the bank, these gatherings are relatively frequent, and always painfully awkward. You’re meant to stand around the person and applaud them, while they give a speech about how wonderful it’s been to work with us and how much they look forward to the new challenge. Whether you know the person leaving or not, you have to participate, you can’t just sit there and carry on with your work. I knew C beforehand in the sense that I sat near him for four months and witnessed him spend most of his days chatting to friends around him. I rarely got the impression that he was actually working. As people wished him well and heaped praise on him for being a supportive, hard working manager, I couldn’t entirely believe my ears. Admittedly, not being part of his team it’s impossible for me to say with certainty that he was a bad manager, but all the things that he was being praised for were things that I had never witnessed once. Supportive? Hard working? Friendly? A pleasure to work with? I could only think about the times when J had been away and we’d needed a manager’s support in our team, and C had just sat there with his mates, chatting as if we didn’t exist.

It was an uncomfortable ten minutes, made more uncomfortable by me questioning why I had to be there and why any of it mattered. When we were finally allowed back to our seats, the first thing I did was look at the time. Four hours left to go until the weekend. From then on the minutes began to crawl by as I watched them constantly, waiting for it to be over.

Before the end of the day there was more pain to endure as someone got a whiteboard and made us write on it things that we liked about C. He really must have been a popular part of the team, for them to give him such a loving send off. For a minute or two I thought “wow, what a genuinely nice thing for them to do for someone – maybe these are normal human beings with feelings after all!” Until that point I had been in genuine doubt as to whether my colleagues were all robots or not. Yesterday they were not being robotic at all, they were just trying to be nice, and my incessant cynicism didn’t do them any justice. But still, as I was made to go and write something on the board I couldn’t think of a single thing I liked about him so I just wrote a generic “funny”, though I have no idea whether C is actually a funny person or not.

I wanted to hate them all yesterday, I wanted to tear down their stupidly sweet message board and make myself visible to them for the first time in four months. Being told to write something on the board didn’t make me any more visible or part of things than I had been before. I was still a statue, completely unimportant. I spent the rest of the day trying not to listen to them as they got into the weekend party mood and talked about how drunk they were going to get at C’s leaving party that night. Yet again, I got completely sucked into the discussion, even though it had nothing to do with me. I analysed everything that was said, picked up on every sarcastic remark, silently berated them for every inane comment, berated myself for not being able to make them look at me. It was a mental torture all too familiar, as I have done the same thing over and over again at various points in my life: at school, at college, at University, at work, in AA. Any chance of doing any work yesterday afternoon was gone, I was far too involved in events around me. Their plans, their jokes, their gossiping, their group bonding was the most important thing in my life yesterday. I understood what they were saying but I didn’t understand why they were saying it. I had no clue how they could have formed this tight bond, how they could be so casual and familiar with each other after just a few months of working together. All previous occasions on which I had achieved the same thing with people in other situations were non-existent, just a dream.

I only talk to three people at work: V, J, and sometimes D, all of whom sit on the same row as me. Our close proximity eight hours a day must lend itself to conversation, though the fact that I was on friendly terms with three people in the office yesterday was little comfort. I wanted more than just three friendly acquaintances; I wanted to burst this bubble around me and be part of the real fun in the team opposite me. It didn’t matter that they were planning to spend the evening after work binge drinking in an expensive bar that I’d never choose to go to, it was merely the fact that I was missing out on any fun at all that was getting to me. While that was all going on D was being her usual clowny self, teasing V about a non-existent boyfriend. V would be leaving the office early yesterday for some undisclosed reason; in the absence of explanation D made something up and started telling anyone who’d listen, including me. I laughed along, wanting to look like I could participate in the silly Friday mood as well as everyone else. I instantly felt bad as V was clearly upset about the incessant jokes at her expense. At 4.30 she stormed out, saying a brief and cold goodbye that wasn’t like her. I felt bad for being such a juvenile dick to the only person who’d been genuinely nice to me at all times while I worked there. D meanwhile just got on with her day. She’s 21, a baby; these things won’t affect her as much as they affect an oldie like me.

For a few minutes I wanted to be part of the crazy school playground fun atmosphere, and it backfired like it always could at school because the joke was childish and beneath me. I felt disgusted with myself for sinking to that level, for laughing along at the vulnerable person in the group like I often did at school during the rare times when I wasn’t the butt of the class joke. Without V to hold things together, D and I stopped being part of a cohesive group and spent the rest of the day in silence. It’s an interesting human dynamic I’ve only ever noticed in work situations, where one person with a sense of humour needs at least two other people to witness it. The clown makes fun of one person to make the other person – me in this case – laugh. I was the audience, I wasn’t really her friend.

If I were sitting on my own in a cafe in London for a few hours, I wouldn’t get upset about not making lifelong friends with everyone there. So why do I have this need to impress strangers in the impersonal work environment? Once again, logic doesn’t come into it.

I spent the last ten minutes just focusing on my breathing because there was nothing else I could do. I needed to let go of all the thinking, because it was driving me mad. I went to the Friday meeting automatically, needing to be somewhere I was definitely safe and welcome. The invisible barriers went up as soon as I got there, again, and I was too tired to stop them. I breathed and I accepted that it didn’t matter if I didn’t talk to anyone, I was just there to listen. There was a powerful chair entirely focused on the subject of gay shame. At this time of year everyone is supposed to celebrate and feel pride, but the truth remains that a lot of us still live with shame about our sexualities. I hear so much about this in gay meetings, this pain that we can’t overcome because when we should have been learning to like ourselves and flourish as kids we were taught to hate ourselves by a homophobic society. Someone will share something about it in nearly every gay meeting there is, but when I hear it it never fails to touch something inside. It can still have the power to move.

I didn’t want to go for fellowship after the meeting as I was tired and sweaty and needed to save the money. I’ve also decided I don’t like the restaurant that they always go to there. Before leaving for the night I made myself stop and talk to a couple of fellows on the way out. L talked to me about his mum who’d gone into hospital that day for an operation; he’d just heard that everything had gone well and was visibly relieved about it. I didn’t know what the operation was for, I’d never met L’s mum, but I was relieved for her too. I began to notice how small my own problems were in comparison to this, and I had to turn and leave before I burst into tears over how pathetic I felt. I wanted to cry for most of the way home. Although I’d talked to people, I hadn’t really got the connection I wanted. I couldn’t even listen to someone share about their difficulties for a few minutes without thinking about my own.

The message of the whole meeting, apart from looking at the gay shame was about authenticity and learning to love ourselves. For the millionth time, I wondered how on earth I was supposed to start doing that without any practical tips and guidance. As I made my way home on a hot, sticky evening I remembered that in AA, the most complicated problems often have the simplest solutions. We have the twelve steps and the AA principle of helping others to guide us in all our affairs. Briefly I had tried to help L by listening to him as he shared relief over his mum’s operation, and while I was doing that I almost forgot about myself, until I remembered and started wallowing in it again. If I can spend more time forgetting myself, maybe that’s, like, the answer? Maybe to get authentic and love myself I can do more of what I’ve always been told to do in meetings – that is, help others, do service, make myself be part of things?

The pain I suffer from often comes back to the idea that I haven’t got everything I want in life. Materially I have all I need and more, but clearly that isn’t enough any more. In my first few years of recovery I achieved material success and I got the cash and prizes. Now, in this second stage of recovery, I’m being forced daily to look deeper. When I decided to come back to AA properly last year I didn’t know that I was on a road to authenticity and self love; had I been told, I might have been tempted to turn back, because I’ve never believed that these things are possible for me. If I’m ever going to learn to like myself, so that days like the day I had yesterday don’t eat into me so much, it will probably take much longer than a couple of years. Reason being that it’s so much more mysterious than material success. Emotional sobriety, self esteem, resilience, confidence aren’t things that can be taught. Since I’m just starting to realise that at 33 years of age, this could be a very long journey indeed.

Part of me never wants to get better because the steps involved are really hard. Having to help others and build self esteem when I’m tired or sad or angry is tough for someone like me who has spent 33 years giving into fear. I’m faced with the truth that this is all on me. Everything that’s going on at work is on me – it’s nothing to do with those other people. When I leave the job, I can justify it based on not believing in the company’s values, but I can’t justify it based on the fact I was never included in the big group.


I think I’m going to R’s party later. After writing all of this down I feel that not going would be one cop out too many. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, whether I’ll enjoy myself or end up in a corner alone like countless parties I’ve been to before. I can’t know what’s going to happen and I hate that. But if I don’t go, I’ll never know. Oh, I do hate clichés.

Me vs them

The annual heatwave is on us; it’s that time of year when we get a few days of temperatures above 30 degrees and England starts to melt. I thought I’d left this kind of heat behind in Spain, but no. I know it’s typically British to complain about the weather, whether it’s too hot or cold. I’m not complaining; I know it will be raining and cold again soon enough. But there comes a point after you’ve been sweating all day and you really don’t want to get on another bus full of smelly bodies, but you have to, and you wish for a moment when taking one’s clothes off in public wasn’t a social taboo.

It was back to work on Monday, hooray! There was the usual thread of fear running through my thoughts when I headed in, but it wasn’t as intense as it perhaps might have been after two weeks off. I thought maybe I’m getting better at managing or avoiding the negative side of my thoughts now, who knows. When I got in I wasn’t wholly surprised to discover that the team had been very busy in my absence and there was an awful lot to get on with. They made it plain how pleased they were to have me back, which was nice. I fell back into the role swiftly and easily. In the past I’d have enjoyed the feeling of being necessary and of having so much to keep me busy, but enjoyment isn’t the word I’d use to describe my feelings this week. I was more resigned to it than I was happy about it. I could still tell that I didn’t really want to be there, and by yesterday big doubts were creeping into my thoughts again.

Even though it’s decided that I’ll be leaving in a couple of months I fear their opprobrium when I tell them, and I fear what will happen when I have to look for another job. When I think about those things I forget that people leave jobs all the time and manage to get other ones. The dream I have of finding a nicer, smaller company where people can be themselves and where it doesn’t matter how quickly I gave in on my last job, starts to seem less and less realistic. I feel constricted by this incessant worry about the future and how I’m going make a living and be happy at the same time. I don’t feel like I can ever live the life I want to live, because every decision I could take to change the way things are comes with risk. In the past I’ve been able to take risks and know that they pay off, but the thought of taking a risk right now, just a year after I last went through all this, feels too difficult.

Apart from V, I still wouldn’t say I have any friends in the office. Although I’ve already had the debate about whether it matters or not, I’m having it again. The other night, I watched a documentary online about a British TV presenter who decided to go and spend a week in a high security Texan prison. This presenter has recently started to make some interesting and challenging documentaries about life in other countries. While it was fascinating in itself to learn about life inside prison for some of America’s most deprived citizens, I found it even more intriguing to watch this presenter go in on the first day and unthinkingly make friends with everyone on his floor. I watched with wide eyes as he walked up to these scary looking men in orange jumpsuits, smiled and shook their hands, introduced himself with a natural, almost unconscious charm that I could never exude in a million years. My situation at work being so much on my mind at the moment, I couldn’t help but compare this TV personality’s effortless sociability with my own non-existent attempts at the office.

To someone as confident as that perhaps it isn’t very nerve-racking to go up to a group of criminals in the midst of conversation and make yourself known. I can’t fathom how it’s done. For nearly four months I have found it impossible to interrupt the teams around me and make myself known, and these aren’t criminals, these are just ordinary young people from the same city as me. I guess what really set me off yesterday was when we had a visitor to the office and I was the unfortunate one who answered the door to them. They were there to spend the day shadowing people in another team that I didn’t know. When they gave the name of the person that they were there to meet I was lost for five minutes trying to think what to do. At that particular moment none of my team were around to ask; I floundered around in a state of panic until I found the manager of our neighbouring team, who pointed the girl in the right direction. In those minutes of panic I could have asked anyone around me for help, the office was as full of people as it ever is, but I needed someone familiar. Someone with whom I had established the slightest bit of trust. I don’t know, when I need to ask for help I can never just ask anyone, it has to be someone I know. I feel like a stranger will either laugh at me or not want to help me. I freeze up and become an out of place statue again.

After that happened the rest of the day was pretty much a write off. I started doing that thing where I listen critically to the conversations around me, where everything I hear just sounds like inane crap. Yesterday and today I kept picking up on a sarcastic edge in people’s  conversations; the kind of low level juvenile teasing you get in the playground where ‘friends’ will make fun of each other with sarky comments. For example, a girl was talking about her dress that she really liked and one of her teammates said “you call that fashion?!” Innocuously intended, perhaps, but I felt personally offended by it, like it had anything to do with me, even though the girl on the receiving end of the bitchiness feigned shock for a minute before coolly laughing it off.

I started to hear more and more of this kind of teasing around me and for most of today I would have given anything to be able to put headphones in and block it out with music. If I could completely write these people off as brainless twits it might be easier to get on with my life, but before I’ve spent too long judging them I always seem to remember the inconvenient truth that one should judge not lest one be judged. Once I’ve remembered that I slip into self criticism harsher than anything I’ve doled out to others in my head. This year on the whole I have tended to end these internal debates in this way, by concluding that it is essentially all my fault. Until the next time something external pisses me off and the debate starts again. It’s just a never ending bloody conundrum.

Apart from the risk involved in leaving for another potentially more fulfilling job, there’s the chance that leaving is just another term for running away. What do they say in AA? “Don’t leave before the miracle happens”? I know they’re talking about AA meetings when they say that, but I can’t help thinking about it here. I mean, what if I end up having the same problems at the next place? I can come up with no satisfactory answer to that as of yet.

On one level it’s very easy to think that it is the bank’s fault what’s happening to me and once I leave I will never have to suffer inanity in the workplace again. Especially when I consider once again how well things worked out in a previous life in Bulgaria, where a group of people that seemed terrifying at first became a ready made group of friends overnight. I weep at how easy it was to make friends with someone like E, a straight Bulgarian guy in his twenties with whom I had absolutely nothing in common on the surface. I also weep at how relatively easy it was to have a conversation with the girl who I’d let into the office in the morning, who came over to do some shadowing in our team late in the afternoon. Something about her being a fresh face in the office made all those reservations and fears fade away for a while, because I had knowledge to share with her. I felt I had something to offer her, in other words.

Today we were subjected to another loud chorus of “happy birthday” in the office. They do it because they think it makes things nicer for everyone; I wish I could tell them that it doesn’t. It just stops you from working for fifteen minutes while everyone forms a disorderly queue for some cake around you. I hate being the negative spoil sport that doesn’t want to take part in things. I hate that the bank’s enforced culture of happiness makes me this way.

Underlying every awkward interaction at work is the assumption, already explored, that they don’t like me because I’m too quiet, too cold, too this, too that and there’s nothing I can do about it. Sometimes, momentarily I wonder if I’m just reading the signals all wrong with these people. A light shines through the gloom and I actually start to believe they are normal people who don’t dislike me, they just don’t talk to me. The clouds lift and it starts to feel bearable, the whole problem starts to not matter so much. But the idea of all the hard work I have to do to connect with them comes back stronger, and then it looks like an unsolvable dilemma again.

Every time I think it’s their fault, I remember all the evidence that shows it’s not. Every time I think it’s my fault, I remember all the evidence that shows it’s not. I don’t honestly know what to believe any more. I’m so confused. Perhaps the simplest way to look at it is: who do I want to be in this situation? The quiet person who gets on with their job and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, or the outgoing warm person who makes friends with everyone? It goes without saying that the fact I’m leaving in a few months doesn’t matter any more, this question will remain important to me until the day I leave. I can’t just put it down.

I feel bad putting all this goddamn negativity out into the world, especially on the week when I turn nine years sober. But I’ve been feeling pretty desolate today and I can’t hide it. It’s probably because I am nine years sober that this issue is becoming more salient. I’m questioning more and more of my own behaviours, as well as those of other people, as I approach some kind of authenticity in my life.

It’s not right that this is still an issue, that those moments of positive feeling at work don’t last for long, especially when V isn’t around. After four months I still feel like the new person there. Can that be right?

I keep waiting for some breakthrough to come, like the one I had in AA, like the one I had at my last job, but it never does. I honestly don’t know what I did in those other situations to make that breakthrough. Could it really just be sheer luck?

Nine years

I’m nine years sober! I can’t believe it! In Spain, at one of the AA meetings I heard someone say that although they’ve been sober for many years, they are still an alcoholic and they’ve only really got today. I’ve heard people say such a thing many times over the years, and I’ve believed it for a long time, but today my awareness of the sentiment is even more intense than mere belief. I feel it; I know it. Which is why I made sure to get to three meetings during my week in Spain, in spite of the heat and the effort in finding the meeting locations, the fear that hits me every time I walk into a room full of strangers. I know I can’t take sobriety for granted any more; I’ll always need the medicine, wherever I am.

I didn’t make any great friends at the meetings I went to in Barcelona and Sitges; I’ll probably never see any of those people again. But AA for me isn’t just about making friends any more. It’s about being able to be around strangers and know their stories, know their feelings, and have them know mine. In Sitges, I attended a new meeting that at first I expected to be quite basic and small, given that it’s a party town and everyone would surely prefer to be on the beach topping up their tans. I got there and I received a warm welcome from a surprisingly large group, who upon hearing that I was about to celebrate nine years of sobriety asked me to speak. I dislike being put on the spot in meetings, but at the same time I know the best chairs are the unplanned ones. I accidentally talked much more about drinking than recovery – I had intended to talk more about the ups and downs of these nine years, but alas time was against me and I had to cut it short. Immediately afterwards I mentally tortured myself with things I could have said, things I’d forgotten to say, important things that would have helped it all to make more sense. Nevertheless, the group seemed to get a lot out of my story, and I received some lovely shares back. At the end they gave me a clap for my nine years, breaking the unofficial protocol in AA that says you shouldn’t celebrate until after the event, because I was going home the next day and they probably wouldn’t see me again.

If I ever go to Sitges again it won’t be for another five or ten years – I need a good break from it, for sure. At least I know that when I do go back, there’ll probably be a meeting there. When I came out of the room, I felt better about the whole holiday, and I was able to spend the rest of the evening with P without too many complaints.

In a sober life full of difficult choices, it’s nice to have the AA anchor in every city and town I visit; that warm familiarity that comes with the steps and the scrolls, the yellow card, the serenity prayer. More and more I come to understand why people in centuries past have clung to religion and church for the same familiarity. I didn’t know anyone that I met in those Spanish meetings, but I still knew everyone. I was at home.

On my ninth anniversary, I guess it’s natural to take a look back at where I’ve been and where I am. I’m chuffed to have achieved nine years, of course, and in some ways this year feels more important because it will be the first anniversary I announce in a meeting since I turned five. I didn’t announce or do anything to celebrate my sixth, seventh and eighth anniversaries because I wasn’t taking AA all that seriously at the time, and it wasn’t as important to me as my resentment against the fellowship as a whole. But as I’ve hinted, I don’t feel any more able to take this for granted than I did on my first day in AA. I understand more than ever that I’ve just got today, and if I pick up a drink (not that I intend to!) I’ll be back straight to where I was nine years ago. I suppose this is what the years have taught me, that I don’t need to drink to know where it will take me.

The concept of taking things one day at a time has become very salient this year, mostly because of work and its associated problems. Recently I’ve come to enjoy, in quite a strange way, just getting through things. Where I’ve been faced with a series of challenges in a day, like getting to the airport and getting on the plane and getting home, I’ve consciously used that ‘one day at a time’ principle to keep taking the next step, and the next step, and the next step, without overthinking or projecting into a panicked future. I suppose in those situations I’m taking things one moment at a time. The significance of this can’t be understated for me. I’ve never done things that way in the past. Up until this year, when I had to search for work, a frantic need to ensure job security for myself led me to take a job I didn’t like. It’s that lesson that has pushed me to do things differently for the first time. So, faced with returning to that job on Monday, I don’t feel so much dread because I can easily take it one day or one moment at a time. It doesn’t need to be a year of hell; it’s just one day, and then the next, and then the next. When I decide it’s the right time to leave, I can make that difficult transition by doing it one day or one moment at a time. My mind really finds it easier to process things when they’re packaged this way. Daily practise of step 11 gradually brought this idea into my consciousness and reminded me that everything, no matter what, will pass and be ok.

Back in London, the first thing I thought about was going to a meeting. I attended the Friday evening meeting, where I had been looking forward to announcing this anniversary for months. Although I still find aspects of it difficult, such as how busy it gets and how much younger, more attractive and confident some of the crowd are than me, I’ve persevered with it this year and my Friday nights wouldn’t be the same without it now. At first, as always, I took my place awkwardly and waited for people to say hello to me, because it was so crowded and the ability to be normal and approach someone had left me.  A, the Middle Eastern guy that I’ve developed a crush on, sat next to me for five minutes before acknowledging me. All during that time I’d wanted to say something, but the words just wouldn’t come. I don’t know why this keeps happening or how long it’s going to go on for. It seemed a cruel irony that I could still be as socially awkward on my ninth birthday as on the first time I went to that meeting.

The meeting started, the chair was great, everyone shared wonderful positivity, and then it was time to face the crowds again at the end. I desperately wanted to share in the meeting, to say anything meaningful about my anniversary, but my mouth wouldn’t open during the gaps. Strangely, the ‘one moment at a time’ principle doesn’t help that much with sharing. Nor does it stop me from freezing when everyone’s crowding out of the room at the end and I want to find some fellowship. I forced myself to stand outside the door as everyone was coming out, so that someone would have to stop and talk to me. That way I managed to get a lot of hugs and congratulations on being nine, but it was a good fifteen minutes before anyone stopped for a conversation. I couldn’t bear the thought of doing nothing on my ninth anniversary, which kept me standing there against all my will.

Eventually R, the confident and outgoing secretary from my Tuesday home group, stood beside me and asked me questions about my holiday and what I was doing to celebrate the day. When I shrugged my shoulders he took a bit of pity on me and suggested that I come for dinner with the group. The group that goes for dinner after the Friday meeting is different every week, dependent as it is on whoever’s there and whoever feels like eating. I’m naturally more at ease with reliable, fixed groups of people that I’ve gotten to know over weeks and months. So even though I knew all the people who were going for dinner last night, I hadn’t spent much time socialising with any of them outside of a meeting, which immediately put me on edge as my inner -ism prefers to put people in boxes depending on which situations I’ve known them in.

R kindly kept talking to me and bringing me into the group throughout the meal. I tried my best to show appreciation by making extra effort to smile and say interesting things, but my head was telling me that it wasn’t working and that they didn’t really want me there, I was just invited out of politeness. The oddest thing is that I’d been to the same restaurant with a similar group only weeks before – clearly I had been in a much better mood then because I remembered cracking jokes and making people smile that time. This time it was a much more subdued affair, for me anyway. I think I put too much pressure on myself to stay with the group because it was my anniversary. I deliberately hadn’t arranged anything specifically or mentioned the date to anyone beforehand, because I didn’t want to feel let down by the inevitable messages telling me people couldn’t make it. Tonight I thought maybe it would have been easier if I had just told a group of trusted people beforehand, then at least I’d know who I was eating with.

This is the other meaning of the ‘one day at a time’ principle, I guess: that I can’t predict my feelings in a given situation before it’s happened. I shouldn’t take for granted that I’ll be happy and garrulous just because it’s my ninth birthday. At nine years, I understand more than ever that every day, every moment, is unwritten.

Goodbye Sitges

By the time we got to Sitges on Sunday I was beginning to worry about the beach and going topless. It soon became tiring. With the beach in Spain there’s always the added stress of having to go topless because everyone does it. I’m not very comfortable in my own skin at the best of times – here it would be really difficult. I tried to install some positivity in the experience by meditating on it, but that didn’t really work. There was no way around the fact that I’d have to take my top off in public and show everyone the weight I’d put on recently, and I’d have to spend at least half an hour every day applying the factor 50.

There used to be a real buzz about going to Sitges, but I guess it’s changed the past couple of years. There’s nothing especially interesting to do in Sitges except lie on the beach or drink non-alcoholic cocktails in one of the town’s many gay bars. A few years ago, when I had more oomph in me, I could always look forward to a good time there. But since I started gaining weight more easily (and since I stopped being interested in sex) it has lost some of its appeal. I was excited the day before flying out there last week for sure, but that hadn’t lasted. Now that I was there, the reality hit me of how much older I was, and how tired I’d gotten.

The thought of downloading Grindr to try and meet someone there didn’t cross my mind – a first for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were some very attractive men there this week, and I haven’t managed yet to completely turn off my sex drive. But the thought of the chase and the many potential disappointments that it can lead to had long since lost its appeal for me. I ended up talking to P about it again, which was pointless because he’ll never get it. He still spends half his time on Grindr, thinking he’ll find the needle in the haystack on there, even though years of using it has led to nothing for him as it did for me. There’s no point me telling him that I’ve given up hope on ever meeting someone real, because he’ll just smile and say “there’s always hope!” like a robot.

We’d decided to share a room in Sitges to save money, a decision I knew had been a mistake as soon as we got there. For the rest of the holiday I’d have to discuss all my plans for the day with him, agree what I’d be doing with him and what I wouldn’t. It immediately became much harder to keep my boundaries in place waking up in the same room as him every day. He clearly thought that he’d spent enough time on his own in Barcelona, as it was now twice as hard to get him to agree to do anything in Sitges by himself. Whatever I wanted to do, wherever I wanted to go, he wanted to go as well. He wouldn’t admit it, but he couldn’t bear to be on his own any more. When I suggested potentially making a day trip back to Barcelona (to alleviate some of the boredom of spending every day by the beach) he wanted to come too. When I changed my mind out of tiredness, he changed his mind too. After all these years of knowing him it still drives me insane!

I know when one is abroad with a friend they will expect you to do most things if not everything together. But P and I had already talked about this, he’d already agreed that I would have some space to myself this time because I would need it.

On Wednesday after an AA meeting I returned to the hotel in the evening, expecting to have the room to myself for a while, P having headed to the beach by himself earlier. I was really looking forward to the peace, having not had any since we got to Sitges. When I got to the room he was there, following a change of mind about the beach. He said he was exhausted, but I knew it was a lie. He just didn’t want to go off and do something by himself. So instead he had to stay in the room and wait for me. All I wanted was to be left alone!

I was the one who suggested sharing the room in Sitges, so it was my fault entirely. I couldn’t read my instincts at the time when we were booking the holiday, telling me to keep separate rooms for the entire week. By Wednesday, I was looking forward to coming home, when usually I dread it after a holiday.

It will be so easy to follow the same well trodden path next year and do the same holiday with P again. I don’t want to do that – I want to do something different. There are still so many places in the world I haven’t been, places P would never go. On Thursday as we made our way to the airport, I started dropping hints that I’d changed my mind about next year and thought I might do Miami instead, knowing P wouldn’t be interested in going all the way there. I tried to make it sound like I’d just come up with the idea, as opposed to sounding like I’d been thinking about it for months, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. P didn’t seem able to accept it just then. “Well, next year’s a long way off, let’s think about it then.” I didn’t push it that day – it will come up again eventually.

If I don’t go to Sitges next year (and it’s looking likely I won’t) I may never go again. I’ve loved going there the last five years, but there comes a time when things have to change. My friendship with P is changing, I’m becoming more authentic in my life (much as I can resist it), and when it comes down to it, the gay beach holiday doesn’t do anything for me any more. P will swear blind that no one on that beach was judging my out of shape, sunburnt body this week, but I know they were, because I’ve judged others myself in the past. I can’t stand that judgement any more, it has no place in my life. Perhaps someone else could let it wash over them and just enjoy their relaxing time on the beach, but I can’t.