So the past couple of weeks in therapy we’ve been looking at my part in the problems I’m experiencing. For years I’ve wanted to be part of a permanent friendship group – to feel more like I’m taking part in life and not just in the sidelines. Yet I definitely resist opportunities when they come along, so my part in the issue is that resistance, that pushing against vulnerability. My therapist is not a practiser of the twelve steps, but he has specifically asked me to look at ‘my part’ a few times, maybe because he has heard me talk about it before and finds it important. His challenging on this is gentle and empathic, as all therapeutic challenging should be, but it is challenging nonetheless. And I find myself getting more and more annoyed with him every week, as the questions get harder.
Why would I resist true friendship, the thing I want most in life? Because being a friend means being honest sometimes, and I have always found that very hard. The last thing I want to do is bore or frustrate people with my negativity; sometimes unfortunately all I can be is negative, because sometimes that’s how I honestly feel. It causes a dilemma, which I have long dealt with by simply running away from the problem. This same problem occurs everywhere in my life – in AA, at college, at work. It’s the reason I often feel tired and distant at college now, the reason I get so frustrated with AA meetings. Every week I want to open my mouth and say something real, but I feel I can’t because it’s negative and it might offend someone, so I sit and stew instead. Gradually I am driven away from the group to the point where I don’t feel like I’m really there, even though I’m sitting there. This has happened again and again over the years, it’s not just a recent thing. It’s very painful, and I become angry about it, which then makes it even harder to participate. Eventually I become invisible, like I did at school, and I lose friendships that might have started but couldn’t.
None of the above is my fault, or anyone’s fault. It’s just something that happens; something that I feel I have no control over, though I can control if I try really hard. When he’s listening to me express the anger my therapist reassures me he’s not bored or frustrated by it at all. He can empathise; I feel genuinely heard. But the reality is that all people outside aren’t like that. For me to be my ‘real’ self in a situation like AA without the fear of rejection, I’d need to know that I wasn’t going to be judged by anybody, and I know I’m not always going to get that perfect empathic response. So most of the time now I sit through meetings saying nothing. It’s all or nothing for me. Sure, there’ve been better times in the past when I have managed to get through that fear and care a little less about the people who may judge me. But for the best part of the past ten years, I have tortured myself over this repeatedly. This desperate need to share and connect with the group against the terror of being rejected for my honesty.
Today the therapist suggested practising what I’d like to say to AA to the empty chair opposite me. Just two weeks after we covered the empty chair technique at college, I was using it for real as a client. It took me some minutes to gather my thoughts and work up the nerve to speak. In fact for a moment I had almost the exact block that I have whenever I’m about to share in a meeting. But eventually, miraculously, I turned to the empty chair and spoke. I spoke about my anger at meetings, my long held anger at not receiving the same level of support that I used to get when I was a newcomer; how hurt I was when no one contacted me during the two years I was out of the LGBT fellowship, how much of an outsider I still feel in most meetings, and how angry I am at not being able to share all of that because someone might find it negative and unnecessary.
It is as clear as day to me that I need to be sharing these things in AA. I need to keep saying them until the power is taken away, whether that takes weeks or years. If I carry on sitting in meetings saying nothing, it begs the question of what I’m doing there, doesn’t it? Of course it’s better for an alcoholic to be in meetings than out of them, even if you’re sat at the back saying nothing, but I’m not getting all I can out of meetings any more. I’m drifting again, just like I’m drifting at college, and since I can’t afford to leave, I have to face what’s stopping me from fully participating. The therapist reminded me that I won’t please everyone, no matter what I do, so I may as well start talking in meetings again. He’s right. I wish I could be funny, witty, erudite and memorable like all the people I envy in meetings, so that I could sweeten the negativity a bit, but I know that no matter what I say, even if it offends no one around me, it will never be good enough for my inner critic, who is the harshest critic of them all. So I may as well just open my bloody mouth and talk.