An authentic self

Today was week two of the introduction to counselling course that I’m taking, and I was almost as anxious going in this week as I was last week. Having met and gotten to know some of the group last week, I didn’t feel more confident about engaging with them this week. They were back to being strangers again, and I didn’t know if I could trust them to accept me back in. I knew this feeling would get in the way of me being able to engage with the session properly, but any attempt to overcome the anxiety felt like I was putting pressure on myself, so I just carried on feeling anxious and somewhat detached for most of the three hours.

During the break in the middle there was some embarrassment when I tried to sit at a table with two of the group members in the canteen. Just like being back at college again. I didn’t know what to say to them, so I sat there while they carried on talking like I wasn’t there. Fortunately I was rescued after a few minutes when a couple of others from the group joined us and started including me in a conversation. Any effort from me to get involved in the group chat without help would have been out of the question.

After break we were asked to form groups to do an active listening exercise. One person would talk, one person would actively listen (like a counsellor), and another person would observe things. We’d then swap roles so that each member in turn got to be in each position. I remembered doing this in the counselling course that was part of my psychology degree, so I should have been excited about playing the counsellor again. But I could only think about finding a group that I felt safe with, and how difficult it would be. For every group exercise the tutor asks us to pair up with people we haven’t worked with before, so to find partners I have to talk to strangers, my worst nightmare. This was the part of the session I’d been dreading all morning, the reason I hadn’t been able to be present.

One of the women who’d spoken to me at the break luckily came straight over to me to include me in her group, which I felt grateful for. When it came to the exercise, the tutor encouraged those of us playing ‘the client’ not to make stuff up. Instead, we might get more out of it by talking about things that were really going on for us, how we were feeling, etc. When it was my turn to talk I couldn’t think of anything else to talk about other than the anxiety I’d been going through in the group. I said that I felt sad about being anxious in week two, that it was stopping me from engaging with everyone fully. I was honest about not feeling safe there, and feeling guilty about that.

We had five minutes to talk, so I was able to get quite a lot of it out, and I felt immediately better afterwards. There’s nothing quite like owning one’s feelings, as I’ve discovered in AA many times before. My colleagues were as kind as one would expect, telling me that they too find opening up and engaging honestly with strangers difficult. I realised that to get the full benefit of this course, I will need to keep doing that. I can’t be closed off. Essentially, I need to be myself there, fully. To do that I need to trust that it will be ok, something I can find virtually impossible in all manner of social situations. It’s clear now that I will never really feel like it’s ok – there may never come a time when I believe in my gut that other humans can be trusted completely. So I’ve just got to get on and do it, regardless, or I’ll be stuck forever. That’s what faith means. For years I’ve been waiting for something inside me to change so that opening out and connecting to people gets automatically easier, and it’s never happened. I have to step out onto the ice and start walking, all whilst feeling like it could crack underneath me at any minute. There is no other way across the lake.

One might wonder why opening up and overcoming group anxiety is so important when I’ll only be working with individuals as a counsellor. Well, clearly if I can’t work through this then I won’t be able to help a client who’s going through it. We’ve been told from the start of the course that personal development and change is essential when training to be a counsellor. I was already looking at a lot of this stuff before the training started, as it kept coming up in AA during the past year or so. Now I am throwing an even stronger magnifying glass on it, and I don’t like it, but it’s got to be done.

I wasn’t going to go to the big meeting this week. I was going to try a new local meeting down the road, to see if I could branch out for the first time in years from the safe gay meetings that I’ve always done. In the end, despite my best intentions I just went to the gay meeting. It seemed easier, I’d know people there and I might not feel so resentful after a two week break. From start to finish, the meeting was packed with fabulous, heart rending sharing of the sort I could only dream about doing. There were some gaps in which I could have jumped in, but as ever, my mouth wouldn’t open when the opportunity was there.

For the counselling course I’ve been reading some Carl Rogers, who talks about things like ‘congruence’ and ‘self actualisation’. These are concepts I know well – in AA they just have different names. At the beginning of his book ‘A Way Of Being’ Rogers shares some anecdotes about times when he felt listened to, and times when he was able to really listen to someone, and how happy it made him. They’re the kind of anecdotes that make one feel warm inside, because I think really being heard is something we all crave in life. From the day I came into AA I’ve had a forum where I can always be heard, but I haven’t been able to appreciate it all the time because I’m so shit scared of vulnerability. In his writing Carl Rogers reiterates the point that real authenticity and growth only happens when we’re being honest and vulnerable with others. In a moment when one shares something personal with another, without embellishment or self editing, that magical connection occurs that we all dream of, allowing change to happen. I never thought of myself as an advocate of Rogers’ person-centred view of therapy, but I find myself nodding along with it now, and I also find myself wondering if I’ll ever ‘self actualise’ enough to share my true self in all situations.

At the end of tonight’s meeting someone called B opened their mouth and spoke what seemed like an unplanned, random jumble of words, but what was really a clever, funny, authentic story about their life. There was humour and insight, pathos and intelligence; it was fluent and relatable, like a friend talking to you over coffee. When I was sharing my anxiety in the counselling exercise earlier in the day, I had had some of that fluency; there hadn’t been any of the usual anxiety beforehand about what to say, none of the self editing and careful scripting. I had just allowed myself to say what seemed relevant in the hope it would pay off. It really, really bugs me that I can’t just say things in an AA meeting without scripting them beforehand; that I have to wait for a suitable gap in the sharing before opening my mouth and saying my name. What I wouldn’t give to be able to do what B did, just open up when I feel like it and say something that the whole room agrees with, without having to think about it at all.

On the way home I couldn’t help thinking about Carl Rogers and authenticity. Evidently I want to be able to be authentic when I share in AA meetings, to let others in, but I can’t do it when I’m sitting there trying to think of the funniest, cleverest thing to say. Anything I script in my head beforehand can never come out authentically because it just sounds like a script. I put so much pressure on myself to say the best thing I can in the short time given, it’s no wonder I rarely end up sharing.

When I next share in a meeting, I could refuse to script it out beforehand, and just say the first thing that comes to mind. I don’t script everything I’m going to say when I’m talking to a friend like P, for instance, and I don’t beat myself up afterwards for things I’ve said to him. If I could just start talking fluently and normally in a share, like I do in one to one situations with friends outside, it might be the beginning of an authentic change in my life. I immediately balk at the thought of saying things in a meeting that I would normally say to P, or on here – but why? You’re supposed to be able to share anything in an AA meeting, it’s supposed to be a safe space where we’re really honest. I’m coming to realise that I’ve never really been honest in an AA meeting, not for a long time. I’ve just said things that I thought would sound clever or relevant. I haven’t really reached into my soul and blurted the whole truth out, not like I do on here.

I’m not the same person in AA meetings as the person that writes this; nor am I the same person with P. I seem to be another person entirely in the counselling class. There I’m calm and collected, thoughtful, silent. A blank, almost. With P I’m silly, judgemental, superficial. In AA meetings I say things that sound profound but are really just paraphrases of what other people have said. On here, I guess I’m my real self…though it’s hard to tell. How can I tell? Most of the time here I’m anxious, over analytical, extremely self obsessed – but is that really me? I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think I’m more than my anxiety and self obsession, but any other facets to my personality don’t tend to get written about here because, well, I don’t know how to write like the person I am with P, with friends, when I’m happy or excited.

After a meeting the other day I briefly chatted to an old timer about shyness. We were talking about someone else in the meeting who has apparently been avoiding this old timer for a while. I said that they’re probably just shy – it’s the impression I get of them, I didn’t think they were deliberately giving this guy the cold shoulder. The old timer replied with something along the lines of “oh, shyness can be so unattractive sometimes.” To which I protested “but I’m shy!” His answer: “yes, but with you it’s endearing.”

Now, it was nice of him to say that, and I appreciated it. Does that mean the real me is an endearingly shy character who comes alive occasionally in one to one situations with trusted friends? I still don’t know. I just get the feeling that in order to ‘open up’ more in the world I’d need to know who I really am first.

Newcomer nerves

I started the new job at the charity on Monday, and in many ways it should be the ideal job for me. If I could let myself be truly happy in it, I think it would be a dream. It’s got so many things going for it: a nice office, great location, small team, all lovely people, I can wear whatever I want (no more ties!), easy work. The money is terrible, but I was prepared for that, and the positives all outweigh that so much I almost don’t care any more. There’s just one thing, shall we say, that’s concerning me at the moment: so far there doesn’t seem to be much work to do. When I started I thought it was going to be hectic. I was looking forward to being rushed off my feet all week, to feeling like I was majorly contributing to something useful. On Monday we had to spend the day trawling through online learning modules that gave an overview of the charity’s history and some of its working processes, so no actual work done; yesterday and today we’ve been waiting for K, the manager, to give us work to do as it’s not clear how else we can find it. I should say that another girl, D, started on the same day as me in the same role, so I’m not on my own.

That’s another thing that should make the circumstances ideal: I’m not the only newbie in the office. Both of us have had to spend a bit of time this week twiddling our thumbs because everyone else has been too busy to suggest things for us to do.

I probably shouldn’t be complaining about this too much yet. It’s only day three, clearly we don’t really know how to do anything yet so it would be hard for them to pile work on top of us at this point. While it’s true that we’ll only learn to do stuff when they give it to us, they may not want to rush things with us yet. I’m saying all of this to convince myself by the way – I’ll keep going. It’s illogical to think that there really isn’t anything for us to do. The other member of our team, A (who’s been at the charity for twelve years, apparently) has loads of stuff to do. I’ve had hints that she’s got stuff she could share with us, but won’t be able to until we’ve learnt some more processes and been given some more access on the system. God, starting jobs and waiting for access to systems must be the bane of my life!

What I’m really worried about is redundancy. I’m not worried about being sacked: my anxiety’s become a bit more realistic recently. When all of my team was made redundant two years ago it was like the rug being pulled from under my feet, and I know I haven’t recovered from it yet. K’s been quite honest with us about the fact that we have our jobs now following a restructure of the charity that led to some redundancies. My current low paid position arose because other, much higher paid people were let go. It doesn’t lend itself to a feeling of security. Whenever I’m sitting there staring into space with nothing else to do, my thoughts can’t help drifting to the possibility that they’ll realise I’m not needed and let me go too. Thus the whole thing will have turned out to be too good to be true.

I need to let go and let God, to trust that fate wouldn’t deal such a callous hand. The journey to this job was so smooth in comparison to all other jobs, it seems so much like the best career move I could make, I’d have to wonder what kind of higher power would take it away now. Everything that’s happened to me, even what happened in 2014, has pointed to the conclusion that my HP doesn’t want me to be unhappy. I’ve had much cause to think about whether I can fully trust my HP recently, and here I am, being made to think about it again, evidently. Faith says that things will pick up, there will be work coming my way, I just need to give it time. And I haven’t exactly had nothing to do this week, there have been bits and pieces, just not as much as my over busy mind would like. It’s a certainty in life that no situation ever stays the same forever, so this one can hardly remain as it is.

Starting again

On Monday I finally got word back from the charity that I had passed their health screening, so my start date of the 26th could be confirmed. I was relieved of course, and through the week I haven’t felt much in the way of nerves around starting in another new role. I’m looking forward to finding out what it’s going to be like. I’ve received a few emails from my new line manager K, outlining some of the training that will be involved in the first week. It seems like there will be a lot of IT systems to get set up on. The good thing is I’ve already used some of them before, at the bank, so I’m not expecting the IT side of things to be a challenge. K also sent me a detailed list of responsibilities for my role, and it sounds like a lot! On paper it looks like I will be a mixture of receptionist, office manager and admin assistant, and I don’t know if there will be other people doing the same role as me or if I’ll be the only one. In my mind I have the usual questions about whether I’ll be good at it all, and whether I’ll get on with the team around me. It’s quite a big change from what I’ve done before, and though I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t just want to get the induction period over with, to know for sure.

The day before I started at the bank I was ten times as apprehensive as I am at the moment, which I’m taking as a good sign!

A few weeks ago P told me that he had a spare ticket to a foreign homes show in Birmingham this weekend, and on the spur of the moment I decided to go with him. In keeping with my recent habit of taking off for weekends in various parts of the UK, I was happy to book myself into a nice hotel in Birmingham on the weekend before the start of my new job. It would be a different hotel to the one P was staying in, and we would only be going to the homes show together – so it wasn’t going to be like going on holiday with him.

I don’t think I’m ever going to buy home abroad, but one can dream. There’d be a number of talks given by experts on how to buy property abroad, how to pay taxes abroad, how to set up a business abroad, and how Brexit will affect everything. There would also be loads of foreign estate agents at their own stalls, showing off dream properties in France and Spain for us to ogle at. The event was amazingly busy when we got there yesterday, and we had quite an interesting day, listening to some of the talks as well as admiring the properties being advertised. I came away with a bit more knowledge than what I had before regarding how to go about moving to Europe. Who knows, if I manage to be good and save a small fortune in the next thirty years, maybe it could happen.

Away from the event in the evening, P and I enjoyed a nice dinner in a Polish restaurant in the centre of the city. The food was delicious, and as I hadn’t seen much of P in recent weeks we were getting on pretty well, until he wanted to take a picture of our food and attach it to a facebook check in. He has to do this every time we eat in a restaurant. The last few times I’ve questioned him about it, he’s hardly known what to say. I decided to press him on it again yesterday, and he got a bit annoyed but he still couldn’t tell me the real reason for it, which is that he wants people to validate his existence on facebook with likes and comments. Numerous of his well to do friends regularly post pictures of food on facebook and get loads of likes for it; P wants a part of that.

Later on, unfortunately our conversation strayed onto the subject of politics, and although I knew I ought to try and steer it back as quickly as possible, I didn’t. It arose from Brexit, which we’d watched a talk on earlier that day at the show. I expressed the opinion that the government has fucked my generation over, what with Brexit and the impossibility of ever being able to buy a home here, and P did his usual thing of replying with “yeah, but…” to everything I said. His whole argument is the most frustrating anyone could possibly have: he agrees that things are bad but he doesn’t see what can be done about it. As far as he’s concerned, things like the housing crisis, poverty, the great inequality in our society just have to be accepted. When I suggested that perhaps the government could tax the rich a bit more and spend a bit less on nuclear weapons that we’ll never use, he said it wouldn’t make much difference doing that, so there’s no point.

I’ve known for years that it’s pointless having this conversation with P. He’ll never change his mind. He has had a comfortable life and he probably learnt from an early age to instinctively trust the status quo. Whenever I think about it it makes me so angry – but I can’t just end this friendship. In spite of all his many faults, P has been my truest friend for eleven years, and he accepts me completely as I am. A few months ago I thought I could gradually phase him out of my life, but it hasn’t worked. After all this time I don’t know how I can push someone away who is so loyal to me. Going back through my life story has reminded me of just how many people I did that to over the years. All the lost friendships and relationships were lost through my actions, and it took a toll on me. I feel furious whenever I remember P’s political views and his facebook habits, but I have no idea how to live without him.

*****

On Friday we had the first session in the ten week intro to counselling course that I’ll be taking. Funny I should be starting that at the same time as the new job. I had a good feeling when I went into the college on Friday morning. It’s in a bright, modern building with well looked after facilities. The group I’m taking the course with is surprisingly large at just under twenty, mostly women. I’d hoped for a smaller group as large groups are always harder to shine in socially. I knew there’d be a lot of talking involved and I got the same nerves about it there as I’d get in an AA meeting before sharing.

It’s a nice group, and I found the content of the course that was laid out before us interesting. The tutor will be sticking to the person-centred approach, which is fine by me. I’m looking forward to the learning, and to the small group role plays that we’ll be having. It’s mainly the big group activities that I’m anxious about at this point. At the beginning and end of each session we’re expected to go round and say a little bit about how we’re feeling. And during the session after each role play / small group exercise we usually have to come back to the big group to share our thoughts. When everyone else is trying to get in to speak, it’s impossible for me to feel confident about opening my mouth and speaking up. Just like in a busy AA meeting. I’m aware that as this is coming up I know it will be something I need to look at if I pursue a career in counselling. I might need to look at it during the course of the next ten weeks. I’d already identified before that I want to work on my confidence about using my voice, or lack thereof. At the moment I’m more aware than ever that I’m stuck in this area. Recently it’s been especially clear in meetings where I’ve not been able to speak to people or share. It seems the more aware of it I am, the harder it is to work on. It’s like the disease is fighting back.

Book update

A quick update on my autobiography – the first 200 pages are now published here and it’s reached the point where I came to AA nine years ago, the end of my drinking. Although it’s never easy to delve into the past I have found the process of rewriting and publishing the story tremendously cathartic. Coming to AA in 2007 was the point where the original draft of the book ended, so from now on I will be writing brand new chapters about my life in recovery. I aim to get to the present day, or thereabouts. As I’m writing from scratch I probably won’t be posting new chapters as frequently as I have been until now. Once I’m up to the present day, I’ll probably want to go back and redraft the recovery chapters. My hope is that the whole thing will be complete by next year, so that the second part of the story covers my first decade of sobriety.

The struggle continues

After a late summer heatwave the air was finally cleared last night with a massive thunderstorm. Now normally I like hot weather, but the last week has been pretty hellish in my room, which doesn’t let heat escape easily, so I was looking forward to a drop in the temperature. As I’m sure most of the country was. Due to the heat I’ve not had a good night’s sleep in over two weeks. I’d tried everything – putting a fan next to the bed, opening the window, sleeping naked, but every night it’s still been too hot to relax properly. Although being woken at 4 in the morning by the noise of a violent thunderstorm isn’t exactly fun, I was happy last night as I could tell that the sticky heat and humidity was finally going to be sucked out of the air. This morning after a few hours broken sleep I woke feeling good – like a bad time had passed.

There’s no doubt I’ve spent too much time indoors the past few weeks, in my overheated room. But without work I haven’t had reason to go out every day, and there’s things I’ve wanted to do, such as rewrite my autobiography. I’ve done a lot of rewriting recently, which I’m pleased about, but for some reason delving into the past this time around has proved more difficult than it was the last time I worked on the book. In this redrafting process I have expanded quite a lot on my drinking years, and so in some sense I have been reliving those experiences, here in my bedroom where so much of it happened. A healthy sober suggestion might have been not to spend so much time reliving the past if it was causing me so much pain. I’ve certainly been thinking about it a lot more than usual this past fortnight, but it was always my intention to redraft the book and I think it’s an important thing to do. Plus, the fact it’s been making me feel down could be a sign I still need to work through some stuff. We shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it, right?

Anyway, today’s change in weather was a chance for a fresh start and a break from the funk I’d been fighting to get out of. Having done a lot of writing this week I decided to give myself a break and go into the west end this afternoon, to indulge in an old pastime, reading in a coffee shop, before the meeting in the evening. It was certainly nice to be able to walk all the way to town again without sweating horribly. I sat in a favourite coffee shop with a book for a couple of hours, which was lovely, then went to the big Friday meeting, a place I go now out of habit even though the last couple of weeks I haven’t felt like going. Tonight for a minute on the way in I wondered what it would be like going to a different meeting on a Friday. It’s been so long since I went to any other meeting on a Friday – without checking the where to find I wouldn’t even know where other Friday meetings are now.

I walked into the meeting room and sat in the middle, the very worst place to sit if you want to connect with anyone. I honestly have no idea why I never talk to anyone when I sit in the middle of the middle row. I’ve known for a long time that to stand any chance of having a friendly conversation I ought to put myself at the edge where most people comfortably gather. It was on my mind to do this tonight but before I could look for somewhere comfortable looking on one of the side rows, my feet had automatically taken me to the middle again. I can never do that thing that some people do, when they see someone they want to talk to and swap seats to be near them. Once I’m in a seat I can’t move, no matter what logical argument there may be for moving.

In most meetings over the past few weeks there has been an invisible barrier around me, which has made it extra difficult to start conversations with fellow alcoholics. Although I started the day feeling fresh and ready for a change in attitude, in the meeting tonight that barrier was most definitely up again. It’s a barrier that goes up when I’m feeling unsafe, in situations where I may be judged by others. I’ve understood for a long time that no one’s judging me in AA but clearly that knowledge hasn’t sunk into my core yet. I felt like everyone would judge me tonight for being extra quiet; the more I tried to convince myself that no one was thinking that the harder it was not to think it. I felt like people would only have to take one look at me, see how I was holding myself and decide that I wasn’t worthy of being there.

In the end I had to accept powerlessness over the feelings. If people were judging me for how I held myself, so be it. I was tiring myself out worrying about it.

The chair was given by a cute twenty-something and focused on all the wonderful benefits of sobriety. If I was in a better mood I might have found his nervous, halting delivery endearing, but as it was I just wanted him to finish a blooming sentence without getting interrupted by the next one. I didn’t consider sharing in the meeting. I didn’t even know what to say. At the end I said goodbye and gave a couple of people hugs in an attempt at connection, because despite how resentful I felt I knew above all that I needed some connection. As I hugged them however I worried about whether they really wanted to speak to me, after all this time that I’ve spent isolating myself from them. Like last week, I went home feeling rather inconsolable.

It doesn’t take much investigation to figure out how this distance from AA has developed again. I had a bad week last week – I was stressed out about that health questionnaire for the new job (which by the way I still haven’t heard anything about), I felt bad for ignoring L in the street, and I was tired from not getting any sleep. Together it piled on top of me and I stopped making so much effort to engage in meetings, which I later felt bad about, which caused me to start to feel awkwardness in them again. I wish to God that knowing how it’s happened made it easier to overcome but tonight it just seems harder than ever.

Beating myself up over it doesn’t help but it’s hard to feel good about my nine years of sobriety when I still can feel so separate from everything. I really, really want to believe that it’s just my warped perception telling me that everyone else finds it easier than me. The Friday meeting is probably the worst one to go to when one is feeling this way, because it’s always so noisy and full of frivolous conversation, like a party. I wish I could believe deep down that they all know my struggle, that when the meeting starts and they talk about going through this sort of thing they really mean it.

In my head I know they mean it. I know that I only have to share, reach out to them and make that connection happen because I’ve done it before. I know I’m not really separate from them. But in my heart I still can’t bring myself to trust it. Even though tonight, at least three people in later sobriety talked about finding the meeting difficult and wanting to go out sometimes, I remained separate by not opening my mouth, by leaving at the end and not letting a single person know that I was struggling. Because I didn’t want to face rejection, didn’t want to make that effort only to potentially be let down. No matter what I tell myself, I still can’t see everyone as an equal, I only see people as potential bullies, unless they go out of their way to prove me wrong.

The answer to this is staring me in the face: I should share it in a meeting. Oh the irony! The one thing I can’t seem to do is the only thing that will make a difference. Time and time again experience has proved this and yet…and yet.

Maybe it’s running away from the problem but I’m considering trying a different meeting for a change next Friday. Maybe a smaller local meeting, where it’s not so difficult to get into the sharing. I had a good few weeks at the big meeting earlier in the year, didn’t I? Weeks where I stuck around for dinner with the group afterwards, talked to the old timers, thought I was one of them. It seems like that period is over now.

Establishing myself in a new meeting will be quite tricky, especially if I’m still in this funk next week, but maybe it will be the change I need to get my program going again. I don’t know. It’s true that the big Friday meeting is a difficult one to share in if you’re shy, so competitive can the sharing be sometimes.

I guess if I’m going to a new meeting with good intentions then it’s fine. If I’m doing it to challenge myself, maybe find a new group of friends then ok. If it’s just to run away from the Friday meeting, not ok. We’ll have to see. I’ll go back to the big meeting one day, it would be pointless avoiding it forever.

It’s set in stone that I can never leave AA, never drink again, so it’s not like that’s going to happen. Because ultimately, what would be the point? In spite of all the difficulties, the drudgery of coming back here every week and writing about how shit it all is, underlying is a constant drive in me to get better, move forward. I can’t drink, I can’t leave AA – it would be suicide. Since the age of sixteen, when I tried it, I have been fundamentally averse to killing myself, and that’s something that’s stuck with me all along, through all the hardship.

If I’m looking for positives in this all I guess it’s good that I’m not blaming the people in AA for how I feel any more. I know the way I felt tonight was no one in the meeting’s fault. It came about because of the events described earlier. I didn’t come away from the meeting with a great resentment at anyone, like I used to all the time a few years ago. And at least I can still experience some connection at the Monday and Saturday meetings, where I do have some friends.

It would be nice to be able to go into every meeting and find a friend. That would be so wonderful. Eighteen months ago I couldn’t see it ever happening, and after a good year in AA I’ve sort of gone back to feeling that way again, that I may not ever have more than two or three friends total. What would be even nicer would be to not have to worry about this any more. To be able to picture the rest of my life without seeing one long lifetime’s struggle ahead of me. I already pray for this every morning to my HP, so really, it’s in their hands now. Nothing else I can do.

Better

I went to the meeting on Friday and faced the music. Whenever I’m anxious about the way something’s going to turn out in life, it never turns out that way. So Friday proved to be the case. It wasn’t so bad. I managed to share, say hello to a couple of people, let them know what I’d been struggling with for the past few days. But by the end of the meeting I still felt like I’d failed, because I hadn’t made up with L. I tried to leave without saying goodbye to anybody, but I couldn’t get away without being accosted by P, a newcomer that I’ve got to know in recent months who is good at telling when something’s up with one of his friends. He asked if I was all right in a tone that indicated he knew I was not all right. All I could say was that the room was very hot and I needed to get some fresh air. Which was partly true, but the second I was out of the building I’d run off before we could continue our chat.

I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I could get to a stage in my life where I didn’t do that to people any more, where it wouldn’t even cross my mind. It’s a strange state to be in: wanting people to notice my pain at the same time as wanting them to leave me alone. I was happy that P noticed me and cared enough to ask how I was doing, but I couldn’t share the truth with him in case it made me vulnerable. My old alcoholic instincts wouldn’t let me.

One thing I desperately needed was a good night’s sleep. I managed to get that on Friday, so that by Saturday I was feeling relatively normal again. It was much easier to smile and be myself when I got to the meeting that evening. Thus it’s disconcerting how much mood can still affect my behaviour. While I was in that mood on Friday I knew it would pass eventually, that I still had it in me somewhere to be open and sociable with people, but the knowledge wasn’t enough to stop me acting out on the feeling. The feeling still dominates.

On Saturday I shared for a good five minutes about what had happened, and I could tell people understood. After the meeting we went for the usual coffee, which was nice as I hadn’t been for a few weeks. It was the same group that I’ve been going for coffee with on Saturdays all year. They’re probably the people that know me the best in AA apart from my sponsor. I feel safe with them – luckily that business with R earlier in the year is forgotten about. I wish I had a group like that in every meeting but it hasn’t happened yet. When I’m in one of my moods I can latch onto the fact that I still don’t feel safe in meetings all the time, and there’s a constant danger of me drifting to the edge of things because of it.

I only have to log onto facebook to see the latest holiday or party that sober friends have been invited to, things that I’m never involved in. Despite all the knowledge I have about how these things happen, why it shouldn’t be important enough to affect my sobriety, I can still look at these photos and think: why wasn’t I included? It’s the same old thing that I went through at school and university countless times. Other people will always do things that don’t always involve me. I still have such a strong inclination to see it as my failure somehow, to believe that I’m not doing well enough in life because I’ve never gone on a holiday with sober friends to Spain before. When I let things like that build up in my head and drive me away from meetings I end up unhappy, isolated and even more lonely than I was before. But the negativity remains so attractive, because it allows me to avoid doing any hard work to change my circumstances.

As always, I have a choice. I can wallow in resentment and self pity or I can carry on with my program regardless. I know which would be the better choice for me now, I just have to make it.

I felt better at last night’s meeting, where you find the same crowd as the Saturday meeting. I shared everything again and got it all out there, because I knew I had to. At the end, L came up to me out of the blue and said that he feels awkward when he sees people in the street sometimes too, and doesn’t always know whether to say ‘hello’ or not. I guess that’s as much of a reconciliation as we’re ever going to manage. At least my suspicions were confirmed that he feels the same awkwardness as me, and it’s not just a case of him hating me.

I should hear from the charity in the next couple of days whether I’ve passed their health screening or not. Everyone I’ve spoken to has reassured me that it will just turn out to be a formality and they have no right to revoke my job offer based on a health questionnaire. That said I won’t be fully confident again until they’ve confirmed that I’ve passed the screening. So I still have some anxiety about that, which I need to accept powerlessness over. There’s no point in getting sucked into a hole again and ruining my day.

More not so great news

I needed a meeting tonight, more than I’ve needed one in quite a long time, but that didn’t mean I was happy about going to one. I chose the Soho meeting, one I rarely go to, because I couldn’t think of anywhere else. I knew when I got there I’d be faced with the Soho crowd – a harem of glamorous young gays who can always be found with coffees and cigarettes on Old Compton Street, when not in a meeting. I tend to avoid the Soho meetings because they’re always there, hogging the sharing. Tonight I had to not care. Of course, when I got there, the first person I saw was L, who I had been feeling guilty about all day. Oh for goodness sake, just smile and say hello to him! my head was telling me. Could I do it? No, absolutely not. He didn’t acknowledge me so I walked straight past him and up the stairs to the meeting, feeling like a criminal.

A certain teenage heaviness settled on me as I sat in the meeting room, and I couldn’t speak to or look at anyone as they came in and sat around me. It’s not an easy meeting to hide in: the chairs form a circle around the edge of the small room, so you’re visible wherever you sit. Another reason I don’t normally go there. It reminded me of how I felt in AA all the time a couple of years ago, when I couldn’t walk into any meeting without wanting to hide.

Just like that, I’m back to that place again. The irony is that I didn’t see this coming at all. Last week I was so happy in AA and in life. I honestly thought I’d never consider leaving AA again. Today the shadow of a desire to quit and do things alone again crossed my mind, because it always does when things are difficult and I’m faced with the consequences of my behaviour.

I know all long timers in AA go through this and I shouldn’t have expected this to never happen to me again. Obviously, I need to be more vigilant. Tonight there were plenty of chances to share in the meeting. A long silence near the end was telling me to open my mouth and speak. I could have said anything and I’m sure someone would have appreciated it. But everyone else who’d shared simply sounded so much cleverer than me. Anything I thought I might say just wasn’t going to be good enough. Plus, L was there, potentially judging me, so it was easier to stay silent.

No matter how many times I go through this in AA it never gets easier to understand or push through. Feeling crushed by the potential opinions of everyone in the room, I walked out at the end of the meeting, as anonymous as I had been at the start, and went for a long walk. Usually a long walk in London can help with a mood swing, especially at night time when the streets are quiet. I felt a bit better by the time I got home, but I’m left wondering how this happened again in the first place.

It’s Friday, so in normal circumstances I’d be going to the big gay meeting. At the moment I don’t know how I’m going to face it. It will be full of the same Soho crowd as tonight, and L will probably be there, so if I’m still not on top form it’s bound to be another painful experience. I really wish I could just not go, but I’ve known for a long time that I don’t have a choice with this. I have literally nowhere else to go. There’s always the option of going to a different meeting where no one knows me – people are always saying how there are over 600 meetings a week in London – but if I do that it would just be out of fear, and it wouldn’t help.

The last thing I want to do right now is follow suggestions and call someone about this. Whoever I decided to speak to, I know exactly what they’d say. It’s the same thing that people have always said any time anyone is feeling this way in recovery. The answer’s in the steps – it has always been in the steps. I can’t ever escape from that or pretend I don’t know it. There will never be a different answer.

I have to talk to someone in recovery as soon as possible. Either by calling my sponsor or getting to a meeting tomorrow and opening my mouth. And I probably owe L an amends. Not saying ‘hello’ to someone in the street isn’t the worst crime anyone ever committed, but it’s clearly touched a nerve and I don’t want this hanging over me for another day. Knowing that I probably owe him an amends doesn’t mean I’m going to do it. I have no idea when I next see him if I’ll be able to smash through that fear and say something to him. He’s one of those people who’s good at putting barriers up – like me – when they’re up, it doesn’t fill you with confidence about approaching him. The most sober thing for me to do would be to approach him knowing all of that and say a sincere ‘sorry’ anyway. At nine years sober I should be able to go ahead and do it. Fuck, what’s he going to do, bite my head off?

In my head I just can’t see myself doing it. I wish I could but it feels too difficult. Jumping into a cage with sharks would be easier. This abject fear I have of offending people, which is always exacerbated when I happen not to say ‘hello’ to them one time, it all sounds so trivial on paper. Yet it’s become one of the hardest things in life that I have to overcome.

I still see that homeless guy outside my tube station every day. Most times he waves to me now, and when I’ve been in a good mood I’ve waved back, though it always bothers me that I’ve never given him any money or helped him in any way. Who knows, maybe I help him just by waving at him, acknowledging him as a person. Although I’ve passed him and waved countless times this year, every time I come out of the tube station I still face the dilemma of whether I should wave or not. I still don’t know if waving is an insult when I don’t give him any money or stop to talk to him, find out who he is. This daily dilemma has become so inconvenient I’ve started to change my routines and use another station further down the road instead, when I have the energy to walk another ten minutes. Instead of just doing what any normal person would do, walk out of the station and wave at him, maybe stop to talk to him sometimes, I am instinctively driven to go out of my way to avoid him. He’s always there in the same spot, and so for me he is a constant daily reminder of what’s wrong with me. I can’t just say ‘hello’ to another human being – first I have to weigh up and assess the risks. If it seems too risky based on old, child like reasoning, I ignore and avoid, causing potential offence which then exacerbates the drive to ignore and avoid.

I’ve been brought to my knees by this illness again. As always, I can choose to run and hope it will go away, or I can go back to AA and face it. I’m cornered. Now would be a good time for some help, HP!