Home and away

My old AA friend D got in touch last week to let me know he was in London visiting. He moved out to the countryside a couple of years ago; it had been about four years since I last saw him. The breakdown in my friendship with him and S was part of what drove me out of AA back then. Since I came back I’ve always felt that seeing them again would heal some old wounds, rebuild the last bridge in AA that I burned – so I was looking forward to meeting D for coffee on Tuesday. As soon as I saw him it was like no time had passed at all since our last meeting. We were instantly comfortable with each other again, laughing at the silly things in life that annoy us such as tourists with bad hair, talentless pop stars, Madonna’s career in the last ten years. After the humour our conversation moved on to AA and how our attitudes have changed towards it in recent years. I seem to have surrendered fully to it now, while D holds onto the reticence that I experienced in the years when I was out of it.

I always admired D for his honesty and scepticism, and I could completely see where he was coming from when he expressed irritation at the bad parts of AA, like old timers who tell newcomers what to do. But it seemed to me that he was getting fed up of it, like he was ready to quit AA and try other things after ten years of doing everything the AA way. He said he’s only been to a few meetings this year, which rung alarm bells, though I didn’t say anything. I get the impression there aren’t that many meetings out where he lives, and if the few meetings that his local area has aren’t his cup of tea, I can see how it would make wanting to keep going difficult. Whenever I talk to people from small provincial towns I’m always reminded how lucky I am to have got sober in a place like London.

I took D to the newcomer meeting, hoping he’d enjoy it and remember why he liked coming to AA before. Throughout the meeting I could tell that he was tired and not really there. I realised that I’d really brought him for my own nostalgic reasons – I wanted to go back to 2007 when we used to go there together as youngsters new to it all. Anyway, it was lovely to spend the evening with him and talk about music with someone who gets it. Who knows, maybe he’ll decide that the countryside was bad for his sobriety and come back to London for good.

*****

I’m glad I decided to go back to Lyon this year. I didn’t exactly have the best of times when I went last year. The weather and the location that I stayed in that time didn’t favour me at all. This year I was luckier on both fronts. I had a really nice time, and got to take some gorgeous photos of the city as I walked around in the sweltering sun.

I think I’ve proven to myself that travelling alone on short city breaks is fine. I didn’t find this trip stressful or all that lonely, even though there were no English AA meetings on when I was there, meaning I didn’t get to have a conversation with anyone during the three days there. I think that the new meditative stance that I’m trying to take on life pays off in situations that were once potentially stressful. I just let them play out now.

Without any other options I may have to travel alone on all future holidays. I was already kind of prepared for this, but until this week I thought that would just mean safe holidays in safe, familiar European destinations for the rest of my life. Now I’ve got to thinking about branching out of Europe again, something I did regularly a few years ago when I had more money and more adventure in me. I crave to see all the other continents and parts of the world that I’ve never seen; I also yearn to go back to America, a place where some of my happiest memories are. What’s held me back from committing to these trips is money, the fear of long haul flying, and the fear that I can’t look myself on such big trips any more. I got tired of flying last year, and part of me was ready to give up on ever doing it again. But the travelling bug has bitten me once more, and now that I’m no longer tied to the places that P wants to go on holiday, I feel like I should be ready to face my fears again.

I need to be sensible about this. I can’t just start spending money on trips to far flung parts of the globe. Just because I have money in the bank account now, doesn’t mean I can start looking at flights and hotels. I’ve reasoned that I can afford about one big trip every year. The list of places that I want to go stretches to about thirty – so that’s the next thirty summers sorted then!

Seriously, seeing the world could turn into a life project. A noble project, maybe. I don’t have to be glum at the fact of how long it’s going to take. Knowing that I’m slowly working my way through a list every year – an important, wonderful dream list – could become the thing that keeps me going. Like having a list of books I want to read, albums I want to listen to or films I want to watch, it would all be very enriching.

Now I’m home I’m looking forward to getting back to AA meetings. It’ll be six days since my last one – the longest I’ve gone without one since last year, I think. Any longer I wouldn’t want to risk now.

I’m also looking forward to having some time out of work. I’m basically repeating what I did last year when I left that job, but who cares. I have plenty still in the bank from their big payout, which will ensure I don’t have to worry about income for a good while. I’ve done really well with money this year, so I know there is no need to pressure myself to take the first crappy job that comes along again.

Talking of jobs, that place I interviewed with a couple of weeks ago aren’t progressing with my application. They called me on Friday to let me know that unfortunately they’d changed their minds and would be offering the position to an internal candidate instead. Which is disappointing, but what can you do. At least they had the decency to tell me and apologise for wasting my time. Nah, I’m not upset with them. The interview was good practise, and they did like me, they just didn’t have the job this time round.

Until something else comes along I’ve got time to do the things I was planning to do in April to be kind to myself, before the bank came along and spoiled things. I need to get back to my writing, my French practise, my reading. And I need to start preparing for the counselling course in September. If I can keep a level head about the job search, this could be a great few weeks. When I’m meant to be in work again, I will.

A matter of perception

It would have been nice if my last week at the bank had been in any way interesting, but it wasn’t. It was the most boring week yet, with hardly anything to do, nothing to learn or be challenged by. I probably picked the best time of the year to leave, a quiet time in which I was hardly needed. But I never deal well with boredom at work, and I’d have killed for something fun to do. Anything not mind meltingly dull would have suited me.

As my final day approached and as I had so little to occupy me, I got to reflect some more on what might have gone wrong with some of my colleagues at the bank. By now I had fairly normal working relationships with most of the people around me, but on the last day there remained three people who I never said ‘hello’ to. With K in particular, it’s hard to accept that we never got over that awkwardness, because there was no awkwardness on the day of the interview back in April. It was only when the job started and we were put in different teams that something happened, and a barrier went up between us. I’m not saying we were great friends at the audition, but I clearly remember feeling sufficiently at ease with him to share a few words of encouragement with him that day. At the end of the interview we shook hands and wished each other luck, and I remember hoping that if I got the job, he’d get it too, so that I’d be starting at the bank on friendly terms with at least one person. Months later, I’m watching him interact normally with the people around us, wondering what I did wrong. I’ll never know now because I’ll never see him again. If this were a film or TV drama, a person in my position would have been able to have it out with the K character. There’d have been a cathartic confrontation that brings to light the truth and resolves everything in the space of a few minutes.

Because it’s not a film or TV drama, confronting K would have been unthinkable. All I could do was sit it out until the end. For a moment, even though K was a stranger to me and shouldn’t have mattered a bit, he mattered by reminding me of an old drinking buddy that I felt out with through my stupidity ten years ago. I saw something in his expression that recalled so strongly this old friend who disappeared from my life without a trace after a drunken argument, taking all control in the matter away from me. With K, and to some extent with all people that I fail to connect with, I experience that lack of control again, and it hurts not being able to change or fully understand it.

Up until the minute I left the bank yesterday, time was dragging, and getting slower by the minute. As soon as the day was over, it was like my whole time at the bank had passed in a flash. It’s funny. I wonder at why time is always so predictable: when you want it to pass quickly, it doesn’t. Knowing that it’s entirely a matter of perception has never helped. The perception I’ve always had of it is too powerful to break through.

There was a flurry of excitement in the team as my last day passed. V, J and a few others were exceptionally pleasant to me all day, sharing in my excitement for the future. In response to their kindness I felt a small lump in the throat, realising that I would never see them again after yesterday. I only hoped that they wouldn’t embarrass me in the afternoon by making me stand up and give a speech to the whole office, like other former colleagues have been made to do.

Years and years ago in an AA meeting I remember someone talking about their work, how they’d been surprised by colleagues who made them a cake on their birthday. At the time I’d just finished university and didn’t think I’d ever get a job, let alone have colleagues do anything so nice for me. I was proved wrong at my last job, of course; and at the bank I have been proved wrong in some ways, too, by one or two teammates who’ve turned out to be genuinely nice people. They didn’t make me stand up and give a speech in the end, but they did give me a card and a present an hour before I left. It was a nice thought and I left the office pleased with how it all turned out. I didn’t get sacked; I didn’t flounce out of the job after a week and leave them all in the lurch. I worked my full month’s notice without complaint, and I left as a liked and respected member of the team.

*****

After the interview last week they called me up and told me I was through to the second and final stage of interviews. It would take place next week on the 30th; I should receive confirmation of the time before too long. That was a week ago and I haven’t heard anything since. I sent a chaser email on Monday, to which HR replied that they were still waiting for confirmation and I’d have to wait. I haven’t sent any further chasers because I don’t want to come across as pushy. But I’m thinking I probably should send one more chaser – knowing what HR can be like, they might have forgotten, or lost my details, or anything. One more chaser email five days after the last one can’t seem that pushy.

It’s so frustrating. I mean, do they want me back or not? I sometimes marvel at the incompetence in the world. But, as with most things, I have no control over it, so there’s no point in worrying about it. It’s been tempting as hell to fret about the job search this week, go back to how I was at the start of the year when I was desperate enough to take anything. Truthfully I have enough to live on for a long time, and I’d be doing myself a huge disservice by putting myself through that worry again. I know everything will be all right.

I’m in France now. I booked this holiday ages ago, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months. It’s nice to be here again, especially now that I’m celebrating freedom from a dead end job. I’m in Lyon, and it’s swelteringly hot. Things almost got off to a bad start earlier, as I panicked about getting here without any glitches. At St Pancras this morning they announced that there were some delays on the trains, which was inconvenient to say the least as I had a connecting train in Paris to catch. Long delays didn’t materialise in the end, but that didn’t stop me from worrying. I panicked about finding my way from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon on the Paris Metro, then I fretted about finding the right platform there. I worried about being mugged or attacked by the first person to spot my ‘lost tourist’ credentials. I brooded about getting sunburnt in the extraordinary French summer heat; and finally, when I was in Lyon I agonised about finding my way from the train station to the hotel. Strangely I happen to be staying on one side of a motorway, with the rest of the city on the other side facing. To get here one has to cross the motorway somehow. At first I had no idea how to do it. There were no signs, no obvious walkways or tunnels. It could have been a complete disaster.

One would think I’ve never travelled before, never done holidays on my own before. I’ve done dozens of solo holidays over the years; finding my way around in foreign cities is nothing new. Yet every time there is the same level of panic over getting safely to the place I’m staying. Tonight as I rest in my hotel room, it’s clear to me that today’s worrying was disproportionate, as it always is. I found a walkway under the motorway, and since then I’ve been able to enjoy a pleasant evening. I really couldn’t stand for another holiday to be ruined by anxiety, like last year’s big European trip nearly was. So I must keep anxiety at bay, by continuing with the program, with my meditation and everything I’ve been doing recently to bring it down. If I know the anxiety is just a perception and not reality, I’m fine.

Book update

For those who are following, I’ve posted the first 60 or so pages of my book now. I’ve reached the age of eighteen and just discovered alcohol. It’s fun and emotional going back over this stuff, hopefully someone else can enjoy it too. Check the page out here

New & old horizons

Time’s speeding by and work at the bank is wrapping up for me now. J had some lovely words for me this afternoon as she was going on holiday today and wouldn’t see me again once she’d gone. She reiterated what she said before, that I’d been an asset to the team and that they’d all miss me. Wow, I thought. I really must have done something right during my time there.

V seems to be slowly getting the hang of the customer mailing now. I worry that when I’m gone and she has to do it on her own, she’ll keep getting distracted and lose the ability to think straight. I’ve seen it happen so much in the last few weeks, and with a complicated process like this it’s so easy to make huge mistakes if you’re distracted. I need to let it go now – I’ve done all I can to train her. This time last year when I was handing things over at the last job I felt the same reluctance to let go, the same fear that my replacements would fuck things up without me, and I had to let go anyway, because it really wasn’t my responsibility any more.

I had an interview today. It was for a part time three days a week customer service role at a large job ads website in London. I decided to announce it on facebook last night, purely for selfish reasons, to see how many people would wish me luck. This morning I woke to dozens of likes and comments – a rare occurrence indeed! Someone had even been thoughtful enough to message me a link to an article about common interview questions and tips for answering them, from someone with decades of experience in HR.

All of which proves my theory that the most popular posts on facebook involve life events, such as new jobs, weddings, holidays, house moves. Trying to post witty comments or links to clever sounding articles doesn’t cut it sadly, not when I do it anyway. When will I learn?

It’s interesting that I didn’t spend the day leading up to the interview drowning in anxiety, like I have before interviews in the past. I guess I know my way around a job interview now. I’ve had plenty of practise this year, I know what I need to say and I’m confident in my own abilities. On the way there this afternoon I knew I could do the job that they were offering. it sounded so similar to many of the things I did at the last company for six years, I was sure I just had to sell myself for half an hour and I’d be in with a chance.

To be able to take the afternoon off for the interview I’ve had to work through lunches all week at the bank. As always, J didn’t mind. It was so nice to get out this afternoon and not have to face another full day in the basement. As soon as I got on the train to the interview, the nerves hit me. I don’t think it was nervousness about the interview itself or whether I could do the job: it was a deeper, more subtle nervousness that I get in situations where I have to meet strangers and rely on them for help. In this situation, I’d need to speak to someone at the office reception and ask them to direct me to my interview. Anything could go wrong. They could have forgotten that they were expecting me, or I could get lost in a maze of corridors in the big office building that I was heading towards.

None of these things happened, of course, and I knew they wouldn’t before I got there, so the nerves never rose above a low pitch. I arrived at a gorgeous high rise glass office block in South London, five minutes away from the river, and was pointed in the right direction by a friendly girl on reception. My first impression of the company and its office reminded me strongly of the company I left last year. It had a very strong vibe of being a young tech company, like my former employer, with staff in casual clothes and trainers, lots of big computer screens and laptops, food and drinks and mobile phones scattered comfortably on desks rather than forcibly hidden away like at the bank. The most impressive part was the view from the 9th floor windows overlooking the South Bank. As soon as I saw it I had a strong feeling that I’d like to work there.

Walking into the interview I had thoughts running through my mind of how much it reminded me of the company I left last year, how great it would be to go back into that past and experience all the good things about such a company again. I also had thoughts about how I wanted to change my career and do something more meaningful. As they were asking the standard interview questions and as I was answering with as much gusto and professionalism as I could muster, I recognised that this job was a realistic, good option for me, and I couldn’t turn my nose up at it if it was offered to me. While I’m studying for my counselling qualification I’m still going to need to pay for my living expenses. A part time job in a company like this one would be pretty much the perfect way of supporting myself through studies, based on what I saw today. After five months of hell at the bank, I’d take a job where I can be myself and wear my own clothes every day, and not some ill fitting corporate outfit!

I think the interview went very well, all things considered. I didn’t fluff any of the questions, I was able to give a number of good examples of customer service that I’ve provided in my career, I was friendly and warm, even managing to smile a few times. It may be presumptuous, but I’m going to say that I’ll be a little surprised if I don’t get through to the next round of interviews. There’s just one final round to go before a job offer is made.

Realistically, I’m not going to interview at many places like that. So I will take the job if it’s offered to me. I can do it three days a week and do my studying / live my life the rest of the time. I don’t have to do it forever. Whatever job I end up doing, I sincerely hope that the first few months won’t be a living hell in which I struggle to make any friends. Thinking about it, I really think that the environment at the bank didn’t help me at all in the beginning. It’s shown me that however nice people may be, and however far I’ve come personally, some environments will always be harder to flourish in than others, and I need to always do my best to find the environments that I can thrive in.

Friday night (meeting night)

On the approach to the Friday meeting in town I faced the same creeping anxiety that I have faced every time I’ve gone there during the past nine years. The fear of facing people which subsides but never fades completely. I didn’t want to get there and endure another awkward ninety minutes of isolation in the middle of the room, not again. So I tried to soak up the happy carefree atmosphere on the streets as I walked there, in another evening of glorious sunshine that we were enjoying. When I got to the meeting I felt ok – the anxiety was there but it wasn’t overpowering. I thought I was doing pretty well for once, following a program and engaging with people by smiling at them and looking them in the eye, something I usually dread.

Just before the meeting started a face from the past walked in, one I’d never expected to see again in a meeting, and my spirits plunged. It was G, the guy I met for coffee once in 2009 and immediately developed an enormous crush on. He came back into my life initially earlier this year, poking me on facebook and engaging me in lewd conversations via whatsapp. For a brief period I thought the excitement of my twenties could be repeated, but I soon realised that it was going nowhere, he wasn’t interested in meeting up or taking things further than whatsapp. So I abruptly cut all contact, blocked him on whatsapp and social media, because the interaction was beginning to bore me.

During all the time we were in contact I understood he wasn’t going to AA any more, had stopped going a long time ago, because he preferred managing his own sobriety. To see him in the meeting on Friday then was understandably a shock. Why the hell was he there? I desperately wanted to know. But I daren’t go over to him or acknowledge him. He sat on the opposite side of the room to me, about as far from my seat as the room would allow, which was a small mercy. Still I couldn’t stop myself from feeling immensely self conscious and like I didn’t want to be there. He must have seen me, must have seen my face drop into an awkward grimace. His opinion of me became significantly more important than it had been in years. All the while I knew what was going on, knew it was silly to care about the opinion of someone who meant so little to me, but I couldn’t control my reaction. The whole experience was so much like something that would happen during my drinking, when I walked into bars and clubs and saw people I didn’t want to see all the time. As soon as I recognised that, I thought I was going to have to leave the meeting as soon as possible. Not until it was officially over, perhaps, but the minute they announced the end I would have to dart straight out of the door, like in the old days, without saying goodbye to anyone. I’d just have to.

The chair was given by X, an old friend who I don’t see or speak to much these days, and it was amazing. It was one of those rare chairs where I hear my story. He talked about experiences at school and I could identify so much that I wanted to share back in the meeting. Normally I don’t share at that meeting – it’s often so busy and so full of people with impressive oratorical skills that I don’t blame myself for shying away most weeks. And with G there in the room, surely it would be even more difficult. But when it came to it, I just had to think “fuck it” and speak. What I had to say was too important. I thanked X for being so supportive of me in the past, and for taking me out in drag that one time in 2008 (God, what a fun night that was!) People laughed at the story, and I imagine a few of them were quite curious to know I’d ever done such a thing. Looking back on it now, I’m curious about how I managed it. I didn’t feel awkward when I was speaking, despite the fact I was sharing personal things that I’d never say outside a meeting. I suppose that’s the beauty of AA, that we can say anything in a meeting and be supported and listened to. At the end of the share, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and fondness for X, I actually said “I love you”, and it didn’t feel cheesy or disingenuous – it came out exactly the way I meant it to come out, which is that I love him as a sober brother.

By then I didn’t want to leave the meeting without saying goodbye to anyone, and I didn’t have to. G stayed away from me, thank God, as we all gathered outside in the alleyway and chatted about our plans for the weekend ahead. It was a lovely few moments, as I was able to engage with the group just as if nothing untoward had ever happened, and I hadn’t seen a face from the past. I laughed at jokes and entertaining comments, and as I did so I noticed that my laugh has changed recently. No longer is it a high pitched, screechy sucking in of air like I’m some teenage girl, it’s become more of a deep belly laugh in which I actually force air out and sound like myself.

Friday was undoubtedly one of the best meetings I’ve been to all year. Just when I was thinking I’d never share at that meeting again, I managed to! Hooray! And in spite of all that I mustn’t forget that I’m still an alcoholic and there will be challenging weeks again in the future!

Old

Middle of the week I experienced yet more irony in the sense of knowing I’d give anything to be back at my last job, this time last year. For five months I have been stuck in the middle of a big basement open plan office – possibly the worst place, because I’m in the very heart of all the noise and activity. It’s inescapable. If they had put me in a different team when I started, in a different part of the office, a corner maybe, it might have been a less oppressive five months, and who knows, maybe I’d have stayed a bit longer. The never ending noise is just about the worst thing about the job now, worse even than the fact some of my teammates never talk to me and I’ve felt like an outsider from the start. The constant noise, together with the rule that you can’t put headphones in and listen to music, is what has made me compare this experience to my last job so much. I never thought I would miss listening to music at work so much. If this has taught me anything it’s taught me that I work so much better on my own in a small office with few human distractions. God, at least I could be myself at the last place and focus on my work. I appreciate now that any future jobs I do need to be more like that – I can’t just work anywhere. What I wouldn’t have given for some peace and quiet this week! It’s more and more like a school playground every day.

I thought it would be nice to end the week by leaving early on Friday and going to West London for my sponsor’s home group, where I did the chair a couple of months ago. I could do with a week off from the meeting in town, and the quiet, low key ambience of the West London meeting appealed to me after all the noise of a week at work. I’d need to leave work at 4.30 on Friday instead of the normal time of 5.30, to be able to get across London in time for a 6 o’clock start. J doesn’t mind us working through our lunch hour and leaving early, as long as we ask beforehand. I asked her on Thursday, and she said it would be fine. So I instantly began to look forward to Friday, until it transpired that V was also planning to leave early this Friday as she too had ‘plans’. She wasn’t disclosing what these plans were but it sounded like something important that couldn’t be rearranged. Apparently she’d told me last week that she would be doing this, but I couldn’t remember that conversation. She was still to ask J by Friday, but as she had done this plenty of times before, leaving it until the day to ask for permission, she’d thought it would be ok.

Since I had asked J first, I should have been the one who got to leave early yesterday. But V wasn’t giving in. She had her heart set on leaving early and her pleading looks were designed to elicit sympathy. A member of the team always needs to be in the office until 5.30 in case of customer emergencies, and with J off on a training course yesterday afternoon, that just left me and V to argue it out. I didn’t want to give in and change my plans. I felt that V had already had a bit too much kind treatment recently, taking unplanned days off here and there for mysterious reasons, and not doing a lot of work when she was in. For the past week I had been trying to train her up on the customer mailing process, a hugely complicated process that requires concentration and effort, but by Friday she still wasn’t getting it, thanks to her days off and the loss of momentum. When she’d been in she’d allowed herself to be distracted constantly by D, so I couldn’t get her to focus on the training for more than half an hour before D or one of their friends would come over and start talking to her about something non-work related. It was like trying to teach an uninterested kid at school. Getting away from the job at 4.30 on Friday would have been heaven. Having to stay an hour on my own until 5.30 while V got to swan off early would have been an injustice.

J told me that she agreed with me. But even so, V kept saying that she couldn’t change her plans and I just knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to forget it if I made her stay until 5.30. So eventually I caved in. I had to tell my sponsor that I wasn’t going to make it West London after all. We’d discussed having dinner after the meeting over there, and I could have just gone there to meet him for dinner at 7, but that would have meant doing without a meeting, and I still needed one, so I decided just to go to the usual one in town. My sponsor didn’t mind at all, I’d be seeing him over the weekend anyway. I minded, but there was nothing I could do. I only have to work in this place for another ten days, none of it’s going to matter after I’m gone.

D clearly didn’t want V to leave early yesterday; she practically begged her not to go. Without V there she would just be stuck with me, and the idea was evidently too much for her to bear. Neither of us talk much to the rest of our team – which is why when V’s there it can feel like we’re our own little gang. Without V I don’t know what to say to D, and she doesn’t know what to say to me. Our shared dislike of the office and some of the people in it could be seen as a common ground between us, but D needs an adoring audience for her wise cracks, not someone like me who wants to get on with the work. V will listen to D all day, whereas I dislike wasting time at work. I’m too much of a goody two shoes. And I’m sure D hasn’t forgotten how I ‘stood up’ to her last week when she was picking on V’s weight. When she was asking V not to leave yesterday she joked that I’m too ‘boring’ for her. I had to laugh, even though it stung a little. Well, beneath the knowing smile I’m sure she intended it to sting. It didn’t really matter. She can think I’m boring, it’s fine. I’d rather be seen as boring than as someone who simply falls over themselves to please all the time.

In the hour that we were left with each other she tried to start conversations a couple of times. Her work for the rest of the day involved stamping the date on customer letters – menial and boring for anyone. I felt a bit sorry for her, and I wanted to want to engage. But nothing that she said was going to lead to an interesting conversation as far as I was concerned. Her interests revolve around boys, R&B music, fashion, perfume, and making fun of people. And she remains at a stage in her life where anyone who doesn’t ‘get’ these things is weird. Seeing that a conversation about those things wasn’t going anywhere, she asked me what I was planning to do when I leave the bank. When I told her, she said “aren’t you a bit quiet to be a counsellor?” She really couldn’t see it. Finally she came onto the subject of why I’ve never made many friends at the bank. She’d noticed that I don’t spend much time chatting to people on Skype, our company’s instant messaging service, like she and V do. I’ve seen them spend hours laughing at things said in group chats, things they wouldn’t get away with saying out loud. When I told her I’m really just here to work and get paid, her response was a pensive ‘hmmm’, like I’d told her I had paranoid schizophrenia. Had I told her the truth, that I suffer from an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult for me to relate to people in a loud, playground like environment, I guess her reaction would have been the same.

When I was 18, 19 I thought 21 year olds were so grown up and mature. How funny! The emotional gulf between me and D is so huge, you wouldn’t think it was just twelve years. She makes me feel like I’m fifty. And I don’t mind that – I’m quite happy with being the old fogie now. Until yesterday, when V was around I was laughing at all the jokes and pretending to be interested in all the conversations about boys and fashion. Now, maybe I don’t need to do that any more. I think D could probably see through it.

Before I left the other team leader, S, came over to ask us if we’d be free for a barbecue at his place next weekend. He really wants to bring all the team together outside of the work place. It’s an unequivocally nice thing to do, and especially nice of him to invite me even though I’m leaving and barely a part of the team as it is. When I told him I couldn’t come because I have plans that day, what I really meant is that I can’t think of anything worse than going to a barbecue at the house of someone I hardly know and spending the day with colleagues I don’t speak to and won’t be seeing again once I leave. It’s possible S picked up on this, as he smiled and said that he understands some people just like to do their own thing at weekends and not do anything related to work. I could have cried for joy and kissed him – finally, someone at work understands me! As I’ve said before, at first glance S wouldn’t be the person you’d expect to get that understanding from. Yesterday I discovered even more hidden depths, as we talked about what I really like to spend my weekends doing, and where I like to socialise on the rare occasions I’m doing it. I briefly mentioned an inclination for the clubs in Soho in a past life, and S shocked me by saying he’d gone out to Heaven once with some friends. I probably shouldn’t be so surprised – every straight person in London has probably gone there once. He described how he’d taken a girl there to impress her once, and how it had really worked, and how he’d had a great time there with the music and the people. How nice it is to know there are people like S out there: tolerant and open, completely without judgement.

I suppose that counts as another ‘coming out’ at work. I mean, if he didn’t realise I was gay during the course of that conversation I don’t know what it would take.

Of course I now must accept that the paranoia I’ve experienced about my colleagues in the past five months was entirely in my head. They were never an unusual collection of people uniquely against me from the start. They’re just people. Some of them I don’t get on with, some of them I do. Yesterday I finally felt free of all that baggage, of feeling like the new person who doesn’t fit in. I just felt myself, as I had chats with people like S and a couple of others briefly in the kitchen area as I went to make coffee. It’s still absolutely the right decision for me to leave the bank, but I’m glad that I managed to open up in the end.

Change in the brain

This entry should come with a self-pity warning: I’m about to feel very sorry for myself.

At the meeting on Saturday I was treated to glamorous tales of Brighton Pride by some friends who had just got back from. The group I’ve been going for coffee with after the meeting every week for months had been to Brighton and back that day for the country’s biggest Pride event after London, and they’d gone without me. I determined not to think about or be brought down by it as I listened to them share all the gossip on what they’d gotten up to. They are a group of friends that regularly does these day trips; I just wasn’t present for the discussion when it was being arranged; I had to be happy for them. It wouldn’t have been an issue at all, except that I knew I probably would have been part of the discussion if I’d never told R that I didn’t want a relationship with him. Since then, although we’ve been getting on very well, I haven’t been invited to anything outside of the weekly coffee. And we all only go to that out of habit. Often I hear of them sticking around after the coffee for a meal, which I’m never at because it’s always arranged out of my earshot. R said weeks ago that there were no hard feelings between us, and I had every reason to believe him. But the effect of what happened seems to have been more subtle and slow to emerge than we could have known.

An old, nasty feeling consumed me at the cafe on Saturday night, as they smiled and cracked racy jokes about their day out together. Inside me a lonely, hurt child wanted to know why I had been excluded. The hurt twists and burns when I’m in it; I can count so many occasions in my life where I’ve experienced the same feeling. Always the one who’s left out, always the forgotten one. On Saturday it didn’t matter that I vowed never to go to Brighton Pride again many years ago, and it didn’t matter that I’d had a perfectly nice day with myself anyway. As soon as I found out that they’d all done this thing together without me I was fighting not to get dragged into a quagmire of resentment.

It’s nice being included in things once in a while, isn’t it? Though I have long known that simply expecting to be included in things doesn’t work, it remains my lifelong dream to experience that. For the past year I have tried so hard to find a group – I don’t just mean an AA group that I can relate to in meetings, I mean a real group that I do things with outside of meetings. It may not appear that I’m trying all that hard sometimes, but I am.

As I tumbled further into the self-pity I began to momentarily wonder if I had made a mistake in telling R that I wasn’t interested. And then I thought: no, I’m better than that. Maybe he didn’t really fancy me and I was reading all the signals wrong at the time, but I thought I was doing the right thing, and I’m worth more than the idea of retracting what I said just to be included again. If sticking to my morals means I’m going to be subtly excluded, I should bloody well keep sticking to them because the alternative isn’t worth considering. It’s so, so hard to envision what it will take to find myself part of that group I’ve dreamed of for so long, one that respects me and lets me in without any compromises on my part. It would be so much easier to forget what I said to R and start the flirting again, because I’ve done it before and it’s worked. But I know deep down I can never do that. It wouldn’t just be inauthentic and cheap, it would be the opposite of sober behaviour.

My routine of three to four meetings a week is pretty solid now, and as previously discussed at length, this routine is giving me plenty of opportunity to practise the new set of social skills that I’ve been trying to acquire for the first time at the age of thirty-three. It still isn’t exactly easy to say hello and talk to everyone I meet, but perhaps an encouraging sign of progress is that I no longer blindly assume that people don’t want to talk to me. My instincts haven’t stopped telling me that people don’t want to talk to me, but I’m questioning them more and more now. The duality in my experience of life is thus increasingly apparent with each passing day: on the one hand there’s the old instincts, on the other hand there’s my behaviour, increasingly contrary to my instincts, carrying on as it does over and above them. It’s almost like two films showing on the same TV screen. In the same way, when I’m walking down the street, I’ve begun to try not to give into paranoia when I’m passing groups of teenagers and young people. I’ve always done this, since school or perhaps earlier, this thing where I shrivel and try to make myself appear invisible when I have to pass a group of threatening looking youths. This week I’ve attempted to play a new script in these situations, telling myself that they’re not out to get me, they’re just ordinary human beings with no passing interest in me whatsoever. My gut instincts aren’t fully following the script yet, but it’s a start.

I don’t expect to share at every meeting I go to, I only set out each week hoping to share in one or two. At the moment a lot of my sharing’s taken up with the career change that I’m setting in motion. Instinct naturally tells me that people don’t want to hear about this, because it involves describing my anxieties and I’m sure people are beyond bored of listening to me describe my anxieties for the past nine years. Despite that I’m still sharing it because I realised a while ago that sharing is the key into the fellowship, and I spend far too little time telling people what’s going on in my life as it is. The most common reaction from people to my sharing at the moment is curiosity. As soon as you say that you’re planning to change career, people want to know exactly what it is you’re planning to do. When I tell them I’m going into counselling they’re all lovely and supportive; nearly every time at least one person will say they think I’d make a good counsellor. Underneath these conversations I’m thinking that I’m a fraud and they don’t really mean it – which makes me realise I have to fight all the harder to ignore that script and keep going in the direction I’ve started on. Next time I share I should probably talk about that.

I’ve started reading an interesting book about the new science of neuroplasticity, titled “The Brain That Changes Itself”. It’s a bit like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat”, only a little more optimistic as it talks about people with strange and debilitating neurological conditions who managed to overcome them through apparent rewiring of the brain. I’ve come across the concept of AA and the steps rewiring the brain a few times; I’d like to think that everything I’m doing is rewiring the faulty connections in my old brain as we speak. The efforts I’m making, while they can often feel exhausting and without gain, start to take on a more positive appearance when I step back and look at how things have and are changing, gradually. It’s all gradual; never, ever instant.