Day 37

Work has been bringing out my character defects this week. I confess that I have been judging everyone left, right and centre. I’ve been spending too much time listening to my colleagues’ conversations, and I’ve come to the conclusion that most of them talk a load of crap. At least half of it’s solely concerned with the subject of booze and partying. The stark differences between their interests and mine couldn’t be clearer. Five minutes of eavesdropping and my mind goes numb with boredom. I shouldn’t get hooked into this game, I should spend my energy on a spiritual practise that actually gets me through the day. Boredom only leads to resentment, and resentment is poison to me. The minute I let a resentment brew I become trapped in it. Ultimately it’s not my colleagues’ fault that I have nothing in common with them, anyway.

On Monday and Tuesday nights I did well to share about that in a meeting, and I felt better for it. And then today on my return to work the feelings returned. My over-sensitive antennae tuned into B and J’s conversation throughout the day, and as I couldn’t really hear most of what they were saying (they were whispering too quietly) my mind made up a conversation about me and how crap I am. It’s toxic to think like this, not least because the chance of them actually saying those things near me is so slim. But I’m trapped in the paranoia most of the time at work, it’s got me hooked.

I realise the only answer when I’m feeling the fears, doubts, anger and so on is to welcome, accept, appreciate and move on. I try and say to myself in regards to a particular negative thought: “I welcome, accept and appreciate this thought”. And it always disperses it. It takes its power away. But it doesn’t take it away permanently, I have to keep practising this spiritual action, and that’s the problem. I forget to keep doing it and so I lose the momentum, and depression and rage can quickly get out of control.

My disease rages at the fact that no one in the office has yet shown an interest in me as a person. I have so many interesting things to say, so many friends outside who respect me, I’m wonderful, God damn it! Don’t they know who I think I am? As long as they don’t know I can’t begin to feel like a worthwhile person when I’m there.

That was getting me down on the way to the meeting last night, and I didn’t want to meet my sponsor at the cafe near the church, I just wanted to be on my own and wallow for a while. I was committed to meeting him there as we meet there every week. When I arrived I was pretty stressed out. I briefly explained where my head was, without enthusiasm, before ordering the same nice meal as last week. The food took ages to come, riling me even further. When it finally came, I could fill my stomach and remember that I love that place. I love that it’s on a corner near the meeting, with big glass windows so that all the AA regulars who pass by see us inside and come in to chat. The food’s expensive, but always really tasty. Quite a few of us from the meeting gather there now beforehand, so it’s become a nice little pre-meeting meeting for some of us.

The main meeting was great, as ever. I managed to share about my problems and get it all out for another day. At the end I talked to R, a regular who I’ve never allowed myself to get to know because I thought he was one of the ‘cool’ crowd that wouldn’t want to know me. We chatted for five minutes about what I’d shared, and he offered some unintentionally amusing advice for my situation. “Why don’t you talk to them about Britney Spears?” I think he said it because I’d mentioned that all my colleagues were younger than me, so perhaps the career of a cheesy pop star would interest them if I needed a conversation starter. We burst into laughter when we realised how unlikely it sounded. I can’t actually think of anything less likely to get my colleagues chatting than Britney Spears.

Since I can be surprised by someone like R turning out to be genial after all, surely I can be surprised at work. Surely I can adopt an attitude of openness and willingness there, like I did in AA, and make connections. Well, you’d think it would work that way, but for some upsetting reason it just isn’t happening yet.

Despite that it was lovely to come away from the meeting at 9pm yesterday and walk to the bus stop under skies that were still light. It hasn’t been as warm this week as in recent weeks, but it was still a fairly pleasant spring evening. Because of that I was able to cheer myself up for a while.

Today was day 37 at work, and I had to face a team trip to the pub that was postponed from last week. I could think of no excuses. When 5.30 came, we were all going whether we wanted to or not. There was a sense that we were all just going through the motions with it. B arranged it all ages ago when we were still new to each other and didn’t have each other sussed out yet. Ah well, what harm could one hour in a pub do? At least she’d picked somewhere that was coincidentally very familiar to me, since it was there that I spent many Saturday afternoons last year with P after our trips to the swimming pool nearby. I grew to like the place last year. They do good food there, it’s comfortable and good value for money.

Although I knew the place I couldn’t escape the fact that I was obliged to be there, regardless. Sure, one can come up with excuses in these situations and just not go, but realistically, such behaviour would have done me no favours. I’ve hardly been giving people a great impression of myself in the office as it is. One hour in the pub with them could potentially go a long way to improving perceptions, and I’m not so anti-humanity that I can just say “I don’t care.”

In the normal world of the office people socialise at the pub after work, it’s the done thing here. I’ve always known this, and in taking this job I knew there would have to be an element of playing the game. I don’t claim to get it – ever since I stopped drinking I haven’t failed to be amazed at how much time and money people are willing to spend in pubs with colleagues for the sake of bonding. I don’t like it at all, but I will do it when necessity calls. Tonight couldn’t possibly be my worst ever experience in a pub. It probably wouldn’t be all that enjoyable, but I knew I’d survive it. It was certainly ok in the end. I didn’t come away thinking that I’d become lifelong friends with anyone, but I at least managed to enjoy a good meal, and there wasn’t a great deal of awkward silence. I noticed that interesting divide in our team again, the one that has me and V on one side and B and J on the other.

I was pleased to observe V buying a soft drink like me – at least I wouldn’t be on my own in the sober department. J and B meanwhile started on the G&T’s straight away while we waited for our food. 90% of the conversation over dinner was about alcohol: how much J and B love drinking it, how often they drink it, how many times in the past year they’ve consumed too much of it, etc. I got the feeling that J, the youngest in the group (and, strangely enough, our manager) was playing up to B in the drinking anecdotes department. I’d never noticed her blathering on about her drinking all that much before. But with B sharing all the gory details of her recent nights out, J seemed to want to impress us even more with her own stories.

In a world where workmates are expected to socialise in pubs after work I suppose it’s natural and easy for alcohol to become one of the main topics of conversation. How I wished to be able to talk about something else, though. Music, for instance. Why couldn’t someone mention a great album that they like? I know B’s got taste in music. Last week in the team quiz she displayed some impressive knowledge of the Beatles’ catalogue (it really impresses me when I come across someone who was born in the 90’s that likes the Beatles.) You may wonder why I couldn’t have brought the subject up myself, steered things in a favourable direction. Well, in these pressured situations my will to be assertive tends to desert me. I could do little except nod and smile at the drinking anecdotes, all the while feeling judgemental inside.

B got particularly excited about the subject of her leaving party that’s likely to take place in a few weeks. She’s planning to celebrate her move to the other office with a big send off in a pub somewhere, and why shouldn’t she. Sadly for me this will probably mean a few weeks of anxiety now, because I’ve got to start preparing a good excuse. I don’t want to go to her leaving party. It won’t be like tonight, where the main activity was eating a meal. It will be a big crowd from the office in a tightly packed pub on a Friday night, with everyone downing their drinks so they can get pissed as quickly as possible. B said as much tonight. I don’t have the patience for these things that I did when I started at the last company. I’m six years older now, I’ve done too much of that over the years. It bores me completely to watch people getting drunk just so they can deal with each other.

I’m coming to think that the only thing I have in common with most of my colleagues is that we’re all human beings. There was a time when I thought that meant I’d be able to connect with everyone on some level, if only I could find the right switch. Today I feel that the gap between me and some of them is just too great. It still saddens me a bit to think that I can get those connections everywhere else: in AA, at my last company, everywhere except here. Sad also that I found similar occasions in my last days at the last place so horrendous, my own leaving do in September being one example. So horrendous then, so pleasant in comparison now. Once again, how did this happen?

I can’t shake the feeling that I’m an alien who has been thrust into an hostile situation. Past experience may have shown me over and over again that it all works out all right in the end, even when I start off feeling this exact way. But there is an instinct telling me that it is different here, that the people really are indifferent or worse. That there is a coldness pervading everything, starting from the false happy clappy crap that they make us go through at the beginning. Can time really make these strong feelings subside, like it always did before? Can it actually do it again?

Day 34

On Friday I had to wonder what was going on – I appeared to be having a good day at work. It could be mainly attributed to the fact that it was Friday, of course, but I think there may have been something more to it. I wasn’t completely consumed by fear as I went in that morning (OK, there was some anxiety about the customer calls I was going to have to make that day, because I hadn’t done any yet during the week, but even as I was experiencing the anxiety I knew they’d go ok. What’s the worst that can happen with a phone call? And in the end, they did go ok.)

I had my first formal appraisal with my boss to look forward to in the afternoon. I’d been getting on better with her in the latter half of the week; she’d told me that I was doing much better with the customer forms since our chat. Before the appraisal we had a fun team quiz in the kitchen, something that’s become a weekly occurrence in the spirit of cheering everyone up for Friday. I sensed that I’d do well thanks to there being a pop music round. Ultimately I won, for the third time in a row. My general knowledge just beats that of all those twenty somethings. M, technically part of our team, was in the quiz and sitting next to me throughout. Every time he looked at me or began to say anything I timidly looked away, went invisible. I secretly hoped he’d congratulate me at the end with the others, but he didn’t – he’d wanted to win. I was non-existent to him again.

My meeting with the boss went better than expected, since she didn’t have any real complaints to make about my performance. On the topic of the mistakes I’d been making, she assured me that I was learning from them in her eyes, and that I had impressed her with my recent efforts to improve. I wanted to believe that she was so impressed with me she’d begun to like me as a person, but that wasn’t coming across yet. When I tried to introduce the topic of self confidence, get some advice from her on how to reach out to other people in the business and make friends, she had very little to say. Immediately I felt the gap between us widen again. I remembered that I am a thirty-three year old man with a lifetime of anxiety issues, while she is a twenty-three year old recently promoted manager in her first real job.

I made a substantial effort not to let the lack of budding friendship between us spoil the rest of the day. I think it paid off. Whenever I caught her and B whispering with each other at their desks, I managed to remind myself quite quickly that they probably weren’t whispering about me. I also reminded myself that they can’t hate me because they have no cause to hate me.

When the day was over I left in a superb mood. I’d survived seven weeks; 34 days (one less than 35 because of the bank holiday); maybe now I’d reached the point where things would start to go uphill and keep going. I remember approaching forty days in the last job and thinking that it was the turning point. Could this be the same point? So much other history seems to be repeating itself at the moment.

I was raring to go at the meeting when I got there. I knew most of the people in the room; I’d had conversations with more than half of them at one point or another. The atmosphere in the meeting was electric – no other way to describe it. We were all so happy to be there, safe and alive on a Friday night. I wanted to savour it, because it’s become so important to savour Friday nights now, what with them being the start of the weekend and freedom.

I find the chair at the Friday meeting is always good, and so it was this week. He talked about the importance of waiting. For the storm to pass, for the miracle to happen, for the emotions to subside. It seems that we have to do a lot of waiting in recovery. After a good run at work I’m now waiting for the next emotional crisis to strike. When that happens, I’ll be waiting for normality to resume once more. If I don’t wait out my extreme emotions, attempt to have some objectivity on the sidelines as they play out, I can only get involved in them and lose myself. Sobriety, the steps, has shown me that.

At the end of the meeting I waited to chat to G, who rarely goes to that meeting. Since I don’t often see him any more I was hoping to have a bit of a chat. Basically I was taking his presence as a sign that I ought to be sociable, which I was only too happy to be that evening. If he were to suggest going for coffee or dinner, making a night of it, I’d say yes, even though late nights aren’t exactly my thing any more. Outside as we talked, others from the meeting gathered around us and livened up proceedings with friendly chatter. A perky European girl called P suggested going for coffee somewhere, which we all promptly did. The nearest coffee house was too busy for us to find a table in, so since it was a warm night G suggested that we take our drinks and sit in the middle of a nearby square.

I was far from being my normal self in all of this: my normal self would have gone home by then. Instead I allowed the night to lead me on where it would, somewhat like during my drinking days. I didn’t know anyone in the group apart from G that well, but I was quickly and easily getting to know them, giving myself away naturally as if I was truly one of them. When I was drinking I would have expected this to happen. In the square we found a spot amongst hordes of drinkers and smokers, and we chatted comfortably about serious things for an hour. I got to know P quite well. I told her about my recently changed views on AA and why I take the principle of a minimum three meetings a week seriously now. I was talking in a way that I can only describe as normal: there was no hesitation, no doubt, no attempt to censor myself or come across a certain way. I was having one of those exceedingly rare evenings where I like the company so much I want to share all of myself with them. This was beyond the level of honesty I’d adopt even in an AA meeting. As well as talking non-stop I was smiling and laughing, like all the people around me. I was part of something.

Later on I found myself pondering on whether that had really been me, or whether I’d just been putting on another facade without realising it. Let’s face it, it’s so rare for me to be that open with anyone, maybe it wasn’t entirely real. Maybe I was exaggerating myself to impress them, or maybe I was getting carried away? Later still, I decided that it was actually me, and not a front, because it felt real at the time. My memory of the night now is already turning into one of those glossy films I look back on to remind me of good times. It was indeed like a film. A beautiful, unexpected evening in London with friends.

Yesterday’s meeting got off to an awkward start thanks to the fact that R was the first person I saw, and straight away we were off with the over-familiar jokes and cuddles. As he’s the greeter there most weeks he will often be the first person I see. Until now I was determined not to let it bother me, but it did bother me yesterday. For months I’ve relied on the Saturday meeting as my main social event of the week. When I don’t enjoy it, that’s another opportunity to connect with people gone for another week. For quite some time I’ve sat in the same seat at the back near R, since before all the awkwardness happened. This week I could have used the opportunity to move away, find somewhere else that might be safer, but I couldn’t make the change. I could only think about the questions he’d have in his mind, and it bothered me so much I stayed where I was.

The chair was confident and funny, full of entertaining anecdotes about things that would make a non-alcoholic’s stomach turn. As I listened I could only think about how I’d never have the personality to pull off such a chair. It’s disappointing that just twenty-four hours after such a nice event I was mired in this negativity, but there you go. I could clearly see myself descending into resentment again, going the very same way that I went four or five years ago, down that slippery slope. Today luckily it’s not so easy for me to let myself completely go there. I can stop myself now because I’m older, and I know I have to. At the end I stayed and went for coffee with the usual group, which included R. One week I will have to make myself go with the other group that does dinner in a restaurant (I can’t help thinking of them as the “cool” group.) Yesterday I wasn’t quite ready to break with my little gang yet.

Coffee was fine. Despite R’s constant cries for attention I managed to have some engaging conversations with others. I even managed to be ‘myself’ again for a while. I understand that this situation with R will change. Nothing lasts forever, right? Even if it changes by me just ignoring him week after week until he finally gets the message, it will change. I’d like to be able to brush the jokes aside with grace like the others do, but I’m still a bit too sensitive for that, and I think I always will be. Whenever R says something that’s supposed to be funny to me, whenever he playfully begs me to defend him from the others in the group who are “picking on” him, I can only think of the secret motives that he must have, and in contrast to six weeks ago when I got a little thrill out of them, I hate them now. I wish I’d never encouraged him.

Day 32

After surfing the latest wave of anxiety, yesterday was better. B was in one of her friendly moods, as she initiated a chat about past mistakes she’d made in the role to give me some reassurance. We tittered about the time she accidentally transferred £4k into a customer’s account. How I wish she had said these things before, instead of leading me to believe my mistakes were stupider and worse than any made by anyone in the bank.

I also got some encouragement from my manager, who told me that all the work of mine she’d checked so far was faultless. Therefore I am back on the right track. It’s nice to think she might have been impressed with me for once.

Later during my lunch break, M turned round and asked me what I was reading. I’d been browsing an article on a lifestyle website about why some people find it more difficult to make friends than others. Of all the things I could have been reading when he looked over my shoulder and decided to interrupt me, this would have to be the most embarrassing. Nobody in the company knows about the daily struggle I go through with the world. I haven’t yet come across a person there I’d dream of confiding in, and out of all of them, M would be the very last person I’d think of talking to. Not knowing what on earth to say, I could only tell him the truth, at which point he shocked me again by asking me to send him the link to the article. I had to wonder why he was so interested in my reading habits all of a sudden, but I daren’t ask. M is like an army sergeant, confident and authoritative when he talks to you. Not the sort of person you say no to.

I’m still wondering now why he wanted me to send him that article. He hasn’t said a word to me since the event. For the rest of the day I daren’t try and see if he was reading it on his computer. My mind naturally wanted to explore the possibilities and it didn’t take me long to come upon the worst ones. So, maybe he had been looking for an opportunity to humiliate me because secretly for six weeks he had hated my guts. Now he’d have his opportunity, all he’d have to do is tell everyone I’d been reading sad online articles about how to make friends.

Well, so what? One could say. I don’t need anyone’s approval there. And it’s unlikely anyone would really care that much, anyway. Thus I was able to talk myself down from a ledge quite quickly, once I’d realised the chances of M, a virtual stranger, deciding to humiliate me in such a random and elaborate way were slim to non-existent.

This still leaves the fact that people like him are a complete mystery to me. Why would they act like I don’t exist for weeks, only to randomly show some interest in me on a Wednesday afternoon? Admittedly, it was a dull day, but not that dull. Even as he was talking to me, M didn’t seem all that interested. It was more like someone at the bus stop asking for the time.

I recall thinking a few weeks ago that there can’t be some special problem with the people I work with. They look and sound like normal people in every way, apart from how they are with me.

In every other situation in my life, I understand people (on the whole). People outside are safe, trustworthy, human beings most of the time. Occasionally at work I come close to believing that there are some safe, trustworthy human beings working for the bank. And then they turn away, go cold on me again and leave me to feel like a ghost. I’m this close to believing that it must be something I’m doing – but the readiness to change sadly hasn’t visited me yet.

I’ve been working at the bank continuously for thirty-two days. I take small comfort from that, and the fact that every day is one more day, and that eventually, if I just keep going, there’ll be many, many days behind me and I’ll lose count. I first learnt this lesson in AA nine years ago. If you keep going at something you can do it for a long time, and things always get better. I’ve stayed at the bank in spite of regular, strong urges to leave because of this seemingly unshakeable knowledge that it’s too early for me to give in. Every day I struggle to go there and face another day, it feels like I still have a mountain to climb, but once a day passes that’s it, no tomorrow can ever be the same as today. I’ve noticed that each day generally passes in the blink of an eye now – a minute ago it was Monday morning, now it’s almost Friday! I may hate every minute when I’m there sometimes, yet still, still underneath the hate there is faith that it’s all leading towards something. A faith in some higher power has entered me and can never leave.

And that’s why I look back on the dark days of late 2009 fondly now, because it was the same as now, and eventually it led on to better things. It was the greatest time of stress in my life, and I kept going. I’ve absolutely no idea what my current experience will lead to. It may lead to a glittering career in banking or it may not. Even if it doesn’t, something tells me it will all work out for the best tonight (nope, I won’t always feel this positive, and that’s all right.)

Tonight I inadvertently marked my 32nd day at the bank with a trip to the theatre. There’s a play getting rave reviews in the West End called People, Places & Things, the story of an actress who’s an alcoholic and drug addict as she enters rehab and finds recovery. I didn’t book a ticket to it because I wanted to celebrate lasting so long in my new job, I just really wanted to see the play after hearing good things about it from AA friends. But as I walked there from the office on a pleasant, dry evening, I felt like I had something to celebrate. Maybe I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to the theatre without this job. No, that’s not strictly true. Having this specific job doesn’t allow me to do nice things, I could do them before I started here. What allows me to do nice things in my life today is the fact that I worked hard to get where I am, I stayed in the last job for six years and got the payoff. I made a decision to stick with work when it was tough and soul destroying, to practise patience and wait for a good end result. I can choose to do the same thing here, or with another job in the future if this one really doesn’t work out. I’ve just got to stick at it. By ‘it’ I mean life, I guess. It was the message that I took from the play tonight, and I loved it.

Happiness is still an option

Days like today make it hard not to think I made a mistake in accepting this job. I can’t think of a moment that’s yet occurred when I have enjoyed it. There’ve been some moments when I’ve thought it might be all right; too many moments when I’ve wanted to give in and quit.

My boss informed me this morning that I keep making mistakes with entering the customer forms onto the system and I need to stop. For the rest of the week she’ll be checking everything I do. If I don’t make any more mistakes then she’ll stop checking next week. She didn’t share this information in a patronising or insulting way, it was a simple matter of fact conversation about a problem that understandably needs to be addressed. But when she said “it’s silly mistakes that keep happening” I felt the dent in my ego keenly. It was disappointing and embarrassing to learn I still wasn’t doing things right. I’m supposed to be a clever guy, I’ve done much harder and more complex things than this before. Coupled with all the other things I’ve got to worry about in the job, it wasn’t good to think about. The rest of the day was doomed to be pretty depressing.

The fact of the matter is: I wasn’t shown how to do the forms properly in the beginning. But, and this is key, I knew about that for the past few weeks and still I ploughed ahead with them regardless, making tons of mistakes along the way, instead of bringing up the questions I still had. I played a part in this sorry mess and it stings. Since I found out my work was to be monitored I have spent hours in paranoia, hearing my name come up several dozen times in J and B’s whispered conversations nearby. Surely they can’t have been talking about me all day, but that’s what happens when you think the world is out to get you. Despite knowing it’s ridiculous I’ve allowed a resentment against them to brew. How great it is for them to sit there in their perfection, never having made any mistakes of course, judging me for mine. How very nice it must be for them to have someone to bitch about.

I’m supposed to have stopped comparing the present ordeal to my journey at the last company, but what the hell, it’s all I can think about. Yes it was exactly the same there when I started – the script, the lines, the stage directions were all virtually the same. I hated it every day for ages, thought I was never going to last. Knowing how it all turned out should be making today easier but instead it’s making it worse. I’m impatiently waiting for the same miracle to happen here and it’s not and I’m going crazy.

It was hard to focus much today, or appear as if I was happy to be at work. People around me must have noticed the permanent frown on my face. I had so many days like that at the last place where I allowed the inner rage to show; somehow it was always all right, people could understand, though I didn’t know it in the beginning. But I don’t want to behave like that any more in the new job, I want to make a better impression, and it seems like I’m failing. That depressed me today but I didn’t have the energy to snap out of it and crack a smile, even for a second. My voices kept telling me: these people must all think I’m a pointless joke. It’s so, so difficult to get away from that thinking when no one goes out of their way to prove me wrong. No, I don’t seriously expect strangers in an office to tell me that they think I’m all right, but my disease wants the proof, otherwise I’m stuck in the belief.

I can try and meditate and get some perspective on the situation, but in a busy office with many distractions where we’re not allowed to put headphones in and escape, doing anything spiritual is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s virtually impossible to get away from the noise.

I came away from today questioning whether it’s really worth all the stress. I can leave – if I do, I still have my savings to support me for a good few months. Maybe this job won’t be worth the stress in the long run, but the problem I have is that I’ve been in AA too long, and I know that I can’t just run when I’m having a bad day. I need to think through my decisions and give things time. At the moment, the only reason I really want to leave is that I think people don’t like me. If we’re being realistic, that reason doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If I left every situation where I think people might not like me, I’d never do anything.

*****

P emailed me this morning, to suggest a night out next week seeing a concert. The invitation was too enthusiastic for my liking and not what I wanted in my inbox this morning. I probably should have known today would not be the best day to reply. But when lunch time came, I couldn’t stop myself from sending him a blunt explanation of why I want to take a break from our friendship and why I’m not interested in these nights out any more. There’s no nice way of saying such things in an email, and I did come to regret it later on, but I had to accept that, well, what’s done is done. The cat’s out of the bag now. P’s response came in the evening and happily it was magnanimous: he understands and looks forward to seeing me for the holiday in July, if not before. He’s bound to be upset tonight, I wish he wasn’t, but at the same time, I can’t believe he didn’t see it coming.

Christ, I needed a meeting tonight. When I got there I was reminded of things like gratitude and friendship and serenity. A few people mentioned gratitude lists in the sharing, and although I have as little desire to write a gratitude list tonight as I ever did, I’m willing to express gratitude for these things:

  • having a job and a safe, warm roof over my head
  • having AA friends and a good sponsor
  • being challenged and shown what I can cope with

I suspect that there isn’t much more to living a sober life than doing those suggested things: writing gratitude lists, sharing, being honest. I’ve always been told that the suggestions are the key, but I’ve never exactly believed it. Today I recognise I will rarely be given direct answers to my problems, but I can still feel better just by putting them out there and hoping for the best. It doesn’t matter when I don’t get the instant answers I need in a meeting, when I come away feeling normal and like myself at the end. Tonight was no exception to that. I could breathe, feel like myself again.

Urgh I want to cry at the thought of going back to that office tomorrow. Well, I don’t imagine that staying at the bank for many years is going to make my dreams come true. After today, I think I have to keep the option of resigning open for the near future. I can’t leave today – fairness and contracts dictate that I have to give notice, and for the sake of my future job prospects I’d like to say I gave it at least six months. No, those next few months are not going to be a walk in the park but they will be better than today if I choose them to be. They always say you can choose to have a good day if you put your mind to it, don’t they?

Sunday 15th May

If I’m worrying about people possibly not liking me at work, maybe I should be grateful for those people. No, hear me out. It occurred to me yesterday or the day before, that being forced to endure the presence of these people five days a week is showing me what I can cope with. Somewhere along the way, some wisdom from AA must have sunk in because this is the kind of thing you normally hear and scoff at in meetings. What? Grateful for being exposed to waves of unpleasant indifference at work forty hours a week? Well, gratitude probably beats toxic resentment. Feeling truly grateful isn’t something that comes naturally to me. In fact, the suggestion of it still seems really strange. I know I can’t afford to slip into workplace resentments again for the next three years – I have to deal with this in some other way now.

Spiritual teachings point me towards gratitude and acceptance. If I want to get through the next however many months in this job, I may need to welcome the daily fear that it brings up and tell myself I’m grateful for it. Years of resentment and resistance in another job have implanted in me a visceral certainty that there is little else I can do. I need to start my days by saying I am grateful to be working with people who know how to bring out my insecurities without even knowing that they’re doing it. I won’t really feel grateful for a long time, if ever; but I’ll need to keep saying it anyway, until it drowns out the hateful negative thoughts. I can put it out there that I’m really glad it’s the start of another working week, therefore another big opportunity to work on my problems and get better. All the time my disease may be thinking it’s a load of crap, why am I bothering; but if I believe that I need to be living a different way now then I probably ought to carry on with the gratitude regardless. It’s not as if I haven’t heard about the benefits of gratitude in nearly every AA meeting I’ve ever been to.

I saw P today. I felt I had to see him – after seven weeks of successfully avoiding him the time had come when I couldn’t keep using the excuse that I’m busy. Not with someone who knows me so well, anyway. I’m still contracted to go on this holiday in July with him, until which time I can’t make the final break with him because it would kill the holiday that he’s been looking forward to all year.

Today I felt a bit like an unfaithful spouse going to see a partner who doesn’t know I’ve been having an affair. For months I have been telling my sponsor all about how P and I have grown apart, how unhappy I tend to feel in his company now, and so on. The person who should be hearing these things, P, still doesn’t have a clue I’ve been feeling this way. Instinct told me that today wasn’t the time to start giving hints. The truth is I still don’t know how to explain all this to him: we’ve never had this kind of conversation before. If I thought that he was on my level enough to understand what’s going on, I probably wouldn’t be drifting apart from him.

We went for a cheap meal in town before sitting in the park for an hour in slightly less hot sunshine than what we had last weekend. Things were civil enough between us. It was the first time I’d seen him since starting work at the bank, so naturally he wanted to know how the job was going. I nearly lied and said it was going well, but I realised that would have felt ridiculous. So I was honest about the struggles I’d had and how I am already thinking to my next career move. Before I would have asked him for his opinion and advice; today I didn’t. He can’t give advice on this situation – he thinks companies like my employer are brilliant.

Throughout our two hours together I couldn’t help feeling like it was a waste of time being there, considering I wasn’t interested in anything that he had to say, and I couldn’t tell the truth about it. He mentioned some of his plans for the summer, including a garden party that he wants to host on the next bank holiday weekend. I showed no enthusiasm for the idea, gave no response to indicate that I would come. What would be the point? He’ll invite people like J, another right wing capitalist who recently asked on facebook why we should accept any more Syrian migrant children in when there are more needy kids of native descent already here. P talked about his burgeoning friendship with J, how they’ve been dancing together in clubs and pubs recently to pass the time. Completely oblivious to the nasty views that J holds – I don’t think he saw that facebook post. Unfortunately I did, and I unfriended J straight away. Why would I want to be linked with someone who thinks like that? I had to hold my tongue today when P was extolling J’s virtues as a friend and dance partner. I didn’t want to have an argument. I could only silently fume at P’s obliviousness and lack of insight, his refusal to see what’s in front of him. I mean, how does he not see that we have nothing left to say to each other?

They say true friends can sit comfortably together in silence. Well, today’s silence between us wasn’t comfortable. By 3 o’clock we were both looking at our watches, wondering when it would end. Thankfully P had to go somewhere then, and I could leave feeling I’d done my duty for the day. I probably won’t see him again until July, unless there’s a real need in the meantime, which I doubt there will be. I want to feel bad about how this has turned out; in fact I probably feel bad for not feeling bad about it. Oh, the irony.

In all of this I don’t claim to be some innocent, wronged party. I know I haven’t been a perfect friend to P this year. I regret the bitching and moaning I’ve done without giving him any chance to respond. I’ve been caught between a rock and a hard place – I simply can’t have that conversation with him until we’ve been on this holiday. Until then, I may keep letting criticisms slip out in my writing that he’ll never be able to defend himself against. I’m human. When you’re tired of someone you’re tired of them.

Later this afternoon I met my sponsor at the meeting and we went for a lovely coffee and chat afterwards. He wanted to know how it had gone with P and I poured it all out. That’s where my life is now: in AA, talking to people who get that friendships end, people grow and change. It’s the only place where I get the honesty that I need. Sorry.

Insanity

You’ll be sad to hear it was another day that started badly. All was on top of me, weighing heavily, getting me down. In the course of more laborious, rather tedious work that I kept seeming to do wrong, I had thoughts of how I’m never going to fit in at work, how I’m always going to make silly mistakes and end up being sacked, humiliated and with no future job prospects. This lasted nearly all the morning.

It’s tiring not being able to reach out to anyone in that situation; moreover, not being able to just be myself, feeling like I have to hide my real feelings about the job. In that state I knew I had to get out and call my sponsor as soon as I could. I wouldn’t have an opportunity until lunchtime, which as it turned out was the very longest I could wait before cracking. I was on the verge of tears all the time it was going on. Someone in my team must have noticed that something was up. V, perceptive and kind as ever, asked me if I was all right a few times. I feel so bad when I’m like that, bringing the mood down for others. I want to be like others, like those who can always just be themselves, be normal and ok all day long.

Yes it’s a big assumption to make that they are always ok, as I said yesterday. I’m aware of the fallacy in that kind of thinking. But still, the happy, normal front that these people present to the world seems so utterly real, there’s no glimpsing behind it.

Just the act of talking to my sponsor this morning would be enough. This is the only person I feel I can call at the moment. When I have one person I know I can call, I don’t tend to bother looking for others in AA. I wasn’t expecting to get any miracle answers to the problem from him, nor did I need any. I just needed someone to listen and hear me. Once I’d spoken to him in the lunch break, things immediately began to seem better. Even if they weren’t really better, talking in itself had helped.

The afternoon was still stressful, as I had to make a lot of calls to customers to talk about tax issues: never a fun topic of conversation. With an hour left of the day, when I could smell the weekend approaching, I had another of my mistakes pointed out by an annoyed B, who had to make a fuss for everyone to see. It was so embarrassing, I didn’t need it from her today of all days, but there’s nothing I can do about it so I had to let it go. If I keep making stupid mistakes and my worst fear of being sacked ends up coming true, well so be it. I can’t control it, so I just have to hand it over.

For six weeks I’ve talked about virtually nothing except this bloody job and how I feel about it. It must be so boring for some of my regular readers with whom I’m sharing nearly everything now. I would love to write about important things going on in the world, or at least relate what I’m going through to wider, more interesting themes in society. But I never do, I always just come back to my minute, trivial feelings. I feel bad about that.

There’s some circular thinking for you: my feelings are trivial and boring, therefore I should never share them, therefore I will have to keep myself alone and hidden away forever, continue to experience these feelings that can go nowhere.

Tonight’s chair at the meeting kicked off by mentioning the importance of picking up the phone when the chips are down, saying exactly what’s going on, however it might sound. In spite of the belief system that tells me it’s embarrassing and selfish to talk about how I feel all the time, I know that to be the crux of the AA program. Hearing chairs like that one tonight remind of it. And it was so inspirational. The sober need to share my truth was overpowering, made me want to fight the instinct to hide and keep silent, even as voices told me I couldn’t share it, it would be too embarrassing and boring for everyone in the room to hear about my job yet again.

I always seem to share about this bloody job in meetings now. Honestly, some of them must be so tired of hearing about it by now.

God, I wish I could share about something else, anything! But this is what’s going on for me at the moment, I can’t escape it, I can’t keep it in. It’s got to come out or by God it will kill me!

I began the day sharing with my sponsor and I ended it sharing with dozens of people in a room who might understand me, thereby completing my program’s work for the day. In the minutes before sharing of course I had to prepare a script, I couldn’t just talk blindly. That would be too much like jumping off a cliff. If what I said sounded prepared or contrived – hell, if it really did bore some people – so be it. I’m powerless over the results of my efforts.

At the end I went a bit impromptu and shared a memory from my drinking days of lying on the side of my bed, dry retching into a bin because the chair had talked about a similar experience. It made some people laugh when I said that was my abiding memory of drinking, and that I couldn’t remember ever having actual fun. It’s so random what will make people laugh in a meeting. I wish I knew the trick: laughter is a great ego booster. For me it’s so rare, I ought to be grateful that something so nice resulted from me speaking this evening.

The anxiety and pressure that had been building in me all day was released, and I could go home feeling much more like myself again. It still completely astonishes me how good that meeting can be for me. I can barely explain it. The very meeting I was terrified to speak in for years!

I already know I’ll need to go for the rest of my life; at least as long as I’m working in an insane world where everyone puts up a front because they think they have to. Honestly, how could that not make someone unhappy?

People obsessed 2

When it’s a bad day I forget that other people exist and I fall into the trap of thinking I’m the only one who ever experiences such things. This new voice of logic that has taken hold in recent years tells me there must be so many other people out there having a bad day at the same time as me – even in the bank itself. But it hasn’t taken hold enough to make me believe in my heart that I’m not alone. That it really isn’t a bad day, and I can get through the minute or hour in which difficult feelings are occurring and come through the other side. The same old script runs on a loop, trying to drown out the voice of logic, which I don’t yet trust as much as I trust the traditional script.

The fact that it was Thursday, one day away from the weekend, didn’t have much on an impact on me today. Feelings weighed on me as much as they did before. I try and spot others in the office around me who might be a bit shy, like me; I think it might give me some comfort in the loneliness. I think I’ve spotted two or three of them, only to be disappointed after a while when I observe them approach others or be approached for spontaneous chatter. One of life’s incontrovertible rules is that people will never conform to my expectations. Someone who might seem shy or withdrawn can turn around and laugh at a joke cracked nearby. Someone who may appear outgoing can spend a day or two in enforced solitude while the rest of us barely notice. I latch onto the ones who look shy and I become envious when they effortlessly leave character to have a normal conversation with someone. It shows them doing better than me in the social game.

Their talking to others doesn’t actually mean they’re doing better than me. It’s the same conflict between logic and instinct as before. Logic says they can still find the office environment difficult, in spite of surface appearances; instinct says that if I can’t see them struggling then I was wrong about their shyness and they are not like me after all. They’re part of the rest of the human race while I’m left alone in my own category. Not being able to read people’s minds is the problem here. You can only ever see the veneer; what’s going on underneath remains a lifelong mystery, especially in an office where there seems to be an unspoken rule about appearances being all important.

My brewing resentment against the three people in the office who never talk to me despite the fact they sit behind me every day continues to deepen. With the passing days I find it harder to accept that T, M and J could be nice people who just haven’t found the courage to approach me yet. All I see is the normal front that they present in the office, which would suggest they’re confident friendly people who’d talk to me if they just didn’t dislike me so much. I don’t see what they’re really thinking about me, I don’t see the human struggles they may be going through internally. I only see them being loud and familiar with everyone around me, so that their continued ignorance of my presence begins to seem increasingly deliberate.

M, for instance, doesn’t seem like someone that could be shy with anyone. Most of the time he’s this jokingly obnoxious character, a macho lad with a repertoire of loving insults for his friends. I don’t like the fact that he’s never even looked at me, let alone said hello; he’s become this monster in my head, and I blame him fully for the impasse that we’ve reached with each other. The blaming of course doesn’t take into account that he may have the very same thoughts about me, that he may have come to see me as rude and icy. Round and round in circles I go with the obsession, waiting for him to say or do something, passing through each day with a greater sense of disappointment at the lack of action. I’m fed up of going round in mental circles; fed up of feeling like the clueless newbie who can’t figure people out.

More than anything I want to walk into the office like one of them, take my seat like I belong there and smile or talk to someone near me without reservation. I know I could do it, anyone could – it’s not physically impossible. But I also know that it will never happen because it would feel like committing suicide. I’d be killing the doubting, fearful person that’s dominated my life; essentially I’d be killing my identity. Being shy, waiting for others to approach, is who I am, who I’ve always been. Until the past few years I never had to question it. More and more I am coming up against it in daily life, and it’s like I’ve reached a wall. I want to believe that God and faith and trust can take me over that wall, since it has taken me over many walls before in recovery. After nine years on this journey this barrier between me and the world remains, and each day I am being made to face it, I feel I will keep being made to face it until something snaps. I’ll either run away, give in; or I’ll climb over it. What I believe is going to happen just reflects the duality that has marked much of my thinking recently: on one side I know I can’t face this fear, on another side at the same time, I know I can. I just don’t know which side I’m going to choose.