It’s been a day full of emotion, possibly one from which I will learn something very important. It’s actually been a dichotomy of a day, with one good part and one very bad part. Earlier on in the morning I spoke on the phone to that newcomer who I met the other night, D. We had a good chat about his recovery; he seems to be doing well, and we are definitely going to keep in touch. At the end of the conversation out of the blue D asked me out on a date, the week after next. He said he wouldn’t be offended if I said “no”; I was so surprised that I quickly said “yes”. We’re going to meet for coffee, get to know each other a bit better, and talk about more than just the program. On the surface, the thought of it seems absolutely wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked on a date before. I’ve been propositioned, mainly by drunk men in clubs; I’ve never been on a sober, innocent, romantic date before.
For this reason, going on a date right at the moment could turn out to be disastrous for me. All the romantic relationships in my life have failed because I have never been able to get them quite right. They’ve all started off on a sexual basis; I’ve always jumped straight into bed with men, without getting to know them first. I never did dates, or courting. I always would have liked to, but the guys I met weren’t really into that. I rarely chose the men who I ended up going out with; they always chose me. And in every case, I clung onto them for dear life. Each ‘relationship’ would burn brightly for a couple of weeks, before fizzling out because either me or the other party had got bored. Usually it was the latter. I rushed into these things head first without thinking because I was needy; I loved the attention and the hugs and the drinks that they would buy for me. Once it had become clear to them that I was so needy, that’s when things died. And just because I’ve been in recovery for nearly five months, doesn’t mean I’m not needy any more.
Already, I’m projecting into the future about the romantic possibilities for this ‘date’. Already I’m thinking about kissing him, going back to his place, moving in with him, marrying him and taking the dog for walks. This is what I do, I fantasize. I’m co-dependent. Realising this four months ago, I set myself the celibacy rule for my first twelve months of sobriety; I wasn’t going to accept any offers, however sincere. But here I am, going on a date just five months into recovery because I couldn’t say “no”. I like the guy, I really do, and I’m sure when this thing actually happens it will be perfectly innocent. He doesn’t seem to have any ulterior motives about wanting to get me into bed just yet. But just going on a date could be dangerous for me. If I let myself fantasize about how it could turn out, I set myself up for failure. Whilst living in fantasy world seems very nice and comforting, it will hurt me eventually. And even if the date does go really well, it will automatically create a new set of issues in my head, such as: what next? How do I behave with him now? How many times should I ring him a day? How do I make this relationship work?
Even the way I’m talking now should make it clear how tricky I find relationships with other people. I am completely screwed up in the head about relationships. I cannot be normal in them. No alcoholic can. I’ve spoken to my sponsor about this, along with others who are further into the programme, and they’ve all said that dating and relationships will always be painful, no matter how much sobriety you have. I will always feel like a lost child when it comes to dating guys. So perhaps I should just allow myself to go with the flow in this case, if I can be sure that waiting until next year won’t make any difference. I really would like to be in a relationship, especially with someone in the fellowship who is sober like me. It’s clear to me that my higher power has put this situation in front of me for a good reason; it is a test, just like everything else. Right now I feel like if I put just one foot wrong I could get into deep shit. God, I hope this gets easier in time.
Earlier I said that the day had been like a dichotomy, with a good part and a bad part. Being asked out on the date was the good part. God, a few years ago I would have killed to be asked on a date by a cute young guy like that. The really bad part of today came later on in the afternoon, when I went out to meet a friend who was fundraising for World AIDS Day in town. I agreed to help him out as he would have been doing it on his own otherwise, and I thought he could do with the company. I also thought that it would be good for me, taking me slightly out of my comfort zone whilst being fun and rewarding. All the way up to this afternoon I was looking forward to it, though there was of course the small voice at the back of my mind telling me not to do it.
I went out at 3pm ignoring that voice, though I really badly wanted to listen to it. As I got closer to town all I could think about was how difficult it would be to get the scene queens to give money to me; I imagined being laughed at, told to piss off, ridiculed. I’ve done fundraising work before, and it is not easy. I wasn’t comforted by the knowledge that my friend would be with me. When I got to the street where I was supposed to meet him, I stopped in my tracks literally ten feet from the bar where he was stood outside, waiting for me in his red fundraising t-shirt. A second later, I had turned around and was walking back home. The voice in my head was screaming at me: “You can’t do it!” And it was so natural and easy for me to believe that I couldn’t, after all, do the job. All I could see it being was a disaster, so I ran away, just like I ran away from all my jobs in the past. Every time I’m faced with responsibility, with a job to do, I want to run; reaching that point where I was ten feet from my friend outside the bar, I felt like I was standing on a cliff edge, with a choice between jumping or turning back. It may sound weird, but that is how I felt, so can you blame me for turning back?
In reality I know how dangerous and wrong these thoughts are. When I agreed to help my friend yesterday I knew I could do the job because I’ve done stuff like it before and survived. I’ve done a million difficult, scary things since coming into recovery and I’ve passed all of them with my life intact. So to feel as if I was about to jump off a cliff today came as quite a shock. I prevented myself from having a full blown panic attack by turning away from the cliff edge; and now I know that I wasn’t just afraid of doing a bit of work today. I was afraid of having a panic attack – it was the fear of fear that stopped me from going any further. It is the fear of fear that has stopped me from making any progress with my career.
I’ve been in AA long enough to know that when things like this happen, the only way to feel better is to go to a meeting and share about it. I didn’t particularly want to face a meeting this evening, but I knew at that point that what I wanted was irrelevant. I needed to open up to a room full of alcoholics that I had had a serious episode. When I got to the meeting a couple of hours later I listened to a chair who shared about a huge amount of things that I could identify with; for the whole time that he was speaking I was impatient to get my turn to share. The anxiety and distress was bubbling up inside me; my brain was on overload. Unfortunately, when he’d finished after half an hour, panic struck me during the short silence after his final word, and I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t take that opportunity, that leap of faith into the unknown. I held back and kept myself safe, just as I had done earlier in the day.
For the next forty five minutes I let everyone else have their chance to speak, all the while suppressing a scream. I felt horrible, absolutely desperate. I knew I was making myself feel worse, and I knew I couldn’t leave that meeting without sharing. I might not have gone out and taken a drink, but I was already beginning to resent the room for taking my chance to share away from me; already beginning to think about leaving the rooms and isolating. After forty five long minutes, I finally spoke up, and I let it all out. I didn’t care how I sounded, I just said everything that needed to be said because it wouldn’t have been helpful any other way.
Once I’d finished I instantly felt better – surprise, surprise. A weight had definitely been taken off my shoulders. While I still feel disappointed in myself, my anxiety levels have definitely gone back to normal, and I no longer wish to isolate. I made a mistake today, I let myself down; the important thing is to learn from this. The reason I was so upset earlier is because next year, when I graduate from University, I’m going to have to face situations like that every day when I’m at work. I’m going to have to face that fear sooner or later. When I get a job, I can’t afford to run away. That still petrifies me. My sponsor would tell me off for projecting now. I’m totally aware that I am living in the future, imagining what might happen next year when it’s still a relatively long way off. I don’t want to project, but if I couldn’t take a little bit of responsibility on today then I’m absolutely sure it will be just as difficult next year. I wasn’t just scared today because our fundraising would have taken us into the bars; I’ve been in plenty of bars in recovery and it’s not been a problem. It was simply the responsibility that panicked me. When I get a job next year the responsibility will probably still panic me; I’ll want to run away and stay at home where I’m safe; I’ll feel like the world is out to get me and if I go to work I might be eaten by the big bad wolf. That big bad wolf is fear itself – it’s just an emotion, albeit a powerful one. It can’t kill me, I know it can’t. It will be tough and very painful, but maybe I’ll survive it. Maybe I’ll be OK.