7 months, 9 days / pastures new

What a strange, strange day yesterday was. I place the emphasis on strange because by the end of it I felt like I was 14 years old again. First thing in the morning I headed out to West London again, to carry on with my step 5 work with my sponsor. It’s nice that the momentum is finally picking up with this step. Yesterday we finished dealing with my resentments towards my parents. As I read out the resentments involving my mother, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at the silliness of some of them. One of them recalled an incident circa 1996, when my mum embarrassed me at the doctor’s surgery by demanding that my GP appointment be moved two hours forward. I remember the incident clearly as if it was last week. My appointment was at 6pm but my mum had taken me there at 4, thinking it would get me seen early so she could go home and put dinner on. As the hours went on it became clear that we wouldn’t be seen early, and my mum screamed and shouted at the GP’s receptionist, demanding attention, which just made things worse. Eventually we were seen and I was convinced that I would be removed from the doctor’s practice list. I was so humiliated. I thought everyone must hate me and blame me for my mother’s behaviour. Of course, the reality of the situation was nothing of the sort. No one blamed me for anything; I’m pretty sure the receptionist felt sorry for me, actually. This was just one of many embarrassing incidents caused by my mother that I had to describe to my sponsor yesterday. As I described them I found myself laughing hysterically. For the first time in my life, I could see the funny side of the situation. Right now, as I think about some of the things my mother did when I was younger, I feel no resentment whatsoever. The anger has gone. That is really powerful. It shows the power of step 5, and of the program.

After a couple of hours my sponsor let me go, and instead of going home I decided to kill time by taking a long stroll around London. Later on in the evening I’d be heading into town for the birthday celebrations of an AA friend, P, straight after my regular meeting. I had ensured that I wouldn’t need to go home in between seeing my sponsor and the evening’s meeting by dressing in my glad rags before going out first thing. More about P’s birthday later.

I took the tube across town to the big park, which would be the starting point of a long round trip around Central London. I know London so well now, it was easy to know how to get to all the places I wanted to see. I passed Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Aldwych and Trafalgar Square, after which I sat down in a café for a long rest and a nice cup of hot chocolate. As I was walking around this strange feeling started coming over me. It’s hard to describe. It’s like…I felt young, and fresh, for the first time in years. Though I’d walked past all those famous landmarks many times before, it’s like I was seeing them for the first time. Everything was clear and sharp before my eyes. Most of all, I felt a childish excitement about all the sightseeing I was managing to pack into my stroll. I kept getting flashbacks to similar fun days out that I’d had as a child. Yesterday I was almost living the dream that I yearned to live as a 14 year old, the dream where I can choose to go to all these places of my own accord and spend as little or as much time outdoors as I like.

That feeling of being a child again has come and gone in sobriety; until now it terrified me beyond belief, but today it excited me. It didn’t really get going until after a very embarrassing and unexpected event by the River Thames, where I tripped on some steps and fell flat on my face, legs behind me in the air. As soon as it happened I could literally hear the laughter of my old schoolmates in my head, the cruel jeering and the ridicule. It took a tremendous amount of courage to open my eyes and notice that in reality, no one was pointing or laughing at me. People were just carrying on as if nothing had happened. I picked myself up and walked away from the scene as fast as I could, desperate to get away from anyone who might have seen what happened. For five minutes, my heart pounded, sweat poured down my red face and I was convinced that someone would stop me to have a good old laugh at me.

Five minutes was all it took for me to realise and accept that no one cared about my fall, and then, all of a sudden, I started laughing at the silliness of it all. All my life I’ve feared public embarrassment, doing everything I can to avoid it. Unfortunately when I was drinking I seemed to want to go out of my way to be embarrassing, which makes this sober fear even more incongruent. When something embarrassing happens, what is the worst possible outcome? People laugh at me. So what? Laughter won’t kill me. That is what I think I finally accepted yesterday. What happened when I fell over in public? Absolutely nothing. I’m almost certain now that in most of the life situations that scare me, the worst that can happen is absolutely nothing.

When the time finally rolled around to 6.30 I headed over to the west for my meeting, and I was shattered. I realised that my three hour walk had probably been a bad idea considering I was supposed to be going out in Soho last night! Because of my tiredness I was simply unable to concentrate on the chair, and now I can’t remember a word of what he said. I was keen to share about my day and so I jumped in early on after the start of raised voice sharing, which is unusual for me. I talked about step 5, and the humiliation I had failed to experience whilst falling over by the Thames. My message was very positive, and again I felt that sharpness and clarity in my mind. At the end of my share I used the word ‘serene’ to refer to myself, for the first time ever. The rational part of me really doesn’t want to admit that I’d had a spiritual experience, but there’s no other explanation for all those events which makes sense.

When the meeting was over I dashed off to town, completely unsure if I was doing the right thing or not. For the past two months I’d stayed in every night, an achievement which I’m proud of, so I was ready for some clubbing. At least I thought I was. When I got to town, I couldn’t walk into the arranged meeting place, a bar in the heart of the entertainment district, at first. I saw how busy it was and I knew I wouldn’t know most of P’s friends. I felt an insane urge to go home, to run away, but I didn’t. I walked around the block and gave myself a pep talk, telling myself it would be all right as long as I didn’t drink. Eventually I returned to the bar, though in my heart I’m sure I knew even then that it wouldn’t been the best night out I’d ever had.

It’s not like I wanted or expected to have the best night out in the world. I suppose it would have been nice to spend the night somewhere a bit quieter, with better music. When I finally entered the bar I was pleased to discover some familiar faces, including D. To be honest it was a huge relief to see him. It was also nice to see that P had only invited non-drinkers. So the chances of me being tempted to drink were low from the start.

All the signs for a traditionally good night out were there. There were cute guys everywhere, the music was OK, and I was with people from the fellowship who I genuinely liked. But I couldn’t shake the fear that something bad was going to happen all night. It was very busy on all floors of the bar, and I was sure that I’d lose my friends at some point.

Actually, I think that was my main fear. Being abandoned, left on my own. The fear that has haunted me every time I’ve ever gone out at night. Luckily, we managed to stick together as a group the whole time in that bar. After a while D took me to the dance floor where we bopped about for an hour. The music was slowly getting better, and I finally had some fun.

But it wasn’t too long before D wanted to sit down again with the rest of the group, and my mood annoyingly switched back to fearful. There was no seat for me so I had to stand on the side while everyone else chatted around the table. In my mind I went straight back to school, back to the canteen where I was always on the edge of things, not cool or interesting enough to be in the centre of any group.

Even though P very kindly invited me out last night, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling that way towards the end of the night. I can never stop it. We learnt in the CBT lecture the other day that core beliefs are the hardest to change. Well, this is my core belief: I’m not worthy enough to be in any social group. While I continue to believe that, I will always be stuck at school, in my head. This breaks my heart.

By midnight I couldn’t take any more of the overcrowded, overheated basement that we were in and decided to go home. D decided to leave with me. P and the others went off to the famous Heaven nightclub at that point. They wanted us to come with them. D and I nearly agreed, thanks to the promise of getting in free, but I think every bone in our bodies was screaming at us not to go. It would have been SUCH a bad idea. I always hated Heaven, even when I was drunk. Yes, the music may have been brilliant last night, but I just don’t like the place. It’s the same as everywhere else on the gay scene, which I’ve done to death over the years. Everyone’s out for a quick fix, some no strings fun. To me, the enjoyment has almost entirely gone out of the gay scene. I think I’ve grown out of it. The men are very nice to look at, but as soon as I catch one of them looking at me I know what they want. I know how the encounter’s going to turn out, and that doesn’t appeal to me. It never did appeal to me, it’s just that when I was drunk I couldn’t stop myself from getting involved with these men.

So, I’m very glad that I made the choice to come home when I did. D and I walked to the bus stop together and chatted honestly about how we had found the evening. I feel so lucky to have a friend like D, someone of my age who really understands what I’m going through. He feels like he’s done the gay scene to death as well. During the times when we were standing around in the bar and the music wasn’t so good, he kept asking me: “so what are we going to do now?” I didn’t know how to answer him. There is nothing to do in these places, other than dance and stand around talking about nothing important. If D hadn’t been there last night I’m certain I would have gone home A LOT earlier. I know that’s me being co-dependent, but I can’t help it. We had to keep each other sane last night. In my drinking days I didn’t even know people like D existed: young, sane, non-promiscuous gay men.

At the bus stop we both seemed to agree that we should have enjoyed the night a lot more. Apart from the fact that I managed to enjoy it enough to keep going back every weekend for years, I had had such a good Saturday, it should rightly have been a good night out for me.

In a way, of course it was a good night out. I managed to dance to some good music, chat to friends and come home at a reasonable time. What else did I want from it? D says the gay scene will never be the same for us without alcohol, and I think he’s right. He also says there’s nothing wrong with spending every night at home watching TV. Technically, he’s right there too. Doesn’t that just make us sound old, though?

Why ‘do’ the scene at all if we’re perfectly happy at home? I can only speak for myself, and the fact is there’s still this part of me that wants excitement and buzz in my life. The trouble with the buzz you get from the gay scene is that it’s fleeting and not real. If P continues with the AA program, surely it’s only a matter of time before he realises it too. The reason we keep trying to enjoy the gay scene when we know it’s no good for us is because in society in general, people our age ARE out every weekend. Alcohol isn’t necessary to enjoy dancing in clubs – I found that a long time ago – but it’s unavoidable everywhere you go on the scene, and I just can’t compromise on spending time in places that are full of drunks any more. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever visit the gay scene again. I’ll keep going to the coffee shops in the area, of course. But as for the bars, the places where I discovered gay life for the first time, they’re no longer part of my life.

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