8 months, 29 days / change

The word I’ve chosen to put in today’s blog title must sound like such a clichéd and overused word, but it really has summed up the events of the day, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather talk about. This morning I met my best non-AA friend P and we went walking around a French market for a while, looking at nice breads and cheeses that we might like to try out. In the end I only picked out a few pretty-looking cakes, because the stalls with the bread and cheese looked too scary. Sounds odd, I know. But a year ago I may not even have found the courage to go to the sweets stall! Because it was something new and unusual, I found it threatening.

After that P and I went to meet some other friends in Islington for lunch. This lunch had been arranged for a while, but I can’t say that I had been looking forward to it with all my heart. I went through with it because I knew people were looking forward to seeing me. It should be obvious by now that I don’t spend much time with people outside of AA any more, so when I do, it’s like a special occasion. We were supposed to be meeting in a posh Thai restaurant on the high street, but when we got there we found it closed. I instantly went into panic mode, thinking we’d never find our friends. P managed to calm me down and took me to a Turkish café next door, where we were lucky enough to find our friends waiting.

I sat down and ordered some coke to drink while the others ordered beers. Straight away I felt ill at ease. Not just because of the beer – I just didn’t feel comfortable in the environment any more. With my non-AA friends, the conversation is on a completely different level to that which I have in the fellowship now. I can’t be completely honest about myself and my feelings with these people. I don’t know if that will ever change. I’ve worried about this a lot in sobriety, and last week I thought I’d come to the conclusion that I would always want to have friends outside the fellowship, so that I don’t put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I guess I realised last week that there are some people not in recovery who are actually good for me to be around, but today I wasn’t with those people.

Lunch was delicious. Afterwards the group wanted to go to a nearby pub. I tagged along, as the AA meeting I was planning to attend wasn’t on for another few hours. I’d been in plenty of pubs in sobriety and I was sure I could manage an hour or two. My time there wasn’t absolutely horrendous, but it was hardly what I’d call fun. While everyone else drank vodka and pints of guinness, I sat with my soft drink quietly. I wouldn’t call it anxiety what I was feeling – I actually felt completely fine, as I knew I wouldn’t have to stay there long if I didn’t want to. I think I had gained acceptance of the fact that it was not my environment any more.

Most of my drinking friends aren’t people I’d like to hang around with any more; that’s fine. I decided to leave the pub after just an hour at 3 o’clock, when everyone else was just beginning to have fun. One of them said: “Where are you going? We’re your friends!” which made me laugh. If only he could understand what was really going on for me. I’d try telling them, but there wouldn’t be any point. They wouldn’t understand, and that’s fine too. They’re not alcoholics.

I do feel a tiny bit bad leaving my friends like that. They must wonder what’s wrong with me. But I can’t stand around in pubs explaining myself to people. I shouldn’t have to explain myself. It’s my choice to leave, and I try not to be in the habit of people-pleasing any more. If I’d felt like people-pleasing today, I would have stayed in the pub until 6 o’clock, by which time I would have been utterly miserable.

I don’t want that to be my life any more, and I’m really bloody glad I know that now. I wish I could have known before. I’m not going to dump my non-AA friends completely. As I said, some of them are still good for me. The ones who really care for me and understand me, they’re ones I want to keep in my life. I hate to sound like some selfish child choosing which toys to keep and which to get rid of – it’s really not like that. At the end of the day, we can all choose our friends, and I want to exercise that choice now.

I had been planning to go to a gay meeting over in the west that I’d never been to before, but there were still two hours left until that was due to start, so it came to mind to go to the 4 o’clock meeting in the centre of town which I hadn’t visited for months. The last time I went there, it was to give up my greeting commitment, which I’d grown to resent along with the meeting. I thought I wouldn’t go to that meeting again for a long time. Well, it had been a long time, so I guess I was ready to try it again.

I have to admit I was slightly nervous on the way there, knowing I’d probably see people who were still wondering why I stopped going there in February. Silly thing to worry about, I know, given that I don’t have to explain myself to anyone any more. Well, when I got there, I did recognise lots of faces, many of them from the other gay meetings that I still go to regularly, and they all seemed pleased to see me. One guy said I looked really well, much happier and more confident than two months ago. Which was nice to hear.

And then the meeting’s secretary grabbed me to ask if I would do the chair for him! I couldn’t exactly say no – there were only ten minutes left until the start of the meeting, and if he’d not found someone by then, it must have been pretty difficult for him to find anyone this week. To be honest, my instant reaction to being asked was genuine excitement. Yesterday the secretary of the west London gay meeting asked if I’d do the chair there in two weeks from now, and sadly I can’t do it because I’m supposed to be going to the theatre to see Chicago with S and others from the fellowship that weekend. I was disappointed to have to say “no” to him, because I really like that meeting, and I love doing chairs now! It’s a real honour to be asked by anyone.

So when I got to the meeting today and found myself being asked immediately, I was rather overwhelmed, considering I’d only gone to the meeting on the spur of the moment, as well as the fact of it being a meeting I’d avoided for months. I was slightly nervous about what to say, because I had half an hour to fill with words, and I don’t like speaking without a plan! However, the nerves were completely washed away by excitement in the end. Just being the centre of attention is a thrill in itself; to be talking to a busy meeting about my life, expressing feelings I’d never expressed until nine months ago to a large group of people, was healing. Doing chairs is tremendously healing. I felt a lot more confident this time than I did a couple of weeks ago when I chaired my home group; I said a lot more, my words went together better, and I didn’t stumble over them so much. I instinctively knew what I wanted to say and although there will always be things that I wish I’d said afterwards, I know I covered everything important about my drinking and my recovery.

You don’t get that kind of satisfaction and reward in the pub!

Afterwards my friends in the meeting shared back about how it had been a pleasure to watch me change and grow in recovery. S, who is just two weeks more sober than me, said he was proud to know me. What a lovely thing to say. To think, I had a pretty major resentment against him for a while last year. Not any more!

Others shared about the pain and desperation that alcohol brings; it all brought home to me how intrinsically healthy the meetings are. How could I ever think I don’t need them? It’s such a relief to have got over whatever caused me to lose my connection to the fellowship on Friday. I guess on occasions like Friday, I’m worrying too much about how many friends I have in the room. I didn’t seem to be close friends with many in the meeting on Friday, which made me think that I had been doing something wrong for nine months.

I know I’ve done nothing wrong in recovery, because I haven’t drunk yet. Many, many people don’t even make it to one day sober, but I’ve managed nine months. I don’t need hundreds of friends, because the friends I have are enough. The names and faces may change from time to time, but in the fellowship there will always be people there to support and carry me. Until now, nothing in my life has brought me the security that that knowledge now brings me. The security I feel today, knowing that I can have a reliable support network for the rest of my life, is the same secure feeling I got when I took my first drink seven years ago.

That day in 2001 I finally felt connected to the world, to other people. I felt I could be myself for the first time. Sadly alcohol turned on me in the end, like a psychotic lover, and I became insecure because I felt like I would lose my connection to people without it. Now, in the rooms, I’ve got that connection back, and I don’t need lager, or vodka, or pubs to keep it. The love in the rooms is completely free, and I intend to be part of it for the rest of my life.

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