10 months, 15 days / punishment

The past couple of days have seen me continue to be the prisoner of my unfeasible mood swings, and so I have to conclude that this has been the negative side effect of the anti-depressants which I was warned about. The doctor told me that in the first few weeks my anxiety might get worse, and so it has. I can think of no other reason why this week I have been more fearful and tearful than I normally am. Despite the almost constant edginess, I have managed to be constructive. I’ve started applying for jobs; for the first time ever, I have thrown myself into the employment search and I have sent an application off each day since Wednesday. The jobs I’m applying for are really good; I was amazed to discover them as I had previously thought that I would only be capable of working in some menial minimum wage dump at this point in my life. As it turns out, there are actually some useful and interesting places where I can work, and I might be able to start off on a good wage. I’m still nervous, but more excited about the future than I was a week ago.

Despite this I still have that familiar lump in my throat right now, which suggests that everything is not perfect. Nothing is ever perfect in my life – something always has to be wrong, because I’m good at being miserable and I like having reasons to feel this way. I will just be honest now and describe a specific situation which has caused me to feel so angry tonight. I have been invited to a barbecue at my friend S’s flat tomorrow evening. S is in the fellowship, and there will be a lot of people there tomorrow who, along with S, I consider close friends in AA. Earlier on today I sent S a text message asking him to confirm his address and also to let me know if I need to bring anything with me; he hasn’t replied yet. I sent the message about ten hours ago, and it’s very unusual for him not to respond within a couple of hours.

That’s not all. I saw S at the meeting in town tonight; I tried to say “hello” to him but he walked straight past me to sit on the other side of the room, then afterwards I wanted to speak to him but again he ignored me and walked off, before I could even catch his attention. My instant, and natural, reaction was to think that I had done something to upset him. I was invited to his barbecue weeks ago – maybe since then he’s gone off me for some reason, and wants to let me know that I’m no longer welcome.

For about half an hour, I silently fumed at the arsehole’s behaviour and resolved never to speak to him again. Even if there was a perfectly innocent explanation for him ignoring me in the meeting, such as he simply didn’t see me, I was determined to punish him by skipping the barbecue altogether and thus drawing everyone’s attention to my hurt feelings. It would be so easy not to turn up tomorrow, I wouldn’t even have to give a reason. All my other friends would be bound to notice my absence, which would lead to questions being asked and eventually the realisation that I’m upset with S. It would be so, so easy to do that, because it’s such old behaviour, it’s almost second nature to me.

I don’t really think S meant to hurt my feelings earlier. He probably didn’t see me in the meeting. But I still really want to punish him, and everyone else for that matter, because he’s supposed to be my friend and he should have seen me. He should have come straight up to me and explained why he hadn’t replied to my text message earlier in the day yet! Because he hasn’t behaved absolutely perfectly, I want to get my own back on him now, I want to show him. I want him to be sorry tomorrow and come running to me with apologies and love.

That is the honest truth of what I want to do. A year ago, I would have just done it without thinking about it. Today, I’m really thinking about it because part of me knows that it’s not healthy behaviour. I’ve been in recovery for ten months, and part of me knows that acting on my hurt feelings can get me into trouble. It has done before. In the distant past I’ve lost many friends through the emotional punishment that I have inflicted upon them. My version of rough justice ultimately led to more pain and more isolation, but for so long I’ve been in complete denial about it because that lonely, abandoned child inside me desperately needs to cling onto behaviours which it thinks will protect it.

Attempting to distance myself from these behaviours and emotions is very difficult, and very painful. As soon as I contemplate different, more healthy behaviour, my inner child screams out in agony, as if I’ve just taken its sweets away. I know that healthy, normal behaviour would involve me calling S up tomorrow, to ask him if I’m still welcome at the barbecue, in a friendly and polite manner. But my inner child doesn’t want me to do that, it wants revenge, it wants me to punish punish punish.

God, it feels so weird talking about my ‘inner child’ as if it’s a different person! But I know if I am to recover, I have to think of it as a different person now. I can’t be that victim any more, that person who seeks attention by lashing out and relying on other people for my own happiness. I have to rely on myself and my higher power now, and my higher power is urging me to still go to the barbecue tomorrow, because the truth at the heart of all this is that I would really like to go. Deep down, I know it will be a lot of fun.

When I was first invited, I almost jumped for joy, partly because I’ve not been to visit the home of anyone in the fellowship yet (apart from my sponsor), and to me, visiting people’s homes has always seemed like a fantastic opportunity for bonding. If I can go to this barbecue tomorrow, and spend that time having fun with S and all the others, then our friendship will become that much stronger. If I decide to back out and stay at home, I will ultimately be punishing myself. It will be an absolutely miserable night, with me sitting here while everyone else I know laughs it up at the barbecue. How could I do that to myself? All my life, I have made myself suffer through my own behaviour. Yes, I was done wrong by a small group of people in my early life, but for the second half of my life a lot of the wrongs have been done by me and me alone.

I feel like a good old cry now, but still, I can’t even shed a tear, I can’t even let the emotion out in the privacy of my own home, because that protective mechanism which I learnt to stop my mother from seeing me upset is still strong and in force. If my mother, who I live with, saw me upset then she would be upset too, and it would be horrible. So I keep this pain in for another night.

I know where I learnt that behaviour from, but where did I learn the punishing behaviour, which has forced me to let go of so many potentially brilliant friends over the years? Where did I learn that I could gain attention by not turning up to certain situations? I can’t even remember where it started, I’ve been doing it for so long.

After ten and a half months, it amazes me that I’m still learning these big and scary lessons about myself. It seems I was in the dark about a lot of things when I was drinking – things which continue to haunt me today because I haven’t dealt with them. I will phone S tomorrow, and I will go to the barbecue and have fun, so that for the first time, I will have beaten my illness. I’m not going to let the nasty voices in my head win this time. By even contemplating going to the barbecue, I am taking a major step forward in my recovery. It’s so painful, because it means I’m trusting my higher power rather than my own feelings for once. Even after ten months I find it very difficult to trust anyone or anything but myself. That’s not something I’ve been able to admit to in meetings yet – perhaps I will have to, the next time I go to one.

This idea that my emotions aren’t to be trusted is so hard to swallow, because I’ve literally spent my life living in my emotions. I’ve always been an extremely emotional person. Pretty much the entire narrative of my life story is based on what I’ve felt about things that have happened to me. I used to think I was a rational person, but it seems I’m not even remotely that. Once again, I’m reminded of my recent step 4 work: I am truly self-centred, self-pitying, full of pride, dishonesty and arrogance. That this realisation should hit me yet again, when I thought I’d already accepted and dealt with it, is somewhat embarrassing. My character defects haven’t just gone away. They are still there, powerful as the day I was born with them.

In the midst of all this pain and embarrassment, I am somehow managing to put one foot in front of the other, going to meetings, sharing, turning up for scary situations like tomorrow’s barbecue even though I really don’t want to. So I’m making progress. I wish I didn’t have to feel so crap all the time. Maybe if tomorrow happens to turn out to be a success, I won’t feel so low any more. Maybe I’ll realise that my emotions and feelings are really insignificant in the great scheme of things, and that my friends and my higher power are much more important.

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