Stockholm

I returned from Stockholm yesterday a new person. I was only there for a week, but as with many important journeys in my life, it felt like a lot longer. Yet it has gone by so quickly, I almost woke up this morning not knowing where I was. It was good to come home – London is no longer a place that I dread returning to. Holidays are so much better these days because I don’t dread them coming to an end, like I used to. Last Wednesday C and I arrived in Stockholm in the evening, thoroughly exhausted after a rather stressful journey full of delays and confusion. All we felt fit to do was go to the hotel and lie on our beds for the night. We wanted to go to the English speaking AA meeting which was taking place in a room just around the corner that night, but it seemed too far to walk. The nice thing about arriving was the weather: we were pleased to find it hot and sunny in Sweden. It would remain so for the rest of the week.

Thursday was the first day of the gay AA convention that we had come for. In the morning a few of the organisers wanted to take us on a boat trip around the city. C would be one of four main speakers at the convention, so the organisers were keen to make him feel welcome in Stockholm. Thursday happened to be the hottest day of the year in Sweden – temperatures reached 30 degrees as we went around the city on the boat. Stockholm is comprised of many islands, therefore there’s a lot of water, and the trip took two hours in total. In the sunshine it all seemed stunningly beautiful. Straight away I knew it was going to be a good holiday. Unlike many people I know, I don’t mind hot temperatures such as 30 degrees at all. I much prefer that to freezing cold snow!

After the boat trip we decided to go for lunch in a picturesque park near the main harbour. It was difficult to speak to anyone except C at first, mainly because everyone else was a stranger to me. I talked to one of the Swedish women about life in London, which she seemed to find fascinating, though it was a brief conversation as she finished lunch and moved away quite quickly. Part of me knew that the social awkwardness wouldn’t last all week. In the past I would have felt depressed about not speaking to everyone, but last week I had come to the realisation that these things just take time with me.

After lunch C and I returned to the hotel to get ready for the first meeting of the convention that evening. All the main meetings would consist of just one speaker speaking at the front for an hour. C’s turn would come on Saturday night; on Thursday the talk was given by a young Swedish woman who looked the epitome of spiritual happiness. It got the convention off to a great start. That night no one seemed to be going out, so we had to return to the hotel quite early.

On Friday we were at the convention all day. A series of ‘workshops’ had been organised, each focusing on specific themes such as ‘coming out in sobriety’ and ‘young & sober’. I attended quite a few of these, so by the end of the day I felt like I’d done a hard day’s work. Luckily I’d managed to make one new friend by this point, a man from the UK, who I spent most of the rest of the weekend with. That evening the main speaker meeting was headed by a very attractive American man, who spoke confidently for an hour about his 28 years of sobriety. It was a joy to listen to – possibly one of the best chairs I’ve ever heard. Afterwards the organisers were throwing a barbecue outside. The weather was still reasonable, so we enjoyed the food and talked to lots of new people until it got dark. My new friend from the UK, C, wanted to go dancing, so at 10 o’clock we decided to head to Slussen where Stockholm’s famous party boat the Patricia was moored. We’d been told that it was gay every night last week, so looked forward to lots of cheesy pop music and hot Swedish men.

The music was indeed cheesy and the men were indeed hot, but for some reason we couldn’t tell if it was a gay night or not. No one seemed particularly ‘gay’ (after years of dancing in gay clubs I generally find it easy to tell whether someone is gay or not), no one was kissing or holding hands. Everyone was very reserved, which is unusual for a gay club. C and I stayed for a couple of hours until we were too tired to continue. It was an OK night, but the next night we knew would be much better.

Saturday was Stockholm’s Gay Pride Day. In the morning we met up with everyone from the convention to watch the parade pass through the centre of town. The weather had turned bad all of a sudden – it rained all day, and I was reminded of last year’s London Pride when the same thing happened. That was one of my final drinking days. Anyway, because of the weather Stockholm Pride was ruined a little for me. We stayed to watch as much of the parade as we could, until we were too soggy. In the afternoon some of us dashed over to one of the gay bars to sip coffee in the warmth. There we found them selling tickets to that night’s Gay Pride ‘After Party’, taking place at one of the posh hotels in town. I hadn’t planned on spending £30 on a night out, but everyone else was keen to go, and the line-up did sound good. So we bought our tickets then went for dinner, before heading back to the convention for the evening’s main speaker meeting, which would be given by our friend C.

He didn’t seem nervous at all as he stepped up to the podium. I suppose having been in AA for nearly a decade, he must have done things like that before. I couldn’t help imagining myself up there, what I’d say to fill an hour. The thought was strangely thrilling. Maybe there’s a performer somewhere inside me after all!

He spoke for the full hour confidently and freely, making us laugh at several points with funny drinking/sober anecdotes, all of which I’d heard before but was happy to hear again. After that we went for a quick coffee, then at 10 o’clock C returned to the hotel to sleep while the rest of us headed to the hotel for the big gay dance. As soon as we got there we were taken aback by the interior decor: it was so posh. I’d never been anywhere like it before. I felt like some kind of celebrity, sipping on expensive mineral water and sitting on plush leather sofas underneath shiny great chandeliers. The music was fab, all of it catchy and recognisable from the disco era. I stayed until about 2 in the morning, after a fabulous Swedish girl band had sung some disco hits live. At that point I came across an attractive man on the dance floor who seemed rather interested in me. It wasn’t long before we were dancing up close and things got very steamy. That sort of thing hadn’t happened to me for years – it came as a great relief more than anything! To know that I could still do it, that I could still attract men just by being myself. In the past I was always drunk when that happened. On Saturday night I was 100% sober.

When he asked if I wanted to go back to his hotel, I was understandably nervous, but I agreed to go because it had been so long and I’d already come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to deprive myself of physical intercourse any more. After last Monday’s chat with B I knew that now was the time to make a change and start putting myself out there, which is why I danced alone for most of Saturday night while the rest of my friends sat down drinking water. If I’d sat with them the whole night, I wouldn’t have met that man and I wouldn’t have had so much fun. I would have gone back to my hotel at the end of the night, disappointed as ever by the lack of action.

The man I met was an American who also happened to be visiting from London for the weekend, about 40 years old. My favourite type of guy. Our time together was brief – after not too long he wanted to return to the nightclub to watch his favourite singer Martha Wash perform on stage! I could have gone back with him, but I’d had my night out. I was ready to sleep. It probably worked out for the best. If I’d gone back to the club with him I would have worn myself out, and if I’d spent the night in the hotel with him I probably wouldn’t have got any sleep. Sleeping on my own in my own bed is, unfortunately, a habit that I’ve got very used to. I still had a really good time on Saturday night. At least I know I can enjoy sex whilst sober. It was a little awkward and embarrassing to begin with, as I knew it would be. In the end I realised I would just have to let go of myself and stop thinking about it. It’s all the thinking that has made that kind of thing so problematic in the past. I’m not saying my sexual dysfunctions have been cured. I’m going to need to do a lot more of that sort of thing before I reach any kind of normal level. With anything problematic in my life, there will always be a lot of work.

The good thing is that I’ve taken the first step – I didn’t back away from the opportunity when it arose. I’m grateful to my higher power for putting it in front of me. Future opportunities will probably terrify me, but I know that I won’t recover unless I start doing all these things that scare me. The next stage of my recovery has begun. Last year I dealt with alcohol and friendships; this year I will deal with sex, relationships and work.

For that reason I’ve finally decided to change my sponsor. The one I currently have has always been decidedly anti-sex; since I hardly ever see him I imagine getting a new sponsor wouldn’t be too much of a transition. I know who I want to ask now. It’s a shame that I’ll have to start the steps again, but I’ve finally realised that my recovery is too important to avoid this change. It feels the right thing to do.

Getting back to the hotel at 3 on Sunday morning meant that I was very tired the next day. I somehow managed to get to the convention for the final speaker meeting at 10am, which was headed by another American with great sobriety. After it was over they did the traditional sober ‘countdown’, where the person with the most sobriety in the room gives the Big Book to the person with the least sobriety. It was a touching and emotional moment. I really wanted that person with the least sobriety to get this program, along with everyone. If anything this week has confirmed to me how great this program is. Probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

In the afternoon some of us went to soak up the last of the sun on the beach. That evening a farewell convention dinner had been organised at one of the poshest restaurants in town. Most of us turned up, which was nice. We were somewhat bewildered to find most of the tables outside. A huge storm cloud was making its way over to Stockholm; I knew that we were going to get drenched at some point. When the clouds finally arrived we were just about protected by the large umbrellas standing over the tables, but it was very cold and the whole floor was flooded. It was quite dramatic actually. I’m sure I’ll never forget that evening! We all had to huddle up together under blankets to keep warm. Luckily I was under a blanket with one of the sexiest men there, a lovely Swedish man who would be reason enough for me to go back to Stockholm!

I know I’m falling for all these men because I’m not having enough sex. I’ve deprived myself for a whole year – it’s a wonder I don’t fall for every man that I see! It is starting to get that way, worryingly, which is how I know I need to make a change in that part of my life. It’s making me unhappy. I don’t want to be deprived any more.

By Monday most of the convention’s visitors had returned home to their countries. C and I had another day in Sweden, so we decided to catch a train to the pretty northern suburb of Uppsala, a little town that reminded me of Oxford in England for some reason. We walked around the cathedral, the old University and the botanical gardens for a while. Before we knew it it was time to return to Stockholm, for the English speaking AA meeting round the corner from our hotel. There we recognised quite a lot of the Americans from the convention. One of the meeting regulars said it was the busiest he’d ever seen it. I grabbed a cup of tea then went to sit in a corner as usual, resembling my old isolatory self. I didn’t want to isolate myself, I just found myself doing it out of habit. I hope I get over that someday.

I wasn’t too nervous to share in the meeting. The chair had been amazing, possibly better than all the chairs I’d heard at the convention. For the first time, I was reduced to tears in a meeting. I’ve wanted to cry in a few London meetings over the year, but the emotion has never been strong enough to break through that protective mechanism which has kept me from shedding any tears since last July. On Monday night that changed. I found all the sharing so moving, that I just couldn’t stop crying. I’m welling up now just thinking about it! I was so grateful that night, more grateful than I’d ever been. It was like coming home. For the first time, I think I truly trusted in the program and the fellowship. All year I’ve had my worries about being abandoned and rejected, lying just under the surface, ready to pounce on the slightest trigger. On Monday night that wasn’t there. I shared about my gratitude, how I used to pray for happiness as a child, and how I no longer shake violently whenever I have to say “hello” to a stranger. Everyone laughed at that, and afterwards I hugged and spoke to more people than I had all weekend.

Many of us went for dinner at a nearby Burger King. It wasn’t the nicest or classiest of meals, but the company made it better. I didn’t speak much as I was still feeling very emotional, but I was glad to be there, amongst true friends. I’d begun to feel like a new person. That person who shared in the Stockholm international meeting wasn’t the person who went to his first meeting on the 17th July 2007, shaking and terrified. I’m different now; there’s no going back.

So, I’m glad to be back in London. It will definitely be nice to see familiar faces and meetings again. There’s a bit of that old ‘coming home depression’ there, which I always got at the end of childhood holidays. I suppose feelings like that take as long to die as everything else that’s negative. I am by no means unhappy or angry today. I will go to my first London meeting in over a week later, I will say ‘hello’ to everyone and I will share about Stockholm, my new favourite city. Thanks to the fellowship, I don’t have to be alone tonight, or ever again.

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