I wasn’t expecting to finish steps 6 and 7 on the day I turned fifteen months sober, but that’s what happened last night. I went to my sponsor’s flat with the writing I’d done for step 6, the two sides of A5 on which I’d listed all my apparent character defects and the ways in which I can change these negative behaviours. When I read these out to my sponsor he was pleased with my insight, but suggested a few things I could add to the ‘positive behaviours’ side, such as ‘look people in the eye’ and ‘ask to be included in more social occasions’. So the list I’ve ended up with are things I’ve been pretty much aware of all year, but now that the step is completed I feel weird. I was able to add the step 7 prayer to my morning prayers for the first time this morning, and it seems like an apt addition to the step 3 prayer which I’ve said every morning for the past year. I think it feels so odd because I can finally feel the movement in my program againl. I’d stagnated on step 5 all year, and I guess I never expected to go any further. Now that I’ve done step 7, I feel very positive about life. Ever since I finished step 5 a few weeks ago I’ve felt better about life, really; the anxiety is certainly much less than it used to be. I can look the world in the eye, like it says you will in the Big Book. There are certain important character defects that I know will be difficult to get rid of, namely my tendency to isolate when I feel abandoned or rejected. This sense of abandonment is something I’ve never been able to let go of. My sponsor reminded me that the steps are a life long journey: you never complete them, but you do them constantly, every day if you can. As long as you’re making progress you’re fine; you don’t have to be perfect. We listened to a CD that he had bought from a convention in LA a few years ago, where a woman spoke vociferously about her experience of these two steps. She reiterated very lucidly that they are transitional steps, overlooked by the Big Book somewhat perhaps because they are the hardest to grasp. There’s nothing you can specifically do to complete them: you have to live them. Well, I hope I’m living them now.
When I came home last night I managed to complete another chapter of my semi-autobiographical novel at surprising speed. I’ve been trying to write a semi-autobiographical novel for years; it’s lived through many incarnations and there’ve been many different characters, most of whom I’ve forgotten about. The main character stays the same, though: it’s always me, in some context or another. The chapter that I completed is I think possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. I felt so proud of it that I decided I would print an excerpt here. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a successful writer, but it’s the one thing I think about every day when I wake up and when I go to bed. If someone identifies with my story, I suppose it will have been a success.
Simon was having a worse time at work than ever. He knew pretty much what he was doing now, but he still wasn’t getting on with his supervisor, and he felt his skin prickle every time he saw her. Every moment he feared the next sharp putdown or heated argument. No one else seemed to have these difficulties with Geraldine Hawes, it was always just him. The others appeared to get on with her fine. They had reached some kind of agreement where she left them alone if they lived up to her high standards. Simon found these standards impossible to reach for some reason, and it depressed him. By now he was having regular panic attacks in work, having to run to the toilet at least once a day for five minutes to catch his breath and regain composure. Every time he returned from the toilet Geraldine was there, waiting to pounce. “I thought I told you to finish this?” was her regular greeting for him. There was always something else to do, nothing was ever quite done as far as she was concerned.
It was, unfortunately, only a matter of time before Simon’s frayed nerves would trip him up and lead to one hell of a confrontation. He was sick and tired of never getting anything right. He fantasized about getting Geraldine by the hair and smashing her head into his desk on an increasingly regular basis. One morning he was thinking about this very scenario when he absent-mindedly clicked ‘send’ on an e-mail that wasn’t supposed to be sent. It was informal and full of mistakes when it needed to be formal and perfect, and it was addressed to entirely the wrong set of people. In any other circumstances, it would have resulted in a quick word in the supervisor’s office, a slapped wrist and a “never do that again”. As it was, Geraldine was on his back within seconds, pissed off and ready for a fight.
“Who do you think you are, sending this shit out to my associates?!” she yelled, throwing a print-out of the e-mail at his desk, just missing his head by an inch.
“What?” Simon exclaimed, flabberghasted. It was the scene he had been dreading for months.
“I said, who do you think you are? This shit isn’t fit for primary school English. Did you ever learn to read and write, Franks?” she was standing above him with her hands on her dainty little hips. There was fire in her eyes; she looked like a witch about to cast a very bad spell on him.
“Of course I did.” He replied, trying to be as unaffected as possible as he turned back to the computer to get on with his work. He had put up with too much abuse in his life to let this woman bring him down now. Somehow, he knew the only way to beat her was to ignore her.
“I haven’t finished yet! Look at me!” she shrieked. The entire office turned to look at them. Slowly, Simon swivelled in his chair back towards her. Think before you speak! he told himself urgently. Don’t show yourself up in front of all these people! He desperately wanted to throw himself on the floor and burst into hysterical tears. But he had already learnt that making himself a victim didn’t work in these parts.
“I’ve just about had enough of you, Franks. Every single day something else happens. And it always comes back to you! You just can’t do anything without someone holding your hand, can you?!”
Simon bit his tongue furiously and begged the tears in his eyes not to fall down his flushed cheeks. He was burning up with anger; he had never hated anyone so much in his life. How dare she do this to me! How dare she attack me like this, why doesn’t she look after me and love me like I need her to?!
“Haven’t you got anything to say for yourself? Or are you going to sit there like a fucking idiot?”
“I’m not an idiot…”
“Oh, aren’t you? Well you could have fooled me!” she chuckled cruelly. No one else was laughing. They were all staring at her in horror, like she had gone mad. Simon took little comfort in the fact that they were probably all too scared to stand up for him. He knew he’d have to stand up for himself, for the first time in his life, but he couldn’t. He didn’t have the words to beat her, because she would always have something to come back at him with.
“This is workplace harassment, you have no right…”
“Oh don’t try and play the harassment card with me, you stupid little girl. I’m a woman and I’m twice your age, how could I possibly harass you?!”
“Leave him alone, Geraldine.” Someone who Simon couldn’t see spoke from the shadows. Their voice was firm and directive. Geraldine was clearly stunned that anyone had dared to stop her.
“Who the hell was that?” she hollered at the crowd gathered behind her. After a long and tense moment, James stepped forward with wrath in his eyes. “Are you telling me what to do?”
“I’m telling you to leave Simon alone. He’s done nothing wrong and you have no right to use your authority in this office to bully him.”
“How dare you!!” Geraldine squealed, quite upset by the implication. “I’ve never…I wouldn’t bully anyone! I am simply doing my job, trying to improve the quality of my staff’s work!”
“No, I have to disagree with you there. You are using what little power you have to bully a vulnerable member of staff because you know no one will stop you. Well, I’m not going to let you get away with it any more, Geraldine.” James had kept his voice low but firm. His stance was admirable; Simon thought he would never be able to thank him enough.
“Right. My office. Now!” Geraldine ordered him, turning on her heel for her office where she no doubt planned to give James the bollocking of his life. But James wasn’t following her. He remained solidly where he stood, determined to have this out right here in front of everyone. “I said, my office – now!”
“Whatever you have to say, you can say it here.”
“Are you disobeying me, Molloy?”
“Call it whatever you want. I see no reason why this discussion has to take place in private. I believe this is a matter of importance for the entire staff.”
“You’ll come to my office now, Molloy, or I will refer you for a disciplinary.”
“You can do that. But I’d like to know what the area manager would have to say, if I told him you were behaving aggressively towards vulnerable members of staff based on their sexual orientation.”
An audible gasp went through the crowd. Simon’s eyes widened in horror. James had just outed him in front of everyone! This was surely the end of the world as he knew it. He might as well pack up and leave his job now.
“I – I don’t know what you’re insinuating…”
“I’m insinuating that you have systematically abused your position to pick on a gay member of staff because you are a homophobic bigot.”
Geraldine had no reply for that. For several minutes, the entire office remained frozen in silence, like time had stopped inside that room. Then someone, somewhere began clapping. And then someone else joined in. Only a couple of people applauded James for his actions that day, but it was enough. Geraldine had nothing more to say. She ran back to her office in thinly disguised tears, desperate to appear victimised at the hands of her gay male staff. From that point on, Simon had very little to do with her. He spoke to her only when it was absolutely necessary and he couldn’t possibly get what he needed from somebody else, which luckily turned out to be an increasingly rare occurrence. A few weeks later, Geraldine transferred herself to another branch of the same company, never to be seen again. Her vague threats to have James disciplined were never followed through. Perhaps because she was scared of him, perhaps because she knew he had a point. Simon remained offended at James’ public outing of him for a few days, until he realised how much he had his gay colleague to thank for. Work was nowhere near as hellish after Geraldine’s departure. He didn’t have to go in every day dreading confrontation. He was suddenly free of a whole lot of fear and resentment.