It has not been a bad couple of days, but I’m not feeling so great tonight. Not feeling horrendous either, but it’s important enough to mention. I went to a meeting tonight where I know many of the regulars, but I hardly spoke to any of them, and at the end I was out before anyone could have the chance to say goodbye to me. It was the exact same room where I went to my first ever AA meeting, and at the end of that meeting nearly 20 months ago I did the exact same thing. Why? Because I’m a sick alcoholic, or I’m severely social-phobic, or I’m just not having a good day. Or all three.
I suppose things like that are bound to happen every now and then, or there would be no point in me continuing to treat my illness by going to AA. But the way I felt for a few moments tonight, like the way I felt most of the time 19 months ago, was not pleasant. It almost reduced me to tears. I felt lonely, for the first time in ages, and though I could easily have avoided it, I chose not to. I could have stayed to chat to those people, or I could have headed to Soho where some of them would likely follow me for coffee. In recent times I have worked hard to do those kinds of things after meetings, to push myself into social situations so that I can get better at socialising. When I came into recovery I very quickly identified social phobia as my main problem, and I have struggled with it on a daily basis for 19 months. Today, I suppose it got the better of me. It’s an illness, I’ve identified it and made a good start on treating it, but it remains brilliant at catching me out, on days like today when it tells me that all the people in the room, apart from being alcoholics, have one thing in common: they’re all much, much better than me.
All the people in that room are not better than me at all. Every single one of them is a good hearted, kind, compassionate individual, and would be excellent for my recovery. Yet I still can’t take full advantage of that fact, and while I may have seemed to be in a good place spiritually during the past couple of months, these doubts and fears have been secretly doing press-ups in the background. This illness, whatever it is, is a shady bitch. It can disappear for long periods of time, and I can experience such joy and happiness at times, like I did yesterday when I met up with some AA friends in Soho and spent the day laughing and chatting. But despite all that it can come right back at any time and slap me in the face. Recovery has, fortunately, brought me to a place where every day is no longer a battle imside my head, but it hasn’t made everything all right. In some areas, my life now is as fabulous as it might ever be. In other areas, it is starkly ailing.
This year has enabled me to take great steps towards achieving a lifelong dream, which involves writing a good novel. I am writing every single day, and I’m enjoying it every single day. I’ve nearly finished the first draft of an exciting story about the pitfalls of time-travelling. Not so long ago, such an achievement would have seemed absolutely impossible. Whether the book is any good or not, doesn’t matter – I’ve created something tangible, something to show for my recovery. Were it not for recovery, I can say with 100% confidence that this book would not have been written. I’ve done it for me – I suppose I could consider it a gift to myself. Drinking as I used to did not bring me any such gifts.
Recovery has done me a great service in that respect. It has shown me everything that is wrong with my life and it has given me the tools to fix those things. As Augusten Burroughs said, it husks the soul. I have been opened up and exposed to my own character defects, and the core of my soul is coming to the surface. There are bright, shining parts of my soul; there are also dark, wounded and rotten parts. It hurts to strip those away. When I walked out of the meeting earlier tonight without saying goodbye, I was acting out a very old behaviour, one that I have always found perversely satisfying. It punishes those people who are closest to me. Though it ultimately punishes me, I can’t stop myself from doing it. It comes from the part of me where the infection of alcoholism lies deepest and hangs on like a leech.
The lesson I’m learning repeatedly at the moment is that you get out of life what you put into it, just as you get out of AA exactly what you put into it. The lovely day I had with friends yesterday came as a result of the work I had put into our friendships. The loneliness I felt briefly tonight came as a result of the effort I didn’t put into being sociable with people. If I had stuck around and – heaven forbid – asked someone I knew out for coffee, I would undoubtedly be sitting in a coffee bar in Soho right now feeling ten times better. But I didn’t. Well, we claim spiritual progress, not perfection. It’s a bit of a get out clause, but it’s true.