The isolater

Today was going to be a quiet stay-at-home day, the kind of thing I very rarely have these days. I wanted to see if I could resist heading out in the evening as I usually do, find out whether I could cope with being indoors for an entire day with no one but myself and my mother for company. I have only stayed in on one evening this year: the rest of the time I’ve managed to find excuses to go out, sometimes to AA meetings, sometimes just to Soho where I like to sit and drink tea whilst watching the beautiful people pass by. Today I had no money for Soho’s expensive tea, and I didn’t really fancy an AA meeting, so I thought it would be healthy to try another evening indoors. Years ago I used to be able to sit indoors quite happily, as it felt a lot safer than going out into the world. Nowadays I seem to be addicted to going out. I’ve fallen in love with the world, to such an extent that one evening away from it is too much to contemplate. By 4 o’clock this afternoon the feeling of loneliness was beginning to creep up on me. The hours seemed to stretch painfully ahead of me – I was desperate to find any reason not to stay in.

 With no money, my only option would be a free of charge AA meeting, which would at least occupy the whole evening. But I didn’t just want a meeting, I wanted to go somewhere nice for dinner first and coffee in Soho afterwards. It was Friday evening, the best night for socialising around meetings. But I couldn’t do those things, and all the resentment and pain and fear at being broke hit me like a tidal wave. It’s not just about having no money: it’s about not being able to live my life freely. The choice to go out and eat nice things has been taken away from me yet again because the money that I have to live on is not enough. Of course if I knew how to cope without these luxuries I would have been fine tonight, but as far as I’m concerned, life is incredibly boring without nice things. I hate feeling bored more than anything else in the world. Earlier today as I faced the prospect of having nothing to do except go to an AA meeting or stay at home watching TV, I felt as trapped in my circumstances as I did ten years ago when I sat on the same sofa in the same living room, facing a whole summer with nothing to do.

 I went to the AA meeting in Covent Garden with that familiar lump in my throat, wanting to cry at how hopeless and alone I felt. I tried to meditate myself out of the pain, to bring myself firmly into the present, but it didn’t work. I knew I would give myself a chance of getting over it by sharing about it in the meeting. Often the most painful sharing is the most cathartic and healing. But the meeting was as busy as it always is, and I could tell straight away that it would be impossible to get a word in once the chair had finished speaking. This week the chair was given by a proper celebrity, someone everyone in this country would know, who finally seems to have found some peace in the AA rooms. It was a great chair – of course it was always going to be, coming from the person who gave it. And unsurprisingly, every single person in the room wanted to share back once he had finished.

 I could have used the fifteen minutes in the middle of the meeting designated for ‘shy sharers’, but the thought that people might be resentful at me for using it when other less sober people in the room might need the time wouldn’t leave me alone, so I kept my mouth shut. As soon as we had chanted the serenity prayer together at the end I was out of the room before anyone could speak to me. Sticking around to speak to friendly faces might have given me another opportunity to recover from my emotional pain, but I couldn’t do it this week. Staying around after that meeting is always a difficult experience – it can be a bit like a big gay social gathering, where those who speak the loudest get all the attention. In the wrong mood, I always find it uncomfortable, though I recognise that is not the meeting’s fault. About a month ago, when I was in a much better mood I managed to tag along with the clique for coffee in Soho, where I made a couple of new friends. The contrast between that night and nights like tonight is startling. I just wish I knew how to make it like that night last month all the time.

 So I came home tonight almost in tears, remembering the first time I ever went to the meeting two years ago: I was six days sober, and I unexpectedly shared during the shy sharer’s section. It was perhaps the first time in my life I had ever spoken honestly about my feelings. It was certainly the first time I had ever spoken in front of a room full of people I didn’t know. After that meeting I got attention from lots of people, and I was taken to coffee in Soho where I ended up having a lot of fun. It seems like the days of that kind of thing happening are over for me. I’ve been in the rooms for a long time and I shouldn’t have to be a newcomer to get attention and make friends. The funniest thing is, I know in reality that I don’t have to go back to six days of sobriety to have that impact on a meeting again. I could have opened my mouth tonight, I simply didn’t because the chair had been so eloquent and insightful, far better than anything I thought I could have said. My illness wanted me to believe that no one would like what I had to say. The celebrity would have looked down his nose at me; it would have been an embarrassing disaster.

 None of what my illness tells me is true, so why do I still listen to it? After all I’ve been through, nights like tonight continue to happen on a regular basis. I continue to isolate myself; in doing so I make myself absolutely miserable. I never, ever want to come home from a meeting without speaking to anyone again, it is such a lonely and soul-destroying experience. I had the choice to make tonight work for me, and I was too scared to use that choice. I reverted to the old safety behaviours that my therapist has warned me against.

 Tomorrow will be better. Knowing that doesn’t make me feel any lighter right now, because the illness will still be there, under the surface, ready to pounce again in a week or so. The pattern is so familiar to me, and I know how to change it. Next time I’m at that meeting I have to force myself to engage with it, it’s no good just sitting there and listening. I’ve done enough listening, now is the time to act. I don’t expect to be friends with everyone in the room, I don’t expect or want to have a full to bursting social diary like the celebrity chair obviously does.

 I would like to be able to have conversations with people, though. Sometimes I do have conversations there, when I’m in a good mood. Sometimes I can go for coffee with the group after the meeting, like I did last month. But I can’t all the time. I haven’t yet reached the stage where I can function in all social settings regardless of my mood. If I’m in a mood like the one I was in tonight, functioning normally is out of the question, which is really unfortunate. I don’t want to be slave to my emotions any more, I don’t want to isolate myself any more. I don’t want to walk home alone almost in tears remembering better times again. I want to be able to look at people and say ‘hello’, to have a friendly chat with a few of them, to talk about things that we have in common, to laugh about things that have happened to us. Sometimes, I can do those things. But not all the time. Sometimes I still walk home feeling like the only lonely person in the world. If I continue to feel like that, I will go out and drink again eventually. Something big has to change, I just wish I knew what.

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