On Friday it popped into my mind that I needed to return to SLAA, so that is what I did. With a good friend I attended the Friday night gay men’s meeting that I had been to twice before. I didn’t particularly want to see some of that fellowship’s members again, mostly due to my own pride. I felt ashamed at the wilful way in which I’d abandoned that part of my program, and I thought there would be at least one person with something to say about it. When we arrived at the meeting I was mortified to see that the chair was being given by one of my least favourite people from the AA fellowship. I’ve never liked him because I’ve always believed that he doesn’t like me. I have no knowledge of why he might dislike me, and I have very little evidence to believe that this is actually the case, but only the slightest possibility that he might have such feelings was enough to push me to avoid him permanently about a year ago. Being in the same small, intimate room with him on Friday night was at once frightening and strangely amusing. So you want to play this game, do you? I asked my higher power. If my HP was in charge on Friday then the awkward scenario was surely a joke at my expense, a test of my limited comfort boundaries.
His chair was of course amazing, and I was hooked on every word. When he’d finished speaking and it was our turn to speak I felt alarmingly faint at the thought of having to share back to him. I could think of nothing profound or worthy to say in response to his amazing chair. I let the other three people in the room share before me, hoping that they would take up the remaining time in the meeting, but they didn’t. My turn came inevitably and I had about ten minutes to fill, so I just talked about the fact that I was scared and ashamed. I mentioned the recent apparent heightening in my addiction to internet pornography, how it seems to have got in the way of my ability to enjoy normal relationships. The dependency on porn for sexual arousal was one of my final taboos. Speaking about it in that room was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, even though there were only three other people there, two of whom were very good friends. Afterwards it occurred to me that I was going to have to get ‘back on the wagon’ with sexual sobriety, otherwise my dramatic return to SLAA would have been a waste of time.
It’s taken me a very long time to accept that there might be a problem here, and I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near ready to do a step one on it. I left SLAA earlier in the summer when it felt like everything was getting on top of me, and it became one of those things that I decided to sacrifice in order to make more room in my life. At the moment I’m hesitant to say that I definitely have the space in my life to deal with this issue, but the idea of attending one SLAA meeting a week doesn’t seem like too much of a burden. It would be good to have a different meeting in my weekly routine, at the very least. And knowing that I would always have somewhere to share about sex problems means I won’t have to take time up in AA meetings talking about it. This sex issue definitely remains a big deal in my life. I’m not yet convinced that the solution resides in this one SLAA meeting on Friday nights, but I’ve become willing to give it a chance.
Saturday 7.30am: I have to get up to go and catch a train to Brighton, which is hosting its annual gay Pride parade and carnival. I’ve decided to go this year as a lot of friends from within and without the fellowship are going. The opportunity for nostalgia is also too much to resist. I haven’t been to Brighton Pride since 2006, when I was drinking. I used to go every year religiously, and it was a regular highlight of every summer. This year the weather forecast is terrible, which is disappointing. All my memories of Brighton Pride are sunny and warm. I am not put off by the gloomy grey clouds as I step out the front door and walk to the local tube station that morning. A big group of gay AA members are meeting me later by the seafront, so it will be good a chance to spend the day socialising with fellow alcoholics, something that doesn’t happen very often.
I get to Brighton on time at 9.30am; I can’t remember why I booked a seat on such an early train. Perhaps if it had been a normal summery day the extra time in the resort would have felt like a blessing, but that morning it is simply time that has to be killed. The drizzle starts as soon as I get off the train and I am forced to walk around a shopping mall for the next hour to avoid getting wet. None of my friends are arriving until the start of the parade just before 11. I get a hot chicken sandwich in a café in the mall, which is fast filling up with very young looking gays and lesbians. All the pubs and restaurants in the city have put rainbow flags out front to mark the day. For one whole day the majority of the city’s population will be of my kind. That is a good thing about cities like Brighton: they welcome the mass descent of leather and PVC-wearing, baton-twirling homosexuals on them for these occasions. They tolerate same-sex hand holding even on days that aren’t officially Pride.
By 11am I am exhausted, thanks to a poor night’s sleep, and the day is only just starting. Some of my non-AA friends arrive by the seafront and I go to join them just as the parade is starting. A succession of colourful floats with dancing drag queens and ginormous speaker systems pass us by, and we dutifully take hundreds of pictures with our mobile phones which will end up on facebook by the end of the day. This year the parade is a lot shorter than I remember it. After half an hour it ends and the crowds can begin to follow it up to Preston Park where the party will be happening for the rest of the day.
The sky is still spitting and my friends want to stop off at a supermarket on the way to the park so they can buy booze. I begin to pray for my AA mates to arrive. They’ve said that they are on their way; they can’t be any more precise than that. So I accept that I may have to accompany my current group to the park and watch them get drunk for a while. I’ve watched them get drunk in different situations over the years, in Soho bars that we all know very well, and it’s usually OK. But today it’s not so OK because it’s not just a small group of people starting on the alcohol at midday – everyone is. There are thousands of people here today marching for Pride. So many of them are already drinking from cans that I think this event no longer really has a political purpose, it’s really just a big piss-up for the vast majority of its attendees. I can hardly claim innocence in the matter of eroding Pride’s more important purpose: over the years I did my fair share of drinking at Prides all around the country. One of my final drinking sessions was at London Pride 2007. That was a similarly rainy summer day when all one could see was a sea of umbrellas and crushed beer cans on the road.
After purchasing their cheap wine and beer my friends can get going again, and we are soon at Preston Park ready to explore the market stalls and cabaret tents. At 1 o’clock I finally get a phonecall from my close AA friend Sharleen, who describes her exact location in the park having just arrived. I eagerly abandon my drinking friends, telling them I might see them later on but knowing secretly that I have no intention of doing such a thing. Although Sharleen has told me where she is it takes me an hour to find her, just because of the sheer volume of people that I have to push through to get across the park. There are hundreds of thousands of people here. It is starting to feel like a nightmare. Just before I find Sharleen and her posse of sober faces I get the distinct feeling that I want to leave.
There are eight other alcoholics from the rooms with Sharleen, and I know all of them which is really nice. For the next few hours we walk around the park, stopping off at the fun fair to bash each other up on the dodgems. Instead of improving the weather is getting progressively worse. By 4 o’clock it is like a monsoon and the ground is turning to soggy, horrible mud. If we were at Glastonbury I would probably have been able to accept the state of our surroundings, but we’re not at any trendy music festival. We’re at a soggy, rather tacky gay carnival where we are the only nine people not already pissed. Someone suggests leaving and we all agree instantly. Our umbrellas are beginning to give out in the wind, our trainers are soaked through. We hurry to the nearby train station where a lot of other people seem to have had the same idea as us – it is like a gay exodus.
I manage to get lost in the heaving crowd and quickly resign myself to the fact that I will see my friends again later in the week. And then Sharleen calls me up, telling me they’re on platform 6 ready to jump on a busy train to London Bridge. I have to run if I want to catch up with them. The thought of barging through the crowds and running to get on a crowded train is not a nice thought, but somehow I make myself do it. In the past I’ve come home from too many of these events alone, feeling like a loser in the midst of groups of happy friends.
I get to platform 6 and I can’t see my friends so I jump straight on the first carriage just as the train is about to move. I walk through the first three carriages and I cannot find anyone that I know. I angrily assume that Sharleen got her platforms wrong. And then she phones me again to tell me they’re all in the front carriage. And there they are, they’ve saved me a seat. Sharleen says the journey home wouldn’t have been the same without me. I don’t know if she’s joking or being serious. Surely they would have survived without me. For me it seems like a miracle to be sitting here. I can be part of a group for at least the next hour. Sharleen mentions the possibility of going for dinner in London, an idea which thrills me. Regular readers of this blog will know about the significance of eating socially in my life!
The journey is filled with games of ‘I Spy’ and reflections of the day gone by. We’re all glad to still be together and still alive. No one says whether they would want to do it again, but we’re probably all thinking that this will be our last Brighton Pride. I’m certainly thinking it. If it had been sunny and hot would the day have been any less stressful? Perhaps. I can’t help getting the feeling that I am a bit old for all of this now. Yeah, I’m only 26 years old, but what does that matter? The average age of the crowd at today’s boozefest looked to be about 20. The difference in years between 20 and 26 is small but in my life, the difference is immense.
We get to London and head for dinner in a strangely located restaurant under London Bridge station. I can’t stop looking at the building around me, the giant brick arches that have been incorporated into the restaurant’s design. It is an amazing place, and I will never forget this night. I am with friends who really wanted me here. We can finally relax here, after a day of squelching around under our umbrellas outside. The food is cheap but exceptionally satisfying. I’m so hungry I demolish the whole plate in a matter of minutes. When we’re all finished it is time to go home. Saying goodbye is not sad for me because I know things like this will happen again. I don’t know when, but I know it will. That is all I need to know.