I’m going to try a little experiment today. In spite of the extremely fortuitous circumstances that have befallen me recently, I’ve experienced noticeable anxiety over a number of things. If AA has taught me anything, it’s taught me honesty and thoroughness, so it occurred to me to list all of the things that I am currently anxious over, and to explore each item on the list in an honest and thorough way. Write out a detailed fear inventory, in other words. I’ve sort of done this a few times before, privately, in not so much depth. Today I want to dedicate at least a paragraph to each of the things that have been bothering me lately; I need to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and if I can, I’d like to clear as much of it out of my head as possible.
So, in no particular order, here are what I believe to be my most pressing concerns today:
1: Certain people in the office don’t seem to like me. If I’m honest, most of this belief is based on feelings rather than fact. However, realistically the chances are that in a company of seventy people, I’m not going to be liked by everyone. In the last few weeks I’ve managed to narrow the list of people who I’m sure can’t stand me down to four. These are the ones who never say ‘hello’ to me when they pass in the corridor, never reply to my e-mails except when they need something, and when they do it’s usually expressed in a curt, unfriendly way. Everyone else in the company seems to more or less like me, but as long as there are four people who for some reason don’t appear to like me quite as much as everyone else, I’m bothered about it. Can I say for a fact that I am disliked by four people in the company? No, I’ll never be able to claim it as fact, unless I ask them outright what they think of me, which isn’t likely to ever happen.
2: Jan, my manager, doesn’t seem to trust me to do my job properly. Although in recent months we’ve been getting along fine and there has been a significant amount of responsibility passed my way, from time to time I sense reluctance on his part to give me more tasks. Now that I’ve been there a year and I’ve become super-efficient in my role, I sometimes find myself with spare hours in which I’m looking for more stuff to do. At these times I often ask Jan if he’ll let me take on one of his jobs, not because I really want to make his life easier, but because deep down I feel as if I have to keep adding strings to my bow in order to keep my place in the company. With each new facet added to my role there has come a greater sense of identity – when I was finally trusted after a year to start transferring cashback to customers’ bank accounts it gave a huge boost to the self-esteem. But then, as with everything else, I became too efficient in that task and now I’m looking for yet more tasks, more power. There’s this magical pot of power that sits between Jan and I: sometimes, when we’re working together everything feels brilliant and the power is shared. Other times, when I try and ask Jan for something else to get my teeth into it’s like we’re pulling the pot in opposite directions.
3: In a year’s time the product that we’re selling will have evolved, and most of our tasks could have become automated. To be honest, this is the great fear that has underlined all others at work in the last six weeks or so. Ever since the managing director announced the new look website which is launching in stages from early next year, I’ve been unable to feel entirely secure in my job. Automated cashback was mentioned as one of the innovations set to take us from being a small player in the world of online discounts to being a big league name. If cashback is automated it’s almost certain that my job as it stands won’t last. I’m concerned because I have this underlying conviction that I won’t get another job. I’m still haunted by my year and a half of unemployment, and the thought of going back to that terrifies me. Realistically, I could get another job in our growing company, if and when the time comes. New departments will be opening up, along with new roles, some of which could be even better for me than this one. If the worst comes to the worst, I could just go to another company. I could change careers. Essentially I am a pessimist, and until it’s proven that I’m not going to be unemployed again, I won’t be able to rest.
4: I don’t think I’m ever going to have a relationship. The desire to find a boyfriend and fall in love is such a boring cliché, I really wish I could get over it, but the longer I’m in recovery from addiction the greater the desire seems to grow. I know about the need to validate oneself from within before one can go out and enter into relationships, I know that being single doesn’t make me any less of a person, but the vast wealth of knowledge that I have acquired about this issue in recovery hasn’t made me want to be with someone any less. As soon as I begin to think about meeting someone, the self-doubts and criticisms come pouring in, and I am invariably paralyzed because I can’t disprove any of them. How can I disprove that I’m unattractive, too needy, too thin, unfashionable, unlikeable? Yes, the AA answer to everything is faith, and I do know that faith is really the only answer I’ll ever get. This reasonably attractive guy started at the office this week; it would be fine if he were definitely straight, at least I’m familiar with wanting straight men. In a perverse way it would be safer if he were straight, but the trouble is that my gut is telling me he’s gay. Pretty much all of my friends in the world are gay: I can tell when someone’s one of us. The fact that the new guy is probably gay has sent my head spinning into a world of anxiety, because he’s attractive and there’s a slight chance that I might actually be able to go out with him. Unfortunately, as we now know, when I start to think about my chances of happiness all the reasons why it wouldn’t work out come tumbling in, and the result is I can’t even look at this guy without feeling my heart sink. He’ll probably never like me, I’m too geeky for him, he’s really intelligent and cool and smart, I’m just a freaky loner. What would he ever see in me?
5: I’m not happy where I live. All year I’ve tried as hard as I can to get along with my housemates. Admittedly, the hardest that I can try isn’t very hard, when the fact remains that I don’t like one of them, for various reasons. Robert is loud, camp, messy and very irritating. Worst of all, he’s young. He always seems super happy, no matter what’s going on. He has millions of friends, he’s always either on the phone arranging things or he’s out doing those things. Despite all his glaring faults he’s been in a long term relationship, and for some annoying reason he has a monopoly on Ethan’s friendship, something which I used to value before we lived here. Nowadays I can hardly ever spend time with Ethan because he’s always hanging around with Robert. When they’re here they’re usually sitting in front of Ethan’s TV, laughing and screeching and having lots of noisome fun. The door’s usually open so I could go in if I wanted to, but I don’t because I know I wouldn’t be able to bear more than a few minutes of Robert’s company. So often when I come home I have to sneak past Ethan’s room, up to my own as quietly as I can. It makes me feel lonely and isolated, but I don’t know what I can do about it, other than move out. I’m not so worried about moving, I just kind of wish that things had gone differently here in Waterloo. It’s an amazing place to live and I’ve never bored of being so central. It’s a shame that most nights when I come home there’s the dread of seeing Robert or Ethan. It shouldn’t be like that. I know I do it to myself, yet I can’t just stop doing it.
6: I’m not as young as I used to be. Yes, I may only be 28, with decades of life still ahead of me. But the truth is that I’m getting older every day, and that makes me a little sad. When I go out on the gay scene, which is an increasingly rare occurrence, I really don’t enjoy it like I used to, mostly because I get so tired these days, and the vast majority of people are younger than me. I find I have less energy in general than I used to; I don’t like being up after midnight any more, which is a shame because the evenings pass by so quickly now. I know a hell of a lot more about life than I used to, which is obviously a good thing because I don’t make the same mistakes now. But on the other hand, I’ve lost the naivety that I used to have; I feel I know so much now that I’m weighed down by it sometimes. My innocence is definitely gone, and I know that things are only set to continue this way. In a mathematical sense, each year of my life does go by quicker, because the proportion of each passing year compared with my entire life is technically smaller every time. The faster time goes, the more precious it seems.
7: My mother isn’t as young as she used to be. When we went shopping for the TV on Sunday I lost her for a moment in the shop, and as a result was instantly plunged into blind panic for her safety. When she returned she hardly seemed to have noticed that anything happened. In that moment I felt more like a babysitter than a son. Like everything else in this list of fears, the fear of my mother growing old and senile is based more in feeling than in fact. She’s only 54, has looked after herself quite well until now. Yet she turned her back in a shop a few weeks ago and had her purse stolen, which is bad. I can’t shake this nagging feeling that something even worse is going to happen to her, and I just want to wrap my arms around her and never let her go. Of course, like everyone else on the planet she’s getting older every day too, and the fact is that I can’t accept it. I wish I could stop her aging process and just keep her as she is now, before her age really sets in and she slowly starts to disintegrate before my eyes. More than my own aging, her aging is something that really doesn’t sit well with me right now. I’ve never openly admitted it, but losing her is the one thing that I don’t think I will be able to cope with, when it happens. We’re all mortal, everyone has a limited time on this earth, yet when it’s your mother, how do you begin to accept that? Especially when your mother was the only person you had until very recently?
So, those are the things that really concern me today. I’ve tried to be as specific, thorough and honest as I can. I’d like to have thought of more answers to some of the problems, but as the list progresses and becomes inevitably more general, I guess the answers become significantly harder to find. If I look for patterns, I think there is an overriding fear of the future, a fear which I identified in myself the first time I did step 4, and which I’ve never managed to overcome. Of course no one on this earth has ever overcome such a fear, so why should I expect to? Yet I can’t ignore the sense that my particular version of the fear is hindering me in life, somehow. I made major progress with it when I gave up alcohol, but it almost seems as if the hole that was previously filled by drink has been exposed, and the more I try and keep various addictions out of it, the worse it gets. There’s a terrible black hole in my life, the fear of the future, which survives alongside a paradoxically desperate impatience for the future to arrive. Though I’ve been able to pay off all of my debts this week, though I’ve become financially solvent for the first time in my life and booked a two week trip to California into the bargain, I’m left with so much doubt, it could bring me to tears if I get too in touch with it.